Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Government in waiting

Today the New Zealand Labour Party and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand announced that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding signalling that they will work together to change the government in next year’s election. This is a game-changer.

In the last campaign, one of the most common criticisms I heard was that Labour didn’t look like a “government in waiting”, in part because it was being coy about working with the Greens in government. In fact, the party had rejected the Greens’ suggestion of a joint campaign, something that former Labour Leader David Cunliffe later admitted was a mistake.

The Green Party has never been in Government, except when they were part of The Alliance, a group of leftwing parties that was in coalition with Labour after the 1999 elections. They later ran—and won seats—as a separate party, but they have always been outside government. While they’ve had significant influence on the policies of whichever of the two main parties was in government, there’s far more that a party can do in government.

For Labour, it’s important to present a government ready to step in and lead, and since MMP pretty much requires coalition government, it’s important for them to send clear signals about what they want to do. It also makes sense to not compete with the Greens for the same voters, but to work cooperatively to increase the vote for the potential government.

Which raises two concerns, voiced chiefly by right-leaning people. First, there are some who perceive the Greens as being “radical”. While most such voters are “of a certain age” or firm right-of-centre voters who’d never vote for Labour OR the Greens, the perception is sometimes repeated in the mainstream media. And, it’s nonsense.

The Green Party is left of centre overall, sure, but many of their issues are quite centrist by New Zealand standards, and they have nothing that could reasonably be called “radical”. Put another way, they’re not scary at all.

The other thing I’ve heard repeated is the myth that New Zealand elections are won in the centre: There’s no evidence to support that idea. In fact, New Zealand voters are far more fickle than ideological, and have historically zigzagged between Labour and National depending on the issues of the day—and sometimes even just because of little more than boredom with whoever is in government. So, while the largest cohort of voters may consider themselves to be in the centre, the reality is that they can and do vote for governments of the Left and of the Right.

The media has been suggesting that Labour would abandon the Greens if Winston Peters’ NZ First Party holds the balance of power, but that assumes an awful lot—not the least that his party actually wins enough seats to be in that position. With Labour and the Greens working together, providing a clear message to NZ voters, they’re in a much better position to increase their share of the vote than is Peters’ odd first-past-the-post tactic of ignoring all talk of coalitions until after the election, as if NZ voters don’t deserve to know who his party would work with in government and who it would not. Very odd behaviour, in my opinion.

So, I think the Memorandum of Understanding is a great thing. I’ve long wanted to see a Labour-Greens Government, and this helps bring that a step closer. It will give the voters of New Zealand time to understand how that government will work so they can vote for the parties with a clear notion of what they’re voting for. No other party can make that same claim—except National, which is “same old, same old” or “more of the same” (which would be fine if they had anything decent to sell, of course).

Today, then, we saw the beginnings of a government in waiting, and that’s a great thing for New Zealand democracy.

The Labour Party published a Q&A about this on their site, and it has a link to the Memorandum of Understanding.

Monday, May 30, 2016

To help understand

A lot of people wonder about Donald Drumpf, not just because they’re astounded that anyone would support him, but also why he does and says such bizarre things. The video above may help explain that last part.

The video is another in the TED Ed series and explains, as the title makes clear, “The psychology of narcissism”. I think that this will help anyone understand Drumpf’s behaviour, because he’s clearly a narcissist. He may even have narcissistic personality disorder, though that would require clinical evaluation to determine for certain. In any case, his version of narcissism is pretty bad, even without a formal diagnosis.

I originally saw this video probably not all that long after it was posted, and in a different context. I forgot all about it. I only re-discovered it when I saw the TED Ed video I posted last week. It was then that I realised how well it explained Drumpf—and that was even before I saw the cartoon depiction of the politician (at around 1:30).

The truth is, understanding why Drumpf does and says the things he does won’t change anything: His fans adore him and either don’t care about his narcissism, or they like things about him that come about because of it. So, this won’t help devise effective strategies for dealing with his fans, but it could help predict the sorts of things he’ll do when he faces campaign setbacks, and that could be useful in planning effective strategies.

For those of us who are merely voters, however, it will mainly help us to understand why he says and does such outrageous things as a candidate. But, it may also do one thing more: Make us more determined to keep him as far from the White House as is humanly possible, because a narcissist like him is far too dangerous to allow anywhere near the presidency.

Update time again

When I started doing dedicated update posts in September of last year (more formally in October), I knew they’d be occasional—probably every other month, I thought. But it was four months until the second one, and now it’s been a little over three months. Well, I guess that’s still occasional.

Colour tests

Earlier this month, I wrote about using ControlGX to wash that grey right out of my hair. Since then, I’ve experimented to see how it works, and how often I need to use it. The dye stays in my head hair quite well, so a re-shampoo maybe every ten days will take care of it for now. For my whiskers, however, it’ll need to be more often, maybe twice a week (because whisker hairs are harder to dye).

Since that post I’ve also had a chance to find out how it works (it’s a form of dye, which makes sense), and I found out they said most men will probably use it three times a week. So, my experience so far seems to be better than their average.

Once I’m settled on the frequency of use, I’ll do a post with photos. But I’m not quite at that point yet. As it happens, this first update also relates to something I talked about in the last update, back in February (second item).

Still searching

In March of last year, I wrote “Organising from my past”, about how I looked at my old organising methods to see if I might be able to adapt them to meet my needs now. I still haven’t done that, but I have done other things.

For starters, I’ve become pretty good about deleting emails that I know I won’t ever refer to again pretty much as soon as they come in. I could do more of that, but, even so, it’s a been really helpful way to pare down clutter, even if it’s only electronic.

Speaking of electronic, since that post I’ve also resumed using Wunderlist to keep track of our shopping list. It’s shared with Nigel, so he can add something to the list whenever he thinks of it, since we can both access the program from our phones, our iPads, and our desktop computers. I sometimes also use it for a to do list, but not very consistently.

I’ve also started using Apple’s built-in program Notes to keep track of things. I’d tried Evernote, but found it complicated, and To Doist, which was okay. However, for both programs, many useful features are available only on the paid App, which is fair enough, but Notes includes the features I probably need the most, and it’s available across all my devices without having to set up yet another online account.

Even so, I’m still probably going to go back to paper for some things.


Last week I wrote about coming down with another cold. The cold lifted this past weekend, and I’m pretty much back to normal, so called. I made that update on my personal Facebook, so I thought I should make it here, too. Actually, this update is mainly so I can remember how long the cold lasted.

•  •  •

That's it for this update. Maybe the next one will be sooner—or, not…

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Early winter

We’ve had wintry weather for the past couple weeks. This is unusual, though obviously not unprecedented, but the bad thing is that I’m already over it. Unfortunately, there are months of winter still to come.

It’s been raining at least part of nearly every day for the past couple weeks, just like winter, though some of the temperatures have still been fairly mild. But, we’ve also had some cold days, too.

The thing about this is that winter doesn’t start until June 1, so why does having it a couple weeks early matter? To me, oddly, it seems it does.

For some reason, these past couple weeks have felt like a month—maybe a couple months—and I have no idea why. Sure, I was sick the past week, and that didn’t help, but it’s not a good enough explanation. I’m guessing it’s just because I wasn’t expecting wintry weather so early—I was caught off guard.

As part of my recovery from my cold, and a way to deal with this early wintry weather, I made a hearty beef stew for dinner tonight, and we invited the whānau around to share it with us (since we were both too sick for our usual Friday get together). I made my mother’s recipe, the same one she used to teach all of us kids to cook—well, that’s what she told me. Interestingly, I realised today I’d never actually asked my siblings if our mother used the stew recipe with them, too, and if she told them the same thing.

My second year in university, I shared an apartment with a flatmate, and it had a kitchen. So I asked my mother to send me the stew recipe, and she did—complete with annotations, like how potatoes don’t freeze well. I’ve referred to her handwritten note ever since—the better part of forty years. However, she didn't send me the recipe for her dumplings, so I had to find another.

I could have searched online, but I reasoned an American recipe was more appropriate, and I turned to my copy of The Joy of Cooking, a cookbook I used throughout my years in the USA. It worked well, even though it was different from my mother’s recipe (I remember enough of it to know that). In fact, it worked well enough that I’ll keep the recipe as my default—for now, anyway.

Tomorrow starts another workweek, and I also have many other things to do (including recording a much-postponed AmeriNZ Podcast episode). It should be a busy week, but, fortunately, I have plenty of inside projects planned.

Wintry weather has come early, after all.

What third parties CAN do

A third party cannot win the US presidency under the current system, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a great deal to disrupt the process. In fact, it’s the only thing that third party candidates can do, and it’s the only thing they might accomplish this year.

Yesterday, I talked about the structural and systemic barriers preventing a third party candidate from being elected president. There’s another barrier I didn’t talk about, something Roger Green mentioned in a comment on yesterday’s post: To get into the presidential debates—critical for any third-party candidate to get enough attention to stand a chance of winning a state—they must poll at 15%, something no third party has yet done.

The debate issue is contentious one (and we saw how it went horribly wrong for Republicans in their primary campaign). In the general election, debates are controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit corporation set-up in 1987 as a joint venture by the Republican and Democratic Parties to control who gets to participate in debates.

The CPD has an obvious conflict of interest: They want to keep third party and independent candidates out of debates so that the two main parties’ candidates can receive all the attention. It has been repeatedly sued, most recently by the Libertarian and Green Parties, along with the parties’ 2012 and presumptive 2016 nominees, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, respectively. They allege the CPD is violating federal anti-trust laws by maintaining a monopoly. Johnson used the same argument in a 2012 lawsuit that was dismissed on a technicality, and Stein sued that same year on broader constitutional grounds. So far, the CPD has not lost in court, and it’s unlikely to lose before the 2016 debates—there just isn’t enough time.

So, if third parties are shut out of debates and the attention they bring, what can they do? They can act as spoilers, potentially handing the election to either the Republican or the Democrat.

In 2000, Ralph Nader was an important factor in costing Al Gore the presidency. He disputes that, of course, and others have called it into question, too. However, Nader made a deliberate decision to focus the latter part of his campaign only on swing states, and to campaign against Gore. That famously resulted in the Florida debacle, where George W. Bush defeated Gore by a mere 537 votes—0.01% difference—handing the state’s 25 Electoral Votes—and the presidency—to Bush.

Nader says that it wasn’t him, but the US Supreme Court that did that by stopping the recount, which is, in my opinion, blame-shifting. In his book, he admitted, "In the year 2000, exit polls reported that 25% of my voters would have voted for Bush, 38% would have voted for Gore and the rest would not have voted at all." Assuming that’s correct, and voters had really voted that way, it would have been enough to give Florida to Gore.

The point is not really whether it was Nader alone who cost Gore Florida, and so, the presidency. After all, there were other minor candidates running in the state, as well as an extremely confusing “butterfly” ballot design that helped far right extremist candidate Pat Buchanan and hurt Gore. But what all this does show is that minor parties and candidates can, under the right circumstances, determine which of the two main parties wins a state.

It’s this “spoiler effect”, one of the biggest and worst flaws of the first past the post voting system used in most US elections, that is the one thing that third parties can achieve relatively easily. To do so, a minor candidate doesn’t need to win a state, they only need to take away enough votes from the most ideologically similar candidate so that the ideologically dissimilar candidate can win the state.

This is what’s could happen in 2016.

The common wisdom at the moment is that with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Drumpf unpopular, this will create opportunities for third party candidates. It’s easy to see why people would think that: According to Gallup, Hillary has “net favourable” rating of -14 and Donald has a “net favourable” rating of -27 (those are both MINUS, by the way). Does that create some room for third party candidates? Maybe, but not as much as pundits say.

First, as I said yesterday, some disaffected Democrats and supporters of Bernie Sanders may vote Green, and some disaffected Republicans may vote Libertarian, but at this point there’s still no reason to think that will be the case for large numbers. The polls showing the presumptive Libertarian nominee riding so high are happening at a time when the Democratic race is not yet officially settled, and the Republican race has just been. Once Hillary is the official Democratic nominee and facing off against Donald as the official Republican nominee, most voters will—as they always do—coalesce around the two candidates. It's possible that most disaffected voters will just stay home, but we can't yet measure that probability.

What NO one can know yet is how many disaffected voters there may be, and whether they’ll be disaffected enough to vote for a minor candidate. If there are a large number of such voters, all bets are off. Here are some things we can watch for:

For Republicans, if very high-profile Republicans openly and publicly refuse to endorse Donald, that would undermine him. But if very high-profile Republicans openly and publicly endorse the Libertarian candidate, that could spell real trouble for Donald. I don’t personally expect either to happen, but the second one in particular could dramatically change Donald’s chances of winning in November because it would give Republican voters and Republican-leaning Independents “permission” to vote for the Libertarian Party candidate.

For Democrats, we know that some of Bernie’s most ardent fans will pledge to vote for the Greens, but whether or not it’s a significant number will depend on Bernie: If he refuses to endorse Hillary, it will cause trouble for her, but if he endorses the Green Party candidate, it will mean real trouble. Also, if the Democratic National Convention is a replay of the ugly scenes in Nevada, it could turn off mainstream Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning Independents, who may just stay home on Election Day, amplifying the effect of any of Bernie’s supporters who actually do vote Green.

This means that Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency and the Democrats’ chances of retaking Congress have a lot more potential obstacles in the road than does Donald’s chances of winning or the Republicans’ chances for keeping control of Congress.

Add it all up, and while a third party candidate cannot win the presidency, one could easily determine which of the two major party candidates wins particular states, and that could determine which party wins the White House.

My punditry

At the moment, it looks to me that the person who would do the most to drive Republican voters to the Libertarians is Donald himself, if he runs his general election campaign like he did his primary campaign. For Democrats, much rides on what Bernie does, but his actions will affect progressive independents more than Democrats, since that’s who his base is. However, Democrats will need at least some of Bernie’s people to vote for them if they’re to win the White House and retake the US Senate (due to Republican gerrymandering, it’s unlikely Democrats can retake the US House, unless Hillary has a landslide victory, and that seems improbable).

It also looks to me as if the third party most likely to benefit from all this is the Libertarian Party, who will take votes from Donald far more than from Hillary. If that’s the case, it will improve Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency, but by itself it does nothing to help Democrats trying to retake the US Senate.

We’re still more than five months from the US general election, and a great many things may change, things that could affect the eventual result. While no third party can win the presidency, they may well play a role in who does win, because that’s all they can do.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Third party chances? None.

Despite the hyperventilating among the punditocracy, there’s a simple fact about the US election this year: The next president will be either the Republican nominee or the Democratic nominee. This is because it’s impossible for a third-party or independent candidate to win, so any vote for them is only a protest vote. This is especially relevant for disaffected Republicans and rigid supporters of Bernie Sanders.

The first barrier to a non-Democratic and non-Republican challenger is ballot access. The process by which third-party and independent candidates get on the ballot is determined by state law, and those laws vary widely from state to state. As a result, the only candidates who will be on the ballot in all 50 states and Washingon, DC are the Democratic and Republican nominees. This gives them a head start in the battle to win the 270 Electoral Votes needed to become president.

The second barrier is that all but two states allocate their Electoral Votes on a winner takes all basis. That means that whichever candidate has the most votes wins ALL the state’s electoral votes (except for Maine and Nebraska). To do so, a candidate needs to win only a plurality of votes in a state—one vote more than the second highest polling candidate—and not an outright majority. The more candidates are on the ballot, the easier this becomes, but that still favours the two dominant parties because have the most money to spend on promotion and get the most (well, all, actually…) of the mass-market news media’s attention. This is also why it makes no difference how high a third party candidate is polling nationally—all that matters is if they’re polling high enough in enough states to win enough states to get a total of 270 Electoral Votes, or if they can at least come in third, should no candidate reach 270. More about that later.

Third, with limited ballot access, the need to win more votes than any other party, and the tendency of the news media and voters alike to focus only on the two dominant parties, third parties and independent candidates have no chance.

Two third parties—the Green Party and the Libertarian Party—are courting Bernie Sanders’ supporters and the Libertarians are also courting disaffected Republicans. I’ll look at whether that’s realistic later, but right now, let’s look at the problems faced by those two parties, the biggest alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats.

Ballot access first: According to Wikipedia—which had the only comprehensive list I could find—neither the Green Party nor the Libertarian Party is in a position to win the election outright.

At the moment, the Green Party is on the ballot in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Washington D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin (21 states and DC). Together, that adds up to 296 electoral votes out of 538. Since 270 is needed to win, that may look promising. However, look at that list again, and notice how many of those states the party stands zero chance of winning. In fact, in most of them they’re likely to get a tiny percentage of the popular vote, and in none of them will they be able to come ahead of both the Democratic and Republican parties—and the Libertarian Party.

In 2012, the Green Party was on the ballot in 38 states and DC, meaning that 83.1% of voters saw them on their ballots. Yet the party received only 0.36% of the popular vote nationwide, and was behind the Libertarian Party nearly everywhere. In sum, the Green Party wasn’t a threat to the two main parties—or even the Libertarian Party—in any state.

The Libertarian Party is in a better position—kind of. The party’s on the ballot in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming (32 states and DC). Together, that adds up to 335 electoral votes out of 538. However, their odds are no better than the Greens’.

In 2012, the party was on the ballot in 48 states and DC, and 95.1% of US voters saw the party on their ballots. Even so, the party still only managed 0.99% of the popular vote nationwide, an extremely distant third to the two main parties. In sum, the Libertarian Party also wasn’t a threat to the two main parties in any state.

This year, it seems likely that the nominees of the two minor parties will be the same as in 2012, not that most US voters would know that, of course. Still, with some Republicans in the “Never Trump” camp, and some of Sanders’ most fervent fans pledging “Bernie or bust”, could this be the year that a third party makes a difference?

Of course not.

As we’ve seen, the two largest third parties have been little more than footnotes. Some Republican voters may vote Libertarian, and some of Bernie’s may vote Green, but there are unlikely to be enough to make a difference in any state, and they’d need to win in many states to win the presidency. Time and time again, despite what they claim at the end of the nomination process, US voters divide up among the two main parties or staying home, and there’s nothing—yet—to indicate that this year will be any different.

Besides, apart from voting against the candidate who beat the party candidate they preferred to see nominated, what do the two main alternative parties offer to disaffected partisans? Not a lot.

In my view, only the Green Party is a logical fit for Bernie’s most fervent fans because it’s mostly leftist on both social and economic issues. The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, is conservative on economic issues and merely similar to liberals on some social issues, like marriage equality and abortion, but only because they think the government has no right to be involved (but private businesses can do and discriminate as they please, which liberals disagree with). Because Sanders’ entire campaign has been focused on economic issues, I simply cannot see his most fervent fans going for a candidate who’s far more conservative on economic issues, even if there could be a little overlap here and there.

For Republicans, it’s even more complicated. They could be drawn to the conservative economic policies of the Libertarian Party, but its position that government mustn’t forbid abortions or prevent gay couples being married or transgender people from using the correct public toilets in government buildings would leave many Republicans—especially the fervent fans of any of the “Christian” candidates—pretty hostile to the party (especially the fact it doesn't want to outlaw all abortions as the Republican Party does). So, the only Republicans who might vote Libertarian are those who are most “moderate”, so called, and not the base of the party or even necessarily a large number of voters.

Of the two camps, it’s much more likely that disaffected Sanders supporters would vote Green than that most anti-Drumpf Republicans would vote Libertarian. It’s more likely that such Republicans will hold their noses and vote Republican (most likely, in my opinion), anyway, or simply stay home. At the moment, it looks like what Sanders’ most fervent fans would do is a toss-up between voting Green or staying home. Sanders’ more pragmatic supporters would be the most likely to hold their noses and vote for Clinton as a realistic and utilitarian way of stopping Drumpf and the Republicans—or they’ll stay home rather than actively helping Drumpf win.

But, let’s play a wild fantasy game here, and let’s say that either or both third parties DO somehow pull off a miracle and win a state or two. Let’s also pretend that they were really big states, or maybe even that they won several smaller one so that together the third parties kept either major party candidate from getting the 270 Electoral Needed. What then?

The US Constitution’s 12th Amendment happens: If no candidate receives 270 Electoral Votes for president, then the House of Representatives chooses the president among the top three highest polling candidates. Each state delegation casts only one vote, and the winning candidate must receive a majority—26 of the 50 states (the District of Columbia doesn’t get a vote). This can continue for many ballots.

This happened under the 12th Amendment only once, in 1825, though in 1801 it happened under the old rules of Article II, Section 1, Clause 3, and that took 36 ballots. In both cases, politics played a role in who the House selected, and it certainly would now.

Similarly, if no vice president candidate receives a majority—and, since the president and vice president run as a team, if one doesn’t have a majority, neither will the other one—then the Senate chooses the vice president. Unlike the House, each Senator has a vote (again, DC gets no vote).

This matters because if the House is deadlocked and hasn’t chosen a president by Inauguration Day, then the Vice President chosen by the Senate is sworn in as Acting President. If neither chamber chooses someone by Inauguration Day, then the Speaker of the House becomes Acting President until one chamber or the other finally selects someone. This has never happened.

Here’s how this all works, using the current Congress as an example: Republicans control the House 246 to 188, and so, a majority of the state delegations. That matters because we have to assume that the state delegations would vote along party lines to select their state’s choice, since both sides would want a president of their own party (and, besides: When are they ever NOT partisan?! Moreover, the two times the House selected the president, it was highly political). So, if the current US House considered the results, Drumpf would win 34 to 13 (three states have evenly split delegations, but they wouldn't change the outcome if they decided on one party or the other). Similarly, Republicans control the current Senate 54 to 44, so the Republican vice presidential nominee, whoever he is, would be chosen.

However, because of the Twentieth Amendment, the new Congress would decide who was president, and there’s absolutely no way this far out to guess what the shape of the new Congress would be; the example here is for illustrative purposes only. However, if Democrats do well enough to completely change the partisan makeup of the House (especially) and Senate, then it’s unlikely that they’d fail to win the Electoral College vote.

So, due to the structure set up under the US Constitution, the difficulty for third parties to get on state ballots, the lack of attention they get from the news media, and the fact that they need to beat all the other parties in enough states to win 270 Electoral Votes, no third party candidate can be elected president. The ABSOLUTE best they could hope for is to come in third and win enough Electoral Votes to put the choice to the US House. But, since Congress is controlled by the two main parties, it’s pretty clear that no matter what happens, the next president will be either the Republican nominee or the Democratic nominee.

This system—which, though modified, is more than 200 years old—has become a barrier to electoral change, and skews the results to ensure the two main parties are entrenched. REAL reform is needed, but that’s a big subject in itself. The important thing about that for this post is that without real reform, the current reality cannot change, and the next president will be the Republican or the Democrat. There is no chance a third party will win the presidency.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What next?

It’s official: Donald Drumpf today acquired enough delegates to become the Republican Party’s official nominee for US President. From the very beginning, pundits and political insiders were writing him off, and they continue to do so, though not with quite as much certainty or laughter as they did when he first announced. This is wise: “The Hair” may actually become president—that’s actual president, not some silly TV role.

Many people—Democrats and even many Republicans—see the importance of defeating Drumpf in November. Well, MOST Democrats—there are still some who inexplicably claim it doesn’t matter, which is high on the list of the most absurd nonsense I’ve heard in the 40 years I’ve been involved in politics.

The Democratic Party itself, meanwhile, though still in the midst of a nomination process grinding down to its inevitable conclusion, is trying to focus attention on stopping Drumpf. The graphic above was part of an email I received today from the Democratic National Committee urging people to donate to the party’s Stop Trump Fund, which is, of course, a donation to the DNC’s campaign efforts. The Democrats also have a page for Democrats living outside the USA, since US Federal law has all sorts of rules about who can donate and how, and there are special procedures for US citizens living overseas who want to contribute.

It’s a good idea to get a head start on fundraising, since it’ll take a LOT of money to defeat Drumpf and the billionaires who will use their SuperPACs to try and help him win. And, of course, there’s control of the US Congress at stake, which is every bit as important as keeping Drumpf FAR away from the presidency.

The coming campaign will be expensive, and it will get very nasty. At this point, there’s no way to know who all that will benefit the most, but it’s important to remember that Drumpf has gotten to be the Republican nomination through unrelenting nastiness, and he’s been rewarded for it. Republicans also have a huge money advantage, so if the US news media continues to give Drumpf free and largely uncritical coverage, then Hillary Clinton will have huge barriers to overcome.

But all that’s still come. Right now, it’s important to commit to stopping Drumpf, and donations to help stop him will be money well spent. That, and voting to ensure his defeat, of course.

And successfully defeating Drumpf is what’s next.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tooth Tales: My majesty

I now have a crown—but I’m not one to stand on formality, so you need not address me as “your majesty”; simply “majesty” will do. Well, a little levity brightens most situations, and this was one that needed brightening. But, I got there in the end.

I had my first of two (expensive) periodontal treatments last Friday, and it went well, all things considered. As usual, I didn't feel the anaesthetic being injected, however, the pocket he was working on was quite deep and at several points I did feel it—very much. He noticed and asked if I wanted more pain relief. But, I reasoned (hoped?) it didn’t have much longer to go, and I declined.

To access the tooth properly, he needed to remove the temporary crown, which snapped in half. This was actually a good thing because it meant that he couldn’t reattach it, and that would mean my gums would have a chance to heal a bit before the permanent crown was put in. That’s important, I learned, because the cement can be forced down into the pocket, which isn’t good. He said it would be good if I could leave the temporary crown off until Monday at the earliest, or even all week if I could stand it.

After he was done, I asked why this kept happening. “My dental hygiene is the best it’s ever been,” I said. He agreed it was good, and said that he could see by looking at most of my teeth that was the case. However, he added that when there are deep pockets involved, as I have had, they usually need treatment again and again.

This was good news to me. Yes, I could do without the (expensive) periodontal treatments every 12-18 months, but the important thing to me is that it’s not due to a failing on my part. Sure, arguably, past failings are at least part of the reason I have to go through this, but the important thing to me now (since I can’t change the past) is that my efforts to fix things and prevent further damage are paying off. That made me very happy.

Today was the appointment for my coronation, and last night when I went to bed, I was feeling pretty good. But when I woke up around 6 this morning, I felt really bad again, and even considered ringing up to reschedule. However, I couldn’t do that until 8:30 or 9, and by then I was feeling okay.

This was good, because I really didn’t want to delay the appointment: I’d had temperature sensitivity, particularly to cold, and that was kind of painful. Plus, I didn’t feel I could properly clean my teeth in that part of my mouth.

So, off I went and got there a few minute early. Once in the chair, the dentist showed me the crown. I’d never seen one before, and since maybe you haven’t either, I’ll say that underneath it’s a metal cap that’s cemented onto the “platform” of the old tooth (basically, the tooth ground down). On the top and sides of the cap is porcelain (you choose the precise colour to best match the rest of your teeth).

The dentist first cleaned the platform, which involved air (cold—that hurt) and also a little work with the handset to remove the old cement. That part didn’t hurt, but the cold water from the handset did, as did the cold air across the platform caused by the suction device.

Next, he did a sort of dry fit, checked my bite and took some x-rays. He removed the crown, made the platform clean and dry (air again, which hurt again), then put in the cement and put the crown on. This required some pressure, which didn’t hurt, but was a bit uncomfortable.

Once the cement had set enough, he cleaned up around it—the drill thing, which didn’t hurt, but the cold water did hurt a little (less so now that the platform was covered). Finally, he took more x-rays and then cleaned up the cement under the gumline with the handset thing, and a lot of that hurt, particularly as he had to go down the root to get it all.

All of this was without anaesthetic. The plus side was, I didn’t need to wait for anything to wear off, but the downside was I immediately felt the discomfort I feel when the anaesthetic wears off. All that pressure pushing the crown in place, all that pain from temperature sensitivity, and the pain from the grinding under the gumline left that tooth really sore.

I had to wait a half hour before I could drink anything, so I picked a few things up from the grocery store, and by the time I got home, the half hour was up. So, I took Maxigesic and in about 20 minutes or so, I felt okay again—the pain was gone. I also took Maxigesic after my periodontal treatment, but that was after the anaesthetic wore off, so the discomfort sort of snuck up on me.

Some hours later, I needed another dose of Maxigesic, but other than that I haven’t had any problems—well, apart from my cold making me feel icky again.

I go for my second of (expensive) periodontal treatment a week from today, on the other side of my lower jaw. Sometime after that, I can go back to the orthodontist to have the mould done again, and we can re-start that process. That will depend, in part, on when I can get an appointment.

The other crowns I need—two or three more—will wait until after the orthodontic programme is complete, at which time the dentist will do any crowns and veneers I may need, because by waiting they can get the best possible alignment. But, at the moment, I’m not scheduled to see the dentist for a year, and then just for a check-up.

So, this detour on the journey has been a royal pain, but I’ll soon move back onto the main path. The story continues.

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

The NZ Budget 2016

NZ Labour Party budget meme.
Today John Key’s government released the latest New Zealand Budget. Yawn. It’s the budget of a government that’s tired, arrogant, and totally out of ideas. This budget was in many ways John Key’s government giving New Zealand the middle finger.

I can’t remember often saying this, but NZ First Leader Winston Peters is right: This is the “get stuffed budget”. And while the cultural reference is overly dated, Greens Male Co-Leader James Shaw was right when he said, "This government is the political equivalent of Milli Vanilli—lip synching when they should be leading."

Labour Party Leader Andrew Little pointed out the weaknesses in the budget, not just on housing, but also on health. Despite the big numbers announced, the actual increase in health spending is, basically, nothing, since the increase won’t even keep pace with increasing costs and demand. Andrew Little put it well: "More New Zealanders will wind up in greater pain for a lot longer."

But it is on housing where the government is dramatically out of touch. When increasing numbers of people are living in the cars or garages because they can’t afford housing, most thoughtful people would call that a crisis—but not John Key and his subordinates in Cabinet. They’ve all agreed to spin it by only using the word “challenge” instead of crisis because, obviously, the correct word—crisis—shows how incompetent John Key and National are. Even Paula Bennett was publicly caught pivoting her spin to match up with National Party directive.

John Key and National have not increased housing supply, and haven’t even made up for the state houses they sold off. They’ve utterly failed to reduce demand, flat out rejecting the single most common sense approach yet proposed, namely, to limit the purchase of residential property to only those resident in New Zealand. Instead, John Key and National are threatening local councils—Auckland Council in particular—to open up more land for sprawling housing devlopments or face having John Key and National passing new laws to force them to allow virtually unchecked urban sprawl.

But, that’s their sole incompetent response to the housing crisis—sorry! I meant to say challenge! And National’s fetish for urban sprawl will cost Aucklanders: Auckland Council estimates that expanding urban sprawl will cost $17 BILLION dollars over 30 years for service infrastructure, but John Key doesn't care that Auckland ratepayers will have to pay that cost through higher rates.

But, that's the story for this year. Next year is an election year, and John Key and National will spring all sorts of surprises in the 2017 Budget. That figures. This year’s budget offers nothing to ordinary New Zealanders, and with no new ideas left, they’ll have to try and bribe New Zealand voters—next year.

This year, though, we got nothin’.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Here I go again

I have a cold. Or, something. All I know for sure is that I feel yucky. I should have seen it coming.

Sunday night, I slept some nine hours—nearly ten—which is unusual in itself. But when I did wake up, I struggled to become fully awake, and the rest of the day I had a real lack of energy.

Last night, it was nearly nine hours, with the same slow start and lack of energy, only my low energy levels were even worse. And then it changed.

Sometime late this afternoon, I was aware that my throat felt hot, and I was starting to feel cold-like. By evening, I was coughing and my thoat was becoming sore. And now, it seems, I’m starting to sneeze, too. Great!

Nigel started this affliction yesterday, so I’m tracking about a day behind. I think we were both exposed to a virus over the weekend, and mine just took a little longer to incubate.

In addition to the unexplained tiredness, this would also seem to be why I couldn’t quite concentrate well enough to successfully write the blog posts I wanted to do yesterday or today. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

If the words still won’t flow tomorrow, maybe I can at least do research for ones I want to do. And, there are always videos I’d to share…


The photo up top is my own, and I first used it last year, when I also had a cold.

Update: There's an update to this post (third item).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Men’s body issues

Men have issues with their bodies every bit as much as women do, but it’s still not really okay to talk much about it. The video above (some language NSFW) explores some of that, and possible ways forward. But talking about the issue is a good first step.

In this video, BuzzFeed’s “The Try Guys” try to recreate photos of famous, good-looking men, when their own bodies are nothing like those they’re imitating. Photoshop turns them into the men like those they’re copying, with surprising results.

The first part of the video, where the guys talk about the issues they have with their bodies, shares common attitudes that men (and women) have toward their bodies, namely, that they’re not “good enough” as compared to some supposed “ideal” body type. Those ideals bombard us constantly through visual media—television, movies, print ads, etc.—and are often themselves Photoshopped to make the bodies in the final photos both unreal and unrealistic.

The end part, when the guys see their Photoshopped selves, was especially interesting. For example, the fact that Eugene looks at an idealised version of himself and still thinks his stomach looks fat.

Body dismorphia is a relatively common condition in which a person goes to sometimes extraordinary lengths to hide or change some perceived “defect” in their appearance. For most people, though, strategies involve simple measures, like Keith wearing sleeves down to his elbows. It becomes a problem when the strategies interfere with one’s life or happiness, or become an obsession.

For most of us, the things we don’t like about our bodies aren’t always at the front of our minds, and are only an issue when, for some reason, we’re confronted by the thing we don't like. For example, I’ve written several times about how much I’ve hated my smile, but I only actually thought about it when I looked in the mirror or saw a photo of myself smiling.

Ironically, it was only when I started to take steps to fix my smile that I became more obsessive about it. Now, I seldom smile showing my teeth, and it’s even the real reason I stopped making YouTube videos: I realised that sooner or later I’d be making a video that I’d need to be in, especially because I wanted to make some in which I interviewed others (although, I worked out ways I could make such videos without me actually being in them—that’s a coping strategy).

I have some common body issues, too, like that I’m too fat and not muscular enough, or have “defective” body parts, but none of that affects my life—apart, maybe, from feeling more comfortable in looser clothes, even though I know intellectually that dressing that way doesn’t make one look thinner. I use humour as a deflection, too. The point is, one has coping stretgies to deal with what we don’t like.

What I don’t think is particularly helpful is to tell people that they just need to love themselves as they are. Well, of course they should—duh!—but saying that and knowing it are FAR easier than living it. The problem is that despite the well-meaning admonition to love ourselves as we are, and the knowledge that this is what we really should do, we have whole industries fighting against us.

First, and most often talked about, is popular culture constantly bombarding us with perfect—and, for most us, perfectly unattainable—body types. There’s been a move to get women’s fashion magazines to stop using skinny and Photoshopped models because of the harm it does, especially to young girls. I think that’s a great goal, but should be extended to imagery of men, too.

Another way we get messages about how our bodies are all wrong is through doctors. Many of us go to the doctor and they tell us we need to lose weight, we need to eat better, and we need to exercise more. Well, who doesn’t know all that?! Most of us fail at one or all of those things sometimes or always, and a trip to the doctor becomes just another opportunity to feel bad about our bodies and ourselves.

Doctors should focus less on the obvious things we all know too damn well, and more on being encouraging, especially of small—even tiny—changes that get us toward the larger goals. They shouldn’t be setting us up for failure and opportunities to feel bad about ourselves, they should be working with us to help us get to where we need to be, and at our own pace.

Issues with my teeth notwithstanding, my own body issues are relatively minor and inconsequential most of the time. Like "The Try Guys", I either don’t think about them most of the time or have simple strategies so that I don’t have to think about them. Also, again apart from the teeth thing, my goals are about being healthier now, and living longer and in good health, not about appearance (I started to get over body shape issues about the time I turned 40).

A large number of men and women alike have body issues, but most of us never talk about it. I talk about such things on this blog because some day some guy might run across this post and realise he’s not the only one who faces such issues, and I think that’s the real point of the video above. Talking about the issue is a good first step.

Recognising the patterns

Pattern recognition is an innate ability humans possess, something that first evolved to help our ancient ancestors recognise threats: Was the grass moving because of the wind, or because a predator was stalking them? Is that fruit good to eat, or will it kill us? Over time, it also helped our ancestors to recognise kin versus strangers, which is useful for a whole lot of reasons. It’s the modern expression that can cause problems, and the video above helps to show why that is.

The video, the latest in the “TED Ed” series of lessons from the TED Talks folks, talks about the mathematics behind patterns. They exist everywhere, and, as the video tells us, the probability that a pattern exists can be predicted.

However, just because humans see a pattern, that doesn’t mean the pattern reveals any actual meaning. Instead, it can be random coincidence.

I come up against this frequently. Whenever we talk about humans’ social behaviour—whether politics, pop culture fandom, religion, anything at all—we have to be very careful to limit our attempt to understand that behaviour to what we can verify empirically. A single study or opinion poll, however interesting it may be, is only a starting point until more data is collected to support the conjecture.

So, an election opinion poll by itself tells us very little. This is why political scientists urge observation of trends, rather than specific poll results. A well-constructed “poll of polls” (such as the work done by Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight) can be useful. Combining the data from reputable polls makes it easier to see real patterns, rather than imagined (or hoped for) ones.

The vast majority of us don’t believe in or subscribe to conspiracy theories, the starting point for the video, but the video’s starting device helps explains how otherwise reasonable people can get sucked into them and into anti-intellectualism like climate change denial and anti-vaxxers, to cite just two highly prominent examples. The people who believe conspiracy theories probably aren’t crazy or simple: They’re merely following their genetic tendency to see patterns where there is actually randomness, and to ascribe particular meaning to those patterns despite any the lack of any corroborating evidence.

Pattern recognition allowed our ancient ancestors to survive and procreate so that we could evolve. But pattern recognition sometimes threatens to undo all we’ve achieved over the millennia as we fall for dangerous ideas.

This is why we must always challenge our assumptions, including the belief in a pattern or its meaning. In an election year, that can be a very difficult thing to do, no matter how intelligent or rational we may be. But it’s the only way we can know if the grass is moving because of the wind, or because a predator is stalking us.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The story beneath

There are reasons why Hillary Clinton is doing better among Democrats than is Bernie Sanders, and also reasons why it wasn’t a cakewalk for her. Some of those reasons were revealed in a new poll from Gallup, and it also hints at what’s ahead in the coming presidential campaign.

Gallup reported that Democrats are likely to describe themselves as liberal on social issues—57% as opposed to 28% who are moderate and 13% who are conservative. On economic issues, however, Democrats are less liberal, with 41% choosing that word, 37% choosing moderate, and 21% choosing conservative. These results give us a glimpse into what’s going on in the current Democratic nomination process.

Both Hillary and Bernie are liberal on social issues. In fact, in most cases, their positions are virtually identical. Sure, there are nits to be picked about both their records, but, overall, they’re pretty much the same. Their economic positions, while very close in most respects, do have more differences than their positions on social issues.

While neither candidate has a clear advantage on social issues, other polls (exit polls in particular) have shown Hillary with an advantage among LGBT, African American, and female voters, while Bernie has an advantage with younger voters and Democratic-leaning Independents. So, while on paper there’s not much difference between them on social issues, and Democrats generally are likely to back their positions, Hillary has a slight advantage on social issues.

Bernie’s strength has always been on economic issues, and he’s centred his campaign on a call for massive economic reform—a “revolution”, as he often describes it. Here he’s actually on shakier ground with Democrats.

While 41% of Democrats say they’re liberal on economic issues, that’s not a majority. The difference in many state contests has come down to the 28% of Democrats who consider themselves moderate on economic issues. If they side with Bernie, he gains a majority of their support, but if they side with Hillary, she does.

Put in practice, in some states Democrats who describe themselves as moderate on economic issues may actually lean conservative, and if neither candidate has a clear advantage on social issues, then economic issues can help determine which candidate they supported. Bernie’s economic policies scare those who are conservative, and sometimes even those who call themselves moderate. Even in states that Bernie has won, this factor seems to account for why Bernie hasn’t scored a knockout blow.

Come November, the Democratic nominee will face a general electorate that is more conservative than are Democrats: 20% call themselves liberal on economic issues, 35% moderate, and 41% conservative. So, in the general election campaign, economic conservatives start with a plurality, and are twice as numerous as economic liberals. Economic moderates, who are often more conservative-learning than liberal-leaning, can easily tip the balance toward support for conservative economic policies, and less easily toward liberal policies.

This is why some Democrats who aren’t particular fans of Hillary nevertheless back her because, given public attitudes, they reason that the economic reformist agenda of Hillary will be easier to sell than the economic revolutionary agenda of Bernie. Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, this is where it comes from.

Social issues provide a very interesting picture. Americans are almost evenly divided, with 32% choosing liberal on social issues, 31% moderate, and 34% as conservative. The Gallup chart at the top of this post shows the overall trend over the past 15 years, and how Republicans and Independents have remained relatively consistent over time, while Democrats are becoming more liberal on social issues (the anomaly of 2010 notwithstanding).

This relatively even split on social issues means that they’re unlikely to be a major issue in the November election, though they will be for some groups that favour Democrats, anyway, like pro-choice voters, as well as LGBT, African American, and Hispanic voters. Similarly, those who are strongly opposed to abortion, LGBT rights, etc., are probably unlikely to vote Democratic.

This means that, as with economic issues, the battle will be for those calling themselves “moderate”. The Republicans may calculate that they already have an advantage on economic issues, and may be divisive on social issues to try and rile up those voters. My guess right now—and at the moment it IS only a guess—is that except in already conservative areas, Republicans are likely to stay away from social issues and concentrate on economic issues.

Both presumptive party nominees will have support from their respective bases, though Hillary may not necessarily excite the most leftward side of left in her party, and Drumpf may not necessarily excite the most rightward side of right in his party. However, if they both win enough support from the ends of their parties’ ideological spectrums, they’ll be in a good position to go after the moderates’ votes.

And so, the polling data shows why Bernie is so strong among Democrats, yet also why he couldn’t win the nomination: Not enough Democrats consider themselves liberal on economic issues, and his positions on social issues aren’t different enough to overcome some of Hillary’s advantages. At the same time, Bernie's positions resonate with a large enough percentage of Democratic voters that he's been able to deny Hillary and easy win of the nomination. The same polling data also suggests why so many Democrats have concluded that Hillary will be the stronger candidate against Drumpf.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll see more analysis of where voters are at on various issues, and that will help us work out more of what’s likely to happen in November. In the meantime, a good place to start is to look at attitudinal polling to find out where US voters’ predispositions are, and what the story beneath the campaign reporting really is. This latest report from Gallup is a helpful step toward doing exactly that.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Harsh realities

There’s a simple fact that some people will refuse to hear, but it doesn’t change the fact itself: Hillary Clinton will be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, and there’s absolutely no chance that it will be Bernie Sanders. It’s time that people started to prepare for the battle in November. But, that’s not the only harsh reality some Democrats need to face up to.

Hillary Clinton needs fewer than a hundred delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. That means that she needs only 12% of the remaining available delegates, and no one could seriously argue that she won’t actually win far more than that percentage.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, would need to win every single delegate remaining, plus peel away a more than a hundred of Hillary’s superdelegates. Neither will happen. The odds of Bernie cobbling together some sort of hybrid—say, most of the remaining delegates and half of Hillary’s superdelegates—also won’t happen.

This isn’t about favouring one candidate or the other, it’s about arithmetic.

Bernie Sanders has done the best in caucuses and open primary states because both allow non-Democrats to participate. But, even that’s a relative thing: Bernie won the open primary in Indiana, but only got 44 delegates to Clinton’s 39—nowhere even remotely close to the percentage he’d need to score an upset in the final contests. In Oregon, Bernie won just under 60% of the delegates, which at this late stage is also far too low a percentage to give him any hope of a last minute upset.

So, it’s dishonest for Bernie’s campaign to lead supporters to think he could still win, and it makes them look silly when they repeat the meme. But in recent months Bernie’s most fervent fans have had a clear problem with facts.

Before the Oregon primary, my social media feeds were filled with declarations from Bernie’s most fervent fans that there was a “conspiracy” in Oregon to deny Sanders a victory, and the Democratic National Committee and the state government were in collusion. It was all delusional nonsense, based a complete lack of understanding of how Oregon’s system works. And, when Sanders won, not a single Sanders supporter admitted that they’d been wrong. Funny, that.

This paranoid fantasy that the DNC, state parties, and even state governments are all engaged in a conspiracy to deny Bernie the nomination is very concerning because it ignores all facts and reality that show what nonsense it truly is. The rules they so relentlessly attack were drawn up a very long time ago, before anyone—including Bernie—had announced their candidacy and those rules were—or should have been—well known to everyone before anyone announced. Not knowing or understanding the rules does NOT mean they were created to prevent Bernie from winning the nomination: His inability to win enough votes is the reason he won’t win the nomination, not the rules that were set out in way before the contest began.

There absolutely needs to be campaign reform, which is a huge topic in itself, but I have no desire to play a game of whack-a-mole with Bernie’s most fervent fans about why some arcane rule or other isn’t part of an imaginary conspiracy against Sanders.

Pretty much anyone paying attention to the campaign has heard the negative comments about Bernie’s most fervent fans, the “Bernie Bros” being chief among them. They’ve certainly dominated social media, but that doesn’t mean they represent all of Bernie’s supporters.

Bernie is attracting the “anti-Hillary” voters among Democrats and Independents. Because those voters are motivated primarily by anti-Hillary animosity, they’re highly likely to engage in inappropriate behaviour and rhetoric, thereby tarnishing ALL of Bernie’s supporters with tinges of sexism, racism, and even violence toward those who don’t support Bernie. I’m quite sure that those are not the people that Bernie himself thinks of when he thinks of his supporters, but neither can he utterly reject them, not if he really wants influence at the Democratic National Convention.

Bernie’s supporters claim that Hillary’s most fervent fans are “just as bad”, always a dangerous claim to make in politics, given the extreme reliance on the perceptions of people with an ideological dog in the fight. As with Bernie’s most fervent fans, I’ve also seen inappropriate behaviour and rhetoric from Hillary’s most fervent fans—but it’s been entirely different.

And that’s what concerns me the most about this: The battle lines between Bernie’s most fervent fans and supporters of Hillary are becoming not just fiery, but also quite toxic—much to Republicans’ glee. Every time one of Bernie’s most fervent fans says a Clinton supporter is “an idiot” or needs to be educated, or refers to Hillary as “$hillary” (and her supporters as “$hills”), or declares that Hillary is “just Trump with a vulva”—all of which I saw yesterday evening—they’re doing the Republicans’ work for them.

Today, I saw some of Hillary’s most fervent fans mocking Bernie’s supporters with language that was mostly ageist (calling them “Bernie Brats”, for example, or referring to Bernie as "grandpappy") and implying his supporters are too young and naïve to really understand the issues. But I didn’t see any of Hillary’s most fervent fans calling Bernie’s most fervent fans “an idiot”, or dismissing their apparently deeply held opinions as paid for by big corporations, or declaring that Bernie’s most fervent fans are all neo-conservatives. The only directly comparable thing I personally saw was when one of Hillary’s most fervent fans referred to one of Bernie’s most fervent fans as a “progressive”—with quote marks, just as Bernie’s most fervent fans do to Hillary’s.

And then there’s this: I have a personal, real-life friend who is a kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and very intelligent person who has taken down several posts talking about Hillary because Bernie’s most fervent fans took it as their mission to tell her how very wrong she is to support Hillary. Ironically, the most recent deleted post was a share of an article about why more people don’t openly support Hillary on social media.

My friend’s experience is with real people, not “bots” as the two sides sometimes dismissively call each other. What my own Facebook friends have posted have been almost exclusively in support of Bernie, often trashing Hillary, while the two or three people I know who post about anything positive about Hillary always do so with a compliment of some sort about Bernie. Hillary’s supporters simply don’t have the same freedom to express their support for their candidate as Bernie’s supporters do, and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise.

But—and this is the most important thing I can say about this—SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL LIFE! Social media encourages people to be extreme and exclusionary, to denigrate and condescend to others rather than have a rational discussion. What happens in social media is NOT in any way transferrable to real life and doesn’t even remotely mirror the behaviour of the majority of people. Heck, I can’t even be sure that either candidate’s most fervent fans aren’t actually Republicans trying to sow division and animosity among Democrats.

So, while on social media this may seem like the most toxic Democratic primary election campaign we’ve ever seen, in the real world, it’s quite different.

A new poll from Gallup has found that 70% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the Democratic race is not harming the Democratic Party at all. Hillary’s supporters are somewhat more certain the process has not damaged the party than are Bernie’s supporters, which is interesting given the narrative that Hillary's supporters allegedly blame Bernie's supporters for wrecking the party's chances in November, but that difference is within the margin of error and may not be very significant.

What I worry about, however, is that it’s not merely the perception of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents that matters, but them combined with non-aligned Independents. No candidate can be elected president with the support of only Democrats or only Republicans, so the opinion of non-aligned independents matters. Does the ongoing fight for the Democratic nomination—especially since the end result is known—turn them off? We simply don’t know.

Still, the important thing in this poll is that the vast majority of Democrats clearly don't participate in or pay any attention whatsoever to Internet fights. Nor should any of us. It seems to me that the most fervent fans of both Bernie and Hillary would do us—and the country—a favour if they’d grow the fuck up and stop acting like spoiled children arguing in the schoolyard. The stakes are far too high for that childish nonsense. The Republicans will be united in November, and Democrats must be, too.

And that, too, is a harsh reality both sides’ most fervent fans must grasp.

The graphic up top is an Internet meme I spied this afternoon, though I have no idea who created it. It mocks the declaration of some of Bernie's most fervent fans that Hillary is the same as Trump, an utterly stupid idea, of course, so this struck me as funny.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This is my fight song

The video above, from the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign, was released for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. It struck a chord with me, especially at the moment. It encapsulates much of why I support human rights for all people, and have fought so hard for the human rights of LGBT people—and also why I won’t quit fighting.

Watching this video, I was reminded of how damn good we have it in many western countries. People in some of the countries in the video are fighting for their very lives, often literally, and often against the threat of imprisonment or death at the hands of their own governments. In many of those countries, the oppression of LGBT people is crushing.

As I’ve been saying the past few days, the radical right professional anti-gay industry is STILL campaigning to roll back the human rights of LGBT Americans, and I've added that since they decided to manufacturer a controversy over trans people using the public toilet that matches their gender identity, the radicals are often succeeding. I’ve also talked about how successful they’ve been in convincing otherwise rational, sensible people that the radicals’ propaganda is true, when it absolutely isn’t.

There are some people—including even within the LGB communities—who argue that we should just forget about trans people and jettison any concern over their oppression in order to save ourselves.

I think that’s bullshit.

The same radicals who are now targeting trans people hate LGB people every bit as much, and their war is ultimately against the human rights of us all. If we abandon trans people, it will not save us, but it could hasten the day the radicals win: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

If I chose to ignore the oppression of trans people because I’m not trans, then why should I care about racism? I’m white. Why should I care about sexism? I’m male. For that matter, why should I care what happens to lesbians or bi people?

I’ll tell you why: Because for over 35 years I’ve fought too damn hard to ensure that human rights are respected and protected to stop now. I cannot ignore the oppression of people who are not like me because I know only too well that I, too, am a target of the radical right.

There’s an alternative to the hatred and bigotry of the far right, something so simple that they have no defence against it: Humanity. If we start every political discussion with the acknowledgement that everyone—even our adversaries, and including people we cannot understand—are human beings, then we can halt the endless cycle of hatred and violence. As I often say, inspired by Harvey Milk, it’s easy to hate in the third person: Them, those, they. It’s much harder to hate in the second person: You, my neighbour; you, my schoolmate; you, my co-worker; you, my preacher; you, my child. Our challenge is to make sure the first person acknowledges the second person is an equal.

Hatred is strong in the world. Prejudice, bigotry, oppression, discrimination—we humans have plenty of ways of dividing us against ourselves. What we need, so very desperately, are ways to overcome fear and hatred and to recognise the humanity we share DESPITE our differences, and the beauty of life BECAUSE of our differences.

The path of love will always win over hatred in the end. It’s not always easy or direct, and often not fast, but love always triumphs over hatred in the end. Always.

So, it seems obvious to me that we need to recognise that whatever divides us, we all ought to be free & equal, and we all must all work toward that goal, no matter how hard it may be sometimes.

And, I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

The song in the video is “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.

In more detail

The video above was all over my social media today, and it’s actually quite good. It goes into detail about one of the groups I was talking about the other day, and what makes them so truly awful.

After I watched the video above, I noticed that last month Media Matters For America also posted a video (below) specifically on North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill”. In that video, they talk about some of the same things I mentioned in my post on Saturday, and also my post on Friday.

I’m glad to see others working on exposing the extent and true nature of what the radical right professional anti-gay industry is up to. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) famously said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” This will test whether he was right.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tooth Tales: More setbacks

On Thursday I had my latest periodontist appointment. The results were not good, and I need two (expensive) treatments. After some ten days of negative news, I should be used to this, and yet…

It’s possible that I could have been better in my oral hygiene regimen—is it ever NOT possible to be better?! Even though I’ve probably been better than ever, all things considered, I still need treatment. That’s that.

What this means in practical terms is that I’ll probably delay my orthodontist work until late June or, more likely, July, due to how expensive the periodontist treatments will be. It also means putting off the other crowns they say I need for even longer.

That’s the reality of pay as you go dentistry: It’s always a case of what one needs right away vs. what one can afford, and hardly anyone has the money to pay for everything the dental experts say one needs. Priorities determine everything and delay anything that’s not urgent.

The areas of concern are areas that I can reach easily and floss and brush well—or, so I thought. One of the areas includes where my crown will go, so maybe there was more going on there than we knew. Whatever, it makes me feel like a bot of a failure, that if only I’d been better (perfect?), I wouldn't need these treatments. But, I don’t know that and, truth be told, neither does the periodontist. After all, I may be prone to periodontal disease and if it wasn’t for my efforts, things would be even worse. I can’t know that, either, but I prefer to think that than beat myself up over what is; I can’t change what it is, I can only fix it.

It’s now reaching a point, however, where what once was a joke or fatalistic musing is now becoming true: It almost would have been cheaper to have my teeth ripped out and gotten dentures. I’m no longer certain that if I’d known two years ago how much this was going to cost that I would have chosen this path. And, I even have to question whether the orthodontist work is justifiable any more.

In any case, on Friday I go for the first periodontist treatment. The following Friday I go to have my permanent crown installed. The following Thursday I go for my second periodontal treatment. That’s as totally not fun as it sounds, and very expensive, as well.

It’s also what it is, like much of this journey.

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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Trumping power

The video above is an ad for Powershop, a New Zealand electricity retailer. It mocks Donald Drumpf by having children wearing orange wigs recite his words verbatim. The company has a history of running sometimes edgy ads, and this one is in line with previous advertising. This video seems headed to becoming viral, as more news outlets report in it. It’s unlikely to be the last ad of its kind.

While the ad mocks Drumpf to sell a product, in some ways it also points out how truly awful he is. Hearing children saying things Drumpf has actually said makes those remarks all more disgusting. I was uncomfortable watching children saying Drumpf’s words, like their innocence was being destroyed by doing so. Maybe that’s a good thing: It reinforces how truly awful he is.

The tagline “Power You Can Love” is the latest in a series of slogans playing on a “good power” versus “bad power” theme. They previously used “Same Power, Different Attitude” to promote the same general theme. The image at the bottom of this post, which the company shared on their Facebook Page, continues the mocking of Drumpf by adapting his slogan into “Make Power Great Again”.

Powershop’s ads have frequently gotten them into trouble. For example, last year an ad series playing off of historic events in New Zealand led to one of their display ads being banned by malls in Christchurch. The company also faced complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about a billboard that depicted ex-pope Ratzinger seeming to bless the marriage of two men (at right, click to enlarge).

The billboard was first complained about in 2012, and then again later by someone else, and then again when it was used in 2013. In every case, the complaint wasn’t upheld. Advertising is generally given a lot of room to mock, even religion, and complaints about ads like this aren’t usually upheld. Maybe it’s just me, but complaints like these do make some religious people seem rather precious, far too sensitive, and humourless. But, that’s not a surprise: A person who is none of those things wouldn’t file an official complaint.

Powershop is owned by Meridian Energy, a company that was entirely owned by taxpayers until John Key and National sold nearly half of it of it. The parent company used to run clever advertising, but nothing edgy.

I don’t think this ad is particularly effective, but, then, I’d say the same about all their previous advertising, too. It’s not the content of this ad—I don’t mind the mockery—it’s just that I don’t think it provides a good reason to use the company rather than another; clever advertising isn’t what a customer is actually wanting to buy.

However, the theme of this ad really is the point, and it’s why the media is reporting on it and I’m blogging about it. There have been a smattering of ads mocking Drumpf already, and I’m sure we’ll see many more. We’ll soon see whether that helps or hurts efforts to defeat him.

Looking over that gate

Yesterday, I talked about the continuing threat from the radical right professional anti-gay industry, and how they’re not sleeping, but merely taking a different route to their goal: Repealing all legal protections for LGBT people and our families. Today, I thought I’d share some specific ways they’re doing that.

Far right Christians have no shortage of viciously anti-gay preachers to spread lies and disinformation about LGBT people, but what they lacked for several years was a clear spokesperson. With the death of Jerry Falwell, the steady decline of the very elderly Pat Robertson, and the political defeats of religious extremists like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and others, the radical right has lacked a clear leader to sell its religious-political message.

Frank Graham, son of the famous evangelist, has been working very hard to position himself as the leading proponent of far right religious bigotry against LGBT people. Over the past couple years, offensive nonsense has spewed from his mouth like a pea soup geyser, and just this week, we got yet another example.

This week, Frank was on the podcast of one of Fox News’ leading crackpot pundits. According to Right Wing Watch, after Frank complained that “President Obama sold himself completely to the gay and lesbian community,”
Graham told Starnes that Obama is pushing “dangerous” nondiscrimination measures that will allow “sexually perverted people to take advantage of women,” and now states like North Carolina are facing pressure from “a very wicked agenda within the Obama administration.”
Frank was reinforcing the radical right’s talking point that it’s the LGBT community that’s demanding something new, something to be feared and loathed and resisted. This rhetoric is actually designed to promote fear and loathing of LGBT people generally.

We can see the intent behind Frank’s chosen rhetoric when he said his solution is for radical right “Christians” to take over school boards “within the next four to six years.” He said it was necessary because, “so many school districts now are controlled by wicked, evil people, and the gays and lesbians, and I keep bringing their name up, but they are at the forefront of this attack against Christianity in America.” He’s attempting to demonise LGBT people to portray them as less than human.

Meanwhile, the professional anti-LGBT activists are hard at work, too. The group responsible for tyring to portray “Christian” businesses from around the country as “victims” of LGBT people is now working to pre-emptively sue local governments to overturn human rights protections for LGBT people.

Joe Jervis reported on his Joe.My.God blog that two self-proclaimed Christian women who have a business providing hand lettered invitations for various events are suing to overturn Phoenix’s public accommodation law just in case any of those wicked, evil gays and lesbians ever ask them to do an invitation for their wicked, evil gay wedding—even though no one ever has.

Joe’s post includes two video clips, the first from the professional anti-LGBT activist group that is shown soliciting businesses around the USA to hire them to sue to overturn their local human rights laws, too. The second clip is of the people suing in Phoenix, and Joe is suspicious:
The second clip, rather suspiciously, was posted last week to the just-created YouTube channel for [the litigious business]. It’s the only clip there, it’s unlisted, and comments are closed.

The company also appears to have no physical address and their social media presence goes back only a few months. I wouldn’t be surprised if [the litigious business] was invented specifically to overturn Phoenix’s ordinance. [the name of the business is in the original post, but I’ve removed it for this post].
Regardless of whether Joe’s suspicions are correct or not, this is nevertheless a new tactic in the radical right’s war on LGBT people. As with the anti-trans “bathroom bills”, they’ll win in some places, lose in others, but the industry has the unlimited cash—and patience—to mount a years-long campaign to take away the human and civil rights of LGBT people. This strategy also doesn’t risk boycotts of a state or city because elected politicians aren’t the ones taking away the civil and human rights of LGBT people. There’s kind of an evil brilliance to this strategy.

The anti-LGBT industry’s current multi-pronged war against LGBT people is a variation of what they did during the early years of the battle over marriage equality. Back then, they mounted all sorts of anti-LGBT referenda and ran campaigns for them based on lies, smears, and defamation of LGBT people—and they won over and over again. Part of the reason the radical right won was that LGBT people didn’t have the money or resources to fight back all over the country, a fact the radicals knew and exploited. They’re doing it again.

Now, they’re exploiting fear of a “man in a dress in a women’s public toilet” to pass anti-trans “bathroom bills”, while also continuing to push laws to specifically legalise anti-LGBT discrimination (often in places were it’s already legal) to establish in law that LGBT people are less than equal citizens.

Taken together, these strategies, along with the often viciously anti-gay rhetoric of their religious leaders, is intended to lead to the death of LGBT equality by a thousand cuts: They’ll keep pushing laws and lawsuits to get their way, knowing that the LGBT community cannot possibly hope to compete financially, leaving them largely free to demonise LGBT people so that when they succeed in taking away the rights of LGBT people, it’ll stick because most people will believe we “deserve” it for having “pushed too hard”, and for stepping out of our place.

That is their plan, but their success is by no means certain. The first step in fighting back is simply being aware of what they’re up to. The next step is actually stopping them. That will be the hardest to do—but it IS possible.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Enemies opening the gate

The people who share my political views, more or less, have been puzzled by many things over the past year or so. Drumpf, of course, is the biggest one, but another is the sudden frenzy of laws to ban transgender people from using public toilets appropriate to the gender they are. Of the two, the second one should be no surprise at all: It’s just the latest battle in the radical right’s ongoing culture war.

We’ve seen a frenzy of rightwing legislators tripping over themselves in their rush to enact anti-trans legislation, the so-called “bathroom bills”, which would criminalise the use of a public toilet that doesn’t correspond to one’s gender assigned at birth, rather than the gender one lives and expresses.

Obviously, we’ve all probably peed in a stall next to a trans person and we didn’t even know it, since it’s not a good idea to ask to inspect the genitals of others in public toilets. Yet the far right has been whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing about trans people, declaring they’re a “threat” to girls and women (far-right radicals, who are also sexist and misogynistic, don’t treat transmen in a men’s room as a similar threat; funny that).

The thing is, we’ve seen all this before.

The radical right is relentlessly promoting the narrative that trans people are a “threat”, that men in dresses will invade women’s toilets to attack girls and women, but not that long ago, they were declaring that gay men were threats to boys in public toilets.

They’re relentlessly promoting the narrative that trans people are “confused”, which is nicer way of saying “mentally ill”, and that they need “help”. The radicals once said that about gay people, too.

The radicals are relentlessly promoting law changes as the only way to “protect” society from the “threat” from trans people. They did the same thing against gay people.

Despite doing all this to LGBT people, they still lost on marriage equality—or did they? They see it as a mere setback, though obviously a major one. They’ve re-grouped, and they’re targeting trans people because they know they can no longer get away with lying about and defaming gay people, so they’re targeting trans people with the same rhetoric, the same lies and defamation they once used against gay people.

In so doing, they’re promoting the notion that the LGBT community is “demanding more and more” when, just as with marriage equality, it was extreme-right religionists who are pushing for laws to ban it. In both cases, it was religionists who started the war, caught the LGBT community completely unprepared, and won victory after victory—for many years, in the case of marriage equality.

The exact same thing is happening now: The radical right is using “bathroom bills” to stir up fear and resentment, while making it seem that the LGBT community is demanding access to public toilets for trans people, and they’ve made otherwise rational people believe that this had never been allowed in the past.

So, the radical right is trying to ban trans people’s access to the correct toilets by stirring up fear and resentment, while also blaming LGBT people for starting it, complaining they have to make laws because we “demand more and more”. That’s exactly what they did with marriage equality.

Their endgame is to stir up hatred and resentment of gay people by blaming them for “forcing” the radical right to make laws to prevent trans people from using the correct public toilets. In doing so, they’re trying to increase public support for repealing marriage equality and protections for the civil and human rights of gay people.

The battle for marriage equality was won when more and more people began to see real gay people. For many, it was a well known person, such as an actor, a singer, or a journalist, and all of them helped mainstream Americans see gay people as people, not the cartoon villains the radical right portrayed them as. This, in turn, encouraged ordinary people to come out to their friends, family, and coworkers, thereby increasing the general public’s awareness of real gay people.

The majority of Americans just don’t see trans people the same way as gay people. Too many Americans see trans people as “confused” at best, but mostly as alien and strange. It’s not hard for the radical right to push that farther and make otherwise rational people fear and hate trans people, and, over time, gay people.

The radicals know that if they can weaken support for gay people, they have a chance of rolling back our civil and human rights, which is their ultimate goal—and they’ve been quite open about that goal.

All the Republican presidential candidates this time opposed marriage equality, and all the serious contenders promised to nominate to the Supreme Court only justices who would vote to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, among other rulings, so that not only could marriage equality be repealed, homosexuality itself can be re-criminalised (and some Republican presidential candidates were talking about that specifically).

This isn’t a “conspiracy” of any sort, not even almost. In fact, it can’t be one when the radical right anti-gay industry has been so open about wanting to roll back all the progress made so far. They’re doing their schemes out in plain sight, for all to see, so this is no “conspiracy”—it’s a political campaign.

The radical right is playing a long game, working steadily to demonise trans people as a way to undermine support for and acceptance of gay people so they can take away our human and civil rights. When corporations announce plans to boycott states, it doesn’t win over those who are worried about “the trans in the toilet”. When the federal government moves to fight these laws, it only helps opponents harden their hatred of President Obama personally, and helps rile up support for Drumpf, just as Karl Rove successfully used marriage equality as a wedge issue to help elect Republicans. There’s no coincidence we’re seeing more of this in an election year.

It’s important to remember that support for marriage equality in the USA remains barely a majority in many polls, and it’s even lost ground in some areas. Even Pew Research, long considered a major reliable resource on this and many other issues, has found that support for marriage equality is currently only 55%, and opposition is at 37%.

On the other hand, Pew’s findings are almost exactly the opposite of what they were when they began polling 15 years ago: In 2001, when marriage equality didn’t exist anywhere in the USA, Americans opposed marriage equality, 57% against and 35% who supported it. Also, back in January Gallup reported that 60% of Americans—including 54% of Republicans—were satisfied with “the acceptance of gays and lesbians” in the USA. This is all hopeful.

But homophobia, like racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other bigotry, never really goes away: It lies in wait, like a snake waiting to strike and devour its prey—patient, determined, and very hungry. Economic or political turmoil can turn otherwise sensible and rational people into raging bigots, sure, but so can the slow, methodical efforts of determined and committed proponents of discrimination.

The radical right isn’t even trying to reach people who think clearly about social issues, it’s trying to reach—and exploit—perfectly ordinary and otherwise reasonable people who may be worried about their daughters being attacked in a public toilet by “a man in a dress”, and who can be persuaded that Big Gay (as the radical right calls it) is responsible for putting their daughters in danger.

From there, it’s not a big leap to hating gay people in general and supporting taking away our civil and human rights: The snake of bigotry is coiled and ready to strike.

It saddens me that the so many people have swallowed the bait of the radical right, hook, line and sinker, that so many people are so quick to adopt bigotry rather than look at those who are selling it. It disgusts me that some people are quite willing to retaliate against LGBT for something they didn’t even do, but even more so that the radical right is getting away with all this.

This post is a warning. The radical right is not defeated, it’s not sleeping, and it’s not even resting. Instead, the radicals are constantly working to undo all the progress made over the past 50 years, and they will not stop trying. Whether they succeed or not will depend on whether good people do nothing.

But, if I may, one bit of prophecy: What we’ve seen so far will become far worse if Drumpf is elected president. His crypto-fascist nature will compel him to attack already marginalised groups, especially ones he can actually go after.

Bigotry never really goes away: It lies in wait, like a snake waiting to strike and devour its prey—patient, determined, and very hungry. Will it be fed? Or, will goodness finally cut off its head and kill it? I honestly don’t know.