Sunday, June 17, 2018

Is the end justified by the meanness?

The current occupant of the White House is dividing American families and friends in unprecedented ways, splintering and dividing the country to an extent it has never been before, with the possible exception of the US Civil War. Seventeen months after the current regime took power, and with no certain end to the growing bitter divisions since then, is it now time for people to dump family members and friends who support the current regime?

A few days ago, Salon politics staff writer Chauncey DeVega published a blistering piece, “Cut Trump supporters off: The horror of migrant kids taken from parents demands personal action”. His argument is that anyone who supports the regime, for whatever reason, is complicit in the current regime’s forcibly removing children from their undocumented immigrant parents to put the children into prison camps. He writes:
Who we choose to include among our friends and associates — and yes, even kin — is a political statement because it reflects our values and beliefs. The personal is political in ways both obvious and subtle. This includes the quotidian as well as grand gestures and acts.

And so, a proposal.

If you have friends or relatives who support Donald Trump you should confront them. Explain to them that they are complicit with Trump's cruelty and sadism. Then communicate that you will no longer speak with them, nor will you offer them emotional, financial or other types of support until they denounce Donald Trump and what he represents — and make amends through speech and action.
DeVega goes on to counter several imagined arguments against his proposal, and also some whataboutisms, including:
How about the argument that by cutting Trump's supporters out of your life that you will actually make them support him even more? Thus removing any hope that they can be freed from his thrall? Because Trump's supporters retreat into shadows like political Nosferatus when exposed to the light is no reason for decent and good people to keep such people in their lives.
One can agree with him and his proposal or not, but it was this particular argument that I thought was flat out wrong. If some people are “lost causes”, then society can never grow and change, and we know that’s not true. As imperfect as the USA, and, indeed, most of the Western World is, it’s nevertheless true that our societies do grow and evolve, and that’s because of the people within them. If we “write off” people for whatever reason, we also dump any chance we might have of providing them with an example of how to grow and evolve.

There absolutely can be reasons, issues, that go too far. During the time of Bush the Second, progressives sometimes made much the same argument, like about the Iraq invasion, for example. Others made that argument about people who supported California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. Conservatives made the same argument about many different issues for the entire 8 years of the Obama Administration. In other words, it happens all the time, and whether any one issue is “too far” for someone is not for us to decide on their behalf.

So, apparently the imprisonment of children ripped from their parents is too far for DeVega. Theoretically, there are issues that could push me too far, too. I won’t comment on what they could be because they’re theoretical, and it’s not like I have a rule book that people must accept to be in my life. Similarly, I wouldn’t dream of telling DeVega what to think or do. I can only talk for myself.

I’ve never cut a family member or friend out of my life because of politics, but some have at least muffled me because of politics. That’s their right. I’m great at compartmentalising things, ignoring unfortunate things people say, and ignoring things I can’t change, but others need distance to keep their mental peace. To each their own.

But cutting people out of our lives completely because of political differences strikes me as surrender, that there can never be any meeting of the minds in the future, that whatever it was that bound us together in the first place is more insubstantial than we thought. Maybe it is. But what if we’re wrong? What if people change their minds later? What if we do?

I have no hard and fast answers here. Some may feel they have no choice but to cut friends and family members out of their lives because they support the current occupant of the White House—or, because they don’t. For me, it’s unlilkely that I’d even contemplate doing that. Sure, these days one can never say “never”, but it’s just not how I operate.

Arm the gays?

There have always been armed LGBT+ people, whether anyone who knew it or not. There have also always been openly gay people embracing guns. But with a rising tide of violent bigotry in the USA, is it now time for LGBT+ people to arm themselves in self-defence?

As a long time proponent of gun control, I’d be expected to find the question absurd. For pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that most people have no business having guns, and those who are allowed to own them should be well-regulated. Because of that, it has always been an article of faith for me that part of the answer to rising gun violence in the USA is to reduce the number of guns available.

What if I was wrong?

Okay, not wrong, exactly, but what if circumstances have changed so drastically that the answer must change, too? What if the proper answer in the face of rising hate-motivated violence is arming people?

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which compiles data from member organisations around the USA, 2016 was the deadliest year for anti-LGBT violence in US history. That was the year of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, at the time the USA’s worst-ever mass shooting. Overall, and excluding Pulse, there was a 17% increase in anti-LGBT+ murders that year [PDF of the report available online]. Following that year’s presidential election, the New York City Anti-Violence Project reported a 45% increase in calls to its violence hotline.

Official FBI statistics for 2016 showed a 5% increase in all hate crime incidents (not victims), with crimes against trans people rising 9%, as compared to a 2% increase for crimes motivated by anti-gay hatred. It’s important to note that the FBI statistics compile official data from police agencies, and as such, are known to undercount the actual number of anti-LGBT+ hate crimes, partly due to the reluctance of LGBT+ to report crimes to police. This, too, is especially true for trans people.

In 2017, over 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in state legislatures. At the same time, Mike Pence was leading the current American regime’s war on LGBT+ people. In February of that year, some 8 months after Pulse, the regime announced it was rescinding the Obama Administration’s orders that trans students must be allowed to use public restrooms that conformed with their gender identity. A month later, the current occupant of the White House signed an Executive Order rescinding President Obama’s Executive Order protecting the rights of LGBT+ federal workers. Two weeks later, the Department of Justice withdrew from a lawsuit against North Carlonia’s anti-trans HB 2, signalling it would not challenge any anti-LGBT+ state laws. In early April, the current occupant signed an Executive Order on “free speech” and “religious liberties” as part of the regime’s support for allowing rightwing religious people to legally discriminate against LGBT+ people.

The situation for LGBT+ people had deteriorated so badly by the end of 2017 that the NCAVP issued a report in January of this year [PDF available online] showing that 2017 had an 86% increase in homicides of LGBT+ people.

The current regime is hostile to LGBT+ people and has rescinded the few meagre federal protections that existed for LGBT+ people. They also want to install religious radicals on the Supreme Court, making it possible to overturn marriage equality, and possibly overturn Lawrence v. Texas and other Supreme Court rulings that have served to protect the human rights of LGBT+ people.

The current regime has also encouraged racist violence, not the least by the current occupant failing to strongly condemn neo-nazis, but also through his constant demonisation of “illegal immigrants” in vague language that also manages to stir hatred against all immigrants [For example, see: “Anti-immigrant graffiti found outside Brownes Irish Market”, KMBC News, June 11, 2018, and also “‘Immigrants Not Welcome.’ Vandals deface historic Irish Midtown storefront” by Aaron Randle, Kansas City Star, June 12, 2018].

So, the facts are that in the USA, violence against LGBT+ people is soaring. Also, the current regime controlling the White House is anti-LGBT+ and, in general, encourages violent bigots to act out. The first is a direct result of the second. So, what’s the solution?

Despite everything, I can’t YET advocate that LGBT+ people arm themselves, but I also cannot condemn any who choose to do so. The tide of hatred is rising, and self-defence may become the only defence. Holding on to one last shred of my convictions, I’d add that if LGBT+ people do arm themselves, it should be within the context of a group like Pink Pistols that can provide proper training and support.

If LGBT+ people do arm themselves for self defence, it won’t do anything to end anti-LGBT+ hate crimes. It also won’t do anything to turn back the general tide of white grievance-driven violent hate crimes. Both, especially the second, will require political solutions that don’t actually exist right now, and may not be possible in the future. If a more violent and repressive society is around the corner, then arming may be the only way for LGBT+ people to remain safe.

If the USA was still run in accordance with the US Constitution and the rule of law, I’d dismiss the idea of LGBT+ people arming themselves, probably derisively. But as we’ve all seen, the abnormal is now normal, and the unthinkable is now policy. Quite literally ANYTHING is possible while this regime is in power. I cannot in good conscience try to discourage LGBT+ people from protecting themselves, their families, and their communities from the armed thugs the current regime has encouraged. If that means arming themselves, so be it. I can live with that. More importantly, that may be the only way to ensure they can, too.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Getting to stay

Today is the anniversary of what was, in retrospect, probably the most important day I had as an immigrant to New Zealand. On June 16, 1999, I became a NZ permanent resident, and the stress and turmoil of being a temporary resident finally ended. More recently, it turned out that it also set me on a path that should keep me safe, which is even more important.

Considering how important the event was, it might seem surprising that I don’t observe it every year like I do so many other anniversaries, but the truth is that it got left behind because only three years later I became a citizen, and, after that, this particular anniversary didn’t seem to matter very much. Also, by the time I became a citizen, I’d been living in New Zealand for the better part of seven years, so Ī was well-settled by then.

Nevertheless, it WAS an important day because up until that 1999 day, I’d been able to stay in New Zealand only with a series of temporary visas and permits, the first of which bound me to a particular employer. When that company ceased trading, and I was made redundant, I needed to buy a one-way ticket the the USA—it couldn’t be an American territory, it had to be the USA itself. So, I bought a ticket to Hawaii for some $1200, I think it was. Only then was I granted a six month tourist visa so I could stay in New Zealand, and with Nigel. But, I couldn’t work or study. (I eventually got a partial refund of the ticket price).

At that time, I also couldn’t sponsor Nigel to live with me in the USA. So if my ability to get a temporary visa ran out, we’d have been separated. That all ended on June 16, 1999, and once I’d applied, I could get a work permit sponsored by Nigel.

When marriage equality finally arrived in the USA in 2012, there was finally a way for me to sponsor Nigel to live with me in the USA. By then it was too late: Our roots in New Zealand were way too deep to dig them up.

Last year, in talking about the day I became a citizen (June 10, 2002), I mentioned that “For the first time in my life, I’m profoundly grateful that I have a second passport.” That’s still true, but maybe a little bit more now than then: I have a measure of safety that folks in the USA don’t have, should everything descend into utter disaster. Unless a nativist wave sweeps the world, or some other international pressure arises, I should be safe here in New Zealand, no matter what happens in the USA.

Even so, and even though I’m extremely glad for that safety net, I remain hopeful that things in the USA will work out. As I said in that post last year:
Looking at the world as it is today, and comparing it to the one 15 years ago, it would be easy to be despondent or resigned or fatalistic. That’s not me. No matter how bad things may seem most days now, I choose to believe that they can get better, that they will get better, despite everything.

Hope is a powerful force: It’s what brought me to this country in the first place, and it’s what makes me continue to believe—no matter what—that the future will be better, even if there are a few bumps in that road along the way that make progress seem unlikely. Having hope is a sort of armour against all the bad. In my opinion, hope is not optional.
Honestly, it’s good that hope is so powerful, because every day that passes makes it harder to hold onto. I hope that I never lose hope, but more so, I hope that I never have reason to lose all hope.

Because of those June events, in both 1999 and 2002, I know I’ll be okay because I get to stay with my husband, who is, after all, the reason I came to New Zealand in the first place. That’s most important of all.

I guess I should be better about giving these June anniversaries the respect they deserve.

The photo above is a detail of my Residence Permit and my first Returning Resident’s Visa, which was good for two years, placed on facing pages of my US passport. I first used it in 2013.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Winter resting

It wasn’t very cold today, but it was still a winter day, and when the sun shines that means one thing: The furbabies find a sunny spot to snooze. Oddly, they don’t do this in the heat of summer. While their winter sun-seeking ways are common enough, this is the first time I’ve seen these three do it together (there are, of course, other sunny spots in the house one or all of them could have chosen). Naturally, I had to share it to Instagram.

And, in the interest of equal time, below is a photo of Jake. He’s lying on the opposite side of the house—the shady side—near the window that looks out toward the front gate, where he and the others watch us leave the house and return. That's also their spot for barking at the neighbours, the postie, all sorts of people, too—even the construction workers at the nearby housing developement. Actually, Jake doesn’t bark all that much, because he’s a cool dude. In more ways than one, it turns out.

This was the highlight of my day today. I’ll take it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Nice winter day

An Australian friend visited us yesterday on his way back home, so we decided to go on a drive around Auckland to show him a few of the sites we like. The photo above is looking back toward the Auckland CBD from Achilles Point, which has a particularly nice viewing platform looking out over the Waitematā Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. The spot it self is named for the HMNZ Achilles, a light cruiser that took place in the Battle of the River Plate in WW2, a battle that led to the defeat and scuttling of the Nazi pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.

After lunch, we headed over the bridge to the beach at Takapuna (I made a video of a visit there back in 2015). Even though it was a cool day, especially with the lengthening afternoon shadows, the beach was very busy. Part of the reason for that was that Auckland Council built a large children’s playground there a couple years ago, and that was mobbed. It was nice to see how popular it was, even in winter.

Of course “winter” is a relative term. It was a beautiful and sunny day, something that’s actually quite common for Auckland in winter—in fact, some of the prettiest days all year are in winter. I have no idea why that is. Maybe it’s that it rains so much in winter that sunny days seem extra nice. In any case, it was also reasonably warm at 16 degrees (60.8F), though somewhat cooler nearer the water’s edge, where sea breezes were more of a thing.

So, it was a lovely day, and we had a really nice time during our friend’s (too short!) visit. It was in every sense a nice winter day.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Shaken from complacency

Every once in awhile, we see something that is jarring enough shake our vision of reality, and maybe even knock us off the foundations of certainty we have about ourselves. Anything could do that, a speech, a movie, a piece of music, a novel—anything. For me, it was a British TV documentary.

Last night, one of our free-to-air TV channels broadcast a BBC Three documentary, part of series called Reggie Yates’ Extreme Countries. The particular episode was one of three about Russia, and called “Gay & Under Attack”. The episode originally aired in April 2015, though if anything the situation is worse now than it was then.

In the episode, Reggie travelled to St. Petersburg to attend “Queerfest” so he could get firsthand knowledge of the situation gays face in Russia. While I knew it was extremely bad in Russia, I had no idea how bad it was in practical terms. Be warned, the next three paragraphs deal with specific details about the episode, so skip them if you want to watch it first.

Reggie looks at the website for the event and sees it carries an “R18+” label, meaning that no one under 18 can attend. This is because of Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda” law that makes it a crime to talk about homosexuality positively with anyone who’s under age. Reggie noted that in his native UK, children attend Pride Parades.

No venue was listed online, and attendees had to ring to get the location—yet another oddity. Reggie went, and arrived just as they were setting up. So did the homophobes. He goes and talks with the anti-gay activists (including the hate-mongering politician who authored the “gay propaganda” law) who have shown up to disrupt the event. Reggie goes back inside to find everyone has suddenly started packing up. It turned out that the venue owner rang and cancelled their booking because, he suddenly claimed, the ceiling was unsafe and might fall on anyone there, so they couldn’t use the space. Off they went to their back-up venue—another oddity. What event organisers routinely have a “back up venue”? Apparently LGBT+ people in Russia do.

At the new venue, one of the protestors got inside and set off a “stink bomb”. She later bragged about how attendees were hanging out of windows vomiting.

The reason I go into such detail is to make clear that what Reggie saw is beyond anything usually seen in the West. Reggie talks to the homophobes to try and find out why they’re so filled with hatred, and it turns out it’s a mix of religion, extreme nationalism, and a warped view of what it means to be Russian, a Russian male in particular. This latter part was hilarious because it provided some of the most unintentionally hilarious moments, such as the homophobe who said Russian men were warriors who takes Reggie to a Russian sauna (Reggie wore shorts, the Russian wore nothing).

In all the encounters with homophobes, there was a constant stream of vile homophobic language—I’ve never heard such a barrage of hate-filled language, ever. The closest I’ve ever come was from white supremacists in the USA’s South in the 1950s and 60s, but the Russians’ anti-gay version was absolutely unrelenting. It was shocking.

The homophobes admitted that if it was legal, they would kill gay people, because they want them all dead. This is unbridled hatred of a sort we seldom see nowadays—it was homicidal, not political.

Reggie also talked to some gay people, including a lesbian who was stabbed and nearly died, and the police refused to investigate, telling her, “we don’t help lesbos”. In fact, the common thread in all the stories of gay people who were attacked is that no arrests or prosecutions ever followed.

The gay people all said that to stay safe—and alive—they had to be very discreet, including never showing even the remotest bit of affection when in public, and perhaps faking a partner of the opposite gender to throw off suspicion. Their reality was that ultimately they’d end up in prison, dead, or they’d need to leave the country.

And this was the moment for me that shook my vision of reality, and knocked me off the foundations of certainty I had about myself, because I’ve never faced anything like what Russian gays face every day. There was only one time a group I was part of was kicked out of a venue for our meetings because we were a gay group (which I mentioned several years ago), and that one time was more than 35 years ago. While I’ve known of gay guys who were attacked for being gay, it was always guys several times removed from me, never a personal friend or even aquaintence. I was never personally threatened, nor was I ever subjected to a barrage of anti-gay hate speech. So my life was nothing even remotely like LGBT+ people in Russia.

When I watched that documentary, I pictured myself in the Russians’ position, and it was not a pretty picture. I’ve always thought of myself as a strong person, and a confident advocate for my people and our cause, but if I was in the same situation as the Russians I’d be far too terrified to say or do anything. I realised that I would, in essence, be a coward, even though justifiably. I’d never thought about that before.

We are, all of us, creatures of the world we know, even as we try to create the better world we imagine. But what if the world becomes so much worse—not better—than what we always knew?
The reason the documentary about Russia struck home with me is because the deterioration of the USA has been on my mind so much the past year or so. I wrote about it as it relates to LGBT+ Americans on Monday and again yesterday. So far, the sort of scapegoating and offensive rhetoric used in Russia has in the USA been directed mainly at “illegals”, Mexicans in particular. That has left me both appalled—and relieved. Appalled for all the reason one would think—the immorality of it, the stupidity, the lack of facts, the lack of honesty, the narrow-mindedness, and the short-sightedness. But to be completely and brutally honest, I’m also relieved that—FOR NOW—LGBT+ people are not at the receiving end of that sort of brutal rhetoric.

The way the USA is headed, I can see how it could become not so very different for LGBT+ people than it is in Russia. After all, the current occupant of the White House admires the Russian dictator so much that he wants to BE him. Moreover, Pence and the far-right “Christians” that back him want Russia-style laws in the USA and those backers were behind Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” law (which I have written about many, many times). Besides, with everything that’s happened in the USA in the past 17 months, saying “it could never happen here” is just plain stupid.

So, yesterday I saw something that was jarring enough to shake my vision of reality, and knock me off the foundations of certainty I had about myself. For me, this time, it was a British TV documentary. What it did was to make me recommit myself to resist the forces or authoritarianism before they take hold—while I still can, and still have the courage to act.

Related: “A mob was yelling slurs and chasing gay people after Utah’s Pride festival. One man stepped in to fight them off.” By Erin Alberty – Salt Lake Tribune

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Nothing has changed – YET

To hear those on the Right and Left talk, one would think yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling had changed everything. Often this misinformation happened because of propaganda needs, but most of it can be chalked up to the usual, namely, people not having any idea what they’re talking about. The reality is that, legally, nothing has changed—YET.

In the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission [PDF available from the Court], the Court ruled that the baker was treated unfairly because a couple of Colorado’s commissioners had, in the majority's opinion, said unkind things about religion, meaning the baker didn’t get a “fair” hearing. This is utter nonsense.

The opinion, written by swing vote Anthony Kennedy, was based partly on one Commissioner's observation that throughout history religion has been used as “an excuse to hurt others.” This is factual, not a new idea, and not controversial except to those who are offended by the very idea that others don’t like religion being forced onto them. In fact, this argument was a direct sop to the radical right’s nonsense claim that government is “hostile” to religion and religious views. Kennedy drew FAR too long a bow to try to find something—anything—to back that silly idea.

Silliness of the majority opinion notwithstanding, the fact remains that nothing has actually changed: It was illegal for a business serving the public to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and it remains illegal. That simple reality will lead to further litigation.

The far-right anti-LGBT hate group that represented the baker has been doing victory laps in the media, which will no doubt lead to some “Christian” bakers thinking it’s okay to discriminate against gay people in the 21 states that forbid it. Worse, it will probably embolden bigots in the 29 states that don’t protect their LGBT+ people.

So, while the ruling changes nothing, it will lead to more discrimination against LGBT+ people, and, in some states, more legal action. This is all according to the radical right’s plan.

For years, the radical right professional anti-gay industry has been trying to portray their particular version of “Christians” as being some sort of “victims” who, they constantly claim, are somehow “oppressed” because other people have equal rights. The hate group that represented the baker has been soliciting far-right “Christian” business owners willing to discriminate against LGBT+ people so that the hate group can represent them.

What the radical right is up to is nothing less than taking away the human rights of LGBT people. The hate group in question, and, indeed, the entire radical right professional anti-gay industry, wants to reverse all the progress LGBT+ people have made in the past few decades—the past ten years in particular—and they want homosexuality itself re-criminalised. They can’t do that when LGBT+ people are considered legally equal.

The radical right also can’t successfully repeal civil rights protections for LGBT+ people in the 21 states that have them, not the least because the general public favours them. While they can, and have, repealed civil rights protections that cities have enacted, it’s an expensive effort with no guarantee of success. These efforts are also not nationwide.

So, the radical right is trying to chip away at the human rights of LGBT+ people by gutting their legal protections where they exist. By carving out a “religious exemption” to discriminate against LGBT+ people, they will make it legal to deny gay people housing, jobs, and public accommodation of any kind in all 50 states. Which is why this is not, and never has been, about some damn cakes.

The Supreme Court’s decision is really a punt: They’ve ruled on a VERY narrow—and HIGHLY debatable—point and avoided ruling on the anti-discrimination laws themselves. Sooner or later, a cleaner case will come before the Court, and if the make-up of the Court remains the same, the radicals may lose. But if the Court veers to the hard right, LGBT people will lose what little civil rights protections they have—and so much more. As I said on Monday:
All [the radical right needs] for that to happen is for Supreme Court Associate Justice Kennedy to die or retire, or, obviously, any one of the four more liberal justices. Kennedy voted with the majority to enact marriage equality and to overturn state anti-sodomy laws, so replacing him would give the radical rightwing religionists the crucial fifth vote they need to overturn the rulings that they hate the most. If they hold the US Senate after the elections in November, that becomes a very real possibility.
So, while this ruling changed absolutely nothing legally, and even though this particular Court seems unlikely to take away the civil rights protections for LGBT+ people where they exist, in the long run everything could be taken away. We must not allow that to happen.

The only way to safeguard the Court and the human tights of LGBT+ people is to vote Democratic in all elections. Right now, the only way to be sure that the current occupant of the White House will never get to appoint an extremist radical to the Supreme Court, and to protect the human rights of LGBT+ people, is to have the US Senate controlled by Democrats. This isn’t a partisan issue—it’s solely a human rights issue.

I’ll keep warning about this danger until it passes, because that danger remains very real. This particular ruling didn’t change things legally, but that may not last: Nothing has changed YET!

"The ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’ Decision Is Not As Harmless as You Think" by Sarah Posner, The Nation – 5 June 2018
"Sorry, Jack Phillips, but it’s still illegal for you to refuse same-sex couples wedding cakes" by Zack Ford, ThinkProgress – 5 June 2018

Monday, June 04, 2018

A good holiday

Today was the Queen’s Birthday public holiday, the last public holiday until Labour Day the end of October. The day is technically the Reigning Monarch’s Birthday, not just of the current Queen, because her actual birthday is in April. So, it’s a symbolic date at a time of year we need a public holiday. It’s also one of two days a year that Honours are announced.

The annual Queen’s Birthday Honours were announced today (the other day Honours are announced is New year's Day), and to say they’re a departure from the past would be an understatement. My friend, Auckland Councillor Richard Hills, noted on Facebook that “For the first time in 170 years of honours, the majority are for women.” That’s remarkable in itself, but also five women received a knighthood, and only three men did. The female recipients included some surprises.

Among the new female knights (called “Dame”), Catherine Alice Healy received hers “For services to the rights of sex workers”. She was founder of The Prostitutes Collective, and a champion of legalisation of prostitution. This award shows better than most things how much New Zealand has changed over the years.

Also becoming female knights were Julie (Jools) Bethridge Topp, MNZM and her twin sister, Lynda Bethridge Topp, MNZM, who together are known as “The Topp Twins”. They have entertained New Zealanders for some 30 years. The sisters are both lesbian, and have a long history of activism, including the nuclear-free movement, for Homosexual Law Reform, and against South African apartheid. As Jools told Stuff, “The rebels got their medals."

Among the men (called “Sir”), former Prime Minister Bill English received a knighthood “For services to the State” following his 30 year career in Parliament. I hardly ever agreed with English when he was in Parliament, and sometimes I quite disliked him. Nevertheless, I think if there are to be knighthoods, and there clearly are, then he deserved one—arguably more than his predecessor, John Key did. But the tradition of giving former prime ministers—and, indeed, many former long serving politicians—high honours I think is justified. Whether I supported them during their career or not is entirely beside the point.

There’s talk every year of ditching Queen’s Birthday favour of Matariki, which is also known as “Māori New Year”. Matariki itself is the name for the constellation known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. The rising of the constellation was often seen by Māori as the start of their new year, and in 2018 that will fall 6-13 July. Assuming that a single date for the public holiday were ever agreed to, it would be something of a battle to get the switch approved. Personally, I can’t see it happening for many, many years, maybe not even until New Zealand becomes a republic.

Still, this was a holiday weekend, which, despite all the rain, was nice to have. And, this year for a change I’m not very criticial of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. I’d say this year’s holiday was a success all round.

Still no Pride in the White House

There’s absolutely nothing positive or good about the current occupant of the White House, and the fact that he is a pathological liar and a con man is not news. His refusal to issue an LGBT Pride Month proclamation for a second year looks like it reveals his lies to LGBT+ Americans, but it’s much worse than that, it’s a symptom of his regime’s war on LGBT+ Americans. It’s also a rare visible example of the extent of his regime’s anti-LGBT+ animus, and that suggests things could very easily get much, MUCH worse.

The graphic with this post is a composite of all the Presidential Proclamations the current occupant has made about the month of June, 2018 (anything other than such proclamations is excluded). Considering the abject racism of the current regime, proclamations dealing with non-white peoples are infuriating and hilarious, and so, too, are the proclamations about the outdoors and oceans because of the current regime’s war on the environment. So, if the current occupant had finally issued a proclamation of LGBT Pride Month, that, too, would have been hollow and meaningless.

However, the fact that current occupant didn’t make what would have been an empty, meaningless gesture toward LGBT people shows how much the current regime despises us—and how much they think people will focus only on the lack of a proclamation, and not on what it really means.

In June, 2016, the then-Republican candidate Tweeted (of course…) his “thanks” to the LGBT community, and also declared, “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs." He was lying, and we all KNEW it was a bald-faced lie. Sure, we wanted to believe him, since he repeated the claim several times in front of his fervent fans who on their best days hate LGTB+ people passionately. Since the election, however, he’s spent his time in office proving how much of a lie it was. Consider:
Many people believe, and I agree, that the current regime’s war on LGBT+ Americans is actually the work of Vice President Mike “PLEASE don’t leave me alone with a woman who’s not my wife!!!” Pence, who has always been a viciously anti-gay bigot and a religious zealot who wants to turn the USA into an extremist “Christian” theocracy. He has been working with other far-right religious extremists in the current regime to strip away the human rights of LGBT+ Americans—and they have succeeded beyond their wettest (but chaste!) dreams.

In fact, this is the entire reason that the “Christian” Right in the USA fawns and swoons at the very mention of the name of the current occupant, despite the fact he’s a serial “adulterer”, an admitted “fornicator”, among many other “sins”. It’s not really about him at all, but about Pence’s many successes, such as, attacking the human rights and citizenship of LGBT+ Americans, making abortion all but illegal, and installing far, FAR right extremist religious zealots as federal judges, people who can be counted on to further the extremist religious agenda for decades to come.

Last month, the head of a far-right anti-LGBT hate group declared in a radio interview that, “literally we are a few months away” from ensuring that marriage equality and abortion rights are overturned. All they need for that to happen is for Supreme Court Associate Justice Kennedy to die or retire, or, obviously, any one of the four more liberal justices. Kennedy voted with the majority to enact marriage equality and to overturn state anti-sodomy laws, so replacing him would give the radical rightwing religionists the crucial fifth vote they need to overturn the rulings that they hate the most. If they hold the US Senate after the elections in November, that becomes a very real possibility.

Most Americans have no idea how far the USA has travelled down the road toward becoming an authoritarian “Christian” theocracy thanks to Pence. That’s why no matter what the current occupant says or does, they will do nothing to remove him from office: The current occupant’s bizarre and unhinged behaviour, his trouble with porn actresses he’s had affairs with, and whatever his latest Twitter tantrum is, all provide ample distraction so that no one notices what Pence has been doing to America. If Mike became president, the majority of ordinary Americans would know and would do everything in their power to stop his extremist religious agenda, since it is the opposite of what they want.

That’s what makes the lack of an LGBT Pride Month proclamation so surprising: It provided the perfect opportunity to further hide what they’re really up to with no real cost to them. The fact they didn’t shows the power that Pence and his “Christian” co-conspirators have, such that even that empty and meaningless gesture was too much—going too far for them. And, the current occupant’s pathological hatred of President Obama means it would have been easy to get him to refuse to issue a proclamation precisely because President Obama issued one all eight years he was president: Whatever President Obama did, the current occupant is sure to do the exact opposite. In this case, this also suits the agenda of Pence and his gang.

The USA is in a very precarious position right now, perched on the edge of cliff, teetering between pulling back and recovering, or falling to its national death. Republicans are busy greasing the ground, hoping to push the country past the point of no return, and the only thing between them and success is democracy, specifically, the elections in November.

So, the current occupant’s continued refusal to issue a Pride Month proclamation is a clear example of how little they’re worried about being discovered or stopped. Sure there are voters who are well aware of the extremist agenda of this gang, and if they all really vote, that will help to stop the USA falling off that cliff—but they’ll need more voters to joing them in ensuring Democrats re-take both houses of Congress in November. Whether all the scandals and bizarre behaviour of the current occupant will be enough to help bring about the massive wave Democrats need is a huge and unanswerable question. The alternative, however, is truly terrifying.

The lack of an LGBT+ Pride Month Proclamation, which from this regime would be an insulting and offensive slap in the face for LGBT+ Americans, isn’t important. The ONLY thing that matters is what this regime is doing to the USA, and whether it can be stopped in time.

Can it?

Sunday, June 03, 2018

A by-election for Northcote

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Birkenhead May 30 (Facebook).
This time next week, people in the Northcote Electorate on Auckland’s North Shore will have a new Member of Parliament. This is happening because of a by-election sparked by ex-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s sudden resignation from Parliament to take a job in the private health sector. The result promises to be very close.

While Coleman won’t be missed—at all—it’s annoying that he didn’t stand down at the election last year and save taxpayers the huge amount of money it will cost to hold this election. Nevertheless, it’s good he’s gone, especially as we learn more about what a terrible state he left the nation’s healthcare system in.

There are several candidates running in the election, including some that are, er, um, not exactly, er, um, credible—yeah, that’ll do. The two leading candidates, one of whom will be the new MP, are the Labour Party’s Shanan Halbert, who was also the party’s candidate in the General Election last year [full disclosure: I’ve known Shanan for several years now, and mentioned him in a few posts, most recently on September 13 last year]. The National Party candidate, who recently moved into the electorate, is Dan Bidois, who preciously sought selection in other electorates around Auckland.

There are two other candidates of note in the race: Green Party Candidate Rebekah Jaung, who was the party’s candidate in the election last year, and previous candidate Stephen Beery of the Act “Party”. It’s not clear why, exactly, either one is in the race. Jaung will take votes from Labour and Berry will take votes from national, though probably not nearly as many as Jeung will take from Labour. Maybe they won’t matter at all, but if the election has a close result, one of those two candidates could easily end up being a spoiler.

Labour is running a strong campaign in an electorate that leans toward the National Party. Although it’s always an uphill battle for Labour in the electorate, Labour's Halbert is polling well, and could end up winning the seat. So far, Advance Voting has been running well ahead of the pace of the General Election last year, which is always good for democracy, but very unusual for a by-election.

Pundits have been saying that if Labour wins, it will be an affirmation of support for the Labour-led Government, whereas a vote for National would mean a rejection of the Government (or, some of them say, suspicion). Maybe, but unlikely. While the current government and (especially) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, remain popular, it IS a mostly National-leaning electorate. If Labour wins, that could mean simply that voters see the value of having an MP who’s part of the Government, and/or they prefer one who has lived in the electorate for years rather than just arrived to run for Parliament. If National wins, it will be no surprise: The election is really theirs to lose.

Northcote is my old electorate, of course, where we lived until early 2017. In fact, most of the years I’ve lived in New Zealand have been in that electorate, and I worked on Ann Hartley’s campaign when she was elected as Labour Party MP in 1999, and re-elected in 2002, and, of course, I was part of the 2014 Labour campaign there. So, I’m very familiar with the electorate, something that most pundits aren’t because they don’t live there and only look at raw data. That doesn’t mean I’ll be right or that they’ll be wrong, just that I may have a more intuitive sense of the place than they do. We’ll know, all things going to plan, by this time next week. At any rate, the only reason I’m talking about it at all is because of my long personal ties to the area.

Democracy is always a great thing, and for some of us, extremely fun to watch.

The Photo up top is from the public Facebook Page for Shanan Halbert for Northcote and shows Jacinda Ardern speaking to the media during her campaign stop visiting the Birkenhead shops on May 30. Shanan is behind her looking on.

Disclosures: I’m a member and supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders or the Northcote campaign. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Out to lunch

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Today I was literally out to lunch, and it wasn’t because of my political views, as some people may think. No, it was literally a trip for some lunch on the Saturday of a holiday weekend because, why not?

It was a was a cool (though warmer than it’s been lately…) cloudy winter day, so we decided to go out for a late lunch. We haven’t gone out for lunch in a very long time, actually, mostly because of a lack of time or whatever.

So, out we went, decided on one of our regular places in Karaka, but Nigel noticed signage flags at the corner of the road where St Margaret’s Café is located. We’d been meaning to try it for around the past 14 months, ever since we first heard about it from friends who liked it. But we kept forgetting, not the least because we couldn’t see it from the main road.

Nigel pulled off the road we were on, turned around, and we headed back to the café. It was a good choice.

The café’s style is kind of rustic, in a comfortable home-like way, not kitschy. The food was very nice, and the service was efficient, even thought they were very busy with a large group there with an online voucher for their high tea. It looks like that would a fun afternoon diversion (that requires reservations) in part because high tea is so rare nowadays.

As we left, we took a brief stroll around the gardens adjoining the café, which appears to be used a lot for weddings. The photo above is from that brief walk.

So, a kind of chance thing—noticing the promotional banners, which we could easily have missed—led to a nice meal, a pleasant time, and a new place to add to our list of regular haunts.

Now all we need to do is go out for lunch often enough that we can actually have “regular haunts”.

And this post has an Instagram photo that's not of any of our furbabies, so there's that, too.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Welcome to Winter 2018

Today is the First Day of Winter in this part of the world, though the colder weather started several days ago. At 9am this morning, it was 5 degrees in our area (that’s 41F). By Auckland standards, that’s a pretty typical winter morning temperature.

When I first checked out Facebook this morning, I was greeted by a video from Facebook (screen grab of the first screen up above). Such things are nice enough, but even more significant when you consider that the country that Facebook is headquartered in—the USA—uses the relevant solstices and equinoxes for the start of the seasons, and we use the first of that month. Points to them for having culturally aware promotions/ads for themselves.

In truth, the official start of a season is kind of irrelevant. We’d been sliding into winter already, as I said, and that often happens with other seasons, too. So, if we’re going to pick an arbitrary date to use to mark the start of a season, why not use the first of the relevant month? We do.

And it's definitely winter now—my least favourite season. At least I only have three months of the season. Sigh.

For those who simply cannot accept anything else, this year the June Solstice will arrive in New Zealand on Thursday, June 21 at 10:07pm NZST.

Leo is one year old

Well, this is embarrassing: Today is Leo’s first birthday, and we didn’t know it until his first family told us this morning. We knew it was this month, but we didn’t know the specific day and didn’t think to ask. That also means I need to start this month with a yet another furbaby photo. Oops.

Leo came to live with us a few weeks ago, and has adjusted well. I took the birthday photo above around lunchtime today. He and his best friend, Bella, were lying right next to each other sphinx-style. Then I got low to take their photo, and Leo got up to see what I had in my hand. This photo was the result.

He had a good birthday, I think, though he hasn’t had one before so he wouldn’t know either way. He went out to the fenceline to bark at the neighbour’s dog, and he ran back and forth along the fence. As he did he bounced like an impala or springbok or something. I’ve never seen a dog do that before.

Unfortunately, it was muddy along the fenceline, and his paws all got muddy, something I found out when I went to bring him in, since he refused to come when I called him. He ended up getting his feet washed in the laundry tub—which will be perfect for his future baths, which will be MUCH easier on my lower back. He wasn’t especially happy about the washing, but he didn’t come when called—the first time he hasn't—so maybe it was a fair outcome?

Other than that, it was a perfectly ordinary day for him today. He always seems bright and happy, which makes us happy. And he has given me a few things to post about, so that’s always a plus.

Happy First Birthday, Leo!

Another new addition

Update: I later posted this photo to Instagram.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Furbaby month

This is my last post for May, so why not end with a furbaby post? May was my most-blogged month so far this year, and they’re one of the main reasons for that. Even so, I don’t expect that’ll continue next month—though, come to think of it, I didn’t expect that this month, either. So, yeah.

The Instagram photo above is actually from a couple days ago, and I either forgot to share it here or wasn’t up to it. I’ve actually taken more photos that I haven’t shared to Instagram, and a couple more are below.

The animals are all getting on well, though Leo is still a bit leery of Sunny, especially when she barks (because she’s so loud, we think). We think it’s funny how we used to think of Jake and Sunny as being fairly small, but now when compared to Leo they’re quite big. Perspectives, eh?

Jake, Leo, and Bella all use the new dog doors (one of which is in the photo up above) with no problem, but Sunny is still too frightened to go through it unless someone holds it open for her. It seems she doesn’t like the magnet, because it pulls the door closed and holds it closed. We’d had it taped open until yesterday in the hope it’d get her used to it, easing her fear, but we had to remove the tape when the temperature dropped. That’s when we knew she still wasn’t ready to open it herself. This is a holiday weekend coming up, and we’ll try working with her some more.

To round out this last post of the month, here are the other two furbabies in photos I took this morning:

Sunny found a sunny spot to sleep this morning.
Jake wondered what I was taking photos of—or, something…

Keep your extremists, thanks

Two far-right Canadian “commentators”, including one banned from the UK for spreading racist material, are coming to Australia and New Zealand in July. They (I’m deliberately not using their names so as to avoid giving them Google Juice) are mounting a “speaking tour” to make money—oops! sorry—to speak at shows around Australia and in Auckland. They should stay home and leave us alone.

It’s probable, though not certain, that the two will have willing listeners on their tour, and not just the sort who are expecting a freak show and trainwreck. All countries have their radical elements, and as long as all they do is talk, there’s not much that can, or possibly should, be done about it. That doesn’t extend to foreign agitators, however, who enter a country, stir up trouble and bugger off with their pay, never having to worry about our experience the consequences of the extremism they spread and encourage.

What puzzled be about the younger speaker is that they’re only 22. How, I wondered, could someone so young become so filled with the negativity and regressive agenda of the radical right? Maybe the answer really is money.

According to news.au.com, the website of News Limited (all prices are in Australian dollars:
General admission tickets to the pair’s talks, starting on July 20, cost $79 per person. Those who want to get in early for “first choice of seats” can pay an extra $20. From there, it gets steep.

A meet-and-greet with the pair for 30 minutes will cost $199. If you want to spend 45 minutes and get some signed merchandise, it’s $499.

An “intimate dinner” with the pair will set you back $749.
Not bad for not doing any real work.

The young speaker promoted her appearances saying to Australians, “Do you want to retain your culture, do you want to retain your borders, family, identity, or will the boats keep coming, will the no-go zones keep growing and will you become another victim of multiculturalism.” Whatever that means, it sounds more than a little racist.

The reason the young speaker was banned from the UK is that they distributed flyers intended to provoke Muslims. The speaker claimed the stunt was a "social experiment" to prove Islam is a homophobic religion. It doesn’t take a genius to know that deliberately provoking people proves absolutely nothing, and one could get the exact same result by passing out similar leaflets about Jesus—or maybe the current occupant of the White House—to far-right “Christians” in the USA.

These far-right folks always pretend to be a victim, with absolutely no responsible for any violent confrontations that may happen. That’s a bit rich since they always deliberately attempt to provoke violent confrontations.

The young speaker demurred, “I’m certain our ideas will shock people and our arguments will bring a lot of excitement to Australia, but I don’t remember discussing throwing bottles or rioting or setting anything on fire.” Then they stoked the flames: “We’re not going to be the ones bringing the mayhem, the left-wing rioters who are going to be there — they’ll be the ones doing that.” The far-right speakers clearly hope that’s the case so they get more publicity.

Both Australia and New Zealand have the power to block foreign trouble-makers from entering the country, and it would be understandable if the countries did so for these two. However, I don’t think that will happen, for a lot of reasons, and maybe that’s for the best: Banning them would do nothing to stop their racist agenda, but the publicity from doing so would build their popularity with their fans and vulnerable people who might be susceptible to recruitment.

The best thing to do would be to ignore them as much as possible: No counter protests—in fact, nothing more than a symbolic sole picketer (with a vehicle nearby to drive them to the hospital in the highly possible event that a far-right provocateur attacks them). Having one peaceful protestor designated as such would by itself provide a strong marketing image, and a far more effective one, and a much better strategy, than the violent confrontation the far-right folks crave, and the Left too frequently obliges with.

Honestly, though, it would be better if the pair just stayed home. They’re not wanted in this part of the world, and there must be a lot of people in North America they haven’t bothered yet, so why travel all this way just to annoy us?

They should just stay home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Getting the slang of it

There’s no better way for a newcomer in a community—or country—to begin to fit in than to master the local slang. This can be a difficult process under the best of circumstances, but the Internet makes it easier than in the old days, and these videos are good examples.

The video above is from Jordon Watson for his “How to DAD” YouTube Channel, and in it he present Kiwi slang in his usual laid-back, often very dry, humour. Nevertheless, what he says is all true, and some of that stuff took me years to fully "get". I think the humorous style makes the slang easier to absorb, even if his style night seem confusing because he acts so haphazard.

Related: “The difference between Australia and New Zealand”, the first of Jordon’s videos I shared.

The video below, “Old Gays Try New Gay Slang” is quite different—and for a few people some of the language may be inappropriate for work:

I’ve known older gay men just like these guys—and before I know it I’ll be in their age grouping. I know a lot of the slang terms, even though many of the young guys using them weren’t even born until I was already living in New Zealand. Moving on…

I agreed with the guy who said that young gay guys watch too much RuPaul, which is an older gay guy’s way of saying, “you kids get off my lawn!” However, I’d only think that, not say it out loud—yet.

Both these videos are meant as lighthearted and fun, but the truth within them is that slang varies from place to place as well as over time. To truly understand a place and time we need to understand the slang used, whether we use it or not.

But I do use slang, and videos like the one on top would have been VERY helpful when I first arrived in New Zealand. I’m not sure the other one will be very helpful to me, since I’m unlikely to need to understand the slang of young gay Americans. But, you just never know.

Tip o' the Hat to my fellow American Expat, Dawn, who shared these videos.

Barring Roseanne

It’s amazing how often some pop culture thing “blows up” to use a click bait phrase, and then “the Internet goes wild!” to use another. Today was such a day with word that Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne reboot was cancelled after the comedian made a racist Tweet. For the better part of a day there was no other story being talked about.

Roseanne’s rebooted show was a political football from the very beginning, with the Left condemning the show and declaring they’d never watch it because of Roseanne’s often stated—and often crudely stated—support for the current occupant of the White House. That’s the same reason folks on the Right fawned over the new show, the current occupant included, who talked about the show’s ratings, of course.

The whole thing became so hyper-politicised, as quite literally everything in the USA seems to these days, that I didn’t know what to think. My initial inclination was to follow the lead of my tribe—those of us somewhere to the Left of Centre—and not watch it. Easy for me to say: It was an American TV show and unlikely to air here, I thought.

Until it was broadcast here about a week behind the USA, I think.

I was a huge fan of the original Roseanne, with its often—though not always—accurate portrayal of the zeitgeist of its time. It portrayed working class realities more than any other show of its time, with good acting and writing (most of the time).

So, carrying the memory of the show I once watched and liked uneasily paired with my rejection of Roseanne’s personal embrace of the current occupant, I ended up watching the show.

The first one I saw, I held the remote in my hand prepared to change the channel the moment it pissed me off. I watched to the end. And I watched episodes after that. In my opinion, both the Left and the Right overreacted, as they so often do. It wasn’t raging Trumpeteering as the Left predicted, nor as good as the Right declared.

I saw Roseanne (the character) argue about the 2016 election with her sister Jackie (played by my fellow native Illinoisan Laurie Metcalf). Roseanne said why she’d voted for the current occupant, and Jackie said that Roseanne’s constant abuse of Hillary Clinton drove her to vote for Jill Stein—much as happened in a lot of places, including the three states that put the current guy into the White House.

I also saw Roseanne be certain that the Muslim family next door were terrorists as her president’s team constantly preached. But she learns that they’re real people who are facing their own problems, and she defends the Muslim mother in public when a snotty teen abuses her.

In another episode, husband Dan (John Goodman) loses out on a contracting job because the lower bidder—as they put it—“hires illegals”. In a subsequent episode, Dan is desperate to raise the money to pay for Roseanne’s knee surgery so she will stop abusing painkillers. He decides to hire “illegals”, too—and then fate intervenes with flooding bad enough that there’s plenty of work for everyone. And that’s where the series ended.

There were a few moments that were vaguely doctrinaire, but in general the show was NOT a commercial for the current occupant—not by a long shot. It was mostly an updated version of the old show, but putting the Connor family into the current time with all the problems people of their class might face—rationing their prescriptions because they can’t afford them all, being unable to afford surgery, feeling trapped by circumstances not of their making, and, in the case of Roseanne, being desperate enough to vote for a racist con man and buffoon “to shake things up” (the episodes I saw never said how anyone but Roseanne and Jackie voted).

The show’s main problem was that it just wasn’t all that good. Sure, there were some good jokes, but the whole thing felt tired, as if sometimes they were just going through the motions. The acting was often quite good—and could even be better than in the original series—but it also sometimes felt flat. It was pretty much the same thing with the writing and the quality of the jokes.

Even so, it was no horror show or exercise in political indoctrination. It MOSTLY rang true, it MOSTLY described modern working class problems fairly accurately, but, the thing the Left and Right both missed, I think, was that the characters—especially Roseanne herself—grew.

So it turns out that the problem here wasn’t the show Roseanne itself, it was actor Roseanne herself, as the Left said all along. In particular, it was Roseanne’s inability to keep her mouth shut. She kept Tweeting insulting things about her political opponents, including sharing debunked lies, as well as sharing all sorts of conspiracy theory nonsense. She was a problem waiting to explode, as her American TV network, ABC, must have known.

So today, and not for the first time, she Tweeted out racists insults. Fox "News" defended her, of course, as did all the Trumpeteers on Twitter. The thing I personally saw that made me laugh and sad at the same time was a huge number of Tweets from Trumpeteers saying that Valerie Jarrett “looks white”, so, therefore, the remark couldn’t be racist. A few even put up photos of Rosanne and Jarrett claiming that Roseanne “looks darker”. To me, that tactic seemed especially desperate and deluded.

The tragedy in this is not the fall of someone who was once quite good and relevant, but who is now a political extremist focused on the bizarre and just plain nutty. The tragedy here is that hundreds of other people have lost their jobs, too, people who would never do anything as stupid as what Roseanne did. They don’t deserve what happened to them because of Roseanne’s moronic behaviour. Still, you’d think something like this was inevitable.

For months, I kept hoping that Roseanne was pulling an elaborate prank, that at some point she’d tell everyone that she was pretending to be a supporter of the current occupant just to prove how gullible his ardent fans really are. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. She’s really as weird and downright loony as she’s seemed, so today’s events were inevitable. This time, there probably can’t be a return. That’s clearly not a bad thing.

Update May 31–further reading: "Roseanne Tried to Use ‘Roseanne’ to Prove that Trump Voters Aren’t Racist. There Was Just 1 Problem." from The Nation. I think this explains why the character of Roseanne defends the Muslim mother, even though the comedian Roseanne attacked Muslims on Twitter.
"The extreme right won’t stop defending Roseanne" from ThinkProgress. This is not the far-right's finest hour.

The image up top is by cartoonist xkcd, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Furbaby love

The photo above is of Sunny, Leo, and Bella all in my lap, as the captions says. This isn’t a regular occurance, but it’s not uncommon, either. The photo below is of the three dogs looking at me as they waited for their dinner (I sat down to see a report on the news, and they had a better idea of how I should spend my time).

Puppy love, eh?

Technology can help

At first glance, this may seem like it’s the most bourgeois thing I’ve ever posted. But given the context of this blog, it’d be safe to assume that there’s more to it than it may seem at first glance. In either case, we now have a robot vacuum at our house, and sometimes technology creates big and positive changes.

Nigel was lobbying for us to get a robot vacuum for a while now, and I resisted. I thought of them as being as pointless as a leafblower—using a machine to do something that could be done better by more traditional means. While I’ve come to accept that, at least sometimes, a leafblower has its place, I couldn’t see the point of a robot vacuum when we already have conventional ones.

Turns out, I was wrong.

The machines are far less expensive than they used to be—far less expensive than the last “big” vacuum we bought, in fact. They’re also much better than they used to be—they don’t fall down stairs or get easily confused about where they are. It turns out, it does a very, very good job vacuuming the house in about 73 minutes.

But it’s not the lower cost nor the good job it does that sold me: It was the energy saving, MY energy.

As I’ve documented on this blog, I’ve had terrible problems with fatigue and energy levels over the past year, ever since I started taking beta blockers. Add that problem to memory problems and lack of focus, and the past year has been bloody awful. The robot helps with that.

Up until we got the robot, I ran out of steam cleaning the house and was seldom actually able to vacuum. Worse, sometimes having the need to vacuum hanging over my head was tiring all in itself, enough so that it could make me skip other routine cleaning. Things are better now.

Because of the robot vacuum, I can concentrate on all the other cleaning I need to do and let the robot vacuum take care—very efficiently—of that one task. This matters because I need to ration my energy, and if I don’t have to spend any on vacuuming, I can use it for other cleaning. This is a major advance.

A couple months ago, I wrote:
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.
My first strategy here is to come up with coping mechanisms to help me in case this is as good as things will be. I don’t have a solution for the memory or focus problems, at least, not yet, but this robot helps with my energy/fatigue problems, and that’s a start.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment with a private cardiologist on June 20, which was delayed because he’s been on annual leave overseas. Ironically, I may have been able to get a public system cardiologist appointment faster, however, this guy is a specialist in heart rate problems, so that’s a good thing. I’m hoping that he can shorten the time and trouble it will take to either find an acceptable beta blocker or a different class of drug, something that a specialiast can do better than a GP. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve found technology that helps me to have a better quality of life than I could have otherwise, and that’s no small thing. Sure, it’s bourgeois as hell, and it’s Middle Class Problems writ large, but that’s my life and it matters to me because it’s my life. The Mainstream Liberal in me is embarrassed at how happy this technology makes me, but after a year of this shit, I can live with that embarrassment because easing the burden matters more. Sometimes technology creates big and positive changes.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sewer time again

Yesterday, we had to have Watercare come out to clear blocked sewer lines, something we found out about at 7am when Nigel was about to leave for the day and saw a growing puddle. I went outside when there was enough daylight and found sewerage bubbling up out of our gully trap and running across our lawn. This was similar to what happened last September, although less severe.

Watercare says these blocks happen because people flush things that should never by flushed, like sanitary pads, tampons, wet wipes, nappies, etc. (see their poster at left). Such things block the pipes—which aren’t very wide—causing sewerage to flow overland—in this case, our yard.

Another problem is that the access points—“manholes”—have often been buried, sometime by the builder/developer, which means property owners may have one on their property and not even know it. Watercare can come and dig up a manhole, and the owner can’t object (I don’t know if the property owner is charged for that or not, and I didn’t think to ask). The Watercare people told me that at one house nearby the owners had a shed on top of the access, which is illegal (they can order it be removed).

We know from our September experience that we don’t have any sewer access points on our section.

I shared most of this information on a local community page, and my personal Facebook, mainly as a way to ask that people don’t flush anything except for what Watercare delicately calls “human waste” and toilet paper—nothing else. As I said on the community page, “We’d rather not see your, um, stuff, flowing up out of our gully trap!”

What I didn’t say in the post, because most people here know this already, is why we even have a gully trap.

Basically, a gully trap works like a sink: Sinks, showers, and/or laundry (also known as “graywater”) empty into it, and as it fills with water, gravity pushes the water into the sanitary sewer. It uses the same principle as the S trap under a sink, or the water in a toilet bowl: The water blocks sewer gasses.

The reason for them is because of exactly what happened to us: If there’s a sewer blockage, the sewerage will back up through the gully trap, rather than into the house. This is why it’s placed between the house and the connection to the sewer line. By code, at least one graywater pipe must drain into the gully trap to keep the water level up because if the water evaporates, it’ll smell.

In cold areas where water freezes in winter, gully traps won’t work. In North America, for example, they use a backflow preventer, which is kind a specialty flap that closes if the sewer starts to back up into the house. The problem with that is that the pressure caused by the blockage can cause manholes to be lifted—even violently, and with a sewerage fountain. Nice!

While I learned some of that over the years, I didn’t know most of that until the overflow last year. I wanted to understand what was going on, so I read up on it.

So, the sewerage overflowing the gully trap is a good thing—it protects the house—but it only happens when there’s a blockage, which is a bad thing. Most blockages in residential lines are caused by people flushing things down that toilet that don’t belong there. As one of their more colourfully worded posters (PDF) put it, “Only toilet paper, pee and poo should be flushed down the loo!” And so it goes.

See also “Toilet humour” my post from June of last year about this topic and newspaper ads about it.