}

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Shadow of summers

Time was, New Zealand basically closed down for the month of January, sometimes starting at Christmas, sometimes ending in early February. Those days are over, with the country’s globalised economy now virtually non-stop (apart from the three and a half days on which there’s a trading ban, only one of which, Christmas Day, is in summer). Long summers with lots of businesses closed and not much happening are mostly gone, but sometimes there’s a small reminder.

The above two marketing fliers were distributed together this week, and provided a bit of a remembrance, a shadow, of summers of the past.

The “Back to School” sales are because New Zealand’s new school year will begin between January 28 and February 7 (it varies a bit from place to place, but schools must begin their year sometimes between those dates). Because the summer break is the longest, some parents will arrange their annual leave so they can have time off with their kids, and that means they’re facing “Back to Work”.

These days, there are plenty of parents who can’t arrange their work/annual leave schedule around their kids’ school holidays, for any number of reasons, so for them the “Back to Work” isn’t relevant. It won’t be long, perhaps, before such a flier wouldn’t be relevant for anyone.

This is sad for some people: A part of New Zealand has disappeared. It was a way of life that I read about when I first moved here, but even by then the reality was that many people didn’t take lots of time off in January. Some still did.

Until very recently, it was common to have a hard time finding suppliers of some goods or services in the first couple weeks of January. I know from personal experience how frustrating this could be for someone trying to get projects done around the house while on summer holiday. However, home centres have become the norm, rather than local hardware stores, and pretty much everything needed for household projects can be found easily, with no more that the statutory holidays (and that Christmas Day trading ban) standing between them and completing their projects.

I have to admit that, since I never experienced the old ways, I’m fine with the way things are now. In the Internet Age, where we can order nearly anything online and get it delivered—sometimes on the same day—it’s natural to expect stores and service provides to be open, too.

As it happens, I’m off the month of January each year, so I’m kind of a throwback to older times. Also, I’m not: My being off in January doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s life or summer. So, for me, there really is a “Back to Work” time, and that flier is relevant. Like, it reminded me I really want to get a smaller desk.

Even though that particular flier was relevant for me, it’s still a sort of shadow of summers long gone, ones I had a small hint of, but didn’t actually experience. It's an unusual amount of social significance from an ordinary marketing flier.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A company’s campaign gets it


The video above is from a company that makes men’s grooming products. The campaign seeks to help men be better men, which is a worthy thing, even if some may not think so for whatever reason. There was a time when such issue marketing never happened, but I think when it’s relevant, it’s a good idea. Why not use their marketing power, and access to the target market, for good? And this video IS good.

The video is from men’s personal care products brand Gillette, which decades ago adopted the slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get”. The campaign is called “The Best Men Can Be”, playing off their product slogan and setting an aspirational target. They said in a statement on their site:
It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.
This is a reference to the fight against what’s popularly called “toxic masculinity”, something that many on both the Left and Right don’t seem to fully understand. I’d sum it up as: Don’t Be An Arrogant Jerk to Everyone.

Toxic masculinity is about what’s toxic to men. It’s what robs men of their emotions except for anger and aggression. It’s what leads men to trying to be the “alpha male”, dominating everyone around them, too often aggressively or even violently. It leads men to assume that every woman is sexually available to them, or that they have the right act toward them as if they are. It leads them to dismiss, discount, victimise, and bully those they perceive as weaker, men and women alike, even if only emotionally. And it means men must never cry.

It leads to rape and sexual assault. It leads to bullying and attacks on gay men—or those merely thought to be gay. It leads to aggression and fights over nothing. And it leads men to strive to achieve an ideal of the “perfect man” that almost no one can naturally be, setting them up for failure, self-loathing, and more aggression arising from the shame and frustration of not being that “perfect man”.

The solutions are to let men be men—no one is talking about changing that at all. Instead, it’s about getting men to stop objectifying women, since that leads to dismissing women, and on to sexual harassment and even sexual assault. It’s about getting men to understand that bullying is wrong, and that achievement, competence, and compassion earn respect, and brute strength does not.

“While it is clear that changes are needed,” Gillette said in their statement, “where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.”

And that’s the key: Men helping men change. We’re the only ones who can do it.

I saw some pushback against “toxic masculinity” arguing that the bad things it describes are “natural” for other animals, as if human beings are captive to our past and can never evolve, as if our powerful brain can’t see a problem and fix it. Human males are nothing like rams that violently butt their heads against each other to win sexual access to a ewe—we’re smart enough not to do that. The masculine traits of men that women and gay men find sexually attractive are NOT the same as for other animals, and it’s silly to suggest they are.

Then, too, some conservatives are deliberately misrepresenting what this campaign is all about by misrepresenting both its intent and what “toxic masculinity” is. Sometimes this is because they don’t understand what that is and how it hurts all men, regardless of ideology. Some do it to attack the Left, using it as part of their “social justice warrior” attacks.

Sometimes the Left doesn’t help things. They may use “toxic masculinity” as something to try to shame men who may not share all of the Left’s agenda. They use it as some sort of political litmus test, similar to what the Right does.

But “toxic masculinity” is real, and a real problem. We need to ignore politics and those who would seek to exploit “toxic masculinity” for ideological or political ends. We need to help men be better men, that’s it. The ideologues can look after themselves.

This isn’t the first time that a company that’s made money off of the stereotypical gender roles has tried to present an alternative, more positive message. For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign tried to improve women’s self image, but the company itself was flawed. Gillette has faced criticism, and, of course, its parent company, Proctor & Gamble, has had many controversies.

This isn’t about the companies or their products. This is about a message, about getting men to talk to other men, and to model better behaviour that boys can emulate when they become men. No company is perfect, neither is any ad campaign. I don’t think that matters. The message is good, it’s from an appropriate source, and it may—just maybe—do some good, and, if it does, it’ll be the best thing we all could get.

The video below is the short version of the ad, suitable for broadcast television. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as effective.

The blame is his alone

Infographic: The Longest U.S. Government Shutdown In History | Statista

The USA is now enduring its longest-ever government shutdown, and the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of one person: The current occupant of the White House. He has been enabled by the US Senate’s Majority Leader and the Republican caucus, but they didn’t cause the shutdown, and they stand to lose if it goes on. Ultimately, Republicans are the only ones who will be able to get the current occupant to end his stunt, assuming that anyone at all can get him to understand reality.

The stunt is a pure partisan game that the current occupant is playing because he was scolded by a couple bloviating blowhard professional Republican moaners. Up until that point, he was willing to work on a bipartisan agreement, but the moment they nutty windbags criticised him, he freaked out and in his panic he abruptly changed course.

Since Democrats took control of the US House, they have repeatedly said they’ll pass the bipartisan measure the previous Congress had taken up. But the current occupant wants it his way only, and he’s trying to bully Democrats into doing his bidding. That’s never going to happen.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Senate are refusing to take up the previously-passed bipartisan spending bill, because their party's leader in the Senate is convinced he can continue to obstruct rather than govern, just as he did when President Obama was in office. This time he's obstructing the US House of Representatives, thereby enabling his president. Republican Senators, many of whom are vulnerable in the 2020 elections, won't tolerate that forever. They're the ones who can force the Senate to pass the measure so they can place ALL the blame on the current occupant when he inevitably vetoes the bipartisan bill. Their motivation—electoral survival—may no less self-serving than their Senate leader's or their president's, but despite that, it's the right thing to do.

Millions of Americans have been affected, from federal employees who may not be able to pay their rent or mortgage and who are seeking help from food banks, to contractors, to companies supplying goods and services to the US government, to ordinary people who want to do something the federal government controls. The current occupant doesn’t care about any of that, of course: It’s always first, last, and in between about him and his massive ego, and nothing more. He doesn’t care who he hurts or how badly he hurts them, because to him no one matters but himself. One thing that’s absolutely certain is that if those same bloviating blowhards criticised him for not reopening the government, it would be open again within milliseconds—or however long it would take him to type out the Tweet.

The chart below shows that a majority of Americans correctly blame the current occupant and the party he leads for this stunt. That’s more than the combined numbers of those who choose to blame Democrats or both parties equally. The other two charts of partisans; views may look like it just shows strong partisan feeling, and it does, but look at the differences between them: A mere 6% of Democrats blame their own party, while two and a half times that number of Republicans know their party is blame. Also, three times as many Republicans as Democrats blame both parties equally, which suggests many Republicans know their party is to blame, but can’t bring themselves to say so. This is why there’s 17 point difference in the numbers of Republicans who blame Democrats as opposed to Democrats who blame Republicans.

No one can say how or when this shutdown will finally end, or what it will take to get the Republican Leader of the Senate to act like a grown-up for a change. We can’t know how many people will ultimately be hurt by the current occupant’s petty stunt, nor how badly. But people will be burned while Nero fiddles.

Still, there’s one thing that both parties ought to do: Unanimously pass a bill saying that in the event of a government shutdown, the salaries of all US Representatives, US Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, the president and vice president and the Members of the Supreme Court will be stopped until the government reopens. If the politicians are going to play games and shutdown the government, then the elites must suffer, too. Or, they should outlaw shutdowns completely. But having one rule for the elites and another for common people is precisely why the numbers of Americans who approve of politicians is declining and the number who perceive government itself as being largely illegitimate are growing. And that’s a far bigger threat to the republic than the Narcissist in Chief or his lackeys in Congress.

Infographic: Who Are Americans Blaming For The Shutdown? | Statista

The chart up top on shutdown length through January 14 is from Statista. The other chart, on who Americans blame for the shutdown, is also from Statista. Both were released under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 3.0 license

Monday, January 14, 2019

Zeroing in on one week from today

My birthday is one week from today. After about 20, I’ve probably dreaded each “zero birthday” more than the one before. It’s not that I don’t want to get older, exactly: There’s only one way to do that. However, I wouldn’t mind the process taking a bit longer.

Our perceptions of when, precisely, old age begins have changed as human lifespan has increased—but not as quickly, probably. During the period I was born, a person could be expected to live until their late 60s, maybe early 70s. However, projected life expectancy isn’t absolute, and improvements in healthcare and medicine have increased the lifespan beyond what was projected at people’s birth—in developed countries, especially, but worldwide, too.

As people began living longer and healthier lives, our perception of when “old age” begins have shifted, too, though slowly. I think that shift needs to pick up the pace.

One of the life events when one reaches their 60s is retirement. For years, the retirement age in the USA was 65 —until they started raising it. The USA started to raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits by 2 months per year beginning with those born in 1938—but it stalled at 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. Then, the rise resumed.

I qualify for Social Security, assuming it still exists, when I reach 66 years 10 months, and this presents a problem. Due to a treaty between the USA and New Zealand, my Social Security benefit will be paid to the New Zealand Government (the two counties have similar agreements with other countries). The problem is that I qualify for NZ Superannuation at age 65, and NZ requires me to apply for Social Security when I apply for New Zealand Superannuation. However, if I apply for US Social Security at 65, it’ll be reduced benefits. Even so, at the moment I don’t plan on retiring that early, anyway, but the point is the two systems don’t match up.

Actually, the bigger problem, if it is one, is that I can’t imagine being retired. Nothing in my life has prepared me for it, since my parents never achieved it. But I also don’t feel old enough to be nearing retirement age—though I also have no idea what it would mean to feel old enough.

Which is why I’m dreading this upcoming “zero age” more than any of the others I’ve been though: I have neither the frame of reference nor any feeling for what this upcoming age will be like. Sure, on my birthday itself it’ll be no different than the day before, but as the years pass, what happens? At all those earlier “zero age” birthdays I had some idea what to expect, and I knew that the following decade wouldn’t be all that much different than the one before it. Neither is true this time.

This isn’t the sort of thing I can be told about or learn about. It’s one of those rare things that must be intuited, and I’m not there yet. Still, time waits for no one, right? And one week from today, ready or not, I enter what’s for me totally uncharted territory.

Still, it beats the alternative.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A good idea is suspended

A programme in New Zealand to collect soft plastics for recycling has been suspended. There was evidence we were headed that way for quite awhile, but its end, even if temporary, was sudden. Whether it resumes or not, the real issue is reducing the amount of soft plastics there are.

The programme began as a pilot in 2015, and was partly funded by the government of the day, led by the National Party, though it was a project of the Packaging Forum, which represents the packaging industry. The idea was to make it easy for people to drop off soft plastic packaging (basically anything plastic that a person could crumple in their hands), and it became very popular.

At the time the programme was begun, there was no governmental move to ban single-use plastic bags, so it was partly a way of dealing with all those used bags. The plastics were sent to Australia, but the long-term plan was to process them here in New Zealand.

In 2016, the project collected 106 tonnes of soft plastic for recycling, which grew to 366 tonnes in 2017. They planned to be collecting 447 tonnes by the end of this year.

However, the Australians stopped accepting our soft plastics, and it began piling up. By November of last year, 400 tonnes was in storage, some of it getting mouldy, making it unusable. A month later, six supermarkets stopped collecting the bags. That was probably the starting point of the end, because a few days later the packaging forum “suspended” the programme on December 31.

The forum “plans to resume a sustainable service in April 2019”, but that depends on finding some way to process the plastics collected, and to do so here in New Zealand. I’m extremely dubious that will happen.

I didn’t know any of this was going on. I didn’t go grocery shopping the end of December (I ordered online), so if there was any in-store announcement, I never saw it.

Earlier this week I went grocery shopping and brought my soft plastic packaging with me. I got to the Countdown grocery store, and the collection barrel was gone. I just thought that maybe they hadn’t been able to deal with it over the holidays. The next day, I went to The Warehouse, which also collected the bags, and looked for their barrel. It wasn’t there, either. When I was in the checkout I saw a sign on the wall saying that the programme was suspended.

I had one small bag of soft plastics, so it wasn’t a lot, but it raised a question: What was I going to do with it? And, should I save and store the plastics for four months in case the programme really does resume in April? No, I shouldn’t. There can be no guarantee the programme will return then or ever, and then I’d have to send it all to landfill. So, I’ll send it to landfill again, and, in fact, we’ve already started throwing it into the regular rubbish. I hated doing that, but there’s no practical alternative.

At the end of November 2017, I said of the programme that “I’d guesstimate I’ve probably diverted the equivalent of five 60-litre rubbish bags (probably more) from landfill.” At the time, I had no way of knowing that it would start piling up in storage and not be recycled.

All of New Zealand’s supermarkets have stopped giving away plastic shopping bags. The government has announced that they’ll be banned everywhere in New Zealand this year. So, the amount of soft plastic packaging we have to deal with will be cut dramatically. But there’s so much more that could be done.

The programme was always a way to deal with a problem after the fact. The better solution would have been to eliminate the problem by eliminating the plastic packaging. While banning the shopping bags will be huge, there’s still a lot of plastic shrink wrapping used, and potato chips and other snacks and food products, like frozen vegetables, come in plastic bags. These are not easy to avoid without also avoiding the products.

I have mesh bags to use when I shop for fresh produce so that I don’t need any plastic bags, which is part of the solution. The packaging industry should work to eliminate all the unnecessary plastics, like shrink-wrap, for example, which is almost never necessary. Despite all that, some plastic packaging will remain, and it would be good to find a sustainable way to recycle it. Maybe it’ll happen.

In the meantime, our own moves toward more sustainability have taken a step backwards. We’ll try to avoid the soft plastics we can, but some will be unavoidable, and that will unavoidably mean it’s headed to landfill again.

Maybe some times good ideas just need more time to work out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Hotter and more

New Zealanders have been complaining about the heat lately, and for good reason. New Zealand had the second-warmest year on record in 2018, and the warmest was 2016. January 2018 was the warmest month ever recorded in New Zealand. January of this year promises above average temperatures, too.

The biggest concern with all this is that climate change is gaining momentum, which has very specific dangers: Extended drought, dangerous heat, extreme storm events, among other things.

I’ve noticed this as much as anyone else has. January was hot, as I said at the time. We had a bad storm that same month, plus a far, far worse near cyclone storm in April.

We’ve had frequent minor flooding outside our house, in April of 2017, and also in August 2018, and in the same spot again just last month. All of these have been caused by “unusual” weather, even “once in a century” storms. Those are becoming more common.

The issue now isn’t just about how to be able to sleep on hot nights, it’s about how we’re going to adapt to what looks like permanent changes to our climate. This may be the new normal.

This is what will be keeping us awake at night, regardless of what the weather is doing.

Political Notebook returns

There are always political things I see and would comment on, except that they’re not big enough, or I don’t have enough to say about it, to fill a blog post. Sometimes they end up being things I share on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, but there are things that don’t even get mentioned there. Other times, there are things I do want to talk about, but for any number of reasons I don’t want to do a post on it. So, I decided to bring back my Political Notebook posts to catch those sorts of topics that would otherwise get away.

A ‘fact-challenged televised plea’

Today the current occupant of the White House “delivered a forceful and fact-challenged televised plea to the nation Tuesday night for his long-promised border wall”, as The Washington Post put it. The paper also provided live fact-checking of the speech.

The question is, what’s he up to? Is he really fighting a losing battle he cannot win, or is he setting the stage for something—bigger? Maybe, but because he’s not intelligent it’d be the people directing him calling the shots. Either way, it could be dangerous: “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency”, published last month by The Atlantic, talks about the dictatorial powers a president gets when declaring a state of emergency. Many of the brutal dictators that the current occupant of the White House admires so much have used emergency powers to cement their dictatorship. And, of course he’s said he should be president for life, though his acolytes insist he was joking.

Is it all about cruelty?

Plenty of critics think that the entire point of the current regime’s obsession with the border fence is cruelty, as much as anything else. “The Cruelty Is the Point” of this regime and its supporters, as Adam Serwer put it in The Atlantic a few months ago. John Pavlovitz had the appropriate response last month: “I Don’t Grieve Over His Cruelty. I Grieve Over Yours.”

We need to talk about what we’re talking about

No one can know everything—surprise!—and that’s true of political stuff and policy issues, too. There’s no shame in that, as long as we try to be as well-informed as possible. Recently new US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caused a stir when she suggested a new top income tax rate of 70% to fund a “Green New Deal”. Republicans attacked, of course, but what was shocking was that most of them didn’t seem to understand how marginal tax rates work. Or, they were betting that most Americans don’t, which would be a pretty safe bet, considering how many people of “moderate means” attacked the proposal because they thought—wrongly—they’d have to pay 70% of their entire income in tax (in fact, only the very rich would be affected at all). People really ought to know better, sure, but they need to know better.

A huge number of people don’t understand how marginal tax rates work, and opportunistic politicians exploit that fact to manipulate voters. “How marginal tax rates actually work, explained with a cartoon”, published by Vox, may help make things clearer, and the pocket analogy could be useful. We need to educate ourselves so that unscrupulous, opportunistic politicians (some of whom may not understand this, either) cannot easily manipulate us.

Related to that is a new video from Robert Reich about what he calls “The Big Economic Switcheroo,” thought we’d correctly call it a swindle and con game. Essentially, he explains why the rich paid far more in tax in the past, and that’s why they really should pay their fair share of taxes:



Sometimes issues are more complicated than we think. There’s been a big debate about “arming teachers” in the USA, but while we do, some teachers have already decided. In “When You Give a Teacher a Gun”, Jay Willis takes a look at teachers who are training to shoot to kill. The debate has mostly been about whether arming teachers ought to be a government policy, but another issue is whether suitably trained teachers even be allowed to carry guns. I certainly never thought about the second part before.

• • • • •

That’s enough for this first Political Notebook post in a re-launched series. There will be more to come, of course. Politics is the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Record numbers want to leave

Gallup has released a new poll that found that a surprisingly large number of Americans would leave the USA if they could, and it’s mainly because of the current occupant of the White House. The number saying they’d leave is small, as always, but it’s significantly larger than normal. The more worrying thing is who says they want to leave, because that shows real problems for the legitimacy of the American system of government—but it also shows a path to change.

First things first: The number who say they’d leave—16%—is about average in the world, and undeniably a relatively small minority. However, this is after the current regime has been in power only two years. After two terms, Bush the Second’s rate was 11%, and President Obama’s was 10%. So, while small, the number of people who say they’d leave is 60% larger than under President Obama.

The truly worrying thing is the demographic breakdown—but it’s also not surprising.

Overall, 20% of women would like to leave as against 13% of men. But a whopping 40% of women under 30 want to leave, double the 20% of men in the same age group. Overall, 30% of people aged 15-29 want to leave. Gallup says their results found the differences narrow as people get older and disappear over age 50. Which also should surprise no one.

A whopping 30% of the poorest 20% of Americans want to leave, which is more than double what it was under the average of President Obama’s eight years (13%). Interestingly, the number of rich people wanting to leave is also up—from 8% under President Obama to 12% under the current occupant of the White House, a 50% increase.

There are plenty of reasons, based on these numbers, to blame the current occupant for the rising numbers of people wanting to leave. But it turns out that there’s statistical reasons, too, as Gallup pointed out:
Regression analysis shows that regardless of differences by gender, age or income – if Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, they are more likely to want to leave the U.S. Overall, 22% of Americans who disapproved of Trump's job performance during his first two years said they would like to move, compared with 7% who approved.
The fact that women, young women in particular, are more likely to want to leave is no surprise. Women have seen a serial adulterer and misogynist become US president, they saw a man credibly accused of attempted rape be installed on the US Supreme Court by the old white male Republicans in the US Senate, and they watched those same old white men disrespect, belittle, and attack the accuser, among other women who came forward to accuse Republicans of inappropriate behaviour. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Younger people have seen the movement for gun control run into the power and money of the gun lobby, and the momentum stalled. They’ve watched the current occupant of the White House and the old white men in the Republican caucus in Congress deny the reality of climate change and refuse to act in any way whatsoever—except to make things worse. Indeed, they’ve watched the current regime relax pollution rules to advantage industry and the rich. All of that tells them that Republicans, who have been in complete power for the past two years, don’t care about their future. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Poorer people have seen the Republican power elites in Washington trying repeatedly to take away their health care, cutting the taxes of the rich and super rich while making them pay disproportionately more. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Add it all up, and it makes perfect sense that the people that the Republican Party and the current regime controlling the White House care the least about have the most desire to leave. It may seem a little surprising that the traditional voter base of the Republican Party—richer people, and people over 50, all have more people wanting to leave than under either of the two previous presidents. However, traditional Republicans are not the main base of the current occupant—actually, some have turned away from the Republican Party because of the current occupant. So, it’s not actually surprising that some of them would want to leave, too (though a particularly tiny minority of those various demographic groups that traditionally support the Republican Party).

Beyond all that, it’s important to note that wanting to leave is absolutely not the same thing as planning to leave. Among those who say they want to leave, the vast majority will never leave for many reasons.

Second, the results show that the main place people want to go to is Canada, with 26% naming that country. This also isn’t unusual: After every election the supporters of the losing side say they want to go to Canada. But even this is tempered by the fact that the desire to go to Canada has increased since the current occupant eked out an Electoral College victory, and the number wanting to go to Canada doesn’t normally increase, it goes down.

There are some lessons that can be learned, both positive and negative. First, the negative: If the current occupant is re-elected in 2020, and Republicans do well in Congressional elections, then those who want to leave will feel that US democracy is even less legitimate than they do now. When large numbers of people feel their government is illegitimate, it increases social unrest and the greater likelihood of violence, and a crackdown on civil liberties as a result. In other words, things could get much worse.

On the other hand, the fact that young people and women (young women in particular) feel so detached from the government may inspire them to become involved in elections, to vote, maybe to run for office themselves, and if all that happens, it could change absolutely everything. If they do nothing, however, the first scenario becomes much more probable.

While a surprisingly large number of Americans would leave the USA if they could, and that shows real problems for the legitimacy of the American government, it also shows a path to change. We’ll know which way it’s headed within mere months. Buckle up—whether you stay or go, it’ll be a rough ride.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Videos I don't love



My Weekend Diversion posts about music have (mostly) been about sharing music that I run across and that struck a chord with me. This post is about that, though somewhat different. This post is about two videos I cannot watch.

The video above isn’t a new song, but one from 2014. It’s Irish musician Hozier’s big hit, “Take Me to Church”, and I love that song—but I can’t watch the video. The song is a metaphor, with Hozier comparing his lover to religion. He was frustrated with and critical of the Catholic church’s influence over his country, particularly in areas of love and sexuality.

The music video is best summed up in the Wikipedia entry on the song:
The concept for the "Take Me to Church" music video was the result of a collaboration between Hozier, Brendan Canty and his writing partner Emmet O'Brien. It was directed by Brendan Canty and Conal Thomson of Feel Good Lost and was released on 25 September 2013. The video, shot in grayscale on location at Inniscarra Dam in Cork, Ireland, follows a same-sex relationship in Russia and the violently homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men's sexuality. The video had a budget of 500 Euros. The song went viral following its release. "I remember someone texting me to say it was getting 10,000 views an hour", he recalled. The song achieved 230,000 YouTube views within two weeks.

Hozier stated, "The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious organizations and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish. I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea." [For sources, see the original]
The reason I can’t watch it is because it’s too damn real. We all know that Russian fascists kill gay people all the time, and that violence against them is epidemic, inspired, fuelled and encouraged personally by the Russian dictator. But that sort of thing can happen in any country, including the USA, and I can feel the crime, the pain and the loss it causes and the love—and because of that I cannot watch the video at all. Ever. When it comes on our music video channel, I always look away and just listen, because I do love the song.

For the record, the song was Number 2 in Australia (6x Platinum), Canada (8x Platinum), New Zealand (3x Platinum), the UK (3x Platinum), and on the Billboard Hot 100 (6x Platinum). As I prepared this post, the video has had 250,395,746 views on YouTube.

Next is a video that’s very different, but I still can’t watch it:



The song is “Happier” by Marshmello, an American electronic music producer and DJ, and featuring British band, Bastille. The song is basically about when one person in a love affair says it’s over before one of the two wants to admit it.

I think the song is okay, as such songs go, and kind of summery popness. But the video is quite different (and neither Marshmello nor Bastille appear in it). It tells a story about a different sort of love, its transformative power, and of loss. There’s one scene in the video I simply can’t handle, very much so, in fact, even though I know it’s coming. It’s because—spoiler alert—I’ve loved and lost so many wonderful dogs in my life, and know I will again, so the pain is real and personal for me. So, I always look away when the video, or that scene, are on.

For the record, the song was Number 3 in Australia (2x Platinum), 2 in Canada (3x Platinum), 3 in New Zealand (Platinum), 2 in the UK (Gold), and 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Platinum). As I prepared this post, the video has had 128,710,827 views on YouTube.

What’s interesting to me is that at the moment these are the only two videos that affect me this way. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and am more easily affected (heck, TV commercials can make me weepy under the right circumstances), or if these videos are unusual in being able to affect me so intensely. Certainly there are other videos or songs I really like that can make me feel something or other, but only these two videos (at the moment) trigger such intense reactions.

I was having second thoughts about publishing this post. In fact, I’d decided against it (because I’d already published two posts today). But as I got ready to iron some shirts a little while ago, the music video channel I had on in the background played “Happier”, and I decided to go ahead and publish this. As I finished the post, "Take Me to Church" came on. I didn’t watch either video. Still, the coincidence was interesting. Were they demanding to be shared? (Answer: No. Tonight the music channel also played several other songs I’ve already shared. Coincidence is just coincidence).

In any case, this is a different way to begin Weekend Diversion posts for 2019. I kind of like that.

Epiphany ends the holidays


It’s January 6 in New Zealand, and that means it’s Epiphany. The day may not mean much to most people, but when I was growing up, it was the day that Christmas officially ended at our house, something I wrote about back in 2016. This year, as most years, that was a footnote.

We didn’t decorate for Christmas again this year, which is pretty common for us. Our only real decoration, if it can be called that, was easy to put away: The Christmas cards we got. One came from a couple we know through podcasting who Nigel and I met in person five years ago. We also received another from one of my cousins—and a couple came from realtors. Clearly, it wasn’t a big display, but the ones from the real people we know were nice and cheery to look at.

Other than that, today was a lazy Sunday as we got ready to resume our normal routines tomorrow. I did a couple loads of laundry, and Nigel went out to water the tomatoes, which is how he spotted the two mostly ripe tomatoes in my Instagram photo above. Nigel, who had a somewhat different vision for his photo, took the one below.

This week I have a long list of projects to resume work on, the sorts of routine things that just kind of got pushed aside during the holidays. That includes doing a full grocery shopping trip, and while I’m out I’m going to get some bird netting to, hopefully, help protect the tomatoes.

Other projects will be coming along in the weeks ahead, but those will be topics for other posts. Right now what’s important that today was a nice, quiet, lazy day, the perfect way to end our break for the holidays.

And, we got our first two tomatoes.

What 2019 may bring


These two videos from The Economist list what the editors think will be the biggest stories of 2019. Predictions are always interesting when, as in this case, the source is reputable. So, it’s not whether the predictions prove to be right or wrong, it’s The Economist’s take that’s interesting. But they definitely won’t be right about everything.

The first part, above, includes glowing, breathless predictions about driverless cars. I think they’ll be flat out wrong about the predictions. Elected officials are always cautious about unleashing new technology like this, something that can kill people, and the people who elect them won’t be clambering for them to act faster. Indeed, I think it will take years before the technology establishes a good enough safety record—probably at least 10% less dangerous than human-driven cars—before they’ll start to be accepted by politicians. Besides, there’s zero evidence that people actually want driverless cars, even though transport companies obviously do.

The predictions in the rest of the first part is are less problematic, though I’m far less optimistic about global progress on LGBT+ human and civil rights in a word with expanding fascism. I hope they’re right, of course.

Part two, below, has similar predictions that will have varied results. The use of augmented reality itself won’t suddenly take off, however, I do think research into it will progress, since the usefulness of it is probably obvious when the technology gets far enough advanced. But that won’t happen in 2019, even if progress does.

The bits about Japan were particularly interesting. The upcoming Rugby World Cup has been news here in New Zealand ever since it was announced Japan had would be hosting the Cup, and not all of that news was good. For example, it was announced that the New Zealand All Blacks will be required to cover up their tattoos to cater to Japanese culture (apparently, they associate tattoos with organised crime syndicates). Since then, some relaxation of the requirements were announced, which is good: LOTS of rugby players from many countries have tattoos, and forcing them to cover up their tattoos is a bit over the top.

As outsiders, their look at US politics was good. The USA is so deeply divided politically, and the current regime controlling the White House is so unpredictable that anyone who declares they know for sure what will happen in 2020 is delusional.

The look at Europe was also good. The spread of far right and fascist politics in Europe poses a grave threat not just to the world economy, but also to world peace. An unstable Europe has caused two world wars, and if fascism continues to rise in Europe, another could be unavoidable.

The first video was released on December 27, and I thought the second part would be released on or before December 31, so I planned on posting the two together when both were posted. Unfortunately, it turned out that Part 2 was released on January 2, a time when I was too busy celebrating the holidays to check out YouTube videos. I finally checked last night, and Part 2 had been posted. Oh well, at least I didn’t count on them to meet my quota for 2018.

Predictions are always interesting, and whether The Economist’s predictions prove to be right or wrong, their take is still interesting. But they definitely won’t be right about everything.

And neither will any of us.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

‘No religious Test shall ever be required’


The US Constitution is very clear and unambiguous: “No religious Test shall ever be required,” it says, “as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” That’s Article VI, Clause 3 of the US Constitution. Despite all that, some Christians want there to be a very specific qualification for office: Adherence to their religion alone. The Tweet above shows how things are nevertheless starting to change, despite the anti-American attitudes of a few who don’t understand how America's democracy or Constitution works.

The Tweet above is from Matt Laslo, a journalist with VICE, The Daily Beast, NPR, and Rolling Stone, among others, and the photo shows the diversity of religious (or not) texts chosen by US Representatives for their ceremonial re-enactments of their swearing-in yesterday. It’s a small sign that the USA is slowly moving forward, despite those who would stop or reverse that progress.

Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and certain Christians went apoplectic. As they always do when their worldview is challenged.

In January 2007, former US Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN, now the state’s Attorney General-elect) was sworn in as the US House’s first Muslim Member of Congress, and he chose Thomas Jefferson’s 1734 copy of the Koran. Some Christians and conservatives criticised him for that. One crackpot Republican issued a breathless fundraising letter declaring that Ellison’s use of the Koran threatened "the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America”. Whatever.

12 years later, US Representative Rashida Tlaib, a newly-elected Democratic Congresswoman from Detroit, announced that she, too, would use Jefferson’s copy of the Koran. The headline for a piece on Patheos accurately said “Christian Heads Explode” when they heard the news. Many of the responses were flat out unhinged, which is absolutely no surprise, but some responses overall have indicated an extreme ignorance of how US democracy, and its Constitution, works.

It’s important to note that the ceremonial swearing-in is merely that: Ceremonial, a photo op, and nothing more. The actual and official swearing in of House Members is done en masse—swearing in 435 Members individually would take forever. Absolutely NO religious text of any kind is used for the official swearing in. None. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Afterward, Representatives pose for a photo with their partner or other chosen person holding the book of their choice.

It is unconstitutional, and therefore illegal, to compel ANYONE holding office in the United States to profess a belief in or opposition to any religion, or to compel them to use ANY religious text when taking that oath. Similarly, no one can be compelled to say “so help me god” at the end of their oath—and that includes the US president, of course.

The main reason for all this is that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits ANY religious test for any public office. It, combined with the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, means that no person can be compelled to adhere to or oppose any religious belief system or symbols, including religious texts.

Initially, the prohibition applied only to federal offices, but two Supreme Court decisions changed all that. The first was Everson v. Board of Education (1947), in which the Court ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause applied to the states, not just the Federal government.

The second case was a unanimous 1961 decision, Torcaso v. Watkins, which built on the Everson decision, making clear that the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment banned ALL religious tests for all public offices, whether federal or state.

Taken together, Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, along with the Everson and Torcaso decisions make the prohibition of all religious tests for public office absolute and unambiguous. This is not up for debate.

Instead, the “debate”, so-called, can only be on whether this ought to be the fact for the USA. Here, too, the answer is clear and unambiguous: Yes, this ought to be the case, and no religious test can ever be allowed.

Certain Christians live with the myth that the USA was founded as a “Christian nation”, which is utter nonsense, of course, as history clearly documents. But the myth nevertheless makes some Christians feel they’re losing “their” country when their religion isn’t, and never was, mandatory. They can’t seem to grasp that nothing has changed except that people being elected to various offices in the USA are becoming more diverse in their beliefs, which everyone ought to be able to agree is an undeniably good thing.

Naturally, some people cannot or simply will not agree that it’s a good thing. There’s a lot of “whataboutism” that follows whenever anyone asserts the fundamental Constitutional principle of freedom of religious belief—which also includes non-belief, obviously. Certain Christians, so-called, like to say that such-and-such religion is automatically “anti-American” and, therefore, all of its adherents are, too. Using that same logic, however, all Christians would have to be seen as “anti-American” because some of them wish to oppress and exclude people they see as in conflict with Christianity (this isn’t even getting into the extremist minority of Christians who want to imprison or even execute those they see as apostates). From a purely rational perspective, there is no difference if their logic is to be used, well, logically.

That’s precisely why the Founders of the USA put religious freedom into the First Amendment and prohibited religious tests within the Constitution itself. They knew about all the centuries of bloodshed that had happened because of religious conflict, and that even the USA’s parent, England, had experienced it because it had an established religion that at various points oppressed—sometimes violently—those who believed differently. They wanted the new United States to be able to avoid those centuries-old religious hatreds.

So, when certain Christians melt down because a duly and democratically elected official chooses to be sworn in on anything other than a copy of the Christian Bible, including copies of the US Constitution (which, full disclosure, would be my personal choice) or even law books, they’re the ones being un-American and even anti-American. It doesn’t matter in the least what they think of the fact that the USA has enshrined religious freedom (the real and genuine kind, not the fake kind extremist Christians promote as a way to allow them to discriminate against those they hate). It doesn’t matter what their feelings are, nor whether they’re personally offended or upset that someone doesn’t use their Bible in a ceremonial photo op. The law and the Constitution are very clear that their feelings are irrelevant.

There is an extreme irony here. Obviously those who really do believe that the USA ought to become a “Christian nation”, or that only Christians should be allowed to hold elected office, etc., are absolutely free to express those beliefs. They’re also free to vote for candidates who believe the same thing, or to run for office themselves. And, if elected, such a person is free to try to advance that belief into law. But the reason all those freedoms exist in the USA is because of the same parts of the US Constitution, and the very same Supreme Court decisions, that established that people have both freedom of belief and freedom from religious tests.

Freedom means freedom for all, or it’s not freedom at all. Freedom to choose what text one uses when sworn into elected office is no different.

Related: "Faith on the Hill – The religious composition of the 116th Congress" from Pew Research

Friday, January 04, 2019

Worth Quoting: Nancy Pelosi

Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi spoke during the opening session of the 116th Congress immediately following her election as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and before her swearing in. Below are her remarks as prepared*:

Thank you, Leader McCarthy. I look forward to working with you in a bipartisan way for the good of our country, respecting the constituents who sent each of us here.

Every two years, we gather in this Chamber for a sacred ritual. Under the dome of this temple of our democracy, the Capitol of the United States, we renew our great American experiment.

I am particularly proud to be the woman Speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years of women winning the right to vote, as we serve with more than 100 women in the House of Representatives – the highest number in history.

Each of us comes to this Chamber strengthened by the trust of our constituents and the love of our families. We welcome all your families who are with us today.
Let me thank my family: my husband Paul; our five children Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul, and Alexandra; our grandchildren, and my D’Alesandro family from Baltimore.

Here in spirit are my mother and father and my brother Tommy, who taught us through their example that public service is a noble calling, and that we should serve with our hearts full of love – and that America’s heart is full of love.

In that spirit, let me especially thank my constituents in San Francisco, who have entrusted me to represent them in Congress in the spirit of Saint Francis, our patron saint – whose song of Saint Francis is our anthem: “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace” – as we beautifully sang in church this morning.

And let us all thank our men and women in uniform, veterans, and their families and caregivers, whose service reminds us of our mission: to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

We enter this new Congress with a sense of great hope and confidence for the future, and deep humility and prayerfulness in the face of the challenges ahead.
Our nation is at an historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn.

They called upon the beauty of our Constitution: our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I: the first branch of government, co-equal to the president and judiciary.

They want a Congress that delivers results for the people, opening up opportunity and lifting up their lives.

When our new Members take the oath, our Congress will be refreshed, and our Democracy will be strengthened by the optimism, idealism and patriotism of this transformative Freshman Class.

Working together, we will redeem the promise of the American Dream for every family, advancing progress for every community.

We must be pioneers of the future.

This Congress must accelerate a future that advances America’s preeminence in the world, and opens up opportunities for all – Building an economy that gives all Americans the tools they need to succeed in the 21st Century: public education, workforce development, good-paying jobs and secure pensions.

We have heard from too many families who wonder, in this time of innovation and globalization, if they have a place in the economy of tomorrow.

We must remove all doubt that they do, and say to them: we will have an economy that works for you.

Let us declare that we will call upon the bold thinking needed to address the disparity of income in America – which is at the root of the crisis of confidence felt by so many Americans.

As Justice Brandeis said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

We must end that injustice and restore the public’s faith in a better future for themselves and their children.

We must be champions of the middle class, and all those who aspire to it – because the middle class is the backbone of democracy.

It has been so since the birth of democracy itself.

Aristotle said, “It is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class…in which the middle class is large and stronger than all of the other classes.”

We must fight for the middle class in a way that is fair and fiscally sound – protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

We must also face the existential threat of our time: the climate crisis – a crisis manifested in natural disasters of epic proportions.

The American people understand the urgency. The people are ahead of the Congress. The Congress must join them.

That is why we have created the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future.

This is a public health decision for clean air and clean water; an economic decision for America’s global preeminence in green technology; a security decision to keep us safe; and a moral decision to be good stewards of God’s creation.

We have no illusions that our work will be easy, that all of us in this chamber will always agree. But let each of us pledge that when we disagree, we will respect each other and we will respect the truth.

We will debate and advance good ideas no matter where they come from – And in that spirit, Democrats will be offering the Senate Republican appropriations legislation to re-open government later today – to meet the needs of the American people, to protect our borders, and to respect our workers.

And I pledge that this Congress will be transparent, bipartisan and unifying; that we will seek to reach across the aisle in this Chamber and across the divisions in this great nation.

In the past two years, the American people have spoken. Tens of thousands of public events were held. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out. Millions of calls were made.

Countless families – even sick little children, the Little Lobbyists – bravely came forward to tell their stories. And they made the difference.

Now, the Floor of this House must be America’s Town Hall: where the people will see our debates, and where their voices will be heard and affect our decisions.

This House will be For The People! Empowered by our mandate, we will pursue our mission:

To lower health care costs and prescription drug prices, and protect people with pre-existing conditions.

To increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure – from sea to shining sea.

To pass HR 1 to restore integrity to government, so that people can have confidence that government works for the public interest, not the special interests.

This House will take action on overdue legislation that has bipartisan support in the Congress and across the Country:

We will make our communities safer and keep our sacred promise to the victims, survivors and families of gun violence by passing commonsense bipartisan background check legislation.

We will make America fairer by passing the Equality Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

And we will make America more American by protecting our patriotic, courageous Dreamers!

As President Reagan said in his last speech as President: “If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

Our common cause is to find and forge a way forward for our country. Let us stand for the people – to promote liberty and justice for all;

And always, always to keep our nation safe from threats old and new, from terrorism and cyberwarfare, from overseas and here at home.

That is the oath we all take: to protect and defend.

I close by remembering a cherished former Member of this body, who rose to become a beloved President, and who, last month, returned once more to lie in state.

That week, we honored President George Herbert Walker Bush with eulogies, tributes and tears.

Today, I single out one of his great achievements – working with both Democrats and Republicans to write the Americans With Disabilities Act into the laws of our land.

In 2010, we marked the 20th anniversary of the Act by making it possible for our colleagues with disabilities to preside over the House.

In that same spirit of equality and justice, let me announce that, this afternoon, the first Speaker Pro Tempore of the 116th Congress will be: Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island.

As we take the oath of office today, we accept responsibility as daunting and demanding as any that previous generations of leadership have faced.

Guided by the vision and values of our Founders, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and the aspirations that we have for our children, let us meet that responsibility with courage, wisdom and grace.

Together, we will let it be known: that this House will truly be the People’s House!

Let us pray that God may bless our work, and crown our good with brotherhood and sisterhood, from sea to shining sea.

God bless you, and God bless America.

• • • • •

Today Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the US House of Representatives for the second time, the first time since the 1950s that a former Speaker because speaker again. She will be Speaker during the centennial of women getting the vote in the USA: The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, passed Congress in 1919, and it was ratified the following year.

What I personally found noticeable were two things. First, that the Republican Caucus was overwhelmingly male and white and older, while the Democratic Caucus looked like America—more women, more people who are not white, and people of all ages. But it’s in the number of women that the change in the US House is most obvious: Thirty years ago, in 1989, there were 29 women in the US House, of which 19 were Democrats and 13 were Republicans. In 2019, the House has 102 women, of which 89 are Democrats and Republicans STILL have only 13 women Representatives.

The other thing that struck me were all the children present on the House floor. It was great to see. Speaker Pelosi, who said she was taking the Oath on behalf of all the children of America, invited the kids present to join her if they wanted to, and plenty did. Also, at one point as she gave her speech a baby cried, and she said, “that’s the sound of the future”.

Democrats re-taking the US House won’t by itself restore democracy to the USA, nor will Speaker Pelosi by herself save the USA from the excesses and crimes of the current occupant of the White House. But Democrats and Pelosi can at least slow down the damage the current regime and Congressional Republicans are trying to do to the country, and they may be able to start laying the groundwork for beginning the process for healing and building the USA, and restoring democracy to it. But that will be decades-long work, nothing that can happen overnight. But we have to start somewhere, and today was the first step, and that in itself is important.

*The speech as delivered differed from the prepared version, mainly because Pelosi apparently skipped some of it.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

One year to the next

It’s a new year, and it seems that most people won’t miss 2018. This appears to be a common feeling for Americans, including many of the people I know in real life. It figures, too, among the Americans I know: A mere 31% saying they’re satisfied with the direction of the USA, so a bit of negativity of about last year makes sense. Even so, it’s never all bad all the time.

The question is, what do we do about a bad year? There are many things we can do to improve the world or ourselves, and those are things I’ll be talking about this year—like always. But last year taught me a few things that will be very useful this year.

I had a rough year last year because of issues related to my Health Journey, as I detailed on this blog. But, as I said the other day, the year ended very well. This shows that a year can end up good, even when it wasn’t all good. I know now that things can get better, that sometimes what improves outweighs what hasn’t, and—yet again—I was reminded how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate small victories.

As I worked to try and meet my blogging goal for last year, I used techniques that Roger Green uses: Posts planned, written, and even scheduled for publication in advance. I’ve done some or all of those things in the past, as I did with our trip to Australia last year, but I did it more often in 2018.

In 2018, I had certain posts that related to specific things that happened at specific times, like the December Solstice, so I wrote those in advance. Other ones I set to post when I knew I wouldn’t be able to, like, for example, on Christmas Day, because we were leaving early in the morning, and the one for New Year’s, because we had a houseful of family, and I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to post anything at midnight.

I learned that I could’ve done a lot more of that. Even when I was least able to blog last year, I sometimes pre-wrote posts when I felt well, then published them when I didn’t (which means those low periods would have been worse otherwise). If I had done more of that this past year, I wouldn’t have had to push so hard at the end of the year. Moreover, since every year has bad patches (in my case, usually because I get busy with stuff), pre-writing posts can help keep me on track toward my annual goal.

As it happens, most of the posts I published in the last few months of 2018 were written just before I published them (which makes my output the last three months of the year sound a bit more impressive—to me, anyway…). However, there weren’t any posts I wouldn’t have published if I’d been on target all year long—I didn’t have fillers. I posted more Christmas commercials this year than in past years, but each one of them required me to research things about the advertiser, so they definitely weren’t fillers. Even so, I’m unlikely to share quite as many commercials this year, especially now that I’ve seen that many of those companies I shared for the first time this year have taken down the videos of their ads. Live and learn.

So last year showed me that things can get better, they can also be better than seemed likely earlier in the year, and I saw that there’s value in planning and being organised. Took me long enough to learn those lessons, but I did.

It’s never all bad all the time.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Saving American Democracy


In the video above, Robert Reich talks about “10 Steps to Save American Democracy”, something that’s critically important, but sometimes difficult to get clear in our minds. The job seems so huge. The good news is that things can be fixed and democracy restored.

The 10 steps that Reich mentions (a screen shot of the list is below) are all good ideas that I fully support and endorse, but many of them are incredibly difficult and one—overturning Citizens United—is pretty much impossible. For that to happen soon, the Supreme Court would have to be “packed”, expanding the size of the Court to outvote the radical conservatives now controlling it. The alternative, amending the US Constitution, is even less possible—at the moment.

Some of the 10 steps are ones I’ve been advocating for years, like automatic voter registration and non-partisan independent commissions to draw election district boundaries. Both are among the top things that can restore democracy in the USA.

One thing is certain: We should all be talking about restoring American democracy, and anything that helps stimulate that talk is a good thing.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019