Thursday, October 27, 2016

After the visit ended

Earlier this month, I posted about the tenth anniversary of my friend Jason’s visit to New Zealand. His visit ended ten years ago today—technically: By date, it was yesterday, but October 26 was a Thursday in 2006, so I chose today to mark the end of that visit. This has been a nostalgic reminiscence for me, of course, but also tinged with a bit of melancholy: It’s been a reminder of how hard it can be to be an expat.

When Jason entered the departure area at Auckland International Airport (the photo at left was taken just before he walked through the gate), it started the clock ticking until I next saw him. That clock is still running. He hasn’t made it back to New Zealand, and we haven’t made it back to the USA over the past ten years.

Of course, I went alone for a short trip in December 2007, but I only went to Illinois, and, anyway, I’d seen Jason only some 14 months earlier. I assumed we’d be back soon, or maybe he’d come to visit us, but neither happened.

In fact, very few people have come to visit us in the two decades I’ve lived in New Zealand. Friends have visited us from the USA four times, and three of those trips were within the first five years after I moved to New Zealand. Only Jason’s visit was later, just before my eleventh anniversary here. No one has visited us since, and no one from my family has ever visited.

Since 2006, we've met other visitors to New Zealand, people who it seems a little dismissive to describe as merely people I’ve met through the Internet (chiefly through podcasting), though that really is how I know them. But they were visiting New Zealand, not us specifically. So, in a sense, those visits were similar to me meeting Tom of the Ramble Redhead podcast when I was in Chicago in 2007: I was in Illinois for other reasons, and met up with him.

In those same 20 years, Nigel and I have visited the USA twice, the last time we visited together was 17 years ago, and my solo visit was nearly nine years ago. I visited my family on all three trips. Clearly the lack of visits works in both directions.

The reality is that when someone moves so very far away, it takes a lot of time and money to visit, and having both at the same time can be difficult. A trip in either direction can easily cost more than $10,000 (in either currency). We’re not part of any airpoints scheme, so we pay for our airfare to and from the USA. Flights within the USA are expensive, and then there’s accommodation, food, and sightseeing to add in. That’s also not including shopping, especially for things we can’t get in New Zealand.

For people visiting us specifically, there are somewhat lower costs, particularly if they’re part of an airpoints scheme. If they’re visiting us, they have no accommodation costs, obviously, and their sightseeing costs depend on what they want to see, and where. So, even people visiting us, as opposed to the country, may have costs every bit as high as we do when visiting the USA.

This is something that many people don’t fully appreciate until they move far away from their homeland: In a very real sense, they may be cut off from friends and family back in their homeland. Skype, Facebook, and email are nice but they’re not the same thing as an in-person visit.

On the other hand, those things DO exist, and they’re better than nothing. When I moved to New Zealand, Skype didn't exist, Facebook didn’t exist, and only a couple friends used email. So, my options were very slow letters posted back to America, or expensive international phone calls. I felt quite cut off back then. Things are definitely FAR better now than when I first arrived.

And yet, I wish it were possible to see and visit with people in or from my homeland more often and more easily than it actually is. But, it isn’t, so I treasure the memories from the visits I’ve been lucky to experience, use the Internet as a “better than nothing” option, and continue to try and find a way to organise actual visits.

So, that’s why these memories have been a bit a melancholy. I can, when I think too much about it, get quite sad about the people I don’t see. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but over the past couple years several friends I very much wanted to see died. The older we get, the more that will happen. That’s life.

Earlier this month, I wrote:
In my early years in New Zealand—maybe even for as much as a decade—it sometimes bothered me how family and friends in the USA didn’t come to visit. It also sometimes bothered me that we couldn’t go back to the USA as often as I would have liked. But time marches on. I don’t know that one ever gets used to the reality of the scarcity of visits, but, out of necessity, one certainly learns to cope. That has to be enough.
It does have to be enough. It’s one of the hardest things about being an expat. And that’s precisely why remembering things like Jason’s visit matter so much.

A bit like all happy memories, really.

Jason and I in Aotea Square, Auckland, October 26, 2006. Auckland's Town Hall is behind us.

Related: All Jason’s 2006 posts on his trip to New Zealand share a tag to make them easier to find. Oddly, I never tagged mine; I really should fix that.

Cubs won here, too

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The fact that the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series is amazing enough. But it turns out that I get to watch the games here in New Zealand, too. It’s pretty awesome living in the future.

Seeing the Cubs in a World Series is something I always hoped to see, but never expected to. They’ve been “also-rans” for most of my life, after all. Still, there was something to the “loveable losers” tag for a team that just couldn’t quite close the deal. That’s why no matter what happens in the World Series, I feel like they’ve already won.

I don’t watch much sport of any kind on TV (actually, I go through periods where I don’t watch much of anything on TV…), and when I do it’s most likely to be something with New Zealand in it. That’s not always by choice.

Daytime US sports are played when it’s early morning here, and I’m usually busy doing other things—sometimes I’m not even up yet. Delayed broadcasts are often in the middle of the night. Major sporting events, like the World Series, are played later, afternoon our time, which is better.

The bigger issue is that there’s just not that much American sports I want to watch: I cheer for Chicago teams and a few select others from time to time, but it’s probably fair to say that I’d only go out of my way to watch Chicago teams play, if the timing is right. And, that assumes they broadcast any games with Chicago teams at all.

For a few years, ESPN used to broadcast a Cubs game on Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend—but that stopped so long ago I can’t even remember how long it’s been. The timing was a coincidence, but the fact it was on a holiday meant I was home and able to watch the game.

In the years since, it’s seldom occurred to me to see if a Chicago team’s game was being broadcast, so I have absolutely no idea how often that happens. Still, when it’s a big event, like this year’s World Series, even I check out to see if it’s on.

And that’s the thing about these modern times in which we live: I can watch the World Series live, or any political event in the USA, or many other things. And, although it’s not perfect or complete, there are often perfectly legal ways to watch what Americans are watching either when they do or shortly afterward.

Still, I don’t watch as much television as I used to, and seldom watch TV in the afternoon, so if the Cubs weren’t in the World series, I wouldn’t be watching it at all. Those are the realities in this situation.

But the bigger reality here is that seeing the Chicago Cubs finally make the World Series has made me stop thinking about all the things I thought I’d “never live to see”. Well, that had some help, of course: We have marriage equality. We elected the first African American president twice. Maybe we’re even about to elect the first woman president, too. Yep, it’s pretty awesome living in the future.

Now, if they could just get those teleporters invented…

For the record, I saw the Cubs win today’s game. The next game is Saturday our time, which is quite convenient.

My virtual ‘I Voted’ sticker

This morning I received an email that brings my voting year to a close. I see that email as a sort of virtual “I Voted” sticker that in-person voters get. I like that, but I much prefer knowing that my vote was counted.

The email I got said:
Dear Arthur Schenck,

Your ballot for the following election

General Election

has been COUNTED.

For more information, contact your local election official

Thank you,
Illinois State Board of Elections
This basically the same email I received after I voted in the Illinois Democratic Primary last March. As I said at the time, I got the email because I’d participated in the MOVE/FPCA programme in Illinois. Up until this year, I never received such a notice, and I was always left wondering whether they’d received my ballot or not. This year, I knew for sure that they did.

As I also said last March, they were able to track my ballot based on the sticker on the outer envelope; my ballot itself had absolutely nothing on it that could link it to me personally (and, in fact, it would be a crime for it to have such personally-identifiable information). When I share the email text on Facebook, I said it was a little creepy—but everything we do is tracked by someone, somewhere, and at least in this case I know for sure my votes were counted.

My experience of Illinois’ implementation of the MOVE/FPCA programme (which I talked about in more detail in January) was entirely positive: It was easy to navigate, everything arrived in a timely manner, AND I know for sure they received my ballot. I’m a happy voter.

That concludes all my voting for this year, both in the USA and here in New Zealand. It’s been a good year to be a citizen of two countries!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The election will NOT be ‘rigged’

The US election will NOT be rigged. In fact, it’s impossible to rig the US presidential election, so anyone—including Donald and his fervent fans—who claim otherwise either don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re flat out lying, end of story.

The video above is the latest from the Vlog Brothers’ John Green, and goes into great detail about why it’s impossible to rig the presidential election. It does a great job of explaining why this is, including some very simple and clear reasons.

First, the popular vote doesn’t elect the president, the Electoral College does. In order to win the presidency, a candidate has to win at least 270 Electoral Votes, and to do THAT, they need to win the largest number of votes—called a plurality—in enough states to add up to 270.

Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have their own election laws. But, it’s not merely 51 elections that have to be rigged, because each state is further divided into smaller units that administer elections (for example, in my native Illinois, it’s county clerks), and that's broken down further to thousands of polling places in individual states.

So, to “steal” an election, a conspiracy would have to rig the election in literally thousands of elections around the country, including areas controlled entirely by Republicans. This is utterly impossible.

In-person voter fraud—that is, where someone votes in place of someone else, living or dead, votes more than once, or votes without being eligible—is incredibly rare. In fact, the frequency of both the lightning strikes that John mentioned and also shark attacks is greater in a single year than in-person voter fraud has been for decades combined.

Absentee vote fraud happens at roughly ten times the frequency of in-person voter fraud, but even it is exceedingly rare, more like the frequency of lightning strikes/shark attacks—both of which are, of course, themselves extremely rare.

So, without people to commit voter fraud, there would have to be a massive conspiracy to somehow intercept and destroy ballots that are for the other candidate before they’re counted. That can’t happen. Or, they could somehow insert hundreds or perhaps thousands of pre-marked ballots into ballot boxes in counties throughout a state they want to “steal”, without anyone noticing. That, too, is impossible.

That leaves some sort of manipulation of voting machines in the places that use them. But there has never been a verified case of that actually happening. Such claims turned out to be simple, run-of-the-mill malfunction, or tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, utterly without supporting evidence.

But even if it was possible to somehow manipulate a voting machine, they’d have to do that in counties throughout a state they wanted to “steal”, and repeat that in enough states to ensure victory. Moreover, they'd also have to skew the results enough to ensure victory, but not so much that they'd attract attention. A polling place serving an electorate that's 98% Republican, for example, would be suspicious if it returned 98% of votes for the Democrat. At the same time, they'd have to ensure they had enough votes to cover for any unexpectedly high turnout—again, without having too many votes. That’s clearly not even remotely possible, especially when it would have to be replicated thousands of times.

The important point here is that the presidential election isn’t national, and it’s not even done in 50 states and DC: It’s done in hundreds or thousands of jurisdictions within each of those 50 states. That gives as close to 100% certainty as possible that the election will be free and fair.

When Donald and his surrogates deliberately lie about how the election will be “rigged”, that’s nothing less than an attack on the very Constitutional foundation upon which US democracy is built. Donald playing coy about whether he will participate in the 228-year-old tradition of the peaceful transfer of power is completely un-American. Inciting violence among his supporters for when he loses is seditious.

And speaking of sedition, Donald is also engaged in that when he incites his most frothing fans to interfere with the election, to disrupt the process and prevent lawful voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote. That’s where real election fraud could happen: Donald’s fans using intimidation and even violence to prevent people from lawfully voting.

But regardless of whether or not Donald’s fans behave themselves and obey the law, we know one thing for certain: The US presidential election will NOT be “rigged”.

Rubio thinks voters are stupid

Marco Rubio, who failed spectacularly in his campaign to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is trying to get Florida voters send him back to the US Senate, an office he’d rejected only months ago. It’s clear that Rubio thinks Florida voters are stupid.

I’ve never thought much of Rubio. His campaign performance made him seem not very bright, and he’s a religious extremist, just like nearly all the other Republican clowns candidates who ran for president this year. But his latest iteration is just pathetic.

When he ran for US president, Rubio announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the US Senate. That was that—but when he lost so utterly and humiliatingly in the Florida Republican Primary, he quit the presidential race and—surprise!—announced his intention to seek re-election to the Senate after all.

Rubio parachuted into the Republican Senate campaign, and set about insulting the intelligence of Florida voters. When his Democratic opponent, US Rep. Patrick Murphy, suggested Rubio was planning on running for president again in 2020, Rubio said: "If I wanted to run for something else, I wouldn't have run for Senate." Riiiiight.

Marco Rubio is lying to Florida voters. OF COURSE he plans on running for president in 2020. And this is how it will play out: He’ll say he had no intention of running for president again, but there’s been a “huge groundswell” of people urging him to run, and, gosh!, who is he to deny “the will of the people”?!

Seriously, Rubio’s entire political career has been focused on his ambition, and he wouldn’t have gone back on his word and run for the Senate again unless he had already planned his next step: Running for president in 2020 as a sitting US Senator.

From Rubio’s perspective, this makes perfect sense: He doesn’t do much of anything as a US Senator, so it’s clearly not taxing him very much. Then, when he runs for president in 2020 and his campaign crashes and burns again, he’ll still be a US Senator with two years to convince Florida voters that he wasn’t lying to them in 2016 when he said he wouldn’t run for president.

And yet, Rubio has some very real problems standing in the way of his plans.

Rubio was loudly booed at a rally in Florida by the largely Hispanic crowd attending. This is a real problem for him.

Part of Rubio’s problem with Hispanic voters is that he’s endorsed Donald, the stridently anti-Hispanic Republican presidential nominee. Hispanic voters have been drifting Leftward for years, and Rubio’s support for Donald has hurt him.

So, too, Rubio was damaged by his abandoning comprehensive immigration reform—even to the point of trying to pretend he’d never championed it. This same issue has driven a wedge between him and White Republican voters, who overwhelmingly oppose any immigration reform, especially the sort Rubio once championed.

So, Rubio has problems getting votes from White conservatives and from increasingly Left-leaning Hispanics, too. That leaves moderate voters, who are more likely to vote Democratic, particularly when the Republican presidential candidate Donald—who, let’s not forget, Rubio endorsed—scares the crap out of so many voters.

ALL of this is of Rubio’s own making. He looks like an opportunist by running for re-election to the Senate after he said he wouldn’t, then changed his mind when he crashed and burned as a presidential candidate. He looks like a coward for running away from comprehensive immigration reform. And, he treats Florida voters as if they’re stupid by pretending he won’t run for president in 2020.

Florida voters AREN’T stupid, though, and that’s why he’s in a dead heat with US Rep. Patrick Murphy. Florida, and the US Senate, would be better off without Rubio in office. That seems to be the conclusion that more and more Florida voters are making, too.

Despite what Marco Rubio thinks, Florida voters aren’t stupid.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sometimes, ads work

The graphics with this post are screenshots of sponsored ads I saw on Facebook (click to enlarge). I seldom pay attention to such ads, and sometimes even tell Facebook I don’t want to see a particular ad. Very rarely, I’ll actually click-through. So, I almost missed this ad entirely—but then I actually looked.

An ad for Hawaiian Airlines is one I’d normally skip over: I’m not planning any overseas travel any time soon, so I certainly wasn’t thinking about any airlines. Then, almost by chance, I actually looked at the photo, and thought to myself, “Hm, those guys look like they’re feeling rather friendly toward each other…” But I’m used to advertisers creating a scene that might seem gay, only to show later that it isn’t. At this point I was caught by the ad.

I clicked on the arrow to see what the next picture was—those hands barely visible in the original ad seemed to be promising it was a couple they were showing, not just “very good friends” as advertisers do so often. The second photo showed that, while the pictured couple would probably be “very good friends”, they were meant to depict something far more than that: An actual gay couple.

I smiled. Then, with some reluctance, I looked at the comments and—at that time, at least—every single one was positive and gay-affirming. That’s unusual for anything on Facebook that treats gay people as equals, and it was nice. And yet, it was a targeted ad.

Ads on Facebook are displayed according to algorithms that select ads based on everything users tell Facebook about themselves: Age, gender, sexual orientation, location, etc., and also everything they’ve done while using Facebook in any way, from their “Likes”, to the groups the user subscribes to, etc., as well as other things, like what sites outside of Facebook the users log into using Facebook.

While some people may think that’s creepy, it’s also far more likely to make Facebook display ads that are actually relevant to the user. I can’t count the number of times I used to see ads on websites promising to help me with the lottery for a US Green Card, because the ads only noted that I was someone in Auckland accessing a site in the USA. Facebook’s ads are far more relevant to me most of the time—though, naturally, even they get it wrong sometimes.

So, the fact that I was shown a gay-friendly ad isn’t the least bit surprising. However, even now, it surprises me when a mainstream business makes a gay-friendly ad because they’re still pretty rare—rare enough, in fact, that it prompted this post.

I hope that eventually this sort of appropriate advertising will become so common that there’s no reason to comment on it. But I still remember when I first started seeing black people in ads in mass market publications in the USA promoting products from major companies, and that was when I was a kid. So, we still have a long way to go before we’ll see common use of LGBT people and couples in such ads, and not have advertisers expect LGBT customers to just read ourselves into supposedly “universal” ads that never actually are, just as black people had to do when I was a kid.

Despite the ad catching my attention, I didn’t click through from the ad—I just looked at the photos on the ad itself. That’s still an “action”, just not the one advertisers consider ideal. Even so, the first goal of advertising is to cut through the noise and get noticed, and Hawaiian Airlines managed that. Had I been planning a trip, I may have actually clicked through.

While I wasn’t actually a potential customer at the time, the ad used nice photos in a way that got my attention and spoke directly to me as a potential customer. Props to Hawaiian Airlines for reaching out for my business, and not expecting me to read myself into their ads.

Actually, come to think of it, I would like to visit Hawaii at some point…

Hair colour experiment conclusions

There are always posts I could update, and sometimes I’ll put several small updates together in their own post. But sometimes an update is a little complicated, and needs its own post to update properly. This is one of those times, because it seems dyeing grey hair is a complicated thing.

Back in May, I said I was trying ControlGX shampoo-in colour treatment for men. Then, the end of that month, I gave a little update (first item) on what I’d found up to that point. I think I can safely say the trials are over, so it’s time to give my final take on the product.

The short version is that it basically works as they claim. I’d add that it’s not a substitute for actual hair dye, which I’ll talk about in more detail, but they don’t claim it is. Instead, they say that men already know how to shampoo their hair, and this is no different. For men who can’t be bothered with anything else, this is probably ideal. However, it’s not perfect.

First, it IS a bit messy. It contains hair dye, and it can stain your fingers and the shower stall if not washed off. They recommend, “Wash your hands and nails with soap before you get out of the shower so you don’t leave product on your hands,” and also, “Rinse [the shower] with water so you don’t get any staining in the shower.” That’s good advice, but I usually wear surgical-type gloves (I tried the gloves that come with their hair dye, but they’re too loose on the fingers, which makes it hard to control the application).

This staining was a problem during my hospital adventure last August. I saw the doctor expecting it to be an ordinary 15-minute appointment at the beginning of my day. So, I ended up in hospital needing a haircut and, even more desperately, a beard trim. I looked like a cross between a hipster and a homeless person, with staining on my fingertips and around my nails from using ControlGX without gloves.

The reason my beard was untrimmed is that—contrary to what I thought at the end of May—the product doesn’t do well with hair roots. So, whenever I get a haircut or trim my whiskers, it becomes dramatically greyer than it had been. Their statement in their explanation of how the product works that “With regular use, there will be no telltale line of demarcation when the grey roots grow in, as can occur with traditional hair colour” just isn’t true in my personal experience.

Still, frequent use IS key to getting good coverage, the roots issue aside. They recommend using it 3 to 4 times a week once the desired results are achieved—something that itself can take, they say, 2 to 4 weeks. Since I’m washing my hair anyway, that’s not a big drama, but, if coverage isn’t great or complete, is it the best option?

They’re very clear that the product is for head hair, and my experience supports that. It’s not that it doesn’t work on whiskers, for example, it’s that it doesn’t work anywhere near as well or as quickly as on head hair.

So, my conclusion is that it’s best to use conventional hair dye, especially after haircuts and whisker trims, then use ControlGX to control the colour of the re-growth until the cycle repeats. This method would probably mean a hair/whisker dyeing every six to eight weeks, rather than monthly. Using ControlGX in between is no different, really, than shampooing.

Of course, there are two even easier options: First, is to get one’s hair professionally dyed. But, for me, I feel that considering how little hair we’re talking about, that’s not good value for money.

The most obvious alternative of all is to not dye my hair. I’m not quite there yet, though in a couple years maybe I will be. Maybe not. Until then, I have a method that reduces the number of times I have to dye my hair and whiskers, and when I do, I can maintain it with similar methods to what I do, anyway.

For now, I consider that a win.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Political messaging: Jason Kander gets it right

The ad above for Jason Kander, the Democratic candidate for US Senator from Missouri, is one of the strongest election ads I’ve ever seen. It takes a charge made by an opponent, and turns it around. Blindfolded. But this is only one of the effective ads from the Kander campaign.

The ad, “Background Checks”, is built on the fact that military personnel are taught to assemble their weapons quickly—even blindfolded—to ensure their readiness. It creates a striking visual, and combines it with a common-sense gun message—and a strong dig at his opponent at the end. It works very well.

Jason Kander is a former Army Captain who volunteered for the army after 9/11, eventually serving in Afghanistan. After returning home, he eventually ran for the state legislature, then in 2012 he was elected Secretary of State.

Not surprisingly, he is a strong advocate for veterans, something the Republican Party has failed to do for many years now. But he’s also been an advocate for ethics reform and leaner government. His political career has been right in the mainstream of Missouri politics and, truth be known, many voters of all stripes around the country.

Kander frequently uses the tagline, “we won’t change Washington, until we change the people we send there”. This is a brilliant tagline for this year. Kander started using it in ads a month ago when he increased his messages pointing out that the Republican incumbent’s wife is a lobbyist, and so are his three children. Kander had been talking about that for months, but this year it’s a particularly relevant message that resonates with voters.

Here’s the ad, “Family Business”, from late September:

Kander’s most recent ad, and the next ad in this series, is “20 Years”:

This ad is similar to other ads on this issue, but there’s one particularly effective technique in this ad: The businesswoman frowns and shakes her head as the ad plays an audio clip of the Republican incumbent defending his family’s lobbying business. The visual presentation of the audio in the ad also works very well.

Finally, an ad from a couple weeks ago, about a week before the “20 Years” ad above. This particular ad, “Came Home”, is about why Jason Kander is running for Senate, and less about what’s wrong with the Republican incumbent. It also uses his tagline, reinforcing his message. As such ads go, it’s good, though not as focused on giving reasons to vote for him as to make him a likable choice for change.

By themselves, video ads, no matter how good or well created they are, don’t win elections. However, they have become one of the most important parts of campaigning because they deliver messages in short, easy-to-digest morsels. Whether they resonate with votes depends on a lot of things, including on how well made they are.

Well-made ads for Democrats sometimes put off conservatives, however, how many of them would've voted for the Democrat? Ads like Kander’s are designed to reach the majority of voters who are persuadable, not just the partisans. That’s why Kander’s ads work so well: They present clear points of difference between him and the Republican incumbent.

If I lived in Missouri, I’d vote for Jason Kander. That’s not because of his ads, but they certainly did catch my attention, and that’s the real point of all political ads.

The US Senate race in Missouri is currently a toss-up, with a slight lean to Jason Kander. If enough Missourians turn out to vote for Kander, regardless of what presidential candidate they vote for, we could see change. And that would be good for the entire United States.


Jason Kander for US Senate – the link may go to Unite Blue first, but you can click through to get the actual site.

Missourians for Kander – The YouTube Channel for the Kander campaign, where these ads all his other videos can be found.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Political Notebook 5

It’s been nearly six weeks since I last published a “Political Notebook” post, and I don’t know that I’ll do another before the election. The links I’m sharing today would be pretty pointless after the election, so best get on to it.

This bizarre campaign will continue to lurch all over the place in the final days, and most of that is down to Donald’s erratic and often bizarre behaviour. Just today, when he was supposed to be focusing only on what he would do in the first 100 days if, dog forbid, he became president, he instead launched into a rambling, mostly incoherent rant about how he would sue the women who have stepped forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct. This sort of behaviour is nothing new for him, of course, but it makes the campaign volatile and unpredictable.

Donald’s tinfoil hat conspiracy theory talk about “rigged” elections has had at least some positive results for him. “Trump gains on Clinton, poll shows 'rigged' message resonates”, is about a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Donald cutting Hillary Clinton’s lead in their nationwide poll. Nationwide polls don’t mean much by themselves, since Americans don’t elect their president by nationwide popular vote, however, such polls can affect voter turnout by suppressing or encouraging voters (who this affects and in what way up depends on what polls are showing, and which candidate a voter prefers).

Still, even though this is only one poll, the volatility of this campaign means that no one should take anything for granted. Matthew Goodwin, a political scientist at a British university warns, “Why Trump Could Still Pull Off a Surprise You Americans should learn the lesson of the Brexit shocker, and the stunning success of right-wing populists in Austria and France”. Yes, it may seem like a remote chance, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

This is part of the reason that the New York Daily News, never a fan of Donald, published a blistering editorial: “Bury Trump in a Landslide”. The enditorial is divded into many “chapters”: “Trump The Demagogue,” “Trump The Fraudster,” “Trump The Head Case,” “Trump The Fake Philanthropist,” “Trump The Liar,” “Trump The Flip-Flopper,” “Trump The Ignoramus,” “Trump The Conspiracy Theorist,” “Trump The Tax Evader,” “Trump The Divider,” “Trump The Authoritarian,” “Trump The Security Risk,” “Trump The Misogynist” and, finally, “Trump The Enemy Of Democracy.” They conclude:
“Donald Trump is ending his campaign in an ever more inflammatory and destructive assault on American democracy. The end of his presidential dreams must come under an avalanche of anti-Trump votes on Nov. 8.”
“Read this Trump debate answer and tell me if you can make sense of it” is a look at one of Donald’s typical explosions of verbal diarrhoea. But people noticed something else in that debate, too: “Linguistics explains why Trump sounds racist when he says ‘the’ African Americans”. Donald has also said “the Gays”; I think this accurately explains why he does that.

For pure mockery, there’s “Hilarious hashtag on how Trump interprets classic literature”. THen, there's something a little unusual: A billboard alongside a Michigan highway brilliantly trolled Donald.

One of the funniest moments of the campaign didn’t come from Donald: “Paul Ryan attacked Bernie Sanders. It backfired spectacularly.” As the article points out, what Ryan did made perfect sense for the people HE wanted to motivate to vote, but I saw plenty of Bernie’s supporters get energised about downticket races because of it. All of which was predictable and suggests that Ryan is pretty naive or silly (draw your own conclusions on that).

A typically long piece in The New York Review of Books asks, “Why Is Assange Helping Trump?” It’s something I’ve wondered about, too, in a post earlier this month. Meanwhile, Wikileaks activists claimed credit for the large hacker-caused Internet outage last week, and said they did it in retaliation for Julian’s Internet link being cut off by the Ecuador Embassy. Internet Security experts doubted the claim, but the apparent willingness of the group’s activists to engage in cyberterrorism—even if it was baseless bragging—raises the ante quite a bit.

Also about something some people fervently believe in, can baseball predict the winner of the presidential election? Well…

So, where does all this leave us? Election prediction guru Nate Silver says, “There Are 4 Ways This Election Can End — And 3 Involve Clinton Winning”. Along with his methodical analysis and many caveats and qualifiers, he nevertheless points out that “one benefit of having a 6- or 7-point lead is that a couple of things can go wrong—including somewhat inaccurate polling—and you can still win.”

And that’s a very hopeful place to leave this look at some election-related things I’ve run across. I still expect Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, I’m reasonably optimistic that Democrats will regain control of the US Senate, and I still harbour hope that Democrats will regain control of the US House. The odds of the first, second, and third things happening will depend entirely on who votes, and in what numbers.

I fervently believe that Americans need to vote Democratic and to send the Republican Party a strong punishment for having inflicted Donald on the USA, and all the bad stuff his campaign has unleashed. With some luck and effort, we may yet do that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What would I have been?

I saw an article on Vox that disturbed me. It wasn’t what it said, disturbing as that was, it was the lead photo, captioned: “A group of high-school boys pose for a picture with a campaign sign for Republican presidential nominee Donald …” I wondered to myself, had I been born many decades later, could that have been me?

I was raised in a Republican home, in a Republican town, in a Republican county. I supported the Republican presidential nominee right up until I was in university. So, based on that, the odds are pretty good that if I were in high school now, I’d support the Republican nominee.

And yet, my parents weren’t fools. My dad sometimes openly expressed the casual prejudices of his class and background and times, but I have a tough time believing that he’d support the openly racist and misogynistic Donald. My mother, who seldom expressed her political opinions if they diverged from my father’s, nevertheless was, I’m quite sure, even less likely to have backed Donald. But, would they have supported Hillary Clinton instead? I have absolutely no idea.

But this isn’t about my parents—I can’t know for sure what would be in their thoughts or hearts under this scenario, because too many things would be too different. Indeed, they’d be so very different that I can’t be at all sure what I’d be thinking and feeling if I were a teenager now.

Still, I can guess what might have happened.

In high school, I was definitely Republican, but I was what part of a now extinct kind called “Liberal Republican”. Also, I was a Christian and took that seriously. Could I have overlooked Donald’s obvious racism, sexism, and general bigotry? I don’t think I could have—at least, I’d like to think I couldn’t have.

So, when I looked at the photo of those high school boys backing Donald, the very first thing I thought was, “that could have been me.” And, with more than a few rather big twists of fate, it might have been.

The reality is that so very many of Donald’s supporters back him because of reasons that aren’t necessarily rational, but that nevertheless matter: Family, faith, peer group, region, class, race—all these things matter far more than those of us who are to whatever degree Left of centre would like to admit. In fact, we can’t even understand it.

Those of us who were raised in a Right of centre environment cannot understand why those conservatives haven’t “evolved” to Left of centre like we did. But the very reason we evolved is the same reason they don’t change: It’s all about who we are, what we come from, what we aspire to be.

So, the reality is that had I been born more than four decades later than I actually was, I could very well have supported Donald and been adamant about it. Much as I’d like to think I was better than that, the truth is, I could have been lesser than I would hope.

However—and this is very important to me now—whatever I was (or might have been under very different circumstances) has definitely evolved: “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” That’s 1 Corinthians 13:11, of course (us preachers' kids can’t stop quoting the bible…). I now utterly reject the hatred and bigotry proudly espoused by Donald and his most fevered fans, and I have no problem saying so.

While I wish I could be sure that high school me would have rejected Donald just as strongly as adult me does now, the bigger point is that all of us who are now adults must reject Donald firmly and loudly. Children and young adults are watching and listening. It is our duty to make sure they know and understand that Donald’s bigotry and hate speech is never—ever—okay.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tooth tales: It all links up

Yesterday I had a routine appointment with the hygienist at the periodontist’s office. Everything went well—better than I expected, in fact—but it turns out it’s an example of how everything I’ve been through this year is all connected.

On Wednesday, I received an email from the orthodontist, pointing out it had been nearly six months since I was last there, and suggesting I ring an book an appointment if I want to continue. I stopped all progress after the unfortunate incident that resulted in me getting a crown. Around the same time all that was going on, I also had two periodontal treatments. In other words, KACHING!

Dental care is VERY expensive, especially with a crown and two periodontal treatments all very close to each other. When it was done, I needed a break. Then, the next month, Bella got sick. The month after that and it was me getting the medical intervention. Not all of that was expensive, necessarily, but it was draining emotionally. I again needed a break.

So, this week I got that email, and pondered what I should do. Should I continue, or should I just give up and accept things as they are? I thought to myself that if I do go back to the orthodontist, I should see the hygienist first, because after all my health issues over the past few months, I know I haven’t been as diligent as I could have been.

Then, Wednesday afternoon, I got a phone call reminding me of my appointment with the hygienist. I told them I was on a blood thinner, in case that made a difference, but planned on going unless I heard otherwise.

Without going into too much detail, I did, in fact, bleed a bit more than would be normal for such a thing, but I made sure to warn the hygienist in advance, so she was prepared. She and I agreed that I should put off my appointment with the periodontist until February, after I go off the drug. There are two reasons: One of the things the periodontist checks is the amount of bleeding, if any, as he probes the pockets around the teeth. Second, if he needs to do anything—and he probably will—that’s usually rather invasive, so it would be best to do that after the drug is done.

All of which means that these Tooth Tales have come full circle: When this whole journey began, the periodontist recommended that I see my doctor for a check-up. I did, and that began the related and parallel journey to better health. My health journey, however, is also affecting the Tooth Tales journey, so it all links up in both directions.

Still, trying as all this has often been, it at least feels good to be taking care of things that needed to be taken care of: I’d like to be around to find out how these stories turn out. Precisely because I am taking care of all these things, I’m likely to see where these journeys go.

These are things that make me smile, in so many ways.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

A shipload of history

The New Zealand government announced this week that a US Navy vessel will visit New Zealand to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy next month. This will be the first visit by a US Navy ship since 1983. I think this is a good thing, but some others are somewhat less enthused.

The ship, the USS Sampson (DDG-102), is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and was launched in 2006. Like all ships in its class, it has conventional propulsion and conventional—if advanced—weaponry. Those two facts are vital.

The reason that no US ship has visited New Zealand in 33 years is New Zealand’s nuclear free legislation, which bans nuclear propelled or armed ships (among other things). For decades, US policy was to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on any US navy vessel.

However, nuclear weapons are now carried only by US submarines, not on US surface ships, and only submarines and aircraft carriers are nuclear propelled. There is a slight catch here in that the US Government still, technically, neither confirms nor denies the presence of nuclear weapons—even though it’s well known that surface ships are conventionally armed.

For a navy ship of any country to be permitted to visit to New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key has to certify that the visiting ship does not have nuclear propulsion or nuclear weapons.

“Under New Zealand’s nuclear free legislation I am required to be satisfied that any foreign military ship entering New Zealand is not nuclear armed,” Key said. “I have granted this approval after careful consideration of the advice provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

There’s a kind of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” going on there: The Americans don’t say anything about the ship’s weaponry, but NZ Government officials can attest it’s nuclear-free because it’s well known that all surface ships are.

This has become a point of contention for some New Zealanders. For example, when Radio New Zealand posted their story to their Facebook Page, the reactions were not all welcoming. When I checked in preparation for this post, there were 125 “reactions” on Facebook, of which 58 were “Like” 55 were “Angry”, 3 “Sad”, 6 “Wow”, 2 “Love”, and 1 “Haha”.

I was going to share some typical comments, but in the end I decided against giving oxygen to fact-free politics, the phenomenon in which people think something is true, they feel it must be true, so, therefore, what they think and feel IS true, and facts are not. We see this behaviour at both ends of the political spectrum, and it frustrates the hell out of me.

There’s also an obvious anti-American bias among some of complainers, something I frequently see repeated in comments left on various news sites by those who are—or pretend to be—on the Leftward side of Left. Here’s just one example: People were complaining mightily about a US ship attending, but not a single word of protest about nuclear-capable ships from countries like Australia and China. In fact, visits of naval ships of other countries never attract protest or angry rants from keyboard warriors. I resent that as an American-New Zealander, of course, but also as someone who knows the world is more complex than some of those online complainers choose to believe.

Over the past 15 years or so, under both Labour-led and National-led governments, relations between New Zealand and the United States have been gradually warming. After the USA effectively ended the ANZUS alliance to punish New Zealand for going nuclear-free, New Zealand was forbidden to train with the US military. That led to the absurd situation in which Australia would train with the USA, then NZ would train with Australia, who would try and pass on the sorts of command and control capabilities that would be necessary if there was ever a major conflict in the region.

ANZUS is still in a coma, and defence talks are held only between the USA and Australia, but now, thanks to the Obama Administration, NZ trains with Australia and the USA, which makes far more sense for regional security.

So, the symbolic visit of the Sampson is important for the thaw in relations between New Zealand and the USA. However, there’s one other important point: It’s a vindication and validation of New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation. As Key said:

“The process for considering the visit by the USS Sampson is the same as that used for all ships attending the International Naval Review. This process has been used for all military ships visiting New Zealand since the legislation was enacted.”

So, New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation has endured AND the USA and New Zealand have nevertheless found ways to cooperate. I cannot see how that’s anything other than a win for New Zealand.

There are, of course, some ardent peace activists who see any cordial relations with the US military as being inherently awful (“evil”, some of them say…). I disagree. New Zealand’s strategic interests lie in the Western Alliance, as it’s often called, but that does NOT mean the country endorses every single thing that other countries do now or have ever done: New Zealand, like ALL countries in the world, puts its own strategic and security interests first. It would be mad, and a total dereliction of duty, for any country’s government to do otherwise in this very dangerous world.

The bottom line, however, is that a longstanding friend of New Zealand is going to participate in the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy, alongside many other friends and allies. That’s really ALL there is to this particular story.

Related: “Welcome readied for visiting nations to Navy’s 75th celebration” – This official web page from the Royal New Zealand Navy lists all the participants and all the corporate sponsors of the celebrations. Another example of how different 2016 is from1983.

The photo of the USS Sampson is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.