Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mama Nature is be-yooo-diful

The video above is an ad from Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB) , an organisation whose purpose is pretty self-evident in their name, with a special emphasis on ending littering (similar to Keep America Beautiful). The ad is part of a series of ads designed to get Kiwis to stop littering. It’s also among the most over-the-top ads we’ve had in awhile.

The ad stars New Zealand-born Samoan actor David Fane as Mama Nature. He’s been in far too many rolls to list in this post, but I’ve seen most of them. All of the spots created can be viewed on KNZB’s site on the resouces page (scroll down to “Mama Nature Resources”).

An article in the New Zealand Herald explains the purpose of the ads:
Mama Nature was developed by KNZB to encourage Kiwis to do the right thing with their litter including disposing of it in the bin, taking litter home when a bin isn't available and picking up litter they come across.
This ad does that, obviously, but clearly not everyone gets it. Someone who must really fun at parties left a comment on YouTube:
Beyodiful is as bad as spelling congraDulations. Kids these days are already failing at reading and writing so why keep showing them ways how to not spell? The real spelling is under that, sure, but since the wrong spelling is above that and bold then guess what the kids are going to look at first and ignore the other?
To which someone correctly replied (without pointing out the mispelling in the comment they were replying to):
You're missing the point. The spelling reflects the kiwi accent—that's how 'beautiful' is pronounced here. Writing it out as 'Be-yooo-diful' is a nod to drag culture and Mama Nature. Seeing it spelt that way in print will make everyone say it the way she's done in the video, which is just clever marketing. The organisation is still called Keep New Zealand Beautiful and that spelling won't change, so no one's corrupting the kids here.
Apparently humour really doesn’t translate.

I like this ad and its quirky New Zealand humour. I don’t know if these ads will make Kiwis more conscientious about putting litter in the bin, but I it’ll certainly make them say “be-yooo-diful”, and that at least creates a chance for the larger message sink in. Anyway, that’s what Mama Nature hopes.

And, you never want to disappoint your Mama!

Marriage diversity in the USA

The video above is from National Geographic, and features 17 couples from the Washington, DC area in the USA. The video includes same-gender and opposite gender couples, is often funny, and very informative. It’s frankly not the sort of thing I expect from National Geographic, but maybe that’s why it works so well.

They said about it on their site:
In 2015, 17 percent of U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. That’s roughly a fivefold increase since 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriage legal. Changing the law was a start—but it didn’t “necessarily do anything to change people’s minds,” says Syracuse University law professor Kevin Noble Maillard, who writes frequently about intermarriage. Partners of different races or ethnicities are nothing new, he notes: “But it’s very different when there’s public recognition of these relationships and when they become representations of regular families—when they’re the people in the Cheerios commercial.
Of course, Loving v. Virginia more accurately made interracial marriage legal in the entire United States, because there were 33 states in which it was already legal, in the same way that Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) made marriage between people of the same gender legal in all 50 US states, but it was already fully legal in 35 states. Worth noting (for me…) is that interracial marriage was already legal in my native state of Illinois at the time of the Loving decision (and had been since 1874), and it had enacted marriage eqaulity before the Obergefell decision, with its law taking effect on June 1, 2014, more than a year before the ruling.

Interested as I am in the spread of the right to marry, all this also interests me because I’m in an interracial/intercultural marriage, something that many people don’t even realise until they think about it. In New Zealand, marriage across races and cultures is common enough, though older people tell me that decades ago it was frowned on. That doesn’t surprise me, considering that while such marriages have overwhelming support in the USA now, as recently as 1991 only about half of Americans approved.

And that’s the thing about social change and prejudice. As I often say, it’s easy to hate people in the third person, those black people, those gay people, those interracial couples, but it’s much harder in the second person, you my neighbour, you my boss, you my child, and you my best friend. It’s a case of familiarity breeds respect.

Even though times are changing, being part of an interracial or intercultural married couple can be a challenge, especially in the USA, or any other society that isn’t fully accepting of the idea. But the fact that societies are evolving to accept them means that I’m sure eventually people will get over the idea of two people of the same gender being married. But, as I was saying yesterday, we’re not quite there yet.

Read the full April 2018 National Geographic article on intermarriage, “The Many Colors of Matrimony” [may be available to subscribers only].

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five years later

Five years ago tonight, the New Zealand Parliament passed the marriage equality bill. Introduced by Labour MP Louisa Wall, the bill attracted support from 71 MPs, and opposition from an antique-minded 41. The celebratory graphic above was posted to Facebook today by the New Zealand Labour Party. It was nice to celebrate.

Naturally, that brought out the “Christian” extremists who never miss an opportunity to tell LGBT people that they’re all going to hell, that their love isn’t “real”, and blah, blah, blah, the usual hatred, bigotry, and fake-Christians messages. It’s profoundly sad that so many “Christians”, pretenders though they may be, think that the perfect day to spread their religion-based hatred and bigotry is on a day of celebration for LGBT people, as if LGBT people would be receptive to such negativity and hatred at that exact moment. To those possibly sincere extremists, apparently, nothing says “Christian Love” quite like telling happy people they’re shit.

This time, at least, the Labour Facebook post was moderated a little, and some of the most bigoted comments were deleted. That was something that wasn’t done in the past, and it was really great to see, even if plenty of other bigoted comments were left.

Meanwhile, marriage endures, New Zealand endures, conservative religion endures—and so does hatred and bigotry against LGBT people. Even so, the biggest survivor of all is love itself. Love triumphed five years ago tonight, and it has triumphed every time a happy couple—gay or straight—gets married. Sure, the bigots of all sorts keep trying to drag us all backward, and down to their level, and, yes, bigots keep society from becoming truly free and equal. But five years ago New Zealand took a giant step forward toward recognising that love is love.

The struggle for marriage equality was always about honouring love. Five years later, the law still is. Hopefully some day the bigots will finally understand that, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Weather event

People talk about weather all the time, and especially when a big storm hits. When a storm has unexpected ferocity, that talk takes off in an entirely different direction. One result from the storm that stuck Auckland last night is a lot of questions.

A strong storm was predicted due to a particular combination of events: A major storm system roaring up the country from Antarctica, colliding with a strong Low over the Tasman. The resulting storm smashed into Auckland, which was hit far harder than either Northland to the north or Waikato to the south.

At its peak, the storm packed wind gusts of up to 213 kph (about 132 mph). Wind speeds were equivalent to a category 2 tropical cyclone, which is stronger than any actual cyclone that’s hit Auckland in ages. And hardly anyone had any clue it was going to be that bad.

The reason Aucklanders were caught so unaware is that warnings weren’t strong enough. Weather reports on the evening news warned of a storm, but there was no sense of urgency or warnings to, for example, secure outdoor furniture or to watch out for falling trees and power lines. Met Service and Weather Watch were warning people on social media, but, it has been alleged, Civil Defence didn’t issue any warnings, so the media didn’t, either, as Ben Ross said on Twitter:

Civil Defence, of course, defended itself, suggesting that plenty of warnings were issued on social media. To whom? Power was out by 9pm at our house, and was intermittent for an hour or so before that. I seldom use Twitter anymore, and I saw nothing on Facebook, so the odds of me seeing any warning on social media were slim to none. What about people who don’t use social media at all?

The storm was the fiercest I’ve ever been in, including when tornado-bearing storms hit when I lived in Illinois. There were times I was sure the roof was about to come off, and the house was creaking and groaning like an old wooden sailing ship. The power went off (and stayed off) just before 9pm, and when it went the water went, too (no power for the pumps to deliver the water to us). Naturally the power went out JUST before I was going to make myself a nice hot coffee, as the house was beginning to get cooler in the driving winds.

The power came back on at 1:56am, and I got up and turned off the lights and television before going back to bed. Apparently the power went off again and came back on just before 3am. It stayed on after that, but there are tens of thousands of homes and business in Auckland that are still without power 24 hours later, and may be without it for days.

Most of the damage, in addition to electricity infrastructure, was to bring tress down. We had two small trees flattened (photo up top). They were in an area of our property that was near a small gap between neighbours’ houses allowing the fiercest winds off the Manukau Harbour to hit the trees. At ground level, the trees looked like they were sheered off:

This probably means they weren’t the best choice for a spot where they could be subject to strong winds. Aside from that, there were small branches all over the yard, but nothing large. The largest branch was wedged between the fence and the grapefruit tree (there’s also a small branch in the grapefruit tree, on the left side (the damage to the fence was from an earlier storm):

Aside from that, the pressure of the wind pushed our front gate open, pulling out the latch. It was pushed into the latch on the fence, which meant it was in a safe spot overnight, especially since the winds were weakening by 11pm, when I discovered the gate was open as I headed to bed. We fixed that this afternoon.

Our next door neighbour has an asphalt shingle roof, and several of the shingles (which some Kiwis call “tiles”) were ripped off. We found one on our driveway, and it had been lifted and ripped off right where the shingle above it overlapped. That was all I saw in our area, apart from a couple sections of someone’s fence being knocked down. We were very lucky, especially as compared to the areas where large trees came down and caused major damage.

Another storm is heading for Auckland and Northland tomorrow evening, and it’s expected to have winds of 110kph, which is fairly typical for a bad storm—and about half as strong as the winds last night. Even so, authorities are warning that trees weakened by last night’s storm may come down tomorrow—and there could be yet more power outages. Oh, joy.

This is all happening partly because the La Niña weather system we had this past summer left ocean temperatures much warmer than usual, and that, in turn, has created stronger Lows. A warmer and rainier autumn was predicted at the start of autumn last month.

And all this comes after a summer in which we had a plague of crickets, which not only aren’t native, they’re a pest insect species. We’ve had dozens get into our house, chirping away, before they die. Then I have to vacuum up the corpses. This is waning, but still going on.

So tomorrow I’m going to do the grocery shopping I put off earlier this week because of weather. I hope to finish it and get back home before the weather closes in. Again.

And those are our weather events—for now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

50 years after the Wahine Disaster

Today is the 50th Anniversary of New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster, the sinking of the ferry Wahine, which capsized in Wellington Harbour on April 10, 1968. The video above from RNZ describes the tragedy. There were 736 people on board, and according to History New Zealand, “Fifty-one people lost their lives that day, another died several weeks later and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained in the wreck.”

This video from Archives New Zealand is of photos from that fateful day:

According to the video’s YouTube description:
This video was created by Archives New Zealand in 2013 for the 45th anniversary of the disaster. It shows a number of images and documents on the 'Wahine' from our holdings, including onboard photographs, images of the rescue effort, and underwater shots.
The final video, which aired yesterday on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme, tells the story of two people who were brought together and linked together by the tragedy:

Shirley Hick’s son, Gordie, is the one who died in 1990 because of the brain damage he suffered that day.

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, the tragedy had happened only 27 years earlier, so a huge number of New Zealanders had personal memories of the tragedy. I heard about it many times in my early years in the country, and then, over time, I started to hear about it less often. It’s the way things go as historic events begin to fade from living memory and become the stuff of history books and dark, grainy archival film. That particular inevitability adds another layer of sadness, I think, but that, too, will fade as the event continues to disappear from living memory. Then, as it disappears from living memory altogether, only the tragedy will remain, and it will be remembered in a different way.

The important thing, though, is that it will be remembered.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Loophole for principle and profit

The thing about so many anti-LGBT business owners is that they seem to have no sense. They insist on being aggressive and confrontational in promoting their particular religious beliefs when simpler, lawful ways of achieving their desired result are available. Too many businesses owned by rightwing religionists seem determined to violate laws to make some point, even if that risks financial burden. They seem incapable of seeing a better way. Finally, some rightwing religionists have chosen a different, far more sensible path.

“The Friendly Atheist” on Patheos reported recently on a new tactic deployed by a wedding venue in New York State. They’d refused to allow a lesbian couple to hold their wedding on their farm, and the state fined the owners $10,000 ordered them to pay the couple $3,000.

Normally, the radical right would be wailing and rending their garments while demanding special rights to discriminate against LGBT people. But this particular venue chose a different way, similar to what I’ve suggested for years, a lawful way to promote their religious views while ensuring that potential LGBT customers are neither discriminated against nor tricked into participating in their own oppression.

The venue posted a disclaimer on their website under a headline saying the business “Gives Back to Strengthen Marriages”:
…our deeply held religious belief is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and the Farm is operated with the purpose of strengthening and promoting marriage. In furtherance of this purpose and to honor and promote our moral and religious beliefs, we donate a portion of our business proceeds to organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.

The patronage of all potential clients for all services offered is welcome regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability or marital status. All couples legally permitted to marry in the state of New York are welcome to hold their wedding at Liberty Ridge Farm. We serve everyone equally.
This is a smart move from the religionists. As gay people well know, the Family [sic] Research [sic] Council [LOL] is not actually involved in “promot[ing] strong marriages”, but is solely involved in political activism on various rightwing social issues, especially denying the human and civil rights of LGBT people. The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors them on its “Hatewatch” blog, in the same way it monitors various other hate groups. Gay people wouldn’t want their money going to support that group, and it could be why the religionists chose that group to mention specifically.
This also serves to alert mainstream heterosexuals about the anti-LGBT beliefs of the owners of the venue, and they, too, can choose to avoid the place. The owners are gambling that it won’t happen and/or that they’ll get enough new business from like-minded religionists that they won’t lose any profits. They may very well be right about that.

This strategy makes perfect sense: The owners make plain that they’re going to obey the law, but they’re also making LGBT and LGBT-supportive people aware of their attitudes so people can instead choose somewhere that’s welcoming. As a side benefit, they also provide an attractive opportunity for similarly rightwing religionist heterosexual couples. In this scenario, everyone has freedom: The owners express their religious/political beliefs, the state gets assurance that the business will obey the law, and potential customers are well aware of the attitudes of that business, and what would happen if they use the venue anyway (which they may support or oppose). That sort of freedom of choice is how the free market is supposed to work—freedom and liberty within the bounds of the law.

I’ve frequently said that businesses owned by rightwing religionists should be doing this sort of thing. I’ve suggested that a bakery or florist or whatever could put up signs celebrating their Jesus, or quoting judgemental Old Testament passages, etc. The wedding venue telling potential customers that a portion of their money will go to organisations that work against the human and civil rights of LGBT people adds another layer of sense to this strategy.

I’ve never been in a moral quandary over whether to perform professional services for people actively working against my human and civil rights, but I came up with a plan on what I’d do. I decided that I’d calculate how much of my salary came from working on that project and I’d donate it to a group working against whoever I was objecting to. This is basically what that wedding venue says it would do, only they’re doing so openly and pretty transparently, which is more than I can claim to have thought of doing (in my case, it was because, as an employee, I never felt in a position to either object or to tell an employer of my plan, had it ever been necessary).

I honestly don’t know if this strategy will work. It’s possible that the state could consider the disclaimer to be a form of intimidation, and maybe it is. But the whole point is that no LGBT person I’ve ever known would ever dream of going to a business run by anti-LGBT owners, however, they also deserve to not be humiliated by being discriminated against when they ask about a business’ services. The wedding venue’s approach means that LGBT people can avoid any confrontation or embarrassment and instead choose a welcoming business. And, as a bonus for the business, they’re signalling other rightwing religionists that theirs is a business that fully shares their religious beliefs.

Still, there are some rightwing religionists who would flat out refuse to take this approach because they’re hellbent, so to speak, on being dicks about forcing their religious beliefs onto everyone. They feel that they must defy the law because they think their flavour of religion demands it, and they expect to be permitted to do so without consequence. Such rightwing religionists, backed by extremist professional anti-LGBT activist hate groups, dig their heals in to make “martyrs” of themselves—or is that just to make money for the hate groups? Maybe they just enjoy being nasty.

Whatever the situation, there’s a hardcore group of anti-LGBT rightwing religionists who would never take this approach, and the anti-LGBT hate groups are counting on that to achieve their political agenda of making anti-LGBT discrimination completely legal.

But the other, perhaps more sincere, rightwing religionists have other ways to make their point and profess their religious beliefs without breaking the law or being assholes about it. That wedding venue in New York is promoting one way. That, or something like it, is a far more sensible path.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Fifty years ago today

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was the beginning of his transformation from controversial political figure to martyr, and he became a hero to many who weren’t even born when he died. His legacy of a commitment to non-violent social change is still something to be admired and emulated, even if far too many still fall short. That’s the thing about human examples: They continue to show the way long after they’re gone. Dr. King became a hero to me, despite all sorts of reasons why that might not have happened. This post is about why all that is so.

I remember Dr. King and his assassination, though barely: I’d turned nine the previous January, so his career and death all happened when I was too young to know much about it, to understand it, or to even care about social or political issues. That was all outside of everything I knew—but that would change.

I grew up Republican in a white, Mainline Protestant household that was, by appearance, anyway, middle class. I knew nothing about the realities of life in America for its black citizens, especially poor black people. There were a few black kids in my primary schools, but we moved to a different town in December 1968, and things were very different in the new town. Among other things, my new primary school had no black kids, and I don’t remember if there were any Mexican kids (the fact I don’t remember suggests there weren’t).

High school didn’t help much, either. We weren’t taught much about recent history (Dr. King was assassinated 9 years before I graduated from high school), and we had one black family in our school—and they moved away before we graduated. Our school was mainly white, with growing numbers of the children of Mexican immigrants with whom the white kids didn’t mix a lot. So, most of us white kids didn’t have either formal education or personal experience to teach us about the realities of being poor and non-white in America.

For me, then, the life and death of Dr. King didn’t change anything—until I became and adult.

At university I finally began to learn about the realities of race in America, and that picked up pace toward the end of my university years when I came out and wanted to know everything about other oppressed people and, especially, what things they’d done successfully to change society: I wanted to learn from their experience.

Through that process, Dr. King became a personal hero of mine. A large part of my own single-minded determination to demand justice for LGBT people, and refusal to settle for anything less, is directly attributable to the inspiration I drew from Dr. King. That also led me to seek alliances with other non-LGBT oppressed people in society where possible—and, for many reasons, it wasn’t always possible—so that together we might make the world a better place.

All of which goes to show that Dr. King’s optimism wasn’t misplaced: People can grow beyond the world they knew to help build a better one. Also, (almost) no one is a lost cause, not matter how it may sometimes seem.

My dad was a good man who tried to do the right thing, but he, too, was the result of the world he was raised in and knew. I remember him making what we’d now call racist jokes that were, by way of description, mostly in the minstrel show sort, not vicious ones. I also know that as a Republican he wasn’t a particularly big fan of Dr. King’s work, though he shared many of the same theological views. When Dr. King was assassinated, he was extremely subdued and was saddened. Sure, he didn’t agree with Dr. King’s politics or perhaps tactics, but he didn’t want him dead, either. By the end of his life, my dad had become a much more socially aware person, much more evolved, and we had many good discussions about fixing what was wrong with society. Dr. King was more of a direct influence on me than he was on my dad, to be honest, but it’s fair to say that the passage of time helped even my dad to take on board some of what Dr. King tried to do.

American society in general is better than it was fifty years ago, but far from where it should be. Poor black and brown people still struggle and feature at the wrong end of every statistic. Unarmed black men are still dying from police bullets. White supremacism has become resurgent since the 2016 presidential election. And, while the black middle class exists, it has declined from 2001-15, and remains stubbornly lower than the percentage of middle class white people. That’s largely because of the stark reality of America: In general, a white kid is seen as their economic class, a black kid as their race. Being middle class won’t protect a black kid from prejudice, racism, or being shot by a cop without cause, and not even large wealth can protect them.

When President Obama was elected in 2008, lots of white people—good people—said it was the start of “post-racial America”, something that made anyone who’d been part of the struggles for social justice cringe. We knew it was nonsense, and within two years the rise of the openly racist “tea party” movement showed how “post-racial America” was a delusional fantasy. The 2016 election raised the volume on America’s racist reality to 11.

Despite all that, America IS better than it was when Dr. King was murdered. There have been millions of people inspired to be better and do better and to demand better. And for every drooling racist carrying a badly-spelled protest sign and Confederate flag, there are thousands who are repulsed by that behaviour. There are plenty of white people who want to end racism and racist behaviour in themselves and others. All of those are things to inspire hope.

As a gay man, I’ve seen the current regime in Washington working hard to undo all the progress that LGBT people have achieved over the past 10-15 years, so I can imagine how the regime’s active racism must feel to black and brown people, as if all the progress of the past half century is about to be erased. And yet we see signs of hope that this regime may be contained later this year, and, if so, defeated in two years. To ensure that happens, hard work will be required.

The USA has so very far to go before achieving Dr. King’s dream. Not only is the promised land he glimpsed still over that mountaintop, the mountain is much higher than any of us could have imagined. But Dr. King gave us hope that it’s possible to climb over that mountain, that hard work, determination, and complete commitment to the non-violent demand for justice will get us there. Dr. King never gave up then, and we can’t give up now.

Having a symbol of hope was important fifty years ago, and it still is today. That’s the thing about human symbols: They continue to show the way long after they’re gone.

Photo above: By Nobel Foundation (http://nobelprize.org/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Jake is 11

Well, what do you know? It’s Jake’s birthday already—and another chance to celebrate a day that means far more to us than to him. Jake doesn’t seem to mind the extra attention he got today, and he even sought out some cuddles today, which is a dog’s way of showing they’re in a good mood. He even cooperated with me taking some birthday photos of him (like above)—although, “cooperated” is a relative term (he still didn’t seem to actually like it).

Jake is as happy and affectionate as ever, however, this year he’s clearly better than he was about a year ago. And the difference is what I’ve been giving the dogs.

Some months before we moved to this house, the vet suggested that we give Sunny fish oil capsules to help avoid any problems down the road with the hip dysplasia that’s common with cavoodles. I couldn’t give it to just her, though. I was already taking capsules for my own health, as suggested by a doctor I had awhile back, so I started cutting them open and squeezing them onto their food, which was messy and more difficult (because I had to put their bowls up, put the food in, then cut the capsules and squeeze the oil onto them, then give the their bowls (before that, I just scooped their food into their bowls). So, I stopped.

I did some research about whether they could eat the gelatine-based capsule, and the consensus was it probably wouldn’t hurt them (though no site would commit to saying that definitively). Apparently the biggest concern was that they could become stuck in a dog’s throat, much as they could in a human child’s.

So, after we moved here, I decided to give them a capsule each with their morning food. I keep them in the fridge, so I warm them in my hands before putting them in their bowls with their food. The dogs eagerly eat them up as they munch their dry food. They seem to really like them.

There haven’t really been any noticeable results with Sunny, though it was meant to be preventive with her. With Jake, however, there was a noticeable change. I said in last year’s birthday post for Jake:
He can get a bit grumpy when confronted with young children or young dogs, both of which are a bit too “manic” for him. He likes things to be more quiet and slow moving.
Within a few weeks of giving him the capsules, he was like a new dog. No longer grumpy or as slow moving, he actually runs around with excitement when we get home, and he tolerates children and dogs, and if it gets too much for him, he just goes to bed—he doesn’t get grumpy. Mainly, though, he just ignores whatever he wants to ignore, rather than get upset. It was as if several years were melted away.

Now, I should of course make the obvious disclaimer: We gave them the capsules originally at the suggestion of the vet, and it was to try to preserve better mobility as they got older. The benefits that Jake has shown were unexpected, and might even be fairly rare—I have no idea. So, just as with our own health, it’s always important to talk to a health professional for advice and guidance.

Despite all this, Jake IS getting older. His fur is greying, especially on his ears, and he is moving a bit slower overall. But he’s such a happy and active boy that sometimes we forget what age he is. In fact, I usually only remember as I get ready to do his birthday post every year.

Last year’s post summed up things perfectly:
So, Jake is still the same loving boy he’s always been, and is still a joy to share life with. He’s made our lives so much better. He came to live with us at a sad time, and made the sadness go away. He still makes us very happy. He has magic powers, it turns out.
Magic powers, indeed.

Happy Eleventh Birthday, Jake!

Related posts:
Jake is TEN
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival