Thursday, October 19, 2017

Labour will lead NZ Government

New Zealand is getting a new government! Tonight Winston Peters announced he was going into formal coalition with the New Zealand Labour Party. His party will get some minsterial positions in Cabinet. The Green Party will have a confidence and supply agreement with Labour, and will have four ministers outside of cabinet, plus an undersecretary. This will be the first time the Green Party will have had MPs serving as government ministers.

The announcement came late this evening, and the reactions of the other leaders were later still. I decided to try and find the videos of all the main leaders, but couldn’t find two of them. It’s getting late, and I was actually feeling a little under the weather this evening. So, tomorrow I’ll talk in more detail about all of this.

For now, I’ll share the first two party leaders to speak to the newsmedia, Winston Peters making his announcement, and also Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern acknowledging that. Both videos are cued to the start of their remarks, which are followed by questions from the newsmedia.

If I can find the other two—Caretaker Prime Minister Bill English and Green Party Leader James Shaw, I’ll share them tomorrow. Regardless, I’ll go into more detail about this and what I make of it all. However, right now I will say that I’m very pleased with this arrangement, and it can mean great things for New Zealand.

The graphic up top was posted to Twitter by the New Zealand Herald, and linked to their story on the events tonight.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Furbaby visitations

If yesterday’s Instagram photo was necessary because of total cuteness, then today’s photos (above and below) were, too, and because they’re unsual. Ordinarily, Jake doesn’t jump into my lap, at least, not very often, and Sunny seldom jumps up on the sofa. Naturally, there’s a reason they did today.

Over the weekend, Nigel and I gave the dogs haircuts. I’ve said before how very delayed they were: They were due about the time we were busy getting ready to move, and then afterward we were busy settling in. Then, cooler weather and winter arrived. The dogs got shaggier and shaggier.

They often get a shearing in the Spring, and I’ve shared photos of that before. The way it goes is that both of them are very clingy, especially at night, for a couple days or so afterward until they adjust. In the meantime, Sunny mostly gets on with things, but Jake looks as if he feels a bit sorry for himself.

Since their shearing, Sunny has jumped up on the sofa in the lounge and rumpus room, which is unusual for her. Jake has spent a lot of time curled in a little ball in the master bedroom, the warmest room. But when I sat down to watch the midday news, he decided to jump into my lap—because it’s warmer? He needed cuddles? I don’t know, but Bella was a bit surprised to see him there when she later jumped up, too, something she usually does when I sit down.

So, all of this was unusual—and cute—enough to post a photo to Instagram, but the one of Sunny was, if I’m honest, more of an “equal time” sort of thing, since she was out of the shot of Jake and Bella. There actually have been times that all three of them have been on my lap at once, which wasn’t terribly comfortable for anyone, and so, they lasted only a short while.

The scenes in the photos changed a few minutes later when Jake and Sunny heard a noise outside—maybe a neighbour—and jumped down to go to the window and bark. Bella was probably relieved.

And that really is a slice of life in my New Zealand.

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Is the wait ending?

New Zealand may be about to have its next government announced—maybe. More or less. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is probably going to announce the direction he’s going tomorrow (afternoon?). Even so, we may not know exactly what shape the government will take, with issues like who gets what portfolio to be determined.

We didn’t know any of that at the time I posted the Tweet above. It’s little sarcastic, but also true: We’re all waiting on Winston to tell us what government we’ll have. There are plenty of people from all over the political spectrum who aren’t happy about that, but, then, wrapped up in nostalgia for the old First Past The Post electoral system, they wouldn’t be happy no matter who was in the driver’s seat in coalition negotiations.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time we’ve been here, thinking Winston was about to announce his choice, only to find out there was some sort of delay. I’ve delayed recording podcast episodes every day this week so far because every day I thought the announcement was imminent, or it’d be the next day, making the episode instantly out of date. I wanted to wait until there was an actual answer.

Whenever the decision is made, I’ll have quite a lot to say about it, regardless of which government Winston chooses. But, for now, I’m content to wait it out.

One last thing, though. When I watched the TVNZ’s One News at 6pm tonight, the opening teaser used the phrase I Tweeted this afternoon, saying “…the Winston Watch continues…”, and I Tweeted about that, too. Feel. My. Power.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Morning view

As the Instagram caption says, this was the view I woke up to this morning. I vaguely remember Bella crawling around my pillow before dawn, but I wasn’t aware that she’d settled down right next to me until I woke up. Fortunately, she was deeply asleep and didn’t hear me reach over for my phone, nor did the flash wake her up.

When I was a kid—maybe nine or ten—I had a cat named Ed that used to sleep in unusual poses. My mother joked that “come see how Ed is sleeping now!” was the major family entertainment. I suppose for a time it was. Bella isn’t quite that entertaining, but she picks unusual sleeping positions and places often enough for me to post several photos to Instagram, and then share them here, too.

I like the way that furbabies can draw our attention and amuse us and even just make us go, “awwwwww!” Sometimes, they’re the only thing that can take our minds off the awful things going on in the world. It’s good to let them do that, I think.

Thanks, Bella!

2Political Podcast 125 is available

Episode 125 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

While we wait

While New Zealand continues to wait for Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party to tell us what our government will be, there’s some time to have a look at something minor from the election, something so small that it didn’t even get a mention in the mainstream press, even though it’s good news.

The good news is that, once again, religious extremism failed to gain any traction in New Zealand elections. In my own electorate, a guy, Ian Cummings, ran as an independent candidate and lost badly—very badly. This is good news because he was a rightwing Christian (among other things…) and he put his religious beliefs at the centre of his campaign, without being totally transparent that it was the main focus of his campaign.

I wrote about the guy’s appearance at a local “meet the candidates” event back in August. At the time, I wrote:
I’d seen his ads in the paper, where he talked about being a “family man”, which I thought was a dog whistle to social conservatives, especially because he also touted his being on the Board of Trustees for a Christian school as being a qualification for being a Member of Parliament. Turns out, I was correct.
All of his materials, and his speech at the meeting, stressed that he was opposed to abortion and euthanasia, even though no bills to reform abortion law or to allow assisted suicide (not euthanasia) are likely to come before Parliament any time soon. For most things, it was necessary to use a little intuition to hear his dog whistles and what he was actually trying to say.

Under a section on his flyer called “Family” he said that he was for “reducing government interference in the rights and decision making of parents”, though it didn’t explain what all that was supposed to mean. Given his overt religiosity, he probably meant things like repealing the anti-smacking legislation, and maybe allowing parents to put their kids through “ex-gay” torture programmes (which may be legal in New Zealand, anyway). That’s what other supposedly “Christian” candidates usually want.

Another point was “insisting educators teach our children how to think not what to think”. This dog whistle probably meant that schools couldn’t teach tolerance and acceptance of, among other things, LGBT students. That’s been a big issue among rightwing Christians in Australia, and, to a lesser extent, here in New Zealand.

Finally, he also had “protecting our borders from immigrants that are aligned with radical religious idealism”. This had to mean keeping Muslims out. I draw that conclusion not just from what such a dog whistle has meant elsewhere, but also from his refusal at that candidate meeting to explain what it meant or to deny that he wants only Christians to migrate to New Zealand. That was under “Family” because the other two areas were headline “Life”, which only mentioned abortion and euthanasia, and “Property”, which was a mishmash of unfocused populist slogans vaguely relating to property.

When he said at that meeting that he "doesn't like evolution", I knew he had odd viewpoints, and his answers that night reinforced that view. I wasn’t worried about him though, precisely because he was an independent: Under our system, the only way an independent MP can have any influence over a government is if the government needs their vote to form a majority in Parliament. Otherwise, they’re like the crank who shows up at a community meeting to whine about grass in the park being 1cm too long: They have a viewpoint, sometimes even a point, but they have absolutely no way to actually get the policy they care about enacted and no one really listens to them.

The voters in this electorate felt the same way about him: According to the final results, he came in fifth out of six candidates, receiving a mere 710 votes out of 40,270 valid candidate votes cast. The only candidate who did worse than he did was the guy from the Act “Party” who was only on the ballot so that he could attend candidate meetings to ask for a Party Vote for Act. As far as I know, he had no campaign signs or materials of his own, unlike Cummings, who paid to have NZ Post deliver his flyer at least twice, advertised in the local papers (and in premium positions), and apparently had at least some signs. Money totally wasted, that was. I’d be very surprised if he spent less than $10 for every vote he received; he probably spent considerably more.

As I’ve said many times, overtly religious candidates, in this case meaning fundamentalist Christians, never do well in New Zealand, and no overtly “Christian” party has ever won any seats in Parliament since MMP began in 1996. There’s still no indiction whatsoever that this will change.

I realise that I’m utterly dismissive of the religious guy, but that’s actually because he clearly had no clue how Parliament works and what an MP’s job includes. That’s fundamental, so to speak, for anyone seeking the job, and not understanding it is unforgivable. The fact that he didn’t know how to campaign is kind of irrelevant, because there were other candidates who didn’t do a good job, either (as I mentioned in talking about that candidate meeting). Even his religious agenda and ideology wasn’t an issue per se; rather, it was his attempts to hide it under a bushel in order to deceive the vast majority of voters who don’t share his religious views—or political views, for that matter. Still, what he did say made it pretty clear that his one-note tune wasn’t one the voters of this electorate wanted to hear.

So, this very minor story had a good ending. It happens sometimes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Song structure

Most of these Weekend Diversion posts about music have been about songs, artists, that sort of thing. But the way pop music is made and has evolved is interesting, too, and the Internet helps to explore that.

The video above from Vox is the latest in their “Earworm” series. This particular one talks about repetition, and how it’s everywhere in modern pop music. Basically, it’s because we find repetition interesting—though the video doesn’t really explain why we find it interesting. Maybe we just do.

In any case, repetition is used a lot in pop music, and that certainly can’t be by accident. I know that I think repetition is interesting when it goes beyond merely repeating the hook of the song, although that can be good, too. I like repetition of structure, and also mirroring, which I realise is different.

But enough about that—I don’t want to start repeating myself.

The other video, below, is of a TED Talk from some three years ago. Coincidentally, I just saw it this week when it popped up in the “Up Next” list of videos on the righthand side of YouTube. I’m not entirely sure why it was there—it’s totally different in subject matter from the other videos I’d been watching lately—but I’m glad I saw it.

The video explains, as the YouTube Description puts it, how sampling “isn't about ‘hijacking nostalgia wholesale,’ … it’s about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward.” Put another way, sampling is a way of not only creating new works, it’s about building on what’s gone before. The fact that music corporations want to prevent sampling unless huge licensing fees are paid, something not mentioned in the video, means that the opportunities for this sort of creative work can be very limited, especially for new artists.

The way pop music is made and has evolved is interesting. Taken together, these two videos help explain some of what goes into pop music creation, why things sound the way they do, and the creative process behind it all. For me, this will add another layer of appreciation when I hear a new pop song, along with the continuing wish I had musical ability.

Mainly, though, I always think finding out the detailed story behind things is interesting.

However measured or far away

No one can agree with everyone else all the time, and maybe not even much of the time. While standing outside the mob of agreement, particularly on social media, is often praised, it isn’t automatically a good thing or a bad thing—it’s just a thing. But it can be a weird thing, that social opinion dissonance, especially when it’s in two directions at once.

Like most people, I often see things differently from the majority of those on either the Right or the Left, depending on the thing people are being opinionated about and what direction the pack leans. But lately I’ve had the weird experience of seeing things differently than both the Left and the Right—at the same time.

There’s no particular issue where this is the case, nor any particular position on an issue or news story. Instead, this happens intermittently, though with increasing frequency, and it’s often mostly to do with conclusions drawn.

One thing I place high value on is factual accuracy: It’s important to lay out all the facts on an issue, and then draw conclusions from the available evidence. Yet both the Right and the Left will take facts and draw the most absolutist/extreme conclusion, apparently to maximise political effect. This may rile up the True Believers, but it does nothing to win over the folks who aren’t already partisans (in the broadest sense—this is not necessarily about supporters of a particular political party).

The bigger issue is that it’s impossible to have a rational discussion, let alone debate, when one side is turning to absolutist language as their opening salvo. When absolutist rhetoric is introduced within a debate, it poisons it, but when it’s used at the very start, it strangles the infant debate before it can even breathe any life.

On top of that, when the hordes descend on anyone who doesn’t immediately nod in vigorous agreement with the pack’s preferred position, it prevents not just discussion and debate of the opinions the pack holds, but also the possibility of questioning the very assumptions on which those opinions are based. Nothing is learned or gained.

This isn’t new behaviour, but it’s been made more common by the increasing use of social media to discuss the issues of the day. Sure, people do sometimes seem to go out of their way to be awful to other people when they dare to express a different opinion, but this is a different sort of partisanship, more tribal. Lock-step agreement on assumptions about an issue is the new test for loyalty to one’s tribe, Left or Right.

On the other hand, sometimes standing apart from the crowd—one’s tribe in particular—can be just as dickish behaviour as that of those who attack dissidents for being dissidents. The question is, though, even if that’s true, what do we gain when people can’t even dare to challenge the assumptions underlying their tribe’s preferred position on something, regardless of their reasons for doing so? After all, people can have any number of reasons for questioning and/or challenging those assumptions, and what their reasons are is kind of irrelevant, really.

I sincerely doubt any of this will change any time soon—people seem to enjoy it far too much. But maybe we’d be better off if we remembered what Henry David Thoreau wrote:
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
No one can agree with everyone else all the time, and maybe not even much of the time. Social opinion dissonance is perfectly okay, even when it’s in two directions at once. We need to learn that simple fact.

The well-known cartoon at the top of this post, "Duty Calls," is by cartoonist xkcd. Publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Friday, October 13, 2017

AmeriNZ Podcast 336 ‘Still waiting' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 336 – Still waiting” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

The New Zealand General Election happened, but we don’t have a government yet. That’s my first, and main, topic today. I also talk a bit about a big commemoration of a famous battle in World War One. I have unusual feelings about it.

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The two of us

The photo above really is about what the Instagram says it’s about. And yet, as is so often the case with my photos, there’s more to it than that. Good thing I’m a blogger and can add to the story—again.

This was actually the last of a series of photos I was taking in my office late this afternoon. I’m not a huge fan of selfies of myself unless they’re part of a story, not just a “here I am!” sort of thing (even I can make exceptions, of course). Bella came along at the end and saved me—well, the photo, actually. I have a couple where she’s looking at the camera, but in those shots I was leaning back and that meant the photo was basically looking up my nostrils. Not ideal. This pose was good for both of us, I thought.

This all began with a totally separate motive: To test lighting. I’ve long had plans to make videos with me sitting in that very spot, and I wanted to test a few lighting options (other photos had different options). The one I used had light coming in my window, and while it was reflected off the neighbour’s house, it was still too intense. The softer light is from a lamp on my desk with a daylight bulb. I wanted to compare them, and found that the daylight is too harsh and cold, the colour of the lamp light is too warm compared to the natural light. I’ll use this experiment to refine the lighting down the road.

I’m also going to set aside an area in front of the window for close-up photography of objects, the sort of thing I’ve done for this blog for many, many years, but never had one particular neutral place to use consistently, somewhere inside, away from weather, and where I can set up lights when that’s needed. Today’s experiments will help with planning modifications to the window to moderate the light when necessary.

Having said all that, this is in some ways a replacement for a selfie I didn’t do yesterday. I went to Manukau Mall for a little while yesterday, a place I don’t go very often. Nigel and I were meeting up for lunch after a meeting he had, so I wandered around the mall. I was going to take a photo of the place, another of my “this is my Auckland” photos, but the weather was too crappy (VERY windy, cold, dark and overcast, threatening rain, most of the time). I then thought that maybe I could find a spot to take a selfie, but it was very busy (still school holidays), and I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that (I guess you could say I was “selfie conscious”. You’re welcome.)

I also needed to dye my hair/whiskers, and didn’t really want a photo of myself while that was the case. This morning I took care of that problem, and everything else just flowed from there.

So, this didn’t start out as a selfie (I was dubious I’d find a photo I’d be willing to share)—it was just a lighting experiment. Bella changed that, providing a reason to do a selfie, and the rest is as described in the caption.

The best laid plans of mice and men are often derailed by cats, I guess.

We’re still waiting

New Zealand is still waiting. We have no government, and we have no Spring. Yet. I don’t think the two things are connected, but the world is so insane now, who can be sure? Of the two, the new government is mostly likely to arrive first—maybe.

Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, has been engaged in negotiations to form a government. He’s been alternating meetings with the National and Labour parties, and the Labour Party has also met with the Green Party. Winston has said that policy has been the main forcus of the negotiations, not ministerial portfolios. Presumably, the question of who gets what job will be settled last.

Despite knowing all that, we still have no idea what Winston will do. Opinions about whether he chooses to back a government led by Labour or National remain mere opinions. That hasn’t stopped pundits form punditafying, of course.

Once Winston makes his decision, it has to be ratified by the NZ First Board, but that can’t happen until at least Saturday due to several board members having to attend funerals. Similarly, the Greens have to have approval of 75% of a special council, though the newsmedia has reported that their meeting can be held by phone or online. Labour must be submit any coalition agreement to its governing body, called the NZ Council, for approval. The National Party also requires approval of a coalition agreement by its Board and Parliamentary Leader. Of these, apparently only approvak by NZ First will be needed to announce the new government, whatever it is.

The announcement of a new government, then, won’t come before Saturday, but it could even be as late as early next week. Some people seem bothered by this, but it’s really no big deal. The Netherlands recently went more than 200 days without a government as negotiations continued (there, as in New Zealand, a “caretaker government” looks after the shop until the new management can take over). To be brutally honest, it’s kind of peaceful without a full government: They can’t do anything to piss 0people off.

Whatever the shape of the new government, a majority of voters will have voted for it—which is kind of the whole point of a coalition. MMP, the electoral system used for New Zealand’s parliament, is designed to elect a parliament that reflects, as closely as possible, the will of the voters. Because of that, it’s improbable that one party will ever be able to win enough seats to govern alone, and that coalitions will almost always be required.

This is a good thing: It ensures that no one party can just run riot, doing whatever it wants, and it helps keep them from becoming too arrogant: A coalition partner can always pull out and bring down the government, so it makes good sense for the party leading government to work with coalition partners. On the other hand, this also allows parties to do things it would like to do, but that go too far for their own members, by letting a coalition partner push a policy. The National Party did this frequently over the past nine years, and the Labour Party did it a couple times in the previous nine years. This could be good or bad, depending on one’s view of the policy adopted this way.

Now, if we could just do something about finally getting Spring, that’d be great. I wouldn’t even mind if it arrived before the new government. Right now, more of us probably care about better weather than we do the new government. Maybe that’s as it should be?

Update - 9:50pm: From the New Zealand Herald: "Winston Peters' final promise: NZ will know who's in driver's seat before next week ends".

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

2Political Podcast 124 is available

Episode 124 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

We’ve been gone for a long time. This episode is about the unexpected reason for that.