Sunday, December 09, 2018

Coca-Cola Christmas 2018: Be Santa

The ad above is Coca-Cola’s Christmas ad for 2018 and, as we would expect, it’s a good one—they almost always are. It’s all to help keep it the most popular brand in the world, and as the sixth most valuable brand, they have an incentive to make really good commercials to keep their popularity and, thus, the value of the brand. They're also masters at international marketing, as the various versions below show.

This ad contains no spoken words, making it usable in any country. However, the printed words are often changed for other languages, and the imagery is sometimes changed for different regions (see other versions below). The ad features the brightly lit Coca-Cola truck from other years, and Santa Claus resplendent in Coca-Cola red. It uses the well-known theme of inspiring the Christmas spirit in people who don’t have it. As they say in the YouTube description:
The world is increasingly becoming more and more divided. We need to take action and do what’s within our power, as regular people, to make it a better place.
Who can argue with that? Which makes this a good ad to the end of this year’s series of Christmas ads. Many of the companies I’ve been monitoring haven’t posted share-worthy ads this year, and some haven’t posted any at all, which I think is sad because this is a year when we could have used a dose of Christmas cheer.

Still these posts have been about sharing Christmas-themed ads from various countries and companies, and that, too, makes Coca-Cola a good place to end this year’s series. As they have other years, the company has created versions for various international markets, and the differences, sometimes subtle, other times not, are interesting. What follows are some of those international versions, along with some of the changes that were made.

First, a very different version for English-speaking markets:

The version for Greece, in which nothing much is changed apart from the final words:

Here’s the Serbian version – the “closed” sign and the “elderly center” sign have been translated:

The Romanian version translates the stickers on the shop’s fridge door, the closed sign, and the “elderly center” sign:

In the Bosnian version, the “closed” sign has been translated, the young man isn’t wearing the helmet inside the shop, and the town scenery is different:

The Spanish language version does away with the door/closed sign scene (which makes the young man giving the old man a Coke seem pretty random compared to the other versions). The elderly center sign was translated. It also has different scenes in the town. The background music also starts differently, using a piano:

The Albanian version takes a very different tack, starting with the end of the commercial, “2 orë më parë…” (“two hours ago…”). It also translates the stickers on the shop’s fridge door, the closed sign, and the “elderly center” sign:

This series of posts has been about showing a small slice of how Christmas is marketed around the world. Coca-Cola is a master at that, clearly. If only people could buy the message as easily as the product.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Coles Christmas 2018

The ad above is for Australian supermarket chain Coles Supermarkets, Australia’s second-largest supermarket chain by locations. Together with Woolworths, whose ad I shared yesterday, Coles is part of a grocery duopoly in Australia.

This ad is simple and fun enough, marketing the supermarket as the go-to place for people’s Christmas feast needs. There aren’t many other ways to promote a grocery store other than that, I don’t think, though some have promoted their store brands generally. For most grocery retailers, most of the time, this is a time-honoured approach.

This ad is also notable for its use of Australian slang and ordinary accents, rather than more polished forms of speech. Maybe that makes it feel a bit more authentic? In any case, for what it is, I think it’s good.

Apparently, though, Australians need Santa to bring them some apostrophes for Christmas…

Friday, December 07, 2018

Sudden recollection

It’s not uncommon for someone in pop culture to die, of course—it happens to us all sooner or later. What we think/feel about such a death depends on a lot of things, including how much we linked the person’s work. But sometimes a person we weren’t exactly a fan of can give us momentary pause, too. Then, we move on with our day and maybe not give it another thought. This time, I thought I’d mark such a death because at one time in my life, when it mattered a lot, I connected with a particular song.

Pete Shelley died today at the age of 63. He’s probably best known for being the co-founder, songwriter and lead singer for UK punk band Buzzcocks, founded in 1976. When the band broke up in 1981, he went on to a solo career.

I wasn’t that familiar with Buzzcocks’ songs, but the one I knew best, though probably not at the time, was 1978’s “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)” (video below). It was well-regarded, though it reached only Number 12 in the UK. In an interview many years later, Pete said “the song was about a man named Francis that he lived with for about seven years”, though at the time of its release he wasn’t officially out as bi.

The first song in which I was aware of Pete personally, though, was his 1981 song, “Homosapien” (video above). But that, too, came some time after it was released, after I left university. The song reached Number 4 in Australia, and Number 6 in Canada, and Number 14 on the US Dance Chart (and it would probably have been a club where I first heard it, most likely after I moved to Chicago in 1982-3).

The song, which was originally intended for what would have been Buzzcocks’ fourth album, was banned by the BBC because of what they called the song’s "explicit reference to gay sex", the lyrics "homo superior / in my interior". Now, the BBC, like broadcast executives in many places, have had a history of having humourless prats making such decisions, and in this case they were right AND wrong.

I say they were “right” only because when I first heard the song I sort of giggled to myself at what seemed like a somewhat risqué veiled reference, something those “in the know” might get, but that, in context, weren’t risqué. Of course, I also knew the entire lyric, something the BBC language guardians apparently didn’t:
In my interior
But from the skin out
I'm homosapien too
And you're homosapien too
And I'm homosapien like you
And we're homosapien too
In context, the lyric in question can be seen as completely innocent, describing himself. Still, in those days “the Beeb” wasn’t going to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, especially anyone gay or bi.

In my newly-out days, I was still finding out that there was such a thing as pop performers—including singers and songwriters—who I could relate to without “filling in the blanks”, as I put it a few years ago. “Homosapien” was one of those songs and for a completely ordinary reason: It was just fun. I was also slightly subversive to me, not the least because of the frequent vocal stress on homo.

Around that same time, I also remember seeing guys in Chicago wearing white t-shirts with the word “Homosapien” and no other printing. I was sure they were kinsmen, and, at the time, it seemed like they were giving a knowing wink to anyone who knew the song. But, I also could easily have been projecting.

So today, when I heard that Pete Shelley had died, I remembered that song I once thought was fun and subversive, and I also remembered what it felt like to discover songs like that after having been denied them all my life until not long before then. I wasn’t exactly a fan of Pete or of the Buzzcocks, but I once really liked that one song of his, and today I remembered that.

I’m glad it’s now so easy to find openly gay artists to listen to, and that I no longer have to “fill in the blanks”. But there was also something fun, exciting, and kind of revolutionary-feeling about finding those songs and artists all those decades ago, and Pete Shelley was part of that, and for that, and for that fun song, I thank him.

RIP, Pete Shelley, and thanks.

The existential threat to America

The United States has a major threat to its democracy, something deeply entrenched, and that’s been around a lot longer than the current occupant of the White House or his Russian enablers. That threat is the Republican Party. It is no exaggeration to say that, left unchecked, they will utterly destroy democracy in the USA.

We saw in the recent Midterm Elections that the system is so rigged in favour of Republicans that even though Democrats did better than Republicans did in 2010, they won about two-thirds the number of seats in the US House. In Wisconsin, Democrats won more than half the popular vote, but got only about a third of the legislative seats.

Republicans have rigged the system to make it so difficult as to be nearly impossible to win elections without a massive landslide. But when, despite all their efforts, Democrats win elections, then Republicans go to Plan B and legislate to essentially nullify the election.

In Wisconsin and in Michigan, Republicans have attempted to legislate to prevent Democrats from doing what they were elected to do—things the Republican Party opposes.

In a piece explaining the Republican power grabs, Vox laid out the background:
Democracy is premised on the idea that political power is only legitimate when exercised with the consent of the governed. But in reality, people disagree about fundamental political and moral issues; no elected government will ever have 100 percent support of the population, or anything close to it. The purpose of a democratic political system is to bridge that gap: to create a system for resolving these disagreements that everyone thinks is fair. That way, everyone will accept the outcome of the election as basically legitimate even when their side loses.

The post-election power grabs amount to Republicans declaring that they no longer accept that fundamental bargain. They do not believe it’s legitimate when they lose, or that they are obligated to hand over power to Democrats because that’s what’s required in a fair system. Political power, to the state legislators in question, matters more than the core bargain of democracy.
What Republicans are doing is undermining democracy itself, first by rigging the electoral system to benefit themselves, and now by engaging in a bald power grab to prevent the will of the people from being done. If Democrats had ever tried anything so crass and disgusting, Fox “News” would have organised riots in the streets, but the Republican Party in Washington and their party’s media, like Fox, are completely ignoring what’s happening. That figures: The party’s motto is "Party First, Country Last".

We can hope that courts will overrule these crass partisan games, and they very well may. But longer term the only answer is to inflict massive electoral defeat on Republican candidates—so massive that there won’t be enough of them left to prevent the repair of the USA’s democracy. It’s only by inflicting such a massive defeat that the party will be forced to reform itself so it can return to supporting democracy again.

The reason this is so important is that Republican politicians are making peaceful change impossible and rendering all of the USA’s democratic structures illegitimate. When that happens, the people lose all faith in democracy itself, and that can end in one of two ways: An authoritarian dictatorship, which is, apparently, what the Republican Party wants. The other possibility is violent revolution, and that’s something that no one could hope to control, but it would lead to the collapse of democracy, too.

President Kennedy warned us all: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Republicans need to respect democracy again—before it’s too late.

The Facebook post from Robert Reich, above, is his response to the disgusting situation the Republican politicians are engaged in. I share it because I agree with him.

Woolworths 2018: ‘Home for Christmas’

The ad above is for Australian supermarket chain Woolworths, which also owns New Zealand’s Countdown supermarket chain (whose Christmas ad I already shared). Woolworths and Coles, Australia’s second-largest supermarket chain by locations, control about 80% of Australia’s grocery market, making them a duopoly, though less so than New Zealand has, with only two chains.

The ad is very different from the one for their New Zealand operations. While both use lighthearted situational comedy, the New Zealand commercial seems to carry more urgency than the Australian version does, though the way Christmas is experienced in the two countries isn’t all that different in frenzy levels. That’s merely interesting, but not important. I doubt the company was trying to “say” anything by the way the commercials were made, but were merely making commercials that appealed to different markets. As they should.

Personally, I’m just glad that we in New Zealand didn’t get a reheated Australian ad used here. Plus, I still get to see how Australians are marketed to, and see how different companies in different countries do their marketing. That’s the point of this annual series of posts, after all.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Target Holiday 2018: ‘Gather Round’

The USA’s Target retail chain has a bunch of short ads under the “Gather Round” theme. All of them are fast-paced and feature people having fun using products or product categories that can be bought at their stores. The latest ad in the series is above, previous ones are below, and in order from second-most recent to the oldest. There are a whole bunch of other videos, including 7-second versions of a couple of the ads, on their YouTube Channel.

When I was last in the USA more than a decade ago I bought several things from a nearby target, including several shirts I still have (they’re long sleeve, so too warm to wear much of the year, plus I bought a lot of them, all of which means that I don’t wear any of them very often). In looking around the store, I saw a lot of stuff I might have bought for our house, had that not involved some sort of international shipping. I have no idea if that’d still be the case.

In any event, I think these ads a fun enough, and even if they’re not not quite Christmasy enough for me, I think they’re fine for what they are.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Once was smooth jazz

The things you find on the Internet, eh? Something on a site somewhere, a video on YouTube, pretty much anything can lead to somewhere else, including a memory of a different time. Or maybe it’s more information about something. In any case, it’s kind of an adventure.

The video above is Vox’s latest episode of its Earworm series, this one about is about “smooth jazz”, a category of popular music that some people loved and other people absolutely loathed. I did both, depending on what it was and who the artist was. But I think one of the most important points mentioned in the video was that it was music that people listened to at work, to help them get through the day. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing.

My own connection was different, though. In my Interet Wading post back in October (last item), I mentioned listening to Chicago’s WNUA 95.5 which at the time played “New Age” music. Their tagline at the time was “Music for a new age.” There’s a little more to that story.

In the late 1970s, I started listening to a radio station called WMET when it switched to an AOR (Album Oriented Rock) format. By the 1980s, after some format changes, and a name change, I’d moved on.

In the late 1980s, I heard about WNUA, but didn’t really start listening to it regularly until around 1990, by which time it was shifting to smooth jazz. It was actually quite pleasant to have on in the background in the evening, especially when my partner at the time and I would sit around and talk.

Thing is, all those radio stations I mentioned were the same one, it just changed several times over the years. Actually, so did I.

I couldn’t possibly remember what radio station I listened to regularly after WNUA, but I remember it as being more or less Top 40. But, of course, in late 1995 I left Chicago for New Zealand, and that meant new radio stations and a whole lot of music I’d never heard before (like some of Hot Chocolate’s songs, as I mentioned in this past Sunday’s Weekend Diversion).

All of this came about because YouTube suggested the video to me (I subscribe to Vox’s videos), and I watched it. There was a very brief mention of WNUA, and that led me to look it up, and that’s how I remembered something I’d long forgotten—that WNUA had been another radio station I listened to, WMET (I think, but can’t be sure, that I may even have listened to WMET’s predecessor, WDHF).

Had I not watched the Vox video above, I’d never have looked up the radio station, but because I did, it reinforced something I talked about in October and something else I talked about this past weekend. And it connected not just those posts, but also my memories.

The things you find on the Internet, eh?

Christmas from Kmart Australia

Australia's Kmart opened its first store in Australia 50 years ago next April as a joint venture between the G.J. Coles & Coy Company (now known as Coles Group, which runs the Coles Supermarkets chain) and the USA’s Kmart Corporation. Eventually the Americans were bought out, and the chain expanded to New Zealand, where the first location was opened in 1988. Today, the Kmart chain is owned by Western Australia conglomerate Wesfarmers, which also runs the mid-market retail chain Target in Australia, which, despite similar name and logo, has no connection to the USA’s Target nor to New Zealand’s Target Furniture.

I’ve been to Kmarts in both Australia and New Zealand, and they’re very similar. I don’t know about Australia, but here in New Zealand they’re generally positioned as slightly more upmarket than our own The Warehouse chain (which is part of The Warehouse Group), and many of the products they sell are featured in home magazines here. However, in my personal experience, the stuff with the nicest design are often available in their stores closest to more affluent areas or online—Kmarts I’ve been to in less affluent areas tend to carry less of the high design stuff featured in magazines. The New Zealand operations don’t advertise on TV very much.

These ads, for Australia, promote actual stuff the stores sell, and also feelings around Christmas. They’re interesting. While I don’t personally find them particularly Christmasy, maybe their target market will. The ad above is the most recent on their YouTube Channel, and the one below was the first they posted. Their YouTube channel has other shorter videos.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Trying meat-free ‘meat’

These days there are more and more meat-free products made from plants to replace meat in various recipes. There have always been vegetarian and vegan options, but now entrepreneurs are trying to make products that mimic meat for those of us who like and want meat—and also to make a change. Recently, we had the chance to try one of these new products, a meat-free substitute for beef mince (in the USA, known as “ground beef”).

The product, Funky Felds Minced (photo above) was introduced recently to Countdown, something I knew about because I’d seen a spot on TV where they made burgers out of the product and fed it to university-aged beef burger lovers. They loved them. For me, the useful thing was mainly finding out that a supermarket I often go to carried the product.

A couple weeks ago, I made a point of going to the Countdown I usually go, despite the gout attack I was still experiencing, so that I could buy this product. I even made an oblique reference to it: “The supermarket was as it always is, with some new things spotted…” I said.

The reason I was interested in this sort of product is mainly because my doctors wanted me to adopt, more or less, the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. That diet is primarily plant based, but does include meat. However, red meat is supposed to be only a few times per month (ideally, less), with fish and chicken instead of red meat.

We already ate a lot of chicken, but not that much fish because I’m not a huge fan (which is a pity when living in an island nation). But I have several dishes I make that include beef, usually as mince, rather than, say, steak or roast. I needed an alternative.

In July, I tried a lentil-based version of my standard Bolognese, and it was yummy. When I made it again a few weeks ago, it was cooked a little too long and the lentils were a bit too mushy for my liking. The dish was vegetarian, and would be vegan were it not for the cow-milk Parmesan cheese we grated on it.

So, I thought the meat-free mince would be worth a try. It definitely was.

The product looks like beef mince, which is more obvious when you look at the photo I took of the product when I removed the plastic (at right).

The label said to brown the mince first, then add it to the sauce. Normally, I make the sauce first, anyway, then add raw beef mince and let it cook in the sauce. This method was similar, apart from browning the mince first. However, that’s the way that many (most?) people start their pasta sauce, so for them it wouldn’t be any different.

As the mince browned, it’s didn’t smell like meat cooking (it didn’t smell like meat before cooking, either), and this makes sense, of course. The final result was that it looked like a meat Bolognese sauce, and it felt like it in the mouth—what foodies sometimes call, rather inelegantly, “mouth feel”. I’ve also heard it called “the meat experience”, which is a little nicer.

The flavour was really nice—somewhat different from ordinary meat sauce, but how different a given batch tastes would depend on the type of beef mince it’s being compared to. In any case, I liked it enough to make it again.

However, our next go was homemade burgers this past weekend. Nigel mixed them up, fried them like normal, and melted edam cheese on them (we use edam all the time because it’s lower in fat than most other soft cheeses and melts really well; we’re not looking at giving up dairy products at this point). They were VERY nice! We’ll definitely have them again, and we want to try making meatballs with the product, too.

The product is expensive, somewhere between premium beef mince and the expensive angus beef mince. So, it’s less expensive than the most expensive beef mince, but more expensive than what most people (including me) would normally buy.

The other downside of this particular product was that it’s made in Denmark, and I’d rather buy something made in New Zealand or even Australia, but there’s not yet a local alternative. Even so, it’s a good product that we definitely will buy again.

We’ve found cooking with this product to be easy, only slightly more fiddly than beef mince, but with a great taste. As a bonus (for me), because the product contains no meat, I can taste any sauce I make without waiting for the “meat” to heat through enough. That’s helpful when I want to check if I have enough herbs in it.

There’s also a New Zealand company, Sunfed, that makes a vegan substitute for chicken that we will try, too. The company plans on producing beef and pork replacements, too.

For me, this is about being able to continue having all the dishes I love without eating meat, and I’m doing it for health reasons. Having said that, however, cutting down on meat definitely fits my values, given how much food that people could eat ends up being fed to animals so we can later eat them. And that’s without even getting into all the water, petroleum, and land that it takes to raise animals for food rather than food crops.

Going into this experiment, I was hoping to make us a vegetarian dinner a couple times a month, but my new goal is to be able to do that a couple times a week. We’ll see where it goes.

But so far, we’ve found one excellent meat substitute that we really like, and that’s a good start. I can always use lentils in other dishes, after all.

This video from The Economist explains the benefits of people going vegan or, more reasonably, adopting a more plant-based diet, as we’re doing:

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.

Amazon Holiday 2018: ‘Can You Feel It’

This ad, “Amazon Holiday 2018 – Can You Feel It?” is another ad selling a service—whatever Amazon sells and ships—rather than a specific thing. As such, it’s okay.

The use of this particular song—The Jacksons 1981 single, “Can You Feel It”—builds some urgency in a way similar to the way NZ supermarket chain Countdown used the song “The Final Countdown”. But it’s both cute and creepy seeing the Amazon “smile” logo animated and singing, though I prefer to think of it as cute, because creepy doesn’t belong in Christmas. Well, except for The Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, maybe.

Amazon could be called a controversial company for a numebr of reasons, and it has diehard opponents and fans alike. That may be true of some of the other companies whose ads I’ve shared, too, but maybe with a little less fervour than Amazon inspires. But this post, like all the other Christmas ad posts, isn’t about the company as such, but about advertising. It’s Christmastime, and even I can put aside politics sometimes.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Hot Chocolate

Recently, Roger Green shared Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” as part of his Music Throwback series of posts. He’d heard the song used in a commercial and, he said, “it was really bugging me since I knew the song but could not remember the artist.” This was a song (and a group) I was well aware of, but for very different reasons than Roger's.

“You Sexy Thing” (live performance video above) did very well in its original release. It hit Number four in Australia, 7 in Canada, 2 in New Zealand, 2 in the UK (Silver), and, in the USA, 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 2 on the Cash Box Top 100, and went Gold. The song charted again in two subsequent re-releases in 1987 (when it hit Number 2 in New Zealand) and also in 1997, largely on the back of the movie, The Full Monty. It’s the only song to enter the UK top ten in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

All of that came well after I first heard the song. That came from the 1993 TV series, Tales of the City, based on the novel series by Armistead Maupin, which began with a 1978 novel of the same name. The song was used in the series, and in the PBS promos for the series. It was a perfect choice and thoroughly resonated with me. Even now, when I hear the song I think of that series.

When I moved to New Zealand, I found that the group had been popular here, and had several popular songs, ones I only learned after I was here. Two in particular were played on the radio from time to time.

“Every 1’s A Winner” was released 4 March 1978, and hit Number 12 in Australia, 7 in New Zealand, 12 in the UK, and 6 in the USA (Gold). It actually reminded me a bit of “You Sexy Thing”.

1982’s “It started with a kiss” hit Number 15 in Australia, 2 in New Zealand, 5 in the UK (Silver), but didn’t chart in the USA. This one was played on the radio more often than the other two—or, maybe it was just coincidence, and played when I happened to be listening.

There were a lot more Hot Chocolate songs, of course, and some of them I’ve heard since moving to New Zealand. I was never exactly a fan—they were always one of those groups who made some songs I liked, even as I was indifferent about others. But “You Sexy Thing” will always have a special place in my imaginary playlist.

And I was reminded of all of that because of Roger’s post. It’s nice to remember things.

USA, China not very popular downunder

A new report from Gallup has shown that the people of New Zealand and Australia approve of Chinese leadership more than American leadership. This is bad news for the USA and the current regime in the White House, but it’s not exactly good news for China: Only a minority in both countries approve of Chinese leadership.

The chart above from Gallup shows the trends over the past decade and what is obvious is that the current occupant of the White House has soured New Zealanders’ view of American leadership. That’s because Kiwis had a very positive view of US leadership during the entire time that Barack Obama was president, with clear majorities of New Zealanders approving of US leadership. But as soon as the current occupant was elected, the approval rate plummeted from 51% to 19%. The last time we saw such low approval ratings was during the Bush/Cheney regime a decade ago.

But, hey, the current occupant should be happy! His approval rate in New Zealand was four points lower last year.

Australia’s approval of US leadership follows the same general pattern as the New Zealand’s. So has their approval of Chinese leadership.

China shouldn’t be happy with the results. More than half of Australians—52%—disapprove of Chinese leadership, while 40% of New Zealanders do. A couple years ago, roughly half of New Zealanders disapproved of Chinese leadership, which sounds like progress, but the current disapproval rate may have now gone back up. As Gallup notes, the poll was taken:
“…before news broke concerning increased Chinese interference and influence in New Zealand. Allegations have also emerged that individuals associated with the Chinese government engaged in criminal activity targeting a prominent critic of China's leadership, who resides in New Zealand.”
It was also before this past week’s decision by the government security bureau to ban Chinese company Huawei’s equipment from New Zealand’s 5G cellphone network. The company is already banned in Australia and the United states.

The fact is that both Australia and New Zealand governments are closely aligned with the USA, so the low regard that the two countries’ people have for US leadership won’t change anything. Electing a new president in 2020 could change everything again, just as the election of President Obama did. But it does make New Zealanders and Australians a bit more circumspect about the USA, which could have some affect down the road if this continues, and if the current occupant manages to win the election in 2020.

Similarly, the fact that Chinese leadership is viewed more favourably than that of the USA isn’t permanent and can be affected by the behaviour of the Chinese government. For example, of they continue to interfere in New Zealand’s internal politics their already very low approval rating could plummet. If they behave themselves, the approval rating could climb.

Obviously neither China nor the United States cares the least little bit what New Zealanders and Australians think of their countries’ leadership. They will do what they want based on their own national—and political—interests, just like always. This goes to show, though, that they can’t count on anyone else in the world to like what they do.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

George H.W. Bush: Last of a kind

George H.W. Bush
official portrait.
Today former US President George H.W. Bush died at age 94. He was the last of the Old School Republicans, a type we’ll probably never see again: Kind, decent, respectable, someone with whom one could disagree without it being personal or bitter. I never voted for him, and I often disagreed with him, but I nevertheless respected him, something I can only say about one other Republican president in my lifetime: Gerald Ford, and I think that that’s truly sad. Over the next few days, a lot of people will talk about him, and various points of view will be expressed. This is my personal view.

George H.W. Bush was the only person I’ve ever met (so far) who went on to be elected US President, but that was nine years after I met him and his wife, Barbara, who died back in April. I’ve always felt that it’s possible to get a measure of a person when you meet them face-to-face. It’s nothing weird or spooky, just about human connection that any of us can have with anyone else. In that brief meeting, I got the sense that he was a thoroughly decent man, and while that view was challenged a few times until he left office in January, 1993, it nevertheless persisted.

When I was a student at Southern Illinois University in the late 1970s, I was active in Republican Party politics. The election of 1980 would see several Republicans vying for their party’s nomination, but everyone assumed that Ronald Reagan, who’d lost the 1976 nomination to Gerald Ford, would be the nominee. I loathed Reagan.

I backed Illinois US Representative John Anderson, who died this time last year. Others I met backed Howard Baker, and even another Illinois US Representative, the truly and utterly vile Phil Crane. But I met one older couple (though they were probably only in their 60s, they seemed “old” to me) who backed George H.W. Bush. The couple was something of a pariah among Jackson County Republicans: They were old-line “Establishment Republicans”, that is, fairly moderate, and thoroughly nice. I liked them, probably because I was that sort of Republican, too, but I could tell the conservative party establishment there didn’t like them, and treated them almost as if they were crackpots.

In the end, of course, Reagan did win the nomination, and chose Bush as his vice president, which surprised many people—including Reagan’s own hard-right base, who considered Bush to be a “counterfeit conservative”, as they called it then. I don’t remember much about Bush during the Reagan years; vice presidents usually stay out of the limelight, at least, most of the time. But Bush also took on more work than usual toward the end of those years as Reagan entered his late 70s (and was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease).

Reagan backed Bush for the 1988 Republican nomination, but Bush struggled at the start. That campaign was also memorable for the candidacy of extremist “Christian” TV preacher Pat Robertson, who failed in his campaign and launched a christianist electoral jihad at the local and state levels, the effects of which the USA is still suffering from.

In the general election, Bush faced Democratic Nominee Michael Dukakis, and that campaign was his absolute lowest political point.

Bush had chosen the utterly incompetent and unqualified Dan Quayle as his vice president, and that was a terrible mistake. But allowing the disgusting Lee Atwater and the sickening Roger Ailes to make his campaign ads and strategy, Bush sunk to the lowest level of dirty politics that the USA had ever seen. Atwater was adept at using racist campaigning and for spreading hateful fake rumours to damage opponents of whatever Republican he was working for. I’ll never forget Bush attacking Dukakis for being “a card-carrying member of the ACLU”, a shallow, stupid, and pandering attack.

Because of that, as eager to see the end of the Reagan years, it was Bush’s campaign made me an opponent: I voted against Bush more than for Dukakis about whom I was definitely unenthusiastic.

Then, Bush was elected, and everything changed.

Leaving the hard-right conservatism of Reagan behind, Bush genuinely tried to work toward the “kinder, gentler” country he’d called for. I was surprised—pleased, sure, but surprised.

Reagan totally ignored HIV/AIDS until 1987, when continuing to remain silent was becoming an international embarrassment, but on July 26, 1990, Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. As an LGBT activist, I’d lobbied for the bill because it outlawed discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.

I also lobbied for another important law that Bush signed: On August 18, 1990, Bush signed the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act (Ryan White CARE Act) into law. The purpose was, as the bill put it, “to provide grants to improve the quality and availability of care for individuals and families with HIV disease” by being a funder of last resort for people with HIV/AIDS, ensuring that no one was denied care due to lack of funds. At the end of its first year, it cost $220 million, and by the FY2005, it was $2.1 billion. The Ryan White CARE Act was very important—so much so that it’s been reauthorised twice—2006 and 2009.

But my most personal connection was the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which was the first US law to include gay, lesbian, and bisexual people by name as an enumerated class. It was ground-breaking, historic, very important, and a bill I’d lobbied for very hard [see also: “Alan J. Dixon and the letter”, in which I talk about my lobbying efforts]. I was there in the audience on April 23, 1990 when Bush signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act into law—the first time that LGBT activists had ever been invited to a White House signing ceremony.

I’m absolutely certain that Reagan would never have signed either bill into law, much less the other bi-partisan laws that Bush pushed and signed. The sad thing is that he didn’t run a “kinder, gentler” campaign, too.

Bush was by no means perfect—no one ever is (Clarence Thomas was an extreme lowpoint of his presidency). I sometimes disagreed with him, as on Thomas, and I loathed his 1988 campaign (and 1992 wasn't much better). But much of what he did as president was actually very good—the last Republican I’ve been able to say that about.

Another notable thing about his presidency wasn’t about him as such: It marked the pivot point in US politics, when the hard-right conservatism unleashed by Reagan became the only acceptable way to be a Republican, the toxic effects of which the USA is still suffering from to this day.

So, Bush was the last of his kind for all sorts of reasons. The last old-time Republican, the last nominee to have served in World War Two, the last Republican presidential nominee that, had things been only somewhat different, I might have voted for.

In his last presidential vote, Bush ended up voting for Hillary Clinton—the wife of the man who’d defeated him 24 years earlier—rather than his own party’s nominee. While I agreed with him on that choice, that’s not really the point: It takes a special kind of commitment to principle to be able to do that. Apparently my impression of him 39 years ago really was correct.

The photo above of George H.W. Bush is his official portrait, and is in the public domain [via Wikimedia Commons].

This post has been updated to provide more detail on the legislation I worked to help pass during Bush's presidency.

Top November

Well, that was a month. November wasn’t my most-blogged month ever, however, it was my most blogged November. The previous record-holder was 2016, with 51. The lowest was 2012, with 22. The average is 35 posts.

None of this matters for, well, anything, really, and yet there's an important aspect to this.

First, it was a challenge to see if I could get the number of posts required to meet my annual goal of 365 posts down to fewer than two per day. I succeeded: As of yesterday, I got it down to 1.87 posts per day, on average, being needed to meet the goal. Given all the year-end posts I do every year, this year’s “Ask Arthur” series of posts, and some other posts I haven’t quite managed to get to or complete (including more stuff languishing in my drafts folder). Then, too, there are things I can’t anticipate, like stuff might pop up in the news*, for example.

All of which means that I may yet still reach my blogging goal for 2018. That’s really nice, but it’s not what’s important about this: It indicates personal progress.

The reason that I failed to meet my blogging goal last year, and the reason things went so badly up until the middle of this year, are the same: The beta blockers I was on which made my head feel it was full of stuffing. Since going off beta blockers and on to calcium channel blockers, I’ve had much more and better mental focus, but fatigue has still sometimes been a problem.

Because I’m now better able to focus, I can blog more. So, I have. And that’s what’s led to me being within striking distance of achieving my blogging goal for this year. That’s why this isn’t actually about the number of posts or about annual goals, it’s about feeling better and being able to do more of what I want to do.

I think that’s something worth celebrating, especially because it’s taken awhile to get to this point. My blog has benefitted from this, but, in a sense, it’s just come along for the ride.

And that’s what really made November a top month.

*In fact, something did "pop up in the news" not longer after I published this post: Former President George H.W. Bush died, and I had something to say about him.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Air New Zealand: ‘Nicest Christmas Ever’

The video above is the new Christmas ad from Air New Zealand, featuring 17 children of Air New Zealand employees, along with Air New Zealand ground and cabin crew. The ad also has the elf from last year’s ad. It’s a cute ad.

This has been talked about on TV, however, I don’t know if they’ve produced a shorter version for TV. If they have, I haven’t seen it and it’s no on Air New Zealand’s YouTube Channel. Maybe one will come out later.

I suspect that certain Americans may not be terribly happy with one brief part, even though it’s just a bit of light-hearted fun, with typical Kiwi humour that, while light-hearted, can nevertheless make some Americans feel offended. I’m totally used to it, obviously. Also, the final pledge about Australia is pitch-perfect—and more of that Kiwi humour.

“Merry Christmas from the nicest place on earth,” the ad says. Indeed.

Related: “Air New Zealand ad has world's naughtiest children to pledge 'nicest Christmas ever'” from TVNZ’s One News

America's democracy problem

The USA has a huge problem: Its democracy is completely broken and that prevents the will of the people from being heard, much less carried out. The video above from Vox’s Ezra Klein talks about the worst problems preventing democracy and democratic solutions in the USA. He offers no set, absolute reforms or solutions, except for this: We must move, we must change. Well, obviously.

In 2018, Democrats had a massive vote, but didn’t win as much as some people expected. There are two reasons for that. First, Republicans passed voter suppression laws, and Republican elected officials worked hard, to keep people, especially non-white voters deemed likely to vote for Democrats, from being able to vote. We saw this most notoriously in Georgia, Florida, and North Dakota, but wherever Republicans held power, they usually tried to keep Democratic supporters from voting.

The second problem is gerrymandering, which draws electoral districts to maximise the power of one party. In this case, Republicans drew legislative boundaries to maximise the number of Republicans elected while minimising the number of seats—if any—that Democrats can win.

Those are the two main reasons that Democrats didn’t win as many races as they should have. No other factor was anywhere near as important as this: Republicans have rigged the system to their advantage.

Consider the US House of Representatives.

In 2010, Republicans won control of the US House by taking 63 seats from Democrats—an utterly massive win, carried by the party’s teabagger insurgency. Republicans won 51.7% of the popular vote to Democrats 44.9%, so the Republicans enjoyed a 6.8 point margin of victory.

In 2018, Democrats won control of the US House, picking up 40 seats. Democrats won 53.3% of the popular vote to the Republicans’ 45%, meaning Democrats enjoyed an 8.3 point margin of victory.

So: in 2018 Democrats did 1.5 points better than Republicans did in 2010, yet they won 23 FEWER seats. THAT is what rigging the system has done for Republicans. THAT is what Republicans putting party first has done. THAT is what political corruption looks like.

The question is, how do we fix that? One logical answer is to gerrymander the system back toward Democrats, giving mainstream Americans a chance to reform the system once Republicans are out of the way. But that would only rile up the rightwing, possibly violently. It would be no more legitimate than the current rigged system is, no matter how virtuous, noble, or even defensible the goal might be. There MUST be a better solution.

The solution is structural reform to change everything about the way elections are done. This will not, by itself, make government feel legitimate. The USA’s political culture is now so partisan, so divided, and so toxic that even if the USA adopted the most fair and democratic system possible, whoever lost an election would feel the result was illegitimate—at least, at first they would. Old habits die hard.

It is probable, though, that after more and more free and fair elections took place, and ordinary people saw that the fair contest of ideas is what wins elections, not money or rigging the system, they would eventually come around. The diehards at the extremes never would, of course, but I don’t think anything could ever please them unless they hold all the power, and maybe not even then.

This assumes we get the chance to fix America’s democracy problem, and that is not yet certain.

Rather than rehash the various reform measures I’ve talked about over the years, I decided to just list the relevant posts below. The need to reform has been there for years, and so have the solutions.

But there’s one final important point, a warning, actually, articulated by President Kennedy in a speech to Latin American diplomats at the White House on 13 March 1962. He said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” We need to make a peaceful revolution before the alternative becomes unavoidable.

The American problem (2017)

Fixing the Electoral College (2016)

Real electoral reform (2013)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Heathrow Bears Christmas

This is an unusual ad: It’s for London’s Heathrow Airport. The ad, “Making It Home For Christmas” features mascots the Heathrow Bears travelling back to the United Kingdom for Christmas.

Like other ads I’ve shared this year, this ad sells feelings as much as the company’s services— in this case, international air travel arrivals. It must be a pretty big ask to sell that, but the ad does it well enough.

And I’m pretty sure it’s the first airport ad I’ve ever seen. Airy Christmas?

No paper bags yet

Last week I talked about an email I got from Countdown supermarkets assuring me that “Over the coming weeks, online orders at your store will be packed into paper bags.” Problem is, they’ve been telling me that since August, and it still hasn’t happened.

The photo above is the order I had delivered today. I had a busy work day, and I’m still not as ambulatory as I’d like with the gout attack still hanging around. This was the best possible option. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see they were still using the reusable bags, not paper ones. I also didn’t get a text message like in August. Oh, well. Their online ordering site was a little wonky, too, showing me products that aren’t available (even when they are), and making it a little harder than it needs to be to find things I frequently buy (it tracks products I buy in store or order online).

Still, on the whole, it worked well enough, and the delivery charge was only around $15: Since it saved me about an hour and a half, that’s pretty good value (I did my shopping last night as I watched TV).

It’ll be nice when they switch to paper bags, though.

Photo toys

I’ve always enjoyed taking photos. At one point I wanted to learn how to develop film and print photos, but along came digital photography and that changed everything. For me, it was definitely for the better as it made experimenting cheap and easy to do, and that’s one of the best ways to learn. Recently I got some new gizmos to use with my cellphone to make my photos better. There are specific reasons for that.

On Monday, I shared a photo I took with the macro lens, something I said was a subject in itself. This is the post I mentioned I’d do.

What I got was the Classic Revolver Lens from Ztylus, “classic” because the design has advanced for newer phones. The new designs aren’t compatible with my phone, and iPhone 6, That isn’t really a problem for me because these are still so much better than what I had, the built-in lens.

The kit includes a new case for the phone, snd the lenses are in a revolving turret-like thing that clicks into place so the used can lift out the lends and rotate it into place. The lens kit comes off, and a cap goes in its place. The cover also has a kickstand so I could prop up the phone to watch a video on my phone fullscreen, though I never have done that. Without the lens kit, the phone is only slightly heavier than it was with my old phone cover. The one in the kit is more robust and provides better protection for my phone than the old one did. It still fits in my pocket. But with the lens revolver installed, it’s a bit too bulky and a little too heavy to carry in my pocket.

In my post Monday, I mentioned using he macro lens. There are actually two: The one I used, then pop off the wide-angle lens and it’s possible to get as close as 18mm from the subject (that’s slightly less than a ¾ of an inch). I have no idea what I’ll use that for, but I know that sooner or later I will.

The iPhone’s built in lens is basically a wide-angle lens, but the one on the Revolver Lens kit is better: It’s roughly double the field of view of the iPhone, and there are plenty of times that will come in handy.

Another lens is a circular polariser, and this works similar to polarised sunglasses: It removes glare and reflection from surfaces like water and glass. This, too, will be handy when photographing at the beach, or if I use it through a window.

The final lens is a fisheye lens, which as a 180 degree field of view. At the moment this seems like more of a fun thing that useful, but as I experiment and play with it, I’ll no doubt find some good uses for it.

The other thing we got is the Ztylus “Journalist Kit”, which has a rig to hold the phone, a grip that attaches to it, and a mini-tripod, which can also be used as short—but stable—selfie stick (some selfie sticks aren’t very stable).

The rig ads a handy to grip the phone securely, making it easier and safer to attach other things. For example, there’s a cold shoe on top where I could attach, say, a special microphone for video, or maybe an LED light. Unlike a hot shoe, common on professional and “prosumer” cameras, a cold shoe has no electronics to talk to the device. Sometimes this is now called and accessory shoe.

At the moment, I don’t have any attachments, but if I use the lens kit to make videos, a better mic would be good, though a light is probably more likely at this point. The bottom part of the rig has a universal tripod mount.

Next is the grip, which is made of alloy, is quite heavy for its size. This helps provide a kind of counter-balance weight, since the phone can start to get heavy on one side with all the gear attached. The grip helps lower the centre of gravity.

The grip, too, has a universal tripod mount and connects to the mini tripod. All of that can be used without the revolver lens kit, of course, and it could also me used to record oneself, like for a vlog, though personally I’d choose other camera options I have.

Altogether, the stuff ads more flexibility and options for using my phone to take photos. I always have my phone with me, where my other camera options are bigger, bulkier, and require more planning, like making sure they’re charged and that their memory card is empty. All of which makes it harder to use for impromptu photos. My phone is always available.

When I did my “Nature Photo A Day” series back in 2016, I limited myself to using only my phone (and that was my old phone). I was pleased with that series, overall, but I can do so much more now than I could then. I’m looking forward to exploring that, and sharing the results.

You have been warned.

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Asda’s 2018 Christmas ad

This ad is for Asda, the UK’s third-largest supermarket chain. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the USA’s Walmart, though supposedly more independent than other supermarket chains owned by Walmart. At the moment, there’s a proposal for a merger of Asda and Sainsbury’s which would control about 30% of the UK’s grocery market.

The ad, “Bring Christmas Home”, is energetic, full of fun, uses actual Christmas music, and did I mention it’s energetic? One question, though: Isn’t that Christmas tree being ridden backwards?

The company has a bunch of product-specific ads on their YouTube Channel, all using, if only obliquely, their theme for the year. It’s worth noting that UK supermarkets carry a lot of non-food merchandise, and the related ads on YouTube are for those products.

This is the first year I’ve included ads for all of he UK’s largest supermarkets—though, of course, they sell more than food. I was actually inspired to do that when I was looking up information on the chains; that’s not the first time that one thing on the Internet has led to another, but that doesn’t usually inspire a series of posts. First time for everything.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sainsbury’s 2018 Christmas ad

The video above is Sainsbury’s 2018 Christmas ad, “The Big Night”. Sainsbury’s is the UK’s second-largest supermarket chain, behind Tesco. It’s a cute ad, and more traditionally “Christmasy” than most of the 2018 Christmas ads I’ve shared so far. That’s a good thing from my point of view.

The ad uses a common enough thing, a Christmas show featuring children, to deliver a message about giving. The commercial is delivering on the theme of Christmas rather than the products being sold. As I've said, I prefer that approach for Christmas advertising. By that standard, it’s a good ad.

The company also posted a video about the kids in the ad:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Photo trial

The Instagram photo above is, as the caption suggests, one of the blooms of our tomato plants. There are quite a few now, and the plants are looking lush and healthy, and that probably is mainly due to the rain I mentioned. But there’s something else going on here: The photo itself.

This is the photo I said last week that I couldn’t take because of the rain. I was particularly interested in this because I wanted to try out the new macro lens I have for my phone, a subject in itself, but suffice it to say that most smartphones (like mine) can’t take macro (extreme close-up) photos, so to do so, one has to buy a special lens that fits over the phone’s lens. That’s what I did.

I’m not exactly used to it yet, though, and when I took the photo I ended up focusing on the fuzzy part of the plant rather than the flower itself. I’ll get better the more I use it—but I may need to wear my glasses so I can see the screen better.

There will be more photos testing out the new lenses, and I’ll explain them in more detail in a post of their own, mostly because it’s a pretty specific topic.

The important thing here, really, is that our tomato plants are doing really well, with lots of flowers. I hope we’ll have a bumper crop, but it’s not like we can predict what will happen. But I’ll photograph it either way.

Of course.

Hang on a minute

The healthcare profession is a noble one, and we entrust our very lives to doctors, nurses, medical and lab technicians, pharmacists, researchers—and more I’ve forgotten at the moment. However, doctors aren’t perfect, and one particular flaw has reared its head again in my Health Journey, though I’m probably most annoyed that I didn’t see it immediately.

I’ve had a gout attack for more than a month now, one that began, I thought at the time, over stress about “something that happened [that] week that upset me, because stress is my major trigger of gout attacks.” Three weeks later, the attack was waning when I injured the same ankle, and the attack flared up again. Or, so I decided.

It was nearly over when I went on my big day out a week later, and then the next day I ate turkey for lunch, and my attack roared back with a vengeance, and it’s still going on. Naturally, perhaps, I assumed the turkey caused the flare up, even though that’s never happened before.

I now think I was wrong, at least partly, about all of that.

Nigel reminded me this morning that we hadn’t considered my drug changes. Last September, when I was in hospital for evaluation of atrial fibrillation, they put me on what they called “a powerful anti-coagulant” called dabigatran.

What Nigel reminded me of was that when I had the stent put in, they put me on a drug called Clopidogrel, and I had several weeks of unrelenting gout attacks, some severe and even crippling. I learned, thanks to my own research, that “there are studies that indicate that it can cause gout in 1 to 2.5% of patients.”

Yet whenever I’ve mentioned this to doctors since, they have all told me firmly “that’s impossible”, or “it can’t do that”, or any number of similar things. This has annoyed me to no end. As I said a couple years ago:
Too many medical professionals are locked within their blinkered world in which nothing exists that isn’t backed by overwhelming research. So, 1 to 2.5% of people getting gout from a drug would, to them, be totally insignificant—to the point of not existing at all. That’s easy for them to smugly believe: They’re not the ones having to deal with chronic pain, often severe, often crippling.
The stand-off here is that I know what I went through, doctors have consistently denied it was even possible, and I get pissed off at them. Despite that, I always listen and take what they say to heart. Which is why it never occurred to me that my current anti-coagulant, dabigatran, might also cause gout.

Surprise! There’s evidence it does. Medsafe (New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority) is a part of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. Among other things, it’s tasked with tracking “adverse reactions” to prescription drugs, and they’ve noticed reports of gout attacks among people on the drug. They said on their site:
Gout is not a known side effect of dabigatran and is not included as a side effect in the data sheet. A search of the WHO’s pharmacovigilance database VigiBase to date, revealed 71 reports worldwide of gout or gout-like symptoms, suspected to be associated with dabigatran use. This is a higher number than expected, making this association a safety signal. As always these are reports of a suspected link between dabigatran and gout and it is likely that other factors are also involved. This is why we are seeking more information. [link and emphasis added]
I realise that 71 cases worldwide may not seem like many (unless you’re one of the 71, of course), but it was enough to convince Medsafe to do some monitoring. Between January and July of this year, Medsafe had 8 cases reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM):
Two of the patients were female and six were male, and the mean age was 70 years. Of the seven patients with gout, two had a history of gout while the other patients either did not have a gout history or the history was uncertain. The onset of gout or gout like symptoms was within 10 weeks after starting treatment with dabigatran for five patients while it was up to over a year for the other patients.
They also note that:
Cases have also been identified in other countries. Six new reports were added to VigiBase during the monitoring period of which three are from New Zealand.
So New Zealand reported around 10% of the total worldwide cases, which seems improbable. This suggests that there could be a more than casual link (and a lot of underreporting—do doctors not report cases because they think it's impossible?). The problem is in the details:
Review of this safety concern highlighted that other conditions experienced by the patients may increase the risk for developing gout, common risk factors such as atrial fibrillation and difference in methods used to diagnose gout. As gout is a disease that is characterised by flares, it is difficult to pin point the cause of development of the disease as well as reasons for improvement.
I was prescribed dabigatran because of AF, as many others have been, and there seems to be a link between AF and gout, which muddies the waters a bit. But whether the drug causes or aggravates gout all by itself is kind of beside the point: There is some sort of connection we don’t fully understand, and patients deserve to know be told about it. Medsafe don’t want to because the link hasn’t been conclusively proven, and the specific mechanism for how this might happen isn’t understood so it can’t be properly investigated. I get all that, but not telling patients what IS known is not acceptable.

At this moment, neither New Zealand nor the manufacturer list gout attacks as a possible side effect.

It is possible, maybe even probable, that if I mention this to my doctor she’ll tell me that dabigatran can’t cause gout attacks. The problem being that to most doctors, lack of clear proof equals lack of ANY evidence.

So, I don’t know where this will go from here. Maybe they’ll raise my dosage of allopurinol; the Medsafe review mentioned that controlling uric acid levels in the blood is important. Well, duh! I’ll try to insist that the doctor reports my experience with the drug to CARM, but I can’t force her to, obviously.

What I know is this. My gout was reasonably stable since they raised my dosage of allopurinol, with only one severe attack I can remember. This current attack began around 6½ weeks after I began taking dabigatran, and it’s lasted 4½ weeks (so far), with some days worse and some better, but it never actually ends. The length of this attack is also unusual.

What I don’t know is whether the dabigatran is the specific cause of this attack, or just an enabler of sorts, helping other triggers—like the stress I thought started this, the injury, or the turkey—to do their worst. Nevertheless, I clearly need to take action, and that’s where this particular journey will be headed.

It would be nice if doctors helped in this process, but maybe they just can’t. That’s okay, I can do it for them. And, I will.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Tesco’s 2018 Christmas ad

This is Tesco’s Christmas ad for 2018, “However you do Christmas”, which is part of their theme, “Everyone’s Welcome”. The ad presents people celebrating Christmas in various ways, which is the point. This ad presents feelings as much as products—in some ways, more so, since the ad isn’t a parade of the products the stores sell. That’s a good thing.

Tesco’s is the UK’s largest supermarket chain, and one of the largest retailers in the world.

There are also two shorter versions of the ad at the moment, too. The first is a short version of the ad up top:

The second ad expands on some of the things in the original ad, with a lot of humour (for example a visual pun linking panettone and pantomime, the latter of which is common enough at Christmas):

I like these ads. They’re fun, humorous, a bit quirky, and Christmasy enough. That’s enough for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Weekend Diverison: George Ezra

It doesn’t happen all that often, but sometimes I’ll hear a pop song and then when I see the singer, I’m surprised because they look nothing like I was expecting. British singer-songwriter George Ezra is a perfect example of that.

The first song I ever heard by George Ezra was 2013’s “Budapest” (above), which was his first hit. It was pretty much everywhere when it came out, because it was a big hit: Number One in New Zealand (2x Platinum), Number 5 in Australia (3x Platinum), Number 24 in Canada (3x Platinum), Number 3 in the UK (3x Platinum), and Number 32 in the USA (Platinum). The song sounded very different from anything else at the time, partly because of the song structure and lyrics, but especially because of George’s bass-baritone voice. The video has been viewed some 140 million times on YouTube.

I was surprised the first time I saw him on TV (I think it was The Graham Norton Show). I was expecting someone older, probably bigger, not a 21-year-old average-sized guy. I wondered what he would do next, where that voice would take him.

His next hit, in 2014, was “Blame It On Me”:

“Blame It On Me” hit Number 8 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 10 in Australia (Platinum), and Number 6 in the UK (Platinum). It didn’t chart in either Canada or the USA. I liked the song, and was interested that in some ways it was more conventionally pop-oriented than “Budapest” had been.

“Budapest” and “Blame It On Me” are both from George’s debut album, Wanted on Voyage, which was released on January 27, 2015. The album hit Number 4 in New Zealand (Platinum), Number 4 in Australia (Platinum), Number 19 in Canada (Platinum), Number 1 in the UK (4x Platinum), and Number 19 on the Billboard 200 (Gold).

It was a long time between drinks, and it wasn’t until this year that he had another hit with “Shotgun”:

I first saw the video for “Shotgun” (around 110 million YouTube views) on our free-to-air video music channel, and to be completely honest, at first I wasn’t taken with it. But that chorus is so damn infectious that it now just pops into my head every now and then. It’s one of those songs that’s grown on me over time. Plenty of other people liked it, to: The song hit Number One in New Zealand (Platinum), Number One in Australia (3x Platinum), Number One in the UK (2x Platinum). It only hit 100 in Canada and didn’t chart in the USA, but it was nevertheless his most successful single so far.

His fourth most successful single was “Paradise”, which was actually released before “Shotgun”, on January 19, 2018, and the YouTube video a week later [WATCH/LISTEN]. It only charted in five countries, the UK the only one I regularly write about (it hit Number 5 there and went Platinum). I don’t particularly care for that song. He also performed it live on The Graham Norton Show in February of this year. I watched that episode.

His most recent single is called “Hold My Girl” and was released as a single and YouTube video [WATCH/LISTEN] on September 28. It’s only charted in the UK and Ireland (Number 33 and 78 respectively). Although apparently one critic felt the song was “destined to become first-dance material”, I wasn’t feeling it.

“Parade”, “Shotgun” and “Hold My Girl” are all from his second album, Staying at Tamara’s, which was released March 23, 2018. The album hit Number 7 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 7 in Australia, Number 22 in Canada, Number 1 in the UK (Platinum), and Number 68 in the USA.

Because I like to include four videos in these Weekend Diversion posts, I decided that if I had to pick one of his less successful songs, I may as well pick one with a fun video. So, “Listen to the Man”:

The song was released on October 28, 2014, and I saw the video on our free-to-air music video channel some time later, and thought it was fun. It features Sir Ian McKellen who is so into his part that it’s infectious. I also think the song is nice, though most people didn’t agree with me on that: Among countries I write about regularly, it only charted in the UK where it hit Number 41 and went Gold. Oh, well.

George has a particular sound, putting aside the specifics of individual songs, and he won’t appeal to everyone. But his career so far has shown that he can put out very popular songs, and some good ones that aren’t as popular. I have no idea what that says about his future, but it may suggest he’ll be around while. After all, he’s only 25.