}

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Seeing change and not


Earlier this week, we were out on our deck and were talking about the TV aerial (photo above). It was the first time I’d stopped to realise that most of it is now useless. It made me stop and think how much things have changed, and how quickly.

The VHF aerial (the lowest parts of the aerial) haven’t been used in Auckland since December, 2013, when the old analog TV network was turned off. I blogged about the digital switchover back in 2012, when the first regions went digital-only. At the time, it didn’t affect us because we had Sky TV, the satellite pay TV services, which was already digital.

We dropped Sky a few months ago while we were living at our old house, and switched to Freeview, the free to air digital television network. We could use the sky satellite dish to receive the standard resolution signals, or we could use UHF for high definition channels. We’d already had a special UHF aerial installed, and used that.

The new house had no Sky dish, so we hooked up the UHF aerial here (the uppermost part of the aerial in the photo above), and it’s been fine. But, to me, it was just a TV aerial until Nigel pointed out the redundant VHF aerial, which is now nothing more than a roost for birds (and the reason we talked about it at all was because I was telling Nigel that was why plants kept growing in our gutters.

There’s another aerial mast up higher on the roof, orginally used for some sort of wireless Internet receiver, also apparently not usable anymore. So, we plan on having a new, better UHF aerial installed up there, and we’ll remove the current aerial—goodbye birds’ perch and plants-in-gutters.

Today I was out on the deck looking at the sky, and happened to notice that a neighbour’s house had a similar, though bigger, aerial up on their roof, Obviously they don’t use theirs anymore, either, but I wondered if they’d thought of removing it. Then I wondered how many houses all over the country must still have those useless aerials up on the roof.

TV aerials were once ubiquitous. Before Sky’s satellite TV service, all television was received by aerial. Now there are more choices for broadcast, and also Internet streaming is a viable option, a developement that happened faster than many of us thought it would. Yet those old aerials are still all over the place, and would be a reminder of old, abandoned technology—if people thought about them at all. Until the other day, I was like most people and never thought about the aerial—or, more specifically, the useless parts.

Technology changes quickly, and this particular revolution was televised.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Countdown


The video above is the Christmas ad for Countdown, one of New Zealand’s two national grocery store chains. This ad is the same as in 2016 [WATCH], but I didn’t share at the time. This particular video is the long version—the actual ad currently shown on television is 30 seconds, so there are some bits cut out of it. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of “Christmas in New Zealand” in this ad.

Countdown is owned by Australian supermarket company Woolworth’s, through its New Zealand subsidiary, Progressive Enterprises (chains include Countdown, SuperValue, and FreshChoice), and a fair number of the products sold are either from Woolworth’s or sourced overseas by the Australian parent (I still remember seeing Egyptian breakfast cereal on the shelves for a short a time). Despite that, Countdown mainly sells New Zealand-made products, “Australasian” products (often local products made by international food conglomerates), or imported stuff (including a lot more products imported from America than was the case when I first moved to New Zealand). This means that Countdown is very much like its supermarket rival, the New Zealand cooperative company Foodstuffs (chains include New World, Pak’nSave, and Four Square). From what I can tell, most people seem to choose the store they shop at mainly based on price, convenience, or habit (I’m mostly the second two).

Countdown’s ads are generally not all that interesting, but I think this Christmas ad is particularly nice, not the least because it touches on much of the cultural imagery—tropes, if you like—of a Kiwi Christmas. Christmas ads are an appropriate time to do that, and I think this ad does it well.

Full disclosure: I do my “big shops” at Countdown, and my frequent “in between shops” at Four Square, which is 5 minutes from the house (Countdown is about 20 minutes away). In the past, I was a regular shopper at New World when we lived only a few minutes away from one.

Related: New World’s Christmas ads.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

First UK Christmas ads


Advertising can be interesting—the techniques used, the creativity of the ad, and so on. But for Christmas TV ads, the standards may be a bit higher. It’s fun to take a look at such ads, and the first ad I shared this year was a New Zealand ad, followed by another together with its series of ads over the years.

Now, it’s time for more ads, starting with the 2017 versions of ads for two UK retail chains I shared in 2016 (Link has the videos and more about the stores).

The first ad, up top, is called “Moz The Monster”, and it’s for high-end UK retailer John Lewis. According to the BBC, reception to the ad has been mixed. It’s a very well done ad, but it doesn’t seem all the Christmasy to me, but in a way that’s true of their 2016 ad, too. The song in the background is, of course, The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers”. It is performed by Elbow.

The second ad, below, is "Christmas Together", and is for UK supermarket chain Waitrose, which is owned by John Lewis. It’s kind of cute. Even if the very end is somewhat predictable, it’s appropriate for a Christmas ad.



Previous John Lewis ads I’ve shared:
Buster The Boxer (my post: “Buster the Boxer’s ad") – 2016
Man on the Moon (my post: “Something nice") – 2015
Monty the Penguin (my post: “Another nice ad”) – 2014
The Bear and The Hare (my post: “Because it’s nice”) – 2013

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Finding and fixing a Disqus problem

This blog uses Disqus commenting system, a free service that replaces the built-in commenting system for Google’s Blogspot/Blogger blogs. For the most part it’s worked well, though there have been sometimes been glitches that needed to be fixed. Today I discovered a new one I had to fix.

My installed Firefox recently automatically upgraded to the latest version, 57, which they’ve named Firefox Quantum, reputedly now the fastest browser available. When I accessed my blog, commenting wasn’t available, not even on posts that I knew had comments. I tried accessing a post with comments by itself, which always used to make comments appear, but that didn’t work. However, the comments were there on Chrome, so I knew the problem was with Firefox.

Without getting overly detailed (I’m happy to provide more details in the comments—just ask), I restarted Firefox in “Safe Mode”, which strips it back to basics and disables all add-ons (aka extensions). Comments reappeared. So, I then restarted Firefox normally, disabled all add-ons, restarted, and then re-enabled add-ons one at a time at repeated until I found the culprit.

It turned out it was “HTTPS Everywhere”, an add-on from EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) that “encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.” That add-on apparently blocks Disqus. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has caused me problems: In 2013 it was much worse.

With “HTTPS Everywhere” disabled, comments loaded normally. So next I went to Chrome, where comments had always worked, and discovered I didn’t have the add-on installed. So, I installed it—and the same thing happened.

It turns out that the add-on can be disabled just for Blogger.com, which is what I did on Chrome, and it worked. That leaves the add-on functioning to preserve my privacy elsewhere, while allowing me to see comments on my blog (and any others using both Blogger and Disqus).

I never would have known any of this if Firefox hadn’t updated to their new, flashier version. I want to try it as my default browser, but the commenting glitch would have made that impossible. There is, however, one remaining glitch I need to solve.

When I go to my blog on Firefox, I’m not logged in, and I always used to be in older versions of Firefox (and I still am on Chrome). Firefox made a change several updates ago that changed something (no idea what), and now if I access my blog—even if I’m logged into the dashboard on another tab—I’m not logged into my blog. This only matters because after I publish a post I always read the final version, right away or later, and I often notice mistakes I didn’t see before. On Chrome, I just click the “edit post” icon, but on Firefox I have to log in. I could have to repeat that process several times before I’m happy with the post, and on Firefox, re-logging in is annoying.

Still, the thing that I thought would make Firefox unusable for me—a problem with a particular add-on—is now sorted.

Related:
Improved commenting – I talk about the switch when I first made it
How to comment – I provided complete instructions on how to use the Disqus system
Solving commenting problems – the post in which I talked about how to fix a Blogger glitch that prevented the Disqus option from showing up for some people
Unexpected and expected – Not about Disqus as such, but it’s why I permit anonymous comments
The last commenting glitch – this post is about how to work around comments not showing for the most recent post. This is still a problem, and this is the method I tried first when I noticed that comments weren’t appearing on any post with Firefox Quantum.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is this it?


Our cat Bella has not been herself the past day and a bit. Very quiet, sleeping virtually all the time, and now eating and drinking very little. The journey that began 16 months ago may be coming to an end. Or, she could rally once again. There’s always hope.

When Bella’s kidney problems were diagnosed in July, 2016, we were told she had a few days, a couple weeks at most. And yet she rallied and improved, and kept improving. Up until yesterday she was doing quite well, if slower and thinner than she was before this journey began.

But now she just seems detached, as if she’s disconnecting. On the other hand, she could just be feeling unwell at the moment, and she’ll come round, she’ll rally again. But even if she does, this won’t go on forever. We know that. We’re grateful for the 16 unexpected months we’ve had with her and we’d like her to stick around—but only as long as she’s happy and content. At the moment, she seems comfortable, not in any pain or distress, so we’re watching her for any change—or improvement. She’ll lead us in the direction she needs to go.

At the moment, this is taking up most of my thoughts when I’m not busy with other things. I guess that figures. I guess I should try and keep busy.

Previously
Bella’s journey
Bella’s condition
Bella’s new normal
Better Bella

Update November 18: Bella is doing very well today—eating well, drinking, and she seems much brighter. Yesterday she seemed a bit "warm" to me, as if she had a fever, and today she doesn't. She's even gone back to sleeping on one her favourite chairs to sleep on, something she hasn't done the couple days before then. While it's too early to tell if she's going to "surprise us again", she clearly is better today, and that's a good thing, whatever that leads to.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Australia’s important step

Today the results of the Australian Government’s voluntary postal survey on marriage equality were released, and they were a stunner: 61.6% voted YES, 38.4% voted no. As impressive as that win is, it becomes even more important when you consider the turnout was a massive 79.5%, which makes it a landslide result for marriage equality. Now, the real work begins.

The campaign against marriage equality was divisive, often vicious and bigoted, and ultimately losing. Ex-Prime Minister, and perpetual annoying twit, Tony Abbott campaigned hard against marriage equality (despite his sister being lesbian—their family get-togethers must be interesting…). He said that a 40% “no” vote would be a “moral victory”, but his anti-gay side couldn’t even manage that. In fact, his own electorate voted 75% in favour of marriage equality, suggesting his views aren’t very popular among the people who sent him to parliament.

The massive turnout, and the overwhelming YES vote will make it hard for some MPs to oppose marriage equality when the bill comes before Parliament soon. To be sure, there are some bigoted MPS in the Liberal Party-National Party (LNP) Coalition who have promised to stop marriage equality, or, if they can’t, to effectively do the same thing by loading on anti-LGBT+ killer amendments.

The rightwing can’t stop marriage equality if it was offered as an up or down vote in Parliament: The Australian Labor Party (ALP) supports it, and enough Liberal Party MPs will support it to pass it in an up or down vote. However, the rightwing is declaring it will offer amendments to guarantee “freedom of speech” (even though that’s already protected), “freedom of conscience” (ditto). They also plan on trying to use the bill as a vehicle to attach the same sort of license to discriminate measures US Republicans favour, amendments that would legalise discrimination against LGBT+ people even outside the question of marriage equality.

Australia is a much more conservative country than New Zealand is, so it’s difficult to gauge how successful the rightwing will be. However, it’s pretty much impossible for the rightwing to stop marriage equality completely. Can they pass enough amendments to make the final bill unacceptable? Maybe, but I have a hunch that even Liberal Party MPs will see the writing on the wall and will stop any poison chalice amendments, even if for only practical reasons: If the anti-LGBT+ far right succeeds, this issue will continue to boil away, made worse by the LNP effectively thumbing its nose at the majority of the Australian public. That alone could very well hand the next election to the ALP, who announced last election that would legislate for marriage equality, and they still hold that position.

So, one way or another, marriage equality IS coming to Australia, the question is, simply, when? I think that Malcolm Turnbull, the current prime minister and a marriage equality supporter, wants this issue settled. I’ve seen many pundits who said the whole plebiscite thing was his ploy to break the blockade against marriage equality from within his own LNP Coalition so the issue can be settled once and for all. While he personally wants marriage equality, he wants the issue off the political agenda even more. That’s okay: The only thing Australians care about is getting marriage equality.

The viciousness of the anti-equality campaign didn’t surprise anyone—we all predicted how awful it would get. And, right on cue, the rightwing is attacking Yes supporters for being “intolerant”. As if! The Yes Campaign was relentlessly positive and never descended to the level of the viscous bigots who did their damnedest to provoke them. Obviously, a popular vote should never should have happened at all, because the very idea of ever putting minority rights up for popular vote is vomit-inducingly sick and disgusting—extremely fucked-up. Always.

However, the vote has happened, it has produced a landslide victory for marriage equality, and that fact should force any previous opponent who has an ounce of sense—or sense of self-preservation—to vote in favour of marriage equality. Marriage equality WILL come to Australia: What MPs want to be remembered as being one of the losers who stood in the way of love?

Finally, here’s the celebratory video from Australian Marriage Equality. To them, heartfelt congratulations and huge thanks for a job well done. Besides, who doesn’t like seeing happy people being joyfully happy?!!



The image up top was posted to Facebook by Australian Marriage Equality.

First attempt at resolution

When I last posted a Health Journey update a week and a half ago, I’d pretty much decided to ride things out a little while longer in the hope that things would stabilise. I changed my mind, and went back to the doctor yesterday to complain about how truly awful I felt most of the time. As a result, we’re trying an adjustment to see if that helps.

As I said last time, the most complained about side effect of beta blockers is terrible, even debilitating, fatigue. The drug I’m on, Atenolol, is slightly better than the one I had been taking, Metoprolol, which I simply couldn’t tolerate at all. The old drug was so bad for me, in fact, that some days I just sat in my chair unable to work up the energy to even walk the few steps to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee or whatever. I tried a low-dose vitamin thinking maybe it would help my energy levels, but instead I felt worse and stopped the vitamins.

When I first switched to Atenolol, I did feel better—but maybe that was just because Metoprolol had made me feel so bad. After nearly a couple months taking it, I’d settled into the “normal” with the drug, and it still left me profoundly tired most of the time. In talking over things with Nigel, I decided to go back to the doctor.

Because of work commitments, I wasn’t able to go until this week, and that was yesterday. I left the house in a good mood, because it was such a beautiful Spring day—bright, sunny, and nearly even warm. But about five minutes into the drive, I noticed storm clouds in the direction I would be heading, and I could clearly see it was raining to the South. When I reached the outskirts of Karaka, I rounded a bend and saw white stuff all around the sides of the road, and I thought maybe a truck had lost part of its load. Then I saw the slush on the road ahead of me. Hail, I realised, had pelted the area just a few minutes before I got there.

It was raining heavily when I got on the motorway. The first part that I use is under construction as the road is widened to add another lane. Because of that, the lane markers are just very basic paint, since they ned to move lanes from time to time, and that meant that in all the water and glare, I couldn’t see where the lanes were. There was a big truck up ahead of me, and I figured since he was up much higher, he could probably see the lane lines better than me, so I pointed my car so it followed in the “treads marks” left in the water on the road. It was exhausting.

Nevertheless, I got to the doctor’s office some 15 minutes early. About 10 minutes after my appointment was supposed to start, the folks at reception began ringing patients to tell them the doctor was running 15-30 minutes late. I didn’t really mind, actually, because it gave me a little more time to calm down from the drive so I’d have a more typical blood pressure reading.

I saw the doctor maybe a half hour late, and told her what had been going on with me. She was aware that severe fatigue was a common-enough side effect of beta blockers, and I told her I didn’t know what we should do, but I couldn’t go on like this. I told her I was reluctant to begin a new drug that may be no better or even worse for me. I told her I was aware that calcium channel blockers were sometimes used to control tachycardia, and I thought that was ironic because my original blood pressure medicine was in that class.

Through our discussion, it finally dawned on me that the various doctors have been reluctant to deal to the beta blocker too aggressively because they were unclear why I’d been given it in the first place (to prevent tachycardia). That’s because it’s also give to people who’ve had a heart attack to help heal the heart and prevent another heart attack. I never had a heart attack, but because that’s one the most-common reasons the drug is prescribed, I now understand the doctors’ caution.

So, she suggested that I reduce my dosage by cutting my pills in half. She noted I was on a low dose of the other drug, and while dosage isn’t directly comparable, the current one was reasonably high. She wants me to try it for a month so there’s time for me to adjust. I’m due to go back next month for a re-check and to renew my prescriptions, so the timing would be perfect.

I did a little shopping after the appointment (nothing exciting—mostly just a couple grocery stores). By the time I was done, and on the road, it was very late afternoon. Traffic was a nightmare from earlier breakdowns on the motorway. When I got to the construction area again, it rained hard again, with the same result as when I was heading north. Fortunately, this was near the end of the construction zone, so it didn't last as long as on the trip North.

Because of all this, I got home exhausted.

I was so tired, in fact, that I actually dozed off in my chair watching TV. I had some things I needed to do that evening, and I did them anyway, then got to bed late. All of which is is why I didn't write this post last night.

I was tired this morning, even before I took the first half-pill dosage. I had things I wanted to do today before the predicted rain arrived—and, I did them.

Mainly, I wanted to clean out the gutters (often called “spouting” in New Zealand) on the sides and back of the house (grass grows in them because of this bottle-brush like stuff previous owners put in there to stop grass from growing…). This is the second time I’ve cleaned out the gutters since we moved in back in February.

After that, I pulled weeds out front, something I’d wanted to do for a very long time, but couldn’t muster the energy to actually do it. And, I felt… fine. I’m tired from a messed-up sleep schedule in recent days, and when I stopped I was tired from the physical activity (from being unfit, basically), but that’s pretty much it. The test will be how I feel tomorrow, whether I have the energy to do anything or not. If I do, the dosage reduction may have done the trick. Or, maybe I just had a good day today. I’m optimistic, though, because the lack of sleep left me tired, and yet I was able to get done all the physical jobs I wanted to get done today.

Obviously, it’s way too early to know if a reduction in dosage will fix the fatigue problem, and, if it does, whether it will still help prevent tachycardia incidents. And that, ultimately, will be the subject of future posts.

Right now, this was just another episode of my health journey—this time including actual journeying. The important thing about today’s episode, though, is that I feel a lot more optimistic than I did a week and a half ago, and right now, I’ll take that.

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Explaining that photo project

The thing about social media photo challenges, is that they come with rules. Sure, rules are meant to be broken sometimes, but unless there’s a good reason to do so, it makes more sense to play along. It’s part of the challenge. Even then, there can be ways around the rules, and this post is an example of that.

Recently, I took part in a photo challenge: “7 days, 7 black and white photos of your life, no people, no explanation.” Leaving the photos unexplained was part of the challenge for me and anyone seeing the photos. Sure, the main question could be “why did he choose that?!”, but there’s also the much simpler, “where/what is that?”. This post will answer that last question for each photo.

Starting in the upper right corner is Day One (links for each day are to the blog posts about each photo): That grid-like pattern is shadows on the carpet, as may be obvious. It’s the shadow of the vertical blinds hanging in front of one of the doors in the lounge that lead out to our deck (we’re not keep on vertical blinds, but don’t have a better alternative yet). It was not, however, the photo I was going to use. That photo is at the bottom of this post (and in colour). I didn’t use it because I was under the mistaken notion that the photos were supposed to be inanimate objects. As soon as I posted my first photo, I saw someone else taking part in the challenge had posted a photo of their furbaby. Doh! It’s too bad because I liked the photo of Sunny’s paw much better, but one of my own rules was the photo I posted had to be taken that same day, so I couldn't use it another day.

Day Two, left most photo in the middle row: This is of tomato and capsicum seedlings in our kitchen window. I almost posted a comment about them because I was concerned a botanically-challenged viewer might think the tomato plants were something illegal, but I realised that would be an explanation, so I said nothing. Until now.

Day Three: This is from our deck, and I’ve posted similar photos before, but this one struck me because a storm was moving in and there was a weird mix of light—the last gasps of sunlight as the clouds thickened, the different light hitting the clouds over the harbour, all that. I just liked it. Apparently, others did, too, because as I’m writing this that photo got more Instagram likes than any other photo in the series.

Day Four: This photo came about because of an unexpected opportunity. As the geo tag in the original post said, it was at Smith & Caughey’s upmarket department store in central Auckland. The photo’s actually of the back of the store on Elliott Street (its main facades are on Queen Street and Wellesley Street). The Elliott Street side looks very urban to me—a bit New York, Chicago, etc. It’s a heritage listed building built in 1929, though it looks much older (the company itself was first established in the 1880s). It was unexpected because Nigel had a meeting in teh CBD ans asked me if I wanted to come along for an hour or so, and I knew I’d have a photo opportunity or two, so I went, and this photo was my favourite of the options I saw walking around for most of that time. This was my second most-liked photo.

Day Five: This is a welcome sign on the road leading into the area where we live. Nothing special to report about that, except I actually was in the car with the dogs on my way back from picking up the package with the flag poles and flags that the courier had delivered to their local agent rather than us (long story). I stopped, shot some photos, and continued on home.

Day Six: One of two least-liked photos, this is our letterbox. This one bugs me because, due to glare, I didn’t notice how I could have framed the photo better. Oh, well.

Day Seven: This is a shot of grapefruit lying on the ground under the tree in our yard. This will amount to a memorial, since we’re going to cut down that tree: I can’t eat grapefruit, none of the people we know who can eat it actually like grapefruit, so it’s taking up room we could use for a fruit tree we’d actually like (we’re thinking maybe a lime tree, since limes are expensive to buy; we already have a lemon tree). These grapefruit are a particularly cruel variety because the skin is bright orange, so they look like they could be nice—and they’re just not. They’re grapefruit. This was the other least-liked photo.

Since I mentioned it, here’s the relative popularity of the various photos at the moment, from most to least liked: 1. Day 3 From our deck, 2. Day 4 (Smith & Caughey’s), 3. Day 2 Seedlings in our kitchen window, 4. Day 5 Welcome sign, 5. Day 1 Shadows on the carpet (I bet the one I wanted to post would have been more popular…), 6. Day 7 Grapefruit, 7. Letterbox. I have no idea what the relative popularity of the photos means, if anything, except that I agree with the two most popular photos (I like those two the most, too). The thing about statistics, social media likes, etc., is that it’s difficult to draw any guidance from them, which is a shame if the goal is getting more eyes seeing the stuff we post.

So, that’s what those photos are of, and a bit about what I liked about them. However, I haven’t said why I chose those particular photos rather than any others I shot the same day (apart from the one below that I didn’t used because of a misunderstanding). I didn't talk about that one aspect because there are probably some things that should remain a mystery.

That photo that could have been first—and probably more popular than what was first.

The American problem


Many American Democrats were rejoicing after the recent elections in the USA because Democrats did so well. In fact, they did much better than expected. This is a good omen for the US Elections next year, right? Well, no, not really. The American problem is that the current system is set up to prevent change.

The video above from Vox talks about one of the main problems facing US elections: The country’s antique elections system which helps Republicans keep power, even when they win only a minority of votes. Changing the USA’s election system to a fairer and more democratic system is so difficult as to be nearly impossible, but the video is correct about the ways in which it could help—and how it could smash the Democratic v. Republican duopoly in elected offices.

The second big problem is gerrymandering. Republicans made a big effort in the mid-to-late-2000s to take over state legislatures so they would control how election district boundaries would be drawn to ensure their party got as many seats as possible, and Democrats got as few as possible, all to ensure Republicans maintained a majority of elected representative seats (both state and federal), even if they lose the popular vote (which is how Republicans held onto the Virginia legislature this year despite the massive swing to the Democrats in that state’s elections).

The third problem is Republicans’ voter suppression laws designed to keep Democratic-aligned voting groups—especially poor people, working people, and Black and Hispanic voters—from being able to vote. Republicans initially were able to hoodwink some Democratic legislators into supporting them, but most Democrats eventually realised Republicans were lying about their reasons fo their voter suppression laws. By then it was too late.

The final big problem is money: There’s WAY too much special interest money in politics. Because of the rightwing majority on the Supreme Court’s infamous gift to the Rightwing, Citizens United, corporations can spend as much as they want to buy politicians through campaign spending. It, and other, mostly Republican, legislation has increased the availability of “dark money”, the vast, vast majority of which goes to support Rightwing candidates.

Add it all up—an anti-democratic voting system that makes it easier for the two existing parties to remain in power, gerrymandered districts to keep Rpublicans in control, laws to make it harder for many Democratic-aligned people to vote, and virtually unlimited money to help Rightwing candidates, and even under the best of circumstances the odds are against Democrats re-taking the US Congress next year.

Democrats may do better in state legislatures, and statewide races (incuding some Governor races and some US Senate races in some states), but they’re unlikely to make major inroads in the US House until after redistricting, and then ONLY if they get control of the map drawing and are able to do to Republicans what they did to Democrats. Add to that the fact that people generally don’t vote against incumbents, and the odds are long.

There are some things that may help Democrats. As the current occupant of the White House continues to plummet in opinion polls, it could encourage his opponents to go vote for Democrats (his True Believers, it’s important to remember, are a small minority of voters even if they all turned out to vote). Of course, if he resigns, is impeached, or removed under the 25th Amendment, that might change everything—in either direction; it would depend on the circumstances.

For lasting reform and restoration of democracy, I’d do four things (if I could…):
  1. Switch to a fairer, more democratic voting system. There are several options, but the point is to end the First Past The Post system.
  2. Outlaw gerrymandering by requiring all district boundaries be drawn by independent, non-partisan commissions who would be forbidden by law to consider party identification of voters when drawing maps. Non-partisan systems are used in some US states and many countries, like New Zealand.
  3. Pass new laws making it easier to register and easier to vote. A national Fair Voting Act would outlaw voter suppression laws and ensure every citizen’s right to vote is protected and their participation encouraged.
  4. Amend the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United, to ban all “dark money” in US politics, and to enable legislation to severely regulate contributions to candidates for Congress and President, far beyond any restrictions that exists now.
I don’t think any of my reforms will ever see the light of day, and some are clearly more do-able than others. But without serious, strong reform, nothign will ever change. The system is designed to frustrate change, and it keeps Republicans in power. And that is why I’m pessimistic about Democrats re-taking Congress in 2018. In fact, defeating the current occupant’s campaign for re-election may also be very difficult.

And that’s the real American problem.