}

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Republicans not embracing 'tolerance'


This video from Right Wing Watch shows that the Republican Party is now a theocratic party, and on purpose:
“Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, assures CBN's David Brody that the GOP is not becoming more tolerant, just more loving and Christian.”
CBN is the TV network founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, which has consistently taken a hard-right theocratic angle on the stories and issues they cover, epitomised by the often loopy Robertson. So it could be argued that Priebus was merely pandering to his party’s hard right religious base.

However, the evidence is clear that the Republican Party has morphed into something quite ugly, as I pointed out here and also here. This is no longer the party of Eisenhower or Dirksen or even of Reagan; it’s now the party of far right extremists and nutjobs who either are radical “Christians” or use those who are to gain power.

So, based on the evidence at hand, it's pretty clear that Preibus wasn’t merely pandering to CBN viewers: His party really has slid off the deep end. And they like it that way just fine, thank you. Besides, he has no need to pander to his party’s base: They can’t lose elections.

The party has so gamed the electoral system, aided and abetted by the rightwing majority on the US Supreme Court in the vile Citizens United case and when it gutted the Voting Rights Act, that it’s almost impossible for Republicans to lose power without a massive movement to dump them, and that seems unlikely.

So, it doesn’t really matter what I think about this nor even what mainstream voters think: The Republicans will stay in power for years to come, and no god will have anything to do with that: Human greed and chicanery will.

Update August 1, 2013: Writing on MaddowBlog, Steve Benen says that the problem here is: “Most Republican voters apparently see literally the most extreme major political party in the post-Civil War era of the United States and think, ‘Nah, too moderate.’” I think that this could explain why Preibus not only dismisses moderating the party, but doubles-down on its extremism.

No miracles


There are some things about ageing that are good (more credibility, for example), and plenty of things that aren’t. One of the things that’s been bugging me has been the too-frequent lack of ability to concentrate as I think I should be able to, along with a lack of clarity and stamina. There’s a pill for that.

Bayer created a multivitamin for the over 50 set (people like me) called Berocca Focus 50+ (commercial above), which, they claim, helps with these things. I started taking it a few weeks ago, and I think it does help, if only a little.

I used to take vitamins every day for years and years. Then, suddenly, I couldn’t take them any more. I switched to the “silver” version of the vitamins, and couldn’t tolerate them either. I tried other “50+” vitamins but also couldn’t tolerate them. The problem, I came to believe, was the high levels of B vitamins, which made me feel hyper after about a week of taking them. It was a very unpleasant feeling, a bit like a panic attack, actually.

So, I decided to look for a lower-strength vitamin and saw the Beroca ones in the grocery store one day. I’d never heard of regular Berocca until I moved to New Zealand, where they seemed popular as part of a hangover remedy. One of their old slogans was something like, “Berocca gives you back your B B Bounce”, highlighting the B vitamins inside. But I also knew their levels weren’t that high. That’s why I decided to give the Focus 50+ a go.

Like I said, I think it helps some, but the ad is actually true: Miracles, no. Still, even small improvements can be a good thing, I think, even though I’m aware some people dismiss the very idea of taking multivitamins, and there could be a sort of placebo effect going on.

The bottom line for me is that I found something that seems to help. Even if it’s not really doing anything, the feeling of improvement is real. Right now, that’s enough.

Of course, the main reason I'm posting this at all isn't just that the vitamins seem to work for me, but because I like the ad. It's just that in this case, I actually use the product advertised.

I have NOT been paid anything to write this post, but I'm open to freebies if Mr. Bayer wants to send some my way…

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pope’s same old scene


To hear the Internet tell it, the current pope just made a radical pro-gay statement. That’s utter nonsense. In fact, he just restated the same old thing popes have been saying for 30 years.

What the current pope said was, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Yeah, nice, but really, so what? He went on, "The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worst problem."

So, the current pope is saying that gay people should be accepted—as long as they don’t ask to be accepted. Because that’s like being a Mason. Or something.

It’s important to remember that the pope made his supposedly “pro-gay” remarks in the context of the Roman church's catechism, which says that while being gay isn’t sinful, homosexual acts are. This is, to be brutally honest, really stupid. It’s a bit like telling someone they can drive a Ferrari as fast as they want, as long as they want—just as long as they never put it into gear. A bit like popes’ sexuality, supposedly, but even they admit that their church’s required celibacy is impossible for most human beings.

I have no use for the Roman church or any of its popes. I never have, and I doubt I ever will. The institution is misogynist to its core, obscenely wealthy, and has never—ever—taken responsibility for its clergy sexually abusing children. So, under the very best of circumstances, it’s really hard to take that church’s CEO seriously when he talks about “moral” issues.

In this case, the current CEO of Catholicism, Inc. said nothing new, nothing different, nothing in any way unique, despite what some apologists might claim. Still, there could yet be something of substance in what is otherwise mere verbal blancmange: Distance.

The Roman church has been deeply involved with, and major funders of, political activism in the US designed to stop marriage equality. Most of that political activity has been secret or hidden, but it’s well documented, nevertheless. If this pope is signalling that his church is moving away from imposing its religion on everyone else, THAT would be a welcome thing.

In the early days of the anti-gay activism against marriage equality, it was largely the Mormons who carried the can. They found that while they may have advanced their religious dogma, they harmed their image and, in fact, reinforced mainstream views of the Mormon church as radically right wing, anti-modernity and, well, downright weird. The Mormons learned from that and have backed away from anti-gay activism.

Maybe the current pope has learned the lesson that the Mormons learned, namely, that doing the dirty work of far right “Christian” Protestants dirties and sullies the church doing that activism, and leaves the rightwing extremists unsullied. Maybe he’s realised how much the theo-fascists on America’s rightwing were using the catholic church.

That’s the positive side: The current pope realising his church has been used and backing away from rightwing political activism. We’ll see. But if that is the case, it’s the only thing that’s new in what this pope said.

Nothing lasts forever—not even popes or religions. Whatever this pope said or meant, ultimately it will fade away. One day, they will evolve on women’s rights as well as LGBT rights: They’ll adapt or die. Until then, it’s the same old scene.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Should it stay or go?

Were it not for the unfortunate clippers incident, I wouldn’t be seeking a crowd-sourced answer to my dilemma. Things are as they are, so why not turn to the Internet for opinions? I mean, that’s what it’s BEST at, right?

The question at hand is what to do about my whiskers: Full beard or goatee/moustache, dyed or natural? A little background is in order, starting way back.

I’ve been dying my hair to cover the grey for about 20 years, give or take. I’ve had this beard for 15 years or so (probably more—I can’t remember), and I’ve been dying it for most of the time I’ve had it.

I’ve used hair dye not so much out of vanity as such, but rather because of the disconnect between my chronological age and the age I feel, as I explained in my blog post for my 52nd birthday. I said back then:
“…I [dye my hair] simply so my outside is a better match with my inside. I see no reason why I should look older than I feel when something so simple can help fix that. There will come a point, I know, when it’ll be more than faintly ridiculous to continue to present how old I feel rather than how old I am, but that day is not today.”
For awhile now, I’ve been wondering if my next birthday should be that arbitrary point at which I stop using hair dye. And yet, I still don’t feel my age—hence my dilemma.

This all came about now because on Thursday, as I was getting ready to leave for our weekend away, I decided to trim my shaggy beard and dye it before we left. I got out the hair clippers and realised too late that I’d forgotten to check that the guard was on. I ended up mowing a swathe of my beard off.

When Nigel came home, I had him fix it, and the solution was to trim my goatee part much shorter and leave the sides stubbly. This left my chin much whiter than it had been (and much of the stubble is whiter). I couldn’t dye my chin/moustache because the stubble was too short to dye and would look weird.

The photo of the result is at top, though now—four days later—the stubble is turning into re-growth already. I deliberately didn’t smile.

Nigel—and family who expressed an opinion—thought the new look made me look paradoxically younger—and thinner!—and not many of us wouldn’t appreciate that! I know I do. When I went to the family gatherings this weekend, no one ran from the room screaming, so I guess it wasn’t too scary.

I’ve settled on these options (because the face hair is staying): I could re-grow the beard and dye it (I don’t like the full beard unless it’s dyed), as I’ve been doing for years. Or, I could keep Nigel’s repairs (basically a goatee/moustache with stubbly cheeks and natural—no dye). Or, I could modify those repairs (a goatee/moustache without stubbly cheeks, with or without dye).

So, I turn to the Internet for opinions. Because it’s the Internet, however, I’m limiting the options and the replies: The survey will close at Noon on Thursday, August 1 NZST (8pm Wednesday EDT/5pm Pacific) or when/if it receives 100 replies, whichever comes first.

These are just opinions, I’m seeking here—I’ll make the final decision, of course. Yes, this is among the least important questions I’ve ever asked (not that I care about that fact). Mostly, it’s just a bit of fun. Play or not, as you wish.

Here’s the survey:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weekend away

It’s not often that we go away—in fact, it’s rare enough that it deserves a post all its own. So, this is it.

This weekend, we went to Paeroa to help celebrate Nigel’s Mum’s 78th birthday. We left not long after sunset on Thursday, arriving in late evening. We came home today. In between was a lot of family time, good food, a bit of wine, and more laughs than I could possibly hope to count.

Friday, we took Nigel’s Mum and our two young nieces for lunch at the Ohinemuri Estate Winery Restaurant, which is located in the Karangahake Gorge between Paeroa and Waihi. I had the Spinach Gnocchi, which the menu described as, “kitchen made spinach gnocchi - pan fried, tossed in tomato and basil sauce gratinierd with feta cheese and basil pesto.” Our 12-year-old niece had the same, while her younger sister had the kids’ pizza (ham and pineapple). Nigel and his mum had the soup of the day, a creamy vegetable with a hint of curry. We all enjoyed our meals, though I could have skipped the apple strudel I had for dessert.

Later, Nigel and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for the dish we were taking to the family potluck dinner that evening at the house of one of Nigel’s sisters. At the grocery store, we ran into someone we knew. Typical of small towns. Of course, we did live there for a few years, too.

We relaxed for awhile then headed out to the party. After dinner, and when dessert was already winding down, I suddenly thought of snapping a photo to post on Facebook for the benefit of Nigel’s sister and niece who couldn’t be with us, as well as family overseas. That photo is above.

After an evening of good family time (and a few wines…) we went back to Nigel’s Mum’s house and were in bed by around 10:30pm.

The next day, Nigel’s brother went off in search of brisket and watercress to make a common Kiwi (largely Maori) dish of the same name. It’s often called “boil up”, but that can also refer to other dishes in which everything is boiled together. Brisket is an inexpensive meat and can be quite fatty, so Nigel’s brother was searching for some that wasn’t.

NZ watercress (Kowhitiwhiti) can be found growing around clear running streams, but the stuff sold in stores is almost always hydroponic. It has a mild mustardy sort of taste when raw, and is often used as a garnish. But it can also be used in place of spinach or in soups and casseroles, and cooking makes it milder.

Some people use another plant, puha (also known as sow thistle), but I think it’s far too bitter (some people confuse puha and watercress, but they’re very different plants). It’s common in another “boil-up” dish called puha and pork, made with pork bones. I’ve never had it, but since I didn’t like puha with brisket, I doubt I’d like puha and pork.

Our family’s version of brisket and watercress doesn’t have potatoes (it often does), but includes small, dense dumplings called “doughboys”. Doughboys are sometimes added to puha and pork, too.

We took that to our niece and nephew’s house that evening, where we also had leftovers from the night before. Once again, I forgot to take a photo, so the photo at right is of our nephew’s second helping of brisket and watercress, since I was already done. I also posted that photo to Facebook for the benefit of absent family. Next time we make it, I’ll take a better photo.

We were again in bed before 11.

Nigel and I  left this morning to beat the traffic (school holidays end today, and we thought there might be more traffic on the roads later on). Plus it gives us time to relax a bit at home before the new work week starts.

Jake and Sunny seemed to enjoy the trip and seeing human family and their dog cousin, Boy. Meanwhile, Bella’s human cousin checked on her while we were away, making sure she had enough food and got some cuddles and pats. Bella seems very happy we’re home.

And that was our weekend away. Most of our leisure time is spent with family, either local family or those who come up to visit us. It’s great to be able to go and visit them, sometimes, too. It’s also nice to be able to work into a post some things about New Zealand, too (as I did the last time I did a post like this).

Sneaking in some things about life in New Zealand in what may seem like a “dear diary” sort of post—I just can’t help myself. I guess it’s what I do, weekend away or not.

But, this was a good weekend away!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A royal Kiwi


I’m not commenting on the royal baby (this is probably a good thing…). Instead, here’s a song from Kiwi artist Lorde, called “Royals”. This is the US version, so it’s probably not as good as the original, right?

I read in comments that she’s 16: Not a big deal in New Zealand (where the age of consent is 16), but apparently some Americans get rather agitated at the fact of her age. Whatever. Decide about the song on its merits, not what some self-appointed pundits say! But, she’s Kiwi, so of COURSE you want to buy her song, right? I mean, I said so… The YouTube video description has all the relevant links for buying the song. And, this video was just released last month, so, well, there you go.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In the event of an emergency


Ever since the earthquake swarm in Central New Zealand over the past few days, there’s been renewed interest in preparedness and the natural disaster risks we face. Today I’m taking a look at both, and a bit more.

First, though, this post from GeoNet pretty well explains what's been going on in central New Zealand recently, what they know and what they don't know. They’re really getting good at explaining this stuff.

In the video above, faultlines and earthquakes in New Zealand are explained by Kelvin Berryman, from GNS Science. Earlier this year, I posted two videos about the earthquake and volcano risks for Auckland. Taken together, these videos explain what risks we face.

Knowing the risks is one thing, being prepared for them is another. I’ve frequently mentioned Get Thru, the official Civil Defence website to help New Zealanders prepare for natural disaster. Most of the information is relevant for anyone, anywhere. I’ve also talked before about how if one is in an emergency, sending a text message is more likely to work than trying to phone someone. This is because power may be disrupted, and also because the networks become jammed.

So, I suggested that after waiting awhile to let people needing help get through, it could be a good idea to use text messages to send a quick update to Twitter and Facebook to let a lot of people know all at once that you’re okay. And, again, I must stress: If you’re okay and not in danger, DON’T text: There may be people in dire need of help, so please stay out of their way.

When I first talked about this strategy, I also said that it’s important to keep your cellphone fully charged—at all times, if possible. That’s true, but I saw a Tweet after the largest quake this weekend that pointed out a few more things: Wifi connections and Bluetooth drain the battery, so in an emergency, turn them off. Also, turn down the brightness of the phone’s display. This will help preserve battery life, because in an emergency no one can know how long it will be until the phone can be charged.

Okay, so knowing the risks and being prepared are important, but the final piece is knowing that something has happened. GeoNet Quake is an App available for iOS and Android that displays earthquake activity. If you allow the App to send push notifications, it will let you know anytime there’s any sort of earthquake anywhere in New Zealand, or you can use filters. For example, I’d select Auckland as well as strong quakes anywhere so it doesn’t tell me about every little weak quake anywhere in the country.

Here in Auckland, we have an Auckland Civil Defence App available for iOS Devices (I don’t know if they’ve created an Android version). The App isn’t perfect, but it is a way to find out about any kind of civil defence emergency in the Auckland region.

So, the thing is to know the risks, to prepare for them and to be aware of dangers as they happen. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet and social media, all of these are easy to do. Actually doing them could save lives.

Finally, below is a more lighthearted advice video from a guy who’s the partner of a guy I follow on Twitter. Preparedness is important, but that doesn’t mean we have to be dour about it!

Get Ready, Get Thru!

Monday, July 22, 2013

And another


I love social networks, social media, whatever you want to call it: They can be fun, informative, interesting—and annoying, challenging, offensive, all at the same time. I actually like the fact I never know what I’ll find, and I’m often pleasantly surprised.

Well, I’ve “added” another one, Instagram, the mobile phone photo-sharing network. I put that in quote marks because I actually signed up a very long time ago, but never got around to setting it up and actually using it. While some of my online friends are big users—very big users in some cases—the fact that it’s now owned by Facebook makes it among the easiest ways to post photos to Facebook (and I can post it to Twitter, the network I use the most, at the same time).

The photo above is actually my first Instagram photo, which I took this morning and captioned, “Misty morning outside the house.” Yeah, I’m clever, alright. But it WAS foggy this morning—I could hear foghorns on ships in the harbour, which isn’t all that close to our house!

Anyway, if you’re on Instagram, I’m there as “arthur-amerinz”.

Pin defiance


To say, as some athletes do, that the Olympics should be "above politics" is incredibly naive—they compete as representatives of countries, after all. So what to do about the Winter Olympics in Russia, a country that has newly-enacted harsh anti-gay laws?

Openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup has one approach: He will wear a rainbow pin to show his support for the increasingly oppressed LGBT community in Russia, according to an article on Vocativ (video above). This may sound like a small thing, but the new anti-gay laws mean that even tourists can be arrested, held for two weeks and then deported if they dare to show public support for LGBT people.

The Russian government has already denied a permit for a Pride House in Sochi. This was a popular spot in the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympics for gay athletes and supporters alike. Not this year, not in the new Russia.

Of course, the law also affects heterosexuals: Suppose a parent watching the games tells their under-18 son or daughter that Skjellerup is gay. That could get the parent arrested for breaking the anti-gay law.

The real targets of the law obviously aren’t athletes or Olympics spectators: The real point is repression. The Russian government is in the process of closing down LGBT organisations in the country, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has been using Soviet-style repression to get rid of anyone who might oppose him politically. These are not good days for ol’ Mother Russia. Moving from the old Soviet dictatorship to become a functioning democracy was always a tall order, and now, as it reverts to its old ways, we’ve seen that maybe it was too tall an order.

I haven’t made up my mind on whether or not athletes should boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Athletes spend years of hard work—and a lot of money—to get to the point where they can compete, and most Olympic athletes get only one chance. On the other hand, no one should support Russia, and it’s stupid to argue that going to the Olympics isn’t supporting Russia. Maybe Blake Skjellerup has found a possible middle ground—but I wonder if he’s really prepared to be arrested, should he be at the Olympics, because Vlad isn’t fooling around.

I never really watch the Winter games, but I may make a point to watch events that Blake Skjellerup is in. If he follows through with his symbolic protest, he will be a very brave man, indeed—far more so, apparently, than the International Olympic Committee could ever dream of being.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arthur Answers Roger, Part 4 – Can they?

This post concludes this series of “Ask Arthur” answers, and the fourth and final post answering questions from Roger Green. Today’s questions are loosely grouped into the theme of, “Can they?”

Roger asked:

“How do you feel about casting folks who aren't the category they portray? I was thinking about Johnny Depp as Tonto, but there are tons of other examples. Should only a gay man play a gay man, e.g. Related question: how do you feel about casting a character that had been traditionally white differently? I'm thinking about making Kingpin, the white villain in the Daredevil comic books as a black man, or the black Asgardian in the Thor movie that made parts of fandom apoplectic.”

In general, I’m pretty relaxed about such things, as long as the actor is good and it’s not exploitive in some way. Having said that, there are certain things that are out of bounds for me, and that involves real people: A white guy playing Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela are examples of being out of bounds. And yet, I accept heterosexual men portraying real gay men—from Harvey Milk to Liberace—so as basic as this sounds, I think that for me, part of it has to do with visuals: It just “doesn’t look right” for white people to be playing real Black people (or vice versa).

I don’t generally feel the same way about fictional characters. I’m not familiar with the specific ones Roger mentioned, so I missed those controversies. However, I did raise an eyebrow when I heard that Depp was playing Tonto. It struck me as bordering on the offensive, and not because Depp may or may not have native American ancestry (he once said he “guesses” he does), but rather because I thought he may have played the role as something of a clown (to me, many of Depp’s portrayals are basically interchangeable, and I was afraid that Depp’s Tonto might be Captain Jack on horseback).

I think an actor playing a character of another race or culture becomes problematic when the character is a villain, or the portrayal feeds into offensive stereotypes. Of course, the way in which minorities are portrayed is another topic altogether, but the point for this discussion is that the nature of the character is another factor in whether I, personally, can accept cross-race performances.

For example, I used to watch Charlie Chan movies on TV when I was growing up, and the lead role was played by non-Asian actors Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters (though “Number One Son” Lee Chan and “Number Two Son” Jimmy Chan were played by Chinese American actors, Keye Luke and Victor Sen Yung, respectively, the latter also playing Hop Sing on Bonanza). At the time, I’m not sure I was aware that the lead actors weren’t really Chinese, but I do remember that the “Charlies Chan” were dignified and intelligent portrayals, not clownish at all. I think that does matter.

So, in general I have an open mind about actors playing characters who are people they’re not (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, whatever). But I do prefer authenticity and casting “a different sort of person” can make that harder to achieve.

Roger next asked:
“People in the public arenas are often in need of apologizing for some damn fool thing he did or she said. What does a decent apology look like, what does a lousy one look like, and what actions are unforgivable, regardless of the apology?”
For me, it’s not an apology unless the person takes personal responsibility for the transgression. It’s NOT an apology to say, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended,” but much more so to say, “I’m sorry I did/said this stupid thing. I was wrong and I apologise.” The point is, the person must acknowledge they did something wrong, not just express regret that OTHER people were offended. It helps if they can acknowledge any harm they’ve caused other people, too.

I believe that causing severe harm to others is what can be unforgiveable. Murder is unforgiveable as is harming a child in any way—though the criminal damn well better express remorse to prove they’re not monsters. Torture, even when given the imprimatur of a government or done on a direct order, is unforgivable, regardless of whether the torturer’s “side” has won a war.

But what about things that are unforgiveable, but for which one might, theoretically, atone? This is very murky—how much atoning is enough? What sort is acceptable? For example, what about those who tried to deny the human and civil rights of, say, African Americans or LGBT Americans? Clearly they can’t merely apologise for what they did, but can they atone for it?

This is why I put murder and harming children in the absolutely unforgiveable category: There is no amount of atonement that could ever be enough.

And finally for this series, Roger asked:
“Per Bobby Jindal's suggestion, are the Republicans any smarter? (Snort, giggle)”
Roger’s specific source of merriment is the fact that a Louisiana Republican wants to ban the flying of the Rainbow Flag on any public property because, you know, Teh Gays!

Every single day we see examples of why the Republican Party has a copyright on the term “The Party of Stupid”. As I discussed here and again here, nothing has changed in the Republican Party. I don’t think anything can change for them. So, the question isn't really ARE they any smarter, but can they ever BE any smarter? I'm convinced that the Republican Party must die for a new one to come along to represent centre-right voters, not merely those on the radical fringe.

So, no, the Republican Party is no smarter—but increasingly, voters have had enough with the Party of Stupid.

Thanks to everyone who took part in this edition of “Ask Arthur”! Please feel free to ask questions, whether in comments on posts or by email, any time you want—you don’t have to wait for a specific “Ask Arthur” invitation! Blogging is much more fun when there’s interaction, and I welcome questions and suggestions.

And finally, do drop by Roger’s blog, he’s one of my favourite bloggers—not just that, actually: He’s one of my favourite people I’ve never met!

The previous posts in this series:
Ask Arthur
Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 1: Political Me
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 2: Political philosophy & friends
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 3: Boycotts

Related: Words and music

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A book trailer


Apparently “book trailers”, videos to promote a book, are a thing now. At first I thought the idea was kind of bizarre, but, well, why not book trailers?

The book trailer above is for Moon Over Martinborough, a book by fellow gay American expat in New Zealand, Jared Gulian, and published by Random House New Zealand. The YouTube description says of the book:
“The hilarious and heartwarming tale of how two American city boys learn to become olive farmers on a lifestyle block in New Zealand.”
In addition to olive-growing, Martinborough is a wine-growing region. I’ve never actually visited the area, but I’d like to one day. Part of the reason the story interests me is that they’re doing the sort of thing that I once thought I’d like to do. Even though I eventually moved on to other ideas, I can understand why someone would want to do what they’re doing.

I haven’t yet read the book, though I’ve read the related blog, also called Moon Over Martinborough. I’ve also interacted with Jared a couple times on Twitter (meaning, it’s more like I know OF him than know him; no, we American expats in NZ don’t all know each other).

The book is available in print, and a Kindle edition is also available from Amazon (other purchasing options are listed on his site). I’ll eventually buy the book, and I may even do a “Book Talk” post about it. First things first, though.

Obamacare explained


This video explains The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), which begins to kick in next year, in less than seven minutes. I think the video does a pretty good job of explaining it.

Obamacare isn’t perfect, but it’s a major step forward for Americans. Yes, they still won’t have comprehensive national healthcare like other developed countries, but this is probably about the best that was possible.

The plan is basically a Republican idea (and I can see that in so many parts of the plan), so it’s ironic that Republicans want to kill it. They’ve voted in the US House more than three dozen times to repeal their own idea. This would seem to be very peculiar behaviour: Why would they try to kill their own idea? Well, you know, Obama. Partisan politics above all else, obviously. This is major step for the better in the USA, so it’s little wonder Republicans want to kill it.

At any rate, this IS progress, and that’s a good thing.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Arthur Answers Roger, Part 3: Boycotts

Carrying on with the series, here’s today’s question from Roger Green. Like yesterday’s, it’s also timely:

What is your basic feeling about boycotting products or services? Does it do any good? What issues would prompt you to do so? I thought of this when I read about Orson Scott Card trying to dull the impact for a likely boycott of the upcoming movie adaptation of one of his books due to his views on gay marriage. I should say that the answer for me in this specific example is moot, since the subject matter doesn't interest me.

This question is related to yesterday’s because boycotts are about the minority trying to force the majority to change their ways—to do what they think is the right thing. Whether that thing is objectively “right” is a matter of debate, of course, and largely depends on one’s ideology. However, the ones that I would consider to be “good” are those that are not trying to suppress the rights of our fellow citizens.

So, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was, by that definition, a “good” boycott. It was also hugely successful, ending segregation of the transport system, but more importantly, leading to the end of laws mandating segregation. Thank you, Rosa Parks!

I think that to be called successful, boycotts must be narrow, for a fixed term and have an identifiable point at which it’s successful (the Montgomery Bus Boycott achieved all three). Most boycotts, however, are much smaller, some are quite silly, and most are unsuccessful.

There was one extremely stupid boycott that was nevertheless effective. In the 1980s, some fundamentalist protestants in the USA became utterly convinced that the logo of Proctor & Gamble was secretly a “satanic symbol” and they began organising a boycott. In 1985—more than a century after they started using the logo—P&G discontinued it. Technically, this never got to the boycott stage because of P&G’s rapid surrender, but it was the threat of boycott that spurred the action. Technically, this was a success, then.

More recently, we saw fundamentalists deciding to boycott Starbuck’s because of the company’s support for marriage equality. That was not successful, as, in fact, their similar boycotts have not been in recent years.

These days, boycotts serve mainly as a tool to rally support and raise money from one’s supporters and, with luck, to get some media attention and publicity; they’re unlikely to change a company’s policies.

Still, my general feeling is that ALL people have the right to boycott products or services in order to protest or to attempt to change something they don’t like. That’s true whether I agree with them or not or support them or not.

Personally, I prefer to “buycott”, that is, to go out of my way to support businesses that support the issues I care about instead of boycotting the ones that oppose those issues. Sometimes, however, a boycott is the only answer for a person of conscience, and I have participated in two: I took part in the Nestlé Boycott because of the Infact scandal. However, that boycott never ended, it wasn’t narrow and there was no clear goal or way of telling if it succeed. Like most people, I gave up.

I also boycotted Domino’s Pizza because of the political activities—especially against abortion rights—by the radical catholic founder of the company. He sold it in 1998 (to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, ironically enough). The company is now publicly listed. I stopped boycotting when the loon sold his company.

And finally, I never buy petrol from Mobil stations because when Exxon took them over, they cancelled Mobil’s “domestic partner” benefits for all new employees, and since then at shareholder meetings they have repeatedly rejected reinstating the benefits. That one isn’t an actual boycott, just a personal choice: If I know a company is run by bigots, I avoid giving my money to that company.

So, what about the Card boycott? I wouldn’t be going to the movie, anyway, so it doesn’t matter, BUT, I do support the boycott. I think Jeremy Hooper summed up my thinking when he said:
“So for me, it's not really about ‘blame.’ For me it's about the fact that I cannot, in good conscience, pay money for a cinematic vision that springs from the very same mind that calls my sexual orientation a ‘dysfunction’ for which I must ‘repent.’ … He, by his own volition, chose to put out public commentary that slurs my life, family, and very existence in ways that the unacquainted would find unimaginable (in fact I'm still not convinced the film's defenders have seen how far he has gone), so I, working from my own volitional place, will not support any more of Orson Scott Card's public enterprises. I just can't. Other people might be able to do so—I cannot.”
And that is Jeremy’s absolute right. I applaud him, and endorse the sentiment. Boycotts seldom work, but they’re always worth it for one’s own integrity.

The previous posts in this series:
Ask Arthur
Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 1: Political Me
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 2: Political philosophy & friends

Related: Words and music

Membership

I write a lot about politics, including both the USA and New Zealand. Politics is probably the thing I’m the most interested and passionate about, so this only makes sense. I believe citizens MUST be informed, but I also think they should be active and engaged, and I certainly try to be.

I’m a member of the New Zealand Labour Party and have been, off and on, for years. I recently joined a regular contributor programme, and I received the enamelled button in the photo in the mail this week, a sort of reward for agreeing to be a monthly contributor (I’m one of the “Victory for Labour” people). It doesn’t cost much to be a party member, though: Labour’s annual membership starts at only $5 for the unwaged, with suggested higher amounts based on how much one earns (which probably makes people want to choose the highest amount they can afford; brilliant, really). I prefer giving the monthly amount so I don’t have to worry about renewing my membership. I didn’t know I also got the nifty pin.

Why join a political party? Many people don’t after all. I joined in part so I have a say. As a member, I will have input into who the party selects as the Labour candidate for this electorate. Should I choose to do so, I could play a bigger role, in the campaign next year, yes, but also in the party generally. I think those days are probably behind me, but I do want to have input into who the Labour candidate is.

The bigger question is, why Labour? The answer is that it’s the party that, taken as a whole, best represents my views—particularly because at the moment, only Labour or National will lead a government, and I MUCH prefer Labour-led government.

NO political party is perfect, and Labour certainly isn’t. I’ve criticised it in the past, and will again, no doubt. Nevertheless, for me, it is the best.

The Greens are the only other party I could support, but, for me, they have fewer positives than Labour, starting with their perceived “unelectability” (in the sense of leading government). Every year they get better and better and will make an excellent coalition partner for Labour. That’s partly because the Greens are more left-ish than Labour is and will help keep Labour from drifting too far to the right. At the same time, Labour will keep them from going too far left. An excellent progressive balance, in my opinion.

Citizens have an obligation to be informed voters—and to vote, of course. I also think that citizens should take the next step and be active and involved voters. Being a member of the NZ Labour Party is one way in which I try to live up to my own ideals.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Arthur Answers Roger, Part 2: Political philosophy & friends

This post continues politically-themed questions from Roger Green, this time more philosophical in nature. Roger asked:

Do the 5th and 6th paragraphs of this article, ostensibly about Scalia, but largely about Frederick Douglass, reflect your attitude about civil rights, and gay rights in particular?

This is what Roger is referring to (though the whole article is worth a read):
In his fights against slavery and for equal rights, [Frederick] Douglass thought deeply about the meaning of democracy. In his speeches and essays, he attempted to distinguish his own views from the ideas of false prophets of democracy like Illinois Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who championed the majoritarianism favored by Justice Scalia. Sen. Douglas’ understanding of democracy, the great abolitionist declared, is nothing more than a democratic version of might makes right. “By a peculiar use of words,” Douglass wrote in 1860, “[Senator Douglas] confounds power with right … By his notion of human rights, everything depends upon the majority.”

According to Douglass, majoritarian democracy lacks a sound “philosophical theory” at its foundation. It is not “genuine” in the sense that it lacks any justification for itself beyond power. The fundamental flaw in the majoritarian conception of democracy, Douglass wrote, was that it violated “the only intelligible principle” on which democracy can be based: the equal dignity of each human being. “The right of each man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he concluded, “is the basis for all social and political right.”
That’s precisely what I think. We use majority rule as a convenient means to an end—to make decisions so society can move forward because consensus and unanimity are too time-consuming and difficult when there are immediate needs. However, while it’s true that the just power of government is derived from the consent of the governed, it’s also true that the consent must be based on the premise that all people are born equal and must therefore be equal citizens.

It is indeed merely “might makes rights” if all citizens are not equal, and majority rule is sometimes even anti-democratic. For example: All the referenda that took away or prevented marriage equality. We saw repeatedly how extremists were able to manipulate the process to harness fear of and prejudice against LGBT people to in order to exclude them from the rights, privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship. That’s an insult to democracy itself because it’s using the mechanics of democracy—majority rule—to oppress citizens who ought to be equal.

When I was an LGBT grassroots political activist, one of my close colleagues used to say that his motivation for activism was, “how dare they!” How dare a group of citizens use their privileged position in the majority to deny LGBT people their human and civil rights? I agreed with that, of course, and it’s how I feel whenever those who command the power of the majority use that power to suppress or oppress minorities. That’s NOT what democracy is all about!

Roger also asked (and I’m bumping this up because it’s timely):

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Arthur Answers Roger, Part 1: Political Me

Today, I’m continuing to answer questions posted to my most recent “Ask Arthur” post. As it happens, all the rest of the questions are from Roger Green, and my plan was to group them more or less thematically, regardless of when he posted the question. However, as I found out with the first post in this series, it’s not necessarily easy to keep the answers brief. So, some posts, like this one, will address only one question. We’ll see how the rest go.

So, Roger’s question that I answer in this post is this:

I'm curious how you became such a political science geek when you were younger. I mean, it can't be just a pursuit of truth, justice and the American way. (Interestingly, when Chris asked me about why I knew all of the Presidents, I only then realized it had a LOT to do with JFKs assassination – answer forthcoming in a week or so.) [Edit: That post is now available]

Related: were you affected in issues of justice by books, TV shows, movies?

It’s an odd thing, but I can’t really remember a time I wasn’t interested in politics. I vaguely remember the Kennedy assassination (more his funeral, actually), and LBJ was the first president I was truly aware of, something that began with his election.

I’ve mentioned a few times now that one of my earliest memories is of a mock presidential election in our Kindergarten in 1964. I credit that experience with giving me my scepticism of the electoral process and commitment to fair elections. It also made me think of voting as something fun and exciting to do. I still feel that way.

Overall, my parents were my biggest influence. As I said a couple months ago, “My parents made me a left-of-centre voter. I don’t think they set out to do that, but then again, yes they did.” I think that post sums up their influence (and in it I also talk about the Kindergarten vote, too).

At the same time, I had a huge curiosity about things. I’d see stories on the TV news and want to know the why and how that the news report didn’t go into. So, like Roger, I read encyclopaedia articles, and also news magazines and Life Magazine. However, I don’t remember much teaching about current events in primary school.

That’s kind of strange, really, because this time had some pretty significant things happening in the background, starting with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, then Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. There was also the civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War and all the conflicts and related societal fracturing. Maybe that’s why there wasn’t more talk in school.

What I was able to learn in school and on my own became a sort of drug: I wanted more. It wasn’t just facts that I wanted to know, I also wanted to know things like why people voted the way they did. That led me to major in Political Science (and minor in History).

There’s a hard, cold fact that I was well aware of: A Bachelor’s degree in Political Science qualified me for a job in which my main duty would be to say, “Would you like fries with that?” But my intention up until the middle of my University years was to build a career in electoral politics, including eventually running for office myself. I’m currently working on a post specifically about that, but it obviously never happened. Instead, I turned that passion toward activism and then, years later, to blogging and podcasting. I learned a lot about how politics really works from those experiences, and my degree made that easier, even if it didn’t directly help me make money.

Throughout my life I’ve been influenced by books, TV shows and movies, though not usually directly—it was more inspiration or reinforcement. As a kid, I always liked lawyer shows where the lawyer fought for the innocent person. That same theme—fighting against injustice—appealed to me in TV, film and books alike. Aside from that, I was influenced, and even changed, by Maude. No other entertainment show on TV had a similar effect on me (though several others in the Norman Lear stable appealed to me, too, for largely political reasons). I was also a big fan of documentaries, like Frontline on PBS and anything by Bill Moyers. Books that influenced me included The Scarlet Letter, To Kill A Mockingbird, Black Elk Speaks, Johnny Got His Gun, Walden, Leaves of Grass and the poetry of Langston Hughes, all of which had elements of that theme I mentioned. I also read histories and biographies too numerous to mention.

I need to add that the vast majority of TV shows and films I watched and books and magazine articles I read had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Sometimes, I was just curious about things or just wanted to be entertained.

So, mine was a slow evolution in which things built on what had gone before. However, while that initially included memorising a lot of facts, that’s no longer the case due to my memory being far less reliable than it was when I was younger. Instead, I now look everything up, even facts I’m “sure” about. It’s safe and sensible. As a bonus, though, I often learn new things along the way.

I began by saying that I can’t really remember a time I wasn’t interested in politics. I also can’t imagine a time that when won’t be interested in politics. To me, that’s the best part of all.

The previous posts in this series:
Ask Arthur
Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing

Related: Words and music

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dismal economics

New statistics on the economy show that ordinary New Zealanders, particularly those who are struggling, are becoming worse off. Naturally, that’s not the spin we’re getting.

Today Statistics New Zealand reported that in the three months ending June 30, the consumer price index rose at .2%, largely because higher prices for electricity and newly built houses (that segment of the economy saw prices rise 1.1%). Also, the costs of manufactured goods was up 1%, mostly due to increases in insurance prices.

The main factor preventing even higher rises was a decrease in in what they call “the transport group” (down 1.2%). That includes the costs of petrol and cars. Since June 30, prices for petrol have skyrocketed, hitting new record highs (today, petrol is selling for about $2.27 per litre, which is around US$6.72 per US gallon). This price rise means that the cost of living is up significantly from the end of last quarter.

Those are the basic facts: The cost of living is up, but the increase was smaller than expected. That’s not what the newsmedia are reporting.

The New Zealand Herald headlined their story “Inflation drops to lowest since 1999”, a line taken by other media outlets. Their story begins,
“New Zealand inflation fell to just below expectations in the second quarter, as cheap imported petrol helped counter rising housing related prices, pushing the annual rate to a 14-year low.”
That lede makes it sound as if things are better for ordinary New Zealanders when, in fact, prices are still going up, just not as quickly. There’s nothing new in this, of course, and it’s the spin that the National/Act government will also put on the figures. But it’s basically telling people, “pay no attention to how things are now, they used to be worse!” Yeah, well, weasel words do nothing to actually help people who are struggling.

Last week, Statistics New Zealand reported that food prices were up 2.1% in June, compared with 1.4% in each of the previous Junes. Fruit and vegetables were up a staggering 13%, compared with a 9% increase last year. So far, the “Food Price Index” is up .6% for the year.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high. The unemployment rate in the March quarter (the most recent available) was 6.2%. While that was down from the previous quarter, it’s still high. All of which means that unemployed people are competing for the few jobs there are while also paying higher prices.

This matters particularly because this week the National/Act government’s latest round of welfare rule changes took effect. I’m convinced that they’ll make things worse for struggling New Zealand families, and will contribute to the growing gap between rich and poor. In fact, their “reforms” to date have already affected such families negatively, as even the NZ Herald has highlighted.

There’s more bad news for poorer New Zealanders: New rules from the Reserve Bank will cut the number of low-deposit home loans available. This will dramatically affect first-time homebuyers who face rapidly rising house prices and also struggle to reach the 20% deposit. Some 70% of first time homebuyers buy their home with less than a 20% deposit, according to Bankers' Association chief executive Kirk Hope.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing

Today I begin a series of “Arthur Answers” posts, each answering questions posed to me after my latest “Ask Arthur” post. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d get any questions, but I got quite a few—so many, in fact, that I’ll be separating them into different posts so they each get the space they deserve.

The first question today comes from Facebook, where Scott asked:

“What is the status of LGBT people in the Māori Community? [Were] they more accepting to LGBT people before the British invaded?”

As you might suspect, the answer to the second question is yes, but that doesn’t mean the answer to the first is negative, because it isn’t.

Most Māori, like most Pākehā New Zealanders, are accepting of LGBT people, especially their relatives. There are, of course, conservative Māori, mostly older and invariably religious, who are not as accepting. Some of them, in fact, cling to a myth that homosexuality didn’t exist among Māori until the arrival of Europeans.

However, the evidence is clear that homosexual activity and relationships existed in pre-European times. Māori had a term for such relationships, Takatāpui, which roughly translates into English as "intimate companion of the same sex" or as "devoted companion of the same sex". This is not to suggest the presence of homosexuality as we now use the term, however, and sexuality and relationships may have been more fluid than they are now.

The European missionaries who came to New Zealand brought with them their concepts of “sin”, and when New Zealand became a British Colony in 1840, British laws against sex between men also came into force (there was never a law against two women have sex). The laws against men having sex were overturned in 1986 in when Homosexual Law Reform was passed by Parliament.

Since 1986, Māori LGBT people have been reclaiming the term Takatāpui as an identity that is both Māori and LGBT. In some senses, the current common term “queer” is most analogous to the modern usage because it is meant to embrace a fluidity of identity, but it doesn’t entirely fit because Takatāpui is meant to celebrate Māori identity, too.

In 2004, the New Zealand Parliament considered the Civil Union Act, and the leading opponent of the bill was a Māori fundamentalist protestant TV preacher, who led marches through Auckland and Wellington. Parliament passed the law. However, by 2013, the opposition to the marriage equality bill earlier this year was mainly from white fundamentalist protestants and Catholics. They were no more successful than the TV preacher had been, and Parliament enacted marriage equality. In both cases, then, opposition is more accurately described as being based on religion, not race.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Words and music

Music is important to us all. It provides the soundtrack to our lives, as the late Dick Clark put it. But what about when that soundtrack doesn’t entirely match someone’s life, like because he's gay?

I recently published a post about “All-American Boy”, a song by Steve Grand, the openly gay Internet sensation. In that post, I talked about a specific aspect to the song to which I could relate—I was having my life and my reality reflected in that pop song. This led Roger Green to ask in the comments:
“You may have discussed this – though I don't recall – but I was interested in what you thought of pop songs with a heterosexual romance when you were growing up. Or the notion of redoing some of them now with a different POV.”
It’s something that I haven’t talked about directly before, as far as I can tell, and I checked my posts tagged “Music” to find out. Truth is, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to talk about it. So, I will now:

When I was a small child, there was no such thing as an openly gay artist. The first person I ever heard of who wasn’t assumed to be 100% straight was David Bowie who declared he was bisexual, about the same time Elton John did so, too. I was a teenager by then.

It was another decade before I started hearing about openly LGBT pop music artists, though at first they were outside the mainstream. Their numbers slowly increased and they did eventually enter the mainstream.

What this means is that until the 1980/90s, I had no singers with whom I could personally identify. As an adult, this didn’t matter, but as a kid, it would’ve been helpful. Heterosexual youth saw their reality reflected on the radio or on “American Bandstand” or “Soul Train”, but I couldn’t. I had to insert my reality into their songs—what I call "filling in the blanks".

Fortunately, much of pop music is “universal”, without specific pronouns or references to gender. When a love song is written in the second person—without any specific reference to gender—it’s fairly easy to imagine it’s a song about a same-gender romance. An example of this is “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and the Shondells (1967, still often on the radio in the early 1970s), which I identified with specifically because of these lyrics [Listen]:
Look at the way
We gotta hide what we're doin'
'cause what would they say
If they ever knew…
To a closeted kid, that spoke to me in a way it was probably never meant to.

Songs by female singers gave me a chance to sing along without having to change the pronouns—though I’m not sure that as a kid I thought much about that, perceiving myself as a sort of backing singer, not the lead. In any event, in my childhood years it was the only way to identify with a song about a relationship with a man—particularly because I never dreamed that one day it would be possible to marry another man.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Celebrating happiness and love


The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that successfully fought to end California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, recently posted this video, “Inside Look: AFER's Prop 8 Victory and the First Weddings”. It’s heart-warming to see such unbounded happiness, and great to re-live the liberation from a long nightmare.

And yet, as they say, haters gotta hate: The anti-gay bigots who desperately tired to defend the unconstitutional Prop 8 have filed a hopeless lawsuit in California state court seeking an injunction to halt marriage equality in California and to reinstate enforcement of Prop 8. Their utterly bizarre excuse for their stunt (because that’s what it is) is that they apparently think that the ruling only applies to the two counties that were named in the federal suit. Perhaps their reading comprehension is somewhat lacking.

The bigots’ inability to understand court rulings isn’t their only problem: They also don’t understand how federalism works in the USA. As San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera pointed out:
"The opponents of the freedom to marry have chosen to ignore the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and the well-settled California marriage case of Lockyer v. San Francisco, which they themselves celebrated at the time. Their motion has essentially no chance to succeed. The most basic concepts of American law tell us that a state court cannot and will not overrule the federal judiciary.”
Herrera is moving quickly to get the bigots’ bizarre stunt tossed out by the court. He also said what so many of us are also thinking:
“The citizens of California are left wondering when these people will realize that, having lost the moral struggle years and years ago, they have now lost the legal struggle as well. Marriage equality is now the law in the State of California, and will remain so from this point onward.”
Indeed, when will the bigots realise they’ve lost? And further, that sooner than any of us realise, marriage equality will exist throughout the USA? The simple answer, I think, is that most of them do know the war is over, apart from a few closing skirmishes, and their side lost. Soon, their hate groups’ very reason for existing will be gone.

I’m certain that’s exactly why the California bigots have pulled this stunt: Money. When the last state law banning the freedom to marry is finally struck down, how will these people make any money? They’re clearly not intelligent or talented enough to make their riches in fields that would be useful or beneficial to society, so they have no choice other than to keep their hate campaigns going.

That means that the bigots will carry on fighting against the freedom to marry, and they’ll keep pulling bizarre stunts, until they come up with some other issue to hitch their cavalcade of hatred onto. It’s all they know how to do, and it’s something they know they can make a lot of money from.

And that’s the real pity in this. The video shows the happiness of people who can finally get on with their lives. The bigots, on the other hand, are determined to fight others’ happiness, to combat love and to spread hatred. It’s an incredibly stark contrast. In the end, happiness and love always triumphs. It’s really sad that the bigots just won’t accept that, they won’t stop wallowing in negativity and they won’t move on to doing something positive for society. That’s their choice. The rest of us choose to move forward and to celebrate happiness and love. That’s why we win.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hear, hear

Ever been annoyed by the boorish behaviour of someone in an audience you’re part of? It could be a movie, concert, play, sporting event, whatever, but people around you are doing annoying things that detract from whatever you’re trying to enjoy.

Like pretty much all of us, Roger Green has been annoyed by people near him checking cellphones, leaving in the middle of a play or talking when they should be listening. So, Roger proposes what he calls a “Slow Audience Participation” movement:
The slow food movement was designed so that people could ENJOY eating more, by eschewing fast food, processed product cooked in the microwave, and the like. Not only is it healthier, it’s more enjoyable to be part of the process.

In the similar mode, I’m suggesting a “slow audience response” movement. Please stop talking when the speaker/movie/concert starts, and wait for the event to actually end before fumbling with your keys. You may actually enjoy it better if you are “present” at the event, rather than treating it as one more thing to check off the to-do list. I KNOW your fellow audience members will appreciate it.
I don’t know anyone who would disagree—even people who engage in boorish behaviour at public events; very often they’re blithely unaware of how annoying their disruptions are. What we’re really talking about here are simply good manners—can they be revived?

Of course, boorish behaviour in an audience is certainly nothing new. When The Blues Brothers was released, my friends and I went to see it. We’d enjoyed the movie's stars, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, when they were on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, but also because part of the movie was shot in the area where we grew up. As we sat there, some teenage girls behind us whispered (well, they apparently thought they were whispering…) excitedly about the places they recognised and also when they saw people they knew in crowd shots. This went on for some time, until I turned around and said, “Look, I don’t care who you know, or what you recognise, be quiet!” As I turned back around to face the screen, I caught a glimpse of one of my friends looking at me out of the side of his eye, a huge grin on his face.

It was the only time I’ve ever done that (though I may have uttered a loud “Ssssssh!” in that same general era). I probably wouldn’t say anything now, and that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? “Silence implies consent”, and people take lack of complaint as acceptance of their boorish behaviour.

On the other hand, as Roger points out, actually saying something can be disruptive, too. Finding an usher to complain to is even more so.

The best solution is probably to foster good manners. Jeez, I really feel my age when I say things like that, and, as I said in a comment on Roger’s site, “I think ‘you kids—get off my lawn!!’ is the next logical step.” But, really, what’s so bad about fostering polite behaviour?

I don’t know that there’s much we can do apart from model good manners ourselves, but maybe talking about it more—even through blog posts—can also encourage people to, well, behave themselves.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some kids I have to go chase from my lawn—politely.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Airport realities


The United Airlines Terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, designed by Helmut Jahn and completed in 1987, has two parts connected by a tunnel that goes under the tarmac. The first time I went through the tunnel, I stood on the “moving sidewalk”, watching the neon light sculpture overhead, and then I heard a rhythmic chanting. I thought, “Wow! How amazing! They’re playing Laurie Anderson!!”

In fact, the recording said, “The walkway is ending. Please look down.” The echoes and reverberations made it sound Anderson-like.

But to this day, I wish they really used Laurie Anderson. It would have been so much better.

The video above is closest to what I experienced that first trip (there are several videos on YouTube; the video enters the tunnel around :25 or so). The times I used the walkway, they had a female voice making the announcement, which led to the Anderson illusion, but the video gives you the general idea.

The video below is what I imagined I was hearing.

Monday, July 08, 2013

All the news that sits

A new Gallup poll reports that 55% of Americans say television is their main source for news, leading the Internet at 21%. A mere 9% of Americans turn to newspapers, and 6% to radio.

I don’t think that this is particularly surprising, and it’s important to note, as Gallup does, that this poll has found what Americans consider to be their main source of news, not necessarily their only source. So, TV watchers may also read newspapers, for example.

Nevertheless, we know that newspapers have been slowly dying for years, and there’s nothing in this poll to suggest that there may be a rebirth. Media companies are moving their content behind paywalls, with little evidence that people will actually pay for what they’re used to getting for free—particularly when there will always be free alternatives.

The problem is that real journalism is expensive, and news organisations have to pay for it somehow. Pay TV has a specific model for gaining revenue, but newspapers haven’t found anything similar that works.

This could mean that as newspapers’ online content disappears behind paywalls, more people may get their news from television, and that could be a real problem. Many studies have shown how ill-informed viewers of the ideologically-driven Fox “News” are, for example. Imagine if that went from being some people’s main source of news to being their only source.

The Gallup report also highlights demographic differences between viewers of Fox and CNN, and there are no surprises there. But with Fox viewers tending to be older than CNN viewers, maybe reliance on Fox won’t be a problem long term, as the network’s viewers die off.

I think that this possibility is reinforced by the news sources chosen by those 18-29 and those 30-49: They’re remarkably similar (see the chart, above). They’re significantly more likely to select the Internet as their main news source than those over 50. To me, this suggests that they’re accustomed to ferreting out news while older Americans—especially those over 65—tend to be far more passive.

For me, a significant component of this more active approach to news consumption is social media. I know that I’ve certainly seen a lot of major stories breaking first on Twitter (like Michael Jackson’s death), and have seen Twitter driving news (like launching public support for marriage equality in New Zealand). I’ve also seen news and commentary that I’d otherwise never have run across because someone posted a link on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. So, for me, the Internet is probably my main source of news, too—but that includes the websites of newspapers and television and radio news organisations (and podcasts of their broadcasts).

The Gallup study documents the fracturing of news sources. That’s unlikely to change, but we can’t yet know whether this will turn out to be a good thing or not. I choose to be optimistic because of the more active ways younger people source their news. Trouble is, we won’t know if I’m right for many years yet. I wonder if it’ll be in the news…

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Ask Arthur

This blogging thing is incestuous. Well, for lack of a better word. In response to a recent post, Roger Green asked a question that will become a future blog post. And now I’m carrying on from that.

See, it reminded me that last year I did an “Ask Arthur” post where I solicited questions. Of course I ultimately answered them—it would have been rude not to. Now, I’m back again.

It’s your chance to ask whatever pops into that pretty little head of yours. It could be about something I’ve said, something I haven’t said, or something you wish I’d said something about. Maybe you want to know something about me (aw, you’re sweet!). Whatever, I’ll answer as honestly as I’m able.

Because I’m smart and all (meaning, I can look at stats for the blog…) I know that there are far more readers than commenters. So, maybe you’re shy about expressing yourself publicly. No worries! Just click the email link in the right sidebar, tell me you want to remain anonymous, and your question will just be between us. The point is, everyone’s welcome.

So, leave a comment to this post, send me an email or whatever, and I’ll do my best to answer your question. Depending on whether I get any questions or not, I’ll either answer in one post as Roger does, or I’ll make them special posts.

So, don’t be shy—ask away!

And, by the way, you can check our Roger’s latest “Ask Roger Anything” post, from which I shamelessly stole the idea.

Friday, July 05, 2013

All-American Boy


I really like this video and song, “All-American Boy”, by openly-gay country artist Steve Grand. He released it on July 4, which is especially appropriate since the holiday features in the lyrics.

As he got ready to release his video, without a manager or record label, Steve wrote on his Facebook page:
“I fought with who I was for most of my life. In every way a young person can fight with himself. But starting today… I'm laying it out there. I'm done playing it safe.”
Going it alone is always a challenge, even if it’s easier now than ever. Steve said:
“I went all in. There is no Plan B. I'm nervous/excited/horrified/anxious about the implications all of the choices I am making (and have made throughout my journey of discovering myself as a man and as an artist) will have on my future. But then I remind myself I never really had a choice. This is the story I've been aching to tell my most of my life… it is what I hold dearest to me.”
Any artist who chooses to be honest about who he is—as opposed to coming out later—faces huge obstacles. Industry moguls, contrary to popular belief, aren’t very supportive of openly gay artists of any kind, and country artists? Is there a less than zero for supportiveness?

The song speaks to pretty much every gay man, because in our youth we probably all had crushes on unobtainable boys. This may not seem any different from heterosexual boys, who also have unrequited love, except that for us it’s totally different: When we’re still trying to work out who we are, we also have to carefully navigate that dangerous territory in which we don’t know if the boy we’re infatuated with is even capable of being interested in us. A straight boy’s infatuation with a girl may be unrequited, but it’s unlikely to get him beaten up. Gay boys face that risk.

I wonder, though, if things have changed as society has moved forward. Certainly young people today are much more open and accepting than they were in my day, so maybe they deal with unrequited infatuation more positively. The video depicts what’s ultimately a positive outcome for a painful reality. Maybe things really are better.

I think that I first saw this video on Joe.My.God., who described it as “Gay pop rock, Abercrombie-style.” Yeah, I can see why he said that, but the country music roots are pretty obvious. Maybe we can compromise and call it “country rock” or “pop country” or something. Personally, I’d opt for just calling it good.

Steve performs the video well, too, which is important in selling it. He’s very attractive and knows how to use that to sell the song. All of this bodes well for his career, of course. BuzzFeed called him “The First Openly Gay Male Country Star”, which is putting a big weight on his shoulders. NashvilleGab.com also sang his praises. A lot of Internet buzz about him, in other words.

I bought his single on Bandcamp because I like it that much and because I wanted to support his career. We need more openly gay artists, and maybe even especially in country music. I wish him well.

Meantime, I think I’ll listen to the song again.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Are you proud?

My fellow Americans, regardless of what country you live in, do you feel proud of your homeland? This can be a vexed question for expats, but it’s always seemed to me it’s one that people within the USA ought to think about.

I’ve long thought that the idea of being proud of the country of one’s birth is a little peculiar, a bit like being proud of having a certain eye colour. None of us chooses the country of our birth, and we had nothing to do with its history before we were born. We also can’t be assigned any responsibility for anything that happens when we’re quite young. So, if we had nothing to do with choosing our homeland or making the country what it is up until we reach a certain age, do we have any right to feel pride about it?

Maybe most of us actually feel gratitude. In the West, we watch democracy sputter and fail in places like Egypt, and are glad we live in countries that value democracy, even if it’s sometimes imperfectly practiced. We may also be glad for the opportunities that open societies present to us, even if the ability to reach one’s potential isn’t equally distributed.

And yet, there really is something to the whole pride thing—a visceral feeling of connection, belonging and, yes, even love. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as it doesn’t lead to chauvinism or xenophobia. A healthy dose of humility keeps those more negative feelings in check.

What of expats? By definition, they live outside their native land, so can they be proud of a country they don’t live in? If home is where the heart is, then there’s no reason an expat can’t feel the same passion for “home” as does a person who’s never left. I’d argue that sometimes an expat may be more passionate, having something to compare their homeland to. And yet, many of us are part of the country we now live in—can we love two countries? Yes, I think we can, actually.

Gallup just released the latest in their annual polls on this topic and found that 85% of Americans classify themselves as “extremely or very proud” to be American. That number has changed very little since they began asking the question 12 years ago.

At the same time, 71% of Americans think the country’s founding fathers would be “disappointed” in the way America turned out, and only 27% think they’d be “pleased”. As Gallup notes, “This is most likely an outgrowth of Americans' current level of negativity toward their government.” Maybe this split—pride in country but lack of pride in government—is what makes the idea of being proud of America seem kind of odd.

As for me, I tend to look at the Fourth of July a bit like Thanksgiving—an opportunity to celebrate my American heritage and ancestry in a new country. Like Americans who live in the USA, I’m not proud of Congress, but unlike them, I’m not so sure that the founding fathers would be disappointed. The flawed system of federal government IS their design, after all, even if political parties have corrupted it. But the over-the-top flag waving, rockets red glare style of American patriotism? That was never me, even when I lived there.

To be anything other than an unquestioning cheerleader of America is seen by some—too many—as indicative of disloyalty. Of course, those same people have already written me off because I live in another country now, so it’s not like it really matters to them what I think or how I react.

Regardless, I celebrate the symbol that is America, the promise of democracy and liberty—but I can’t let go of its shortcomings and failures. For ANY other topic, this would be considered tempering emotion with realism, but when it comes to feelings about the US, well, it’s just never that simple, is it? And that’s the pity of it.

Still, it’s a holiday in the US, and a lot of people have a four-day weekend, apparently. I wonder how many of them have national pride as their paramount thought.

Happy Fourth of July to those who care about it, and maybe especially to those who don’t.

‘Nice’ Republicans? Um, no.

If “experts” are to be believed, Republicans are about to be less anti-gay when talking about marriage equality. Wanna buy a bridge? “Experts” are selling them:
"But despite the social conservative dominance in two of the three early presidential nominating states, experts say [Republican] politicians… are not likely to jeopardize their presidential ambitions by choosing not to employ fire and brimstone condemnations following the ruling [on DOMA]."
That article excerpt is absurd. Of COURSE Republican presidential candidates are gonna get all bigotty about marriage equality—they HAVE to in order to win the Republican nomination! The "social conservative" radicals control the entire Republican Party nomination process, from top to bottom, and no serious contender can dare to stray from the party—literally—line. If these supposed "experts" seriously think Republican contenders aren't going to be strongly, even virulently, anti-gay, they haven't been paying attention to Republican rhetoric nor that of the party's frothing base.

The reality is that Republican candidates will have to prove that they're anti-gay to the extremists who are their party's base, and that will mean bigoted language. It's inevitable.

We know this from recent history: The Republican Party rejected all efforts at moderating it’s positions on “social issues” and instead doubled-down on its hard right ideology. That’s because the party is controlled by hard right ideologues, and no candidate can cross them and get away with it.

The Republican Party’s religious activists have declared that the DOMA ruling is a sort of “call to arms” for them. One prominent activist religious activist associated with a Vatican-backed anti-gay group declared, “The Supreme Court has not ended the debate. It has started a movement.” The leader of a leading—and powerful—“Christian” anti-gay hate group declared, “conservative leaders across our country aren't about to” give up. Another far right “Christian” group thundered that the DOMA ruling was as bad as Pearl Harbour, a “day of infamy”, and that far right “Christians” must “defy man’s law”. Another prominent anti-gay “Christian” activist declared, “This is the thing revolutions are made of”. That’s along the same lines as another anti-gay “Christian” extremist group that declared, “we have only one option and that is to secede from the union” in order to form a “Christian” theocracy.

This cavalcade of crazy may sound too silly to be taken seriously, but these people are active parts of the Republican Party base. Many of them have been instrumental in writing the party platform or campaigning for Republican candidates. They’ve all been forceful in pushing their version of conservatism (and Christianity) as the only acceptable, true and correct one. In short, these people may be nuts, but they’re powerful nuts.

As if the expressly religious activists weren’t enough, the “tea party” faction also turns on Republicans who support immigration reform, among other issues (which is why the leading Republican presidential contenders are so negative, in whole or in part, on immigration reform).

So, there are a whole bunch of rightwing fringe positions on issues that Republican candidates will have to waddle through somehow in order to win the nomination, and the easiest way for them to do that is to move to the far right themselves, and that will include hard right rhetoric, especially against gay people.

All of which is why, ultimately, Republican politicians will once again “employ fire and brimstone condemnations” of gay people and marriage equality. Their party’s base will accept nothing less. You don’t have to be an “expert” on anything to know this is inevitable.

“Nice” Republicans? Um, no.