Saturday, May 18, 2019

Unexpected reboot

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started.

Monday I ended up in hospital after having another episode of racing heartbeat. Sunday night, I thought I could feel my heart fluttering in afib (atrial fibrillation), which wasn’t actually unusual. I had to go to the periodontist for treatment the next day, the first this year, and I thought I might be feeling a bit anxious about it, in part because the feeling seemed a bit stronger than usual.

The next morning started out normally enough, though I was tired from poor sleep the prior night. Around 9:20, I felt odd, and checked my pulse on my watch and it was around 109bpm, which is quite fast for a resting heart rate for me, since I’m on drugs to keep my heart rate slow. It went up from there.

I lay back down to rest and hoped it’d resolved itself, but it didn’t. Instead, it sometimes sped up, sometimes slowed down, and even though I dozed off, it never stabilised or returned to normal. Eventually, Nigel took me to the A&M (accident and medical) clinic that I’d been to twice before for racing heart rate. It was confirmed I was in afib, and had tachycardia (fast heart rate), and even administering a small additional dose of the drug I take to regulate my heart rate didn’t return it to normal. I was sent on to the hospital again.

First night in hospital.
I was hooked up to monitors in an observation area and they drew blood for tests. After Nigel went home for the night, they took me for a chest x-ray, then moved me to a room in a different evaluation unit, where I stayed that night. I didn’t sleep well.

In the morning, I was visited by the doctors, and they suggested using electrical cardioversion to reset my heart rhythm and heart rate to normal. This involves administering an electric shock to the heart, similar to, but weaker than, the shock they give to someone in cardiac arrest. It’s done under a mild general anaesthetic. Nigel and I referred to it as "rebooting" my heart.

This would mean another night in hospital, since I’d already eaten breakfast. They transferred me to a different room that evening, just in time for dinner. I didn’t choose my own dinner, since I wasn’t there at the time they took orders, but I didn’t mind: It reminded me of church dinners I’d had as a kid. Later that evening, they moved me to yet another because of a problem with a patient in the adjoining room (which shares a bathroom/toilet with the room I was in).

The dinner I didn't choose,
but didn't mind.
The older man in the new room snored and breathed roughly, but I still slept slightly better, though still not well. I got no breakfast, of course, and just a little water to take my morning pills with. At the time, that didn’t bother me. They took some more blood for benchmark tests, among other things.

Nigel arrived not long after that, and by then it was obvious it was likely to be early afternoon before my procedure was done. It was a long and boring wait, and I was getting hungry (not helped when they stopped by and had me order the next meals). Worse, though, I was exhausted—not just from the lack of sleep, but also from more than 48 hours in afib with a racing heart rate. I occasionally dozed off.

Intellectually, I wasn’t worried. I was in the hospital, and if anything went wrong, they could deal with it without delay. On the other hand, they were going to shock my heart! I was scared it’d stop and they wouldn’t be able to restart it, even though I knew that was unlikely and improbable. Fear is often irrational.

Early in the afternoon, they came and got me after hooking me up to a mobile monitor. First stop was a room just outside the operating theatre, where they confirmed paperwork, my identity, asked yet again whether I had any allergies, and had me sign the consent form. They said normally they did one jolt, but if it was unsuccessful, they may do a second one. I was then given a mild sedative.

Inside the operating theatre, they put an oxygen mask on me, and gave me the drug that made me fall asleep. I woke up—just a moment later, it seemed to me—in the recovery area, a huge brightly lit, thoroughly modern room with maybe ten or twelve beds I could see, with maybe that many in an identical area behind me. They asked if I wanted them to ring anyone, and I asked them to let Nigel know I was okay and all went well, which they did.

The procedure was a success, and I converted to sinus rhythm with only one jolt. I’d felt nothing, and afterward I felt good. I didn’t even feel dopey from the anaesthetic, since it was a mild version of it.

They took me back to the room, and the clinical doctor visited me to go over what happened, what was going to happen next, and asked me if I wanted to go home (duh!). He then went off to do the paperwork. The dinner I’d ordered arrived while we were waiting, and I inhaled it—I was very hungry by then.

The first thing they did was put me on a new drug, Amiodarone, to control my heart rhythm. This drug potentially has a lot of harsh and harmful side-effects, which require close monitoring, so much so that New Zealand’s Medsafe advises doctors to “Keep an Eye on Amiodarone Patients”. My first blood tests will be in six weeks, then again at three months. They also reduced my dose of Diltiazem, the drug I take to control my heart rate.

This new drug regime is a bridge. In a few weeks I’ll see a cardiologist, both for follow up, and to see where we go next. By then I’ll have had one or more blood tests, which will tell them if I have any side effects. The likely plan is to do the ablation procedure to deal with the cause of the afib and, hopefully, take care of the problem permanently. According to the doctors, it may not turn out that way, because in some cases more procedures are required, or they’re not completely successful. But, best-case scenario, it will mean I can be taken off some of the drugs I’m on at the moment.

All of this is necessary because I don’t respond to the available medicines. I couldn’t tolerate beta-blockers, as I’ve documented in these Health Journey series of posts, and—obviously—Diltiazem didn’t keep me out of tachycardia or afib. This means that drug therapy probably isn’t an option for me.

An interesting thing that came out of all this was that one doctor pointed out that it’s impossible to know for sure whether it’s the Diltiazem or the afib that’s causing my ongoing fatigue. But whatever the cause, I’ve been deeply tired ever since this tachycardia business started, so much so that I don’t feel I have my life. I told the doctors that I’m too young to feel this old, and I feel I’m being robbed of what should be good, productive, active years. I think our mutual goal is to change that.

The tests done already have shown one really good thing: My heart is healthy and functioning normally, apart from the afib. The stent is unrelated in that it was for a cardiac artery problem, not the heart itself, and that was fixed. With proper care and monitoring, is unlikely to recur.

I slept 12 hours Wednesday night, and spent Thursday mostly relaxing. The main thing I did was that Nigel took me to get my new prescriptions (I don’t think I was supposed to drive for like 48 hours because I’d had a general anaesthetic), and he took me to lunch while we were out. Friday and today I’ve similarly kept quiet. But, I feel fine.

So, a problem I’ve dealt with before, the tachycardia and the afib, took a new twist this week, and required more aggressive treatment. Doing that actually points to a way forward, though it may turn out there are more twists and turns in this road yet. This week was stressful, and very tiring, but otherwise not as big a drama, fortunately, as it could have been, nor as bad as others have faced.

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started. Fortunately, it ended much more predictably.

Oh, and, of course, I left hospital without a bill.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Blogging revelation and reflection

There’s an old saying that writers want to be read. Or, that they need to be read. Clearly that phrase doesn’t apply to bloggers, not if they’re realistic, because the vast majority of bloggers have a small readership and very little profile. Consequently, despite all the breathless posts on Pinterest, most people will never make a cent from blogging. All of that is simple reality for most, though obviously not all, bloggers. Which is why all the bloggers I’ve known, including me, do it for completely different reasons.

This was driven home to me following the end of Google+. Back in February, when I talked about the approaching end of the service, I talked about how I shared blog posts to the service. It was a mostly automatic thing, and I didn’t think much about it, but always assumed that there wasn’t a whole lot of benefit to doing that. It turns out, I was wrong.

I’ve noticed that since Google+ went away, the number of page views for my blog posts have dropped—actually, plummeted is probably a better word. In the first week after I publish a post, page views are about a third less than they were when Google+ was still around—but that’s at the end of that first week. In the first few days after I publish a post, page loads are usually about half, or less, what they were when Google+ was around. By comparison, episodes of my AmeriNZ Podcast have more downloads in the first week or so than any blog post does.

I have no explanation, and can no longer check out any theories, of course. I’d always assumed that not many people actually saw a post on Google+, though I had no way of knowing (stats showed “Google”, but not G+ specifically). So, maybe the page views were the result of bots/webcrawlers? No idea.

But a few days ago, after seeing there was no improvement in page views, meaning the audience for most posts is pretty tiny, I had a similar reaction to a less severe drop in page loads I noticed back in October of last year:
A week or so ago, I published a post and got the screen I always get, which is a list of all published posts from newest to oldest, 100 posts per page. That list includes the number of page views per post, and for no reason in particular, I looked at them: They’re all mostly fairly consistent—with consistently low page views. My first reaction was, “why am I bothering anymore?” My second reaction was, “THIS is why I never look at page view numbers.”

So, I saw those numbers, was discouraged, and instantly thought of stopping blogging, podcasts, videos—everything. I thought a bit about what I might do with my time if I wasn’t blogging, etc., anymore. I thought about taking more photos—and then what? Change them around on my office wall? What good, I thought to myself, is working on them if no one sees them?

And that’s kind of the point of blogging, too. I can share my views and opinions about current events with friends and family, but that’s kind of the verbal equivalent of taking photos and hanging them on my wall. And they already know about New Zealand. I’ve learned that there’s always the chance that some post I publish will resonate widely, or even just deeply, for the people who see it, beyond anything the number of page views might suggest.
All of that ran through my mind this week, too, and I remembered the bit about photos as I thought about what I might spend my time doing if I stopped blogging and podcasting. Nothing’s changed since last October: I still have no alternatives.

But then, as before, I remembered that I don’t actually do this for “exposure”, or whatever, and whether a post has one reader or a thousand (it’s much closer to the former…) isn’t actually something I usually pay much attention to. This time, like in October, it was because of a recent decline in page views.

When people share posts, as sometimes happens, page views go up, which makes sense, of course. It doesn’t happen all the time, or even necessarily very often, but that probably just means that I’m not writing about popular things. Even so, from time to time posts about all sorts of subjects may be “popular”, relatively speaking, while other posts on the same topic are not.

I recently saw a piece about the most popular types of blogs, ironically, maybe, on a site for WordPress beginners. The ten most popular types are, in order: Fashion Blogs, Food Blogs, Travel Blogs, Music Blogs, Lifestyle Blogs, Fitness Blogs, DIY Blogs, Sports Blogs, Finance Blogs, and Political Blogs. Personal blogs like this one were ranked 13th. This sort of ranking is probably most useful for people who want to start a blog and make money from it. Even then, getting readers is an entirely different matter.

Maybe part of the problem is, as Vox put it recently, “…the internet is destroying our collective attention span”, something they say may be shortening our individual attention span, too. Even if it doesn’t, the way that “hot” topics come and go so quickly, any blogger pegging their hopes for readers on blogging about those “hot” topics is probably going to be exhausted all the time.

So, despite the brief discouragement caused by a drop in page views, nothing has actually changed. I still blog about what I want to and when I want to. As long as I get something out of it, I’ll keep going. It’s nice to have people read what I produce, nicer if they get something from it—and it’s kind of nice to know that people read it, too.

But, like all the bloggers I’ve known, I do it for completely different reasons.

Political Notebook for 12 May 2019

The pace of political news never let’s up, and when combined with a lack of time, that means things pile up. Today’s collection of political stuff was built up over a few weeks, so it's a bit longer than usual. Sometimes it’s necessary.

The rogue ones

The current regime’s war on democracy and the rule of law has picked up speed since the redacted Mueller Report was released. For example, “Trump and his allies are blocking more than 20 separate Democratic probes in an all-out war with Congress”, and, of course, there’s the big fight building because “Refusal to hand over Trump's tax returns sets up legal fight”. There are lot of excuses the regime is making, most of them downright silly, but one of them is “executive privilege”, something that’s not actually in the US Constitution, but that presidents have been claiming for years, mostly to hide what they’re doing from Congressional scrutiny and oversight. Thankfully, Politifact, the project of the Poynter Institute, has provided a handy guide to “What you need to know about executive privilege”.

All of which is why “Trump’s lawlessness is an unfolding Shakespearean tragedy”, as a ThinkProgress piece puts it.

The desperate despot

The current regime is headed by a man who has openly and often expressed his love of and admiration for brutal dictators and their authoritarian regimes. He tries to emulate his heroes, often comically, like when he wanted his eventually cancelled military parade. It’s clear he never quite gave up on the idea of using legitimate patriotism to flatter and exalt himself, as the Washington Post explains in “Trump takes over Fourth of July celebration, changing its location and inserting himself into the program”. Because what all narcissists crave is adulation; dictators have the power to make everyone join in.

Obviously, at the moment the current occupant of the White House can’t force all Americans to worship him, not yet. But what happens if he loses the 2020 election and simply refuses to leave office? “Scholars echo Pelosi’s concerns: Trump will not step down in 2020 if he loses re-election”. As well they should—consider what the man himself has been joking about how me may not leave, and his strongest allies, the allegedly comprised son of a dead TV preacher, has said he should get two extra years to “make up” for being investigated for the crime he and his campaign committed.

There are those who point out that, as per the Constitution, whoever is elected in November, 2020 will become president automatically at Noon on January 20, 2021, regardless of what the current occupant does or doesn’t do in the event he loses the election. But Speaker Pelosi’s concerns, as she pointed out in the New York Times piece the Slate piece linked to above mentioned, Democrats will need a massive victory so that its legitimacy is beyond any question. If he loses by a small amount, he will rally his supporters in his defence. There are 78 days between Election Day and Inauguration Day, which is more than enough time to get his frothing fans—especially the heavily armed ones—to Washington, DC to prevent the normal peaceful transfer of power. It doesn’t matter if they could prevent the US military re-taking Washington and ending the rebellion, what matters is that the last norm of constitutional law would be shattered, and if he prevailed it would mean the end of the USA. Anyone who says that’s “impossible” hasn’t been paying attention for the past 27 months.

His frothing fervent fans laugh at all this, arguing that, just like in 2016, we take him literally, but not seriously, while they do the opposite. If we’ve learned anything about him it’s this: Don’t ever underestimate that man again. He may be “joking” about overthrowing the Constitution, but only a fool would dismiss the possibility that he’s serious about doing so.

Second-worst case scenario

While the current occupant could reject his election defeat and seize power as a dictator, it’s also entirely possible—maybe even likely at this particular moment—that he could win the 2020 election. The election is a long way off—the better part of a year and a half—and there are far too many unknowns to permit any kind of firm opinion on that. After all, at this point in 2015, polls showed that the leading candidates for the Republican Nomination were Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio (depending on the specific poll). The eventual Republican nominee was either not named or polled very, very lowly. The common wisdom was that Jeb would get the nomination.

We can take two things from this history lesson: First, current polling of Democrats may be true at the moment (since all polls are at their heart a snapshot of a moment in time), but one should never assume that the current polls predict who the Democratic nominee will be next year. So, it’s not surprising that, as Real Clear Politics has shown, polls testing theoretical matches between the Current Occupant and various Democrats are all over the place. Once there’s an actual Democratic nominee—or, at least, a clearly likely one—then we’ll start seeing polling data that will be more useful. [In the meantime, FiveThiryEight’s tracking of Democratic Primary polling is interesting, if nothing else]

Similarly, the ongoing unpopularity of the current occupant is not necessarily permanent, and, in any case, nationwide polling is irrelevant: What matters is who wins what states with how many Electoral College votes. End of story. A candidate can lose the popular vote and still become president, as the current occupant did. But this time, the current occupant might win both.

The 2020 presidential election will, as always, come down to a handful of “swing states”, and—at the moment—polls suggest that it doesn’t look good for the current occupant. His approval ratings in swing states, including ones that gave him the White House, are terrible, often far worse than his national average. But 2016 proved that we can never assume anything, and Democrats should work as if they’re underdogs—especially because they are. Fortunately, the Democratic Party is already working at building their “on the ground” staff for the General Election campaign, rather than wait until the nominee is known, as they did in 2016. That’s good—and vital.

Meanwhile, the current occupant isn’t depending on holding onto the swing states that handed him the White House in 2016, and he’s looking for new opportunities. For example, he thinks he has a very good chance of winning Virginia, and he also thinks he could flip Minnesota. It would be a fatal mistake to laugh at him and ignore the danger in the opportunities he thinks he sees.

Even though he hasn’t delivered much for his frothing fans, we must at least acknowledge that the current occupant has a very, very good chance of winning the election in 2020. First, he will take credit for a positive economy—assuming it still is and that his trade war with China doesn’t destroy it. Nit-picking over whether he deserves any credit for that economy won’t change anything in the eyes of ordinary voters who will, at the very least, give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, even suggesting that he merely benefitted from existing trends, etc., is likely to make voters perceive Democrats as negative and mean-spirited, playing into the current occupant’s rhetoric about “angry Democrats”. To avoid a close election they could then lose, Democrats cannot afford to wilfully alienate any voters.

A better strategy, in my opinion: Acknowledge what’s going well and then pivot to how many people are being left behind, how income for most people has been stagnant—often stalled—for decades, even as it’s soared for the rich and skyrocketed for the super-rich. The inequality of the economy and the unfairness of how they’re doing are things that ordinary people can and do actually feel; it’s unreasonable to expect them to get upset or care about whether the current occupant is taking credit he doesn’t deserve. After all, they’re used to him lying and shamelessly promoting himself; what they want to know is what Democrats will do to make their lives better, to fix the inequality and unfairness that the current occupant and the Republican Party he controls seek to increase.

And, of course, we must never forget that the current occupant begins with the huge advantage of the powers of incumbency at his disposal, something that can be a huge advantage. He could even start a war or three if he thinks it’ll help him win the election, or take some other sort of action to stoke fear and hatred. He’s clearly not above doing that, especially if he thinks he’s losing.

Random bits

Two other things are worth pointing out. First, this week “House passes Trump-opposed disaster-relief bill with more funding for Puerto Rico”. At the Washington Post article puts it: “Thirty-four Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats to pass the sweeping relief package, 257 to 150.” Republicans vow to kill it in the US Senate, so this could be a short victory, but these days you just never know.

The other thing is that caught my eye this week was "Sick Of 2020 Already? Most Voters Aren’t." in which FiveThirtyEight's weekly "Pollapalooza" looks at voter enthusiasm. It doesn't mean much, really, but, still: Political data. It's fun.

There’s always plenty to talk about, when the pace of political news never let’s up. Oh well, time to start a new page in the Notebook.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Baby steps through rubbish

New Zealand has a recycling problem. While New Zealanders love their natural environment and want to protect it, but our options for dealing with recyclable waste are severely limited. We’re slowly making progress, but it’s baby steps. It would be nice if this baby could walk by now, though.

Today the New Zealand Government announced what they call their “Plan to recharge recycling”, and it has some important components. Among other things, it will seek to ensure the right things are recycled, that Kiwis are educated about can (and can’t) be recycled, that industry takes more responsibility for the packaging used for the products we buy, and that we develop onshore systems for recycling low-value plastics.

Part of the reason that we have trouble with contaminated and unusable recyclables collected is that many New Zealanders don’t fully understand what’s recyclable. One way around that is to educate people, and the video above from Auckland Council is one version of that (there’s an expanded version of that video at the bottom of this post).

One of the major problems we have is that both China and Australia announced that they would no longer accept our recyclables for processing. That meant the soft plastics recycling programme was suspended in December of last year. A month ago, they announced that the programme would resume on a limited basis after Easter, and then at the end of April they announced on Facebook the programme would resume at 37 locations in Auckland on May 20—at locations to be announced later. Their goal is to keep the programme sustainable, which is good, but only part of the solution.

Manufacturers must take responsibility for the waste they produce, and the government wants them to do that, saying “This could include regulations around ensuring plastic packaging is able to be recycled and/or to require a portion of recycled content in packaging.” The latter should already be happening, but the only food container I can remember that uses recycled plastic is a product from Denmark. There could be New Zealand ones, too, but if so, they certainly don’t promote that fact.

As it is, much packing isn’t recyclable, usually because it’s made of mixed materials or simply that it’s not recyclable. For example, look at the labelling on these Countdown supermarket own-brand products I bought recently:

The package on the left tells us to send its packaging to landfill, while the one on the right tells us that it can be recycled (and the tub and lid are also coded for the type of plastic). I bought similar products from a competing grocery store, and they didn’t have those labels, but they were both recyclable (not the film, of course, because that’s soft plastic). The labels in the photo are good in that that they make clear that some packaging has to go to landfill, however, it ought to be made of recycled plastic and be recyclable.

There have been proposals that manufacturers be forced to accept returns of their packaging, because, the argument goes, it would make them quickly find ways of reducing it so they don’t have to deal with it. In reality, they’d probably just pay to send it to landfill. Another proposal has been to tax manufacturers for their packaging, giving them a financial incentive to reduce packaging, Putting aside questions about how, precisely, such a tax could work, it’s an interesting idea. But if manufacturers were both taxed and required to accept the return of their packaging, that might work. But we don’t live in such a perfect world, so the more likely thing, in my opinion, is that the government will issue regulations that manufacturers must adhere to, and, ultimately, consumers will pay for it—but we do, already because we have to pay to bury the non-recyclable stuff.

So, there’s a bit of progress on dealing with our mountain of waste, to recycle what we can, and reduce what we can’t. It should already be much easier than it is, and consumers shouldn’t have to work so hard to figure out ways to reduce our packaging waste. We need government action to speed things up, and while the government is definitely moving in the right direction, it needs to move faster on the things that can be done right away. Hopefully, they’ll do so. This baby needs to start running.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

It was a health day

Yesterday turned out to be (mostly) about health stuff. There were a few surprises along the way, too. Actually most days probably have a surprise or two, if we pay attention. In this case, everything was related.

I had two goals yesterday: To go to the vampires for my routine blood tests, and I also needed to post a specimen for testing. The first is nothing unusual, something that happens every year. I shared the photo at left on my personal Facebook, noting, “The number is random, btw; there aren’t 176 in front of me—this time.” I’ve never actually waited very long to get the blood drawn, and this time wasn’t much different.

However, when the phlebotomist came into the testing room, she was an older lady who said, “You’re a young pup”, or words to that effect. Which made me wonder how old, exactly she was—especially when she repeated it a couple times. She actually hurt me when she put the needle in, which doesn’t happen all that often. When I took off the bandage this morning (I wait until I have my shower because it hurts less) there was bruising where the needle was, but that’s actually most likely because I’m on an anti-coagulant. It’s the first time, really, that I’ve had the sort of bruising that people on this drug are told to expect.

That was the second half of my trip that day, and the first part actually began at home, in the smallest room in the house.

New Zealand has a National Bowel Screening Programme that offers an at-home test to men and women every two years between ages 60 and 74. I got my test invitation late in March, but due to many public holidays and work, I didn’t have a chance to do it until this week.

Contents of my (unused at that point)  test kit.
The test kit includes instructions, of course, a sheet of soluble paper that goes into the toilet for one to drop the substance to be tested, a little wand inside a tube that one scrapes across the substance to be tested, the wand is placed back in the tube, which is then put into a ziplock bag, which is then placed in the cardboard mailing envelope along with the signed consent form.

This test is done because most people don’t need a colonoscopy, unless there are particular risk factors identified by one’s doctor. So, this test identifies the people who would otherwise not get tested at all and, if the test is positive, they’re sent for a colonoscopy, and then, if necessary, they’re referred to a cancer specialist. By escalating the testing based on risk and need, the system avoids wasting money on unnecessary testing.

The instructions said to post the sample back to them well before the end of a week so it doesn’t sit around somewhere, and I decided I’d go to the Papakura PostShop, since all the others with a half hour drive of us are “agencies”, not actual Postshops. I wanted a real one because that would probably mean the mailboxes would be emptied a couple times a day.

The Papakura Postshop was the same one where I posted my completed US Midterm Election ballot last November. However, I was surprised to find out that it was gone. At the end of November, NZ Post announced that there’d be a bunch of closures, but at the time I couldn’t find any list of the closures. The location, I discovered, is now a Kiwibank-only (not a location shared with a Postshop). They had mailboxes, but it would be emptied once, at 6pm that evening. Oh, well, good intentions.

I went on to the vampires in Takanini because there’s usually a shorter waiting time there than at the other two the same general driving time from our house. There are also other places I’ll go to in Takanini, like a location of the grocery store I go to, which isn’t true of one of the other two vampire locations. Pity about the pain this time.

So, I also ran a couple errands while I was there, including that grocery store (which, surprisingly, now carries products I used to only be able to get at my normal supermarket in Pukekohe), and I ended up posting something at the NZ Post agent, too; I could have posted the test sample there, too, if I’d known the real Postshop was gone. Now I do.

I got home at right about the time to start making dinner, and after that I sat down to watch TV. I was using my iPad to look at a friend’s post on Facebook and realised I couldn’t quite read the type. I thought my reading glasses were dirty (they weren’t), or maybe there was something in my eye (there wasn’t). I then saw little lights, which is a sign of an impending migraine, which I’ve experienced once or twice. So, I popped a couple Panadol and went to lie down. I fell asleep, and when I woke up an hour and some later I dragged myself out of bed because I had a rock in my stomach (because I lay down not all that long after dinner). I stayed up long enough for the rock to go away, and went to bed. That was not the evening I’d expected.

Today was a perfectly normal day, fortunately, though I was really tired. I didn’t necessarily get a lot done, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

I should get my blood test results tomorrow or the next day, and the bowel screening results should arrive in about three weeks. Regardless of what the results are, there’ll soon be follow-up with my doctor, especially because I haven’t had my flu vaccination yet this year. All of which is no surprise—I try to look after my health now. Yesterday was just really just another health day.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Nothing has changed

A little over a month since the world decided to fight back against the brutality of the tiny country of Brunei’s plans to execute gay people for having sex, the country has backed down by announcing a “moratorium” on the death penalty for gay people and those convicted of “adultery”. So, hurray, right? It’s a victory, right? No. Absolutely nothing whatsoever has changed and the world needs to increase pressure, not ease up.

It’s always a good thing when a country’s government decides against murdering its LGBT+ people. No country can be considered civilised or part of the family of nations if it murders its own LGBT+ citizens simply for being fully human people, as Brunei planned to do. The “laws” or “reasons” Brunei claimed were justifications for planning to murder them were never acceptable, and they sort of got that message.

But only a week or so after the country ‘s ruler faced a boycott of his super luxury hotels, one of his officials told the world not to worry about the plans to murder LGBT+ people—no, he said, the world had it all wrong! It wasn’t really about murdering LGBT+ people, no! It was more about “prevention than punishment”. Apparently their laws don’t prevent government officials spouting utter bullshit.

Every autocratic regime knows that penalties mean absolutely nothing without enforcement: The victims of oppression must be so terrified that they won’t ever do whatever the regime doesn’t want them to do (or they’ll do what the regime demands, as the case may be), or they’ll leave the country. If such regimes don’t punish people for disobeying their dictates on one thing, people will get the idea they have free will on everything, and that can never be tolerated.

Such laws also invite corruption. A person could be “accused” of something the regime doesn’t like, even though it’s not true, and be forced to pay bribes to get out of trouble. An LGBT+ person—even if they fully comply with the brutal laws in that country—would always be open to blackmail and to violence from fanatics who take it upon themselves to do the regime’s enforcement.

So, having a “moratorium” will change absolutely nothing in the daily lives of most LGBT+ people who will have to remain deeply hidden, always on guard and on the watch, always subject to violence from fanatics, and always faking every tiny detail of their identity so as to avoid having their genuine selves discovered.

The fact that Brunei issued a “moratorium” (re-issued is probably more technically correct, since enforcement has been deferred for years) suggests that they felt the world’s pressure. With their backs freshly patted, the regime will wait until the world’s attention goes away, and then, instead of announcing it, they’ll just quietly lift the moratorium when the world isn’t watching. They’ll probably go farther and conduct the first executions in secret, too.

Brunei is not a place that respects individual rights and personal liberty, and having a “moratorium” on murdering its LGBT+ people doesn’t change that fact. The world needs to keep pushing until they finally act like responsible adults and repeal the law altogether.

There will be handwringers who will say that keeping up the pressure will cause them to become more brutal, but that’s inevitable, anyway. Neither will patting them on the back for not murdering their LGBT+ people make them any nicer to them—it will not make the regime treat them like human beings. Things will remain horrible for LGBT+ people in Brunei, but the world could help make things better, but only if it keeps the pressure on.

Clearly the world’s pressure—and the boycotts—were having an effect on the regime. The world needs to increase pressure, not ease up. But, I’m not expecting much. Last month I thought the response, especially from New Zealand, was far too weak. I’m not expecting anything better now.

The world should prove me wrong. That’s be a welcome change.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Gardening work

The Instagram caption above tells the story: Our tomato plants are still producing, much longer than they’ve lasted any other year (last year it was all over, and the plants dying, by the end of March). I have no idea why that’s happening, however, we bought the plants this year rather than grow them from seed—but we have in previous years, too.

The spot where the tomatoes are growing is warm and sunny, so maybe that accounts for some of it? No idea, but it’s kind of fun watching what happens.

Meanwhile, we now have a dilemma: How much effort do we put into keeping the plants going? This month is mid-Autumn, and this can’t go on much longer, not with colder weather and shorter days. We can’t make it into a hot house at this stage, but maybe we could cover it with frostcloth at night to keep it warmer over night. Or, is there even any point? We’ve never been in this position before.

Meanwhile, we have some flax plants that are growing in front of the house, and they’re now too big, growing up in front of my office window, blocking daylight. That window faces 140º SE (which I know I thanks to an App on my phone…), so it doesn’t get any direct sunilight; the main daylight is reflected from the neighbour’s house, and there’s less of that this time of year, so it’s much more noticeable.

So, I want to dig up the flax, divide it, and re-plant it along the back fence, in an area we want to keep the dogs away from (Leo sometimes goes there to bark at a neighbour’s dog). I’ve never done that before. So, I’ve been doing my Internet research on how to do it, and I’ll try it soon.

Then, the question will be, what do I plant there to replace the flax? I’m not good at garden design, so I’ll have to get some advice.

All of that will be a project, and the subject of a blog post about it, hopefully by the middle of this month so all the plants gets a chance to settle down before winter (mild though it is) and be ready for Spring growth.

In the meantime, I have got some other, smaller projects that we did but that I haven’t gotten around to blogging about. Those posts will probably come first, especially because there may be rainy days before I finish the flax project.

I think I better rest up.


"Productive holiday weekend" – When we planted the tomatoes.
"The tomatoes are growing" – The plants were growing well by December.
"Photo Trial" – They were even the subject of a photo experiment.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Paywall bad news

Newspapers are struggling to survive nearly everywhere. How they deal with the challenges varies, and among the solutions are paywalls, membership schemes, donations, and others. The New Zealand Herald has just launched a paywall, and not very well. There’s no compelling reason to subscribe to their “premium” service, and I won’t be doing so—yet.

The New Zealand Herald first tried a paywall a few years ago, and it failed miserably. The main problem was that they were the only one in New Zealand, and people could get the same news many other places for free, so the only thing they offered that couldn’t be seen elsewhere were their columnists, and, as I said at the time, “they’re just not that good”. Okay, that was a bit snotty, but nevertheless true: Many were grumpy, curmudgeonly, right-wing, irrelevant, or some combination of those. Sure, some people, probably the same ones who ring up talkback radio to whine about something or other, may have appreciated those, um, attributes, but neither I nor anyone I knew shared that viewpoint.

In more recent years the paper again started talking about launching a new paywall, but never quite seemed ready to do it, probably in part because, once again, they’d be the only major mainstream news site in New Zealand doing it.

In recent months, the talk started becoming more frequent, and then they started labelling content on their website as “Premium”, apparently to let people know what they’d be getting access to as subscribers—and what they’d lose access to if they weren’t. Unfortunately, that wasn’t obvious so I avoided everything marked “Premium” assuming one had to pay to see it.

Still, what they were showing were mostly in-depth journalism and investigations which was at least promising. Meanwhile, the rest of their home page included clickbait, often sourced from overseas papers, including the reprehensible Daily Mail in the UK.

I am told—because I didn’t see it myself—that when the new paywall launched, they had a click-baity story about Prince Harry and Meghan behind the paywall—not exactly the sort of thing that would entice someone who wants serious journalism. That’s the first thing they’ll need to fix: They can’t put clickbait behind their paywall if they want to be taken seriously.

The second thing is that they’ll need to prove that the money raised will actually go to journalism, and not just into the pockets of shareholders, here and overseas. So far, it seems that most people don’t think it’ll happen, and this is just about money for shareholders. They’ll need to make a big deal about hiring journalists, if indeed they do so.

Much of their content, they tell us, is still free, but that includes the stuff designed to promote radio personalities and programmes on the Herald’s NZME sibling radio stations. By and large, these “columnists” are absolutely terrible, promoting especially privileged and self-centred rightwing drivel. Still, at least they’re not behind the paywall at the moment, because that would be a strong disincentive to subscribe.

Their biggest problem is that their digital subscription rate (see graphic above) is way too high. At $5 per week, it works out to $260 per year, though if someone makes one annual payment it’s $199. They’re offering a special rate of $2.50 per week for the first 8 weeks, after which it goes up to the full rate.

For comparison, The Washington Post digital subscription is $100 per year, which is about NZ$150 (the Post currently has a promotion of $25 for the first year, which is NZ$37.60). The New York Times is currently $1 a week for a year (US$52 is NZ$78.13). Which means that a new subscriber could get both the Post and the NYT for not much more than half the price of the cheapest NZ Herald digital subscription. I know which option that I would choose.

Increasingly, the Herald has not been a good paper to read. Many of their articles have a strong rightward lean, either in tone of focus (or both), and many of the stories have been in the, “okay, but why is this ‘news’?” category. They haven’t done as much in-depth or investigative journalism as they used to, and they rely too much on foreign papers—like the Post, for example, and I alrready subscribe to the entire paper, not just what the NZ Herald wants to show me.

Their only drawcard is that they’re New Zealand-based and cover New Zealand stories. But the same thing can be said of any number of other news sites here in New Zealand that don’t have a paywall. If they expect people to pay for news they can get for free elsewhere, then the Herald will have to lift its game and offer news and features that people can’t get for free elsewhere. That may sound harsh or unfair, particularly to hard-working and overstretched journalists, but it is reality. In news business as with every other business, the consumer is king.

When I first looked at overseas digital newspaper subscriptions in 2015, neither the NYT nor the Post were there yet (back then, the NYT had a pricing plans based on device rather than content). Now, they’ve become much more customer-focused, so much so that the Post won my business in July of last year. If the NZ Herald wants to make their paywall work, they’re going to have to learn from their examples.

I didn't like the NZ Herald we’ve had over the past few years, and I certainly wouldn’t pay to subscribe to that. But if they can put up good, solid journalism without click-bait or shallow columns by radio personalities, and if they can offer it at a much more sensible price—and reinvest that money into journalism—then people like me could be tempted in. That won’t happen right now, and probably not for a while, if ever. The jury’s still out.

Whether the new paywall will actually work or it will fail like the last one did will depend entirely on how the paper adapts to customer expectations and needs, and how much emphasis it places on content that’s worth subscribing to. The NYT learned and adapted, and so did the Post—so much so that I now subscribe to it. The NZ Herald can certainly do the same—IF they want to. But, that’s news for the future.