Monday, September 25, 2017

Politics respite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The voting is done

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's "Google Doodle" in New Zealand.

Friday, September 22, 2017

To comply with the law (yet again)

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

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

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

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

Bella helps

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

AmeriNZ Podcast 335 ‘Cliffhanger' now available

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sustainable disposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adjusting the system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Overrated?

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

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

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

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

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

Tax truth

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

What we’ve come to

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem is numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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