Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Thought for Presidents’ Day 2017

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." [emphasis added]

– Former President Theodore Roosevelt, writing in the Kansas City Star, 7 May 1918.

This quote can be found on Wikiquotes and has been verified by Snopes. The painting of Roosevelt is his official portrait as president, and is by John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Unpredictable responses

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The thing about sharing things to social media is that it’s actually really hard to correctly guess which of those things will be “popular” or spark a reaction of some sort. The photo above is an example of that.

I took the photo Friday night, just before our weekly dinner with family. It’s always casual, and while we cooked this week, it’s often takeaways. I sincerely meant what I said in the Instagram caption, and I shared it there and on my personal Facebook because it was a light and positive thing, when so much of what I see in my social media is darker—and often negative. As far as I was concerned, that was that.

However, some of my Facebook friends left positive comments or clicked “Like” or other “reactions”, which so far total around 30. All of which makes this particular post moderately popular, compared to other things I’ve shared, but that also means it was far more popular than I expected.

I’ve seen that sort of thing happen before, though usually the reverse: Things I think will be popular aren’t. It also often surprises me which of my Instagram shares on this blog get a lot of page views, and which ones don’t.

There are consultants who make a LOT of money from advising clients on how to maximise their social media impact. I imagine that at least some of them have a rough idea of what they’re doing, so some must actually help their clients. But for most of us, especially those of us who blog or share things on social media for fun, not profit, there’s seldom a way to correctly guess what things will be popular.

I think that’s a good thing. If we were able to guess what was popular, we might focus only, or even just mostly, on those sorts of things, and where’s the fun in that? Personally, I’d much rather blog about whatever topic I want, and share whatever I want on social media, and then be surprised by the reaction. Or lack of. Either way, to me it’s much more fun—and interesting.

Hm, I wonder what would happen if I posted more photos of salads…

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Not blogging is exhausting

The worst thing for a blogger is to not have anything to say. The second worst thing is to have things to say, but no will to do so. I’ve been facing the second problem for quite awhile now, and today I finally understand why that is, thanks to a fellow blogger.

My friend Roger Green published a post entitled “He cannot be the sole authority of truth”, which basically talks about Don’s attempts to make his lies be the only “truth”. In the first paragraph, Roger talks about not writing about Don, and notes:
It’s not for lack of interest. Some of it has been lack of time. But mostly, it’s that it’s too hard, with so many issues popping that I can scarcely keep up.
It was an epiphany of sorts for me, and I replied in a comment:
Yes! That’s it exactly! Every time I think I’m going to talk about something, it changes again—or something even worse happens. It’s exhausting.
Anyone who knows me well, or who’s read this blog for any length of time, knows that politics is one of my passions. In fact, here’s some trivia: I have more posts tagged “US Politics” (1268, not counting this one) than any other topic. Not all of those are about partisan politics, of course, and many are about political things in general or issues, but the point is clear: Roughly a third of my blog posts are related to US politics in some way.

So, it’s really weird how little I’ve talked about US politics so far this year, given how much there is to say. I published 14 posts tagged “US Politics” in January, but 9 of them were before Inauguration Day (leaving five for last 11 days of the month). In February, I’ve published only five, only one of which was primarily about Don. I would have thought both totals would have been much higher, considering the chaos in Washington, DC. In fact, it would have been higher, but I’ve backed out of doing such posts more times than I could count.

So Roger’s post summed up why that’s been the case. But I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve long talked about spinning off US politics into a separate blog, and I tried again recently (technical failures made that impossible). Given that about a third of this blog is about US politics, something I actually didn’t realise until researching this post, that now seems like a really dumb idea.

I need to find a way to talk about US politics, and Don specifically, in a way that doesn’t wear me out. But this problem isn’t limited to this blog: I’m also not posting anything political to my personal Facebook, and I’ve dramatically cut back on the comments I leave on others’ political posts. So, this is a generalised withdrawal from talking about US politics.

Thanks to Roger’s post, though, I think I’m getting some clarity about all of this, and that’s the first step toward figuring out what will work for me. At least it’ll make for a topic to blog about. These days, that’s a really good thing.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Six months later

There’s a reason why people often talk about recovery from accident, illness or other health related condition as a “journey”, and not a single event. That’s because the road back to full health can be a meandering, un-signposted one. Six months ago I had my hospital adventure, and the time since has been exactly like that.

My own journey has been a forward one—never backward—and yet there were more than a few detours and lay-bys along the way. There was the persistent gout for the first seven weeks, and its recent return visit. It prevented me from getting quite as much exercise as I wanted and was supposed to have.

However, despite the physical limitations, I still made progress: My blood pressure is under control, and I’ve lost 6.9kg (a little over 15 US pounds) over the past six months. I’m happy about both. I also know that if I get my weight down some more, I might get a lower dosage of the blood pressure medicine, and I may not need to increase the dosage of allopurinol to control the gout.

There are still a few things I don’t know: How easily will I lose more weight? How are my cholesterol levels (I’ll be tested next week)? And one thing more: Every once in awhile I get scared that things might eventually get bad again, since I wasn’t aware it was happening the first time.

But despite the bad things, the worries, and the unknown things, overall it’s been a case of steady progress, and I feel better than I have in years. Here’s an example: Today I had a lot of physical chores to do, such as changing the sheets on two beds, removing, washing, and putting back a super-king size duvet cover, I washed a dog, vacuumed the house, and went grocery shopping. In the past, any one of those things could have wiped me out for a couple hours. Not today: I felt fine—good, in fact, though a little achy in too-seldom used muscles, maybe.

As far as I can see, this means I’m in a good place to push on ahead to lose that last bit of weight (I’m roughly at or near the halfway point), and to get fitter and generally healthier still. Six months ago, all of that seemed like a dream I couldn’t achieve. Since then, I have.

And it’s a very good feeling.

The wisdom of the Internet

The Internet is a great source of entertainment, a good source for news, and pretty good source of information about how to do things. The value of the information we get when we try to learn how to do something will vary, largely because of the quality of what we find, but sometimes things actually work. This was one of those times.

When we stained the deck week before last, we both put on sunscreen, being SunSmart Kiwis, and all that. But there’s a problem with this: The smell.

For some reason, nearly all sunscreen and related projects have a smell of fake coconut oil. I have no idea why that is, though I think that maybe it’s a holdover from the days when it was called “suntan lotion” and was pitched as tropical. Whatever the reason, to me it's a stench, and I hate it.

What I hate more, however, is that it doesn’t wash out—like, ever. I washed the t-shirts we were wearing, and a couple cloths we’d handled, hung them in the sun, and washed them again. They still reeked.

I wasn’t surprised by this: I had a shirt that had been “contaminated” several years ago, and despite repeated washing, hanging in the sun on the clothesline, the smell was still there, though fainter, years later. I wouldn’t wear it.

And so, yesterday I turned to the Internet.

The first bit of advice I got was to put white vinegar into the final rinse cycle of the wash machine and let it soak for 15 minutes. I don’t actually have any idea how to do that with a front loader, so instead I soaked them in the laundry tub (photo up top) in white vinegar and hot water for a good half hour. I used about a half bottle of white vinegar—though I didn’t measure; I just made sure I could smell it a bit.

I was a little concerned that the clothes might reek of white vinegar, even after I put them through the washing machine, or, even worse, a combination of vinegar and coconut. So, I decided to move on to the second bit of advice.

I drained the sink, rinsed the items, the refilled the sink with hot water and laundry pre-soaker (an oxygen-based one), maybe half a cup at most. I let that soak nearly an hour.

Finally, I drained the sink, rinsed the items, and put them in the washing machine, using relatively hot water (60c/140F) with my ordinary detergent and a bit of the oxygen pre-soaker (I doubt it was even a tablespoon).

I put the stuff in the dryer, like normal, and when it was done, they were okay. There’s still a hint of the icky fake coconut smell, but I can tolerate it (and I suspect that over time the smell will gradually go away). The items were saved!

I’m well aware that this wasn’t scientific in any way, not the least because the intensity/"objectionableness" of the stench is entirely subjective (and I know there are certainly some people who like the smell). Also, I did two solutions I found, so there’s no way to know for sure if just one would have done the trick. Still, I think the two pre-treatments were probably a good idea.

I also rejected a bunch of other advice, mostly because it called for using American products that aren’t available here (and I couldn’t be bothered figuring out if a product here was similar enough). And, some people just said to wash the clothes with detergent—as if no one ever thought of that before…

This isn’t the first time I’ve turned to the Internet to learn how to do something, and I’ve had some successes, like learning how to fold a fitted sheet, or maybe how to fold t-shirts, and even some useful tips for smartphone photography. But I’ve also encountered false, misleading or just confusing information on how to deal with gout, which I’ve talked about here and also here.

This time, the Internet delivered. But for another problem, to remove a water ring on a sideboard (photo below), so far none of the methods I've found—and I’ve tried about five so far—have worked. Maybe there is no hope other than refinishing, I don't know.

One thing I’m sure about, though, is that the wisdom of the Internet will deliver again—and sometimes it won’t. That, and I really should buy odourless sunscreen.

One ring to fool them all: The Internet has provided no successful treatment solutions to remove this.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Number of 'ex-Americans' grows

Infographic: Historic Numbers Renounced Their US Citizenship In 2016  | Statista
Last year, the number of US citizens renouncing their citizenship hit a new record high. As alarming as that sounds, it was still only 5,411 individuals, and for most of them, the reason they did so was very ordinary: Money.

The United States is one of only two countries in the world that taxes the incomes of citizens living outside the country (the other is Eritrea). The problem has become worse since 2010 when Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca). It was intended to catch tax evasion by the rich, but instead caught up ordinary people just living their lives.

The problem is that foreign banks (that is, based in another country) have to report accounts held customers who are US citizens, or withhold a 30% tax. Some non-US banks are reluctant to do business with US citizens, and in some cases US expats have had trouble opening accounts, and there have been reports of some loans being called-in by the non-US banks, all because they don’t want the compliance costs and red tape involved with having US citizens as customers.

Ordinary American expats, meanwhile, get stung because things that may not be taxed in the country they live in are taxed by the USA, and the exemptions and deductions that US citizens enjoy aren’t available to Americans living overseas. Put another way, American expats face being victimised as they just try and live ordinary lives.

The only way for expat Americans to end the onerous task of filing US income tax returns every year, even though they likely don’t owe anything to the USA but do pay taxes to the country where they live, and also the only wat to end problems caused by Fatca, is for Americans to choose to end their US citizenship.

And while 5,411 individuals may not sound like much, it’s up 26% over 2015, and the trend is definitely strongly upward (see chart above). So, unless the US Congress repeals or fixes this law, that trend will only continue to grow.

It is a last-resort thing to do, obviously, and it doesn’t get one off the hook for any taxes owed (the USA will still pursue people who they say owe money in taxes), but it will prevent any new problems. But it also creates travel problems for the newly ex-Americans, since their name is apparently flagged if they later enter the USA for a visit, including sometimes involving intensive interrogation.

What I find interesting about this is that it’s a prime example of unintended consequences of laws, and of what happens when legislation is poorly thought out when drafted. It’s also interesting how everyone assumes it’s Fatca that’s caused the huge jump in renunciations. Yes, there does seem to be a correlation, but that’s not proof. Nevertheless, based on the evidence we have, politics doesn’t seem to be a motivating factor for most Americans who renounce their citizenship.

Each year the Department of the Treasury publicly releases the names of all Americans who renounced their citizenship or long-term residence (which is treated the same as citizenship for this purpose) that year. In these times, there are all kinds of reasons why this is a very bad idea, and no good reasons for it. Instead, it seems like a sort of last dig at the departing American.

It would be nice to have some evidence as to why, exactly, people renounce their citizenship, but that data isn’t collected and would be hard to come by. If we knew why, precisely, the number is rising so fast, we could make sure that no one who didn’t want to renounce would ever feel that it was their only option. Because one’s citizenship is a birthright that no one should ever be forcibly separated from, it’s difficult to accept that any government would tolerate a situation in which someone would feel they had no other option.

Congress should fix this—but I doubt they will. And that’s perfectly ordinary, too.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Another harbour

The photo above is of the Manukau Harbour in Auckland, taken today. Most of the photos of the New Zealand seashore that I’ve shared, either on this blog or on Instagram, have been of the Waitematā Harbour. Many people call that “Auckland Harbour”, but the reality is that Auckland is built on an isthmus between two harbours—the Waitematā and the Manukau.

Well, it used to be that way, and that means it’s high time I diversified my photos.

Since the creation of Auckland Council in 2010, Auckland now meets another harbour—the Kaipara, one of the world’s largest harbours—in the northwest. There’s also the Firth of Thames in the southeast of the Council area. The Firth of Thames is a bay at the southern end of the Hauraki Gulf, which the Waitematā Harbour is also part of. The Hauraki Gulf, meanwhile, opens to the Pacific Ocean.

Despite all these options, I’ve only ever posted one photo of anything in the region other than the Waitematā Harbour, and that was a photo of the northern end of the Manukau more than a decade ago on my friend Jason’s last full day visiting New Zealand. The photo above was taken at almost the exact opposite side of the harbour.

The Manukau Harbour is fairly shallow, apart from its main channel, and at low tide the mudflats extend out quite some distance. The Kaipara Harbour is even shallower, with nearly half of it mudflats at low tide. Both are some drive from where we live at the moment, and we lived near the Firth of Thames before I had a blog and before social media was invented. So, I just haven’t had many opportunities to take or share photos. As I start to get around the outer reaches of Auckland a bit more, though, I’ll share more photos. Today is just the start of that.

All of this is actually spurred on by my using Instagram more frequently: I want to share nice photos, and since my Instagram account is set to “public”, I want the photos I share to be both generally interesting and also not too personal. The result is that I’m sharing more of my Auckland and New Zealand. Then, I talk about the photo in more detail here on the blog. Seems like a good arrangement so far.

The photo below was taken at the same spot, but turning to my right. The rock in the water (to the left of the tree) is completely dry at low tide, and there’s a small beach the other side of the grass (which is what the steps in the photo above lead to). Both photos make it look like an ocean beach, but the opening to the ocean is a long way away. The effect is the result of strong winds driving shallow water.

And these photos show yet another reason why I love Auckland so much: There are so many different worlds to see.

Hold Tight

The video above is an ad, and well worth watching because it’s so well done and because its message is so important. The bank that made it said in their Facebook post: “Holding hands. It’s one of the most basic gestures of love there is. Yet in 2017 it remains difficult for some people.” They’re right.

When I shared the Facebook version on the AmeriNZ Page, I said:
This is an ad. From a bank. None of that matters, though, because this beautiful and powerful message is far too important. "When you feel like letting go… Hold Tight". That's the only way we can defeat the forces of darkness, because the fear they cause is their most powerful weapon against us.

Heterosexuals have a role to play here, too: If you see a same-gender couple holding hands, SMILE! And mean it. The truth is, though, that you'll probably rarely see it—I almost never do. And that's the problem.
This is not a new subject for me, and the idea of not holding hands in public, or stopping suddenly, is common for me, too. And I absolutely hate that.

Back in 2010, I wrote about living in a small town in provincial New Zealand and said:
But there was one more thing: Anonymity, or rather, the lack of it. One can be invisible in a city, but in a small town everyone knows your business. In Auckland, we felt we could just get on with life, but in Paeroa it was a bit like being “the only gays in the village”, though that was absolutely not literally true. No one ever made us feel uncomfortable (the opposite, in fact), but we were aware that small town gossip can do a lot of harm, and so we probably overcompensated in our efforts to remain private.
The reality, however, is that even the anonymity in cities doesn’t totally fix this. I’m just used to avoiding any public display of affection because I don’t feel safe doing so most of the time. Even in a city.

It annoys me to no end that even heterosexuals who consider themselves allies of LGBT people will express hostility to LGBT people expressing affection publicly. As I said in a post two years ago:
I’ve had people—sympathetic people, mind you—tell me without any intentional irony that they “don’t like public displays of affection of any kind, gay or straight.” I’m sure those people really believe that they feel that way, but they’re deluding or lying to themselves. I say that because all straight people notice gay people who are affectionate in public, and nearly all of them—religious or not, and from all over the political spectrum—don’t like it, even when it’s merely a chaste kiss on the cheek or simply holding hands.

Sure, most heterosexuals don’t say or do anything to express their disapproval, but we LGBT people are quite adept at reading mood—we have to be in order to avoid danger. We can always—always—tell when people disapprove, even when they don’t say a word.

That’s our reality: Always being aware of our surroundings, always being on the lookout for danger, always on guard. There’s nothing straight people can do to fix this, apart from stopping being so uptight.
When I was in university, I took a class on human sexuality (to meet a requirement, oddly enough—and this was 1977 or 78!). The instructor said something I’ve never forgotten. We were talking about homosexuality, and what life was like for us in those days (this was educational for me, since I wasn’t even almost out yet). He talked about going to the movies with his woman, and as they stood in line they were holding hands. “And I realised,” he told us, “that what we were doing was impossible for homosexual couples, and that made me really sad that they couldn’t experience what we could.”

For the late 1970s, that was a surprisingly strong awareness of reality, and the first-ever acknowledgement of heterosexual privilege I’d ever heard—though, of course, it wouldn’t be called that until decades later. But I also found it really depressing—as so many depictions of LGBT people were in those days—because the assumption and expectation were that we had to hide who we were from view, that we couldn’t be ourselves in public, that we couldn’t even hold hands in line at the goddam movies!

Things are so much better now in so many ways—we can marry now and have our human rights protected in many places, including New Zealand and my native Illinois. And yet, I don’t feel safe holding my husband’s hand in public, and I have good reason to feel unsafe. This is a feeling shared by people all over the various social spectra—age, race, economic class, religion, education level, you name it, it’s that common. Until this simple thing changes, the advances we’ve made will remain tenuous.

And that’s why in my Facebook post I talked about the importance of heterosexuals being welcoming and supportive: “SMILE! And mean it,” I said. In 2015, I said: “A smile makes up for a lot of frowns and disapproving glowers.” Like I said, this is not a new subject for me, and neither is my advice to heterosexuals.

But until things change, don’t expect to see me holding hands in public, just as I don’t expect to see other same-gender couples holding hands. I absolutely agree that, in a perfect world, we should “Hold Tight”, but we’re just not anywhere near that perfect world yet. But messages like this video's, and those smiles from supportive heterosexuals, just might make that better world arrive a little faster.

Related: A brilliant Irish anti-bullying campaign used hand-holding to drive home a message about tolerance and combatting anti-LGBT bigotry: Irish anti-bullying campaign (2011)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

All hands on deck

This weekend had one job on the list: Re-staining the deck outside our house. We’d had it washed recently, and due to delays in that caused by weather, it wasn’t possible to get the job done. This weekend, we did.

Last weekend I painted the retaining wall next to our deck, but I couldn’t start work on the deck itself because the washing wasn’t finished. Because of further delays, that wasn’t completed until Friday, two or three days later than planned.

At the same time, on Friday evening my current gout attack took a sudden and severe turn, so much so I went to be early and I had trouble sleeping. Had I been bale to sleep soundly that night, I’d have had more than nine hours of sleep when I got up—but in reality, it was maybe seven. I took Saturday off to rest and recover.

Sunday was more promising, but, even after extra sleep again, I was still tired, and still wasn't walking all that well. I took Sunday off, too.

Monday was the Waitangi Day public holiday, and the last chance to get it all done. I went out in the morning and scrubbed a couple spots on the deck that the guy had missed—underneath a couple planters that he apparently thought were heavy because they look like stone (they’re actually fibreglass), plus under the trunk of a tree that bent low over the deck in one area.

While that dried, we went off to run a couple errands and to have an early lunch. We got back just past noon, and were ready to begin, only to realise that the person at the Mitre 10 Mega had sold us the wrong deck stain—even though we showed her a photo of what we wanted and questioned her when it was came a metal can, not a plastic pail. So, while Nigel went to exchange those for the right ones, I started the cutting in with the leftover stain from last time.

He returned, after going to two stores to get the stain, and I continued on with the cutting-in while he started the mopping part. As it happens, Monday was also probably the hottest day of summer at our house: 32 degrees or so (about 90F) on our deck, which, since it was where we were, was all that mattered. The sun was also very intense.

Fortunately, by then the sun was already moving behind some trees and large parts of the deck were in the shade. There was only one part of the deck that was really hot and uncomfortable, since it gets full sun most of the later afternoon.

And yes we were sunsmart: We wore SPF 50+ sunscreen and hats.

Nigel’s sister stopped by and helped us finish up at the end of the afternoon, and we were done by about ten to six. It was still hot then, and Nigel and I were exhausted. We were both asleep by about 8:30 or so that night.

Because I went to bed so early, I got plenty of sleep, so I didn’t feel too tired today—a little sore, maybe, but not bad. The work also hadn’t caused a new flare-up of the gout attack—but, then, that’s what I thought last week at this point, too.

This morning, the deck was still pretty sticky, but the day was warm and the sun came out around midday, so it continued to dry. But last time it was sticky for a couple days, too.

And, despite all that, there are areas of the deck that will need a second coat, mostly because the guy who washed the deck reduced some it to bare wood due the build-up of moss, mould, and such. Maybe this coming weekend, weather permitting.

Even so, the deck looks much better than it did before we started, and it all has protection from the weather now. It’s just that for the sake of appearance it needs some more stain.

And that’s how I spent my holiday this weekend—doing chores, just like last week’s public holiday. It's just what happens when you have to look after a house.

The next public holiday isn’t until Easter Weekend in April. That’s a four-day holiday weekend, of course, but one in which I will NOT plan any big projects. Right now, I feel like I’ve done enough for this decade year.

The photo up top is in the morning, before I washed the parts of the deck. The photo at the very bottom of the post is self-explanatory, except my back was in the sun at that point. But here are two more of the project, each captioned with an explanation:

Detail of the work: before, left, and after, right. I painted the retaining wall last week.

The squarish area in the middle of this photo is where the spa pool was while we pained it's usual spot.

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on