Saturday, September 30, 2017

Crowd and funding

The video above from Vox explains crowdfunding, but not exactly how it works, rather, how it works best. Crowdfunding of one sort or another is often used these days to get money for a new project or product, and it’s a more satisfying model for independent creators of any sort, rather than having to rely on venture capitalists—who in addition to being hard to win over are also often called “vulture capitalists” for a reason.

Raising money isn’t the only, or even necessarily the best, use of crowdfunding, as this video explains. And what works for a specific product wouldn’t necessarily work for makers of creative works that are outside of normal product models.

Another form of crowdfunding was created to meet that need, subscription-based services for all sorts of creators: Writers, musicians, visual artists, video producers, even podcasters, among many others. The best-known of these fudners is Patreon, which is now used by a lot of YouTube creators in particular. This kind of figures because Patreon acquired Subbable, which was created by John and Hank Green, and used by them and a lot of big YouTube creators, including CGP Grey, who I’ve shared on this blog.

The basic point with crowdfunding is that it allows people with ideas to directly fund those ideas, and to aviod the loss of control that would happen with traditional funding models. It’s also a way to build a market/audience in advance of release, which is also great.

However, crowdfunding also underlines the new reality: Thanks to the Internet and all the many ways to connect to it and use it, literally anyone can now be a creator, whether of a product or of content. This is a democratising of creation that was never possible until the Internet came along. But until crowdfunding, especially subscription models, came along, there was no reliable way to actually get paid for that work.

The catch in all this is that someone has to create something that someone else wants to pay for, and a great many people (like me and most of the content creators I know) work without receiving any money coming in as a result of that work. There’s nothing wrong with people who create stuff just for the love it, and that’s sort of the flipside of crowdfunding: Very often people don’t participate in any sort of crowdfunding merely because they don’t want to.

In any case, it’s interesting to watch the growth of crowdfunding, and its increasing importance. These are certainly different times—different even than ten years ago. That's a good thing, I think.

Friday, September 29, 2017

About Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner died this week at 91. While most of us have probably heard of him, these days plenty of us would have no opinion about him—his heyday was a long time ago, after all. But the people who do have opinions often had and have strong ones, the strongest of which quite probably keep others silent. And yet, there are truths that must be told.

Hefner was not a saint, but neither was he evil incarnate. He was first and foremost a businessman who had been very successful, then less so as the years went on. He also challenged social norms in ways that had never been seen before, and he actually made the world a better place, despite what some of his critics want us to believe.

On the surface, the Playboy brand was about men objectifying women, and it was also about hedonism. Beneath that veneer that some found sleazy (or worse), however, Hefner also pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in sexuality. While it may have begun with openly talking about sexuality and sexual desire, along the way it made obvious that sexuality came in many varieties.

Hefner supported gay rights and abortion rights at a time when not even liberal politicians did. Many eventually caught up (or were replaced by socially progressive younger politicians), but Hefner was there before them all. To his critics, this is a “so what?” fact, but to people oppressed because of their sexuality, like gay people, it was a very big deal, and he made it concrete by setting up the Playboy Foundation to help fund progressive social change, particularly as it affected women, gay people, and other oppressed people.

In the early 1980s to early 1990s, I was part of a grassroots political group called the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force. For most of that time, we were the only LGBT political group in the state. We lobbied the state legislature, Congress, Chicago’s City Hall, other local governments, and more agencies than I can even remember. We ran training sessions on LGBT issues at the Chicago Police Department and at Cook County Jail so they would be better equipped to deal with LGBT people. But we also worked with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) at a time when few LGBT groups dared to do so.

One of our major projects was to make sure that accurate and useful information and resources on LGBT issues were provided to the counselling departments in all public high schools. Our co-chair at the time, Al Wardell, himself a high school teacher in the CPS system, recognised the need to combat anti-gay bullying, and new project was born.

A graphic designer designed posters and other materials to support the project, the most notable of which were the posters: The central feature was a stark black and white photo of a row of school lockers with “Die Queer” painted on one. The text provided the phone number of a group called Gay and Lesbian Horizons, a social service agency now rolled into Chicago’s LGBT community centre. They had the resources, training, and expertise to deal with any phone calls that may have come in, which made them the logical choice. The IGLTF name was also on the posters, in smaller type.

Al approached (from memory) at least 15 different funding organisations to help fund the project, and every single one turned us down—all of them. In the early 1990s, most people didn’t even want to admit that gay teenagers even existed, and many of them even still believed we tried to “recruit” teens, because that lie and myth was still commonly believed. Funding organisations were no different, really, and reflected the conservative social attitudes that were still prevalent.

However, ONE organisation said yes: The Playboy Foundation. They provided an in-kind contribution, paying to print the posters and some other materials. This was a major victory for our organisation, sure, but more so for the young people we might be able to help.

Until, that is, politics—LGBT politics—nearly destroyed it all.

After the posters were printed and the project was ready to be rolled out, IGLTF had its annual meeting at which a new board was elected, and they included some fairly staunch feminists who objected to the fact we’d received this support from the Playboy Foundation. At a fiery board meeting, we were bullied and hectored until a vote was held to destroy all the posters. I abstained from that vote because I felt pressured and bullied and wanted time to think it all through, but the motion passed anyway, and one board member tore up one of the smaller posters with a dramatic flourish. I then resigned from the board, ending around a decade of my service.

The rump of the board tried to spin the decision, but got intensely negative feedback from the wider community, with some individual donors demanding their donations back, others demanding a boycott of future donations, and things even more unpleasant. The rump of the board then revisited the decision, backed down and decided not to destroy the posters after all, but, as I recall, and may remember incorrectly, they wanted IGLTF’s name blacked out.

IGLTF never recovered. Within a year or two it was dead, and is barely remembered today. Nearly 20 years of damn hard work destroyed over—what, exactly? Nowadays we’d call it “political correctness run amok”, but I hate that phrase. Instead, I’d say they’d let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Forbid the group from ever seeking Playboy Foundation funding in the future? Stupid, but okay. Voting to destroy already printed posters? Criminally stupid, and a betrayal of everything we’d been fighting to achieve, and the people we’d been fighting for, over two decades.

The facts here are simple: Absolutely NO funding organisation would fund the project, and some were hostile to it. ONLY the Playboy Foundation would fund it, and it wasn’t the first time it had worked to support the LGBT communities, nor was it the first time their support had caused political controversy within the LGBT communities of Chicago.

For more than two decades I’ve remained silent about all this, mainly because it’s just history, or maybe an historical footnote is more accurate. But even though I was sickened by the whole thing back then, and the atmosphere at that meeting which was like a bookburning more than anything else, I nevertheless felt intimidated into silence. What dredged this all up was seeing so many people choosing to heap scorn onto Hefner as if nothing he’d ever done had any value.

Of course Playboy Magazine objectified woman—as did most heterosexual men at the time, from what I could tell. But for some reason, Playboy’s objectification was deemed to be worse than that of ordinary men. Was it because they made a profit? Or because they reinforced male objectification of women? Both? Something else? It all seems so long ago, but similar issues rise up from time to time.

The reality is that Playboy Magazine also published some of the most important writers from its part of the 20th Century, and featured many important interviews, too. It provided a platform for the voiceless, and was an advocate for the oppressed—including gay people.

All of that funded the Playboy Foundation that, in turn, provided the cash for so much social change, including funding groups and projects that could never get funding anywhere else. Accepting funding from the Playboy Foundation never—ever—bothered me. As one of my colleagues put it at the time of the IGLTF disaster, the Roman Catholic church has always accepted money from the mafia, and by using it for good, they said they purified and even sanctified the money. I wouldn’t put it in quite those terms, but we did essentially the same thing: We took money that came from a business some people objected to, and used it to advance the social and legal equality—and the very safety—of LGBT people. It was money we often simply couldn’t get anywhere else. So I have no regrets for accepting the money: In the context of the times, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Obviously Hefner was no saint, and he was perhaps cruder and more sleazy than most men would like to think they were/are, but a great many heterosexual men of the time were just like him in thought, if not in deed. Articles and advocacy aside, the magazine traded in sexual objectification, something many men did, too, though perhaps quietly. Does that excuse it? That’s not my call to make (not the least because I’m not heterosexual). But to this day many men of all sorts simply don’t get the anger directed at Playboy, especially when there were magazines that were far worse (like the widely circulated Hustler, for example).

I’m not an expert in social morés or sexual politics, and I would never tell women what they can and can’t see as objectification or as objectionable. But neither can they tell men—gay men in particular—what we must find objectionable. To me, all that is irrelevant. The 1970, 1980s, and 1990s were hostile times for LGBT Americans, and we fought hard against the prevailing repressive attitudes. The Playboy Foundation, through Hugh Hefner and his magazine, made a lot of progress possible when no one else would. And I damn sure won’t apologise for putting their money to good use, nor will I in any way feel bad about it.

Because of the great good that Hugh Hefner made possible, I won’t say a bad word about him. What others do is their business, but they have no right to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, say, think, or feel about Hefner. And, that sort of personal independence was one of the core messages Hefner himself sold, appropriately enough.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Midweek Diversion: Ridin’ with chicken

The video above is an ad currently playing on New Zealand television for an international chicken fast food chain. The commercial is kind of cute, for lack of a better word, with unexpected imagery that makes the humour work. As such things go, it’s a good ad.

I liked the ad when I firts saw it, but I started to wonder about the song in the background. It’s kind of catchy, almost earworm-y, and I wanted to know more about.

The song is “Ridin’”, a 2006 song by Chamillionaire (real name Hakeem Seriki), a 37 year old an American musician, rapper, entrepreneur, and investor from Houston, Texas. The song features Krayzie Bone, who’s been part of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. The part used in the ad is the chorus:
They see me rollin
They hatin
Patrolling they tryin to catch me ridin' dirty
Tryin to catch me ridin' dirty (repeat three times)
My music so loud
I'm swangin
They hopin that they gonna catch me ridin' dirty
Tryin to catch me ridin' dirty (repeat three times)
The lyrics work really well with the imagery in the ad, and the idea of oldies “ridin’ dirty” using their mobility scooters is funny. But the rest of the song is a little out of sync with the ad. As Wikipedia puts it:
The lyrics concern racial profiling and police brutality, as well as the stereotyping of African-Americans driving a vehicle with drugs or other contraband on the inside ("Riding dirty").
While the idea of fast food chicken being contraband for seniors is kind of funny in itself, the resy of the lyrics are quite explicit and far naughtier than most seniors would like to hear. That would make it an odd choice for an ad for a mass market product—except probably not here.

New Zealanders are always laid back about such things anyway, but I’d thought that chances were good that not many people were familiar with it. Well, maybe: It turns out the song went to Number 2 in New Zealand in 2006. I must not have been listening to pop radio at the time, because I sure don’t remember it.

Choosing music for ads can be fraught sometimes, especially in the USA, less so in New Zealand, maybe. And, just because I’m not familiar with a song doesn’t mean it wasn’t popular; this isn’t the first time I’ve made that mistake.

This little journey started, as it so often does (like it did last month), because I was curious about background music used in an ad, and when I found that I needed to know more about it, the artist, and what, precisely, they were rapping.

I love the Internet.

The official video for Chamillionaire’s Ridin' ft. Krayzie Bone:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Politics respite

This past Saturday was New Zealand’s General Election. The September Equinox was also at 8:01am that day, though Spring still hasn’t actually arrived yet. And as if all that wasn’t enough, New Zealand returned to Daylight Saving Time at 2am that night/following morning. It was a busy weekend, many people are tired from the clock change, but we’ll all eventually get over that. The effects of the election, however, may last quite a while longer.

I'll eventually put down my thoughts on the election here on the blog, as I always do, but I need to gather my thoughts first, as I always do. It was a strange election in many ways, and until the 384,072 (approximately…) Special Votes—roughly 15% of the total cast—are counted, we won’t know the final shape of Parliament, and that, in turn, will determine who will form government. The final tally of votes, including the Special Votes and Ordinary Votes, should be released around 2pm on Saturday, October 7.

One thing I noticed as early as election night was the need some people had to attack those who voted for parties they didn't support. Sometimes it was because the parties they supported didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, sometimes it was because of ideology more generally, but none of it was helpful.

Attacking those one disagreed with in the NZ election must stop.

The election is over, sure, and that’s reason enough, but it's more than that: Whatever side we may have backed, we'll need to win votes from people who didn't vote our way this time, and attacking those people isn't going to suddenly make them more receptive to our point of view. Voting behaviour is as complicated as any other human behaviour, and no one votes to do bad things—and this is true no matter how much we disagree with them. They can't be won over by lecturing them on how evil, awful, and selfish—or old—they are. Instead, we must demonstrate that our ideas are better ideas. Sure, we know those ideas are better, but that’s something that's self-evident only to us.

I also think everyone needs to consider what they personally did to bring about the result they wanted—sharing things on Facebook and Twitter isn't actually doing anything, by the way. I know people who worked damn hard on campaigns of several different parties, but the rest of us? Not so much, and that absolutely includes me—but, then, I’m not the one complaining about or attacking people who voted differently than I would have liked.

What I’m really saying is that “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.” There are structural issues to address with campaigns and messaging, absolutely, and there's a real need to look at what, precisely, the Left (in general) is selling. However, attacking people who didn’t vote as we think they should have is just ideological masturbation, and that’s not really something that should be done in public.

Whatever happens, whoever forms Government, and however we feel about that, it’s only temporary: The maximum term of any Parliament is only three years. Good or bad, this, too, shall pass. I just hope the negativity passes faster. We all need a rest.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The voting is done

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Today was, of course, Election Day in New Zealand, and the polls have just closed. As we wait for the votes to be counted, we don’t yet know what the total voter turnout was, but we do know that the Advance Voting turnout was heavy. That’s a good thing.

I did my civic duty today and voted this morning not far from our house. In fact, I walked to the Polling Place, which I haven’t done in decades. I found it a bit physically challenging, but considering it was the longest walk I’ve taken since we moved in back in February, the fact I survived is encouraging—but I think I need to build up the distance I walk a little more slowly.

My Polling Place was in a tiny local church, and while I’m not a fan of Polling Places being in churches, it was kind of nice to see the inside of this one, which is nicer inside than the non-descript exterior promised. The good news is, the building didn’t collapse when I walked in.

There was a pretty good turnout when I was there: All the voting stations were occupied, the officials checking in voters were both busy most of the time, and I saw small groups (they looked like families) going to vote together. I warmed my ol’ democratic (in this case, a lower case “d”) heart to see it—even if I suspect they may have cancelled out my vote a few times over.

The Advance Voting story is fantastic. According to the Electoral Commission, a total of 1,240,740 votes were cast in the Advance Voting period this year, as opposed to 717,579 in 2014, and 334,558 in 2011. Clearly New Zealand voters like Advance Voting, but is this a sign of something more, of a very large turnout? We’ll know soon.

Final enrolment statistics show that 91.1% of all eligible New Zealanders were registered to vote, but the least-registered age group is still 18-24 year olds (69.83%), though that number is up about five points from only three days earlier. Is this further evidence of a “youthquake” in action? Interestingly, the most-registered age group is my own: 98.75% of eligible 55-59 year olds are registered. Registering to vote is mandatory in New Zealand, though voting itself is not.

Facebook told me this last night, just after my profile photo reverted to its apolitical normality.

As I said yesterday, I was trying to obey the law regarding online activity on Election Day, but today I saw for myself how downright silly the law is. I was on Twitter and I got suggestions of “Who To Follow”, and they included NZ politicians and a political party. I saw “In Case You Missed It” Tweets that were expressly partisan—and quite old (19 hours or more, well before the midnight deadline). Add to that seemingly random partisan Tweets that seemed to be showing up just because someone I follow had liked the Tweet at some point. For all I know, the dearth of political Tweets today may have led Twitter’s algorithmics to fill in the gaps with Tweets about the stuff I was seeing and Tweeting up until yesterday. In any case, those Tweets would be illegal if posted today, but they weren’t, yet I saw them anyway. That’s just shows how dumb that 1993, pre-Internet law truly is.

Even so, I saw people go out of their way to avoid posting anything partisan today, and a few trying to get as close to the boundary as possible, usually in a joking way. That was kind of entertaining.

But the main word for today, especially after voting, was patience. Waiting was all we could do—that and keep our opinions to ourselves. Actually, come to think of it, thats not actually such a bad thing…

The photo up top is my—perfectly legal—“I voted” selfie. The Electoral Commission actually encourages such selfies, but, weirdly, the Electoral Commission’s official Facebook Page was taken offline. That meant one couldn’t access their “I Voted” overlay for one’s profile photo, something they encouraged people to use. My guess is that they were doing what they suggested others do: Take their page down on election day. In their case, it wasn’t what they posted—they’re non-partisan—but what others may have posted. If Facebook allowed page admins to turn off commenting that wouldn’t be necessary, but they don’t.

At any rate, that’s this year’s election done. Now the other waiting—to see who will form government—begins.

Today's "Google Doodle" in New Zealand.

Friday, September 22, 2017

To comply with the law (yet again)

As I did in 2011 and 2014, and I mostly stole this post from one in 2011 (and then adapted from the one in 2014), I have temporarily turned on comment moderation for this blog. You can still leave a comment, but it won’t be posted until sometime after 7pm Saturday NZ Time (7AM Saturday UTC), after the polls have closed. I’m doing this to comply with New Zealand election law, which mandates that I turn off comments (even though the law was enacted in 1993…). I’ll update this post after I’ve re-enabled un-moderated comments. I also won't be commenting or replying on social media, either. You can DM/PM me if you wish, or email me, because that’s private.

Also, I won't be posting anything here until after 7pm tomorrow. Apparently a new post might draw eyes to my previous election posts. Or something.

P.S. Two Ticks Labour! (I can say that because I’m posting this before midnight…),

Update 23 September: The polls have closed, and comments are again unmoderated. Thank you for your patience as I obeyed a silly law.

Bella helps

I wanted something nice and non-political to post to create a bit of a buffer for anyone happening on this blog before 7pm tomorrow. Bella happened to be sleeping on my lap at the time, and the rest is now blogging history. She’s very helpful, really.

AmeriNZ Podcast 335 ‘Cliffhanger' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 335 – Cliffhager” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast: This episode is mainly about the New Zealand election, which is tomorrow.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sustainable disposal

Auckland Council has been promoting a number of waste minimisation strategies in recent years, with an eye toward getting as close to zero waste as possible. Many of the solutions are easy, like recycling, some are more challenging, like planned changes to rubbish collection, and one is real work: Composting. But one of the compsoting systems they promote—Bokashi—is easier than many might think.

Sometime in the past few months, I read about Bokashi bins on something that Auckland Council published—though I can’t remember when or where. When I was visiting Auckland’s North Shore on Tuesday, I had some free time and I popped into one of the home improvement chains because I was interested in vertical gardens for herbs, but they were expensive. So, I decided to check out the other chain store nearby, and wandering through the aisles, I saw the ZingBokashi system. They had the 10 litre and 15 litre size, and I figured that the 10 litre was probably plenty big enough for us. I bought one.

Yesterday, I read in more detail, and also watched the video below to better understand what to do. It’s a little more complicated than I’d first thought, but not horribly so. And, ultimately, this can can become part of a regular composting system.

There was a conventional compost bin here when we moved in, but it was full to the top. As a result, we had nowhere to put food scraps, and they went into the rubbish. I didn’t like this because I knew they were compostable, and because they made the rubbish smell. The Bokashi system will take care of both—and cut down the amount that we send to landfill even more.

We plan on getting a new rotatable compost bit (which makes it easier to turn), and adding the Bokashi bin once a month or so will help enrich the compost, and probably speed up the process, too. At any rate, it will allow us to compost food scraps, including meat, something we couldn’t do with a conventional compost bin.

We already had their EnsoPet system for composting dog waste, but we hadn’t used it yet, mainly because I wasn’t clear on how to use it. Now that I know it has to be moved eventually, I can dig it in and start using it. This will fertilise the shrubbery, while also removing the dog droppings from the wastewater, reducing our “waste footprint” even more.

At some point I’ll post again about how these work, after we’ve had a chance to use and evaluate them fairly. It’s a start, at least.

Adjusting the system

I had my quarterly check-up on Tuesday, and the results were basically good. There were some adjustments however, including some that should improve things further. Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

I had blood tests this time, and the bottom line is that there’s still a problem. Basically, my HDL (“good”) cholesterol is still too low, though it’s up very slightly. My diet and exercise levels are basically unchanged, so the slight improvement is possibly down to choosing foods that raise HDL, including taking fish oil capsules, something I started taking again only a couple months ago, gradually increasing the dosage.

On the other hand, my Cholesterol/HDL ratio is unchanged, and still too high. The reason it’s unchanged is that my cholesterol and triglyceride levels were up slightly. The test this time was non-fasting, wheras the previous one in March was fasting, and this may account for some of the differences. My next tests will be fasting, so it should be clearer where things stand.

I asked the doctor to change my beta blocker tablet because I felt very tired nearly all the time, and that’s one of the side effects of the drug I was on. When I say “tired”, I mean that I might do something and have to sit down and rest for anywhere from 15 minutes to and hour or so, depending on what I’d been doing. This made me unable to make any progress on some of the last projects organising the house, especially my office: I just didn’t have it in me.

The new drug, Atenolol, is similar to the old one, and has similar side effects, so we’ll see how I tolerate it. This is one of those situations where there are other drugs that would be good for me, but they’re not presently funded by Pharmac, so to qualify for them I have to try every other drug available first and if they all are bad then my doctor can apply to the Ministry for special permission to get the drug. The difference is paying $5 for a prescription or unsubsidised market rates (no idea how much that would be, but obviously a lot more).

The other change was that the doctor doubled my allopurinol dose (to 100mg) because my urate levels are still too high. If I hadn’t had gout attacks, my urate levels would be in the normal range (though upper end), however, I need to have them toward the lower end. Some people, the doctor told me, are taking 600mg a day, though she doesn’t think I’ll need anything like that. The point is to prevent attacks, and I have still been having small ones, so clearly the increase in dosage was needed.

Other than that, things were good: Blood pressure is still well-controlled, weight is still down from August of last year (meaning I’ve maintained the weight loss), and apart from the tiredness, I feel okay physically. It’s just that the tiredness does kind of dominate things. Still, in a few weeks I should know if the new drug is any sort of improvement or not.

And that’s the update on where things are: Basically good, with a few adjustments to things. I can live with that—literally.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Overrated?

The video above is the first in a new series from Vox, “Overrated”, which, as most things do these days, has its own Facebook Page. The page talks about a number of different things, and apparently the Facebook Page is the main portal for this effort, which is a change from the way this sort of thing would have been done in the past.

In this video, “Vox's Phil Edwards investigates the largely unheralded business reason behind the success of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird." In this particular case, the story isn’t about whether the novel itself is overrated so much as how it became so—what’s the opposite? Rated? It’s actually a very interesting story, I think.

Like Phil, I read To Kill A Mockingbird more than once, and for school—though in my case it was a more realistic two times. In fact, to this day it’s the only book I’ve read twice (so far, but more about that in due course). When I first read it, in the mid-1970s, I just assumed it was being assigned because it won the Pulitzer Prize, and because it had been a movie starring Gregory Peck. But now that I look back on it, ALL the novels we read in my high school English classes were paperbacks that we were expected to buy. The other literature books we studied—poetry and drama compilations, Shakespeare, and also the book-length epic poem John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benét, were loaned to us by our school. I’m guessing that their choice of novels to teach may have been based in part on how inexpensive paperbacks still were at the time.

I don’t personally think that To Kill A Mockingbird is overrated, and one day I may read it again—just because. Or, maybe I’ll watch the movie again, because I haven’t see it in decades. Maybe both.

I hope future videos in this series focus mostly on how something became so popular or talked about, and not too much on whether the adulation is justified. There are enough fights on the Internet as it is.

Tax truth

The video above is an ad from the New Zealand Labour Party to counter the deliberate falsehoods coming from the National Party. This shouldn’t be necessary, but it is, and the perfect person to stand up for Labour’s fiscal policies is Michael Cullen, who was Finance Minister in the Labour Government from 1999-2008—and a very successful one.

It’s true that debunking and even fact-checking are largely useless in political discourse, campaigns in particular, because one side doesn’t need it, the opposite side will never believe it, and those in the middle likely don’t know who to believe. On the other hand, relentlessly promoting the truth can help some of those in the middle to be reassured, in this case, that voting for Labour is safe, despite the scaremongering of the National Party.

As I said the other day, “it’s far more important to spread truth than lies.” Of course it shouldn’t be necessary to do so, but it often is. Of course spreading truth is sometimes ineffective, but in as close an election as this one promises to be, it’s important to get the truth out there.

Related: Labour's fully-costed, independently assessed fiscal plan is discussed in details on their website: labour.org.nz/fiscalplan

Disclosures: I’m a supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns, as well as my personal values.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The birds

There are a lot of different slice-of-life things that people don’t share on social media. This may come as a surprise to those who think that social media is just for sharing photos of one’s lunch, or oneself. Nevertheless, it’s true, and the very short video above is an example of this.

We were on our way home from visiting family and decided to stop at have something to eat. As we drove in town, we could hear a large noise outside through the closed car windows. It was birds—many, many birds. When we parked and got out the noise was even louder—the video doesn’t really di it justice. I said something like, “where’s Tippi Hedren?”, but I realised that the remark ages me because the reference these days would be a bit obscure. So, I changed it for the Instagram caption to the simpler, “It sounded like we were in Hitchcock's movie,” which was, of course, The Birds (1963).

After a quick dinner, the birds were still at it, but starting to quieten down as the light faded. We just went home to very pleased furbabies.

This particular incident isn’t important, or even unique, but it’s nevertheless an example of an everyday sort of incident that I may not have mentioned normally. But once I shot the video to capture the sound, really, and then shared it to Facebook, it instantly became more shareable here, too. That, too, isn’t unique: I share some ordinary events on social media, then end up sharing them here, too, and talking more about what led to the sharing in the first place, among other things. It sort of closes the circle, I think.

It turns out, though, that this was not the first video I’ve shared on Instagram. The first was way back in January when I took my car for a carwash. That was an even more ordinary event.

At any rate, today’s video was the sort of slice-of-life thing that I don’t often share on social media. It’s just that this time, I did.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What we’ve come to

This election has been unlike any other in recent memory, with twists and turns and surprise developments, it’s been one unexpected thing after another—except for one thing: The return of the Nasty Nats. The National Party has been lying about Labour Party policy, and it’s been deliberate. They can see power slipping away from them, and they’re clearly getting desperate. The Facebook video above sets the record straight.

One of the biggest lies National is telling is that Labour will raise income taxes. As Jacinda makes clear in the video, that’s utterly false. What they base that on is the fact that Labour will cancel the tax cuts that National threw at voters, and that means that if Labour is elected, wage and salary earners will pay the same tax as they do now—NO change. But in National’s alternate fantasy universe, cancelling tax cuts is exactly the same as raising taxes—even though wage and salary earners will pay exactly the same tax. That’s beyond dishonest, it’s downright defamatory.

That stupid lie, along with several others, are in an “ad” National created (using American stock video footage…). After listening to the public, Labour changed course and announced that any changes to taxes for wage and salary earners will not happen until after the 2020 elections, so voters can decide. That’s fair. But National decided to re-work their lying ad with a voiceover bizarrely claiming nothing had changed. That’s not just a lie, or even defamatory—it’s delusional.

I haven’t shared National’s attack ad for two reasons. First, I consider it to be utterly false and defamatory. Second, it’s not actually been on TV yet, as far as I can tell. Instead, National is relying on people sharing their video widely, and I simply won’t do their dirty work for them. If they end up putting their false and defamatory ad on TV, I may reconsider that. Maybe.

In the meantime, National’s dishonest campaign is all over social media and the same false attack lines are being promoted by National Party candidates. And that’s why I’m sharing Labour’s social media video, and not National’s: It’s far more important to spread truth than lies.

National should be ashamed of itself. There’s only one way to make National understand how wrong this behaviour is: Change the government. Let’s do this.

The problem is numbers

Recently, New Zealand political commentators were thrown into a frenzy of commentatoring when a poll seemed to show the National Party had suddenly zoomed way out in front of Labour and could govern alone. Was it right? Commentators breathlessly commentatored about that up until a new poll came out a couple days later showing that Labour and the Greens could form government together, and National couldn’t form one even if all the minor parties (apart from the Greens, of course) backed it. What this actually shows isn’t who will win the election—which is far too close to call—but that New Zealand has a huge problem with numbers.

The first and most obvious problem is the polls themselves. Only three companies are conducting public polls this year, only two of them are doing so for news organisations. This means that we have very little data to work with, and the “poll of polls” averages are actually pretty meaningless. In the USA, presidential elections have dozens of polls, and many major ones, to draw on when averaging them out, giving those averages an accuracy New Zealand can’t ever achieve.

Another problem is with how the polls are conducted. Colmar Brunton, which conducts polls for TVNZ’s One News, phones 1000 landlines only, and not mobiles, in an era when people are giving up their landlines. Even so, they vet their respondents to make their sample match the electorate as closely as possible, so I’m not convinced that fact makes much difference—but inevitably, it will.

Reid Research, which does polling for Newshub (TV 3’s News), only samples 750 landlines, plus 250 “online”, which they don’t further explain. We can evaluate, up to a point, the phoneline surverying, but because we don’t how Reid does its online polling, we have no reason to believe it’s accurate OR inaccurate: We simply cannot even guess. This is totally unacceptable, and any company conducting political polling during an election campaign—especially during the final 2 weeks, when most New Zealand voters make up their minds—has an ethical obligation to be totally transparent with about their methodology so experts in polling can fairly evaluate the data, especially how it was collected.

Which brings us to the second numbers problem: Political journalists. All news organisations have a political editor, some of which are better than others. One who is often good, Newshub’s Patrick Gower, damages his believability with over-the-top histrionics which oversell whatever story he’s hyping, most recently the Reid Research poll. TV One’s Corin Dann, in contrast, has maintained a far more measured demeanour during this year’s campaign—as have most others.

But a few good individuals notwithstanding, NZ doesn’t have a class of journalists who are good at reporting on politics or statistics. They are too quick to accept what they are told, especially by the government of the day, without looking for supporting evidence—or contradicting evidence. They also don’t understand statistics, opinion polls in particular.

Even worse, the quality of our political commentators—pundits—is appalling and awful. Most are chosen only for partisan bias, and the commentary they make is useless and banal regurgitation of partisan talking points. They offer no insight, no unique perspective, just partisan noise. It’s implausible that in a nation as diverse as New Zealand, and despite its small size, those same few people are the ONLY ones who can offer coherent political commentary on the issues of the day. I’m beginning to think that the idea of “term limits” for pundits is a great one.

Where all of this leaves us is—well, no one can say. We have wildly conflicting polls, which we can’t fairly evaluate, we have commentators—both journalists and partisans—who can’t be relied upon to tell us the straight truth, and yet we also have a clear mood for change. This all adds up to this: No one can tell what will happen because the election is too close to call.

Despite that, in the first four days of voting, 229,259 people voted, as compared to 98,063 during the same four days in 2014. But even this number, widely shared on Twitter, is misleading. In fact, 2014 Advance Voting began five days earlier than it did this year, and during the whole 2014 Advance Voting up to and including September 14, 147,560 New Zealanders voted, as compared to 229,259 this year, in fewer days. So, Advance Voting is up pretty dramatically this year, and is on track to be another record year. [complete stats on Advance Voting are posted on the Elections NZ website at 2pm each day]

In 2014, Advance Voting favoured the National Party. I’m not convinced that will be true this year, but we’ll see on Saturday the 23rd. We’ll also find out then whether any opinion poll was even somewhat close to getting it right. What, leave it to the voters?! Imagine that!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Voting is open

The Facebook video above is from the Electoral Commission, and is from their "I Vote" Facebook Page. It's also a TV commercial currently being broadcast. Advance voting began on Monday, and continues right through until September 22 (Election Day is Saturday, September 23). Voters can vote at a number of places in or near their Electorate, and if they're not registered to vote they can register and vote at the same time, but they cannot register on Election Day.

I'm sharing this video because it's a TV commercial, but the video is only available through Facebook, which makes this a bit problematic.

Up until now, Electoral Commission commercials have been posted, eventually, to their YouTube Channel, but they haven't done that since August 6. The only videos they've posted since then have been instructional videos and short messages, the latter of which could be seen as sort of commercials, and may even be useful for sharing on social media, but they seem sort of orphaned on YouTube (they don't seem to have been posted to Facebook, for example, and as far as I know, they haven't been broadcast). This seems limiting.

I don't have any problem with any organisation posting their videos directly to Facebook—it makes it very easy to share them with other Facebook users, after all. But Facebook videos are not necessarily easy to embed elsewhere: Every single time I do it I have to figure it out all over again because it's not intuitive in any way. But the bigger problem I have with this trend is that Facebook is a mostly closed ecosystem, and posting videos only to Facebook necessarily limits their availability to people who want to share them, and to the non-Facebook using general public who may be interested in seeing them. I'm not sure that having them available for embedding outside of Facebook only to people with access to Facebook in the first place is good idea.

This is not a Facebook v. YouTube thing—they both have their pluses and minuses. Also, there are other options for sharing videos than just those two places. Rather, this is about maybe—just maybe—giving Facebook too much influence over how information is shared. Nowadays, media companies, politicians, and individuals alike are live-streaming events that are only discoverable to other Facebook users, while similar public YouTube live videos are accessible to anyone.

Another problem with Facebook, apart from only being readily available to other Facebook users, is that only things posted publicly on Facebook—posts, photos, videos—can be embedded outside of Facebook (which means nothing from my personal Facebook can be shared except with a very limited audience of Facebook users, and with no one outside Facebook; things posted to my AmeriNZ Facebook Page can be shared because they're always public). I can't remember the last time I wanted to embed a YouTube video that didn't allow that.

I don't have the answer, but I favour maximum shareability for things that are inherently public, like the video above. Right now, Facebook-only doesn't meet that requirement. Maybe one day it will. Right now, though, I think we need more openness in sharing and accessibility, and Facebook just doesn't provide that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

AmeriNZ Blog is eleven

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the AmeriNZ Blog: I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” on September 13, 2006. This has been the roughest blogging year yet for me, but I, and the blog, are both still here.

It turns out that the number of daily posts required to meet my annual goal of an average of one post per day continues to rise. When I reviewed my progress toward my goal back in July, I said:
At the moment, including this post, I’m 64 posts behind target for where I should be at this point, and that means I need an average of 1.4 posts per day from now until the end of the year in order to reach my annual goal. That’s a tall order
Well, nearly two months later and I’m still 64 posts behind target, and because there are fewer days remaining to make that up as well as publish one post a day, too, the average I now need has risen to 1.59 posts per day. Every day this becomes a more difficult goal to achieve—but I haven’t given up hope.

And that’s actually the story of this entire blog over the past 11 years: I haven’t given up. Despite sometimes feeling I’ve had enough, despite sometimes being unsure of how I should structure the blog, or what I should write about, I haven’t given up. Even though I’ve talked about my share of sadness and challenges and disappointments, I haven’t given up. Call it stubbornness, or competitiveness, or maybe even foolishness, but I haven’t given up.

I don’t know whether I can meet my annual goal or not this year, though I’m going to give it my best shot. I don’t know if next year will be any better for blogging than this year was, but I’m going to try to make it so.

I haven’t given up. And I’m not going to give up now, either.

Thanks for joining me on the journey so far.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)
Seventh Blogoversary (2013)
Ten years of the AmeriNZ Blog (2016)

This 2015 AmeriNZ Video explains the origins of the name “AmeriNZ”:

The election comes to me

Today two different parts of the election popped up in front of me. Because New Zealand is a small country, it’s not surprising how, well, inescapable the general election becomes. This suits me, of course, because I’m a political junkie whose passion is everything to do with electoral politics, campaigns, the election process, and how policies are put into action by elected representatives. Today all of that came together for me, and I wasn’t even looking for it.

I was on the North Shore for an appointment today, and I decided to swing by Highbury, the village and shopping precinct in Birkenhead (also known as "Birkenhead Village"). I mainly wanted to go to The Warehouse and the Countdown supermarket there, and as I was walking through the shopping centre, I ran in to the chair of the local Labour Electorate Committee, who told me the Labour campaign team had a marquee out on the street, and that I should go say hi.

So, off I went and as I walked closer I saw someone I didn’t know taking the marquee down, and then I also saw Shanan Halbert was there, too (Michael had told me he’d left). It was a nice surprise. I met Shanan in the 2014 campaign, where we were at many of the same events and got to have some good chats. I ran into him around the community over the years since, including even the grocery store.

Shanan is running an awesome campaign to be the MP for Northcote, which has been fun to watch from afar, but I haven’t run into him until today. I was about to leave, then I remembered we’re in the social media age, so I went back and grabbed a selfie with him (photo above; not that it matters, but this is the version I shared to Instagram, since my personal Facebook is not public, so I can't share posts here).

The selfie was a bit of a comedy, really. For a long time now, I’ve been posting photos to Facebook using Instagram, so when I switched phones I never gave Facebook access to my phone’s camera. Add to that the fact the Facebook App has changed since I last posted a photo directly, and it took me a minute to get it all set up. Fortunately I DID know what I was doing, but for a moment I could feel what an older person must feel when confronting unfamiliar technology. The humour in the situation, together with my relief at solving the problem, is actually in my face.

Shanan was a good sport about it all, of course.

I had the trip to the grocery store next, then on to a second grocery store (because the two sell different products) before heading out on the drive home.

Once I got home, I checked the mail and found that our Easy Vote Packs had been delivered (photo below). Easy Vote is a card a voter hands to the folks working at the polling station to make it easier and quicker for them to find your name to cross off the list. However, a voter doesn’t have to bring the card in order to vote (or anything else, for that matter).

I knew that the Easy Vote Packs were being delivered to New Zealanders this week, so it wasn’t unexpected, but I had no idea I’d be getting it today. And while I knew that Labour volunteers had been out in Highbury, I didn’t know that Shanan was there. So, two different parts of the election popped up in front of me today. That was unexpected, but very welcome. My passion really is everything to do with electoral politics.

Online and in homes

The world of election advertising has changed a lot over the years, and while television ads were once the most important way to reach voters, there are now other, often more important ways. Online advertising is beginning to overtake television advertising in a big way. I expect that trend to continue.

To be sure, TV ads still matter: There are some people who don’t use the Internet very much (or at all), and may not see online advertising. Still, it’s quite common nowadays to do full webpage adverting on a news site—the modern equivalent of an old newspaper wraparound ad. Sometimes these are animated, too, or contain animated parts.

But the most interesting work is happening in messaging directed toward social media users in the broadest sense of the term. Because I support the New Zealand Labour Party, I’ll use their work as an example—and also because they have an extensive marketing effort going on.

The video up top is actually a YouTube Playlist I made of all the quite short policy-related ads Labour has posted so far (as of today). I often see these ads before a YouTube video plays, and this is the perfect medium: Google knows a LOT about YouTube users, and it can steer particular ads to particular demographics, which is why I’ve seen “Jacinda on Labour's policies for over-60s” a couple times. While I’m personally more interested in other issues, Google’s algorithms tell them I’m in the target market for that ad—and, in fact, they’re not wrong: I’ll turn 60 during the next term of government, whoever leads it.

Over on Facebook, the party has an animated header on their Facebook Page, and they buy ads that frequently show up in my newsfeed, and for the same reason I see their ads at the start of YouTube videos I watch, only in this case, specific ads are delivered because of Facebook’s algorithms, which are not necessarily measuring the same things as Google’s do. This is in addition to any videos they share, which I see because I “Like” their page and follow their updates. Sometimes those have been the TV ads I already shared.

Candidates are also posting videos, showing themselves and their team out on the campaign trail, talking about issues, etc—essentially bringing their campaigns to people in their own homes. For example, Shanan Halbert, the Labour candidate for the Northcote Electorate (and—full disclosure—a friend of mine) has been sharing video to his Facebook Page, and it’s been great to see the actual campaign, especially since we don’t live there anymore.

What all this ads up to is that Labour has a presence all over social media, including YouTube, which is also where younger voters can be found—people who usually don’t vote. If Labour can motivate them to vote, as well as increasing its vote among other demographics, it has a real chance of winning this election. Add this effort to all the other traditional methods—TV ads, public rallies, Leaders’ Debates, and all the stuff done by volunteers from doorknocking, to phone canvassing, to sign waving, and the campaign is trying hard to reach as many voters as possible.

To be sure, other parties are doing this, too. I’ve seen some Green Party ads, as well as Gareth Morgan’s “The Opportunities Party” (though I keep skipping TOP’s ads on YouTube…), but nothing from any other party, including National. It’s possible that I don’t see National Party ads in my Facebook newsfeed because of those algorithms again, and I may not have seen any of their ads on YouTube for the same reason (but this time Google’s algorithms, of course). Or, maybe they’re just not running any—I have no idea which it is, but they’re not running TV ads as much as Labour are, either. There are also a few parties that haven’t run any TV ads as far as I know (because I haven’t seen or heard of any ads, and they’re not on YouTube). This, too, is a change.

I was expecting that there’d be more TV ads to share and talk about, and maybe there still will be some. But at the moment the real story about campaign promotion—and some of the most interesting stuff out there—is being done online. I expect that trend to continue.

Disclosures: I’m a supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

22 years ago today

Welcome to the Season of Anniversaries! Twenty-two years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, beginning the story arc that's still playing out in my life. This is also what starts my not-totally-serious annual series of blog posts about various anniversaries that fall between now and January. The part that IS serious about this is that most of the significant anniversaries in my life fall during those five months—certainly the ones I’d talk about on this blog. Today’s is just the beginning.

I’ve said a lot about this date over the years, about the date in 1995, what it meant, why I sort of forgot about it, and how it became important again. Check out previous years’ posts, listed at the bottom of this post, to get more about all that.

The important thing, really, is that had the events of that day 22 years ago not happened, then the rest of the Season of Anniversaries wouldn’t have, either (except for my birthdays, of course; I believe those would have continued). Sure, in a way, it was nothing more than my NZ tourist arrival date stamped on my passport, and even though the date would later become overshadowed by others, September 12, 1995 was nevertheless a sort of foundation date.

Last year, I said:
As I often point out, November 2 has always been the important anniversary because that’s the date I arrived in New Zealand to stay, and we began our life together. Since then, we’ve had other “big days” to remember, too.

But because everything really began on this date in 1995, I think it’s worth remembering. And as long as I have a blog, I will.
And that pretty much sums it all up.

Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)
Twenty years ago today (2015)
21 years ago today (2016)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

An appeal with presidents

This video is an appeal for donations help in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. What’s so unusual about it is that all five living former US Presidents have joined in making the appeal. This is how you do being a president. The sad thing is, though, that I’m certain by the time the next one or two hurricanes are done, more help will be needed. That’s something they plan to help with, too.

The website for the One America Appeal, which is what the presidents are fronting, said that “preparations are in place” to help Americans affected by Hurricane Irma. “What started as a specific appeal to address historic flood damage in Texas will be expanded to help victims from both storms. The nature of that assistance will be dictated in large measure by the storm’s track and impact,” the site said.

Because people worry about such things these days (often rightly), the website also explains:
“All funds collected through the One America Appeal will go into a special account at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, to ensure 100 cents out of every dollar donated goes to hurricane victims. All monies collected will be distributed immediately to the designated recovery funds. All donations will also be tax-deductible.”
Funds raised will be distributed through “the Houston Harvey Relief Fund focusing on the greater Houston region, and … the Rebuild Texas Fund assisting communities across the state,” the site says. Clearly more will be added later, as needed, due to Irma.

I think this is a good thing, and I applaud the presidents for doing this—even the ones I didn’t vote for! Seriously, if they can come together for the good of everyone, why can’t we?

Friday, September 08, 2017

Minor politics

Televised debates have long been a staple of election campaigns in New Zealand. Time was, all the parties, subject to certain polling criteria, were included. In recent elections, however, they're separated into one set of debates between the leaders of the two main parties, Labour and National, with a debate just among the leaders of the minor parties—which means every party that’s not Labour or National. Really, it’s a bit too much like the original theme song for Gilligan’s Island, which ended with “and the rest”. Sadly, the viewers are the ones seemingly stuck on a desert isle.

Tonight I watched this year’s minor parties leaders’ debate, and it wasn’t very enlightening. I already know about Green Party policy, and I couldn’t really hear a lot of other party leaders’ answers because David Seymour, leader and only MP for the neoliberal Act “Party”, kept interrupting and talking over everyone else. He acted like a boorish jerk, to be honest. He’s also delusional if he thinks that his party will ever get anywhere near getting another MP, let alone crossing the threshold of 5% of the Party Vote to get into Parliament without winning an electorate—though that would only matter if Seymour loses Epsom.

The leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters, backed out of the debate at the last minute. No explanation was given, but his party isn’t doing well this election, so he may be planning to spin it in some way. One never knows with him.

On the postive side, Damian Light, who became the new leader of the United Future Party after Peter Dunne announced his retirement, was something of a hit. This amuses me because I kind of know Damian: I met him when he was the United Future Electorate Candidate in Northcote in 2014, and I thought he was a genuinely nice guy. We’ve traded the occasional comment on social media ever since, but the announcement he had became the new leader came during one of the times I was away from Twitter (isn’t it always the way?). Obviously I don’t support United Future, but I certainly wish him well—he has a big job to do!

I don’t know Marama Fox, co-leader of the Māori Party, though the folks I follow on Twitter who are on NZ’s Leftward side of Left seem to like her a lot, which confuses me a bit because the Māori Party has supported the conservative National Party for three terms now, so they’re not exactly a force for progressive politics. Still, their own policies are not all conservative, though some are, and I know plenty of people who will argue their corner over whether the party has advanced the interests of Māori people or not, but that, too, isn’t something I can comment on. At any rate, she’s certainly passionate, and politics can use people who both mean what they say and say what they mean—even if it pisses other people off.

By the end of the debate, I was desperately hoping that Labour and Greens voters who live in the Epsom Electorate will do the only sensible thing they can do and hold their noses and give their Electorate Vote to Paul Goldsmith, the National Party candidate in Epsom. He’s the only one who could defeat Seymour and knock him and Act out of Parliament. Yes, I know such tactical voting would be unpleasant, and doing so would mean Labour and Greens voters would need an immediate shower, but it truly is the only reponsible thing for them to do for all of New Zealand. I say that mostly joking, but only because I know that most Labour and Greens voters will probably vote for their own parties’ candidates as they always have. Centre-Left voters don’t understand tactical voting, but the right does: It’s the only reason that Seymour is even in Parliament, after all.

So tonight’s debate was kind of pointless, really, except for one thing: For many New Zealand voters, it will be the only time they hear from the leaders of any of those parties. In fact, for many it will be the only time they hear from anyone in those parties, even in their electorate. In my own electorate, the Act Party candidate was the only opne from a minor party that showed up to a candidate forum (not counting NZ First, who weren't in this TV debate), and in his first statement he said he was only there to urge the Party Vote for his party (which isn’t going to happen, but points for trying), and NOT for the Electorate Vote. Even so, the debate was a sad and useless way to expose voters to alternative parties.

The quality of New Zealand’s political coverage is pretty bad, though what we have is often better than one finds in the USA. But our system is more complicated than the USA, and minor parties actually matter here, unlike the USA. We really need a better way for minor parties to be heard than these silly “and the rest” debates.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Sitting kitty

I posted the photo to Instagram earlier today, and the caption pretty much describes it. When I posted the most recent photo of Bella to the blog, I explained why I’ve been posting photos of her and not the dogs. Well, Spring is definitely coming (or, so I hope…) so there should be a wider variety of photos soon enough—just not right now.

As the weather improves, I want to take more photos using all my cameras, though the ones taken with my phone are by far the easiest to share. As it turns out, I also find the challenge of taking good photos using just my phone, and not any of my more full-featured cameras, to be really interesting and, well, challenging. That was part of the reason I decided to use only my phone for the “Nature Photo a Day” series last year. I have a better phone now, with a better camera, and I’m interested to see what I can do differently or better. Many of the results will end up on this blog, of course.

There’s one last thing all this Instagraming of Bella reminds me of. When I was a kid, I had a cat named Ed (long story). He used to sleep in unusual places and positions, and my mother used to tell people one of our favourite activities was to “come see how Ed is sleeping now!” She was exaggerating a bit, as she often did, but there was an element of truth: We really did laugh at the odd and unusual positions and places the cat slept in.

Many decades have passed since then, and my photographic equipment (and abilities) have improved. But seeing what our cat is doing still entertains me. Some things really don’t change.

Explaining the DACA situation

The video above from Vox explains DACA, both its history and what’s at stake. It also explains the origin of the far-right talking points against DACA, and why some Republicans are so virulently anti-DACA. Vox also posted a look at what they call “ticking time bomb for 800,000 immigrants”, which includes a timeline for the end of DACA. Taken together, they help explain it, but they don’t really answer the question of why this is being done.

Is Don doing this because he’s racist? He has clearly demonstrated animus toward Mexicans in particular. Even so, this particular action is not legally racist because it affects ALL children brought to the USA illegally by their parents, regardless of where they're from. To cite just one example, and while I don't watch his videos (not my thing), there's a popular YouTuber (4.9 million subscribers), David Dobrik, who was born in Slovakia, and brought to Chicago as a child. He’s a Dreamer and may end up being deported [WATCH – the link is set to start of the segment]. However, this action undeniably affects kids from Mexico, Central and South America far more than kids from other countries.

None of the children in question are US Citizens, though they all have permits to live, work, and study in the USA under certain conditions, as the video mentions. So, because the affected kids are not citizens, and because DACA was a Justice Department directive and not a law, Don rescinding it isn't breaking any laws, unless, maybe, someone can prove in court that Don's specific motivation was animus toward Hispanic peoples, but I doubt anyone could successfully make that case, and even if they did, the fact that the kids aren't US Citizens may make the courts reluctant to intervene. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I doubt it.

In this single case, I think that Don—despite his pattern of animus against Hispanics—is acting more to pander to his base, especially the white supremacist and racist parts of his base. It was an easy bone to throw to the drooling knuckle-draggers who demanded he deport all people in the USA illegally, including the Dreamer kids, too, and this is something that Don thinks has no consequences for him. Jury’s out on that.

But let me be a cockeyed optimist about this—and not just because the reality of watching all the harm Don's regime is doing to the USA is soul-destroying. Congress COULD act to pass the DREAM Act to make the DACA programme into federal law. Democrats all want this, and so do many Republicans, even some pretty staunch right-wingers on other issues and other immigration issues. The only people staunchly opposed are the farthest Right among the Republicans, the folks who are part of the teabagger caucus in the US House in particular. They're a sizeable group, but with Democrats on board it's entirely possible that there will be a bi-partisan DREAM Act passed into law.

I'm betting that the attempt will happen in December, as part of the bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit. Democrats could make it a condition of their support, since Republicans need their votes to raise the debt ceiling because the hard-right part of the Republican caucus always opposes raising the limit. There’s a simple incentive for more rational conservative Republicans to back legalising DACA: Money.

Ending DACA will cost the US economy hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars: The libertarian CATO institute says $200 billion, and the left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates it will cost the USA $433 billion. Clearly even the lowest estimate would be a huge hit to the economy.

There’s strong bipartisan support for DACA nationally among major companies. For example: “Here are the tech companies speaking out against a DACA repeal”, and that’s not just because of the enormous hit to the US economy. Even the most soul-less among Republicans in Congress should be able to understand that the economic impact would be a very bad thing.

While the economic consequences are serious, it’s the human side that motivates the general public. Mainstream Americans are repulsed by the very idea of deporting people who have generally never known any country other than the USA, and may not even speak the language of their native land. These are productive residents of the USA who pay their taxes, work, and study to make the USA a better place, even as they also work to make their own lives better. It makes no humane sense to deport the Dreamers, who were brought to the USA by their parents and had no say in the matter.

I can’t believe I actually have to lecture rightwing Republicans on Christianity, but it must be done. Central tenets of Christianity include the fact that the “the child will not share the guilt of the parent” (Ezekiel 18:20). And, then, there’s that whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” thing. The founder of the religion they claim to follow said that. It’s more than a little presumptuous for self-declared Christians to ignore their religion’s own teachings.

So, there are perfectly good reasons to enact DACA into law: It makes economic sense to do so, it is the humane and compassionate thing to do, and the religion that the hard-right Republicans claim to follow so passionately pretty much commands it. Will any of that be enough?

Congress hasn’t shown an ability to get much of anything done, so that’s the first problem. If they succeed, the question then becomes, would Don sign it? Because it's unlikely Congress would have the votes to override a veto, this is a vital question. Don has signalled that he wants Congress to act, but, as well all know, he says something one day and the complete opposite the next day (or hour…), while claiming he never, ever said the first thing. So, who knows?!!

I don’t care who gets credit for it, or even how they bring it about, it just needs to happen, and as soon as possible. The Dreamers have paid their dues, they have earned the right to have this settled quickly.

This post is a revised and extended version of a comment I made on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

Update – September 8: 15 US states and the District of Columbia have filed suit to stop the current president from ending the DACA programme, alleging that Don's animus against Hispanics has to be taken into account. CNN reported:
The groups laid out five different constitutional arguments against Trump's move, saying it was motivated by discriminatory reasons, that it violated due process by being "fundamentally unfair," and that it violated laws that dictate procedures for federal regulations.

The lawyers note that most DACA recipients are of Mexican origin and devote a whole section to inflammatory statements Trump has made about Mexicans, including his attacks on a federal judge of Mexican descent.
ABC (USA) News said: "Legal experts, however, say the evidence of bias is not strong in the case involving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA." As I said, I think that it will be difficult to prove bias was the motivation. That doesn't mean it's impossible, of course, and these are the same people that succeeded in getting Don's Muslim Ban struck down because of its motivation in bias. Good luck to them!

The states suing Don are New Mexico, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.