Sunday, September 21, 2014

That's democracy I guess

Five of us turned up to that "election party", which was in Khandallah of all places. It was about as much fun as it can be when a party wins untrammelled power and has nought percent support among us. Which was quite fun actually.

The Great Election Night Shift of Oh-five didn't materialise this time; National kept up their massive two-to-one advantage over Labour pretty much all evening, and with the Greens barely scraping double figures, it was a bloodbath. It wasn't long before we were resigned to watching the close race for the party vote between United Future and the Ban 1080 Party (United Future won by 165 votes).

Winston went up in my estimation during the campaign, and he didn't get too far off the 10% he wanted. In his excellent election-night speech he used the word "internecine". He'll bring in ten other MPs (whom I know nothing about) but I don't know whether he'll get to wield any electoral power. The Greens will have 13 MPs, losing one, and I don't think the specials will help them (I'm sure they'll gain vote share from the specials, but they're currently closer to 12 seats than 14; it'll take a huge shift for them to gain a 14th seat).

As for Labour, the massive difference between their electorate and party votes really stood out. In Rongotai (right next to me), Annette King outpolled the National candidate two to one, but Labour still lost the party vote to National. That pattern was repeated up and down the country. If I were a Labour strategist I'd be analysing the bajeezus out of all 71 electorates, mapping each polling place, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
(Side note: Rongotai contains the Chatham Islands so is technically the vastest electorate.)

National are a well-oiled machine and Brand Key resonated with over a million people. He really does appeal to the mainstream. That includes many Cantabrians - the Nats' vote share in Christchurch went up, defying gravity and all logic. To my mind, they haven't handled the situation there at all well. They've let insurance companies get away with far too much. But maybe I've been watching way too much Campbell Live, and everything is tickety-boo for 98% of people whose properties were hit by the earthquakes. I also think that many people voted National simply because they were expected to win, and people love to be on the winning team. The "team" thing was pushed really hard with the #TeamKey hashtag and their simple but clever advert with that rowing eight. It's a team sport that New Zealand are pretty good at, hence it's an instant winner with the fans.

John Key was very shrewd in deciding not to do a deal with the Conservatives. He didn't want his party to move further to the right, potentially alienating a large part of its fan-base. I'm sure this decision increased the National party vote, and because of the large wasted vote tally, they were able to reach that mythical milestone of 61 MPs on 48% of the vote.

Turnout was 77%. That's not too bad. Compare that to the 2000 US election, where only 51% turned out. That election was a perversion of democracy if you ask me.

One of the guys last night had almost encyclopedic knowledge of the MPs and candidates. I'd like to have more of a clue. If only Back Benches wasn't on so late.

The autism group might be interesting tomorrow night. I can't see this result helping anyone there.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Jobs and election picks

I've signed my new contract. I'm not too happy with my job if I'm honest. Today I was really wishing it was 2001 and I was sorting mail and heaving the sacks. Or even 2002, when my parents went to Australia for a few weeks, and I was at home by myself. We had a bumper crop of plums, far more than I could eat, so I bagged them up and sold them on the doorstep. On market day, when there was probably five times the normal level of foot traffic past our front door, I was a busy man.

It was great following Scotland's referendum today, seeing so many people united in a democratic process. There were some amazing photos - what a picturesque part of the world it is. The "no" side, with 55.3% of the vote, won a more decisive victory than I expected. Good luck to them now they've decided to stay with the UK. What really impressed me was the turnout - 84.6%. If only we could get that level of participation in our election tomorrow. (In 1984, NZ got a whopping 93.7% turnout when they ditched Rob Muldoon. In a FPP election, where many people's votes hardly matter, that figure is staggering. They must have really wanted him out.)

Last time I didn't do very well with my predictions. This time I can make one fairly confident prediction for election day: I won't be on TV. Otherwise, it's quite hard. It's been a crazy campaign, and some of the protagonists have been equally crazy. How will the huge rise in advance voting affect the result, if at all? How will the people of Christchurch vote? And so much hinges on whether the Conservatives make it. I've been wavering on this but I now think they'll fall just short. It could even be so close that they're over 5% on the night but drop under when the specials are counted (a scenario that's far more likely than the reverse).

Here are my picks:
National..............56 seats
Labour.................34
Green...................15
NZ First...............10
Internet Mana......2
Maori....................2
ACT.......................1
United Future.......1
Total..................121

I've been invited to an election party tomorrow night.

Update: It's 11:30pm and we've just had an earthquake - a 4-point-something.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All these votes but do they really matter?

I've had to sign a new contract for my transferred role. It's just as well I read it properly before signing it. There were some significant errors and omissions that have now been rectified. I think a lot of people these days are happy to just have a job and will sign anything.

I had my last Mandarin lesson tonight. Numbers on the course dropped steadily from sixteen at the beginning to just seven. Some people seemed to have unrealistic expectations. I knew it would be hard and it was. Our teacher is a polyglot: she's mastered four of the seven most widely spoken languages in China; that's a pretty unusual feat.

I went tenpin bowling again last Sunday. I'm better at that game (I hesitate to call it a sport) than I should be. I bowled a 135 and was heading for about the same in the second game but we got timed out two-thirds of the way through.

It’s a big week for voting. The general election in Sweden saw a strong showing from their far-right anti-immigration party. I’m not surprised. Today Fiji went to the polls for the first time since Bainimarama seized power in 2006. Their open-list PR system means there are hundreds of candidates to choose from. In an unusual system which has (a bit unfairly) been compared to Sudoku, voters have to select their chosen candidate’s allocated number from a grid of numbers that for some reason goes from 135 to 382. Then they get their fingers dipped in indelible ink so they can’t vote twice. Let’s hope it works for them. Tomorrow night (our time) the Scots vote on independence. They dropped the voting age to 16 for the referendum. A similar reduction has been talked about in NZ, from parties who are likely to benefit from it, but I think 18 is just fine. I look back at the 1997 UK general election. I was 17 at the time. Had I been able to vote, my thought processes would have extended to “jeez, these Tory buggers have been in power my whole life, let’s boot them out.” Not exactly an informed decision. Perhaps surprisingly, lowering the age might favour the “no” side, who I think will win. Then on Saturday we’ve got our election, and the likelihood is that neither my vote nor Kevin's (I got him enrolled) will stop the National government from running to a third term. I’ll give some predictions on Friday.

I watched a bit of the so-called Moment of Truth on Monday. Dotcom really brought out the big guns, didn’t he? Not that it did him much good. I must admit I found Glenn Greenwald’s comments on John Key hilariously accurate. After that, a lot of it went over my head, but unlike the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” brigade, this stuff does matter to me. I’ve gone out of my way, more than most, to be anonymous and invisible. Isn’t it funny that the word “invisibility” has five i’s?

Part of me wonders whether our election, in this backwater in the South Pacific, really matters at all when you have the Islamic State beheading two US journalists and now a British aid worker. How can you be so evil? It's beyond words.

I saw this picture today of an Atlas moth. Isn't it beautiful? They have a wingspan of up to ten inches. Such amazing creatures are a reminder that we live in a wonderful world. Why are some people hell-bent on wrecking it?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The market for votes

As I often do on a Saturday, I went to Newtown market today. Four parties were after my vote: the Greens, Internet Mana, NZ First and Labour. It was good to see Annette King, the Labour MP for Rongotai, trying to drum up support. She's not my MP - I live just over the border in Grant Robertson's electorate, and he'll get my vote. It's easy to neglect your electorate vote if you don't live in one of the areas where it can affect the make-up of parliament, but I've come round to the idea that local representation is actually pretty important.

As well as the usual fruit and vege, I grabbed the parties' various leaflets, and the one that stood out for me came from Internet Mana, who I haven't even considered voting for. You know what, they have some damn good policies. Whether I could trust them to implement the policies is another matter, but I have a hard time disagreeing with anything in the pamphlet. It was also very well put together, which it should be when you think of all the money spent on the campaign. And that's my biggest problem with the party - that it's been bankrolled by a German mega-millionaire.

That's also just one of the problems I have with the Conservatives. Whether they get over 5% and snag six or seven seats, or dip under and get zero, is too close to call. This might be the deciding factor in the election. I couldn't see the Conservatives at the market, and a certain other party who have the support of nearly half the nation (if the polls are to be believed) weren't there either. Funny that.

In some ways National have a harder time campaigning than the Greens, say, because their support isn't concentrated nicely in urban areas. Still, they have very strong support among Pakeha blokes in Auckland, people who epitomise normal. In places like Milford (on the Shore) where I used to live, they do really well.

Going back to Internet Mana, much has been made in the media of the rift in the party on the issue of cannabis. The way I see it, it's great that there's a party that's serious about changing the status quo. It's only a matter of time before cannabis is legalised or at least decriminalised in New Zealand. When it happens is hard to predict, but in NZ things can (sometimes) change quickly. It's amazing how much bollocks is spouted about a drug that causes far less social harm than alcohol. "Teenagers who smoke cannabis are x% more likely to drop out of school." That's the latest one. Well yeah. But that doesn't mean they're dropping out of school because they smoke weed. I'm sure people with tattoos are more likely to drop out too. And hoodies. But no-one would seriously advocate banning tattoos or hoodies, would they? Actually I'd be OK with banning hoodies, especially given that Kevin is in one almost permanently, but that's my own silly prejudice talking.

Talking of elections and fruit and vege markets, there's a good blog out there called Fruits and Votes.

I bought four books online today. With Amazon the shipping would have cost more than the books, so I went with Fishpond instead.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Line in the sand

On Sunday I took advantage of the sunshine by going for a longish walk - up Mount Vic, down to Haitatai, on to Evans Bay and along the waterfront to town. I then met Isabel from the autism group. We had an ice cream from Kaffee Eis and a good chat. We then walked along Oriental Bay, from where I'd just come, and at about half-five I said I'd probably need to turn back because Kevin would be expecting me to make tea. At this point we had a long discussion about Kevin. Isabel said my level of tolerance for him rated a "fifty out of ten" and I'd need to officially get shot of him. I handed him the letter tonight with a 21st December termination date. Legally I have to give him 90 days (I thought it was less, so it's just as well I had the conversation with Isabel) - this gives him 101.

At the autism group on Monday we talked politics. It's a subject that, along with religion, is normally taboo, but they made a special dispensation this time. Hopefully the discussion might encourage people to vote. Democracy is a wonderful thing to see in action, and we should all participate in it. I was in the same group as the guy with the braces who I've mentioned before, and it was largely because of him that religion and politics were put on the no-go list. In fact we also discussed the rules. There was a general consensus that Cards Against Humanity, an extremely Aspie-unfriendly game, should be off the menu at games sessions. It's hard to disagree with that, although as those games sessions sit outside the group, it would be somewhat controversial.

On Tuesday we went to Petone for a look around our new premises. There will be 170 people there altogether. We'll move again - just 100 metres or so - in the new year. The buildings and their surroundings look good actually, although the brilliant weather meant I saw them at their best.

The election isn't far away now, and many people have already voted. The sharp increase in advance voting makes a bit of a mockery of the law prohibiting election day campaigning. We don't have an election "day" anymore. I expect advance votes to be more heavily in favour of National than on-the-day votes (let alone special votes).

Scotland hold their referendum on independence two days before our election. The polls are saying it's too close to call. There is a lot of emotion in the "yes" camp. I can perfectly understand why many Scots wish to escape the grasp of a southern England-centric Westminster government, but I don't think the ramifications have been well thought out. For instance, what currency will they use? I think the Scots will be better off if they vote "no". And who's to say they can't revisit this at a later date when they're better prepared. (I learnt a new word today - "neverendum" - describing exactly this.)

Another grand slam has slipped by where I've taken only a passing interest. This US Open produced two surprise men's finalists and a very unsurprising women's winner. I don't think I would have enjoyed either of the finals, particularly Cilic's big serving that helped him beat a better all-round player in Nishikori (if I'm to believe Mum's assessment of the match). Every set of both finals finished 6-3 - I wonder if that sort of thing has happened before. While I didn't really follow the tournament, it has given me a goal, to see next year's US Open in person.

Air New Zealand's last 747 flight took off from San Francisco this afternoon. It arrives in Auckland in the morning. "Iconic" is a badly overused word, but it's entirely appropriate for a plane that changed the world. Not only that but it's an instantly recognisable aircraft. Apart from the A380, I don't think I could instantly identify any other current passenger plane.

Tomorrow I'll be doing some field work with the Czech woman. She called our trip a "date".

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Which line is the longest?


It's clearly the blue line. Can't you see it? Look harder. And listen to Bob. He's saying it's the blue line. So is Fred. And Bill, and George. They're all saying it's the blue line. Look at John over there! He's shouting that it's the blue line! You'd be a fool not to trust John.

Still not seeing it? Neither am I. But this is what the election feels like. If enough people are telling you something, even if the evidence clearly contradicts it, you start to believe it.

The last three polls all put National at or above 50%. In the - what? - nine-party system we have in New Zealand, it's quite remarkable that half the voting population want to plump for one party. Or, more accurately, one man. What do they see in him?

Don't get me wrong. I don't think John Key or the National Party are bad. And I don't think National will really get 50% (there are a bunch of issues with polls that I won't go into now). But for a party to be so popular after six years in power is puzzling, especially in light of recent economic data and the Dirty Politics fiasco.

I've been thinking about the ad that comes on TV encouraging us to vote. "Your vote is worth exactly the same as mine." They couldn't run that ad in the UK, because that statement would be blatantly untrue there. Under first-past-the-post, some votes are considerably more important than others. I don't know about you, but I reckon that a system in which some votes count more than others has serious problems. MMP has its flaws, but it's actually a pretty good system. As Grant Smithies put it in this article, under MMP your vote can cancel out someone else's, even if you live at opposite ends of the country. I happen to agree with just about all his reasons not to vote National, even if I think I'm closer to the centre of the political spectrum than he is (I'm actually fairly right-wing when it comes to immigration and law and order). Also, I make no apologies for thinking about me. My depression has been less of a problem since I came off the antidepressants (!) but I'm not naive enough to think it won't come back. And when it does, I believe I'll be better served by a government that doesn't include National.

The black line is the longest in the diagram purely by chance. I won't be voting for Winston, even if I think he's a lot less awful than in previous election campaigns. My flatmate might well vote for him however.

I see iPredict are giving National roughly a 75% chance of forming the next government. I think it's a bit higher than that, somewhere in the low eighties.

Monday's shooting at the Ashburton WINZ branch was horrific and the last thing anyone could have expected to happen there. Two good people, just doing their jobs. My parents don't live too far from Ashburton; on Tuesday they met a man who used to work with the alleged murderer. The shooting seemed to set off a spate of incidents up and down the country, and for a while all the WINZ offices in Canterbury were closed. It only takes one unhinged person to completely wreck whole families and communities, and that person can turn up anywhere.

It's been a horrible wet Saturday. Wet weekends have gone from being mildly frustrating to utterly maddening.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I don't function at functions



I’m in Petone – I’ll be going bowling here in about three hours (I couldn’t face being stuck at home with Kevin). I’m parked on the Esplanade on a sunny Sunday afternoon – it’s quite peaceful here. I expect that will change in mid-October when I start spending half my waking hours here.

Last Friday we had our morning coffee at Gotham on Chews Lane. This is a weekly event. There seems to be an unwritten rule that you get something edible (which I never do) with your hot beverage. Then you’re supposed to nonchalantly waft your plastic when the barista says “eleven eighty”. I hadn’t been to Gotham before. Instead of getting a number on a stand when you order, you get an animal on a stand (except me – I got a Batman figure. It is Gotham after all). So when they come to deliver your drink, they get to say funny things like “hot chocolate on goat” or “trim mocha on giraffe”. I’ve seen playing cards used before, but this was a new one on me.

We had our so-called mid-year function after work on Friday. Oh god. Not fun at all. We started off playing pool. I’m very bad at pool, but at least you’re doing something and that makes it just about tolerable. Even if everyone else is talking among themselves in twos and threes and I’m not. That’s a situation I’ve learnt to accept – I’m extremely used to it. We then had pizza. I’m better at eating pizza than I am at playing pool. Then we went to some bar on Courtenay Place where they had the Beat Girls, who sang songs from groups like the Supremes and the Seekers. They were pretty good, but instead of concentrating on them, I had to listen to my boss talk about saving the world. When he’s sober he only wants to revolutionise it. He tried to flatter me by telling me how many applicants there were for my position. The figure had gone up by eleven since last time. Things got a whole lot worse when people in my group – well basically everyone except me – decided to dance. I didn’t drink too much – it’s never worth it for me. I survived the evening but it was hard work – at least as hard as an entire week in the office – but I don’t think I made a good impression and I’m not looking forward to work tomorrow.

After the night before, the last thing I wanted to do yesterday was see real people. But because I have no choice but to see a real person, I didn’t particularly mind spending most of the day helping Rhiannon and her boyfriend look for a new flat. I used my Navman for the first time in ages and it worked really well. We looked at seven places including one on my street. I don’t have a lot of friends, and most of the ones I do have are carless. That means I’m now spending more time driving with other people. Getting used to that can only be a good thing.

I’ve got three Mandarin lessons left, and I plan to attend them, but it’s a bit of a waste of time because I find it extremely hard to practise between lessons. If I carry on my classes it won’t be until I get my place to myself again.

I heard an interesting radio programme about Chinese mental health. It sounds like it's almost a taboo subject over there. I expect mental health problems in China to balloon in the coming decades, with the pressure on children and young adults to succeed in an increasingly Westernised society.

Last night I went to the Lux light festival on the waterfront. I think it was better for kids than for adults; there were a couple of interactive displays where you could make a lot of noise and things would happen. That meant there were a lot of screaming kids.


Julie only recently went to Napier. Things aren't working out and she wants to come back. Apparently she has to move out of her serviced apartment by Thursday, and this morning she said she wanted me to drive the 400-mile round trip to Napier to pick up her stuff, by Thursday, while she flies back to Wellington. Seriously.

The National Party have become decidedly less awful now that Judith Collins has resigned. I still won’t vote for them though. John Key has been very astute in the way he’s positioned himself and his party as the Normal Party. If you perceive yourself as a normal guy (or girl) with a normal job, a normal wife (or husband) and 2.4 normal kids, voting Normal, I mean National, is what you’re supposed to do. I’m sure they’ll get many thousands of votes from people who like to think of themselves as normal, even if they don’t agree with the party’s policies.

Update: Bowling was pretty good actually. Playing, rather than talking, took precedence. I bowled 132 (I think I finished with four consecutive spares) and 111. The other guys were all easy-going chaps and it looks like they'll make a regular thing of it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Languaging

One other subject we talked about on Saturday was language, or the demise of it. It certainly seems that the level of people's language has been in decline. Pick up one of my great uncle's war letters and it's on a totally different plane from anything you see in your inbox (because who writes letters?) today. It's not as if he had much of an education, but he clearly made an effort. Back then, writing mattered beyond just getting your point across. I made the language-is-dying argument to Tom, and he replied that there are more words in the English language than ever before. That may be true, but a good many of them are along the lines of "selfie" and "chillax", and how many of the vast inventory of words do people actually use? How often do you hear a word like "diaphanous" these days? Or "cacophonous"? I'd bet good money that the "top" 1000 words in the English language make up a greater percentage of writing than they did even twenty years ago. It would be easy enough to work that out - perhaps I should ask the geeks at Language Log to do it. As for me, I haven't used enough big words in the 5½ years this blog has been running, and it's time I did something about that.

This isn't an easy week for me. We've already had several meetings about the upcoming move and other stuff. There has been much talk about organisational structures and I've found it hard to even remotely care. Today we met the CEO of the new company. He lost me at "we're gonna rock it out on October five." There has been a lot of braggadocio on show, especially from my boss and his boss, and I find all a bit nauseating. There is one boss I have a lot of respect for - the guy who manages all the field workers. He knows the drainage networks like the back of his hand, and does a great job of training the field workers, judging by the quality of the survey data. I hope that the move allows them to keep that up, as I said in the brief submission I made yesterday. I also made the obvious point about the inconvenience and potential cost of transport and possibly parking. It'll take some adjustment. I'll miss the propinquity of work to home, and the plethora of gastronomic establishments I currently have at my disposal when borborygmus arises. On Friday we've got our mid-winter party after work. I wonder how that will pan out. It has the potential to be quite stressful. At least when I get home it'll be the weekend and I'll be able to relax. Oh wait...

I saw my counsellor last week for the first time in ages. In our previous session she used "language" as a verb, as she'd done many times before. "Do you like the way I'm languaging this?" I'd let her off all those other times - she's a very helpful counsellor - but I was finally languaged out and I pulled her up on it. Last week there was no languaging, and we agreed upon a goal for me, to be working for myself by 1st January 2016. It's a good goal, because I fear I'll be somnambulating through life as long as I work for someone else. We talked about coming off the Efexor last December - that was actually a pretty big deal, and even though the withdrawal symptoms were awful, it was worth it.

National unveiled their housing policy at the weekend. It might increase the supply of homes in Auckland, where things have gone completely nuts, but it'll definitely increase demand, and any policy that does that is crazy. If it was up to me I'd bring in a capital gains tax, as Labour plan to do, and I wouldn't make the family home exempt. Why should it matter whether you own a single property worth $2 million, or if that sum includes your Pauanui bach and a couple of rentals? Under my system, your tax rate would reduce the longer you own the property, reaching zero after ten or fifteen years.

I've got my Chinese class tomorrow. In last week's lesson we learnt how to say where things (like the bank or the cinema) are, and where you come from. We learnt a few words for countries, such as France which is "Fă guó". Someone asked if that's because it sounds like "foie gras"!

Kevin was in some pain yesterday, as a result of the operation rather than the fistula itself. I really do hope he's sorted out now. Not being sorted can mean not being able to go the toilet, which doesn't bear thinking about.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's the economy, stupid

Yesterday the southerly continued to rip through Wellington, and it kept me inside for most of the day. Inside isn't a place I like to be on a Saturday. I did however catch up with the ex-facilitator of the Wellington autism group (who I saw in Auckland last month) and her husband. They were down for Beervana. We met at Joe's Garage on Tory Street, and covered a few conversation topics in a fairly short space of time. One of them was my flatmate. He is effectively a boarder. As they say these days, I'm over it all. I count down the weekends, because they're the most exhausting part of the week, and also because 17 is a manageable number. On Wednesday Kevin had what I hope is his last operation on his bum. He doesn't seem to be in pain. He was given a lot of medication after the op, and when I got home from work on Thursday there was all manner of lotions and creams and sprays and pills, in just about every corner of the kitchen and lounge. He'd had medicines lying around for months, but I'd tolerated that, probably because I'm quite a tolerant person. But the increased volume of them was more than I could handle. "I see you've got your drugs lying all over the place, like there, there, there, and [pointing to the couch] there." "Uh-huh, yeah." Have you got Asperger's? It's OK, you can tell me. "Um, do you mind not having your drugs everywhere?" He took all the medication downstairs, including the stuff that was there before.

We also talked about property ownership. So far for me, it hasn't been what it was cracked up to be. In fact I associate buying this place with "bad", because I had quite bad depression around the time I bought it, and had to leave my well-paying role almost the moment I got my hands on the keys. That bad stuff had little to do with the property purchase, but it's hard for the mind to break the connection. It's a bit like my brother's attitude towards New Zealand: bad things happened while he was here, none of which were related to NZ, but he still doesn't want to set foot in the country ever again. Of course in my case more bad stuff has happened since early 2012 - the earthquake assessment, more depression, and a difficult-to-handle flatmate - none of which has helped. Perhaps the hardest thing for me about owning a property has been the added pressure of earning an income. Certain types of people can expect to earn an income that heads steadily northwards, or at the very least, northeast. I'm not one of those people. In 2009 I earned a good salary, then the following year my biggest source of income was online poker. In 2011 I was back to earning good money, almost half of which disappeared for the next two years. If I couldn't eat it, I wasn't buying it. This year has seen an uptick again, thanks also to Kevin, but I'm still earning far less than I was in '09 and '11, and it's anyone's guess what will happen next. That unpredictability doesn't lend itself to paying off a mortgage. Why can't I be like "normal" people and climb the career ladder? That's pretty simple, and I've said it before. Relationships, teamwork, all that stuff is far from innate to me. It wasn't obvious to me in that beanbag relay race when I was five - I had to learn what you were supposed to do - and it still isn't obvious now. And it's absolutely crucial to one's success in the workplace (and even wanting to succeed in the workplace). Joining a new organisation is always the same for me. I can wing it for a while, then it just gets too hard. That's what makes a temp job so good. You're hired to perform a specific task - there's no guesswork - and you're not expected to do any of that networking crap because you won't be there long enough.

We also talked about the economic shift that took place in the early eighties. In New Zealand the word for this was Rogernomics, after Roger Douglas, but similar policy changes took place all over the developed world. It's funny that the subject of phones came up. In the UK until the eighties, everyone had the same rotary BT phone. If you were lucky, you got to choose the colour. We had a brown one. Actually nobody really had a phone, because it remained the property of BT, which was privatised under Thatcher in 1984. I read a really good book which touched on the economic reforms of the 1980s, as well as homelessness, love and depression. Written by Elliott Perlman and based in Melbourne, it's simply called Three Dollars. At some point in the eighties, stock markets became mainstream and the ups and downs were reported on news bulletins. (The woman in the story thought this was funny - why should I care? - and came up with her own All Ordinaries index for recording the ups and downs in her mood.) In the eighties, money changed from being simply a means of exchange to a thing to have in itself, even a way of measuring self-worth. Jeez, if my salary isn't going up in real terms year after year, I must be a failure. How and why did that happen? It's an interesting question, because I don't think it's good that it happened, even if there were clear benefits to the new economic environment like being able to choose your phone, and getting your line installed much faster in a competitive market.

We did talk about the stock market a bit. It was good to talk to someone who understood concepts like over-diversification. When my gran died, she had a managed portfolio of shares. From memory she had shares in exactly fifty companies. As I tried to explain to Dad, that made no sense at all. You might as well invest in a tracker fund.

Perhaps because of the difficulties I face in keeping a well-paid career job (which are mitigated to some extent by my ability to not piss people off), I've sometimes found it hard to warm to people who do manage to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder. People who do something a bit different often seem easier for me to get along with. Maybe that's how I ended up with Kevin.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Grounded

If I’m going to continue this blog at all, perhaps I should focus on my attempt to learn Mandarin. Learning this language requires more dedication and concentration than my current living arrangements allow. In the last session we learnt numbers. Why is it that 386 in Mandarin sounds a lot nicer than 241? At least with numbers you can practise quite easily, because they appear everywhere. As I’ve found in other languages, the best way to practice saying numbers (and letters, in languages that are sensible enough have an alphabet) is to read off car number plates as they whizz by. I like that Chinese numbers also come with hand gestures. You can count up to ten on just one hand, so from six to ten, the signals aren't what you'd expect. The other topic we dealt with in last week’s lesson was family members. The Chinese seem to have more family-member words than we do, with separate words for all the different kinds of auntie you can have (mother’s younger sister, father’s older brother’s wife, and so forth). You're not supposed to call your elder brother or sister by his or her name; you need to use the word for "big brother" or "big sister", so my brother who's close enough to my age to almost seem like a twin, would need to show me respect by calling me "gē ge". And if he was my twin brother, born ten minutes after me, he'd still have to show me the same respect. Our teacher showed us her family tree which was strictly men-only. 

Mum and Dad got back yesterday from their 2½ months away. I was tracking their Singapore Airlines flight on flightradar24.com. It's a fascinating site (and would be interesting enough if it was just a world map without all the swarming planes). As my cousin's husband said on Sunday, what that site really shows you is where in world the money is. Tom is embarking on his big adventure and will be in Sydney now, about to fly to Tokyo on a 747 (not so many of those iconic planes now - sad in a way as they changed the world). Tracy flies to Europe on Thursday - she's away for five weeks. As for me, I'm stuck here for the foreseeable future.

National are still favourites to win next month's election, but their price on iPredict (yay, I'm still on their leaderboard even though I haven't traded for years) has dropped from the low eighties to the low seventies in the last few days. I've now decided that they won't be getting my vote this time. On Sunday we had lunch and board games at the autism place, and someone in a Bananagrams game joined KEY onto DORK. Well a dork he ain't, but he could have handled the events of the last few days much better. The blogger Cameron Slater is a nasty piece of work and if I were the Prime Minister I'd be distancing myself as far as possible from Slater, not calling him Cam as if he were my mate. Then there's Judith Collins, Minister of Justice of all things, who appears to think she's above the law herself, and also seems to lack any shred of compassion. So I won't vote National but are Labour, policy-wise, really any better?

The wind needle, officially called the Zephyrometer, was struck by lightning in a storm last week, and they haven't decided whether it'll be replaced.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Taking its toll

Brendan texted me yesterday to say that Robin Williams had taken his own life. Williams’ untimely death shocked the world. How can someone so talented who has given so much pleasure to so many people be so utterly depressed as to want to end it all? Poor mental health is a huge problem in our society and it shouldn’t take an A-list celebrity suicide to get people talking about it. Every year about 300 people are killed on New Zealand’s roads. Road deaths are readily reported on the news. You can find the figures all over the internet, and they’re updated almost daily. Road casualties are broken down month-by-month, by age, location, and type of road user. And wouldn’t you know it? NZ road fatalities are in steady decline. We’re all becoming better drivers and our roads are becoming less dangerous. But while the road toll is decreasing, over 500 New Zealanders are killing themselves every year, and that figure isn’t going down. Just imagine for a minute that suicide statistics were displayed so prominently and in such detail on a government website, and updated every time a suicide was confirmed. Suicides would be the second or third item on radio news bulletins. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money would be spent on suicide-prevention adverts, specifically targeting those most at risk. By tracking the stats, you’d know exactly who those at-risk people are because, guess what, they aren’t the same people they were in 1994. Knowledge is power. Yes, John Kirwan’s depression campaign has been a definite help, but so far it feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface of the problem. Depression, and suicide in particular, still seems to be largely a taboo subject.

I talked to Brendan on the phone last night. We talked about Mark, a 23-year-old guy who, for a while, attended both the Auckland autism group and the North Shore men’s depression group. He died on a sunny afternoon in August 2011 when his car crossed the centre line and collided with a truck. I don’t think it was ever determined whether or not it was suicide. Mark had a combination of mental health and other conditions: depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and Asperger’s, although I never would have guessed he was on the spectrum. He was what I’d call a “pretty boy”, and he had a habit of getting closer to women than they might like. He came from a well-off family north of Auckland; I don’t think he had a good relationship with his parents. In September 2010 he wanted to move away from home and he asked me if I’d take him on as a flatmate. I said no, using the age gap as an excuse, but really I knew he’d be hard work with all his conditions. If I’d said yes, he might still be alive today. If a butterfly flaps its wings and all that.
 
The autism group on Monday worked rather well. Our facilitator had to leave at short notice but that wasn’t a problem – we were more than capable of facilitating ourselves. My phone app – remember that? – cropped up in conversation. If I’m ever going to create apps or games myself, perhaps my best bet is to make a Facebook game.

Here's a great article on FiveThirtyEight about Nigel Richards, the Kiwi Scrabble player who is number one in the world by some distance and gets virtually zero recognition here in New Zealand. He's almost a recluse and is Zen-like when he plays Scrabble. Both his interests are obsessions: Scrabble and cycling. If he wasn't somewhere on the spectrum, I'd be surprised.

Here's another good article from Joe Bennett, describing a moneyed suburb of Auckland. He's right - house prices have reached almost mythical levels in that city. Things were bad enough when I looked at properties in 2009. The no-price thing was a real turn-off. I'd look at a place and ask an agent for just the first figure of the price. Three or four? Four or five? Give me a clue. Of course if I'd actually bought, we'd be talking six or seven now. But that was 2009, the year when my income peaked. I'd be really surprised if I ever earn as much in real terms as I did then, and I knew that even then (and if by some miracle I do make that much, it won't be from a salary). The earning power of a graduate is "supposed" to peak around fifty; mine peaked in my late twenties. Going back to the article, Joe Bennett has a remarkable knack of making mundane things, like that road sweeper, sound interesting, almost beautiful.

I had my Chinese lesson tonight. I still think it'll be ages until I can speak vaguely comprehensible Mandarin, if I ever do. And as for reading or writing it, that will take even longer. At the moment we're using pinyin, which is the most popular Romanisation system. The design of the system was headed by Zhou Youguang, a remarkable man who is still alive at 108. The Language Log blog is interesting reading. It covers Chinese quite often. The latest post on the blog, written by Victor Mair, features a Chinese restaurant menu. The two most impressive things in that post (to me) are that: (a) the Chinese have at least seven words for cabbage, and (b) Victor Mair knows them all.

My car failed its warrant. I'm not surprised. It's got some fairly large patches of rust on both of the front pillars. I'm getting the patches repaired for now, but all this rust will probably be end of my car eventually.

It feel like rust patches are sprouting all over this blog too. I don't think my writing is up to much these days, and I don't enjoy it as much as I used to either. So we might be nearing the end.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RPG - not my cup of tea

Yesterday I had that RPG session, which I only took part in because of my flatmate. Any excuse to get out of here for a few hours. I enjoyed it about as much as I expected to. There were some really uncomfortable bits which involved me having to talk and try to disguise the fact that I had no frigging clue what was going on. I do get the appeal of RPGs, they just don't appeal to me. Different strokes for different folks. Tracy, the "game master", had spent many an hour preparing for the afternoon, and had a kind of closed-off booth set up at the end of the table with a laptop and rule sheets and books; it all seemed completely nuts. When we slew the minotaur, it was all over. We didn't go far beyond the allotted five hours, which was a relief.

By the end of the RPG I'd had more than enough, but Tom and one of the others had arranged more games, with pizza, at someone's flat near the railway station. I was persuaded to drive there, this "someone" turned out to be a nice bloke, the we played two games that were far more enjoyable to me: Tsuro and Phase 10. For Tsuro, the rules stated that the oldest player starts. Oh great. I might as well have been eighty. I hadn't played Phase 10 before, and some of its rules could do with a tweak if you ask me (I think all runs should have to be of the same colour), but at least I understood it, and I've always liked rummy-type games. There were a few aspies there, so some of the conversation was, um, interesting, but all in all it wasn't a bad evening.

My flatmate really is a lazy bugger. To give you some idea of how lazy he his, he doesn't bother eating the bottom 5% (at least) of the insides of any food container. That probably shouldn't annoy me as much as it does, but if you can't even be arsed to scrape out a jam jar, it can't be a good sign. What's more, recycling is a foreign concept to him. That would involve actually rinsing out the jar and putting it in the recycling bag for me to put in one of the bins downstairs. Way too much effort.

I sent my boss an email, basically asking for more direction. He's now pencilled in two hour-long sessions a week with me. He's done something similar with my team-mates. I'm glad that my email has resulted in (I hope) positive change.

I saw a French film - Folies Bergère - at the Embassy today. I enjoyed it from start to finish, but the scene that stood out for me was the father watching his son give his acrobatic performance - that was a beautiful moment.