Sunday, September 25, 2016

Daylight Saving Time again. Again.

Here we go again: New Zealand clocks “sprang forward” last night. Now we get to be treated to several days (weeks?) of people complaining about it, about how tired they are, and how “they” should end the seasonal clock changes. And, nothing will happen until it all starts again when the clocks go back to NZ Standard Time on Sunday, April 2. This happens twice a year, like clockwork (you’re welcome).

I said last year that:
Changing the clock is easier than it used to be: Our electronic devices (computers, phones, tablets) change the time automatically. But our alarm clock doesn't nor do our two wall clocks, the oven’s clock or the microwave’s clock. I think the problem here isn’t than not enough clocks change automatically, it’s that we have too many clocks.
That’s still true, but our microwave was an hour off until last night. I don’t know if that’s because we never changed it from the last clock change, or if we re-set it incorrectly after the power was off. The fact that either one is equally plausible ought to be a bigger concern probably, but the oven clock is even farther out of whack (leading credence to the second possibility).

Today was a rainy day, and most of that was a driving rain. That rain ended by late afternoon, but the clouds didn’t clear. Even so, as evening began, I could see how late the daylight hung around, and even at 7:30 it was still at least somewhat light.

I still think it’s time to abandon the seasonal clock changes, but that won’t do anything to fix the zig zagging of timezones to accommodate various political divisions on the planet (political in the geographic sense—mostly). Even so, it certainly would go a long way toward reducing global confusion and making it at least a little bit easier to work out what time it is in another part of the world.

Of course, these days it’s also easier to work out what time it is in other places (and I put Chicago and New Zealand clocks on this blog a long time ago—I don’t know when, precisely, because if I ever mentioned it in a post, I couldn’t find it, and you know I wasted a lot of time looking…). All those electronic devices that change the time automatically also make it easy for me to check what time it is somewhere else.

So, our clocks have changed again. Again. And people will complain about that, tand then do it all again when the clock change again in April. It’s so certain, you could set your watch by it (you’re welcome again).

For those without devices that automatically tell the time in different places, I recommend timeanddate.com as an excellent site to work out what the time is any place in the world, to arrange a time for an online meeting with someone in another country, etc. Plus, it’s easy to remember the web address anywhere—and any time—in the world you find yourself. The image at the top of this post is a royalty-free photo by Dean Jenkins, and is available from morgueFile.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Internet Wading for September 2016

These Internet Wading posts are all about sharing: I share links to things that catch my eye in a given month, things that would almost certainly never end up in a blog post otherwise. They may be interesting, profound, silly, or even stupid, but they’re all unique enough for me to check them out, and then share them.

I’ve noticed that these Internet Wading posts have recurring themes, especially history, art and creativity, and pop culture, among other things. That’s probably because outside of politics and religion, they’re the topics I’m the most interested in. Obviously.

Let’s begin this month with something topical: “Battling billboards” talks about the billboards/signs used in Auckland’s local government elections, casting a critical eye over the design, layout, and even colours. I know the author in real life, and I think he does a good job critiquing the various efforts. I do the same thing less formally whenever I see the signs, and have had very similar conclusions.

I have to admit, titling an article, "Smooth": 7 questions about the song you were too embarrassed to ask” didn’t exactly draw me in. While I liked the song (video above), I wasn’t aware of having any questions about it, but, even if I had, I doubt I’d be embarrassed to ask them. Nevertheless, it turned out to be surprisingly interesting—not the first time that’s happened to me.

Was Oscar Wilde’s "De Profundis" “one of the greatest love letters ever written”?. Maybe, but the treatment of Wilde was certainly a sad tale.

Speaking of marginalised people, Rob Tannenbaum tells us a long form story of “The life and murder of Stella Walsh, Intersex Olympic Champion”. It’s certainly a story I’d never heard, and it's one that deserves to be known.

Tannenbaum himself, meanwhile, recently became the focus of social media attention when he published a series of Tweets  talking about shady dealings of the Trump Foundation, the first person to do so. Since then, journalists began taking an in depth look—as he'd urged in his Tweets.

Jonathan Shaw wrote in Harvard Magazine that human beings may have been “Born to Rest”. This could explain why do many people have trouble exercising regularly.

On the other hand, a “Study suggests exercise can offset perils of alcohol”, which is a pretty good reason to exercise. Once we’re done resting, of course. Or drinking alcohol.

We know that humans and Neandethal’s had sex, because their DNA is present in modern humans (my own DNA is about 2% Neanderthal). But the question some researchers are trying to work out is, “Was it for love?” Apparently, part of the answer may come from working out the direction that the genes were transferred. There’s even some conjecture about Neanderthal penises, something that I’d never actually wondered about.

In more “recent” history, scientists have been learning a lot about “Otzi”, the 5300 year old frozen mummy discovered in the Alps 25 years ago this past week. In a Daily Mail article reprinted by the NZ Herald, I found out several things I didn’t know, like the fact that an arrow was found in Otzi’s shoulder in 2001, and that’s likely what killed him, or that scientists hope that bacteria found in his stomach may help cure modern diseases.

• • •

That’s it for this month’s potpourri of stuff from the Internet.

The local voting begins

Here we go again! The triennial elections for New Zealand’s local government are underway, with election papers being delivered to households starting last week, and the first votes already being counted. This year the turnout is ahead of last time, but behind 2010. That means that there’s no way to predict who will win most races, however, this year it may actually be easier to choose.

I’ve always been a strong advocate for democracy, but even I think there can be too much of a good thing. I strongly believe that merely having more candidates doesn't mean more democracy—in fact, it can often mean the opposite.

Last election, in 2013, I posted a chart of all the candidates we could vote for in our area. The chart at the top of this post is an updated and expanded version of that chart for this year’s election.

The first thing that’s obvious is that there are fewer candidates running for the 24 available positions. This year, there are only 72 candidates, a number that’s been declining since the first “supercity” elections in 2010.

On the face of it, fewer candidates overall could be a good thing because it makes it easier to learn about the candidates. However, many of those candidates are actually running for more than one position, meaning that there aren’t 72 people running for office. That can be a good thing, because it makes it easier still to learn about those people.

It’s common for candidates to run for both the Councillor in their Ward, and for their Local Board. This isn’t an issue: If a person is elected to both, they automatically forfeit their seat on the local board, and the next-highest polling candidate is elected. Not all candidates for either Council or the Local Board run for both, of course, but I don’t personally have any problem with those who do.

Running for more than one Local Board, however, and running for several other offices, too, is nothing more than job-shopping, and this year Mary-Anne Benson-Cooper is again the queen of job-shopping: She’s running for Auckland Council from North Shore Ward, Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, Upper Harbour Local Board, and the Auckland District Health Board. But, even she’s toned it down a bit: Last election she ran for FOUR different local boards, councillor in a different ward, and also the Waitemata District Health Board.

A law change has affected Grant Gillon, another local politician I criticised last time. That year, he ran for Councillor and for election to two local boards. He lost Council for the second time in a row, but he won election to both local boards—and he served on both, collecting two salaries from taxpayers. I urged that Parliament “Fix this politicians’ rort”, and they did: They changed the law to prevent someone from serving on more than one local board at a time, which I applauded and Grant, not surprisingly, did not.

To me, the biggest improvement this year is the dramatic drop in the number of people standing for our district health board: It’s only 16, about half of what it has been the first two elections. Sixteen is a much more manageable number of candidates for people to learn about, and this year, for the first time ever, one candidate, Monina Gesmundo, made a personal pitch for my vote. She got it. I may not like voting for DHB Members, but voting for a candidate who actually campaigned for the role ought to be rewarded, in my opinion.

The number of candidates for mayor is up slightly this time, but it's still the average number of candidates for the three elections. Once again, there’s only one real contender, Phil Goff. The right is fractured and failing to catch on, and a couple others who get some buzz on social media, but not out in the real world. Goff is widely expected to win (full disclosure: I support him), and because there’s really no strong opposition for him, this is expected to depress voter turnout.

So, this year we have fewer candidates, most of whom aren't running for multiple positions, but the turnout is expected to be low because of the lack of a real contest for mayor. In other words, not much different from 2013.

Still, what I said in 2013 is also true this year: “The good news is that despite it all, there are plenty of good, dedicated and conscientious local government politicians, people who care about and are committed to their communities. And it’s also good to know that we have many such people right here in our area."

As of yesterday, voter turnout in Auckland was at 7.61%, as opposed to 11.1% at that point in 2010, and 5.9% in 2013. In our ward, last week’s turnout ended at 6.2% for Kaipātiki Local Board area and 8.1% for Devonport-Takapuna Local Board area. Auckland Council posts a PDF of the turnout/count, updated every day.

Voting closes on Saturday, October 8 at midday. Those who post their ballots must post them by Wednesday, October 5, though Monday October 3 is safer.


Local politics – My post from 2013
And the race is on… My more upbeat look at the 2010 local government elections in Auckland
Discerning Democracy – Another post from 2010

Friday, September 23, 2016

Spring has sprung

Above is my latest YouTube video. I narrate this one, as I did with my previous one. And like that one, this one talks about New Zealand. It begins with talk about when Spring began in New Zealand, and even offers a tip for people in the Northern Hemisphere to work out what season it is here.

It’s been some eight months since I last made a video, and there were a few things I couldn’t remember how to do. In the end, I figured it out, and maybe even did a bit better than my previous videos.

I record the narration separately, and this video, to me, sounds better than the video in January. That one was made when I was still unwell, and this one was made afterward, so my breathing was better, and that made it easier to record (at the very least).

I wrote the narration as a script I read, including notes for whatever would be onscreen at the time (a sort of stage direction), so I could pause as I recorded. This gave me room to edit the audio track and/or visual tracks so the two meshed well. Or, to put it in more practical terms, I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

There will come a time when I’m actually in my videos, rather than just narrating them, but since I’m not mobile at the moment, that’ll have to wait awhile longer. For now, my videos will be along the lines of this one.

I often blog about my videos and photos, giving some of the behind-the-scenes information, as I have in this post. With that in mind, here’s the narration (more or less…) from this video:

Ah, Spring! Trees break out in flowers, and the birds visit them and sing their songs. It’s nice, right? Only I filmed this Tui feeding on a flowering tree on August 30, which is late winter in the Southern Hemisphere. And, birds never leave for winter. But, this was still spring in Auckland.

That’s because Spring began in New Zealand a few weeks ago, on September first.

That confuses some people. The September Equinox arrived at 2:21am today, and some people take that to mean the official start of Spring. But, does it?

Well, no: Spring was already three weeks old by then.

Equinoxes and Solstices are astronomical events, which may not correspond to changes in weather.

The first of the month is closer to when weather starts to change, so they’re often called meteorological dates.

Although, in truth, the weather has very little to do with either.

Also, Equinoxes and Solstices arrive at different times each year, and sometimes different dates, too.

This page from time and date dot com shows the dates and times for Auckland over a ten-year period.

But, the reason we have seasons, equinoxes and solstices at all is because of the tilt of the earth as it goes around the sun—and THAT’S a whole topic in itself.

Really, all you need to know is that New Zealand seasons are exactly the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere.

Think of it this way: January = July. If you keep THAT in mind, you can always know what season it is in New Zealand.

So, Spring has arrived in New Zealand—at SOME point this month…

Now, about the time difference… uh… that’s a topic for another day.

Full credits for the video along with other resources are in the YouTube description.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Back and forth

My story over the past few weeks can best be summed up in one phrase: Back and forth. While the overall story has been good—great, in fact—there are nevertheless a few details that I find very annoying. This week gave me more examples.

Last Friday, when I wrote about my progress “Four weeks later”, I talked specifically about the gout that began, really five weeks ago today, and really kicked in the next day. Last week I said:
The gout attack that began, in earnest, four weeks ago today is finally ending. There’s now merely soreness where once there was real pain, and it's less than what I felt at the beginning of all this. A few more days and I should be ready to start walking again.
Well, not exactly.

Over the next few days, things were fairly stable, then yesterday morning I woke up in the morning with a severe pain, one that made walking quite difficult. That continued all day, even though I stayed off my foot, and into the night. It was so bad that I cancelled a meeting I had today because I just couldn’t walk.

This morning, that pain had eased back, and while walking still hurts, it’s way better than yesterday. It’s just that it’s not as good as it had been even one day earlier.

This has happened before, where the gout was getting better, only to have another flare-up. I’ve thought, and even said, that the attack was ending a few times now, only to have it flare up again. I think I’ve finally learned to avoid my optimism (well, wishful thinking…): It’ll end when it ends. I hope.

The other thing that’s happened a couple times is that I’ve pushed too hard and worn myself out, and that's because I was unable to do much of anything physical for so very long, so my stamina is gone. I’ve known that all along of course, yet I keep forgetting it and trying to do too much.

On Friday I went to the doctor, then the grocery story, then came home to clean the house because we were having family come to stay with us for the weekend. None of that is unusual, but for someone with my lack of stamina, it was a lot. The next day, I realised that I’d pushed myself a little too far because I was exhausted.

On Sunday, I went to a supporters get-together for my friend Richard Hills, who is running for Auckland Council and also for Kaipātiki Local Board (something I blogged about last month). I parked some distance away and walked up to the venue, stood around for a couple hours, then walked back to my car and drove home.

All of this was more physical than I’ve been in ages, really, and being on my feet for so long was not, in retrospect, the brightest thing I’ve ever done (although, I did sit down for part of it). It was bound to affect me.

So, entering the weekend worn out, then adding to it on Sunday left me even more tired on Monday. And, being on my feet so long on Sunday probably set the stage for the gout flare-up.

The thing is, I should have known all that would happen, because there’s nothing new in any of it. The problem—which is a weird name for it—is that I feel so well now that I simply forget my limits. And then I’m reminded of them.

So, over the past five weeks I’ve had a real back and forth with how things are going. While I now realise that much of that has been my own fault, I’ll probably forget again before things really are back to normal.

Back and forth is really part of normal life, after all.

Save The Day

The video above is from Joss Wheldon and Save The Day PAC and, like all PACs, is “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee”. But it makes one message clearly: Stop Trump. In doing so, voters can literally save the day.

On the site the video promotes, savetheday.vote, people can get more information about their state’s registration and voting deadlines, as well as begin the registration process. They also say why they’re doing this:
We are a short-form digital production company dedicated to the idea that voting is a necessary and heroic act. That every voice in this wonderfully diverse nation should, and must, be heard. That the only thing that can save democracy is the act that defines it. We are committed to fighting the apathy, cynicism, and honest confusion that keeps citizens from using their vote. And to reminding an increasingly out-of-touch and compromised set of representatives that they are answerable to the people they were hired to serve.
That message should appeal to everyone, regardless of where they are on the political or ideological spectrum. The ad also doesn’t tell viewers who to vote FOR, and most PAC ads don’t promote a particular candidate, but they clearly urge voting against a Donald. The video isn’t really about persuasion: It’s about motivation.

I like this video, which is clearly intended for sharing rather than broadcast, not just because of the important message, but also because it uses famous people to make fun of the idea of using famous people in political ads. The reason it works so well is the humour that runs through the ad, but especially because it drives home a point that comes at the very end: An ordinary person holds the sign with the web address. That’s because ordinary voters have the power to change everything, to, in this case, save the day.

To me, anything that helps promote voting—especially voting against Donald—is a great thing. This video definitely helps with that goal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My voting papers arrived today

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

This change to plastic is good

Many years ago, supermarkets switched from paper bags to plastic bags. Not many of us remember precisely when that was, but those of us above a certain age may remember being asked, “paper or plastic?” That switch has become controversial, but a current switch to plastic is an absolutely great thing.

Last week, I bought some chicken at our local New World supermarket, and I noticed the tray was blue plastic, instead of the blue polystyrene (a form of plastic that includes Styrofoam) it had always been. I also bought some beef mince (“ground beef” or “hamburger” in the USA), and it came in a clear plastic tray (photo above).

The reason this is such great news is that the trays are recyclable, and the polystyrene trays are not. Polystyrene in its various forms is slow to biodegrade, and is one of the largest types of pollution in the oceans. The polystyrene trays are also fragile and break easily. Once thrown in the rubbish, they can break into many small pieces and, if the rubbish bag breaks, can fly around all over the place.

It turns out that while this was new to me, the trials actually began last year. I don’t know if the trays appearing at our local stores means they’re being rolled out nationwide or not, but I hope so.

The move from polystyrene meat trays to ones made of recyclable plastic may seem like a small thing, but the fact they can be recycled and that they’re stronger are all good things. It’s one more thing that doesn’t have to go into our landfill-bound rubbish. The amount of rubbish we send to landfill has been declining a lot over the past few years, and this will help that even more.

So, in this case, a supermarket switching to plastic is a very, very good thing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

123 years of votes for women

Today is the 123rd anniversary of an important date in New Zealand—and world—history: On 19 September 1893, women won the right to vote in New Zealand. It was a world first.

Over the years, this is one New Zealand fact that I’ve talked about more than any other, because it’s both unique and something that many people in the world don’t know.

The path for women from gaining the right to vote to the right to run for office has been both torturous and meandering, and it’s confused many people, including some who should know better or employ people who do. In 2011, I pointed out how President Obama had muddled this history in a speech. While that wasn’t an international incident, it highlights one of the reasons I keep talking about this New Zealand’s role in changing history: So more people know the real story.

And, anyway, how could I resist anything with 1-2-3 in it?

The image above was posted to the Facebook Page of the New Zealand Labour Party.

Paying the price of healthcare

Last week I received the final bill for my healthcare adventure. The photo above shows the relevant part of the ambulance bill: $98 (today, about US$71.55). This means that my out of pocket expenses for my adventure totalled less than $200.

When I talked about the cost of the healthcare I received, I guesstimated that it would be about $200, and the reason I didn’t know for sure was that I didn’t know how much the ambulance cost. As it turned out, I was pretty accurate. It was dated exactly one month after my trip to the hospital on August 15, which means it was pre-dated since I received it (and paid it) September 15.

But it wasn’t the predated bill that caught my attention, it was the other charges. As I said when I talked about the costs, the ambulance charity, St John, offers a household membership, which offers a free ambulance trip. However, what I didn’t mention is that most trips in an ambulance after an accident are free because they’re covered by ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation), the New Zealand government’s universal no-fault accident and rehabilitation insurer. That’s another great thing about our health insurance, but funded by a separate levy paid by employers and workers alike through a payroll deduction, as well as levies on insurance, among other things. I knew about all that.

The bill’s surprise was that the fee paid by people not covered by our national healthcare system is $800, so that’s the true cost of the hospital ride for which I paid $98. Put another way, my direct cost was 12.5% of the total. The rest comes from taxes, including what I pay, of course.

Anyone in New Zealand temporarily might face that $800 charge. A tourist with travellers’ insurance (or really good coverage from their home country) might have that paid by their insurance. Workers in New Zealand temporarily may be covered by ACC, since a portion of their wages might be used to pay the levies. However, that’s something the worker should find out in advance because not all such workers pay the levy. People in New Zealand with a residence permit (also known as “permanent residence”) are, as far as I know, always covered by the national health system (as is true for temporary workers, it pays to ask).

The larger point here is that the value of my healthcare was, at a BARE minimum, some NZ$26,000, but I paid less than $200 directly.

Since then, I renewed my prescriptions and got a three month supply of them all for $20, which will be my quarterly cost for while (I’ll pay that at least once more, but one of the pills is only for six to twelve months, so it’ll stop at some point and my quarterly cost will drop to $15, plus doctor appointments, the cost of which can vary a bit and is only partly subsidised. So, using only high costs, my annual out-of-pocket cost for my routine healthcare will be about $NZ260 (US$189.84). That's it, since I don't have to pay health insurance premiums.

I can—quite literally—live with that.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Weekend Diversion: Jolene

The video above is a collaboration between Pentatonix and Dolly Parton, covering her hit, “Jolene”. I really like it.

Pentatonix produces what they call “instrument-free music”, often with really interesting results. They’re also quite popular: Their YouTube Channel has more than 11 million subscribers. Two members of Pentatonix, Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying, also have a side project called Superfruit.

This particular video was posted today as Pentatonix begins their world tour. The song “Jolene” has always been among my favourite of Parton’s many songs, because of it’s seemingly simple melody and structure, and straightforward storytelling. It’s a really good pop country song. At the time I was preparing this post, the video had been viewed nearly 1.3 million times.

Partisan independents

A weird minor issue has popped up in this year’s local elections in Auckland: Can a person be associated with a political party and an independent at the same time? To some, it may seem counter-intuitive, but, yes, people associated with a political party can indeed be independent, and there’s nothing new about that.

The question has come up repeatedly, as for example late last month when Dr Andy Asquith, a senior lecturer at Massey University, criticised people with known political party affiliations running as independents. I don’t think his criticism is valid.

Asquith, who was educated in the UK and arrived at Massey in 2005, specifically attacked Labour Party MP Phil Goff running for Mayor of Auckland as an independent, saying, "If Phil Goff becomes mayor, is he going to ditch all his centre-left baggage and become independent? "It's a nonsense, it's dishonest, it takes us all for mugs."

What’s a nonsense is Asquith’s position: Of course politicians associated with party affiliations can be independent, and for a very good reason: A city like Auckland, home to a quarter of New Zealand’s entire population, needs a mayor who can work with all parties.

In fact, Goff addressed this very point last April when he and two other party-affiliated candidates were challenged about running as independents: I'm a person who has Labour values, I've had them all my life and I inherited them from my grandmother,” he said at the time. "I'm running as an independent because on council you're dealing with a cross-section of people of all political persuasions, and whoever is mayor has got to get that group working as a team."

So, the party affiliations of a candidate can help us understand who they are and what they’re about, but to be Mayor they must transcend party politics. It’s been this way for decades, and is nothing new at all.

One of the reasons for this is that we want our politicians to be independent of Wellington, and they always are. Goff’s long career in Parliament, both as a government minister and a member of the opposition, prepare him for working well with whoever leads the nation’s government. It seems to me that this should be seen as an asset, not a liability.

Candidates for Councillor on the Auckland Council Governing Board, or as a member of their Local Board, also avoid political party identification. In fact, they’re irrelevant in much of Auckland, though certainly not the entire city: In parts of the city, candidates do run aligned to the Labour Party in particular. However, until this year the National Party has never promoted candidates directly. This year, there’s a National party offshoot called Auckland Future running candidates throughout the city—but not for mayor.

Here on the North Shore, it’s been a common and well-established practice for politicians to run as independents, or as local tickets independent of any major party. Indeed, if anything, they’re usually cross party.

So, established practice within Auckland is for most politicians to run as independents or local tickets of candidates, and not as affiliates of any major party.

Asquith seems not to understand this long-standing practice, nor how common it is for local elections generally. In the area where I grew up, for example, all local politicians did the same thing. It happens even in Chicago, where the entire City Council is officially non-partisan (in that particular case, however, it’s unlikely they actually are either non-partisan or independent).

There are plenty of things to criticise our local politicians for, but this is not one of them. When candidates for local office have an identified party affiliation, it helps us know who they are, what they’re about, and what their values are. That’s a good thing because the more we know about them and their attitudes and values, the better. But we also want them to represent us all, not just their party. In Auckland’s experience, that’s exactly what happens.