Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year’s Eve Again

Here we are again, eh? Last day of the year, about to start it all over again tomorrow, a cycle that goes on and on. I love New Year’s Eve/Day for the fresh beginning the transition from one to the other offers. I’ve always felt that way.

This has been a year like all others, filled with triumph and tragedies, challenges and achievements. So much of what caught my attention this year has been documented on this blog, on my podcast, or both. As I’ve noted in the past, this means I don’t really need to recap my year—it’s already on this blog!

However, if I was to pick only one day to remember, it would be June 26, the day the US Supreme Court established 50-state marriage equality as the law of the land. Despite all the hatred and bigotry that blocked the path, ultimately love won. There’s so much more to do, not the least combatting our adversaries who have redoubled their efforts to take away the civil and human rights of LGBT Americans, but those sad people will fail—even they must know that in their dark and stony hearts.

On that June day, the only emotion felt by so many people was unbridled joy. I watched plenty of videos that day, some of which I shared on this blog, and tears rolled down my cheeks each and every time. To go from nothing to full citizen in one swift move is an extraordinary feeling, and made all my years of sacrifice so I could do LGBT activism worthwhile.

But 2015 was about so much more than just that one day, and in my previous post I shared a great video of the year’s news highlights. Many of the things in that video also showed up in this blog.

But that was then, what about what’s next? I’d like to think that I’ll make improvements this coming year, based on what I’ve learned and done in 2015—or, maybe the things I should have learned and should have done. Either way, as always, I want to keep moving forward.

So in 2016, as I have in previous years, I want to prepare more posts in advance as Roger Green does. The difference this time is that I’ve already started work on some of those 2016 posts. Trend? Fluke? Check back this time next year.

This year I made the first tentative steps toward actually using my AmeriNZ YouTube Channel. I stopped for a variety of reasons, but in 2016 I’ll be making videos—that’s a declarative statement. As I’ve said before, it’s about having the best tool to tell a story—this blog for written stories, my podcast for audio stories, and video for visual stories.

This year, too, I started making some tentative steps toward recording more AmeriNZ Podcast episodes. Those, too, will become more frequent in 2016. Like posts to this blog, I may plan and even record some episodes in advance, but my goal is to post new episodes on a more regular schedule. Jason and I also resumed recording our 2Political Podcast this year.

I hope to be able to make a positive report this time next year—don’t we all?—but it’ll be an interesting trip, regardless of what happens. Join me, won’t you?

This is my 365th post for 2015, so I have achieved my goal of an annual average of one post per day. As in previous years, thanks for your patience this month as I pushed hard to make the goal, and thanks to Roger Green for expressing confidence that I could do it. After being sick in the past week, I definitely had my doubts! The photo above is my last selfie of 2015, and was a bit of a joke: I was going to use it on the lock screen of my phone, then didn't. It got a new life here.

‪2015 in 4 minutes‬

The video above from Vox reviews the year in four minutes. I’ve watched a lot of videos this year, and this month I’ve watched a lot of year-end videos; for me, this video is among the best I’ve seen.

It was a memorable year, but I’ve never experienced a year that wasn’t true of. All years have things that stand out, things that burn themselves into our minds, but if we’re really honest, most of what happens in most years we forget. Reminders—video, audio, written—can help us recall what was special about a particular year. Now that we have YouTube, it’s easier than ever.

And, this time next year we can do it all again.

2Political Podcast 114 is available

Episode 114 of the 2Political Podcast, our last of 2015, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

It’s never just a PBJ

The video above is from an actual friend of mine, not just some random YouTuber, but I’m sharing it for the same reason I include all the others on this blog: It gives me a starting point for a larger topic, in this case, food and being a binational.

The video is by Paul Armstrong, who I met many years ago through podcasting, and who has been one of my inspirations for that medium as well as my own currently paused creation of YouTube videos. It’s precisely because I actually know him that it never occurred to me to share or mention his YouTube Channel, though I should have.

Paul makes all sorts of videos, some of them kind of tongue-in-cheek instructionals like this one, others are out in the world doing things, along with many other topics. Several of the videos also feature his husband, which is a nice bonus.

I like Paul’s videos, not just because he’s a friend or because I like his camera work or whatever (though all that’s true), but also because there aren’t that nearly enough active personal YouTubers who are much above 30. Earlier this year, I wrote about the cute young dudes who make YouTube videos and noted in passing that I was in an under-represented YouTube age demographic, so I appreciate seeing videos made by folks who reflect more of my life and reality.

Which brings me to this video. Paul shows how he makes a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” which led me to comment on the video:
My mother always buttered the bread for my PBJ sandwiches, so I do, too. My mother also cut the sandwich on the diagonal, but THAT I don't usually do—no idea why.

In New Zealand, "jelly" means gelatine dessert (like Jello brand in the USA). So when I used to talk about a "peanut butter and jelly sandwich", Kiwis got kind of grossed out—I don't blame them! So, now I always talk about a "peanut butter and jam sandwich", but to be honest, most of the Kiwis I know think even that sounds weird.
In a reply, Paul said, “You mean she put butter on the bread before the peanut butter??? Why?” and the short answer is, I have no idea. However, it was butter out of the fridge, which meant there were often chunks of butter under my peanut butter, and I loved it! I remember that with bologna sandwiches (or other sandwich meat), too.

But there’s no getting around deviation in different countries’ cuisine, and talking about it raises another: New Zealand doesn’t have US-style bologna, but has luncheon (also called “luncheon sausage” or even sometimes “devon”, though I seldom see that name in the store). It looks like bologna, and tastes somewhat similar, though I think it’s quite different.

So, as a newly arrived immigrant, I had to negotiate linguistic minefields around food: Always referring to jam, not jelly (even now, I sometimes slip), and being confused by different names for the same thing (luncheon and devon). And all of that was stirred up by watching a video that wasn’t even about food differences.

Being binational, as I often say, sometimes means being between countries, caught between the familiar and the foreign, the comfort of our past and the excitement of our future. It still amazes me how the simplest things can stir up that awareness.

So, to me, that video was more than just a tongue-in-cheek explanation of how to make a PBJ sandwich: It was a brief stop in that space between my two countries.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mom at 99

Ninety-nine years ago today, my mother was born. Each year I try and think of something different to say about her, or about her influence on me, and sometimes I even succeed. But the more years that pass, the harder this becomes.

Most of these posts have included brief anecdotes or memories that I think convey what she was like, how she influenced me, or what she meant to me. But there are other stories, maybe darker ones, that tell other things about her, and about me. This post was going to be of that variety, but, it turns out, I’m not ready to tell those stories because they say so much about me and my life.

So, instead, here are some random memories, the sorts of things that frequently pop into my head.

When I was a kid, my most enduring memory of her is of her reading—always reading a book of some sort. She loved Agatha Christie, so one year for Christmas I set out to get her every Agatha Christie book I could find. Turned out, she hadn’t read many of them. She also took me to get my first library card before I could even read.

I also remember asking her for something, and she’d say, “wait ‘til I finish this cigarette.” If only I’d known, because those damn things killed her. On the other hand, when we were driving on vacation, she’d always crack her window when she lit a cigarette, and my dad almost never did, which made me nauseous.

She could be a wonderful cook and baker, but not everything was a success, and she’d try the oddest meals. For example, she got a “casserole” recipe made from saltines and cheese (she used Velveeta), and it was bloody awful. Or the time she bought the astronaut-inspired packaged meal called “TVP Dinner” to make for us. “TVP” stood for “textured vegetable protein”, and was meant to be beef stroganoff flavour. She made two packets, but only put in enough water for one—it was like mortar ready for a bricklayer to use.

She also used to give my music and TV preferences a go, even if they weren’t her “thing”. But, sometimes they were: She started watching re-runs of the original Star Trek with me, though sometimes she asked kind of obvious questions, which I thought was to just to show she was interested. She also quite liked an Abba album I bought, in the last year of her life.

I never for one moment doubted that she loved me or that she was proud of me, because she told me both all the time. But because I was only 21 when she died, a lot of that was more embarrassing to me than reassuring. It's reassuring now, though.

And that’s the thing about good memories: They can be pulled up snug around our necks to warm us whenever the world seems the most cold, or when we most need that snug feeling to make it easier to carry on with whatever is ahead of us. That’s an important thing, I think, or, at least, it is to me.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Tears of a clown
– one of my favourite posts about my mother

Previous years’ birthday posts:
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Then there were none: Most sane clown leaves

George Pataki, the 70-year-old former governor of New York finally tumbled off the Republican Clown Bus, ending a campaign he never had any chance of winning. The fifth clown candidate to drop out, Pataki was the only semi-sane candidate in the Republican race, and now the remaining clowns range from scheming and pandering incompetents through to the batshit crazy—though several cross those easy boundaries.

Pataki never had even the remotest chance. The Republican Party is controlled by far right religionists, economic extremists, and obscenely rich oligarchs and plutocrats. There’s simply no room for any candidate who isn’t one or, preferably, all three.

Pataki’s main liability was that he wasn’t extremist enough. He favours a woman’s right to choose in reproductive matters, while all Republican candidates must be opposed to women’s rights, especially in reproduction and their own health. Pataki also favoured protecting the civil and human rights of LGBT Americans, while all Republican candidates must promise to pass laws enshrining discrimination against anti-LGBT people under the new Republican Party brand of Religious Freedom™. Sure, Pataki inexplicably opposed marriage equality, and while that made him just like ALL the other Republican candidates did and do, it wasn’t extremist enough to make up for his mainstream positions on women’s reproductive choice or LGBT equality.

In his departure, Pataki said: "While tonight is the end of my journey for the White House as I suspend my campaign for president, I'm confident we can elect the right person, someone who will bring us together…" I agree—but that person can only be a Democrat since all the Republican candidates are nuts to one degrees or another and/or so dead wrong on the issues as to not be worthy of any consideration whatsoever.

Actually, even Pataki must see that, at least partially. He said—pretty accurately—"Donald Trump is the Know-Nothing candidate of the 21st century and cannot be the Republican] nominee." But, of course, The Hair might be the Republican nominee, and even if he isn’t, none of the other clowns offer any kind safe alternative. Pataki was the only remaining candidate left who was neither crazy nor an idiot.

One of the eleven remaining clowns will be the Republican nominee—there is no one to save the party, no sane, sensible person who can rescue them. Republican primary voters are wildly out of step, not only with mainstream Americans, but also the mainstream of their own party. So, those primary voters won’t care that the remaining clowns are all so awful. The question is, will mainstream American voters in general care?

As of today, there's still 10 months, 10 days until the US presidential election.

Vlog Brothers: ‘The Myth Reawakens’

I saw the video above shortly after it was released, but hadn’t intended on sharing it (I don’t share all that many Vlog Brothers videos, even though I watch them all). What changed my mind was online reaction to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but not for the usual reason. Also, neither the video nor this post have any spoilers.

To paraphrase the YouTube description, in this video—again, without spoilers—John Green discusses the movie in the context of the original Star Wars trilogy, and also talks about Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and its influence on George Lucas. That leads on to “talk about mythology, shared myths, how we assign personhood, whether wookies are people, etc.” I thought it was very interesting, as I usually do. But that’s not the reason I decided to share it.

What made me reconsider sharing this video was some of the reactions I saw online. There were glowing reactions, of course, including some total fanboi meltdowns, all of which was to be expected. The negative reactions were also to be expected, and some of them stuck me as manifestly unfair, comparing this movie to the original three in a way that, I felt, set up a false comparison.

Here’s the weird thing: As unfair as I thought some of the criticism was, in my opinion, MOST of it didn’t attack those with differing views—shockingly enough! They, like me, seemed to accept that people can have completely different opinions about this movie without assuming the other person is somehow defective or maybe mentally deficient. I wish it could always be that way, but I know it isn’t—and, in fact, outside my field of attention, it probably isn’t. That’s life. It probably helped that this movie was such a huge hit.

So, I saw this video as a sort of counter-view to some of what I thought was unfair, even though this came out before that criticism (which is why I won’t bother linking to to any specific criticism). I also saw it as expressing much of what I though about the movie, too.

When I talked about seeing the movie, I didn’t talk in any great detail about my reactions, mainly to avoid spoilers. But my reaction was pretty similar to John Green’s.

I obviously fully realise and accept that this movie—as with absolutely everything else in pop culture—is subject to Arthur’s Law:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
So, I share the video above not as some sort of one-upmanship in ongoing pop culture battles, but merely because I thought the perspective was interesting, because I thought it provides some balance in the discussions of the merits of the film, and mostly because it’s the closest I’ve yet gotten to discussing what I thought of the movie.

Sometimes, it’s worth reconsidering a decision on whether to share something.

Lengthy recovery

It turns out that this month’s Great Affliction isn’t quite done with our household yet. This is affecting everything.

The short version of the story is that yesterday, and especially last night, I was feeling quite unwell—fluey, a bit nauseous, nothing too specific. I slept well, but in the morning felt awful and utterly drained—weaker than I felt when my version of the Great Affliction was in full flight. I slept some more.

I got up again late this morning, and felt a little better—about the same as this time yesterday, so maybe 70% of normal in my good moments. I don’t have much specifically wrong with me, just feeling yucky, as this bug, whatever it is, has its last hurrah.

We’d planned on a family party tomorrow night to ring in the New Year—that’s now cancelled. We don’t want to take the chance that we could infect family members who didn’t get the bug at Christmas, and, anyway, there’s no guarantee I’d even feel up to it.

In fact, this may be the first time in as many years as I can remember that I may not actually be up to see the year change over. For me, that’s a very big deal, and just goes to show how “not well” I feel.

It’s also affecting this blog, of course. I had a fairly easy task reaching my annual blog post goal of an average of one post per day: In the middle of the month, I had an achievable target of an average of 2.5 posts per day, and got that down to an even better average of two posts per day.

Christmas Day, when I didn’t blog, didn’t affect things dramatically, and I could have easily caught up—and then came the Great Affliction, and Monday was a write-off, so to speak. A valiant effort Tuesday was undone yesterday when I again didn’t feel well.

And now, with today and tomorrow remaining, I still have eight posts to go to achieve my annual average. Any other time, this wouldn’t be a problem—although, any other time and I wouldn’t even be in this position. I have this post, one more mostly ready to go, and yet another I MUST write today, somehow. A fourth, let alone more? And, will tomorrow be any better?

I’ll have no idea how this quest will end. Right now, I just want to feel better.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The NZ flag referendum explained

The video above was posted a couple weeks ago, thought I only saw it tonight. It’s a very accurate description of the referendum and the process, and it’s also reasonably impartial, which is a plus. Naturally, YouTube commentators couldn’t leave it at that.

The first criticism was that it ripped off CGPGrey, whose videos I’ve shared many times because I’m a fan. The main complaint seemed to be the animated explanation of the preferential voting system used in the first flag referendum. This is a pretty silly criticism.

CGPGrey did a video on the Alternative Voting system, which is basically the same thing. I shared that video back in 2011 (bottom of the post). That video uses the metaphor of an election in the animal kingdom, as his other videos on electoral systems did, and also uses a very simplistic explanation of how the second round votes are distributed. This made it easier to understand, but created the impression that the second choice votes for an eliminated candidate always go to the same candidate. Still, it was a fair trade-off to explain how the voting system works in general terms,

The video above however, far more realistically and accurately shows the redistribution process, that the second preference votes are distributed among many candidates, not just to one. This is important to understand if one is to understand how we ended up with the flag design we did (and judging by online commentary, many New Zealanders don’t understand that). The use of fruits, by the way, is also the way the NZ Electoral Commission explains how our voting system works—fruit standing in for parties, or, in this case, for flag designs. It’s a way of avoiding apparent bias.

So, those parts are similar, but clearly different. And, the video above is actually more accurate. I can’t understand what people are complaining about.

Nevertheless, I do have criticisms and a few more minor quibbles.

My biggest criticism is that the narration says: “New Zealand has been independent for nearly 70 years”. That simply isn’t factually true, and for a number of reasons.

What he’s referring to is when the New Zealand Parliament adopted the Statute of Westminster, and, later, the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948, which created New Zealand citizenship.

However, it’s also true that after New Zealand failed to join Australia, it became a Dominion, which was self-governing. It signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and became a member of the ill-fated League of Nations, all alongside other independent nations. Then, in 1926, the Balfour Declaration made clear that all Dominions were equal, and so, ratified that New Zealand was in charge of its own foreign affairs, settling any earlier legal ambiguity.

Or, one could also look to the Third Labour Government of Prime Minister Norman Kirk, which passed the Constitution Amendment Act 1973 to make it clear that New Zealand could legislate outside its own territory, and the Royal Titles Act 1973 changed the Queen’s title to “Queen of New Zealand”, no longer mentioning the United Kingdom. Also, the government changed New Zealand passports to indicate the holder was a "New Zealand citizen", and no longer a "British Subject and New Zealand Citizen".

In 1973, the UK joined the Common Market, and ended all the preferential trade deals it had with New Zealand. So, 1973 began a sort of mutual separation.

The point is, New Zealand has no independence date because it evolved alongside the growth of national sovereignty. I realise that all this is difficult to explain in a few seconds, but to suggest that New Zealand DID had a firm date of independence and that it was “nearly 70 years ago” is both factually wrong (NZ has no independence date) and not even “kind of true”—it had a gradual evolution as an independent nation. That section should have been worded entirely differently, something like, “…however, New Zealand is an independent nation, a process that actually began back in 1840” (this, because he shows a representation of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi).

Other less serious problems are that while the narration talking about what New Zealanders thought about the cost, John Key’s involvement, and even how the referendum process should have been structured, are probably accurate or a fair assessment (in my opinion), it would have been better to source those comments. Rather than using “some people”, “many people” and so on, it would have been better to say “a poll found that a majority of New Zealanders felt that…”, or, at least, such a source should have been onscreen in that frame—or at the very least included in the description. This matters because things put to a vote are always contentious, and as I’ve already said many times, it’s not clear WHAT “most” New Zealanders felt about a great many aspects of this whole thing.

So, citing sources could have cleared that up.

There was one other thing that was flat out wrong: The pronunciation of Tuvalu is wrong—it’s actually “too-VAH-loo” (Fiji is also a bit dicey, but close enough).

My criticisms are substantiative, which appears to have been beyond the capabilities of some YouTube commenters who were fixating on what I think was trivial nonsense. I presume this was because they didn’t know the facts (and couldn’t be bothered to fact check), and assumed that one visual segment was too similar to something someone else did (even though the ONLY similarity is that both use easy-to-understand bar charts!).

Despite my criticisms and quibbles, I think this is a very good video. It explains the story so far more thoroughly and more clearly than any other video I’ve seen. It also does so without “taking sides”, which isn’t easy to do in itself.

All in all, a good job, I think.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year in Search 2015

The video above from is Google and shows what people searched for in 2015. As always, it’s a fascinating look at, well, us—from the things we wanted to know to the things we cared about.

There’s a companion page that shows the global Year in Search. That’s viewable as a list for a few countries, though that not New Zealand. Nevertheless, it’s possible to drill down to find out more about the top searches, and doing so shows where searches took place.

However, to view other countries, it’s necessary to look at the lists, which is viewable by a lot of countries. It’s probably possible to learn something about the various countries by what their people searched for, but I’m not quite sure what. For example, when it’s an American pop culture thing, people outside the USA will often search to find out who or what Americans are talking about.

Or, just watch the video above. It probably tells you everything need to know. No surprise about that, really.

The Greatest Words and Phrases of 2015

What’s your word or phrase of the year? Do any stand out? Or, are they pretty much non-events?

The video above is Anglophenia Episode 45 and deals with some of the top words and phrases from 2015. While I might quibble with whether Kate is, in fact, a YouTuber, she is nevertheless as perky as the best YouTubers are, which is part of why she’s good at presenting these videos.

When a word or phrase makes a list of biggest of the year, it’s because it’s popular, of course. It doesn’t usually make it into dictionaries until some time later, after it’s clearly in common use and proven its staying power. However, it’s often quite some time after that before it becomes acceptable for Scrabble and the like, and by that time the word may already be passing out of usage.

I love language, and how it adapts and evolves over time. As much as I can seem pedantic about correct usage (like apostrophes, for example), I’m actually quite relaxed about it all: Language will become whatever we need it to become, which is why attempts to police it are ultimately futile.

At any rate, Kate does do some good videos, whether she’s a YouTuber or not. LOLZ.

Holiday’s unanticipated ends

Today is the public holiday for Boxing Day, since the actual day fell on a weekend this year, but we won’t be seeing much of it. Our Christmas holidays ended with sudden sickness that basically wiped out yesterday, and left me feeling wiped out today.

I went to bed by 10pm on Boxing Day night so I could get up early to clean the house and do washing to get ready for visitors this week. That was the plan. At 2am I woke up with pains in my stomach and flulike symptoms—feverishness, achiness, and generally feeling yucky. I misdiagnosed myself.

I’d taken my tart cherry pill not long before I went to bed Saturday night, and it sometimes gives me reflux and/or makes me burp, so I though that was the cause. Flulike symptoms sometimes happen before a gout attack, so I thought that’s what was happening. Except, I kept feeling worse and worse.

Around 6am, I was pretty violently sick—it was more like I was being turned inside out, a feeling I’ve never had before. It was also the first time I’ve vomited since around 2001, which was also that last time I felt that bad (and back then was FAR worse).

I had another inside-out experience, and then the trots, and I’ll say no more about either. Fortunately, they were the last of it for me. But, I still felt truly terrible and could do little more than sleep.

I tried getting up for a while in the evening and sat in a chair in the hope that I’d be able to sleep through the night (at that point, I’d been in bed most of 20 hours). I had a bit of electrolyte stuff and a tiny bit of plain saltine cracker. I felt worse and went back to bed.

I was running a fever during all this, but couldn’t manage more than sips of water, so I didn't take anything for it: The good old tried-and-true cool flannel (wash cloth) on my forehead worked wonders.

My fever broke during the night, and I slept most of the way through. By the morning, my back was really sore, after some 32 hours in bed, so I got up, feeling very washed out, but otherwise not bad. My stomach was a little sore, partly from whatever this was, and also from the muscle spasms the day before. But, I was otherwise fine, and the other end was better, too.

I had a piece of toast, and when that went well, I had a cup of coffee (I know, I know, it’s supposed to be clear tea with no additions…). The toast made me feel better, since I was so hungry (no surprise, that, after the better part of two days with no food and little water). The coffee helped clear my head, which felt like it was stuffed with cotton after so much time spent sleeping.

Other members of the family also got sick, so the logical assumption for the cause would be food poisoning, however, only some of us got sick, even if we ate the exact same things. Also, most of the others got sick well after me, and food poisoning is usually faster (and worse—not just 24 hours).

So, the other possibility is some sort of gastro virus, like a norovirus type thing, that we may have picked up. I joked that there were two-footed germ factories, aka kids, there that day who may have infected us (in my diseased state, that sounded much funnier to me…).

We’ll never know the cause since none of us went to the doctor. Also, since it basically lasted about 24 hours, it’s not necessary now, nor would any tests necessarily be conclusive. The important thing is that it passed, so to speak, pretty quickly—but man, did I feel truly awful when it was in full flight!

This will be a quiet day today. Maybe some blogging to fill the time and keep me sitting up…

Saturday, December 26, 2015

First holiday’s end

Today is Boxing Day, which means, that the Christmas Holiday is over for another year—except, of course, it isn’t. Because today is Saturday, the Boxing Day public holiday will be this coming Monday, giving us a four-day weekend. As it is most years.

We were in Hamilton for Christmas Day, having breakfast in the morning, then dinner later in the afternoon, all served buffet-style, which made it very low stress. Traditional ham was part of both those meals, and we added a leg of lamb for dinner, slow-roasted on the BBQ rotisserie (the lamb was juicy and not nearly as fatty as roast lamb is usually). I also made good ol’ American pumpkin pie, which some of them had never had before.

Aside from that, the day was filled with the usual holiday things—hanging out with family and friends, eating a bit too much and, yes, drinking a wee bit too much. However, I recently switched to lower-alcohol wines, which means I don’t get blotto, even if I overindulge. My current favourite is Kim Crawford First Pick Pinot Gris Lighter (you may need to enter a location and date of birth to establish you are of the legal drinking age in your country). I quite like this one in particular because it doesn’t taste much different to the regular First Pick Pinot Gris, both of which taste lighter than the standard Pinot Gris that I’ve tried. I started having these lower-alcohol wines to reduce unnecessary calories, but the lower alcohol is a bonus for other reasons, too.

We headed back home this morning, and got caught up in traffic jams leading to Te Awa/The Base for Boxing Day sales. Most roads leading to the shopping centre were blocked, so we had to go a slightly different way. As we neared the mall, we saw mall-bound people getting ticketed for blocking an intersection, something I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else.

Once we were past that shopping area (there’s a lot more to it than just the mall—a lot of big box retailers are in the area), traffic eased pretty dramatically. We drove on to a new service area at Horotiu, just before the expressway heading back to Auckland. Only the BP and a Subway have been completed so far, but more is under construction.

We got petrol, some drinks and snacks for the road, and we decided to go through the car wash. We pulled into the entrance lane to find we were behind two cars—one in front of us, and another that had just started the wash. Once we finally got in, things were going okay, and then the programme just stopped—absolutely nothing happened, and with the car all soaped up.

So, we drove back the service station part and the attendant told us to drive back around, and he fiddled with the controls for a bit, trying to reset the machine. After a few tries, he was able to do so, re-entered the code, and we were able to pull back in. He said they hadn’t given them an instruction manual in English, so that’s why it took him a couple minutes to figure it out. It worked the second time. This was the only time that’s ever happened to either of us.

After that, the trip back was largely uneventful, but when we passed the southbound exit to State Highway 2, heading to the Coromandel, there was a VERY long queue that was completely stopped. The holdup seemed to be an accident, because we passed two ambulances heading to the exit, then two more the other side of the Bombays, all heading South.

Apart from that, it was pretty normal: Very full carparks at Ellerslie Racecourse for the Boxing Day races, and there were long queues exiting southbound to go to Sylvia Park shopping centre and Mt Wellington.

In general, southbound traffic was heavy, then it got a little heavier heading North, once we got over the Harbour Bridge, but still not as bad as southbound had been.

Once we got home, we stayed there.

I never thought about taking any photos this year, not even of my pie; no particular reason, I just didn’t. Christmas Day isn’t the sort of thing one can write about in advance (except, maybe, if it was a remembrance sort of thing), so without photos, I really had nothing at all to post (I didn’t have the time or energy to do a post made of words alone).

In contrast, I had the two posts for Christmas Eve ready to go in advance, one auto-posted before I got up that day, the other I manually posted later that morning  (all I had to do was click “Publish”, because it was all uploaded and ready to go). I can certainly see the benefits of preparing posts in advance like Roger Green does.

And that’s the story of my Christmas Holiday—with two more days to go…

Related: Digg points out how even now, no one really has any idea what the origins of Boxing Day actually are.

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2015

Above is the annual Christmas Broadcast from Her Majesty the Queen of New Zealand (etc.). This is broadcast on New Zealand television every year, but this year, and not for the first time, I saw it on YouTube. For some reason, the official British Monarchy Channel on YouTube deletes previous years’ broadcasts. I have no idea why.

This year, the Queen talks about her family’s influence on how Christmas is now celebrated. She also does a lot Christian proselytising, which, while it does nothing for me, was nevertheless interesting if only to see what she chose to highlight—not at all the sort of stuff most TV preachers would talk about.

It’s ironic that a person born in a republic, and who is a republican (lower case “r”, thank you very much), would be so fascinated by the Queen’s broadcast, especially since so many among my New Zealand family and friends aren’t. But, that’s the way it is.

And that’s the last of the Christmas traditions I’ll share for this year.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas song from Steve Grand‬

At the start of last week, I posted a very unusual version of Mariah Carey’s hit song, “All I want for Christmas Is You”. Today, I’m sharing another new version (above) by out gay singer Steve Grand. I really like it.

The arrangement is slightly different from the hit version, but I think that’s good—variety and all that. The video also has a twist, as some of the best videos do. And, at the end of the video, he includes what’s basically a vlog.

Modern technologies are making it possible for independent creators to get their content to the public in ways that were unimaginable not so very long ago. That’s a very good thing for us all, creators and audience alike.

And, in the spirit of Christmas, it’s nice to share.

Merry Christmas!!

Last shopping day

Today is the last chance to do some Christmas shopping. All the major retailers are having sales, and most—especially grocery stores—will be doing big business right up until closing, which is generally around 5pm for most stores. We, fortunately, are finished shopping.

Yesterday, we went out to pick up the last bits and pieces, including some unusual things. For example, we needed a new chilly bin (what we called a “cooler” where I came from in the USA) because our old one had cracked. So, we went to a clearance store and bought a “marine” one, which means, basically, it’s extra tough, well insulated, and has buckle things to keep the lid securely closed. We also got two 2-litre freezer bottles for it (made by the same company, so it fits). Unlike the ordinary sealed “freezer bricks” we have, these take tap water, meaning we can store them empty.

All of this was necessary because on Christmas Day, there’s never enough room in the fridge. Now, we won’t have to worry about it.

Because yesterday was Wednesday, and we started out early afternoon, many people were still at work and the shops weren’t too bad—neither was traffic. But, then, we didn’t go to any shopping malls, which I’m sure were much worse.

Yesterday evening, we made some things for Christmas, so we’re even done with that. There’ll just be making the actual meals, but we already have a head start.

Now that we’re finished with all we needed/could do early, we can pretty much relax until the Christmas festivities begin tomorrow and on into Christmas Day. I’m not sure we’ve been so organised before, and I kind of like it.

But the best part is, we don’t have to get in the middle of the last shopping day before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Action Station

A New Zealand grassroots political group that I really admire is called ActionStation, and the video above is a short version of their Annual Report. Their website has in-depth details about them and the campaigns they worked on this year.

The group says its mission is “to enable the large community of Kiwis with shared progressive values to take powerful, coordinated action on urgent issues we care about.” What that means in practice is bringing pressure to create change in government or business through petitions, ads, billboards, and grassroots lobbying. It’s no affiliated with any political party, and won’t accept donations from them.

I’ve participated in some of their campaigns, and spread awareness of others on social media. What I like about them is that they harness the possibilities of social media and its large audience to organise focused, direct action, something no NZ political party has done very well, though Labour and the Greens are getting much better at it.

For democracy to actually work, it needs the full participation of its citizens, and groups like ActionStation make that much easier for everyone. I think that’s a very good thing, indeed.

Remembering Kit Duffy

Kit Duffy in April.
This morning, I was working on a new post and decided to go to the original source, which was on Facebook. I arrived just minutes after the official announcement that a dear friend and former colleague from my activist days, Kit Duffy, had died. I was frozen for quite a few minutes.

This post is a revised and extended version of what I posted on my personal Facebook.

Kit had recently had heart surgery and had several complications. One of her friends visited her in hospital and posted updates to Kit’s timeline, which meant all her friends could be kept up to date. Things didn’t seem to be going well, and I feared that she might not make it. She apparently died peacefully, which is what we all hope for when our time comes.

I met Kit when Chicago's Mayor Harold Washington appointed her as his liaison to the city's LGBT communities, and through her work she practically copyrighted the term "straight ally". Since I was a grassroots LGBT activist at the time, our paths crossed MANY times. We had a lot of wonderful chats during those years, and I learned so much from her: She wasn't just a friend, she was an important mentor, as she was for so many activists in that era.

More recently, we reconnected on Facebook, as I have with so many old friends, and we shared a lot of fun and laughs along the way. I am so very grateful for that, and so sad that we never had the chance to meet up again in real life.

She was a very important part of the struggle for the civil and human rights of LGBT Chicagoans, and throughout the state. "Kit's fingerprints are on almost everything we have in the gay community in Illinois today," another former activist colleague, Rick Garcia, said for Kit’s obituary in Windy City Times. "I really think that she is the midwife of the successes we have in Illinois,” he added. I agree.

She was a friend to so many, and she was respected even by people who disagreed with her politics, which is a testament to her, I think, and so very rare these days. She was one of a kind, and I honestly don't think we'll see someone like her again.

I'll miss Kit terribly, but I'm happy that she didn't suffer.

Farewell, my friend—and thank you for everything.

The photo of Kit above is a cropped version of a photo she posted on Facebook last April, as she took part of Chicago’s mayoral election. She remained true to her progressive politics and values to the very end.

See also: “Kit Duffy, liaison for change”, part of Windy City Times’ AIDS@30 series.

Worth Quoting: Arnold Schwarzenegger

This is probably the first time I’ve ever said something positive about Arnold Schwarzenegger (except, maybe about his Terminator movies…). But Arnold posted something on Facebook and gets it SO right that I had to share it.

I saw a mention of this earlier this morning, and went back to the original on Facebook, which was fraught (about which, more later today–that's now posted). I think Arnold sums up my thinking extraordinarily well—but more about that after what he posted on Facebook:
I don’t give a **** if we agree about climate change.
By Arnold Schwarzenegger • Tuesday, 8 December 2015

I see your questions.

Each and every time I post on my Facebook page or tweet about my crusade for a clean energy future, I see them.

There are always a few of you, asking why we should care about the temperature rising, or questioning the science of climate change.

I want you to know that I hear you. Even those of you who say renewable energy is a conspiracy. Even those who say climate change is a hoax. Even those of you who use four letter words.

I've heard all of your questions, and now I have three questions for you.

Let's put climate change aside for a minute. In fact, let's assume you're right.

First – do you believe it is acceptable that 7 million people die every year from pollution? That's more than murders, suicides, and car accidents – combined.

Every day, 19,000 people die from pollution from fossil fuels. Do you accept those deaths? Do you accept that children all over the world have to grow up breathing with inhalers?

Now, my second question: do you believe coal and oil will be the fuels of the future?

Besides the fact that fossil fuels destroy our lungs, everyone agrees that eventually they will run out. What's your plan then?

I, personally, want a plan. I don't want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don't want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That's exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.

A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying. Either way, I wouldn't take their investment advice.

Renewable energy is great for the economy, and you don't have to take my word for it. California has some of the most revolutionary environmental laws in the United States, we get 40% of our power from renewables, and we are 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the country. We were an early-adopter of a clean energy future.

Our economy has not suffered. In fact, our economy in California is growing faster than the U.S. economy. We lead the nation in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, entertainment, high tech, biotech, and, of course, green tech.

I have a final question, and it will take some imagination.

There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

I'm guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes?

This is the choice the world is making right now.

To use one of the four-letter words all of you commenters love, I don't give a damn if you believe in climate change. I couldn’t care less if you're concerned about temperatures rising or melting glaciers. It doesn't matter to me which of us is right about the science.

I just hope that you'll join me in opening Door Number Two, to a smarter, cleaner, healthier, more profitable energy future.
I have to admit that I laughed when I read the top comment (17,000 "Likes" last time I checked) to this, which said, “Why didn't you just end this with 'Come with me if you want to live'”. Appropriate nerdy pop-culture reference aside, I think that Arnold makes a great point: It doesn’t matter at all whether people “believe” that climate change is happening, because even if it wasn’t, ending pollution and the use of fossil fuels is a bloody great idea all by itself!

This is what I don’t understand about climate change deniers: Why wouldn’t they favour eliminating pollution? Who could possibly be FOR pollution, apart, of course, from those who make money by polluting? For the rest of us, ending pollution is an absolute no-brainer, something that will benefit us all.

And our dependence on fossil fuels must end, not just because of pollution, but because it’s what gives the islamist terrorists the money they need to wage their “holy war” on civilisation: Cut off their source of income, and they lose the ability to buy weapons, and they lose their power (for many reasons, including that the West would no longer need to station troops in the Arab world, itself a reason people in the area become radicalised).

From my end of the political spectrum, moving to clean, renewable energy has the added benefit of taking away the income of the USA far-right’s most powerful oligarchs and plutocrats, making it far easier for everyday Americans to take their country back from the ultra-rich and ultra-powerful.

But politics is completely beside the point: Cleaning up the planet and ending the use of fossil fuels will benefit the entire planet. Arnold provides the best summary I’ve yet seen on why that is.

The image up top is a detail from the header on Arnold's Facebook Page. I was also amused by this on the post:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Greeting the season

The December Solstice was at 5:49pm NZDT, making today the longest day of the year, and some 5 hours, 4 minutes longer than on the June Solstice. Today will also be about three seconds longer than yesterday—whoop! Plenty of extra daylight to get things done!

Seriously, I saw a lot of people posting on Facebook yesterday, saying that was the longest day. I think the confusion arises because the date and time of the solstices are variable.

Similarly, the amount of daylight gained or lost varies, too. Today we got an extra three seconds, but yesterday we got six, the day before nine seconds. Going the other way, tomorrow will have one second less daylight, the 24th will have four seconds less, the 25th gets eight seconds less, and so on each day until June, when the process reverses again.

This is all caused by Axial tilt, the fact that the earth is about 23.4 degrees off vertical (relative to the ecliptic plane), and that causes all our seasons. Astronomical solstices and equinoxes are celestial events, and don’t necessarily have any relationship to weather—temperature may be affected, the amount of daylight definitely is, but in this part of the world, as I say all the time, our meteorological seasons begin on the first of the month (Summer began December 1, Autumn begins March 1, and so on).

The difference in seasons between the two hemispheres is also why it’s not commonly accepted practice to refer to the December Solstice and June Solstice, because “Summer” and “Winter” are relative to which side of the equator one is on when the Solstice arrives.

All of which relates to the graphic above. It’s based on a popular Internet meme spread by science nerds, atheists and agnostics, and people who like to needle self-centred Christians. Too many Christians, completely unaware of the non-Christian origins of practically everything about their celebration of Christmas—including the very day it’s celebrated on—like to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. If they want to make their Jesus the focus of their celebrations, that’s their choice, but to a great many people, their declaration about the meaning of the season is irrelevant.

The reason for all seasons—including the one this month—is axial tilt. The reason for many of our holiday traditions this time of year is that we “borrowed” them from pagans and other non-Christian traditions. And that’s why someone people like to gleefully spread memes similar to the one above.

I originally made my version because I was uncertain about who created the ones I was seeing, and what their copyright status was, so I made my own. I put the word “SEASON” in all caps to emphasise that I was being pedantic about the science, even though I knew that the people most likely to be offended would never even notice.

It is, if I’m honest, a particularly snarky meme, one that mocks certain Christians for no particularly useful reason other than pedantry, maybe. But in recent years there’s been a growing willingness among secularists of all kinds—atheists, agnostics, non-theists, and religious people who want firm separation between church and state—to assert our right to celebrate Christmas, too, and without any religious overtones. Memes like this serve to remind certain Christians that this holiday, with all its pagan origins and trappings, doesn’t actually belong to them alone.

So, Christians who are offended by this meme, or by the idea of people who don’t believe as they do celebrating Christmas, need to remember that religious freedom means freedom for all, and that includes citing different reasons for the season.

Season’s Greetings!

Related: I covered some of this territory in December, 2012.

I created the graphic with this post using an image in the public domain. I claim no ownership over that image, but the composition is licensed under my usual Creative Commons license.

YouTube Rewind: Now Watch Me 2015

Every year, YouTube posts a video featuring some of YouTube’s video content creators, usually based at least in part on the impact they had during the year. They’re always entertaining, even if most of the time I have no idea who most of the people are.

As before, the credits in the YouTube description lists everyone who participated, and I do know who some of them are, and subscribe to several of their channels. I’ve also shared videos by some of them. Still, there are far more that I’ve never even heard of, which is pretty typical for these videos.

This has now become an annual tradition for me, as we start to wind down for the year. I kind of like that about them, too.


YouTube Rewind: What Does 2013 Say?
YouTube Rewind: Turn Down for 2014

The classier clown leaves

Today Lindsey Graham became the fourth clown candidate to leave the Republican Clown Bus, ending his doomed attempt to win the Republican nomination. While he never stood a chance at winning the nomination himself, his departure could help those who oppose Trump to coalesce around someone else—could, but won’t.

Graham was far classier than the other candidates is his treatment of Democrats. His criticism was never as personal as the others, and he’s well-known for his friendships with Democrats—even those with whom he has absolutely no political positions in common. That’s heretical for a Republican politician.

Also unlike typical Congressional Republicans, Graham recognised that “elections have consequences”, as he put it, and he voted for all of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. In 2013, he voted for the deal to end the government shutdown, despite the fact the frothing base of his own party was apoplectic about that. He said of Republicans who’d shut down the government over silly partisan minutiae, "We're a right-of-center nation. We're not a right-ditch nation," which is a good quote, if a flawed assessment of the nation’s political character.

Graham was willing to criticise his own party’s voters, too, telling Boston Herald Radio, “There’s about 40% of the Republican primary voter who believes that Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. There’s just a dislike for President Obama that is visceral. It’s almost irrational.”

Graham was by far the most hawkish of the Republican clowns candidates. In a field full of armchair generals, he was the only one to actively promote the idea of US troops invading Syria. Graham wanted to make the Republicans more hawkish, too, and he claims he did so. But as Zack Beauchamp pointed out on Vox, that idea is pretty absurd:
“…if it seems implausible that a candidate who was polling at 1 percent had such a profound impact on the race, that's because it is. The hawkish shift in the GOP field is the result of actual events in the world: things like the rise of ISIS and the Paris attacks.”
Harsh, but fair: Graham was always polling too low to make the main Republican debates, only ever making it to the Kids’ Table debate. Someone who has such little nationwide following was hardly in a position to influence anyone—neither voters nor his fellow candidates.

His departure, however, could help the Republican Party by clearing the field. Graham despises Donald Trump ("You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell," he told CNN), so getting out could help make it easier for voters to begin to coalesce behind an ABT—Anybody But Trump—candidate.

Tempering that bit of hope, however, is that at 1 percent support, he doesn’t have a lot of support to offer anyone else, though his endorsement might help in his home state of South Carolina, the third contest. For that to matter, however, more candidates would have to drop out—but who?

Putting aside all the nobodies and never-weres—Pataki, Gilmore, Santorum—there are some more obvious big names: Jeb! (just don’t say) Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie all have egos far larger than their states. Neither Kasich nor Christie can win the nomination, but dropping out would most likely help Jeb! (just don’t say) Bush the most, and he desperately needs help after running one of the worst presidential primary campaigns ever, but could also help Rubio, currently a distant third in the sweepstakes. If Kasich, Christie and Jeb! (just don’t say) Bush all dropped out, it would help Marco Rubio the most.

Next, there’s Rev. Dr. Ben Carson, Carly “former secretary” Fiorina, Rev. Gov. Mike “The Huckster” Huckabee. All of them have been at the big debates, which has only reinforced their vastly over-inflated opinions of themselves. If Carson and The Huckster drop out, they’ll help the Canadian-born Rafael “Ted” Cruz. Fiorina’s support, such as it still is, would probably go to Trump, I suspect.

That leaves only Rand Paul, and, well, let’s just say there’s no one else in the race quite like him. His far-right positions match up with the other clowns candidates, but never entirely with any particular one. A lot of his support is ornery, so it could go to Trump, Carson, Cruz—any of the antiestablishment candidates, or maybe all of them. But with him polling so low, his departure alone wouldn’t make any real difference, and wouldn’t necessarily help stop Trump.

What all of this is leading to is a choice between Trump, Cruz,and Rubio—and I cannot possibly think of a worse scenario: Not one of them is worthy of a vote for anything whatsoever, and NEVER for US President.

So, Graham’s departure may or may not help stop Trump, but it could end up helping candidates who are despicable and awful in their own right, utterly unredeemed by the fact they're not Trump.

But Graham's departure also means the loss of a more restrained, genteel, even, style of politics, where the political need not be personal. The remaining Republican clowns candidates could learn a lot from him.

To be sure, I disagreed with Graham on pretty much every issue possible—especially his warmongering—and there’s no way I’d ever vote for him. However, I never thought of him as an idiot, as all the front-runners are, and damning as that may sound, it’s really quite positive. The Republican field is filled with dangerous extremists, proto-fascists, and far-right religious nutjobs, but Graham was none of those things. His party’s campaign will be the poorer for his departure: He was by far the classiest one they had.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Five years with Sunny

Five years ago today, Sunny arrived at our house to live with us. It turned out to be one of the best things ever, and every day we’re so glad she’s here. Like all our furbabies, we truly treasure her. The photo above is from the moment she first set a paw in our house.

She arrived with some toys, her favourite blanket, a bed, and some food. She wasn’t much interested in playing the first couple days, but we kept her toys near her so she’d have familiar things near her. The first night, she slept out in the lounge, by herself (her choice). The next night, she slept in our room, but on her bed, and then soon, with some encouragement from us, she jumped on the bed and has slept there ever since. That’s when we knew she was starting to feel a part of our family.

In the weeks and months that followed, her life intertwined with ours until now we couldn’t imagine life without her.

Happy Anniversary, Sunny!

2Political Podcast 113 is available

Episode 113 of the 2Political Podcast, recorded five days ago, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

Internet Wading – Believing and seeing

The end of 2015 is in sight, so it’s time for the final Internet Wading for the year. These posts are a way for me to share some of the things I see that don’t warrant a blog post, but that I think are interesting. This month, it’s an especially mixed bag, which is kind of the way I like it.

Who will be the next US President? Obviously no one actually knows, of course, but that hasn’t stopped the prognostications. Western Illinois University has successfully predicted the results of every presidential election since 1975, and they say the next president will be Bernie Sanders. The official results of the mock election don’t include any information on methodology, so it’s fair to say I’m a bit sceptical. In fact, I’d lay odds their winning streak is about to end.

The odds, according to professional bookies, are that Hillary Clinton will be the next president, with Bernie Sanders at 25/1 odds. They also predict that Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee. Overall, they predict a 62% chance the Democrats will keep the White House, up from 58% chance only weeks ago. The bookies have a 91% accuracy rate.

I could add that this prospect bothers many lefties as much as rightwingers, though for very different reasons. Those on the Left dislike her because they think she’s too conservative, while those on the Right—well, there’s still plenty of conspiratorial chatter about Clinton among many conservatives, who are convinced all sorts of dark plots are at play.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, how about this for irony: A Professor who “taught Culture of Conspiracy at Florida Atlantic University” turned out to be a conspiracy theorist. He was fired by the university when it was revealed he was harassing families of victims of the Sandy Hook massacre which, he’s convinced, never actually happened and is actually a nationwide conspiracy involving thousands of people.

Meanwhile, a blacksmith debunks “the undying 9/11 MORONIC JET FUEL ARGUMENT” [VIDEO]. He doesn’t mince word about what he thinks of the conspiracy theory or those who hold it, but he does limit his criticism to this one conspiracy theory. Naturally, the “truthers”, as 9/11 conspiracy theory fans are usually called, took to the YouTube comments to denounce him in often very colourful language.

Speaking of relics from a bygone age, I was fascinated by “I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died,” a recollection by Dennis Perkins on Vox. One of my favourite paragraphs:
“A great video store's library of films is like a little bubble outside the march of technology or economics, preserving the fringes, the forgotten, the noncommercial, or the straight-up weird. Championed by a store's small army of film geeks, such movies get more traffic than they did in their first life in the theater, or any time since. Not everything that was on VHS made the transition to DVD, and not every movie on DVD is available to stream. The decision to leave a movie behind on the next technological leap is market-driven, which makes video stores the last safety net for things our corporate overlords discard. (That's why the chain stores died first — like Netflix, they peddled convenience and "all new, all the time" — Netflix came along and just did what they did more efficiently.) A real video store buys a movie and saves it, regardless of such considerations.”
Fascinating for different reasons was Hudson & Halls and The History of Homosexuality on New Zealand TV” By David Herkt on The Spinoff. Hudson & Halls was a cooking show hosted by a gay couple from 1976 to 1986, which is especially ironic because male homosexuality was illegal in New Zealand until 1986. A 2001 documentary about them, Hudson and Halls: A Love Story can also be watched on NZ On Screen (I have no idea if their videos are watchable overseas)

And that’s it for this Internet Wading. Next year I plan on doing this on the 21st of every month, but maybe not in January. I’ll be otherwise engaged on that day.

The weather outside

Pretty much everyone complains about the weather at some point or other. Some complain a lot, others rarely, but because it’s pretty much inevitable that at some point the weather will be other than we might wish it to be, and we’ll probably complain about that weather, even though we can’t do anything about it.

I’ve complained about the weather here on this blog, of course, most recently at the start of Spring. Mostly, though, I talk about the weather as a topic rather than complain just about it. That Spring post was a bit of both, which this post is, too.

We’re now three weeks into summer, and so far we haven’t had much summer in our summer. It’s been overcast a lot, though the cloudy skies have seldom produced rainy days, so the soil is rather dry (this our version of El Niño). Maybe it’s because of all that cloudiness, but it’s also been fairly cool, especially at night, when it’s often been pretty cold.

However, yesterday was a brilliant sunny, very warm day—so much so that I got three loads of washing dried out on the line, something that hasn’t happened since last year. We went to our Whānau early Christmas get together late yesterday afternoon, and while it was hot (okay, very warm…) and sunny at first, when the sun started setting it turned very cool, very quickly.

So, there’s a bit of typical weather complaining: I talk about what I don’t like, and also what I do. But what I didn’t realise until recently was that nearly every year at this time I’ve complained about the weather. I found that out because of the “Memories” thing Facebook has, where it shows things you’ve posted on that date in previous years (which, by the way, I quite like—it’s never shown me anything I’d rather forget, which I realise hasn’t been everyone’s experience with it).

We all have habits that we don’t even realise we have, and apparently complaining about the weather, especially on Facebook, is one of mine. Or, rather, it was: I’ve made a point of NOT complaining about the weather on Facebook this year. But to avoid complaining about the weather on this blog would probably mean not talking about the weather at all, and to me that seems to go a little too far.

So, sometimes I’ll probably complain about the weather, but hopefully most of the time it’ll be as a way of talking about weather generally. I suppose, like the weather, that could be changeable. Still, the forecast is for mostly sunny posts with a chance of occasional dark clouds.

On this blog, I DO get to do something about the “weather”.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Whānau Christmas evening

Tonight we had a Christmas get-together with some of our friends and family—including family of choice—who are all going their separate ways for Christmas. It was our last chance to get together before the holidays, so we did.

We had yummy nibbles and drinks to start, followed by Thai for dinner at the beach, all of which made for a thoroughly enjoyable time. It’s interesting how our families of choice can be as low-maintenance as our blood families (or more so…). Of course, for me, my entire family in New Zealand is a family of choice, which is part of the reason they all mean so much to me.

Our niece took the photo up top at the conclusion of our evening. It’s of Nigel and me facing the beach, and I really like it. In fact, I made it my Facebook cover photo.

Family is really awesome, I think. I hope others can feel even a small part of what I do when our family is together. Because, really, that matters more than anything.

TEDx: Riva Lehrer

I simply cannot believe I didn’t post this video months ago! The only person I’ve ever known personally who’s done a TEDx, and I forgot to post the video—this is inexcusable. I adore the speaker, and always have, and there’s a story there, of course.

This video is of a TEDx Grand Rapids talk called ‪”Valuable Bodies” by artist Riva Lehrer. I’ve known her since the mid-1980s when we worked for the same company. I immediately saw that she was a kindred spirit. One year for my birthday she made me a 3D fluorescent dragon on fluorescent card stock with an impossibly bright stone for an eye. I kept it for many years, and lost it only when I moved to New Zealand. Much to my regret!

‬She’s gone on to far bigger and better things since we worked together, and has done what I think is amazing work. I also think the YouTube description talks of her work pretty well:
Portraits are power struggles that take place on either side of the easel. They answer the question of whose life, and therefore whose death, matters. Disabled people have rarely been portrait subjects, and have largely been absent from the the walls of art museums. Riva Lehrer discusses how her work takes on this history of invisibility, and why portraits of stigmatized people have a real effect on who does, in fact, live or die in our contemporary world.
Riva Lehrer is an instructor in medical humanities at Northwestern University, and an artist/writer focusing on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body. Her work has been presented across the nation, including at the United Nations, Smithsonian Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center, and featured in numerous documentaries, including The Paper Mirror and Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer. Her writing and art have also been included in publications such as Criptiques and Sex and Disability.
TEDx events are independently organised by a local community, expanding on TED, and bringing it local. There have been a lot of really great TEDx talks, and this is only one of them.

Riva is an amazing person, an amazing artist, and one of the best people I’ve ever known. In addition to TEDx, she’s also one of the handful of people I’ve known who have a Wikipedia entry. But, all that’s beside the point: Her work and her vision are all awesome in their own right. But, I met her before all that, and her humanity and presence shone even beyond all that, and even way back then.

I simply cannot speak highly enough of her or her work. Which is why I'm so embarrassed to realise I didn't share this video months ago.

You better watch out

Last year, Canadian academics warned that the “Elf on the Shelf” thing was preparing children to live in a surveillance state. It was reported at the time by The Washington Post, and for some reason became news again this month. But this was nothing new last year, and it’s not news now: Children have been prepared to live in a surveillance state for generations.

Elf on the Shelf is, depending on your point of view, a bit of harmless Christmas fun, "a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a ‘tradition’", or the normalising of surveillance. The doll is supposed to be placed in a shelf in the house and moved to a new spot each night because, the story is supposed to go, the dolls go back to the North Pole each night to report to Santa Claus on what the children did during the day.

Yes, that’s really as creepy as it sounds, highly reminiscent of people informing on their neighbours to the Stasi, KGB, Gestapo, or Homeland Security. But the thing is, this story, which began in 2004, was already old: Parents have been teaching their children that they're under surveillance for generations.

Consider first the older commercialised Christmas tradition, Santa Claus. Santa, kids are told, make a list of children who are “naughty” and “nice”, and Santa is always watching. This is summed up in the popular 1934 song, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie:
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
Long before the “commercial juggernaut” of Elf on the Shelf, the commercial juggernaut of Santa Claus was already teaching children to accept that they're being spied on. But even Santa wasn’t alone in watching every move that a child makes: Their religion taught them that, too.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach that their god sees all things and knows all things. Christian kids are taught that Jesus watches them, too, and he’s always watching—always—which is why you should always be good. Just like Santa and his spies on shelves.

This idea that being watched is the incentive to be good is undoubtedly why some Christians attack atheists/agnostics with the nonsense declaration that without religious belief, no one has any incentive to be a good person—as if the ONLY reason to be a good person is because one is frightened that Santa/God/Jesus/Elves on Shelves will see what you did and you’ll be punished you if you do anything remotely naughty, let alone something truly bad. The flip side of that belief is that it implies that without religion, billions of people would be violent, malevolent, murderous thieves—and that’s just plain silly.

The truth is that there are plenty of reasons to be good people and to lead good lives that don’t require any gods or goddesses, or Santa—or government—spying on them. And, because we don’t need an invisible supervisor watching our every move, neither do we need others—Elves on Shelves or Jesus or nosey neighbours—to report back to the head of the spy agency.

The “Elf on the Shelf” thing isn’t, by itself, teaching kids to accept a surveillance state, it just reinforces existing stories teaching kids to accept surveillance using Santa, a god, or Jesus as the spy. The larger question is, if kids grow up accepting the legitimacy of spies knowing “when you're sleeping” and knowing “when you're awake”, once they become adults, what covert surveillance will they think goes too far?

Most kids grow up and develop an innate sense of right and wrong, and knowing what it means to be a good person and to lead a good life. Fostering the belief that they’re under constant surveillance does nothing to advance that.

Still, covert surveillance is growing widely throughout the western world, and we seem to be largely okay with that. Maybe national mottos should be, “You better watch out.”

Footnote: Although this “Elf on the Shelf” thing is relatively new, I had a doll very much like the “new" ones, though dressed in green; I also had a small one dressed in red. I had them in the late 1960s or early 1970s, until my new puppy chewed the green one up (I have no idea what happened the red one). So, yeah, there’s nothing truly new about this except the—and the creepy back story.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

‘Christmas Dishes From Around the World’

The video above is the latest from Anglophenia, and talks about Christmas foods form around the world. I thought it was quite interesting, though there’s also a lot of regional variation, as Kate says.

The part about Australia is also true for New Zealand, though I must point out that the Pavlova was a New Zealand invention. At any rate, because it’s summer, BBQ Christmas dinners are probably more common than full-on roast meals, like I had when I lived in the USA. However, it’s also common to have something in between the two: Roast a ham in advance and have it cold on the day. You can get an idea of what our Christmas spread looks like in the photos from Christmas at our house back in 2009.

Christmas is a great day to spend with friends and family (and it’s even better when they’re both…). Regardless of country or tradition, it seems, food is a mjor part of it all, which makes it even better. But maybe the people of Iceland are on to something, fasting the week before, though I think I could do without their end to the fast, personally.

At any rate, Merry Foodmas?

Related: “How to have a British (and Kiwi) Christmas”, the Anglophenia video I shared last year, with commentary about what my New Zealand Christmases are like.

The extreme Republicans' agenda

The radical religionists who control the USA’s Republican Party have made abundantly clear that if they get the chance, they intend to take away the civil and human rights of LGBT Americans. All they need to make good on their promise is to win the White House and maintain control of Congress. Both could happen, if mainstream people do nothing to prevent it.

Distant third place Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has pledged to overturn marriage equality (and outlaw all abortions) by appointing only Supreme Court justices who pledge to do so. Canadian-born Rafael "Ted" Cruz, who is usually in second place, has also promised to do the same thing. Both have long histories of making bigoted anti-LGBT remarks, so this isn’t really any surprise.

However, changing the Supreme Court to take away the civil and human rights of LGBT people will take time, so the Republican extremists have a faster final solution: The radicals have proposed a bill they dishonestly call the “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA), and it would prohibit the federal government from “taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

In other words, if the extremist Republicans get their way, they would be completely free to force their “religious freedom” on LGBT Americans, and the federal government could do absolutely nothing about it. So, a business, person, or organisation could legally and gleefully discriminate against LGBT people.

There’s a crushing irony in this, of course, because those same religious extremists would be protected from discrimination against themselves, so, they could treat LGBT people as less than human, but LGBT people could not legally return the favour. Pretty sweet deal for the extremists!

So far, six Republican clowns candidates have pledged to enact the “First Amendment Defense [sic] Act within the first 100 days of their presidency. They are: Cruz, Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick “Spreading” Santorum, and Rev. Gov. Mike “the Huckster” Huckabee. While only Cruz and Rubio are truly viable candidates, they’re also the second and third ranked in most polls, and Ben Carson is still usually highly ranked. Fiorina, Santorum and The Huckster all have absolutely no chance whatsoever, so their pledge is completely meaningless.

Not (yet) making that same pledge to the radicals, but still expressing support for the measure, are frontrunner Donald “The Hair” Trump, Jeb! (just don’t say) Bush, Lindsay “is he still in the race?” Graham, and Rand “what colour is the sky on your home planet” Paul.

The easiest way to stop the extremist Republicans’ dystopian future is to elect a Democrat as president: None of the three Democratic candidates would sign such an anti-American bill into law. This would also stop the radicals’ long-term plans by ensuring that far-right radicals aren’t appointed to the US Supreme Court.

However, the best way to stop the extremists altogether would be to vote only for Democrats—preferably progressive Democrats—for the US Congress and state legislatures. Republicans won’t give up their efforts to Make America 1850 Again™, and they’ll do nothing to end the power of the oligarchs and plutocrats—only Democrats can do that.

For so very many reasons, the 2016 election is shaping up to very consequential. I’ve already pledged to only vote for Democrats in 2016, and this stupid “FADA” is only one of many, many reasons why.

Revisiting a popular character

The video above tells a seriously messed up story—and it’s quite good. It’s an unexpected, yet kind of awesome look at a character from a beloved 25-year-old movie, and it all relates to Christmas.

The video is the premiere episode of the new web series, :DRYVRS, created by Jack Dishel, who stars as a rider and user of on-demand driver services (like Über and Lyft). In the series, Dishel meets various drivers through the app, and the videos tell the story of what happens next. This episode was released on December 17 and already has over 7 million views.

In the debut episode, “Just Me in the House by Myself”, Dishel meets Macaulay Culkin, who is playing a grown up version of Kevin McCallister, the 8-year-old boy he played in the hit 1990 movie, Home Alone. Let’s just say, that experience left an indelible mark on Kevin.

Culkin, who is now 35, looks every bit as crazed as the character should—and I think he did a really good job. I haven’t seen much of his work since Home Alone, and nothing particularly recent. In fact, pretty much all I’ve known of him was his portrayal in the tabloids, which mainstream newsmedia love to report even as they actively condemn the medium they got the story from. It was good to see him acting again.

I think the series looks promising: The acting and direction were good, and the story was just bizarre enough to really appeal to me. So, I liked the premiere episode.

Web series like this are among the many ways that entertainment is now being delivered, and often for free (as so much content is these days). It’s a good way for emerging artists—musicians, filmmakers, authors, actors, singers, etc.—to both hone their craft and develop an audience. The relatively low cost of content creation and delivery is what makes this a viable thing to do.

These days, there certainly are plenty of ways to be entertained, whether you’re home alone or not.