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 ally 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.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reality show’s final episode

I watched the final debate, mostly thinking to myself how wonderful it was that it WAS the final debate. None of them were worth it, though the final one at least had a bit more policy. That Donald lost all three is clear, but his performance tonight disqualifies him from being president, and I sincerely hope he loses in a landslide.

The chart with this post is from Five Thirty Eight, and shows how often Donald interrupted Hillary Clinton in each of the three debates. His boorish and spoiled-brat behaviour is part of the reason he lost the debates, but the bigger story is his performance tonight, as he broke with American tradition of peaceful, constitutional transfer of power.

In the debate, Donald flat out refused to state that he would accept the result of the election, which Hillary Clinton accurately described as “horrifying”. Donald was thumbing his nose at a fundamental concept of American democracy, namely, that elections are fought hard, then when the winner is known, everyone moves on. Will Donald do that? "I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense," he smirked.

In the debate, Hillary Clinton accurately pointed out that every time Donald loses, he says the system is “rigged” against him. He routinely blames everyone under the sun EXCEPT himself. This doesn’t mean much when he’s merely complaining about not being nominated for an Emmy, but the game he’s playing now is dangerous and unprecedented: He’s riling up his most frothing fans to turn violent if he loses the election. There’s a word for that: Sedition, and it’s beneath contempt for the presidential nominee of a major party to be fomenting and encouraging seditious violence.

I thought the essence of Donald’s disgusting remark was best summed up by a Kiwi:

After the debate, I braved watched the CNN discussion, and the paid shills for Donald kept bringing up the 2000 election, and that Gore conceded then un-conceded. But there’s a HUGE problem with their attempt at distraction: 537 votes. That’s how many votes Al Gore ultimately “lost” Florida by, and when that state’s result went to a mandatory recount, the winner was undetermined. Ultimately, of course, the US Supreme Court stopped the recount and installed George Bush 2 as president, but ALL of that was because the election was so close that whoever won Florida would be president.

Obviously the shills for Donald all knew that, and they understand what 2000 was really all about, but they kept trying to use it to pretend there’s some sort of double standard. There isn’t. Had either Gore or Bush been asked in a debate if they’d accept the election result, both of them would have unhesitatingly said yes, they would. Donald failed that very, very simple test.

I’m glad the debates are over. It means I no longer have to look at Donald saying stupid, offensive and dangerous things for more than a brief soundbite in New Zealand’s evening news—in other words, not much at all. This is a very good thing.

The less the world hears from Donald in the years ahead, the better off we’ll all be. With some luck and a whole lot of determination, three weeks from now we won’t ever have to hear from him again.

Progress is on the ballot

The video above from Hillary Clinton’s campaign features President Barack Obama making a passionate plea for people to vote. Hillary doesn’t appear until the very end of the ad, though, because the whole point of the ad is that all the progress made over the past eight years is in serious danger of being repealed if Democrats don’t win next month.

It is vital that Hillary Clinton be elected the next President of the United States. I have no equivocation on that point, not the least because—as so many have said—the Republican candidate represents an existential threat to the United States, its democracy, and even world peace. He is a dangerous, narcissistic, fascistic, demagogue.

But winning the presidency is only the first step.

Democrats MUST win control of the US Senate. The other day, John McCain declared that if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, they’ll block ANY Supreme Court nominee of Hillary Clinton indefinitely. This is after eight years of partisan political games in which Republicans tried to block every single thing that President Obama proposed—even when it was their idea originally. Although McCain is clearly embarrassed about having revealed the Republicans’ plans to continue being obstructionists, it’s nevertheless true that Republicans CAN block a Supreme Court nominee for years on end if they want to—even if that means that there are two or three vacancies.

This must end, and the ONLY way to do that is to hand the Republican Party the biggest defeat possible. I’ve done my part—I voted. Obviously, I voted Democratic. I sincerely believe everyone else should, too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I voted, 2016 edition

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Today I posted my ballot for the US Federal elections, as I always do. I had no hesitations or momentary pause as I marked my ballot because I’d made up my mind months ago. And, even though my native Illinois is a blue state, it was still very important that I vote. So, I did.

During the primary season I said all along that I’d vote for the Democratic nominee whoever he or she was. To be honest, though, if Jim Webb had been the nominee, it may have given me pause, especially if George Pataki (who?!) the only non-extremist in the entire Republican field, had won his party’s nomination (as IF!). But when it became evident that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, I was fine with that. In fact, I didn’t vote against Donald, I voted FOR Hillary Clinton.

At one time, like too many American voters, I was a Hillary sceptic: I believed many of the negative things I’d heard about her for no other reason than that those things had been repeated so often that I just assumed they were true. It turned out, they weren’t.

During the primary season, I decided to start looking into all those things I’d assumed about her, and I found out that what I’d been told ranged from the merely misleading to outright fabrication. The more I read, the angrier I became—first, that I’d been lied to, but mostly at myself for having been so gullible as to believe all the equum stercore I’d been served up over the years—and by folks at both ends of the political spectrum.

It turned out that this was only the beginning, and even after the nominations were all finished, I’d see new allegations lobbed at Hillary, always from the Right, sure, but too often from the Left, too. But, those were the same old, same old, ranging—once again—from the merely misleading to outright fabrication.

Through this process, I began to appreciate what a good president Hillary can be. I also knew that whether she is or not will depend in no small measure on which party controls the US Congress. If Democrats retake the US Senate, she’ll be able to deliver on most of what we want her to do, including helping to create a far more moderate US Supreme Court by appointing a liberal or two or three. If Democrats manage to re-take the US House, too, she can do even more.

If one or both doesn’t happen, but it’s very close, then she has the track record of working “across the aisle”, as Americans say, to forge a compromise. Whether thats’s possible or not would be determined by how close the two parties are in numbers. Already John McCain has pledged that if they control the Senate, Republicans will refuse to confirm ANY Supreme Court justices Hillary Clinton nominates (then, his spokesperson backpedalled so fast that it almost made his lying spin believable; what the hell happened to McCain?! When did he become so grumpy and negative all the time?)

I did my part on that front, too: I voted for the Democrat, Tammy Duckworth, to be the next US Senator from Illinois, replacing a Republican. I think she’ll do a great job: She’s progressive on all the right issues, but not in lock-step with the Leftward side of Left on everything—just like Illinois.

I also voted to re-elect my US Representative, Democrat Jan Schakowsky. She’s been a great US Representative and I was proud to vote for her again.

This is the first time in my life in which I've vote only for women. That's notable not just because it's never happened before, but because it never could happen before.

The fact I vote raises eyebrows for some Americans all over the political spectrum. Why, they wonder, should I be allowed to vote? The answer is simple: Because I’m an American citizen.

I believe I have a duty to vote because failing to do so would disrespect the ancestors and family members who fought to preserve our rights and democracy. But there’s another quintessentially American reason, too: No taxation without representation.

The USA is one of the few countries in the world that requires its citizens living overseas to report their income to the US Government, no matter how little it may be, no matter what country it was earned in, or how much tax was paid in that country, for as long as they live. It’s absolutely un-American to force people to do that but deny them any say in how tax laws are written or how tax money is spent.

Even so, there are Americans who think the right to vote should be denied to US Citizens living outside the USA, no matter how short the time they’re away or the reason they’re overseas (military personally being the only exception—of course). I can even imagine a sort of dystopian future in which teabaggers/Trumpettes legislate to remove our voting rights—especially because voter suppression is one thing Republican politicians do better than almost anything else.

So, one day I may lose the right to vote in US Federal elections. But until and unless that happens, you can be sure I’ll exercise my right. And to those who think I shouldn’t? Well, they’re welcome to eat all that equum stercore.

Christmastime in October…

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

I know I’m a bit old fashioned, but October 18 seems awfully early for Christmas decorations to be up. The worst part is, they were probably up well before today, but I didn’t see them. And there's just under nine weeks remaining until Christmas.

I’ve said many times that it’s a bit rough for New Zealand retailers because they have nothing to signal the start of the “Christmas shopping season”. In the USA, there’s Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then the actual Christmas shopping frenzy.

But here in New Zealand, we have the Labour Day holiday this coming Monday, then—well, Christmas. Nothing in between (though once every three years there’s an election for Parliament). So, there’s no particular date or occasion or whatever to mark the start of the “shopping season”.

I’ve also mentioned many times the rather haphazard and half-hearted attempts to make Halloween a thing in New Zealand. Retailers’ efforts ebb and flow, and some years there’s more effort than others. This year, The Warehouse store at the same mall as the photo above had a larger than usual Halloween display—I’d estimate around 12-16 square metres of floor space—with costumes, a few decorations, maybe a bit of candy. That's actually kind of a large display for a NZ retail store.

As I walked into one of the grocery stores in the lower level of the mall, a worker was putting up that fake cobweb-like decoration near the entrance. Their display, just inside the turnstyle sort of entrance, and in the produce section, was nothing special—so “nothing”, in fact, that I could easily have missed seeing it.

Halloween offers nothing to department stores like Farmer’s (in the photo above), stores that make big money thanks to Christmas. So, it’s natural that they’d try and get Christmas shopping to start as early as possible. It’s also logical that discount stores like The Warehouse and grocery stores would focus on Halloween: It offers a seasonal promotion on the kinds of stuff they sell normally, anyway. But Halloween means nothing to most Kiwis, and the early start to Christmas—well, it’s just too damn early.

I wish retailers would at least wait until November before they started this Christmas promotion stuff. I understand why they don’t, but I really wish they would. I guess that’s one Christmas wish I won’t see Santa fulfil.

Related: My friend Jason’s local Home Depot has switched to Christmas promotion, too, and Jason also thinks it’s a bit early. However, their Halloween display was up in early September, which he thought was too early, too.

The photo above is crooked and not well framed because I was in a bit of a hurry: The mall has signs at every entrance forbidding photographs, and I was only willing to take my rebellion just so far and no farther…

Political messaging

Getting political messaging right is a difficult thing for campaigns. They need to differentiate themselves from other campaigns, without being TOO negative. Independent committees and PACs, however, have no such worries, and this post has three recent negative messages from independent PACS that tread the line between harsh and necessary. For balance, there's also one from Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The first ad, up top, is from “Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC”, which they sometimes refer to as “PAC2”, or simple “P2” (took me a moment to get it…). I know nothing about them, but the video above has been a mildly viral hit. I read that Carly Simon gave permission for her song “You’re So Vain” to be used, with one small word changed. As with all the ads in this post, it uses Donald’s actual words against him.

The next ad, “Playground Bully”, is from the same group, and posted a couple weeks ago:

This video uses Donald’s words through the mouths of children. This is nothing new, of course, and a New Zealand power company even made an ad using the same general idea. The New Zealand ad, obviously, had a very different intent, but it was nevertheless jarring in the same way: Hearing children say a tiny portion of the disgusting and reprehensible things that Donald says every single day.

Maybe ads using children have a place. Maybe they could make humane parents realise how disgusting and inhuman Donald is. But I still think that message was made clearer and more forcefully in the ad “Role Models” from the Clinton campaign.

Back to adults now:

This ad is from EMILY’s List, a political action committee set up to help elect more women to public office in the USA. Their “Women Can Stop Trump” campaign says:
Donald Trump has called women bimbos, dogs, and fat pigs. He wants to ban abortions, punish women who have them, and appoint anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court. If elected, he would be a nightmare for women.

Women made up 53% of voters in 2012, and if we turn out again to vote this year we can single-handedly stop Trump. Join our fight.
This is why the ad hits so hard at Donald’s sexist and misogynist statements. Women voters generally tend to favour Democrats for president, but Donald has been making that more pronounced this year, reminding women of how utterly despicable Donald is seems like a sound strategy.

Let’s end this look at anti-Donald messaging with one from the Clinton campaign, the highly-regarded “Mirrors”ad:

Like all the other ads, it uses Donald’s words against him. And it also underscores the fact that Donald is not someone we want to be president for our daughters—or our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, and also not for our sons, our fathers, our brothers, or our uncles, as Michelle Obama was saying the other day.

Independent political ads are almost always negative, which is interesting: People always claim that they hate negative ads, but clearly they don’t. If negative ads didn’t work, there wouldn’t BE any, so obviously they DO work.

So, despite what people constantly claim, they respond to negative ads, and they absorb the negative messages/images about a candidate or party. These ads aren’t merely negative, however, they quote Donald, revealing his true nature. If ads like these can help even one person realise how awful Donald is, and why he must never be allowed inside the White House even as a tourist, let alone as president, then I’d say job well done.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Better Bella

We had to take Bella to the vet today. She keeps scratching her face, and we needed some salve to help heal it. Since we were there, anyway, they took some blood to test so they could evaluate her condition. The short version: She’s doing well.

I’ve said a few times, most recently in the post on her “birthday”, that she’s doing well, but the trip tp the vet gave us proof. First, she’s gained about 250 grams (about half a US pound) in weight. That was only the start.

Then, late this afternoon, the vet rang with the results of her blood tests. They showed that her uric acid levels have halved since the last tests, as have all the other “bad” levels in her blood. The vet said it’s especially remarkable because all we’re doing is feeding her special “renal diet” food, and with no sub-cutaneous fluids.

There was one small concern: Her white blood count was a little low, but not serious—just something to keep an eye on. So, the vet concluded, we should keep doing what we’re doing.

Bella also got flea treatment and had her nails trimmed (a pet-i-cure?) to help keep her from scratching herself. She was reasonably well behaved, though she growled a bit at one point, clearly thoroughly over the visit to the vet.

The important thing, though, is that we now have real evidence: Bella really IS doing better. This has been a very good day.

The photo above is another of the ones I took for her “birthday” post. You can see the scratch above her left eye. It didn’t get worse until last week, but today was the first available appointment at the vet because they’ve been so busy.

The shorter version

Last Friday, I posted the video of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a remarkable and widely praised speech. The Clinton campaign posted a shorter version, above. In my opinion, it makes Michelle Obama’s remarks even stronger.

It’s not always easy to turn speeches into good political messaging, but this one works well. Of course, Michelle Obama’s speech was a great starting point, but the editing and pacing of the video, combined with relevant extra graphics, and titles designed to drive home the points in the speech, make it a good and effective example of political messaging. It’s very well done.

But do watch the entire speech.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tapping the answer

Time for a lighter topic, something that answers a question I’ve long wondered about: Why do older homes in Britain have separate hot and cold taps at sinks and basins? It turns out there’s a reason for that, as the video above explains. But, is it the same in New Zealand?

The video is by Tom Scott, who’s done several interesting videos I’ve watched. However, because I don’t subscribe to his YouTube Channel, I missed this one when it came out two years ago. Now that I’ve seen it, I finally understand the two taps I’ve seen on British home shows.

One of my favourite TV shows, for a lot of reasons, is “Homes Under the Hammer”, a BBC One series in which people buy residential property at auction, do them up, and sell them on or rent them out. One of the things that’s fascinated me about the show is how pokey so many British homes were before being renovated. That, and the persistence of separate hot and cold taps.

I noticed the same thing about some taps here in New Zealand when I first arrived in this country. It turns out, though, that I was noticing the end of the way things had been as they moved to a new standard.

I don’t know why New Zealand originally used separate taps, though many countries did pre- and post-World War 2. Maybe it was for similar reasons to the UK. When I came to New Zealand in 1995, a great many homes had a low-pressure hot water cylinder heater, while the cold water was mains pressure. Low-pressure systems used a header tank in the attic space or a pressure-limiting valve to regulate pressure.

Nowadays, most hot water heaters are either mains pressure, or else some alternative system at pressure. For example, ours is an LPG (called propane in the USA) continuous-flow hot water heater (this means there’s no stored water—it’s heated on demand, and mains pressure). Nowadays, too, virtually every sink tap in a house from the last ten years or so is a mixer tap.

However, mixers were already common when I arrived in New Zealand: There were special ones for homes with low-pressure hot water heaters to safely mix the mains pressure cold water with low-pressure hot water. We had them in several of our houses before our current one. Our house in Paeroa had a header tank in the attic space, but it’s purpose was to ensure a water supply in case it was interrupted, as apparently had happened from time to time in that rural farming area (in even more rural areas, homes were required to have a rainwater storage tank).

But, even though New Zealand has used mixer taps for many, many years—and they became common long before the UK—there was a big problem with low-pressure hot water heating: Because of the generally smaller hot water cylinders used in the systems, homes often ran out of hot water, especially if it was used by several people. Also, the system usually couldn’t supply hot water to more than one tap at a time at any kind of reasonable pressure.

Mains-pressure hot water systems take care of the problem of being able to supply hot water to more than one tap at a time, as well as having more hot water available. Hardly any home I’ve been in over the past decade didn’t have mixers at every sink, and most had some form of mains pressure hot water.

So, New Zealand was once very much like Britain, with separate hot and cold taps. They may even have originally had similar reasons for it. But New Zealand moved on, and made the switch to mixer taps before the UK did, and almost no one would install them now.

When I watch “Homes Under the Hammer” now, I know why they so often have separate taps. But I’ve also seen some where the renovator installs a modern hot water system AND separate taps—like Tom Scott’s parents. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Understanding why things are the way they are, and how they got that way, is a good thing, I think. The Internet provides plenty of opportunities to do both.

Eight Weeks Later

Eight weeks ago this past week I had my hospital adventure. I am, all things considered, doing well, but it’s those things to be considered that prevent me from talking about this experience as one of progress. Because, so far, it really isn’t.

The past eight weeks haven’t exactly been a picnic, as I wrote about three weeks ago, because of the gout that’s plagued me since the day I left the hospital. However, I think I now know why that’s been the case. The next step is to fix it.

After my post three weeks ago, the gout attack I mentioned got worse for the weekend, then eased the following Monday. I was able to get out and about again, and went to buy cherry capsules to begin them again, the first time since before this all began. I was walking basically okay at the time—a little limpy, but okay.

The following week, the symptoms all but disappeared. However, given my experience of the gout attack waning, only to come roaring back every bit as bad—or worse—than before, I joked that it was “in remission”. That turned out to be apt.

A week ago today, I woke up with a sore elbow. I didn't think anything of it—I thought maybe I’d just slept on it wrong. But the next day, this past Sunday, it was evident: For the first time ever, I was having a gout attack in my elbow. That attack is still going on.

There’s only one drug, allopurinol, approved for my GP to prescribe to prevent gout attacks, but, as I must have explained before, I have to be symptom-free for two weeks before I can start it. Otherwise, I’m told, it causes a terrible gout attack—which does make me wonder: After 7 out of 8 weeks with often severe gout attacks, how much worse could it possibly get?!

Anyone who knows anything about gout will probably be aware that attacks don’t naturally last this long. Even the most severe attacks I’ve ever had have ended within about a week, with no immediate, new attack following. Yet my attacks over the past two months have nearly all been immediately followed by another one.

It turns out, there’s a reason for all this.

One of the drugs they put me on, Clopidogrel, is used to prevent clotting around my coronary stent, and I’m due to take it for another four months. However there are studies that indicate that it can cause gout in 1 to 2.5% of patients. That would appear to include me.

The medical staff at the hospital never warned me about that side effect, but, then, they didn’t tell me about the side effects of any of the drugs: I read about them in the medication information sheets from the Ministry of Health that are given to a patient whenever they start a new prescription (and they didn't mention gout, either). They were all aware that I have gout.

The thing that annoys me about this, though, isn’t that they didn’t warn me, since they typically don’t do that, it’s that it would never occur to them to warn me.

Too many medical professionals are locked within their blinkered world in which nothing exists that isn’t backed by overwhelming research. So, 1 to 2.5% of people getting gout from a drug would, to them, be totally insignificant—to the point of not existing at all. That’s easy for them to smugly believe: They’re not the ones having to deal with chronic pain, often severe, often crippling.

So, one of the drugs being used to keep me well longer-term is at the heart, so to speak, of the thing that’s keeping me from being able to fully recover. Bad as that is, the bigger problem is that there’s nothing I can take to treat the attack, and there’s no pain reliever I can take other than paracetamol. As I explained a week into this:
NSAIDS [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] like ibuprofen, which was part of my usual treatment for a gout attack, conflicts with my statin. Worse, anything else could cause bleeding, since I’m on blood thinners for six months or so. That means that paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen) is all I can take.
Because I can’t take NSAIDS, I have nothing to minimise or end the inflammation that’s part of a gout attack, and often the thing more than the pain that can be crippling. But the often severe pain is what makes this truly miserable, and it’s a pain that I effectively have no way to ease or relieve.

The other night, as I lay sleepless and in severe pain, I thought of an analogy to explain this state of affairs. Imagine someone handed you a water pistol, totally full, and said you’d have to use it to put out a fire. They open a door, and there you find a couple bits of crumbled paper burning in an ash tray. You aim and shoot the squirt gun at the fire, and you put it out. This is paracetamol treating a common headache.

Then, after refilling your squirt gun, you are taken to another door. They open it, and on the other side is a roaring bonfire. Even a squirt gun many times the size couldn’t possibly put out that fire, but all you have is the ordinary sized one you were given. The door behind you is closed and locked, and the only way forward is through that fire, but all you have is an ineffective squirt gun. You empty the squirt gun, but the fire roars on. This is what it’s like to use paracetamol on a severe gout attack: It doesn’t help at all, but it’s the only thing I can use.

I also came up with other analogies to help explain the pain: A mild attack is usually just some soreness, maybe a kind of dull ache, like maybe you’ve been standing on your feet way too long. But a severe attack is rather different: Imagine a razor-sharp dagger-type knife that’s been heated in a fire until it nearly starts to glow, then someone places the tip of that sharp, red-hot knife against the skin above a joint. Then, they push it in a millimetre or two, and stop. The searing pain eases, and then they push it in farther, and so on until that red-hot sharp blade is fully in your joint. Then, they move it every minute or two. That’s a severe gout attack, and sometimes even the slightest movement of the joint can be like you’ve pushed that knife into the joint yourself. Other times, the searing pain just shoots through the joint unexpectedly, as if an invisible force were pushing an invisible hot sharp blade.

I talked to my GP about this situation the last time I saw her, but she demurred, probably because one of the few solutions is steroids, which can have deadly (literally) side effects, and need to be closely monitored by a cardiologist. I’ve since found out—because I have to research answers to my own medical questions—that there are other blood thinners available for this purpose, ones that don’t have the same side effects, so maybe that’s an option. I don’t know, however, if they’re good enough for me or even available in New Zealand.

I was due to see the cardiologist for a follow-up sometime between four and six weeks, but they haven’t rung me yet. And, until last weekend, I really thought—hoped?—the gout was over.

So, on Monday I’ll ring and press them for an immediate appointment, or, failing that, a referral to a cardiologist so I can get this sorted. I have no alternative.

Well, I have several alternatives, actually: Four more months of chronic gout attacks, with often severe and crippling pain. Or, I could just stop the blood thinner and risk clots forming that could kill me. Or, I could take NSAIDS and risk a severe drug interaction. Or, they can work to fix this. I will be insisting on the latter, and I won’t be taking no for an answer, no matter what.

Despite those things to be considered, meaning, apart from the gout, I really am doing well. I’ve now lost 5.4kg (11.9 US pounds) since this adventure began, all from better eating—since it was only last week that I was even capable of walking (had I not been too busy with work; this past week my mother-in-law was here, so I was busy, and with my painful elbow, walking was the last thing on my mind). I generally feel good, apart from the usual general yuckiness that accompanies gout attacks (and paracetamol actually does help with that).

My greatest fear at the moment is that I’ll get another attack in my foot or ankle or knee sometime in the next couple weeks, because until my elbow fully recovers, I can’t put any weight on it, and that means I couldn’t use my crutches to get around. And all THAT would mean I’d be fully bedridden for days, up to a couple weeks.

Maybe I’ll have a bit of luck, and my worst fear won’t come true, or it’ll be in the opposite foot. After all, I did have about a week with no real gout symptoms (and that’s the irony of this: Another week and I could have started the allopurinol).

Mere recovery is now well and truly over, and I’m on to the business of becoming better—fitter, in other words. If I can get this gout under control, I can get on with moving forward—moving being the key word there.

Still, eight weeks later, I am doing well. All things considered.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Today’s arrival

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The photo above is a portion of my US election ballot, which showed up today. That suggests it was originally put into the wrong letterbox, though, because we get mail deliveries on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Good thing we have honest neighbours!

Later on, I’ll talk about voting—along with the obligatory photo of me posting my election ballot—but, for now, I thought I’d share the photo. After all, elections and voting are ALWAYS exciting for me, so I couldn’t very well not share it.

First Lady Michelle Obama in Manchester, NH

In the video above, First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech condemning the sexism and misogyny of Donald, without ever mentioning his name. Her points were nevertheless strong, and needed to be said, and that’s why everyone is talking about it.

Donald’s misogyny and bragging about committing sexual assault sends a terrible message to women, girls, boys, and men alike. We cannot allow him to gain the bully pulpit of the presidency to embarrass the entire United States.

I’ll do my part to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Worth Quoting: Smacking Donald down

When the New York Times published accounts of women who said that Donald had sexually assaulted them, Donald, of course denied it. He also unleashed his lawyers on the paper. It didn’t go well for Donald.

David E. McCraw, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel of the New York Times Company, wrote this stinging reply to Donald’s lawyers:
I write in response to your letter of October 12, 2016 to Dean Baquet concerning your client Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States. You write concerning our article "Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately" and label the article as "libel per se." You ask that we "remove it from [our] website, and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology." We decline to do so.

The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one's reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host's request to discuss Mr. Trump's own daughter as a "piece of ass." Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump's unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

But there is a larger and much more important point here. The women quoted in our story spoke out on an issue of national importance – indeed, an issue that Mr. Trump himself discussed with the whole nation watching during Sunday night's presidential debate. Our reporters diligently worked to confirm the women's accounts. They provided readers with Mr. Trump's response, including his forceful denial of the women's reports. It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices. We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

David E. McCraw
The final paragraph is a particularly important one, because Donald has frequently talked of jailing journalists who dare to criticise him—along with political opponents, of course. So, the New York Times is standing on principle.

But their other point is every bit as important: The paper couldn’t possibly have damaged Donald’s reputation by publishing the newsworthy accounts of women Donald allegedly sexually assaulted because Donald has already created his reputation as a man who engages in unwanted, non-consensual sexual advances, as well as bragging about actual sexual assault.

The fact that Donald is morally bankrupt is beyond dispute. The mystery is how anyone who is not morally bankrupt could ever contemplate voting for him.

The full letter is available as a PDF.