Monday, May 02, 2016

So far, so good

New months give us another chance to reboot. We humans like neat starting and stopping points in what we do, and some of us like to use beginnings—of weeks, months, years—as new beginning points. Well, I do, anyway.

My blog year started out well, but it’s been all downhill for the past couple months. I have a goal of an average of one post per day over the year. I use an average because I know there are times I can’t blog, for whatever reason, but there are other times I can catch up. Spread out over a year, I can make that average, though I could never consistently achieve actual daily blogging. Clearly.

This goal matters to know one but me, I know, but it is a goal I have, nevertheless. And that’s why it matters, why I track my progress, and why I talk about it.

So, in reply to my post on Saturday, Roger Green commented: “And you are REALLY below par for the year. This is your 111th post, and we've had 121 days because of leap year”. He was pointing out that not all posts have to be significant (and the one he was commenting on wasn’t), and he knows that annual average matters to be. He was right on both counts, of course.

January was a good month, with 33 posts in 31 days. When short February was done, I’d published 35 posts in 29 days. March was a bit of a slide, with only 26 posts in 31 days, but, even so, I was still ahead, with 94 posts over those 90 days.

And then came April.

April was not a good month for me. I was frequently very busy, which is not new, of course, but I was also under the weather several times during the month (beginning in late March, actually), and I just didn’t feel up to blogging even if I had the time. So, only 17 posts in 30 days erased my buffer of posts and put me in deficit, as Roger pointed out.

On the other hand, in the final 7 days of April, I published 10 posts—nearly 60% of the entire month’s total. That’s a sign that I was feeling much better by the last week of the month.

This is my second post of the month (so far, so good …), and I have at least two posts pre-planned, almost Roger-like, except those two posts aren’t actually written yet. I may even have another one later today.

Goals are good things to have, but sometimes they’re missed. When that happens, we move on. Sometimes that means starting fresh, and the start of a new month provides the perfect opportunity to do that.

Like I said, so far, so good.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

2016 WH Correspondents’ Dinner

The video above is C-SPAN’s coverage of President Obama’s final appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. As usual, he did a good job delivering the jokes, often with dry humour. He had some zingers directed at various targets all over the map, which means something to get under the skin of most people (and, politicians have thinner skins than most people).

There are some jokes that were especially good, and the “Couch Commander” video was good, too, but I won’t say any more about them so as not to spoil anything, apart from I did love “Obama out.” For those with a short attention span, the video at the bottom of this post from the AP has some of the president’s “zings”.

The official White House video of the president’s remarks don’t show the visuals the audience saw and reacted to, which is why I chose the video above, even though it’s lower in quality. In addition to that one, C-SPAN has posted many videos from the night.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A pretty awesome day

Today was a pretty awesome day, both the weather and the way we spent it. Some days, things just work out perfectly, even when they weren’t originally planned.

We decided to head to Hamilton for the day, and timed it so we could stop in Manukau for lunch so we could try Texas Chicken, which I talked about earlier this week. We both liked the chicken (crispy and far less greasy than KFC), the mashed potato and gravy (less peppery than KFC), the coleslaw (tasty vegies and not as sweet or overly liquid as KFC), and the chips, but I was less keen on the biscuit (basically, a scone dipped in honey; but I liked it better than KFC’s bread roll, so there’s that) than Nigel was. We’ll definitely have it again.

I took the photo above after we were finished, obviously, and kind of quickly (so it’s a bit out of focus). The food court was very crowded and it just felt odd to take a photo there—it made me a bit uncomfortable. The mall there is actually a fascinating place, far more ethnically diverse than any other mall in Auckland, yet with most of the same stores as any other, which is noticeable because the area has been considered “deprived” for years.

After lunch, we immediately headed on our way, getting as far as Gordonton at 2pm. We made our way into town, first to visit Nigel’s sister and her husband, and Nigel’s Mum, who was staying there because she was sick with a bad cold.

It was getting on to late afternoon by this point, so we went on to Nigel’s brother’s house, picked up him and his two daughters (our nieces who used to stay with us during school holidays when they were kids), and off we went to a place in the Rototuna area of Hamilton called The Keg Room, which is basically a pub/café kind of place, right next door to a restaurant owned by the same people called The Eatery. It was a lovely dinner, and a nice time together.

By the time we finished, it was dark outside, so we dropped them all off at home and headed back to Auckland. It took about an hour and forty minutes (I timed it for no particular reason).

And, that was that. None of that was planned in advance, it all just kind of fell together late morning, and off we went, somewhat spur of the moment. Sometimes the best days happen that way, and this one, with it’s perfect autumn weather, was a pretty awesome day.

Days like this make up for the days that aren’t like this, I think.

Update – May 1, 2016: We had KFC for dinner tonight, while the other place was still fresh in our minds and we could make a fairer comparison. The results: KFC chicken pieces are MUCH smaller than Texas Chicken's, far saltier tasting, and noticeably greasier. The potato and gravy is nice, but the gravy is peppery; Texas Chicken's is very different, but nice, too. KFC coleslaw tastes nice, but it's too watery and is oddly sharp taste (although, it did seem like a bit of an antidote to the greasiness of the chicken). Also, why dies their coleslaw have no green cabbage in it? The Texas Chicken coleslaw was made with finely shredded cabbage, not chopped, there was some green, and the dressing was much more subtle in both taste (not as tart or sweet as KFC), and not watery), So, on balance, we definitely preferred Texas Chicken. And, finally, for both meals we shared a three-piece meal with one extra side.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Tooth Tales: The New Journey

Here’s a sentence I never—ever—would have expected to utter: I’m excited about having some dental work done. No, seriously! It’s the first time in my life that I’ve left any sort of tooth doctor’s office feeling excited and smiling broadly because of it. And it’s all because of the new journey about to begin.

Two years ago this month, I first talked about this whole journey, but the tl;dr version is this: I wanted a prettier smile, went to a dentist who referred me to a periodontist to treat my serious periodontal disease, I responded to treatment very well, went to a new dentist early this year in preparation to go see an orthodontist, which I did in March.

And this is where the new story begins.

A couple weeks ago, I got a call from the orthodontist’s office and they’d had a cancellation, so would I like to come in on May 2 to have the braces installed, instead of May 15? Yikes! It was suddenly very real! And, all the more so because I hadn’t yet seen the full treatment plan.

Then, I got a call last week to say the orthodontist would like to see me yesterday to put a band on one tooth to get ready for next week. I still hadn’t see the plan, but figured I could talk about it with him.

When I got there, he said he’d been reviewing everything, and while his treatment approach is usually quite conservative (and traditional), he thought I’d be a good candidate for Invisalign instead of traditional metal braces. I had an open mind about it, but the more we talked the more I realised that was for me, and by the time I left I was really excited about it.

Basically, Invisalign is like a specialised clear plastic mouthguard that’s worn about 22 hours a day, including while sleeping. There’s a new device roughly every two weeks and over time the system shifts the teeth.

The devices are removed for eating, and teeth cleaning is normal—and that, more than anything else, is what sold me. I have a history of periodontal disease, of course, and with Invisalign, I can brush and floss my teeth like normal, thereby reducing the likelihood of new disease. Also, traditional metal braces tend to encourage the build-up of plaque on teeth, and I was told before that I’m especially prone to that, so anything that minimises the opportunity for plaque build-up is a good idea for me.

The added bonuses are that it’s nearly invisible, unlike traditional wires, and also don’t irritate the cheeks like metal braces can. There’s also no constant tightening required, as with metal braces, because the fortnightly devices basically do that.

So, I’m going back for my already-scheduled appointment on Monday, and he’ll take the special mould that’s sent off to the lab in the USA. There, they scan the mould and the computer devises a plan, complete with the number of devices I’ll need, and they apparently even produce a computerised look at how my teeth will look at the end of the process.

There are some catches, of course. First, it’s about 25% more expensive than metal braces (or, metal braces are about 80% the cost of Invisalign). Also, some people don’t respond to the treatment well enough, in which case metal braces are still an option. The system does allow for a couple tweaks to the treatment programme along the way if it’s not going quite as expected, which is a help.

So, because this system allows me to clean my teeth normally, because it’s less traumatic to teeth than metal braces, and because—let’s be honest—it’s not as visible as metal braces, I think this is a great option for me. Once the moulds are done and the lab does their bit, we’ll know if I really am suitable for it, and if I am, how long it’ll take (generally, it’s about a year or so).

I know there are some people who would think this is all silly, that I shouldn’t spend the money on what they perceive as pure vanity. However, there’s more to it than that. Gaps in teeth, like I have, can lead to periodontal disease, which is one of the reasons I had all the trouble—apart from my lack of attention to it, of course—because I was prone to disease. By fixing my smile, I’ll definitely make myself happier—absolutely it will—and that’s justification enough. But doing it will also make it easier for me to remain disease-free, and that’s a practical reason.

Mostly, though, I just want a prettier smile.

So, on Monday I go for my moulds and soon after we’ll see if this really is the start of the journey I thought I was beginning two years ago.

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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tuesday thoughts

This past Tuesday was a big deal for the USA, as Drumpf and Clinton both became the presumptive nominees of their respective parties. No one seemed surprised by that, nor should they have been: It was obvious all along.

The fact that Drumpf did well in the Northeast surprised no one: It’s his region, and if he hadn’t done well, THAT would have been news. His margins were “yuge” in many cases, which tells us pretty much nothing: The extreme far-right Canadian-born Rafael “Ted” Cruz was never going to do well in the region, and Kasich, who differs from Cruz mainly in that he knows how to keep his mouth shut, did only marginally better as the “not Criz” and “not Drumpf” candidate, not because anyone actually wants him, because—clearly—hardly anyone does.

On the Democratic side, I’m amaized that anyone didn't see the results well in advance: All of the primaries were closed except for Rhode Island, so the results were entirely predictable: Bernie does well in open primaries, and Hillary beats him in closed primaries—this is not new or news. So, the results were exactly what I expected.

Hillary Clinton is now a little over 200 delegates away from the nomination, which means she is now the presumptive nominee: It’s mathematically impossible for Bernie Sanders to win enough delegates to get the Democratic nomination—that’s not partisan, or whatever, it's math.

If you look at the rest of the primaries, they're mostly closed, which favours Clinton. All she has to do is pick up is the most delegates in the remaining primaries and she could very possibly have the nomination locked up before California.

This is why Clinton has been saying such conciliatory things toward Sanders and his supporters: The contest is winding down and it’s time to unite the party. Sanders indicated that he’ll be continuing in an effort to make the Democratic platform more progressive, which is a worthy goal, even though no one pays any attention to either party’s platform, except to get annoyed/angry. Or, so it seems.

So, the results of Tuesday were no surprise whatsoever, and we now have the presumptive nominees for both parties. What happens next will say a lot about the character of both parties.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unfamiliar is familiar

When I arrived in New Zealand two decades ago, there were plenty of things to get used to, including lots of products and brand names I’d never heard of. Over the years, a lot of familiar American brands have entered the NZ market, sometimes locally-owned/licensed. Today I heard about an unfamiliar brand that, it turns out, is very familiar to me.

Nigel had a meeting in West Auckland this morning and he rang me while he was on his way. “What’s Texas Chicken?” he asked. I’d never heard of it, so, of course, I turned to the Internet.

It turns out that Texas Chicken is the brand name for Church’s Chicken outside the Americas. I presume that’s because the chain was begun in Texas in 1952, and also to avoid people in non-Christian countries assuming it had something to with Christianity (there was a controversy about that in Malaysia in 2015).

Their first New Zealand outlet opened at Westfield Mall in Manukau back in July of last year, and they now have a freestanding location in Henderson, where Nigel saw it. The company plans on having 20 locations in New Zealand within 10 years.

I liked Church’s Chicken when I lived in the USA, but it was my second favourite to Chicago chain Brown’s Chicken, which I loved (and their deep friend mushrooms were awesome). However, there were a lot more Church’s locations, and all over the place. I ranked Kentucky Fried Chicken, as KFC was then called, third, and Popeye’s not at all (I don’t like hot and spicy foods).

KFC reminded me of church dinners—the chicken, the coleslaw, the mashed potato and gravy, even the dinner roll—were all like what I’d had at church dinners. That made it familiar, and pleasant enough in that sense, but I prefer my fried chicken to be crunchy, not soggy. So, I much preferred Brown’s or Church’s to KFC.

KFC has been in New Zealand sine 1971, and now operates around a hundred units. The re-design of KFC stores in New Zealand was later adopted as the template used around the world. KFC is a unit of New Zealand’s leading fast-food company, Restaurant Brands, which also owns the New Zealand rights to Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Carls Jr. They also own the New Zealand rights to Taco Bell, which, like Pizza Hut and KFC is a brand owned by the USA’s Yum Brands, and the company hinted last year that they may begin opening Taco Bell units.

If those weren’t enough American brands, we also have McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s Hamburgers, Subway, and Domino’s.

Beyond that, we also have chains from other countries: Oporto, an Australian-founded chain of Portuguese-style chicken places, and Nando’s, an international chain that originated in South Africa, with a Mozambican/Portuguese theme (the chain is particularly popular in the UK, apparently), and Esquires Coffee, which was founded in Vancouver, but is operated in Australia and New Zealand by Retail Food Group. There’s also The Coffee Club, an Australian chain of coffee cafés, which opened its first NZ franchise in Wellington in 2005—its first outside Australia. Pita Pit, which was founded in Canada in 1995, is also in New Zealand.

There are homegrown New Zealand chains, too, of course: Hell Pizza, Burger Fuel, Mexicali Fresh, Sal’s Pizza, and Columbus Coffee are all New Zealand-born chains, some of which are expanding overseas.

Columbus Coffee began in Auckland’s CBD in 1994, and has since grown throughout the country. More than just a coffee house, they’re actually full cafés, offering really nice cabinet and freshly made food, plus muffins and cakes and other treats. And, of course, they serve good coffee. They operate the cafés in many (all?) Mitre 10 Mega stores, a New Zealand-owned chain of hardware and home centres. They are by far my favourite of the chain coffee places, though independent neighbourhood cafes often have outstanding coffee (one near our house does).

Burger Fuel is a New Zealand gourmet burger chain that’s expanding internationally. The first location opened in Ponsonby Road in Auckland in 1995, and their second opened in Takapuna in 1998; one of those two was the first we went to, though I can’t remember which it was.

Hell Pizza was founded in Wellington in 1996, and is now also global. Over the years, its edgy marketing campaigns have gotten it into trouble, some of which I’ve blogged about.

Mexicali Fresh is owned by Mariposa Restaurant Holdings, a NZ company that last year bought New Zealand’s Burger Wisconsin chain, which was the first gourmet burger chain in the country.

I’ve written about Sal’s Pizza, and they remain a favourite. They are the only authentic American-style pizzas I’ve had in New Zealand, however, it really is “New York style”, while I’m used to (and prefer) Chicago style, which has a crispier crust (thick crust/stuffed/pan pizzas are another thing altogether, and not a personal favourite).

I’m sure I’m forgetting something or other, but I’m not necessarily a chain-food person, anyway, and often prefer independent cafés, restaurants, and pub cafés. Still, I do like them from time to time, and I’m looking forward to trying Texas Chicken at some point. But, like Carl’s Jr., I may end up waiting until there’s a closer location.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A small price

Today I was driving home after my last errand, a stop at the grocery store. As I turned onto our street, I noticed a woman walking toward the street I'd just turned off of. I noticed her because it’s not common to see people out walking, then I noticed something else that gave me pause.

The woman looked like a mum in her 30s, maybe, wearing a white tank top, some sort of pinkish sweatshirt tied at her waist. I think she had earbuds in, too. And that's about all I noticed—I don't pay all THAT much attention to women, after all, and I was turning the corner at the time.

But a second or two later, I saw man she'd passed stop, turn around, and look at her as she walked away. He looked a bit long, checking her out, obviously. He turned back and saw me watching him—we briefly made eye contact as I drove past—and he looked kind of, well, sinister.

For the next minute I debated with myself what to do: Was he a threat, or just a sort of unfortunate-looking guy who got sprung perving at the woman? Was he harmless, if a wee bit creepy, or was he really sinister?

By this time, I'd reached our driveway, and I turned in. Then, I put the car in reverse, backed out, turned around, and drove back up the street. When I reached the corner, both were gone. I calmed my mind about that, reached the corner and looked up the street: The woman was still walking up the road, alone, and the man was nowhere. I turned around and went home.

I'd been worried that I was unfairly judging the man, that I was judging him because he had a "sinister" look. But I was more worried that if I'd been right, that woman could have been in danger. That's why I turned around and went back to check on the woman, who was totally oblivious that any of this had happened.

Too many of us look away when we see something that doesn’t seem right, we convince ourselves everything’s fine. But, what if it isn’t? It took me maybe two minutes, three at most, to make sure that woman was safe. Put another way, it cost me nothing, but had I done nothing and my suspicions been right, that woman would have paid a very high price.

I’m not advocating undue suspicion, and paranoia is a really bad thing, but if something just doesn’t feel right, and if we think someone might be in danger, I think we have an obligation to follow our instincts and check things out. I’d rather lose a few minutes of my time finding out nothing’s wrong than do nothing, then find out I was right and could have prevented a bad thing happening.

The next time I get an uneasy feeling, I hope I remember that.

Treetop proposal

Something light to start the day: The video above from National Geographic is another one that I didn't share because of my irregular blogging over the past couple months. I think I was originally going to use it as part of a longer post, but I forget what that was going to be about. So, here it is all its own.

I’m a huge fan of romance and love, and over the years I’ve posted a few videos celebrating both. There was a flurry of gay marriage proposal videos as marriage equality arrived in one US state after state, and then kind of slowed after the US finally achieved 50-state marriage equality.

To be sure, people still post videos, but I now only share ones that are unusual in some way—like this one, for example. I can’t remember ever seeing a treetop proposal before.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when a video like this from a mainstream media organisation like National Geographic would have been unthinkable. That’s not just because marriage equality hadn’t arrived yet, but also because the everyday lives of real gay people just weren’t being reflected.

And that’s one of the things I’ve noticed the most: It’s not just that for a time gay marriage proposal videos were everywhere, it’s that more and more gay people are being included as part of the ordinary content produced by various media companies—not special coverage, and not treating us or our lives as unusual or exotic, nor even including us just because we're LGBT, but instead just as ordinary people. This is what progress looks like.

One of my activist colleagues back in the day used to say that the LGBT rights movement was more or less a long march toward banality, because he felt the whole point of the struggle was to make it so that LGBT people were just people. We’re still not at the end of that march, but we are closer than at any point in my lifetime.

So, two guys who love each other both decided to propose to each other at the same time and place, and National Geographic shared their story as they do lots of stories of real people. That’s good in itself. But videos like this of happy gay people in love always make me smile. Always.

And that’s reason enough to make sure I shared it… eventually.