Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Facts matter in memes, too

I kept seeing a false meme about impeachment being spread on social media, so I whipped up a little something to set out the facts:

The truth is, this really annoys me. Yes, I got my Bachelor’s in Political Science, so that's to be expected, but we also studied this in high school civics class. I just think it’s so fundamental that all Americans should know it.

I know that most people probably don’t care, or have forgotten it, but it’s still important to be correct about the Constitution when our adversaries have such contempt for it. Also, it’s so easily checkable, and we KNOW that the Right would love to rub the Left’s noses in it for making such a glaring mistake. And, we also know that Russians and other mischief makers are posing as Leftists on social media to spread false information exactly like this to make the Left look stupid to Independent voters, and also to undermine our confidence in each other.

All of which means that being factual is always important, and for a lot of reasons.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Worth quoting: Sen John McCain

US Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement today on President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki:

Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivet├ę, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.


It's fair to say that I often disagree with Senator McCain, and always have, however, when he's right, he's right. And he's been critical of the current occupant of the White House when most Republican politicians choose to remain silent, for whatever reason. And that means that there are times I not only agree with him, I appreciate his words, and the fact he's taking a stand. What he's saying here is the truly patriotic thing to do. I'm sharing this because of all that, and because I haven't seen the full text shared anywhere.

Leo has a bath

Today I gave Leo a bath. Nothing unusual about that, except it was the first time. That, and being fully onto adult dog food means he’s now fully a grown-up part of the family.

I got the idea to use the laundry tub for his bath after some earlier incidents in which he ran around in the mud and I needed to wash his paws. That was much easier than sitting on the floor and washing him in the shower, as I do with Sunny and Jake (for now). I’ve always washed the other two in the bath, but can’t do that at the moment (which is why there’ll be a change eventually), but whether using the bath or the shower, it hurts my lower back. A lot.

Washing Leo in the laundry tub was better—for awhile. By the end, though, my back hurt every bit as much. Maybe a bit more. On the other hand, no sink is actually high enough for me, so even using the kitchen sink would have ended up hurting my back (don’t look at me that way: I happen to know that people have washed human babies in a kitchen sink, and I fail to see the difference).

Against that backdrop, last night I have Leo the last few nuggets of puppy dog food. We’d bought a bag of puppy food back when he came to live with us, but he turned one year old on June 1, and that meant it was time to change food.

It was the middle of June before I finally got the adult dog food, in part because we had so much puppy food. When I finally started the transition, I put a few little bits of the adult food in with his puppy food. Over time, I gradually increased the amount of adult food, and began decreasing the amount of pupy food until last night, when he got the last of the puppy food. All up, it took three weeks or so to make the change.

Many, many years ago I’d read that this is the best way to change doog food, even if it’s only one brand to another: A gradual transition. That way, I’d learned, they have time to adjust so they don’t get an upset tummy. It’s always worked for me, and this time was certainly no different.

So, today got his first bath in his still kind of new home, and has fully changed to adult dog food. It wa a big day for him, but, I’m sure, a little bigger for me. That’s also not unusual.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Mitch James

All the Weekend Diversion posts this year have had something in common: They were about artists I stumbled across accidentally. Three were artists who were unfamiliar to me, one was an artist I did know. Today’s artist, Mitch James, is in that latter category, and, like the others, I looked for more about him after I happened to see his music on TV.

Mitch is a young (23, I gather) New Zealand singer-songwriter. The bio on his website sums up why he became an object of fascination for the media:
Born and raised in Auckland, up and coming artist Mitch James started playing music at 14 while at school, and on morning tea and lunch breaks he would take himself off to the music room and teach himself the guitar.

Mitch left school at 17 and got a job cleaning cars, where he made enough cash to buy a one-way ticket to London. He went in the hope of hitting it big like many of those before him. Mitch arrived in London with a £20 pound note, zero contacts and zero experience performing live. Without a place to stay, Mitch would attend open mic nights and play, hoping to land a paying performance gig – which he eventually did for a short time, until the venue closed down, forcing Mitch to go home.

During Mitch’s time in Europe he slept 8 weeks on the street altogether, played 230 gigs, busked over 100 times, was robbed twice, beaten once and witnessed a stabbing. When Mitch moved back, his covers of other artist’s songs on YouTube landed him a signing with Sony Music NZ.
There aren’t many artists with such an interesting backstory, especially ones as young as he is. This was how I came to hear of him originally. One of the TV 7pm magazine shows had a story on him, and I thought his music sounded nice. I always meant to look up some of his songs, then forgot.

Until this past week.

I was watching the music video channel and they played the video for his new single, "21" (video above), which is currently at Number 5 on the New Zealand chart. The song is about looking back at some of his good times when he lived in Dunedin, where the video was filmed. I thought it was a nice song, and a well-made video, but it was the end of the chorus that struck me:
Who would’ve thought
I’d be so lost at 23.
Oh lord,
Take me back to 21.
We so often think of wistfulness and regret as being an older person’s thing, but young people can have it, too. When I was just a little younger than Mitch is now, I was talking to a workmate at my summer job. He told me how he felt frustrated and sad that he hadn’t accomplished what he thought he should have. He was only 25.

Next up, is “Move On”, his debut single from December, 2016. It entered the NZ Top 20 the week of 19 December at Number 20. It dropped out of the Top 20 the following week, but re-entered at Number 7 the week of January 16, 2017, rising to a peak of Number 3 the week of January 30. It bounced all over the Top 20 until the week of April 3, when it dropped off the Top 20 again.

Finally, “No Fixed Abode”, his first track with Sony NZ, though not promoted as a single. The name comes from an incident in Amsterdam where police asked him for his address. When he replied that he didn't have one, they wrote: "No Fixed Abode".

I’m not good at predicting who will or won’t be big stars, so I have no idea whether Mitch will become successful beyond New Zealand. But he has an easy-to-listen-to style that is quite popular these days, and he reminds me of Ed Sheeran, who’s a big international star (and who Mitch opened for in Dunedin earlier this year). So, you never know.

But he’s another artist I’d heard of, but kind of rediscovered because I just happened to see his music video on TV. No wonder I like watching that channel so much: It’s a voyage of discovery and re-discovery.

Accessible turkey

Things disappear, things become hard to find, and sometimes something better comes along. This is one of those times.

Several months ago, I blogged about how Denny’s in New Zealand had dropped turkey dinners from their menu (and I blogged about the dinner itself back in 2015). The issue, as I said back in February, is that “it’s still not all that easy to find true American-style food in New Zealand restaurants.” The thing is, it’s not that easy to find turkey, except as a frozen bird or a frozen turkey roll, and both of those require long roasting (I roasted a while turkey for Thanksgiving in 2010, and I roasted a turkey roll for the day in 2016).

Other years, beginning in 2012, my sole turkey was a sandwich. In 2016, I had one again and noticed, thanks to the product’s new labelling, that they emphasised the “honey roast” part. They used to emphasise the word “sliced” with the old packaging. But it suddenly dawned on me why it wasn’t quite right, not quite what I wanted.

And that’s where things stayed until I saw the product in the photo with this post. The turkey is just roasted turkey, nothing fancy. They also make a sandwich slice version. I think both of them are quite nice, and more what I think of when I think of turkey in this form, but so far I’ve only seen it at Countdown stores.

This probably doesn’t matter. Nigel recently realised that he just doesn’t like turkey, which, while I obviously think that’s abominable, it’s not a legal reason for divorce. The more you know. The result is that I no longer buy it because I’d have to eat the whole package myself, and much as I like turkey, it’s not enough to eat it every day for several days until all 300g is gone. The sandwich slice version is probably manageable, though, since it has less in it.

The real story here isn’t this brand of ready-to-eat turkey, of course, it’s that this is such a rare thing that’s it’s downright exotic—turkey, for goodness sake!! In the USA, I’d sometimes buy some sliced turkey from the deli counter, diners offered sandwiches with turkey in them, and there were all sorts of variations on frozen meals with turkey. But here in New Zealand, I have to make do with prepared turkey that’s at a premium price (even more than might be expected for processed food).

This is why I’ve given up so many of the foods—good for me and, well, less good—that I used to love in the USA: They’re just too hard to find, too expensive, too different, or some combination. Not worth the effort, in other words.

To be sure, there are plenty of things I love about New Zealand foods, so it’s not like I’m “suffering”, or anything, but, then, I’ve been here more than 22 years, so maybe it’s easier for me than it would be for a new arrival. Maybe we do learn to change out of necessity as much as anything else.

Meanwhile, I’ll still have to occasional turkey sandwich, but not often. Everything changes, after all, even favourite foods.

Observant readers will note that the expiry date on the product in the photo is 22 Feb 2018. That’s because I actually took the photo on 7 Feb 2018, a few days after that Denny’s menu change I mentioned up top. I intended to blog about it at the time, but somehow it never happened, not the least because it all happened during my annus horribilis—there were only 17 posts total that month, for example. Things are improving now. Clearly.

Update July 16: Welcome Redditors! Someone shared THIS post, of all things, on a New Zealand Reddit. There are far more interesting posts about New Zealand on this blog than this one! For the benefit of any Redditors visiting this post: I am not complaining about the lack of turkey or American-style food generally. Instead, I’m merely observing differences, something that may be useful for any Americans considering migrating to New Zealand, and something that’s of interest to curious real-live Americans who follow this blog. Obviously countries are different from one another. That’s an objectively good thing. As a bi-national person, I often comment on the differences between the USA and NZ, again, something many followers of this blog are interested in. I’m also never totally serious about anything, including about not being totally serious about anything. And, there really are far better posts about New Zealand on this blog than this one. But thanks for stopping by!

Products listed/depicted and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

‘Future news’ now in my life

Newspapers are increasingly dependent on their digital form, both for readers, and for revenue. It is inevitable that one day there will be no more printed newspapers, as we know them now. But up until recently, the digital options were confusing and expensive, so I never subscribed to any. That’s now changing, and I’ve subscribed to a newspaper’s digital version for the first time.

I’ve being thinking about subscribing for years, off an on, but it became a strong motivation after the 2016 US elections, especially after the Republicans took office. Every day there were new revelations about the criminality of the Republican candidate’s campaign, the corruption of the people in the new regime, all of which intensified and increased as time went on.

Most major newspapers limit the number of articles someone can access for free each month. That number is often four free articles, but I’ve seen them as low as one. With the increasing amount of news about the current regime, I was maxing out the number of free articles in the first few days of every month. I needed to subscribe to avoid that happening, and to keep seeing all the news.

Two newspapers in particular were leading the charge toward uncovering the truth about the current regime and reporting on the realities the USA faced in the new era. Those papers are The New York Times and The Washington Post. Both have excellent journalists investigating and reporting on the current regime and the larger issues, and both have broken a large number of very important stories.

The two papers were both so good, in fact, that I hesitated: I couldn’t afford both, so which one to choose? In the end, I chose The Washington Post because of the nagging doubts about how easy The New York Times takes it against the current occupant of the White House, for example, never, ever, calling something he said a lie, even when there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he was lying. It makes me wonder what other punches the paper is pulling.

Both papers have fairly equivalent digital subscription plans. The Times has made huge improvements in theirs.

When I talked about this back in 2015, the Times offered three digital subscription tiers, with an especially weird division: At the lowest rate, a subscriber could access the NYT website and use the paper’s smartphone App. The middle level included the website and the App for tablets. The highest level included the website and both Apps. I thought that was utterly bizarre, and noted that “their tiered subscription… adds value by device, not by content desired”. Maybe they heard me.

The current model still has three tiers, at slightly higher rates than 2015, BUT, all three tires can now be used on any device. The differences between the various tiers are now based on content, not device, with more content available on higher priced tiers. All tiers also offer unlimited access to digital replicas of old editions (in 2015, all subscribers were bizarrely limited to 100 archive articles per month). The rates may have risen, but it is by far a better value than it was in 2015.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, also allows access from any device, and was slightly cheaper than The New York Times. But, of course, it wasn’t cost that made me choose the Post.

As we all know, there are many good free news sources, and I use many of them: The newspaper The Guardian is one major source, along with wire services AP and Reuters, the websites of broadcast media (CNN, MSNBC, etc), specialist sites like Vox, along with more agenda-driven sites. All of them can be useful, however, newspapers are driving the investigations into the current regime and are best placed to report first and most in depth about those investigations, and of them, the Times and the Post are the major players.

I plan on revisiting this in the future and may add the Times, too, if I’m reading enough in general to justify it. But if I’m going to add another digital newspaper subscription, I need to use it enough to justify the cost, and I’m not there yet. And, if any of this changes, I can cancel at any time.

So, I’m fully in the digital age now, and helping to support journalism that matters. I like that.

Plus, the post has a really cool slogan—I like that, too.

Republican mendacity

There are certain things we expect of Republicans in Congress: Dishonesty, pandering to its extremist base, hypocrisy, and bigotry, as well as other characteristics. But their mendacity is most fully utilised whenever they advance one of their radical agenda items and want to pretend it’s not only not radical, but that it’s gosh darn wholesome and good. This week Republicans in the US House proved all the worst things said about them are true.

On Wednesday (US time), the Ways and Means Committee of the US House of Representatives approved by a near party-line vote an amendment to an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The amendment, if it is kept in the bill ultimately passed by Congress and signed by the current occupant of the White House, will be the first to include “license to discriminate” language. Naturally, that’s not how the Republicans are spinning it.

The amendment is intended to make it impossible for any state or local government to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination in adoption and fostering services by forbidding states and local governments from banning religious-based services that refuse to work with gay people. In several places around the country, this has happened, and it infuriates the far-right “Christians” who control the Republican Party.

This will result in a drop in available parents and caregivers as religious-based groups flat-out exclude otherwise qualified and suitable gay people or couples. Republicans and their allies in anti-LGBT+ hate groups have been trying to spin their move as being "good" for children, as if reducing the number of available parents will somehow magically mean more parents. Magic won’t cover up this mendacity, however, and fewer parents will inevitably mean more children waiting, and waiting longer, for adoption or foster care.

The main mechanism the bill provides for preventing state autonomy is this (full text is available as a PDF from the US House website):
The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall withhold from a State or local government 15 percent of the Federal funds the State or local government receives for a program that provides child welfare services under part B or part E of title IV of the Social Security Act if the State or local government violates subsection (a) when administering or disbursing funds under such program.
State and local governments are always short of cash, especially for social programmes that, if we’re honest, plenty of people don’t really care about. So a 15% cut would be massive. States, then, would have two options: Surrender to the “Christian” extremist Republicans, which would be contrary to their values. Or, they could defy the Republicans and take the 15% cut, and then either reduce services, cut funding from other programmes, or raise taxes, none of which would be politically popular. It’s a no-win situation for such state and local governments, exactly as Republicans planned it.

But wait, there's more!

The amendment encourages lawsuits against states, saying that religious providers blocked from discriminating “may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain all appropriate relief, including declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and compensatory damages, with respect to that violation,” and then adds, “A child welfare service provider that prevails in an action by establishing a violation of subsection (a) is entitled to recover reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.” The amendment also declares, that merely by accepting Federal funds, “a State waives its sovereign immunity for any claim or defense that is raised under this subsection.”

So, the financial costs for defying the religious extremists—both the funding cuts and the inevitable court judgements from lawsuits brought by the very litigious rightwing, would be enormous for state and local governments, and so, it would be financially impossible for state and local governments to defy the Republicans.

The reason this is so important is that this method will be THE template for how Republicans will force their extremist agenda onto everyone, especially if they win the November elections, and it will be repeated on any number of issues. For example, they will use the exact same method to prevent states from enforcing all other laws banning discrimination against LGBT+ people (because there is no federal law protecting the human rights of LGBT+ people, Congress can do that easily). No more wedding cakes or photos for dirty homos!

Once Roe v. Wade is overturned, this is the method Republicans will use to get states with legal abortion to both not pay for it with state funds, and also to require them to put onerous restrictions on access to all reproductive services, including contraception and even counselling, in order to structurally ban abortion services in states where it will still be legal. This is also how they’ll prevent Blue states from doing much of anything to protect workers, the poor, immigrants (even fully legal ones), etc., and the soon-to-be hard-right Supreme Court will back them up on everything.

It’s ironic that the very politicians who used to scream about “states rights” and states’ supposed powers under the Tenth Amendment (especially during the Obama Administration) are now working to prevent states from acting in ANY way that’s contrary to what Republicans command. The actual word for that is hypocrisy.

Still, it’s not too late to prevent a total takeover by radical religionists and fascists, but it will require massive votes for Democrats in November for one simple reason: Republicans, especially the fervent fans of the current occupant of the White House, absolutely WILL vote. This is the time to put the country first and vote ONLY for Democrats. Otherwise, “Republic of Gilead”, here we come!

And this is why the things we expect of Republicans in Congress are dishonesty, pandering to its extremist base, hypocrisy, and bigotry, as well as other less charming attributes. It’s because it’s all true—and preventable by voting for Democrats.

Friday, July 13, 2018

So far, so good

One week ago today, I started a new prescription drug. It was a major change, and one I’d wanted to make for awhile. While it’s always true that adjusting to new drugs can sometimes take weeks, so far things are going really well.

I talked about the change and everything behind it last week, and this has been my first week on the new drug. Everything I said last week about the improvements I saw after reducing the dosage of beta blockers is still true, and maybe more so.

I’m not a morning person under the best of circumstances, but while taking beta blockers I really struggled to get going in the morning. After that, it was difficult to have energy to get through the day. But starting the day at all was rough.

Now that I’m off beta blockers entirely, I find mornings easier, so called: I still don’t leap out of bed or anything, but mornings are far easier to take now than they were. This is a major improvement.

I haven’t noticed any additional improvement in “cognitive abilities” (chiefly memory and focus) than what I noted last week, but the important point is that I’m FAR better than I ever was on beta blockers. That state of affairs is a good one to be in.

So, one week in this, and so far, so good. The next phase comes two weeks from yesterday, when I get the scan of my heart, and after that I’ll know more about my situation. Right now, though, things are going very well, and that’s enough for me. For now.

AmeriNZ Podcast 338 ‘Still more changes' is now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 338 – Still more changes” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This episode starts out with me talking about a new baby, then changes to this podcast and all things AmeriNZ, and to me, too. Lots of things are changing! I have details.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Winter ills

Diseases tend to spike in the winter, and there are good reasons for that. But knowing it’s common doesn’t make it any easier to tolerate. I’ve been plagued with winter ills a bit more than usual this year. And we’re not even quite at the halfway point in the season.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve have had a case of yuckiness. I call it that because I don’t know what, exactly, it is: It’s a bit like a cold, a bit like a flu sort of thing, and it comes and goes. Or, maybe it’s been a series of little bugs. Either way, sometimes I’m sneezy, lately I’ve had a cough, and occasionally I feel as I have a fever, though I haven’t actually had one. Like I said, yuckiness. Still, nothing that a dose of paracetamol can’t improve.

The worst thing about the case of yuckiness is that it makes me feel tired and/or, well, yucky much of the time. Still, other times I feel pretty much okay, so I try to take advantage of those times.

The weirdest thing this year has been that I got dry and cracked lips, something I haven’t experienced since my last winter in Chicago, which would have been 1994-5. The reason, I think, is that this is the first year we’ve had a split-unit heat pump in the master bedroom. Last year, we had and a micathermic electric heater (which is now in my office, or in the guest room when someone stays the night). The heat pump is more energy efficient, of course, but it also blows hot air, which is drying. As an Illinois native, this is something I know very well.

I’ve used lip balm for years because I tend to breathe through my mouth when I’m sleeping. Several years ago I changed to the New Zealand company Ecostore’s brand of lip balm, rather than the name brand I’d always used, because Ecostore’s is made from beeswax rather than petroleum-based products. Since I was already using that, and had dry, cracked lips, I realised I needed something a bit stronger, for lack of a better word. But, what?

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had to deal with that problem, and that was in a different country, so I really had no idea how to proceed. Then I remembered this stuff called Carmex. What I remembered most about it was the little white glass jars with the yellow lids. I can remember friends in high school or university taking a little jar out of their puffy winter parkas to put some on, dropping it on the floor and it clattered and it rolled away. Later, I remember people using the tubes the company introduced.

So I went to the chemist I go to for my prescriptions, which is a pretty small place with not much variety in consumer products. But, they did have Carmex, and I bought the original version.

At first I was disappointed. The little white glass jar is now plastic. That shouldn’t have disappointed me: Band-Aid brand band aids and Sucrets are no longer sold in metal tins, after all. Despite that, the product is what matters, and it worked: In three or four days, the problem was sorted, and hasn’t returned after I resumed using my usual brand.

The fact I’ve been sick this winter isn’t unusual, even if I haven’t necessarily had conventional bugs or symptoms. The fact I had to go and buy some Carmex was very unusual, though. There had to be something. There always is.

The photo above is my own.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear

Famous names

The video above is an ad for a New Zealand mobile phone company (the 30-second version is below). The ad also shows a side of the New Zealand psyche, how Kiwi personal humour works, which is reason enough to share it.

While the basic concept of the ad isn’t particularly new or unique, its delivery practically swims in a Kiwi sense humour: Dry, understated, taking the piss out of ourselves. That’s the sort of thing that really appeals to me, however, that wasn’t my initial reaction.

When the ad first started running earlier this month, I thought to myself, “what the…?” Sometimes it takes me a couple viewings to really get an ad, and sometimes I’ll see things I missed at first. In this case, there’s not exactly anything to miss, really, but it definitely grew on me over time, which is good: It’s running quite often. It hasn’t made me switch to their company, though.

Still, it’s just an ad, it’s well done, and a it’s a glimpse of how Kiwi personal humour works. This time, that’s enough.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Weekend Diversion: John Newman

A lot of the pop music I share is stuff I run across accidentally. That can be true when I’m already familiar with an artist, like last week, or it can be someone new to me, like the week before. I like when either one happens, but maybe just a little bit more when they're new to me. This is one of those weeks.

The video above is “Love Me Again”, a 2013 song by John Newman, an English singer, songwriter and producer. The song went to Number One in the UK, Number 4 in Australia, Number 9 in New Zealand, and Number 30 on the USA’s Billboard Hot 100. It was certified Gold in New Zealand, Platinum in the UK and the USA, and two times Platinum in Australia.

Despite its success, I don’t remember hearing the song until I started watching our free-to-air music video channel which plays the video above rather a lot. I liked the song well-enough—it’s quite catchy—though the ending of the video was rather, um, abrupt. When the video popped up again recently, I decided to find out a little more about the singer.

In addition to his own hit, Newman co-wrote Rudimental’s 2012 single “Feel the Love” (below), which peaked at Number One on the UK charts (2x Platinum), Number 3 in Australia (3x Platinum), and Number 4 in New Zealand (Platinum).

In 2014, Newman was featured on Scottish DJ and producer Calvin Harris’ single, “Blame” (video below, in which Newman appears), which debuted at Number One on the UK charts (Platinum), Number 9 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 9 in Australia (Platinum), and Number 19 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (2x Platinum).

All of that, it turns out, was stuff I was unfamiliar with, and the second two were connected to the first song I was unfamiliar with. Which shows that we won’t always know about pop music just because it’s popular or successful.

As as so often happens, I found out about all this it all because I watched that video channel and became curious about an artist. That sort of thing happens all the time about any number of topics, not just pop music. I think that’s a very good thing.

Square dancing, indeed

It’s funny how something can just pop up and remind us of something we haven’t though about in years. Like square dancing, for example. And it was all because of the video above.

A friend shared the Mic video on Facebook, and I probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. It details the reason that square dancing was promoted so heavily, however, it’s safe to guess that most Americans had absolutely no idea what the agenda behind its promotion may have been, nor that Henry Ford was a racist and anti-semite (that particular knowledge came much later). Which is not to say that some of them, politicians in particular, didn’t share the same goals, because they probably did. Most of us, however, did not. That was only one of many problems with the idea that forcing square dancing was a good idea.

It used to be common to teach square dancing in Illinois public schools as part of the “physical education” requirement. It eventually faded away because of changing times, that it was really uncool, or maybe it was budget pressures, or some other reason, but whatever it was, I was glad when it ended because I hated every minute of it. Nothing, not time, distance, reflection, or better music has mellowed my opinion in the decades since.

The fact is, the phrase “square dancing” makes me shudder to this very day, because it was a truly awful experience. When I was in primary school, it was a mandatory part of physical education. It ended long before I got to middle school, so it would’ve been mid-1960s to maybe 1970, probably somewhere between ages 7 and 10, though I can’t remember for sure.

I hated it because I couldn’t memorise the steps, and, in fact, I still have no rhythm. Neither, as it happened, did most of the other kids in those days. It was also desperately uncool.

I also hated it because it had absolutely NO relevance to me, my family, or anyone I knew well: We’d never been rural or farming folk, for example, and we’d lost all the traditions of our European ancestors generations earlier, so to me, even as a kid, it felt like they were trying to force an essentially foreign or alien cultural practice on to me.

Beyond that, it also felt like they were trying to force boys and girls to engage in social activity, to literally require us to be together in couples, and I didn’t like that. It would me roughly another decade before I figured out WHY I didn’t like that, though, to be accurate, at that age most of the other boys weren’t particularly keen on the girls, either. That just that never changed for some of us—and probably some of the girls weren’t keen on being forced with the boys, and never changed, either.

On top of all that, there was the music, which I loathed: All the fiddles and harmonicas and drums sometimes played with brushes, and plodding guitar strumming—it was just so awful to me. At the time, I didn’t like any sort of country music, and the sort played for square dancing least of all. In fact, it was actually the forced square dancing that made me dislike country music in general.

By university at the latest, I was aware of the extent to which country music and repressive politics often went together. The folks who were the stereotypical country fans were Republican, spent a lot of time at church, and insisted on merging the two in a mush that was racist, sexist, homophobic, and usually delibertately ill-informed.

At that same time, of course, I was still a Republican and a Christian who spent a lot of time in church, but I wasn’t the same kind as those in the stereotype. When I went to university in the southern part of my state, I started encountering the real-life versions of those people, and later met others further south who were, too. This is the point in a fiction story where I’d say the stereotype was wrong, that I learned they were just like me. The hero of a fiction story might say that, except in my case it turned out it wasn’t entirely wrong, and very often was absolutely correct, and they really were nothing like me.

But then a funny thing happened on the way toward irrevocably dividing people into opposing camps along the sides of a square dance arena, one side country fans, the other “normal people”: It was the 1980 movie, Urban Cowboy.

It wasn’t the movie itself, exactly—I never even saw it because I didn’t like country music. Also, in those days there was the movies, or I could buy the video cassette of the movie, because there were no video rental stores yet, and, obviously, there was no Internet or streaming service in those days. So, I never saw the movie.

However, within a year of the movie’s release, there was a fad all over the USA for people playing Urban Cowboys at their local themed bar, complete with mechanical bulls and also hosting line dancing competitions. The lines between country and pop, and between real fans of real country, and mainstream consumers of country-esque (probably pop) music, blurred and melted together as they never had before, and have never done since.

There were also more crossover songs after then, as country songs became popular on the pop charts—not that it always went down well with the real fans of real country. And there watching setbacks, like a certain song I first heard while watching the 1984 Republican National Convention on TV, a song I thought then, and have ever since, is probably the worst song ever written, and a strong argument for outlawing all music. It was enough to strengthen and re-arm my dislike of all country music.

Time passed, things changed, and I mellowed. I began to like some country music songs, starting with some I remembered from my youth (nostalgia is a gateway drug for taking on all sorts of music). In the years since then, especially the past couple decades, and with the advance of the Internet, I’ve learned about all sorts of country artists and songs that I truly liked. Some have even popped up on this blog.

So, despite my background and my youthful rejection of country music, I nevertheless do like, and even own, some country music. At it’s best, country music tells the stories of struggling working people, covering the same ground that some American folk music did. What I liked was never all about honkytonks, getting drunk, or “the woman who done me wrong”, though there was always a lot of that. And, of course, there was—and still is—nationalistic jingoism, like in that certain song.

What I noticed were hit songs that talked about the struggles of people doing long hours of hard physical work, never having enough money, being cheated by any number of people, all sorts of everyday struggles. Many of the songs were often gender non-specific, meaning I could “fill in the blanks”, something I’ve talked about many times, allowing me to put my reality and lived experience into a song that was generic enough to accommodate it. Of course, like all genres, there was also a lot of crap, but I just ignored that.

Ignoring the crap meant that I didn’t hear the country music that reinforced white privilege (because openly racist songs didn’t make the radio—or whatever). It also meant I could ignore all the overtly religious songs just as much as I ignored the nationalistic jingoism, like in that certain song.

There were also big stars who sang songs with social conscience, like Garth Brooks, and in more recent years there have been successful artists singling about inclusivity—and also some gay (mostly gay male) country singers, and even though their appeal is definitely outside the mainstream, they nevertheless make money selling their music. That’s a good thing.

The biggest openly-LGBT artists performing country music (among other genres) were k.d lang, who came out in 1992, and Melissa Etheridge, who has done a lot of country rock. She came out in 1993. But neither of them are strictly country artists, or even necessarily thought of as being country at all. Matter of perspective, I suppose, but neither were actually reasons I started liking country music (though I liked them and their music).

So, despite the forces aligned to make me loathe country music, I did eventually evolve and change, and eventually grew up to like some country music. But one thing never changed: I never forgot how much I hated the forced square dancing, not forgave the powers that be for doing that. Some things never change because they can’t.

And all those reminders were all because of a video shared on Facebook. That is a change.

Tip o’ the Hat to Terri who shared the video and hosted a fun discussion on her personal Facebook Page. This post is based on comments I made on that post, though revised and greatly extended.