Monday, February 26, 2018

Send in the clowns

The NZ National Party is in the final hours of its campaign to choose a new leader after the resignation of Bill English a couple weeks ago. While mildly interesting to us politics nerds, history shows it’s not going to matter. That’s fantastic news.

Whoever the National Party MPs pick tomorrow, they’re virtually certain to lose the 2020 election. That’s because New Zealanders like to give a government a fair shot at making a difference, and that means National faces very long odds—especially when the past three governments each won three terms.

So, the question isn’t about which candidate stands a theoretical chance of winning, it’s about who will lose the least badly. That question is impossible to answer because all of them are problematic:

Amy Adams, MP for Selwyn. Adams was often seen on the news, so some voters are familiar with her—and they don’t necessarily like her. She calls herself a fiscal conservative, which will appeal to the National base, but she recently ducked a chance to call herself a “social issues liberal”, as most New Zealanders are, preferring to say she’s “pragmatic” (she backed marriage equality and the recent death with dignity bill). Will that kind of “bob each way” work with New Zealand voters?

Pros: Second youngest of the contenders. Represents a South Island constituency (important to National’s base). Seen as strong and decisive by some. She can be very nice when she wants to. Not from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Cons: Not from Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. Can come across as arrogant and condescending. Lingering questions about whether she personally benefited from National deposing the democratically elected government in Canterbury so it could give more water rights to dairy farmers.

Judith Collins, MP for Papakura. To call her “abrasive” would be kind, and calling her “disliked” would be mild. The reality is that New Zealanders don’t like her. She’s the oldest candidate in the contest (about a month younger than me).

Pros: Favoured by the right wing of the party. Tough and hard, which appeals to some in the party. Not willing to compromise (hardliners love that). From Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost.

Cons: Tainted by allegations of corruption, and although she has never been charged with a crime, the belief she “must be corrupt” is widespread. She was close friends with, and an ongoing source for, the National Party’s (“un”)official attack blogger. This tainted her with the party’s sleazy “dirty politics” efforts. She comes across as arrogant and condescending. From Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Simon Bridges, MP for Tauranga. He comes across as a lightweight, partly because of his speech patterns, which became a topic on its own [see also: “Simon Bridges has the accent of New Zealand’s future. Get used to it”]. To me, his phrasing echoes ex-PM John Key, for better or worse.

Pros: Youngest of the contenders (though him talking about his “youth” at age 41 seems like a stretch, and it says a LOT about how old Party members’ average age must be). He represents Tauranga, a fast growing part of the country, rural enough to appeal to the Party’s base and urban enough to not scare off independents. He raised huge money in the last campaign. A social conservative (he voted against marriage equality, for example) in a party that hasn’t valued those for the past nine years. Not from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Cons: Not from Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. A social conservative in a country that thinks those people are mostly tossers. He comes across as smarmy and condescending, and often arrogant. Sometimes doesn’t answer questions or seem to fully grasp what he’s talking about.

Mark Mitchell, MP for Rodney. He’s so unknown that pretty much every Kiwi asked “WHO?!” when he was floated as a leader candidate. Funny story about that: He was Minister of Defence in Bill English’s defeated government, and no one seems to have noticed. Okay, so he was only in the position May to October 2017, but he’d been a minister since December of 2016. No one noticed that, either. He’s smack in the middle of he ages of the contestants.

Pros: Um… well, um… Okay, he’s from greater Auckland, where elections are won or lost. Most people know nothing about him and he can sell his version of his story.

Cons: No one knows him. He’s from greater Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland. The “international business experience” he constantly touts is as a “security consultant”, the marketing spin for what most of us would call a mercenary—that’s unlikely to play well a country that tries to stay out of other countries’ wars (NZ never sent troops to Iraq, where Mitchell made his money). Being a “gun for hire” would be a pretty hard sell. [see “Why aspiring National leader Mark Mitchell’s war-for-profit past matters”, "Dear Mark Mitchell: New Zealand deserves answers, not insults, on war for profit", and "National leader hopeful Mark Mitchell on defence contractors, his military past and 'war for profit'"].

Steven Joyce, National List. Second oldest of the candidates, he was Finance Minister under Bill English, and that got him into a bit of trouble. During the 2017 campaign, he claimed he’d found an $11.7 billion “fiscal hole” in Labour’s figures for its campaign promises, but no economist agreed with him. In fact, they determined he’d made a fundamental error in reading the financial documents Labour released, documents he should have understood as Finance Minister. Even so, he stuck by his claims.

Of course, Joyce is probably most famous for having a dildo thrown at him at Waitangi in 2016. Hey, no news is bad news, right?

Pros: From Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. He’s an experienced minister. He is from the more moderate wing of the Party (John Key’s wing). He’s not hated.

Cons: He’s from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland. He wasn’t necessarily seen as an effective minister—the “fiscal hole” debacle, for example. He can be arrogant and condescending. He was National’s campaign manager, which means he’s partly responsible for National’s loss. He’s also tainted by “dirty politics”: It seems improbable that he didn’t know what was going on.

Those are the official candidates. Northcote MP and ex-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman took himself out of the race for some reason. I’d like to think it was because once the true extent of how much he and National decimated the health system in New Zealand, he’d become a liability, but he probably just councted and realised he stood zero chance of winning.

Who will win? One News thinks that Simon Bridges is the frontrunner, with Amy Adams in second place. The Spinoff points out it’s a little more complicated. The truth is, NO ONE knows: The “progressive voting system” National will use (the lowest vote getter will be eliminated until someone has a majority) means there are too many variables.

Who I might prefer is complicated. On the one hand, not one of them could ever entice me to vote for National—always a nearly impossible task, but especially so with this lot. Many on the left—Leftward side of Left in particular—want Collins because they think she’ll be be the easiest to defeat, whereas someone more tolerable might be harder to beat. I absolutely HATE that logic: It gives you some orange guy with a massive combover.

If I had to choose one of those candidates, it would probably be Amy Adams, because she’s the least odiferous of awful contestants. Collins is the worst, sure, but she’s actually tied with Bridges for the Truly Awful Tory award. Mitchell is a total non-entity, though a potentially horrible one, and Joyce isn’t a contender.

I don’t care all that much who wins their leadership contest: Not my circus, not my monkeys. Whoever wins could be rolled before the next election so they can have a leader who has a better chance of winning. Or, not (among other things, ambitious Nats may conclude it’s best to let the party leader fail and then move, however, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern proves there’s a viable counter-narrative).

We’ll know who the Leader and Deputy Leader are tomorrow. I promise you, I absolutely CAN wait.

Important constitutional change

Today the New Zealand Government announced that “Cabinet has approved, in principle, a move to amend the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to provide a statutory power for the senior courts to make declarations of inconsistency under the Bill of Rights Act, and to require Parliament to respond.” This is a huge and important change.

Up until now, courts lacked any mechanism to force Parliament to review laws that are in conflict with the Bill of Rights Act (BORA). That law describes, protects, and promotes New Zealanders’ fundamental human rights, as well as committing the country to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The fact that the government of the day could ignore conflicts between BORA and laws passed by Parliament was an ongoing problem.

What will happen once the law changes are made is that senior courts will be able to make declarations of inconsistency, which will compel Parliament to look at the issue. Parliament could then amend, repeal, or stick with the law as originally passed. The point is that they won’t be able to just ignore the inconsistency, and it may hurry up the process of making laws consistent with the BORA, something that at the moment is entirely dependent on politics and the support of the government of the day.

This new system won’t invalidate any inconsistent law, so it’s not full judicial review like the USA has. However, declarations of inconsistency have never been explicity permitted in New Zealand law, and this is an important change in having some oversight. Basically, it’s judicial review, Kiwi style.

The Constitutional Advisory Panel, which was appointed in 2011 to review constitutional issues, consulted with the public and considered amendments to the Bill of Rights Act. In 2013, it recommended that the Government explore options for improving the effectiveness of the Bill of Rights Act, such as giving the judiciary powers to assess legislation for consistency with the Bill of Rights Act. This bill is a result of that.

This is an important constitutional change for New Zealand, and one that’s long overdue. This doesn’t compel Parliament to fix the inconsistency, but forcing it to at least look at that inconsistency is a big step forward, and that’s what makes it so important.

NZ’s mainstream media has given this scant coverage. And that right there is one of the major problems we have in this country: There’s no one to hold the government to account. Fortunately, this time the government is doing that itself. Even so, I’ll be watching to make sure they follow through.

Can’t go unchallenged

Earlier today I shared an article from Politico on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page. This is what I said:

The issue here is that Bernie and his former campaign manager are explicitly undermining the Mueller investigation at a time Republicans are working overtime to do exactly that.

They’re absolutely wrong in their declaration that they didn’t benefit from the Russian Government’s interference in the 2016 US elections, because they clearly did. No one is alleging that they knew about or colluded in the Russians’ “direct measures” efforts—they absolutely didn’t. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t benefit all the same, because they clearly did.

I felt it was extremely dishonest for Bernie to try and blame Hillary Clinton’s campaign for not doing something unspecified to stop the Russians, or for not doing something else unspecified to alert his campaign. Like what, precisely?

In fact, Hillary Clinton spoke about the Russians and their interference (limited to what we knew about at the time) frequently (including calling the Republican nominee, accurately, as it turned out, a puppet of Vlad Putin in one debate). Bernie never called out the Russians. Seems to me Senators in glass houses should perhaps not cast stones.

Aiding and abetting Republicans in their smear and disinformation campaign against the Mueller investigation is indefensible. If I condemn Republicans doing it, then I must condemn anyone on “our” side, too. I also think it’s time Bernie stopped blaming Hillary Clinton for his loss. Even the Russians couldn’t help him win—actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s the real reason he chose to deny reality. But it still can’t go unchallenged

I frequently share things on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page that I never blog about. I plan on posting more original content there in the future, and I welcome suggestions.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The census code arrived

Today, the envelope mentioned in the video I posted on Wednesday arrived. That means we can complete the census any time we want. I wasn’t joking in the Instagram caption: I really am excited about it.

The longer reasons are that I like filling out surveys, which is what a census really is, and especially when it’s trying to collect demographic data. The other reason that I’m excited is that the census provides the most detailed look at modern New Zealand than anything else does or can. We’ll learn all sorts of things about what New Zealand is really like, and how much it’s changed over time, but even just over the past five years. The results are always fascinating to me.

So, I love the census, and I love taking part. I know not everyone feels that way, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with me. I can be excited enough for lots of people.

About that ‘saint’

When some famous dies, people have reactions, and opinions. People often want to share those. And when that famous person is also controversial, people definitely want to share their reactions and opinions—until they’re bullied into silence by some variation on “don’t speak ill of the dead”. It’s good to ignore bullies.

This week, evangelist Billy Graham died at age 99, which by anyone’s reckoning is a long life. With all the warm, fuzzy, fawning obituaries, one would be forgiven for thinking he was universally loved and adored. He wasn’t. I never liked him and feel he did FAR more bad than good. It’s my right to say so, just as it’s the right of anyone else to praise him. Freedom of speech and opinion is universal or it doesn’t exist.

The reasons I disliked Graham began when I was quite young: He seemed extremely smarmy and inauthentic, which was something that, as a Mainline Protestant Christian, I couldn’t stand. I was also a Republican at the time, and his cosy relationship with Republican politicians seemed wrong—even then I supported a wall of separation between church and state.

In the years since, my opinions of him sank. He was anti-gay. In 1993 he said that AIDS was his god’s punishment, though he later used what RawStory called “the whole ‘I don’t believe that and have no idea why I said it’ thing”. He also used that “thing” when trying to wriggle out of anti-Semitic remarks he made to Richard Nixon. [see “Here are 6 awful details being omitted from Billy Graham’s fawning obituaries”].

Graham wasn’t unrelentingly awful, unlike his bigoted successors in the evangelical business—including, most disgustingly, his own son Frank and his far less famous daughter, Anne. Graham sometimes backed the civil rights movement at a time when most white Southerners didn’t, though he certainly wasn’t a leader, either. As CNN put it:
Graham occasionally preached racial tolerance and held integrated crusades during the civil rights era. But even some of his biggest supporters say Graham accepted segregation at some of his crusades, criticized marches and sit-ins, and would not risk his popularity by confronting segregation head-on.
Beyond that, and predating it, he created the modern evangelical business, and in doing so he unleashed fraud, corruption, charlatanism, hypocrisy, and Christianist jihad onto America. Sure, he wasn’t “as bad” as his successors, but that’s no kind of praise whatsoever. He reportedly later backed off, and expressed regret for, his embrace of Republican politics, but that was too little and FAR too late.

Add it all up, and there’s no reason why I’d mourn his passing, or feel anything even remotely positive. Ordinarily, I’d feel sorry for his survivors, but I’ve never seen any evidence whatsoever that son and successor, Frank, nor his daughter Anne have any human feelings or empathy whatsoever, so I feel no obligation to extend to them the human compassion they deny to millions of others. But I know nothing of this three other children: Maybe they have the kindness and humanity that Frank and Anne totally lack, and, if so, I hope that whatever they feel about their father and his death, they will quickly find peace and move on.

But I won’t mourn Billy Graham. At all.

"Billy Graham was no prophet" by George F. Will, Washington Post (I agree with Will—yes, I really just said that)
“Billy Graham exemplified what evangelical Christianity could be — and too often was not” – NBC News (I think this is far too kind and to Graham, and too uncritical)
“The Rev. Billy Graham's Casket Will 'Lie In Honor' At The Capitol” – npr (this actually kind of disgusted me)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Time to be counted (for the census)

It’s that time again: New Zealand is about to conduct its five-yearly census. For a policy and political science geek like me, it’s better than Christmas. The ad above is the latest one promoting the census, which will be very different this year. I think that’s interesting, too.

This year, as the ad above says, no one will be going door to door to drop off census forms. Instead, starting this week, we’ll receive an access code in the mail so we can fill out our forms online. The first year we completed the forms online was 2013, though we could have in the pervious one, 2006. In those years, someone dropped off the census forms, then came back to collect them—except for 2013 because they knew we’d completed the census online, so they didn’t send anyone. I still have those forms filed away somewhere. Of course.

Not everyone can or wants to fill out the forms online, and they can request a paper form. But most of us won’t get them, and I think that’s a great thing. It’ll cut costs, since they won’t need to hire armies of temporary workers to deliver the forms and collect them later. It will also make the collection of data much faster. All of that is good.

There’s also one other difference this year. In the past, they counted everyone in New Zealand on Census Night, both those who live here and those here temporarily, like tourists and even those docked here on a cruise ship, among others. This year, we can fill-out the forms “on or before March 6”; I don’t think that was the case in 2013, but I don’t remember.

However, there’s one continuing problem with the census: It STILL isn’t counting LGBT+ people as a category, nor is it collecting data on gender diversity. New Zealand’s Rainbow communities have been pushing to be counted for many, many years, but we’ve been ignored so far. The census folks tested some questions, but they say there were questions about “data integrity” because of some supposed confusion over definitions.

This is a weasel-words excuse. Other government entities have had no trouble working out how to word these questions, and even Statistics NZ has gotten some of the data through other questionnaires. But this year we STILL won’t know the size of New Zealand’s Rainbow communities nor the variation in gender identity.

All of this matters because government policies and decisions about resources are determined in part by the results of the census. This tells governments where more parks are needed, whether specific communities are receiving services they need or not, an so much more. By not counting the Rainbow communities, it’s impossible to make informed policy decisions, nor, most importantly, to determine where there are gaps and problems.

Still, the census provides a snapshot of New Zealand “on or before March 6”, and that’s valuable for a whole lot of reasons, even though it’s incomplete. Among the questions that may be answered: Will this be the year that New Zealand becomes majority non-religious? (I doubt it). Will there be an increase in the number of people fluent in Te Reo Māori? (I’m sure there will be). How many people have fax machines in their homes? (I’m sure the number has plummeted, probably to insignificance).

I look forward to seeing the results, whatever they are.

• • • • •

There were two other commercials that aired on NZ television. This was the first one:

There was a second commercial, that at one point ran concurrently with the first, then replaced it. It seemed to me it aired a lot more than the first one, but maybe I noticed it more because the young dad looked too young to be a dad, probably because I’m so old. In any case, this is the second ad:

Those are the ads so far. I think that there will be at least one more ad urging people to hurry up and answer. If so, I’ll share that, too, and my experience in filling out this year’s census. I can’t wait!

It’s a cruel summer

This has been a cruel (cruel) summer, as the song says. We’ve had several severe storms, and a hot and humid stretch. Then, over the past couple days, parts of the South Island and lower North Island were hit hard by the remnants of tropical cyclone Gita. While the upper North Island, especially Auckland and the Coromandel, were spared this time, we know another severe storm will hit us sooner rather than later. It’s the new normal.

Even when we weren’t in the midst of severe storms, we’ve endured extended rainy periods that hampered any projects I’d like to have worked on, and it kept the humidity high, which made even normal summer temperatures feel much worse than they really were.

I mentioned last month how the hot, humid weather made me stop work on my office reorganisation project, and I haven’t really done much on it since. Since then, though, I made organising the garage the top priority, but in some ways that’s been even worse: Hot and humid and made worse because the rain because that meant I couldn’t open the garage doors to get some air in there. It's been very uncomfortable (frequent trips upstairs to cool off have helped, but taken time).

On top of that, earthworks are being done on a housing development less than 50 metres from our house. They’re laying drain lines, water and sewer lines, paths for streets, and levelling the contour of the land for houses that will be built later this year. I fully support the development—it will bring more people into the area which will benefit local businesses and increase the chances we may one day get bus service in our area, among other benefits. It’ll also provide another area to walk the dogs.

However, the work is noisy. Diggers can be noisy, but the worst is this thing with tank-like treads that drags a grader behind it. I call it the “squeaka-squeaka machine” because of the annoying sound it makes. It’s so bad, you could call it grating (you're welcome).

Be that as it may, the worst thing is that something they do vibrates the house. When it first started, I thought we were having a mild earthquake, until I realised it was machine-made, Since then, there have been times it’s been almost unbearable, and I considered putting the dogs in the car and driving away for a couple hours—but for how long? Working in the garage, that vibration is sometimes so bad I can feel it resonating in the base of my skull, which is rather unpleasant. Much as I welcome the new houses, I’ll be VERY glad when the earthworks are over.

So, add it all up, and this summer has been a real challenge: Rain, strong winds, loud construction noise, heat, humidity, and even illness. I guess it’s not a surprise that I haven’t gotten nearly as much done as I’d like to have accomplished by this point.

Autumn is exactly one week away. Challenges notwithstanding, leaving summer behind is even more cruel.

The title of this post comes, of course, from the Bananarama song “Cruel Summer” from 1983-5 (it was #8 in the UK in 1983, #9 in the USA in 1984, and #32 in both New Zealand and Australia in 1985). The song was written by members of Bananarama as a sort of “anti-summer” song. I had the song on vinyl back in the day.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Thanks to advertising

The video above is an ad for New Zealand telecommunications company Spark. It appeared in Facebook earlier this month, and I thought it was just a social media promotion. Then, I saw the ad on TV—not once, but several times, the most recent just tonight. And, as so many of these have been recently, it’s pretty good.

I didn’t share the ad here because at the time I didn’t think it would be on TV. Instead, I shared an article on my personal Facebook about the ad that talked about Spark’s response to some anti-gay bigotry. I said at that time:
This [the Newshub article] is an interesting story for a lot of reasons. First, that a large NZ corporation is backing the LGBT+ communities of New Zealand—I’m old enough to remember a time corporations ran as fast as they good in the opposite direction. Second, this is NOT unusual for big corporations in NZ. Third, bigotry is alive and well in NZ, as this story demonstrates, but so do the comments on the Newshub post, too.

Still, times are changing. Corporations like Spark see the new realities of New Zealand society. The bigots don’t, but they do show us why we’re not farther along and more evolved: They’re in the way. Sure, much of their whinging and moaning is irrational, illogical, inchoate nonsense, but they also show us their fears. That gives us the chance to talk to their fears, not just laugh at them, swear at them, or belittle them (though sometimes we all must do one or more).

This sort of thing gives us the chance to learn better ways to deal effectively with our erstwhile adversaries. We can’t move forward with an anchor holding us back. Incidents like this will help us learn how to bring our adversaries with us—if we’re willing to learn to do better.
The ad is intended, as such ads always are, to help create good feelings about Spark. Of course, to some extent all advertising has that as a purpose, so this isn’t at all unusual. It’s also becoming more common for ads to include LGBT+ people in them, though not always as the feature, of course. In this case, they’re promoting an online service, and, as they say in their YouTube description:
A little moment of connection can stand for something huge in someone’s life. So this Pride, we wanted to say thanks to the LGBTQI+ community for helping NZ become a more accepting, loving and respectful nation.
There are plenty of people—including some LGBT+ people, and not just bigots—who hate this sort of advertising, seeing it as pandering or tokenism. Maybe it is that, at least a little. But such ads also help. By including us in their vision of New Zealand, they’re helping us to BE a part of New Zealand in reality, too. Because we are, of course. We also have a right to see ourselves reflected in pop culture, including TV ads, so that LGBT+ kids growing up can see people just like them on TV, something that was impossible until very recent years.

Part of the reason we’ve advanced so far in achieving full acceptance is that people KNOW us now, and they can see for themselves that we’re not the scary demons our adversaries try to portray us as. TV shows, movies, pop songs, and advertising have all helped move this along, in a sense reinforcing the decades of work by ordinary people working hard and anonymously to make the world a better place for us all.

The video above is an ad. It may seem unimportant. But for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, ads like this are the living embodiment of another Spark ad slogan: Little can be huge. We should never lose sight of how huge small things have been in getting us where we are today. They may even turn out to be the thing that help keep us all from moving backward.

And, it’s a sweet ad.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Bill English resigns

Bill English (Photo NZ National Party)
Today Bill English, Leader of the Opposition, announced his resignation as Leader of the National Party, effective February 27. He will also leave Parliament at the beginning of March. This move wasn’t expected, but also wasn’t a shock as the resignation of John Key was back in 2016. Clearly it was time, and on his terms.

For the past few weeks, there’d been a lot of speculation in the newsmedia about a leadership challenge. All MPs publicly pledged loyalty, as always happens, but who knows what they were saying behind the scenes? All we know is that they didn’t force him out. But this sort of intense media speculation happened every time there was about to be a change of the Labour Party leader, so I thought there was probably something to it. I was also glad to see the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Be that as it may, English clearly left on his terms, which is the best result any political leader can hope for. I was never a supporter of his because, as a Labour Party supporter I obviously disagreed with National Party policies. I felt that many of their policies, under both Key and English, did terrible harm to the country, and nothing has convinced me to revisit those opinions. Indeed, they’ve been solidified with the publication of information the National-led government did not release.

I well remember when English rolled Jenny Shipley to take leadership of his party. She’d lost the 1999 election to Labour’s Helen Clark, and English sought to reverse that. He moved his party to the centre, and I was very sceptical of his sincerity because I knew he was a social conservative, and I just didn’t trust him. He ended up leading the party to its worst-ever election defeat in 2002.

English was rolled by the openly racist Don Brash, who lurched the party to the hard right before leading the party to yet another defeat in 2005. Brash was then rolled by John Key in November 2006, and he went on to win the 2008 elections—yanking the party back toward the centre, aided by his deputy leader, Bill English.

English then became Prime Minister when John Key resigned, choosing Paula Bennett as his deputy. Despite my suggestion back then that Bennett’s selection “could be an opportunity for her to redeem herself, and to become a better MP—and human being”, it didn’t happen, and she did, indeed, help elect a Labour-led Government.

Today I watched Bill English’s announcement live, and that part was classy and pretty good (even if some of his answers to reporters’ questions weren’t). But after he said thank you and he and his entourage left, Bennet suddenly appeared at the podium, after the mics were already turned off, and offered her thanks “on behalf of the entire caucus”. If there’s been a more self-serving, attention-seeking moment in NZ politics, I can’t remember it. If she really has leadership aspirations, then she’s clearly delusional: Nobody actually likes her, especially not the voters of New Zealand.

What of Bill himself? Despite my initial distrust of him, and my my ongoing disagreement with his party’s policies, he nevertheless never tried to impose his personal conservative (largely Catholic religion-based) social views on everyone else. Put another way, he was true to his word, which is a pretty remarkable thing in itself for a politician of any stripe.

The fact that Key and English led government for nine years is a testament to the fact that they understood that the majority of New Zealand voters are in the centre, something those on both the Right and the Left often fail to understand or admit, as the case may be. Policies notwithstanding, even though their polices were far too conservative and/or cautious for ME, that’s still something worth noting.

I also think it’s important to note that while English was personally socially conservative, he did evolve on some of his views, particularly on marriage equality, as all rational politicians have. Despite everything—his own conservative nature, and the hard push from the Right in his own party, he always held steady on the course of a more centrist National Party. The fact he did that is really pretty remarkable, and it has to be acknowledged as being as being pretty special and unique.

Bill has done his dash. He’s been in Parliament for 27 years, and there really was nothing left for him. If he contested the 2020 election, he’d probably have lost again, given the fact New Zealand voters generally like to give governments at least two terms. His vague hope that the current government would come unstuck are likely to go unfulfilled, just as they were the last time Labour led government. And, given National’s inability to foster strong allied parties on the centre-right (or even right), it would be difficult for them to find a path to government when forming government requires forming a coalition. Given all that, and given all the time and effort he’s put in, why would he stay?!

I wasn’t a supporter, but I nevertheless think that Bill English served his party well. The fact I opposed him in the elections, and his party in government, doesn’t change the fact that he was a good leader of his party, and he seemed to be a decent person overall. I wish him well for whatever his next ventures are.

Summer realities

Summer continues apace—well, no, it doesn’t: It’s been unusual lately, very unusual in many ways. The Instagram photo above is actually part of what’s normal, and what’s not.

A friend told me on Facebook that birds go after tomatoes for water. However, we’d had torrential rains on Sunday, so bad it cancelled this year’s Big Gay Out, for the first time in 30 years. It turns out that this was just a symptom of something much bigger: Only 43 days in to the year, and Auckland has already had more than one-third of the normal annual rainfall. This can’t be good.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day—stunning, even. That evening we picked the tomatoes so I could sprinkle tomato dust on the plants to deal with pests, after all that rain on the weekend. I woke up in the middle of the night because of torrential rain outside. I knew it was washing off all the dust I’d so carefully sprinkled. It rained most of today, too.

Yesterday it hit 28 degrees (82.4F) with 99% humidity. It was rather unpleasant. Today, the temperature was cooler—around 23 (73.4F)—but with humidity every bit as high. And this was as I was starting my new project, sorting the stuff in the garage and reorganising it. It didn’t go well.

Despite all that, the birds’ behaviour was more or less normal—it’s just everything else that wasn’t. Well, actually, this is apparently the new normal.

Still, we’ve harvested a lot of tomatoes already, with more to ripen, and that’s been really nice. Nothing quite like fresh tomatoes, especially when they’re “free”.

Pity about the weather, though.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Differing perspectives

There are always differing viewpoints on the issues of the day, for all sorts reasons, such as different life experiences, ideologies, values, and so much more. Expressing different views on public policy issues, when done peacefully, is one of the pillars of democracy, and necessary to ensure wherever we end up has brought most of us along for the ride. But sometimes, there are intrusive and disruptive things that keep us from moving forward.

The other day, I shared a Facebook video from the New Zealand Police about their “rainbow cop car”. I said in that post, “outreach efforts like this are… important and a mark of progress achieved. That in itself is notable.” I knew at the time that not everyone would agree with me, which is fine and expected.

When I shared the video on my personal Facebook (which served as the basis for my blog post), I got a comment telling me about an article on Fairfax’s Stuff news site, “Rainbow police car a 'cynical, two week-long PR stunt', Pride Festival organiser says”. In that article, Lexie Matheson, who is co-hair of Auckland’s Pride committee, a member of Auckland Council’s Rainbow Communities Advisory Panel, and a noted trans activist, was described as “outraged”, and quoted as calling it a “cynical 2 weeks long P.R. stunt” and adding that "I'm queer 52 weeks of the year, their car is queer for only two weeks of the year. They will take the rainbow off, but I can't." The article also quoted someone from a particularly strident, from my perspective, direct action activist group that blockaded the Pride Parade last year to protest the Department of Corrections and the Police marching in the Parade.

I responded on my page that it was “not the first time I’ve disagreed with activists, and it certainly won’t be the last. While I sometimes disagree with Lexie, I also note she has pointed out a positive aspect of this, and I agree with her on that. The other activist quoted… I don’t agree with.”

That would have been that—until I saw an Auckland Councillor, who is a Facebook Friend, posted about it and Lexie responded. Her comment was outstanding, showing a far more nuanced viewpoint than the Stuff piece had suggested, provided more context, and corrected errors in the Stuff piece. I asked her if I could share it, and she gave me permission:
“I’m far from outraged by the car, it’s a car. Nor, as I told the lovely young man, was I speaking as Co-chair of Pride. This was just me, private citizen, taking my right to speak my mind freely for a short walk. Of course I value the changes NZ Police have made n recent times. I’ve benefited. In 2007 I got a beating and was arrested, charged, intimately searched by a male officer and dumped with others in a male cell. What followed was a year of hell, on bail, with numerous court appearances before the charges were eventually thrown out. It’s fair to say I didn’t enjoy that much. As an activist and protester I’ve seen a lot of the cops since 1981. The last protest I went on was pretty confrontational. One young cop I spoke to proudly called me by my name and said he was there to look after me because ‘he’d had training about trans people.’ What’s not to like about that? As for the car it’s a neat idea but if it’s to be fully effective it needs to be there all the time and not just during Pride. Otherwise it’s tokenism. Nice tokenism, but tokenism all the same. As you can imagine I’ve been bluewashed today and I’ve been surprised at how many cops agree with me, high ups and street cops. It was heartening and, had I actually been outraged, it would have calmed my troubled breast.”
I shared her comment on my own Facebook post, as well as here, precisely because it gives fuller context to her remarks and because it helped me understand where she was coming from, and what her point was—all of which was missing from the Stuff piece, making it a disruptive influence that sowed division rather than understanding.

The thing is, back when I was an activist in my native Illinois some 25-30 years ago, I realised quite quickly how there were different paths to the same goal. I respected activists like Lexie back them, even when I disagreed with them or their tactics, because I knew they were moving things forward.

When I was an activist, I was a "suit and tie" activist, and the direct activists out in the streets—people like Lexie—made it possible for activists like me to meet with elected officials to present our demands. We got those meetings because we were "respectable" and seemed less threatening than the loud activists out in the streets. The irony is that we presented the exact same demands, but we were listened to. We wouldn't have gotten that access, nor succeeded in winning our victories, if it hadn't been for those street activists making the establishment uncomfortable enough to be willing to deal with activists like me, who they could identify with more.

Many direct activists despised activists like me (and still do, actually), because they saw us as accommodationists, too steeped in (and only interested in) our own privilege to push the demands of those without that privilege. But I saw how important both of us were to achieving our ultimate goals—eyes on the prize, and all that. I've always been a pragmatist, and that means I was an incrementalist rather than a revolutionary. It takes all kinds, in my opinion.

As I see it, activism is one of the tools available in a democracy to push those in power to address injustice. As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." We activists—whatever our methods or peaceful tactics—provided that demand. Activists still do.

Sure, sometimes I roll my eyes at the more confrontational activists, and sometimes I sincerely believe that their rhetoric or tactics do more harm than good. Sometimes. But other times, they provide the needed push to move things forward. Lexie said to me that sometimes she was “standing on the unpopular side”. I think that standing on the unpopular side is sometimes the only place to be. The way I see it is that the activists doing that, and even doing/saying stuff I disagree with, are necessary. Sometimes it’s the only thing that moves us all forward.

But I still like the rainbow cop car.

This post is based on several different comments I left on Facebook about this “controversy”.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Pride on patrol

This is yet another reason New Zealand is pretty awesome. The police car in this video has been temporarily marked to show support for the LGBT+ communities, the Police's commitment to diversity, and to help recruit new cops. It'll be at the Big Gay Out in Auckland, and in the Pride Parades in Auckland and Wellington.

Other police forces around the world do similar outreach moves, of course, but old timers like me well remember the days when police were never to be trusted—in fact, they were too often an actual enemy. Times have changed a lot, and while there's always room for improvement, outreach efforts like this are still important and a mark of progress achieved. That in itself is notable.

New Zealand Police is a nationwide force, so, this is a national commitment from the NZ Police. That, too, is important.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Peaceful welcome

Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an historic speech at the upper marae at Waitangi. This was the most peaceful formal welcome in many years, mostly due to significant changes. The formal welcome was moved from the lower marae to the upper marae, which is on the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. The upper marae is public property, but still managed by a committee. And this is why the speech was so historic: In that area of New Zealand, women aren’t allowed to speech on a marae.

The video above is from TVNZ’s Te Karere, and is mostly in Te Reo Māori with English subtitles. Their YouTube description sums it up:
“For the past two years under National, the PM steered clear of Waitangi for Waitangi Day commemorations. But today, PM Jacinda Ardern and her government were officially welcomed to the treaty grounds where the historic document was signed 178 years ago. Political reporer, Eruera Rerekura with this report.”
In past years, the formal welcome was on the lower marae, where protests, shouting, and near-violence were commonplace. Don Brash, who was National Party leader at the time, had mud thrown at him one year. And, of course, Steven Joyce famously had a dildo thrown at him. It got so bad that then Prime Minister John Key refused to go to Waitangi Day, and his successor, Bill English, refused, too. Now Leader of the Opposition, English is spending Waitangi Day in Gore in the lower South Island.

This history of often aggressive protests has made increasing numbers of New Zealanders begin to turn from the whole idea of Waitangi Day, treating it as just a day off. Some demand a new national day to get away from the frequent awfulnesss. They frequently say that no other country has such a divisive and protest-filled national day—except that Australia Day is now becoming a hotbed of protest as people demand the day be moved to a different date.

As for this year, I saw some people claiming the day was peaceful because the Prime Minister is pregnant. Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that many Māori are willing to see if the Government really does tackle the many social problems that the former National-led government chose to ignore, or actually made worse. It also didn’t hurt that the Prime Minister announced that she and senior ministers would be spending five days in Northland, talking with local Māori, and seeing the problems firsthand. This was a brilliant move that no other government has thought of in the 23 years I’ve been in New Zealand.

I have no idea whether the more peaceful Waitangi Day events like today’s will continue or not. Part of that will surely depend on whether the government succeeds in addressing the many problems Māori face. But I do hope that allowing the Prime Minister to speak signals a change in Māori customs to ensure women are treated equally in Northland, as they are by many Iwi throughout the country. It’s time.

Mainly, though, it’s time that a government finally takes issues of poverty and depravation seriously, and that it works in true partnership with Māori. The signs are good, but time will tell if it’s just more talk or the start of action.

Turkeys depart

Yesterday, we had a family lunch at Denny’s in Wairau Park in Auckland’s North Shore. It’s a place we’ve been to many times, especially when we have quite a few people (seven yesterday) because they can always accommodate us. The caption in the Instagram photo above explains why this particular visit struck me. The reality is, everything changes, and nothing stays the same forever. Including us.

There have been many improvements over the years, but it’s still not all that easy to find true American-style food in New Zealand restaurants. That’s not really a complaint, just a statement of fact (though some Americans may choose to complain about it). Fast food aside, there’s not much: Very little Mexican food, true American-style pizza requies a visit to a specialist place, and turkey is non-existent.

Denny’s was the only place I’ve ever been in New Zealand that had dishes with turkey on the menu. Some years, their roast turkey dinner was my Thanskoving dinner, as it was most recently in 2015. That “tradition” is now over.

The sandwich I mentioned in the photo caption was the “Super Bird”, which is still on the menu, but with smoked chicken instead of turkey. Meals with smoked chicken are in nearly every NZ cafe and restaurant, it seems, but, in any case, it’s certainly not unique.

This is one of those realities that no one (except me…) ever tells would-be expats about. Among the many adjustments that Americans, in this case, have to make is the unavailability of many of the foods we’re used to. Turkey is the biggest example of that, with nothing in grocery stores except small frozen turkeys, frozen stuffed turkey rolls, and maybe some packaged sliced processed turkey for sandwiches (deli counters in supermarkets don’t carry sliced turkey—or even sliced chicken, usually—and there are no frozen prepared meals with turkey).

The reality is that New Zealanders just don’t like turkey very much, and that’s the problem with other foods we Americans know and maybe love. True American hotdogs are rare. Those American style pizzas at specialist places are actively disliked by many Kiwis. I’ve never had a real (as we Americans define them) bratwurst or polish sausage. And that’s just a few things—there are many more.

The point is, really, that any would-be expat moving from one country to another has to accept that they will not be able to find the foods they know and love, and probably not some other products, either. It’s necessary to find alternatives or to simply move on. But if something as simple as not finding turkey on a menu is going to cause a problem, then maybe being an expat isn’t the best option for that person.

Me, I’m just nostalgic. I actually liked Denny’s roast turkey dinner, and I appreciated being able to have it on some Thanksgivings. Nowadays, though, I actually hardly ever miss turkey, mainly not until I’m reminded about it as I was yesterday.

Everything changes, and nothing stays the same forever. Including us.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Fruitful efforts

We’ve harvested the first tomatoes of the year (photo above). That represents a major change, and getting something done that’s been missing for a long time. Those efforts have been fruitful—literally and figuratively—and all of that is good.

We harvested the tomatoes yesterday because rain and storms were predicted, after a day of heavy rain on Thursday. So, we picked all the tomatoes that were even remotely close to being ripe because the storms lately have had a lot of wind, which is bad enough, but all that rain can cause blight—basically, it makes them rot on the plant. It was better to harvest them slightly early than to risk losing them altogether. They’ll still ripen in the house. But, as I said in the caption, there are probably more that are totally green than the number we harvested. We’ll see how they go.

As near as I can remember, the last time I grew tomatoes was 2005, the year before we moved back to Auckland. In the years since, I’d planned on growing tomatoes, among other things, but I really didn’t have any place to plant them other than pots, since the yard was mostly not usable. But I kept forgetting when I needed to start the seeds, and missed out for many years. This year, finally, was different.

The seeds came from supermarket tomatoes, all of which sprouted and grew. The problem with doing that is that if the plants were hyrbids, the fruit from the seeds may end up reverting to another, different tomato type. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. For the record, the type is a low-acid variety called Roma in New Zealand, though I’ve also seen them referred to as “Italian tomatoes”, especially when they’re tinned.

I did the same thing with capsicum seeds, and while I got plants, they didn’t produce anything, partly because I didn’t have a good spot for them (too shady), but maybe the seeds wouldn’t have produced capsicums, anyway. I’ll never know.

So, this year I finally got vegetable plants in the garden, and I’ve started harvesting the results. That’s a really good thing in itself, but it’s also something I’ve wanted to do for so many years, and, despite fighting fatigue, I did it. That feels good.

I don’t know how much more we’ll get to harvest this year. Actually, I don’t even know yet whether these are nice or not, since they’re not ripe enough to eat. And, of course, I have no idea what I’ll do next year (or for the winter, for that matter). Right now, none of that matters.

This year, I finally got something done that’s been missing for a long time, and those efforts have been fruitful—literally and figuratively. Right now, that’s enough.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, which means absolutely nothing. I saw the news from the USA and it contained more stories of corruption, criminality, and possible treason by associates of the current occupant of the White House that we’ve seen for more than a year. Okay, that’s a reference to the film more than it’s reference to the day. But, that’s still a fact.

These days most things seem to repeat over and over again, especially the news from the USA. It’s one of the reason that other countries mock the USA so much these days: There’s story after story of stupidity and corruption from the current regime, nothing ever happens because of it, and the world thinks the USA is a sad, pathetic joke because of it.

It’s like every day the USA wakes up, sees the corruption and criminality (and probable treason) of the current regime, shrugs its shoulders, ignores it, then repeats that again the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. (got the idea?)

The world is laughing at the USA. It’s disgusted by the current regime and its antics, its obvious corruption and criminality, and the stupidity and racism of those who unflinchingly support the regime, literally no matter what it says or does. But the fact an ignorant, illiterate clown is the leader of the USA? That’s pretty damn hilarious to the world.

Neither the supporters of the current regime, nor their Republican Party, care in the least what the world thinks, nor how much the world laughs at the USA. But they OUGHT to care that the world is moving on—to China. With the USA controlled by a largely criminal gang, and obviously not serious about engaging with the global community, countries are increasingly choosing to do business with China—the stable regime in the world, run by grown-ups. Pity about the lack of democracy, but is the USA really so very different in that regard when you consider Republicans’ voter suppression and gerrymandering? And what about the current occupant of the White House engaging in obstruction of justice? Or what about his stated goal of subverting the rule of law to transform the executive branch into a personal fiefdom? Is that really so very different from how authoritarian China operates?

Each day brings more of the same. The only way to break the endless repeat of days is to throw every Republican out of office. Will that happen? I doubt it. I hope I’m wrong. I’m sick of living the same day over and over and over again.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Tooth Tales: Well, then…

This week was another round of the Tooth Tales saga. It wasn’t good, exactly, but wasn’t totally bad, either. It is, as so many things in this healthcare journey have been, “a journey”.

On Tuesday, I went to the periodontist for a routine checkup, my first in a year. He found that the areas that were trouble before still are—though not as bad as when this all started. That’s something, I guess. Still, they needed (expensive) treatment. I had that treatment today.

The worst thing about the treatment was getting there. The weather was horrible as New Zealand was hit with the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Fehi today. Rain and wind were terrible, but the inability of drivers to cope seemed to be the main problem. On parts of the motorway, I went no faster that 25kph (15.5mph). It took me an hour and a half to get to my appointment, something that “should” take maybe an hour.

The treatments themselves weren’t too bad—lots of grinding at the root of certain back molars. But what’s remarkable about that is that I was totally relaxed—where once I was terrified of any dental procedure, now I don’t care. The thanks, if that’s the word, goes to the periodontist whose needle never causes pain as he injects the anaesthetic. And, of course, repetition of exposure to a thing feared makes that thing less feared over time. And I’ve now had a LOT of practice.

Joking about things as I always do, I said to a friend recently that “now I just lay back and think of England (mainly because some David Attenborough DVD is usually playing on the TV on the ceiling. The pain I feel is mainly when I pay for it…” All of which is true. Apart from the England part, maybe, especially in this context. Which is why I thought it was funny.

The gist of the story is that I must once again redouble my efforts to use the teeny tiny brushes on my lower back teeth. Interestingly, he said I should use floss on my my lower front teeth, not the teeny tiny brushes. This is funny to me because that was one area I never had any problem using the brushes. Still, I’ve made a lot of progress over the past few months, so that bodes well for the next six.

I left the appointment numbed to the max and headed off to pick up my mother-in-law because she’s staying with us for the holiday weekend. What is normally a two hour drive from the periodontist’s office ended up being nearly three hours. The trip back home was a bit quicker than I expected, though we were slowed at the very end—the last 15 minutes—by extremely heavy rain and surface flooding. All up, I spent the better part of six hours driving, the most since my university years (except then it was sometimes that long without break, which this wasn’t; I couldn’t go that long without a break nowadays).

So today I endured more periodontal treatment in the same areas that keep causing me problems, which is bad. But other areas are okay, which is good. And, I managed many hours driving in terrible weather. All up, a good report on all fronts, I think. I’ll take it.

Now, I just need to get control of the other health issues, too. One day at a time.

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.