Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In support of our teachers

Tomorrow, New Zealand’s primary and intermediate teachers are going out on strike for the first time in 24 years. They are seeking greater pay rises than the Ministry of Education has proposed, as well as more non-teaching time to reduce burnout. They’re worth every cent they’re asking for—that’s not in dispute. The question, as always, is where will the money come from?

The video above from the NZEI, the teachers’ union, puts the current reality for teachers into sharp focus: Fewer people are training to become teachers, which will inevitably lead to shortages of New Zealand-born and trained teachers—especially when we factor in the teachers leaving the profession due to low pay.

The government says it has no more money this budget year, but they promise to make progress on making up for nine years of neglect under the previous National Party-led government. I have no doubt they will. But in the meantime, our education sector remains in crisis.

I’m a strong backer of unions—I was in one for a time, after all. However, this is the second high profile strike after nurses went on strike last month. Those are two areas that National cut funding for when it was in government (a fact they continue to deny, using weasel words to explain away the falling funding brought about by moving shells around). However, there’s something that really bothers me: Why NOW?

National was in power for nine years and they cut finding for both education and nurses, yet the unions didn’t strike. Why not? It was probably reasonable to fear retaliation, but had they gone on strike then, they may have been able to prevent some of the damage the National government’s underfunding caused.

By striking now, so early in the Labour Party-led government, they help reinforce the news media pundits’ narrative of the new government being incompetent and unable to govern. Had they waited as much as a year, of course, it would have already been in the run-up to the next election, and that would be worse.

So, my complaint is really just why didn’t they strike under National when it could have helped prevent so much damage?

Nevertheless, as I said, they deserve every cent they’re asking for—and far more. I hope they get what they want, and soon. But I also hope they don’t damage the government too much in the process, because the harsh reality is that they’ll do far better under a Labour-led government than under one run by National—although, Labour does have to prove that. I hope they do prove it.

The video above screened on TV tonight; I don’t know if it was a one-off or part of a larger campaign. But I think it’s very effective and deserves to be seen.

An unusual week that was

There have been many times I’ve mentioned being busy, so that’s not an unusual thing. It’s also not unusual to be swamped with work or projects around the house. This week it was all of that, plus one more: We went out three nights this past week. That combination was very unusual—but nice.

On Monday night, Nigel and I went to a screening of the documentary Celia about Celia Lashlie part of the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) at ASB Theatre, which is down at Auckland’s waterfront. It was the first time we’d ever been to a film in the NZIFF, so that alone was a treat (though the seats were surprisingly uncomfortable).

Celia Lashlie was a former prison director who went on to become an author and social justice advocate, particularly in the area of poverty, breaking the patterns that lead children of poor families to prison, and so much more. Her approach was often confrontational, sometimes combative, and always with a ring of straightforward truth.

The film was made by Amanda Millar, a former TV journalist who I knew from her work on TV3’s versions of 20/20 and 60 Minutes. The film is very well made, but the point, of course, is Celia’s work and legacy. I think that all MPs should see the film so maybe they’ll stop doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Wednesday night we went to dinner to celebrate Nigel’s sister’s birthday. It was nice to get together with family, and to have a nice Japanese dinner. That was on Auckland’s North Shore, not far from where we used to live.

And, of course, on Saturday we went to see Celene Dion at Spark Arena, which is in Parnell, near the waterfront. That was a big trip for us, too.

The fact is, we rarely go out—even to dinner at our nearest café. There’s really no reason for that, apart from the usual (busy lives and being tired in the evening). So going out three nights in one week, and needing to drive a hour, more or less, each way, it turned out to be a very big deal.

Add to that the fact that we both worked on the garage the weekend before we went to see Celia, and I helped Nigel with a couple smaller projects during the week, and my having a work project to finish, and it was a an unusually busy week because it was in unusual ways.

Oddly enough, I was more tired today than on Monday. I’ve always heard that such things hit us two days later, not the next day, but I always thought of that as being merely anecdotal, but, if it is, it’s always applied to me, too.

It’s a new week now, and even though we’re in the middle of that week as of tomorrow, I hope to make real progress on the garage. I expect to have more to say about that soon. Once that project is done, I have plenty of others line up behind it.

First things first. And, a quieter week this week will be good, actually.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Seeing Celine

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Yesterday, Nigel and I went to see Celine Dion in concert at Auckland’s Spark Arena, the first time either of us had been there. Auckland is the final stop on her “Celine Dion Live 2018” tour of Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. I didn’t say anything about this on Facebook until we got there, and even then I expected I might get some negative reactions from Facebook friends, not that I really cared. I also didn’t really know what to expect. It turned out that both ended up being really great.

Now, I have to admit right up front that while I like Celine Dion, and know many of her songs really well (and like them), I nevertheless wouldn’t call myself a “fan”, which means that I’m not devoted or excited about every new release as I am (or have been…) for other artists. However, because I like her work, I wanted to see her perform live.

We arrived VERY early, because of emailed advice Nigel got form the promoters, and because we found parking right near the arena. We grabbed a quick fast food dinner, and joined the queue outside the arena at around 5:45pm (I think). After a long wait, which included bag searches and a body scan with a handheld scanner, the doors opened about 6:30pm or so. We went right to our seats.

Our seats turned out to be very high up and to the side (stage right). We were so high up, in fact, there were only a few more rows between us and the very top-most row. And, it as very steep—so much so that I, who can’t stand heights, really worried about going down the stairs when we were leaving. In fact, I didn’t leave my seat until the concert was over.

A little after 7:30pm, the opening act began. That was Véronic DiCaire, a French-Canadian singer and impressionist I’d never heard of. She had a nice voice and really good range, and many of her impressions of famous singers were good. The set was—okay. It didn’t wow me, but I didn’t dislike it, either. That ended a little after 8pm.

A little after 8:30pm, Celine’s concert began. She was in fine voice, hit all the notes with ease, and was energetic. She also walked to the sides of the stage and sang to those of us seated at the sides (something Véronic never did). She did mostly songs I knew, and a few I didn’t. She also did some songs I’d not heard her do before, like John Farnham’s 1986 hit, the power ballad “You’re The Voice” [WATCH/LISTEN to his version]. That and other songs surprised me because I hadn’t really known that she could do rock vocals so well.

As is her way, Celine also talked a lot to the audience, which was sometimes corny, but also kind of endearing. It also seemed natural, as if no matter how many times she’s said something similar in a show, each time she makes it up fresh as she goes.

When the main part of the show ended, I knew what the encore would be, since she hadn’t performed it in the show (and I won’t name it because there are more people who will see her in Auckland). And she did a second song a cappella, and then it was all over. I forgot to check my watch, but it was after ten, closer to 10:30, maybe.

After a very slow exit out of the arena, we got the car quickly, and out of the carpark quickly, and then hit near gridlock on Auckland streets as we tried to get to the motorway. We ended up getting home just past midnight.

Celine was last in New Zealand back in 1996, but we couldn’t go. Nigel had just started a new job, and I was still at my first one, having only arrived to live in New Zealand in November of the year before. The stars, as it were, just weren’t aligned.

So, this time we didn’t miss the chance. It was also nice to go to Spark Arena, which is nice inside that food and drink stands had good offerings at surprisingly good prices. Now that we’ve been there, we’ll know what to expect the next time we go.

Because we arrived so early, and entered as soon as the doors opened, there was hardly anyone inside the arena. In fact, it didn’t really fill up until the last 10 or 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. At the bottom of this post are two photos I took of roughly the same spot. The top one I took at 6:37pm, and the bottom one right after the opening act was finished (8:09pm). It gives an idea of how full it was. Spark Arena holds about 12,000 people, and the concert was sold out.

I’m keenly aware that some people can’t stand Celine Dion, for a variety of reasons. I don’t care about that, obviously—Arthur’s Law. Besides, I have a history of liking artists others don’t. Even so, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see negative comments on my Facebook page. However, I got none, which these days is unusual enough to be worthy of mentioning. Naturally, the people who really know me (in real life or online only) were no doubt happy that Nigel and I got to have a nice night out together, something that’s not all that easy to manage with our busy lives, and because we now live up to an hour’s drive from central Auckland.

So, we had a great night out, and really enjoyed the show. We’d go see her again—though if her next show is in 22 years, that may be pushing things a bit.

Spark Arena at 6:37pm—the doors had only been open a few minutes at that point.
8:09pm, after the opening act and before Celine's concert. The arena is full.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Meanwhile, in New Zealand

This was news in New Zealand. Not about the bouncing sheep—that’s common enough, though the trampoline is optional. Instead, it was the fact that the video became so popular so fast. People watch the darndest things.

Still, it's interesting that RNZ took it seriously enough to explain that sheep commonly jump, and why. Why did they do that? Was it because of the extent of the urban/rural divide in New Zealand these days, that many people have never seen sheep on a farm except on TV? Or in viral videos? In any case, it's extremely comforting that this is news in New Zealand.

Banning the bags

Today the New Zealand Government announced that the government will be phasing out single-use plastic bags. The video above was posted by the New Zealand Labour Party on their Facebook Page, one of the few videos that’s actually embeddable. However, the video itself isn’t actually important: The action is.

“This year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “It’s also the biggest single subject school children write to me about.” I bet it is: Kids get the importance of taking even simple actions better than many adults do. This action shows that this government is serious about its role as kaitiaki (guardian) of our environment.

The move was applauded by Auckland Council. Councillor Penny Hulse, Chair of Council’s Environment and Community Committee, said, “With hundreds of millions of plastic bags being used only once by Kiwis each year for an average of only 10 minutes, the desire to reduce our plastic waste and the call for action from the public to protect our environment is loud and clear.”

The Leader of the Opposition said predictable things in predictable ways, such as, “Kiwis were reducing their plastic usage because it’s the right thing to do. They didn’t need to be told what to do…” which was never the point. Banning single-use plastic bags is about the final push to eliminate them, something that only regulation can accomplish. He claimed credit for the reduction in plastic bag use, even though the previous government actually did almost nothing about reducing the number of single-use plastic bags used; their main—and very useful—contribution was to develop a programme for people to recycle soft packaging, including the bags. I use that system all the time. But that only deals with disposing of bags, not reducing their use in the first place.

This government’s move is great, but not needed for me. I switched to reusable bags years ago, and, as I said a few days ago, even the supermarket chain I get online orders from also now uses reusable bags for deliveries. Over the years I’ve also collected reusable bags given away for free by companies wanting to promoted themselves, so I’ll be all set once single-use bags are banned everywhere.

There have been questions raised about how small businesses will cope. I think the best analogy is 2012, when New Zealand changed its give way rules at intersections. Critics predicted mayhem, but it never happened. Instead, people adapted—as they always do. If people can adapt to changes in the way they drive, then I’m confident they can adapt to always bringing a shopping bag with them. Or, businesses can always switch back to paper bags.

I think that the move will create opportunities for businesses. Some will want to give out branded bags to increase awareness of their brands (or just reinforce them). Others will offer special bags for particular purposes, such as mesh bags for produce, or a special bag to protect potatoes, or one for onions. (I've noticed that similar ones on Amazon list the weight of the bags so the purchaser knows it's minimal, which is important for stuff we buy by weight).

There’s also an opportunity to create more “man friendly” bags, since a lot of them are clearly designed to appeal to women. That made sense in the early days, because women were the ones who did most families’ grocery shopping. Being generally more socially aware than men, they were also more likely to use reusable bags for all sorts of shopping. Now that men will need such bags, whether they like it or not, it would be good to have more options that are either more masculine or, at least, less feminine. I’ve heard many men say they feel uncomfortable using reusable bags because they consider them too feminine (or maybe they think using them is feminising? That’s a different problem). In any case, it makes sense to remove the last little barriers to using reusable bags.

But, like I said, this really won’t affect me, because I’ve already switched (apart from produce bags, like above; that’s next). However, I may need to remember to take a bag when I pick up a few things at a small shop somewhere, though many of them already use paper bags (like the chemist where I get my prescriptions). This move by the government will help end the era of disposable bags, and that’s good for all of us.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Taste setting in New Zealand

New Zealand is leading the way yet again: This is the first country in the world to get a sugarless version of Coca-Cola sweetened with 100% stevia (pictured at right). Days of national celebration followed the announcement—well, not exactly that. More like national unawareness, to be honest.

The introduction comes about a year after the introduction of Coca-Cola No Sugar, which I taste-tested in June last year, and was much lower key. The new drink replaces the former Coca-Cola Life, which was a mix of Stevia and sugar. I taste-tested that in April 2015.

This will leave Coke in New Zealand with the sugar version, as well as four without sugar: Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coke No Sugar, and Coke Stevia No Sugar. As Stuff put it, “It seems unlikely that Coca-Cola can continue producing four no-sugar colas in the small New Zealand market.” They also speculate that Coke Zero will probably be dropped to simplify the offerings.

I bought a six pack of the cute little 250ml cans (outer wrapper of the six pack is below) just because I saw it in the grocery store. At the time, I didn’t know it was a new product and thought it might be imported, rather than made in New Zealand, as it was. My first reaction was that this made so much more sense than the former Coca-Cola Life. If someone is trying to avoid sugar altogether, then merely reducing the amount of it by adding stevia wasn’t helpful. Same for those avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners. Using 100% stevia was clearly the sensible solution, I think.

Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar has 1.3 kilojoules per 100ml (about 0.3 calories), which means it has about a quarter of the food energy of their other non-sugar colas. The reason is probably that stevia is non-caloric (doesn’t have calories of its own), whereas artificial sweeteners are usually just very low calorie.

But, how does it taste? I find it sweeter than any of the other no-sugar versions, and with a "piercing earthy sweetness", as a taster for the New Zealand Herald put it. I haven’t compared it directly to regular Coke, but it’s a different kind of sweetness. I think that at least some people will think it’s sweeter; I’m probably one of them.

Be that as it may, anyone can adapt if they want to. I say that because adapted to their old brand TaB, then later to Diet Coke, neither of which I necessarily liked when I first tried them. By the time I got to Coke Zero, it was much easier. So, I think that I could get used to Coke Stevia No Sugar, too.

The obvious question here, of course, is why would I (or anyone else) want to “get used to” a drink if we don’t like it immediately? There are two answers: Sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

We all know that we should avoid refined sugar. A little bit, particularly in food, isn’t usually harmful for most people, but too much causes weight gain and can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart problems. It’s best to avoid having it.

The alternatives, up until now, have been artificial sweeteners, and the science on them has been all over the map. Nevertheless, some studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain, and can even lead to developing Type 2 diabetes—just like sugar. One theory [mentioned in the article “In Search of the Perfect Sweetener” from the BBC is that artificial sweeteners affect gut bacteria and that can lead to insulin resistence, which can lead to diabetes (and contribute to metabolic syndrome). So, artificial sweeteners MAY affect the body similarly to the way sugar does—not in a good way. Using them may cause problems, too (and that’s without even getting into the theories that they can cause cancer).

So far, there’s no evidence that stevia has any bad affects on health. However, it’s important to note that while stevia has been used as a sweetener since the 1970s, it hasn’t been studied as much as artificial sweeteners, so problems may yet be found now that it’s becoming more and more common. At the moment, however, stevia is the only natural non-caloric sweetener available, and it seems to be free of the problems associated with both sugar and artificial sweeteners, so all that makes it very appealing.

Years ago, I used aspartame all the time, including to sweeten my coffee, and did so up until I became convinced it was unsafe due to the Wisdom of the Internet. After reviewing actual data, I’ve since come to believe that it’s as safe as most other artificial sweeteners. Nevertheless, in sort of a holdover from the old days, and because non-use made me no longer like the taste, I switched the sweetener for my coffee to one made from saccharin and cyclamates. By then, it tasted best to me, and it’s very cheap. Even so, once my current supply is gone, I plan to switch to stevia, mostly to avoid the problems (seemingly) associated with artificial sweeteners and sugar. It will take some time to get used to as well, but—for now—I think it’s worth it to avoid other health problems.

Sweetening coffee is the main thing I use sweeteners for. I’ve tried skipping sweeteners completely, but it turns out there ARE some tastes I just can’t get used to. I rarely drink soft drinks, but if I want one I’m likely to choose Coke Stevia No Sugar. I wish they made a Sprite Stevia No Sugar because I think that would work well with stevia, and because there are times I want a soft drink without caffeine. Someday, maybe.

It’s never easy making smart choices for one’s diet, and in many cases those choices are necessarily highly individualised. This drink won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some people don’t like stevia in anything. That’s fine—there are other choices. But for me, I think this new version of Coke is a good option for a treat, at least for now.

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

They fling you

New Zealand has a new “adventure tourism” activity: The Nevis Catapult, which is located in the Nevis Valley in Central Otago (Facebook video from CNN above). It sends people flying across the valley at 100km/hour in 1.5 seconds. Then, after a few bounces, the person is lowered to the valley floor. That would be a no from me.

The attraction has been worked on ver the past 30 years, apparently, by the same people who brought us bungee jumping in 1988. I never understood the point of jumping off a perfectly good bridge or building, which suggests that I’m probably not the market for such attractions. Because I’m not.

All joking aside, adventure tourism is serious business in New Zealand. Key findings in a 2012 study [Read/download the PDF] from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), half of all international tourists did some sort of adventure tourism, and a third did some sort of extreme adventure tourism. They spent $1.6 billion in New Zealand, which accounted for 60% of all holiday related tourist expenditure. Also, and this is just interesting, the study also found that tourists from The Netherlands and Germany were most likely to do adventure tourism.

To put that into perspective, in the year ending February 2018 [Read/download the PDF], all international tourists in New Zealand spent a combined total of around $6.8 billion (the total for ALL international visitors, including tourists, visiting friends/relatives, and also business) was $10.5 billion.

Tourism has been growing year on year, and directly contributed around 5.9% of New Zealand’s GDP for the year ending February 2018. Tourists in that period spent an average of $3,190 each (today about US$2,130), with a median spend of $2,130 (US$1,423).

What all of this means is that every new attraction is important for the New Zealand tourism industry, and adventure tourism is something New Zealand is known for, and an area where there’s still a huge potential for growth. Sure, people like me may not be interested in those attractions, for whatever reason, but there are plenty of other things to keep us interested—and spending—too.

So, to each their own. Adventurous and sedate tourists are all welcome in New Zealand, and they’ll have a great time whatever they choose to do.

Tip o’ the Hat to Grayson for calling my attention to the CNN video.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Online buying and getting change

Ordering stuff online is now huge, because it’s easier, cheaper, or takes less time. But there have been changes in recent years, things we may miss if we don’t order often. Even grocery stores can change.

Years ago, I’d order groceries online whenever I got busy with work. Going to the store, shopping, and driving home all took time, and the delivery fee was often less than the value of my time lost. Things have changed a bit since then, and the caption on my Instagram photo above talks about the most visible: The bags. There were others.

As has always been the case, the website for ordering keeps lists—orders I’ve placed in the past, the things I usually buy in store, personal lists I make and store online. Although a little creepy, it’s also incredibly handy for making sure I don’t forget any of the things I routinely buy. I can always add other items, of course. When I was done placing my order (using the "Favourites" list, I noticed a note about the reusable bags, so I was expecting to see that today.

What I wasn’t expecting is that I got a text this morning tell me, “you order is on the way and be at your door shortly.” I don’t remember the website saying anything about text alerts, but I was glad for it—and wished I’d known about it beforehand. If I had, I’d have waited to open the gates over the driveway until then, rather than at the start of the delivery period I’d ordered (shoppers specify a two and a half hour period during which their order will be delivered). Now that I know they do that, I can do things differently next time.

The order showed up around 25 minutes after I received the text, which suggests it was sent as the truck was leaving the store (it takes about 25 minutes, give or take, to drive the distance). I presume it’s automated based on when the order is scanned as leaving the store, but I don’t know.

The last time I ordered years ago, none of this was true: They still used ordinary single-use shopping bags and there was no text alert. The system is much better now.

I also had a thought during all this. I saved, as I said in the caption, at least an hour and a half of my time by ordering online, something that fully justified the low delivery fee. However, I wondered if having a truck bring several orders to our area might be more fuel-efficient than us all driving separately to do our shopping. One truck would use a certain amount of fuel, probably more than a single car would, but less than all of us combined would use. That would means less pollution overall, and even (somewhat) less wear on the roads (and our cars, too, actually). So, could it be that ordering online might actually be greener than going and doing it in person? I think it’s certainly possible. At any rate, it provides employment for the people who pick and pack the orders and deliver them, and that’s good.

I ordered online because it save me a LOT of time. I think it turns out that there are other benefits, too. That’s kind of nice.

Biden’s LGBTQ acceptance initiative

Today former Vice President Joe Biden announced a new initiative from his Biden Foundation, As You Are, which they call, “A Family and Community Acceptance Campaign”. The initiative wants to gather stories of real people because:
Stories have power. In the past decade, we’ve seen storytelling drive nationwide progress for LGBTQ equality. But far too many LGBTQ people—especially those under 25—still face rejection from the people closest to them. So we’re inviting you to help us change that. Share your story with us. Let’s work together to make the world better for LGBTQ young people. No matter your background, you deserve to be safe and affirmed #AsYouAre.
They’re right about the power of stories. The fight for marriage equality was won once people got see LGBTQ people as people, not just a category, a name often flung as an epithet. As I always say, it’s only easy to hate people in the third person—in this case, those gays. Hatred wilts when people are seen and thought of in the second person: you, my relative the lesbian; you, my neighbour, the gay man; you, that nice shop owner who’s trans. In the second person, hatred beings to melt away and common humanity begins.

Despite that, young people still face condemnation for being LGBTQ, often from those who are supposed to love them unconditionally: Their family and close friends. That is what this initiative is aiming to help, by using the same technique—people telling their own stories—to get people to stop seeing young LGBTQ people as anything other than people.

Young LGBTQ people have dramatically higher suicide rates than do other youth. That’s why Biden said of the project, “it is simple – this is about saving lives.” Because it is.

This work is part of what the Biden Foundation does, specifically, “Ensuring LGBTQ Equality”, In May, the Foundation announced a joint project with the YMCA of the USA “to foster LGBTQ inclusion and equity at YMCA locations nationwide.”

I think this it’s awesome that the Biden Foundation is taking on this work. LGBTQ people are threatened in ways not seen in a decade and a half. A hostile presidential regime and a Supreme Court that will soon be stacked with hardline anti-LGBTQ justices means all our legal progress over the past few decades is at risk. As part of the new onslaught against us, many of the battles to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination will move to the states, and to win those 50 separate battles will require a cultural change. This initiative will help with that important work.

However, the stark reality is that LGBTQ people cannot fight, and certainly won’t win, the upcoming battles without the support and help of heterosexual people, our “Straight Allies”, as we call them. We need straight people to talk to other straight people, so in the future, we’ll also need initiatives specifically designed to help them talk in support of LGBTQ people. That can build from initiatives like this one, because personal stories really do have a lot of power.

In my time in grassroots politics, I had one simple focus: Keep your eyes on the prize. We wanted social and legal equality for LGBTQ people, and we lobbied hard for it. But to win, we needed the support of heterosexual elected officials and other grassroots groups with other priorities. So, we built alliances, sometimes only on specific issues, in order to advance our larger agenda. That’s even more important now than it was in the Reagan era, and throughout the 1980s, when I did most of my work.

So I gladly welcome the help from the Biden Foundation. It’s allies like them that will help us prevail—together, all of the "us-es", as Harvey Milk used to say.

Joe Biden’s Twitter announcement:

Tip o' the Hat to Roger Green for the heads up; I've been so busy I would have missed the announcement otherwise.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Unexpected reminders

I didn't exit August 7, 2016.
There are plenty of times when something will unexpectedly pop up and remind us of something else, not just things we’ve forgotten, but also things that, for whatever reason, haven’t been at the front of our thoughts at that moment. Those reminders can come from anywhere, even social media.

This morning I logged onto Facebook, as is my routine, and I had one of those “Memories” alerts. It was a photo our niece had posted two years ago of the birthday lunch we had for her mum, Nigel’s sister. I’ve always hated that photo because I look terrible in it. That’s the day I could have died, but didn’t.

I could’ve shared the photo on my own timeline, but it’s possible only our mutual Facebook friends would have seen it. So, instead, I said this:
Two years ago today I could have died, but didn't. A few days later, I was in hospital getting a coronary stent to make sure I stay alive. While I had a very rough year last year due to the side effects of betablockers, things are back on track now and I can carry on with the progress I was making before they put me on that drug. Onward!
I blogged about that 2016 day last year, on the first anniversary, but I hadn’t planned on saying anything this year. The main reason for that is simply that I wasn’t even thinking about it. I’m busy with work and other commitments, sure, but it’s also not something I think about very often. Instead I think of the day a few days later when doctors saved my life.
What happened is more important to me than what didn’t.

So when that photo was right there in front of me, I had no choice but to remember. The fact I hadn’t planned on talking about that day is kind of fitting, since I hadn’t planned on anything that happened in August, 2016, either. And yet, here I am—which is really the whole point, isn’t it? I’m here.

I left a comment on my Facebook post that was quoting from my post last year. I called it “the tl;dr verison” of the post:
"The message here is simple: First, pay attention to your body, and take action when something isn’t right. Second, talk to your doctor! Doctors are amazing people, but they’re not mind readers: They can’t always know to look for things that could be wrong if we don’t tell them how and what we’re feeling. We’re not “bothering” them by telling them about something that doesn’t seem right—we could be saving our own lives. Your doctor is your ally in this goal—help them help you."
And that’s my takeaway from that day, and the events that followed soon afterward. Yes, I could have died two years ago today, but I didn’t. Instead, I took action (with Nigel’s coaching) that changed everything. And that means I can mention something I wasn’t going to until I had one of those unexpected reminders.

The ultimate irony here is that there’s one sort of thing that pops up all the time as examples of unexpected reminders: Something relating to a friend who has died. It might be a birthday reminder, comments we traded, our “Faceversary”, whatever. But when it happens, I think about a friend I’ve lost. And since that day two years ago, I’m keenly aware that if things had gone differently, someone else could have experienced an unexpected reminder about departed me, the sort of thing I experience about my own lost friends.

I think we need unexpected reminders to help keep us from becoming complacent and taking even a single day for granted. One day, inevitably, our days will run out. My goal is that when my days run out, people who knew me will smile when they get an unexpected reminder. And I wouldn’t have thought about any of that today had I not received my own unexpected reminder that two years ago my days could have run out, but didn’t.

I hope I never forget. I have that goal still to achieve.

The Constitutional Con

The video above is the latest from Robert Reich and talks about the biggest threat to American democracy. The threat could throw the entire US Constitution out the window, or just some of Americans’ most cherished rights. The most important point about this: Reich's absolutely right.

The USA has never had an Article V constitutional convention, but the clear consensus is that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to control or limit once it's called, not the least because it’s not even clear that limiting the call to only one topic can actually be made binding. Similarly, it’s not clear that states can rescind their request for a convention.

I first heard about this idea in the 1970s when conservatives wanted a "Balanced Budget Amendment" (and they still do). When Congress didn’t act, they called for a convention. During the debate and discussions, and especially by the mid-1980s, it became clear that a constitutional convention couldn't be limited to one topic, and interest in a convention waned. By then I’d begun warning about the dangers of a constitutional convention because it couldn’t be limited, and it posed a very real threat to LGBT+ Americans in what was a very hostile time. Little has changed since then.

Rightwingers, who know what they're really up to, often feign shock when faced with mainstream opposition to a constitutional convention, and ask with fake surprise, "What're you so afraid of?" The answer is obvious: Because delegates would probably be elected within the various states. The US election system is rigged to favour Republicans and the rightwing in general, so that, together with Russian hacking that we still have no defence against, means the convention elected would be skewed pretty dramatically to the Right. And THAT would mean the end of reproductive choice (not just abortion, but probably even most birth control), an end to marriage equality (and possibly reinstatement of laws criminalising gay people), repealing laws protecting racial and ethnic groups from discrimination (in other words, an end to equal justice under law), and establishing the USA as an officially "Christian" nation. The possibilities after that are even more dark, such as, no more freedom of speech or of the press unless licensed/permitted by the government.

The drive for a convention has little to do with the current regime in the White House, but everything to do with the dark forces backing it. Oligarchs like the Koch Brothers want all sorts of Far Rightwing measures enacted that could never happen through normal democratic means, so they know that a constitutional convention is their best shot. That's why the Rightwing wants it to: Most of what they have on their agenda would never get through the normal democratic processes.

If it came down to a handful of states that rescinded their call for a convention preventing one from being called, it's certain that the Rightwing US Supreme Court would rule that states cannot rescind their call, something that would an absolute certainty if the Koch’s property is confirmed to the Court as Republicans demand.

All of which is why this threat could result in the end of American democracy.

There is a chance—a very small and remote chance—that normal people might prevail in controlling the convention, and we could enact changes that would horrify the Right every bit as much: Overturning Citizens United, requiring non-partisan commissions to draw election boundaries, abolishing the Electoral College, outlawing "dark money" and all PACs, public financing of Congressional elections, ensuring a firm separation between church and state, common sense gun control, and so on. At the moment, that seems VERY unlikely to happen.

However, if the Right gets the needed number of states on board for a constitutional convention, and the Supreme Court does indeed rule that states cannot rescind their call for a convention, then the ONLY alternative will be to fight like hell to get control of the convention. Success or failure would determine whether the end result is the United States of America or the Republic of Gilead—or maybe many new countries popping up where the USA once was.

With a threat so dire, it’s something that people need to be warned about. We must all do our part to make sure that happens.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Shawn Mendes

This week’s artist is another whose work I first heard on our free-to-air music channel. I’d already heard of him by then, and that he was the latest hot artist. He was just a name until I saw the video above.

Shawn Mendes is 19 (he turns 20 later this week). He was born and raised in Ontario, and released his first full album in 2015. He’s gone from success to success since then.

The first of his songs I really paid attention to was “In My Blood” (video above). It was the first single from his third album, Shawn Mendes. It reached Number 9 in Australia and in Canada (Platinum in both countries), Number 13 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 10 in the UK (Silver), and Number 11 in the USA (Gold).

I liked the song from the first time I heard it, and the video, too. It’s still my favourite of his songs I’ve heard. I later learned that it’s about Shawn’s experience with anxiety disorder, something that is extremely unusual for an artist to talk about, regardless of what the song is about. Maybe that fact will help others?

The single immediately before that was “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” (video below), the last single from his second album, 2016’s Illuminate. The song reached Number 4 in Australia (4x Platinum), Canada Number 6 (5x Platinum), Number 8 in New Zealand (Platinum), Number 4 in the UK (Platinum), and Number 6 in the USA (3x Platinum). This is also a single I’d heard somewhere along the line—maybe the chorus was used in a commercial or something, because I seldom listen to the radio anymore, and I don’t remember seeing the video before.

Finally, his first single, “Life of the Party” (video below), from his first studio album, 2015’s Handwritten (it was also on the EP he released right before then, 2014's The Shawn Mendes EP). He was 16 at the time he recorded the song and the video in 2014.

The song reached Number 9 in Australia (Gold) and Canada (2x Platinum), Number 6 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 99 in the UK, and Number 24 in the USA (Platinum). Did I mention he was 16 at the time?

There’s one more thing that has to be noted: His achievements. All three of his studio albums debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 (USA). He was one of only five artists to debut at Number One before he was 18. He’s also the first artist to have four singles top the Billboard Adult Top 40 before turning 20. And he’s the first artist to have three Number One singles on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart before turning 20. His first single debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 24 when he was less than month shy of his sixteenth birthday, making him the youngest artist whose debut single entered the charts in the top 25.

I mention all that because Shawn turns 20 later this week. So, I guess it’s Happy Birthday to Shawn Mendes. I wonder if I should thank him for making me feel like such an underachiever?

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Turning down the noise

Recently, I’ve again seen folks on Facebook complaining about what other people post there. This is so unnecessary, as well as a bit inappropriate. However, there are easy fixes for the problem. These are the ones I recommend.

Most people know that they have no right to tell other people what they can and cannot say, yet some seem to feel they can complain about what other people choose to post. Some respond by asking their FB friend to not post those things, others take the “nuclear option” and unfriend the person.

The first solution is that some browsers allow the installation of extensions that will filter our posts that use certain keywords. Whether that’s an option or not depends on the browser one uses, and it may not be suitable for everyone.

Fortunately, Facebook has built-in solutions that don’t require unfriending.

Every post on Facebook has three dots in the upper right corner:

If you click on the three dots, a menu appears:

Three of the options are important here: “Hide Post” just hides that one particular post, so it won’t keep popping up in your newsfeed when someone comments or whatever. I’ve used this one a lot.

Next, “Snooze for 30 Days” will stop you from seeing anything from the person/page for, well, 30 days. This is useful when someone is posting constantly about one topic, but they may stop. I’ve never used this option, in part because it’s relatively new (It wasn’t available in 2016, for example, the last time I wrote about the options available).

Finally, “Unfollow” means you will stop seeing any posts at all from the person/page, and you won’t unless you choose “Follow” again. This doesn’t unfriend them, nor does it prevent them from contacting you, like by direct message. Also, the other person will never know you’ve selected the option. I have used this option a couple times, too, and always ended up following again.

However, as I pointed out back in June, doing these things means we won’t see the authentic person. That matters to me, but it may not to someone else. Such people might also not care about unfriending someone, but I’ve only done that a couple times in 11 years.

In general, I prefer to take responsibility for myself, and not expect someone else to do something when I have control over the situation. The steps above allow me to get the peace I seek, while leaving the other person free to do whatever they want. I think that’s a win/win.

However, I very rarely used any of these methods, and none are in use right now. Like I said, I prefer to see the authentic other person, even when they post stuff that maybe I don’t like or want to see. That’s what scrolling is for. I don’t mind looking after myself. That’s my way. Others may choose different ways. And that’s okay, too.

In any case, there are easy fixes for this Facebook problem. These are the ones I recommend.

I picked the subject of the screenshots because they're totally non-political and not at all controversial. It’s not acutally something I'd “Hide” or "Unfollow". So, it was a neutral example.

Let there be (cheap) light

Every once in awhile I say something on a podcast that I haven’t talked about on this blog, though it’s something I would talk about here. I did that on the ArcherRadio podcast episode I announced here yesterday. That’s one thing I can fix by mentioning it right now.

On that podcast I said that I like to challenge myself, and for video lighting I wanted to make it as cheap as possible, or, even better, to use things I already have. This is the kind of thing I do a lot—trying to do things for free or inexpensively, mostly because I don’t like spending money on hobbies/diversions when I don’t need to, and because I enjoy the challenge of coming up with good solutions for little or no money.

I talked about experimenting with video lighting in a post last October, but, ironically, that photo wasn’t actually an example of the lighting: I was just trying only certain aspects, not the whole setup. Even so, one of the sets, if you will, I plan on using for videos I’m in will be there in my office. I’m also going to use the garage, which is my personal reason for getting that project done (and, as it happens, I made big progress on that today). More on the studio-making project, and even lighting choices, another day.

I also enjoy photography challenges, and have shared some on this blog. For example, the posts about my 2016 Nature Photo A Day series all talked about how I did the photos. All of the challenges used only what I had at hand, all of which was free. I even used an improvised light reflector for some photos.

Late last year, I also explained another series, which was 7 black and white photos in 7 days. That one was more a challenge of subject than of technique, but it was a challenge nevertheless.

So, I have a history of giving myself challenges for photos (and sometimes videos), and then figuring out how to meet that challenge. For me, that’s part of the fun of the whole thing.

The challenge of spending little or nothing on these things is also part of the fun for me, and it’s something I did when I first started podcasting, too. However, I did eventually spend some money on that—better mics, interfaces, even a digital recorder I never use anymore. The audio interfaces that I used to connect my mics to my computer are both gone. One pretty much wore out, and the other is obsolete. I later bought a special gadget to connect my XLR microphone via USB connection—and it works brilliantly.

I also bought some photography supplies. I have a photography table for product-shot type close-up photos (among other things, it has a translucent table surface so I can light the object from beneath), but I’ve never used it (the assembly instructions are in Chinese). I also have a handheld steady-cam sort of thing (which stabilises video when moving the camera, like walking with it), but that doesn’t actually work (which is probably why it was so cheap). When I get my office finished, I’ll figure out the table. The other gadget will need to be replaced, I think.

I mention these things because I’m not opposed to spending money on my creative hobbies, especially when it’s something I can use to improve the quality of what I produce. However, if I can save money by improvising, it will mean I have more to spend on what I can’t improvise, and to get the equipment I really need.

So, I made an offhand mention on a podcast of something I haven’t really talked about here, and that’s related to a lot of other things I’ve shared on this blog, and things I’ll share in the future. It’s nice when blog content just sort of drops into my lap—or out of my mouth, in this case.

Friday, August 03, 2018

A new podcast episode now available

A new podcast episode, one where I’m a guest: “ArcherRadio 1234 Catching Up with Arthur” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This is a LONG episode, a chat with an old friend from my very early days in podcasting. We cover a lot of the LGBT podcasting history we experienced, a bit about where it’s heading, and all sorts of other things. Interestingly, despite our shared passion for politics, we don't really talk about it that much—THIS time! It was fun, but back to normal AmeriNZ episodes soon.

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

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Jacinda Ardern: One year as Labour Leader

One year ago yesterday, Jacinda Ardern became Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. On October 26, 2017, she became the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand. The video above from the New Zealand Labour Party gives a flavour of what the past year’s ride has been like. Add one more thing: Today she resumed her duties as Prime Minister after taking six weeks of maternity leave.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters ceased being Acting Prime Minister when he left New Zealand on an official trip last night. He did a fine job as Acting Prime Minister, as I knew he would. I’m not a fan of Winston or his party, however, I’ve always pointed out to others that he’s always been a responsible and reliable member of every Labour Government he’s been part of. I never had any doubt about him. [See also: “PM in a pin-striped suit: Peters' reign comes to an end” By Jane Patterson at Radio New Zealand (RNZ)]

Jacinda is starkly realistic about her situation. “I'm not going to pretend that I have the same lot as every other woman," she told RNZ. "I'm privileged, I'm very, very lucky," she added. She also is determined that the government she leads will benefit all New Zealanders.

She appeared today on RNZ's Checkpoint with John Campbell, and it’s worth watching (video below). The interview gives some sense of where she’s coming from, what she hopes for, and how energised she is.

I’ve met Jacinda Ardern. I chatted with her as we walked through Birkenhead during the 2014 campaign. I could tell she was the real deal. She’s also close friends with one of my friends, who I greatly admire and respect, Richard Hills. He’s always spoken about her with respect and told me about how good she is not directly, but by talking about what she does and says. Because I respect him, I grew to respect her even more.

And, to address the elephant in the room, I cannot imagine the current US President being received as well  as as our Prime Minister. She's liked and respected by world leaders throughout the Western Alliance, something the current occupant of the White House certainly can’t claim. But New Zealand is a small player on the world stage, so does that matter? Maybe not. What she does for New Zealand does matter, to us, and she’s only been Prime Minister for nine months. Plenty of time to prove the inevitable critics wrong.

Happy Anniversary, Jacinda—and welcome back!

Explaining the Pacific’s Ring of Fire

The video above was posted as part of Vox’s Atlas series a few days ago. It’s informative, though mainly for people who don’t know about this already, and it also talks about some of the unmet challenges. It’s a good start.

Vox described the video this way:
The Ring of Fire is a band of volcanoes and frequent earthquakes that runs from New Zealand, up through Eastern Asia, across the Bering Strait and all the way down to the Southern tip of Chile. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis appear around the boundaries of the several, fast moving, tectonic plates that make up the region. When the plates collide, they create areas of volatility. The Ring of Fire sees more natural disasters than anywhere else on Earth, but what makes it particularly dangerous is that few countries are prepared.
I wouldn’t disagree with anything thing they said, except that New Zealand should get more credit for its preparedness. For example, our building codes are strong, and buildings in Wellington and Auckland needing earthquake strengthening have been identified and prioritised. Mostly they’re either heritage buildings, built before there were earthquake building codes, or ones built according to old standards that have since been toughened.

The point here is that dangers have been identified and work prioritised within realistic parameters: Obviously we’d like the buildings toughened NOW, but it has to be paid for somehow, and the trick is to manage the risk. I think New Zealand has it about right, but if time runs out everyone will think it was far too slow. That’s a different sort of risk.

The other side is preparedness: Making sure people are ready for disaster, and for that the Government has been advertising heavily (some of them shared on this blog) and talking about getting ready. Even so, we all know that people will put it off. So, in the past couple years, the emphasis has shifted to preparing for other natural disasters, like floods, cyclones, and other severe storms, because we experience those much more frequently. Preparations for storms are pretty much the same as preparation for earthquakes and volcanoes, so preparing for one will help prepare for other potential disasters.

New Zealand also has a devloping national alert system, which I wrote about in November last year. They also ran ads promoting the system. However, we got no warning at all of the big storm that hit this past April, so there’s still work to do.

The main missing piece in New Zealand, in my opinion, is community organisation: Helping communities to organise themselves to be able to get through a natural disaster until normal services resume, or help arrives. I’ve seen some tentative steps in that direction, but we could be doing so much more more. After all, in the aftermath of that storm last April, parts of Auckland had no power for several days. That’s enough to make civilisation to start breaking down.

Vox’s video makes clear that the natural disasters along the Pacific Ring of Fire are largely unpredictable. And, it makes clear that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to prepare for disaster. New Zealand is better prepared than, say, California, but we have a long way to go, too.

We must do better.

Related: All my posts labelled "Get Thru" are relevant to this topic.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Entering the last of winter

Today is the first of August, and that means the end of winter is drawing closer. Technically, the first day of Spring is one month away, on September 1, but the weather will be all over the show for the next few months. It always goes that way.

The photo above shows me in front of our camellia bush, which, as I said in the caption, has abundant blooms this year. It was pretty last year, but it also was nothing like this year. I don’t know enough about camellias to have any idea what, specifically, it liked about the past year to make it bloom so much this year, so I have no idea whether there’s anything I can do to make it happen next year.

The main downside of having such a full blooming this year is in the photo below: Lots of spent blooms falling onto the ground. I should rake it all up, but, obviously, I haven’t. They’ll be chopped up when the lawns are mowed, which will probably be Friday, so I have no real incentive to rake them up right now.

The temperatures have been cold at night lately, but we haven’t had any rain for the past three days (!), and today was actually kind of mild, relatively speaking. That’s something we should see: Less rain, more sun, but with both cold and warm days.

The one thing we will see is the daily increasing amount of daylight time. I noticed today at 5pm that I could still see the last shafts of sunshine outside, and twilight was considerably after that. Not many weeks ago, it was dark by four-something in the afternoon. Although, for now, we may not see the lengthening days on some days because of the inevitable cloudy days.

Still, it was nice to have a little break from the worst of winter over the past few days, and we know that spring will come—sooner or later. It always goes that way.

Camellia debris.

AmeriNZ Podcast 339 ‘Winter ills' is now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 339 – Winter ills” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This is a short episode, mostly about something special I did today. I’ll be sharing something on this podcast feed in a couple days. There was more, too.

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

Jeff’s Gilead dreams

Yesterday, the current regime took its biggest and boldest move yet to end religious freedom in the USA. Their ultimate goal is to transform the USA into a theonomy, a real-life version of the Republic of Gilead. They are only one or two elections from achieving their ultimate goal.

Yesterday Jeff Sessions, who for now is serving as Attorney General, announced a “Religious Liberty Task Force” which will focus the efforts of the Department of Justice to promote extremist Christianity. In his prepared remarks [to access them from the Department’s website, copy this address and paste in your browser: https://bit.ly/2KeMuDM], he brought up non-Christians a couple of times in order to deflect from the Christian-only focus of his efforts.

This has its origins back in the Executive Order issued by the current occupant of the White House, which, as Jeff put it, included “the principle that free exercise means a right to act—or to abstain from action,” which is veiled, though clear, reference to “Christians” demanding the right to discriminate against LGBT+ people. He went on say it included “the principle that government shouldn’t impugn people’s motives or beliefs,” which is very clever way of trying to deflect criticism of religious chauvinists, to restrict government officials to always and unquestioningly defending extremist Christians.

In his prepared remarks, Jeff declared:
A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. This is no little matter. It must be confronted and defeated.
Those are clearly fighting words, indicating a clear in tent to be aggressive in attacking diversity of belief. They can do this, he said, because the 2016 election “and much that has flowed from it, gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends.”

His remarks included all sorts of absurd claims, such as:
We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a [sic] “hate group” on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Utter nonsense—every single word of it. Any preacher who claims to be “fearful” of preaching whatever the hell they want is either lying for political reasons, or utterly delusional. Also, Jeff doesn’t get to tell “one group” [hm, who could he POSSIBLY be referring to?!] who they can call what. That same First Amendment means government cannot proscribe speech, so if “one group” wants to “actively target” religious groups by labelling them “hate groups” on the basis of their supposedly sincerely held religious beliefs, tough. Get over it. If the “religious group” is really so delicate that it will wilt when labelled a name they don’t like, then they have far bigger problems than the fact they have opponents among “one group”. It’s always amazing to see what snowflakes far rightwingers are.

Not done spinning utter nonsense and partisan bovine excrement, he said:
But in recent years, the cultural climate in this country—and in the West more generally—has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.
And it’s easy to see why… We’ve all seen the ordeal faced so bravely by [the “Christian” baker in the recent Supreme Court non-decision decision].
Bingo! Everyone playing at home, he finally got a clear and unequivocal anti-LGBT+ attack into his remarks. His nonsense goes on:
We don’t give up our rights when we go to work, start a business, talk about politics, or interact with the government.
Well, no shit, Sherlock—but it’s a lie that people have to “give up” their rights: What they are forbidden to do is impose their beliefs onto other people. Nevertheless, Jeff declared his war against imaginary enemies:
And this Department of Justice is going to court across America to defend the rights of people of faith.
Because he thinks that religious people aren’t privileged enough in society already. And, he, clearly thinks, “one group” is the main enemy, because he mentioned one specific thing a second time:
And, of course, we were proud to file a brief in support of [the “Christian” baker in the recent Supreme Court non-decision decision].
To make sure that everyone understands how extensive this new war on freedom of conscience will be, he declared of the Department of “Justice” directives:
…That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.
“Accommodate people of faith” means advancing them ahead of all others. By giving extremist Christianity a privileged position, with the power to veto anything and everything with which they disagree, they will advance the regime's goal of transforming the USA to a repressive authoritarian religious regime. By starting small, they can keep taking away freedom until it's gone with no one even noticing until it's too late—the Boiling Frog Syndrome.

Bet they don’t have frogs in Gilead.


“Jeff Sessions' 'religious liberty task force' part of a dangerous Christian nationalist campaign of discrimination” By Christian minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, NBC News, “Think”

"Jeff Sessions announces a religious liberty task force to combat 'dangerous' secularism" By Tara Isabella Burton, Vox

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July’s farewell

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on
Well, this was a month. There were good things that happened, and some that were not so good. Most things were actually pretty ordinary—and all sorts of examples were on this blog.

July was my most-blogged month this year, and the “extra” posts this month (including this one) wiped out the deficit from June, with three to spare. Sure, that didn’t exactly wipe out the deficit from the rest of the year, but that would be asking a lot of only one month.

This month was filled with all sorts of things that I post about, from the personal to the political, and other things, too. It’s nice to get back to ordinary blogging again.

The photo above shows part of the lunch my mother-in-law and I had today after my periodontist appointment. It turned out to be the highpoint of the day, not just because it was so much better a time than my appointment was, but mostly because we got to have lunch out, which is always fun.

But most of the photos I shared this month were of the furbabies, which isn’t a surprise, really. One I didn’t share was this one from yesterday:

That photo was just an ordinary thing, the sort of photo that tells a story, making it the sort of photo I like to share. There will be more next month, I’m sure.

But why not end the month with a good-news story? A seven-year-old girl got New Zealand’s roading agency to change sexist road signs:

And that’s it for this month—on to the new month tomorrow. I’m ready.

Tooth Tales: O.M.G.

Today was not a good day. Pretty devastating, actually, though I’ve since moved on and developed a slightly different plan. It happened because I went to the periodontist for a routine checkup, my first since February. He found that the areas that were trouble before still are, maybe even more than in February, and even though I saw him only five months ago and saw the hygienist the end of March. But there was far more bad news than just that I need two sets of expensive treatments.

The need for the work is partly my fault. I haven’t been good enough about using those annoying little brushes and flossing, however, I’ve been much better since I went off of beta-blockers. The reason for that is the main reason I haven’t used the things consistently is that I simply kept forgetting. I remember better now, but a few weeks don’t make up for not doing it consistently for weeks prior to that. Even so, the deterioration is faster than should have been expected, so there are clearly some factors unique to me. Which suggests that trying hard isn’t good enough, I need to be beyond perfect to stand a fighting chance of keeping the disease at bay.

Bad as that news was, it’s not the first time I’ve been there, so it was a disappointment, not a shock. That came next.

Back in May 2016, I had a tooth crowned, That tooth has now died, and there is an abscess down at the root level. Moreover, there appears to be a horizontal crack around the gumline somewhere. The periodontist said the tooth has to be removed, and suggested either a bridge or an implant.

First, the extraction: I think he said was $350—but it could have been considerably more. I was kind of in shock and didn’t really pay close enough attention to any of the prices. The cost of the bridge and implant is on top of that.

A bridge would cost some $3,500, give or take, for the best-case scenario with no further complications. It should last 12-15 years, but it does depend on the surrounding teeth to survive, and if I recall correctly, one of them needs a crown, so it might not work. This doesn’t sound like an option.

An implant would cost more than $7000 (maybe even $7500), plus $450 for sedation. If they have to do a bone graft, the price goes up. Then, I have to go to the dentist for the tooth part, which is an additional cost. This is an absolute non-starter.

So, I decided to go back to my dentist who put the crown in to see what his advice is. That’s partly second opinion, but I’m pretty sure he charges much less for an extraction, if that's the best option. However, he also uses the newest techniques to save teeth, and there are things that can be done even with a dead tooth to keep it there, rather than spending thousands on an implant or a bridge.

If he can’t do anything to save the tooth, there may be an option for a one-tooth denture (I’ve heard they exist). But even if that’s not an option, I’ll almost certainly save money on the extraction.

Worst case scenario, I’ll leave the space empty. I cannot justify some $8000 or more for an implant—that’s why it’s an absolute nonstarter. A bridge, at about half the cost, would rely on possibly dodgy teeth to work. That just doesn’t sound like a wise use of money. The tooth isn’t visible when I smile, so most people would never know if there was just a space there.

But, the next step is to see the dentist to get his opinion on what all my options are. However, the periodontal treatments may actually come first. We’ll see.

I was pretty devastated by the news. Losing a tooth and replacing it with some sort of false tooth is, in my mind, yet another sign of getting old(er). Getting the crown was kind of like that for me, too, actually.

I’m well aware of what a pity party that is, that other people have had far worse teeth than me, including my dad who had a LOT of dental work and replacements done in the last years of his life (my mother, on the other hand, had very few problems). I also personally know people who had major problems at much younger ages than I am now, and in that sense, I’m very lucky. But, quite frankly, knowing all that doesn’t make it any easier for me. Does it ever?

I was, after all, a colossally stupid person who stubbornly avoided taking medications because I felt that meant I was getting older. That was a mistake—but, unfortunately, only one of many that I’ve made in my healthcare management over the past couple decades. I can’t change that. All I can do is move on and, to paraphrase Maya Angelo, when I knew better, I did better.

Now, I just need to make the improvements both permanent and consistent. This story is clearly far from over. Still.

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.