Sunday, August 31, 2014

Labour values

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Norman Kirk, leader of the Third Labour Government. The values he espoused, as quoted in the piece above put out today by the New Zealand Labour Party, are still Labour Party values.

His time in office was remarkable, even though he was only Prime Minister for a little over 20 months before his death. One of Kirk’s first acts was to withdraw New Zealand troops from Vietnam, where they’d been involved for eight years. He also abolished compulsory military service, and the New Zealand Defence Force has been all-volunteer ever since.

Kirk criticised US foreign policy, and in a speech to the United Nations spoke specifically of the US Government’s role in the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile. None of which endeared him to the Nixon Administration. This fact, along with his sudden, unexpected death, led to rumours that the CIA had poisoned Kirk, but that notion has been pretty much dismissed by historians.

For many Kiwis, his best-known action was sending two frigates, HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Otago to Mururoa Atoll to protest French nuclear bomb tests. He also banned the apartheid-era South African national rugby team, the Springboks, because the team wasn’t racially integrated.

Kirk is still remembered for his belief in a fair and just society, one in which everyone matters. Those values—summed up in that Norman Kirk quote above—are still at the heart of the NZ Labour Party.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Coffee and the brain

Without doubt, coffee is my drug of choice. Okay, technically it’s the delivery mechanism and caffeine is the drug, but let’s not split hairs, okay? The fact is that I must have a cup of coffee to wake up, and another to get going.

The weird thing is that I drink fewer cups of coffee a day now than I did only a few years ago. I say that’s “weird” because as I get older I tend to need more rev in my motor, but I don’t seek out the chemical stimulation of coffee. Instead, I just sort of persevere.

Coffee is, however, as Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship Voyager put it, “the finest organic suspension ever devised”. I heartily concur. Whether consumed for stimulation or mere enjoyment, it’s an awesome thing.

It’s probably good to know what it does to us and how it does it, though. The video above from ASAP Science shows that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Humans Need Not Apply

The video above is the latest from one of my favourite YouTube explainers, CGP Grey. This video is about the future impact of automation, specifically, not whether it should happen—it is and will—but how we deal with the inevitable time in which large sections of the population are, through no fault of their own, unemployable.

This is a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Maybe it’s all the silly post-apocalyptic movies out nowadays, but I wonder sometimes about the world we’re creating for ourselves, and whether we even want to be part of it. I’m not sure.

The history of our technological advance since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has been aout reducing the drudgery of physical labour while increasing the benefits of wealth spread around. But that disappeared in the past generation or so as corporations sought to increase profits without any care or concern for the humans left on the scrapheap in that pursuit of higher profit.

Will we reach the point at which we decide to unplug the machines? Or, as the movies predict, will that decision come too late? Or—third option—will we ever get to that point?

Personally, I think that the challenge is to decide what we HUMANS want and to dictate to corporations what is permissible, NOT the other way around. I don’t give a stuff how much profit is returned to shareholders if it means that billions of humans are to be condemned to subsistence living at best. We humans should control our own destiny, and if that causes problems for corporations, well, too bad.

But, that’s just me. Maybe most people are happy to live as serfs and vassals, always subject to the whims of corporate masters (or their machines…). But at the very—VERY—least we ought to be talking about these things and what we want. While we still can.

Monday, August 25, 2014

National’s bad policy

The New Zealand National Party held their campaign launch over the weekend, and their one new policy is truly awful—SO bad, in fact, that I’m gobsmacked at how out of touch and unaware they are.

Their one policy announcement concerned housing. They plan on increasing the amount of money first time home buyers can access, but with huge restrictions: To get the extra money, they can only buy a new home, and, in Auckland, it has to be under $550,000. Good luck with that!

John Key and National don’t have a clue how unaffordable houses in Auckland are. I did a quick search on Trade Me Property, and all the sub-550K housing was either existing stock (not eligible for the higher grants) or way, WAY out on the fringes of Auckland—areas with poor or no public transport links, meaning total dependence on cars and the associated costs.

If these first home buyers want to live closer to central Auckland—as many, perhaps most, young people would, for that kind of money they might have a choice of an apartment that’s roughly the area of a large hotel room—but, being an existing property, they wouldn’t get the increased grant.

National’s proposal is so daft, too, because it will actually increase demand, driving house prices up even further. They made idle talk about building more houses, declaring, basically, the market will provide, but HOW? It hasn’t done that for all the years National has been in government, what on earth makes them think that’ll suddenly change? Especially since after National’s over-hyped talk of building affordable homes has resulted in ZERO homes actually being started over the past 15 months.

We now know that Treasury warned Key that this was bad policy, but he went ahead with it anyway. In fact, as Labour’s Housing Spokesperson Phil Twyford pointed out, in Australia this very same bad idea was a disaster, raising house prices, making them even more costly and unaffordable.

“Instead of building large numbers of new affordable houses as Labour will do through KiwiBuild, and taxing speculators as Labour will do through its capital gains tax that excludes the family home, National has thrown $218 million on the bonfire of the Auckland housing market,” Phil Twyford said.

“It is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, but as the Australian experience shows, it will actually make things worse. Cash hand outs to first home buyers will push house prices up, enriching vendors, and actually make things harder for first home buyers. After six years in office, this poorly thought through and ineffective response to the housing crisis is pathetic.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Labour has a whole set of housing policies that will be fantastic for New Zealand, policies that will start to fix this housing crisis. On housing, as with so many other things, the obvious choice is Party Vote Labour, #ForABetterNZ

Related Links from Labour:

Housing under National – the facts
All Labour’s announced policies
Everything is paid for plus we’re in surplus – Labour’s Alternative Budget

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vote Positive

The video above is the opening party broadcast for the New Zealand Labour Party. It was by far the best of all the party broadcasts, and showed why Labour urges people to Vote Positive, Party Vote Labour.

Registered political parties are entitled to a party political broadcast at the beginning and end of the campaign, paid for by the taxpayer. There’s some discretion as to how much time/money parties get, but the big two—National and Labour—get the most time, and the Greens get the next biggest amount.

National’s broadcast, which was up first, was all about John Key: NO other National MP was shown. In fact, the only other one that was ever even mentioned was Bill English, who led National to its worst-ever defeat, but he was mentioned once, for only a couple seconds. One commentator I saw said that National’s ad was so boring that he took to counting the cars behind Key in order to stay awake. But, take my word for this: Hours later, and National’s broadcast still isn’t available online. Oops.

The Greens also had a strong opening broadcast, highlighting policy. However, it promoted mostly the two co-leaders, when they have a strong caucus with some very strong MPs. We didn’t see any of them.

The Labour broadcast, on the other hand, featured several senior Labour MPs, not just our party leader, and it highlighted Labour Party policies—all of which are released, even as we wait for National to release policy. Voters want policy and a commitment to put people first, not a personality cult.

Labour won this broadcast sweepstakes, with the Greens a close second. National? Well, maybe they might want to listen to ordinary New Zealanders for a change.

For me, nothing has changed: Party Vote Labour #ForABetterNZ

Friday, August 22, 2014

Incommunicado again

Today I left my phone at home. It was a very unsettling experience that left me feeling a bit at odds and ends. It’s been a very long time since I’ve done that, which is part of the reason it felt so odd.

I can tell you exactly when it was that I last left home without my phone: January 16, 2007 (my blog has a far better memory than I do). Back in 2007, I still had an ordinary phone—in fact, everyone had an ordinary phone: It would be six months before the very first iPhone would be released. So, back then, it was just a device for phone calls and the odd text. Oh, and it’s clock, because by then I no longer wore a watch.

Seven years later, my iPhone isn’t just for calls, and I send/receive far more texts than I ever have before. But it’s so much more: It gives me access to my calendar, my contacts (aka address book), my email, plus social media. I can look up stuff on the Internet. It also has a pretty good digital camera. My phone is, in a very real sense, my pocket-sized connection to the world, a communication device in pretty much every possible technological sense of the word.

The truth is, I do most Internet things—social media, email, web surfing, posting to this blog—from my desktop computer or, rarely, my iPad. But my phone gives me the same connectivity my desktop computer gives me, just with a much smaller screen and a teeny, tiny keyboard.

So, I arrived for my check-up and the periodontist and went to check the time on my phone (I still don’t wear a watch), and realised I’d left it at home. I wondered to myself whether I had enough time to race home to get it, but decided I didn't (in fact, I may have). Then I thought about how nobody (especially Nigel) could reach me, which is very unusual in itself. When I was making my next appointment, they had to write it down on this thing called a “card” using a device called a “pen”, because I didn’t have my phone to put it right on my calendar.

Okay, so obviously I’m having a little fun at my own expense, and clearly I survived my ordeal. But, I did go directly home after my appointment (I’d planned on running errands). And that change meant I ended up not going out again, which isn’t important except the change in plans happened only because I’d forgotten my phone.

One last thing was very different this time than back in 2007. Then, I said about being without my phone that “it felt a bit liberating to be incommunicado, even if it was only for a short time.” I definitely didn’t feel that way this time, probably because I use my phone for so much more than I did seven years ago. Back then I also said, “I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the past,” and that’s even more true now.

But I think maybe I should start wearing a watch again. Just in case.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Labour ads

The ad above is the NZ Labour Party’s first TV ad for this campaign, released yesterday. I saw storyboarding for the ad several weeks ago, but I have to say it’s even more impressive in real life. It's positive and upbeat, which is what a first campaign ad ought to be.

The party says in the YouTube description:
New Zealand should be the fairest, most decent society in the world. We’re a small nation with a lot of resources. We have a culture of working hard and looking after each other. A fair go for everyone, and putting people first.

Our vision for New Zealand is that we regain that sense of community. That we work together in the interests of everyone, instead of just playing politics.

Right now that’s not the way things are going. Labour believes we can do better.

That we can be a country in which people matter most.

Labour has a positive vision for New Zealand - a New Zealand where there are enough secure, well- paid jobs, where every family can afford a warm, dry home, and where every Kiwi kid gets the best start in life.
Together, with a Labour-led Government, we can build a nation to be proud of.

Find out more: www.labour.org.nz
The NZ National Party also began airing ads yesterday, but, sadly, they chose to go negative in their very first ad, which surprised me. Their party still hasn’t released any policy—30 days out from the election—so none was mentioned in their ad.

Labour has, of course, been releasing policy for weeks, and it’s become quite comprehensive. Labour’s commercial highlighted important core areas, areas where policies were released long ago.

I saw some political science pundits giving their approval to National’s ad over Labour’s, but that’s partly because they know that negative advertising works (up to a point). But I think that the pundits grossly underestimate New Zealand voters’ desire for forward-looking policies and the chance to Vote Positive. In fact, every time National attacks, they also reinforce our Vote Positive message by contrasting their negative message with our positive message.

Today Labour released their Te Reo Māori ad, “Vote Positive: Te Rōpū Reipa o Aotearoa” (below). This isn’t merely the regular ad with Te Reo voiceover, but instead an entirely different ad that speaks not just IN Māori, but also TO Māori, their concerns and issues, many of which non-Māori New Zealanders share, of course. As far as I know, neither Labour nor National has ever produced an ad in Te Reo before—I know that National definitely hasn’t produced a separate ad, but I don’t think that Labour has, either.

The election is in 30 days. As the commercials say: Vote Positive – Party Vote Labour #ForABetterNZ

Update 23 August: Labour has posted an English version of their Te Reo ad:

Delivering the message

Today was an absolutely brilliant late winter day in Auckland, so I took advantage of the good weather to deliver campaign leaflets for the Labour Party. It’s a small and easy thing to do—apart from the fact that it was on the Shore, of course.

The thing about Auckland’s North Shore—and I’ve mentioned this one way or another a few times now—is that it’s very hilly. Apart from coastal areas, most of the Shore is made of hills meeting up with other hills. Streets can be steep and winding, and many houses are built on pretty steep slopes.

Take the photo at the top of this post, for example. It’s one of the many hilly streets I walked up and down today. Those bollards on the left separate a reserve (they’re to keep cars out, and they were only recently upgraded). There are no houses on that side of the street, so I had to walk all the way down to walk back up. You can’t see the bottom of the street—it eventually hooks to the right, where it meets up with another street (at least it wasn’t hilly on that other street!) Incidentally, this view is looking more or less in the general direction of where we live, though I couldn’t point where, specifically—just off in the distance somewhere.

All of which means that it can be a physical challenge delivering leaflets—well, it is for those of us who are unfit, of a certain age, or both. Even so, it also felt oddly exhilarating because, I think, I knew I was playing a small part in getting Labour’s “Vote Positive” message out.

Still, there were several times I thought, “this is too much—I’m just going to stop now.” I never did, and finished the delivery route. Part of the reason I kept going was that exhilaration I mentioned, but also I knew that our candidate, Richard Hills, is working really hard and finishing the delivery route was the least I could do. So, to paraphrase the saying (a commercial?), I pushed past the pain and did it anyway.

Actually, I’m not kidding about the pain—my feet and back were killing me by the time I was done. So, I had a bit of lie down when I got home, and eventually came right. Despite all that, I’m planning on delivering more tomorrow (after my periodontist appointment) and more again on Saturday.

The thing is, the deliveries get easier the more I do them, as I become slightly fitter with each round. And I know they’re important.

On my long walk today, I saw many contrasts. I saw really nice houses right next to run down ones. I saw new, fancy letterboxes, and nearby ones that haven’t been tended since they were installed many years ago, complete with badly faded house numbers and lichen growing on them. I saw MANY with signs or hand-scrawled messages saying variations of “no junk mail”, and I wondered how many of them understand that political mail isn’t considered junk, even if they don’t like it. I also saw many letterboxes that were stuffed full of free newspapers and other advertising flyers, so I could kind of understand why some people might have put on the sign or hand scrawled message.

All in all, it was a good couple hours spent outside on a beautiful sunny late winter afternoon. And, it was time spent doing an important thing, helping a campaign I support and believe in. So, that’s why I didn’t mind the hills or the soreness; I was doing my small part #ForABetterNZ