Saturday, November 30, 2013

No thanks

I had no Thanksgiving this year. The whānau was busy, which was actually a good thing: I was flat out working on my final work projects for the year and simply didn’t have time to take off for cooking and such. Nigel and I thought about going to Denny’s as we did one year a long time ago, but we didn’t.

I’ve written about Thanksgiving several times before (see links at the bottom of this post), and what it’s like for an expat like me. Because of time zones, when Americans are celebrating their holiday, it’s Friday here. Most years, that works out well for me because that’s Takeaway Night, something we’ve done for years, getting together for dinner with family. This year, the timing was all wrong.

The truth is, I’ve never been able to make up my mind about what I think about celebrating Thanksgiving here in New Zealand. On the one hand, it’s part of my culture, and I’d like to preserve it (I prefer it to Fourth of July, which is in the NZ winter, or Halloween, which I pretty much loathe). However, my customs are foreign to Kiwi family and friends, and it seems I’m the only one who actually likes turkey. So, I guess celebrating Thanksgiving in New Zealand is really all about me (not that I have a problem with that…).

I think that the longer a person lives in a country they’ve moved to, the less important the ways of the old country are, especially if they’re in the new country long-term/permanently. I don’t know if it ever goes away, that longing for some sort of connection with one’s native culture, but it does weaken over time. In my experience, anyway.

So, I had no Thanksgiving this year. There’s always next year—thankfully, that’s almost certainly true.

Previous posts on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving thoughts (2012)
Happy Thanksgiving (2011)
Another expat Thanksgiving (2010)
Thanksgiving (2008)
Home for the holidays (2007)
Thanksgiving Downunder (2006)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Soundtrack of our lives

For most of us, pop music provides the soundtrack to our lives, sometimes unwillingly. Over time many of us grow nostalgic about a particular era of music because when we associate it with a time of our lives that has special meaning for us. For me, that’s the 1980s.

The time between, say, 1980 and 1995 was important to me because it’s the time in which I established my life and then launched the arc that I’m still living to this day. I’d even go so far as to call it my adult life’s launching pad.

In 1980, I began the transition from young university student to independent adult. I wasn’t ready for that—I was still in university, after all—but my parents had both died, so I had no choice. It wasn’t an easy time at all, but I was fortunate to meet some friends who helped guide me along, because this was the time I came out, too.

The pop music I listened to at this time was, for the most part, a continuation of the late 1970s. But by 1983, I was in living in Chicago and a whole bunch of new bands were becoming popular, and it was these groups in particular that I think of from this period.

This was the period when I was a gay activist in Chicago and when I think of those adventures, the music of the 80s is often in my thoughts. Those years were, on the whole, the happiest of my adult life up until then. That figures, of course, because they were also the only years of my adult life up until that point—but they nevertheless were, for the most part, very happy years.

I put 1995 as the closing year for that period because it’s when I moved to New Zealand. Pop music remained important to me, but not necessarily the same groups.

Since then, I stopped listening to the radio. This means that I’m far less familiar with contemporary pop music (something that’s not all bad, of course). Still, I manage to keep up with quite a lot.

Recently, I was struck by a realisation. First, that the music I liked was released up to 30 years ago. That’s a long time. But then I had another realisation: In 1983, 30 years previous was 1953. In the mid-to-late 1970s there was a bit of a fad for 1950s music, only some 20 years after it was new. By the 1980s, 50s music seemed kind of old, preferred by middle-aged folks. Now I’m the middle-aged guy listening to the music of his youth 30 years earlier.

Then today I saw, “New Wave artists aging gracefully. An 80s world gone by…”, with pictures of 1980s pop artists as they look nowadays. It was sobering. In my mind, they all still look as they did in their youth. Seeing them some of them aged nearly 30 years was a bit jarring; but, then, I remember 30 years ago seeing how much performers from the 1950s (and 1940s) had aged.

Seeing the photos was a stark reminder of how much time has really passed. I still listen to 80s music because I still like it. I never felt nostalgic listening to it before, but I wonder if the reality check will change that?

I doubt it will. Age is at least partly a state of mind, so no matter the evidence to the contrary, I don’t feel like 30 years has really passed. But I do realise that my soundtrack is getting longer.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Call of Duty is Gay

The video above is a humorous take on anti-gay language used by gamers. It’s related, though different, to the video I posted yesterday that was a dramatisation of YouTube comments.

The YouTube description says it’s “A sketch for everyone who's ever had a teenager call them a nasty slur on Xbox Live.” For me, though, one of the best parts is the reaction of the parents near the end—priceless. Mostly, it’s just a bit of fun.

The sketch was written by Jon Bershad. The video was directed by Peter Macaluso and stars Keaton Patti, Lauren Adams, Dan Chamberlain, Jon Bershad, Avery Monsen and Jonathan Marballi.

Tip o' the Hat to Ramble Redhead, who shared this on Facebook.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Weekend Diversion: YouTube Comment Reconstruction

This is one of the current crop of viral videos, and not like many I’ve seen. Their YouTube description says it best:
“The YouTube comment section can sometimes make you question humanity, so to cheer you up we're bringing you dramatic reconstructions of some of the best comment wars. This time it's between 'Sophie Danze' and 'Jilianlovesthebeibs' on "’One Direction - What Makes You Beautiful.’"
This is probably the first time I’ve actually enjoyed YouTube comments—as a rule, I never read them. This is a great alternative.

The video stars Grahame Edwards (left) and Eryl Lloyd Parry, and was produced by Adrian Bliss.

Dude’s not crazy

The New Zealand media has spent a lot of time on Colin Craig and his Conservative Party. Many are openly asking if he’s “crazy”. He’s not—he’s something far worse.

Colin’s “party” is being touted as a potential coalition partner for Prime Minister John Key’s National Party; in fact, it’s widely thought that Key wouldn’t be able to hold onto power unless Colin gets into Parliament because, based on some polls, they’d bring in three or four religious extreme rightwingers—that’s IF they win an electorate seat.

Colin’s a conservative Christian who puts his particular beliefs at the core of the ideology of his “party”. He claims it’s not a “Christian” party, but the evidence doesn’t back him up.

Like other rightwing Christian politicians, he doesn’t believe in climate change, saying that sunspots have more influence than humans do. He also believes that fluoride in drinking water is a poison. Clearly he has a real problem understanding science.

That’s not surprising, since Colin also doesn’t know the difference between real, published and credible international research and goofball, fake online surveys. Last year, Colin relied on a garbage online survey from a condom manufacturer to declare that NZ women are “the most promiscuous in the world”. And this guy thinks he’s smart enough to be an MP?! Not based on this evidence.

In an editorial today, the Herald on Sunday called Colin “troublingly dim” and said that “if Colin Craig is the answer to John Key's problem, then National is in trouble.”

They weren’t done: The Herald on Sunday also implied that Colin is lazy and unable to do the work of an MP because he wants to shove off decisions to referendums, rather than actually doing the job MPs are elected to do.

When the conservative New Zealand Herald attacks a rightwing politician, that politician is in trouble.

Over on Fairfax’s Stuff news site, they ask if the Colin Craig party is “crazy or credible”. Their article, however, provides startlingly clear insight into what Colin would do to New Zealand, given the chance. At the end, they have a section they call “Craig’s List” (cute, eh?) in which they look at ten party policies and what’s behind them.

At number nine, Stuff talks about “binding citizens-initiated referendums and a 100-day delay on initiating legislation to allow it to be overturned by the public”. This is the laziness that the Herald was talking about, but Stuff points out, “This appears to be a not-so-sneaky way to make gay marriage illegal again.” That’s exactly correct: Colin opposed marriage equality, and on the very day that the law took effect and the news media showed happy couples celebrating, Colin boomed that it was “a sad day for New Zealand”. If he had the chance, of COURSE he’d make it illegal again. He’d also outlaw all abortions and re-legalise parents smacking children.

But Colin is like most American religious extremists in another way: He wants all New Zealanders to be able to have guns, just like the USA, and he wants people to be able to shoot and kill an alleged burglar. He also wants a massive increase in military spending, though he’s never exactly said why. Actually, on these and all other issues, the shallowness of Colin’s understanding is really quite shocking.

The Stuff article talks in detail about the ways Colin and his Merry Band of Bigots could get into Parliament. If John Key really does a deal with Colin, it would certainly seal the doom of his government. Polls show that a majority of voters—including a clear majority of National Party voters—oppose any deal with Colin. What makes Key think that voters would allow him to get away with installing a bunch of religious extremists in positions of power?

Despite what some people say, Colin Craig is not crazy—“troublingly dim”, sure, but not crazy. Instead, he’s actually something far worse: he’s dangerous. If John Key really does a deal with Colin that would threaten our secular democracy as it’s never been threatened before, he’ll end up energising mainstream New Zealanders—Labour and National voters alike—to make sure that Key is retired from politics. And that wouldn’t be crazy, either.

Exit stage right

There comes a time when political groups must admit the game is up, the war is lost. If they don’t, they risk becoming the Harold Stassen of movement politics—always there, always losing, and always ignored.

The National Organization for Man/Lady-Only Marriage (NOM) is in that position. They recently released their tax records for last year, and they told an embarrassing tale. Last year, just two secret donors accounted for 75% of the money they raised.

Yet despite all this secret cash flowing into their coffers, they ended the year $2.7 million in the red, thanks largely to the four electoral battles for marriage equality they lost in 2012, the first year NOM lost at the ballot box. Since then, they’ve lost a string of battles in state legislatures. They’re clearly poised to lose more election battles in state elections in the next couple cycles.

NOM’s trouble is simple: It’s on the wrong side. Clear majorities of Americans back marriage equality. When asked whether they support any form of official recognition of for same-gender couples (including marriage, civil unions, etc.), supermajorities are supportive. Despite that, NOM remains adamantly opposed to any legal recognition of same-gender couples.

Where to from here? The Washington Post’s conservative columnist, Jennifer Rubin, mused on this very question:
“What exactly does NOM do as voters in state after state decide to expand marriage to gay couples? There aren’t enough states for a constitutional amendment. It’s no longer a matter of judicial activism, but a sea change in public opinion that is propelling the legal shift. How many contests does NOM lose before it — or its donors — figures out the argument is not going to carry the day?”
NOM, she says, should change and become a…
“Campaign for marriage, not against gay marriage. Root out marriage penalties in the tax code. Enlist religious and secular groups to tout marriage and inform people about its physical, psychological and economic benefits. Promote private marriage counseling.”
That can never happen: Anti-gay animus is at the very core of NOM, and while their spokespeople claim to not be bigots, their actions speak far louder. Anti-gay rhetoric is frequently featured on their websites and among their other materials. Their subsidiary, the Ruth Institute, says stupid and/or vile and repulsive things about LGBT people, and it frequently flat-out lies. So, NOM can never morph into something positive because negativity—bigotry, to use the correct word—is at the very centre of everything they do, everything they are.

NOM and its comrades on the religious right were very important for a time. They were exploited by Karl Rove, aided and abetted by then-chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman, as a tool to increase votes for Republicans. Many of the electoral victories that NOM still points to were, in fact, part of the cynical plot by Rove and Mehlman to get Republicans elected.

Rove is now irrelevant, Mehlman is out of the closet (and kind of repenting for his sins), and Republican politicians have been doing a great job of making themselves very unpopular. Add that to the growing majorities supporting marriage equality, and NOM cannot win.

So, NOM will eventually die. It won’t evolve into an organisation focused on the positive because it can’t when negativity is its sole reason for existing. Until NOM does finally close up shop, we’ll see it continue to mount quixotic losing campaigns.

There comes a time when politicians and political movements must admit the game is up and the war is lost. NOM can’t, so becoming the Harold Stassen of movement politics is its destiny. And then they’ll just disappear—after embarrassing themselves even more.

Still, it’ll be kind of entertaining to watch.

Related: For ongoing monitoring of the dying NOM and its antics, check out HRC's NOM Exposed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Big anniversaries of big events, good and bad, always encourage remembrances. The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is exactly that sort of event.

But sometimes when there’s a special remembrance in the news, I say nothing. It’s not necessarily that I don’t have anything to say, it’s that I don’t have anything to add.

I struggled mightily to come up with something to say, but the thing is, I have no memory of the assassination. I was four years old, so I don’t remember much of anything at all from that year. My mother frequently told me she was in the FW Woolworth in our town when news of the assassination broke. It seemed important to her to re-share that over the years, but I couldn’t really relate since I have no idea where I was or how I found out. I do remember bits of the funeral, but I don’t know how much of that is from my actual memory and how much comes from my seeing film of it over the years.

This uncertainty of memory is probably a common thing among people who were quite young when an historic event happens. Blogger Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God., who is my age, also wonders about his memory of that time: “Do I really remember all that drama or have my mom's stories sort of insinuated themselves into a false memory?”

On the other hand, Roger Green, who’s a little older than me, does have memories of the events, and he wrote about them. He wrote, “A lot of households I visited, especially after the shootings, had pictures on the walls, and the only ones that weren’t family members were of JFK and Jesus Christ.” I don’t think I’ve read that anywhere before. This is the sort of thing I prefer to read—people’s actual memories—because it’s personal and more “real”.

It’s also the way I like to write on this blog about remembrances of historic events from my lifetime. I talk about my personal connection or memories, if any, and maybe my reflections and my—oh, how I hate this word—analysis. What I don’t want to do is merely recite events that people could just as easily read on Wikipedia or whatever.

But what should I say when I don’t really remember much of anything about the events 50 years ago? I note the significance, think about what might have happened if JFK had lived, that sort of thing. But all of that has been talked about endlessly for 50 years.

Remembering the past is important—I frequently say that. Sometimes, though, we have to rely on others to tell us about events we lived through. And sometimes, I think, it’s best to leave it at that.

Update: My friend Jason has posted his memories of the assassination, and I found them interesting, too. He's a few months younger than I am, but he remembers so much more than I do. I think—but certainly don't know—that I must have heard the news indirectly. My parents were both Republican and may not have been as moved as others were, certainly there was nothing like what Jason described.

Right and wrong

Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist minister, was in this news this week when his church punished him for loving his son. That’s not the way the church sees it, of course, but that’s the real story.

Seven years ago, Rev. Schaefer performed the Massachusetts wedding of his gay son, even though the Methodist Church forbids that or the open acceptance of LGBT people (church officials no doubt wouldn’t put it that way, but in my opinion, their doctrine clearly rejects acceptance of LGBT people). Rev Schaefer informed the church he was going to do this, and that was the end of it until just recently—one month before the church’s “statute of limitations” was due to run out— when a complaint was filed with the church.

The video above tells the basics of that story, though a video available at the Washington Post video site provides more detailed background information. Apparently, the Post previously reported that “the church's only witness against Schaeffer was a man whose mother, the church's choir director, has been feuding with Schaefer” [source], though the AP report currently on the Post site doesn’t say anything about that.

However, the Post’s video hints at some of the personal conflicts within Rev. Schaefer’s congregation, so it’s not hard to imagine that the complaint was made out of spite. As the son and grandson of church ministers, I frequently observed that some of the least Christian people were to be found within a Christian church.

Whatever the truth is, this has sparked an evolution for Rev. Schaeffer. Back when he performed his son’s wedding, he said it was out of love. Now, however, he says he cannot remain silent. “I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” he said. You know: Like that Jesus fellow would do.

He was found guilty in his church trial, but rather the expelling him immediately, they suspended him and gave him 30 days to “repent of your actions” and to promise to never again perform a wedding for a same-gender couple. The second part would be in keeping with Methodist church law, but that first part? That means he’d have to repudiate his own son. To “repent” would mean that he’d have to agree with his church that supporting his son was “wrong”. To “repent” would mean he’d have to put antique church attitudes—that will change one day—above love for his family.

Rev. Schaefer says he won’t comply and, in the video below, says he gave them every reason to expel him right then. I’m certain that when the 30 days is up, he will be expelled from the Methodist ministry, and that will mean his church will be punishing him for loving his son. There’s no other reasonable way to look at it.

If Methodist church officials want to put church law above love and human compassion, that’s clearly their right. But sometimes a right is wrong, and expelling Rev. Schaefer is clearly not the right—or Christian—thing to do.

Still, no matter what happens, love will triumph in the end. It always does.

Update December 21, 2013: As expected, Rev. Schaefer was "defrocked" by a United Methodist Church board because he refused to obey church rules that forbid Methodist minsters from performing marriages for same-gender couples (church rules also forbid the ordination of LGBT people as pastors). While the Church’s move was entirely expected, it was also wrong. Rev. Schaefer was the one who did the right thing: He knew the consequences of standing up for what was right and good, he knew the consequences for taking a stand on the side of love. One day his now former United Methodist Church will catch up with him. It is inevitable. But the saddest thing right now is how many people the Church will cause harm to until that day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Illinois history

Today was an important day for my native Illinois: Today, Illinois became a free state as Governor Pat Quinn signed the Religious Freedom & Marriage Fairness Act into law.

It was a LONG time getting here, as I well remember. I haven’t blogged much about it*, but I was an LGBT grassroots activist from the early 1980s to the early 1990s with the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force (IGLTF), at the time Illinois’ only statewide LGBT civil rights organisation. It was an interesting time.

In 1986, Chicago attempted to pass an ordinance to protect the civil and human rights of LGBT people. It failed under obstinate opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. That failure led to reorganising that—ultimately—led to the adoption of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance only a couple years later.

However, it was only a few years ago—2005—that Illinois finally passed a state law banning discrimination against LGBT people. That’s something IGLTF had been working toward since the 1970s (well before I came along). Then, the state enacted civil unions in December 2010. They began officially on June 1, 2011.

That’s the stuff anyone could glean from the news media or through a little diligent research. There is, of course, more to it.

On October 14, 1989, IGLTF announced that it would introduce a bill to establish a “domestic partnership registry” which would have allowed opposite-gender and same-gender couples to register their relationship officially. At the time, marriage equality wasn’t seen as even remotely possible.

The motivation behind that was that IGLTF had surveyed its membership to find out what they thought the most important issue was. We assumed it would be civil rights protections, but recognition of gay relationships topped the list, comfortably. There were also practical implications. Tim Drake, who was in charge of state legislation at the time, explained it to me this way: “At the time, there were corporations and unions beginning to push for the rights of gay employees—but, if they wanted to create an employee benefit for a gay spouse, there wasn't a mechanism in place for them to do so. We thought having a statewide registry would give them something to point to, instead of having a dozen different definitions.”

IGLTF gathered together all the domestic partnership legislation of that time and drafted a bill. After the public meeting in October 1989, IGLTF was ready to move forward. Even so, we knew that the bill wouldn’t go anywhere—we wanted to start the debate. As Tim Drake said at the time, “We’re introducing [the bill] now to start the education process, which will be a long process.”

So, we sought out the most “gay friendly” legislator, someone who wouldn’t suffer any political harm. That person was Ellis Levin (no longer a state representative) who represented the most heavily LGBT—and arguably most liberal—district in the state. He balked. In fact, people who were at the meeting with him told me that he "threw a tantrum", claiming we were “ruining” his career. We weren’t buying it; instead we insisted he introduce it, and eventually he did. We were right, of course: Sponsorship wasn’t used against him.

As we’d planned, the bill was never called for a hearing, since it was merely introduced to give us something to organize around. Even so, as Tim put it, “our bill became the impetus for the successful registry in Oak Park.”

That was the earliest ancestry of the bill that was signed into law today. We all knew it would happen some day, but I don’t think any of us could imagine it would be “only” some 24 years later.

Since that time, IGLTF disappeared and many of the activists involved with it retired from activism, some (like me) moved away, and some, sadly, have died. But I think it’s important to remember where we come from and how we got to a place, and this is part of the story.

Finally, a personal note. The new law means that when Nigel and I go to Illinois to visit family and friends, we’ll still be married when we get there. This is an important thing. But there’s something that’s even more important to me: I’m equal.

I’m a native Illinoisan: Born there, grew up there, educated there and lived the first 36 years of my life there. In fact, the only reason I left was that my state and my country didn’t recognise my relationship. They both do now. I don’t know if things would have been different if this had been the law 18 years ago, whether Nigel would have moved to the USA instead, but I do know this: For the first time in my life, I’m equal to all my heterosexual family and friends in Illinois. Whether we ever live there or not, we now—FINALLY—have the same opportunity as everyone else.

The same opportunities as everyone else: Isn’t that part of what equality is all about? That’s what we were fighting for all those years ago, and I have to say, it feels pretty awesome to see it actually happen.

Thank you, Illinois and everyone who made this happen. I knew we’d get there eventually.

* In fact, as near as I can tell, the only time I talked specifically about my time as an activist was when Robert Bork died.

Related: Windy City Times coverage.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address at 150

On November 19, 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech he thought “the world will little note, nor long remember”. He was wrong.

The video above is from Ken Burns’ “Learn the Address” project:
“To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, documentarian Ken Burns, along with numerous partners, has launched a national effort to encourage everyone in America to video record themselves reading or reciting the speech. The collection of recordings housed on this site will continue to grow as more and more people are inspired by the power of history and take the challenge to LEARN THE ADDRESS.”
This particular video is a mashup of several of the videos made by prominent people—including President Obama and ALL living former US Presidents. It’s kind of fascinating in its own way, but the project site has a lot of videos from the famous and obscure alike.

The Gettysburg Address wasn’t even 300 words long. It took President Lincoln some two minutes to deliver the speech. While it was apparently well-enough received at the time (the crowd may have appreciated its brevity after the 2-hour oration they’d just endured), not everyone thought it was good. Newspapers, for example, divided pretty much along partisan lines (sound familiar?). One Pennsylvania paper, the Patriot & Union of Harrisburg, panned the speech in an editorial a few days later:
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
As the 150th anniversary of the speech drew close, the paper recently issued a formal retraction, something that was reported widely. Less well-known, perhaps, is the context of that editorial, that it was in many ways a personal grudge on display.

The Gettysburg Address was the only political speech I ever memorised, partly because it was short, but also because I’ve always had an affinity for Lincoln, as I wrote about on the bicentennial of his birth. So, the speech had personal resonance for me before I understood anything about politics or history.

I’d eventually hear or read political speeches that would speak to me in other ways, appealing to my political beliefs, for example, connecting with my brain, perhaps. In some ways, though, I think it was able to happen because I connected with the Gettysburg Address when I was still too young to understand it or its historic context.

I still like that speech.

Monday, November 18, 2013

I have no accent

As an expat, one common and good-natured discussion I get into is WHO has an accent: Me or New Zealanders? The answer is predictable—it’s “the other guy” who has an accent.

Some Kiwis think I have a “mongrel accent”, that is, all mish-mashed together into something not exactly Kiwi, but not entirely American, either. Some Kiwis have thought I was Canadian, and during the height of the unpopularity of the Bush-Cheney regime I sometimes didn’t bother correcting them.

However, I apparently I really don’t have an accent.

I took an online quiz asking about how certain words sound, and it produced results shown in the graphic above. It says I have “a Midland Accent”, which they say is “just another way of saying you don’t have an accent.”

Obviously I actually do have an accent—everyone does, a function of where they grew up, mostly. My accent—well the one I had when I arrived in NZ, because I know some of it has changed—is actually called “Inland North” and is a variant of what they used to call Standard American English (also known as General American). It was taught to broadcasting students as the best accent for American radio and television (nowadays, it seems, anything goes…). This is probably why my results added, “You have a good voice for TV and Radio.”

That made me chuckle a bit, sort of self-mockingly, because I do, apparently, produce podcast episodes from time to time. And much as I think that my rare podcast episodes are far better now than when I started, it has less to do with accent than with all the things that make good announcers: Vocal control, modulation, tone, etc., etc. I’m still not very good at it, but even I can tell I’m better than when I started.

So, while I do have an accent, and it’s different from folks born in New Zealand, that certainly doesn’t mean they DON’T have an accent. And the answer to the question, who has the accent? It depends who makes up the majority in the room at the time. Even in New Zealand there have been times when I’ve been in the majority. And that can mean only one thing: Sometimes, even in New Zealand, I don’t have an accent.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The roundabout wins

In the video above, the Mythbusters looked at the American 4-way stop v. the roundabout to see which was more efficient at moving traffic. Yes, there is a clear winner.

When I first started driving in New Zealand, I found roundabouts challenging—I’d never encountered them before, though before I left, Chicago was starting to introduce some on a few residential streets. Now, I find them an incredibly easy way to get around and I prefer them to traffic lights/stop signs.

I’ve had some Americans tell me that they can’t imagine how they could ever adapt to roundabouts, but I can attest to the fact that it’s surprisingly easy. However, I don’t like BIG roundabouts, ones controlling three or more roads. But for two roads, I think they’re pretty much ideal.

The YouTube description says this “only Aired in Australia on SBS One, August 3, 2013”, but I hope that’s not true: It would be a shame if Americans never got to see it and learn that sometimes people in other parts of the word do things better.

Kids React to Gay Marriage

This video is part of a series of videos with people of various ages reacting to things. In this one from earlier this month, kids between 5 and 13 watch two gay marriage proposal videos, one of which I posted to this blog (the other was a casualty of my lack of time for blogging, because I’d planned on posting it, too; it’s on YouTube).

In the Question and Answer section, the kids have some interesting reactions, which provides insight into some of the attitudes that are underneath broader attitudes in society. That in itself is pretty interesting.

For me, one of the best reasons for posting this video is that I’m certain its very existence will really piss off the radical anti-gay industry. Mind you, that’s incredibly easy to do: Just say a kind word about a gay person and most of the time they’re off in a frothing rage.

Which actually proves something else: It’s often true that when it comes to gay people and LGBT rights, including marriage equality, kids know better than to act like children. Maybe someday adults will learn that, too.


There’s been much controversy about the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Sri Lanka. The NZ Government is causing some of it.

Consider the first two paragraphs from Andrea Vance’s reporting for Fairfax:
Foreign minister Murray McCully returned from the Tamil-led north of Sri Lanka last night and indicated he believes New Zealand should not support an independent investigation into war crimes.

Shortly after his return to Colombo, McCully signed a dairy co-operation agreement with his counterpart Professor GL Peiris, worth about $2 million.
McCully denied there was any soft handling of Sri Lanka to protect dairy deals, arguing that New Zealand sits “in the middle of the spectrum” in holding the Sri Lankan government to account for human rights violations and alleged war crimes.

Also purely coincidentally, before McCully headed to the Tamil area in the north of the country to assure himself no international inquiry was needed, he laid the foundation stone for a milk chilling plant being built at the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the country’s civil war. But hey, the Sri Lankan government’s doing a good job, he assured us.

Meanwhile, McCully’s boss, Prime Minister John Key, sat down for drinks and a chat with UK Prime Minister David Cameron—who wants an international inquiry—and with newly installed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is probably not sure what an international inquiry is. John Key probably just shrugged and said, “oh, look, I’m relaxed about what David wants,” because that’s the sort of thing he usually says.

But hey, why should New Zealand care about the deaths of 40-70,000 civilians, alleged rapes committed by the Sri Lankan army or the disappearance of thousands more? New Zealand gets a dairy deal and a couple elephants, so it’s all good, right? John Key thinks so.

John Key’s National/Act Government is a disgrace. They’re destroying New Zealand’s prestige on the international stage by turning a blind eye to human rights violations as well as the brutality of various dictators. The sooner we vote to change the government, the better for New Zealand and the world.

Leaders from Canada, Mauritius and India boycotted the meeting, and that cost Mauritius the right to host the 2014 CHOGM meeting.

Responding to bigots

A young gay waiter was refused a tip by “Christians” despite providing excellent service to them. They said he was an affront to their god. This time, there’s a happy ending.

The video above reports the story (Update: The video has been removed; the link goes to the original story), but the gist of it is that the “Christians” weren’t content with merely sanctimoniously stiffing the waiter: They went on the attack, in full bigoted flight, writing on the receipt:
“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Fags do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your faggot choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.”
Any normal person would be appalled by the bigoted behaviour of the self-righteous “Christians”, none more so than real Christians who would be particularly disgusted—and rightly so—at what these people did in the name of the religion they supposedly share.

As it always does, word spread through social media and before long people made a point of going to the restaurant to tip the young man and offer support. So, the bigots who no doubt felt so pridefully self-satisfied from operationalising their hatred of gay people, ended up earning the young man far more money than the proper tip would have cost them. This is the best way to respond to bigots: Undo the damage they cause.

Bigots stiffing LGBT waiters is not at all unusual, of course. Gay Star News recently reported that a bigoted family wrote a note to their lesbian waitress on their bill: “Sorry, I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle and the way you live your life." When the waitress—a former US marine—introduced herself to them and said her name was Dayna, the woman (and presumed mother of the kids) of the couple said, "Oh I thought you were gonna say your name is Dan. You sure surprised us!" What a nice lady! About as nice as diarrhoea.

An important point here is that in the USA, wait staff are paid very badly because it’s assumed they’ll get tips to make up the difference; they depend on tips to make a somewhat decent wage from what is very difficult physical labour. So, when a waiter provides good or even adequate service, anyone who doesn’t tip a waiter in the USA is effectively stealing the services of the waiter (withholding a tip for bad service is not the same thing). As an aside, waiters in New Zealand are never tipped—except for extraordinary service—because they’re paid decent wages to start out with.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Weekend Diversion: Urban decay

The video above was shot using a drone flying through the old Packard Motor Car Company factory in Detroit Michigan. It’s about history, really, and what happens when people abandon places.

The 325,000 square metre (3,500,000-square-foot) plant was designed by architect Albert Kahn and is located on over 40 acres. Built beginning in 1903 and completed in 1911, it featured the first use of reinforced concrete for industrial construction in Detroit, and in its day was the most modern car manufacturing facility in the world.

The factory closed in 1958, four years after Packard merged with Studebaker. Four years later, the merged company dropped “Packard” from their name and became Studebaker Corporation. In 1966, the last Studebaker was manufactured and a year later the company essentially disappeared (the name itself lasted until 1979, though buried in conglomerate).

The Packard site in Detroit was used by other companies into the late 1990s, and apparently—despite the obvious vandalism and decay—much of the facility is still structurally sound. The site was sold in late October of this year, but there’s no word yet on what will happen to it.

Internet Wading: Experiencing history

Last month, I wrote about some things the Internet taught me about history. I said that I hoped I’d remember to save links to such things, and I did. Here are a few more.

First up, let’s go WAY back, all the way to Ancient Rome. The video above is a virtual tour of Rome in 320 CE. It’s part of a project called Rome Reborn, with an ultimate goal of a virtual world that people can interact with and explore. This is only the beginning fo such virtual reconstructions, I think, and it’s something that could radically change how people encounter history.

For now, though, we use more traditional means to visit history, but even there technology sometimes plays a role. Last month, I posted a link to some colourised photos mainly from the USA’s Civil War. I then ran across another site with many more colourised photos (a couple of which were at the other link). I said last month that “I thought the re-touched photos made the people in the war much more real than they’d seemed before,” and I also said, “For me, it really did bring history alive.” That’s true with these photos, too, but some of them also looked a bit like historical re-enactments, or scenes from a movie about the events. Can history be made too real?

Since then, I ran across more modern photos that were posted as, “30 Of The Most Powerful Images Ever” (WARNING: Some of the images are distressing). These photos are a record of our history, and many of them we know very well. Do we view them differently than the colourised photos versions I’ve linked to, or even to the original black and white photos versions?

Many of us experience unfolding history through pop culture as much as the news—sometimes more so. Salon took a look at Saturday Night Live and Richard Pryor: The untold story behind SNL’s edgiest sketch ever”. They said:
“Conventional wisdom held that it would be ludicrous to expect the show’s target audience to sit at home watching TV at eleven thirty on a Saturday night. [SNL creator Lorne] Michaels knew different. The audience he was after had grown up watching TV. Too much TV. It was their collective point of reference, the communal campfire around which they all gathered in the new global village. They lived and breathed TV with an ironic self-awareness that Michaels and his team used to frame the jokes within the Big Joke that would define the show and leave most Americans born before 1948 muttering to themselves and scratching their heads.”
I think that was true of television then, and it’s also true of the Internet now. But if young people experience unfolding history through the Internet, will it be through sites like I’ve found, or will it be through a list of animated GIFs on BuzzFeed?

Still, even BuzzFeed has its place. Today they published “10 Beautiful Photos Of Older People Looking At Younger Reflections Of Themselves In The Mirror”, which combines current reality and recreated history in BuzzFeed’s standard list format. The point of the post was that the way people perceive themselves in the present is often their memory of the way they looked in the past. It also hints at how we perceive history in general.

History continues to unfold, and while we can influence that, we can’t stop it. However, the way we remember things is entirely up to us. So, too, is how we perceive history, and that clearly presents a lot of options. Some of those options may be problematic, but overall I think that if people learn history at all, it’s a good thing. We have to know where we’ve been to understand where we’re going, after all, and there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be options to experience history in the way that speaks best to us.

Just as long as we DO remember.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

To kill a mocking post

Politics has become entirely too negative—even for me. A little humour can help lighten it all up, but with caution: Mockery can become every bit as bad as no humour at all.

A month ago, I mentioned my blogging dilemma in which, “It’s not that I don’t have things I want to say, it’s that I have things I don’t want to publish.” I talked about the basic reasons, but there’s one I only hinted at: My mockery was out of control.

The fact is, my contempt for some of my political adversaries is so deep that sometimes I found myself being pretty brutal when I meant to lighten things up, and that’s exactly the sort of negativity I wanted to get away from. The better solution, it seemed to me, was to say nothing at all.

Long time readers will remember my Two-day Rule. It’s saved me from many ill-advised posts, always negative, even if sometimes I thought they were funny in their mocking (they weren’t).

Since I wrote the post last month, there was one mocking post in particular that I killed before publishing. It started out kind of funny, but devolved into me saying things that if anyone else said them, I’d think it was offensive. That was kind of jarring. And even though I cut the offending part, I quickly lost interest in the rest and abandoned the post altogether.

So, I think my decision to take a step back was wise, because mockery with bitterness is just negativity with a phony smile. It’s best to mostly avoid that.

Because politics has become entirely too negative, I don’t want to say or do anything that contributes unnecessarily to that negativity (there are, of course, times when it’s unavoidable). Sometimes that means the best thing to do is avoid even attempting any humour. I wish more people realised that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A card that matters

The video above features Macklemore promoting membership in the ACLU. It’s light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek and fun. It’s also needed.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been fighting for people’s civil liberties for the better part of century, and that work has seen them fight on behalf of people we don’t like very much: It doesn’t matter if someone is left or right, we all can point at some case the ACLU has taken on that we disapprove of. Conservatives forget (or ignore…) just how often the ACLU has fought for their rights, too.

Nevertheless, popular perception is that the ACLU is part of “the left” or that it’s a “liberal organisation”. This led George Bush the First to redbait his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, in their 1988 presidential contest. Dukakis, Bush I constantly thundered, was a "card carrying member of the ACLU.”

I remember ads in “alternative” newspapers at the time touting that line as a tool to recruit new members for the ACLU. When I was able to do so, even I joined the ACLU because of Bush I’s sleazy pandering (and I voted for Dukakis, of course). Bush’s cynical—and successful—campaign was masterminded by Lee Atwater. Bush I’s son had his own Machiavelli, Karl Rove, who was in most respects just like Atwater, but without any of the charm. If anything, Rove was even more sleazy and negative.

The video above is a modern day, less-urgent version of those long ago newspaper ads. Some curmudgeons have sniffed that an ACLU membership card don’t literally give one any of the things that Macklemore mentions, but that’s just being silly because it’s irrelevant. The point is obviously that the ACLU fights for everyone’s civil liberties—especially the marginalised—and always has. The other point is the ACLU needs money to do its work. Duh.

So, I like this video, and not just because I like Macklemore. It highlights a couple issues that the ACLU is active in, ones that resonate with younger American voters (clearly the target of the video). As far as I’m concerned, anything that helps the ACLU helps everyone, including those who grizzle that the text isn’t literally true, as well as those who think the ACLU is the spawn of satan or something. Funny how that works.
If politics makes strange bedfellows, then the fight for basic civil liberties must make ones that are stranger still. But some things transcend mere politics or partisan identity or ideology, and the defence of civil liberties ought to be near the top of that list.

Like I said, anything that helps the ACLU helps everyone.

Closure from Hawaii

Hawaii has become the 16th US state to adopt marriage equality, which is a big deal for the people of the Aloha State. The bigger deal is the closure this brings.

The fight over marriage equality began in Hawaii. I wrote about that back in August:
Many people forget that it was actually a 1993 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court, Baehr v. Lewin, that led a few years later, in 1996, to the infamous "Defense [sic] of Marriage Act". The USA's rightwing was terrified that if Hawaii legalised marriage for same-gender couples, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution would force all states to recognise those marriages. Of course, DOMA went much farther, also denying federal benefits to legally-married gay couples—of which there were NONE in the USA in 1996!
That wound, opened 20 years ago, is now closing. DOMA is struck down. 16 US states—nearly one third of the states—have now adopted marriage equality. If that’s not a tipping point…

I keep mentioning all this because the pace of change has been so quick lately that many forget how long this has been going on. There are so many people who have brought us to this point—many of whom I actually know—and I think it’s important to remember those who brought us to where we are.

So, whenever we have one of these victories for fairness and justice, I think of all the people who helped in whatever way, big or small, to make that possible. So, in that spirit, thanks to my friend Kyle in Hawaii for his work on this. He’s the only one I know, but I bet he’d rather we focus on others. I say, let’s focus on everyone who helps make these things happen.

This is only the start. Marriage equality WILL be in all 50 US states far sooner than any of us realises. And when it arrives, there will be plenty of people to thank. And, it will have been a long time coming.

Photo: By the uploader (Own work; taken by the uploader) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Boss man

Americans still prefer a male boss to a female one, Gallup has revealed. My experience is somewhat different.

Gallup has just released results of a poll which, they say, shows that “if Americans were taking a new job and had their choice of a boss, they would prefer a male boss over a female boss by 35% to 23%”. 41% had no preference.

Gallup says that this hasn’t changed very much over recent years, but in 1953, when they first asked the question, 2/3 of respondents preferred a male boss. They don’t say, but I’d guess that social changes have reduced the preference for male bosses.

Naturally, the thing I personally found most interesting was this: “Political partisanship significantly predicts attitudes toward the gender of one's boss, with Democrats essentially breaking even in their preferences, while independents and Republicans prefer a male boss.“ Hm, authoritarian preference of Republicans, perhaps?

I’ve generally preferred female bosses. As a gay man, I find they tend to “get” me more than a heterosexual male boss does (I’ve never had a gay boss, male or female, not really). In my personal experience, females tended to be more in tune with the emotive side of things, with males focused mostly on the logical. Those are stereotypes, of course, but all stereotypes are at least based on truth and in my personal experience these have been true. Others’ experiences will be different.

But this leads me to wonder if our preference for the gender of our boss isn’t based mostly on our own experiences. Since I’ve tended to feel that I fair better with a female boss, I favour them. Seems to me, other people would feel the same way, based on their own experiences. And since men still have enormous advantages in employment and advancement, is it really any surprise that they’re still preferred as bosses?

Social scientists have a lot to research here, looking beyond what opinion polls reveal. These opinion polls give us a snapshot of what people think at a moment in time, and this is no different. I just want to know more, I want to know why people think as they do.

What do you prefer—male or female boss—and why?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Because it’s nice

The video above is a TV ad for British department store John Lewis. I think it’s a nice ad, in the sense it’s nice. So many Christmas ads for retailers are crass, so it’s nice to have a break.

I’d never heard of John Lewis, though my quick read on the Internet told me that they have a reputation for doing emotive ads during the holidays. I also learned from Wikipedia that they’re “upmarket”. Yes, well, I wouldn’t have thought that a “downmarket” store would have the cash for such a commercial.

The YouTube description says:
“The commercial uses a unique animation style that combines traditional 2D hand-drawn animation, stop frame, and 3D model made sets.”
All of which is why I like it—well, that and the music.

The song used in the background was originally by English band Keane, and is one of their biggest hits, 2004’s “Somewhere Only We Know” (WATCH). It’s one of my favourites by them.

The version of the song in the commercial is performed by Lily Allen, and I like many of her songs, too, including this cover. The original Keane song reached #3 in the UK, but only #50 in the USA. Lily’s cover of the song was released on iTunes at midnight, November 9—but not in New Zealand.

And all that detail is what the Internet does to you: You want to know one thing and before you know it, bam!, Internet Death Spiral. But this time, at least, it was for a nice video.

ENDA times

It’s been quite a week: The Illinois legislature passed marriage equality, the US Senate passed ENDA and the Hawaii legislature has all but given the final nod to marriage equality in that state. All of this came in the week of the first anniversary of the 2012 elections in which voters for the first time endorsed marriage equality at the ballot box.

The only people who don’t seem to know that we’ve passed the tipping point are the opponents of marriage equality. Actually, that’s not true: Many of our adversaries admit the game is all over, bar the shouting, but they can’t actually surrender, not when there’s still money to be made by fighting against the civil and human rights of LGBT people.

Still, the momentum is clearly in the direction of justice and freedom, and it’s picking up speed. After a string of electoral defeats from 2006 onwards, could anyone have predicted that nearly one-third of US states would have marriage equality in only seven years? And yet we’ll officially hit that mark soon, 40% in the next year and probably 50% within around two years.

So, I’m convinced that marriage equality will almost certainly arrive in all 50 US states far more quickly than any of us realises, probably by US Supreme Court decision, though by then a majority of US states will probably already have marriage equality.

Marriage equality is only one battle, of course, because in 29 US states it’s perfectly legal to fire someone—or refuse to hire them in first place—simply because they’re LGBT. That’s what ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) is designed to help fix, and that’s why the radical right is fighting so hard against it: They WANT to be able to discriminate against LGBT people.

The Republican “Leadership” in the US House is, for now, intransigent on ENDA: They won’t allow it to see the light of day, even through the Senate passed it. I wrote the other day about how US House Speaker John Boehner is a coward for not bringing up the bill, but he’s one thing more: Incredibly stupid.

Unlike Boehner and other House “leaders”, a few Republicans see where this issue is headed. Ten Senate Republicans defied the extremist base of their own party and voted in favour of ENDA. They should be applauded, not just for their vote, great though that was, but also for finally standing up to the extremists.

The extremists in the Republican Party—the Dinosaur Wing of the party—are hopelessly out of touch with voters, particularly young voters. Their crusades against abortion and LGBT rights are driving young voters away from a party some of them might vote for otherwise. Kerry Eleveld wrote about this in an article on Salon, “Anti-gay bigots are getting their clocks cleaned”. So the question, really, is this: Can the Republican Party change with the times, or will their Dinosaur Wing lead them to extinction?

In the Senate debate on ENDA, even notably anti-gay Republicans like Marco Rubio said nothing. They understand politics. The only Republican to preach the extremists’ bigotry was the creepy septuagenarian Republican US Senator from Indiana, Dan Coats, who has been a far right, vociferously anti-gay religious extremist his entire political career. He’d go down with the GOP ship, but other Republicans are more focused on politics in the real world. Heck, even the Mormons—the architects of the defeat of Hawaii’s marriage equality in the 1990s and the driving force behind California’s anti-gay Propostion 8 in 2008—have learned some lessons and actually worked to help get the US Senate to pass ENDA, and five of seven Mormon US Senators vote for ENDA.

Here’s the real kicker, though: Fairness and justice for LGBT Americans will spread throughout the USA regardless of what the Dinosaur Wing of the Republican Party says or does. By opposing it, the only thing they’ll achieve is to hasten their own political defeat, while their fellow Republicans who embrace the future will survive just fine, thank you very much.

So, while this was a very good week for those who support fairness and equality, there’ll be plenty more weeks like this in the next few years—and probably some that are even better. THIS is the new reality of the times. Good.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Crazy ideas

ENDA Infographic
The infographic above is from The Huffington Post and is meant to show how asinine it is for Republicans in the US House of Representatives to oppose to ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act). Opposing ENDA, they're suggesting, is a fringe position. Because, well, it IS a fringe position.

FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (and not to be confused with the utterly useless "fact checking" site run by a Florida newspaper). FactCheck.org took a look at Republicans' opposition in "Spinning ENDA", and show how off-base Republicans are.

The opposition of US House Speaker John Boehner is based on his assertion that ENDA will lead to a dramatic increase in "frivolous" discrimination-related lawsuits. But the FactCheck.org piece points out that's not been the case in any of the states that already have civil rights protections. They also add that, contrary to Republican claims, the bill will not affect most small businesses at all. Moreover, 88% of Fortune 500 companies already have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies and 57% have policies barring gender identity discrimination.

So, I'm wondering: If Republicans' claims of a massive increase in "frivolous" lawsuits can't be supported by known history, and if they're flat out wrong about its affects on small business, and if large businesses already have policies in place that include ENDA-like protections, then what are the Republicans really playing at?

Simple, really: Like usual, Republicans like Boehner are pandering to the most rightwing and bigoted parts of their base. Boehner knows how far out of step with the USA the Republican Party is on LGBT issues, but he can't fight the aggressive far-right extremist base of his party. However, he doesn't want to piss off non-bigoted Republican voters, so he has to spin and lie so his pandering to bigots isn't as obvious.

This must be the case because if he was really sure his caucus opposed ENDA, he'd allow it to move through the legislative process. Instead, it's obvious he's afraid that enough of his own caucus would vote with enough Democrats to pass ENDA. So, I think the real issue here is that Boehner's a coward. If he allows ENDA to move through and its approved, the radical base of the party will hold him solely responsible. The irony is that he may be defeated for re-election by the radicals or dumped as Speaker in a coup, no matter what he does.

So, like the minority of Americans who believe in "crazy" things—like opposing workplace protections for LGBT people—John Boehner finds himself out on the fringes. Come to think of it, how do I KNOW that Bohener isn't an alien?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

234 people find marriage equality in NZ

New data from Statistics New Zealand reports that 117 same-gender couples were married in the quarter ending September 30, 2013. Marriage equality became law on August 19, so the stats cover only half the quarter.

61 female couples were married in the quarter, as were 56 male couples. 77 couples were New Zealand resident, and 40 were overseas residents.

In the same quarter, 11 female couples and 12 male couples had civil unions (as did 10 opposite-gender couples). Of the same-gender couples, 16 were New Zealand resident and 7 were not. For some reason, Statistics New Zealand doesn’t report statistics on residency of opposite-gender civil union couples.

What do these statistic tell us? Well, not much, really. It’s only six weeks worth of data, after all. However, one thing that did strike me about the data so far is that 25 of the 61 female couples—about 41%—were transfers from civil unions. Similarly, 22 of 56 male couples (just over 39%) were transfers from civil unions. That’s a pretty high percentage of same-gender civil union couples who actually wanted to be married.

Naturally, that’s not how our adversaries on the religious far right see it. My old pal Bob McCoskrie headlined his post on the statistics, “Just 77 same-sex marriages. 33 couples agree there’s no discrimination with civil unions”. Bob was being impish there, even a bit churlish. Since he has a well-deserved reputation for not understanding statistics, it’s worth fact-checking and correcting his spin.

Bob says it’s “just 77” couples because he removes the 40 from overseas. So, what he was really talking about was 77 New Zealand couples; he must think it sounds better for him politically to make the number as small as possible. He goes on to compare the roughly one third of same-gender marriages being among foreigners to the roughly 10% of opposite gender couples, as if that means something. Actually, it does, as Bob well knows: New Zealand is the ONLY country in the Asia Pacific region with marriage equality, so we should expect that marriages of foreign same-gender couples will remain a high percentage, at least until Australia adopts marriage equality some day. Opposite-gender couples can get married wherever they want to, and few of them presently choose New Zealand to do so.

Bob also erroneously said, “Despite the new marriage laws, 33 same-sex couples still chose civil unions, which have been available since 2005.” In fact, 33 couples chose civil unions, of which only 23 were same-gender couples. We have no information on why this is so: It could be rejection of marriage as an institution, it could be that plans for a civil union were too far advanced to change—in fact there could be many reasons why those couples chose civil unions.

In any case, it's irrelevant. Bob churlishly declared, “33 couples agree there’s no discrimination with civil unions”, but that’s not even remotely true—as he meant it. Those couples have no discrimination ANY MORE. When marriage equality became law, for the first time ever, ALL couples, same-gender and opposite-gender, could pick the relationship status that best fit their needs, ideals, etc. Previously, only opposite-gender couples could marry—same-gender couples were forbidden to do so. Opposite-gender couples could choose civil unions and move from civil union to marriage or vice versa. However, same-gender couples could choose only civil unions. THAT was the discrimination.

So, the reality is that 117 same-gender couples chose the responsibilities and obligations of marriage, just as their heterosexual friends, family and acquaintances have always been able to do. The fact that 33 couples—a third opposite-gender—chose civil unions means that they, too, were embracing the newfound equality under law, because all of them could choose either civil unions or marriage.

In the months ahead, Bob and his far right comrades will continue to attack and belittle marriage equality (I can easily imagine the mocking press releases they’ll issue when the first divorce of a same-gender couple is granted). They will continue to put the word marriage into quotation marks when referring to the marriages of same-gender couples, despite it being the law of New Zealand. Such churlishness is in their nature, it would seem.

Most of the time, I simply laugh at the obvious desperation of our adversaries. Because they’re mean-spirited more often than not, they invite mockery. Generally I avoid that, preferring to just correct their misinformation. But the headline of this post is actually gently mocking my pal Bob: He used the lowest possible number to talk about gay people marrying, and I used the highest possible number—117 couples means 234 individuals.

However, there’s a strong truth in my headline that’s missing from Bob’s lame attempt at spin: 234 PEOPLE have experienced true equality and been married. Those people, those 117 couples, are finally equal to opposite-gender married couples, but not just because they were married, but because they had the same, equal choice on whether or not to marry. The same is true, actually, of the 23 same-gender couples who chose civil unions.

So, to correct Bob’s spin, the reality is that 140 couples—280 people—experienced full equality. To me, that is always something worth celebrating.

Source of statistics on marriages and civil unions: Statistics New Zealand (spreadsheets of the data are available for download from their site).

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A good time was had

This past Saturday, we celebrated our marriage. Starting around 1pm or so, family and friends gathered for a good time. And it was.

Nigel organised food from The Casual Foodie in Birkenhead, and it was all great. He also did some prawns on the BBQ to provide something freshly cooked. Of course, we also provided the obligatory chip and dip, along with nuts.

Nigel told me later that one of the most fun aspects for him was taking around platters of food to our guests. Several kept telling him to sit down and let someone else do it, but he enjoyed it.

The roses in the close-up above were given to us by our good friend Pauline, who also organised the cake, below (as she did for the cakes for the celebration of our civil union and my 50th). The cake tasted as good as it looked! The flowers in the other close-up above are part of a lovely large bouquet given to us by our “honorary niece" (she’s not technically a niece, though she’s a cousin to our niece; I think that makes sense…).

We bought too much wine and beer, probably because guests also brought some. On the upside, I won’t have to buy any for myself for weeks—probably not until the holidays. On the downside, the abundance, along with small glasses and an early start, meant I had a wee bit too much wine.

I’m really lucky in that I always realise it when I’ve had too much, and I put myself to bed. This has only happened twice that I can recall, but I’m pleased that at least I’m not one of those people who goes too far and passes out in a chair or something.

Anyway, I basically felt okay the next day—a little seedy, maybe, but nothing a little more sleep and water couldn’t fix. My voice, however, was shot from talking over the music. It’s only now coming right.

The weirdest part of the night was a power failure—a rare event, but especially inconvenient right then. Apparently, someone set off a Guy Fawkes firework that launched itself into a power line connection. It cut power to the entire area because its aluminium coating caused a short in the wires. Or, so I heard—none of us knew what precisely was wrong at the time. But the power did eventually return.

Our house guests were all gone the following morning, probably by 10am (I didn’t look at the clock). A couple more naps and some more tidying filled the day.

This week is taken up with my big monthly work project, but I wanted to take time to post these last photos from the party. This also concludes the Season of Celebrations, as I sometimes call it, stretching from September 12  (the anniversary of my arrival in New Zealand as a tourist), followed by September 13 and my blogoversary, and right on to November 2 and my expataversary. I bet that next year our wedding anniversary will replace November 2 as our main anniversary celebration, and will become a part of the Season of Celebrations.

Oh yeah, the Labour Day public holiday falls in that time, too. Our next public holiday isn’t until Christmas Day/Boxing Day, but the Season of Holidays that starts then is a topic for another time.

It’s been an especially full Season of Celebrations this year, with plenty of memories made. A good time was had by all involved, and that in itself makes me happy.

But our marriage tops everything else, of course.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


Today is my eighteenth Expataversary, the anniversary of the day in 1995 that I arrived in New Zealand to stay. That means today is also the day Nigel and I have always celebrated as our anniversary, though there are now more options to choose from.

There’s not much I can add to what I’ve said in previous years (the links to all those posts are at the bottom of this post). Last year, I commented on that fact:
“It’s been a challenge to avoid repeating myself when talking about the same story each year: I took a risk, moved across the planet, things were rough at first, they got better, now they’re great, The End.”
Except, it’s never really the end, is it? Well, not until it IS, if you know what I mean. Actually, even then no one knows for sure what, if anything, follows. Which says to me that we should treasure each moment as if it’s our last, because sooner or later we’ll be right.

No one’s life is filled with nothing but wonderful moments, but mine has been pretty close, at least much of the time. In my case, it’s because 18 years ago I made the right choices and decisions. The results have been fantastic.

Which is not to say there haven’t been challenges along the way. For starters, there’s all the stuff related to being an expat—dealing with government authorities in two countries, the not insignificant amount of money and time needed to travel halfway around the world for a visit, the inevitable sense of loss that eventually evolves into a sort of detachment and ultimately into a life centred fully in the new country.

Over the years, things have changed for us. In the beginning, apart from recognition by NZ Immigration, which the USA did not provide, there was no real formal recognition of our relationship. Then some recognition was enshrined in law (the Relationships (Property) Act), then Civil Unions and finally marriage equality.

For me, this date, November 2, was always about my expataversary, about the whole expat thing, and most especially about why I became an expat: My life with Nigel, which began on this date. Over time, the expat part has become less important, and the life together the more important part. Two days ago, Nigel and I were married. Will that change the date we celebrate as our anniversary? Maybe we could just have a three-day celebration every year.

Last year, I described this date as “the day that really mattered”. And, it was. But now, 18 years later, there’s so much more to note and to celebrate. Even so, it all began 18 years ago today, and my life is immeasurably better because it did.

Mostly, though, my life is better because of Nigel. Eighteen years later, I still feel that way.

Posts from previous years:
The day that really mattered
Sweet sixteen
Lucky 13: Expataversary and more
Twelfth Anniversary
Eleven Years an Expat

Ex, but not ex-