Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sewer time again

Yesterday, we had to have Watercare come out to clear blocked sewer lines, something we found out about at 7am when Nigel was about to leave for the day and saw a growing puddle. I went outside when there was enough daylight and found sewerage bubbling up out of our gully trap and running across our lawn. This was similar to what happened last September, although less severe.

Watercare says these blocks happen because people flush things that should never by flushed, like sanitary pads, tampons, wet wipes, nappies, etc. (see their poster at left). Such things block the pipes—which aren’t very wide—causing sewerage to flow overland—in this case, our yard.

Another problem is that the access points—“manholes”—have often been buried, sometime by the builder/developer, which means property owners may have one on their property and not even know it. Watercare can come and dig up a manhole, and the owner can’t object (I don’t know if the property owner is charged for that or not, and I didn’t think to ask). The Watercare people told me that at one house nearby the owners had a shed on top of the access, which is illegal (they can order it be removed).

We know from our September experience that we don’t have any sewer access points on our section.

I shared most of this information on a local community page, and my personal Facebook, mainly as a way to ask that people don’t flush anything except for what Watercare delicately calls “human waste” and toilet paper—nothing else. As I said on the community page, “We’d rather not see your, um, stuff, flowing up out of our gully trap!”

What I didn’t say in the post, because most people here know this already, is why we even have a gully trap.

Basically, a gully trap works like a sink: Sinks, showers, and/or laundry (also known as “graywater”) empty into it, and as it fills with water, gravity pushes the water into the sanitary sewer. It uses the same principle as the S trap under a sink, or the water in a toilet bowl: The water blocks sewer gasses.

The reason for them is because of exactly what happened to us: If there’s a sewer blockage, the sewerage will back up through the gully trap, rather than into the house. This is why it’s placed between the house and the connection to the sewer line. By code, at least one graywater pipe must drain into the gully trap to keep the water level up because if the water evaporates, it’ll smell.

In cold areas where water freezes in winter, gully traps won’t work. In North America, for example, they use a backflow preventer, which is kind a specialty flap that closes if the sewer starts to back up into the house. The problem with that is that the pressure caused by the blockage can cause manholes to be lifted—even violently, and with a sewerage fountain. Nice!

While I learned some of that over the years, I didn’t know most of that until the overflow last year. I wanted to understand what was going on, so I read up on it.

So, the sewerage overflowing the gully trap is a good thing—it protects the house—but it only happens when there’s a blockage, which is a bad thing. Most blockages in residential lines are caused by people flushing things down that toilet that don’t belong there. As one of their more colourfully worded posters (PDF) put it, “Only toilet paper, pee and poo should be flushed down the loo!” And so it goes.

See also “Toilet humour” my post from June of last year about this topic and newspaper ads about it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Settling In

Leo is pretty much settled into our household now, as the Instagram post above shows. He’d been a little leery of the other dogs, but after we gave Sunny a clipping on Saturday he’s been much better, maybe because she doesn’t appear as big and intimidating.

On Friday we had new dog doors installed, one on ground level, and the other upstairs leading out onto the deck. Leo and Bella worked out how to use it pretty quickly, and so did Jake, which is pretty surprising: He hated it when we changed the dog door at the old house back in 2014. Sunny hated that change, too, but unlike Jake, she’s been unable to bring herself to use the new door here. At the moment, the one downstairs is taped open so she’ll use it.

So, three quarters of the furbabies have no trouble using the dog door, which I suppose is mostly good. Sunny will get there eventually.

Apart from the door problems, they’re all getting on well. Jake takes little notice of Leo, but every once in awhile Sunny tries to play with him, sometimes scaring the crap out of him, which kind of makes sense: Her haricut may make her less intimidating, but she’s still bigger. Meanwhile, Bella has the cleanest ears of any cat in New Zealand.

So, all up, I have to say that Leo is pretty much settled into our household now. That’s good news.

Internet Wading: Think for ourselves

Now that I’m resuming Internet Wading posts, why not return to the original day, my “month day” as I set out to do four years ago? This edition has it all: Critical economic analysis, royalty, and interior decor.

The video above is the latest from Newsbroke, a product of AJ+, the digital arm of Al Jazeera Media Network. The host, Francesca Fiorentini, debunks the many rightwing myths about socialism, and in so doing exposes a truth about them: They’re mere propaganda talking points, not coherent arguments.

One of her best points is also one of the shortest: She mentions the rightwing talking point that the socialist stars among the world’s nations are small, so, therefore, socialism “can’t work” in the USA, and she points out that they’re essentially arguing that Americans can’t do “scaling up”. It was delivered in a mostly joking way—as truth often is.

Here in New Zealand, we also have rightwingers blustering loudly that “socialism doesn’t work”, etc., etc., which is absolutely hilarious considering they ALL have benefitted from and/or personally know people who have benefitted from New Zealand’s public education system, single payer national healthcare, the police, the fire service, the NZ Defence Force—I could go on and on and on, just like they do, but the facts are on my side, and they know it. They’re just spinning propaganda slogans just like the USA’s rightwing does, only maybe here there’s a less-gullible audience?

Maybe it’s just that the word socialism is too scary for Americans to even be willing to contemplate, let alone learn about or understand. Maybe they could look at the core problem.

“Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?” was published late last year by Fast Company. It points out the sorts of the flaws in modern capitalism (or corporatism, as I call it) that most of us know, at least instinctively, along with some measures to fix a broken system.

Of course the first superstar critic (though not really in his lifetime) of capitalism was Karl Marx, a name that all by itself strikes fear, loathing and revulsion into the gut of most Americans from the just Left of Centre to the Far Right. In a piece published by Vice, Oscar Rickett explains why “Karl Marx Has Never Been More Relevant”. It turns out that those problems with capitalisam that most us know, at least instinctively, were first described or predicted by Marx. And yet few conservatives, moderates, or even traditional liberals have ever read his work—I never have, either, actually. So how can we be so sure that his work is of no value? We can’t—and we need to find out for ourselves rather than allow polemicists of any stripe dictate truth to us.

Related: "The meaning of life in a world without work" from The Guardian.

Related to all this, Caleb Crain wrote a long book review published by The New Yorker, “Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?” (print edition title: “Merchants of Doom”), which takes a critical look at: “The idea that authoritarianism attracts workers harmed by the free market, which emerged when the Nazis were in power, has been making a comeback.” He has issues with the book, and some of the underlying ideas, but also reinforces some. Put another way, readers are required to think about the topic themselves—these days a far more radical proposition.

Enough with all this thinking about the economic perils in front of us, let’s instead breathe the rarified air of royalty: The Royal Wedding. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t popular about Leftists, even here in New Zealand, where Queen Elizabeth is Head of State:

I’ve followed Morgan on Twitter for years, and have traded the occasional Tweet with him. Sometimes I disagree with him, most times I agree with him, at least in part. In this particular case, I thought he was a bit churlish, although, as another person I follow said in reply, “More than fair enough – but honestly, I've been muting folks who feel obliged to slide into my mentions to 'splain me about an institution whose flaws and abuses I'm perfectly well aware of. Thanks for not doing that.” Yeah, I suppose there’s that. To which Morgan replied, “Fair enough too. I mean, we all deserve some spectacles, and we can participate without being dupes about it,” which I thought was a better point than his original Tweet.

Another person (who I don’t follow, so no link) replied: “Yes, but the power of the symbolism – the mother descended from slaves watching her daughter marry the brother of the future king. Whatever the crimes of history, the message was in that moment.” And that, to me was the more balanced perspective.

A NZ Leftist said on Facebook, “Not watching the Royal wedding although I like them both and wish them well. I don't feel comfortable watching such extravagance (paid by the UK taxpayers I understand) while others live in poverty,” and adding later in a comment, “And if there weren't people living in poverty and important health and social services being cut by Tories the tax payers expense wouldn't bother me."

All of that suggests that some NZ Leftists hold more nuanced views on the event than it may sometimes seem. But there were things about the wedding that should cheer the Left’s bleeding hearts, not the least the American bishop preachifying to the staid royals and stiff upper lip upper class folks in attendance. But there were also smaller details, like this: “Why the electric Jaguar at the royal wedding was a symbolic step forward”. I actually had no idea that the Jag was electric: Our news evening bulletin yesterday didn’t mention it. But, I DO think it mattered.

Enough with Royal Weddings, royal arguments AND economics, time for something unimportant: “The Biggest Decor Trends The Year You Were Born,” which was published by Elle Decor in 2016. I just saw it today, when it showed up on my Facebook newsfeed, and after clicking through all the photos, I knew I wanted to share it. Economics? Sure. Politics? Of course. Current events? Yep. I like all those things. But I may like history—cultural and pop cultural history especially—just a little bit more. These days it’s a little less contentious, too—unless we argue over whether a particular look is awful or wonderful, but the “entire world” is already arguing over laurel v. yanny, so maybe we can skip decor arguments—this time.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Another new addition

We have another addition to our clan: Leo (pictured) has joined the family, joining Jake, Sunny, and Bella. Leo needed a new home, and we couldn’t say no. But it is interesting that he’s the third furbaby in a row that we didn’t name.

Leo came to us because his former family couldn’t keep him. He already knew us, and Jake and Sunny, so it wasn’t a totally new and scary thing for him. Since he joined us a week and a half ago, he’s slowly started to fit in—very well in some ways.

Leo is best friends with Bella, partly (mostly?) because he likes licking her ears, and Bella likes that. They often sleep next to each other on one our laps, and often trade sniffs.

Leo is a little wary of Jake and Sunny, however, especially Sunny—possibly because right now she needs a trim and is huge from Leo’s perspective. He sometimes growls at the dogs, Jake in particular, but we’re working on that, and we’re kind of old hands at that.

I joked recently that this is becoming “Arthur and Nigel’s Home For Wayward Pets” because our last three came to us when they needed a home, not because we sought them out. We have the time, energy, and inclination to give them a home, so why not? Someday taking care of pets—or several, anyway—may be too much for us, but that day is not today.

Besides: Who could resist such cuteness? But, I do think we’re now officially a zoo.

Jake (top) and Leo lying near each other yesterday. It's progress.

UN Free & Equal: Be there. Be an ally.

The video above is the latest from the United Nations’ “Free & Equal” campaign. The UN released the video on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia to introduce a new mini-campaign “celebrating allies and the vital role they play in the lives of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people”, as they put it in an email. It's a good effort.

The video highlights the different ways one can be an ally. As they put it in their YouTube description:
Being an ally is about more than silent acceptance. It’s about being there for your lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours. It’s about striving to understand their experiences, and helping them to understand yours. It’s about supporting one another in times of need. It’s about setting a positive example for others. And most importantly, it’s about creating a more inclusive and loving society where everyone is valued, no matter who they are or whom they love.
The website for the Free & Equal project has several suggestions on on how someone can be a better ally:
  • Come out as an ally! Be vocal of your support for the LGBTI community at school, at work, in your family, community and on social media.
  • Educate yourself about the diverse experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, their issues and concerns – in your community and around the world.
  • Reach out to organizations that are raising awareness and advocating to end criminalization, violence, discrimination and other abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people – and ask them how you can support.
  • Respect safety, privacy and confidentiality – do not refer to, or reveal, a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics without their consent.
  • Use people’s preferred terms, pronouns, genders and names. If you don’t know – respectfully ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.
  • Confront your own prejudices and bias – especially if it makes you uncomfortable to do so.
  • Speak out when you hear bullying, insults and harmful myths and stereotypes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex children and adults. Avoid jokes, slurs and harmful stereotypes that can be hurtful to LGBTI people and let other people know that you find them offensive.
  • Speak out when you see bullying and insults against LGBTI children and adults.
I think this is a good idea. Being supportive of LGBT+ people is important, but heterosexual people are sometimes unsure of how, exactly, to do that. Providing specific information on how to be an ally, and why it’s so important, is a really good thing, these days especially.

I have to admit I was worried about the Free & Equal campaign after the change in Secretary General, because I wasn’t sure he’d have the same level of commitment as his predecessor. I still don’t know whether he personally does or not, but the project is still there and still trying to advance the cause for LGBT+ people worldwide. That’s a very good thing, indeed.

No one campaign or even organisation can make the world a safer and better place by itself, but everyone working together can—even just ordinary people acting as true allies. I hope this campaign helps more people become allies.

We need allies now more than ever.

This is a beer ad

The video above is a commercial for the New Zealand beer brand Speight’s. Called “The Dance”, the ad is a major departure for the brand, and NZ beer advertising in general. It’s a remarkably real ad, portraying both believable life situations and the meaning of mateship, and returning to a classic slogan and infusing it with new vitality. It’s a very good ad.

The ad was created by DDB NZ and was directed by Steve Ayson (for The Sweet Shop). Intended for use online, making it ripe for sharing, it’s also been shown on NZ television late in the evening (alcohol cannot be advertised on NZ television until late in the evening, after young children are in bed). I first saw the ad on TV and was caught from the very first image: “What’s this about?!” I thought to myself. The answer doesn’t come until the end of the ad.

"Masculinity is evolving, even in Heartland New Zealand," Craig Baldie, the national marketing director at the company that owns Speight’s told the NZ Herald. The company studied New Zealand cultural mores to see if the brand was still relevant. "That study showed us it was, but it also told us that the message had to be served up in a different way than it was 20 years ago."

In the 1990s, the brand featured ads with a distinctly male viewpoint, one that was also often not entirely embracing of women, either. That’s how this ad is so different: The whole point of the ad is that the subject doesn’t want to disappoint his woman. A Speight’s ad would never have had that as a theme two decades ago.

Which makes the revival of their slogan, “Good On Ya Mate”, all the more interesting. In the 1990s, it was men alone, friends looking out for friends. Now it still means friends looking out for friends, but in a thoroughly modern context. In the context of the new ad, it feels fresh.

No ordinary ad can change the world, and usually they merely reflect the world around us at any moment. We expect that. But when an ad steps out of its own comfort zone, and when doing that reminds us how much has changed, it’s a pretty remarkable thing.

To be completely honest, I’ve never been a Speight’s drinker, in part because the old ads never attracted me. This new ad direction may very well entice me for those (very) rare times I have a beer. The odds are certainly better.

Regardless, I’m sure of one thing: I really like this ad.

See Also:
“Feeling the rhythm: how Speight's has moved from blokey heroes to celebrate modern mateship”StopPress
“Speight's breaks with beer ad traditions in new campaign: The Dance”The Drum

Friday, May 11, 2018

The new TV reality

The video above is an ad, the long version of one currently running on New Zealand TV. It’s one example of how cross-promotion is now endemic, and this is just one example. The ad is an ad, they can do whatever they want. But the overall trend of embedded ads is not a all good.

The fact an ad promoted an otherwise irrelevant and unrelated thing—a movie—is kind of a non-issue by itself, made more so by the clever use of Mission: Impossible imagery. Ads advertising two things is probably not a big deal of and by itself—they’re still paid ads, after all. The problem is, that’s not where it ends.

TVNZ has been running a series of promotional messages for things that aren’t actually ads—such as, how to make a complaint to the Broadcast Standards Authority, for example—but doing so as promotions for the movie Deadpool 2. I have no opinion on that movie—since I didn’t see the first one—but the merits of the movie are entirely beside the point. TVNZ us using messages that aren’t normally ads to promote one particular movie, and that feels incredibly wrong.

TVNZ is owned by New Zealanders. It’s required to pay a dividend to the Crown, and operates as if it’s just like any for-profit broadcaster. This advertising campaign latched onto something else shows how uncomfortably those two realities coexist.

We deserve clearer boundaries.

The USA’s big mistake

This week the USA made another huge mistake, the latest of several that all originated with its biggest mistake some 18 months ago, but this one could end life on earth. Or, maybe it won’t. Or, maybe it’ll hasten the downfall of the current regime in the US. Or, it’ll hasten the arrival of an authoritarian dictatorship. Which of the many options are the most likely? What will this mistake lead to?

The first and most important thing to understand is that the entire reason that the current occupant of the White House made this stupid move is blindingly obvious: The current occupant has a visceral, irrational, and childish hatred of President Obama. He’s made that clear at every opportunity, and made the opportunity to make that clear where none existed. The ONLY thing the current occupant cares about—to the exclusion of almost everything else—is undoing everything President Obama did. The only thing that the current occupant cares about more than erasing President Obama from history is glorifying himself, and the current occupant thinks his bizarre action will somehow make himself famous. It really is as simple as that.

So, where will this lead? Let’s look at the possibilities one at a time.

The final war

Axing this deal paves the way for the USA to attack Iran, and that could lead to all out nuclear war. There are good reasons to think this is the inevitable course things will take. First, Republicans need something—literally anything—to improve their chances in November, and there’s nothing quite like a war to make people rally around the current president: After the Gulf War, George Bush the first polled at around 90% approval, and all Republicans need is a boost of a of percentage points here and there to retain control of Congress. So, they all have a huge incentive to go to war.

Second, a sizeable portion of Republicans in Congress, and nearly all of the base of the current occupant, and the current vice president, all want to trigger a war in the Middle East that, they believe, will be their mythological “Armageddon” that will bring about the supposed return of Republican Jesus (so-called because that’s what they think he is…). What that means that a huge proportion of the Republican base is fully embracing a death cult. That. Is. Terrifying.

If Republicans start a war, it probably won’t be after September (because they’d be as sure that it’ll be as “quick” and “easy” as they were sure invading Iraq would be). They’re already laying the ground work with disinformation campaigns against Iran, not the least having the Israeli Prime Minister do his one man Powerpoint show. That man lied about Iraq to get the USA into war, some people may remember—or should.

Another shot in the foot

There’s also the possibility that this whole thing will be just another disaster for the USA alone as the world moves on, ignoring the USA, as it does more and more these days. Just as the current occupant has made things worse for the country with his trade war with China and other acts of stupidity, it’s entirely possible that the USA will just be ignored by the entire world.

The countries that signed the deal in the first place all still back it, and if they guarantee no sanctions against Iran, then Iran may continue with the deal [See also: “France: Europe isn’t US ‘vassal,’ should trade with Iran”]. If that happens, the USA—and American companies and workers—will be alone in obeying whatever sanctions the current occupant imposes on impulse via Twitter. This is why it could harm US companies and kill US jobs, just as the current occupant’s trade war with China has.

If this happens, then the current occupant’s stupidity won’t matter—except to the Americans who lose their jobs as similar companies in other parts of the world expand. Make America Grate Again, indeed.

The wildcard

It’s possible that Israel could decide everything. If they continue attacking Iran, literally or merely Iranian military positions elsewhere, it could force the USA into war. Given Republicans’ reflexive and unquestioning support for everything Israel says and does, they would enthusiastically back war (not the least because of their death cult). Democrats don’t have enough votes to stop them—yet.

Where we are

All we know for sure is that, at the moment, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was last week. We also know that the current occupant of the White House has an incredibly short attention span, so he could forget all about this, now that he’s undone another thing President Obama did. Or, at the other extreme, we could be headed toward nuclear war.

If I were to bet, it would be that the USA is shoved further into global irrelevance, thanks to the current occupant. That, too, could lead to war for other reasons, but probably not over this. Just keep the current occupant facing drooling crowds at his campaign rallies, and maybe he’ll leave the rest of us alone.

If that happens, there are plenty of grownups in the world to make us for the infant in the White House.

Related: “AP FACT CHECK: Analyses don’t back up Trump on Iran deal”

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Worth Quoting: Barack Obama

Today former President Barack Obama posted the following statement on Facebook:
There are few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. That’s why the United States negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place.
The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest – it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. And the JCPOA is a model for what diplomacy can accomplish – its inspections and verification regime is precisely what the United States should be working to put in place with North Korea. Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.

That is why today’s announcement is so misguided. Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies, and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated. In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.

Debates in our country should be informed by facts, especially debates that have proven to be divisive. So it’s important to review several facts about the JCPOA.

First, the JCPOA was not just an agreement between my Administration and the Iranian government. After years of building an international coalition that could impose crippling sanctions on Iran, we reached the JCPOA together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran. It is a multilateral arms control deal, unanimously endorsed by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

Second, the JCPOA has worked in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. For decades, Iran had steadily advanced its nuclear program, approaching the point where they could rapidly produce enough fissile material to build a bomb. The JCPOA put a lid on that breakout capacity. Since the JCPOA was implemented, Iran has destroyed the core of a reactor that could have produced weapons-grade plutonium; removed two-thirds of its centrifuges (over 13,000) and placed them under international monitoring; and eliminated 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium – the raw materials necessary for a bomb. So by any measure, the JCPOA has imposed strict limitations on Iran's nuclear program and achieved real results.

Third, the JCPOA does not rely on trust – it is rooted in the most far-reaching inspections and verification regime ever negotiated in an arms control deal. Iran’s nuclear facilities are strictly monitored. International monitors also have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, so that we can catch them if they cheat. Without the JCPOA, this monitoring and inspections regime would go away.

Fourth, Iran is complying with the JCPOA. That was not simply the view of my Administration. The United States intelligence community has continued to find that Iran is meeting its responsibilities under the deal, and has reported as much to Congress. So have our closest allies, and the international agency responsible for verifying Iranian compliance – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fifth, the JCPOA does not expire. The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is permanent. Some of the most important and intrusive inspections codified by the JCPOA are permanent. Even as some of the provisions in the JCPOA do become less strict with time, this won’t happen until ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today.

Finally, the JCPOA was never intended to solve all of our problems with Iran. We were clear-eyed that Iran engages in destabilizing behavior – including support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel and its neighbors. But that’s precisely why it was so important that we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.

Because of these facts, I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake. Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East. We all know the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. It could embolden an already dangerous regime; threaten our friends with destruction; pose unacceptable dangers to America’s own security; and trigger an arms race in the world’s most dangerous region. If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it.

In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.
I agree with President Obama. I’ll have more to say about this topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Moths to a flame

For reasons ordinary people can’t comprehend, some people in the USA are utterly and pathologically obsessed with Hillary Clinton. She was in New Zealand for a speech yesterday, and had lunch with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The photo above was sent out to the media by the Prime Minister’s office, and was published online by them, as well as on social media by various journalists, among others (the one above was shared on the Instagram account of the NZ Labour Party. Once it was online, the comments—some quite unhinged—started flooding in. It looked as if an alternate universe in which Hillary had become US President, or was a candidate for something, had suddenly replaced our own. It was weird.

There are many theories about why the USA’s rightwing—and part of its leftwing—can’t stop obsessing about Hillary. Some argue the obsessed have some sort of personality disorder (or similar problem), but I think that’s just using popular scapegoating as a means of explaining (or attacking). It seems to me that the most probable explanation for why real people—as opposed to bots and trolls—can’t move on is that the USA’s politics is now so divided and toxic that they simply can’t. They spent so much time and energy literally hating one person that they couldn’t stop now, even if they wanted to. And they clearly don’t want to.

To be sure, this sort of bizarre obsessive behaviour isn’t unique to rightwingers, but when leftwingers do this, they move on. A good example is that the leftwing was obsessed with attacking Bush the Second when he was in office, but once he was gone, they promptly forgot about him. The same will almost certainly happen to the current occupant of the White House, depending on the circumstances of his departure, possibly, and we’ll have to see if the Left engages in this sort of bizarre behaviour once he is finally gone. In any case, the rightwing never stops, never gives up, never moves on.

On any given day it’s easy to find hundreds or thousands of comments attacking President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or other prominent Democrats or liberals. They appear on the websites of mainstream newsmedia, on social media, Facebook Pages—petty much anywhere. I absolutely cannot remember the last time I saw someone on the Left attacking Bush the Second—unless it’s part of a larger attack on “the establishment”, maybe, which includes all Democrats (sometimes even Bernie!).

This serves a larger propaganda goal, that is, to delegitimise the opponent, to make them seem weird, evil, or just yucky compared to the preferred person or party. So, the professionals among them deliberately keep up the relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and other Democrats and liberals because it serves to weaken Republicans’ opponents by making them seem awful compared to Republicans. Ordinary rightwingers merely echo the propaganda fed to them and help spread it, probably without even realising (or caring…) that that’s what they’re doing.

However, a huge problem we have with this is that it’s nearly impossible to tell who’s a real—and really delusional—person from bots and trolls trying to stir people up for whatever reason (trolls don’t always play their game as part of partisan political strategy). Unless we’re targeted personally, this may not matter, but the rightwingers’ attacks pollute our social media timelines either through sharing (often because they’re just so outrageous that they’re unintentionally hilarious), or they show up in a comment thread to something we’re interested in.

I don’t like seeing a lot of trash lying around in public, and sometimes I’ll stop to put it in the rubbish bin. I do the same on the Internet.

Every single time I’m on Twitter, I see some political Tweet (Right or Left) that’s stupid, delusional, blatantly racist/misogynistic/homophobic, or sick. When I do, I Block that person. I do that so I’ll never see their Tweets again (I see “Tweet Unavailable” if they respond so a Tweet I do see). They’d never have any interaction with me, anyway, so it’s not about that, just about keeping my own timeline trash-free and excrement-free.

I’ve done the same thing on Facebook when I’ve seem similar comments left on pages I follow, but that’s much more rare. It’s not that Facebook users are better behaved than Twitter users—they’re not. Instead, I just stopped reading comments on many pages I follow. That’s not as easy to do on Twitter, where it’s common for trolls to barge in on a discussion going on among people you follow. However, this is also the very reason I seldom look at Twitter any more: It’s just too toxic and filled with trash and excrement.

In the case of this particular photo, the Hillary Haters™ have been out in force. There were countless attacks levelled at her in response to a Tweet from NZ journalist Henry Cooke, and even Labour’s Instagram post got typical comments. In both cases, however, there was some pushback.

The larger point here, really, is that as with so much else in politics these days, this behaviour is not normal. These people aren’t making reasoned critiques, they’re not offering thought-out positions or commentary, they’re not even expressing an opinion in most cases—they’re just regurgitating propaganda slogans and engaging in drive-by bullying. Their obsession with Hillary is way out of proportion to what a truly rational person would do, all to score points of one sort or another, just as any primary school bully might do.

This sort of behaviour is what turned Twitter, a once-promising place of discussion and information sharing, into a toxic cesspool harbouring monsters: The permanently outraged, the constantly angry, the delusional, the pathologically irrational, and the bullies who get joy from tearing others down, and who go looking to attack anyone at any time, usually for no rational reason whatsoever. Facebook is quickly becoming the same.

Hillary Clinton didn’t create this toxic atmosphere, and after decades of enduring unhinged attacks, she’s used to it. That’s not the point. It’s all the rest of us caught in the crossfire of shots fired by irrational and unhinged bullies. There’s got to be a way to stop this, or, at least, to have online discussions without the bullies trying to destroy it every time. I can’t imagine what the solution could possibly be. But we need to figure it out.

And the Hillary Haters™ have REALLY got to get over it.

Stuff live-commented on the event, and included Tweets on the night.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Where change was cemented

The video above from Vox describes the point at which the US politics firmly pivoted toward the Right, and why it happened. It was moving in that direction, more or less, already, but this is where the course was fixed. It’s been all downhill from there, which probably explains why the train is picking up speed.

The central premise of the video is that George H.W. Bush's pledge to not raise taxes galvanised conservatives around something that’s still central to their politics: Low taxes and hardline positions on social issues, too. At first glance, that may seem to contradict the accepted view that Reagan was the point at which Republican politics veered sharply rightward, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, it explains how the shift was locked into motion.

The video points out that the so-called “Reagan Coalition” included both fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. At the time, I was a Republican, more or less fiscally moderate, but definitely socially liberal. But as the social conservatives began to exert more and more power over the Republican Party, I became appalled. Before Reagan’s re-election arrived, I’d left the party—or as I, like so many ex-Republicans then and since, put it, I didn’t leave the party, the party left me.

Bush the First was no Reagan conservative. He wasn’t as conservative on any issue, though he was still pretty conservative on fiscal issues and some social issues. But he also signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the first federal law to include gay people as an enumerated class (I was there when he did). He also signed the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which, as the video notes, was very significant civil rights legislation. I talked about that on its 25th anniversary, but since then a new regime has taken power in the USA, and it’s done as much as it could to undermine all civil rights protections, including the ADA.

Because Bush wasn’t as conservative as Reagan, his opponents within the Republican Party called him a “counterfeit conservative”. Today, he’d be called a “RINO”, an epithet derived from “Republican In Name Only”. It’s an indication of how much idealogical orthodoxy is now central to the party. Bush breaking his “no new taxes” pledge gave the new core of his party the excuse they needed to turn their backs on him. That helped elect Bill Clinton, and then a Republican Congress two years later. From Republicans' perspective, the betrayal of Bush was good for them and their power.

Over time, Republicans in Congress and the presidency alike have become increasingly rightwing, at a time when Democrats in Congress and the presidency were pretty ideologically consistent. This is surprising to some, rightwingers in particular, who have convinced themselves that Democrats are now the “radical Left”. For those who genuinely think that, as opposed to those who declare it on social media for maximum trolling effect, the explanation is that the Republican Party has shifted so far to the Right on all issues that it makes the Democrats seem much more leftist than they really are.

The important thing here, though, is that this reality hasn’t hurt Republicans nor helped Democrats. In fact, Republicans have managed to do very well, indeed, and while that was helped by gerrymandering districts and by voter their suppression efforts, their tricks don’t explain why they do so well even in areas not affected by those tricks. And, if American voters have stayed more or less centrist, and not shifted rightward, then Democrats should have been doing better than they did until recently.

The upcoming Midterm Elections in the USA could show what the feelings of American voters are. If it’s true that Americans aren’t particularly ideological, as some pundits claim, and when given a reason to vote for Democrats (even if only to vote against Republicans and/or the current occupant of the White House), then there could be a very different Congress elected than serves right now. But if that’s not the case, and the USA itself has shifted to the Right, then not even the dislike of the current occupant or his party will be enough to change Congress.

So, that election will either be playing out the trends that have been happening for more than four decades, or it will break them. The term of Bush the First was the pivot moment, the point where the rightward course of American politics was fixed, and when the Republican Party began sliding downhill, their train picking up speed. The term of the current president could be the pivot point that changes things again, derailing the Republican train. Voter turnout will decide which it is.

The 2018 elections will mark 30 years since the election of Bush the First. Sounds like a great time to cement a new direction.