Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Ten years married

Ten years ago today, Nigel and I were legally married, something we both said was the happiest day of our lives. That was less than five years after we were legally joined in a civil union (our second-happiest day), the only legal recognition open to us in 2009—and also something we put off because it wasn’t marriage. Before we had ours, I called civil unions “marriage lite” in a blog post, which made Nigel mad, he let me know what he thought, and I deleted the post—one of the very few I’ve done that to.

Being legally married was among the most important things that ever happened to us. To this day, I still wear my civil union and marriage rings, and I can’t imagine a time I won’t: Our marriage was, and still is, that important to me.

For as long as I can remember, there have always been some anniversaries, birthdays, and the like that I remember every year, and when they reach a multiple of ten or five, some others get my attention, too. It was obvious, then, that noting recurring anniversaries would become a significant topic on this blog, and usually regardless if the number it is. In that sense, this anniversary is no different.

And yet, this year is actually dramatically different: This year, it’s not just about remembering the tenth anniversary of the happiest day of my life—that’s something I do every year. This year, because it’s the tenth, I’ve been thinking about all that’s missing. When I shared the Memory on my personal Facebook, I said:
Ten years ago today was what we both called the happiest day of our lives. I’ve been particularly reflective the past few days, and there have been a few tears. I’ve been thinking about the future we’d planned that will never be, symbolised by the fact that Nigel didn’t get to see this anniversary, nor what would have been our 28th anniversary together two days from now, and that makes me sad. Despite that, October 31, 2013 was the happiest day of our lives, and for me, it still is. There’s comfort in that. ❤️💔❤️‍🩹
There was so much more that I wanted to say, but as is usually the case, I kept deleting every attempt at honest discussion until I was left with something positive—or, at least, as positive as I could manage.

I wasn’t talking about missing Nigel—I miss him every single day, and I wasn't really talking about him missing from this day, from the opportunity to celebrate our tenth. That was only part of it.

As today approached, I started thinking more than usual about the missing future: Everything we’d planned together and expected to happen together and that now never will be. For 24 years, we always discussed big decisions and arrived at a conclusion together, but since Nigel died, I’ve ultimately had to do that alone.

I still have absolutely no idea what I want to do with whatever’s left of my own life, nor where I want to do it. There are times the conundrum sends me into deep despair, and fills me with the tense fear that I’ll never work it out, that I’ll continue to let the days evaporate, one after another, until my last one arrives—with the conundrum still unresolved.

Yesterday, in the midst of yet another reflective moment, I said to Leo, “where would YOU like to live?” I was just being silly, and he just kept looking at me with the same earnest look he has whenever I talk to him about anything that doesn’t involve food or him being a good boy. In that moment, though, I realised that I was asking him about the sort of big decision that Nigel and I would’ve talked with each other about, and discussions about that topic could well have begun with that exact question.

And in the moment following me being silly and asking my dog a question, I was reminded yet again of all that’s missing. And, for another moment among several that day, I cried. My sadness was over the future that will never be.

In the next moment, however, I also thought about what Leo might’ve said if he could answer, and it was that all he cared about was that we were together (because he really is a good boy…), and I then thought about how much he clearly loves living here, where we are: He has a large grassy, fully fenced and safe yard to wander around in, and he has friends next door with whom he “gossips” through the fence. Inside, he has a home with many comfortable places to sleep, a place that’s warm in winter, cool in summer, and dry when it rains. He gets his food (and treats…) given to him, has plenty of toys, and a great position at the front window to watch and bark at the world. He has a pretty sweet life—as well he should. And he seems rather fond of me in return.

I realised that since I can’t have Nigel to talk this over with, maybe I should just try to be a bit more like Leo—concentrate on what’s right in front of me, since so much of it is good, even if there’s no one here to give me my food (and treats…), or to call me a good boy. I can live with that.

The reason I struggle to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and where to do it, is that my soulmate, best friend, and trusted adviser is no longer at my side, and I find it beyond extremely difficult to work out future plans without him. Together, we could take on anything, but now the earth below my feet feels like it’s made of gelatine, and everything feels too complicated and also too amorphous to sort out.

I strongly doubt that my Weltschmerz actually has anything at all to do with this being the tenth anniversary of our marriage, and instead it’s just coincidental—it provided a convenient focus for what was already going on in my head—or not going on, as the case may be.

Still, this IS the tenth anniversary of our marriage, and two days from now is the 28th anniversary of when I arrived in New Zealand to stay, the day we always saw as our anniversary. As I navigate these strange, murky waters I’m now sailing through, I know how much Nigel meant to me, and how important our life together was to me—in fact, those two facts haven’t changed.

I’ll eventually figure things out, despite how difficult that is, and the reason I know that is embodied in the photo at the top of this post: I carry him close in my heart now just as I did then. I know that’s what will get me through into whatever my future will be. And when I do, I’ll have him and our life together to thank for it. Our marriage, it turns out, was real and strong long before that day ten years ago when the law finally acknowledged that fact.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. I love you. Always.

Nine years married (2022)
Eight years married (2021)
It’s still seven years married (2020)
Mixed feelings day (2019)
Fifth Anniversary (2018)
Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)

To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more

Halloween again

Today is Halloween, a day I no longer have any interest in. I’m not sure when or why it faded away for me, but it could be that it happened because Halloween just isn’t a big deal in New Zealand. I've been sceptical that this will ever change.

Today, the Stuff news site published a story, ”Trick or treat! It's Halloween, but what does that even mean in New Zealand?”, which pretty much sums up what I’ve been saying for years. When I read it, though, I didn’t share the optimistic view that Halloween is just still in the early stages of adoption by New Zealanders—this, is, I didn't until this evening.

This evening, Stuff published “Thousands of trick-or-treaters descend on one Auckland street for Halloween celebrations” about 4,000 people turning up on one street in Auckland’s North Shore for a celebration one local resident said was “getting bigger and bigger and bigger”. Maybe there’s something to the optimism after all?

I don’t know that anything can rekindle an affection for Halloween in me. Among other things, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become extremely self-conscious about dressing up in any sort of costume—it’s not fun for me, but a source of anxiety that I can do without. But if more people start adopting it, could that change? I have absolutely no idea.

I do know that the reason I stopped buying candy for trick or treaters was that there were seldom any that stopped at our house, regardless of where we lived. I didn’t buy any this year, either, and it turned out that from around 5 to 7:30 there were folks in costume going door-to-door. The only response they got at my house was a telling off from Leo. I have no idea how many people we’re talking about—maybe a dozen or two? The blinds were closed so I couldn't see them.

What’s different this year, I think, is that the part of the development I live in is now fully occupied, and there are a lot of families with kids. It’s unlikely that the number of kids will go down anytime soon, so I’ll probably buy candy for next year. But, just in case, I’ll do what I used to to until a few years ago and buy what I like in case I get left with a lot. I do try to be sensible.

The drawing accompanying this post is one I made when I was in my late teens or early 20s, though I don’t really have any idea when I did it. I also don’t know why I drew it, but it was probably a doodle that started with the jack-o-lantern and grew from there (because that’s the sort of path my doodling usually took. I have very little physical art that I’ve done, apart from photos; I didn’t bring my oil paintings with me, and I never drew all that much. I only have this one because I brought an ancient sketch pad I've had since my very early teens back from the USA at some point or other. All of which makes this particular crude doodle a rare thing. It’s also the only treat I have to hand out this year.

So… Happy Halloween, I guess.

First 2023 Christmas ad

The video above is the first Christmas TV ad that I’ve seen this year. I often tune out during ads, and I almost didn’t realise it was a Christmas ad until late in the ad. The video above was uploaded to YouTube yesterday.

I wouldn’t normally share the video of one individual ad because such videos are often deleted. That’s why I create an annual YouTube playlist for Christmas TV ads, something I started in 2021. In fact, I’ve already created the ”2023 New Zealand Christmas TV Ads” playlist—though this is the only ad in it at the moment.

I wanted to note this particular ad because I was surprised that Christmas TV ads were starting before Halloween. I’ve noted before how New Zealand retailers have no real thing to pin the start of their Christmas shopping promotions on—there’s nothing like the USA’s Thanksgiving, for example. But starting too early risks causing fatigue among viewers—maybe?

At any rate, this was unusual enough that I had to note it, especially for future reference. This is precisely the sort of thing I was talking about a week ago, when I said “I need to write down anything I want to have a hope of remembering”, even something as unimportant as the earliest start to Christmas TV ads. I think that it’s about time this blog started to earn its keep.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 12

There was another two-week Number One this week in 1983, the fourth and final time that happened that year. On October 29, 1983, "Islands in the Stream" (above—about which more in a minute), a duet by US artists Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton became the new Number One. The song, written by the BeeGees, was the first single from Rogers' fifteenth studio album, Eyes That See in the Dark.

What makes this song unusual for this series of posts is that there doesn’t appear to have ever been an official music video. The video above is a 2005 reunion for Rogers and Parton, part of a special broadcast by CMT as part of a special because its viewers had voted "Islands in the Stream" as the best country duet of all time. It was the first time they’d performed together in 15 years, apparently, and both had definitely aged since the song was released in 1983. Rogers died on March 20, 2020, aged 81, after years of declining health. Dolly Parton continues to be an American national treasure.

This song, like most of Kenny Rogers' songs, sits uneasily for me. At the time, I wasn’t exactly a fan of Rogers, even if I didn’t mind most of his songs—but I absolutely loathed his 1979 hit, ”Coward of the County”, mainly because I felt it glorified men “proving” they’re men through violence, as summed up in the line, "sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man." I mention that because it underscores that I wasn’t a fan (I was more of a fan of Dolly).

As it happens, I liked this song well enough—not enough to buy it, but I also didn’t change the radio when it came on, which for that era is pretty good. However, that song, and others by Kenny Rogers, are now unalterably tied to my memories of Nigel singing karaoke. He did this song sometimes in duet with someone, and often sang Rogers’ 1978 hit, ”The Gambler”. I don’t mind hearing Rogers’ versions, but hearing others sing them at karaoke has been a challenge for me in the past. Songs can easily carry strong emotional associations that have nothing much to do with the song itself, and, for me, that includes at least some of Rogers’ songs.

"Islands in the Stream" reached Number One in Australia (Platinum), Number One in Canada (3x Platinum), 2 in New Zealand, 7 in the UK (2x Platinum), and Number One on the USA’s “Billboard Hot 100” and “Hot Country Songs” charts, as well as Number One on Cash Box; it was certified 3x Platinum in the USA.

Back in two weeks, on November 12, with another new Number One from 1983, the penultimate Number One song for the year.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 7
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also more
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 8
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 9
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 10
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 11

Waste not, wanted not

Not everyone prioritises their personal values, and some are probably only vaguely aware of what their personal values even are. A casual skimming of this blog would affirm that I’m not necessarily like most people, in many ways, and so it’s not a surprise that trying to live in accordance with my values is probably among the most important things to me. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been trying something new to do just that.

Nigel and I had a shared passion to live as sustainably as we could, starting with what we we could do, then building from there. I’ve been giving a lot more effort to that, mainly because I can, but also because I try to live my life in a way that Nigel would be proud of—something I’d do if he was still alive, of course. Toward that end, I recently I tried yet another experiment in more sustainable sourcing of food. It had mixed results.

The story really begins back in June, when I ordered a box of avocados and lemons directly from a grower/supplier. It was successful—and stressful: The avos and lemons were really good quality, but it had far too many avocados for me to use without pushing hard. I gave a couple away, one went bad before I got to it, but the rest I managed to eat—usually smashed on toast, one way or another. Most of the lemons, however, ended up being used for cleaning after they were well past use as food. I didn’t order another box.

Well before that experiment, I saw Facebook ads for a Waikato-based company called Misfit Garden, something that was set up to:
…connect growers and consumers closer together to help fight billions of kilos of unnecessary food waste.

Instead of telling farmers what we want (which is how the food system usually works) we speak to them each week to find out what is already grown and what is needing a home.

In your Misfit Box you can expect the 'too big', the 'too small', the 'too misfit', as well as some damn fresh produce (the way it's meant to be!)
Customers sign up to have a box delivered every 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks, and can choose a “Mini Misfit Box” for smaller households, or a bigger one better suited to larger households. There’s also a seperate “Seasonal Fruit Box” that appears to be the larger sized box, and a small veggie-only box. Subscribers can also order add-ons, which vary from week to week, just as the box contents do.

I ordered the “Mini Misfit Box” on an every other week schedule (the photo up top is of the first box—Box 1—at the left, and this week's order, Box 2, at the right). I felt that getting a box every week would be too much for me, and getting one fortnightly might mean I’d get through one box before the next arrived. I’ve now had two boxes, and it didn’t work out quite as I thought.

The first problem I hadn’t considered is that they’d send things I was unfamiliar with, or maybe too much for me to get through before it went off. In the first box, there were two telegraph cucumbers, and I managed to get through most of one in salads, though I had to throw some of it away (sorry, put it into my compost bin). I used the other one to make cucumber relish, kind of out of desperation to use it for something before it started to rot.

Both boxes contained pears, something I haven’t had in maybe decades (Nigel hated pears—and cucumber, for that matter, so I never bought either). The pears from the first box are now getting to the point where I need to use them for, I dunno, something, or I’ll have to throw them away (sorry, into my compost bin). I did eat some the mandarins/oranges I was sent, though, so—there’s that?

Fruit was a mixed success, then, but so were the veggies: I don’t eat potatoes very often, but both boxes had them, and—much to my surprise!—I’ve managed to get through most of them. Onions are always nice to have, and the small “pickling onions” in Box 1 were actually perfect for the cucumber relish. The most recent box had two red onions, something I use once a week or two when I make red lentil dhal.

There were the new-to-me items, too. Last box, it was New Zealand yams, a native of the Andes which aren’t actually yams, but a member of the oxalis family. I don’t remember if I’ve ever had them before, but I’ve certainly never cooked any. So, I roasted them (the most common suggestion I got), tried some that way and put the rest in my red lentil dhal. I thought they were fine—didn’t wow me, and I was surprised at how sweet they were, but they were fine.

The box this week included an enormous bunch of silverbeet (our name for chard). I’m pretty sure I’ve had that before, but I’ve absolutely never cooked with it. I decided to use the company’s recipe for Silverbeet Soup (photo at the bottom of this post, with some chopped fresh coriander—a huge bunch of which was in this week’s box). It was a little more fiddly than I thought it would be, partly because—never having cooked with silberbeet before—I didn’t quite grasp how much of the stem needs to be cut away from the leaves (the leaves were added at the end), but I got there. For the final steps, everything is whizzed up and cream is added, making something that reminded me a lot of the cream of celery soup I made—except not quite as nice. It was fine—I just preferred the celery soup.

Through all this experimentation, I’ve learned that putting wilting spinach or silverbeet in a sink of cold water revives them—um, so I could wilt them in what I was cooking? I even accidentally realised (due to vegetables rejuvenating in the sink) that if I scrub potatoes in a bowl, I can throw the water and dirt out onto the lawn (which desperately needs actual topsoil). In the past, I’ve always washed the soil down the drain. So… a win?

Among other things I got were a celery bunch, a giant bunch of cos lettuce, and some carrots—all of which will get used. So far, I’ve also used all the avocados I’ve received. The first box had three, and they were relatively small, so it was easy to use them up as they ripened—not nearly as challenging as the avocado box I got in June.

I was drawn to this idea because I liked the prospect of keeping fresh fruit and vegetables from going to waste, and I also liked the idea of providing another market for growers, many of whom are here in the Waikato. For a long time, I’ve been buying the “Odd Bunch” range of vegetables at the Countdown supermarket chain, and they’re a similarly mixed bunch of “imperfect” things. When I began this experiment, it was based, first, on the fact that I know I need to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, something I’d cut back on due to cost: Frozen is much cheaper, and it doesn’t go off before I can use it up. I knew that “The Odd Bunch” range was cheaper than the “perfect” counterparts, and I suspected that ordering direct might be good value.

To find out, I created a spreadsheet (of course…), and entered each item in the boxes, along with its weight or quantity (some things, like avocados, are sold individually). Next, I checked the online prices for both supermarket chains that deliver, Countdown and New World. I used either the lower price or averaged if neither one was a perfect match for what I’d received. Each box costs $32 plus $7.50 shipping, so $39.50 total. However, the supermarkets charge delivery fees, too, and they vary depending on a number of things, so it made sense to compare only the price of the produce and ignore delivery charges (they’d be important for an actual financial analysis, but this post isn’t that).

Box 1 would’ve cost me $49.88 at the supermarket, and Box two would’ve cost $37.40, so both supermarkets would’ve charged more than the $32 I paid (full disclosure: The first Box actually cost me $25.60 because of a 20% discount when I bought two boxes). So, yes, at normal prices, I came out ahead financially over the two orders.

However: If there’s too much for me to get through in time—either before it goes off or before more arrives—is there any savings at all? If one of my goals is to reduce wasted fruit and veggies, then it doesn’t work if I have throw stuff away (sorry, into my compost bin). To get around this, I could switch to a veggie-only box delivered every three or four weeks, or I could just stop it altogether. This is the option I’m leaning toward.

I think what the company is doing is great, and I love that they’re based in the Waikato—however, I think that for me, the potential for waste is too high to ignore, and I honestly don’t like the pressure of having the think of something to make with the box contents—especially if I’ve never used them before—rather than buying produce specifically because I want make something. It’s not just that it’s backwards, it’s that I also don’t need the pressure to use the stuff reasonably quickly. If my household had another person in it, things might be different, and the pressure could be reduced simply by checking in advance to see what’s in the box—maybe, but meal planning has absolutely never been a strength of mine, and now that I’m living alone I find it’s even less so.

The experience meant I also learned some new things, like that what Kiwis call “yams” are actually a form of oxalis, and that silverbeet is chard. Today, when I had the leftover soup for lunch, I thought some nice bread would be nice (I’m out), and then, probably because it’s a creamy soup, I remembered how my mother used to make New England clam chowder, and sometimes served it (or other dishes) with oyster crackers, and I realised I had no idea what they were or—especially—why they’re called that (it turns out that no one knows for sure). Those are an American thing, anyway, so I used what I had, and crumbled some water crackers into it. It was nice enough, quite similar to using oyster crackers, and also different than the version the night before.

So, this was another experiment that was an incomplete success: It wasn’t that it was bad value or that it failed, it’s simply that it wasn’t right for me, and that’s something I’d never have found out if I hadn’t tried it. For a household of two or more people, I think this could be a really good thing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good for me.

The challenge of values isn’t in holding them, and it isn’t merely in trying to live in accordance with them: It’s in being willing to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate them and the ways we try to live by them. This is another thing that’s a journey, not a destination. Because of all of that I’ve very glad I tried it.

The Silverbeet Soup, with fresh coriander on top (also from Box 2).

As always, I was NOT compensated in any way whatsoever for my comments—they’re my sincerely held opinions. This is one of those times I took a chance and got great products and service, and I just wanted to share my experience.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 404 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 404, “My day of labour”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

My labouring day

This past weekend was the Labour Day Holiday Weekend—something I kind of missed: I got in my head that Labour Day was this coming Monday—the last Monday of October—when, in fact, it’s the fourth Monday. No harm done, of course. This year, Labour Weekend was bit different for me.

In other years, I’ve planted stuff, especially vegetables. I decided not to do that this year because I’ll be away in January, and won’t be here to water any plants or to harvest. I decided I’d skip the vegetable gardening this year (apart from herbs, lettuce, that sort of thing).

Instead, on Monday I decided to mow my lawns (something I’ve done on other Labour Days, it turns out). So I began out front, and used the line trimmer first, and then mowed the lawn. Unfortunately, with all the rain and warmer temperatures we’ve had lately, the “grass” is growing about 10cm a day, I’m sure. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.

We’d had a bit of rain Sunday night, and that made the lawn quite wet near the earth, so I had to stop and scrape out the plant goop from underneath the mower. I was sure the battery would die before I finished mowing out front, but I managed to mow a bit of the side yard, too, to make it easier for me to get the wheelie bins to the kerb.

The mower had been working so hard that I was also worried that the battery would get too hot (also, because, I had…) and the safety mechanism would kick in and shut the mower off before I was ready to stop. When I took the battery out, it really was hot. I had to let it cool down before I could recharge it, so I wasn’t sure I could finish mowing that day (because the back lawns were even worse than out front, I knew it would probably take two charges). More rain was predicted for this week (of course…), so I knew I’d have to grab opportunities when I could.

As the battery recharged, I went out to use the line trimmer. First, I used up the battery in it, then I used up another (one of our original, low-capacity ones), and part of a third—but I got there. By then the mower battery was recharged, so then I deliberately mowed all the lawn I can see out the windows of my lounge and two of the bedrooms (and most of the lawn visible out my bedroom window), just in case I couldn’t finish.

The mower stopped, as I expected it would, and it was mainly because the battery got too hot, and the mower shut off—which goes to show its safety circuits work. I set it aside to cool, and got ready to make my dinner, assuming that I was probably done for the day.

It used so much battery power in the back because the lawn was quite thick—though not as wet as I thought it would be, and not as wet as out front. The “lawn” was so tall that I had to use my trick of pushing the mower tilted on its back wheels only, then going back over the same row with all four wheels on the ground, but even then I could hear the mower straining (partly because of the excess moisture).

I watched the evening news on TV, and at one point I noticed that the battery was recharged. This was nearing the sport report, when I usually feed Leo. That night, I fed him early so I could attempt to finish the mowing: It took me maybe 6 or 7 minutes, and I was back in the house in time to see the weather report, which—surprise!—predicted rain for Tuesday.

The weather report was right: It rained Monday night, parts of Tuesday, and last night and this morning, too. In fact, the next sunny day MAY be Saturday. Whether perseverance or bloody-mindedness (or both…), I was so glad I got the mowing done, even if it took me all day.

I’m now considering my options more seriously than ever: I could buy a petrol mower so I can finish the damn mowing in one go, or I could buy a second battery for my current mower (for around the same or possibly a higher price than a petrol mower), or I could hire a service (budget permitting) to do the whole thing, front and back. I don’t know what I’ll do, but if this need for three battery charges continues, my mowing adventures almost definitely won’t. Unless it does, I guess.

Meanwhile, I also noticed that the convolvulus has returned with a vengeance (yet again) in the damn raingarden out front. On Friday, I pulled some tendrils out, but since then the areas I pulled stuff out from were filling again, and it had sent long tendrils out onto the lawn (now chopped up, of course). Add it to the list of things that really annoy me about this property, but maybe if I had someone else doing the mowing, I’d mind it a bit less?

My mowing labours on Labour Day were successful, as they always are, but more frustrating than they’ve ever been. Will there be more? Well, yeah, I’m not doing anything immediately, but, long term? That’s anyone’s guess.

There was one more thing about this holiday, though, something that is so absolutely me: I kept thinking about how Labour Day, created to celebrate the 8-hour workday, was something that only came about because of agitation by workers. I thought about how much we’ve all gained from unions, about my family history of union membership, and my own as well. I was grateful that unions and organised labour made it so that it was even possible for me to be annoyed about the difficulty I had mowing my lawns on a public holiday. Perspective is everything.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Correcting a story never told

Here’s an update to a story about something that never happened. Well, it happened, of course—Facebook told me that much—but I never mentioned it here, not last week and not three years ago. I corrected the story on Facebook, and planned to do so here, too—but there’s nothing to correct. I guess instead, I’ll correct THAT.

Thursday of last week, I made a kind of “slice of life” post on my personal Facebook, the sort of thing that I sometimes make into blog posts, but not always, or even necessarily often. Instead, I wrote a post specifically for the blog, one about my house number falling of the house. That post began as a Message I was going to send to a friend because I’d told him about my dilemma over changing the house number, and I thought the story’s development was funny. As I wrote the story, it grew too long for a Message, so I changed it up, especially when I realised it was the sort of story I like telling here: Unimportant, lighthearted, at its heart, about my developing life—and also longer than I usually post on Facebook.

Earlier on Thursday, I posted this story to my personal Facebook:
A few afternoons ago, I sat down in my chair (probably to check something in my iPad), and suddenly realised how hot it was. The sun was just starting to hit the doors to that patio, so that meant it’d get even hotter. I looked over at Leo, who was panting a lot. And that was the moment I realised that my heat pumps were still set to heat (although both were on, neither was running because it was too warm in the house). I don’t know if I’ve ever before still had them on heat this late in Spring. [emphasis added]

So, I switched the lounge A/C to cooling—after changing the batteries in the remote (I haven’t touched it in months). It quickly got comfortable in the living area.

I turned the unit in my bedroom off completely, because it still gets cool at night, but that won’t last forever. The ventilation system usually switches on in the evening, which helps cool down the whole house, so I don’t need the air on in the bedroom yet.

This week has been quite warm, relatively speaking. For example, today Hamilton shared the national high temperature of 24 (75.2F). My office and the third bedroom aren’t heated/cooled and my office is too warm in the day, and so this week reminded me, yet again, that if I decide to stay in this house long term, I’m going to have to do something about that.

This summer is likely to be hotter, drier, and perhaps windier than usual, but at least I know my living areas will be comfortable. I also love the fact that running the A/C will be free in the daytime—one of the main reasons I wanted the solar panels (I know most summers will be hotter than they used to be).

I guess you could say that no matter the weather, it’s gonna be a cool, cool summer at my house.
Just an everyday, unimportant sort of story, but one that lets friends get a glimpse into what my ordinary life is like. I never shared it here mainly because I was busy working on getting the house ready for the family to come round for dinner the next night, and it was late by the time I was able post the house number story. I just ran out of time, and the next day, and every day since, I forgot all about it. Until yesterday.

On Sunday, I saw yet another Facebook “Memory”, but this one disproved the claim I’d made only a few days earlier: I have, in fact, turned on my cooling later in Spring than this year. I shared that FB “Memory” yesterday and noted I was wrong last week (see the screenshot up top). I suppose it’s possible that I’ve made a post on Facebook correcting something I said in an earlier Facebook post, but, if so, it’s probably not happened often—not that it matters, of course.

Yesterday’s “Memory” reminded me that there are a LOT of things that I never talk about anywhere. Obviously, a lot—probably most—of the stuff I don’t talk about it utterly unimportant (and, um, probably a lot of what I do talk about is, too…). Coincidentally, I was reading an old blog post as I researched a possible new post I was thinking about writing. In that 2017 post, I said this:
Over the past ten years, I've written about what I'm doing, and I've made podcasts and videos, so there are things that three decades from now—if I'm still around—I hope I can turn to and remember these years, and feel them in a way I can't with my life in the 1980s. Sure, I kept a journal off an on from the mid 1970s into the mid 1990s, but they're incomplete, especially about what I was thinking and doing.
The fact I never blogged about turning on the cooling in 2020 isn’t even remotely important, but it did remind me that I need to write down anything I want to have a hope of remembering. Also, even if it sometimes feels (to others as well as myself…) as if I talk about everything, this is a reminder that there are plenty of things I never document anywhere. The fact is, I wouldn’t know about when I turned on the cooling 2020 if I hadn’t said something on Facebook at the time, something that was served up to as a Facebook “Memory”, and so close to when I’d just posted an incorrect assumption on Facebook.

What I wonder is, how many things that I might like to remember have I never mentioned anywhere? Still, I’ve now corrected a recent story on Facebook thanks to the reminder from an older story, and I’ve also told the story about correcting a story that wasn’t here to correct. I thing those loops are now all closed—well, as far as I know…

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Tomatoes and blessings

Once again, a Facebook “Memory” struck a chord with me. It’s certainly the first time that’s happened, and it won’t be the last. More and more, though, these “Memory” reminders make me realise or understand something, where they only used to make me sad. This is a good development.

This past Monday, I posted “Time shift” , a post about how a FB “Memory” made me realise how my perceptions of time have changed over the past four years. That “Memory” made me reflective rather than emotional. The previous Thursday, I published ”Furbabies have magical powers”, and that post was more emotional for me—though it carried some reflection, too. Today’s FB “Memory” made me reflective about emotional memories.

The photo up top is one I shared on my personal Facebook on this date in 2018—five years ago today (as is usually the case, I posted to Instagram, and it was automatically shared to my Facebook; the photo above is the original for both). As I said about the “Memory today on my personal Facebook:
This particular Facebook “Memory” would stick in my mind regardless of the fact it was our last Labour Weekend together—and it was a good one! We went to Mitre 10 Mega (in Takanini or Pukekohe—I forget which, and I think Nigel’s mum was staying with us) and had some lunch at the Columbus Coffee in store. Then, Nigel and I chose the plants and the cages and went home.
I’d prepared the beds for planting, as I always did, and that included clearing out what was left of the dead plants from the previous season’s crop. And in the photo it’s possible to see some scraps on the lawn. Then, we planted the tomato plants, and all of that was standard for us.

Those plants didn’t produce the most tomatoes all at once (the plants I grew from salvaged seed the year before produced more at first), however, these plants produced fresh tomatoes into winter, and finally stopped less than three months before Nigel died. We never got to plant any in 2019.

The thing is, as I’ve often said since then, I was absolutely certain that if Nigel had never had that damn cancer, he’d have been even bigger into vegetable gardening in later years, especially because he really enjoyed the harvesting (it meshed with his dream of us living as self-sustainably as possible). The photo at the bottom of this post is of Nigel harvesting the previous year’s crop on April 7, 2018 (I took it from the deck above, but I don't think he knew I'd done that).

At that time, too, I also saw that he was becoming more willing to do the physical work, and not leave it all to me, so I could clearly see a future in which we’d work together on it—especially if he got to use power tools, like a tiller or something, but raise that probability exponentially if there was technology involved, because he absolutely would’ve found some to use. For example, something like a watering system controlled by an app: I can clearly imagine us getting together with family, and him pulling out his phone (especially if his brother was there…) and saying, “sorry, I just had to water the garden,” smiling with that cheeky grin of his.

So, when I see a memory like this, I don’t mainly think just about what I—what we all—lost when Nigel died, and it’s not just about what, in 2018, seemed like our certain future that never was. What I actually think about is how great this particular memory is, because it was so typical of the thousands of awesome times we had together (and yes, that’s including how we always got scratchy with each other when we worked on projects together). The other, bigger, thing I think about, though, is how amazingly lucky I am to I have all those wonderful memories of our life together; not everyone is as fortunate, for whatever reason. I wish they were.

I think about and miss Nigel every single day, but what’s changed is that the memories that once made me feel sad, or that fuelled the fires of my pain, those same memories are now like a warm, fluffy blanket I can wrap up in whenever I need it the most, including when I’m sad. Whenever I miss Nigel’s hugs the most, those memories take his place. It’s not the same at all, obviously, but the way they can make me feel is a reasonable substitute.

Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, but I’ve learned that good memories can at least soothe the wounds. It turns out, his memory really is a blessing. A Facebook "Memory" made me think of all that today.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Falling numbers

Picture it: Sicily, 19—wait, that’s someone else’s story. This one begins when I moved into my house and decided something was missing. I did something about it, that eventually reached its end, and a new solution was needed. Then, nature intervened—and I’m glad it did.

Not long after I moved into my house, I decided it needed a more prominent house number. There was one of the letterbox that was clearly visible, but I thought anyone—mainly couriers—coming to my house would be looking higher, up toward the house itself, and not necessarily at my letterbox.

Sometime after the first Covid Lockdown, I was at a local home centre looking at house numbers, and I saw a solar-powered lighted one, so I bought it and installed it. To attach it to the brick veneer on my house, I needed a hammer drill, which I didn’t have, so I used double-sided tape to stick it to the brick.

At the time, I thought it looked really nice. I was getting together with family a lot at the time, and when I drove home in the dark, my number was quietly glowing and welcoming me home. Back then, there were only two houses on my side of the street, and there were vacant lots on either side of my house. On the other side of the street, all the houses had the main bedrooms on the street side, so no matter the time of the evening or night, the houses on that side of the street were always dark. My little house number was a bit of cheerful light in the midst of all that cold darkness.

Sadly, the battery in my lighted house number failed fairly quickly—and then briefly resurrected itself before giving up the ghost completely. To change the battery, I’d need to somehow get the thing unstuck from its spot, and I was worried that would rip the paint off. Shortly—as in, very shortly—after that, I noticed rust was spreading fast on the unit. It clearly was a write-off, and there was no point in changing the battery.

I then went back to the home centre and bought an ordinary—unlighted—number that I thought was big enough to read from the kerb. And then I did nothing with it.

I hesitated to switch the numbers because, again, I thought that if I tried to remove the old, dead lighted number, the tape would take the paint of the brick. I thought about ways to remove the tape, or to loosen it, but I did nothing. And the old thing kept rusting more and more (a bit like me, I suppose).

Yesterday, I went outside to check the mail, and when I turned back toward the house, something caught my eye: I realised the old number was gone, and then I saw it had fallen off the wall. I picked it up and saw that the metal back had rusted so badly that the paint—which is what the tape was stuck to—had come off the metal (see the photo above). I touched the tape, and it wasn’t sticky, so I think the tape failed and the paint completely separated when the unit hit the ground. There was still a little bit of tape stuck to the wall (with a bit of paint also stuck to it).

After my discovery, I looked and the new number—which I bought a long time ago—more closely and saw that it must to be mounted in holes, and that it doesn’t have any flat areas for tape. Did I mention that I don’t have a hammer drill?

I decided that my choice was to buy the drill I need (I’d probably use it again?), which is expensive ($140 for a battery one like my other tools, or $60 for a cheap-ish, but not cheap-est, corded one; it’s the chain store’s own brand, which the cheapest isn’t), or I could buy a different house number (I liked others) that includes adhesive strips (usually 3M/Scotch brand, though they’re not expensive if I need to buy some), for half the price (or less) of the corded drill. That’s the option I’m leaning toward at the moment, not merely because of cost, but also because of my ongoing uncertainty about what I want long-term.

The real point of this story is that I think it’s incredibly funny that the thing that’s held me back from swapping the numbers—the old one being stuck to the brick—took care of itself. I guess you could say its number was up (you’re welcome). On the other hand, my days of putting off the project are also numbered. I’m here all week.

The photo up top is the back of the formerly lighted unit with tape still stuck to it, and the paint formerly attached to the back laying askew. The hairy bits on and around the strip of tape at the top are actually spider webs: I found the former owner still hiding against the wall.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 403 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 403, “The tide goes out”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Meanwhile, opposition

In the aftermath of an election in which the government is changed, the recently-defeated prime minister remains in the role in an acting capacity until the incoming prime minister receives a Royal consent to form government.. This is the way it’s always been, and will be unless our form of government is changed some day.

This means that the New Zealand Labour Party, as the second-biggest party in the new Parliament, will become the Opposition when Parliament is sworn in, and the Labour Party Leader will become Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition, after consultation with the party’s Members of Parliament, will appoint spokespeople for each of the government’s ministerial portfolios or the topics those ministries focus on. Other parties in Parliament may also appoint spokespeople, too, but those from the official Opposition are always seen as having more weight, mainly because they’re essentially a government-in-waiting (this is similar to what in the UK Parliament is called a “Shadow Cabinet”, and instead of spokespeople, they have “shadow ministers”).

The bigger question, of course, is, what now? Labour will need to organise itself fairly quickly in order to be able to hold the new government to account. The first order of business will be to select a Leader of the Party, and right now, the current leader, outgoing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, will remain Labour Leader. He said, "I think right at the moment, the Labour Party need some stability and some continuity as we transition out of government and into opposition,” and I think that’s exactly the right call, and, anyway, Labour Party rules require the leadership to be re-examined 90 days after an election loss, so there’s no need to rush.

On Election Night in 2008, then Prime Minister Helen Clark announced she was stepping down as Labour Leader, something that’s been blamed for creating chaos in the Labour Caucus, leading to five Leaders before they won government again in 2017. Whether that assessment of Clark is deserved or not, it’s nevertheless true that the chaos helped keep National in power for three terms—and very nearly four. Chris Hipkins doesn’t want to see a repeat of that chaos—no one wants that either (except National?).

The time in Opposition will also give Labour the chance to give its MPs experience handling the equivalent of ministerial portfolios, and that will be good for the MPs and the party: It has around a year or so to establish itself as a government-in-waiting. With so many experienced MPs out because of the election, there’s an opportunity to refresh.

Today, too, List MP and former Labour Leader Andrew Little announced he would not take his seat in Parliament, which means that the next person on Labour’s Party List will enter Parliament instead (we won’t know for sure who that is until November 3, when the final results are declared).

Little became Labour Leader after the party lost the 2014 election, but in the run-up to the 2017 election, Labour was languishing in the polls and looked to be headed for its fourth defeat in a row, so Little resigned and Jacinda Ardern became the new Leader of the Opposition and went on to victory. Little made his public announcement today on Twitter (above, in his usual lighthearted style), and was praised for choosing as selfless an action as in 2017, because his departure clears the way for someone else.

It’s unknown who else may choose to leave, but Grant Robertson, Caretaker Finance Minister, and also Deputy Prime Minister under Jacinda Ardern, switched to the Party List this election and is widely expected to leave Parliament at some point.

A few other List MPs may do the same, but Electorate MPs won’t because doing so it would trigger a costly by-election. Chris Hipkins, who is the MP for Remutaka, Has pledged to remain the Electorate MP for the three years of this Parliament, and said:
"I've made the commitment to the people of my electorate each three years when I put my name forward that I'm committing to three years, and regardless of what role I play during that time, I owe that to my constituents who place their faith in me to be their local MP."
Personalities aside, there’s the bigger issue of mission: What, exactly, will Labour present as an alternative to whatever it is the new government ends up doing? In the election, National offered slogans with little or nothing behind them, Act and NZ First offered often frighteningly extremist ideas mixed with dogwhistles and pandering to the anti-government brigade. As for Labour, well, it didn’t offer much vision at all.

To win the 2026 election, Labour will need to present a positive vision for New Zealand that is both aspirational and clearly differentiated from the parties on its Left and to its Right. I believe that means it needs to return to its Centre-Left roots, and then it needs to sell its vision in a world overrun with misinformation, disinformation, and negativity of all sorts. I don’t envy the job they have in front of them—but I’ll certainly be commenting on it.

For now, thought, the important thing to know is that Labour will be entering Opposition as a stable caucus looking to refresh and re-energise so that it can do the job it needs to do to win the 2026 election. I think it can do it—and I also think that the National-Act (plus or minus NZ First) government will help them do it. More on that in another post.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Time shift

The photo montage above is from a Facebook post I made October 16, 2022, something that turned up as a Facebook “Memory” today. That sort of thing happens all the time, and sometimes they spark memories or emotions, but today’s was different: I sparked a sudden realisation.

The subject of the original FB post is pretty ordinary—my project to move my VegePod raised garden bed—and I blogged about it at the time. That would’ve been interesting to me, though probably just in passing. Its importance was what came next.

When I saw that FB “Memory”, I had no idea that it was last year—though if I stopped to think about it, it would’ve been obvious. What was interesting to me was what’s changed: For the past four years, time has been pretty much incomprehensible to me, with events usually seeming to be far more recent than they really were. Thinking an event was longer ago than I thought is something different for me, and the second time it’s happened in a week.

This makes me feel like my perception of time is beginning to sync better with actual time, and it may be returning to normal misperceptions, where some things seem either more recent or more distant than they were, and not all in one direction. When Nigel died, it felt like time itself had stopped, and I seldom had any understanding/perception of time moving forward, and that’s been one of the main reasons literally everything has taken me so long to do: A day, week, month—even a year—all felt relatively equivalent to me.

I noticed recently that if I take on a new project, I’m far more likely to complete it in a realistic, more or less “normal”, timeframe. I think part of the reason for that is the personal organisation system I made for myself, because it helps me keep more focussed. It also feels like my perception of time itself is becoming more “normal”, too, and that could mean that I’m slipping back into real time, not the kind of fluid “limbo time” I’ve been existing in for the past four years. To me, this isn’t merely a good and useful thing (I gotta co-exist with people living in real time, after all), it’s also among the most hopeful things I’ve noticed in four years.

This is hopeful because it’s the first time I’ve noticed anything concrete that suggests I might be becoming “me” again. The truth is, I’ve missed “me” nearly as much as I’ve missed Nigel. I know I’ll never be the “me” I was with him, but whatever I’ll become can’t happen if I’m floating around detached from time itself.

Over the past four years, I’ve read a lot about grief and how it affects people, usually in the form of memoir. I don’t think anyone’s specifically mentioned feeling detached from time itself, but I now realise that they’ve all pretty much experienced it, even if they didn’t name it. Given the enormous disruptions to our lives that the death of an important person causes, it makes sense that this sort of disconnect could be a more or less universal—though individually perceived—phenomenon.

I have no idea whether this is a fluke or a change. There have been plenty of times over the past few years in which I incorrectly through change was imminent. But if this suggests a move back to being attached in time, it could be the most profound change yet.

Right now, though, I mainly think it’s interesting that I noticed what was a pretty subtle change. And, of course, I hope that it proves to me not subtle after all. Time, as they say, will tell.

The trouble ahead

New Zealand is facing potentially massive political change as its government veers to the Right. How big the change is will depend on who, precisely, is in the government coalition, and what their demands are. None of that will be known for weeks. That gives at least us a chance to buckle ourselves in.

The Official Result of the 2023 General Election will be released Friday, November 3, and it will determine the final allocation of seats in Parliament. However, there’s also a By-election in the Port Waikato Electorate to be held Saturday, November 25, 2023, and that result may or may not affect the final make-up of Parliament. The make-up of Parliament has never been this uncertain in the 27 years since MMP began.

To be clear, the half million votes to be counted won’t change which party leads Government—there’s no way it can deliver a Labour-led Government, and it won’t give any other party seats in Parliament. Instead, the final results will determine how many seats each party will receive, and that, in turn, will determine whether the National and Act Parties can form government alone, or whether they’ll need support from New Zealand First, the result determining the legislative agenda of the new government.

For example, both National and Act want to raise the retirement age, with Act insanely wanting to start raising it on January 1: Act would force me to wait two more months before I can collect National Superannuation (our government retirement benefit, similar to the USA’s Social Security). That’s obscenely unfair not just to me, but to everyone who’s planned their retirement around National Super, only to have everything delayed longer and longer. Not even Reagan was that stupid, and the increase in the USA’s retirement age changed beginning 20 years later, and people like me had four decades to plan. I guess to a party that mainly cares about the rich, it may seem like no big deal, but it can be a very, very big deal to some people.

The proposed change deliberately ignores some important facts. First, National Super is taxed, so retirees are taxpayers—they’re not getting tax-free cash. Second, working class people—especially Māori and Pasifika peoples—don’t live as long as middle class and above peoples do. As it is right now, large numbers of working class people never live long enough to collect the pension, and National and Act will ensure that even more never do. Finally, the Labour Government under former Prime Minister Helen Clark created the National Super Fund to invest money to help fund retirement in the years ahead. All of which means there’s no urgent need to raise the age, and if the new government insists on raising the age, it MUST be done over enough time so people can plan.

The bottom line is that the campaigns of both National nor Act were dishonest about the need for change, constantly aping the absurd “people are living longer now” talking point as if it was universally true, as if the pension wasn’t actually taxed, and as if there wasn’t a substantial nest egg in place (despite National stopping contributions to the Fund under John Key). However, Winston Peters—whose own political base is largely retirees—is extremely unlikely to to go along with it. If National/Act need Winston’s support, raising the retirement age may not happen.

Act has also proposed Parliament pass legislation to arbitrarily define the “Principles of the Treaty” [of Waitangi], apparently without consulting Māori, and then hold a binding referendum on it. This was part of Act’s dogwhistling on race when it attacked partnerships between Māori and the Crown known as “co-governance”, particularly by the Right. John Key reportedly told incoming prime minister Chris Luxon to not to allow the referendum to happen, or he’d see “hikois from hell” (a reference to protest marches by Māori). Green Party co-leader James Shaw said a referendum could lead to violence. If Luxon can’t stop Act on this point, it’s unlikely he’s be able to control his right flank at all. It’s unclear what Winston would do about a referendum, but he, too, attacked “co-governance” as a dogwhistle to racists. The fact that Australian voters soundly rejected the referendum on an indigenous voice underscores both why Act and Winston dogwhistled on race, and also how ugly it could become if Act’s referendum goes ahead.

Always lovely to see a billionaire relieved when
a pesky centre-left government is defeated.
Finally, there’s no certainty on what programmes the new government will cut. Historically, National cuts funding for health and education, but Luxon promised to raise both—though John Key did, too, and actually oversaw de facto cuts. National usually cuts the taxes of the rich, too, however, Luxon has said there won’t be any such big cut for a year or so. The bigger concern is that the economic “plan” national campaigned on has been rubbished by leading economists, and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) called it a “reverse Robin Hood tax plan [that] enriches mega landlords by hundreds of millions”, having previously noted that only 3,000 households would get the maximum $250 a fortnight benefit from the party’s promised tax cuts, an amount the party constantly promoted during the campaign as if most people would get that much. National later admitted the 3,000 household figure was correct—and then attacked the CTU for daring to point out the reality of National’s “plan”.

No one has any idea what the government led by National/Act (plus or minus NZ First) will actually do, but I think it’s reasonable to speculate that corporations and the rich will do quite well (they always do under National), the poor will be worse off (ditto), and the middle class will largely be ignored, except for bread and circuses to distract them.

Some two and a half weeks from now, we should have a clearer idea of what we’ll all be in for. I feel certain ordinary New Zealanders will be worse off by the end of this term in 2026, and the country will be a much harsher place for a number of reasons—but I deeply hope I’m proven wrong. I honestly doubt that’ll happen, though.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The (political) end is here

The 2020 New Zealand General Election is over, and the preliminary results have made clear that the result is not what I wanted or voted for: Labour won’t be leading government. There are a lot of reasons for that, the biggest one being that voters were incredibly angry this year, and for a lot of different reasons, so the National Party winning government was always by far the most likely result. However, many commentators can’t seem to perceive much beyond the headlines of who’s in and who’s out. Naturally, I look beyond that for the bigger story the election told.

First, some basics about this year’s election. The preliminary count is based on 2,244,380 ordinary votes, of which 1,368,830 were cast before Election Day (approximately 61.0% of total ordinary votes cast). In 2020, 68% of votes were cast early.

Some voter enrolment applications are still being processed, but by 5pm on Saturday, 3,585,232 people were enrolled, which is 92.6% of the estimated number of eligible voters (in NZ, registering to vote is mandatory, but voting itself is not). The final enrolment rate in 2020 was 94.1%. Voter turnout for 2023, then, is estimated to be 78.4% of those enrolled as at 5pm Saturday. The final turnout of those enrolled in 2020 was 82.2%.

The next category is what’s called “special declaration votes” (or just “special votes”), which are counted after Election Day. This category includes people who registered immediately before before voting, overseas voters, and those who used dictation services to vote. This year, it’s estimated there are 567,000 special votes (20.2% of total) yet to be counted, of which around 80,000 are overseas and dictation votes. In 2020, there were 504,621 special votes including 62,787 overseas and dictation votes.

These statistics show us that 2023 voter turnout wasn’t dramatically lower or higher than 2020—there was no massive turnout of voters seeking change. This means it’s just the distribution of the votes that changed, and it wasn’t just about National picking up votes and Labour losing them.

This year’s story is really about the rise of smaller parties. In the preliminary results, the combined vote for the two main parties—Labour and National—was only around 65% of the total votes cast, something I’m pretty sure has never been that low before.

The Green Party not only held onto an Electorate (Auckland Central) for the first time, they also appear to have added two more, the first time they’ve won more than one Electorate at a time. Of the two new ones, Wellington Central seems certain to hold, and the other, erstwhile Labour stronghold Rongotai, the Green candidate, Julie Anne Genter, has a lead of 792 votes—large enough to suggest it will hold when the special votes are counted. It’s worth noting that in the past, overseas votes have helped parties on the Left, the Greens in particular, so they could theoretically, at least, pick up one more MP from their Party List, and/or ensure that Genter wins.

The rightwing Act Party won an Electorate from National without doing a deal like the two parties have have in the Epsom Electorate. That makes this the first time since 1996 they won an Electorate on their own, without a deal with National, and it’s also the first time they’ve won two Electorates at the same election. Their second electorate, Tāmaki, has been held by the National Party for about as long as I’ve been alive, but the MP there, Simon O'Connor, was too much of a religious conservative even for that sort of district. When the USA’s Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, O'Connor Tweeted his happiness about it, leading to strong and immediate backlash, causing him to delete the Tweet. His social conservatism, and his opposition to abortion rights in particular, led the Act Party’s Deputy Leader, Brooke Van Velden, to announce a challenge. The Act Party is hard right on economic issues, crime, and taxes, but it’s generally liberal on social issues. For example, their party Leader sponsored the party’s only piece of legislation that I can remember thinking was good (and I strongly backed it), the ”End of Life Choice Act 2019” to allow people with less than six months to live the option to choose the time of their own death with assistance from medical professionals (it was ratified by a binding referendum at the 2020 General Election; I voted in favour of it).

The other party to have a really good night was Te Pāti Māori, which defeated two long-serving Māori Labour MPs in Māori Electorates: Rino Tirikatene lost the South Island’s Māori seat, Te Tai Tonga. He was the MP since 2011, and family members have held the seat for most of its existence. On the preliminary results, he should be back in Parliament on the Party List.

The other defeated Māori Labour candidate was Nanaia Mahuta, who lost her Hauraki-Waikato seat (which includes Hamilton). She entered Parliament on the Labour Party List in 1996. She was an Electorate-only candidate (not on the Party List), and so, is now out of Parliament.

The conservative populist New Zealand First Party got pack into Parliament, yet another time they’ve come back from electoral defeat to re-enter Parliament. This time, they’ll probably end up with eight MPs, all of them List candidates—they failed to win any Electorate seats. They appear to have benefitted from angry voters more than any other party, in part because they made overt appeals to the loons, goons, and cartoons, along with pandering to those with anti-Māori sentiment, and social conservatives. The fact that the National Party Leader suggested that a Party Vote for NZ First would help National gave all sorts of rightwing voters license to vote for Winston’s party instead, and it sent a message to the loons, goons, and cartoons that they could safely vote for NZ First rather than throwing their votes away on some tiny fringe party. This doesn’t suggest long-term or stable support for NZ First.

No other minor party won either an Electorate seat or 5% of the Party Vote, the two ways that parties can get MPs in Parliament. In fact, if the Party Votes for ALL the minor parties were added together, they only managed 5.29% of the vote. The far-right tiny parties collectively won 2.62% of the Party Vote, but the most worrying was the 1.15% won by a party called NZ Loyal. a party set up by ex-TVNZ presenter Liz Gunn to promote a whole laundry list of conspiracy theories: Anti-fluoridation, anti-1080 poison (which is used against possums), against Bill Gates, against "gender programming", against the World Economic Forum, against the news media (unironically…), against 15-minute cities (again?!), among others. We can hope that most of the 26,141 people who voted for it had no idea what it was, that maybe they just liked the name, and not that New Zealand has that many hard-core cookers (a slang term for those who believe and actively promote conspiracy theories, often no matter out idiotically absurd they may be). The reason that 1.15% figure matters is because if there was no 5% Party Vote threshold, the cookers would have at least one MP, and we’ve all seen from the US House of Representatives the horrific consequences of allowing such people into a serious legislative body.

The biggest share of votes for a party that won’t have any MPs is The Opportunities Party. The party’s leader, Raf Manji, ran as an independent in the Christchurch Electorate of Ilam in 2017, and came in second, behind the National Party MP, and ahead of the Labour Party Candidate, who was third. In the 2020 Labour landslide, Labour easily won Ilam, and TOP had no candidate. In 2023, he ran as the party’s candidate in Ilam, and again came in second (and the incumbent Labour MP came in third). It’s probably unlikely the Labour MP would’ve won if Manji wasn’t in the race, because it’s unlikely she would have received all of Manji’s votes (given the results in other Electorates, it’s probable that the Green candidate would have benefitted enough to still give the Electorate to National.

Taken together, all of this means that this election, while a rejection of Labour, wasn’t a massive switch to National because there was FAR more going on. National won with a good margin of victory, but it didn’t win the sort of landslide that Labour did in 2020. Instead, many voters moved to minor parties, not National. The Greens, Act, and NZ First all benefitted, and of those three, the Greens took the most votes from Labour, Act from National, and NZ First from National, and from rightwing sometime Labour voters, as well as extremists who otherwise would’ve wasted their votes on fringe parties.

A question I think needs to be thought about carefully is, why did so many Labour voters vote Green? In my opinion, the most likely answer is that Labour was running a staunchly centrist campaign—essentially competing with National for the same centrist and centre-right voters. The Greens never do that. Labour could’ve embraced tax reform, for example, like a capital gains tax, but it didn’t. The Greens backed such a tax as well as a wealth tax, and their votes increased. I think it seems likely that Labour lost its more progressive voters to the Greens, and that was enough to lead to such a crushing defeat. Had Labour not tacked rightward, it may still have failed to win government (there was still all that anger, after all), but, if so, it would’ve been lost by a very slim margin.

In the weeks ahead, there will be a lot of arguments over what went wrong for Labour, though there’s a lot of information we simply don’t have (because, among other reasons, exit polling is illegal in New Zealand, so we have no good data on why people voted as they did). In fact, I’m sure I’ll be part of that, quite possibly arguing against myself.

In the meantime, however, one final thought: Since I moved to New Zealand in 1995, Labour and National have both won five elections. That goes to prove, “you win some, you lose some”. It’s inevitable that in the future I’ll again be celebrating an election win. It’s the way of things.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Election Day 2023 has ended

It’s just past 7pm, and the polls have closed, ending the voting in New Zealand’s 2023 General Election. It was the most negative election campaign I’ve ever seen in New Zealand, and I’m not sorry to see that end. Until the votes are counted, we obviously won’t know who will form government, and even then we may not know for days, weeks—maybe even longer. I’ll have more to say about the election tomorrow, but for right now, I’d like to share a few things I found along the way.

The graphic above is NZ’s Google Doodle for today (with my mouse paused over it). Clicking on it took people to a page with information about the election. There’s nothing unusual about that—I’m sure they do the same thing in lots of places. It also wasn’t unusual that Facebook published a shareable animated graphic for Election Day, with a link to the Electoral Commission’s “Vote NZ” website, where people could get official information on how to vote, where to vote, etc. The whole thing was authorised by the Electoral Commission, which is important.

At 3pm today, the Electoral Commission released the final tally of the Advance Voting period, which ended yesterday. The official statistics are always interesting to me, ol’ political science major and politics nerd that I am, but I was particularly interested in this graph:

The chart show the number of votes cast daily on equivalent dates in 2017, 2020, and this year (at the link, the graphs show daily totals when users hover their mouse over a data point). All the daily total data is downloadable as a CSV spreadsheet (and yes, I downloaded it), too. The main thing I wanted to know is how 2023 compared with 2017, and it turns out I was right: 2023 ended up with more Advance Votes cast that in 2017, as I said was likely. Specifically, there were 1,376,366 Advance Votes this year, as compared to 1,240,740 in 2017—I know that 135,626 more votes this year than 2017 may not sound like much, but it’s more than the number of votes on several days this year. Of course, nothing compares to the 1,976,996 Advance Votes cast in 2020, but that was during the Covid Era, which has a lot to do with the high totals that year.

The official voter turnout in total may not be announced tonight—it’ll depend on how the counting goes, among other things—but I think the grand total may also be greater than 2017, though not as high as 2020. That matters because the higher the number of votes cast usually means an increased chance that a Centre-Left government will be formed.

Finally, I also saw that one of the far-right parties pandering the loons, goons, and cartoons (the one run by an extremist, far-right fundamentalist preacher) was apparently campaigning on Twitter today, which is illegal (absolutely NO campaigning is permitted on election day, and all election signs had to be taken down before midnight last night). The Electoral Commission took note of that and then the Twitter account of the political party disappeared from Twitter. I laughed heartily at that, and thought yet again how they frequently earn their sarcastic nickname, “freedumb NZ”.

The only big problem today was that for awhile the electronic version of the electoral roll wasn’t available. It’s used to look up the details of voters who don’t have their Easy Vote Card, and for folks who don’t know their electorate. It was still possible to vote, but the process was slowed down. The system was back up and running reasonably quickly.

And now we wait for the counting to be completed.

Friday, October 13, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 402 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 402, “Election eve”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Getting on the bus

Tomorrow is Election Day in New Zealand, the final day to vote in this year’s General Election. The result will be close, and it’ll come down to who who actually votes—of course. The people who vote always determine who leads government, and the people who don’t vote don’t factor in that equation—of course. I have my own prediction of how this could play out in New Zealand this year (more about that later in this post), but it basically comes down to who gets on the bus.

I realised recently that I subscribe to the “Bus Theory” of voting (I don’t know that’s an actual name for it, but it’s what I call it). Here’s the analogy: Suppose I’m in the centre of the city, a long way from where I live, and I need to take a bus to get home. I could wait for a bus that will take me directly to my house—door to door!—but I know that such a bus doesn’t exist. Or, I could take a bus that’ll take me closest to home, even though it won’t go past my house, and it may even drop me off a block or so away and I have to walk the rest of the way. Finally, I could curse the bus for not going exactly where I want it to go and stomp off to walk an hour and a half back to my house. In rush hour traffic. And it starts to rain halfway there.

The point, of course, is that for the vast majority of people, no matter how much we might like a political party, we know no party is perfect, none of them will always do what we think they should do, and they’ll all get it wrong at least some of the time. We also know that somebody WILL win the election, maybe someone we dislike a LOT. What do we do?

For me, I vote for whichever party is going to take us closest to where I want us to be. Maybe some day the bus service will produce the perfect bus that will go exactly where I want it to, but I’m not going to wait for one that doesn’t and can’t exist today, and I’m also not going to stomp off on foot because it doesn’t exist today. I’ll take the bus that’s closest to what I want. I won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I’ve voted Centre-Left my entire voting life, and in that time there have been plenty of times I metaphorically held my nose and voted for candidates/parties that disappointed me because their bus was going closest to where I wanted to go. Sometimes, the bus even got really close to the destination. In any case, I always got on the best bus available at the time.

There are, of course, people who feel perfection is the only acceptable option. Such people can, and often do, take the stomp-off option. Personally, I think it makes far more sense for such people to vote and deliberately spoil their ballots. If large numbers of people do that, politicians can see how many potential actual voters they’re not winning over, even grudgingly.

There are also true-believers who back their chosen parties 110%, and I honestly think that’s great for them! However, that’s seldom an option for many, possibly most, voters.

I’ve talked many times how the core of my politics is pragmatism, how I choose to work with what’s in front of me even as I also work for better and stronger progress. Honestly, I can’t even imagine a time that won’t be true—and, as a pragmatist, I can accept that, because making any progress toward the things central to my personal values is, for me, better than remaining pure and making no progress.

Which brings me back to my prediction about this year’s NZ General Election. If voters under 35, those who care about fighting climate change, if Māori and Pasifika people, and poor and working people vote, it’ll be a Centre-Left government. If large numbers of any of those groups don’t vote, or vote for parties on the Right, it’ll be a rightwing government with some quite hard-right policies due to coalition agreements. Put another way, if the people who ordinarily vote for Centre-Left parties get on the bus that’s actually there, they’ll determine the government. We know that the voters on the Right will do that, because they almost always do—but they’re more determined this year.

Based on what I’ve seen over a lifetime of watching and studying politics, everything comes down to who gets on the bus, maybe even especially so in these polarised times. After all, I want the bus to at least get close to the destination, not see it careering off a cliff from the wrong side of the road.

We’ll see tomorrow which scenario may be happening.