Saturday, June 30, 2018

Today’s excursion

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Today we decided to fill our cars before the new Auckland Regional Fuel Tax begins tomorrow. As the caption in the Instagram photo above says, I saved almost nothing for my trouble, which I would have expected. The naysayers have been barking up the wrong tree.

Ever since the fuel tax was proposed, we were bombarded with moaning about it, that it was going to cost poor people far more than they could afford, that the cost of everything will soar, that the earth will shake and the trumpet sound. Okay, I made that last part up, but only barely: The negativity has been astounding.

I got about three-quarters of a tank today, and the new tax will add an additional $4 to that amount. For a full tank, it would be around $5.34 additional. Yes, that’s money that poor people could use, but many others use public transport and will benefit from the public transport projects the tax will fund, and many people who now drive will be able to switch to public transport.

For the rest of us, $4 or $5 more per fill-up is absolutely not going to break us.

The new tax is funding $28 billion in transport projects over ten years, including $8.4 billion for rapid transit, $3.8 billion on a strategic local road network, $3.3 billion on asset renewal, plus hundreds of millions each on safety programmes, walking and cycling, bus and ferry improvements—all of which is desperately needed. To pay for all this without a petrol tax increase would have required an 11% hike in rates (similar to property taxes in the USA). This is much more affordable for everyone.

There's also light rail to Auckland Airport coming, something the Labour-led Government has prioritised and will fund, in part, through a nationwide petrol tax hike later this year. That, too, has been delayed too long.

The thing is, there is no public transport where we live. I could drive about 25 minutes to a train station, which would get me into central Auckland in an hour plus (up to an hour and a half at some times). If I wanted to go the North Shore, I’d have to switch to a bus and add maybe another hour. I can drive to there in a little over an hour to an hour and a half.

My other option is to drive somewhere to catch a bus. The nearest one I know of is roughly a 15 minute drive from here, but they travel infrequently and only to the two train stations I could drive to faster. So, we won’t get any direct benefit from the spending, but we will still benefit.

The improvements will make it possible for more people to use public transport, and that means fewer cars on the road in the way of people like me who have to alternative but to drive. Plus, as the infrastructure is improved, it’ll be easier to add on services to our area as the population grows, further reducing the need for driving.

So, we’ll benefit indirectly from the spending, and the entire region will benefit with less traffic congestion and easier transit around the city. Basically, everyone wins in some way.

In my caption I said the cost difference was a cup of coffee in a café, though what I saved today wouldn’t buy me a coffee. Even if it did, I wouldn’t mind giving up a coffee, rare though they are, to fund better transport.

Footnote: At today’s exchange rate, $2.079 per litre works out to about 5.32953967 US dollars per US gallon. Approximately.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Training Leo helps

Leo has a few behaviour issues, most of which are now very minor and getting better. But one that could be a problem because it would annoy the neighbours is that he barks. It’s mainly two places, at the workers at the nearby subdivision being built, and also at a neighbour’s dog the other side of the fence. He can go on awhile as he makes his toy dog high pitch bark. He wouldn’t come inside when we called him. SO: We got out the dog training clicker we originally got for Sunny and started using it instead of calling him. He learned VERY quickly and now comes running inside with one click, two at most. It’s reinforced with a “treat” (actually just a piece of his dry dog food), as instructed. It’s made all the difference! I recommend trying the method if you have a dog needing training! 🙂 #furbabies #gooddaddies
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I shared the photo above to Instagram a couple days ago. As usual, I planned on sharing it here, too. Then life, and world events, changed everything and I didn’t. Now, it provides a “nice break” from heavier topics.

The photo is described in the caption, and it tells the story. The only thing I can add, really, is that yesterday I bought another clicker to keep on my desk so that when I'm downstairs I have one available to use (so I don't have to go upstairs to get it). This is a very good thing.

However, the truth is, the only reason I didn’t post this on this blog back on Wednesday, when I took it, is that I was tired that night. But the next morning when I got up and saw the news that Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy had announced he was retiring, gifting another Supreme Court seat to the radical right, well, it knocked the wind right out of me. That night I just didn’t feel like saying anything about anything.

To be honest, the furbabies have helped keep it real over the past couple days as I came to grips with what the news means now, and will mean in the future. Writing my previous post on the implications helped, too, because that allowed me to focus on the mechanics and processes, rather than the emotion.

But it has also severely disrupted my blogging schedule—and, yes, for a change I actually had one. But I was too—what’s the word? Beaten down? Whatever the correct word, for a day I was unable to think beyond the profound sorrow I have for my native land, and where it is now headed, precisely because I warned about exactly this situation for many years now.

But then I recommitted myself. I’m not going to let those neo-fascist motherfuckers win without a fight. Way too much at stake.

But, clearly, I shouldn’t let it stop me from posting cute furbaby photos. Trust me on this: It is a real antidote to so much that is wrong with this world.

As bad as it seems

The retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and the vacancy on the court that it creates, is every bit as bad news as it seems, and it really is quite possibly catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, however, because there are solutions to protect Americans from a rampaging far-right Supreme Court. But time is running out.

I’ve been warning about this for many, many years, about how elections have consequences and how Democrats and mainstream Independents had one important reason to vote against Republicans: The Supreme Court. Them not bothering to vote in 2014 and 2016 has put the entire country in jeopardy, which is why if they don’t vote in November, then all hope will be lost.

We’re in this mess because in 2014—another Midterm Election like this year—Democrats and mainstream Independents couldn’t be bothered to vote, not even when warned about the Supreme Court, and that cavalier attitude gifted huge victories to Republicans who then blocked a moderate replacement for Antonin Scalia when the hard-right Justice died. We ended up with Neil Gorsuch, who is very far to the right of the hardline Scalia, and without the intellect of Scalia.

We saw the same indifference, this time combined with petulance, in just the right states in 2016, and that helped elect the current occupant of the White House, that darling of the far-right, who then appointed Gorsuch and who will now nominate someone equally as hard-right, or, more likely, far more so. Republicans plan to push through the appointment as quickly as possible, and odds are they will succeed.

That’s how we got into this mess, and we were on track to see a repeat this coming November. There are three issues I particularly care about where this matters—abortion rights, the right to privacy for LGBT people, and marriage equality—but even for these issues it’s not clearcut what this new reality will mean in practice. There are other issues where the danger is MUCH more clear and present.

First, though, those “big three” issues—and pour yourself a cuppa, because this will take awhile.

Roe v. Wade

The mainstream newsmedia has been talking a lot about how Roe v. Wade, often to the exclusion of all other issues that could be affected. To be sure, overturning that 1973 decision has been the MOST IMPORTANT goal of the “Christian” Right that now completely controls the Republican Party. But what happens after that isn’t as clear-cut as either the Left or the Right like to claim.

Prior to Roe, abortion was completely legal in only four states. It was legal under some circumstances in 15 more states: One only in cases of rape, two only in case of danger to the woman’s health, and 12 “in case of danger to woman's health, rape or incest, or likely damaged fetus”, as Wikipedia put it. That means that—in 1973—abortion was totally illegal in 31 states. Since then, however, some states have repealed or modified their abortion bans, including my native Illinois (which was one of the 31 in 1973).

Currently, eight states have “trigger laws” stating that if Roe is overturned, abortion will be completely illegal in their state. A further 27 US states have a “trigger law” that will ban so-called “late-term abortions”. That means that, thanks to the “trigger laws”, some 35 US states will make abortion completely or partially illegal the moment Roe is overturned. Interestingly, and unusually these days, Illinois’ current Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill that ensures abortion remains legal in the Illinois if Roe is overturned, but also, and rather extraordinarily, also allows “women with Medicaid and state-employee health insurance to use their coverage for abortions.”

As it is right now, though, US state abortion laws are a patchwork with all sorts of restrictions and impediments added to try and make abortions almost impossible to get. Some of these restrictions might remain in place even if the state doesn’t have a “trigger law”.

Part of the underpinning of Roe was the decision in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the ruling thart first established the right to privacy. While Griswold itself is safe for now, it, too could be challenged in the future. My bet, however, is that Griswold won’t be challenged, but Roe will be overturned.

Strategy for the centre and left: Elect liberals and moderates to state legislatures and as governors, because when Roe is overturned, the battles will be in state capitals. In some of the states in question, this will be extremely difficult, or even impossible.

Right to privacy for LGBT people

Lawrence v. Texas (2003) struck down anti-sodomy laws throughout the USA. The laws, even if rarely enforced, provided potential justification for harassment of and discrimination against LGBT people, gay men in particular. At the time of repeal, 15 states still criminalised consensual sex between people of the same gender (and, usually, the same activity by heterosexuals). Of those, only four states have since repealed their bans, which means that should Lawrence be overturned, 11 states would re-criminalise consensual sexual relations between adults, and two of those only criminalise sex between same-gender couples. Overturning this decision has never been a top priority for most of the Right precisely because of the few states it would affect, but it’s nevertheless one of their goals and the Right will look to do it after their big two.

Part of the underpinning of this case, as it was for Roe, was the decision in Griswold v Connecticut. The Lawrence ruling overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 ruling that found, in essence, that gay people had no right to privacy. Because Lawrence overturned Bowers, it’s unlikely that Lawrence would be overturned, however, it could be a very specific overturn, say, lowering the bar for states to show a “compelling interest” in making it a crime for consenting gay adults to have sex.

Strategy for the centre and left: Elect liberals and moderates to state legislatures and as governors, because if Lawrence is overturned in whole or in part, the battle will shift to state capitals. In some of the states in question, this will be extremely difficult, or even impossible, given their anti-gay animus.

Marriage equality

After overturning Roe, overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that established marriage equality in all 50 states, is at the absolute top of the Right’s agenda. At the time of the Obergefell ruling, 35 US states licensed marriages for same-gender couples. At the same time, seven states still had bans on the books, at three had partial bans. The remaining five states had bans that had been overturned, but the decision was stayed indefinitely.

If Obergefell is overturned entirely, the bans in those seven states would go back into effect, and the stay on the five would have to be revisited, meaning those states could be embroiled in court action for years, however, if the cases got to the Supreme Court, it’s reasonable to expect that all 15 states that had some sort of ban in place or in limbo would ultimately get their bans reinstated. That doesn’t mean, however, that states might not then choose to enact marriage equality, and some would.

The bigger issue is federal recognition, because of United States v. Windsor, the 2013 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the infamous “Defense” of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it restricted federal marriage benefits to married opposite-gender couples only. By then several states had enacted marriage equality, and that meant there were gay US citizens being denied the rights of marriage available to opposite-gender couples living right next door.

If Obergefell is overturned, then Windsor could be, too, but I think that’s unlikely. I think what’s more likely to happen is that the federal government would change its definition of marriage to recognise only “place of domicile”, rather than the current standard for most federal policies and rights, “place of celebration”. That matters because with Obergefell gone, and marriage for same-gender couples re-banned in some states, married same-gender people living in those states would then lose their federal rights under law, including taxation, immigration, and other issues. To the Radical Right, taking away the legal rights of marriage for some gay people is better than nothing, even as they work to repeal marriage equality at the state level.

Obergefell is strongly underpinned by the Lawrence decision, as well as Griswold. If either of those two are overturned, Obgergefell is on far shakier ground. My hunch is that neither Lawrence nor Griswold will be challenged for now, but Obergefell will be and will likely be overturned, or be so limited as to be effectively overturned.

Strategy for the centre and left: Elect liberals and moderates to state legislatures and as governors, because if Obergefell is overturned in whole or in part, the battle will shift to state capitals. As with the other issues, in some of the states in question, this will be extremely difficult, or even impossible, given their anti-gay animus. However, for this issue electing liberals and moderates to Congress and as President is important for ensuring that “place of celebration” is the standard used to recognise marriages under federal law, and to ensure that married same-gender couples aren’t discriminated against by the federal government.

Other issues with a clear and present danger

Voter suppression: The current Court has been moving toward endorsing Republican voter suppression efforts—basically, their legislative plot to keep poor non-whites, who usually vote Democratic, from being able to vote. A far more conservative Court will make it easier for Republicans.

Gerrymandering: This is what allows Republicans, a minority party, to have power far beyond its small numbers. The courts were starting to fight back, the current Court was starting to move toward allowing it. Expect a hard-right Court to allow Republican gerrymandering.

Economic rights: A more hard-right Court is likely to expand the power of corporations, to greatly accelerate the weakening of unions, and to allow rollbacks of health, safety, and even environmental protections, all because corporations want all that.

Expanded discrimination: It is inevitable that a hard-right Court will rule that people and businesses can discriminate against LGBT+ people as long as they can pretend they’re doing it for “sincerely held religious beliefs”, and this is regardless of whether or not Obergefell or Lawrence have been overturned. Eventually, even that religious pretense won’t be needed. The question here is how far the Court will go in allowing other people to be discriminated against: Race? Religion (or lack of)? National origin? The list is actually endless, and just needs the right case.

The biggest threats remaining

Two of the four “liberal” justices are quite old, and may not live or wish to serve until a rational president takes office in 2020 or 2024: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85, and Stephen Breyer is 79. If the current regime gets to replace them, too, the court will have SEVEN far-right justices against only TWO rational opponents, Sonia Sotomayor (65), and Elena Kagan (58). And, it would be that way for a generation or more.

On the other hand, rightwing judge Clarence Thomas is 81. If he was to die or retire when a Democrat was president with a Senate controlled by the Democrats, then this could swing the balance back toward the moderates, as well as make it safe for Ginsburg or Breyer to retire. But that doesn’t help until January 2021, when we can replace the current occupant of the White House with a sane and rational replacement—although that assumes the current occupant loses a reelection bid, which is by no means a sure thing.

Also, there’s also no guarantee that, seeing the writing on the wall, Thomas won’t retire before 2020 to assure the rightwing majority continues. It is absolutely certain that if the Republicans retain control of the US Senate after the November elections, then the most powerful rightwingers in the USA will pressure Thomas to retire as soon as possible so they can hedge their bets and make sure they keep the Court rightwing.

So, the strategy for the centre and left: Elect Democrats to the US House of Representatives and the US Senate this November to ensure that if a vacancy happens before 2020, Republicans won’t be able to fill it. Then, in 2020, they must elect more Democrats to Congress and as president to make it safe for Ginsburg and Breyer to retire and be replaced by liberals.

The current reality

There’s little or nothing that can be done now to save the Supreme Court: It WILL tilt sharply rightwing. However, it’s still possible to prevent it from toppling over the edge, and maybe even to restore the balance. To do that, it’ll be necessary to organise in all 50 states to elect more Democrats, ideally Progressive Democrats, to make it possible to ensure actual liberals are appointed to the Court. That’s also necessary to protect the people who will be hurt as the Right overturns landmark Supreme Court cases.

In other words, the power is still in our hands. However—and this is a HUGE caveat—if Democrats and centrist Independents don’t vote in November, there’s really no hope of stopping the slide toward rightwing authoritarianism.

Like many other people, I’ve been warning about this for many, many years. Americans had better finally pay attention.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hail, winter

Yesterday and today it rained a LOT. Actually, it rained a fair bit over the weekend, too. That’s not unusual: It’s what winter is like in Auckland. But this morning we also had hail (Instagram photo above), and that’s a little unusual.

It was 11 degrees this morning, as I said in the caption on Instagram, and it remained more or less around there all day. But for some reason it felt much colder than that. Part of it must’ve been the winds, which were a little strong, but it felt cold even when the wind was paused. It was also a bit cold inside the house today. At the time I publish this, it's dropped to 7 degrees (44.6F), and it’ll probably be colder before dawn. That, too, is winter.

Now that we’ve passed the June solstice, the days are getting longer again as we begin the long (cold) march back to summer, something that can’t come soon enough for me. Of course, I say that every winter, so I guess that’s winter, too.

Still, I didn’t have to go out in the winter weather today, so it didn’t really affect me too much, even though I did get a little sick of the noise of the heavy downpours during the day. I wasn’t in those downpours, and that’s the important part.

That, and at least I didn’t go to hail today.

What’s in one’s name?

Immigrants have to do many things to adjust to life in their new country. There’s an often-confusing maze of local customs, social mores, slang, and so much more we can only learn once we’re fully immersed. But if we want to fully fit in, should we change our name?

Today the New Zealand Herald published a story, “Name changing a game changer for migrants' job prospects, study finds” which was at once inspiring and dreadfully sad—and a little bit angering.

The gist of the story is that many immigrants to New Zealand anglicise their names in order to get jobs. I’d noticed that years ago with immigrants from China and East Asia in particular, and assumed that it was because their names were hard for English speakers to pronounce. It turns out, that actually is a part of it, but there’s so much more.

There are some who say that this is the result of racism, and sometimes it certainly must be. But New Zealand is highly multicultural, especially in the big cities, so for most people what’s at play is probably “affinity bias”, which is an unconscious bias. In this context, an employer might select people with names that are familiar—anglicised—because they feel a connection with that person, as well as an implicit understanding, perhaps. This usually happens with no particular thought, but when the employer does it deliberately, then it’s probably at least tinged with racism. This is the part that can be angering—when the immigrant is implicitly forced to change their name.

The part that I found sad was that, as so many people must also think, “they shouldn’t have to do that”. But that’s not our call to make. Sure, they shouldn’t have to do it in order to get a job, but if we were in that position, and the way to get past affinity bias in order to get a job was to change our name, how many of us would refuse to do that?

I think that if I were in a similar position I would do it. I say that because when I was in Berlin as a tourist many years ago, I called myself “Artur” to be understood and to fit in a little better. Here in New Zealand, the name Arthur is common enough, even though the R’s are much softer than in my native land. So, I shift the R’s whenever I give my name, something a bit like “Ah-thuh”. Changing how my name is pronounced is just one step away from changing it altogether.

What I’ve faced is absolutely NOTHING compared to someone from places like India, Pakistan, the Middle East, East Asia, and other places where English may not be the first language, and where anglicised names aren’t common. Unlike them, I’m extremely lucky to have a first name that can escape the affinity bias. But even I had to make adjustments to fit in.

So, limited though my experience has been, I nevertheless also understand why they change their names. I admire the folks who do that to stand a better chance of fitting into their new country, and to give themselves a better chance of succeeding. It takes determination to do that, and a willingness to do whatever is necessary. I can’t begrudge anyone for making that choice.

People shouldn’t have to change their names to get jobs, and plenty of immigrants don’t. But if someone does so, ultimately, it is their choice. Whether we think it’s justifiable or not, we should respect their right to make their own choices.

But, it still does make me sad they may have to do it.

The November danger

The November US elections will result in something, that much both sides of the USA’s political chasm, even hardcore partisans, can agree on. What, precisely, will happen is still mere speculation, but—at the moment—the trends suggest that neither side will be entirely happy.

There are a number of factors that make the 2018 elections look promising for Republicans who may be able to squeak through with control of the US House as well as retain control of the US Senate. Obviously, the performance of the current occupant of the White House could influence that: Whether he has public policy disasters, international failures, or even just an unhinged Twitter tantrum, along with other factors, might possibly influence the election. However, there’s very little to indicate that dislike of the current occupant of the White House is likely to have any influence on the election, except, maybe, a positive one for him.

The latest Gallup poll, released today, has the current occupant’s approval rating dropping back to 41%, which is roughly in line with his average rating of 39%. Gallup speculates that his poll bump in the previous week’s poll was probably because of his June 12 meeting with the dictator of North Korea. This week’s numbers, then, were returning to his usual levels, perhaps pushed faster by the fallout from his policy to take children away from immigrant parents who crossed the US border, mostly illegally. However, despite widespread disapproval of that policy, it nevertheless didn’t affect his approval ratings very much at all.

Republicans’ support for the current occupant dropped from 90% back to 87%, which it had been the previous two weeks. Not surprisingly, only 5% of Democrats approve of the current occupant, as do only 38% of Independents. What this really shows is the extreme width of the political chasm in the USA.

How this will translate into votes will depend entirely on who turns out to vote. That’s true in many elections, but this year it’s absolutely critical.

Overall, Gallup said a few days ago that a mere 56% of Americans said they were “absolutely certain” to vote in the November elections, which is low according to polls going back to 1954, and is even lower than 2014’s 58%, an election that had the lowest turnout since 1942.

It’s important to point out that Gallup is comparing polling more than four months out from the election to final polls in previous years. While we would normally expect the percentage of “absolutely certain” voters to rise when the election is just around the corner, there’s nothing “normal” about US politics anymore, so the number may actually go down, depending on what’s going on at the time. Still, in 2006, an election that was very good for Democrats, and 2010, which was very good for Republicans, the percentage of “absolutely certain” voters was 68%. Moreover, there’s this:
Gallup has not routinely asked the question this soon in a midterm year, but in years for which early measures are available (1982, 1998, 2002 and 2010), adults' intention to vote changed little over the course of the campaign.
All of which means that Democrats should be VERY worried. The current polls show little difference between “absolutely certain” voters who are Republicans (65%) and Democrats (64%). Independents have 45% who are “absolutely certain” voters, a fairly typical result. Moreover, the poll showed that among these “absolutely certain” voters, around 20% wanted to use their vote to send a message of support to the current occupant, while a mere 23% to oppose him. A majority—53%—didn’t plan on sending any message at all.

So, voters aren’t particularly motivated to vote at the moment, and the current occupant of the White House is not, at the moment, motivating voters to “send a message” to him, however, among those who do want to send a message, the number who want to support him and oppose him are fairly evenly matched.

At the moment, Democrats have a slight advantage over Republicans in generic ballot polling, that is, where voters are asked if they want a Democrat or Republican to win their district or control of Congress. The average of that polling (as of today—clicking on any other day may yield different results), according to FiveThirtyEight, is 46.5% Democratic, 40.5% Republican. Tracking actual seat numbers, RealClearPolitics says 197 seats in the US House are Likely/Lean Democratic, 204 are Likely/Lean Republican, and 34 are toss-up (218 seats are needed to control the House). Democrats need to win 18 of those 34 seats (plus their likely and lean seats) to win control of the House. Republicans only need to win 14. In Midterm Elections, the party that doesn't control the White House usually picks up seats, and Democrats probably will this time. The questions isn't will they pick up seats, it's will they pick up enough seats?

For the US Senate, the picture is a little more complicated since only a third of the chamber faces an election this year. Again according to RealClearPolitics, Democrats have 36 Senate seats that are safe for Democrats or have no election this year. In addition, there are seven seats are that are likely Democratic wins, plus one that leans Democratic, giving them a total of 44 seats (51 are needed for a majority).

Republicans, meanwhile, have the advantage: 46 seats that are safe or not up for election—more than the total for Democrats’ seats that are safe, likely, lean, and not up for election, combined. In addition, Republicans have one likely Republican and one leans Republican, for a grand total of 48.

Control of the Senate will likely come down to the 8 seats currently labelled as “toss up”, but here’s the problem for Democrats: IF they win all eight, their total would be 52 seats, enough to control the chamber, but without the 60 votes needed for some votes. If Republicans win all 8, they’d have 56 seats and be in the same situation—short of the magic number of 60. But Democrats MUST win at least seven of the tossup states to take control, Republicans only need to win three. Three of the toss-ups seats (Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee) were Republican seats going into this election, and they have a reasonable chance of retaining those seats, and so, control of the Senate. If they lose one or more of those seats, there are still five Democratic seats that are currently toss-ups.

All of which is why the Weekly Standard (today) has the Republicans with a better than two-to-one chance of retaining control of the US Senate: Republicans have a 70% chance of retaining the Senate, Democrats have a 30% chance of taking control, they said.

Put all this together, and—at the moment—it’s unlikely that Democrats can regain control of Congress; though control of the US House is possible, they almost certainly won’t win the US Senate. This is true precisely because Democrats and Independents aren’t currently motivated to commit to voting, so there’s no sign of a “Blue Wave” for Democrats in November, the anecdotal evidence of certain special elections notwithstanding.

The fact that the current occupant has such overwhelming support among his party’s members, and because the continued opposition to the current regime is hardening support for the current occupant, the “enthusiasm gap” is likely to be one of the biggest factors in this election. Historically, Republicans are often more likely to vote, and with turnout in Midterm Elections always low, that will be important.

As of June 1-13, Republicans and Democrats are pretty evenly split: 29% of Americans consider themselves Democrats, 27% Republicans, and Independents make up the biggest group, 43%. These numbers have been fairly consistent over time. So, if Independents are less likely to vote, but some of them have hardened in support for the current occupant of the White House, along with firmly committed Republican voters, Democrats have enormous hurdles to overcome to win the US House.

Of course, anything is possible. A major event of some sort could suddenly shift the results one way or the other. Democrats might be aided by a major new scandal facing the current occupant, a major policy blunder, or a whole bunch more indictments from the Mueller investigation. Republicans could be helped by Democratic supporters reacting all out of proportion to something the current occupant does or says or Tweets, firing up his supporters. There could also be an October Surprise, ranging from the announcement of a very popular policy through to a manufactured incident designed to help Republicans. We can’t predict any of these things, though some are more likely than others.

Clearly, Democrats don’t know how to campaign in this election. The party has dictated that impeachment is off the table out of fear of inciting a backlash from supporters of the current occupant of the White House, making them determined to vote. This seems to be a reasonable fear, considering those hardening attitudes. It’s also evident that there’s absolutely nothing the current occupant can say or do that will cost him more than a few percentage points of support, and almost none lost from his base.

Meanwhile, the normal internecine fight between establishment Democrats and self-described Progressives threatens to suppress Democratic votes among people who are identify with one faction or the other, but especially among ordinary voters who see the fighting and conclude that Democrats couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, so they can’t possibly win, so why bother voting?

What the evidence suggests is that for Democrats to take control of the US House, and to have even a remote hope of gaining control of the US Senate, a few things must happen. First, and most importantly, ALL Democrats must pledge they will vote for their Democratic Congressional candidates in November, no matter what, and even if that means holding their nose to do so (Joe Manchin, for example). There is absolutely NO way to defeat Republicans without voting for Democrats—NONE. This is why staying home is exactly the same thing as voting for Republicans.

Second, Democratic candidates must present an alternative vision for America, and NOT just run against the current occupant of the White House. By presenting the policies that voters actually want—Democratic polices—they can win over voters who are not solid supporters of the current occupant precisely because Americans want those policies.

Finally, and hardest of all, supporters of Democratic candidates will need to suck it up and not always respond to everything the current occupant says, does, or Tweets. I get how high emotions are on the Centre and Left—I share them—but passions are just as high on the Right, and they have the enthusiasm that the Centre and Left lack. Riling up the Right will do nothing to elect Democrats, but it would help elect Republicans.

Yes, this is unfair. Yes, this is frustrating as hell. And, yes, the current regime DOES have to understand that there’s opposition to their agenda. But the past eight years have proven that there are different rules for the Left and for the Right, and everything our side does or says will be blown out of proportion and used as ammunition by the Right. We must not give them any ammunition—or their agenda any oxygen—by responding to the regime’s lies and distortions and latest outrages. Besides, there will be more of all those any minute now, and we need our energy for campaigning.

I know that this last point is unpopular in the Pollyannaish world of some on the Left, those who believe that all you have to do is advance principles and stand up to the Right and voters will flock to our side. It just doesn’t work like that. In the current climate, people often react against something as much as for it, and nowhere is that truer than among the passionate Right.

This election is vital, maybe even pivotal as to whether the United States can even continue to exist. Our side claims to value the Constitution and the Rule of Law, but this election may be our very last chance to preserve, protect, and defend them. If Republicans win, and with their strongman in the White House, a guy who in their eyes can do no wrong, there will be no path left to stop them.

Can the republic be saved? Yes. Will it be? If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, then no. Democrats and sensible Independents need to put aside everything else and commit to voting Democratic in November, no matter what, and also to getting everyone they know to do the same.

The stakes are WAY TOO HIGH to do otherwise.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Years & Years

It’s not unusual for me to first hear some music that’s new to me on television. It could be on our free-to-air music video channel, background music on an ad, all of which I’ve shared on this blog. Today I’m sharing an artist I heard on a TV show this past Friday.

On Fridays I watch The Graham Norton Show on a free-to-air channel, and it turns out the episode I watched originally aired on Monday of that week (alternative video). I had no idea they aired so quickly in New Zealand. Each week there’s a musical act, and this week it was Years & Years performing “If You're Over Me” (official video up above). It’s from their new album, Palo Santo, to be released July 6.

The group formed in London in 2010, with Olly Alexander becoming the lead singer when he was 20. The group’s first album, Communion, went to number one in their native UK, and number 5 in Australia. The biggest selling single from that album, “King”, also hit number one in the UK, number nine in Australia, and number 14 on the US dance charts. I don’t know know whether their music has charted in New Zealand, but, regardless, I’d never heard of them or Olly until I watched The Graham Norton Show.

This is "King":

Finally, because I like to share three videos of an artist when I can, the last video for today is their second best-performing song from Communion, “Shine”. It reached number two in the UK, number fifteen in Australia, and number 45 on the US Dance Chart:

I like most pop music, at least a bit, and I like what I’ve heard of Years & Years. I of course like that Olly is out and proud as a gay man, and especially how that really doesn’t matter. So, really, I most of all like the fact we live in a world where Years & Years can be successful.

Opening doors

Many people on the Left are hailing the ad above as “the best political ad ever”. There’s no disputing that the ad is very, very well made. In that sense, yes, it IS among the best political ads. But is it effective?

This ad, “Doors”. is actually not so much an ad, in the traditional sense, as it is a long-form introduction to MJ Hegar, a Democrat running against an incumbent teabagger Republican Congressman. I have no idea what the politics of MJ (as she always calls herself) are, and the video doesn’t really tell us. But she certainly comes across as tough—“a badass”, as Democrats on social media put it.

It’s probable that later ads will flesh out the issues she’s running on, but these days style often wins out over substance, anyway, so shorter versions of this film as ads that can be shown on television may be enough to win support. I have no idea what that district is like or what would work there, after all. But if the ads are made as well as this long video was, that will be a good start.

There is a temptation to hail ANY Democrat as being better than ANY Republican, though our friends on the Leftward side of Left would never agree with that any more than any Republican would. I suspect, however, that Leftists are less of an issue in that district than in others.

What we need are Democrats who can take the battle directly to Republicans and defeat them on their own issues. A decorated combat veteran sounds like a good idea for a district in Texas, someone who, there, too, can open doors. I guess we’ll know soon enough.

MJ Hegar's YouTube Channel may eventually have more ads posted to it.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

'Faceversary' musing

Yesterday was my “Faceversary”, the name that Facebook gives for the anniversary of when someone first joined (June 22, 2007 was mine). The graphic above is the opening still from the video that Facebook makes for people’s Faceveraries, something that actually fascinates me because it automates what it picks up and puts into “slots” in the video format (in fact, it’s basically the same video as last year’s.

As it happens, the day before that I saw several Facebook friends complaining about “all the politics” on Facebook. Yesterday I got my usual email alert from Statista about the success of various Apps that Facebook owns (that graphic is below). Funny when worlds collide like that, no matter how slightly or unimportantly.

The reactions to “all the politics” varied from urging people to be kinder to each other right though to announcements of “muting” people (a way of hiding what friends post for a short time) to get away from political posts “from all sides”. I understand the impulses at play, but not completely.

First, and easiest, people really should be kinder to other people. Even when they know the person they’re being unkind to, and especially when they don’t, they don’t know what might be going on at that very moment with the person they’re being unkind to. I don’t think it’s worth it to run the risk of making things worse for someone by being unkind to them.

The other issue is that too many people think that their ideological or political adversaries are the exact opposite of themselves. But most people share common concerns at the most basic level: Food, shelter, safety. We may see the problems and solutions completely differently, but we very often we start from a similar—possibly even the same—place. Yet we constantly lose sight of that.

People are people, and I doubt any human is capable of being kind 100% of the time. At any moment we might lose our patience for whatever reason, or just not have our rhetorical brakes engaged. The point is that we should strive to be kind to other people when we can, recognising it won’t happen all the time.

Being kind is how we ought to treat others in general, and not just when it comes to politics. Talking about sports, movies, TV shows, books, restaurants—literally anything can lead people to say unkind things to others. So, I don’t think it makes sense to talk about being kind to others only within the context of politics.

While I can understand exhortations to be kinder, I can’t really understand why people get so upset about what other people post. My own Facebook friends post all sorts of things, and if they post something I don’t like or disagree with (for whatever reason), I can “hide” that post and I won’t see it again. I’ve done that a lot over the years.

But “muting” someone means we don’t want to see the authentic person. What people post is an expression of what concerns them, and collectively posts show the current zeitgeist as well as history unfolding in real time. Hiding all posts from someone means we’re missing out on seeing and knowing what is important to the people we know.

To be clear, I’m not talking about people who are abusive or who say horrible things. For people like that, “unfriending” and blocking is always an option, but that’s a pretty brutal solution. Instead, we can unfollow their posts if we don’t want to see their stuff but don’t want to “unfriend” them (like because of some sort of close personal connection to us). And, if someone seems obsessed about a subject, one can still “mute” them temporarily.

What I don’t understand is the need some people have to publicly announce they’re doing that, even when they don’t mention names. While it might give a suggestion to someone else, it can also end up being a not-too-subtle warning to people to censor themselves so the same fate doesn’t happen to them.

Several years ago, something like that happened to me, and because of that, I all but stopped posting anything about politics on my personal Facebook. At the time, it was because I didn’t want to upset people who disagreed with me, but I've continued that. Anyone who wants to know what I think about political things can read this blog, the AmeriNZ Facebook Page (where I do share political things), or even send a message to ask me about something, as friends do from time to time. So, in my case, it wasn’t total self-censorship.

I still rarely post anything political on my personal Facebook. That self-censorship means that anyone reading what I post there, arguably, isn't seeing the authentic me because there’s so much more that they never see.

That’s been on my mind a lot lately because these days people I know feel very strongly about various current events (I do, too), and they need to post stuff expressing what they think and feel (I do, too). I think that’s great, regardless of whether I agree with them or not, and I get a chance to see where their passions are, and the issues that people are concerned about.

By leaving politics off my personal Facebook, I’ve created a (mostly) “politics free” zone for myself, and these days that’s kind of nice, especially considering how utterly toxic Twitter and the public parts of Facebook have become.

The problem is that in some ways I feel like I’m “cheating” by effectively hiding the real me and using my other outlets for politics, something those who disagree with me can completely ignore if they want to—and they probably do. Is my choosing to do that the same as someone “muting” my personal Facebook posts? Pretty much, yes. But in my case I’m making the choice, not letting them make it for me. I don’t know if I made the “right” choice, but, regardless, I made the choice.

Besides, for all I know, they may have already muted or unfollowed me for other reasons. It happens all the time and we usually have no idea.

When I joined Facebook 11 years ago, MySpace—which I was also on—was the biggest social network. In April 2008, however, Facebook pulled head, and MySpace began its fall. Nothing has emerged since to pose a threat to Facebook’s social media dominance, which is a problem. The chart below shows how much Facebook, as well as all its Apps, absolutely dwarf Twitter, Pinerest, and Snapchat. At the moment, that seems unlikely to change.

A lot has happened to and on Facebook since I joined, including the fact that I now use it every day, and Twitter very seldom. Not so very long ago, it was the other way around. Since I joined Facebook, we’ve gone through three US Presidential elections, four New Zealand General Elections, four NZ local elections, four Australian federal elections, plus the Australian marriage equality postal survey, three UK General Elections, plus Brexit, the Irish marriage equality referendum, and so much more, including many things that weren’t at all political, of course—and people have talked about all of them.

Whatever we may think, that will continue for some time to come.

Infographic: Facebook Dominates Social Media | StatistaApplications left to right: Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram (all owned by Facebook), Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. You will find more infographics at Statista.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Internet Wading: Devices, aliens, and a birth

Infographic: America's Smartphone Addiction | Statista

Time to wade into the wonderful warm waters of the Internet for some more interesting, quirky, or annoying things I ran across this month, things that would never make a blog post of their own. If, you know, I was actually blogging regularly. Still, here we go with anotgehr outbreak of worryitis.

There was a lot of hoopla in the news in NZ recently, as there is from time to time, about device addiction. Much of it comes across as the news media obsessing about some health condition they just heard about (or, maybe, made up?) or sinply forgot they already obsessed about that same topic many times before. The graphic up top about “America’s device addiction” clearly represents survey data, but it also nevertheless carries the feeling of the original survey’s silent handwringing and pearl-clutching, the sort of thing the newsmedia feeds off of.

The NZ Herald held up a moral champion in a story “Teen's smartphone addiction: 'I only slept three hours a night'”. The Herald gives us a warm, fuzzy anti-device ending to the story. Whew! But hey, we mustn’t worry about phones and tablets alone! “Gaming addiction declared a mental disorder”. The bottom line, though, is that some people do, indeed, struggle with over-dependence on electronic devices and technology of one sort or another. But the newsmedia seems incapable of separating them from people who may use technology “too much”, but who can just as easily move on. An honest discussion of the issues is good, moral panics are not, and neither is demonising people because someone somewhere thinks they use their electronic device “too much”.

Now on to some real science: “New Scientific Theory For Origin Of Octopuses: They’re Aliens”. Well, of course they are. Duh! Or, how about “NASA Releases 4K Video Of The Moon Ending The Moon Landing Conspiracy”, because nothing stops a conspiracy theory as effectively as facts and evidence, right?

On to the Arts! “21 Books You’ve Been Meaning To Read”, because who doesn’t need to feel inadequate about something else in their lives? On the other hand, “Ivan Albright’s meticulous attention to the human body continues to be an inspiration to young artists” talking about a painter and his works. Fascinating, even though I’d personally never heard of him before.

This one defies categories, really. It’s just kinda interesting-ish: “27 Perfect Coincidences That Were Luckily Captured on Camera”.

June is LGBT+ Pride Month in the Northern Hemisphere, with all the related talk about history and culture, such as this article about Baron Von Steuben: “The American Revolution’s Greatest Leader Was Openly Gay”. What fascinates me about such stories is the extent to which historians will work hard to downplay the reality of historic figures’ lives and the reality—or even possibility—of their homosexuality. I first became aware of that when I was reading about Walt Whitman and saw that historians denied the obvious homoeroticism in his poetry, or the evidence about Whitman’s sexuality.

There were others, too. For example, many years ago I saw a workshop of a play about England’s King Edward II and his relationship with Piers Gaveston. It was the first time I’d ever heard of any gay kings. Since then, I’ve read about King William II, King James I (who was also James VI of Scotland), and others. Related: “The secret history of the gay Kings and Queens of England”.

What all these people have in common is the need that some heterosexual scholars have to “de-gay” people in the past. It denies LGBT+ people our history and our culture, but, worse, by erasing us from history, it also perpetuates the political myth that LGBT+ people are something new, and it’s some sort of fad.

Some politicians clearly don’t get it. In New Zealand, Judith Collins, widely expected to challenge Simon Bridges for the leadership of the National Party sooner or later, got in trouble for “liking” a Tweet that mentioned gays as a negative thing: “Judith Collins apologises for liking 'hugely disappointing' tweet about Labour's 'gays'”. Thing is, Judith has a history: She voted in favour of marriage equality, but she also voted against all three readings of the Civil Unions Act in 2004. In March, 2005, she voted to re-legalise discrimination against LGBT+ New Zealanders. In December of that year, she voted to define marriage as being one man/one woman (I talked about the 2004/5 votes in a post in 2011). She appears to have evolved in recent years, which is great—sincerely. But this incident suggests she’s not all the way there yet.

But forget all that, the biggest news of the month (Year? Millennium?) is that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had her baby! “'Welcome to our village wee one': PM Jacinda Ardern gives birth to a baby girl”. The way things are going in the world, and especially certain parts of it, it’s nice to have something nice to focus on, if only for a moment. [See also: “Birth of PM's baby makes international headlines”].

So, with the Prime Minster’s (and New Zealand’s) waiting over, that’s enough wading, too.

The graphic up top is a "Chart of the Day" infographic from Statista.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Maybe progress

On any health journey there may sometimes be good news, other times bad news, and lots of times deliver wait and see news. That’s what I have today, but, despite myself, I’m very hopeful. It could be that a truly awful year may soon end.

For the past year I’ve been struggling on beta blockers because of the often severe fatigue they cause, along with the problems with memory and focus/concentration. They’re the reason I haven’t been up to blogging or podcasting or any of the other things I want to do. Which is why I say it’s been a terrible year for me. Truth is, it’s been worse for Nigel who hasn’t had ME for the past year.

Today I saw a cardiologist in private practice, which, while expensive, was a very good move. Waiting for an appointment in the public system could take months, and this particular cardiologist is a specialist in heart rhythm.

This whole sub-journey began, as I explained last November, after a third tachycardia incident, which means I had an unusually fast heartbeat. The after-hours medical centre I went to put me on beta blockers, and everything started then.

Since then, I’ve changed drugs and dosage, with no real improvement in how I felt, even if the specific problem went away. After I saw my new GP back in March, I wrote:
I knew that people who’ve had a heart attack are put on the drug to help their heart heal. I didn't have a heart attack. I also knew that they’re used for irregular heatbeat (and migraines, even). But it turns out that when someone has a heart attack, part of their heart is damaged, as we all probably know, and when someone has a blockage like I did, part of their heart is weakened. As a result, one half of the heart isn’t strong enough and has trouble keeping up with the healthy part.

Beta blockers slow down the heart, ideally to no more than 70bpm or so, so that that weakened part can keep up with the strong part. This is almost certainly a permanent requirement (or until new treatments become available). So, she said, the trick is finding a beta blocker that balances the life-saving properties with having a life.
The problem with all that is that it robbed me of energy and mental focus, and when I did something that made my heartrate got up, I felt absolutely terrible afterward, almost anxious, even. It affected literally every aspect of my life.

Today the cardiologist explained that it is standard practice when someone has a heart attack, but I never had one. In my case, they wouldn’t necessarily prescribe beta blockers unless an ultrasound scan of my heart showed a problem. No scan was done when the stent was done, and I don’t know why it wasn’t. But because it wasn’t, there’s no proof that half my heart is weakened, particularly since my ECG shows normal heart rhythm.

The cardiologist also said that certain calcium channel blockers are good for my particular kind of tachycardia because, in addition to controlling the rhythm, the drugs have fewer side effects than beta blockers, and nothing as bad as they have. Based on the evidence, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why I have to be on beta blockers.

One can’t just stop beta blockers, though, so I’m to cut the dosage in half—to ¼ tablet—for two weeks, then start the calcium channel blocker. This may be manageable with drugs alone, but, if not, there’s a surgical option to fix the tachycardia, because, as he put it, it’s basically “a wiring problem”. However, right now there’s no reason to assume that will be necessary.

The bottom line is that I should soon start to get my life back, with more energy and better mental function. I have no idea how long that will take, but I’m more excited about that than worried about tachycardia returning. And if the new drug can keep that in check, then I’ll definitely have my life back.

For the past year, I’ve been completely aware of my age—and often feel older than I really am. That’s not because of actual age or ageing, it’s because of the prescriptions I’ve been on. But now it really feels possible this may be about to end.

Right now, having what may be progress is a very big deal.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Scheduled outage

Yesterday the electricity lines company had what they called a “scheduled power outage” in our area for an entire day. The fact that it was planned didn’t make it any easier to deal with, but I found ways to minimise the disruption.

We received a notice in the mail dated May 28, which was unusual in itself because we hardly ever get any mail. This actually made it more noticeable. The outage was to be from around 8am to 3pm, or the next day if weather didn’t cooperate.

Monday night, I double checked the letter. I was planning on making a trip to Pukekohe the next day to fill part of the time. Tuesday was also rubbish day, so I planned on getting up a little early yesterday morning to get it all together for Nigel to drop off at the kerb on his way to work.

So, Wednesday dawned, I got up and got the rubbish ready, then sent Nigel on his way. I came back into the house to feed the furbabies their breakfast, realised I needed to get some more dog food from downstairs, got back to the kitchen and the lights went out. It was 8:01am.

I’d forgotten all about the outage, so I hadn’t had my shower, and with no power that meant no water. Uh oh. I fed the furbabies and tried to figure out what I was going to do.

A few household chores—emptying the dishwasher, taking recyclables out to the bin (that’s collected next week), and a little surfing the web on my phone (since we had no power, there was also no wifi).

I tried the tap, and there was water. I guessed that either they’d put a generator on the water pump for our area, or the shutdown was very specific to our area.

That meant I could have a cold water wash at the bathroom sink (being a cool day, I was confident this wasn’t too risky…), so I did that and off I went to Pukekohe.

When I got out on the road, I saw the workers, and that the work was related to the new subdivision, so it’s possible it was a very local outage.

In Pukekohe, my first objective was lunch because I didn’t have any before I left (I hadn’t wanted to open the fridge at home—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I picked up a tool for an upcoming project, then exchanged a couple things I picked up the other day, and then some things from the grocery store. That last one was related to the day because I bought a small bag of ice.

Once home, around 2pm, I put some of the ice in a bowl in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer, both to bump up the cold. Then—nothing. I had nothing else planned.

At 3:31 the power finally came back on.

Because there was no power, and so, no Internet, I nixed the idea of blogging in the day time (I wasn’t sure how much battery power my laptop had, and, anyway, I usually need to check something or other online. By the time evening rolled around, I just didn’t have it in me to do any posts.

This was a good thing. I’d written two posts the day before, neither of which I wanted to publish. They were too mean, too mocking, too pointless. But in light of some of my posts lately about LGBT+ people, the irritation bordering on anger was justified. I did a third post that was similarly too harsh, but that one may reappear in an edited/rewritten form at some point.

So, the power outage was planned, and so, too, was my blogging outage. I know the latter was for the best, and I presume the first was, too. Sometimes these things are necessary.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Is the end justified by the meanness?

The current occupant of the White House is dividing American families and friends in unprecedented ways, splintering and dividing the country to an extent it has never been before, with the possible exception of the US Civil War. Seventeen months after the current regime took power, and with no certain end to the growing bitter divisions since then, is it now time for people to dump family members and friends who support the current regime?

A few days ago, Salon politics staff writer Chauncey DeVega published a blistering piece, “Cut Trump supporters off: The horror of migrant kids taken from parents demands personal action”. His argument is that anyone who supports the regime, for whatever reason, is complicit in the current regime’s forcibly removing children from their undocumented immigrant parents to put the children into prison camps. He writes:
Who we choose to include among our friends and associates — and yes, even kin — is a political statement because it reflects our values and beliefs. The personal is political in ways both obvious and subtle. This includes the quotidian as well as grand gestures and acts.

And so, a proposal.

If you have friends or relatives who support Donald Trump you should confront them. Explain to them that they are complicit with Trump's cruelty and sadism. Then communicate that you will no longer speak with them, nor will you offer them emotional, financial or other types of support until they denounce Donald Trump and what he represents — and make amends through speech and action.
DeVega goes on to counter several imagined arguments against his proposal, and also some whataboutisms, including:
How about the argument that by cutting Trump's supporters out of your life that you will actually make them support him even more? Thus removing any hope that they can be freed from his thrall? Because Trump's supporters retreat into shadows like political Nosferatus when exposed to the light is no reason for decent and good people to keep such people in their lives.
One can agree with him and his proposal or not, but it was this particular argument that I thought was flat out wrong. If some people are “lost causes”, then society can never grow and change, and we know that’s not true. As imperfect as the USA, and, indeed, most of the Western World is, it’s nevertheless true that our societies do grow and evolve, and that’s because of the people within them. If we “write off” people for whatever reason, we also dump any chance we might have of providing them with an example of how to grow and evolve.

There absolutely can be reasons, issues, that go too far. During the time of Bush the Second, progressives sometimes made much the same argument, like about the Iraq invasion, for example. Others made that argument about people who supported California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. Conservatives made the same argument about many different issues for the entire 8 years of the Obama Administration. In other words, it happens all the time, and whether any one issue is “too far” for someone is not for us to decide on their behalf.

So, apparently the imprisonment of children ripped from their parents is too far for DeVega. Theoretically, there are issues that could push me too far, too. I won’t comment on what they could be because they’re theoretical, and it’s not like I have a rule book that people must accept to be in my life. Similarly, I wouldn’t dream of telling DeVega what to think or do. I can only talk for myself.

I’ve never cut a family member or friend out of my life because of politics, but some have at least muffled me because of politics. That’s their right. I’m great at compartmentalising things, ignoring unfortunate things people say, and ignoring things I can’t change, but others need distance to keep their mental peace. To each their own.

But cutting people out of our lives completely because of political differences strikes me as surrender, that there can never be any meeting of the minds in the future, that whatever it was that bound us together in the first place is more insubstantial than we thought. Maybe it is. But what if we’re wrong? What if people change their minds later? What if we do?

I have no hard and fast answers here. Some may feel they have no choice but to cut friends and family members out of their lives because they support the current occupant of the White House—or, because they don’t. For me, it’s unlilkely that I’d even contemplate doing that. Sure, these days one can never say “never”, but it’s just not how I operate.

Arm the gays?

There have always been armed LGBT+ people, whether anyone knew it or not. There have also always been openly gay people embracing guns. But with a rising tide of violent bigotry in the USA, is it now time for LGBT+ people to arm themselves in self-defence?

As a long time proponent of gun control, I’d be expected to find the question absurd. For pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that most people have no business having guns, and those who are allowed to own them should be well-regulated. Because of that, it has always been an article of faith for me that part of the answer to rising gun violence in the USA is to reduce the number of guns available.

What if I was wrong?

Okay, not wrong, exactly, but what if circumstances have changed so drastically that the answer must change, too? What if the proper answer in the face of rising hate-motivated violence is arming people?

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which compiles data from member organisations around the USA, 2016 was the deadliest year for anti-LGBT violence in US history. That was the year of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, at the time the USA’s worst-ever mass shooting. Overall, and excluding Pulse, there was a 17% increase in anti-LGBT+ murders that year [PDF of the report available online]. Following that year’s presidential election, the New York City Anti-Violence Project reported a 45% increase in calls to its violence hotline.

Official FBI statistics for 2016 showed a 5% increase in all hate crime incidents (not victims), with crimes against trans people rising 9%, as compared to a 2% increase for crimes motivated by anti-gay hatred. It’s important to note that the FBI statistics compile official data from police agencies, and as such, are known to undercount the actual number of anti-LGBT+ hate crimes, partly due to the reluctance of LGBT+ people to report crimes to police. This, too, is especially true for trans people.

In 2017, over 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in state legislatures. At the same time, Mike Pence was leading the current American regime’s war on LGBT+ people. In February of that year, some 8 months after Pulse, the regime announced it was rescinding the Obama Administration’s orders that trans students must be allowed to use public restrooms that conformed with their gender identity. A month later, the current occupant of the White House signed an Executive Order rescinding President Obama’s Executive Order protecting the rights of LGBT+ federal workers. Two weeks later, the Department of Justice withdrew from a lawsuit against North Carlonia’s anti-trans HB 2, signalling it would not challenge any anti-LGBT+ state laws. In early April, the current occupant signed an Executive Order on “free speech” and “religious liberties” as part of the regime’s support for allowing rightwing religious people to legally discriminate against LGBT+ people.

The situation for LGBT+ people had deteriorated so badly by the end of 2017 that the NCAVP issued a report in January of this year [PDF available online] showing that 2017 had an 86% increase in homicides of LGBT+ people.

The current regime is hostile to LGBT+ people and has rescinded the few meagre federal protections that existed for LGBT+ people. They also want to install religious radicals on the Supreme Court, making it possible to overturn marriage equality, and possibly overturn Lawrence v. Texas and other Supreme Court rulings that have served to protect the human rights of LGBT+ people.

The current regime has also encouraged racist violence, not the least by the current occupant failing to strongly condemn neo-nazis, but also through his constant demonisation of “illegal immigrants” in vague language that also manages to stir hatred against all immigrants [For example, see: “Anti-immigrant graffiti found outside Brownes Irish Market”, KMBC News, June 11, 2018, and also “‘Immigrants Not Welcome.’ Vandals deface historic Irish Midtown storefront” by Aaron Randle, Kansas City Star, June 12, 2018].

So, the facts are that in the USA, violence against LGBT+ people is soaring. Also, the current regime controlling the White House is anti-LGBT+ and, in general, encourages violent bigots to act out. The first is a direct result of the second. So, what’s the solution?

Despite everything, I can’t YET advocate that LGBT+ people arm themselves, but I also cannot condemn any who choose to do so. The tide of hatred is rising, and self-defence may become the only defence. Holding on to one last shred of my convictions, I’d add that if LGBT+ people do arm themselves, it should be within the context of a group like Pink Pistols that can provide proper training and support.

If LGBT+ people do arm themselves for self defence, it won’t do anything to end anti-LGBT+ hate crimes. It also won’t do anything to turn back the general tide of white grievance-driven violent hate crimes. Both, especially the second, will require political solutions that don’t actually exist right now, and may not be possible in the future. If a more violent and repressive society is around the corner, then arming may be the only way for LGBT+ people to remain safe.

If the USA was still run in accordance with the US Constitution and the rule of law, I’d dismiss the idea of LGBT+ people arming themselves, probably derisively. But as we’ve all seen, the abnormal is now normal, and the unthinkable is now policy. Quite literally ANYTHING is possible while this regime is in power. I cannot in good conscience try to discourage LGBT+ people from protecting themselves, their families, and their communities from the armed thugs the current regime has encouraged. If that means arming themselves, so be it. I can live with that. More importantly, that may be the only way to ensure they can, too.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Getting to stay

Today is the anniversary of what was, in retrospect, probably the most important day I had as an immigrant to New Zealand. On June 16, 1999, I became a NZ permanent resident, and the stress and turmoil of being a temporary resident finally ended. More recently, it turned out that it also set me on a path that should keep me safe, which is even more important.

Considering how important the event was, it might seem surprising that I don’t observe it every year like I do so many other anniversaries, but the truth is that it got left behind because only three years later I became a citizen, and, after that, this particular anniversary didn’t seem to matter very much. Also, by the time I became a citizen, I’d been living in New Zealand for the better part of seven years, so Ī was well-settled by then.

Nevertheless, it WAS an important day because up until that 1999 day, I’d been able to stay in New Zealand only with a series of temporary visas and permits, the first of which bound me to a particular employer. When that company ceased trading, and I was made redundant, I needed to buy a one-way ticket the the USA—it couldn’t be an American territory, it had to be the USA itself. So, I bought a ticket to Hawaii for some $1200, I think it was. Only then was I granted a six month tourist visa so I could stay in New Zealand, and with Nigel. But, I couldn’t work or study. (I eventually got a partial refund of the ticket price).

At that time, I also couldn’t sponsor Nigel to live with me in the USA. So if my ability to get a temporary visa ran out, we’d have been separated. That all ended on June 16, 1999, and once I’d applied, I could get a work permit sponsored by Nigel.

When marriage equality finally arrived in the USA in 2012, there was finally a way for me to sponsor Nigel to live with me in the USA. By then it was too late: Our roots in New Zealand were way too deep to dig them up.

Last year, in talking about the day I became a citizen (June 10, 2002), I mentioned that “For the first time in my life, I’m profoundly grateful that I have a second passport.” That’s still true, but maybe a little bit more now than then: I have a measure of safety that folks in the USA don’t have, should everything descend into utter disaster. Unless a nativist wave sweeps the world, or some other international pressure arises, I should be safe here in New Zealand, no matter what happens in the USA.

Even so, and even though I’m extremely glad for that safety net, I remain hopeful that things in the USA will work out. As I said in that post last year:
Looking at the world as it is today, and comparing it to the one 15 years ago, it would be easy to be despondent or resigned or fatalistic. That’s not me. No matter how bad things may seem most days now, I choose to believe that they can get better, that they will get better, despite everything.

Hope is a powerful force: It’s what brought me to this country in the first place, and it’s what makes me continue to believe—no matter what—that the future will be better, even if there are a few bumps in that road along the way that make progress seem unlikely. Having hope is a sort of armour against all the bad. In my opinion, hope is not optional.
Honestly, it’s good that hope is so powerful, because every day that passes makes it harder to hold onto. I hope that I never lose hope, but more so, I hope that I never have reason to lose all hope.

Because of those June events, in both 1999 and 2002, I know I’ll be okay because I get to stay with my husband, who is, after all, the reason I came to New Zealand in the first place. That’s most important of all.

I guess I should be better about giving these June anniversaries the respect they deserve.

The photo above is a detail of my Residence Permit and my first Returning Resident’s Visa, which was good for two years, placed on facing pages of my US passport. I first used it in 2013.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Winter resting

It wasn’t very cold today, but it was still a winter day, and when the sun shines that means one thing: The furbabies find a sunny spot to snooze. Oddly, they don’t do this in the heat of summer. While their winter sun-seeking ways are common enough, this is the first time I’ve seen these three do it together (there are, of course, other sunny spots in the house one or all of them could have chosen). Naturally, I had to share it to Instagram.

And, in the interest of equal time, below is a photo of Jake. He’s lying on the opposite side of the house—the shady side—near the window that looks out toward the front gate, where he and the others watch us leave the house and return. That's also their spot for barking at the neighbours, the postie, all sorts of people, too—even the construction workers at the nearby housing developement. Actually, Jake doesn’t bark all that much, because he’s a cool dude. In more ways than one, it turns out.

This was the highlight of my day today. I’ll take it.