Sunday, August 31, 2014

Labour values

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Coffee and the brain

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Humans Need Not Apply

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

National’s bad policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t agree more.

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

Related Links from Labour:

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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vote Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Incommunicado again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Labour ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivering the message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From the other side

Tonight I was rung by a phone canvasser for the New Zealand National Party. I was totally nice, polite, and honest, but it didn’t end well for them.

First, after confirming it was me, he asked what I thought were the four most important issues facing New Zealand. I have to admit, I was caught a little off-guard by that question (surprising, I know). So, off the top of my head I said, “affordable housing, reducing inequality, more money for health and more money for education.”

Then he asked me, “Have you made up your mind if you’ll be voting for John Key and National?” Now if you stop to think about it, this is a dumb question, because it's confusing. I answered “yes” because I have made up my mind. But then, assuming I meant I’d vote for the Nats, he asked, “Have you always voted for National?” I said, “actually, I never have. I always voted two ticks Labour, and I will this time, too. Sorry!”

I was smiling when I said “sorry”, so my voice would have sounded as nice as I meant it, because I obviously don’t bear them any ill will—even though there’s no way I’d vote for them. Also, I admire anyone who volunteers for a campaign (I chose to assume he was a volunteer and not a paid call centre worker); I wouldn’t be mean to the canvasser in any case.

I’m an honest person by nature, so I answered his questions truthfully, and never pretended to be one of their supporters so they’d waste Election Day efforts on me. That absolutely would be wrong and it’s something I simply wouldn’t do, ever. I mention it at all because with all the negative campaigning going on I wanted to be clear that I was completely upfront and above board.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never been phone canvassed by National before—I’d remember telling a caller for National that I wouldn’t be voting for them. After all, I remember telling Labour canvassers I’d be voting two ticks Labour (I also remember in 2011 telling a pollster that, too).

This is a heavily National electorate, so I don’t know why they felt they needed to ring me when they haven’t done that before. But, at the very least, they know what one of their opponents values, and that tells them why they won’t have my vote. Whether they care or not is another matter entirely.

One month to go!

The New Zealand election is 31 days from today! And you know what THAT means: Only another month of me talking constantly about the election!

Actually, that’s not true, because there’ll still be stuff to talk about after September 20—it’s just that it won’t be quite as often.

However, in the meantime, there are 31 more days yet, and some days (like today…) I'll have rather a lot to say. It IS election season, after all.

Counting down!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happy Anniversary

One year ago today, marriage equality arrived in New Zealand, and LGBT New Zealanders became more equal as citizens. But that day wasn’t just about equality, it was about love. That’s something worth celebrating.

On August 19, 2013, same-gender couples finally gained the right to celebrate their commitment and love in marriage, just like opposite-gender couples can. It felt pretty awesome.

We’re still the only nation in this part of the world with marriage equality, so couples travel here from Asia, the Pacific and, especially, Australia to be married. That’s awesome, but it would be so much better for us all if their marriages were recognised in their home countries. At least here in New Zealand they’re legally married.

Tonight TVNZ’s One News had a segment on marriage equality’s Boost for the tourism industry. It was a good and balanced report, actually—without any anti-gay shriekers, which was great to see (for a change…). It was a nice, upbeat report, which was exactly what was needed.

So, happy anniversary, New Zealand!

Related Posts:

How the day went – My review of the events of the day
What that day meant for me – my personal reflection on the day

Monday, August 18, 2014

All are equal in one simple way

The video above is a TV commercial for the Electoral Commission urging New Zealanders to vote on September 20. It makes a simple point and does so very well, I think. It’s also a needed message.

But for me, the 15-second ad (below) is even more powerful. The brevity is part of what makes it so effective, but also that it relies heavily on New Zealandness to drive home the message. It’s a different approach to getting people to vote, the same basic message.

And finally, one of the ads the Electoral Commission has been running to urge people to enrol to vote. “Orange Guy”, as he’s called, has been in ads about voting for many years now. He’s meant to be fun and non-threatening, while also being informative. However, I’ve noticed that this year there seems to have been fewer ads about enrolling to vote. In any case, the ad below is fairly typical of the Orange Guy ads the Electoral Commission runs.

The deadline to enrol to vote to make it easy is this coming Wednesday, August 20. People can enrol right up until September 19, but they’ll have to cast a Special Declaration Vote, which can be more hassle than voting with an EasyVote card, as everyone who is enrolled by August 20 will do.

The Electoral Commission said last week that there are still 380,000 eligible New Zealanders who haven’t enrolled to vote—OVER HALF of them are under 30. If even only most of them enrolled and then voted, that’d easily enough to determine what party forms government.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bean there, polled that

There’s a lot of talk about opinion polls—of course: It wouldn’t be election season without them. Some are better and more reliable than others, and all will change over time. This week I took part in a very important poll: The Bean Poll.

I was at Glenfield Mall to pick something up this week and passed by Muffin Break and noticed they were running their Bean Poll. Some locations make you ask for a bean (usually after a purchase…) but this one had a cup with beans, so I voted (with only ONE bean, of course!).

It’s hard to tell from my quickly snapped photo, but Labour was clearly ahead in the Bean Poll. While Glenfield has pockets of solid Labour support, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they all go to that mall, let along take part in the Bean Poll. Maybe our voters are just more motivated to participate—maybe we’re full of beans?

Actually, energy and motivation is clearly key to electoral success. In all the years I’ve lived in New Zealand, I’ve never seen such an energised campaign as I’ve seen with Labour this year. The party’s base is fired up, our activists are fired up and the ordinary people we talk with want a change of government. Over time, we’ll see that reflected in the ordinary opinion polls, too.

Legal food

When I checked Facebook this morning, I noticed a post from Martha’s Backyard, an Auckland store that sells American products (especially food items and snack foods, but other things, too). I’ve mentioned Martha’s on this blog several times. I’m a real fan. But, their post was odd.

The post (pictured above – click to enlarge) was actually a re-posting of an email they sent out to customers like me. It was talking about unloading the latest container of products from the USA, and then added:
“As a result of corporate bullying but hey, we'll remain positive and won't go there… we have had a complete review done of our products and unfortunately a few were identified as containing ingredients not allowed in New Zealand. It is because of our continued integrity at Martha's Backyard that months ago we discontinued these products to satisfy New Zealand's rules.”
I don’t know the context—maybe the government officials seemed “bullying”, since it’s not unusual for such government officials to be, well, gruff, for example. However, without more explanation, it comes across as a bit arrogant, as if New Zealand law shouldn’t apply equally.

The message said that officials banned products mostly because they contained the artificial food colouring, FD&C Red No. 3, which has been shown to cause cancer in humans. In addition to being used as a food colouring, it’s also used to colour teeth for showing plaque, in printing inks and other industrial uses. It’s banned in many European countries, but can be used freely in the USA.

Food standards in this part of the world are set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). This is a legal entity set up by the New Zealand and Australian governments in 1991 to ensure that food standards are the same in both countries. This essentially makes New Zealand and Australia one market for food manufacturers, something that has enormous advantages for New Zealand and Australian companies, as well as those from overseas.

Our food standards can be completely different from the USA. For example, no additives apart from salt and water are permitted in butter sold in New Zealand. If it has any other (permitted) additive, it must be called a “spread”, not butter. Our standards are definitely much better than US standards in some cases, however, whether better, worse or neutral, FSANZ standards are the law and it’s every business’ responsibility to know and obey the law.

FSANZ publishes its standards online, though I think they’re difficult to sort through. But they are available. Most products will be okay, but before importing a new product, I would’ve thought it would be a good idea to check out its ingredients and verify they’re legal for sale in New Zealand (or Australia, for that matter).

This isn’t just about Martha’s, of course. Foodmarkets that carry foreign products (Asian foodmarkets, for example) are also monitored to make sure the products they sell comply with FSANZ standards. Some products DO slip through, however, but officials act when they become aware that products with illegal ingredients are on sale.

There are also separate biosecurity rules at play (viable seeds can’t be imported, for example). This doesn’t usually affect imported processed products, however, so most retail stores shouldn’t have many run-ins over those rules.

The bottom line, as I said earlier, is that it’s the responsibility of businesses to know and obey the law. Yes, government departments would do well to get a customer service ethos into the way they work, rather than have inspectors act as if they see themselves as, basically, cops. Regardless, they’re acting to keep food products sold in this country safe, and the fact that they find products with illegal ingredients isn’t their fault.

The law is the law, after all.

This post is a revised and expanded version of something I originally posted on Facebook.

Friday, August 15, 2014

You just know

There are things you just know about yourself, aren’t there? Things you like, things you don’t, and where there’s no compromise between the two. I hate post-apocalyptic movies. All of them.

This wasn’t a realisation I came to easily. I watched “Mad Max” and was entertained, but more often than not, I thought such movies were, at the very best, laughably stupid. My scepticism was launched when I was still young by “Planet of the Apes” and Charlton Heston’s oh-so-very-anguished “damn you all to hell!” I still laugh at that scene.

The problem I have with such plot devices is, lame dialogue and bad acting aside, the utter unbelievability of the genre. Okay, apes taking over requires a very special suspension of disbelief, but what about later, more “realistic” films?

I despise the various “Hunger Games” films because of the utterly and bizarrely stupid idea that a society that survived the ravages of global war would say, “Hey, I know how we can stop war! Let’s have attractive young adults fight to the death instead! Yeah, that’s a GREAT idea!”

I was reminded of all this when I tried to watch such a film with the family. Post-apocalypse scenes of a US city I knew momentarily caught my attention, as they always do, having watched the TV series “Life After People”. But for me, what followed was as empty and stupid as any “Hunger Games” instalment, so I started reading my book instead of watching.

I despise this genre for a simple reason: I don’t, indeed cannot, buy the central premise that we cannot help but not only destroy our civilisation, but also that we cannot rise above the most animalistic tendencies of humans.

I believe that things in the future can be very much better than the present—astonishingly better, in fact. What’s the point of millennia of societal evolution if we are doomed to be destroyed by our basest nature? But, of course, wars are inherently irrational, so what if we DO destroy ourselves? Would we really decide that some pre-civilisation survival contest—attractive young people optional—is the way to prevent global war? Seriously?!

We humans are capable of great things and the most utterly evil things imaginable. I happen to believe that the better angels of our nature will prevail, but if they don’t, we won’t be so stupid as to choose a future that moviemakers like to depict. We’d be better—and smarter—than that.

I’m an optimist, despite it all. And I hate post-apocalyptic movies. That one thing I definitely know about myself.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A day on the trail

Labour’s big red campaign bus was on the North Shore today, and I wanted to meet up with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know precisely where/when it would be, and, anyway, I had some work I had to do this morning. I did try to catch up with it this afternoon, but, sadly, I wasn’t able to.

So, I thought I’d share photos from the day that Northcote Labour Candidate Richard Hills posted on his campaign’s Facebook page today. They’re from three different stops, though there were several others. I think they give some sense of what the day was like.

The photo at the bottom was posted to Twitter tonight by Jenny Selesa, the Labour Candidate in Manukau East. It was taken at Tongan gathering at Onepoto Primary School in Northcote. Richard Hills is speaking. The guy on stage with the blue rosette is National Party candidate Jonathan Coleman.

I love the nuts and bolts of democracy, even when I can’t participate in it personally. I also love old school campaigning, like the bus tour and community meetings. They’re nice human touches in what is too often a detached digital world.

Brown's Bay (photo from Richard Hills Campaign Facebook Page)
Devonport (photo from Richard Hills Campaign Facebook Page)
Beach Haven (photo from Richard Hills Campaign Facebook Page)
Tongan gathering, Onepoto Primary School (photo from Jenny Selesa's Twitter)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

House of Clerks

The video above is “House of Clerks”, a parody of the US version of the House of Cards TV series done by Auckland University’s Law Revue. I think it’s really well done. The YouTube description sums it up:
“Follow a young Frank Underwood through his college studies as he seeks out a job with a top law firm.”
The video stars Sean Topham as the young Frank Underwood, and I think that despite a few accent lapses, he does a fantastic job. The video captures the spirit of the US TV series, and many of its plot devices, and puts them into a new context. It also features a cameo by 3 News Political Editor Patrick Gower.

Last year, they did a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines", which I also posted. I like how pointed their videos are. Well, they’re law students, so that could explain it…

In any case, well done—again.

Another reason NZ's a pretty awesome place

This past weekend I was reminded again of one of the things I like best about New Zealand. But to tell you what (and why) that is, I have to do some name-dropping.

On Sunday I went to the Labour Party’s campaign launch, the fourth one I’ve been to. It was very upbeat and energising, as such things always have been, and the feeling of commitment to changing the government was noticeable.

Labour Leader David Cunliffe gave a good speech (photo above) laying out Labour’s positive vision for New Zealand, making it a better, fairer place for all New Zealanders [the text is available online and there's a video—with poor audio—on YouTube].

Events like that are kind of like a school reunion or something, diverse people who have one big thing in common (in this case, we support the same party). So there are a lot of hugs and handshakes and little chats.

Labour Party supporters before the Campaign Launch.
I got to see and speak with fellow party members (including some of our team in this electorate, including our candidate, Richard Hills), party leaders and candidates who I don’t see all that often. I got to meet Clare Curran, MP for Dunedin South, which was a treat: Over the years, we’ve communicated frequently over Twitter and Facebook, but never met in real life until Sunday. In that same category was Tamati Coffey, Labour’s candidate in Rotorua, Grant Robertson (Wellington Central), Jacinda Ardern (List, and candidate for Auckland Central), Trevor Mallard (Hutt South) and even Paddy Gower, the political editor for 3 News. I’ve communicated with all of them on Twitter and/or Facebook, but hadn’t met any of them.

I also had a nice chat with Willow-Jean Prime, Labour candidate for Northland, who I first met at the Labour List Conference (and who I follow on Facebook). Met her husband for the first time, too. I also chatted with others I met at the List Conference, including Jerome Mika (candidate for Papakura), and North Shore candidate, Claire Szabó. There were a few more that I saw, but didn’t get a chance to talk to.

After the event, we waved as the big red campaign bus headed out on its campaign tour. I was waiting for my ride, so I chatted with some of the others still there, including David Cunliffe, who I’ve always found to be very personable and nice the times I’ve met him personally. I also thanked David Parker, Labour’s Deputy Leader and the architect of Labour’s Economic Upgrade policies. Those policies are awesome, and made it possible for me to talk to people about Labour in completely new ways.

All this name-dropping gets to something that I love about politics in New Zealand: It’s possible to meet and talk with the most powerful people in the country in a way that would be impossible in the USA. It’s an imperfect comparison, but in American terms, it’s as if I had casual, relaxed chats with Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Leadership in the US House, plus senior members of the Democratic Caucus.

I previously attended Labour Campaign Launches in 1999, 2002 and 2005. I didn’t participate in politics in the years in between. But in those previous years, Labour was the party leading government (which changes the comparisons with the USA again, ramping it up a bit). 2005 was also the last time I spoke with a Labour Deputy Leader. At the time, that was Michael Cullen who was also Deputy Prime Minister. A good omen for David Parker becoming the next Deputy Prime Minister.

Below is my selfie before the start of the event. I’m a little too shy to ask the well known people if I can take a selfie with them (plus, I’m not very good at it…clearly). The photo up top is very meta, as the guy in the foreground is a blogger who worked on his post on his laptop (and it was me taking a cellphone photo as he took a cellphone photo).

And there you have it: Any New Zealander with an interest in politics, who wants to channel that interest through a political party, can meet and have casual conversations with leaders of the country. Frequently. This is mostly because of New Zealand’s small size, relative to the USA, and our MPs represent far fewer people than does a US Representative.

There’s another reason beside population size that explains why NZ politics are so different: NZ society is less formal, less deferential toward those in power and, so, our politics is more personal than US federal politics can be. And that’s one of my favourite things about the way this country works.

Name-dropping is optional, though.

Me at the Labour Party Campaign Launch, Sunday, August 10, 2014.

Labour Leader David Cunliffe chats with Party supporters after the campaign launch.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another odd thing

Three weeks ago, I wrote about a silly “security” email from the US Consulate in Auckland. There were three more emails just like it. Did I get another this week?

At first, I was sent one of those emails every week, largely because there were Pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Auckland every weekend. The emails appeared to have standard text, the only thing that changed was the date/time of the event (although, I noticed the first estimated 1500 participants and the last two said 2000). So, apparently a real person actually checks the text before sending them out—though not very well, in my opinion.

Yesterday there was a pro-Israel demonstration in Auckland. So, naturally, I got a "Security Message for U.S. Citizens" email about it, right? I mean, they previously warned that, “even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence,” so I should “avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstration.”


I have no idea why this was the case, why they warned me weekly about pro-Palestinian demonstrations, but said nothing about an upcoming pro-Israel demonstration. It could have been that the latest one was expected to have maybe a quarter as many participants, but if “even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence,” then surely the number of participants isn’t the only factor? After all, passions on this issue are running red-hot, and the Consulate's previous warnings that “New Zealand Police are aware of the protest and are monitoring it” must have been true of this latest one, too.

I’d like to think that Consular staff finally learned something, that after having issued several silly, over-the-top "Security Message” emails that were completely culturally tone-deaf about New Zealand, maybe they pulled their heads in a bit. While I’d like to think that, I don’t know if that’s a valid conclusion.

After all, alerting US citizens to public demonstrations on matters of heated public passion is a reasonable thing for the Consulate to do—minus the dark warnings of violence, of course. There could be any number of reasons why people might want to avoid such things, and not all of them are political.

I heard about yesterday’s demonstration on TVNZ’s One News last night, but couldn’t find anything about it on their website or any other mainstream website. In fact, the ONLY mention I could find was on a pro-Israel Australia/NZ blog/news amalgamation site. Today, One News has the story online (linked to above), and it’s still the only mainstream news report I could find.

I have questions, but no answers here—I have no idea why this latest demonstration didn’t get anything approaching the same level of attention as the previous pro-Palestinian demonstrations did. Were all sides expecting violence at the first ones, but not the latest? Or, is everybody simply bored of the whole thing, especially when, of course, they don’t turn violent?

I thought the emails from the Consulate were odd because of their cultural tone-deafness—I expected better from diplomats. The lack of any email this time is just another odd thing in this whole odd story.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

End time zones?

The video above from Vox is a shortened version of their post, “The case against time zones: They're impractical & outdated”. It’s an interesting idea, but one I’m unlikely to champion.

Time zones create very peculiar situations, such as, planes landing at a time that’s “before” they took off. Or, as I wrote about in one blog post, a day can entirely disappear.

Having one global time zone would certainly simply international online or teleconference meetings, and would make it easier to work out arrival and departure times for international air travellers. Militaries that operate globally often use one time standard to synchronise their global activities better.

However, living in a global timezone would mean a major adjustment at the time of the switch. For example, someone in New York City who now gets up at 6:30am local time would be getting up at 10:30am GMT. While that might not sound too hard to get used to, it would be far worse for us on the opposite side of the world from London: Our 6:30am rising time would become 18:30—6:30pm.

Obviously, perhaps, clocks would have to be 24-hour, since “a.m.” and “p.m.” would no longer be relevant in a world with one global time. But it would still take awhile to learn that what a particular time has represented to us our entire lives—a point in the day or the night—is suddenly a completely different time of day—maybe even the exact opposite of what it was, as would be the case for New Zealand.

This would be a problem at the time of conversion, but within a few years, people would eventually get used to the new reality. But, is the convenience of a single time for a global economy really worth the pain of adjustment for the globe’s people? I don’t know that it is—at least, not yet.

Still, maybe if I thought about it some more I could see reasons why a switch could be good. Right now, though, I just don’t have the time, and that’s true in all timezones.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Planet Key: The video

I debated whether I should post the above satirical video. It makes fun of John Key and his senior cabinet, and while I obviously share the viewpoint, I’m aware that others who don’t may not see it as funny.

Still, I think it’s a really well-done video. The visuals are quite good, and definitely complement the words, many of which are particularly pointed (such as, “I’m up here on Planet Key / You want compassion, don’t vote for me”).

The song, “Planet Key”, was written and performed by Darren Watson, and I think it’s quite good by itself. The video was made by Jeremy Jones from Propeller Motion. I particularly liked one line from the Vimeo description: “This project is entirely self funded so by buying this song you are also contributing to the cost of this work. Think of it as helping with the trickle down.” The song is available for purchase on iTunes.

As I’ve said many times, I think that humour is important in politics. It’s a much-needed safety release valve. When it’s done well—and not just mean-spirited attacks—it can bring clarity to political debates. I think this one does that, though the denizens of Planet Key will almost certainly not see it that way. I can understand. But parody and satire are much better than baseless smears and gutter attacks that sometimes pass for political discourse. I’m not entirely sure that their side appreciates that fact, however.

In any event, as political satire goes, I think this is pretty good.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Complacent Americans

Thanks to social media, I often run across things I think are interesting, some of which inspire blog posts. Like this one.

On Facebook, my friend Dawn shared a link to a post on Gawker, “House Republicans Vote Along Party Lines To Sue Obama.” She included what she said was her favourite comment on the Gawker post:
The middle class is shrinking, unemployment is stagnant, there's a massive Ebola outbreak, people are getting shot everyday to the point that we don't even get sad about it anymore, everyone's fat, public education is in the shitter, over 65,000 bridges are in desperate need of repair across the country, our infrastructure is crumbling, veterans get treated like shit, there are major wars going on in at least three different countries right now that we are involved in, and what does Congress fucking do?

They sue the president for not fully going forward with a law that they shut down the government [over] and tried ever so desperately to repeal. And yet, we continue pay these clowns on average $174,000 per year to do nothing. We need a revolution, like yesterday.
This is a common enough sentiment among thinking Americans, and all over the political spectrum, actually. It’s probably a good idea for me to point out that “revolutions” don’t have to be violent—they can more metaphorical, a dramatic shift, a total break from the way things are done.

In my comment on Dawn’s posting, I explained why that “revolution” won’t be happening:
And yet they keep re-electing the very right wing nut jobs who are responsible, and they'll re-elect them again this November. Wake me up when American voters decide to actually DO something instead of moaning on the Internet.

Don't get me wrong: That comment you quoted is dead right, and millions of Americans would agree with it. The problem is that they won't DO anything to end the insanity. And, you know, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Americans really are insane if they actually think that re-electing the same nut jobs who are responsible for this bovine excrement can ever change anything.

But, hey, not MY fault: I vote for Democrats! -:)
There are, of course, systemic reasons why things can’t change: Wherever they were in charge, Republicans drew districts for Congress and state legislatures to ensure the maximum number of Republicans win election, along with the tiniest number of Democrats possible. Republicans want to be unimpeded by what ordinary people want; instead, they want unrestricted power, the ability to do whatever they—and their plutocratic and oligarchic masters—want done.

So, it would take a massive voter turnout to overcome all the huge advantages Republicans have given themselves, and let’s get real: Americans just aren’t very good about voting, particularly in non-presidential elections. In fact, the average turnout for US House elections between 1960 and 1995 was 48% [Source: Chart “Turnout in national lower house elections, 1960–1995”). Angry as Americans claim to be, I just don’t believe them: They’ll do nothing.

Ultimately, the real danger in this situation is that if Americans feel that their vote won’t change anything (and there are plenty of cases they can point to for validation of that viewpoint), they won’t vote and the dysfunctional system they claim to hate will roll on. If that situation goes on long enough, it could lead to authoritarian dictatorship or to actual revolution.

Still, I could be wrong: American voters might flock to the polls in record, even unprecedented, numbers to “throw the bastards out”. They might give Democrats super-majorities in Congress so that they and President Obama can spend the next two years undoing the damage caused by Republicans over the past six years. Americans could do all that, but they won’t. They’d rather moan on the Internet than actually fix the problem.

I dare American voters to prove me wrong.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Cursing around the world

As harsh as I can be about BuzzFeed’s issues-oriented videos, they have some that I think are really good, and the one above is one of them (language probably NSFW). I like it because it helps to show how, despite nationality and language, we’re both different and the same.

I’m a potty mouth, no two ways about it. While I can censor myself when decorum demands it, more often than not, the “F-word” is among my favourites. I come by this naturally, since both my parents swore—though, admittedly, far more chastely than I do. This means that I can’t condemn folks who swear when I do it all the time.

The thing is, I think people getting all worked up about swearing is just plain stupid: They’re words, nothing more, nothing less, and fashion will change their appeal and end many of them. After all, we no longer say “zounds”, and “gadzooks” sounds downright antique (because it is). Words change, meanings change, propriety changes and so does morality (no matter what the tut-tutting far–right American christianist group One Dozen Moms may think).

So, I don’t really care if anyone swears or not. But I do think it’s interesting how other cultures swear (the subject of the video) as well as the reaction of some rightwingers in Western culture—is it really worth getting so upset about? Clearly, I don’t think so.

So, swear or don’t—all are welcome here—and you don’t have to watch your mouth. As it fucking should be.

If men were women

Yeah, a BuzzFeed video. It’s better than the site’s posts, things like, “20 Most Scary Vegetables in animated Gifs”, or whatever—the things like they usually do. Even so, and like so many of their videos, this one isn’t particularly original. Still, it’s good. Maybe it can even make some people (some men…) think.

What frustrates me about these videos—and I’ve posted a few by now—is that they clearly have a healthy budget for videos, but they only scratch the surface. Maybe it’s the BuzzFeed connection—superficial, shallow, lacking in detail—but with their reach they could do so much more to educate people about the issues they address.

Maybe I’m unduly harsh. Maybe this is better than I think it is. I welcome dissenting comments. But for me, these videos are very often more about what might have been than what is.

Even so, I do like this video.