Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bella saves the day

I’ll be extremely busy the next couple of days getting ready for a family party, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to post anything. Bella obliged, providing me with content. She’s good like that.

The photo above is of Bella as she was just waking up yesterday morning. You can see a bit of her tongue sticking out—she was in the middle of her first (slow) wash. To me, her sleepiness seems obvious.

So, because I may not have time to post anything else today, and because I haven’t posted a photo of Bella in awhile, this is the perfect solution for right now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is war over?

I recently ran across the video above, and thought it was interesting. I didn’t share it here, though, because I couldn’t—well, didn’t want to—independently verify its claims. Still, it IS interesting.

I saw commenters on YouTube (yes, I usually avoid YouTube comments) were taking exception to the mention of Russia invading Ukraine. The naysayers were correct on very, very technical point—apart from the forced annexation of Crimea. The plebiscite for that annexation reminded me of the 1938 Anschluss between Nazi Germany and Austria, and for many reasons, actually.

That aside, the video seems mainly accurate to me. From what I could easily tell, any errors weren’t big enough to take away from the central message, that war between nations may be over. I hope they're right.

At any rate, this is an interesting attempt to visualise historic data, and I think we need more attempts at making complex topics more easily understandable.

The only time I’ll speak of it

Until now, I haven’t said much about the campaign for Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. Today is the only time I’ll say anything about the result. The campaign is over, there’s a new Leader and, as the photo above shows, I’m still a member. That’s the entire situation in one sentence.

There were folks who, no matter who’d won, would have complained—and not all of them were Labour Party Members, of course. In my case, by the end of the campaign, I was frankly bored with it. After a month of constant emails from one contender or another, I stopped even bothering to read them. I began to not care very much.

That said, I backed Grant Robertson for Leader and, for me, all the other contenders were in a three-way tie for last place. One could assume from that fact that I’m disappointed by the fact that Andrew Little won. Sure, I am a bit, but it’s not so much because the guy I backed didn’t win—it was because I think the whole process was fundamentally flawed.

When we went through this process last year, David Cunliffe was the clear winner on round one. I didn’t back him, either, but the victory was definite and he won a clear majority of votes from party members.

Official Results (Source: NZ Labour Party; click to embiggen)
This time, Andrew Little won only because of the unions, and I just don’t think that’s a good or healthy thing for the party. I should make clear that I support the rights of workers and think unions need more power, not less. In the past, I was a proud union member. However, I don't think they should be able to determine—virtually all on their own—who becomes the Leader of the Labour Party.

Grant Robertson won the support of Caucus, as he did last year. He also won the support of party members. But Little’s support among his fellow unionists was so strong that it swamped the other two. It doesn’t seem fair or just that they should be able to do overrule both Caucus and the membership.

So, Andrew Little starts with a bigger problem than David Cunliffe had: Cunliffe lacked the support of caucus, but had the support of the party and the unions. Little only had the support of the unions. That suggests that the factionalism of the party could continue, and might even get worse. At least, that’s what some pundits are claiming, though somewhat dubiously, in my opinion.

There was tremendous factionalism when this leadership contest began, but it was mostly about how the candidates for Leader were, at first, all white men. But by the end of the campaign—with three white men and a Maori woman—that complaint had lessened. In fact, not even the most ardent lefties said much of anything.

Still, soon after the announcement, my Twitter timeline had people declaring they’d burn their Labour Membership card, which would be rather unwise—they’re now made of plastic. Others were clearly happy. Me—I felt indifferent. But at no time did I contemplate quitting the party.

Even so, I’m not a fan of Andrew Little. Years ago, I worked for a media company that was “reviewing” its processes with an eye toward getting rid of workers. My coworkers and I—at my insistence—decided we’d better unionise so we’d have someone to fight for us. I invited in the Advertising Guild rather than the larger EPMU—then headed by Andrew Little—because I didn’t like him. Seeing him on television, I felt he was confrontational and negative for its own sake. That feeling stayed with me in the years that followed, and I wasn’t pleased to see him become, for a time, President of the Labour Party amid talk of it as a first step to the Leadership.

But my real complaint isn't about who won the leadership, it’s about some structural issues. Apart from unions having too great a say in choosing the Party leader, I also think that this selection was done backwards, before the review of this year’s election defeat is completed. I think it should have been the other way around: Look at what went wrong, what’s needed to win, and THEN find the leader best able to achieve that victory.

During the election campaign, I didn’t feel I could, or perhaps should, make any criticisms. During the Leadership campaign, I didn't say much because I didn’t have much of anything to say. Both were problems in their own right: Having a blog means saying things, but for whatever reason, I didn’t say anything critical about Labour for many, many months.

So: Despite my personal reservations about Andrew Little, despite my unease with the obvious divisions in Labour as shown by the results, and despite feeling that the weighting of votes in leadership contests is fundamentally unfair, Andrew Little has my unqualified support. That’s why the photo at the top is of me holding my Labour Party Membership Card today: I’m not quitting. Why on earth would I? I’ve had misgivings about party leaders in the past and no doubt will again. What does that have to do with anything?

Labour is still the best vehicle for expressing my political values, and the Leadership election result doesn’t change that. The reality is, my preferred candidate didn’t win—so what? A grown up shrugs his shoulders and moves on. I’ve always been a pragmatist first and foremost because I firmly believe that achieving 50% of one’s agenda is better than NOT achieving 100%. Ideological purity is fine for people who don’t care about achieving anything, but there are far too many New Zealanders who are being left behind to wallow in the selfish luxury of ideological purity.

With the leader selected, the party can now turn to the huge task of rebuilding for the 2017 elections. I don’t know what, if anything, I’ll say about that. I don’t know if I’ll even feel like saying anything. But I do know that I’ve now said all I intend to about the selection process and the new leader.

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Humans matter most

I’ve been pondering the value of blogging and podcasting lately, mainly because of my lack of time for such things. I know that in general they have value for readers and listeners (my own offering perhaps notwithstanding), but what I’ve realised lately is the value they have for me.

A friend was commenting on Facebook about wanting to “do something” with his writing, though he wasn’t sure quite what. I suggested he start a blog and in the suggesting I realised that I was sharing what I value most about the medium.

Blogging is, first and foremost, a means of personal expression, one we control. By publishing it openly online, anyone who cares to can have a look, maybe even offer a comment (though probably not). But through the process of blogging, I think we become better writers. I know I have and many other bloggers will say the same thing. It’s all about practice, and the fact that a personal blog offers a place to experiment in a virtually no-risk environment.

Through blogging, I’ve met some wonderful people. And by “met” I mostly mean interacted with, since there are very few people I’ve met online that I’ve later met in real life. But that interaction has be so valuable to me: Sometimes it’s feedback, sometimes its discussion, sometimes its criticism, but, perhaps most valuable to me as a blogger, it’s also sometimes been inspiration, as I try things other bloggers have done, or maybe adopt some of their techniques.

So, blogging has helped me be a better writer, and the interaction has led to many interesting and fulfilling discussions. For me, at least.

Podcasting has been very similar. I’m much better at audio presentation than I was when I started, though I’m quite rusty at the moment. By listening to other podcasters, I learned ways of modulating my voice, changing stresses and emphasis to suit the material. Sometimes my experiments worked, sometimes they didn’t, just like with blogging.

Also as with blogging, I’ve “met” some really wonderful people, other podcasters and podcast listeners. It’s had a huge impact on my life.

Today Nigel and I met with a well-known podcaster who uses the “nom du Podcast” of Auntie Vera Charles. He was here with his “angel husband Gooch”, as well as a friend of theirs, and also two guys I know of through other podcasters (I hesitate to mention any of the others’ names because they’re not podcasters or bloggers and, as I’ve said many times, I tend to be overprotective of people who don’t have such online personas). They were all about to head to their homes, so we met up at Auckland International Airport for some laughs and good times.

This reminded me of how much the personal side of podcasting has meant to me, especially when I realised that six out of the ten visiting Americans I’ve met up with in New Zealand are connected to podcasting in some way (the other four were people I knew in real life, but even two of them later had podcasting connections, too!). Nigel and I also met up with an Australian podcaster, Little Aussie Battler, as he headed to the USA. (On my last trip to the USA, I also met US podcaster Tom, the Ramble Redhead).

The point is, I’ve met some wonderful people through podcasting (and I haven't even touched on the listeners I’ve met!).

The same is true for blogging, even though I’ve met far fewer people through it. Giving advice to my friend reminded me of that importance.

But time has been short over the past few years, and that’s meant cuts to blogging and, especially (!), podcasting. The reality is that to this day, the reach of the content I’ve created through my podcast greatly exceeds that of this blog. You’d think I’d put more energy into it the podcast, wouldn't you? But I needed to claw back time somewhere, and that was an easy place to get it. I’ve cut back on blogging, too, though, and it’s entirely likely—maybe even probable—that this will be the first year since I started in 2006 that I don’t achieve my goal of an average of one post per day.

I wish I’d have been better at managing my time so that I could have produced more blog and podcast content. But I wasn’t (and I take for granted it was a personal failing, rather than anything else). Can’t change that now.

But, through it all, the ups and downs of both blogging and podcasting and what I perceive to be my inadequacies in doing either, I still have those human connections that I’ve made through them. I treasure those connections because they make everything worth it.

What I’ve had emphasised for me once again through all this is that humans matter most—more than what I think I “should” have done, and more than what I certainly could have done. People matter. And they alone make it all worthwhile.

So go ahead an leave a comment or something—that’s the sort of way all those connections started!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Our puppies save the day

I started several blog posts today, but stopped partway through each one. I just wasn’t feeling them. I was about to give up for today, but then our puppies saved the day.

It wasn’t their idea, of course. Yesterday I’d snapped a couple photos, and this evening I remembered that. A post was born, the (blogging) day was saved.

The photo up top is Sunny looking out the window. I’m not quite sure why she was doing that, though a fly had gotten into the house (I had the deck doors open), so maybe she was looking for it. Or, maybe she was just enjoying the view. It’s not the first time she’s done that, and only a minute or so earlier she was rolling around on the bed and grunting, something else she often does (it’s why the duvet cover is a little messed up). This was the longest I've seen her do that, though.

The photo of Jake below is of him after he crawled up on a pile of clothes on a chair in the bedroom—sweatshirts and things I’d unpacked from our recent trip to Hamilton (and, yes, not yet put away…). When I saw him, I could swear he had a guilty look on his face, like he thought he was in trouble for being where he was. As if! Cuteness is a wonderful shield. I think this photo makes him look like he's slightly annoyed at having his photo taken.

Bella was sleeping outside while all this was going on, so no photo of her yesterday. I posted photos last month, though.

So, the puppies helped save the day, giving me something to post, after all. They’re helpful like that.

Friday, November 14, 2014

What are we?

Today the Waitangi Tribunal may have changed everything. Or, not. The fact is, we don’t know and, in any case, we really don’t know.

The ruling related only to the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga, but it found that the chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 didn’t cede sovereignty to the British Crown. Nevertheless, at some point the Crown DID gain sovereignty. What, when and how that happened matters rather a lot, but none of that was included in the report.

If Maori really didn't cede sovereignty to the Crown in 1840, but the Crown now has it, then when and how did the Crown achieve sovereignty? No one could deny that by the mid-to-late 19th Century the Crown had sovereignty, but if that wasn’t from the Treaty, where did it come from? Conquest? Because, if it’s conquest the entire founding myth of New Zealand has been destroyed.

It must be noted that many Maori insist—and have for a long time—that Maori did not cede sovereignty through the Treaty. In that sense, nothing is new. But will Pākehā accept this newly insistent interpretation?

Personally, I don’t think that most Pākehā New Zealanders will accept or agree with this ruling. Despite what some may claim, that rejection isn’t necessarily about racism, but more often about defending what they’ve always known to be true. Sure, there will be some racists reacting, but they aren’t even remotely representative of all Pākehā, most of whom will simply struggle to understand what the ruling says, let alone what it implies.

As a relative newcomer to New Zealand, only some 19 years so far, I don’t have a dog in this show. But I do think that anyone arguing about this needs to understand how challenging this is to Pākehā New Zealanders: It amounts to up-ending their entire understanding of what New Zealand is and means, and that’s no small thing.

I don’t know what, if anything, this means for the future. Given that the National Party is leading government, I don’t expect anything will change, no matter what. That shouldn’t be a surprise. But, if we really have a mature society, we ought to be able to discuss all this—and the implications—calmly and rationally, right?

That day is not today.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'Weird Things All Dog Owners Do'

Above is yet another video from BuzzFeed, but one I found more, um, relevant to me. Well, not me, actually, but people I know—yeah, that’s it.

Okay, people with dogs—we’re all at least a little weird, and that’s what this video is about. The recognition of experienced reality may make this a little more relevant for me than non-dog people, but I think most people can at least see people they know.

This video is from a sub-grouping called BuzzFeed Violet: “BuzzFeed Violet: the good kind of awkward. Short, relatable videos that are totally you. Just like BuzzFeedVideo but violetier.” I do like their sense of humour.

“Poop. Poop for me.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'How Wolves Change Rivers'

I recently ran across the video above, “How Wolves Change Rivers”, and thought it was fascinating. So much so, that I wanted to share it here, as I often do with things I see somewhere on the Internet. That’s one of the reasons for having a personal blog, isn’t it?

Anyway, this particular video was released back in February, though I only saw it in the past few days. Part of the YouTube description sums it up well:
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.
When we hear about unexpected environmental consequences, it’s usually about something going wrong—sometimes even spectacularly so. Which is why this captured my attention: It’s refreshing to see unexpected environmental consequences that are GOOD.

The truth is, smart as we humans are, there’s so much we don’t know about our own planet and everything on it. Still, we’re learning more all the time. It’s good when the rest of us can come along for the ride.