Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Bill English resigns

Bill English (Photo NZ National Party)
Today Bill English, Leader of the Opposition, announced his resignation as Leader of the National Party, effective February 27. He will also leave Parliament at the beginning of March. This move wasn’t expected, but also wasn’t a shock as the resignation of John Key was back in 2016. Clearly it was time, and on his terms.

For the past few weeks, there’d been a lot of speculation in the newsmedia about a leadership challenge. All MPs publicly pledged loyalty, as always happens, but who knows what they were saying behind the scenes? All we know is that they didn’t force him out. But this sort of intense media speculation happened every time there was about to be a change of the Labour Party leader, so I thought there was probably something to it. I was also glad to see the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Be that as it may, English clearly left on his terms, which is the best result any political leader can hope for. I was never a supporter of his because, as a Labour Party supporter I obviously disagreed with National Party policies. I felt that many of their policies, under both Key and English, did terrible harm to the country, and nothing has convinced me to revisit those opinions. Indeed, they’ve been solidified with the publication of information the National-led government did not release.

I well remember when English rolled Jenny Shipley to take leadership of his party. She’d lost the 1999 election to Labour’s Helen Clark, and English sought to reverse that. He moved his party to the centre, and I was very sceptical of his sincerity because I knew he was a social conservative, and I just didn’t trust him. He ended up leading the party to its worst-ever election defeat in 2002.

English was rolled by the openly racist Don Brash, who lurched the party to the hard right before leading the party to yet another defeat in 2005. Brash was then rolled by John Key in November 2006, and he went on to win the 2008 elections—yanking the party back toward the centre, aided by his deputy leader, Bill English.

English then became Prime Minister when John Key resigned, choosing Paula Bennett as his deputy. Despite my suggestion back then that Bennett’s selection “could be an opportunity for her to redeem herself, and to become a better MP—and human being”, it didn’t happen, and she did, indeed, help elect a Labour-led Government.

Today I watched Bill English’s announcement live, and that part was classy and pretty good (even if some of his answers to reporters’ questions weren’t). But after he said thank you and he and his entourage left, Bennet suddenly appeared at the podium, after the mics were already turned off, and offered her thanks “on behalf of the entire caucus”. If there’s been a more self-serving, attention-seeking moment in NZ politics, I can’t remember it. If she really has leadership aspirations, then she’s clearly delusional: Nobody actually likes her, especially not the voters of New Zealand.

What of Bill himself? Despite my initial distrust of him, and my my ongoing disagreement with his party’s policies, he nevertheless never tried to impose his personal conservative (largely Catholic religion-based) social views on everyone else. Put another way, he was true to his word, which is a pretty remarkable thing in itself for a politician of any stripe.

The fact that Key and English led government for nine years is a testament to the fact that they understood that the majority of New Zealand voters are in the centre, something those on both the Right and the Left often fail to understand or admit, as the case may be. Policies notwithstanding, even though their polices were far too conservative and/or cautious for ME, that’s still something worth noting.

I also think it’s important to note that while English was personally socially conservative, he did evolve on some of his views, particularly on marriage equality, as all rational politicians have. Despite everything—his own conservative nature, and the hard push from the Right in his own party, he always held steady on the course of a more centrist National Party. The fact he did that is really pretty remarkable, and it has to be acknowledged as being as being pretty special and unique.

Bill has done his dash. He’s been in Parliament for 27 years, and there really was nothing left for him. If he contested the 2020 election, he’d probably have lost again, given the fact New Zealand voters generally like to give governments at least two terms. His vague hope that the current government would come unstuck are likely to go unfulfilled, just as they were the last time Labour led government. And, given National’s inability to foster strong allied parties on the centre-right (or even right), it would be difficult for them to find a path to government when forming government requires forming a coalition. Given all that, and given all the time and effort he’s put in, why would he stay?!

I wasn’t a supporter, but I nevertheless think that Bill English served his party well. The fact I opposed him in the elections, and his party in government, doesn’t change the fact that he was a good leader of his party, and he seemed to be a decent person overall. I wish him well for whatever his next ventures are.

Summer realities

Summer continues apace—well, no, it doesn’t: It’s been unusual lately, very unusual in many ways. The Instagram photo above is actually part of what’s normal, and what’s not.

A friend told me on Facebook that birds go after tomatoes for water. However, we’d had torrential rains on Sunday, so bad it cancelled this year’s Big Gay Out, for the first time in 30 years. It turns out that this was just a symptom of something much bigger: Only 43 days in to the year, and Auckland has already had more than one-third of the normal annual rainfall. This can’t be good.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day—stunning, even. That evening we picked the tomatoes so I could sprinkle tomato dust on the plants to deal with pests, after all that rain on the weekend. I woke up in the middle of the night because of torrential rain outside. I knew it was washing off all the dust I’d so carefully sprinkled. It rained most of today, too.

Yesterday it hit 28 degrees (82.4F) with 99% humidity. It was rather unpleasant. Today, the temperature was cooler—around 23 (73.4F)—but with humidity every bit as high. And this was as I was starting my new project, sorting the stuff in the garage and reorganising it. It didn’t go well.

Despite all that, the birds’ behaviour was more or less normal—it’s just everything else that wasn’t. Well, actually, this is apparently the new normal.

Still, we’ve harvested a lot of tomatoes already, with more to ripen, and that’s been really nice. Nothing quite like fresh tomatoes, especially when they’re “free”.

Pity about the weather, though.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Differing perspectives

There are always differing viewpoints on the issues of the day, for all sorts reasons, such as different life experiences, ideologies, values, and so much more. Expressing different views on public policy issues, when done peacefully, is one of the pillars of democracy, and necessary to ensure wherever we end up has brought most of us along for the ride. But sometimes, there are intrusive and disruptive things that keep us from moving forward.

The other day, I shared a Facebook video from the New Zealand Police about their “rainbow cop car”. I said in that post, “outreach efforts like this are… important and a mark of progress achieved. That in itself is notable.” I knew at the time that not everyone would agree with me, which is fine and expected.

When I shared the video on my personal Facebook (which served as the basis for my blog post), I got a comment telling me about an article on Fairfax’s Stuff news site, “Rainbow police car a 'cynical, two week-long PR stunt', Pride Festival organiser says”. In that article, Lexie Matheson, who is co-hair of Auckland’s Pride committee, a member of Auckland Council’s Rainbow Communities Advisory Panel, and a noted trans activist, was described as “outraged”, and quoted as calling it a “cynical 2 weeks long P.R. stunt” and adding that "I'm queer 52 weeks of the year, their car is queer for only two weeks of the year. They will take the rainbow off, but I can't." The article also quoted someone from a particularly strident, from my perspective, direct action activist group that blockaded the Pride Parade last year to protest the Department of Corrections and the Police marching in the Parade.

I responded on my page that it was “not the first time I’ve disagreed with activists, and it certainly won’t be the last. While I sometimes disagree with Lexie, I also note she has pointed out a positive aspect of this, and I agree with her on that. The other activist quoted… I don’t agree with.”

That would have been that—until I saw an Auckland Councillor, who is a Facebook Friend, posted about it and Lexie responded. Her comment was outstanding, showing a far more nuanced viewpoint than the Stuff piece had suggested, provided more context, and corrected errors in the Stuff piece. I asked her if I could share it, and she gave me permission:
“I’m far from outraged by the car, it’s a car. Nor, as I told the lovely young man, was I speaking as Co-chair of Pride. This was just me, private citizen, taking my right to speak my mind freely for a short walk. Of course I value the changes NZ Police have made n recent times. I’ve benefited. In 2007 I got a beating and was arrested, charged, intimately searched by a male officer and dumped with others in a male cell. What followed was a year of hell, on bail, with numerous court appearances before the charges were eventually thrown out. It’s fair to say I didn’t enjoy that much. As an activist and protester I’ve seen a lot of the cops since 1981. The last protest I went on was pretty confrontational. One young cop I spoke to proudly called me by my name and said he was there to look after me because ‘he’d had training about trans people.’ What’s not to like about that? As for the car it’s a neat idea but if it’s to be fully effective it needs to be there all the time and not just during Pride. Otherwise it’s tokenism. Nice tokenism, but tokenism all the same. As you can imagine I’ve been bluewashed today and I’ve been surprised at how many cops agree with me, high ups and street cops. It was heartening and, had I actually been outraged, it would have calmed my troubled breast.”
I shared her comment on my own Facebook post, as well as here, precisely because it gives fuller context to her remarks and because it helped me understand where she was coming from, and what her point was—all of which was missing from the Stuff piece, making it a disruptive influence that sowed division rather than understanding.

The thing is, back when I was an activist in my native Illinois some 25-30 years ago, I realised quite quickly how there were different paths to the same goal. I respected activists like Lexie back them, even when I disagreed with them or their tactics, because I knew they were moving things forward.

When I was an activist, I was a "suit and tie" activist, and the direct activists out in the streets—people like Lexie—made it possible for activists like me to meet with elected officials to present our demands. We got those meetings because we were "respectable" and seemed less threatening than the loud activists out in the streets. The irony is that we presented the exact same demands, but we were listened to. We wouldn't have gotten that access, nor succeeded in winning our victories, if it hadn't been for those street activists making the establishment uncomfortable enough to be willing to deal with activists like me, who they could identify with more.

Many direct activists despised activists like me (and still do, actually), because they saw us as accommodationists, too steeped in (and only interested in) our own privilege to push the demands of those without that privilege. But I saw how important both of us were to achieving our ultimate goals—eyes on the prize, and all that. I've always been a pragmatist, and that means I was an incrementalist rather than a revolutionary. It takes all kinds, in my opinion.

As I see it, activism is one of the tools available in a democracy to push those in power to address injustice. As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." We activists—whatever our methods or peaceful tactics—provided that demand. Activists still do.

Sure, sometimes I roll my eyes at the more confrontational activists, and sometimes I sincerely believe that their rhetoric or tactics do more harm than good. Sometimes. But other times, they provide the needed push to move things forward. Lexie said to me that sometimes she was “standing on the unpopular side”. I think that standing on the unpopular side is sometimes the only place to be. The way I see it is that the activists doing that, and even doing/saying stuff I disagree with, are necessary. Sometimes it’s the only thing that moves us all forward.

But I still like the rainbow cop car.

This post is based on several different comments I left on Facebook about this “controversy”.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Pride on patrol

This is yet another reason New Zealand is pretty awesome. The police car in this video has been temporarily marked to show support for the LGBT+ communities, the Police's commitment to diversity, and to help recruit new cops. It'll be at the Big Gay Out in Auckland, and in the Pride Parades in Auckland and Wellington.

Other police forces around the world do similar outreach moves, of course, but old timers like me well remember the days when police were never to be trusted—in fact, they were too often an actual enemy. Times have changed a lot, and while there's always room for improvement, outreach efforts like this are still important and a mark of progress achieved. That in itself is notable.

New Zealand Police is a nationwide force, so, this is a national commitment from the NZ Police. That, too, is important.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Peaceful welcome

Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an historic speech at the upper marae at Waitangi. This was the most peaceful formal welcome in many years, mostly due to significant changes. The formal welcome was moved from the lower marae to the upper marae, which is on the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. The upper marae is public property, but still managed by a committee. And this is why the speech was so historic: In that area of New Zealand, women aren’t allowed to speech on a marae.

The video above is from TVNZ’s Te Karere, and is mostly in Te Reo Māori with English subtitles. Their YouTube description sums it up:
“For the past two years under National, the PM steered clear of Waitangi for Waitangi Day commemorations. But today, PM Jacinda Ardern and her government were officially welcomed to the treaty grounds where the historic document was signed 178 years ago. Political reporer, Eruera Rerekura with this report.”
In past years, the formal welcome was on the lower marae, where protests, shouting, and near-violence were commonplace. Don Brash, who was National Party leader at the time, had mud thrown at him one year. And, of course, Steven Joyce famously had a dildo thrown at him. It got so bad that then Prime Minister John Key refused to go to Waitangi Day, and his successor, Bill English, refused, too. Now Leader of the Opposition, English is spending Waitangi Day in Gore in the lower South Island.

This history of often aggressive protests has made increasing numbers of New Zealanders begin to turn from the whole idea of Waitangi Day, treating it as just a day off. Some demand a new national day to get away from the frequent awfulnesss. They frequently say that no other country has such a divisive and protest-filled national day—except that Australia Day is now becoming a hotbed of protest as people demand the day be moved to a different date.

As for this year, I saw some people claiming the day was peaceful because the Prime Minister is pregnant. Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that many Māori are willing to see if the Government really does tackle the many social problems that the former National-led government chose to ignore, or actually made worse. It also didn’t hurt that the Prime Minister announced that she and senior ministers would be spending five days in Northland, talking with local Māori, and seeing the problems firsthand. This was a brilliant move that no other government has thought of in the 23 years I’ve been in New Zealand.

I have no idea whether the more peaceful Waitangi Day events like today’s will continue or not. Part of that will surely depend on whether the government succeeds in addressing the many problems Māori face. But I do hope that allowing the Prime Minister to speak signals a change in Māori customs to ensure women are treated equally in Northland, as they are by many Iwi throughout the country. It’s time.

Mainly, though, it’s time that a government finally takes issues of poverty and depravation seriously, and that it works in true partnership with Māori. The signs are good, but time will tell if it’s just more talk or the start of action.

Turkeys depart

Yesterday, we had a family lunch at Denny’s in Wairau Park in Auckland’s North Shore. It’s a place we’ve been to many times, especially when we have quite a few people (seven yesterday) because they can always accommodate us. The caption in the Instagram photo above explains why this particular visit struck me. The reality is, everything changes, and nothing stays the same forever. Including us.

There have been many improvements over the years, but it’s still not all that easy to find true American-style food in New Zealand restaurants. That’s not really a complaint, just a statement of fact (though some Americans may choose to complain about it). Fast food aside, there’s not much: Very little Mexican food, true American-style pizza requies a visit to a specialist place, and turkey is non-existent.

Denny’s was the only place I’ve ever been in New Zealand that had dishes with turkey on the menu. Some years, their roast turkey dinner was my Thanskoving dinner, as it was most recently in 2015. That “tradition” is now over.

The sandwich I mentioned in the photo caption was the “Super Bird”, which is still on the menu, but with smoked chicken instead of turkey. Meals with smoked chicken are in nearly every NZ cafe and restaurant, it seems, but, in any case, it’s certainly not unique.

This is one of those realities that no one (except me…) ever tells would-be expats about. Among the many adjustments that Americans, in this case, have to make is the unavailability of many of the foods we’re used to. Turkey is the biggest example of that, with nothing in grocery stores except small frozen turkeys, frozen stuffed turkey rolls, and maybe some packaged sliced processed turkey for sandwiches (deli counters in supermarkets don’t carry sliced turkey—or even sliced chicken, usually—and there are no frozen prepared meals with turkey).

The reality is that New Zealanders just don’t like turkey very much, and that’s the problem with other foods we Americans know and maybe love. True American hotdogs are rare. Those American style pizzas at specialist places are actively disliked by many Kiwis. I’ve never had a real (as we Americans define them) bratwurst or polish sausage. And that’s just a few things—there are many more.

The point is, really, that any would-be expat moving from one country to another has to accept that they will not be able to find the foods they know and love, and probably not some other products, either. It’s necessary to find alternatives or to simply move on. But if something as simple as not finding turkey on a menu is going to cause a problem, then maybe being an expat isn’t the best option for that person.

Me, I’m just nostalgic. I actually liked Denny’s roast turkey dinner, and I appreciated being able to have it on some Thanksgivings. Nowadays, though, I actually hardly ever miss turkey, mainly not until I’m reminded about it as I was yesterday.

Everything changes, and nothing stays the same forever. Including us.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Fruitful efforts

We’ve harvested the first tomatoes of the year (photo above). That represents a major change, and getting something done that’s been missing for a long time. Those efforts have been fruitful—literally and figuratively—and all of that is good.

We harvested the tomatoes yesterday because rain and storms were predicted, after a day of heavy rain on Thursday. So, we picked all the tomatoes that were even remotely close to being ripe because the storms lately have had a lot of wind, which is bad enough, but all that rain can cause blight—basically, it makes them rot on the plant. It was better to harvest them slightly early than to risk losing them altogether. They’ll still ripen in the house. But, as I said in the caption, there are probably more that are totally green than the number we harvested. We’ll see how they go.

As near as I can remember, the last time I grew tomatoes was 2005, the year before we moved back to Auckland. In the years since, I’d planned on growing tomatoes, among other things, but I really didn’t have any place to plant them other than pots, since the yard was mostly not usable. But I kept forgetting when I needed to start the seeds, and missed out for many years. This year, finally, was different.

The seeds came from supermarket tomatoes, all of which sprouted and grew. The problem with doing that is that if the plants were hyrbids, the fruit from the seeds may end up reverting to another, different tomato type. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. For the record, the type is a low-acid variety called Roma in New Zealand, though I’ve also seen them referred to as “Italian tomatoes”, especially when they’re tinned.

I did the same thing with capsicum seeds, and while I got plants, they didn’t produce anything, partly because I didn’t have a good spot for them (too shady), but maybe the seeds wouldn’t have produced capsicums, anyway. I’ll never know.

So, this year I finally got vegetable plants in the garden, and I’ve started harvesting the results. That’s a really good thing in itself, but it’s also something I’ve wanted to do for so many years, and, despite fighting fatigue, I did it. That feels good.

I don’t know how much more we’ll get to harvest this year. Actually, I don’t even know yet whether these are nice or not, since they’re not ripe enough to eat. And, of course, I have no idea what I’ll do next year (or for the winter, for that matter). Right now, none of that matters.

This year, I finally got something done that’s been missing for a long time, and those efforts have been fruitful—literally and figuratively. Right now, that’s enough.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, which means absolutely nothing. I saw the news from the USA and it contained more stories of corruption, criminality, and possible treason by associates of the current occupant of the White House that we’ve seen for more than a year. Okay, that’s a reference to the film more than it’s reference to the day. But, that’s still a fact.

These days most things seem to repeat over and over again, especially the news from the USA. It’s one of the reason that other countries mock the USA so much these days: There’s story after story of stupidity and corruption from the current regime, nothing ever happens because of it, and the world thinks the USA is a sad, pathetic joke because of it.

It’s like every day the USA wakes up, sees the corruption and criminality (and probable treason) of the current regime, shrugs its shoulders, ignores it, then repeats that again the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. (got the idea?)

The world is laughing at the USA. It’s disgusted by the current regime and its antics, its obvious corruption and criminality, and the stupidity and racism of those who unflinchingly support the regime, literally no matter what it says or does. But the fact an ignorant, illiterate clown is the leader of the USA? That’s pretty damn hilarious to the world.

Neither the supporters of the current regime, nor their Republican Party, care in the least what the world thinks, nor how much the world laughs at the USA. But they OUGHT to care that the world is moving on—to China. With the USA controlled by a largely criminal gang, and obviously not serious about engaging with the global community, countries are increasingly choosing to do business with China—the stable regime in the world, run by grown-ups. Pity about the lack of democracy, but is the USA really so very different in that regard when you consider Republicans’ voter suppression and gerrymandering? And what about the current occupant of the White House engaging in obstruction of justice? Or what about his stated goal of subverting the rule of law to transform the executive branch into a personal fiefdom? Is that really so very different from how authoritarian China operates?

Each day brings more of the same. The only way to break the endless repeat of days is to throw every Republican out of office. Will that happen? I doubt it. I hope I’m wrong. I’m sick of living the same day over and over and over again.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Tooth Tales: Well, then…

This week was another round of the Tooth Tales saga. It wasn’t good, exactly, but wasn’t totally bad, either. It is, as so many things in this healthcare journey have been, “a journey”.

On Tuesday, I went to the periodontist for a routine checkup, my first in a year. He found that the areas that were trouble before still are—though not as bad as when this all started. That’s something, I guess. Still, they needed (expensive) treatment. I had that treatment today.

The worst thing about the treatment was getting there. The weather was horrible as New Zealand was hit with the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Fehi today. Rain and wind were terrible, but the inability of drivers to cope seemed to be the main problem. On parts of the motorway, I went no faster that 25kph (15.5mph). It took me an hour and a half to get to my appointment, something that “should” take maybe an hour.

The treatments themselves weren’t too bad—lots of grinding at the root of certain back molars. But what’s remarkable about that is that I was totally relaxed—where once I was terrified of any dental procedure, now I don’t care. The thanks, if that’s the word, goes to the periodontist whose needle never causes pain as he injects the anaesthetic. And, of course, repetition of exposure to a thing feared makes that thing less feared over time. And I’ve now had a LOT of practice.

Joking about things as I always do, I said to a friend recently that “now I just lay back and think of England (mainly because some David Attenborough DVD is usually playing on the TV on the ceiling. The pain I feel is mainly when I pay for it…” All of which is true. Apart from the England part, maybe, especially in this context. Which is why I thought it was funny.

The gist of the story is that I must once again redouble my efforts to use the teeny tiny brushes on my lower back teeth. Interestingly, he said I should use floss on my my lower front teeth, not the teeny tiny brushes. This is funny to me because that was one area I never had any problem using the brushes. Still, I’ve made a lot of progress over the past few months, so that bodes well for the next six.

I left the appointment numbed to the max and headed off to pick up my mother-in-law because she’s staying with us for the holiday weekend. What is normally a two hour drive from the periodontist’s office ended up being nearly three hours. The trip back home was a bit quicker than I expected, though we were slowed at the very end—the last 15 minutes—by extremely heavy rain and surface flooding. All up, I spent the better part of six hours driving, the most since my university years (except then it was sometimes that long without break, which this wasn’t; I couldn’t go that long without a break nowadays).

So today I endured more periodontal treatment in the same areas that keep causing me problems, which is bad. But other areas are okay, which is good. And, I managed many hours driving in terrible weather. All up, a good report on all fronts, I think. I’ll take it.

Now, I just need to get control of the other health issues, too. One day at a time.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.