Sunday, April 22, 2018

About Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush, wife of former US President George H.W. Bush, was buried today. That will end the talk about her, at least until her husband dies. But some of the reactions to her death haven’t been entirely edifying or ennobling. Because she held no office herself, and wasn’t a public or political leader, some of the reactions have seemed a bit over the top. She was what she was.

Like everyone else, Barbara Bush was certainly not perfect. She was a fierce defender of and advocate for her family, and that frequently got her into trouble. But some on the Left launched into strong condemnation of her, branding her racist. An English professor in California went on a Twitter tirade against Bush, earning strong rebuke and suggestions that she may face disciplinary action.

The racism allegations are based primarily on two things. The one I’ve seen the most often is that in 2005 she said of the people evacuated from the arena in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina , “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” At the very least, those remarks were tone-deaf, insensitive, out of touch, and maybe classist. But were they racist? Decide for yourself, but the fact that most of the people she was talking about were black wouldn’t by itself seem to make the remarks automatically racist, at least not without something showing that that’s what she meant.

The other main piece of evidence was what she said about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill in her memoir. She said that Thomas was a “good man” who had been “smeared” by Hill. She wrote:
“Is this woman telling the truth? I do not mean to sit in judgment, but I will never believe that she, a Yale Law School graduate, a woman of the 80s, would put up with harassment for one moment, much less follow the harasser from job to job, call him when she came back to town and later invite him to speak to her students at Oral Roberts University.”
Was that racist? She was defending a black man against allegations made by a black woman, so if anything the remarks might maybe be called sexist, but calling them racist seems to me to be painting them with a little too broad a brush. One would think she was entitled to express her opinion, shared by many other Republicans, without automatically being labelled a racist for it.

I met Barbara Bush once. It was at a Republican presidential forum held in Rosemont, Illinois in 1979, in the run-up to the start of the 1980 presidential campaign. I met her in the Bush hospitality suite, standing beside her husband who was running for president at the time (Reagan, the eventual nominee, was a no show). They both seemed nice enough, pleasant, too, but I couldn’t make any character assessments based on that brief interaction.

What I do know is that with the possible exception of Nancy Reagan, I’ve never actively disliked any First Lady, though, admittedly, I liked some more than others (and I was too young to form an opinion about either Lady Bird Johnson or Pat Nixon, and I don’t remember Jackie Kennedy as First Lady at all). So, I didn’t dislike Barbara Bush at that time, or since. I’ve seen no convincing evidence that she was racist, but maybe there’s something I haven’t seen. The fact she was the mother of George W. doesn’t make her evil, either: He was president, not her, so how can she be responsible for what her adult children did? I’m including Jeb is that. It seems to me that disliking her sons, their politics, and what they did in their elected positions doesn’t mean that their mother should be despised. So, it certainly doesn’t seem to me like she was evil incarnate. She was what she was.

While I’m absolutely not dancing on Barbara Bush’s grave, I’m also not exactly mourning her death, either. I never voted for her husband or her sons, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly a fan of the dynasty.

However, it was self-evident that she and her husband were thoroughly in love for more than 70 years. Actually, it was obvious that Nancy and Ronald Reagan clearly were, too. I can despise someone’s politics without despising them, and I can note the human qualities—like love for their spouse—that they showed.

Similarly, I don’t think that the California professor should be harshly punished for her Twitter tirade. I disagree with her, I don’t think she proved her case (or helped it very much, either), but I don’t get why she shouldn’t be entitled to express her clearly strongly held views. I also can’t help but note the irony in the fact that so many of the people condemning her and demanding she be fired have condemned the Left whenever a rightwing speaker is criticised for similar rants. There’s no difference—especially when the right hasn’t also gone after the obnoxious rightwinger who is a close friend of the current occupant of the White House. That friend called her names, and yet he hasn’t faced the same level of opprobrium as that professor has (I’m sure the rightwing just hasn’t heard about it yet, and they’ll attack him any minute now…).

So, Barbara Bush is gone. Some will mourn that, others, apparently, will rejoice. Personally, I just note her passing, her place in history as the wife and mother of US Presidents, her strong opinions (sometimes badly expressed), and her clear love for her husband and family.

Barbara Bush: She was what she was.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hidden progress

We all go to the doctor at some point. How and when may vary depending on our circumstances, but they usually break down to a few common reasons: Because we’re sick, because it’s time for a routine check-up, or maybe some combination. Sometimes it might seem like nothing has really changed, but even then it may turn out to be more than it seems.

Today I went to the doctor, the first time since the unfortunate trial of a beta blocker called Bisoprolol. When I dumped that drug and switched back to Atenolol, they wanted me to come in to have my blood pressure and heart rate checked, and I needed an influenza vaccination, too, so it all came together today. It turned out to be a good visit.

The doctor is referring me to a private cardiologist who specialises in heartrate because he may have special insight into the way forward. I asked my GP if the pill is permanent; it is, and because without it my heart may become enlarged, which is bad. I also asked how it affects occasional need for higher heart rate, and she said it doesn’t stop that, it just keeps my ordinary heartrate at no more than 70bpm. I didn’t ask any of my other questions, because I decided I may as well ask them of the specialist.

What I hope will happen is that given that he’s a specialist, he can head off some of the trouble, that is, given the two drugs I’ve reacted so badly to, he can rule out drugs likely to have a similar effect on me. Related, he may have special insight into a drug that may be better for me. Or, at the very least, being a specialist he’s likely to have a particular view on the way forward that a non-specialist wouldn’t have. I think this is a very good idea.

So, while it may seem that nothing much happened today—I’m still on the same drug, after all—the referral to a specialist is a way of moving forward, and probably with a little less trial and error. This is a good thing and could turn out to change everything.

And there’s one more thing that was a welcome surprise: The flu jab. The doctor gave me the flu jab first thing, then carried on with the consultation. My previous doctor used to have the nurse do the flu jab after the consult, and I had to wait a further 15 minutes before I could leave (to make sure there was no reaction). The way the new doctors do it meant I could leave right away. That was awesome!

I actually told the doctor how good this way of doing this is, and she said, “I think time is valuable.” I laughed and said, “We do, too.” And, we do. But this is the first time in my decades in New Zealand that a doctor has taken a concrete step to respect MY time as much as theirs. That’s pretty remarkable, really.

So, yeah, it may sound like nothing much happened today, but things DID happen. I got a referral to a specialist who may be able to hurry this process along, and I found a small thing that made me like this new practice even more. Those are both very good developments.

Sometimes it might seem like nothing has really changed, but even then it may turn out to be more than it seems.

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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mama Nature is be-yooo-diful

The video above is an ad from Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB) , an organisation whose purpose is pretty self-evident in their name, with a special emphasis on ending littering (similar to Keep America Beautiful). The ad is part of a series of ads designed to get Kiwis to stop littering. It’s also among the most over-the-top ads we’ve had in awhile.

The ad stars New Zealand-born Samoan actor David Fane as Mama Nature. He’s been in far too many rolls to list in this post, but I’ve seen most of them. All of the spots created can be viewed on KNZB’s site on the resouces page (scroll down to “Mama Nature Resources”).

An article in the New Zealand Herald explains the purpose of the ads:
Mama Nature was developed by KNZB to encourage Kiwis to do the right thing with their litter including disposing of it in the bin, taking litter home when a bin isn't available and picking up litter they come across.
This ad does that, obviously, but clearly not everyone gets it. Someone who must really fun at parties left a comment on YouTube:
Beyodiful is as bad as spelling congraDulations. Kids these days are already failing at reading and writing so why keep showing them ways how to not spell? The real spelling is under that, sure, but since the wrong spelling is above that and bold then guess what the kids are going to look at first and ignore the other?
To which someone correctly replied (without pointing out the mispelling in the comment they were replying to):
You're missing the point. The spelling reflects the kiwi accent—that's how 'beautiful' is pronounced here. Writing it out as 'Be-yooo-diful' is a nod to drag culture and Mama Nature. Seeing it spelt that way in print will make everyone say it the way she's done in the video, which is just clever marketing. The organisation is still called Keep New Zealand Beautiful and that spelling won't change, so no one's corrupting the kids here.
Apparently humour really doesn’t translate.

I like this ad and its quirky New Zealand humour. I don’t know if these ads will make Kiwis more conscientious about putting litter in the bin, but I it’ll certainly make them say “be-yooo-diful”, and that at least creates a chance for the larger message sink in. Anyway, that’s what Mama Nature hopes.

And, you never want to disappoint your Mama!

Marriage diversity in the USA

The video above is from National Geographic, and features 17 couples from the Washington, DC area in the USA. The video includes same-gender and opposite gender couples, is often funny, and very informative. It’s frankly not the sort of thing I expect from National Geographic, but maybe that’s why it works so well.

They said about it on their site:
In 2015, 17 percent of U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. That’s roughly a fivefold increase since 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriage legal. Changing the law was a start—but it didn’t “necessarily do anything to change people’s minds,” says Syracuse University law professor Kevin Noble Maillard, who writes frequently about intermarriage. Partners of different races or ethnicities are nothing new, he notes: “But it’s very different when there’s public recognition of these relationships and when they become representations of regular families—when they’re the people in the Cheerios commercial.
Of course, Loving v. Virginia more accurately made interracial marriage legal in the entire United States, because there were 33 states in which it was already legal, in the same way that Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) made marriage between people of the same gender legal in all 50 US states, but it was already fully legal in 35 states. Worth noting (for me…) is that interracial marriage was already legal in my native state of Illinois at the time of the Loving decision (and had been since 1874), and it had enacted marriage eqaulity before the Obergefell decision, with its law taking effect on June 1, 2014, more than a year before the ruling.

Interested as I am in the spread of the right to marry, all this also interests me because I’m in an interracial/intercultural marriage, something that many people don’t even realise until they think about it. In New Zealand, marriage across races and cultures is common enough, though older people tell me that decades ago it was frowned on. That doesn’t surprise me, considering that while such marriages have overwhelming support in the USA now, as recently as 1991 only about half of Americans approved.

And that’s the thing about social change and prejudice. As I often say, it’s easy to hate people in the third person, those black people, those gay people, those interracial couples, but it’s much harder in the second person, you my neighbour, you my boss, you my child, and you my best friend. It’s a case of familiarity breeds respect.

Even though times are changing, being part of an interracial or intercultural married couple can be a challenge, especially in the USA, or any other society that isn’t fully accepting of the idea. But the fact that societies are evolving to accept them means that I’m sure eventually people will get over the idea of two people of the same gender being married. But, as I was saying yesterday, we’re not quite there yet.

Read the full April 2018 National Geographic article on intermarriage, “The Many Colors of Matrimony” [may be available to subscribers only].

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five years later

Five years ago tonight, the New Zealand Parliament passed the marriage equality bill. Introduced by Labour MP Louisa Wall, the bill attracted support from 71 MPs, and opposition from an antique-minded 41. The celebratory graphic above was posted to Facebook today by the New Zealand Labour Party. It was nice to celebrate.

Naturally, that brought out the “Christian” extremists who never miss an opportunity to tell LGBT people that they’re all going to hell, that their love isn’t “real”, and blah, blah, blah, the usual hatred, bigotry, and fake-Christians messages. It’s profoundly sad that so many “Christians”, pretenders though they may be, think that the perfect day to spread their religion-based hatred and bigotry is on a day of celebration for LGBT people, as if LGBT people would be receptive to such negativity and hatred at that exact moment. To those possibly sincere extremists, apparently, nothing says “Christian Love” quite like telling happy people they’re shit.

This time, at least, the Labour Facebook post was moderated a little, and some of the most bigoted comments were deleted. That was something that wasn’t done in the past, and it was really great to see, even if plenty of other bigoted comments were left.

Meanwhile, marriage endures, New Zealand endures, conservative religion endures—and so does hatred and bigotry against LGBT people. Even so, the biggest survivor of all is love itself. Love triumphed five years ago tonight, and it has triumphed every time a happy couple—gay or straight—gets married. Sure, the bigots of all sorts keep trying to drag us all backward, and down to their level, and, yes, bigots keep society from becoming truly free and equal. But five years ago New Zealand took a giant step forward toward recognising that love is love.

The struggle for marriage equality was always about honouring love. Five years later, the law still is. Hopefully some day the bigots will finally understand that, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Weather event

People talk about weather all the time, and especially when a big storm hits. When a storm has unexpected ferocity, that talk takes off in an entirely different direction. One result from the storm that stuck Auckland last night is a lot of questions.

A strong storm was predicted due to a particular combination of events: A major storm system roaring up the country from Antarctica, colliding with a strong Low over the Tasman. The resulting storm smashed into Auckland, which was hit far harder than either Northland to the north or Waikato to the south.

At its peak, the storm packed wind gusts of up to 213 kph (about 132 mph). Wind speeds were equivalent to a category 2 tropical cyclone, which is stronger than any actual cyclone that’s hit Auckland in ages. And hardly anyone had any clue it was going to be that bad.

The reason Aucklanders were caught so unaware is that warnings weren’t strong enough. Weather reports on the evening news warned of a storm, but there was no sense of urgency or warnings to, for example, secure outdoor furniture or to watch out for falling trees and power lines. Met Service and Weather Watch were warning people on social media, but, it has been alleged, Civil Defence didn’t issue any warnings, so the media didn’t, either, as Ben Ross said on Twitter:

Civil Defence, of course, defended itself, suggesting that plenty of warnings were issued on social media. To whom? Power was out by 9pm at our house, and was intermittent for an hour or so before that. I seldom use Twitter anymore, and I saw nothing on Facebook, so the odds of me seeing any warning on social media were slim to none. What about people who don’t use social media at all?

The storm was the fiercest I’ve ever been in, including when tornado-bearing storms hit when I lived in Illinois. There were times I was sure the roof was about to come off, and the house was creaking and groaning like an old wooden sailing ship. The power went off (and stayed off) just before 9pm, and when it went the water went, too (no power for the pumps to deliver the water to us). Naturally the power went out JUST before I was going to make myself a nice hot coffee, as the house was beginning to get cooler in the driving winds.

The power came back on at 1:56am, and I got up and turned off the lights and television before going back to bed. Apparently the power went off again and came back on just before 3am. It stayed on after that, but there are tens of thousands of homes and business in Auckland that are still without power 24 hours later, and may be without it for days.

Most of the damage, in addition to electricity infrastructure, was to bring tress down. We had two small trees flattened (photo up top). They were in an area of our property that was near a small gap between neighbours’ houses allowing the fiercest winds off the Manukau Harbour to hit the trees. At ground level, the trees looked like they were sheered off:

This probably means they weren’t the best choice for a spot where they could be subject to strong winds. Aside from that, there were small branches all over the yard, but nothing large. The largest branch was wedged between the fence and the grapefruit tree (there’s also a small branch in the grapefruit tree, on the left side (the damage to the fence was from an earlier storm):

Aside from that, the pressure of the wind pushed our front gate open, pulling out the latch. It was pushed into the latch on the fence, which meant it was in a safe spot overnight, especially since the winds were weakening by 11pm, when I discovered the gate was open as I headed to bed. We fixed that this afternoon.

Our next door neighbour has an asphalt shingle roof, and several of the shingles (which some Kiwis call “tiles”) were ripped off. We found one on our driveway, and it had been lifted and ripped off right where the shingle above it overlapped. That was all I saw in our area, apart from a couple sections of someone’s fence being knocked down. We were very lucky, especially as compared to the areas where large trees came down and caused major damage.

Another storm is heading for Auckland and Northland tomorrow evening, and it’s expected to have winds of 110kph, which is fairly typical for a bad storm—and about half as strong as the winds last night. Even so, authorities are warning that trees weakened by last night’s storm may come down tomorrow—and there could be yet more power outages. Oh, joy.

This is all happening partly because the La Niña weather system we had this past summer left ocean temperatures much warmer than usual, and that, in turn, has created stronger Lows. A warmer and rainier autumn was predicted at the start of autumn last month.

And all this comes after a summer in which we had a plague of crickets, which not only aren’t native, they’re a pest insect species. We’ve had dozens get into our house, chirping away, before they die. Then I have to vacuum up the corpses. This is waning, but still going on.

So tomorrow I’m going to do the grocery shopping I put off earlier this week because of weather. I hope to finish it and get back home before the weather closes in. Again.

And those are our weather events—for now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

50 years after the Wahine Disaster

Today is the 50th Anniversary of New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster, the sinking of the ferry Wahine, which capsized in Wellington Harbour on April 10, 1968. The video above from RNZ describes the tragedy. There were 736 people on board, and according to History New Zealand, “Fifty-one people lost their lives that day, another died several weeks later and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained in the wreck.”

This video from Archives New Zealand is of photos from that fateful day:

According to the video’s YouTube description:
This video was created by Archives New Zealand in 2013 for the 45th anniversary of the disaster. It shows a number of images and documents on the 'Wahine' from our holdings, including onboard photographs, images of the rescue effort, and underwater shots.
The final video, which aired yesterday on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme, tells the story of two people who were brought together and linked together by the tragedy:

Shirley Hick’s son, Gordie, is the one who died in 1990 because of the brain damage he suffered that day.

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, the tragedy had happened only 27 years earlier, so a huge number of New Zealanders had personal memories of the tragedy. I heard about it many times in my early years in the country, and then, over time, I started to hear about it less often. It’s the way things go as historic events begin to fade from living memory and become the stuff of history books and dark, grainy archival film. That particular inevitability adds another layer of sadness, I think, but that, too, will fade as the event continues to disappear from living memory. Then, as it disappears from living memory altogether, only the tragedy will remain, and it will be remembered in a different way.

The important thing, though, is that it will be remembered.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Loophole for principle and profit

The thing about so many anti-LGBT business owners is that they seem to have no sense. They insist on being aggressive and confrontational in promoting their particular religious beliefs when simpler, lawful ways of achieving their desired result are available. Too many businesses owned by rightwing religionists seem determined to violate laws to make some point, even if that risks financial burden. They seem incapable of seeing a better way. Finally, some rightwing religionists have chosen a different, far more sensible path.

“The Friendly Atheist” on Patheos reported recently on a new tactic deployed by a wedding venue in New York State. They’d refused to allow a lesbian couple to hold their wedding on their farm, and the state fined the owners $10,000 ordered them to pay the couple $3,000.

Normally, the radical right would be wailing and rending their garments while demanding special rights to discriminate against LGBT people. But this particular venue chose a different way, similar to what I’ve suggested for years, a lawful way to promote their religious views while ensuring that potential LGBT customers are neither discriminated against nor tricked into participating in their own oppression.

The venue posted a disclaimer on their website under a headline saying the business “Gives Back to Strengthen Marriages”:
…our deeply held religious belief is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and the Farm is operated with the purpose of strengthening and promoting marriage. In furtherance of this purpose and to honor and promote our moral and religious beliefs, we donate a portion of our business proceeds to organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.

The patronage of all potential clients for all services offered is welcome regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability or marital status. All couples legally permitted to marry in the state of New York are welcome to hold their wedding at Liberty Ridge Farm. We serve everyone equally.
This is a smart move from the religionists. As gay people well know, the Family [sic] Research [sic] Council [LOL] is not actually involved in “promot[ing] strong marriages”, but is solely involved in political activism on various rightwing social issues, especially denying the human and civil rights of LGBT people. The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors them on its “Hatewatch” blog, in the same way it monitors various other hate groups. Gay people wouldn’t want their money going to support that group, and it could be why the religionists chose that group to mention specifically.
This also serves to alert mainstream heterosexuals about the anti-LGBT beliefs of the owners of the venue, and they, too, can choose to avoid the place. The owners are gambling that it won’t happen and/or that they’ll get enough new business from like-minded religionists that they won’t lose any profits. They may very well be right about that.

This strategy makes perfect sense: The owners make plain that they’re going to obey the law, but they’re also making LGBT and LGBT-supportive people aware of their attitudes so people can instead choose somewhere that’s welcoming. As a side benefit, they also provide an attractive opportunity for similarly rightwing religionist heterosexual couples. In this scenario, everyone has freedom: The owners express their religious/political beliefs, the state gets assurance that the business will obey the law, and potential customers are well aware of the attitudes of that business, and what would happen if they use the venue anyway (which they may support or oppose). That sort of freedom of choice is how the free market is supposed to work—freedom and liberty within the bounds of the law.

I’ve frequently said that businesses owned by rightwing religionists should be doing this sort of thing. I’ve suggested that a bakery or florist or whatever could put up signs celebrating their Jesus, or quoting judgemental Old Testament passages, etc. The wedding venue telling potential customers that a portion of their money will go to organisations that work against the human and civil rights of LGBT people adds another layer of sense to this strategy.

I’ve never been in a moral quandary over whether to perform professional services for people actively working against my human and civil rights, but I came up with a plan on what I’d do. I decided that I’d calculate how much of my salary came from working on that project and I’d donate it to a group working against whoever I was objecting to. This is basically what that wedding venue says it would do, only they’re doing so openly and pretty transparently, which is more than I can claim to have thought of doing (in my case, it was because, as an employee, I never felt in a position to either object or to tell an employer of my plan, had it ever been necessary).

I honestly don’t know if this strategy will work. It’s possible that the state could consider the disclaimer to be a form of intimidation, and maybe it is. But the whole point is that no LGBT person I’ve ever known would ever dream of going to a business run by anti-LGBT owners, however, they also deserve to not be humiliated by being discriminated against when they ask about a business’ services. The wedding venue’s approach means that LGBT people can avoid any confrontation or embarrassment and instead choose a welcoming business. And, as a bonus for the business, they’re signalling other rightwing religionists that theirs is a business that fully shares their religious beliefs.

Still, there are some rightwing religionists who would flat out refuse to take this approach because they’re hellbent, so to speak, on being dicks about forcing their religious beliefs onto everyone. They feel that they must defy the law because they think their flavour of religion demands it, and they expect to be permitted to do so without consequence. Such rightwing religionists, backed by extremist professional anti-LGBT activist hate groups, dig their heals in to make “martyrs” of themselves—or is that just to make money for the hate groups? Maybe they just enjoy being nasty.

Whatever the situation, there’s a hardcore group of anti-LGBT rightwing religionists who would never take this approach, and the anti-LGBT hate groups are counting on that to achieve their political agenda of making anti-LGBT discrimination completely legal.

But the other, perhaps more sincere, rightwing religionists have other ways to make their point and profess their religious beliefs without breaking the law or being assholes about it. That wedding venue in New York is promoting one way. That, or something like it, is a far more sensible path.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Fifty years ago today

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was the beginning of his transformation from controversial political figure to martyr, and he became a hero to many who weren’t even born when he died. His legacy of a commitment to non-violent social change is still something to be admired and emulated, even if far too many still fall short. That’s the thing about human examples: They continue to show the way long after they’re gone. Dr. King became a hero to me, despite all sorts of reasons why that might not have happened. This post is about why all that is so.

I remember Dr. King and his assassination, though barely: I’d turned nine the previous January, so his career and death all happened when I was too young to know much about it, to understand it, or to even care about social or political issues. That was all outside of everything I knew—but that would change.

I grew up Republican in a white, Mainline Protestant household that was, by appearance, anyway, middle class. I knew nothing about the realities of life in America for its black citizens, especially poor black people. There were a few black kids in my primary schools, but we moved to a different town in December 1968, and things were very different in the new town. Among other things, my new primary school had no black kids, and I don’t remember if there were any Mexican kids (the fact I don’t remember suggests there weren’t).

High school didn’t help much, either. We weren’t taught much about recent history (Dr. King was assassinated 9 years before I graduated from high school), and we had one black family in our school—and they moved away before we graduated. Our school was mainly white, with growing numbers of the children of Mexican immigrants with whom the white kids didn’t mix a lot. So, most of us white kids didn’t have either formal education or personal experience to teach us about the realities of being poor and non-white in America.

For me, then, the life and death of Dr. King didn’t change anything—until I became and adult.

At university I finally began to learn about the realities of race in America, and that picked up pace toward the end of my university years when I came out and wanted to know everything about other oppressed people and, especially, what things they’d done successfully to change society: I wanted to learn from their experience.

Through that process, Dr. King became a personal hero of mine. A large part of my own single-minded determination to demand justice for LGBT people, and refusal to settle for anything less, is directly attributable to the inspiration I drew from Dr. King. That also led me to seek alliances with other non-LGBT oppressed people in society where possible—and, for many reasons, it wasn’t always possible—so that together we might make the world a better place.

All of which goes to show that Dr. King’s optimism wasn’t misplaced: People can grow beyond the world they knew to help build a better one. Also, (almost) no one is a lost cause, not matter how it may sometimes seem.

My dad was a good man who tried to do the right thing, but he, too, was the result of the world he was raised in and knew. I remember him making what we’d now call racist jokes that were, by way of description, mostly in the minstrel show sort, not vicious ones. I also know that as a Republican he wasn’t a particularly big fan of Dr. King’s work, though he shared many of the same theological views. When Dr. King was assassinated, he was extremely subdued and was saddened. Sure, he didn’t agree with Dr. King’s politics or perhaps tactics, but he didn’t want him dead, either. By the end of his life, my dad had become a much more socially aware person, much more evolved, and we had many good discussions about fixing what was wrong with society. Dr. King was more of a direct influence on me than he was on my dad, to be honest, but it’s fair to say that the passage of time helped even my dad to take on board some of what Dr. King tried to do.

American society in general is better than it was fifty years ago, but far from where it should be. Poor black and brown people still struggle and feature at the wrong end of every statistic. Unarmed black men are still dying from police bullets. White supremacism has become resurgent since the 2016 presidential election. And, while the black middle class exists, it has declined from 2001-15, and remains stubbornly lower than the percentage of middle class white people. That’s largely because of the stark reality of America: In general, a white kid is seen as their economic class, a black kid as their race. Being middle class won’t protect a black kid from prejudice, racism, or being shot by a cop without cause, and not even large wealth can protect them.

When President Obama was elected in 2008, lots of white people—good people—said it was the start of “post-racial America”, something that made anyone who’d been part of the struggles for social justice cringe. We knew it was nonsense, and within two years the rise of the openly racist “tea party” movement showed how “post-racial America” was a delusional fantasy. The 2016 election raised the volume on America’s racist reality to 11.

Despite all that, America IS better than it was when Dr. King was murdered. There have been millions of people inspired to be better and do better and to demand better. And for every drooling racist carrying a badly-spelled protest sign and Confederate flag, there are thousands who are repulsed by that behaviour. There are plenty of white people who want to end racism and racist behaviour in themselves and others. All of those are things to inspire hope.

As a gay man, I’ve seen the current regime in Washington working hard to undo all the progress that LGBT people have achieved over the past 10-15 years, so I can imagine how the regime’s active racism must feel to black and brown people, as if all the progress of the past half century is about to be erased. And yet we see signs of hope that this regime may be contained later this year, and, if so, defeated in two years. To ensure that happens, hard work will be required.

The USA has so very far to go before achieving Dr. King’s dream. Not only is the promised land he glimpsed still over that mountaintop, the mountain is much higher than any of us could have imagined. But Dr. King gave us hope that it’s possible to climb over that mountain, that hard work, determination, and complete commitment to the non-violent demand for justice will get us there. Dr. King never gave up then, and we can’t give up now.

Having a symbol of hope was important fifty years ago, and it still is today. That’s the thing about human symbols: They continue to show the way long after they’re gone.

Photo above: By Nobel Foundation (http://nobelprize.org/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Jake is 11

Well, what do you know? It’s Jake’s birthday already—and another chance to celebrate a day that means far more to us than to him. Jake doesn’t seem to mind the extra attention he got today, and he even sought out some cuddles today, which is a dog’s way of showing they’re in a good mood. He even cooperated with me taking some birthday photos of him (like above)—although, “cooperated” is a relative term (he still didn’t seem to actually like it).

Jake is as happy and affectionate as ever, however, this year he’s clearly better than he was about a year ago. And the difference is what I’ve been giving the dogs.

Some months before we moved to this house, the vet suggested that we give Sunny fish oil capsules to help avoid any problems down the road with the hip dysplasia that’s common with cavoodles. I couldn’t give it to just her, though. I was already taking capsules for my own health, as suggested by a doctor I had awhile back, so I started cutting them open and squeezing them onto their food, which was messy and more difficult (because I had to put their bowls up, put the food in, then cut the capsules and squeeze the oil onto them, then give the their bowls (before that, I just scooped their food into their bowls). So, I stopped.

I did some research about whether they could eat the gelatine-based capsule, and the consensus was it probably wouldn’t hurt them (though no site would commit to saying that definitively). Apparently the biggest concern was that they could become stuck in a dog’s throat, much as they could in a human child’s.

So, after we moved here, I decided to give them a capsule each with their morning food. I keep them in the fridge, so I warm them in my hands before putting them in their bowls with their food. The dogs eagerly eat them up as they munch their dry food. They seem to really like them.

There haven’t really been any noticeable results with Sunny, though it was meant to be preventive with her. With Jake, however, there was a noticeable change. I said in last year’s birthday post for Jake:
He can get a bit grumpy when confronted with young children or young dogs, both of which are a bit too “manic” for him. He likes things to be more quiet and slow moving.
Within a few weeks of giving him the capsules, he was like a new dog. No longer grumpy or as slow moving, he actually runs around with excitement when we get home, and he tolerates children and dogs, and if it gets too much for him, he just goes to bed—he doesn’t get grumpy. Mainly, though, he just ignores whatever he wants to ignore, rather than get upset. It was as if several years were melted away.

Now, I should of course make the obvious disclaimer: We gave them the capsules originally at the suggestion of the vet, and it was to try to preserve better mobility as they got older. The benefits that Jake has shown were unexpected, and might even be fairly rare—I have no idea. So, just as with our own health, it’s always important to talk to a health professional for advice and guidance.

Despite all this, Jake IS getting older. His fur is greying, especially on his ears, and he is moving a bit slower overall. But he’s such a happy and active boy that sometimes we forget what age he is. In fact, I usually only remember as I get ready to do his birthday post every year.

Last year’s post summed up things perfectly:
So, Jake is still the same loving boy he’s always been, and is still a joy to share life with. He’s made our lives so much better. He came to live with us at a sad time, and made the sadness go away. He still makes us very happy. He has magic powers, it turns out.
Magic powers, indeed.

Happy Eleventh Birthday, Jake!

Related posts:
Jake is TEN
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Farm report

Our farming days are pretty much over for the year. After roughly two months, we’re harvesting the last of our tomatoes (photo above). It’s been a very good haul, and all for (mostly) free, which is even better. Next year, I’ll be braver.

I posted about the first harvest back in early February, and we’ve had many hauls just like that one in the weeks since. We guestimate that we’ve harvested around 10kg of tomatoes (about 22 pounds), which is pretty good. We’ve had them raw in salads, cooked on eggs, reduced into several litres of tomato puree, sliced in sandwiches, and we gave away a lot. We had so many tomatoes that we even lost a few to rot.

The tomatoes were free. I harvested the seeds from supermarket Roma (acid-free Italian) tomatoes, so the seeds were free. I bought a couple bags of compost and one of tomato mix for the planter where they’d go. The soil was compacted and not very accommodating before then.

Nearly all the seeds I planted sprouted, so I planted them out. I honestly didn’t expect them all to take, nor to produce, but they all did. As a result, the patch was way too crowded, but it was also (obviously) highly productive. Next year, I’ll plant some other varieties, too, and plant them a little more sparsely so they get more air.

Back in February, I mentioned harvesting capsicum seeds, too, and said they hadn’t produced anything. Well, maybe not.

I planted a seedling in a pot, which my garden book said would work. The plant grew well, and then became stunted, and it has never produced any fruit. However, ONE of the plants I planted out in a raised bed did produce baby capsicums, possibly delayed because it’s a mostly shady bed. I’ll leave it to see if anything matures, but I suspect the cooler weather will end that experiment. Oh, well, live and learn: More sun would have been better. At least I didn’t pay for the seeds.

So, that was our sort of tentative return to vegetable gardening after a gap of some 13 years. Next year will be even better (and more work, but we’ll worry about that then). Mainly, I think this is one of those times when a little success creates a desire for more success.

Just don’t expect the birth of a real gardener, let alone a farmer. Still, I suppose it IS blog content.

Bon appétit!

Easter 2018

Today was Easter, which is of no particular significance, apart from being one day in a four-day holiday weekend and a day with a trading ban. It was also the first day after we changed our clocks (one hour back), and having two days afterward to recover from that is a good thing.

Nigel’s Mum is staying with us, and while we had family around Friday night, it’s mostly been us. We’ve had a nice, quiet time. The Easter Bunny left the chocolates above, which is similar to what he did back in 2015. He came back later and left more chocolates and altered the note—that rascally rabbit! I didn’t see it until the morning, of course, but I successfully avoided chocolate for most of the day.

The weather was cooler for the first day after the changed clocks, though there was heat in the sun. We didn’t notice because, apart from a few forays out on the deck, it was a resting inside sort of day. Sometimes those are the best ones.

At least I didn’t have a chocolate coma. Yet, anyway.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Auckland to Chicago non-stop

Air New Zealand has announced that it will fly non-stop from Auckland to Chicago, and from Chicago to Auckland, three days a week. The cost is about the same as a flight with a stopover (usually Los Angeles or San Francisco), however, the flight is 15 to 17 hours. That’s a long flight. Still, it IS direct.

Long as this flight is, the Qatar Airlines flight from Doha to Auckland is the longest in the world, and Qantas’ brand new non-stop flight from Perth to London is longer, too [see reactions to the first flight]. Qantas flight is the first direct flight connecting Europe to Australasia, and Air New Zealand’s will be the first to connect Australasia and the middle of the USA.

This is not the end, of course. Qantas is planning a non-stop flight from Sydney to New York, and there will be more. Part of the whole point of Boeing’s Dreamliner is that it has extremely long range: VERY long flights are possible.

Back in the 1990s, I joined Boeing’s “World Design Team” which was, mostly, a brilliant way to build enthusiasm for the project, but which also asked people for their input into the new plane (which at the time was not yet named; Dreamliner wasn’t my first choice, to be honest, though I’ve long since forgotten what was).

Back then, they asked us about what we wanted (more legroom), and whether we wanted longer non-stop flights or faster flights (I wanted faster). Theoretically, a sub-orbital flight could fly much faster and arrive much sooner than a conventional flight, though there are difficulties. But the Dreamliner, capable of flying farther and using less fuel that older aircraft (like the 747s), would be cheaper to run than a suborbital plane, so that’s what we got.

Will it work? I think eventually it will, but I’ve seen no evidence that there’s a huge demand for VERY long haul flights at the moment, but maybe there will be in time. After all, seven decades ago, the “Kangaroo Route” took passengers seven flights and four days to fly between Australia and London, and people used it. However, 15-17 hours is a VERY long time to be cooped up in a flying tube, maybe too long for most people right now.

I have to admit, the ability to never set foot in LAX again is a HUGE attraction of the direct flight, but, even so, I don’t know I could stand it. I’d rather a shorter flight, a stay of a few days, then flying on to Chicago. The bigger truth, though, is that I’d much rather not fly anywhere near that long—not even long enough to fly to the USA. Flights to Australia are about all I can handle these days.

So, I’m probably not the target market for these new flights, and that means I may never get the chance to fly on a Dreamliner that I “helped” to “design”. I think I can live with that.

I have not received compensation of any kind for this post.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Full stop

Not everything in healthcare goes to plan, and sometimes they go completely off the rails. It very often happens when we don’t expect it. Or, maybe we do. Either way, we have to regroup to move forward.

This past Friday, I wrote about my first visit to a new doctor, and as part of that post, I mentioned that she put me on a different beta blocker drug, Bisoprolol. I was to take half a tablet for a week, then switch to one tablet per day. I called it off on the third day.

The first day on the new drug, Saturday, was relatively uneventful, but Sunday night I felt weird. Later, I’d describe it as feeling like my insides were like jelly: Insubstantial, wiggly, tentative. Turned out, that was only the beginning.

That night I fell asleep in my chair—not dozing off, but falling asleep. That was weird enough, but when I tried to wake up later I discovered that the phrase “I couldn’t keep my eyes open” can be literal. I thought for a time I’d have to spend the night in my chair, but I finally forced myself awake so I could finish up the chores I’d intended and then go on to bed.

The next morning I had trouble waking up and then getting up. I tried to do things (I wanted to clean the house that day), but I had absolutely no energy. None. Several times I had to sit down in my chair to rest, and the harder I pushed myself to do things (like put on a load of washing), the longer I had to rest. I felt truly awful far, FAR worse than I did on Metroprolol.

In addition to the profound fatigue and jelly-like insides, I also felt like my head was in a fog, and that I could fall deeply asleep with no effort. Sometimes my legs were heavy, other times I felt like I was walking through a marshmallow.

At one point I was so wiped out, I wondered if the Ministry might contribute to someone to come in to clean the house, since I couldn’t. I guessed I probably wasn’t eligible for a disability pension—and then I pulled myself to reality again. And, I debated with myself.

I know that it takes maybe a couple weeks to fully adjust to a new drug, so I felt presumptuous to be rejecting the new drug so quickly. But then I remembered I was supposed to double the dosage on Saturday—in the middle of a four-day holiday weekend—and I thought, if I felt so profoundly awful then, how much worse would I feel on a full dose? With no doctor available to change anything for a couple days.

At this point I was distraught, and even felt like crying, and then my resolve took over: I was going back to my old drug whether the doctor agreed or not. This would be non-negotiable.

I rang the office, then spoke with the nurse who then talked with the doctor who agreed with my plan. I resumed my old drug, Atenolol. This morning, the first day on the previous drug, I felt dramatically better.

For me, the moral in this story is to ALWAYS trust your body, no matter what. We’re the only ones who can judge what we’re feeling, since much of that is subjective and not measurable by doctors. We have to trust our gut (often literally) and do what we need to do. This is actually the first time I’ve done that.

Beta-blockers are terrible drugs. Medical professionals, focused, as they are, on protocol and strong evidence and consensus approaches almost always focus on what good those drugs can do for the body, according to protocol, strong evidence, and consensus approaches. But they often fail to balance living with life. This is where we come in, and we must always demand better than what doctors offer.

In this case, the doctor hoped the new drug would be better for me, and had no way of knowing how I would respond, or how they would affect me. Once I told them how bad they were, they responded. Maybe there’s a better drug for me—or, maybe I already have the best I’ll ever have or, as I put it last time, that what I already have may be “least awful of all the drugs”. And that, to me, isn’t good enough.

So, what to do? I don’t know. I’ll try the one or two other drugs available, probably, and see. I am NOT optimistic. I thought about scheduling a second opinion with a private cardiologist (since it would take months to get an appointment through the public system, if I even got one), but aside from the high cost of going private, there’s no guarantee that they’d be able to think beyond the protocol, strong evidence, and consensus approaches used by other doctors.

Back in November, I wrote:
Recovery from any health issue is a journey, and so is making improvements designed to prevent problems from developing in the first place. But sometimes that journey encounters washed-out bridges, cul-de-sacs, and all sorts of other things that that slow or even stop the momentum. Working out why it’s happened is important, but recognising that it will happen from time to time is probably even more so.
This incident was one of those inevitable off-road incidents. I know a drug caused it, and maybe another one will be better. Maybe not. I have no idea what the way forward is if there’s no better drug, but that’s for another day. If I’ve learned anything about this journey, it’s that it’s always one step at a time. Sometimes those steps will be forward, sometimes not, but the most important thing is to concentrate on each step, not the one after that.

And so, on to the next step.

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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Māori option time

Every few years, following a Census, New Zealand offers Māori people the opportunity to choose which Electoral Roll to be on: The General Roll or the Māori Roll. The video above is the TV ad announcing that the Māori Electoral Option to change electoral rolls will begin soon.

The point of the Māori Electoral Roll is to ensure that Māori people are represented in Parliament by setting aside some seats in Parliament for Māori people. The number of Māori Electorate seats is determined by how many voters are on the Māori Electoral Roll. This affects the number of General Electorate seats, too, since Parliament is limited to 120 seats. The census determines the boundaries of all electorates by ensuring the population of electorates are similar.

The Māori Electorates were created in 1867 because (white) conservatives didn’t believe that Māori people were fit to serve in Parliament, so a separate system was designed as a way to ensure Māori representation without forcing conservatives to allow Māori people into their midst directly. This also got around the problem of property ownership: In those days voters had to own a certain amount of property, and Māori owned property collectively. Proponents considered the Māori Electorates a temporary measure to last until Māori adopted the European individual property ownership model. Ironically, the first Māori elected in under this system were also the first members of Parliament who were born in New Zealand.

In the 1860s, and for more that a century afterward, it could have been difficult for Māori people to win in majority European electorates. But as times changed, and more Māori people entered Parliament through the General Roll—especially since the first MMP election in 1996—conservatives have resumed their calls for abolishing the Māori Electorates. Most on the centre-left say that the decision on when the seats will be abolished is up to Māori themselves.

The electorates are becoming something of an anachronism, and it’s difficult to see how they could not become irrelevant in time. For example, the Deputy Prime Minister is Māori, as is the Deputy Leader of the party leading government, the NZ Labour Party. Labour has a record number of Māori MPs, and represents all seven of the Māori Electorates. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the NZ National Party (the Opposition) are both Māori; National is on record as wanting to abolish the Māori Electorates.

All up, this is good progress—not the end, certainly, but progress toward fair representation nevertheless.

The video below is from the Electoral Commission and is intended to explain the Māori Option is more detail. The important thing is that the option is open to anyone with Māori ancestry—the specific amount doesn’t matter, just that they can trace it, they know their iwi, etc (this is known as whakapapa; see also Wikipedia’s explanation).

People of all other ancestries can only choose the General Roll (Māori can choose either). Voters on either roll get two votes: One for the person they want to represent their electorate in Parliament, and the other for the Party they want to form government. Everywhere in New Zealand is covered by both a General Electorate and a Māori Electorate, and on Election Day they share voting places. So, there’s a lot of literal overlap, even though the rolls and electorates themselves are entirely separate.

Some day the electorates will be abolished. I have no idea when, especially because there’s no groundswell demanding it—not from either Māori or Pākehā. Public opinion can sometimes change quickly, but unless that happens, there will be no change any time soon.

The Government has set up a special site to help with the process: maorioption.org.nz

Friday, March 23, 2018

A new direction

Today was my first doctor visit of the year, and it was with a new doctors’ practice. The change was necessary because of distance alone, but I also felt it was time for new eyes, new perspectives, and new ideas. I think I may have satisfied all those goals.

The doctors I’ve been going to for many, many years are located on Auckland’s North Shore, which is an hour’s drive from here on a good day, and much longer on a bad one. The last time I went, it was an hour and a half drive. I said at the time:
However, the doctor is—under ideal circumstances—about an hour’s drive from home. That’s not too bad for a quarterly check-up, but what if I get sick? Driving an hour (or much more…) when I’m sick doesn’t seem like a great idea. That’ll be a project for the new year, as will a round of the more comprehensive blood tests, something I usually get done once or twice a year.
So, my due diligence was first to look at realistic travelling distances, and the closest practice is 20 minutes in good traffic (which means almost any time other than morning commute). They were also spoken of highly on the Facebook group for our community, which is a thing—a grain of salt kind of thing, but a thing worth at least considering, nonetheless.

As it happens, I got my annual comprehensive blood tests this past Tuesday, so I had current data. The tests were actually pretty outstanding: Everything was normal, apart from my “good cholesterol” which is too low and has been declining for months. That, in turn, drives down my cholesterol ratio, which is bad. One of the main reasons that remains low is that I just haven’t felt up to getting any exercise, and the reason I've been less physically active than usual, is all due to the beta blocker I’ve been on. And that was where I most wanted a change.

At the new practice, they took measurements and my history, and then I met with the doctor. I’d already told the nurse why I was changing practices, and she asked if I had any health concerns, and I replied, “beta blockers”.

The doctor talked to me about it, and before I had a chance to say how they made me feel, she ticked off all the symptoms I’ve complained about: Tiredness and memory/focus problems, chief among them. But then she did one thing more: She explained to me why I’m on beta blockers in the first place. No one has ever done that.

I knew that people who’ve had a heart attack are put on the drug to help their heart heal. I didn't have a heart attack. I also knew that they’re used for irregular heatbeat (and migraines, even). But it turns out that when someone has a heart attack, part of their heart is damaged, as we all probably know, and when someone has a blockage like I did, part of their heart is weakened. As a result, one half of the heart isn’t strong enough and has trouble keeping up with the healthy part.

Beta blockers slow down the heart, ideally to no more than 70bpm or so, so that that weakened part can keep up with the strong part. This is almost certainly a permanent requirement (or until new treatments become available). So, she said, the trick is finding a beta blocker that balances the life-saving properties with having a life.

She put me on a different beta blocker drug, Bisoprolol. I’ll take half a tablet for a week, then switch to one tablet per day. If I tolerate all that, I can renew the prescription twice (she gave me one month at a time). If not, I’ll contact her and try a different drug.

This is the first gradual introduction I’ve been offered, which is a nice change. The bad thing about this is that if I can’t tolerate it, or it’s not better, it will cost me another doctor visit to try a new one, plus another prescription dispensing fee ($5). Or, it’ll cost me that $5 twice more if I do tolerate it.

Here’s the thing. I’m not expecting any miracles from this drug (though I hope to be wrong about that), but I do like that she both gets what I’m feeling, and is willing to change drugs to try and find one that doesn’t make life miserable. Maybe I’ll be lucky with this drug, maybe I won’t, but she at least understands what I want, why it’s important, and what can be done. I honestly feel that’s more than I had been getting.

I now understand so much that I didn’t until recently. My lack of focus, my memory problems, my lack of “oomph” to blog, podcast, make videos, etc., I now know were all directly caused by beta blockers. That also means I have a standard by which to judge these new drugs: If I don’t feel up to blogging or other creative things, if I don’t feel up to going for a walk, if I don’t feel able to focus on tasks at hand, then I’ll know the drug is a failure.

I hope that this new drug will be it. I want so badly to feel like myself again, and to be able to engage fully with life and all the wonders it has to offer. But I also worry, of course, that this new drug won’t do any of that. Or the drug after that. Or that I may be left with being required to stick with the least awful of all the drugs and forced to learn to exist rather than live. What then? Well, that’s a problem for another day, because it may never happen. First things first, and all that.

As I was leaving, the doctor remarked to me that many people on beta blockers think they’re experiencing dementia, and that’s it exactly. I was scared that I had early-onset Alzheimer’s or something. “No,” she said, “it’s the drug”. Like I said, she gets it.

The main thing for me right now is that I feel listened to and understood, and that the doctors are willing to work with me to achieve the best result. I think it just may work out.

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sometimes tips really work

There are tips and tricks we learn about on the Internet, and whether they’re called “hints” or “life hacks” or whatever, they may or may not be believable. Sometimes we try the tip, other times we don’t, but sometimes those tips really work. This is one of those times.

Earlier this month, Nigel and I had lunch in a café, and I ordered a coffee, as I always do, and it was a little bitter. So, I added a TINY bit of salt and the bitterness was gone.

I heard about that on the BBC Two series, “The Secrets of Your Food”, which was broadcast here recently on TV 1. The episode was about humans’ taste ability. Co-presenter Michael Mosley was talking about how chemicals interact to form or alter what we taste, in this case talking about coffee, and he suggested adding a bit of salt if you get a bitter cup of coffee. That day earlier this month was my first chance to try it out.

I was sceptical it would work, even though I had no reason to doubt the chemistry at work here, so I wasn’t expecting much. But it was kind of amazing how well it worked, and without making the coffee taste salty (it was only a very little salt I added).

I may be the only coffee drinker who didn’t already know this, but I decied I’d use it from now on. Even the best barista sometimes makes a bitter cup of coffee, after all, but I’d proven that there was a way to make sure that won’t be an issue for me in the future.

Today I had a chance to verify my evidence. I’d gone to Waiuku for some routine blood tests, just as I did exactly one year ago today. And, just like that day, I went to the café in the same building for—literally—break-fast (they were my annual fasting blood tests). I had a MASSIVE cup of coffee (pictured above, with cutlery beside it to try and provide a point of reference). The coffee was slightly bitter—not badly so, but enough that I noticed it. So, I added the teeny, tiniest bit of salt and, yet again, the bitterness was gone.

This was only my second trip to Waiuku, and it didn’t impress me much a year ago. In fact, the town didn’t impress me any more today, however, I may have judged the vampires’ facility and the nearby New World supermarket a little too harshly: Both were better than I thought at the time.

My earlier misjudgement of the New World was because we’d only moved from our old house not yet a month earlier, and I was still used to the New World I went to there, and that one is a much nicer store. A year later, I no longer have that same frame of reference/point of comparison. I liked the Waiuku store much better than I did last year. Even so, I can’t imagine making a trip there to go to that store: There’s literally nothing else in Waiuku (apart from the vampires) to draw me there. Same time next year?

The vampires in Waiuku, however, went up in my esteem. I’d gone to Pukekohe and found their vampires’ facility was small, cramped, and the waiting room was crammed with people, apparently due to understaffing. I quickly calculated that the waiting time would be about an hour, and I was late leaving home, so I was so hungry that I was in pain. I left with all my blood.

The vampires have three locations within a 25-30 minute drive of our house, and I’ve now been to all of them. I wouldn’t choose to go to Pukekohe again, so it’s ranked last, despite being my favourite of the three towns. In second place is Waiuku, which was reasonably fast and not crowded. In first place is Takanini, which is bigger, has good parking, and plenty of shops nearby that I might want to visit. My all time favourite was the tiny location in Beach Haven on the North Shore, but that’s more than an hour’s drive away (more than that most days).

So, Waiuku wasn’t exactly a draw for me, but the vampires, breakfast, and New World were all good. But I was most pleased about verifying that the salt in coffee thing really does work, and my earlier success wasn’t a fluke.

Sometimes those tips really work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Small treasures

Going through things stored away can yield many surprises, from ephemera that stir up long forgotten memories, to accidental “over purchases”, to lost “I’ve been looking for that!” items. Sometimes, we find treasure.

The photo above shows the current New Zealand coins I found recently when going through boxes in the garage. It was part of my garage reorganisation project, but it was also accidental: I opened a lightweight box to see if I could combine the contents with another, and I found the basket I mentioned.

The basket was mostly junk—EFTPOS receips, old grocery lists, that sort of thing. They’d all actually come from a drawer in my bedside cabinet, but when we changed cabinets some years ago to ones with one less drawer, I had to clean out the old drawers. Except—and this is shockingly unusual for me—I was so busy that I just didn’t have time. So, stuff ended up in that basket. Then, I topped it up with new stuff. And then I forgot about it entirely.

Yesterday, while I was on the phone with the customer service people for the company that hosts my AmeriNZ Podcast website, I decided to go through the basket (I talked about that phone adventure on my latest podcast episode). It was probably the only way I’d have gotten to that task so soon, actually, so it turned out well.

As I said in the Instagram caption, I also found discontinued NZ coins that had a face value of $4.60, though their only value now is as scrap metal, as I said above, or to collectors. Or to John Green.

And then there was that stray US penny. I have no idea why it was there, but I have a few US coins, mostly left over from holiday trips, or even a few I had with me when I arrived in New Zealand way back when (well, 1995, actually). They’re not of a whole lot of use in this country, oddly enough.

The Australian coins used to be another matter. It used to be common to get Australian coins in change, since their 20¢ coin was the same size as ours (they get their $1 and $2 coin sizes backwards, however; ours are right). Since we changed to new, smaller coins, that stopped Australian coins circulating in New Zealand: No one confuses them anymore.

I’d like to think that some a box somewhere has a stack of banknotes waiting to be discovered, but that will only happen in an alternate universe: I never put aside bank notes because, unlike coins, they’re useful.

Coins just arent very useful anymore. I no longer buy candy from the corner dairy, so having a few coins in my pocket isn’t at all necessary (which is how they eneded up being dumped in a basket in the first place). Time was, you could take coins to any bank branch and deposit them, but a lot of branches now are mainly offices to meet with loan officers or whatever, and they send coins away to be cointed—and for a fee, of course.

There are actually plenty of things that an ordinary person might buy with coins, but New Zealand is rapidly moving to a cashless society, so finding a use for coins is becoming harder. In fact, I don’t actually know what I’ll do with the $15.30. Maybe I’ll put it in my car for when I want a soft drink.

This process of tidying up the garage has meant going through a lot of things. I haven’t found much cash, but I’ve found a lot of useful stuff, ncluding stuff I bought, forgot about, and bought again, and other stuff I’ve forgotten about. Some of the stuff has remined me of things from my past, and that’s been interesting to me. Not all the small treasures I’ve found have been monetary.

The garage reorganisation project has been difficult, and mostly extremely ordinary. Sometimes, though, I find treasure. Those are good days. Coins, however, are optional.

Monday, March 12, 2018

AmeriNZ Podcast 337 ‘Resolution' is now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 337 – Resolution” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This episode gives the resolution to the story from the previous episode, as well as an explanation of the barriers I had preventing me from blogging and podcasting.

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

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Difference Between Australia & New Zealand

The video above is by Jordan Watson for his “How to Dad” YouTube Channel (currently some 186,000 subscribers). The video takes a humours look at the differences between Australia and New Zealand. While some of them are somewhat “in jokes” between the two countries (especially his wrap-up), it nevertheless really does talk about some differences.

Watson’s channel has received a lot of attention for his channel. In the video below, from TEDxChristchurch last year. It includes his first video, which began the rest. He talks about how everything came to be, and shows more of his sense of humour. He also has a really good message at the end.

And all that’s more about New Zealand, too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

We were counted

The deadline for completing the New Zealand Census was midnight last night, though millions were done in the days leading up to the deadline. Yesterday evening, the TV ads promoting the census became more and more frequent, eventually alternating with other ads on at least one channel. And, then it was all over.

We did our Census last night (final screen above), mainly because we kept forgetting to do it or were busy with projects in the days after we got our online code. We filled-out the census online, just as we did with the 2013 Census. This year, however, instead of using a computer, we used my iPad; to be honest, part of me wanted to test whether their site really was “device friendly” as they promised (it was).

First, I filled out the form for the dwelling. Mostly, it was pretty standard questions: How many storeys? How many bedrooms? Is there kitchen? Is there running water? Electricity? How many lounges/living rooms? (the trend in modern homes is to have two, a more formal lounge and an informal rumpus or family room).

One dwelling question unleashed the mocking powers of social media: It asked how many conservatories we had “that you can sit it”. I read that and instantly though, “WTF?!” I’m a potty-mouthed thinker, apparently. The thing is, New Zealand houses aren’t known for having conservatories, certainly not like British houses seem to be, and I haven’t seen any sudden trend to add them. So, like everyone else, I wondered what the heck they were on about.

There were technology questions, too, asking whether we had available for our personal use (and not exclusively for work): A phone, a mobile phone, an Internet connection. I noticed that they no longer ask if we have a fax machine, probably because hardly anyone does anymore (we got rid of ours a decade or more ago).

The dwelling section seemed much shorter than in previous years—until I saw the personal form, which was fairly miniscule. Most of the questions were about work, health, language(s) spoken, etc., and the religion question:

This Census or the next one in 2023 will probably show New Zealand as majority “No religion”, however, as I always point out, “no religion” doesn’t necessarily mean literally no religion: It often simply means no particular religion. The census doesn’t drill down any further to see what people mean when they answer “no religion”, as I did, and some commentators have taken that to mean New Zealand is mainly an atheist nation. But the census results cannot be used to make that determination—ALL we know is that the category chosen by the largest segment of New Zealand by far is “no religion”, though Christians of all sorts combined together made up more (I talked about that in more detail in a 2013 post).

So, sooner or later, the clear majority of New Zealanders will identify as having “no religion”. I can already hear the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth about that will be coming from the usual suspects, but after a short time (maybe 10 minutes…) New Zealanders will move on and it won’t be a topic anymore. When most New Zealanders choose to identify as having “no religion” it will mean they won’t care that most New Zealanders identify as having no religion. And, once an issue is settled, we always move on pretty quickly.

There was one final thing that struck me as potentially interesting. Our individual forms asked how we're related to each other, and our option was "husband/wife, civil union partner, defacto". When you consider it already asked us our gender, and we'd said we were "legally married", it would be possible to work out how many same-sex couples there are, and in what sort of relationship formalisation (if any). However, it didn't ask specifically about sexual orientation, and the gender question was binary, so the chance to find out more details about New Zealanders was missing. Even so, it will be possible to get some of the missing information.

And that was pretty much the Census this year. Shorter than it has been, easy to do, and, now, over. Can’t wait to hear the results!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Send in the clowns

The NZ National Party is in the final hours of its campaign to choose a new leader after the resignation of Bill English a couple weeks ago. While mildly interesting to us politics nerds, history shows it’s not going to matter. That’s fantastic news.

Whoever the National Party MPs pick tomorrow, they’re virtually certain to lose the 2020 election. That’s because New Zealanders like to give a government a fair shot at making a difference, and that means National faces very long odds—especially when the past three governments each won three terms.

So, the question isn’t about which candidate stands a theoretical chance of winning, it’s about who will lose the least badly. That question is impossible to answer because all of them are problematic:

Amy Adams, MP for Selwyn. Adams was often seen on the news, so some voters are familiar with her—and they don’t necessarily like her. She calls herself a fiscal conservative, which will appeal to the National base, but she recently ducked a chance to call herself a “social issues liberal”, as most New Zealanders are, preferring to say she’s “pragmatic” (she backed marriage equality and the recent death with dignity bill). Will that kind of “bob each way” work with New Zealand voters?

Pros: Second youngest of the contenders. Represents a South Island constituency (important to National’s base). Seen as strong and decisive by some. She can be very nice when she wants to. Not from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Cons: Not from Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. Can come across as arrogant and condescending. Lingering questions about whether she personally benefited from National deposing the democratically elected government in Canterbury so it could give more water rights to dairy farmers.

Judith Collins, MP for Papakura. To call her “abrasive” would be kind, and calling her “disliked” would be mild. The reality is that New Zealanders don’t like her. She’s the oldest candidate in the contest (about a month younger than me).

Pros: Favoured by the right wing of the party. Tough and hard, which appeals to some in the party. Not willing to compromise (hardliners love that). From Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost.

Cons: Tainted by allegations of corruption, and although she has never been charged with a crime, the belief she “must be corrupt” is widespread. She was close friends with, and an ongoing source for, the National Party’s (“un”)official attack blogger. This tainted her with the party’s sleazy “dirty politics” efforts. She comes across as arrogant and condescending. From Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Simon Bridges, MP for Tauranga. He comes across as a lightweight, partly because of his speech patterns, which became a topic on its own [see also: “Simon Bridges has the accent of New Zealand’s future. Get used to it”]. To me, his phrasing echoes ex-PM John Key, for better or worse.

Pros: Youngest of the contenders (though him talking about his “youth” at age 41 seems like a stretch, and it says a LOT about how old Party members’ average age must be). He represents Tauranga, a fast growing part of the country, rural enough to appeal to the Party’s base and urban enough to not scare off independents. He raised huge money in the last campaign. A social conservative (he voted against marriage equality, for example) in a party that hasn’t valued those for the past nine years. Not from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland.

Cons: Not from Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. A social conservative in a country that thinks those people are mostly tossers. He comes across as smarmy and condescending, and often arrogant. Sometimes doesn’t answer questions or seem to fully grasp what he’s talking about.

Mark Mitchell, MP for Rodney. He’s so unknown that pretty much every Kiwi asked “WHO?!” when he was floated as a leader candidate. Funny story about that: He was Minister of Defence in Bill English’s defeated government, and no one seems to have noticed. Okay, so he was only in the position May to October 2017, but he’d been a minister since December of 2016. No one noticed that, either. He’s smack in the middle of he ages of the contestants.

Pros: Um… well, um… Okay, he’s from greater Auckland, where elections are won or lost. Most people know nothing about him and he can sell his version of his story.

Cons: No one knows him. He’s from greater Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland. The “international business experience” he constantly touts is as a “security consultant”, the marketing spin for what most of us would call a mercenary—that’s unlikely to play well a country that tries to stay out of other countries’ wars (NZ never sent troops to Iraq, where Mitchell made his money). Being a “gun for hire” would be a pretty hard sell. [see “Why aspiring National leader Mark Mitchell’s war-for-profit past matters”, "Dear Mark Mitchell: New Zealand deserves answers, not insults, on war for profit", and "National leader hopeful Mark Mitchell on defence contractors, his military past and 'war for profit'"].

Steven Joyce, National List. Second oldest of the candidates, he was Finance Minister under Bill English, and that got him into a bit of trouble. During the 2017 campaign, he claimed he’d found an $11.7 billion “fiscal hole” in Labour’s figures for its campaign promises, but no economist agreed with him. In fact, they determined he’d made a fundamental error in reading the financial documents Labour released, documents he should have understood as Finance Minister. Even so, he stuck by his claims.

Of course, Joyce is probably most famous for having a dildo thrown at him at Waitangi in 2016. Hey, no news is bad news, right?

Pros: From Auckland—that’s where elections are won or lost. He’s an experienced minister. He is from the more moderate wing of the Party (John Key’s wing). He’s not hated.

Cons: He’s from Auckland—much of the Party base hates Auckland. He wasn’t necessarily seen as an effective minister—the “fiscal hole” debacle, for example. He can be arrogant and condescending. He was National’s campaign manager, which means he’s partly responsible for National’s loss. He’s also tainted by “dirty politics”: It seems improbable that he didn’t know what was going on.

Those are the official candidates. Northcote MP and ex-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman took himself out of the race for some reason. I’d like to think it was because once the true extent of how much he and National decimated the health system in New Zealand, he’d become a liability, but he probably just councted and realised he stood zero chance of winning.

Who will win? One News thinks that Simon Bridges is the frontrunner, with Amy Adams in second place. The Spinoff points out it’s a little more complicated. The truth is, NO ONE knows: The “progressive voting system” National will use (the lowest vote getter will be eliminated until someone has a majority) means there are too many variables.

Who I might prefer is complicated. On the one hand, not one of them could ever entice me to vote for National—always a nearly impossible task, but especially so with this lot. Many on the left—Leftward side of Left in particular—want Collins because they think she’ll be be the easiest to defeat, whereas someone more tolerable might be harder to beat. I absolutely HATE that logic: It gives you some orange guy with a massive combover.

If I had to choose one of those candidates, it would probably be Amy Adams, because she’s the least odiferous of awful contestants. Collins is the worst, sure, but she’s actually tied with Bridges for the Truly Awful Tory award. Mitchell is a total non-entity, though a potentionally horrible one, and Joyce isn’t a contender.

I don’t care all that much who wins their leadership contest: Not my circus, not my monkeys. Whoever wins could be rolled before the next election so they can have a leader who has a better chance of winning. Or, not (among other things, ambitious Nats may conclude it’s best to let the party leader fail and then move, however, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern proves there’s a viable counter-narrative).

We’ll know who the Leader and Deputy Leader are tomorrow. I promise you, I absolutely CAN wait.