Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Maybe progress

On any health journey there may sometimes be good news, other times bad news, and lots of times deliver wait and see news. That’s what I have today, but, despite myself, I’m very hopeful. It could be that a truly awful year may soon end.

For the past year I’ve been struggling on beta blockers because of the often severe fatigue they cause, along with the problems with memory and focus/concentration. They’re the reason I haven’t been up to blogging or podcasting or any of the other things I want to do. Which is why I say it’s been a terrible year for me. Turth is, it’s been worse for Nigel who hasn’t had me for the past year.

Today I saw a cardiologist in private practice, which, while expensive, was a very good move. Waiting for an appointment in the public system could take months, and this particular cardiologist is a specialist in heart rhythm.

This whole sub-journey began, as I explained last November, after a third tachycardia incident, which means I had an unusually fast heartbeat. The after-hours medical centre I went to put me on beta blockers, and everything started then.

Since then, I’ve changed drugs and dosage, with no real improvement in how I felt, even if the specific problem went away. After I saw my new GP back in March, I wrote:
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.
The problem with all that is that it robbed me of energy and mental focus, and when I did something that made my heartrate got up, I felt absolutely terrible afterward, almost anxious, even. It affected literally every aspect of my life.

Today the cardiologist explained that it is standard practice when someone has a heart attack, but I never had one. In my case, they wouldn’t necessarily prescribe beta blockers unless an ultrasound scan of my heart showed a problem. No scan was done when the stent was done, and I don’t know why it wasn’t. But because it wasn’t, there’s no proof that half my heart is weakened, particularly since my ECG shows normal heart rhythm.

The cardiologist also said that certain calcium channel blockers are good for my particular kind of tachycardia because, in addition to controlling the rhythm, the drugs have fewer side effects than beta blockers, and nothing as bad as they have. Based on the evidence, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why I have to be on beta blockers.

One can’t just stop beta blockers, though, so I’m to cut the dosage in half—to ¼ tablet—for two weeks, then start the calcium channel blocker. This may be manageable with drugs alone, but, if not, there’s a surgical option to fix the tachycardia, because, as he put it, it’s basically “a wiring problem”. However, right now there’s no reason to assume that will be necessary.

The bottom line is that I should soon start to get my life back, with more energy and better mental function. I have no idea how long that will take, but I’m more excited about that than worried about tachycardia returning. And if the new drug can keep that in check, then I’ll definitely have my life back.

For the past year, I’ve been completely aware of my age—and often feel older than I really am. That’s not because of actual age or ageing, it’s because of the prescriptions I’ve been on. But now it really feels possible this may be about to end.

Right now, having what may be progress is a very big deal.

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.

Scheduled outage

Yesterday the electricity lines company had what they called a “scheduled power outage” in our area for an entire day. The fact that it was planned didn’t make it any easier to deal with, but I found ways to minimise the disruption.

We received a notice in the mail dated May 28, which was unusual in itself because we hardly ever get any mail. This actually made it more noticeable. The outage was to be from around 8am to 3pm, or the next day if weather didn’t cooperate.

Monday night, I double checked the letter. I was planning on making a trip to Pukekohe the next day to fill part of the time. Tuesday was also rubbish day, so I planned on getting up a little early yesterday morning to get it all together for Nigel to drop off at the kerb on his way to work.

So, Wednesday dawned, I got up and got the rubbish ready, then sent Nigel on his way. I came back into the house to feed the furbabies their breakfast, realised I needed to get some more dog food from downstairs, got back to the kitchen and the lights went out. It was 8:01am.

I’d forgotten all about the outage, so I hadn’t had my shower, and with no powere that meant no water. Uh oh. I fed the furbabies and tried to figure out what I was going to do.

A few household chores—emptying the dishwasher, taking recyclables out to the bin (that’s collected next week), and a little surfing the web on my phone (since we had no power, there was also no wifi).

I tried the tap, and there was water. I guessed that either they’d put a generator on the water pump for our area, or the shutdown was very specific to our area.

That meant I could have a cold water wash at the bathroom sink (being a cool day, I was confident this wasn’t too risky…), so I did that and off I went to Pukekohe.

When I got out on the road, I saw the workers, and that the work was related to the new subdivision, so it’s possible it was a very local outage.

In Pukekohe, my first objective was lunch because I didn’t have any before I left (I hadn’t wanted to open the fridge at home—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I picked up a tool for an upcoming project, then exchanged a couple things I picked up the other day, and then some things from the grocery store. That last one was related to the day because I bought a small bag of ice.

Once home, around 2pm, I put some of the ice in a bowl in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer, both to bump up the cold. Then—nothing. I had nothing else planned.

At 3:31 the power finally came back on.

Because there was no power, and so, no Internet, I nixed the idea of blogging in the day time (I wasn’t sure how much battery power my laptop had, and, anyway, I usually need to check something or other online. By the time evening rolled around, I just didn’t have it in me to do any posts.

This was a good thing. I’d written two posts the day before, neither of which I wanted to publish. They were too mean, too mocking, too pointless. But in light of some of my posts lately about LGBT+ people, the irritation bordering on anger was justified. I did a third post that was similarly too harsh, but that one may reappear in an edited/rewritten form at some point.

So, the power outage was planned, and so, too, was my blogging outage. I know the latter was for the best, and I presume the first was, too. Sometimes these things are necessary.

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.