Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A new 2Political Podcast episode

The latest episode of the podcast I do with Jason, 2Political Podcast, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This past weekend, when I talked about the eighth “podoversary” of my AmeriNZ Podcast, I mentioned 2Political as well. It turns out, all I’ve ever done is mention it—I’ve never promoted it here directly, and I have no idea why not.

I also said in Saturday’s post that “I’ll again post notices of new episodes here on the blog—not full-on shownotes, just an announcement.” I meant that about AmeriNZ Podcast, but I’ve since realised that I should also promote all the content I produce.

So, this is the first post in which I’m doing that. Most of the time these posts will be short announcements, but sometimes I may say something about them. We’ll see.

At any rate, I do much more than just this blog. From now on, I’ll be more transparent about that.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Steve Grand: Time

Steve Grand, whose “All American Boy” struck a chord with many—including me—nearly two years ago, has finally released his debut album, titled, appropriately: All American Boy. The video above is the latest single from the album, "Time".

Last month, Steve told Huffington Post that “My lyric style is definitely very story-driven. I try to tell stories from my life, whether it’s one single moment in time or something that’s been recurring in my life.” He says he’s surprised that he was ever labelled as “country”, but his style helps to explain why he was—that and the fact that he lived for a year in Nashville.

Steve also said that his debut album is “an arc, and every song is a plot point on that arc.” The song “Time” is itself an arc, telling the story of a relationship from start to break-up.

I haven’t yet bought All American Boy, though it’s on my iTunes “wishlist” (where I keep music I want to buy eventually). The album is available on Amazon, which also sells a CD, and, of course, as a digital-only version from iTunes.

I wish him good sales.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How about an Indiana BUY-cott?

The news has been filled with stories of the backlash to Indiana’s newly-signed anti-LGBT license to discriminate law. Companies and organisations are curtailing their business with the state, something that may gain momentum. That’s not good enough.

As I’ve said many times already, I fully support the right of people to withhold their money from businesses—or entire states—because of ideological reasons. This isn’t a Left v. Right thing, either: Both are equally entitled to boycott.

However, boycotts will do little to help the LGBT people of Indiana beyond helping to draw attention to the license to discriminate law. That might help discourage similar laws in other states, but it won’t do much to gain a repeal of the law and it will cause a (quite possibly ineffective) backlash.

Moreover, there are proudly LGBT-owned businesses in Indiana and proudly-LGBT supportive straight-owned business in the state that could suffer from a broad-brush boycott. While I’m all for punishing the bad guys, these folks clearly are not them.

I think we need to more a more targeted approach.

Sure conventions should stay away (they make a big point by doing so), and tourists should, too. But people who must travel to the state for whatever reason should seek out LGBT-owned businesses and those allied with the LGBT people of Indiana. For many people, it may seem too hard to ask business whether they support Senate Bill 101, and with luck there will eventually be some sort of listing of non-bigoted business to give one’s business to [Update: Open For Service is working on such a directory]. That list will grow as more business owners gain the courage to stand up to bigotry.

In the meantime, there’s an easy way to help the LGBT people of Indiana: Give money to the groups that can help. There are national groups, of course—many of them—and they may sometimes do thing specifically for Indiana. But to be sure it gets to the people who can use the support, I say, give local.

Below, listed in alphabetical order, are a few organisations based in Indiana that do good things for the LGBT people of Indiana, along with descriptions of what they do taken from their websites. It’s not an exhaustive list, so feel free to share others in the comments. Check them out. Ask them questions. Then, give them money. The LGBT people of Indiana need support right now more than they need promises to never visit the state. Be the change we seek: DONATE!

ACLU of Indiana: “…The ACLU of Indiana… is a statewide affiliate of the ACLU headquartered in New York… We bring cases against government entities to protect the rights of individuals and groups. The ACLU of Indiana is nonpartisan and does not endorse political candidates. A nonprofit membership organization, we do not receive public funds, tax dollars or government support. Our strength comes from more than 4,000 supporters whose tax-deductible donations fund our free legal services and educational outreach, and whose annual membership dues support advocacy, organizing and lobbying activities to promote civil liberties.” Like all ACLU affiliates, they do advocacy work on behalf of LGBT people, as highlighted on their website.

Indiana Equality Action: “Indiana Equality Action (IE Action), a 501(c)(4) organization, is a coalition of statewide and regional organizations. IE Action focuses on amending Indiana’s Civil Rights law to protect against discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity, securing bias crimes protections, and keeping Indiana’s Marriage Discrimination Amendment at bay. IE Action is a lobbying and advocacy organization.”

Indiana Youth Group: “Indiana Youth Group (IYG) provides safe places and confidential environments where self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are empowered through programs, support services, social and leadership opportunities and community service. IYG advocates on their behalf in schools, in the community and through family support services.”

PFLAG Indianapolis: “…While support for families and LGBT persons remains our primary goal, advocacy is becoming more important in today's world. PFLAG works with the Indiana Youth Group to staff booths at conferences for teachers, school counselors, and social workers. We hand out packets of information to help make schools safer for LGBT youth.”

Special Tip o’ The Hat to Tom, the Ramble Redhead, for advice on groups in his state of Indiana.

The breeze from Northland

Yesterday, the by-election in Northland gave John Key/Steven Joyce their first election defeat since winning government back in 2008. They lost a totally safe National electorate seat, which takes some doing. Is there more to come?

The results of the by-election are an absolutely clear middle finger to Key and National made by voters who are—rightly—sick and tired of being taken for granted by the government down in Wellington. Many of their problems are common to all of rural New Zealand, which are also mainly totally safe National electorates (Northland, for example, had been held by National for 50 years). So, some are suggesting that this poses a problem for Key and National.

Yes, but not in quite the way the pundits think.

In Northland, the contest started out as one for National to lose. The Labour Party candidate, Willow-Jean Prime, was outstanding—but she was standing in a strong-National Party seat she’d lost just a few months ago. It was highly improbable that she’d win, even with the Greens opting to not stand a candidate.

Enter Winston Peters, possibly the most loved and the most hated politician in New Zealand, all at the same time. He gambled that he could take on the National Party and beat them, and it became clear early on that he would succeed. Labour Party Leader Andrew Little gave implicit support to the idea of Labour voters voting for Peters, and they did, as did Green supporters.

But it’s important to remember that National Party voters also voted for Winston, sending a message to their own party and to John Key. They could do that because nothing was at risk: They knew that a vote for Peters wouldn’t change the government, it would just—safely—send a strong message.

Nevertheless, this does change things. National drops from 60 seats to 59 (plus the one-person Act Party, who will always vote the way John Key tells him to since he’d never even be in Parliament without Key’s direct help). Key can also count on his poodle Peter Dunne, and the normally subservient Maori Party, so with the certain loyalty of all those folks it’s highly unlikely that the government will fall.

On the other hand, Key may need to negotiate with other parties to get things through Parliament. For example, he may not be able to get the changes to the Resource Management Act that he wants, so it may tilt a little less toward rich developers and corporations than it would have before the by-election. Similarly, he’s unlikely to get anything supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement through Parliament without the support of Labour—and that would come at a cost that Key may find too high, hoping instead to win again in 2017 so he can push through whatever they wants without challenge or compromise.

But 2017’s where the real effect of the by-election will be felt. National will probably win back the Northland seat in 2017—National voters will “come home” when it matters. But the myth of invincibility has now been shattered, and Key (or whoever is leader of he National Party at the time) will need to fight harder than they have in decades. Also, with Key’s agenda being confronted and challenged constantly over the next 2½ years, he (or his successor) won’t look quite so able in 2017.

National has no one to blame but themselves for the loss. Auckland-based campaign manager Steven Joyce sent ministers up to Northland in Crown cars, dressed in suit and tie—this to an electorate that’s mostly rural. It smacked of big city hubris, and was widely mocked. So, too, were the obvious campaign bribes, like turning a dozen one-lane bridges into two-lane bridges, something that Northlanders also openly mocked (they stated calling it a “buy election”) and didn’t want: The want jobs and opportunities in what is one of the poorest electorates in New Zealand.

Ultimately, however, it may prove to be the emerging factionalism within the National Party that may prove to be their real undoing—more than the tone-deaf campaign management of Joyce, or the arrogance and hubris of the government. It’s pretty obvious that the Judith Collins/Maurice Williamson/etc. factions of National are delighted by this loss because of the consequent weakening of Key and Joyce.

It’s going to be an interesting 2½ years.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

AmeriNZ Podcast is Eight

Today is the eighth anniversary of my AmeriNZ Podcast. On March 28, 2007, I posted the first episode, roughly six months after I started this blog. Despite the odds, both are still going. And, it turns out, the connection between the two has come full circle.

When I first started the podcast, I talked about how I saw it as an extension of this blog. But as time passed, I started to deliberately separate them more and more. Eventually, that process also led to spinning off discussions of US politics into a stand-alone podcast with my friend Jason, 2Political Podcast—a name that was inspired by a negative review someone left on iTunes for my AmeriNZ Podcast.

The separation led, first, to the establishment of a separate site for the podcast, which meant that I stopped using this blog for my shownotes. For a time, I still posted regular updates when I posted new episodes, but I stopped doing that at all many years ago, and the two—blog and podcast—have been sort of separate islands ever since.

Recently, I contemplated starting doing vlogging, too, and I gathered advice from people who were doing that, particularly my friend Paul (with whom I used to do yet another podcast, “Arthur and Paul Talk”) who started vlogging on his YouTube Channel. I planned on doing something kinda similar, but then decided to postpone it for reasons I talked about on the podcast.

The planning process for those videos led me to consider starting a new YouTube Channel rather than using my existing AmeriNZ YouTube Channel. And that turned out to be the turning point.

I suddenly realised that my podcast is, basically, an audio blog. It’s less formal, and certainly more familiar, than this blog usually is, and I talk about things close to me personally: Things I’m doing, life in New Zealand, NZ politics, and so on. Sure, I write about all those things for the blog, but the tone is usually quite different and sometimes I say things I wouldn’t write just because it doesn’t “work” in writing. Besides, as I’ve said many times, there’s something special about stories told with the human voice. I think it creates a kind of intimacy between listeners and speakers that the written word just can’t do in the same way.

So, to put it another way, I realised that my podcast really is an extension of my blog, as I said it was at the very beginning. My YouTube Channel, then, is—or could be—the visual extension.

All up, I’ve spent 8½ years building up the AmeriNZ “brand”, though I now identify myself by name as the creator of all this content (the YouTube Channel makes it a little more difficult to do…). It’s time to start bringing them together more.

The podcast will continue as a separate site, at least for now, mainly because it’s easier for me to host and share the audio files that way. But I’ll again post notices of new episodes here on the blog—not full-on shownotes, just an announcement. I’ll also put together a Facebook page for all things AmeriNZ to make it easier to share the stuff I post (more about that when it happens).

So far, I’ve published over 3200 blog posts, 308 episodes of the AmeriNZ Podcast, and even a few videos (only one of which, from the 2008 election, has me in it, and it was never posted to YouTube). That’s the AmeriNZ ouvre, you could say (though I don’t think I would, actually…). Some of that content isn’t very good, and maybe most if it is “just okay”. But in all that creative output there are some things I’m very proud of, indeed.

And, even after all these years, it’s still fun. That’s really the point, isn’t it?

Footnote: This post—which I’m posting to both my blog and podcast site—was delayed for an unusual reason: New Zealand law. I talked about the Northland By-election in the latest episode, and there’s a media blackout (including blogs and such) from midnight until the polls close at 7pm on Election Day. I posted the podcast episode well before midnight, so that was legal, but I had to be sure that I didn’t call attention to the post in any way, and acknowledging my podcast anniversary might have done so. To be extra sure, I didn't mention the topic in the shownotes (though I’ll edit them to include it now that the polls have closed). And that’s got to be the oddest reason I’ve ever had for delaying posting something.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Steven Adams, part 2

Above is the second commercial for an Oklahoma bank fronted by New Zealand-born professional basketball player, Steven Adams. Like the first commercial, this one, too, features Adams using Kiwi slang with American English subtitles. I think this one’s cute, too.

As I said about the first commercial, “Some of the text isn’t exactly what a Kiwi would say in real life, at least, not in that context, but they’re real expressions nonetheless.” On the other hand, this commercial seemed more “natural” to me than the first one did. Not that it matters—professional athletes aren’t actors, after all. And, Adams is only 21.

The bank hasn’t said whether there are any more commercials with Adams; maybe it depends on how the public responds to the first two. But it’s all a bit of fun—well, advertising with some fun—so whether there are any more or not doesn’t really matter.

At least some Oklahomans are getting a little tastes of what New Zealanders are like. That’s a good thing.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned this before, but, yes, I understand every word of both commercials. Maybe that’s why I see the sometimes subtle humour in the subtitles.

I can’t handle the tooth

Just when you thought my Tooth Drama stories were over, BAM! The Sequel! Well, not a sequel exactly, more like the next chapter. Or act. Or season. I’m making fun of it to cheer myself up, but it’s not really working.

Yesterday I had my six-month check-up with the periodontist, and the short version of the story is that things have deteriorated and I need more, and more invasive, procedures. Kaching!—they're not cheap, either.

An area toward the back had some of the deepest pockets last year, and they’re starting to form again. So, the periodontist says the best option is to open up my gum to examine the actual roots to find out what’s going on. Apparently, the roots can have cracks or grooves where the bacteria that causes periodontal disease can “hide”, so when they do their remedial work, all they’re doing is scraping away what’s there, but the bacteria has a place to live to fight another day.

I also have an abscess on one of my front teeth. I was surprised by that, because there was no pain, and I thought they were painful. However, the periodontist said that in this case it wouldn’t be. That particular tooth is a problem: It’s dropped probably three millimetres due to loss of support when the periodontal disease was in full flight, and it’s possible I may yet lose it (though the periodontist did say “I don’t think the pulp is dead…”).

But the most demoralising part of all this for me is that I probably inadvertently contributed to the problems. I’ve said many times before that I struggle with flossing, but I’ve also found the little interdental brushes difficult, too, because they sometimes get stuck (one broke off and was stuck between my teeth, which freaked me out even more than when floss gets stuck).

So, a few months ago we got an “Ultra Water Flosser”. You can read for yourself the claims made for the product at the link, but the periodontist said all they do is remove debris and don’t remove plaque because the bacteria is “sticky” and difficult to remove except with manual tools, not high-pressure water. Given the fact that my condition has deteriorated even though I’ve used the waterflosser nearly every day, it would appear he’s right, at least for me, anyway.

I was using it because I’d struggled so much with flossing and even those little brushes. Apparently, I would’ve been better off struggling. The little brushes are best—better than flossing, though the periodontist said I should floss between the tighter teeth (I have this flossing thingee, where the floss is in a little stirrup-shaped thing that clicks onto a handle; it’s the first thing I’ve ever used that let me successfully floss). The periodontist also said ideally the tiny brushes should be dipped in an antiseptic mouthwash to kill the bacteria as I go. I’d always used toothpaste, but he pointed out that it’s designed to clean, and isn’t effective at killing the bacteria.

So, over the next few weeks I have three appointments (the final one a post-op check and deep cleaning like I had six months ago). Then—well, we’ll see. I have no idea where all this is headed, but it looks to be very different than where I thought, or was hoping, it would go nearly a year ago.

This morning I used my little brushes and flossing thingee. It went okay. I’m sure I’ll get better at it in the months ahead, so maybe the next re-check will be better.

This story has a few more chapters to go, it seems.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Making them understand

The video above is the latest video from Truth Wins Out, and is part of a series attempting to show people what the so-called “religious freedom” bills to legalise discrimination against LGBT people could actually do. It’s an, um, interesting approach.

The ad portrays discrimination against Christians as something that could be possible under these pro-discrimination bills, a sort of "be careful what you wish for" kind of thing. Sometimes radical right religionists claim they’d be fine with that as long as they get to discriminate against LGBT people. NO one believes they’re telling the truth when they say that, not when they already take an insignificant incident and try to pretend it’s evidence of some sort of massive “oppression” of Christians.

The so-called “upside down” approach of this ad, reversing the positions of minority/majority and oppressor/oppressed, can sometimes be effective because they can help people see things they might not otherwise notice. However, in this case, I think it’s extremely problematic: It plays right into rightwing “Christian” victim fantasies, and will no doubt be spun by them as “proof” of what gay people “really” want. I think this ad could do more harm than good.

In stark contrast is their first ad, below. “Religious Freedom Cafe“ presents a realistic scenario in which a religious café owner refuses service to a customer because of his religious beliefs. The fact that he refuses service to a Black man could be too obvious, except that it’s also more likely to help heterosexuals see the discrimination more clearly than if it was against a gay person. Moreover, these “religious freedom” bills permit discrimination against everyone, as long as it’s because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

The problem is, most people won’t believe that’s true: Federal law forbids discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and a number of other factors, and most states have similar laws—even the states considering the pro-discrimination “religious freedom” bills. The casual viewer would be thinking that such existing laws would overrule pro-discrimination “religious freedom” laws. Maybe they would. Experts disagree on the immediate effect, though long term anyone using such laws to justify racial discrimination would no doubt end up in litigation designed to test the constitutionality of such laws and the discrimination they legalise.

And that’s the bigger, long-term threat: The outcome of that test case would ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court, and if a Republican wins the White House in 2016 and the party holds on to Congress, there could be a radically more extreme rightwing Court by the time a test case got to the Supreme Court, and that could ultimately result in the destruction of all anti-discrimination laws in the USA, though that prospect would gladden the hearts of the radical rightwing, for many reasons.

All of which means that it’s vital to help mainstream Americans understand how anti-American and even evil these so-called “religious freedom” license to discriminate bills really are. I personally don’t think the first ad will help very much to do that, ones more like the second one might.

Still, if any ad helps even just some mainstream Americans understand the huge threat to American civil society these bills pose, well, that’s probably helpful after all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Start your engines, GOP candidates

The 2016 Republican Klown Kar Kavalcade started trying to start the engine today, with Canadian-born first-term US Senator from Texas, Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz being the first to try and turn the key. Only 1 year, 7 months, 16 days to go!

Cruz, the son of a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preacher, chose to make his announcement in a way he could make abundantly clear that he was running as the fundamentalist “Christian” candidate: He went to Dead Jerry Falwell’s rightwing religious school, Liberty University. “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home,” he told the folks there, including students ordered to attend. “Imagine instead,” he said using his rhetorical catchword for the speech, “millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

Evangelical Christians alone cannot win the presidency for any candidate, though they could certainly help in the Republican Primaries, where they dominate. The problem is demographics: There aren’t enough Evangelicals to win the presidency without additional support from other segments of society, particularly when—contrary to the Canadian-born Senator’s assumption—they’re not all anti-science, anti-gay, anti-women extremists like he is. “Our” values, huh? Not exactly.

Ah, women—the Republican Party’s Achilles' Heel. In 2012, the party lost women’s votes by a 12-point margin. Despite some improvement in 2014, the Party continues to take anti-women positions, a recent example being when they tried to ram anti-abortion legislation through Congress. It was so extreme that the few Republican women in Congress had to publicly rebel in order to stop it.

In 2016, the Democratic nominee may well be a woman, which might galvanise female voters. Assuming that happens, and when you’re part of party widely viewed as anti-women, it doesn’t seem like a particularly bright idea to build a campaign around what ThinkProgress called, “The Most Anti-Woman Agenda Yet.”

On the other hand, we really shouldn’t be surprised that the Canadian-born Senator is so dim. He famously tried a political stunt at the end of the last Congress that ended up helping the Democrats and torpedoing the partisan political efforts of the actual Republican leadership in Congress (and Republicans were so happy with him for doing that!). More recently, he called for the repeal of a federal law that doesn’t even exist. Clearly, he’s not the brightest bulb.

My mockery and ridicule of Cruz is born of my utter contempt for him. For me, he personifies everything that’s wrong with the modern Republican Party, with rightwing politics generally—actually, he represents the worst elements in US politics. I also think he’s dangerous.

Obviously, much of Cruz’s agenda is pure pandering and utterly unachievable. For example, in this Congress, he won’t be able to get legislation passed to take away federal recognition and benefits for married couples who are same-gender, but even if that happened in the new Congress and was signed by a—perish the thought—Republican president, it would be unconstitutional. An amendment to the US Constitution to do that or, as Cruz actually does want, one to forbid courts from overturning state laws banning marriage equality, are impossible (the one Cruz wants is especially impossible: That ship has already sailed).

But the fact that Cruz’s cynical quixotic crusades are meant only to pander to the radical right, since they're unachievable, doesn’t make that agenda (or him) any less dangerous. By proposing a radical agenda of repression, he makes it okay to talk about HOW to oppress the people that the radical right religionists hate, such as women, LGBT people, Black people, and immigrants in particular. Cruz may propose extreme, unachievable measures, but it makes less extreme proposals of oppression far more possible.

And, in the meantime, his demonising of LGBT people, of women, of scientists, of liberals, of immigrants, etc., all makes the victimisation of such people much more acceptable, and actual violence possible. He could—and should—tone down his rhetoric, but it wouldn’t change the dangerous intent of his message.

I can’t think of a single thing that Cruz has ever said that I agree with. With almost anyone else, I’d assume that there must be something we agree on, but with Cruz, I actually doubt there is.

I hope for a very early exit for the Canadian-born Senator from Texas.

Footnote: I sincerely apologise to Canadians for referring to Cruz as “Canadian-born”. I mean no disrespect to Canada or Canadians. He's not your fault. Instead, I’m trying to underscore the rank and vile hypocrisy of the US rightwing for creaming in their jeans over Cruz—who was born in Canada—while STILL declaring that Barack Obama—who was born in Hawaii, USA—wasn’t eligible to be president. If Republicans had grown-up and put away their childish things—like their stupid “birtherism”—I’d have no need to mock them over the fact that Cruz really is foreign-born (but just as entitled to run for president as Obama was because both their mothers were US citizens when they were born). So, sorry for defaming you, Canada, but at least you can rest easy knowing that since Cruz apparently renounced his Canadian citizenship, you’re rid of him. Maybe one day the USA will be as lucky as you.

The image up top is a screen grab of a Tweet from the Democratic Party. I fully endorse that message.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Organising from my past

This may surprise people who have only known me since I moved to New Zealand, but there was a time when I was very organised. I was a busy political activist at the time and needed to keep everything organised so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed.

Among other things, I designed my own “To Do” list sheets, schedule, calendar, and more. I used them heavily 1992-93, when I was at the height of my activism, travelling around several States in the Midwest for meetings and events to try and advance LGBT rights.

It was an exciting time, and also much simpler: There was no Internet back then, so no email or Facebook or Twitter or any way other than phone calls, faxes, and mailed letters to get information out to supporters and colleagues. I used them all, and tracked them.

The sheets record notes of phone conversations with people whose names I no longer recognise, but mainly people I lost contact with years ago. In recent years, I’ve re-connected with some of them on Facebook, which has been great. It’s not surprising, I suppose, but reading through notes form that time in my life was a little poignant for me.

I remember those days, and how busy I was, but, as my notes indicate, I also got a lot done. And that’s why I was looking at those old records.

I’m at a point in my life that I need to become better organised, not because I’m as busy as I was more than two decades ago (I’m not), nor because I think being organised is some sort of virtue in itself (I’m undecided about that…). Instead, it’s because my memory has become bad enough that if I don’t write things down, I don’t have any hope of staying on target for various projects, even relatively small ones.

So I was looking at the forms I designed for myself all those years ago to see if they might be useful to me now, even if only as inspiration. My reasoning was that if I made the perfect system for myself back then, I can do it again.

However, much of what I did on paper back then I now handle electronically. My calendar includes both dates to remember as well as specific times and locations of meetings. That calendar is on my desktop Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad, meaning wherever I am, I have access to my schedule, and to my contacts (or address book, if you prefer), which is similarly shared among my devices.

I know that there are good “to do” list apps I could use, some free, some not, but they all have the same problem for me: I have to remember to check them, and so far, that hasn’t worked out very well.

So, I thought I’d return to making handwritten “to do” lists on paper, and it was this part of my old system I was interested in. I know from years of experience that there’s something about the physical act of writing something down by hand that seems to help me remember (when I was a teenager, all I had to do was write a note to myself and I’d remember—I didn’t even have to look at it; those days are long gone).

What I may do instead, though, is try writing the list by hand using my iPad and a stylus so that I can easily share the list with all my devices. But until I get that all set up, I’ll stick with the paper version.

Taking a stroll down my own memory lane was a little unexpected, but it was helpful—and also interesting to me. All of that’s true because there was a time I was very organised. My goal is to get near to that again.

Update: There's an update to this post (second item).

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Pleasant autumn weekend

We had a quiet weekend this week—we didn’t really do much, just relaxed. Everyone needs a weekend like that every now and then, and we had a very pleasant one.

At this point in autumn, temperatures are starting to cool, there’s a bit more cloud and rain around again, and the mornings are very dark. We go back to New Zealand Standard Time (NZST) two weeks from today, and by then it’ll be dark until after 7am—well, 6am after the clocks change. But, then, it’ll be dark earlier in the evening as the days continue to shorten until the shortest day of the year on the June Solstice.

All of that still seems far away right now, with usually pleasantly warm days, like today (it was around 27 at our house today, about 81F, with a cool breeze). For a little while this afternoon, I sat in my chair in the lounge with the deck doors open and just enjoyed the sunny, warm, peaceful, and (mostly) quiet afternoon.

Looking out the doors, though, meant looking at the gardens and how much work I have to do. Would be helpful if I was actually good at it, or, at least, really keen, wouldn’t it? At any rate, even I can see what needs to be done.

I’m a bit worried about one of our two olive trees (photo up top), which has been losing leaves and thinning out. I’ve never seen new leaves grow on a branch when it loses leaves, so it’s a concern.

This is ironic, because last year I blogged about how our trees were starting to produce more olives, after mocking the tiny harvest the year before. This year, I don’t actually remember seeing any blooms on the trees, though maybe I just didn't notice them because it happens every year—well, it used to, anyway.

On the other hand, I noticed that the rosemary I originally planted to keep Jake from jumping up on a part of the garden retaining wall is now well and truly overgrown and needs to be drastically cut back or even replaced. Maybe I’ll take some cuttings first so I can get some “free” plants to replace them with, if necessary.

On the other hand, the rosemary is VERY healthy.
I walked around and snapped a few photos in the nice afternoon. I don’t take and share enough photos, I don’t think. So, this post has some visuals of some of my day today.

It was a nice day, and a nice weekend.

The view of bush from part of our deck. In the middle of Auckland. Nice!

The next fronts in the USA’s ‘culture wars’

People could be forgiven for thinking that the rightwing’s “culture war” against the USA is about to end. After all, the Supreme Court is widely expected to soon strike down all the remaining bans on marriage equality in US states. However, the next front in the rightwing’s war is already open.

The map above from the Human Rights Campaign shows the 85 anti-LGBT bills introduced in 26 state legislatures (the report is available as a PDF). The report documents the staggering number of anti-LGBT bills introduced, and while some will be defeated or already have been, others have been, or are likely to be, passed. There will be more of the same next year, and every year thereafter for years to come.

The radical right religionists’ have several goals, but their legislative goal is clear and simple: Overturn all laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, and they have two distinct strategies to accomplish that. One strategy is to pass state laws that forbid localities from passing human rights laws that are more protective than that state’s law. The HRC notes that some 34 million Americans live in states in which localities are more protective than their state is (this was once true in my native Illinois, where for decades various local governments protected LGBT people, but the state didn’t). Interestingly, in embracing this tactic, the radical right religionists are actually finally admitting that in states that don’t protect their LGBT people, it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against us, and they don’t even need any kind of reason or excuse to do so. This is in stark contradiction of their previous adamant declaration that a special right to discriminate was needed.

The second, higher profile, legislative strategy is to enact so called “religious freedom” laws to legalise discrimination against LGBT people—that special right to discriminate they’ve demanded ever since the tide turned in the battle for marriage equality. The radical right has always lied that discrimination isn’t their intent when, of course, it absolutely is their sole intent.

The licence to discriminate bills, as the “religious freedom” laws are more accurately known, allows the radical right to be extra harsh against LGBT people in places where it’s already legal to discriminate, something they want for ideological reasons. But their cynical branding also puts a paper-thin veil of respectability on their attempts to take away the civil and human rights of LGBT people. That veil allows the radical right to hoodwink otherwise fair-minded people (and politicians) into thinking it actually DOES have something to do with “religious freedom” when the actual intent is to enshrine anti-LGBT animus into law.

In addition to proposing anti-LGBT laws, radical right religionists are also organising themselves to “defy” the Supreme Court in unspecified ways. For example, a group of “pastors” recently heard speakers tell them to be prepared for “martyrdom” in their culture wars fight, mostly against LGBT people. This message is being repeated throughout the radical right echo chamber.

A group of far-right “Christians” says it’s organising members of the US Congress who will pledge to go to jail in defiance of the expected Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, even though Congress has nothing whatsoever to do with issuing marriage licenses in any US state. The radicals ignore that pesky detail, probably because they think such a list would have good propaganda value in their culture war (of course, it would also be good propaganda value for the radicals' mainstream adversaries…).

The defiance threat (supposedly) from members of Congress stops well short of the five year old “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience” in which a veritable who’s who of far right anti-gay religious activists and hate group leaders pledged civil disobedience to actively defy laws and court orders they don’t like, including on marriage equality, which is why it was cited in a RICO lawsuit.

We’ll see all these tactics and many more in the coming years, especially the so-called “religious freedom” laws to legalise anti-LGBT discrimination, but also efforts to restrict and even repeal the civil and human rights of LGBT people, as well as attempts to enshrine bigotry against transgendered people, and even more bills attempting to advance “conversion therapy” torture.

Fortunately, in some places the radical right is meeting determined resistance. Some of their bills are being voted down, and some places are even outlawing “conversion therapy” torture of minors, all of which is good. But the radical right is persistent, extremely well-funded, and has legions of fanatical followers who will do whatever is asked of them. So, despite resistance from decent, fair-minded people, this war is far from over.

The first step in defeating the radical right’s “culture war” against the USA, and LGBT people in particular, is to shine the harsh light of day onto them, because they’re counting on us not realising what they’re up to until it’s too late. We mustn’t let them get away with that or to win—FAR too much is at stake.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Kiwi selling an Oklahoma bank

It’s safe to say it’s not every day that New Zealanders see a commercial for an Oklahoma bank on their televisions, yet this week we did. News reports talked about an ad (video above) featuring Steven Adams, the 21 year old from Rotorua who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team.

The ad’s premise is “Speak Kiwi with Steven Adams”, and has Adams talking about the bank while subtitles are shown onscreen translating NZ slang into English Americans can understand. It’s a cute ad, playing off the “exoticness” of New Zealand and New Zealanders. Some of the text isn’t exactly what a Kiwi would say in real life, at least, not in that context, but they’re real expressions nonetheless. And, anyway, it's just a bit of fun—to sell a bank, of course.

There’s apparently a “Part 2” coming soon. I bet that it’ll be the second time we see a commercial for an Oklahoma bank on our TVs here in New Zealand…

A study in the political messaging

The video above from States United to Prevent Gun Violence is a propaganda video that went viral. It led to response videos as gun advocates made their own videos trashing this one. This is how free debate is supposed to work.

I’m fascinated by political propaganda—and I think the word’s negative connotation is completely undeserved. Propaganda means communication that’s intended to influence people’s attitude on political or public policy matters. As such, they may be left, right or centre, and their effectiveness isn’t determined by their ideology. Propaganda may sometimes be spin, with the attempt at deception that implies, but it doesn’t have to be negative or misleading. In fact, sometimes the least effective propaganda is so precisely because it’s deceptive. Even so, all propaganda and political messages are by definition manipulative because they’re designed to get the viewer to see things the way the maker of the message wants them to—but so is ALL advertising!

The video above is intended to get people to change their thinking about guns by pointing out that, “Every gun has a history,” and then urging, “Let's not repeat it.” The style of the video is that of hidden camera social experiment of the sort that some TV news departments use to explore issues. It features a fake gun store with replica guns that allow the “gunshop owner” to tell how the gun was used to kill people—sometimes accidentally, sometimes in a mass murder. The “gun shop” metaphor is used on their website, where the guns’ stories are all viewable.

I think it’s reasonably effective, particularly when combined with the website. I could quibble over pacing, but even so, it’s a YouTube-friendly 3:27 in length, which means that viewers are likely to watch to the end. Indeed, it has a couple million views on YouTube, plus another couple million on Facebook, where I first saw it. Not bad numbers after only around three days.

Gun advocates will no doubt have not just quibbles, but outright disagreement with the messaging. I’ve been an advocate for gun control for decades, which is both obvious and old news. This means that I certainly wouldn’t immediately think of the objections that folks on the other side of the divide would have.

In this case, those with alternative views have used the same medium to make response videos, and that’s a good thing. Most of the responses that I noticed were made “guy and a camera” style, that is, with far less sophistication than the video above. That’s not a slam, though—it’s actually a compliment because it means that ordinary people are having their say, and that’s always a good thing.

However, while I haven’t watched all the responses, what I saw often used intemperate language and didn’t stick to verifiable facts. The most common complaint I saw was that the video doesn't allow ratings and comments are disabled. That's just plain irrelevant. Much as we all would like fact-based political debate, free from personal insults, and that sticks to the issue, that very often doesn’t happen. That’s too bad, but also part of robust political debate.

I don’t know that this video will change many people’s minds, which would be one measure of its effectiveness. However, it’s bound to make anyone who’s not already staunchly pro gun to at least stop and think, so it's by that measure I say it’s reasonably effective. Overall, however, I don’t think it’s even possible to make a video that will change people’s minds on an issue like this with such a sharp and intractable divide. Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting to watch people try.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

J is for, well, nothing

ABC Wednesday posts normally talk about what a letter is. Well, how about one talking about what a letter ISN’T? This is that sort of post.

The letter J doesn't exist in Te Reo Māori, the language of the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand. The Māori alphabet has only fifteen letters: h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, a, e, i, o, u, wh, and ng. You’ll note there’s no J there.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I never actually realised that until recently, partly because I don’t speak Te Reo, and that factoid just doesn’t come up in everyday conversation.

The reality is that people who speak a certain language are used to that language and don’t even notice things that stand out for non-speakers. In English, for example the word fish might be spelled ghoti, but we never think about such things.

So, the absence of a letter like J in Māori is interesting only to those who, like me, don’t speak the language. How many other linguistic quirks exist in our planet’s many languages, and how many have any of us ever heard of?

Now you know one thing J isn’t. I think it make a nice change of pace.

Related: Back in Round 10, I talked about wh and its use in Māori.

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Post Modern Jukebox

I’ve meant to share videos from Post Modern Jukebox before, and forgotten. Which is appropriate because I saw this video a couple days ago and meant to share it here. And then forgot.

The YouTube description explains the video quite well:
Chicago in the 1920s was truly a gangster's paradise, after all… Check out the amazing Robyn Adele Anderson on this speakeasy jazz version of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" – the way Al Capone would've heard it.
What struck me about this is, first, how interesting it was to hear a familiar song done in such a thoroughly different way. But the other thing I thought was how often I hear people dismiss rap and hip-hop as garbage, and then something like this shows the poetry in the original rap. I’ve long said that good rap (not the gratuitously misogynist or homophobic rubbish, obviously) is basically spoken word poetry. Hearing the rap re-imagined as a jazz-influenced song kind of reinforces that for me.

In any case, I just thought it was really interesting.

Religious nutjobs abound

Just in case anyone thinks that only Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs have religious nutjobs intent on using religion as a weapon of oppression, we can now add Buddhists. Well, that pretty much covers the entire planet, doesn’t it?

The video above, by Al Jazeera English, was part of their online story, though they didn’t actually publish the flier in question so people could judge for themselves whether it really “insulted religion”. However, a Google search told me that NBC News published a detail from the flyer as part of a story on the controversy earlier this year.

It appears that Myanmar/Burma’s ruling military junta may be stoking religious discord as a way of exerting control over the country, it providing both an excuse for repression and a way of keeping people divided and distracted so they don’t agitate for freedom from military rule. Even if that really is the true situation, the country clearly has religious nutjobs who embrace this sort of oppression. The larger truth is that oppression in the name of religion is still oppression and is just as wrong as political oppression without religious trappings or excuse making.

And that’s all I’ll say about this topic right now, except to note that this is yet another example of why I want nothing to do with organised religion of any kind.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

People trying chocolate from around the world

Another BuzzFeed video where people try stuff, this time, it’s “Chocolates From Around The World”. New Zealand is included in this one, which is why I’m sharing it.

Besides, it's time for something a little less serious, for a change…

Monday, March 16, 2015

A good idea

Sure, like many users, I sometimes criticise Facebook, but when they do something right, they should get some praise. Safety Check is a Facebook feature that is one of those good things.

The way it works is that if there’s a disaster or crisis, Facebook sends you a message asking if you’re okay. This is based on the city the user chooses for their profile, or the city where Facebook was last accessed by the user.

Then, the person goes to Facebook and clicks “I’m safe”, if in fact they are, or they can mark that they’re not in the affected area. If they click “I’m safe” a message goes to their friends only.

Facebook released the product in October 2014, and, they say, developed it when they noticed how people were using social media after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We saw that with the Christchurch earthquakes, too.

Social media is a fast and efficient way to let a lot of people know all at once that you’re okay after a disaster strikes. This Facebook tool makes it easy to do so, which is important because after a disaster, power and Internet connections may be spotty. For that reason, I’ve long advocated that people set up their Facebook to allow them to post a status update by text message from their phone, because in a major disaster, text messages will very often get through when a data connection can’t be made, or regular phone calls can’t get through. Good to have all options available.

Whenever there’s a disaster anywhere in this part of the world—usually an earthquake—folks overseas naturally wonder if we’re okay. I know some of my Kiwi friends get a little annoyed by that—“don’t they know how far away Christchurch is from Auckland?!” they ask. Well, no, they don’t, and there’s no reason why they should know. I don’t know how far most US cities are from each other, and I’m from that country! Why should people know distances in a country they don’t really know at all?

Personally, I find it touching that people care enough to enquire after our safety and well-being when something happens in or near New Zealand, no matter how far removed we might have been from the event. I’m as concerned about them.

Thanks to Safety Check, it’s become a little bit easier to let friends and family on Facebook know we’re okay when something happens. I think that’s a good thing, so, well done, Facebook!

The image above is a screen grab after I checked in using Safety Check. Notice the part that that says, “some friends and loved ones may be unable to access Facebook to let you know they’re OK.” A very subtle “don’t worry” message, which I think was a good thing to do.

It went as expected

Pam has left the area: What’s left of Cyclone Pam is slowly going away after causing very little trouble for Auckland and Northland. In other words, it went pretty much as expected. Attention now moves to East Cape and to Gisborne, which may yet have it much worse.

As I said yesterday, tropical cyclones weaken as they move over the cooler waters around New Zealand, and this one was no different. However, it started out as a Category 5, which is the strongest, and it was still a Category 4 when it started to affect New Zealand. It weakened pretty rapidly from there—Cat 3 by midnight, and by this morning it was downgraded to an “ex-tropical cyclone”.

Such storms are still powerful, though, and can cause a lot of damage through wind, rain and storm surges. Emergency serves in the northeastern part of the North Island are mobilised.

There was very little damage reported in Auckland and Northland. About 2000 people were without power, but most of that had been restored by this morning.

For Auckland, storms called “weather bombs” (also caused by a tropical depression) usually wreak far more havoc than cyclones. A weather bomb in 2007 blew a tree onto our house, and one last year was bad. There was also one in 2008, but one in 2010 didn’t amount to much. One reason that weather bombs are a bigger deal is that they hit New Zealand far more frequently than tropical cyclones do.

Tropical cyclones are a concern mostly in later summer and early autumn, weather bombs in late autumn or winter. While bad storms can, at least theoretically happen any time, we seem to be at the greatest risk for roughly the next five months or so.

This time, Auckland and Northland got off lightly. Hopefully the rest of the country will, too, and once the threat’s over, we can again turn our attention to helping our Pacific neighbours recover. But for all of us, this won’t be the last time.

Related: The New Zealand Herald is publishing Live Updates on the storm’s progress past New Zealand, and has also published a wrap-up of how the storm has affected different regions of the country.

The photo up top is an image of the storm from MetService at 7am this morning, and, for comparison, the one below is from 9pm last night.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The approaching storm

Cyclone Pam is headed for New Zealand this evening/tonight, and while it was deadly in the Pacific, it’s unlikely to be too bad once it reaches us. Even so, it’s a good reminder for New Zealanders to be prepared.

Cyclone Pam, which was a Category 5 cyclone, the most severe category, hit Pacific Island nations, devastating Vanuatu, where at least 8 are confirmed dead, though the actual number of fatalities is expected to be five or six times that. The cyclone is in a three-way tie for the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

The storm is now headed for New Zealand, which it should reach this evening or later tonight (there’s a site with live animated tracking, which is where the screenshot, above, is from), with the worst of it expected in the morning. Auckland is expected to have heavy rain and strong winds, but the eastern parts of the country are expected to get the worst of it, with storm surges and potential for 8 metre waves.

Despite the somewhat hysterical reporting by the New Zealand Herald, the actual impact of the storm on New Zealand is likely to be relatively minor. That has to do with our latitude as much as anything.

Tropical cyclones (also sometimes called depressions because of the low atmospheric pressure) are storm systems that form in the tropics where the oceans are warmest. They’re called “cyclones” because of their cyclonic winds. If the storms become intense enough, they’re called hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere, while in the Southern Hemisphere they’re called cyclones, and in the northwest Pacific Ocean they’re called typhoons.

The cyclones in our region usually mostly affect the Pacific, which is why the death toll and damage may seem relatively low, compared with hurricanes that hit the USA. That’s because of lower population in the region, of course, as well as the less developed nature of many of the affected Pacific Islands. Those factors also mean that when a cyclone does hit them, it can be more devastating for them, relatively speaking, than a hurricane is for the USA.

When the cyclones start moving south, they start to weaken as the move over cooler water. By the time they reach New Zealand, they’re usually dramatically downgraded, sometimes being only a tropical storm. However, even a weakened storm can be deadly. In 1988, Cyclone Bola hit New Zealand, and even though it had been deeply downgraded by then, it nevertheless “created some of the heaviest rainfall totals for a single storm in the history of New Zealand, with some locations receiving more than half of their annual rainfall totals from the storm.” It killed three New Zealanders.

The fact that even greatly weakened cyclones can still be dangerous when they reach us means it was prudent for authorities to urge New Zealanders in the storm’s path to stock up so they have three days of food on hand—but we should all have that already, anyway, as part of our Get Ready, Get Thru preparations: Earthquakes and volcanoes are constant threats, after all. Storms like this one are just another threat.

Because cyclones rarely affect New Zealand as anything more than, maybe, a bad rainstorm, people become complacent. It’s the old, “because a thing has never happened, it never will happen” way of thinking. Still, if one is prepared for disaster as we should all be all the time, anyway, then that complacency might not be as risky as it otherwise might be. There’s no need for panic—just ordinary, run-of-the-mill, prudent precautions.

Making sure we all "Get Ready, Get Thru"—regardless of the threat—is always wise.

Some observations at our house (updated periodically): At 7:30 this morning, there was still some sunshine, through broken clouds, with the occasional gust of wind. By 9am, the skies had clouded over, though it was still bright. The winds were already picking up. By 10:30am, it was overcast like a normal rainy day, though with more constant winds, some of them quite gusty. By 11:30am, the clouds had thickened and the winds became somewhat stronger. The rains started around 3:30pm, spits and sprinkles at first, but full-on rain soon after. At 7:30pm, the rains and wind eased, which apparently happens when the wind switches direction. By 7:45pm it was back to how it had been for the previous few hours. Around 8:45pm, it was all quiet. Forecasts at 9pm were unchanged, with the worst for Auckland expected between midnight and 6am, and for East Cape and Gisborne probably after that. At about 9:45pm, Bella went outside, and when she came back a short time later, she was wet, but by no means soaked. Same for Sunny when she went outside around 10:20pm. It was still quiet. By midnight, the rain had returned and was steady and reasonably heavy, though there was little wind. I heard it for hours whenever I woke up, until 4am, when all was silent, and I thought the storm was over. But at around 7am when I got up, it was again raining steadily. By 9am, it was mere sprinkles and by 10am, the deck was already starting to dry out. And that concludes this particular list of observations at our house.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Every single day

Every single day, there’s some new outrageous thing done or said by the radical right to oppress the majority. Usually, they try to claim it’s “Christian”, though real Christians know differently. I pick and choose which outrage to focus on—and then ignore most of them altogether.

The fact is, I really couldn’t possibly care less what some religious extremists think or say, even when it’s about me (collectively speaking, not personally). I mean, if they want to say things that make them sound like raving lunatics, I say, go for it! None of my business, nor any concern to me.

But when they try and force their religion on everyone else, when they try to make laws to impose their weird religious beliefs onto everyone, well, then we have a problem. And I will fight them. And I will mock them, belittle them, and call them out for being the bigots that they so clearly are. The way to understand the boundary is that, as my mother so often put it, they have the right to swing their fist as far and as fast and as hard as they want, but their rights end when their fist connects with then end of my nose.

We see this in the radical right’s new obsession, their crusade to enshrine their bigotry in law through laws they claim merely protect “religious freedom”. They’re lying, of course, but sometimes it’s more blatant than other times. In every case, their fist is hitting my nose.

In Oklahoma, hardly a bastion of free thinking or modern thought generally, a Republican (of course) state legislator hates the very idea of loving same-gender couples marrying, so he proposed a bill to end ALL state marriage licenses, turning that over to, of course, clergy. Because what could possibly be wrong with respecting an establishment of religion? (Hint: the US Constitution).

The Republican nincompoop said, “Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second,” though, obviously, he has NO idea what he’s talking about: It was the exact opposite of what he claimed. Marriage was about securing property rights, including legitimate inheritance, among other things. Religion was only sometimes, and in some cultures, an only sometimes relevant thing. And, in any case, SO WHAT?! We’ve all moved on, even if certain dimwit non-entities in state politics haven’t yet moved into the seventh century.

But, that’s all splitting hairs—admittedly, knowable, verifiable facts, but we won’t get in to that. There’s also this:
“[Atheists] don’t have a spiritual basis for a marriage and don’t want to have a clergy member or a priest or someone involved in the spiritual aspect, then they can file an affidavit of common-law marriage.”
Um, just no. NO government unit, federal, state or local, gets to make a religious test necessary to receive some public good, in this case, recognition of marriage. The extreme religious bigotry that the Republican clearly has for the non-religious is beside the point: NO government can favour religion over non-religion, end of story.

It turns out that there’s actually a good and correct way to fight this nonsense: Make the bigots own their bigotry.

A Democratic Oklahoma state representative proposed a simple amendment to a bill allowing anti-gay discrimination for those involved in what one might call the wedding-support industries. The amendment (PDF available online) says simply:
Any person not wanting to participate in any of the activities set forth in subsection A of this section based on sexual orientation, gender identity or race of either party to the marriage shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites. The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.
This is actually a completely reasonable proposal: If a business insists on the right to use their supposed religious views to justify discrimination against couples seeking to marry, then they ought to own that and proclaim it publicly so that all potential customers can know what/who they’re dealing with. Most rational people wouldn’t do business with someone who feels the need to discriminate against a minority, so shouldn’t such customers have the right to know of the bigotry of a business before they even begin talks?

Personally, I think that this wording should be included in all these “religious liberty” bills the radical right will propose in state legislatures throughout the USA. If they really, truly believe that their god calls upon them to hate some people, then surely they would be willing to publicly proclaim that for all the world to see, right? Otherwise, why claim they need a special exemption from standard civil rights laws in the first place?

The Republican state rep is a colossal idiot. The Democratic representative proposes a reasonable thing. While that might be a common (though certainly not universal) thing, the fight between the forces of oppression and resistance is an ongoing battle.

Every single day. No wonder I ignore them so much.

It's worth noting that the most of Oklahoma's anti-gay bills have been defeated. So far.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It had to happen

Sooner or later, it had to happen, because the absurd inevitably becomes reality in the politics of the USA. Today CNN actually had someone from the KKK on to discuss racism, and while I suspect someone might be hoaxing someone else, it was a new low, nevertheless.

The story was about racist chants from students who were members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma. It’s the sort of story that, to be brutally frank, is only of interest to Americans, but because it is, discussing it is legitimate for any mainstream US news organisation.

But, NOT like this.

Over the years I’ve repeatedly condemned mainstream news outlets—especially CNN—for repeatedly calling in leaders of anti-gay hate groups to discuss LGBT equality, or our civil and human rights. Such mainstream news organisations, I said, would never dream of inviting someone from the KKK to discuss issues affecting African Americans. I was sure none would be crass, crude or disgusting enough to prove me wrong. Given CNN’s history of frequently inviting bigots to discuss issues affecting the LGBT people, it makes perfect sense that it would be CNN that would be the first to sink to these new depths.

There is NO justification for what CNN did—it was not in “the public interest”, it shed no useful new information or rational perspective on an issue of the day, and instead pandered to the very lowest possible depth of irrational belief, treating it as legitimate and mainstream merely my including it in an otherwise rational newscast. In other words, CNN was dead wrong to do this for exactly the same reasons it’s dead wrong to invite anti-gay bigots on.

CNN was once a mighty and proud news network. Now, it’s trash, rubbish, and utter nonsense. How the mighty have fallen. The irony in this is that this makes Fox “News” look good—or, at least, no worse.

CNN owes viewers a profound apology, not one of those fake, “we’re sorry if anyone was offended” ones, but a real, “Man, did we ever fuck up! We’ll never do it again!” kind of apologies.

It won’t happen. Now that they’ve plumbed these new depths, I’m quite sure they couldn’t possibly care less about who they offend.

Goodbye, CNN.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I is for the islands of New Zealand

New Zealand is an island nation, of course, and many people know about the two main islands. But there are actually many islands that make up New Zealand, and many more that New Zealand looks after. When people call New Zealand and island nation, they’re not kidding.

There are 33 principle islands in what is New Zealand, plus another 9 outlying islands, including the New Zealand subantarctic islands, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

But when thinking of New Zealand, most people think of the two main islands of the country, the North Island and the South Island. The South Island (also known as Te Wai Pounamu, or waters of greenstone, which is New Zealand jade) is the larger of the two at 151,215 km2. The North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui, the fish of Maui) is 113,729 km2 and has three quarters of the country’s population, as well as its largest city, Auckland (which alone has a quarter of the NZ population).

The Māori names for the North Island and the South Island were only formalised in 2013—but far more interesting is that it was at the same time that the two islands officially became North Island and South Island—in 2013! However, in common usage, the word the is almost never omitted when referring to the island’s names, nor is that word capitalised (which makes sense, since “the” isn’t actually part of the islands’ names). Interestingly, Kiwis always say that something is located “in the North Island” or “in the South Island”, never on it. No one seems to know why.

There’s a third main island, Stewart Island (1,746 km2, and also called Rakiuria), which lies to the south of the South Island and is thought to be refered to in the New Zealand national anthem as the third of “Pacific’s triple star” (though no one knows for sure that that’s supposed to mean).

The next largest island is Chatham Island (900 km2), which is the largest of the Chatham group (collectively know as “The Chathams”). Part of the outlying islands of the country, it’s also quite away from the main islands of New Zealand—650km away from the nearest point in the main islands. That’s roughly the same distance as from Auckland to Wellington—but that’s travelling over land, not the open ocean.

If all those numbers of islands aren’t enough, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) looks after “about 220 islands (larger than 5 ha in size) and numerous small islets and rock stacks,” and “42% are nature reserves because of their outstanding biological values. A permit is required to visit these islands.”

So, New Zealand is an island nation in many different ways. To me, it’s just another of the things that makes this place so interesting.

The image accompanying this post shows New Zealand on December 27, 2004 (can you see me waving?), and is from NASA's Visible Earth team.

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A little alarming

New Zealand’s clocks change the first weekend in April, which means changing the batteries in smoke detectors. I’m changing the detectors themselves instead.

The new detectors (photo above) are by Cavius, which calls them “the world’s smallest photoelectric smoke alarms”, and they ARE small: about 45mm in diameter at the base, roughly 50mm from the base to the bottom (the detector in the photo is sitting on its base, upside down; it would be the other way around on the ceiling. But, then, you knew that already…). The detector itself is about 40mm in diameter at the base of the detector itself (not counting the holder). This means it’s about 25% bigger in diameter than a Kennedy (or Franklin…) US half dollar (for comparison, before 2006, New Zealand’s 50 cent coin was 31.75mm in diameter).

I first saw these a few weeks ago at a carpet and flooring store, of all places, but they had no price on them. Recently, both hardware centre chains, Bunnings and Mitre 10 Mega, started advertising them, so I bought three for our main hallway, to be placed on the ceiling, outside bedroom doors. I should note that they didn’t have the “compliance pack” mentioned on the Cavius website.

I like these detectors because of their tiny size (“Danish by Design”, the packaging says), which makes them far less obtrusive than the bigger ones we all have had. They also have 10-year batteries, which is a bonus. However, they’re around 20% or so more expensive than the larger-sized detectors with 10-year batteries, and dramatically more expensive than the cheapest detectors. Even so, I like them much more.

The old ionisation type detectors are being phased out slowly, in part because they have to be disposed of as hazardous waste since they’re radioactive (though I bet most people just throw them in their rubbish). The other option, like these ones, are photoelectric (which should still be disposed of as electronic waste, and not in household rubbish…).

The instructions say to vacuum the alarms monthly and also to test them monthly, which is sound advice, of course. So, I should know pretty quickly if any of them fail (I should note that they all meet NZ standards for smoke detectors).

All the detectors in the house were here when we moved in, nine years ago this year. We’ve changed the batteries regularly, but it’s clear that the two cheapest were at the end of their lives and needed to be replaced (one just stopped working, another barely works and even the third I don’t trust completely). So, replacing all the detectors was going to happen, anyway.

I’m—obviously—fascinated by these little alarms. At the very least, installing them certainly makes a nice distraction from politics!

The same smoke alarm after I installed and tested it. It's not easy working overhead!

Update: I since discovered, while looking for the regulations on where to place smoke detetectors, that Consumer reviewed the Cavius detector and gave it a 63% score, saying it had OK response on “flaming fire” and Good response on “smouldering fire”, arguably the most common type in a home. They also said it had no obvious bad points. I agree.

I found the NZ Fire Service information I was looking for, but, it turns out, Consumer actually explained the rules in more detail (near the bottom of the page in the link).

Is the NYDN correct?

The tabloid newspaper New York Daily News (NYDN) has condemned a letter to Iran signed by 47 Republicans as “a treacherous betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system”. The paper’s front page (pictured) branded the ringleaders as “traitors”. Are they right? Well…

The front page was clearly designed to get a reaction from people, and by that measure it’s been wildly successful, with the rightwing launching into spittle-flecked apoplexy over it. The Left, meanwhile, has been mostly agreeing with the word.

However, that word was nothing more than a marketing ploy, a gimmick to get attention. The NYDN editorial itself is strong, but not nearly as inflammatory. Part of what makes it worth paying attention to (despite the paper’s cover) is that it’s a generally conservative paper that actually agrees with Republicans on the Iran nuclear negotiations: “We join GOP signatories in opposing the pact as outlined, but we strenuously condemn their betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system.”

Pointing out the Republican signators represent the majority of the Republicans in the Senate, the NYDN says, “They are an embarrassment to the Senate and to the nation,” and they are because it’s illegal for anyone other than the US President, whoever he or she may be and of whatever party, to conduct US foreign policy. So, the NYDN is absolutely right when they said:
“Rather than offer objections domestically in robust debate, as is their obligation, ringleader Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and his band trespassed on presidential turf by patronizing Iran’s leaders with the suggestion ‘that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.’”
The 47 Republicans have broken a US law called the Logan Act, which since 1799 has specifically forbidden unauthorised US Citizens from interfering in US foreign policy. Had they done the open letter as a message to the US people, they would have been on solid Constitutional ground, but by seeking to conduct foreign policy, they broke the law. Even so, the fact that the 47 Republicans have clearly committed a criminal act doesn’t by itself make them “traitors”, even with a very loose definition of that term. The NYDN doesn’t actually claim that it does.

The 47 Republicans are, however, incredibly stupid. One has to wonder, do those Republicans have contempt for international law and obligations? In the words of one formerly prominent Republican who was also utterly clueless about international law and obligations, “you betcha”. So, given their ignorance, those 47 Republicans stupidly threatening to repeal any pact should they manage to win the White House in 2016 isn’t at all surprising.

The more worrying part is that part of the Republicans’ letter was more accurately aimed at themselves, because they “may not fully understand our constitutional system.” In fact, they clearly don’t. At all. The president conducts foreign policy and Congress’ role is limited to oversight, including ratification (or not) of any treaties. Ironically, it was the Iranian foreign minister who schooled the Republicans. As The Week put it:
“The next time Republicans in the Senate try to explain treaties and the U.S. Constitution to Iranian officials, they may want to pick someone other than a foreign minister with a masters and PhD in international relations from the University of Denver, plus two degrees from San Francisco State University. Javad Zarif, who is also Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, responded to a letter from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and 46 other GOP senators with an explainer of his own.”
Zarif dryly noted:
“The authors [of the letter] may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states, and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations."
He went on to correctly say that the Republicans’ stunt has "no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.”

Republican politicians have every right to state their opinion on foreign policy issues as loudly as they want to, but they have no right to try and conduct their own partisan foreign policy. The NYDN may have been a bit hyperbolic when they called the Republicans’ stunt “a treacherous betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system”, but they’re basically correct.

But, no, it’s not treason, and that word is a distraction from the real problem: The ignorance and stupidity of those 47 Republicans. That's worrying enough.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Selma 50: ‘They came with horses. They came with nightsticks’

March 7—today in the USA—is the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, when unarmed African American citizens crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on their way to Montgomery, the state capital, to demand the voting rights that should have been their birthright under the US Constitution. White officials launched a viscous, violent attack on marchers.

The video above from the Los Angeles Times features Amelia Boynton Robinson, a marcher who almost lost her life that shameful day, sharing her recollections. Personal witness is always powerful. “They came with horses,” Boynton Robinson says, “They came with nightsticks.”

The Voting Rights Act that resulted from the atrocity in Selma did much to improve the entire USA, not just the South. But the US Supreme Court recently gutted the law. Now, state officials across the USA are moving to prevent minorities from voting by shortening voting hours and, most directly, requiring ID in order to be able to vote.

So, the work of 50 years ago is far from finished. The enemy now may not be overt racism, but it still lurks in the background, often hidden. It’s dishonest in the extreme to claim otherwise. However, regardless of whether efforts to prevent minorities from voting are motivated by racism or partisan politics, they MUST be resisted.

Amelia Boynton Robinson put it very well: “A vote-less people is a hopeless people.”

Let’s commit to securing the right to vote once and for all. There’s no better way to honour the victims of Bloody Sunday.