Thursday, March 31, 2016

Did we get it backwards?

Did New Zealand get it backwards? Should the debate have been on becoming a republic, and then worry about the flag? Many people I know in real life have said that all along. In the wake of the flag change referenda, people are again talking about bigger change.

My personal view is that New Zealand will inevitably become a republic, though I doubt it will be during the reign of the current Queen of New Zealand. Even so, it would be good to talk and think about what a Republic of New Zealand might look like, how it might be structured, how we can ensure the Treaty of Waitangi is central to the new republic, and so on. If we spend years talking about it, maybe the actual debate could be orderly and civil.

And, if for some reason New Zealand somehow remained a monarchy, at least it would be after years of discussion and thought about it, unlike the decision to keep the colonial flag, That’s got to be a good thing.

I shared these sentiments on Facebook when I shared a link to a segment on Story, the magazine show on TV3. While I don't like the show, some segments are sometimes good, as this one was. I think it also exposed the dumbest argument of royalists.

The pleasant young man arguing to keep the monarchy suggested at one point the old, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument, saying that the monarchy has “worked well”, so we shouldn't remove it. Seriously?! By that logic, the USA should have kept slavery.

It’s absurd for a country to have as its Head of State someone who wasn’t born there, who has never lived there, and who has only ever even visited a few times—yet that’s exactly the situation New Zealand is in right now. New Zealand’s Head of State should be a New Zealander, end of story. This has nothing to do with the current Queen, her heirs and successors according to law, but about a sovereign, independent country being led and ruled by its own people, not foreigners.

The simplest and most obvious solution is to have the Governor General replaced by a President selected by Parliament, and requiring and extraordinary 75% of votes in Parliament to ensure the person selected is an eminent and respected New Zealander, someone who has widespread, multi-partisan support and is never a party hack of whatever party is then running the Government. This is, it seems to me, the easiest, most straightforward, and most obvious way to have a New Zealander as Head of State without also requiring further dramatic constitutional change.

I have no idea when New Zealand will take on the question of whether New Zealand becomes a republic, but like most people, I’m sure it will and the monarchy will end, but whether that happens at the first attempt or later is another question altogether. Even so, the fact that New Zealand will one day be a republic seems pretty obvious to me.

Then, maybe, we can get the flag right, too.

The final word

The final results of the second referendum on the NZ flag were released yesterday, and the result was exactly the same: 43.2% voted for change, and 56.6% voted to keep the colonial flag. The absolute numbers for all categories went up, but they didn’t change the outcome at all.

All up, 2,140,895 votes were received, of which 2,135,622 were valid voted (and 5,044—a mere 0.2%—were invalid). This means that 67.8% of enrolled voters actually voted, which is a pretty good voter turnout, and awesome for a postal ballot.

Although I was disappointed in the result, I wasn’t in any way surprised: After such an awful “debate” there was no way the alternative flag would get a fair chance at replacing the colonial flag. However, the high voter turnout (relative to other postal ballots) means that this is a relatively sound result; had a minority of voters bothered to post their ballots back, the result could have been illegitimate.

At the end of February 2016, 92.35% of eligible voters were actually enrolled to vote. Under New Zealand law, it is mandatory that all eligible voters register to vote, but I’m not aware of anyone ever being penalised for failing to do so. Also, for a variety of reasons (such as moving house), there will always be some eligible voters who cannot be registered for a particular election.

What this means is that the actual voter turnout was about 62% of eligible voters. So, the vote to keep the colonial flag was 35% of eligible voters and the vote to change the flag was 27% of eligible voters. This is only something of interest to politics nerds because—obviously!—the only votes that matter are those actually cast, but it fascinates me how much difference those unregistered voters make to overall vote totals (and, the current flag still won a plurality of the vote among eligible voters—just not an outright majority).

Some people are still bleating on about this, either advocating how the push for change could be moved forward, or continuing to push ideological barrows, or continuing to micro-analyse the supposed reasons for the failure of the alternative flag, or some combination of these. Me, I’m just glad it’s over, and as much as I want to see a new flag, I hope it's something we don't revisit for a very, very long time.

Monday, March 28, 2016

AmeriNZ Podcast 320 is now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 320 – Nine Years” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This episode is less than five minutes long, and is just because I wanted to mark the fact that I've now been doing the AmeriNZ Podcast for nine years. How time flies!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Just another Sunday

As I’ve said many times before, New Zealanders aren’t terribly religious, even if they think of themselves as having a religion. So when a purely religious day like Easter comes around, most New Zealanders treat is as an just another Sunday. We did, too.

We had some chores to attend to, like getting the house clean and tidy. My mother-in-law was due to arrive this evening for a visit, and cleaning the house just before one’s mother-in-law arrives is part of the world’s universal laws. I’m sure it’s in the UN Charter somewhere.

So, all the chores went well, though we fought to clear a blocked drain. There’s a trading ban today—I’m not even sure we could have found a plumber, and I shudder to think what it would have cost! Even so, we succeeded, after using the garden hose to push the block along (my Nigel is very clever).

Other than that, it was just some little bits and pieces, such as we might do on any other Sunday—apart from shopping, due to that trading ban. Sundays are usually pretty quiet for us normally, the only difference this week is that we couldn’t go shopping if we wanted to.

But that’s the tale of our Easter—it was just another Sunday. Actually, it is every other year, too.

The photo up top is of two chocolate Easter Kiwi that the Easter Bunny left at our house. I haven’t seen those before, but maybe they’ve been around and I just didn’t know. In any case, it seems much more appropriate for New Zealand than yet more Northern Hemisphere imagery force-fed to Southern Hemisphere reality: It’s Autumn here, not Spring…

Saturday, March 26, 2016

No one knows, end of story

In the aftermath of the “debate” on changing the New Zealand flag, there’ve been all sorts of declarations on social media about what the results mean. Invariably, these declarations are all based entirely on the ideology, personal beliefs, prejudices, and even wishful thinking of the people making the declarations, because when it comes to saying why people voted as they did, there’s only one truth: No one really knows.

It’s important to note first that social media has very little connection to real-life voting behaviour—if it did, then Red Peak would be the new flag of New Zealand. Instead, it came in third in First Preferences in the first flag referendum, and was eliminated entirely in the third count. Social media also told us that “masses” of people would spoil their ballots in protest, but it ended up being less than10% of the total in either the preliminary or final results of the first referendum, (and insignificant in the second). The point is, one must take unsupported opinions on social media with considerably more than a single grain of salt (though saying “a salt mine” is overstating it a bit).

The most common comment I’ve seen has been about how the Māori electorates voted overwhelmingly against change. Some have claimed that Māori voters love the current flag, others that Māori voters felt left out of the process, or resented the alternative because it didn’t have Māori symbology. It’s probable that any/all of those things may have been at play for at least some Māori voters.

However, it's equally possible that Māori voters, like plenty—perhaps most—of all voters cast a protest vote, maybe against the selection system, maybe against the cost, maybe against John Key personally, maybe ALL of these things. The problem we have is that because there's been virtually no attitudinal polling, as usual, we really have no idea why anyone voted as they did. That's goes doubly for Māori voters who are generally not polled specifically at any time.

UMR Research polled twice on the issue of the flag change, and found little difference in their second poll, indicating that most voter intention was consistent. While they didn’t get the final vote percentages correct, their margin was close—and much closer than others I saw in February. Back then, most polls had the alternative design losing by nearly 3 to 1, while UMR’s was roughly 2 to 1. In the end, of course, it was much closer.

UMR also suggested—correctly, I think—that those most likely to change their vote would be among the 20% of respondents who said they planned on voting for the current flag, but who agreed with the statement, "in principle I would like to change the flag but I just do not like the alternative.” It looks like some of those may have indeed switched, and the undecided may have mostly gone for change, thereby tightening the margin.

UMR released more detailed vote analysis than any other pollster, which gives us some idea of who was voting which way, and it gave us some insight into why. For example, they reported that two-thirds of respondents agreed with the statement, “The flag referendum has been a distraction and a waste of money. New Zealanders should send John Key a message by voting for the current flag.” 79% of younger voters agreed with that statement, UMR said, as well as that they are “more likely to be Labour and Green voters than the population as a whole” (though they didn’t release specific data to back up that statement).

Adding all that up, we know quite a lot about the stated intentions of voters aligned with various party affiliations, voters in various age bands, and male and female voters—but we know nothing whatsoever about voting intentions of people in different races/ethnicities or economic classes. This data may have been recorded but not included in what was already very complicated reporting, but maybe it wasn’t even sought.

In the absence of such publicly available data, we have no idea why voters in Māori Electorates voted so overwhelmingly for the current flag. We can draw inferences based on what was reported—such as what I’ve highlighted, and also the fact that Labour Party supporters backed the current flag 73% to 19%, and Māori voters have in the past strongly supported Labour—but those are only inferences, albeit ones at least based on publicly available data.

It seems to me that some opponents of change may have been trying to make a moral justification for what was a largely political decision made by many opponents to “send John Key a message”. That desire for justification is completely understandable, and it happens all the time in all elections and (maybe especially) referenda. But assertions made without evidence are nothing more than opinions. I can’t prove that my assertion about their motivation any more than they can prove their assertions about why Māori voters voted as they did.

The “debate” on changing New Zealand’s flag was truly awful (a topic in itself), and in the post-vote analysis we shouldn’t allow unsupported personal viewpoints to continue to squeeze facts out. I offer no opinion on why the Māori Electorates (or any other ones) voted as they did because facts matter, and I simply don’t have any beyond what polls were showing. I think we all need to be careful about reading the results as validation of a particular perspective we may hold when we have absolutely no way to prove we're correct.

Why did voters vote the way they did? No one knows, end of story.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The winner is: Status quo

The preliminary results of the second and final New Zealand flag referendum were released tonight, and the current colonial flag won handily: 56.6% against change and 43.2% for change (see graphic above; click to embiggen). The final result may vary a bit, but probably not very much. So, that’s that—there will be no change to New Zealand’s flag for many years—or probably decades—to come.

The whole debate was the worst I’ve ever seen on any public referendum, and ended up mostly being about how much people disliked John Key. It was comparable to a referendum on compulsory retirement savings held in the late 1990s that people used to express their disapproval of Winston Peters, his New Zealand First party, and even MMP itself. So, this is nothing new.

I doubt very much that we’ll ever get another chance to vote on a new flag, either because it’ll happen decades from now when I’m well gone, or because a future government, seeing how awful this process was, will just impose a new flag on us, Canadian style. Any future referendum would be every bit as fraught as this fight was, something no politician would gladly push for until sometime well in the future when and—only if—public opinion is solidly for change, whenever that may be.

Still, voters of New Zealand voted in this referendum in respectable numbers—roughly 2.1 million voters returned their ballots, and the result tonight is roughly 67.3% of registered voters—dramatically higher than the percentage that will vote in the local government elections later this year. So, in that sense, we must respect the result—which isn’t the same as agreeing with it, of course.

I’ll have more to say next week when the official results are announced, and I’m free to say what I really think. In the meantime, I’m disappointed, yes, and even more so that the anti-change crowd are still engaging in their insufferable condescension when, just maybe, a little high road behaviour might now be appropriate; if there was anything other than gloating and point-scoring, I didn’t see it.

Still, there’s one thing that all factions in this fight can agree on: We’re glad it's over. After all, there are so many more important things for the New Zealand public to focus on, like which woman will have to leave “The Bachelor NZ” next!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The DA Global Primary and realities

Image: Democrats Abroad, http://www.democratsabroad.org/global_presidential_primary_results
Democrats Abroad, the group representing US citizens who support the Democratic Party and who live outside the USA, have announced the results of their 2016 Global Primary. The headline result is that Bernie Sanders received 69% of the vote and Hillary Clinton received 31% (see chart). But it’s far more interesting than that alone.

34,570 votes were cast in 170 countries throughout the world, which, the group says, is up 50% on 2008’s turnout. That’s impressive, and as much as anything else, that’s clearly a testament to the successful “get out the vote” effort by Democrats Abroad. I know that I certainly heard more about it this year than any year previously, and I was impressed by their promotional efforts.

As a result of the Global Primary, Bernie Sanders receives nine pledged delegates and Hillary Clinton receives four. There are also four uncommitted “superdelates” made up of eight members of the Democratic National Committee who each receive half a vote. I think that how they got to the numbers of committed delegates is interesting.

First, delegates are awarded by region: Americas, both candidates got one each, as they also did in the Asia-Pacific Region (which New Zealand is part of). In what they call EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), Sanders got three delegates to Clinton’s two. Put another way, they were pretty even on the regional vote.

Sanders’ other four delegates came from apportioned delegates: One Party Leader/Elected Official (PLEO) delegate, as well as three at-large delegates. The results posted on their site says, “The remaining four delegates are allocated to achieve the proportion of the overall global vote each candidate received.” So, of the 13 committed delegates at stake, Sanders was entitled to about 8.94 delegates and Clinton 4.02, based on their share of the popular vote. Since a person can’t be cut into pieces, they round, as you’d expect.

US Democrats living in New Zealand cast 539 votes, 476 for Sanders and 63 for Clinton. This amounted to 1.56% of the total votes cast in the Global Primary. Among countries I write about, the results were: Australia 873 votes (635 Sanders, 237 Clinton, 1 O’Malley) for 2.53% of the total; Canada 3272 votes (2171 Sanders, 1087 Clinton, 2 O’Malley, and 12 Uncommitted) for 9.46% of the total; the United Kingdom 4610 votes (2874 Sanders, 1726 Clinton, 4 O’Malley, 1 De La Fuente, 5 Uncommitted) for 13.34% of the total vote. None of which is important, but it’s kind of interesting (the website has a complete breakdown by country/region).

Globally, Clinton won in only two countries: Nigeria (she got four votes to Sanders’ one), and the Dominican Republic, which was a total outlier: Clinton got 350 votes to Sanders’ 53. I have no idea why.

I often say that when evaluating things reported by the news media (both mainstream and alternative, left or right), it’s important to check original sources whenever possible. A good example of that is the reporting on CNN:

The contest marks the Vermont senator's 10th win so far this campaign season and his first victory since winning the Michigan primary on March 8. Clinton, who swept the primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio last week, has won 19 contests overall.

Well, sort of: As CNN reports two paragraphs later, “Voting was held from March 1 through March 8,” which means voting closed the same day as Michigan, so the one really has little to do with the other. During that voting period, Sanders won more delegates in eight states: Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, Nebraska, Kansas, and Maine, as well as Michigan. Meanwhile, Clinton got more delegates in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The results of the Global Primary, then, have little to do with Michigan, which was just one of the states contested in that period, and, technically, Sanders won the DA Global Primary on the same day he won Michigan—it’s just that we didn’t know about it at the time. Still, it may serve as a psychological boost for Sanders’ supporters, and that may be what CNN meant to say.

It’s important to remember that there’s still a primary season to complete between now and the final primary in the District of Columbia on June 14. At the moment, Clinton has a lead of only some 300 delegates among those won in contests, and it’s only because of her massive lead in superdelegates (467 to Sanders’ 26) that she currently leads him nearly 2 to 1 in the total number of delegates. This is why the Sanders supporters say the contest isn’t over, and Sanders may still win the nomination.

On the other hand, as pundits keep pointing out, Clinton only needs 752 more delegates to win the nomination, while Sanders needs 1,512. Pundits also say that the remaining contests are more favourable for Clinton than Sanders, based on the demographic breakdowns of the voting so far.

I think that both sides are correct, however, there’s also clearly a LOT more work for Sanders’ campaign to do to win the nomination than there is for Clinton’s campaign. Nothing is certain for either candidate, however.

I also think that Sanders should stay in the race, not just because leaving would be premature, but also because of common sense: Having a race means that there will be at least some media attention given to the Democrats, though just as a brief interruption of the news networks’ new reality TV obsession, “The Drumpf Show”. Once the Democratic nomination is decided—and regardless of who wins—the networks will focus only on Drumpf.

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but from the “any publicity is good publicity” perspective, even the discussions of whether Bernie has a chance, whether he should drop out, whether Hillary’s supporters are jumping the gun in saying he should go, all of that is good for Democrats—as long as the party unifies behind whoever the nominee is, of course. There’s a slogan gaining ground on social media, “I’m voting Blue, no matter who” to signal one’s intention to vote for whoever the eventual nominee is (as I’ve repeatedly pledged, too).

I think the Global Primary result was interesting, and related to both politics and expat issues, so a natural topic for me. Even so, I still won’t say who I voted for in the Illinois Democratic Primary (I didn’t take part in the Global Primary), and that’s because I don’t think it’s important. After all, come November, “I’m voting Blue, no matter who”.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Weekend Diversion: Tom Goss

Sooner or later, we all hear remakes of songs we loved when we were young. Years, even decades later, someone will record a new version, one that may sound completely different than the song we heard in our youth, and we may not like it. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we like the new version. But this is the first time I ever heard a remake of a song and thought, “That’s what I always imagined it could be!” as the inner young gay boy I was smiles in happiness.

The video above is for “Son of a Preacher Man” by Tom Goss. His version keeps the original lyrics, singing them complete with male pronouns. The video features a love story of two gay youths. In Tom’s version, the song is about two boys, one of whom is the son of an anti-gay preacher man.

When I heard the original 1968 version by Dusty Springfield, I instantly liked it, and mostly because I was the son of a preacher man and never heard that part of my identity expressed in pop music, so that was a novel experience. And yet, there was so much more.

I came to really know the song some years after it was released, when I was at or nearing puberty, and suddenly all pop music had new layers of meaning. When I heard the song come on the radio, I imagined in my head a scenario in which the love interest of the son of the preacher man was another boy. It wasn’t that I thought of myself in the role of the son and a boy was courting me, at least not exactly, it was more about what I’ve referred to as "filling in the blanks", inserting my reality as a closeted gay kid into songs that weren’t about me or anyone like me.

This new version portrays what I imagined all those years ago (although I never got quite as specific as Tom’s video, of course). The point is, I imagined the song being about two boys, and this video is. I also like that it ends on a happy note (that some people have compared to the end of the movie The Graduate). It also includes a cameo by actor Deven Green (perhaps best known as Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian™) as the lemon-sucking-faced church lady.

The song also has an arrangement that differs from the original in some specific ways, and I think that helps make a break from what was to what this version is without being TOO different. That, combined with the video, gives this version a much more serious take than the original. The whole project was funded through Kickstarter.

Of course the irony in all this is that Dusty Springfield was herself lesbian, though I never knew that until I was well into adulthood; it would have made a big difference to me had I known that at the time, though that was impossible back then. Another irony, “Son of a Preacher Man” was Dusty’s last Top Ten single until she teamed up with the very gay Pet Shop Boys for “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” nearly 20 years later.

Tom Goss, meanwhile, is a 34 year old openly gay independent musician and actor, who at one time was in seminary studying to become a priest. I think I first heard of him when he released his video for “Bears” (below), about, as the Wikipedia link puts it, his “affinity toward Bears, a subset of the gay male culture that describes large, burly, often hairy men.” It is his most-viewed video.

The first video I saw may also have been an earlier video for “Make Believe”: “The human time-lapse video features a (discreetly) naked Goss lying perfectly still on his back while nationally renowned painter Scott G. Brooks transforms his body into a tropical landscape lush with vines and flowers.” [WATCH]. It was—unusual. He performs a variety of songs, and shares them on his YouTube Channel.

So, I liked Tom Goss’ cover of “Son of a Preacher Man”, not the least because he made it about what I imagined in my head all those years ago. I can’t remember a remake ever having done that for me before.

Stories matter

One of the defining aspects of humans is that we’re social, but we’re hardly unique in that. What does make us unique is that we can share in our social nature through words and visual images, and we use those abilities, and the technologies related to them, to learn about, understand, and form bonds with people all over the world. One of the ways we do that is through storytelling, and the video above is an example of that.

The video is the latest from a non-profit project called “I’m From Driftwood”, which, as their YouTube Channel puts it, “collects and shares true LGBTQ stories from all over the world to help our youth feel not so alone.” YouTube demographics skew somewhat younger than many other mass media, and it’s very much a place where young LGBTQ people create and share. So, it seems to me that this project is a perfect match for YouTube, and YouTube is the perfect place to reach LTBTQ people of any age.

The project was founded by Nathan Manske, who said on the project’s About page:
I was inspired to create I’m From Driftwood after seeing a photograph of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, riding on the hood of a car and holding a sign that read, “I’m From Woodmere, N.Y.” The sign showed just how far people came to attend the 1978 San Francisco Gay Pride march, but it meant something more to me: It meant that there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in every small town and every big city across America and the world. I was thinking about that photo the morning after watching Milk, the biopic of Harvey Milk written by Dustin Lance Black. Harvey’s from Woodmere, New York; I’m from Driftwood, Texas.
The YouTube Channel holds the stories of many and diverse people, with many and diverse experiences. Their website also posts written stories. As their website says, “The stories on I'm From Driftwood send a simple yet powerful message to LGBTQ people everywhere: You are not alone.” I think it succeeds in that, but there’s more that it does, too.

I saw the video above when a friend shared it on Facebook, which is one of the ways these stories spread. In the days before the Internet, such easy (and anonymous) sharing wasn’t possible. Because of the Internet, LGBTQ people, along with their friends and family, can learn about the real lives of LGBTQ people, and that helps grow the acceptance of LGBTQ people, including accepting themselves. And, before they’re ready to embrace truth, they can learn in relative anonymity.

Any project that gathers human stories and makes them easily accessible is a good thing for building and expanding our shared humanity. There are many projects that do this, and the focus of this one does adds to that. Together, these projects make it easier for us to better understand each other.

All of our stories matter.

The video below is about the project:

Friday, March 18, 2016

A picture and fewer than 1,000 words

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, which implies that all pictures can convey a story. Many can, some don’t, but sometimes a photo has its own story, aside from the story it depicts. This is one of those times.

The photo above is, at the time I’m posting this, my profile photo on Facebook. After I posted it, I said in the comments, “Look into my eyes—um, sunglasses… [wink emoticon]”, and that actually is the entire reason I used the photo, and the start of its story.

The story actually began earlier in the day. I was driving home from some errands, thinking about how it was a nice sunny day, and I should take a new profile photo (I like to change them from time to time). In my mind’s eye, I imagined a photo with me wearing my sunglasses and raising an eyebrow.

So, awhile after I got home, I went out on the deck and positioned myself in a relatively shady spot with sunlight reflected back me from the deck (for the lighting). I tried a variety of shots, as I always do, from a number of angles and varying the closeness.

When I loaded them into my computer, I scrolled through them fairly quickly and didn’t really like any of them. The ones with my eyebrow raised were particularly bad (I’m developing “old man” eyebrows, and it showed; I guess I have to learn how to trim them). I was about to give up, and then I noticed what was reflected in my sunglasses, something I hadn’t noticed when I shot the photos.

Next, I picked the one that had the best reflection, cropped it a little tighter (removed the pimple on my nose…), and then considered what to do with it. I wanted to call attention to the lenses, so in Photoshop I converted the rest of the photo to black and white and left my sunglasses in colour (the frames are actually colour, too, but since they’re black, the transition isn’t noticeable).

Having found the look I wanted, I uploaded the photo, made the comment and that was that. The original photo (unedited photo is at left; embiggen, if you must) wasn’t all that different, but the subtle shift to black and white for the main photo worked, I think, and I think looks much better than the original for what I wanted to emphasise. I also think the edited photo gets rid of some other things I didn’t like about the original, things that are kind of beside the point.

What this story is about, really, is how important it is to really look at the photos we take (I had no idea what was reflected in my sunglasses until I did), and also to not be afraid to look for ways to enhance whatever message we want to emphasise (again, in this case, the reflection).

I like talking about the photos I take, not just about how I take them, but also why. I did that recently with most of the photos in my Nature Photo A Day series (see? I gave them their own tag). But, really, we all mostly take photos to document something for ourselves and/or for others; the story of the photo is beside the point, and maybe just helps provide context.

This photo, like so many others, has its own story. Now, that story has been told—in fewer than a thousand words.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sensible policy: So of course it’s opposed

If a government policy is old and time-tested, and it’s also both sensible and fair, when would a sitting NZ prime minster condemn it? When the prime minster is John Key and the person talking about that sensible government policy is Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, head of the NZ Labour Party. Meanwhile, the policy remains sensible.

Andrew Little said that employers of semi-skilled workers should have to hire New Zealanders first, before bringing in cheap foreign workers. So, John Key engaged his snark mode: “Now [Labour] don't want people with Chinese-sounding names making chicken chop suey.” Which is ironic, because Andrew Little did NOT talk about ethnic chefs except to defend them.

The problem for John Key is that Andrew Little’s absolutely right.

Before I was allowed to move to New Zealand, my would-be employer had to satisfy Immigration New Zealand (INZ) that there was no resident or citizen of New Zealand available who could do the job I was hired to do. That meant liaising with several different government agencies. It was only after ALL those departments were satisfied that my work visa and permit were issued and I was able to move to New Zealand—for one year at a time. This was over 20 years ago now, and it demonstrates that there's nothing even remotely new about what Andrew Little said—and John Key obviously knows that.

Little's larger point is that allowing mainly unregulated migration by low-skilled workers was driving down wages in New Zealand. National Party policy has been to keep NZ a low-wage economy [See: “Confirmed: National welcomes low-wage economy” by Frank Macskasy; while left-leaning, his piece also has links to original sources backing this assertion]. Low wages increase companies’ profits, of course, and that benefits the elites that back the National Party.

But, what about ethnic restaurants, specifically? That industry was the focus of John Key’s snark—should it have been?

There are several incidents in which foreign workers were treated as virtual slaves by their employers, and the most notorious was in the hospitality industry. Back in 2013, the Sunday Star-Times reported on a chain of Indian restaurants in Auckland that had paid staff as little as $3 an hour, forcing them to work 11 hours a day, six days a week, and made them live in overcrowded dormitories.

Two years later, Fairfax reported the chain was fined $25,000 for exploiting a worker—one week after being fined $10,000 for exploiting workers.

In October, 2015, two of the restaurant chain’s officers were convicted in Auckland District Court of exploiting foreign workers after an investigation by Immigration New Zealand. INZ felt the convictions sent a “strong message” that such exploitation would not be tolerated, but the limp sentences, on top of the clearly irrelevant earlier fines, seems to suggest that is probably not actually the case.

All of this went on while John Key was prime minister, so he knew—or should have known—about the existence of the exploitation of foreign workers. If this one chain would so brazenly—and repeatedly—exploit workers, there’s no reason to think others aren’t doing the exact same thing. John Key’s snarky remarks about “people with Chinese-sounding names making chicken chop suey” suggests that he may not actually care about exploitation of foreign workers, or that he has no idea what the extent of the problem is.

While I expect John Key to ignore real problems facing ordinary New Zealanders, I was surprised at the Green Party jumping to the defence of John Key and the status quo. Co-leader James Shaw, who is much more conservative than his predecessor, suggested that since companies importing semi-skilled foreign workers are “performing”, they should be left alone. This seems like more evidence for how the Green Party is no longer left-leaning, since Shaw never commented on the downward wage pressure on semi-skilled New Zealand workers caused by the current policies. That makes it look like he and the Green Party think that forcing wages lower for semi-skilled workers is okay as long as the companies are “performing”. If so, it’s an awfully elitist position for a party that likes to say it stands for the needs or ordinary New Zealanders.

So, when you combine all this—the long-standing policy of giving New Zealanders first crack at jobs within their own country, the downward wage pressure caused by cheap foreign workers, and the opportunity this system creates for exploiting foreign-born workers, Andrew Little is exactly right to say this system needs to be changed.

Three clowns left

Marco Antonio Rubio has dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination following his humiliating defeat in Florida. In announcing his departure, Rubio said, "It is not God's plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever." None of earth’s many gods or goddesses responded to media requests for comment.

Rubio was once the darling of the Republican Party’s teabaggers, but they rejected him when he was part of the ill-fated attempt at immigration reform in 2013. For teabaggers, when it comes to racist attacks on Hispanic immigrants, legal or otherwise, nothing succeeds like excess, and in their eyes Rubio was no different than the most Liberal Democrat. Which probably just reinforces how delusional teabaggers truly are.

Rubio ran a terrible campaign—every bit as bad as Jeb! (just don’t say) Bush’s. Like Bush, Rubio was touted as a “mainstream Republican” candidate, and when Bush quit, Rubio became the Republican elites’ last best hope of stopping Donald Drumpf and the Canadian-born Rafael “Ted” Cruz. Things didn't work out that way [see: “Marco Rubio just quit the race. The establishment couldn't save him.” on Vox for more on that].

Rubio did some seriously weird—and stupid—shit, too. Seeing how well Drumpf did in the polls by being a bully, Rubio decided to do that, too. While his poll ratings did go up for awhile, he was really lousy at it, sinking so low that he talked about the size of Drumpf’s penis. Id’ say that was the low point of the Republican Circus, but there are so many things competing for that title, and many more sure to come, that it’s way too soon to declare that as THE low point.

However, the fact that Rubio was terrible at acting the bully is actually a GOOD thing! In this Season of Stupid, when Republican clowns candidates have been engaged in a never-ending race to the bottom, the fact that one of them couldn’t even fake being a bully means that Rubio does, in fact, have some character. That, and seeing how clearly hurt he was at his loss, almost made me feel sorry for him. Or, it would have if I didn’t know that he’s just as much a far-right religious extremist as both the Canadian-born Rafael “Ted” Cruz and Ohio’s Governor what’s his name (I’m being mean: I know his name is Kasich—wait, is it? I’d better double check that…).

The larger point here is that the Republican Circus this year has been filled with clowns, and Rubio was one, too. He just wasn’t as big a jerk as either Drumpf or Cruz, which is weak praise, indeed; it’s also the absolute best I could possibly offer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Latest NZ Flag Referendum TV ads

Above and below are the latest—and probably last—TV ads intended to get people to vote in the NZ Flag Referendum. Voting closes on Thursday, March 24 (because Friday the 25th is a public holiday).

The ad up top, “Got Your Papers?” was telling people how to get voting papers if they hadn’t yet arrived. I first saw (and shared it) on Facebook on March 13, though it had been posted by the Electoral Commission a couple days before. I may have seen it that night, but Iknow for sure I saw it the next day. The ad replaced the first ad, which had been running since the beginning of March.

The third ad, “Made Up Your Mind?”, which may be the last new ad, is below. It’s reminding voters to post their ballots by Monday to get to the Returning Officer on time. I first saw this ad on Facebook today (it was originally posted late last night), and later on TV when I was watching the midday news.

I always share Electoral Commission ads because they’re interesting, and also because I know others will think so, too—particularly those in other countries where this sort of advertising isn’t done. However, both ads were posted on the Electoral Commission’s YouTube Channel today (I’ve been checking frequently). That’s why both ads are in this one post: The earlier ad wasn’t available on YouTube until the newest one was.

Having said that, so far the Electoral Commission has kept most of its ads and videos from elections and referenda over the past few years. I wish it kept all of them posted because they’re a great resource when researching how democracy is done in contemporary New Zealand. But, at least we have them while we have them, I guess; I have no idea whether they’re kept in any sort of archive anywhere, but TVNZ may have the ads, since they ran on the network. If so, researchers may be able to get to them.

For the first referendum, there was a final ad (which is still on YouTube), announcing the end of voting. For some bizarre reason, I never shared it here (“bizarre” because I share such ads and because I really needed content back in December). There may be a similar one for this referendum, but it also wouldn’t surprise me with voting closing on Thursday. But, if there is a final ad, this time I WILL share it here.

I voted – and I’ve been counted

Today I got the following note by email about the Illinois Primary:
Dear Arthur Schenck,

Your ballot for the following election

General Primary

has been COUNTED.

For more information, contact your local election official

Thank you,
Illinois State Board of Elections
I’ve been talking about this over the past six weeks, beginning in January, when I talked about the MOVE programme and overseas voting, comparing the USA with some other countries. The email I quoted from was generated because I took part in Illinois’ MOVE-FPCA programme. In February, I talked about the Illinois Primary and what was on my ballot. Then, of course, I posted my ballot back one week ago today, and wrote about it the following day.

This is the first end-to-end discussion of my own voting I’ve ever been able to document—apart from who I voted for, since I haven’t discussed that, nor even provided any hints. This year, documenting the evolving process for voting by overseas US citizens was my main interest, not the politics of it. Yeah, even I think that’s a little weird for me…

Knowing, as I do, how paranoid some of my fellow Americans are, I should point out that my ballot was secret. They knew to send me this email because the envelope in which I returned my ballot had a barcode to help them track it and direct the final ballot (you can see it above my thumb in the bottom photo in last week’s post). However, that’s not actually much different from how they track any voter: In-person voters sign-in at their polling places and are marked off; which party’s ballot, if any, is also recorded. My actual ballot was kept secure the whole time.

The email—the first time I've ever been sent an email like this—was in some ways the equivalent of the “I Voted” stickers that people get when they vote in person—or, rather, it is now that I’ve shared the text. That’s part of the reason I quoted from it, since I don’t get a sticker. It was kind of nice for me, if only symbolically, that I got this “sticker” on March 15, just as my voting friends and family in Illinois will tomorrow, when it’s March 15 there.

So, my voting process for this year’s Illinois Democratic Primary is now completed. When Illinois’ vote totals are announced tomorrow, mine will be included, something I could never be sure of until this year.

It’s nice to be counted.

Monday, March 14, 2016

10 Safest Countries If WW3 Breaks Out

I know a lot of Americans who have been joking about moving overseas if Donald Drumpf actually becomes president. Mostly, they’ve just been joking, fully aware that after every presidential election nowadays, people say that. And yet, another kind of safety might be needed.

The video above is is from Top Lists, and is, as the title suggests, about the “10 Safest Countries If WW3 Breaks Out”, something that seems more possible if Drumpf or Cruz become president. I’m sharing the video to be a bit cheeky, sure, but also because—of course!—New Zealand makes the list. Whew!

I don’t know the extent to which Drumpf is serious about all his warmongering talk, but he’s just arrogant enough to start some wars for the hell of it. And, all the other Republicans want to invade Syria. All of which means that a new world war is far more possible if any of the current Republican clowns candidates are elected than at any time since Bush the Second was elected. Mind, I said more possible, not more likely, though it may be that, too.

All that aside, this video is really a bit of speculative fun about a very dark subject. And, we learn a few things about countries, too, and that's always a good thing.


Most humans have an aversion to certain creatures we call pests—insects, vermin, that sort of thing. In some cases, it’s mere disgust at things associated with filth—cockroaches and rats, for example. But there are also more elementary fears that may be hard-wired into our core. Today, I was reminded of the latter fact.

I’m afraid of snakes and spiders, which are the first and second most-common fears for Americans, according an article LiveScience posted a few years ago. In New Zealand, which has no land snakes, I’m unlikely to have to face that fear. Spiders, however, are everywhere, and my fear of them grows in direct proportion to how big and ugly they are.

Like today.

It was still dark outside this morning, sometime before six. “Come here for a second,” Nigel said to me. I wasn’t really awake at the time, and didn’t need to get up for awhile, but Nigel persisted. “You have to go to the toilet anyway, right? Just come here for a second.”

So, I did. He was in the kitchen. “Look at that!” he said, pointing at the floor, it was a big ugly spider, about three kilometres across. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit (its legspan was probably about 3 or 4 centimetres). My heart started racing as soon as I saw it.

“It looks like a huntsman,” Nigel said, referring to the large (but not dangerous to humans) spider native to Australia and reportedly on the verge of becoming established in parts of New Zealand (Wikipedia has an article with photos). “I don’t care what it is,” I said. “Kill it!!”

I have a long-standing policy: Any spider that crosses my threshold will forfeit its life. This is non-negotiable, and the penalty is meted out the fastest for the biggest and ugliest spiders. Nigel is not as focused on assured destruction of spiders.

“It could be an Avondale spider,” he suggested next. That’s actually a type of huntsman spider that’s been in New Zealand for about a century. Typically found in the Auckland area called Avondale (hence the name…) it was the “star” of the movie Arachnophobia and was in the beginning of Spider-Man. Harmless to humans, but still gross—and also not the one in our kitchen, because that one was black.

Personally, after bit if online research, I think it may have been a vagrant spider, or maybe a jumping spider. Interestingly, seeing photos of spiders doesn’t bother me, but I can’t watch videos of spiders (Te Papa has a bunch of photos of spiders common in New Zealand). Whatever it was, had I been alone, the spider would have perished before I even knew I was eliminating it.

Nigel, however, caught it and put it in a old Chinese takeaway container after I left the room. “It’s okay,” he called out to me. “It’s on the kitchen bench now.” “KILL IT!” I yelled back, from the safety of the other side of the house. I thought he meant it was loose on the bench. Nigel must have guess that: “No, it’s okay,” he said. “It’s in a container.”

I went back to bed, certain that Nigel would think it was funny to bring it into the bedroom to show me. He never did, of course, but I had a dream that he did, and I woke up dreaming I was crying due to frustration that he wasn’t listening me telling him to keep it away from me. None of that actually happened.

However, when I went out to the kitchen a couple hours after the pre-dawn incident, the monster was still in the plastic container on the bench, but up near the lid, trying, I was certain, to open it so it could escape—to seek revenge for its imprisonment.

I went about my morning rituals, and while I did that, Nigel carried the container outside and released the spider into the bush. I was aware that his actions demonstrated a certain moral superiority over me, but I still maintain mine is the best way to deal with spider invaders.

My great hope is that spider told its kind about how it had been captured, kept in solitary confinement, but ultimately released unharmed, so he and his kind should stay clear of our house. I’m certain, however, that they’ve been plotting their revenge all day long—hey, I managed to watch (most of) Arachnophobia, so I know it’s what they do!

I don’t like spiders and snakes, and I’m fine with that. I know some people try to get over the phobias, but they can take their “desensitising therapy” and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine—like the nearest spider nest, for example. Me, I’ll keep my fear to better avoid becoming a victim.

Critters may have their place, but anywhere near me is not one of them, and never will be.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

How Powerful Is New Zealand?

The video above is from Test Tube News from Discovery Networks, and it was released in May of last year. I saw it for the first time yesterday. And that led to the video at the bottom of this post.

First things first, the first thing: The video up top actually isn’t too bad, though it’s incredibly annoying when she says that the majority of New Zealand’s population lives “on North Island”, when it should have been “in the North Island” (or at the very least, “on the North Island”; no one in New Zealand ever refers to the two main islands without a “the” in front of it).

A second thing: DON’T watch the alternative history video they hype—it’s terrible. The audio is awful (no pop filter was used, apparently), they never really get around to providing an coherent alternative history in any detail, and the pronunciation of Māori words isn’t even close to correct. Including of the word Māori. Just skip it.

Instead, there’s the second video (below) from BuzzFeed, “Why New Zealand Is Better Than Australia”. Obviously tongue-in-cheek, the video is kind of a funny in a knowing sort of way—which is a nice way of saying that if you don’t know what their talking about, much of the humorous barbs will fall flat.

Even so, it’s a light-hearted look at the sibling rivalry between New Zealand and Australia, with a pro-New Zealand tilt. Still, judging by the YouTube comments, Aussies don’t seem to get the joke, which is kind of typical, really (yes, that’s a sarcastic joke, too…).

In any event, I don’t know if they made one from the other side of the ditch’s perspective, because I haven’t looked. I only found this one because YouTube put it in the “Up Next” sidebar to the video up top. I don’t actually go looking for these videos…

Both videos have elements of truth, and both have a bit of fun (the second one in particular). And considering that I was able to bring them in to pinch hit when the post I’d planned for today didn’t work out, I think they’re bloody marvellous.

That, too, is taking the piss, of course.

Update March 15: As Roger Green points out in the comments, and I meant to address in this post, the video up top said New Zealand is a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. As most people know or could guess, New Zealand is NOT a member of NATO. However, New Zealand and Australia are among countries that NATO refers to as “Partners across the globe”, countries that are not part of any of NATO’s formal structures. As NATO puts it on their website: “These countries develop cooperation with NATO in areas of mutual interest, including emerging security challenges, and some contribute actively to NATO operations either militarily or in some other way.”

So, the video was incorrect to say that New Zealand is a member of NATO, because it’s not. However, New Zealand does have a relationship with NATO, so I rate this particular fact “Partially True”, since the context was about New Zealand working with international organisations, which it does do.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Photo of the day

This photo has absolutely NO significance whatsoever. However, if you want meaning, think of it as showing possibility: The spoon, the empty bowl, all that. Me, I just liked the shininess, the emptiness, and the accidental composition. Sometimes, there really is no meaning to a photo other than none.

In any case, I made this photo my Facebook profile photo. For now…

Thursday, March 10, 2016

From the other side

When I shared the videos supporting changing the NZ flag, I said I’d share any ads supporting the current flag “if possible”. Well, a few can be shared, and here they are in all their glory.

To say I’m not a fan of these videos would be a huge understatement, and not just because I take the opposite position: I think the first two are utterly terrible, both as advocacy ads and even just ads in general. Nevertheless, I did promise to share what I found, and these are all I’ve seen so far.

First up is the video at the top of this post, “The Letter . Keep Our Flag‬”, with that weird full-stop in the middle of the title. I don’t know if it was meant to go after “letter” or if it was to be a bullet separating the two parts. As someone who confronts others’ typography sins all the time, this made the video get off to a bad start with me.

The content is abysmal, hitting viewers with overly wrought sentimentalism with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Emotion and sentimentalism both can work very well in political advertising, but it works best when its restrained and at least a little subtle: The narrator reads a letter to her dead father who was a soldier as a choir sings the NZ national anthemion the background, and the current flag flutters away as the visual. My first reaction was that it was unbelievably smarmy, but then I realised that it seemed unable to decide which point to promote as a reason to vote for the current flag/against the alternative. The ad could have made an appeal to patriotism (a risky move in NZ, though), or facts, but muddling them together was jarring.

I have no idea who made the ad up top, but it was on the YouTube Channel of a New Zealand documentary maker who, somewhat ironically, was condemned by the ruling conservative National Party for a documentary he’d made on child poverty in New Zealand that was aired just before the election. If he made “The Letter”, it seems a bit out of character, and not up to his usual standards.

The next video, just above, is “Lest We Forget : The Real Flag HD- Read By Ian Mune‬” (again with the weird punctuation spacing!). It’s actually the first pro-current flag video I saw. The documentary maker said on YouTube, “I was sent this moving recording of Ian Mune OBE reading the poem Lest We Forget-a tribute to our flag. So I thought I'd post it so you can share it with your friends and family in the lead up to the flag referendum.” It was posted on February 22, but I didn’t see it until the past few days. This video is even worse than the one up top.

Ian Mune is a well-known New Zealand actor (he was, of course, in Lord of the Rings…). To my mind, there’s nothing more boring than watching someone read a script, however, fans of the current flag would probably like it, and that’s fine: Everyone has different tastes. However, as an advocacy video it’s an utter failure, unable to make its case in a way that could persuade. Personally, I find the poem awfully twee, not “moving” in any sense whatsoever—unless me rolling my eyes at the banality of it counts as “moving”. Again, differing tastes, and all that.

In fairness, I doubt very much that “Lest We Forget” was ever intended as an ad—it was probably just intended for those who’d already made up their minds to vote for the current flag, which is fair enough: There’s no reason why supporters of the current flag shouldn’t have some “feel good” messages. But if it was intended to win over people, it failed miserably in that role.

The reason I include the second video is because of the next video, below: “Lest we forget the New Zealand flag”. The guy who made it said, “I found the original video of him to be so moving that I put some pictures and music (points if you can pick it) to it.”

This video is too long for a TV ad, of course, but as an advocacy video, it’s actually good—the only decent pro-current flag ad I’ve seen so far. It takes that dreary and twee poem read by Ian Mune and adds a simple music score as wells as images that illustrate what the poem was talking about (some of which could be useful for non-New Zealanders who see it, especially if they saw the original first).

The use of the images was particularly good—not relying merely on patriotic images alone as the first video did. New Zealanders are not an overtly patriotic people, so mixing the visuals appealing to patriotism with others makes the appeal to patriotism much more subtle, and that, in turn, helps keep the emotionalism and sentimentality more subtle and controlled, as they should be for an advocacy ad to be effective. However, I do have one criticism: The music track was too loud, and that created some aural confusion that was distracting. On the whole, though, a good job.

I saw all three videos before I voted, and, obviously, none of them persuaded me, which probably wasn’t their aim. However, of the three, only the last one had any chance of persuading someone who was truly undecided and who also cared about voting (those don’t necessarily go together). I doubt that anyone would be persuaded by any of the ads for or against change, though, because I just don’t think most New Zealanders care all that much about the referendum.

We still have a couple more weeks of voting to go.

AmeriNZ Podcast 318 now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 318 – Old School” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

A day of democracy

Yesterday was a day of democracy, though it started out as an ordinary Tuesday. My mother-in-law stayed with us on Monday night, and we were going out to lunch at a great Japanese restaurant in Birkenhead, right near the Postshop. That made it the perfect day to pop my ballots in the post.

First, though, I had to vote.

First up was my postal ballot for the second New Zealand Flag Referendum. The unmarked ballot is up top. I’ve made clear how I intended to vote, and I did as I promised: I voted to change the flag. Unlike others, though, I decided not to do a photo of the marked ballot.

Next up, it was my ballot for the Illinois Democratic Primary (left). I vote for my choice for Democratic nominee for President, for US Senator from Illinois, US Representative from the district I last lived in (not visible in the photo; she was unopposed), and also seven delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

It’s actually a violation of Illinois law to show a marked ballot, so mine is blank—but that would have been my photo, anyway: For the first time in my adult life, I’ve decided to not talk about who I voted for. That’s because whatever choices I made (president and delegate), some would be delighted and some would not, and I just don’t care to fuel any division by revealing my choices (at least, not at the moment—I might change my mind). The position of my hand and pen in the photo is NOT a clue, by the way: I was merely trying to show the moment of decision approaching.

I put my voting papers in their respective envelopes, and off we went. We had an awesome lunch, and a nice, relaxing time. When we were done, I went off to post my ballots while my mother-in-law checked out the used books in the nearby opshop.

On my way into the Postshop, I popped my flag referendum ballot into the box. Here’s the obligatory photo of that:

Next, I went inside to get the postage for the US ballot, since I had to send it airmail. It’d actually be free to send if I took it to the US Consulate in the CBD, but that’s more hassle than it’s worth. As it happens, it was only $3.60 to post (today, around US$2.43), which I didn’t think was too bad.

I left with the envelope with the proper NZ postage on it, and headed to the letterbox for airmail. Below is the obligatory photo of me posting that ballot:

And that was my day of democracy. I had to document it because, of course, I always do, and also because it’s the first time I can remember voting in two countries’ elections on the same day. Sometimes being an expat can be a bit odd.

But voting is always important—and fun. And, so was yesterday.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

While they were sleeping

Last week was a very busy week. I was so swamped with work that I really didn’t have any time for blogging, though I did try. One of my ideas was to do a quick post with some photos with the furbabies. Things didn’t go according to plan—twice.

The first problem was simply lack of time: By Thursday, and on through the weekend, I just didn’t have time to do the post I’d originally planned on doing Thursday. So, I then decided to post it yesterday: But just as I finished and was ready to save the file so I could publish the post, Word crashed with no save. My fault—I hadn’t saved it at the very beginning as I usually do.

So, after all that, I decided to post the photos, anyway. Besides, even though I took them all last Thursday, they’re actually pretty typical for any day. So, here’s what I saw.

It all started with the photo at the top left of this post, with the three furbabies sleeping on the bed (well, Sunny was raising her head to see what I was doing). It was 8:34am, and I’d finished my shower and was getting dressed when I saw them all and snapped a photo.

The photo above was at 3:30pm. Jake had made himself a little nest on the guest bed. Since I already had the photo of the three of them from the morning, seeing Jake gave me the idea to go and take a photo of each furbaby sleeping.

The photo of Sunny laying in the hallway was taken about the same time: She’d followed me and lay down to wait until I sat down somewhere, since she generally prefers to sleep near to wherever I am.

I took the photo of Bella at 5:12pm. She was sleeping on what I call her “auxillary bed”, the disused BBQ that was in the “Nature Photo A Day” series on Day 6, “Detritus”. She wasn’t around the house, as near as I could tell, when I took the photos of Sunny and Jake, but I wanted her to be in the series, too.

And that was the idea. Not a great one, as it happens, but a few obstacles made me even more determined to see it through.

Sometimes, blogging is just like that. Furbabies are optional.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Has Carson just quit?

I’ve had a rule in my posts about the campaigns for the nomination for US President in both parties: I don’t post about any presidential candidate dropping out until the mainstream media officially report it, which usually happens after the candidate makes an announcement. But today Ben Carson, the Don Quixote on the Republican Clown Bus, seems to have dropped out of the race, though the media isn’t sure. He released this statement on his website*:
I have decided not to attend the Fox News GOP Presidential Debate tomorrow night in Detroit. Even though I will not be in my hometown of Detroit on Thursday, I remain deeply committed to my home nation, America. I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results. However, this grassroots movement on behalf of “We the People” will continue. Along with millions of patriots who have supported my campaign for President, I remain committed to Saving America for Future Generations. We must not depart from our goals to restore what God and our Founders intended for this exceptional nation.

I appreciate the support, financial and otherwise, from all corners of America. Gratefully, my campaign decisions are not constrained by finances; rather by what is in the best interests of the American people.

I will discuss more about the future of this movement during my speech on Friday at CPAC in Washington, D.C.
It’s certainly not unusual for Carson to say something and for normal people to have no friggin’ idea what he just said. So, does “I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results” mean he’s quitting? Particularly since he’s not attending the debate? I’ve decided to break with my own rules and say, yes, he’s out.

Because, why on earth would he remain in the campaign?!

Despite being the darling of far-right Christians at one point, Carson never—ever—stood any chance whatsoever of winning the Republican presidential nomination. He made so many incredibly stupid—and even downright bizarre—statements over the years that he just couldn't be taken seriously by anyone.

The most ardently politically religious among the USA’s far-right Christians backed every other candidate other than Carson—Cruz, most obviously, but also Rubio and even Trump (!). Like most voters, they want to back a candidate who might actually win, and Ben “Mumbles” Carson was never going to win the nomination, much less the presidency.

One could speculate about why he stayed so long in a clearly hopeless campaign, but if I was to bet, it would be that the answer will be revealed in his promised CPAC speech: He’s probably morphing his campaign for office into some other sort of religious/political crusade that will pay him well. That’s what a great many failed Republican candidates have done, so there’s definitely precedent for that.

So, now what? Who stands to gain from Carson’s departure? Everyone and no one. Carson did so badly that his votes could all go to one candidate and it would probably make little difference. However, it would probably help Rubio the most: If Carson’s supporters all backed Rubio, it might help him come in second all the time, but it wouldn't help him beat Trump.

Rubio will probably get some of Carson’s support, but him being promoted as the candidate of the elites in the Republican Party means that Carson’s support would most likely go to Cruz and Trump. Again, not enough to help Cruz beat Trump, but maybe enough to keep trading second place with Rubio.

The one least likely to gain from Carson’s exit is John Kasich. Although a radical right Christian, too, he’s trying to position himself as a “moderate” (yeah, right…), and that just won’t play well with the aggressively religious base of the Republican Party (that whole hiding one’s light under a bushel thing).

So: Mumbles the Clown is gone. Good riddance! Even though all the Republican clowns candidates are rightwing radicals, and most of them are aggressively religious theocrats, Carson combined all that with a proudly-held ignorance of the US Constitution, of history, and even—weirdest of all—of science.

So, Bye Felicia. Don’t let the door pinch you on the way off the bus!

Now, who do we contact to store grain in the Egyptian pyramids?

*The link above is to Mother Jones, because I won’t link to Carson’s site in any way whatsoever; the link above, however, has a link to his site.

Update: Not long after I wrote this post, AP reported on the story, with a bit of equivocation: “Ben Carson said he is effectively ending his bid for the White House Wednesday…” Effectively? Yeah, not even the AP was sure what Carson was saying.