Thursday, October 19, 2017

Labour will lead NZ Government

New Zealand is getting a new government! Tonight Winston Peters announced he was going into formal coalition with the New Zealand Labour Party. His party will get some minsterial positions in Cabinet. The Green Party will have a confidence and supply agreement with Labour, and will have four ministers outside of cabinet, plus an undersecretary. This will be the first time the Green Party will have had MPs serving as government ministers.

The announcement came late this evening, and the reactions of the other leaders were later still. I decided to try and find the videos of all the main leaders, but couldn’t find two of them. It’s getting late, and I was actually feeling a little under the weather this evening. So, tomorrow I’ll talk in more detail about all of this.

For now, I’ll share the first two party leaders to speak to the newsmedia, Winston Peters making his announcement, and also Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern acknowledging that. Both videos are cued to the start of their remarks, which are followed by questions from the newsmedia.

If I can find the other two—Caretaker Prime Minister Bill English and Green Party Leader James Shaw, I’ll share them tomorrow. Regardless, I’ll go into more detail about this and what I make of it all. However, right now I will say that I’m very pleased with this arrangement, and it can mean great things for New Zealand.

The graphic up top was posted to Twitter by the New Zealand Herald, and linked to their story on the events tonight.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Furbaby visitations

If yesterday’s Instagram photo was necessary because of total cuteness, then today’s photos (above and below) were, too, and because they’re unsual. Ordinarily, Jake doesn’t jump into my lap, at least, not very often, and Sunny seldom jumps up on the sofa. Naturally, there’s a reason they did today.

Over the weekend, Nigel and I gave the dogs haircuts. I’ve said before how very delayed they were: They were due about the time we were busy getting ready to move, and then afterward we were busy settling in. Then, cooler weather and winter arrived. The dogs got shaggier and shaggier.

They often get a shearing in the Spring, and I’ve shared photos of that before. The way it goes is that both of them are very clingy, especially at night, for a couple days or so afterward until they adjust. In the meantime, Sunny mostly gets on with things, but Jake looks as if he feels a bit sorry for himself.

Since their shearing, Sunny has jumped up on the sofa in the lounge and rumpus room, which is unusual for her. Jake has spent a lot of time curled in a little ball in the master bedroom, the warmest room. But when I sat down to watch the midday news, he decided to jump into my lap—because it’s warmer? He needed cuddles? I don’t know, but Bella was a bit surprised to see him there when she later jumped up, too, something she usually does when I sit down.

So, all of this was unusual—and cute—enough to post a photo to Instagram, but the one of Sunny was, if I’m honest, more of an “equal time” sort of thing, since she was out of the shot of Jake and Bella. There actually have been times that all three of them have been on my lap at once, which wasn’t terribly comfortable for anyone, and so, they lasted only a short while.

The scenes in the photos changed a few minutes later when Jake and Sunny heard a noise outside—maybe a neighbour—and jumped down to go to the window and bark. Bella was probably relieved.

And that really is a slice of life in my New Zealand.

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Is the wait ending?

New Zealand may be about to have its next government announced—maybe. More or less. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is probably going to announce the direction he’s going tomorrow (afternoon?). Even so, we may not know exactly what shape the government will take, with issues like who gets what portfolio to be determined.

We didn’t know any of that at the time I posted the Tweet above. It’s little sarcastic, but also true: We’re all waiting on Winston to tell us what government we’ll have. There are plenty of people from all over the political spectrum who aren’t happy about that, but, then, wrapped up in nostalgia for the old First Past The Post electoral system, they wouldn’t be happy no matter who was in the driver’s seat in coalition negotiations.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time we’ve been here, thinking Winston was about to announce his choice, only to find out there was some sort of delay. I’ve delayed recording podcast episodes every day this week so far because every day I thought the announcement was imminent, or it’d be the next day, making the episode instantly out of date. I wanted to wait until there was an actual answer.

Whenever the decision is made, I’ll have quite a lot to say about it, regardless of which government Winston chooses. But, for now, I’m content to wait it out.

One last thing, though. When I watched the TVNZ’s One News at 6pm tonight, the opening teaser used the phrase I Tweeted this afternoon, saying “…the Winston Watch continues…”, and I Tweeted about that, too. Feel. My. Power.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Morning view

As the Instagram caption says, this was the view I woke up to this morning. I vaguely remember Bella crawling around my pillow before dawn, but I wasn’t aware that she’d settled down right next to me until I woke up. Fortunately, she was deeply asleep and didn’t hear me reach over for my phone, nor did the flash wake her up.

When I was a kid—maybe nine or ten—I had a cat named Ed that used to sleep in unusual poses. My mother joked that “come see how Ed is sleeping now!” was the major family entertainment. I suppose for a time it was. Bella isn’t quite that entertaining, but she picks unusual sleeping positions and places often enough for me to post several photos to Instagram, and then share them here, too.

I like the way that furbabies can draw our attention and amuse us and even just make us go, “awwwwww!” Sometimes, they’re the only thing that can take our minds off the awful things going on in the world. It’s good to let them do that, I think.

Thanks, Bella!

2Political Podcast 125 is available

Episode 125 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

While we wait

While New Zealand continues to wait for Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party to tell us what our government will be, there’s some time to have a look at something minor from the election, something so small that it didn’t even get a mention in the mainstream press, even though it’s good news.

The good news is that, once again, religious extremism failed to gain any traction in New Zealand elections. In my own electorate, a guy, Ian Cummings, ran as an independent candidate and lost badly—very badly. This is good news because he was a rightwing Christian (among other things…) and he put his religious beliefs at the centre of his campaign, without being totally transparent that it was the main focus of his campaign.

I wrote about the guy’s appearance at a local “meet the candidates” event back in August. At the time, I wrote:
I’d seen his ads in the paper, where he talked about being a “family man”, which I thought was a dog whistle to social conservatives, especially because he also touted his being on the Board of Trustees for a Christian school as being a qualification for being a Member of Parliament. Turns out, I was correct.
All of his materials, and his speech at the meeting, stressed that he was opposed to abortion and euthanasia, even though no bills to reform abortion law or to allow assisted suicide (not euthanasia) are likely to come before Parliament any time soon. For most things, it was necessary to use a little intuition to hear his dog whistles and what he was actually trying to say.

Under a section on his flyer called “Family” he said that he was for “reducing government interference in the rights and decision making of parents”, though it didn’t explain what all that was supposed to mean. Given his overt religiosity, he probably meant things like repealing the anti-smacking legislation, and maybe allowing parents to put their kids through “ex-gay” torture programmes (which may be legal in New Zealand, anyway). That’s what other supposedly “Christian” candidates usually want.

Another point was “insisting educators teach our children how to think not what to think”. This dog whistle probably meant that schools couldn’t teach tolerance and acceptance of, among other things, LGBT students. That’s been a big issue among rightwing Christians in Australia, and, to a lesser extent, here in New Zealand.

Finally, he also had “protecting our borders from immigrants that are aligned with radical religious idealism”. This had to mean keeping Muslims out. I draw that conclusion not just from what such a dog whistle has meant elsewhere, but also from his refusal at that candidate meeting to explain what it meant or to deny that he wants only Christians to migrate to New Zealand. That was under “Family” because the other two areas were headline “Life”, which only mentioned abortion and euthanasia, and “Property”, which was a mishmash of unfocused populist slogans vaguely relating to property.

When he said at that meeting that he "doesn't like evolution", I knew he had odd viewpoints, and his answers that night reinforced that view. I wasn’t worried about him though, precisely because he was an independent: Under our system, the only way an independent MP can have any influence over a government is if the government needs their vote to form a majority in Parliament. Otherwise, they’re like the crank who shows up at a community meeting to whine about grass in the park being 1cm too long: They have a viewpoint, sometimes even a point, but they have absolutely no way to actually get the policy they care about enacted and no one really listens to them.

The voters in this electorate felt the same way about him: According to the final results, he came in fifth out of six candidates, receiving a mere 710 votes out of 40,270 valid candidate votes cast. The only candidate who did worse than he did was the guy from the Act “Party” who was only on the ballot so that he could attend candidate meetings to ask for a Party Vote for Act. As far as I know, he had no campaign signs or materials of his own, unlike Cummings, who paid to have NZ Post deliver his flyer at least twice, advertised in the local papers (and in premium positions), and apparently had at least some signs. Money totally wasted, that was. I’d be very surprised if he spent less than $10 for every vote he received; he probably spent considerably more.

As I’ve said many times, overtly religious candidates, in this case meaning fundamentalist Christians, never do well in New Zealand, and no overtly “Christian” party has ever won any seats in Parliament since MMP began in 1996. There’s still no indiction whatsoever that this will change.

I realise that I’m utterly dismissive of the religious guy, but that’s actually because he clearly had no clue how Parliament works and what an MP’s job includes. That’s fundamental, so to speak, for anyone seeking the job, and not understanding it is unforgivable. The fact that he didn’t know how to campaign is kind of irrelevant, because there were other candidates who didn’t do a good job, either (as I mentioned in talking about that candidate meeting). Even his religious agenda and ideology wasn’t an issue per se; rather, it was his attempts to hide it under a bushel in order to deceive the vast majority of voters who don’t share his religious views—or political views, for that matter. Still, what he did say made it pretty clear that his one-note tune wasn’t one the voters of this electorate wanted to hear.

So, this very minor story had a good ending. It happens sometimes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Song structure

Most of these Weekend Diversion posts about music have been about songs, artists, that sort of thing. But the way pop music is made and has evolved is interesting, too, and the Internet helps to explore that.

The video above from Vox is the latest in their “Earworm” series. This particular one talks about repetition, and how it’s everywhere in modern pop music. Basically, it’s because we find repetition interesting—though the video doesn’t really explain why we find it interesting. Maybe we just do.

In any case, repetition is used a lot in pop music, and that certainly can’t be by accident. I know that I think repetition is interesting when it goes beyond merely repeating the hook of the song, although that can be good, too. I like repetition of structure, and also mirroring, which I realise is different.

But enough about that—I don’t want to start repeating myself.

The other video, below, is of a TED Talk from some three years ago. Coincidentally, I just saw it this week when it popped up in the “Up Next” list of videos on the righthand side of YouTube. I’m not entirely sure why it was there—it’s totally different in subject matter from the other videos I’d been watching lately—but I’m glad I saw it.

The video explains, as the YouTube Description puts it, how sampling “isn't about ‘hijacking nostalgia wholesale,’ … it’s about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward.” Put another way, sampling is a way of not only creating new works, it’s about building on what’s gone before. The fact that music corporations want to prevent sampling unless huge licensing fees are paid, something not mentioned in the video, means that the opportunities for this sort of creative work can be very limited, especially for new artists.

The way pop music is made and has evolved is interesting. Taken together, these two videos help explain some of what goes into pop music creation, why things sound the way they do, and the creative process behind it all. For me, this will add another layer of appreciation when I hear a new pop song, along with the continuing wish I had musical ability.

Mainly, though, I always think finding out the detailed story behind things is interesting.

However measured or far away

No one can agree with everyone else all the time, and maybe not even much of the time. While standing outside the mob of agreement, particularly on social media, is often praised, it isn’t automatically a good thing or a bad thing—it’s just a thing. But it can be a weird thing, that social opinion dissonance, especially when it’s in two directions at once.

Like most people, I often see things differently from the majority of those on either the Right or the Left, depending on the thing people are being opinionated about and what direction the pack leans. But lately I’ve had the weird experience of seeing things differently than both the Left and the Right—at the same time.

There’s no particular issue where this is the case, nor any particular position on an issue or news story. Instead, this happens intermittently, though with increasing frequency, and it’s often mostly to do with conclusions drawn.

One thing I place high value on is factual accuracy: It’s important to lay out all the facts on an issue, and then draw conclusions from the available evidence. Yet both the Right and the Left will take facts and draw the most absolutist/extreme conclusion, apparently to maximise political effect. This may rile up the True Believers, but it does nothing to win over the folks who aren’t already partisans (in the broadest sense—this is not necessarily about supporters of a particular political party).

The bigger issue is that it’s impossible to have a rational discussion, let alone debate, when one side is turning to absolutist language as their opening salvo. When absolutist rhetoric is introduced within a debate, it poisons it, but when it’s used at the very start, it strangles the infant debate before it can even breathe any life.

On top of that, when the hordes descend on anyone who doesn’t immediately nod in vigorous agreement with the pack’s preferred position, it prevents not just discussion and debate of the opinions the pack holds, but also the possibility of questioning the very assumptions on which those opinions are based. Nothing is learned or gained.

This isn’t new behaviour, but it’s been made more common by the increasing use of social media to discuss the issues of the day. Sure, people do sometimes seem to go out of their way to be awful to other people when they dare to express a different opinion, but this is a different sort of partisanship, more tribal. Lock-step agreement on assumptions about an issue is the new test for loyalty to one’s tribe, Left or Right.

On the other hand, sometimes standing apart from the crowd—one’s tribe in particular—can be just as dickish behaviour as that of those who attack dissidents for being dissidents. The question is, though, even if that’s true, what do we gain when people can’t even dare to challenge the assumptions underlying their tribe’s preferred position on something, regardless of their reasons for doing so? After all, people can have any number of reasons for questioning and/or challenging those assumptions, and what their reasons are is kind of irrelevant, really.

I sincerely doubt any of this will change any time soon—people seem to enjoy it far too much. But maybe we’d be better off if we remembered what Henry David Thoreau wrote:
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
No one can agree with everyone else all the time, and maybe not even much of the time. Social opinion dissonance is perfectly okay, even when it’s in two directions at once. We need to learn that simple fact.

The well-known cartoon at the top of this post, "Duty Calls," is by cartoonist xkcd. Publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Friday, October 13, 2017

AmeriNZ Podcast 336 ‘Still waiting' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 336 – Still waiting” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

The New Zealand General Election happened, but we don’t have a government yet. That’s my first, and main, topic today. I also talk a bit about a big commemoration of a famous battle in World War One. I have unusual feelings about it.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The two of us

The photo above really is about what the Instagram says it’s about. And yet, as is so often the case with my photos, there’s more to it than that. Good thing I’m a blogger and can add to the story—again.

This was actually the last of a series of photos I was taking in my office late this afternoon. I’m not a huge fan of selfies of myself unless they’re part of a story, not just a “here I am!” sort of thing (even I can make exceptions, of course). Bella came along at the end and saved me—well, the photo, actually. I have a couple where she’s looking at the camera, but in those shots I was leaning back and that meant the photo was basically looking up my nostrils. Not ideal. This pose was good for both of us, I thought.

This all began with a totally separate motive: To test lighting. I’ve long had plans to make videos with me sitting in that very spot, and I wanted to test a few lighting options (other photos had different options). The one I used had light coming in my window, and while it was reflected off the neighbour’s house, it was still too intense. The softer light is from a lamp on my desk with a daylight bulb. I wanted to compare them, and found that the daylight is too harsh and cold, the colour of the lamp light is too warm compared to the natural light. I’ll use this experiment to refine the lighting down the road.

I’m also going to set aside an area in front of the window for close-up photography of objects, the sort of thing I’ve done for this blog for many, many years, but never had one particular neutral place to use consistently, somewhere inside, away from weather, and where I can set up lights when that’s needed. Today’s experiments will help with planning modifications to the window to moderate the light when necessary.

Having said all that, this is in some ways a replacement for a selfie I didn’t do yesterday. I went to Manukau Mall for a little while yesterday, a place I don’t go very often. Nigel and I were meeting up for lunch after a meeting he had, so I wandered around the mall. I was going to take a photo of the place, another of my “this is my Auckland” photos, but the weather was too crappy (VERY windy, cold, dark and overcast, threatening rain, most of the time). I then thought that maybe I could find a spot to take a selfie, but it was very busy (still school holidays), and I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that (I guess you could say I was “selfie conscious”. You’re welcome.)

I also needed to dye my hair/whiskers, and didn’t really want a photo of myself while that was the case. This morning I took care of that problem, and everything else just flowed from there.

So, this didn’t start out as a selfie (I was dubious I’d find a photo I’d be willing to share)—it was just a lighting experiment. Bella changed that, providing a reason to do a selfie, and the rest is as described in the caption.

The best laid plans of mice and men are often derailed by cats, I guess.

We’re still waiting

New Zealand is still waiting. We have no government, and we have no Spring. Yet. I don’t think the two things are connected, but the world is so insane now, who can be sure? Of the two, the new government is mostly likely to arrive first—maybe.

Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, has been engaged in negotiations to form a government. He’s been alternating meetings with the National and Labour parties, and the Labour Party has also met with the Green Party. Winston has said that policy has been the main forcus of the negotiations, not ministerial portfolios. Presumably, the question of who gets what job will be settled last.

Despite knowing all that, we still have no idea what Winston will do. Opinions about whether he chooses to back a government led by Labour or National remain mere opinions. That hasn’t stopped pundits form punditafying, of course.

Once Winston makes his decision, it has to be ratified by the NZ First Board, but that can’t happen until at least Saturday due to several board members having to attend funerals. Similarly, the Greens have to have approval of 75% of a special council, though the newsmedia has reported that their meeting can be held by phone or online. Labour must be submit any coalition agreement to its governing body, called the NZ Council, for approval. The National Party also requires approval of a coalition agreement by its Board and Parliamentary Leader. Of these, apparently only approvak by NZ First will be needed to announce the new government, whatever it is.

The announcement of a new government, then, won’t come before Saturday, but it could even be as late as early next week. Some people seem bothered by this, but it’s really no big deal. The Netherlands recently went more than 200 days without a government as negotiations continued (there, as in New Zealand, a “caretaker government” looks after the shop until the new management can take over). To be brutally honest, it’s kind of peaceful without a full government: They can’t do anything to piss 0people off.

Whatever the shape of the new government, a majority of voters will have voted for it—which is kind of the whole point of a coalition. MMP, the electoral system used for New Zealand’s parliament, is designed to elect a parliament that reflects, as closely as possible, the will of the voters. Because of that, it’s improbable that one party will ever be able to win enough seats to govern alone, and that coalitions will almost always be required.

This is a good thing: It ensures that no one party can just run riot, doing whatever it wants, and it helps keep them from becoming too arrogant: A coalition partner can always pull out and bring down the government, so it makes good sense for the party leading government to work with coalition partners. On the other hand, this also allows parties to do things it would like to do, but that go too far for their own members, by letting a coalition partner push a policy. The National Party did this frequently over the past nine years, and the Labour Party did it a couple times in the previous nine years. This could be good or bad, depending on one’s view of the policy adopted this way.

Now, if we could just do something about finally getting Spring, that’d be great. I wouldn’t even mind if it arrived before the new government. Right now, more of us probably care about better weather than we do the new government. Maybe that’s as it should be?

Update - 9:50pm: From the New Zealand Herald: "Winston Peters' final promise: NZ will know who's in driver's seat before next week ends".

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

2Political Podcast 124 is available

Episode 124 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

We’ve been gone for a long time. This episode is about the unexpected reason for that.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Selling magic moments on TV

This isn’t now a regular feature on this blog, unless it becomes one, but advertising and pop music both interest me, and how and where they're combined does, too. The ad above is just another example of that.

The ad is for Oceania Healthcare, a provider of “Rest Home, Hospital, Dementia, Respite and Palliative/End of Life Care, as well as Independent Retirement Village living, at 48 New Zealand locations.” It’s a cute ad, and does a good job of portraying compassionate and creative approaches to caring for seniors. The YouTube description says, “This ad was based on a true story that took place at one of our rest homes.” That’s nice to know—and I did wonder—but, to be honest, it was the song that made me pay attention.

“Magic Moments” is a song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and recorded by Perry Como in 1957 [LISTEN], for whom it was a hit. The version in the ad uses the same basic structure and arrangement as Como’s hit, but with a different vocalist. The song was also recorded by Amanda Lear in 1985 and Erasure in 1997 [LISTEN], among others. I’ve never heard Lear’s cover, but I have Erasure’s on CD. Much as I love Erasure, I was never all that keen on their cover.

Actually, I was never much of a fan of Como back in the day, but in more recent years I’ve come to appreciate some of the old singers who were hopelessly old fashioned when I was a young adult, people like Doris Day, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Frank Sinatra, etc. Maybe it’s an age thing. In any case, I kind of like the old-time songs now, even if I rolled my eyes at them decades ago.

This time, the song in a commercial was one I knew, so I didn’t need to search it out. It may even have been the familiarity of the song that made me pay attention to it, but the clever use of a thematically appropriate snippet of it in the commercial was particularly well done, I thought—so much so I wasn’t even aware that the commercial has been running for up to six months. I guess familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

Still, maybe one of these days I should talk about an ad/song combo that just doesn’t work. It’s not like there’s a shortage of examples, after all.

What will he do?

The Official Results of the 2017 NZ General Election were released on Saturday, right on schedule, and there was as a slight change: The National Party lost two seats and the Labour Party and Green Party picked up one seat each, pretty much in line with most expectations. But this leaves neither the National Party nor Labour together with the Greens with enough seats to form government. That leaves Winston Peters and his New Zealand First Party in the driver’s seat. Who will Winston choose?

Winston has said that he’ll make a decision by October 12, and the pundits are furiously spinning what think will happen. The truth is, however, no one who is talking knows, and whoever knows isn’t talking. So, us common people won’t know until the announcement is made—there’s no obvious choice.

There are three main possibilities: Winston could choose National, he could choose Labour/Greens, or he could choose to sit on the crossbenches. Any one of the three is possible and a convincing argument could be made for any one of them, but all of them also sound impossible. That’s why there’s no obvious choice.

Choosing National: There are reasons why this makes sense for Winston: He’s personally a social conservative, and conservative on some other issues as well, he used to be a National Party MP until he was from cabinet, and it would be just him and National.

However, in 1991 National sacked him from the cabinet, and his 1996 coalition with them ended in his party ripping apart. He intensely dislikes some current senior National MPs, someone in National seems certain to have leaked the fact Winston had been overpaid his superannuation (retirement benefit; he’d actually paid it back before news was leaked), and National campaigned hard—and successfully—to take his Northland Electorate seat back from him. Winston is known for carrying grudges.

There’s also the problem of propping up a fourth term government that a majority of New Zealanders didn’t vote for. This could be suicide for his party, which could be wiped out in the 2020 elections as voters punish Winston and his party for forcing another three years of National on New Zealand.

Choosing Labour/Greens: Many of Winston’s policies are more in line with Labour than with National. He gets on well with some senior Labour MPs, including Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis. Going with Labour/Greens would be going with a fresh start for New Zealand, which would appeal to him, especially since a majority of New Zealanders voted for a party other than National—and for the Centre-Left, not the Centre-Right. He also had a stable coalition with Labour in 2005-08.

On the other hand, he doesn’t really know Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern, and he values personal relationships. He also may not want to be in government with the Greens (though my own impression is that he despises Act more than the Greens). His party has only one more seat than the Greens, and he would like more sway than such a slim margin would suggest was proper.

Finally, he could sit on the crossbenches. This means supporting whoever forms government, but not being in a formal coalition OR opposition. Being truly independent would likely make any government inherently unstable—they’d need to win Winston’s support on most issues, and he could force the government to fall at any time by withholding his support.

Or, he could be on the crossbenches but give confidence and supply to a government formed by either National or Labour/Greens. National has 56 seats in the new parliament (57 with the one-man Act “Party”), while together Labour and the Greens have 54 seats. So, a truly independent crossbenches move would mean a fourth term National Government, since they have slightly more seats, with all the negative consequences of enabling that.

Winston could also choose to offer confidence and supply to one side or the other in exchange for something (like concessions on some policies), while remaining outside any government. That could support either National or Labour/Greens, with all the consequences—negative and positive—of choosing either.

So, all three options have arguments in favour and against, and all three seem both likely and unlikely. Which will it be? Naturally, I don’t know any more than anyone else does, but also like them, I have my opinions:

Supporting National: Still possible, but highly problematic. I’d rate this second most likely at the moment, but not far behind the most likely.

Supporting Labour/Greens: This option would appeal most to Winston for a lot of reasons, especially with them taking two seats from National. If he wants to be part of a formal coalition, this seems the most likely.

Sitting on the crossbenches: Being truly independent is a non-starter for all the reasons I said, not the least the instability. If he goes this route, it will be with a confidence and supply guarantee for one side or the other, and—at the moment—I’m betting it would be Labour/Greens. This could get Winston the policy concessions he wants, he could still criticise the government, and he wouldn’t have to be in government with the Greens—from his perspective, a Win/Win/Win.

I’ve changed my mind about the shape of our next government several times since the election, and I may do so again between now and the announcement. The uncertainty is that high this year.

But, at this particular moment, I think that when Winston chooses it’ll be for a Labour/Greens government.

64 hours in October

The video above is a short (31:48) Yahoo! documentary, “64 hours in October: How one weekend blew up the rules of American politics”, about a few days of news back in October 2016 and how they unfolded. On the face of it, this shows how those days were typical of the way things happened in the 2016 US elections—the breakneck speed, that nothing much influenced voter attitudes, how bizarre and abnormal the news cycle was. And yet, there are also so many unanswered questions, even now.

In hindsight, the “Access Hollywood” video seems the most problematic, and as I watched the documentary I began to feel we’d all been played. Who leaked the video and why? Coming right after the US Government publicly accused the Russian Government of trying to influence the US election, the timing of the leak about the man who became US President and his bragging about sexual assault seems, well, awfully convenient. The question is, for whom?

Certainly the Russian Government would’ve wanted to change the subject very quickly, and they’d know how eagerly the US newsmedia would eat up the revelations about the Republican nominee and his foul language and terrible attitude toward women. But how could they know that it wouldn’t destroy their chosen candidate’s campaign?

The other folks who stood to gain were running the Republican campaign itself. Although they deny any involvement in the leak, it gave them the opportunity to do their little stunt with women who accuse Bill Clinton of having allegedly committed inappropriate sexual behaviour with them, and also to try and paint Hillary Clinton as some sort of “bully” who, they said, “went after” the accusers. That changed the subject again, and it played directly to his fervent base.

Moreover, the Republican campaign would have known that the accusations agains their candidate would have no affect whatsoever on those core supporters, and probably wouldn’t affect anyone who wasn’t already against the Republican nominee, at least, not in the long run, especially if they could distract people, as they did with their stunt with the accusers. Their goal was to keep their base riled up and to discourage voting by people who didn’t support the Republican nominee, but who also weren’t enthusiastic about voting for Hillary Clinton.

But what if there was actual collusion between the Russians and the Republican nominee’s campaign? We know there were an awful lot of high-level contacts between them, and we know there was at least some advance notice that the Russians were about to use Wikileaks to release emails they’d stolen. Could that collusion have been deeper and far more serious?

The Russian Government’s 2016 attack on the USA was just a test run. Because they were so successful we can be sure that if they’re not investigated and stopped, they’ll be back at it in 2018 and 2020, and probably with similar results. The current regime in the White House has not only displayed a total lack of any curiosity in what the Russians did and how, they continue to deny it even happened. Why?

It’s constantly alleged that the man elected president in 2016 allegedly has many financial ties to Russia, and so allegedly has a personal vested interest in deflecting and denying anything to do with the Russian attack on the USA, or that it even happened. If the allegations are proven true, though, that wouldn’t explain the collusion of many of the others—what did they stand to gain?

If the Republican nominee, whoever he is, wins the 2020 US presidential election, none of this will ever be investigated. It probably won’t be if Republicans retain control of Congress in the 2018 elections. All of which leads one to wonder: Aside from protecting their 2016 presidential candidate, is there anything else they’re trying to hide?

These are all questions that won’t get investigated, much less answered, if Republicans remain in power. That leaves as the USA’s only hope the investigation of Robert Mueller. If he indicts senior figures in the Republican 2016 campaign, or from the regime installed on Inauguration Day, then some of the questions will be addressed in court at their trials—assuming, of course, that the man currently acting as president doesn’t pardon all the folks who criminally helped him get there.

Still, this documentary can be taken at face value, as merely a fascinating look at October 7-9, 2016, and how those days were typical of the way things happened then. In fact, the article about it posted online does exactly that. But the documentary left me with far more questions than answers. I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Ignorance and opportunism

Why do some people do evil things? Are they born evil, or become so later? The one thing we do know is that mental illness is not the cause.

ThinkProgress published a really good piece about this, “Debate around gun control suggests mental illness is the cause of violence. It’s not.” From the article:
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website states that the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely than anyone else to be violent. Only three to five percent of violent acts can be attributed to people who have serious mental illnesses, the department website states. In fact, those with mental illnesses are also much more likely to be victims of violent crime."
The article suggests that the Left uses mental illness in the gun debate out of ignorance, while the Right uses it to try and block any and all attempts at common-sense gun law reforms. I think they’re correct about both.

The reality is that there are a whole bunch of reasons why some people do evil things, but, statistically, having a mental illness is unlikely to be one of them. In fact, people who have a mental illness being treated are probably least likely to do something like this, as opposed to, say, some guy who just had a fight with his girlfriend and "snaps". As trivial as a fight with a girlfriend may sound, the truth is that violent crime is often sparked by such petty things—can we really be so sure such petty things don’t play a role in evil acts?

We simply don't know enough about why people do evil things like terrorism and mass murder, or even if some people are just plain evil—and, if so, whether they're born evil or made that way. Considering the wide range of differences in and among humans, isn’t it logical that some people actually might be born evil?

However, we do know that mental illness of and by itself is not the cause of such heinous acts.

It's obviously human nature to try to explain the unexplainable, and sometimes we try too hard to do so. As the investigation of the Las Vegas mass murder unfolds, we'll eventually find out more information to help us understand the why, but right now it truly doesn't matter. We should only think and care about the 58 people that guy murdered in cold blood, and the 527 he injured. THEY deserve our attention and our thoughts, not the monster who did it.

Related: “Portraits of the Las Vegas shooting victims”CNN

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Bella's 'birthday'

Today was our cat Bella’s “birthday” again, and we really were the ones who got the present. In July last year, the vet told us she had kidney disease and led us to think she’d only live a couple weeks. It’s now been 15 months, and she’s still doing well. This makes us very happy.

Bella has changed so much since she chose us all those years ago. She’s now one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever known, and a real lap cat (in fact, she’s sleeping in my lap as I write this).

As I said last year:
Bella has been a welcome and loved addition to our family, and we’re glad for each day we have with her. And we’re glad to celebrate another “birthday” with her—though she clearly has NO idea what we’re on about. We do, though, and that, too, is enough.
One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that when I go to take a close-up of Bella, she always looks down, and usually to the side. She did that for last year’s birthday photo, and for most of the photos of her I’ve shared on Instagram over the past year. The photo below taken shortly after the one above shows she does look up at me, if I’m farther away. No idea why that is, but in any case, she’s takes a good photo.

Bella’s Birthday (2013)
Equal Cat Time (2014) Not a birthday post.
Bella’s ‘birthday’ is today (2015)
Bella’s ‘birthday’ again (2016)

Las Vegas sure bet

I’d decided not to say anything about the shooting in Las Vegas. There’s nothing I can say—nothing I haven’t said many times before, and could easily say many times in the future. What’s the point? The one thing I know for certain is that nothing will change, and nothing can change.

I can think of a very good reason nothing will ever change—actually, I can think of 3,533,294 good reasons. That’s the amount that the NRA alone spent since 1998 to buy members of Congress who are still in office, according to the Washington Post. 49 out of 100 US Senators have been paid by the NRA, and 258 of 495 US Representatives. This doesn’t count the money spent by other pro-gun lobby groups, either in support of gun lobby-backed candidates or in opposition to candidates who support common sense gun legislation—or both.

And this is why no gun control legislation will get through Congress.

Even if the US Congress suddenly found the consciences they lost or regained the souls they sold to the gun lobby and actually passed some reforms, the current occupant of the White House would veto them so he could brag about it at his next weekly campaign rally.

And this is why no common sense gun control law will happen.

Unless Americans vote out the gun lobby’s bought-and-paid-for employees in Congress, nothing can ever or will ever change. It’s really that simple—and difficult, because American voters don’t generally vote against incumbent US Representatives, almost without exception, and no matter how much they deserve to be made unemployed.

So, there’s really no point in me talking about this. No one’s listening, no one’s actually doing anything that will actually change anything. Apparently, Americans are happy there’s a guaranteed right to own personal arsenal—but not a right to healthcare if you’re the victim of a mass shooting. There will be another mass shooting sooner rather than later, and we’ll again be ordered to not talk about gun control when that happens. Or after the one after that. Or the one after that. No matter how high the body count is, we can’t possibly discuss common sense gun law reform—it will always be “not the right time”.

America, to put it as it is so commonly expressed these days, is totally fucked up.

And that’s why I wasn’t going to say anything: It gets me too angry and despondent. Which is also why I needed to say something: I want the majority of Americans who want common sense gun legislation to prove me wrong. I want them to throw the bums out, to out fundraise the gun lobby, to take their country back from those who proudly profit from death and misery. But I really don’t think that will happen, so I probably won’t say anything after the next mass shooting.

There’s nothing I can say—nothing I haven’t said many times before, and could easily say many times in the future.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Blue-Green bloom

From time to time, when conditions are just right, otherwise healthy bodies of water can experience a flourishing of a toxic bacteria, cyanobacteria. These “harmful algal blooms”, as they’re called, can cause major health problems for humans, dogs, livestock, and other animals. The organism itself used to be called “blue green algae, but the name was changed to avoid confusion with actual algae, which is a name for a collection of different organisms, which are generally different from cyanobacteria and which aren’t usually hazardous to animals. At the moment, we have a Blue-Green bloom of another kind happening in New Zealand.

After the General Election on September 23 ended with no party able to form government alone, punditry turned to talking about the party presumed to be the “kingmaker”, the New Zealand First Party (NZF). The party is socially conservative (they voted as a block against marriage equality, for example, the only party to do so), but their social and economic policies are a mishmash of Left and Right. Their membership has generally preferred that NZF go into coalition with Labour, but National wants them, too, in order to form a fourth term government. Except, they may not actually want NZF because of its mercurial leader, Winston Peters. So, National has approached the Green Party about forming a coalition—a so-called Blue-Green Coalition. There are several reasons why this can’t happen and why it shouldn’t happen, but a few suggesting that maybe it should, though not this year.

The Greens would probably commit political suicide if they went with National (whose party colour is blue). First, the party spent months and months campaigning for a change of government, and to go into coalition with Labour, so to help National continue leading government would be a betrayal of voters—ironically, exactly as Winston Peters himself did in 1996 when he ignored his party members’ wishes and abandoned Labour to go into coalition with National (which ultimately fell apart spectacularly). Importantly, any coalition deal the Greens negotiate would have to be ratified by 75% of the party’s members, and that would seem unlikely to happen.

It’s also important to note that the preliminary election results show that the combined opposition parties—Labour, the Greens, and NZF—together currently have 61 seats in a 120 seat Parliament. National has 58, and the one person Act “party” has only one, giving the Right a minority block of 59 seats. After the Special Vote count is released on or about 2pm on Saturday, October 7, it’s probable that Labour and/or the Greens will pick up one or two seats each, the total coming from National and possibly NZF. What this means is that the opposition parties will have an even stronger combined block than the current government has.

However, Winston is said to prefer a two-party coalition government, not one with three or more parties—but I suspect this notion is being spread by National Party supporters. In 2005, NZF was in coalition with Labour, United Future Party, and the Progressive Party—that’s four parties. It lasted the entire term, unlike his two-party coalition with National in 1996.

Pundits on the Left are arguing that what National is trying to do is strengthen its negotiating hand with Winston, to make him think they don’t actually need him because they have other options. This may be so, but what if National’s goal is to avoid a deal with Winston and they’re sincere? Could the Greens do a deal?

Putting aside for a moment how extremely unlikely it is, the Greens could demand a heavy price from National. They could demand action on climate change and on cleaning up rivers. National, whose base is rural and farmers, couldn’t agree to anything that would make dairy farmers pay for cleaning up waterways, nor would it reduce intensity on dairy farms, but there might be other ways to make progress. The Greens could also demand action on ending poverty and reducing inequality. Quite what that would look like is difficult to imagine because their worldviews on those issues are so very different—for example, National continues to deny poverty and homelessness are a problem in New Zealand, when literally everyone else says they’re at crisis levels. Still, if the Greens could extract change from National on these and other Green Party issues, would that be so awful? It would also spare New Zealand having to endure three years of Winston in government.

In addition to the above reasons why a Blue-Green coalition is all but impossible, propping up a fourth-term National Government, when the majority wanted change, would mean the Greens would be punished at the polls in 2020, and probably wiped out. This is why it’s described as “political suicide” for them. Moreover, NZF and Winston Peters have been good coalition partners with Labour in the past. Winston must surely care about his legacy, so would he really want to prop up National’s final term and risk political oblivion for his party in 2020 by doing so?

Still, in a compelling piece on his blog, former Green MP Nandor Tanczos argues that the Greens must look forward:
…even if the Greens are ourselves content in our current codependency, there is a more fundamental problem. If Greens cannot carve out a constituency beyond the ‘left of Labour’ cul de sac we are in, we will continue to play out the dynamic of this election over and over, soaring in the polls only as long as Labour is doing badly, but dropping back to 5% as soon as Labour turns left again. Or finds a charismatic leader. We may be mighty in opposition, but we will always be puny in coalition until we stop relying on discontented Labour voters for support.
Nandor makes a lot of sense in talking about a way forward, and in future years the Greens must be willing to work with National to advance the Green Party’s values—just not THIS year. I strongly disagree with him when he says, “there is very little genuine political difference between National and Labour,” though I know that’s how Greens supporters see it (as they lectured me over and over and over during the recent campaign). But the larger issue here isn’t about semantics or differing definitions of what the two biggest parties are all about, it’s about making MMP coalitions work for the benefit of New Zealand.

Right now, a Blue-Green coalition government is impossible. In the future, it could be a possibility, and that might even be a good thing for New Zealand, and not only if one accepts that there’s no real difference between the two biggest parties. That may be a satisfying view to some on the Left, but voter behaviour suggests that, at the moment, the vast majority of voters absolutely don’t see it that way.

Instead, if the Greens find a new constituency, openly campaigning on the possibility of a Blue-Greens coalition could give them a way forward. However, it would also mean that the Labour Party would have to actively campaign against the Greens. At the moment, the parties are fighting over discontented Labour voters (and discontented Greens voters, too, of course). That’s not a way forward, or a path to government, for either Labour or the Greens. A new way may be the better way for everyone.

At the end of the week, we’ll know the shape of the new Parliament. When we do, it may be clearer who can form government with whom, though negotiations for that may take the better part of ten days from now to iron out, unless the final result after the Special Votes are counted brings a huge and dramatic change from the result from election night, which seems unlikely.

A Blue-Green coalition? Maybe someday, but not now. Will it be a Labour-led government or a National-led government? That will probably still be determined by Winston (right now, I'm still leaning on the side of guessing that Winston will go with National).

At the moment, the only thing that’s truly toxic in this bloom of punditry is the deliberate diversion and distraction of some partisans, and also comments based on general ignorance of the fact that this is how MMP is supposed to work. Elections always have consequences, and this one is no different. While we don’t yet know what all those consequences are for this election, a Blue-Greens coalition will not be one of them.

Update October 3: Green Party leader James Shaw was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying that talk of a Blue-Green deal was "noise and no signal." He added: "Our job is to form a new government with the Labour Party. That's what I said on election night, that's what I campaigned on for the last 18 months."

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Lotto ads

The best ads tell stories, ones that draw us in and include us. Few advertisers in New Zealand are as good at as Lotto New Zealand, whose ad company has mastered visual storytelling—mini films, really—to draw viewers in so they can imagine winning Lotto and what it could mean for their own lives and families. Not bad for ads intended to sell what is, basically, gambling.

The ad above is the main ad currently running in New Zealand, and it has been for about a year. Part of their “Imagine” campaign, the ad is called “Mum’s Wish”, and it shows an answer to the question asked in the YouTube description: “If you won, what would you do for the ones you love?” Of all the Lotto ads I’ve seen over the years, this is one of my personal favourites.

The story ad running before “Mum’s Wish” was another story ad, “Pop’s Gift”, below:

Like the ad up top, this ad plays off themes of family and love, and how winning Lotto can enhance both. When it’s put like that, it sounds quite crass, really, but these ads are very effective and taking a crude message and making it heartwarming. It started running a couple years ago.

Both of these ads had several different edits of varying lengths shown on New Zealand television, but the versions I’ve shared here have all the elements of the shorter versions, and the longer versions have also been aired.

Before both of these there was a series of ads featuring Wilson the dog who dives overboard to save a winning Lotto ticket, and then travels the world to bring the ticket back home. The ending isn’t quite as heartwarming as the later ads, but it had a humorous end, which kind of made up for it. In its day, it was one of the most popular ads on NZ television.

There have been numerous ads for Lotto, and other games from NZ Lottery, and they’ve taken a number of different approaches. Some have been better than others, as might be expected, but but most have been pretty memorable, too.

And that brings me to the final ad I’m sharing, and it’s a flashback—you can tell because of the old TV aspect ratio. This ad was playing on New Zealand television when I arrived in 1995, and it ran for several years afterward. I always liked it, and still do, but it’s clearly an entirely different approach from their more recent advertising. But, like all really good ads, it was clearly memorable—for me, anyway.

Remembering stuff

As we age, most of us will have some trouble remembering things. It’s often short-term things, such as, where we put our car keys. As the old saying goes, “forgetting where you put your car keys is normal; forgetting you have a car is not.” Memory can be affected by any number of things, and it can play out in unexpected ways. Like, today.

A crossword question brought all this up: What is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet? As it happens, I once memorised the whole thing, so I began strongly, and it went something like this: “alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon… [pause] …um… [pause] …lambda, mu, nu… [pause] …um… [pause] …omicron, pi… [pause] …um… [pause] …sigma, tau, upsilon… [pause] …um… [pause] …something, something, omega.” I remembered 14 out of 24 letters, but I missed so many that I couldn’t work out with one was 19th (it’s tau, by the way). I did remember a few more, but not where they were in the list: zeta, theta, phi, chi, and psi (a complete list is in the link above).

It’s actually kind of surprising that I remembered as much as I did, because I decided to memorise the alphabet when I was a freshman in high school, more than 40 years ago. It’s fair to say that I haven’t had any real use for it in all the decades since. And yet, I remembered 14 out of 24 letters (around 58%), and in the correct order—though I left a few out. All up, I remembered 19 (nearly 80%, though with several sort of orphaned). The fact I remembered so much of something I’ve never needed over all these years seemed kind of remarkable to me, up until I remembered that most people have trouble with short-term memory (where are those car keys I put down somewhere five minutes ago?), not memories from long ago.

Indeed, it’s common to enter a room and forget why we went there, though we usually do remember, often fairly quickly. Except when we don’t.

There are many things that affect memory, including lack of sleep and medicines. Both affect me, but the second one has been a particular problem over the past year. Statins, drugs to control lipids (cholesterol) in the blood, cause memory problems for, apparently, most users. They’re not necessarily severe problems, but they can be incredibly annoying and even frightening.

For example, the other day I was at my desk and decided to test my memory. I tried to remember the colour of the front of our dishwasher, and I couldn’t remember if it was brushed metal or white. I tried to picture it, since that usually helps, and despite putting things in or taking them out of the dishwasher every single day over the past seven months, I couldn’t visualise it. This scared me. I had a sort of hunch that the front was brushed metal (it is), but I wasn’t sure, I thought I should be sure, and that was the problem. Sure, NOW I think it’s silly I was ever unsure, but at the time, I definitely was.

I think I may have been tired that day, that I may not have had enough sleep the night before—something that affects anyone’s memory, but especially mine these days. This is an ongoing issue because I also need more sleep than normal—easily nine or ten hours a night—or I feel extremely tired the next day. I’ve complained to my doctors about all this, but so far they’re only addressing the tiredness by changing drugs. I need statins, and since they all cause memory problems, this problem is unlikely to go away soon.

All of which meant I needed to create some strategies to compensate for an unreliable memory, and—when I remember to use them—this is what I do:

I always put my car keys in the same place—well, two places, actually: In a basket by the front door (preferred) or in my coat pocket if I forget to take them out of my pocket. I never put them anywhere else. Similarly, I always charge my phone in one place and my iPad in one place (different places, but I never move them). That way, if the devices aren’t with me, I know exactly where they are.

If I walk into a room and see something I need to do, I do it immediately because I know I’ll forget about it if I don’t do it right then. This is a new strategy, and imperfect because it may cause me to forget whatever it was I was on my way to doing.

Sometimes I sort of chant to myself what I’m on my way to doing. I read somewhere that speaking a thing out loud several times helps one remember it, but I seldom actually say the thing out loud. So, for example, I might repeat to myself, “get empty hangers out of the wardrobe”, and I keep repeating that to myself even if I stop to do other things first. This has sometimes helped.

I also need to keep “to do” lists, something I’ve talked about previously. The problem is still that I forget to write things down, and also forget to look at the list when I do make one. Interestingly, the most recent time I complained to my doctor about the statin-driven memory problems, she suggested keeping lists as the way of dealing with it. Gosh, why hadn’t I ever thought of that?!

The video up top is about learning, which is useful information, but the opening part talks about writing notes by hand, that it's better than using a computer. There really is abundant research that backs this up, and it’s also something I’ve personally experienced: Writing things down makes me more likely to remember it (although when I was younger I didn’t need to look at what I wrote down, where now it’s vital).

This is all a work in progress, as so many things in life are. While a little bit has improved over the years, medicine has made some things worse. More to come on this—if I remember to write about it.