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 BenĂ©t, 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!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Voting is open

The Facebook video above is from the Electoral Commission, and is from their "I Vote" Facebook Page. It's also a TV commercial currently being broadcast. Advance voting began on Monday, and continues right through until September 22 (Election Day is Saturday, September 23). Voters can vote at a number of places in or near their Electorate, and if they're not registered to vote they can register and vote at the same time, but they cannot register on Election Day.

I'm sharing this video because it's a TV commercial, but the video is only available through Facebook, which makes this a bit problematic.

Up until now, Electoral Commission commercials have been posted, eventually, to their YouTube Channel, but they haven't done that since August 6. The only videos they've posted since then have been instructional videos and short messages, the latter of which could be seen as sort of commercials, and may even be useful for sharing on social media, but they seem sort of orphaned on YouTube (they don't seem to have been posted to Facebook, for example, and as far as I know, they haven't been broadcast). This seems limiting.

I don't have any problem with any organisation posting their videos directly to Facebook—it makes it very easy to share them with other Facebook users, after all. But Facebook videos are not necessarily easy to embed elsewhere: Every single time I do it I have to figure it out all over again because it's not intuitive in any way. But the bigger problem I have with this trend is that Facebook is a mostly closed ecosystem, and posting videos only to Facebook necessarily limits their availability to people who want to share them, and to the non-Facebook using general public who may be interested in seeing them. I'm not sure that having them available for embedding outside of Facebook only to people with access to Facebook in the first place is good idea.

This is not a Facebook v. YouTube thing—they both have their pluses and minuses. Also, there are other options for sharing videos than just those two places. Rather, this is about maybe—just maybe—giving Facebook too much influence over how information is shared. Nowadays, media companies, politicians, and individuals alike are live-streaming events that are only discoverable to other Facebook users, while similar public YouTube live videos are accessible to anyone.

Another problem with Facebook, apart from only being readily available to other Facebook users, is that only things posted publicly on Facebook—posts, photos, videos—can be embedded outside of Facebook (which means nothing from my personal Facebook can be shared except with a very limited audience of Facebook users, and with no one outside Facebook; things posted to my AmeriNZ Facebook Page can be shared because they're always public). I can't remember the last time I wanted to embed a YouTube video that didn't allow that.

I don't have the answer, but I favour maximum shareability for things that are inherently public, like the video above. Right now, Facebook-only doesn't meet that requirement. Maybe one day it will. Right now, though, I think we need more openness in sharing and accessibility, and Facebook just doesn't provide that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

AmeriNZ Blog is eleven

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the AmeriNZ Blog: I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” on September 13, 2006. This has been the roughest blogging year yet for me, but I, and the blog, are both still here.

It turns out that the number of daily posts required to meet my annual goal of an average of one post per day continues to rise. When I reviewed my progress toward my goal back in July, I said:
At the moment, including this post, I’m 64 posts behind target for where I should be at this point, and that means I need an average of 1.4 posts per day from now until the end of the year in order to reach my annual goal. That’s a tall order
Well, nearly two months later and I’m still 64 posts behind target, and because there are fewer days remaining to make that up as well as publish one post a day, too, the average I now need has risen to 1.59 posts per day. Every day this becomes a more difficult goal to achieve—but I haven’t given up hope.

And that’s actually the story of this entire blog over the past 11 years: I haven’t given up. Despite sometimes feeling I’ve had enough, despite sometimes being unsure of how I should structure the blog, or what I should write about, I haven’t given up. Even though I’ve talked about my share of sadness and challenges and disappointments, I haven’t given up. Call it stubbornness, or competitiveness, or maybe even foolishness, but I haven’t given up.

I don’t know whether I can meet my annual goal or not this year, though I’m going to give it my best shot. I don’t know if next year will be any better for blogging than this year was, but I’m going to try to make it so.

I haven’t given up. And I’m not going to give up now, either.

Thanks for joining me on the journey so far.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)
Seventh Blogoversary (2013)
Ten years of the AmeiNZ Blog (2016)

This 2015 AmeriNZ Video explains the origins of the name “AmeriNZ”:

The election comes to me

Today two different parts of the election popped up in front of me. Because New Zealand is a small country, it’s not surprising how, well, inescapable the general election becomes. This suits me, of course, because I’m a political junkie whose passion is everything to do with electoral politics, campaigns, the election process, and how policies are put into action by elected representatives. Today all of that came together for me, and I wasn’t even looking for it.

I was on the North Shore for an appointment today, and I decided to swing by Highbury, the village and shopping precinct in Birkenhead (also known as "Birkenhead Village"). I mainly wanted to go to The Warehouse and the Countdown supermarket there, and as I was walking through the shopping centre, I ran in to the chair of the local Labour Electorate Committee, who told me the Labour campaign team had a marquee out on the street, and that I should go say hi.

So, off I went and as I walked closer I saw someone I didn’t know taking the marquee down, and then I also saw Shanan Halbert was there, too (Michael had told me he’d left). It was a nice surprise. I met Shanan in the 2014 campaign, where we were at many of the same events and got to have some good chats. I ran into him around the community over the years since, including even the grocery store.

Shanan is running an awesome campaign to be the MP for Northcote, which has been fun to watch from afar, but I haven’t run into him until today. I was about to leave, then I remembered we’re in the social media age, so I went back and grabbed a selfie with him (photo above; not that it matters, but this is the version I shared to Instagram, since my personal Facebook is not public, so I can't share posts here).

The selfie was a bit of a comedy, really. For a long time now, I’ve been posting photos to Facebook using Instagram, so when I switched phones I never gave Facebook access to my phone’s camera. Add to that the fact the Facebook App has changed since I last posted a photo directly, and it took me a minute to get it all set up. Fortunately I DID know what I was doing, but for a moment I could feel what an older person must feel when confronting unfamiliar technology. The humour in the situation, together with my relief at solving the problem, is actually in my face.

Shanan was a good sport about it all, of course.

I had the trip to the grocery store next, then on to a second grocery store (because the two sell different products) before heading out on the drive home.

Once I got home, I checked the mail and found that our Easy Vote Packs had been delivered (photo below). Easy Vote is a card a voter hands to the folks working at the polling station to make it easier and quicker for them to find your name to cross off the list. However, a voter doesn’t have to bring the card in order to vote (or anything else, for that matter).

I knew that the Easy Vote Packs were being delivered to New Zealanders this week, so it wasn’t unexpected, but I had no idea I’d be getting it today. And while I knew that Labour volunteers had been out in Highbury, I didn’t know that Shanan was there. So, two different parts of the election popped up in front of me today. That was unexpected, but very welcome. My passion really is everything to do with electoral politics.

Online and in homes

The world of election advertising has changed a lot over the years, and while television ads were once the most important way to reach voters, there are now other, often more important ways. Online advertising is beginning to overtake television advertising in a big way. I expect that trend to continue.

To be sure, TV ads still matter: There are some people who don’t use the Internet very much (or at all), and may not see online advertising. Still, it’s quite common nowadays to do full webpage adverting on a news site—the modern equivalent of an old newspaper wraparound ad. Sometimes these are animated, too, or contain animated parts.

But the most interesting work is happening in messaging directed toward social media users in the broadest sense of the term. Because I support the New Zealand Labour Party, I’ll use their work as an example—and also because they have an extensive marketing effort going on.

The video up top is actually a YouTube Playlist I made of all the quite short policy-related ads Labour has posted so far (as of today). I often see these ads before a YouTube video plays, and this is the perfect medium: Google knows a LOT about YouTube users, and it can steer particular ads to particular demographics, which is why I’ve seen “Jacinda on Labour's policies for over-60s” a couple times. While I’m personally more interested in other issues, Google’s algorithms tell them I’m in the target market for that ad—and, in fact, they’re not wrong: I’ll turn 60 during the next term of government, whoever leads it.

Over on Facebook, the party has an animated header on their Facebook Page, and they buy ads that frequently show up in my newsfeed, and for the same reason I see their ads at the start of YouTube videos I watch, only in this case, specific ads are delivered because of Facebook’s algorithms, which are not necessarily measuring the same things as Google’s do. This is in addition to any videos they share, which I see because I “Like” their page and follow their updates. Sometimes those have been the TV ads I already shared.

Candidates are also posting videos, showing themselves and their team out on the campaign trail, talking about issues, etc—essentially bringing their campaigns to people in their own homes. For example, Shanan Halbert, the Labour candidate for the Northcote Electorate (and—full disclosure—a friend of mine) has been sharing video to his Facebook Page, and it’s been great to see the actual campaign, especially since we don’t live there anymore.

What all this ads up to is that Labour has a presence all over social media, including YouTube, which is also where younger voters can be found—people who usually don’t vote. If Labour can motivate them to vote, as well as increasing its vote among other demographics, it has a real chance of winning this election. Add this effort to all the other traditional methods—TV ads, public rallies, Leaders’ Debates, and all the stuff done by volunteers from doorknocking, to phone canvassing, to sign waving, and the campaign is trying hard to reach as many voters as possible.

To be sure, other parties are doing this, too. I’ve seen some Green Party ads, as well as Gareth Morgan’s “The Opportunities Party” (though I keep skipping TOP’s ads on YouTube…), but nothing from any other party, including National. It’s possible that I don’t see National Party ads in my Facebook newsfeed because of those algorithms again, and I may not have seen any of their ads on YouTube for the same reason (but this time Google’s algorithms, of course). Or, maybe they’re just not running any—I have no idea which it is, but they’re not running TV ads as much as Labour are, either. There are also a few parties that haven’t run any TV ads as far as I know (because I haven’t seen or heard of any ads, and they’re not on YouTube). This, too, is a change.

I was expecting that there’d be more TV ads to share and talk about, and maybe there still will be some. But at the moment the real story about campaign promotion—and some of the most interesting stuff out there—is being done online. I expect that trend to continue.

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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

22 years ago today

Welcome to the Season of Anniversaries! Twenty-two years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, beginning the story arc that's still playing out in my life. This is also what starts my not-totally-serious annual series of blog posts about various anniversaries that fall between now and January. The part that IS serious about this is that most of the significant anniversaries in my life fall during those five months—certainly the ones I’d talk about on this blog. Today’s is just the beginning.

I’ve said a lot about this date over the years, about the date in 1995, what it meant, why I sort of forgot about it, and how it became important again. Check out previous years’ posts, listed at the bottom of this post, to get more about all that.

The important thing, really, is that had the events of that day 22 years ago not happened, then the rest of the Season of Anniversaries wouldn’t have, either (except for my birthdays, of course; I believe those would have continued). Sure, in a way, it was nothing more than my NZ tourist arrival date stamped on my passport, and even though the date would later become overshadowed by others, September 12, 1995 was neverthless a sort of foundation date..

Last year, I said:
As I often point out, November 2 has always been the important anniversary because that’s the date I arrived in New Zealand to stay, and we began our life together. Since then, we’ve had other “big days” to remember, too.

But because everything really began on this date in 1995, I think it’s worth remembering. And as long as I have a blog, I will.
And that pretty much sums it all up.

Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)
Twenty years ago today (2015)
21 years ago today (2016)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

An appeal with presidents

This video is an appeal for donations help in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. What’s so unusual about it is that all five living former US Presidents have joined in making the appeal. This is how you do being a president. The sad thing is, though, that I’m certain by the time the next one or two hurricanes are done, more help will be needed. That’s something they plan to help with, too.

The website for the One America Appeal, which is what the presidents are fronting, said that “preparations are in place” to help Americans affected by Hurricane Irma. “What started as a specific appeal to address historic flood damage in Texas will be expanded to help victims from both storms. The nature of that assistance will be dictated in large measure by the storm’s track and impact,” the site said.

Because people worry about such things these days (often rightly), the website also explains:
“All funds collected through the One America Appeal will go into a special account at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, to ensure 100 cents out of every dollar donated goes to hurricane victims. All monies collected will be distributed immediately to the designated recovery funds. All donations will also be tax-deductible.”
Funds raised will be distributed through “the Houston Harvey Relief Fund focusing on the greater Houston region, and … the Rebuild Texas Fund assisting communities across the state,” the site says. Clearly more will be added later, as needed, due to Irma.

I think this is a good thing, and I applaud the presidents for doing this—even the ones I didn’t vote for! Seriously, if they can come together for the good of everyone, why can’t we?