Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sometimes tips really work

There are tips and tricks we learn about on the Internet, and whether they’re called “hints” or “life hacks” or whatever, they may or may not be believable. Sometimes we try the tip, other times we don’t, but sometimes those tips really work. This is one of those times.

Earlier this month, Nigel and I had lunch in a café, and I ordered a coffee, as I always do, and it was a little bitter. So, I added a TINY bit of salt and the bitterness was gone.

I heard about that on the BBC Two series, “The Secrets of Your Food”, which was broadcast here recently on TV 1. The episode was about humans’ taste ability. Co-presenter Michael Mosley was talking about how chemicals interact to form or alter what we taste, in this case talking about coffee, and he suggested adding a bit of salt if you get a bitter cup of coffee. That day earlier this month was my first chance to try it out.

I was sceptical it would work, even though I had no reason to doubt the chemistry at work here, so I wasn’t expecting much. But it was kind of amazing how well it worked, and without making the coffee taste salty (it was only a very little salt I added).

I may be the only coffee drinker who didn’t already know this, but I decied I’d use it from now on. Even the best barista sometimes makes a bitter cup of coffee, after all, but I’d proven that there was a way to make sure that won’t be an issue for me in the future.

Today I had a chance to verify my evidence. I’d gone to Waiuku for some routine blood tests, just as I did exactly one year ago today. And, just like that day, I went to the café in the same building for—literally—break-fast (they were my annual fasting blood tests). I had a MASSIVE cup of coffee (pictured above, with cutlery beside it to try and provide a point of reference). The coffee was slightly bitter—not badly so, but enough that I noticed it. So, I added the teeny, tiniest bit of salt and, yet again, the bitterness was gone.

This was only my second trip to Waiuku, and it didn’t impress me much a year ago. In fact, the town didn’t impress me any more today, however, I may have judged the vampires’ facility and the nearby New World supermarket a little too harshly: Both were better than I thought at the time.

My earlier misjudgement of the New World was because we’d only moved from our old house not yet a month earlier, and I was still used to the New World I went to there, and that one is a much nicer store. A year later, I no longer have that same frame of reference/point of comparison. I liked the Waiuku store much better than I did last year. Even so, I can’t imagine making a trip there to go to that store: There’s literally nothing else in Waiuku (apart from the vampires) to draw me there. Same time next year?

The vampires in Waiuku, however, went up in my esteem. I’d gone to Pukekohe and found their vampires’ facility was small, cramped, and the waiting room was crammed with people, apparently due to understaffing. I quickly calculated that the waiting time would be about an hour, and I was late leaving home, so I was so hungry that I was in pain. I left with all my blood.

The vampires have three locations within a 25-30 minute drive of our house, and I’ve now been to all of them. I wouldn’t choose to go to Pukekohe again, so it’s ranked last, despite being my favourite of the three towns. In second place is Waiuku, which was reasonably fast and not crowded. In first place is Takanini, which is bigger, has good parking, and plenty of shops nearby that I might want to visit. My all time favourite was the tiny location in Beach Haven on the North Shore, but that’s more than an hour’s drive away (more than that most days).

So, Waiuku wasn’t exactly a draw for me, but the vampires, breakfast, and New World were all good. But I was most pleased about verifying that the salt in coffee thing really does work, and my earlier success wasn’t a fluke.

Sometimes those tips really work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Small treasures

Going through things stored away can yield many surprises, from ephemera that stir up long forgotten memories, to accidental “over purchases”, to lost “I’ve been looking for that!” items. Sometimes, we find treasure.

The photo above shows the current New Zealand coins I found recently when going through boxes in the garage. It was part of my garage reorganisation project, but it was also accidental: I opened a lightweight box to see if I could combine the contents with another, and I found the basket I mentioned.

The basket was mostly junk—EFTPOS receips, old grocery lists, that sort of thing. They’d all actually come from a drawer in my bedside cabinet, but when we changed cabinets some years ago to ones with one less drawer, I had to clean out the old drawers. Except—and this is shockingly unusual for me—I was so busy that I just didn’t have time. So, stuff ended up in that basket. Then, I topped it up with new stuff. And then I forgot about it entirely.

Yesterday, while I was on the phone with the customer service people for the company that hosts my AmeriNZ Podcast website, I decided to go through the basket (I talked about that phone adventure on my latest podcast episode). It was probably the only way I’d have gotten to that task so soon, actually, so it turned out well.

As I said in the Instagram caption, I also found discontinued NZ coins that had a face value of $4.60, though their only value now is as scrap metal, as I said above, or to collectors. Or to John Green.

And then there was that stray US penny. I have no idea why it was there, but I have a few US coins, mostly left over from holiday trips, or even a few I had with me when I arrived in New Zealand way back when (well, 1995, actually). They’re not of a whole lot of use in this country, oddly enough.

The Australian coins used to be another matter. It used to be common to get Australian coins in change, since their 20¢ coin was the same size as ours (they get their $1 and $2 coin sizes backwards, however; ours are right). Since we changed to new, smaller coins, that stopped Australian coins circulating in New Zealand: No one confuses them anymore.

I’d like to think that some a box somewhere has a stack of banknotes waiting to be discovered, but that will only happen in an alternate universe: I never put aside bank notes because, unlike coins, they’re useful.

Coins just arent very useful anymore. I no longer buy candy from the corner dairy, so having a few coins in my pocket isn’t at all necessary (which is how they eneded up being dumped in a basket in the first place). Time was, you could take coins to any bank branch and deposit them, but a lot of branches now are mainly offices to meet with loan officers or whatever, and they send coins away to be cointed—and for a fee, of course.

There are actually plenty of things that an ordinary person might buy with coins, but New Zealand is rapidly moving to a cashless society, so finding a use for coins is becoming harder. In fact, I don’t actually know what I’ll do with the $15.30. Maybe I’ll put it in my car for when I want a soft drink.

This process of tidying up the garage has meant going through a lot of things. I haven’t found much cash, but I’ve found a lot of useful stuff, ncluding stuff I bought, forgot about, and bought again, and other stuff I’ve forgotten about. Some of the stuff has remined me of things from my past, and that’s been interesting to me. Not all the small treasures I’ve found have been monetary.

The garage reorganisation project has been difficult, and mostly extremely ordinary. Sometimes, though, I find treasure. Those are good days. Coins, however, are optional.

Monday, March 12, 2018

AmeriNZ Podcast 337 ‘Resolution' is now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 337 – Resolution” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This episode gives the resolution to the story from the previous episode, as well as an explanation of the barriers I had preventing me from blogging and podcasting.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Difference Between Australia & New Zealand

The video above is by Jordan Watson for his “How to Dad” YouTube Channel (currently some 186,000 subscribers). The video takes a humours look at the differences between Australia and New Zealand. While some of them are somewhat “in jokes” between the two countries (especially his wrap-up), it nevertheless really does talk about some differences.

Watson’s channel has received a lot of attention for his channel. In the video below, from TEDxChristchurch last year. It includes his first video, which began the rest. He talks about how everything came to be, and shows more of his sense of humour. He also has a really good message at the end.

And all that’s more about New Zealand, too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

We were counted

The deadline for completing the New Zealand Census was midnight last night, though millions were done in the days leading up to the deadline. Yesterday evening, the TV ads promoting the census became more and more frequent, eventually alternating with other ads on at least one channel. And, then it was all over.

We did our Census last night (final screen above), mainly because we kept forgetting to do it or were busy with projects in the days after we got our online code. We filled-out the census online, just as we did with the 2013 Census. This year, however, instead of using a computer, we used my iPad; to be honest, part of me wanted to test whether their site really was “device friendly” as they promised (it was).

First, I filled out the form for the dwelling. Mostly, it was pretty standard questions: How many storeys? How many bedrooms? Is there kitchen? Is there running water? Electricity? How many lounges/living rooms? (the trend in modern homes is to have two, a more formal lounge and an informal rumpus or family room).

One dwelling question unleashed the mocking powers of social media: It asked how many conservatories we had “that you can sit it”. I read that and instantly though, “WTF?!” I’m a potty-mouthed thinker, apparently. The thing is, New Zealand houses aren’t known for having conservatories, certainly not like British houses seem to be, and I haven’t seen any sudden trend to add them. So, like everyone else, I wondered what the heck they were on about.

There were technology questions, too, asking whether we had available for our personal use (and not exclusively for work): A phone, a mobile phone, an Internet connection. I noticed that they no longer ask if we have a fax machine, probably because hardly anyone does anymore (we got rid of ours a decade or more ago).

The dwelling section seemed much shorter than in previous years—until I saw the personal form, which was fairly miniscule. Most of the questions were about work, health, language(s) spoken, etc., and the religion question:

This Census or the next one in 2023 will probably show New Zealand as majority “No religion”, however, as I always point out, “no religion” doesn’t necessarily mean literally no religion: It often simply means no particular religion. The census doesn’t drill down any further to see what people mean when they answer “no religion”, as I did, and some commentators have taken that to mean New Zealand is mainly an atheist nation. But the census results cannot be used to make that determination—ALL we know is that the category chosen by the largest segment of New Zealand by far is “no religion”, though Christians of all sorts combined together made up more (I talked about that in more detail in a 2013 post).

So, sooner or later, the clear majority of New Zealanders will identify as having “no religion”. I can already hear the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth about that will be coming from the usual suspects, but after a short time (maybe 10 minutes…) New Zealanders will move on and it won’t be a topic anymore. When most New Zealanders choose to identify as having “no religion” it will mean they won’t care that most New Zealanders identify as having no religion. And, once an issue is settled, we always move on pretty quickly.

There was one final thing that struck me as potentially interesting. Our individual forms asked how we're related to each other, and our option was "husband/wife, civil union partner, defacto". When you consider it already asked us our gender, and we'd said we were "legally married", it would be possible to work out how many same-sex couples there are, and in what sort of relationship formalisation (if any). However, it didn't ask specifically about sexual orientation, and the gender question was binary, so the chance to find out more details about New Zealanders was missing. Even so, it will be possible to get some of the missing information.

And that was pretty much the Census this year. Shorter than it has been, easy to do, and, now, over. Can’t wait to hear the results!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Send in the clowns

The NZ National Party is in the final hours of its campaign to choose a new leader after the resignation of Bill English a couple weeks ago. While mildly interesting to us politics nerds, history shows it’s not going to matter. That’s fantastic news.

Whoever the National Party MPs pick tomorrow, they’re virtually certain to lose the 2020 election. That’s because New Zealanders like to give a government a fair shot at making a difference, and that means National faces very long odds—especially when the past three governments each won three terms.

So, the question isn’t about which candidate stands a theoretical chance of winning, it’s about who will lose the least badly. That question is impossible to answer because all of them are problematic:

Amy Adams, MP for Selwyn. Adams was often seen on the news, so some voters are familiar with her—and they don’t necessarily like her. She calls herself a fiscal conservative, which will appeal to the National base, but she recently ducked a chance to call herself a “social issues liberal”, as most New Zealanders are, preferring to say she’s “pragmatic” (she backed marriage equality and the recent death with dignity bill). Will that kind of “bob each way” work with New Zealand voters?

Pros: Second youngest of the contenders. Represents a South Island constituency (important to National’s base). Seen as strong and decisive by some. She can be very nice when she wants to. Not from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Cons: Not from Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. Can come across as arrogant and condescending. Lingering questions about whether she personally benefited from National deposing the democratically elected government in Canterbury so it could give more water rights to dairy farmers.

Judith Collins, MP for Papakura. To call her “abrasive” would be kind, and calling her “disliked” would be mild. The reality is that New Zealanders don’t like her. She’s the oldest candidate in the contest (about a month younger than me).

Pros: Favoured by the right wing of the party. Tough and hard, which appeals to some in the party. Not willing to compromise (hardliners love that). From Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost.

Cons: Tainted by allegations of corruption, and although she has never been charged with a crime, the belief she “must be corrupt” is widespread. She was close friends with, and an ongoing source for, the National Party’s (“un”)official attack blogger. This tainted her with the party’s sleazy “dirty politics” efforts. She comes across as arrogant and condescending. From Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Simon Bridges, MP for Tauranga. He comes across as a lightweight, partly because of his speech patterns, which became a topic on its own [see also: “Simon Bridges has the accent of New Zealand’s future. Get used to it”]. To me, his phrasing echoes ex-PM John Key, for better or worse.

Pros: Youngest of the contenders (though him talking about his “youth” at age 41 seems like a stretch, and it says a LOT about how old Party members’ average age must be). He represents Tauranga, a fast growing part of the country, rural enough to appeal to the Party’s base and urban enough to not scare off independents. He raised huge money in the last campaign. A social conservative (he voted against marriage equality, for example) in a party that hasn’t valued those for the past nine years. Not from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Cons: Not from Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. A social conservative in a country that thinks those people are mostly tossers. He comes across as smarmy and condescending, and often arrogant. Sometimes doesn’t answer questions or seem to fully grasp what he’s talking about.

Mark Mitchell, MP for Rodney. He’s so unknown that pretty much every Kiwi asked “WHO?!” when he was floated as a leader candidate. Funny story about that: He was Minister of Defence in Bill English’s defeated government, and no one seems to have noticed. Okay, so he was only in the position May to October 2017, but he’d been a minister since December of 2016. No one noticed that, either. He’s smack in the middle of he ages of the contestants.

Pros: Um… well, um… Okay, he’s from greater Auckland, where elections are won or lost. Most people know nothing about him and he can sell his version of his story.

Cons: No one knows him. He’s from greater Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland. The “international business experience” he constantly touts is as a “security consultant”, the marketing spin for what most of us would call a mercenary—that’s unlikely to play well a country that tries to stay out of other countries’ wars (NZ never sent troops to Iraq, where Mitchell made his money). Being a “gun for hire” would be a pretty hard sell. [see “Why aspiring National leader Mark Mitchell’s war-for-profit past matters”, "Dear Mark Mitchell: New Zealand deserves answers, not insults, on war for profit", and "National leader hopeful Mark Mitchell on defence contractors, his military past and 'war for profit'"].

Steven Joyce, National List. Second oldest of the candidates, he was Finance Minister under Bill English, and that got him into a bit of trouble. During the 2017 campaign, he claimed he’d found an $11.7 billion “fiscal hole” in Labour’s figures for its campaign promises, but no economist agreed with him. In fact, they determined he’d made a fundamental error in reading the financial documents Labour released, documents he should have understood as Finance Minister. Even so, he stuck by his claims.

Of course, Joyce is probably most famous for having a dildo thrown at him at Waitangi in 2016. Hey, no news is bad news, right?

Pros: From Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. He’s an experienced minister. He is from the more moderate wing of the Party (John Key’s wing). He’s not hated.

Cons: He’s from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland. He wasn’t necessarily seen as an effective minister—the “fiscal hole” debacle, for example. He can be arrogant and condescending. He was National’s campaign manager, which means he’s partly responsible for National’s loss. He’s also tainted by “dirty politics”: It seems improbable that he didn’t know what was going on.

Those are the official candidates. Northcote MP and ex-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman took himself out of the race for some reason. I’d like to think it was because once the true extent of how much he and National decimated the health system in New Zealand, he’d become a liability, but he probably just councted and realised he stood zero chance of winning.

Who will win? One News thinks that Simon Bridges is the frontrunner, with Amy Adams in second place. The Spinoff points out it’s a little more complicated. The truth is, NO ONE knows: The “progressive voting system” National will use (the lowest vote getter will be eliminated until someone has a majority) means there are too many variables.

Who I might prefer is complicated. On the one hand, not one of them could ever entice me to vote for National—always a nearly impossible task, but especially so with this lot. Many on the left—Leftward side of Left in particular—want Collins because they think she’ll be be the easiest to defeat, whereas someone more tolerable might be harder to beat. I absolutely HATE that logic: It gives you some orange guy with a massive combover.

If I had to choose one of those candidates, it would probably be Amy Adams, because she’s the least odiferous of awful contestants. Collins is the worst, sure, but she’s actually tied with Bridges for the Truly Awful Tory award. Mitchell is a total non-entity, though a potentionally horrible one, and Joyce isn’t a contender.

I don’t care all that much who wins their leadership contest: Not my circus, not my monkeys. Whoever wins could be rolled before the next election so they can have a leader who has a better chance of winning. Or, not (among other things, ambitious Nats may conclude it’s best to let the party leader fail and then move, however, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern proves there’s a viable counter-narrative).

We’ll know who the Leader and Deputy Leader are tomorrow. I promise you, I absolutely CAN wait.

Important constitutional change

Today the New Zealand Government announced that “Cabinet has approved, in principle, a move to amend the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to provide a statutory power for the senior courts to make declarations of inconsistency under the Bill of Rights Act, and to require Parliament to respond.” This is a huge and important change.

Up until now, courts lacked any mechanism to force Parliament to review laws that are in conflict with the Bill of Rights Act (BORA). That law describes, protects, and promotes New Zealanders’ fundamental human rights, as well as committing the country to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The fact that the government of the day could ignore conflicts between BORA and laws passed by Parliament was an ongoing problem.

What will happen once the law changes are made is that senior courts will be able to make declarations of inconsistency, which will compel Parliament to look at the issue. Parliament could then amend, repeal, or stick with the law as originally passed. The point is that they won’t be able to just ignore the inconsistency, and it may hurry up the process of making laws consistent with the BORA, something that at the moment is entirely dependent on politics and the support of the government of the day.

This new system won’t invalidate any inconsistent law, so it’s not full judicial review like the USA has. However, declarations of inconsistency have never been explicity permitted in New Zealand law, and this is an important change in having some oversight. Basically, it’s judicial review, Kiwi style.

The Constitutional Advisory Panel, which was appointed in 2011 to review constitutional issues, consulted with the public and considered amendments to the Bill of Rights Act. In 2013, it recommended that the Government explore options for improving the effectiveness of the Bill of Rights Act, such as giving the judiciary powers to assess legislation for consistency with the Bill of Rights Act. This bill is a result of that.

This is an important constitutional change for New Zealand, and one that’s long overdue. This doesn’t compel Parliament to fix the inconsistency, but forcing it to at least look at that inconsistency is a big step forward, and that’s what makes it so important.

NZ’s mainstream media has given this scant coverage. And that right there is one of the major problems we have in this country: There’s no one to hold the government to account. Fortunately, this time the government is doing that itself. Even so, I’ll be watching to make sure they follow through.

Can’t go unchallenged

Earlier today I shared an article from Politico on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page. This is what I said:

The issue here is that Bernie and his former campaign manager are explicitly undermining the Mueller investigation at a time Republicans are working overtime to do exactly that.

They’re absolutely wrong in their declaration that they didn’t benefit from the Russian Government’s interference in the 2016 US elections, because they clearly did. No one is alleging that they knew about or colluded in the Russians’ “direct measures” efforts—they absolutely didn’t. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t benefit all the same, because they clearly did.

I felt it was extremely dishonest for Bernie to try and blame Hillary Clinton’s campaign for not doing something unspecified to stop the Russians, or for not doing something else unspecified to alert his campaign. Like what, precisely?

In fact, Hillary Clinton spoke about the Russians and their interference (limited to what we knew about at the time) frequently (including calling the Republican nominee, accurately, as it turned out, a puppet of Vlad Putin in one debate). Bernie never called out the Russians. Seems to me Senators in glass houses should perhaps not cast stones.

Aiding and abetting Republicans in their smear and disinformation campaign against the Mueller investigation is indefensible. If I condemn Republicans doing it, then I must condemn anyone on “our” side, too. I also think it’s time Bernie stopped blaming Hillary Clinton for his loss. Even the Russians couldn’t help him win—actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s the real reason he chose to deny reality. But it still can’t go unchallenged

I frequently share things on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page that I never blog about. I plan on posting more original content there in the future, and I welcome suggestions.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The census code arrived

Today, the envelope mentioned in the video I posted on Wednesday arrived. That means we can complete the census any time we want. I wasn’t joking in the Instagram caption: I really am excited about it.

The longer reasons are that I like filling out surveys, which is what a census really is, and especially when it’s trying to collect demographic data. The other reason that I’m excited is that the census provides the most detailed look at modern New Zealand than anything else does or can. We’ll learn all sorts of things about what New Zealand is really like, and how much it’s changed over time, but even just over the past five years. The results are always fascinating to me.

So, I love the census, and I love taking part. I know not everyone feels that way, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with me. I can be excited enough for lots of people.

About that ‘saint’

When some famous dies, people have reactions, and opinions. People often want to share those. And when that famous person is also controversial, people definitely want to share their reactions and opinions—until they’re bullied into silence by some variation on “don’t speak ill of the dead”. It’s good to ignore bullies.

This week, evangelist Billy Graham died at age 99, which by anyone’s reckoning is a long life. With all the warm, fuzzy, fawning obituaries, one would be forgiven for thinking he was universally loved and adored. He wasn’t. I never liked him and feel he did FAR more bad than good. It’s my right to say so, just as it’s the right of anyone else to praise him. Freedom of speech and opinion is universal or it doesn’t exist.

The reasons I disliked Graham began when I was quite young: He seemed extremely smarmy and inauthentic, which was something that, as a Mainline Protestant Christian, I couldn’t stand. I was also a Republican at the time, and his cosy relationship with Republican politicians seemed wrong—even then I supported a wall of separation between church and state.

In the years since, my opinions of him sank. He was anti-gay. In 1993 he said that AIDS was his god’s punishment, though he later used what RawStory called “the whole ‘I don’t believe that and have no idea why I said it’ thing”. He also used that “thing” when trying to wriggle out of anti-Semitic remarks he made to Richard Nixon. [see “Here are 6 awful details being omitted from Billy Graham’s fawning obituaries”].

Graham wasn’t unrelentingly awful, unlike his bigoted successors in the evangelical business—including, most disgustingly, his own son Frank and his far less famous daughter, Anne. Graham sometimes backed the civil rights movement at a time when most white Southerners didn’t, though he certainly wasn’t a leader, either. As CNN put it:
Graham occasionally preached racial tolerance and held integrated crusades during the civil rights era. But even some of his biggest supporters say Graham accepted segregation at some of his crusades, criticized marches and sit-ins, and would not risk his popularity by confronting segregation head-on.
Beyond that, and predating it, he created the modern evangelical business, and in doing so he unleashed fraud, corruption, charlatanism, hypocrisy, and Christianist jihad onto America. Sure, he wasn’t “as bad” as his successors, but that’s no kind of praise whatsoever. He reportedly later backed off, and expressed regret for, his embrace of Republican politics, but that was too little and FAR too late.

Add it all up, and there’s no reason why I’d mourn his passing, or feel anything even remotely positive. Ordinarily, I’d feel sorry for his survivors, but I’ve never seen any evidence whatsoever that son and successor, Frank, nor his daughter Anne have any human feelings or empathy whatsoever, so I feel no obligation to extend to them the human compassion they deny to millions of others. But I know nothing of this three other children: Maybe they have the kindness and humanity that Frank and Anne totally lack, and, if so, I hope that whatever they feel about their father and his death, they will quickly find peace and move on.

But I won’t mourn Billy Graham. At all.

"Billy Graham was no prophet" by George F. Will, Washington Post (I agree with Will—yes, I really just said that)
“Billy Graham exemplified what evangelical Christianity could be — and too often was not” – NBC News (I think this is far too kind and to Graham, and too uncritical)
“The Rev. Billy Graham's Casket Will 'Lie In Honor' At The Capitol” – npr (this actually kind of disgusted me)