Sunday, January 31, 2016

Got a MOVE on

With another US federal election approaching, it’s again time for US citizens living overseas to get ready to vote, and that means special procedures. Those procedures are easier than they used to be, but there’s still room for improvement. But, at least the USA allows its overseas citizens to vote—not all countries do.

US citizens living overseas temporarily will probably cast an ordinary absentee ballot, but those overseas permanently have a special programme to help: The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is an implementation of a 1986 law, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Special problems were identified with US military personnel serving overseas, specifically, the difficulty in getting voting materials to them and back on time. In 2009, President Obama signed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which was designed to help with this.

My native Illinois has fully implemented the provisions, and call their application “MOVE-FPCA” (“FPCA” stands for “Federal Post Card Application”). In past years, I had to fill out a form, post (or fax) it back to Chicago, and I’d get my ballot materials in the mail. Chicago started using a semi-electronic PDF version of the application (meaning, not all parts would work on a computer, and they’d have to be filled in by hand). I could also email the scanned form back to them.

The next improvement is that they email temporary ballot materials, posting out the printed version as soon as it’s final. This was a big improvement because it meant an overseas voter with email could get a ballot with plenty of extra time to get it back in time. If the voter submitted both versions, they counted only the last version sent in. This is still true. I received my email versions on Friday.

This year, some states—including Illinois—have an online MOVE-FPCA that voters can fill out and file—but they still have to print the form, sign and date it, then post or email (or fax) it back to the election jurisdiction where the voter was last registered to vote  (Chicago in my case). Because it’s only partly online, this version is not really any better than the old interactive PDF version, except, maybe, the form itself is complete (nothing to fill in—just sign, date and post).

Another innovation this year is that Illinois is offering an online semi-voting portal: Voters can mark their ballots online, but they still have to print them out and post them back (faxing and emailing are not permitted, since that would violate the secrecy of the ballot). I haven’t decided if I’ll try that or not: Like the “online” application, it seems like it’s only half done.

Still, the intention is good: To make it easy for US citizens living overseas to vote. Not all countries permit that.

For example, Ireland doesn’t permit emigrants to vote in elections (with a few exceptions). This was particularly evident in their marriage equality referendum: There was a big campaign to get young Irish people to come home to vote.

Other countries place limits on the right to vote. Canadian citizens who have lived overseas for more than five consecutive years cannot vote [SOURCE]. For the United Kingdom, anyone living outside the UK for 15 years or more cannot vote [SOURCE]. In New Zealand, citizens have to have visited the country within the the three years before an election. Permanent residents—who may vote after living in New Zealand for at least 12 months—must visit New Zealand within 12 months of an election.

So, by comparison, the USA—which has no time limit, nor any requirement to visit—treats its citizens very well.

However, there are plenty of people who think that citizens living outside their country should not be able to vote at all. In my opinion, it’s a kind of a chauvinist attitude. If someone is a citizen of a country, then they ought to have a say in who leads it—it’s the birthright of all citizens, and for Americans, it’s guaranteed by the US Constitution.

US citizens living overseas indefinitely/permanently are eligible to vote for US President/Vice President, as well as US Senator and US Representative (including in party primary elections, if any) for the place they were last registered to vote. State and local elections aren’t included, and I don’t have a problem with that: People who live in a town or state have to deal with the consequences of elections, and someone overseas does not. However, US citizens overseas ARE affected by what the federal government does.

It’s also important to note that US citizens living overseas are required to file income tax returns, though if they live in a country that has a tax treaty with the USA, a large amount of their income—even all of it—is excluded form US taxes. The USA is the only developed country that requires its citizens to pay tax on money earned overseas. “No taxation without representation”, of course, so if some people truly feel that US citizens living overseas shouldn’t be able to vote, then obviously they also feel that we shouldn’t have to file income tax returns or pay any US taxes—otherwise it’d be a betrayal of the very principals on which the USA was founded.

I doubt that any attempt to disenfranchise US citizens living overseas indefinitely/permanently is constitutional. However, I can imagine that some conservatives in Congress might want to try, and the conservatives on the US Supreme Court may agree with them. But, then, I’ve thought that was a possibility for nearly as long as I’ve lived overseas, and it hasn’t happened yet.

For me, this is just about rights as a US citizen, but also about my duties and obligations. As I often say, I’ve had many relatives who served in the US military, and some who were casualties, protecting the rights that so many take for granted. I have a duty and an obligation to them, and to the Constitution, to vote in federal elections, and I’ll continue to do so until they take that right away from me.

Now, the question of HOW I’ll vote is another matter entirely, and a subject for another day. But I will vote—always.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is John Key’s government corrupt?

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is leading a government wracked by scandals, corruption, and crony capitalism. That government has damaged New Zealand’s reputation around the world, resulting most recently in another slide in New Zealand’s international ranking for corruption.

For eight years, from when Labour was in power in 2006 through National taking power in 2008 and on to 2013, New Zealand was ranked the least corrupt nation in the world by Transparency International in its annual Corruption Perception Index. I blogged about NZ achieving least-corrupt ranking back in 2006, and again in 2010. That all ended last year.

In 2014, New Zealand slipped to second place, which is still pretty good (and that’s why I included it in my recent video, 5 Awesome Things About New Zealand). This year, New Zealand dropped again: We’re now down to fourth place.

Why is New Zealand’s corruption ranking falling? Opposition Leader Andrew Little put the blame firmly on National: “It is an indictment on the Government,” he said. “National has been dogged by scandal after scandal involving dodgy deals and inappropriate conduct. The Oravida controversy, involving [former Justice Minister Judith] Collins, Chinese border officials and a company her husband is a director of, along with the dirty politics scandal involving John Key’s office, show how little regard the Government has for a reputation of fair dealing and transparency.”

Andrew Little also notes that the report “is unlikely to have captured all of the fall-out from the Saudi sheep scandal where the National Government paid off a disaffected Saudi businessman, so we should expect another drop next year.” He’s not the only one to see the connection between the scandals National has created for itself and the drop in New Zealand’s corruption ranking. Political commentator Bryce Edwards observed:
It could be that many of the National Government's various controversies are finally coming to home to roost, impacting on New Zealand's global reputation. Although these controversies have varied in their seriousness and credibility, many of them have played a role in eroding the perceived integrity of the administration and the wider public sector.
In addition to the Oravida and Dirty Politics scandals that Andrew Little mentioned, Edwards also pointed out that National MP Maurice Williamson was forced to resign as a minister, which came about because he apparently tried to get special treatment for a National Party donor. Edwards also mentioned the revelation of the National Party’s "Cabinet Clubs" that gave the party’s big donors special access to government ministers and senior politicians.

Edwards also mentions the most corrupt action of John Key’s government, their sweetheart deal with the SkyCity casino to get them to build an international convention centre in Auckland in exchange for dramatic increases in gaming tables and slot machines, and law changes to guarantee SkyCity’s profits. It was a rotten and corrupt deal, and I criticised it back in 2013. But that wasn’t all that John Key did: In addition to the crony capitalism of the deal itself, Key also retaliated against critics of the deal, a tactic he’s used several times to get rid of dissent and criticism and to try to frighten other would-be opponents and critics into silence.

Edwards points out that all these scandals don’t necessarily mean that corruption is actually increasing in New Zealand, we just may be more aware of it. He argues that, “many of the allegations thrown around remain unproven or contentious”, and asserts that “the publication of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics, despite all of the vitally important issues it raised about democracy in New Zealand, did not necessarily prove that corruption is now running wild.” Except, he’s flat out wrong: it actually did.

John Key and Judith Collins used the National Party’s attack blogger to destroy individuals and to attack the Labour Party with what were false and misleading assertions, all while keeping John Key’s hands clean and the air of plausible deniability intact. That’s pretty damn corrupt. Also, police conducted an unlawful raid on Nicky Hager’s home, which Key’s government and the police both adamantly deny was politically-motivated. But, then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Naturally, John Key’s government is trying to spin its way out of trouble—yet again. Their official press release is titled, “NZ among top nations in fighting corruption” as if the NZ’s drop in ranking didn’t even happen. Current Justice Minister Amy Adams is quoted as saying, “While the slight slip in rankings to fourth place is disappointing…” before going on to claim that John Key’s Government “has strengthened our anti-corruption measures and enhanced transparency since the underlying surveys for this index were undertaken, which we would expect will have a positive impact next year.” Not bloody likely, and she knows it.

Adams, who has been accused of benefitting from crony Capitalism in the South Island, took a page from John Key’s playbook and attacked the report itself, telling ONE News (at 1:15) that the methodology “is not terribly clear” and that “it’s had a lot of criticism”, all things that John Key would be likely to say. Her spin was actually delivered exactly as John Key’s would do it, too, from which words she placed verbal emphasis on, to the condescending smirk on her face as she spoke, and even the little head bobbing she did as she stuck the knife in the report.

Still, despite all the evidence of corruption in John Key’s government, maybe Edwards is right and it’s not actually worse. The problem is that with the slow death of the newsmedia in New Zealand, and this government’s habit of retaliating against critics, we may not be able to prove it. Still, if New Zealand's corruption ranking continues to drop, we’ll know why: John Key’s government is corrupt.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ordinary examples

Most of us live ordinary lives most of the time. We also all have interesting or exciting things that happen, but that’s not necessarily very often. Sometimes, very ordinary things can help tell a bigger story.

At 8:30 this morning I was going around opening up the curtains and getting ready to start my day, and I noticed there was condensation on the outside of our windows. At the time, the humidity was 92% and the temperature was 21.8 (71.24F) outside, but only about 19 (66.2F) inside. With the high humidity, that was enough to create the condensation.

A storm system is moving in (and it’s already rained some), but it originates in the subtropics, so it’s carrying humid air. So, while the highs are expected to drop a degree, the humidity will remain high, and that will make it feel hotter than it actually is—and uncomfortable for people without air conditioning, especially at night. We also may see more condensation on the windows in the morning.

This is really the latest chapter in the weather story I first talked about on Sunday. The slightly lower temperatures are unlikely to make people feel any better. Still, it could be worse.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, hardly anyone had air conditioning. Sure malls, big office buildings, etc., were air conditioned, but most homes weren’t, and neither were ordinary shops or cafes. Times have changed.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve put air conditioning into all the houses we’ve lived in, the latest being ducted central air conditioning (which is still rare). But these days a lot of homes have air conditioning, even if only in the lounge or maybe bedrooms. It’s common now for even small shops and cafes to have air conditioning, because a lot of people—me included—will avoid a place in the summer if it’s not air conditioned.

The point of my post last Sunday was, as I said at the time, that “some people think that Auckland is always cool, or don’t believe it can actually get hot; our experience tends to disprove that.” Most of the summers I’ve had in New Zealand since 1995 have had hot stretches, sometimes long and uncomfortable, sometimes shorter and drier. But at least some hot weather is quite common in an Auckland summer.

When I share ordinary things, like a photo of our kitchen window with condensation outside, I do so for two reasons. First, it’s to share what it’s like living in Auckland and New Zealand—I use my own life and experiences as an example, an illustration of what I’m talking about. Similarly, the other reason is to provide some real-world examples of what life here is like, and I’m actually irrelevant to that.

Most of us live ordinary lives most of the time. Sometimes I share some of my ordinary things to provide examples of what I’m talking about—the larger themes, I suppose they’d be called.

Sometimes, very ordinary things can help tell a bigger story. Even fogged up windows can do that.

At 10am, it was 23.9 (75F), but humidity had fallen to a mere 85%, so it only “felt like” 31 (87.8F). It was still a very comfortable 19.8 (67.64F) inside.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fix, Fasten

New Zealand does a great job of creating commercials and campaigns designed to get New Zealanders to think about natural disasters. Their latest series is among the best yet.

The ads in this post are from EQC (the Earthquake Commission), which is responsible not just for earthquakes and preparedness, but also other natural disasters like tsunami, volcanic eruption, landslides, and hydrothermal events. The preparedness part is what these ads promote.

Specifically, they try to motivate people to fix and fasten anything that could come loose in an earthquake, things like tall furniture, hot water cylinders, chimneys, and even house foundations (to keep houses from sliding off their foundations in an earthquake), and it does so by promoting “Fix. Fasten. Don’t Forget.” a special section of EQC’s website with everything people need to know to, well, fix and fasten things.

The ad up top, “Cylinder”, is my favourite of the bunch. In 30 seconds it depicts a variety of people taking a small actions to keep people safe, ending with a man securing a hot water cylinder. “One small action can make a difference,” the onscreen text tells us as the man works.

They’re absolutely right, of course, but what makes these ads so effective is that they use everyday imagery—things completely unrelated to natural disaster—to drive home the point that small actions can prevent injury. The fact the ads have no dialogue helps to make the visuals stand out even more, I think. These are really good ads.

The ad below is the 15-second version of “Bookshelf”. It begins with one of the most powerful images in the series—a woman throwing out her arm to keep a man from being hit by a truck—and ends with a woman securing a bookshelf.

Together, these ads are quite different from the preparedness ads we usually see, which is part of what makes them so effective. They may just manage to cut through all the “noise” of advertising to make their point.

Still, I haven’t yet followed their advice, even though I’m quite aware of both risk and preparedness. We have some tall bookshelves that could topple in a severe jolt, and I’ve often thought about the importance of securing them. I’m sure I will get to it, though I’m obviously gambling that I’ll get to it before there’s a big jolt. I imagine most other people are doing the same.

And yet, if these ads at least get people thinking about what they need to do, that’s a major hurdle they’ve overcome. There’s no way to force people to do what’s best for themselves, after all.

Be that as it may, I fully intend to fix and fasten, and I won’t forget. Hopefully I’ll get to it before I need it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hotter than

It was hot today. And I don’t mean “Auckland hot”, I mean hot hot. The photo with this post is a screen grab of the readout from our weather station at 2:09pm. However, that wasn’t the peak temperature. Memo to self: Tell American folks not to visit in January.

For my American friends, 35.2 degrees is about 95.4F (and the “feels like 42” is 107.6F). Bad as that was, the highest temperature at our house was at 3:34pm: 36.9 (98.4F). Last night, it was barely below 15 (59F) all night, which is pretty warm for a night-time temperature.

This isn’t unusual for this time of year: January is often hot. For example, as mentioned in my previous post, it was incredibly hot on this day six years ago. January is the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of July in the Northern Hemisphere—full on summer, in other words.

I’m absolutely NOT complaining; I can hang out washing and have it dry in no time, for example—that's a great thing. But our air conditioning does struggle to keep up, and when it gets this hot it takes the house (the building) a fair while to cool down so that the air conditioning can relax a bit. Yeah, yeah, I know: First world problems.

I mention all of this only for one reason: So you can know what Auckland is like in January. Some people think that Auckland is always cool, or don’t believe it can actually get hot; our experience tends to disprove that. Even so, the official summer temperatures are almost always lower than what people actually experience, and that means that visitors have to be prepared for hotter summers than the official guidebooks suggest is “normal”.

In any event, I like hot weather for a (short) while—as long as I can retreat into air conditioning. This weather—like the winter weather that will follow—won’t last forever. But it’s fun to talk about it in the meantime.

Have I mentioned that it was hot today?

The photo above also has data on the inside conditions (at the bottom, with the white background). 24.2 inside temperature is equivalent to about 75.6F, though that temperature got hotter later, too.

A seventh Anniversary

Seven years ago today, on Saturday, January 24, 2009, Nigel and I had our Civil Union ceremony and a party afterward. At the time, it was the only way for us to have our relationship officially recognised. We were later married, but the civil union was our big ceremony.

We didn’t rush to get a civil union when they became legal, as I’ve mentioned before, and for me, part of the reason is that it seemed like a kind of consolation prize: We weren’t allowed to marry, but we could have this other, separate thing, that wasn’t marriage but that was almost exactly the same—apart from the fact that we weren’t allowed to marry, even though opposite-sex couples were allowed to have a civil union.

This is how I put it in 2014, at the first anniversary of our civil union after we were married:
For me, personally, [a civil union] was always inferior to marriage—something the government allowed same-gender couples to have while also restricting the choice for either marriage or civil unions to opposite-gender couples only. I felt like an unwelcome guest at a party, one who’s accommodated, but not really part of things. I was an outsider. Still.
I felt like our noses were being rubbed in how second-class we were, as can be inferred from what I said elsewhere in that post. However, that doesn’t mean the civil union wasn’t important, because it absolutely was important. Most obviously, at the time it was the only way to have our family status legally recognised. But it was also an opportunity for family and friends to gather with us to celebrate that legal union, the first opportunity to do so in the 13 years we’d been together (if I was dubious about civil unions, I saw absolutely no point whatsoever in “commitment ceremonies” that had no legal purpose whatsoever; others clearly felt differently, and that’s their right, just as it’s mine to consider them pointless for me).

The fact that the freedom to marry did arrive, and we were married, means that remembering the civil union anniversary might have faded away. I don’t think it should, and I intend to continue to remember it. As I said last year,
…Personal anniversaries are important to people precisely because they’re personal. Others may join in celebrating, or not, but that doesn’t change anything for the couple. So, our civil union anniversary will be important to us for what it meant, and so will our marriage anniversary, and partly because it completed what began that horribly hot January Saturday back in 2009.
We’re now just another marriage couple, one that’s been together over 20 years now—it’s just that unlike most opposite-sex couples, our engagement lasted some 13 years—or 17, depending on how you look at it. In any event, we got there, and were still here, and all that is well worth celebrating.

So, happy anniversary to us! And, this now concludes the 2015-16 “Season of Anniversaries”. Carry on.

Posts from previous years

2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary
2015: Anniversaries

2Political Podcast 115 is available

Episode 115 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.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The familiar and strange

How many people know their neighbours these days? We may know their names, but do we know any more than that? Today our neighbours had a party, and it was strange how familiar strangers can seem.

Our neighbours on one side are new. And when I say “new”, I really mean probably a couple months or so—I can’t remember, exactly, because not only have we never met them, I don’t even have any idea who, exactly, lives there. That’s not the oddest bit: The next house along in our little mews has neighbours we’ve also never actually met, even though they’ve lived there for years; we smile and wave when we see each other leaving or arriving home, but that’s it. Our next closest neighbours we do know a little better, and the furthest in the mews, too—but we can go weeks or months without ever speaking.

This is quite common these days—people not knowing their neighbours—and despite the occasional vaguely guilt-tripping “meet your neighbours” campaigns, that just doesn't change. Sure, it might be helpful to know one’s neighbours in a geologically active country like this one—it could be handy if there was ever a natural disaster. Some of those guilt-trip campaigns have used planning for disaster as the hook, but that’s been no motivator, either.

The thing is, most people these days, it seems to me, would really rather not have much to do with strangers, even when they live next door. I’m pretty shy by nature, but I also value my privacy and don’t really want to live communally. A lot of people are like me, to one extent or another.

So, this afternoon the neighbours had many guests over, with laughing and drinking, and loud talking. I went outside to hang up some washing (which is in the part of our section nearest their house) and I could hear the guests talking, and even the different qualities of their voices—but I couldn’t hear a word they were saying. It was like the background sound of conversation in a movie or TV show, and it was so very familiar and strange at the same time.

I went back inside to my computer, where I was catching up on the day, and I noticed all the party noise had stopped. “That’s odd,” I thought, and imagined why the party had stopped so suddenly—and so early. Maybe they were all headed to an event together (seemed doubtful—too many of them). Maybe they were religious and having a prayer meeting (hardly likely in this country, but it wasn’t a serious thought—it was a bit of humour since I could all the beer bottles being put in their recycling bin). I stopped thinking about them as I continued what I was doing on the computer.

Suddenly, a cheer rang out—“Surprise!!”. It startled me. And, it answered why things had gone quiet all the sudden. The previous party noise resumed—after what I guess was some speaking.

Later on, there seemed to be some cheering—more speeches?—then everyone was eating and they were pretty quiet again. This part I worked out because about the same time I was heading out to pick up our takeaways.

Now, some four hours after it started, the party is like anyone else’s, though with quieter music than some people have. It's all quite civil.

I describe all of that for a reason: Living so close it was kind of like we were part of it, and yet, not even remotely part of it. That weird TV-like conversation background noise made it seem less real, and yet, parties that I’ve been to would sound much the same from a distance. So, even that strangeness seemed familiar.

We don’t know our neighbours, or anything about them. They may very well know more about us than we do about them, since their landlord is another of the owners near us, but maybe they don’t. Yet here we are, the two houses maybe 8 metres apart (give or take) at their closest points, and things like parties in one house are bound to touch onto the other houses, making us kind of part of whatever is going on—even though we’re strangers.

The familiar can be strange.

Update January 24: For those who may have wondered, the party ended about 11pm, and must not have had too much excess: They were up and tidying up by around 8:15 this morning. That's a bit different than parties when I was in my 20s…

Friday, January 22, 2016

My birthday x2

Yesterday was my birthday and so was today, as is my customary practice. What's the point of dealing with the problems of having been born in one hemisphere and living in the other if every once in awhile I don’t use that to my advantage?

Interestingly, I often run across people who assume I mean a Northern v. Southern Hemisphere thing, but I don’t: I mean Western v. Eastern. I was born in the USA’s Central timezone and now live in the first timezone the other side of the International Dateline. Put another way, I was born in one day, and I now live a day earlier. Yes, that often confuses me, too.

So, yesterday was my “first” birthday—the date of my birth. Nigel gave me a Kindle Paperwhite. He gave me my first Kindle for my birthday back in 2012, though it seems longer. I loved my original Kindle, but there was a problem: It was really only usable in bright light. That low-contrast screen had become a problem, and meant I could only use it in the daytime (and then, only in bright daylight) or with a lamp, neither of which were always convenient. So, I didn't use it very much.

The Paperwhite has a much higher-contrast screen—more like a real book, actually—and a built in light. This makes it much better for me. I have a lot of books waiting to be read (most of them were free), and now I may actually be able to do so.

Nigel recognised there were issues with my Kindle, and fixed them for me. Have I mentioned recently that I have the best husband in the world?

That evening we went for dinner at Sal’s Pizza in Takapuna (photo above). We got a half-pepperoni/half cheese pizza and some mozzarella sticks. Yummy as always. Pizza—specifically, American-style pizza—is one of my mostest favouritest foods, and I think part of the reason is the warm familiarity of it: I grew up eating it. Sal’s does “New York style pizza”, and it’s quite authentic. We’ve been there a couple times with American expat friends when they’re visiting from Wellington. Sal’s also stocks Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which recently entered the New Zealand market.

A downside to yesterday was that I couldn’t enjoy a birthday wine—I was too full of pizza, and too thirsty for water once I got home. I had a very small glass to celebrate, but that was it.

Yesterday was also a very productive blogging day, mostly because I decided to just do stuff I enjoyed. Today I recorded a new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, but otherwise had a more normal day, though I still kept a leisurely pace and relaxed day.

And that’s the end of my 48-hour birthday extravaganza for this year. A normal weekend lies ahead, and a normal week after that (the full new schedule finally resumes on TV One on Monday, including the Midday news).

It was a good birthday this year. In fact, they pretty much always have been.

The obligatory birthday selfie.

AmeriNZ Podcast 315 now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 315 – Birthdays” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This is the second podcast episode in two weeks!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The annual increasing number: 57

Birthdays have always been a sort of personal New Year for me, a chance to re-boot and refresh. It’s also when I reflect on the increasing number of years behind me. This year, I’m especially aware of those years already past, even as I continue to look forward—always forward.

Last year, I lost three friends and former colleagues from my activist days in Chicago (Ninure, Bill, and Kit). They were spaced out over the year, but the third, Kit, was just last month. This month, three singers (Natalie Cole, David Bowie and Glenn Frey) who were part of my youth, one quite important, died, as did an actor (Alan Rickman) I admired very much. It was all—a bit much. And yet, it also made me realise how much I still have—people I love, admire, and/or respect, reminders of important parts of my life, and plenty of goals yet to achieve. Always forward.

Life ought to be about constantly moving forward, I think, and while I also think it’s important to take time to remember the significant people, places, and things that are no longer part of our lives (for whatever reason), the important thing is to keep going, keep striving, keep reaching. And I do.

I started this blog nearly ten years ago as a means of self-expression. It’s the same reason I later started podcasting and, more recently, making videos. None of them will ever make me any money, but that was never the point: It was the journey, and learning new things and skills, that’s always mattered to me, and that was its own reward. It still is.

But all of this self-expression has a useful point far more important than any monetary gain: I can remember things I’d otherwise forget. I talked about that last year:
…I’ve also become increasingly aware as the years pile up of how important it is to record all sorts of things that mark progress through life. Memory isn’t anywhere near as reliable as many people assume, but it tends to become less reliable as the years pass. I sometimes joke that I’ve forgotten more than I knew as an 18 year old. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but maybe not as big a one as I might hope.

These annual posts—along with ordinary posts about ordinary things—serve as a sort of institutional memory, a kind of “Arthur Cloud”. But they also do more: These posts help me remember things I’ve forgotten, or they might inspire me to reflect on memories that maybe I hadn’t examined before. Those are good things, too.
For me, all that is beyond any monetary value. It’s a way of keeping and holding those ethereal things—memories, the importance of a person now gone—and keeping them within their context. Moving forward is so much easier when you know where you’ve been.

Back in 2012, I first used road signs with the same number as my age to illustrate these birthday posts. Last year’s wasn’t particularly relevant, as I noted in the footnote, but this year’s is highly relevant: I drove on Interstate 57 (I-57) more than on any other highway in the USA.

I-57 is the longest Interstate in Illinois, and it’s the route I took to get to and from Southern Illinois University (SIU), my alma mater. The speed limit was 55mph in those days, and assuming I stuck to the speed limit (which I mostly did…) and didn’t stop much, the drive took between six and seven hours. I can’t imagine driving that long non-stop now, but it didn’t seem like a big deal when I was in my late teens and early 20s.

Illinois Route 13 connected I-57 to Carbondale, where SIU is located, running right through the city. It always seemed like the longest part of the trip (the road continues on to the St. Louis area).

I-57—and, I’m sure, Illinois 13—have changed since I drove them so much in the late 1970s/early 1980s. So have the towns and cities the roads connect, and so have I. But those roads are seared into my memory, not just from the frequency I travelled along them, but for what they symbolically connected: My childhood and early life, to the start of my adult path in life that led, ultimately, to who and where I am today. Is it any wonder, then, that I see life as a kind of highway, too?

For me, birthdays are the day I remember all the important people and things that have been important parts of my life, but as I also put it last year, “I get to forget all the bad stuff, and instead think of the good: What I have (especially my Nigel, family and friends), as well as what may yet come my way.”

Even now, as the years pile up, and even after a few too many recent reminders of how short life really is, I’m excited about the road ahead. Always forward. Always.

The Interstate 57 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. There’s also an Illinois Route 57, but as far as I can remember, I’ve never been on it. The photo of the sign for Illinois Route 13 is also in the public domain and from Wikimedia Commons.

My Previous Birthday posts:
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Internet Wading – art, politicy, historical and sciencey

I wasn’t going to do an Internet Wading this month, but quite a bit has stacked up. On with it, then, starting with art and pop culture:

Vox tells us “Calvin and Hobbes ended 20 years ago. Here’s how it changed everything”, suggesting:
The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes are two of the last beacons of the monoculture, when everybody pretty much watched and consumed the same things and had all the same reference points. These days, the world of comic strips is more diverse in both storytelling and form, but something's been lost all the same.
“Sinister Architecture Constructed from Archival Library of Congress Images by Jim Kazanjianby” shows us photographs by Jim Kazanjian in which he takes snippets of photos in the Library of Congress archives "to create interesting buildings". They are… interesting.

Less sinister is “The subliminal power of city fonts”. A year old now, I can’t believe I didn’t find this earlier.

Did you know that “The Super Mario Bros. theme song actually has lyrics, and they're delightfully insane”? I didn’t, and I still don’t actually know why I’d want to know, but that’s not unusual.

I ran across this two-year-old article by accident, and it answered a question I’ve long wondered about: “Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food On Christmas”. I first heard about this when I lived in Chicago.

How about a little politics? In The Atlantic, Peter Beinhart tells us “Why America Is Moving Left”. He says, “Republicans may have a lock on Congress and the nation’s statehouses—and could well win the presidency—but the liberal era ushered in by Barack Obama is only just beginning.” I find that statement strangely unhopeful.

The provocatively titled “5 Scientific Studies That Prove Republicans Are Plain Stupid” actually has links to peer-reviewed studies on conservative thinking and behaviour, which, rather than proving the relative stupidity or not of Republicans, instead provides access to some of the research that can hep us understand conservatives' behaviour. The title is rather unfortunate, though.

However, it’s certainly true that “Political Discourse is Getting Dangerously Anti-Intellectual”, which is part of what accounts for the rise of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and, in fact, pretty much all the entire Republican presidential candidates still standing.

A little politics and history: “The First Openly Gay Person to Win an Election in America Was Not Harvey Milk”. I’m reasonably sure I heard this story before at some point, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard the whole thing. At any rate, I did know that Harvey wasn’t first—just the first in a major city.

Some history and science: “Ben Franklin’s best inventions and innovations” talks about what he invented and what he may merely have improved or popularised—and what he didn’t invent. It was published for his 310th birthday on January 17.

And, some science all by itself: “New Horizons Returns First of the Best Images of Pluto”. The video is up top. As a kid, the idea of actually seeing the surface of Pluto in high resolution was the stuff of science fiction.

Speaking of science that’s more like science fiction, “The tardigrade genome has been sequenced, and it has the most foreign DNA of any animal Water bears just got even weirder”. This critter fascinates me, in part because it does look like an alien. But, it turns out part of the weirdness involves controversy. Of course—it’s science.

And those are the bits and pieces that caught my eye—but not long enough to get a post of their own—since last month’s Internet Wading.

Until next month, then—happy wading!

What the flags mean

The latest video from the Flag Consideration Project, above, tells us about the symbolism of both the current New Zealand Flag and the alternative silver fern flag design that will be in the referendum in March. It’s a useful video.

In the course of the flag debates, I’ve run across plenty of people who are absolutely convinced that the silver fern is nothing but a symbol for the All Blacks. When told that it’s on all the tombstones of New Zealand soldiers lying in war graves overseas, such people deal with that fact by simply ignoring it. This video underscores how the silver fern has been a symbol of New Zealand since long before the All Blacks ever existed.

The current flag is a creation of New Zealand’s colonial past and cements the country as a colony of the British Empire. That the story in the symbolism, particularly for the Southern Cross, evolved doesn’t change the fact that the flag of the nation of New Zealand is basically the flag of the colony of New Zealand.

Partly because of that, the colours are important. The brighter blue of the silver fern design furthers the break from the country’s colonial past made most noticeable by removing the United Kingdom’s Union flag and adding the silver fern symbol of New Zealand. Yet the red and white of the Southern Cross stars—the only part of the original flag to remain unchanged—unites this new flag with the current one, and even nods toward the British flag’s red and white elements.

This video is too long to be a commercial, and being a web video, I don’t know how many people will actually see it. That’s a shame, because to make a considered choice between the two flags, it’s important to know what the symbolism means and refers to. For the same reason, it’s also important to understand both the history of the current flag, and of the silver fern as a symbol of New Zealand.

In any case, this could be an interesting couple of months.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tooth spaces

Today was a sort of interstitial in these Tooth Tales, a space between different parts of the story. I didn’t know that beforehand, and I don’t know what, ultimately, the next phase will be. But, at least the scope of the journey is clearer.

As I said in the first post in this series in this series, this whole thing “began with a quest for a prettier smile”, something that was put on hold for the better part of two years.

When I last saw the periodontist, he wanted me to have my dentist add points of contact with some teeth to prevent food getting stuck there, ultimately causing gum problems. He said I could do that in early December.

A number of factors delayed that, not the least the holiday season, but there was one more: I needed a dentist.

The dentist I saw way back at the very start of this journey sold the practice and moved away, so, since I’d have to get used to a new dentist, I decided to get one closer to home. I chose one a family member used. My appointment was today—the first he had available.

This dentist, like the first one, does cosmetic and reparative work as well as general dentistry. However, this one seems more keenly aware that costs are an issue (general dentistry isn’t included in our national health system, and cosmetic dentistry certainly wouldn’t be). For me, this is a plus: He discusses relative costs v. benefits so I can make an informed decision.

He found a couple small holes in back molars that need repairing (on February 3—again, the first available appointment for it). He also pointed to four teeth all on one side (two on the upper jaw, two on the lower) that may need more extensive work, including possibly two crowns (!), and one of them may then need a root canal because it may not survive. Nice.

However, much of that will be decided in consultation with the periodontist. Among other things, it’s important that the disease be dealt to before trying anything like that (the first dentist had said one tooth would normally have needed a crown, but the disease needed to be dealt with first).

The cosmetic work is even more complicated. Because the gap between my front teeth is so large, and because the one tooth has dropped, veneers aren’t suitable for me. I wasn’t surprised by that. The dentist also pointed that with all the trouble I’ve had, putting fake stuff on my teeth isn’t a good idea.

So, the dentist is referring me to an orthodontist to see if I might be suitable for what they call an “intrusion”, which means, basically, forcing the tooth that’s dropped back up, at least a bit. If that can be done, then it may be possible to get braces to close the gap in my front teeth. If it’s possible, the process will take about two years. Which means, I’d probably be all done a bit before my 60th birthday. I gasped a bit silently when I realised that.

While I wasn’t surprised that veneers aren’t right for me, there was a small hope in my head that maybe I’d be surprised and it would be okay for me. After some two years to get to this point, I’m just impatient to move on, so adding another two years on to the process is a little demoralising. However, the whole point to this process has been to keep my teeth, and it seems more than a little stupid to risk them now.

Ultimately, this is about fixing my teeth and making them, and my gums, healthy, and about a prettier smile only secondarily. So, what’s possible will be guided by that goal. Also, while it may seem a little confusing having to deal with a dentist, a periodontist, an orthodontist, and possibly an endodontist (if a root canal is needed), I think the positive side is that I have team to work out the best solution, rather than having to just go with what one person says.

Still, after some two years of this, with maybe that much more to go before I enter the maintenance phase, I’m a little tired of it all. I’m sure I’ll feel more positive, though, if it turns out that I can have some cosmetic work done; if I can’t, well, then the process will be shorter. A win either way, really. At least I know what the scope of the journey will be.

And that’s the tooth of it.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

A Frank discussion

We all know the common admonition: “If you can’t say something nice about a person, don’t say anything at all.” So, with that in mind, the rest of this post is absolutely everything nice and positive I can say about "evangelist" Franklin Graham:

Sorry, I couldn't think of a single thing.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Science of Internet Trolls

I hadn’t intended on sharing another ASAP Science video so soon, but their latest video, released today (above), explains what is to me one of the greatest mysteries of the Internet Age: Trolling. As it happens, I’d just seen trolling in real life.

Today the New Zealand Labour Party changed its cover photo, and the trolls came out in force. It started with a bizarre (and, frankly, downright loopy) rant about how only the All Blacks should be allowed to use the silver fern as a symbol. Later, “Richard” offered, “All shemales and nancy boys !! Even some of Helen Clark's stooges amongst them !” This was apparently a reference to the people in the photo itself. “Willie” was apparently astonished: “Havint [sic] you aswipes [sic] dropet [sic] dead yeat [sic]”.

These are typical of the comments left on everything that Labour posts on Facebook, every—single—time. Racist, sexist, classist, and viciously homophobic remarks are the norm, as are attacks on Labour for being—gasp!—left of centre. Today, however, something unusual happened: I went to the post to retrieve the comments above, and I suddenly got a pop-up from Facebook telling me that the link I’d clicked was no longer available (at the time, I was looking and the unhinged silver fern rant).

It turns out, Labour is now moderating their page and deleting trolls’ comments, something I’ve never seen them do before. This is fantastic! As I said on a recent 2Political Podcast, I stopped reading the comments because there was no debate, just tolling and snide partisan attacks, and some were downright sick (far worse than the two I highlighted above).

The day before, I saw comments on a Facebook page I’m a member of, for our local community. The post was about two women who got into a fight down the road from us, and one attempted to hit the other with her car, pinning her against a tree. Suddenly, some guy joined the discussion and attacked the police because their press release (linked to in the post) just gave the basic details. This made the police “useless”, apparently. When others objected, he attacked them, calling one a "bitch", another woman was “ugly”, and worse. He also claimed they deserved it.

That administrator of that page rightly deleted the guy’s comments when it was brought to his attention, and does so frequently. That would be a good thing, but in the admin sometimes goes too far, in my opinion, and deletes honest, if heated, debate, and he’s also been known to block people from the page for disagreeing with him. That’s not good. Overzealousness aside, the page is safe for people to comment on without trolls attacking them.

And now, Labour’s page apparently is, too.

The thing about Facebook trolling that astounds me is that people are supposedly using their real names, which means they’re discoverable. However, even on Facebook, no one is necessarily who or what they present themselves as being—all the information about them may be entirely fake, as it often is on every other social media outlet (especially Twitter and YouTube, but often places like mainstream news sites, too).

After watching the video above, I may understand the mental health issues of trolls a little better, though it certainly doesn’t in any way make them at all sympathetic characters to me. Administrators must always delete trolls’ comments, even if they don’t otherwise moderate comments.

For the record, I’ve never had actual trolling comments on any of my sites, and—apart from spam—I only once deleted a comment, and that was because it crossed the line into overt racism. Long may that continue.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Some explaining to do

One of the best things about YouTube is the large number of videos that explain things. In addition to straightforward “how to” and instruction videos, there are also a large number that explain things, and I’ve shared many of those on this blog. Today, I have three.

The video below is by Hank Green of VlogBrothers.,‪”Why Does January First Start the New Year? – New Year's Explained‬” Pretty self evident, really, and explains in one video why January 1 is New Year’s Day.

Next up is Hank’s brother, John, who takes a more serious turn with, “Who Owns Oregon? Some Historical Context on the so-called Militia Occupation of Public Lands”. I think he makes some really good points, along with information the mainstream newsmedia hasn’t bothered to share.

Finally, the latest ASAP Science video, “‪The Science Of Motivation‬”. They also have a related video on their second channel, ASAP Thought, called “‪8 Simple Tips To Stay Motivated‬”. It’s worth a watch, too.

These are just three videos I’ve seen in the first couple weeks of this year, and from a couple of my favourite YouTube Channels. Chances are good I’ll share more over the course of the year.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The final flags

The video above shows the final two flags that will face off in the second flag referendum in March. It was posted on YouTube the day the final results of the first referendum were announced. And that is how the publicity for the second referendum began: With barely a whisper.

This, of course, makes perfect sense: The results were finalised only ten days before Christmas, and everyone was too busy with holiday plans to take any notice—including me, of course, because I didn’t notice until last night, and even then only because YouTube included videos from the Stand For NZ YouTube Channel among my “suggested for you” videos. This lack of attention during summer holidays is also why advertising won’t start any time soon—no one will be paying any attention.

As with the first referendum, we’ll probably first see TV ads promoting voter registration for the second referendum. Then, the informational ads will start. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any TV ads promoting one flag or the other.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s been an increase in people flying the New Zealand flag (so far, I’ve only seen one house flying the alternative, and they were before the first referendum, too). However, that’s not a huge number—it would be exaggerating to say I’ve seen a dozen houses within a ten minute drive of our house flying any flag, and of them only maybe four would have been added since the referendum debate began. Maybe we’ll see more when the final referendum debate actually begins.

New Zealanders aren’t overtly patriotic by nature, certainly nothing like the over-the-top and sometimes jingoistic nationalism of Australians or Americans, so seeing individuals flying the flag is unusual. I think New Zealanders’ low-key patriotism is great, but maybe a few private flags flying would be nice, too.

In any case, the actual debate for the second referendum is still a while away yet, and so are the informational ads. That’s good: Even I’m ready to pay attention yet.

Below are the videos of the final two flags flying alone: First is, of course, the current New Zealand flag. The video was posted before the final results, which makes sense, since its presence in the second referendum was a given. Below that is the challenger, Kyle Lockwood’s “Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue)”, the design I’ll be voting for in March. That video was posted as part of the information campaign for the first referendum.

AmeriNZ Podcast 314 now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 314 – New Year” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

5 Awesome Things About New Zealand

Above is my latest YouTube video, and it’s one I narrate for a change, something I plan on doing more of. This video took a long time to make because I had to find sources for everything I mentioned—of course I did.

So, since I went to all that trouble, here’s a version of my narration (this version may differ slightly), complete with relevant links. I included all the sources in the YouTube description, but I know some people would rather read them in context.

Here’s the narration:

I arrived in New Zealand from Chicago in 1995, and there were a lot of things to get used to—like driving on the other side of the road, for example. In future videos, I’ll show more of what that was like, but today I thought I’d share Five Awesome Things About New Zealand (…in my opinion).

5. Wellington is the southernmost national capital in the world. That’s not particularly important, but it’s interesting.

4. In 2014, New Zealand was ranked as the world’s second least-corrupt nation, according to Transparency International. Denmark was least corrupt. Among other countries, Canada was ranked tenth, Australia 11th, and the USA and the UK were among four countries tied for 17th. North Korea and Somalia tied for most corrupt. [UPDATE: NZ dropped to fourth place in the 2015 rankings, released January 27]

3. No part of New Zealand is more than 130kms (around 80 miles) from the sea. Anyone who wants to can get to the ocean fairly easily. New Zealand also has 15-18,000kms of coastline, depending on how it’s measured. [Source: Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand]. That means New Zealand is ranked the 9th in the world for total coastline.

2. Women matter.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Later that year, Elizabeth Yates was elected Mayor of Onehunga, now part of Auckland, making her the first woman mayor of a town anywhere in the British Empire.

New Zealand is the only country in the world where all the highest positions have been held simultaneously by women: On 4 April 2001, Dame Silvia Cartwright was sworn in as Governor-General (the Queen’s representative; the Queen is head of state). Attending were Prime Minister Helen Clark, Leader of the Opposition Jenny Shipley, Speaker of the House of Representatives Margaret Wilson, and Chief Justice Sian Elias—all women. [SOURCE: “Dame Silvia Cartwright Sworn-in as Governor-General" New Zealand History]

At the same time, what was then the country’s largest corporation was headed by a female CEO, as was the largest government department [SOURCE: “The making of the Christine Rankin legend”, New Zealand Herald, 3 August 2001).

1. There are no land snakes in New Zealand. [SOURCE: “Reptiles”, Hamilton Zoo].

There also aren't any scorpions or venomous insects, either, and there’s only one native species of venomous spider, the rare kātipo, which is a threatened species, so hardly anyone has ever seen one, and over the past 100 years, there are no known fatalities from kātipo bites. A couple species of venomous Australian spiders have become established in New Zealand, for up to 100 years, but they aren’t considered a major threat. [SOURCE: “Story: Spiders and other arachnids”, Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand].

Sea snakes and kraits sometimes, though rarely, show up in New Zealand waters, and, while venomous, there are no known bites of humans [SOURCE: “Sea snakes and kraits”, Department of Conservation]. So, we’re pretty safe here.

And all of that is why I make this my number one awesome thing about New Zealand.

There are a lot more awesome things about New Zealand, and I’ll talk about them in future videos. If there’s anything you’d like to know about, let me know in the comments.

And there you have it: What I said, basically, in the video, some of which I haven’t really talked about on this blog, and especially not my podcast. There’s a place for everything, I guess.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Slow restart

It’s been a slow restart after our long Christmas and New Year’s holidays. That’s probably always been the case, but this year has seemed particularly challenging, for whatever reason—and there are plenty of possible reasons.

It thought that this could be the result of an extended recovery from The Great Affliction. I felt tired long after the illness itself had passed, so it’s possible.

However, we were also very busy the last few days before the holidays ended—that wouldn’t have helped. Plus, it must be said, the years are piling on.

Whatever, this past Monday we resumed more normal schedules, and as I’ve done in previous years, I stayed home all day on Monday to keep the furbabies company. They were certainly subdued without Nigel around. They’re getting back to normal now (and so is my knee—another casualty of the holiday).

We’re also slowly adapting and getting used to being back to more or less normal schedules. I wonder if I’ll be going through this after the next long holiday weekend. I guess I’ll find out.

The photos above and below are of Bella this evening. She was lying on the still-warm concrete next to the garage, and just looked too cute to pass up. That’s not unusual, but the lighting was: The evening sun reflecting off the concrete gave a nice glowing light.

That, too, is normal for this time of year.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie helped change my life

We can all point to people who have influenced our lives, starting with our families and friends, and extending outward in ever expanding circles as we take what we need to become who we need to become. This inevitably includes performers of various kinds, and for me, David Bowie, who died today, was very important.

Like anyone my age, I heard David Bowie’s early songs on the radio, and I’ll be totally honest: At first I didn’t take all that much notice. That started to change as I neared the end of high school and went off to university. My good friend Doug played his music for me and I began to appreciate it.

But the real change happened toward the end of my university years. I was coming out, and for the first time I found out that I didn’t have to pretend to be something or someone I wasn’t. And, if anyone knew how to reinvent himself, it was David Bowie.

Bowie’s many personas included pushing a lot of boundaries and transgressing established roles of gender and sexuality. In 1976, he told Playboy he was bisexual, which I was well aware of at the time. He later stated regret for saying it, and I now feel it was probably more of cultural thing, or counter-cultural, probably, rather than an identity.

But in the late 1970s/early 1980s, none of that mattered. He was a symbol of someone who pushed boundaries and refused to be constrained by them, and I admired that. Seeing someone so seemingly fearless to do what he wanted helped me to find the courage to live an authentic life, and what happened later with him didn’t matter: I’d made it through the hard times by then.

I remember sitting with my first boyfriend, listening to “’Heroes’” and singing along to the lyrics
I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
Except when I got to “And you, you will be…” he’d stop me, "no I won’t!" he said with mock indignation. And we’d laugh. Sometimes he’d sing it over me, and we’d laugh. It was silly, utterly unimportant, but it was something we shared, and something that’s stayed with me for over three decades. Music can do that.

“We can beat them, just for one day.” To me, “them” meant every anti-gay person, because by then I’d already experienced anti-gay bigotry.

In 1981, I bought Changestwobowie when it was first released. As with Changesonebowie, it was the first time I’d owned some of the songs on the album. I remember sitting in my room in my parents’ house, after they were dead, and before we sold the house. University was over, I was all alone in a white, middle class, Republican town, and I knew no other gay people for hundreds of miles. And when things got too tough, I played the music from my last year at university, including this album, and thought of the good times I had, reminding me that I could have them again, feel free again, and not be all alone.

Side Two, Track one: “Sound and Vision”, these lyrics:
Blue, blue, electric blue
That's the colour of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue
My bedroom was painted in an electric blue colour, it was where I spent most of my time “waiting for the gift of sound and vision” as I was “drifting into my solitude”. It was a very dark time in my life—among the worst—and I got through it in part because of the music I had, and David Bowie was a large part of that.

In the years that followed, I continued to buy and listen to Bowie’s work, including 2013’s The Next Day; I haven’t yet bought Blackstar, released only a few days ago, mainly because jazz isn’t really my thing.

This means that I didn’t love everything that Bowie recorded. 1985’s “Dancing in the Street” duet with Mick Jagger is a good example of that. I didn’t buy all his albums, or even most of them, but when I needed them most, they were there.

This post is written mostly in shock: “But, he just had his birthday!” I protested when Nigel told me the news, as if that somehow meant he couldn't have died. Had I known that he’d been fighting cancer, news of his death wouldn’t have hit me so hard. "He must've had a heart attack to die so suddenly," I said to Nigel, "because I haven't heard about him being sick." So, this post is a bit more raw than my personal posts usually are. I was working on something entirely different when the news broke, and put that aside. This post, then, is what it is, I guess, and I don't really care all that much what anyone else thinks.

I’m sorry that David Bowie’s died, and sorry he had to battle cancer. My sympathies are definitely with his family, because I’ve been in that same position. But his death also affects me personally because it drags up all the memories of a time when I was reinventing myself, some of them were good memories, others very painful. And, I also remember that David Bowie’s music was part of my personal soundtrack for that era, and he was one of a handful of artists who helped me through a very dark chapter in my life. I will always be grateful for that.

We can all point to people who have influenced our lives; if we’re lucky, even decades later we can still feel grateful for what they brought to our lives. And I am.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Before I tell the tale again

Everything old may be new again, sooner or later, but recycling blog posts is generally not a good idea, unless there’s new information to discuss, or maybe a different perspective to share. And, sure, republishing an old post might be interesting sometimes, but a flat-out re-hash of old topics generally isn’t a good idea. I have routines to help me avoid doing that.

Yesterday I wrote about having a poorer memory than when I was younger, and I also talked about some of the things I do to try and compensate for that. I also said:
I’ve talked about these issues in the past—I haven’t forgotten that (though I have occasionally started to write a post that was basically the same topic as an earlier one, and a couple times I’ve accidentally re-used a title). Usually, when I refer back to something I’ve posted already, it’s on purpose and duly linked…
Here’s how I avoid writing posts that are repeating myself: If I’m unsure whether I’ve talked about a topic before, I’ll use this blog’s search function with relevant key words or phrases. Sometimes I’ll find out that I already talked about whatever my topic is, and in the way I intended to talk about it in the new post, and I then move on to a new topic. Tonight, I had exactly that happen.

Off and on over the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about a post and what I wanted to say. But just before I began tapping away on my keyboard, I did a search of this blog and found I had two posts (one from 2011, the other from 2013) that made the points I wanted to make, and one even used the phrase that was to be the title of the post I cancelled.

So, instead of the post I intended, I now have this one. I admit, though, that without a back-up post ready to go, I thought about finding a YouTube video to share so I’d have a post for today; sadly for me, that’s not how I operate. And, I console myself with the thought that someone else, similarly forgetful, might find this tactic useful.

The issue for me is that my memory is bad enough, and this blog has been around long enough, that it’s unlikely I could ever remember most, let alone all, of what I’ve written over the years. Conducting a search of the blog helps me compensate for both what I don’t remember, and also what I can’t be expected to remember.

Now, if only I could find a way to do that with real-life, in-person conversations I’d be all set. I think that search function may be some years away, though.

In the meantime, why don’t I tell you how I avoid re-hashing blog topics—oh, right. Never mind.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Memory karma

Most people have some deterioration in memory abilities as they age. Unless it negatively impacts on daily life, especially in profound ways, age-related decline in memory isn’t a cause for concern, though it’s certainly annoying. I blame my mother.

I sometimes jokingly say that the reason my memory has become worse is karma: When I was a teen, I used to make fun of my mother’s bad memory. I wasn’t annoyed that she forgot things, but rather it was the fact she remembered things incorrectly. So, karma gave me the same sort of memory she had.

That IS a joke, of course, because I certainly don’t believe in karma. However, there’s one element of truth in that: My mother apparently really is the source of my dodgy memory, handing it down through her genes. My dad’s memory was pretty sound right up until the end, and I remember his father as being pretty sharp into his 90s.

It doesn’t actually matter which side gave me the bad memory genes: I just have to live with it. Increasingly, that means finding ways to compensate for it.

For example, I write notes to myself and place them on my keyboard so I’ll see them in the morning. Sometimes when I’m getting ready for bed, I’ll suddenly remember something I forgot to do, and I’ll take out my phone and email myself, which I’ll see when I check my email in the morning.

I’ve talked about these issues in the past—I haven’t forgotten that (though I have occasionally started to write a post that was basically the same topic as an earlier one, and a couple times I’ve accidentally re-used a title). Usually, when I refer back to something I’ve posted already, it’s on purpose and duly linked.

Last March, I wrote about my attempts to get better organised. In that post, I was talking about using paper-based systems to track what I needed to do. That never happened, though those notes and emails to myself are sort of related.

Neither have any of my attempts at task management using my computer and mobile devices worked. I meant to blog about that last year but, of course, I kept forgetting to do so. As it turns out, there’s one more thing I want to try before I get to that post this year (if I don’t forget…).

In my birthday post last year, I talked about why this blog is so important to me:
But I’ve also become increasingly aware as the years pile up of how important it is to record all sorts of things that mark progress through life. Memory isn’t anywhere near as reliable as many people assume, but it tends to become less reliable as the years pass. I sometimes joke that I’ve forgotten more than I knew as an 18 year old. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but maybe not as big a one as I might hope.

These annual posts—along with ordinary posts about ordinary things—serve as a sort of institutional memory, a kind of “Arthur Cloud”. But they also do more: These posts help me remember things I’ve forgotten, or they might inspire me to reflect on memories that maybe I hadn’t examined before. Those are good things, too.
All of that is still true, of course, and it’s also true of the old journals I kept on my computer in the years before I started this blog, and especially my even older hand-written journals dating back to high school. All of them, like this blog, document things that I’ve forgotten. Fortunately, those rediscovered memories have all been good, so far.

The photo up top is both literal and symbolic. The literal is that in the days when we got bills in the mail, I used to stamp them “PAID” so I’d know I’d taken care of it. That way, when I ran across it later, I didn’t have to try and remember if I’d paid it. These days, with nearly all our bills coming by email or online, it’s not as easy to stamp them as having been paid, and I’ve developed various ways of coping.

The symbolic sense is that if there ever had been a “karmic debt” from making fun of my mother’s memory, that debt has now been repaid, as I endure what she did all those decades ago. But I know two things about that: The first is that I’ll keep joking about that whole karma thing, and the other is that I’ll forget that I’ve done so and tell someone the same joke again (probably several more times, too).

There: Now I don’t have to try and remember any of this, either.

The photo at top is my own.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Several thousand words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the video above is worth many thousands more. It must be true, right? There are a lot of images, and they sort of move, so many thousands of words. Or, maybe not.

The video is this year’s version of a video showing what a year of my blog looks like in pictures alone. I did this last year, but that video included every image I posted to my blog, and the video was long. This year, I limited it to only my own photos and graphics I created; the video is much shorter.

In both cases, I saw some images and thought, “I wonder what that was related to…” but this year I was much more likely to know. Having fewer images helps, obviously, but the fact they’re my own helps even more.

Two images are actually screenshots: I made them, yes, and they were of content I also created. Do they qualify as being “my” work? Meh. I would have deleted one of them given the chance, but it was complicated. One photo wasn’t taken by me, but it was taken with my phone, so I count it. And, I used it twice (our niece took the photo, for the record).

I know full well that this video has VERY limited appeal. I won’t say who, precisely, it could appeal to, but you know who you are and I thank you for it. Your watching this video will help boost what will no doubt be a very low tally of views.

There was another point to this video, though, and one I alluded to before. A few days ago, I talked about learning stuff for making videos, and all those things are on display in this video.

First, the somewhat animated opening titles I learned to do only recently. Then, at the very end, making the “previous video” show and clickable, along with the subscribe button, were both things I learned. Finally, the “watermark” (that “Amer in NZ” in a circle in the lower right) I learned not through any videos, but rather links that led to other links. The main part of the video—the blog images—is a standard iMovie template, the same as last year’s—in fact, I even used the same music.

I doubt I’ll do this again next year—I think I’ve seen and done what I wanted to. But I have so much more to do with video, and this one has helped me learn how to do things; that’s a positive, wherever I go from here.

So, this video was—for me—a way of learning how to do things useful for future videos. And, it was also a way of seeing what a year of blogging looks like in images alone. On that part, at least, I may not be alone in my interest. Even if I am, I still learned stuff.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

A good evening

Sometimes it’s good to celebrate small achievements and improvements. Tonight was one of those times.

I was able to join in this evening’s walk, though I couldn’t keep up with Nigel and the dogs. So, I took a shorter path around the pond at Onepoto Domain, and met up with them at the end of their longer path. They had a good walk, and I, well, I had a bit of a walk. I didn’t want to push it, but I wanted so badly to join them; I did the best I could.

The photo above is of a young pohutukawa tree near the carpark, still in bloom. I missed the height of the blooms this year, being busy and then sick, so this was nice to see. I noticed a few more still had blooms—mostly younger trees, it seemed.

The photo below is of some of the ducks swimming in the pond. The yellow ball in the water is actually something the people with the radio-controlled boats steer around, a bit like yacht races (I mentioned the boats in yesterday’s post ).

I’m clearly on the mend, and it felt good to get a tiny bit of exercise. It won’t be long before I’m walking as much and as fast as the others. This is good.

About that judge

How about that Alabama judge, eh? Such a kidder! Wait—he’s serious?! So, that means HE’S the joke, and he’s turning into a national laughingstock. No normal person would care about his downfall, but what he’s doing to the citizens of Alabama is truly awful—not that he cares, of course.

Personally, I think that Roy is well aware that he’s dead wrong about US Supreme Court decisions applying to all states—including Alabama. I’m also sure that he’s well aware that marriage equality is now settled law in all 50 US States, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s clearly up to something else.

Like all radical religionist extremists, he thinks he has not just the right, but the duty to impose his own private, personal religious beliefs onto everyone else. That’s always been the case, but there’s more to it than just his religious chauvinism and his theocratic authoritarianism.

Good ol’ Roy’s family makes money from anti-gay bigotry. When he was removed from the court for ethics violations, he made his handsome salary from an anti-gay “non-profit” group. When voters in Alabama put him back on the bench, he officially stepped aside, but the organisation has put his family members on the payroll, including his wife. Whenever Roy puffs up his chest, the group makes more money.

Roy is also a delusional politician, having run for several different offices, and lost each time. Prior to being returned to the bench by voters, he contemplated running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 but, oddly enough, there was no interest in far-right extremist religious crackpots that year. So, he thought he’d run on a far-right political party’s ticket, but didn’t. So, the man clearly has political ambitions, but at 68 years old, his time is running out.

Given his ethical problems and his naked (though delusional) political ambition, his bizarre actions to frustrate marriage equality in Alabama are most likely all about promoting Roy, and nothing else. Sure, he apparently believes all the bullshit he spouts, both religious and about LGBT citizens, but that just provides him with extreme rightwing bonafides with the USA’s radical right, and the base of the Republican Party, and the potential for massive donations that comes with that.

Roy will be slapped down—yet again—and there’s absolutely no doubt about that. He’s facing growing ethics complaints against him because of this issue in particular, and it’s entirely possible he’ll be expelled from the bench yet again. Personally, I think that’s what he’s trying to make happen, and it’s what he wants, so he can run for some office as an imaginary “Christian martyr”.

Roy should be removed from the bench and permanently disbarred. His contempt for the rule of law, for the US Constitution, and especially the US Supreme Court, are so deep, pervasive and extreme that the only way he should ever be allowed in any courtroom is as a defendant. If that’s actually his wish, it may come true.

But Roy is first and foremost a true clown, a performer, and whatever crackpot and extremist views he may genuinely hold, he’s obviously angling for something for himself. We just don’t yet know precisely what that is.