Wednesday, May 22, 2019

That we be not judged

It seems obvious that one thing we humans are extremely good at is judging other people. We have all sorts of reasons, ranging from religious or political belief, to the pack mentality of social media, to matters of personal taste. The thing we judge can be serious, like moral or political choices, or silly and trivial like pop music choices—or even people who use the products in the photo above. Whatever the reason we judge other people, we inevitably will be, too. We need to stop being so stupid.

The products above features three different pre-prepared vegetables promoted in a supermarket’s circular we got at our house the other day. I’ve seen people mocked for using such products, called “lazy”, or “stupid”, and, to be honest, I judge the people who say that for being self-righteous pricks.

People are busy these days, and if we want them to cook rather than buy frozen, prepared, or takeaway food—and we do—then we shouldn’t begrudge them taking a few shortcuts with products that are still vegetables. One thing I noticed in the photo (maybe not as obvious in my photo of the flyer) is that the products all use New Zealand grown vegetables.

Several years ago, I bought a bag of frozen diced onions precisely so it could speed up meal prep time (and because onions were often too big for just the two of us, and if I bought a bag of them, some would inevitably rot). However, it turned out the onions came from Europe, which I thought was dumb. Nowadays, when I chop an onion, I take the half I usually don’t need and freeze it, ready for the next dish that needs chopped onion. But to get to that point, I first tried the chopped prepared chopped version.

I share my experience because it’s an example of something we always forget: People evolve and change all the time: Opinions, attitudes, and the way people do things all change. How do we know that people who buy those products won’t eventually do it for themselves? And, if they don’t, why is it any of our business?

We see the same sort of thing on social media nearly every day, when people judge others for the movies, TV shows, music, or books they like. But it didn’t start with social media.

When I lived in Chicago, for a time I had a job that had a combined commute of more than an hour. I saw people reading books all the time, and I’d see some of them reading what I decided were “trashy” novels, and for a time I judged them for it as I smugly looked up from the book of Kafka stories I was reading at the time. One day it suddenly dawned on me: They were reading. I realised that a book doesn’t have to be literary for it to benefit the reader: Even “trashy” novels helped expand the reader’s vocabulary and world, it gave them broader horizons than they otherwise might have had. That’s a good thing. I learned my lesson.

Decades later, I was living in New Zealand and (somewhat sarcastically) created Arthur’s Law:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
That originated because of judgemental behaviour I saw online. It annoyed me that some people felt that simply HAD to publicly tell other people how much they hated the thing the other person liked.

I’m no saint, and sometimes my human nature comes galloping through and I’ll judge someone for not measuring up to my view of what is Correct™. When I do it, I’m an arsehole. Anyone else who does it is one, too. I don’t want to be an arsehole, so I try to just accept people and their choices at face value. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be “right”, I can choose to be better than that.

Surprisingly, perhaps, this doesn’t mean self-censorship or keeping silent. For example, when someone tells me how much they love a movie that I didn’t like, I can say simply, “I didn’t really care for it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.” This can lead to a discussion where we can talk about the movie in some detail.

Still, it’s not usually personal, one-to-one conversations where the worst behaviour is displayed; it’s on social media. There, I seldom respond when someone talks about liking something I don’t like, but I’ve been known to stick up for them when others have a go at them over what they like. I don’t have to agree with their choices or likes to not be an arsehole, just accept they have every right to like something I don’t. My approval is never required, and my expression of disapproval is never necessary. Ever.

There are times when judging is perfectly valid. Considering all the terrible things going on in the world, especially the stuff done by people who claim to be doing it in our name, we have every right to judge them for their behaviour, what they’re doing. That’s fair. But why on earth would be bother judging people for liking a pop song? Just because it’s easier than tackling those big problems?

This is a lesson life has taught me, but I actually learned the gist of the message as a child in a simple proverb: Live and let live. The idea it expresses is contained within the entire passage I was referring to in the title of this post, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

I think we should treat other people with more kindness, and less judgement about trivial stuff. Basically, we need to stop being so stupid.

Still, people have to make their own decisions, and some people seem to need to be judgemental. I wish they wouldn’t be, but if they are, that’s their choice. I won’t judge them for it. Live and let live.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 347 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 347, “Unexpected reboot” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Internet Wading for May 2019

I may not have as many things to share this month, but they were still interesting. Well, to me, anyway.

In last month’s Internet Wading post, I shared a story about a “trash shopping mall”, and a New Zealand version of sorts. This month, I have a similar two-for: “The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging” talks about shops in the UK where things can be bought in bulk, like in grocery shops of maybe a century ago. Here in New Zealand, there’s a chain of locally-owned shops, Bin-Inn, that sell a portion of their offerings in bulk—but not everything. They do allow customers to bring in their own containers, though, as the UK shops do. Another chain called Commonsense Organics also sells some products in bulk. Recently, mainstream NZ-owned supermarket cooperative company Foodstuffs NZ has announced that it will allow customers to bring their own containers areas to staff-run counters (like the deli), mainly for food safety reasons, as well as to make sure people aren’t charged for the weight of the container. One of the few shops similar to the UK ones that I could find in New Zealand is called GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery, with three locations in upmarket Auckland suburbs (“neighbourhoods” in Americanese). Of course, I already use my own bags.

Speaking of buying things, Vox published “How brands get their names, explained by a professional namer”. Some names are definitely dumb, though (“Dunkin”? Seriously?!).

Time for some art: The oldest painting of New Zealand in Te Papa’s collection is going on display at the museum in Wellington. Painted in 1776, it depicts a landing Captain James Cook made at Dusky Sound in 1773 during his second Pacific voyage. A piece called “Unbelievable 3D Sculptures Show How Historical Figures Actually Looked!” is partly interesting—partly because some of the “unbelievable!” images are actually extrapolations based on things like busts. The ones based on skulls, though, are fascinating.

There’s always time for pop music: “100 Obscure and Remarkable CD Covers". I have (or had) several of them.

“10 Emoji Meanings That Don't Mean What You Think”. Unless, of course, they do. For the most part, I thought the meanings were obvious, or else I’ve never seen them used.

An article in The Atlantic, “The J. R. R. Tolkien Story That Makes the Case for Fantasy Fiction”, makes the case that Tolkien’s “tale about a painter that elegantly argues for the value of escapism in literature”. Given the increasing success of fantasy literature, TV shows, and films, maybe he was on to something.

Merriam-Webster: “We Added New Words to the Dictionary in April 2019”.

An article, “Taking Sides: When left- or right-handedness is a matter of life and death” isn’t about politics—it’s about science.

That's it for this short wade; it's autumn and a bit chilly.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Someone You Loved

The video above is “Someone You Loved” by 22-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. It’s not particularly new, but I only started seeing on our free-to-air video channel recently, and often since then. It’s a moving video, starring Peter Capaldi, who’s probably best known as the 12th incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who. I like the song, and the video, which together make a powerfully emotional thing. I’ve noticed that this kind of pop music synergy—symbiosis, really—is becoming increasingly common.

The Wikipedia entry for the song sums up the video well:
The video was made in partnership with charity organisation Live Life Give Life in order to raise awareness for the issue of organ donation. It contains a powerful message of loss and hope, telling a story of a husband who is trying to cope with the death of his wife. She became the heart donor for the young mother of another family, saving her life. Eventually the two families are brought together and the main character knows that his wife's heart continues to live on.
I read that the Capaldis are second cousins once removed, which apparently means that one is the child of the other's second cousin, or else is one's parent's second cousin. The first sounds more plausible to me, though I have no idea. Still, it made me look up what the relationship is and that's—well, a thing, though not necessarily all that interesting or particularly useful. If I need to find out again, I know I'll have to look it up again.

While the song was originally released as a digital download in November, 2018, and the video was released in February 2019, which is still some time before it started being played on our screens. Maybe the NZ release was delayed?

In any case, as of today, the song as hit Number 7 in Australia, 64 in Canada, 7 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 1 in the UK (Platinum), and 8 on the USA’s Billboard “Bubbling on the Hot 100 Singles” chart, and also 22 on the Billboard “Adult Contemporary” chart. This is one of the few times that I’ve shared a song while it’s chart performance isn’t finished.

This song struck a chord with because of the video, and it’s not the first time that’s happened. When I was young, there was no such thing as a “music video”, though music bits on the 1960s US TV show The Monkees were surprisingly close to what some music videos would be. As I grew up, I started listening to the radio, and that alone determined whether I liked a song or not.

And then, on August 1, 1981, along came MTV. Everything changed.

I’ve written several times about how music videos influenced the music I bought, and sometimes the videos of some of those songs from the 1980s resonate as powerfully with me—or more so—than the songs themselves do. Nowadays, I often only encounter new pop music as music videos, and I may not purchase it—in fact, I can’t remember what the last music I bought was, or how long ago.

This song fits into that new reality: I really liked the song because of the video. And that’s what I meant when I talked about pop music synergy or symbiosis: It now pretty much determines whether I like a new pop song or not. Not always, of course, but often enough for it to be a “thing” for me.

At least now if I want to hear this song, I won’t have to wait for it to come up in rotation in the music video channel; I can just go to this post. That much is a relatively new thing, and, for me, a good one.

And so is this video and song.

Related: "Someone You Loved" lyrics.

Non-stormy weather

There’s a word of phrase to describe nearly every kind of weather imaginable, but most of them are related to things that happen. There even some to describe things that don’t happen. But we don’t have many ways to describe things that are like storms, but that aren’t, really. We have to fall back on one particular thing that’s happening, and sometimes, like the past week or so in Auckland, that just isn’t enough.

Starting a week or so ago, we started having some occasional heavy rain, then some wind came with it, then it was mostly just the wind. But was the whole thing a storm, as we usually use the word? Probably not. But at times it was pretty intense.

Last weekend, we had some of the strongest winds we’ve had since April of 2018, though it was nowhere near as bad as that. Even so, one of our neighbours had one of the potted plants on their second-storey (first-storey in NZ terms…) balcony.

The winds eased in the evening, then suddenly came back early Sunday morning. The neighbours hadn’t gone out to right the plant that had been blown over, because the wind was still blowing strongly. The wind knocked over another plant.

Meanwhile, the storm also blew a panel of trellis out of our fence along the boundary with a neighbouring house (photo up top). The third photo along in that photo shows the section of trellis that was damaged in a storm at Christmas last year. We put that piece back, but because it was bent, parts of it wouldn’t fasten properly. This time, the entire panel blew off, so when we replace it, it won’t be obvious anything happened to it.

I took that photo above on Monday, as Nigel and I were leaving to head to the A&M at the start of my latest health adventure. It’s unusual in that I only took the one shot—I wasn’t exactly at my best at that moment.

By the time I was back home from the hospital, the neighbours had righted the plants that were blown over. The winds returned Friday and Saturday, and another plant was blown over.

Meanwhile, we haven’t put the trellis section back yet. I’ve been taking it easy ever since I got home, and, anyway, the weather, whatever it’s called, has kept happening.

See, we just don’t have many ways to describe things that are like storms, but that aren’t, really. We have to fall back on one particular thing that’s happening, and sometimes, like the past week or so in Auckland, that just isn’t enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Unexpected reboot

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started.

Monday I ended up in hospital after having another episode of racing heartbeat. Sunday night, I thought I could feel my heart fluttering in afib (atrial fibrillation), which wasn’t actually unusual. I had to go to the periodontist for treatment the next day, the first this year, and I thought I might be feeling a bit anxious about it, in part because the feeling seemed a bit stronger than usual.

The next morning started out normally enough, though I was tired from poor sleep the prior night. Around 9:20, I felt odd, and checked my pulse on my watch and it was around 109bpm, which is quite fast for a resting heart rate for me, since I’m on drugs to keep my heart rate slow. It went up from there.

I lay back down to rest and hoped it’d resolved itself, but it didn’t. Instead, it sometimes sped up, sometimes slowed down, and even though I dozed off, it never stabilised or returned to normal. Eventually, Nigel took me to the A&M (accident and medical) clinic that I’d been to twice before for racing heart rate. It was confirmed I was in afib, and had tachycardia (fast heart rate), and even administering a small additional dose of the drug I take to regulate my heart rate didn’t return it to normal. I was sent on to the hospital again.

First night in hospital.
I was hooked up to monitors in an observation area and they drew blood for tests. After Nigel went home for the night, they took me for a chest x-ray, then moved me to a room in a different evaluation unit, where I stayed that night. I didn’t sleep well.

In the morning, I was visited by the doctors, and they suggested using electrical cardioversion to reset my heart rhythm and heart rate to normal. This involves administering an electric shock to the heart, similar to, but weaker than, the shock they give to someone in cardiac arrest. It’s done under a mild general anaesthetic. Nigel and I referred to it as "rebooting" my heart.

This would mean another night in hospital, since I’d already eaten breakfast. They transferred me to a different room that evening, just in time for dinner. I didn’t choose my own dinner, since I wasn’t there at the time they took orders, but I didn’t mind: It reminded me of church dinners I’d had as a kid. Later that evening, they moved me to yet another because of a problem with a patient in the adjoining room (which shares a bathroom/toilet with the room I was in).

The dinner I didn't choose,
but didn't mind.
The older man in the new room snored and breathed roughly, but I still slept slightly better, though still not well. I got no breakfast, of course, and just a little water to take my morning pills with. At the time, that didn’t bother me. They took some more blood for benchmark tests, among other things.

Nigel arrived not long after that, and by then it was obvious it was likely to be early afternoon before my procedure was done. It was a long and boring wait, and I was getting hungry (not helped when they stopped by and had me order the next meals). Worse, though, I was exhausted—not just from the lack of sleep, but also from more than 48 hours in afib with a racing heart rate. I occasionally dozed off.

Intellectually, I wasn’t worried. I was in the hospital, and if anything went wrong, they could deal with it without delay. On the other hand, they were going to shock my heart! I was scared it’d stop and they wouldn’t be able to restart it, even though I knew that was unlikely and improbable. Fear is often irrational.

Early in the afternoon, they came and got me after hooking me up to a mobile monitor. First stop was a room just outside the operating theatre, where they confirmed paperwork, my identity, asked yet again whether I had any allergies, and had me sign the consent form. They said normally they did one jolt, but if it was unsuccessful, they may do a second one. I was then given a mild sedative.

Inside the operating theatre, they put an oxygen mask on me, and gave me the drug that made me fall asleep. I woke up—just a moment later, it seemed to me—in the recovery area, a huge brightly lit, thoroughly modern room with maybe ten or twelve beds I could see, with maybe that many in an identical area behind me. They asked if I wanted them to ring anyone, and I asked them to let Nigel know I was okay and all went well, which they did.

The procedure was a success, and I converted to sinus rhythm with only one jolt. I’d felt nothing, and afterward I felt good. I didn’t even feel dopey from the anaesthetic, since it was a mild version of it.

They took me back to the room, and the clinical doctor visited me to go over what happened, what was going to happen next, and asked me if I wanted to go home (duh!). He then went off to do the paperwork. The dinner I’d ordered arrived while we were waiting, and I inhaled it—I was very hungry by then.

The first thing they did was put me on a new drug, Amiodarone, to control my heart rhythm. This drug potentially has a lot of harsh and harmful side-effects, which require close monitoring, so much so that New Zealand’s Medsafe advises doctors to “Keep an Eye on Amiodarone Patients”. My first blood tests will be in six weeks, then again at three months. They also reduced my dose of Diltiazem, the drug I take to control my heart rate.

This new drug regime is a bridge. In a few weeks I’ll see a cardiologist, both for follow up, and to see where we go next. By then I’ll have had one or more blood tests, which will tell them if I have any side effects. The likely plan is to do the ablation procedure to deal with the cause of the afib and, hopefully, take care of the problem permanently. According to the doctors, it may not turn out that way, because in some cases more procedures are required, or they’re not completely successful. But, best-case scenario, it will mean I can be taken off some of the drugs I’m on at the moment.

All of this is necessary because I don’t respond to the available medicines. I couldn’t tolerate beta-blockers, as I’ve documented in these Health Journey series of posts, and—obviously—Diltiazem didn’t keep me out of tachycardia or afib. This means that drug therapy probably isn’t an option for me.

An interesting thing that came out of all this was that one doctor pointed out that it’s impossible to know for sure whether it’s the Diltiazem or the afib that’s causing my ongoing fatigue. But whatever the cause, I’ve been deeply tired ever since this tachycardia business started, so much so that I don’t feel I have my life. I told the doctors that I’m too young to feel this old, and I feel I’m being robbed of what should be good, productive, active years. I think our mutual goal is to change that.

The tests done already have shown one really good thing: My heart is healthy and functioning normally, apart from the afib. The stent is unrelated in that it was for a cardiac artery problem, not the heart itself, and that was fixed. With proper care and monitoring, is unlikely to recur.

I slept 12 hours Wednesday night, and spent Thursday mostly relaxing. The main thing I did was that Nigel took me to get my new prescriptions (I don’t think I was supposed to drive for like 48 hours because I’d had a general anaesthetic), and he took me to lunch while we were out. Friday and today I’ve similarly kept quiet. But, I feel fine.

So, a problem I’ve dealt with before, the tachycardia and the afib, took a new twist this week, and required more aggressive treatment. Doing that actually points to a way forward, though it may turn out there are more twists and turns in this road yet. This week was stressful, and very tiring, but otherwise not as big a drama, fortunately, as it could have been, nor as bad as others have faced.

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started. Fortunately, it ended much more predictably.

Oh, and, of course, I left hospital without a bill.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Blogging revelation and reflection

There’s an old saying that writers want to be read. Or, that they need to be read. Clearly that phrase doesn’t apply to bloggers, not if they’re realistic, because the vast majority of bloggers have a small readership and very little profile. Consequently, despite all the breathless posts on Pinterest, most people will never make a cent from blogging. All of that is simple reality for most, though obviously not all, bloggers. Which is why all the bloggers I’ve known, including me, do it for completely different reasons.

This was driven home to me following the end of Google+. Back in February, when I talked about the approaching end of the service, I talked about how I shared blog posts to the service. It was a mostly automatic thing, and I didn’t think much about it, but always assumed that there wasn’t a whole lot of benefit to doing that. It turns out, I was wrong.

I’ve noticed that since Google+ went away, the number of page views for my blog posts have dropped—actually, plummeted is probably a better word. In the first week after I publish a post, page views are about a third less than they were when Google+ was still around—but that’s at the end of that first week. In the first few days after I publish a post, page loads are usually about half, or less, what they were when Google+ was around. By comparison, episodes of my AmeriNZ Podcast have more downloads in the first week or so than any blog post does.

I have no explanation, and can no longer check out any theories, of course. I’d always assumed that not many people actually saw a post on Google+, though I had no way of knowing (stats showed “Google”, but not G+ specifically). So, maybe the page views were the result of bots/webcrawlers? No idea.

But a few days ago, after seeing there was no improvement in page views, meaning the audience for most posts is pretty tiny, I had a similar reaction to a less severe drop in page loads I noticed back in October of last year:
A week or so ago, I published a post and got the screen I always get, which is a list of all published posts from newest to oldest, 100 posts per page. That list includes the number of page views per post, and for no reason in particular, I looked at them: They’re all mostly fairly consistent—with consistently low page views. My first reaction was, “why am I bothering anymore?” My second reaction was, “THIS is why I never look at page view numbers.”

So, I saw those numbers, was discouraged, and instantly thought of stopping blogging, podcasts, videos—everything. I thought a bit about what I might do with my time if I wasn’t blogging, etc., anymore. I thought about taking more photos—and then what? Change them around on my office wall? What good, I thought to myself, is working on them if no one sees them?

And that’s kind of the point of blogging, too. I can share my views and opinions about current events with friends and family, but that’s kind of the verbal equivalent of taking photos and hanging them on my wall. And they already know about New Zealand. I’ve learned that there’s always the chance that some post I publish will resonate widely, or even just deeply, for the people who see it, beyond anything the number of page views might suggest.
All of that ran through my mind this week, too, and I remembered the bit about photos as I thought about what I might spend my time doing if I stopped blogging and podcasting. Nothing’s changed since last October: I still have no alternatives.

But then, as before, I remembered that I don’t actually do this for “exposure”, or whatever, and whether a post has one reader or a thousand (it’s much closer to the former…) isn’t actually something I usually pay much attention to. This time, like in October, it was because of a recent decline in page views.

When people share posts, as sometimes happens, page views go up, which makes sense, of course. It doesn’t happen all the time, or even necessarily very often, but that probably just means that I’m not writing about popular things. Even so, from time to time posts about all sorts of subjects may be “popular”, relatively speaking, while other posts on the same topic are not.

I recently saw a piece about the most popular types of blogs, ironically, maybe, on a site for WordPress beginners. The ten most popular types are, in order: Fashion Blogs, Food Blogs, Travel Blogs, Music Blogs, Lifestyle Blogs, Fitness Blogs, DIY Blogs, Sports Blogs, Finance Blogs, and Political Blogs. Personal blogs like this one were ranked 13th. This sort of ranking is probably most useful for people who want to start a blog and make money from it. Even then, getting readers is an entirely different matter.

Maybe part of the problem is, as Vox put it recently, “…the internet is destroying our collective attention span”, something they say may be shortening our individual attention span, too. Even if it doesn’t, the way that “hot” topics come and go so quickly, any blogger pegging their hopes for readers on blogging about those “hot” topics is probably going to be exhausted all the time.

So, despite the brief discouragement caused by a drop in page views, nothing has actually changed. I still blog about what I want to and when I want to. As long as I get something out of it, I’ll keep going. It’s nice to have people read what I produce, nicer if they get something from it—and it’s kind of nice to know that people read it, too.

But, like all the bloggers I’ve known, I do it for completely different reasons.

Political Notebook for 12 May 2019

The pace of political news never let’s up, and when combined with a lack of time, that means things pile up. Today’s collection of political stuff was built up over a few weeks, so it's a bit longer than usual. Sometimes it’s necessary.

The rogue ones

The current regime’s war on democracy and the rule of law has picked up speed since the redacted Mueller Report was released. For example, “Trump and his allies are blocking more than 20 separate Democratic probes in an all-out war with Congress”, and, of course, there’s the big fight building because “Refusal to hand over Trump's tax returns sets up legal fight”. There are lot of excuses the regime is making, most of them downright silly, but one of them is “executive privilege”, something that’s not actually in the US Constitution, but that presidents have been claiming for years, mostly to hide what they’re doing from Congressional scrutiny and oversight. Thankfully, Politifact, the project of the Poynter Institute, has provided a handy guide to “What you need to know about executive privilege”.

All of which is why “Trump’s lawlessness is an unfolding Shakespearean tragedy”, as a ThinkProgress piece puts it.

The desperate despot

The current regime is headed by a man who has openly and often expressed his love of and admiration for brutal dictators and their authoritarian regimes. He tries to emulate his heroes, often comically, like when he wanted his eventually cancelled military parade. It’s clear he never quite gave up on the idea of using legitimate patriotism to flatter and exalt himself, as the Washington Post explains in “Trump takes over Fourth of July celebration, changing its location and inserting himself into the program”. Because what all narcissists crave is adulation; dictators have the power to make everyone join in.

Obviously, at the moment the current occupant of the White House can’t force all Americans to worship him, not yet. But what happens if he loses the 2020 election and simply refuses to leave office? “Scholars echo Pelosi’s concerns: Trump will not step down in 2020 if he loses re-election”. As well they should—consider what the man himself has been joking about how me may not leave, and his strongest allies, the allegedly comprised son of a dead TV preacher, has said he should get two extra years to “make up” for being investigated for the crime he and his campaign committed.

There are those who point out that, as per the Constitution, whoever is elected in November, 2020 will become president automatically at Noon on January 20, 2021, regardless of what the current occupant does or doesn’t do in the event he loses the election. But Speaker Pelosi’s concerns, as she pointed out in the New York Times piece the Slate piece linked to above mentioned, Democrats will need a massive victory so that its legitimacy is beyond any question. If he loses by a small amount, he will rally his supporters in his defence. There are 78 days between Election Day and Inauguration Day, which is more than enough time to get his frothing fans—especially the heavily armed ones—to Washington, DC to prevent the normal peaceful transfer of power. It doesn’t matter if they could prevent the US military re-taking Washington and ending the rebellion, what matters is that the last norm of constitutional law would be shattered, and if he prevailed it would mean the end of the USA. Anyone who says that’s “impossible” hasn’t been paying attention for the past 27 months.

His frothing fervent fans laugh at all this, arguing that, just like in 2016, we take him literally, but not seriously, while they do the opposite. If we’ve learned anything about him it’s this: Don’t ever underestimate that man again. He may be “joking” about overthrowing the Constitution, but only a fool would dismiss the possibility that he’s serious about doing so.

Second-worst case scenario

While the current occupant could reject his election defeat and seize power as a dictator, it’s also entirely possible—maybe even likely at this particular moment—that he could win the 2020 election. The election is a long way off—the better part of a year and a half—and there are far too many unknowns to permit any kind of firm opinion on that. After all, at this point in 2015, polls showed that the leading candidates for the Republican Nomination were Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio (depending on the specific poll). The eventual Republican nominee was either not named or polled very, very lowly. The common wisdom was that Jeb would get the nomination.

We can take two things from this history lesson: First, current polling of Democrats may be true at the moment (since all polls are at their heart a snapshot of a moment in time), but one should never assume that the current polls predict who the Democratic nominee will be next year. So, it’s not surprising that, as Real Clear Politics has shown, polls testing theoretical matches between the Current Occupant and various Democrats are all over the place. Once there’s an actual Democratic nominee—or, at least, a clearly likely one—then we’ll start seeing polling data that will be more useful. [In the meantime, FiveThiryEight’s tracking of Democratic Primary polling is interesting, if nothing else]

Similarly, the ongoing unpopularity of the current occupant is not necessarily permanent, and, in any case, nationwide polling is irrelevant: What matters is who wins what states with how many Electoral College votes. End of story. A candidate can lose the popular vote and still become president, as the current occupant did. But this time, the current occupant might win both.

The 2020 presidential election will, as always, come down to a handful of “swing states”, and—at the moment—polls suggest that it doesn’t look good for the current occupant. His approval ratings in swing states, including ones that gave him the White House, are terrible, often far worse than his national average. But 2016 proved that we can never assume anything, and Democrats should work as if they’re underdogs—especially because they are. Fortunately, the Democratic Party is already working at building their “on the ground” staff for the General Election campaign, rather than wait until the nominee is known, as they did in 2016. That’s good—and vital.

Meanwhile, the current occupant isn’t depending on holding onto the swing states that handed him the White House in 2016, and he’s looking for new opportunities. For example, he thinks he has a very good chance of winning Virginia, and he also thinks he could flip Minnesota. It would be a fatal mistake to laugh at him and ignore the danger in the opportunities he thinks he sees.

Even though he hasn’t delivered much for his frothing fans, we must at least acknowledge that the current occupant has a very, very good chance of winning the election in 2020. First, he will take credit for a positive economy—assuming it still is and that his trade war with China doesn’t destroy it. Nit-picking over whether he deserves any credit for that economy won’t change anything in the eyes of ordinary voters who will, at the very least, give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, even suggesting that he merely benefitted from existing trends, etc., is likely to make voters perceive Democrats as negative and mean-spirited, playing into the current occupant’s rhetoric about “angry Democrats”. To avoid a close election they could then lose, Democrats cannot afford to wilfully alienate any voters.

A better strategy, in my opinion: Acknowledge what’s going well and then pivot to how many people are being left behind, how income for most people has been stagnant—often stalled—for decades, even as it’s soared for the rich and skyrocketed for the super-rich. The inequality of the economy and the unfairness of how they’re doing are things that ordinary people can and do actually feel; it’s unreasonable to expect them to get upset or care about whether the current occupant is taking credit he doesn’t deserve. After all, they’re used to him lying and shamelessly promoting himself; what they want to know is what Democrats will do to make their lives better, to fix the inequality and unfairness that the current occupant and the Republican Party he controls seek to increase.

And, of course, we must never forget that the current occupant begins with the huge advantage of the powers of incumbency at his disposal, something that can be a huge advantage. He could even start a war or three if he thinks it’ll help him win the election, or take some other sort of action to stoke fear and hatred. He’s clearly not above doing that, especially if he thinks he’s losing.

Random bits

Two other things are worth pointing out. First, this week “House passes Trump-opposed disaster-relief bill with more funding for Puerto Rico”. At the Washington Post article puts it: “Thirty-four Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats to pass the sweeping relief package, 257 to 150.” Republicans vow to kill it in the US Senate, so this could be a short victory, but these days you just never know.

The other thing is that caught my eye this week was "Sick Of 2020 Already? Most Voters Aren’t." in which FiveThirtyEight's weekly "Pollapalooza" looks at voter enthusiasm. It doesn't mean much, really, but, still: Political data. It's fun.

There’s always plenty to talk about, when the pace of political news never let’s up. Oh well, time to start a new page in the Notebook.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Baby steps through rubbish

New Zealand has a recycling problem. While New Zealanders love their natural environment and want to protect it, but our options for dealing with recyclable waste are severely limited. We’re slowly making progress, but it’s baby steps. It would be nice if this baby could walk by now, though.

Today the New Zealand Government announced what they call their “Plan to recharge recycling”, and it has some important components. Among other things, it will seek to ensure the right things are recycled, that Kiwis are educated about can (and can’t) be recycled, that industry takes more responsibility for the packaging used for the products we buy, and that we develop onshore systems for recycling low-value plastics.

Part of the reason that we have trouble with contaminated and unusable recyclables collected is that many New Zealanders don’t fully understand what’s recyclable. One way around that is to educate people, and the video above from Auckland Council is one version of that (there’s an expanded version of that video at the bottom of this post).

One of the major problems we have is that both China and Australia announced that they would no longer accept our recyclables for processing. That meant the soft plastics recycling programme was suspended in December of last year. A month ago, they announced that the programme would resume on a limited basis after Easter, and then at the end of April they announced on Facebook the programme would resume at 37 locations in Auckland on May 20—at locations to be announced later. Their goal is to keep the programme sustainable, which is good, but only part of the solution.

Manufacturers must take responsibility for the waste they produce, and the government wants them to do that, saying “This could include regulations around ensuring plastic packaging is able to be recycled and/or to require a portion of recycled content in packaging.” The latter should already be happening, but the only food container I can remember that uses recycled plastic is a product from Denmark. There could be New Zealand ones, too, but if so, they certainly don’t promote that fact.

As it is, much packing isn’t recyclable, usually because it’s made of mixed materials or simply that it’s not recyclable. For example, look at the labelling on these Countdown supermarket own-brand products I bought recently:

The package on the left tells us to send its packaging to landfill, while the one on the right tells us that it can be recycled (and the tub and lid are also coded for the type of plastic). I bought similar products from a competing grocery store, and they didn’t have those labels, but they were both recyclable (not the film, of course, because that’s soft plastic). The labels in the photo are good in that that they make clear that some packaging has to go to landfill, however, it ought to be made of recycled plastic and be recyclable.

There have been proposals that manufacturers be forced to accept returns of their packaging, because, the argument goes, it would make them quickly find ways of reducing it so they don’t have to deal with it. In reality, they’d probably just pay to send it to landfill. Another proposal has been to tax manufacturers for their packaging, giving them a financial incentive to reduce packaging, Putting aside questions about how, precisely, such a tax could work, it’s an interesting idea. But if manufacturers were both taxed and required to accept the return of their packaging, that might work. But we don’t live in such a perfect world, so the more likely thing, in my opinion, is that the government will issue regulations that manufacturers must adhere to, and, ultimately, consumers will pay for it—but we do, already because we have to pay to bury the non-recyclable stuff.

So, there’s a bit of progress on dealing with our mountain of waste, to recycle what we can, and reduce what we can’t. It should already be much easier than it is, and consumers shouldn’t have to work so hard to figure out ways to reduce our packaging waste. We need government action to speed things up, and while the government is definitely moving in the right direction, it needs to move faster on the things that can be done right away. Hopefully, they’ll do so. This baby needs to start running.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

It was a health day

Yesterday turned out to be (mostly) about health stuff. There were a few surprises along the way, too. Actually most days probably have a surprise or two, if we pay attention. In this case, everything was related.

I had two goals yesterday: To go to the vampires for my routine blood tests, and I also needed to post a specimen for testing. The first is nothing unusual, something that happens every year. I shared the photo at left on my personal Facebook, noting, “The number is random, btw; there aren’t 176 in front of me—this time.” I’ve never actually waited very long to get the blood drawn, and this time wasn’t much different.

However, when the phlebotomist came into the testing room, she was an older lady who said, “You’re a young pup”, or words to that effect. Which made me wonder how old, exactly she was—especially when she repeated it a couple times. She actually hurt me when she put the needle in, which doesn’t happen all that often. When I took off the bandage this morning (I wait until I have my shower because it hurts less) there was bruising where the needle was, but that’s actually most likely because I’m on an anti-coagulant. It’s the first time, really, that I’ve had the sort of bruising that people on this drug are told to expect.

That was the second half of my trip that day, and the first part actually began at home, in the smallest room in the house.

New Zealand has a National Bowel Screening Programme that offers an at-home test to men and women every two years between ages 60 and 74. I got my test invitation late in March, but due to many public holidays and work, I didn’t have a chance to do it until this week.

Contents of my (unused at that point)  test kit.
The test kit includes instructions, of course, a sheet of soluble paper that goes into the toilet for one to drop the substance to be tested, a little wand inside a tube that one scrapes across the substance to be tested, the wand is placed back in the tube, which is then put into a ziplock bag, which is then placed in the cardboard mailing envelope along with the signed consent form.

This test is done because most people don’t need a colonoscopy, unless there are particular risk factors identified by one’s doctor. So, this test identifies the people who would otherwise not get tested at all and, if the test is positive, they’re sent for a colonoscopy, and then, if necessary, they’re referred to a cancer specialist. By escalating the testing based on risk and need, the system avoids wasting money on unnecessary testing.

The instructions said to post the sample back to them well before the end of a week so it doesn’t sit around somewhere, and I decided I’d go to the Papakura PostShop, since all the others with a half hour drive of us are “agencies”, not actual Postshops. I wanted a real one because that would probably mean the mailboxes would be emptied a couple times a day.

The Papakura Postshop was the same one where I posted my completed US Midterm Election ballot last November. However, I was surprised to find out that it was gone. At the end of November, NZ Post announced that there’d be a bunch of closures, but at the time I couldn’t find any list of the closures. The location, I discovered, is now a Kiwibank-only (not a location shared with a Postshop). They had mailboxes, but it would be emptied once, at 6pm that evening. Oh, well, good intentions.

I went on to the vampires in Takanini because there’s usually a shorter waiting time there than at the other two the same general driving time from our house. There are also other places I’ll go to in Takanini, like a location of the grocery store I go to, which isn’t true of one of the other two vampire locations. Pity about the pain this time.

So, I also ran a couple errands while I was there, including that grocery store (which, surprisingly, now carries products I used to only be able to get at my normal supermarket in Pukekohe), and I ended up posting something at the NZ Post agent, too; I could have posted the test sample there, too, if I’d known the real Postshop was gone. Now I do.

I got home at right about the time to start making dinner, and after that I sat down to watch TV. I was using my iPad to look at a friend’s post on Facebook and realised I couldn’t quite read the type. I thought my reading glasses were dirty (they weren’t), or maybe there was something in my eye (there wasn’t). I then saw little lights, which is a sign of an impending migraine, which I’ve experienced once or twice. So, I popped a couple Panadol and went to lie down. I fell asleep, and when I woke up an hour and some later I dragged myself out of bed because I had a rock in my stomach (because I lay down not all that long after dinner). I stayed up long enough for the rock to go away, and went to bed. That was not the evening I’d expected.

Today was a perfectly normal day, fortunately, though I was really tired. I didn’t necessarily get a lot done, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

I should get my blood test results tomorrow or the next day, and the bowel screening results should arrive in about three weeks. Regardless of what the results are, there’ll soon be follow-up with my doctor, especially because I haven’t had my flu vaccination yet this year. All of which is no surprise—I try to look after my health now. Yesterday was just really just another health day.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Nothing has changed

A little over a month since the world decided to fight back against the brutality of the tiny country of Brunei’s plans to execute gay people for having sex, the country has backed down by announcing a “moratorium” on the death penalty for gay people and those convicted of “adultery”. So, hurray, right? It’s a victory, right? No. Absolutely nothing whatsoever has changed and the world needs to increase pressure, not ease up.

It’s always a good thing when a country’s government decides against murdering its LGBT+ people. No country can be considered civilised or part of the family of nations if it murders its own LGBT+ citizens simply for being fully human people, as Brunei planned to do. The “laws” or “reasons” Brunei claimed were justifications for planning to murder them were never acceptable, and they sort of got that message.

But only a week or so after the country ‘s ruler faced a boycott of his super luxury hotels, one of his officials told the world not to worry about the plans to murder LGBT+ people—no, he said, the world had it all wrong! It wasn’t really about murdering LGBT+ people, no! It was more about “prevention than punishment”. Apparently their laws don’t prevent government officials spouting utter bullshit.

Every autocratic regime knows that penalties mean absolutely nothing without enforcement: The victims of oppression must be so terrified that they won’t ever do whatever the regime doesn’t want them to do (or they’ll do what the regime demands, as the case may be), or they’ll leave the country. If such regimes don’t punish people for disobeying their dictates on one thing, people will get the idea they have free will on everything, and that can never be tolerated.

Such laws also invite corruption. A person could be “accused” of something the regime doesn’t like, even though it’s not true, and be forced to pay bribes to get out of trouble. An LGBT+ person—even if they fully comply with the brutal laws in that country—would always be open to blackmail and to violence from fanatics who take it upon themselves to do the regime’s enforcement.

So, having a “moratorium” will change absolutely nothing in the daily lives of most LGBT+ people who will have to remain deeply hidden, always on guard and on the watch, always subject to violence from fanatics, and always faking every tiny detail of their identity so as to avoid having their genuine selves discovered.

The fact that Brunei issued a “moratorium” (re-issued is probably more technically correct, since enforcement has been deferred for years) suggests that they felt the world’s pressure. With their backs freshly patted, the regime will wait until the world’s attention goes away, and then, instead of announcing it, they’ll just quietly lift the moratorium when the world isn’t watching. They’ll probably go farther and conduct the first executions in secret, too.

Brunei is not a place that respects individual rights and personal liberty, and having a “moratorium” on murdering its LGBT+ people doesn’t change that fact. The world needs to keep pushing until they finally act like responsible adults and repeal the law altogether.

There will be handwringers who will say that keeping up the pressure will cause them to become more brutal, but that’s inevitable, anyway. Neither will patting them on the back for not murdering their LGBT+ people make them any nicer to them—it will not make the regime treat them like human beings. Things will remain horrible for LGBT+ people in Brunei, but the world could help make things better, but only if it keeps the pressure on.

Clearly the world’s pressure—and the boycotts—were having an effect on the regime. The world needs to increase pressure, not ease up. But, I’m not expecting much. Last month I thought the response, especially from New Zealand, was far too weak. I’m not expecting anything better now.

The world should prove me wrong. That’s be a welcome change.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Gardening work

The Instagram caption above tells the story: Our tomato plants are still producing, much longer than they’ve lasted any other year (last year it was all over, and the plants dying, by the end of March). I have no idea why that’s happening, however, we bought the plants this year rather than grow them from seed—but we have in previous years, too.

The spot where the tomatoes are growing is warm and sunny, so maybe that accounts for some of it? No idea, but it’s kind of fun watching what happens.

Meanwhile, we now have a dilemma: How much effort do we put into keeping the plants going? This month is mid-Autumn, and this can’t go on much longer, not with colder weather and shorter days. We can’t make it into a hot house at this stage, but maybe we could cover it with frostcloth at night to keep it warmer over night. Or, is there even any point? We’ve never been in this position before.

Meanwhile, we have some flax plants that are growing in front of the house, and they’re now too big, growing up in front of my office window, blocking daylight. That window faces 140º SE (which I know I thanks to an App on my phone…), so it doesn’t get any direct sunilight; the main daylight is reflected from the neighbour’s house, and there’s less of that this time of year, so it’s much more noticeable.

So, I want to dig up the flax, divide it, and re-plant it along the back fence, in an area we want to keep the dogs away from (Leo sometimes goes there to bark at a neighbour’s dog). I’ve never done that before. So, I’ve been doing my Internet research on how to do it, and I’ll try it soon.

Then, the question will be, what do I plant there to replace the flax? I’m not good at garden design, so I’ll have to get some advice.

All of that will be a project, and the subject of a blog post about it, hopefully by the middle of this month so all the plants gets a chance to settle down before winter (mild though it is) and be ready for Spring growth.

In the meantime, I have got some other, smaller projects that we did but that I haven’t gotten around to blogging about. Those posts will probably come first, especially because there may be rainy days before I finish the flax project.

I think I better rest up.


"Productive holiday weekend" – When we planted the tomatoes.
"The tomatoes are growing" – The plants were growing well by December.
"Photo Trial" – They were even the subject of a photo experiment.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Paywall bad news

Newspapers are struggling to survive nearly everywhere. How they deal with the challenges varies, and among the solutions are paywalls, membership schemes, donations, and others. The New Zealand Herald has just launched a paywall, and not very well. There’s no compelling reason to subscribe to their “premium” service, and I won’t be doing so—yet.

The New Zealand Herald first tried a paywall a few years ago, and it failed miserably. The main problem was that they were the only one in New Zealand, and people could get the same news many other places for free, so the only thing they offered that couldn’t be seen elsewhere were their columnists, and, as I said at the time, “they’re just not that good”. Okay, that was a bit snotty, but nevertheless true: Many were grumpy, curmudgeonly, right-wing, irrelevant, or some combination of those. Sure, some people, probably the same ones who ring up talkback radio to whine about something or other, may have appreciated those, um, attributes, but neither I nor anyone I knew shared that viewpoint.

In more recent years the paper again started talking about launching a new paywall, but never quite seemed ready to do it, probably in part because, once again, they’d be the only major mainstream news site in New Zealand doing it.

In recent months, the talk started becoming more frequent, and then they started labelling content on their website as “Premium”, apparently to let people know what they’d be getting access to as subscribers—and what they’d lose access to if they weren’t. Unfortunately, that wasn’t obvious so I avoided everything marked “Premium” assuming one had to pay to see it.

Still, what they were showing were mostly in-depth journalism and investigations which was at least promising. Meanwhile, the rest of their home page included clickbait, often sourced from overseas papers, including the reprehensible Daily Mail in the UK.

I am told—because I didn’t see it myself—that when the new paywall launched, they had a click-baity story about Prince Harry and Meghan behind the paywall—not exactly the sort of thing that would entice someone who wants serious journalism. That’s the first thing they’ll need to fix: They can’t put clickbait behind their paywall if they want to be taken seriously.

The second thing is that they’ll need to prove that the money raised will actually go to journalism, and not just into the pockets of shareholders, here and overseas. So far, it seems that most people don’t think it’ll happen, and this is just about money for shareholders. They’ll need to make a big deal about hiring journalists, if indeed they do so.

Much of their content, they tell us, is still free, but that includes the stuff designed to promote radio personalities and programmes on the Herald’s NZME sibling radio stations. By and large, these “columnists” are absolutely terrible, promoting especially privileged and self-centred rightwing drivel. Still, at least they’re not behind the paywall at the moment, because that would be a strong disincentive to subscribe.

Their biggest problem is that their digital subscription rate (see graphic above) is way too high. At $5 per week, it works out to $260 per year, though if someone makes one annual payment it’s $199. They’re offering a special rate of $2.50 per week for the first 8 weeks, after which it goes up to the full rate.

For comparison, The Washington Post digital subscription is $100 per year, which is about NZ$150 (the Post currently has a promotion of $25 for the first year, which is NZ$37.60). The New York Times is currently $1 a week for a year (US$52 is NZ$78.13). Which means that a new subscriber could get both the Post and the NYT for not much more than half the price of the cheapest NZ Herald digital subscription. I know which option that I would choose.

Increasingly, the Herald has not been a good paper to read. Many of their articles have a strong rightward lean, either in tone of focus (or both), and many of the stories have been in the, “okay, but why is this ‘news’?” category. They haven’t done as much in-depth or investigative journalism as they used to, and they rely too much on foreign papers—like the Post, for example, and I alrready subscribe to the entire paper, not just what the NZ Herald wants to show me.

Their only drawcard is that they’re New Zealand-based and cover New Zealand stories. But the same thing can be said of any number of other news sites here in New Zealand that don’t have a paywall. If they expect people to pay for news they can get for free elsewhere, then the Herald will have to lift its game and offer news and features that people can’t get for free elsewhere. That may sound harsh or unfair, particularly to hard-working and overstretched journalists, but it is reality. In news business as with every other business, the consumer is king.

When I first looked at overseas digital newspaper subscriptions in 2015, neither the NYT nor the Post were there yet (back then, the NYT had a pricing plans based on device rather than content). Now, they’ve become much more customer-focused, so much so that the Post won my business in July of last year. If the NZ Herald wants to make their paywall work, they’re going to have to learn from their examples.

I didn't like the NZ Herald we’ve had over the past few years, and I certainly wouldn’t pay to subscribe to that. But if they can put up good, solid journalism without click-bait or shallow columns by radio personalities, and if they can offer it at a much more sensible price—and reinvest that money into journalism—then people like me could be tempted in. That won’t happen right now, and probably not for a while, if ever. The jury’s still out.

Whether the new paywall will actually work or it will fail like the last one did will depend entirely on how the paper adapts to customer expectations and needs, and how much emphasis it places on content that’s worth subscribing to. The NYT learned and adapted, and so did the Post—so much so that I now subscribe to it. The NZ Herald can certainly do the same—IF they want to. But, that’s news for the future.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Afterlife in New Zealand

The video above is a New Zealand TV ad for life insurance. The company entered the New Zealand market in 2011, and has grown quite a lot since then—enough to begin frequent TV advertising and TV programme sponsorship. The ad takes a somewhat unique approach to selling life insurance, even if the metaphor by itself isn’t particularly new or innovative. Mostly, it’s also very New Zealand-ish, and that’s always welcome.

The ad features the common enough depiction of the time immediately after death as being a waiting room—heck, even the movie Beetlejuice featured the idea in its end. What happens in the ad’s waiting room, however, has a lot of very Kiwi interaction and chat.

I really like the ad—its humour, its Kiwi-ness, its acting and direction. And, for so very many reasons, the ad could never be broadcast on free-to-air TV in my native USA. That is, of course, just another reason I like it, because I kind of like being contrary. Sometimes.

The full version, below, has been edited down to the one minute version above, along with some versions that are shorter still. The full version features all the bits used in the shorter versions, but in a more coherent story, and makes some sense out of some of the imagery in the shorter ads, including the one up top (all the versions are available are on their YouTube Channel). Here’s the long version:

The ads are trying to get people to plan for their inevitable demise by getting their life insurance sorted, and that’s a really good thing to do: Too many people really do think they’ll have more time. I like the kinda quirky, kinda irreverent approach the ad takes, and that it embraces Kiwi-ness. The last thing we need is another dreary, lofty ad selling us insurance without making us feel it. This ad won’t be for everyone—no ad ever is—but for me, and probably for its target market, it’s spot on.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

May Day in dangerous times

Today is May Day, also known as International Workers Day (among other things), a day promoting working and labouring people and the international labour rights movement. It’s more needed now than it’s been in more than a century, and it could even prove to be our deliverance from these dangerous times.

Back in May 2013 I talked about “May Day and me”, which included some of the history of the day. That post was actually inspired by a chat I had with a friend of mine, Kit Duffy, who died in late 2015. She was the most truly progressive person I ever met, and a strong supporter of human rights for all people, and she was a strong advocate for workers’ rights. I now think of her every May Day; I think she’d be pleased about that.

For all my activist years, and for a long time afterward, backing for organised labour was weak—even for Democratic politicians. They were supposed to hold labour at arm’s length to avoid being labelled “socialist”, and most of them played along. Most, but not all.

Even earlier, when I was young and Republican, I wasn’t exactly pro-labour. In university I had a speech class and one topic I took on was arguing in favour of a “student right to work” law—basically to make compulsory union membership for university students illegal. I got all my talking points from College Republicans, and I did reasonably well, despite a number of Democrats (and far more "Indifferents") in the same class.

When I became a Democrat, I began to study all the issues I never did as a Republican: LGBT rights, obviously, but also feminism, civil rights (and black history), the peace movement (this was only a few years after the end of the Vietnam War), and even progressive Christianity. I also finally began to understand organised labour, and why it was so important.

Here in New Zealand, unions were deliberately weakened by conservative governments, a topic in itself, but they’re still around. In the early 2000s, I worked for a media company that was clearly getting ready to shed staff. I arranged for my fellow workers to meet with a union organiser, and we all unionised—just in case. My rationale was that if the company did try to get rid of us, or, more likely, to make our jobs so terrible over time that we’d quit, we’d need someone to fight for us. A union was the logical answer.

When I changed jobs to a different division of the company, they were shocked that I was a union member because it was unheard of (they’d just sacked their entire staff who did what I was brought in to do, and, also, it was a National Party electorate). I remained a union member right up until I left that job.

The point of this personal history is that I was once pretty much anti-union, education made me sympathetic, and necessity made me embrace unionism. There’s no reason other people can’t take the same journey, but it will take commitment.

The reason we should bother is simple: The rise and rise of the fascistic populist far-right in developed countries around the world, including the USA. One of the reasons for that is that ordinary working people feel abandoned by their governments—because they have been! The labour movement can provide an alternative to far-right populism, a vision in which ordinary workers organise to fix the excesses of capitalism, and to protect ordinary people from being victimised—the very thing that drove them toward far-right populism in the first place.

The task ahead of us is immense. People are working harder than ever and not getting anywhere—but the most senior executives of corporations sure are doing well. Just look, for example, at the chart above, which compares the hours worked per worker per year. It runs out that New Zealanders work nearly as much as Americans do, despite all the public holidays and annual leave (vacation) we get evert year (See also: “Vacation, All I Ever Wanted”).

Still New Zealand is making progress under this government: The government increased the minimum wage to $17.70 (up to $20 by 2021), it is supporting victims of domestic violence with up to ten days leave per year, plus workplace support. It also has restored rest and meal breaks for workers, and is developing tools to prevent bullying and harassment by implementing the Health and Safety Strategy. They are moving on pay equity legislation to improve access to pay claims, and increasing Paid Parental Leave from 18 to 22 weeks (up to 26 weeks by 2020). Add all that up, and things are starting to get much better for ordinary working people and their families. It’s a good start.

But even progress like the current NZ government is making won’t mean anything if ordinary workers continue to feel powerless in their own lives, something that creates an opening for the far-right populists. Still, if people feel better off (because they are), it does diminish the appeal of the far-right.

The lessons in this for the USA are that it’s vital to look after ordinary working people in order to restore the prosperity of the middle class. Fortunately, there are a lot of modern Democrats who understand that and have promised to act on it. Hopefully they’ll begin to replace the old-fashioned “keep labour at arm’s length” Democrats so that we have a chance to defeat the far-right populists.

But it all begins with recognising the importance of labour and labour organising, and that’s what May Day is actually all about.

The chart above is from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

We can be Indivisible

Learning the lessons of the 2016 US Presidential election campaign—both their own and Republicans’—Democrats are embracing a new campaign for a simple unity pledge. The idea behind it is simple: A unified Democratic Party can defeat the Republicans, but a divided one won’t—and the USA has no issue that is more important than getting rid of the current regime. This could be everything.

The video above is a segment from today’s The Rachel Maddow Show and talks about the Indivisible Pledge. The Pledge for candidates is in three parts:
Make the primary constructive. I’ll respect the other candidates and make the primary election about inspiring voters with my vision for the future.

Rally behind the winner. I’ll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is — period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats. Immediately after there’s a nominee, I’ll endorse.

Do the work to beat Trump. I will do everything in my power to make the Democratic Nominee the next President of the United States. As soon as there is a nominee, I will put myself at the disposal of the campaign.
Sen. Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to sign the Pledge, and, as several people have pointed out, this is a great way to head off the divisions that happened in 2016 when many of his supporters refused to vote for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the General Election. No one knows how many many of Sanders’ supporters did this, but those who did helped put the current occupant of the White House into power. The number we’re talking about doesn’t matter: Even if we’re talking about, say, five people, that’s five too many in a close election, as 2016 was and 2020 may be.

The other aspect of this is that if the Democratic candidates spend their primary campaign shooting at each other, it will weaken the ultimate Democratic nominee in the minds of general election voters. That happened in 2016 (among other problems and issues not related to this particular issue).

So, if Democratic Candidates take the Indivisible Pledge, it will encourage their supporters to do so, too, and that’s even more important (the Grassroots Pledge is very similar to the Candidate’s Pledge). Even before the Indivisible Pledge was announced, I was saying that Democrats should never trash Democratic candidates we don’t support, but, instead, we should be talking about the candidate we like and/or the issues/positions that make us like them. It’s that easy! We don’t need to tear down other candidates in order to build up the one we like; if their positions are as good as we think they are, they’ll be every bit as attractive to other voters, which is why we should boost them. At the same time, trashing other candidates won’t do anything to make ours seem better, it’ll just weaken a candidate who may end up being the Democratic nominee.

Naturally, not everyone likes the “speak no evil” nature of the Indivisible Pledge. Writing on Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley wasn’t having it:
The problem with unity enforcement, though, is that it tends to protect the status quo, because it means never criticizing the frontrunner, which gives party insiders and major donors—who are free to line up behind particular candidates before they even launch their “exploratory committees”—even more influence than they already have.
Since Mathis-Lilley isn’t a Democratic candidate, I’m free to say this: That’s a stupid thing to say. No one is saying don’t express legitimate criticism, it’s that we should avoid attacks and smears. There’s a huge difference between attacking a specific candidate, as Mathis-Lilley did, for having a fundraiser conducted by a corporate lobbyist, and saying “candidates should not rely on corporate lobbyists to raise their campaign funds”. The former is an attack on specific activity people may disagree about, or people may be willing to overlook, and the second is a legitimate position to take. There are ways to make one’s point without tearing down candidates personally.

This matters because one of the Democratic candidates—either one of the announced candidates or one yet to announce—will be the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Until actual votes are actually cast, we cannot know who that nominee will be, so by attacking individual candidates we may actually be weakening the eventual nominee.

Obviously there are a few people who disagree with the basic premise here, namely, that pragmatism matters more than “principle”, but I personally have no time for that sort of self-righteous moral superiority. The 2020 election could very well be our last chance to save American democracy, and it’s morally indefensible to take any position other than that of the Indivisible Pledge.

Republicans don’t have this problem. Even before the current regime took control of both the government and the Republican Party, there was an old saying that was and remains true: Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. That means that, traditionally, if Democrats don’t “love” their candidate they’ll stay home on Election Day, whereas Republicans will vote for their candidate no matter what. Obviously that’s not true for all voters all of the time, but that’s not the point: The phrase describes typical behaviour.

Democrats need to worry less about loving their candidate and more about being pragmatic: Electing the only alternative to the Republican, and that will be whoever the Democratic nominee is. Sure, we may not “love” the Democratic nominee—we may not even like them very much. But if the Democrat doesn’t win in 2020, we may not get another chance to find a candidate we can love.

To be blunt: Let’s not fuck this one up.