Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Simon’s circus

National Party Leader Simon Bridges, who has overseen a shambolic and badly targeted Opposition, is now under pressure as never before. One of his party’s MPs has gone rogue, accusing Bridges of corruption, among other things. This is one of those times we need ample popcorn to watch all the political infighting.

The story has so many twists and turns that it would take forever to tell coherently, so here a re few relevant pieces on it from the NZ newsmedia:

“Jami-Lee Ross accuses Bridges of corruption: the National implosion, explained”The Spinoff
“Recap: National MPs stay 'strong' amidst 'disloyalty and threatening behaviour'” - RNZ
“Bombshell after bombshell: a day in NZ politics like no other”The Spinoff
“Jami-Lee Ross posts images of Simon Bridges with '$100k donor' Zhang Yikun”New Zealand Herald
“Simon Bridges continues to stonewall questions about donations and sexual harassment claims”New Zealand Herald
“Jami-Lee Ross accused of inappropriate behaviour for a married MP: Paula Bennett”New Zealand Herald

Like most people, I have no idea who’s telling the truth and who’s not. There are tings that suggest that Ross is telling the truth, but Bridges is so strongly adamant that none of it is true—without denying specific allegations. If there’s anything to the allegations of corruption, it’ll be for the police to discover.

Conservative-leaning pundit Bryce Edwards dismisses it all: “National's hollow political scandal entertaining but insignificant”, while Stuff’s Tracy Watkins says, “After a horrendous day, Nats leader Simon Bridges is still standing – for now”, and far-left blogger Martyn Bradbury reckons it’s all part of a plot to replace Bridges: “BY-ELECTION SCANDAL: That cold, terrifying and soulless nails-on-blackboard sound you hear right now is Judith Collins sharpening her talons”. Whatever. There’s no way that we mere mortals can know who or what is correct.

But, since everyone else is sharing their reckons, here are mine. First, there’s something going on here, even if there’s no criminality. This kind of explosive response isn’t caused by a minor disagreement. Second, if Ross thinks he’ll win a by-election, he’s probably dreaming. It’s a solidly Tory electorate, and it seems, at best, improbable they’d vote for an independent. He won there not because it was him personally but because he wore the National Party rosette. Finally, Bridges' days as National Party Leader have always been numbered, and this will do him no favours. He didn’t win leadership on the first ballot, and since his election he’s been hapless and hopeless as Leader of the Opposition. Other National Party MPs are very ambitious, so it was always a matter of time before he was rolled, and that day is now sooner than it had been.

Beyond that? Not my circus, not my monkeys. I don’t really care who leads the National Party because I wouldn’t vote for their party, anyway. But, on the other hand, I do care about their leader because he may become prime minister, and Bridges should never get that job. The real question to emerge from this, though, is this: Does National have anyone fit to be prime minister? On current performance, absolutely not.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Water issues

Our water was turned off one day last week so they could replace a water main. This is one of many times since we’ve moved in that either the water or the power or both have been turned off, and, like most of them, we received a notice about it (the top of which is in the photo above). But unlike the previous times, we were fully prepared. Even so, other issues emerged.

Unlike the last time this happened, when I completely forgot about the power being shut off, I rembered and was ready. I’d had my shower, had breakfast, and made myself a coffee before the power went off. I gilled a pitcher with water and put it in the fridge, and I also filled our old whistling kettle with water so I could heat some water for coffee (we have an electric jug, but it’s in the laundry, were I use it to boil water to kill weeds, so it was probably dirty with dryer lint, and I didn’t have time to clean it). So, I was about as prepared as I could be.

When the power goes off in our area, our water does, too. But this time it was only the water, and that meant there was no doubt that the sewerage was working, too. So, the toilet was usable, but it would have no water. Or, would it?

After our weather event last April, I filled a very large plastic jug (it probably holds around 15 litres or so) with water to flush the toilets. I did that because another storm was predicted for the next day, and I wanted us to be prepared.

There hasn’t been another severe weather event since April (yet…), and the jug just sat around. I was never going to use it for anything else because it had no lid to keep dust and dirt out (I think we still have that lid somewhere…). This was the perfect time to get rid of that water, and that’s what I used it for (though it took a couple days to use it all).

The flyer said that when the water came back on, we should flush the system by turning on an outside tap, so I did. The air in ghe line seemed to get better pretty quickly, and I couldn’t see any discolouration, so it seemed okay. After I went back inside, the taps all worked find without banging, though for some reason one of the toilets made a loud bang the first time it was flushed.

What we found out the last time the water was shut off is that for several days afterward there’s air in the lines. This isn’t always obvious, like banging pipes or whatever. Instead, we draw water and it looks fine, and then quickly turns “milky” as all sorts of tiny bubbles form, and eventually break and the water clears. Last time this took several days to go away. It’s perfectly safe, but doesn’t look very appealing. So, I used the water in the fridge for drinking until it ran out a couple days later. The water still has the tiny bubbles to some extent, and while the bubbles aren't as bad and dissipates much more quickly, it just doesn’t seem to want to go away.

In the old days, after they finished working on a water main they’d flush the system by opening the nearest fire hydrant, but they don’t do that any more. Is this why it takes four or five days or so for it to get back to normal?

Meanwhile, a little while after the water was turned off, someone posted on our community’s Facebook Page asking if anyone else’s water was off. I suppose that it WAS easy to miss the flyer amid the free newspapers and advertising junk mail. When the water was back on, someone else posted about the “milky water”.

So, this time I learned that a little preparation goes a long way for a planned event, which means it would be even more useful for an unplanned event. I also learned that putting a pitcher of water in the fridge is a good idea—it’s more appealing. And, I also learned that while there may be no perfect way to alert affected people about planned interruptions to services, clearly flyers in the letter box isn’t necessarily the best or only thing they should do.

This was kind of similar to the notification about the changes to postal delivery that I blogged about last week. I posted a link to the NZ Post site son that community Facebook Page so people could check their own address for the delivery days. I actually did that because of the issues I saw with the water shutoff. Neither I nor anyone else should have to do that, but maybe there's no choice.

Still, this water outage, while annoying, as they always are, wasn’t too bad. Preparation clearly works. Now I just have to redouble my efforts to make sure we’re prepared for emergencies, too.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Women’s work

I’ve long said that if the USA wants a better class of politics, we need a better class of politician. And what that means in practical terms is that we need younger people, people of all different races and ethnicities. We need people of all religious beliefs—including especially those with none. And we need a LOT more women in office. The ad above highlights that particular effort.

The ad is from Serve America PAC, founded by progressive Democratic US Representative Seth Moulton. He is a combat veteran in the Iraq War, and many of the candidates the PAC supports, and all the women in the ad, are military veterans, too. The PAC is committed to “transforming our nation’s capital and state capitals across the country by supporting a new generation of leaders who will put people over politics.” It is a worthy goal.

The women in the ad all decided to run for office after having already served their country. They saw that their work serving the country wasn’t done, and realised that if they didn’t step up, who would? More of this, please.

I know plenty of men like me—middle aged and older white men—who get defensive and even lash out when it’s suggested that we’re not always the best choice for elected officials. I used the word “always” deliberately, because we white men, older white men in particular, have always taken for granted that of course we’re the best choice for election, no matter what. Well, sometimes we’re not. In fact, these days quite often we’re not the best choice.

This isn’t about us being men or white or older—all those things by themselves are irrelevant. But they often combine in ways that end up advancing the interests of other white older men to the exclusion of others. But the USA is becoming browner over time, and eligible Millennial voters now outnumber eligible Baby Boomer voters. We need the people who are the USA—and the future—to be in the halls of power. As the modern proverb puts it, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” something that younger people, women, and every minority has experienced first-hand. We need all of America to be represented at that table, and not only, or predominantly, older white men.

We older white men have our roles to play, too, of course. We can help younger people and women of all races get into office. We can advise and support them. We can also still run for office—as long as we work with everyone else, not against them. I’ll still vote for older white men, obviously, but only the ones who want to move us all forward together, not the ones who look out only for themselves and those most like them.

We need a better class of politician. We’ve tried changing older white men for other older white men, but nothing changes. Maybe it’s time we tried something different. Things can’t possibly get any worse—but they can get so much better.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Judging a meme isn’t easy

The Tweet above was posted above by NBC News, and while its subject is pretty sickening, it's also hardly surprising. But when I saw a meme based on it today, it underscored how hard it is for ordinary people to evaluate memes. The Tweet above is both real and from a reputable source. But memes based on such Tweets can accidentally call that into question.

I originally saw the meme (below right) earlier today, and thought nothing of it. When I was back on Facebook to reply to a comment on the Facebook Page share of my blog post from earlier today, I noticed it again and that someone had noted the date on the meme—October 13, when it was October 12 in the USA, where NBC News is based.
The meme in question.

This was an astute observation, and sometimes it might even be enough to call the truth of a meme into question. But not this time.

The problem is that date stamps on Tweets don't mean anything because they're displayed according to the user's settings (which makes sense since there's no such thing as a "correct" time). Any screen grab of a Tweet will display the date stamp of the device/computer taking that screen grab. For example, if I take one from my computer, the picture of the Tweet will show New Zealand time, not the date and time of the person who posted the Tweet. I’ve actually run into that very issue several times, which is why I usually embed a Tweet or delete the timestamp from a screen grab to avoid confusion—or anyone assuming it’s fake because the time stamp is “wrong”.

The original NBC News Tweet was posted at 8:08pm Eastern (USA) Daylight Time on October 12. That same moment was 2:08am October 13, as in the meme, Central European Summer Time (and 1:08pm NZDT October 13 here in New Zealand). What this means is that either whoever made the meme was in the Central European Summer Time zone, or their device was set to that time zone, or else they used a meme-making service that’s located there (I have no way of knowing which it was). The time stamp in the embedded Tweet above will probably display what time/date it as in your own time zone.

All of this can be very confusing, of course, but unless all Tweets were stamped with UTC rather than localised time, this confusion is unavoidable. However, a simple check for the original Tweet, as I did, is all that’s really necessary to verify it. I just took the further step of working out what time zone was in the meme in order to put anyone else’s mind at ease (because the question had been raised, merely sharing a link to the original Tweet didn’t seem enough).

The best way around this is to share a link to the original Tweet, not a picture of it, because people doubt a lot of things they see on social media—which is a good thing! Unfortunately, though, most people don’t doubt enough. Add that to the fact we’re all very busy and don’t have time to search out verification or sources for everything we want to share, and it increases the opportunity for false information to spread.

My advice is simple. First, stick with reliable sources, ones that can be checked easily. Memes made from some random person’s Tweets aren’t as reliable, without checking further, as ones from reputable news sources. But even if the source is credible, verify the meme is really based on something they said, reported, etc. Otherwise, give it a miss. If you simply must share something unverified, then at least say in your post something like, “I haven’t had a chance to verify this yet.” Someone may do the job for you—or debunk it. Either way, the truth will win.

I hadn’t set out to make this Internet Meme Verification Day, but when things fall into a blogger’s lap, there’s no escape. And, no, I haven’t verified that assertion. It isn't easy to judge a lot of things.

Meme-ingful information

The meme at left popped up on social media in the past few days, but without any links or other information on sources, it’s hard to evaluate for truthfulness and accuracy. However, I did the research the original meme-maker did not, and it turns out that the core point of the meme is true and accurate, and it also turns out that the lack of sourcing is not the fault of the person who originally shared the information. This underscores how dodgy political memes often are.

The meme originated as a reply to a Tweet back in September, part of a discussion about voter suppression efforts in the US state of Georgia. The graphic in the meme made it look like it was singling out the USA, which it wasn't. The original graphic was from Statista, whose charts I’ve shared several times. It was their “Chart of the Day” back on February 2. I’ve included the full chart below.

The information in the actual graphic (shared on Twitter) is drawn from the “2017 Democracy Index”, published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which was released in January of this year [download the PDF]. The Index ranks countries on a democracy scale of 0 to 10 based on five criteria. Business Insider explained the criteria:
The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair (“electoral process and pluralism”), governments have checks and balances (“functioning of government”), and whether citizens are included in politics (“political participation”), support their government (“political culture”), and enjoy freedom of expression (“civil liberties”).
The biggest and most important thing about actual Index isn’t that the USA has fallen out of the top 20 rankings of democracies, but this: A country must have a rating of at least 8 to be classified as a “full democracy”, so the USA slipping below 8, as it actually did in 2016, means it has been downgraded to a “flawed democracy”; its ranking has been declining for years. In short, a low ranking among democracies is bad, but a downgrade to “flawed democracy” is much worse.

The reason the meme’s so popular on social media all the sudden is undoubtedly because of the upcoming the US elections, but it has very little usefulness for that purpose.
The actual Tweet.

First, the meme has no sources, apart from hints in the subhead that one could Google (the original Tweet shared the complete graphic which does include some very basic sourcing information, and he separately Tweeted a link to the Business Insider piece). This is a constant problem with political memes, and especially ones “borrowed” from other people on social media. Sure, someone can always do as I did and spend some time hunting around, but we shouldn’t have to do that—ever. Sources matter because facts matter: Without sources we have no way of knowing if a meme is factual or mere propaganda.

The second problem is more about what might be called utility: The people already opposed to the current regime in the White House will take this on board as more evidence of how bad the current regime is, however, its supporters will simply not believe it’s true. This is always a problem, obviously, when the current occupant of the White House constantly dismisses truth and facts as “fake news” and attacks journalists as “the enemy of the people”. But not everyone supporting the regime is all in without questions, and those people can sometimes be open to new information.

To accept that the information in the chart even might be true, it’s vital that they’re able to check it out for themselves. However, if they did and found out that the USA was downgraded to a “flawed democracy”, it’s questionable how many marginal supporters of the regime would be willing to accept that. Part of this is the ideology of American exceptionalism that the rightwing in particular is wedded to, and it leads them to deny and dismiss anything critical of the USA or its democracy—basically, it’s a kind of denial that anything could be wrong with the USA.

For those reasons—the lack of sourcing and the fact that marginal supporters of the regime would be likely to see the Index as an attack on and insult to the USA—it has no usefulness as a campaign graphic. But, that aside, what about the information itself?

I haven’t read the full report, though I’ve now downloaded it (link above). I was probably aware of it when it was released, if only vaguely, because I get email alerts from the EIU. Similarly, I get email notifications of Statista charts, so I would have received a notification of the chart shared in the Tweet. But there are a lot of international rankings every year, and I can’t look into all of them!

Even so, the Democracy Index is a rational ranking of democracies based on its criteria. It provides a standard by which commitment to democracy can be measured, not just among the 167 countries ranked, but also regionally and globally. A frightening fact from the 2017 Index: Only 4.4% of the world’s population live in countries with “functioning democracies” according to the Index’s scale.

All of which is fascinating to politics geeks like me, and probably frightening to anyone who cares about democracy, but I think there’s another, different lesson here.

A point I've been making for decades is that there’s NO SUCH THING as a "perfect" country: Humans are imperfect and any government system they create will be imperfect, too. However, it's possible to be better, and better is good. Every country is good at or ranks higher in something good than other countries. Human nature again. But we should never be blind to where other countries are better or doing things better so that we can learn from them and become better ourselves—whether we like doing the reality check or not.

That’s not an easy concept for many conservatives in the USA to accept. It’s what leads them to embrace banal slogans like the red hat slogan of the current occupant of the White House. Thing is, what he was actually implying is that there was a mythical time in the past when the country was the best it could possibly ever be. That's just silly. ALL countries—every single one—can become better, always. Rather than looking backward to an imaginary "best ever" past, we should be looking toward the future and work on becoming the best we can be.

For those of us who don’t support the current regime, their silly slogan just makes America GRATE again.

So, the meme shared part of a graphic from an actual Tweet from September which, in turn, shared a graphic from February that was based on information originally released in January. While stripped of context, the meme’s nevertheless both real and an accurate, if edited, representation of what it purports to be. But, it should have had a source(s) provided, and it’s of no real use in election discourse. That’s too bad, because Americans really ought to be more self-reflective about their country and how it compares to other countries.

I have to admit that when I first saw the graphic on social media, none of this was on my mind. Instead, my first thought was, as I said to a friend who also shared the meme, “I’m just pleased that New Zealand is rated better than Australia by yet another international measure.” I was joking, of course (kind of…), but no one can take everything in politics seriously all the time. If we did, well, with everything bad in the world these days, it’d just be too horrible.

There’ll be a meme for that, too.

Chart from Statista.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Must be the ‘very fine people’?

I posted the above to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, so I’m sharing it here, too. Despite the questions I ask, I think the answer is bleeding obvious—hopefully, not literally.

Vote for Democrats on November 6.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The same change, the second time

Change happens all the time, but it’s a little unusual to go through the exact same change twice. But that’s what’s about to happen to us. It’s like dรฉjร  vu all over again.

Back in July 2015, I wrote about how our postal delivery was about to change from six days a week to only three. It was something we knew was coming, but the change, when announced, was swift.

There was a little confusion over days at the very beginning, and it took a few weeks to resist the temptation to check the mailbox on days when there was no mail (newspapers and flyers went into a separate compartment), but it was a relatively painless switch, not the least because we just don’t get much mail anymore. Urgent mail and courier deliveries aren't affected.

When we moved to our current house in February, 2017, we found out that mail was still delivered six days a week, and I admit I was surprised: I thought all of Auckland had already changed. It was easy to slot back into checking the mailbox every day—far easier than I might have expected, but I suppose it was a lifetime experience up until 2015.

This week we got the inevitable flyer in our mailbox (above, left). “As New Zealanders do more online,” it began, and I already knew where it was heading. It continued, “they're sending fewer letters and more emails. Today our Posties deliver half the number of letters they used to.” I think everybody knew mail delivery volume was decreasing.

The flyer continued:
So, to make sure NZ Post is here for the long haul, we're changing the way we deliver mail around New Zealand.

We've already made changes to delivery days in larger towns and cities around New Zealand, and we're introducing them in smaller towns over the coming months.

Over the coming weeks, we'll begin delivering mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in your town.
This flyer had the same thing I didn’t like about the first time we got such a flyer, back in 2015, namely, they don’t specify either when the change begins or what our specific days will be. For some people, this change is a very big deal, and NZ Post owes them the courtesy of being more forthcoming.

However, NZ Post didn’t feel it was necessary to be forthcoming with the information, so, as I did in 2015, I decided to look it up on the NZ Post website, but there was no link to make that easy. I scratched around awhile and finally worked out that if I used the “Address and Postcode Finder” and entered our address it would tell me the delivery days. Our new days are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I still have no idea when the new schedule starts.

So, we’re once again going through the same process we did more than three years ago. I can’t remember that ever happening before. There really is a first time for everything, including a second time for the same thing.

Change has been delivered (July 2015) – when the changes were made for our previous house
Soon with real snails (October 2013) – when the changes were announced
Postage due (January 2013) – when the changes were first mooted

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

My old strategies reappear

This past weekend, I shared an unusual photo of Leo and me in a post about “Ordinary days”. The photo above isn’t about anything in particular, though it was another ordinary day. Both are about what can be seen. What can’t be seen is the problem here.

In that post on Saturday, I talked about how the new drugs are causing memory problems, and I realised later I should probably have been more specific, because the problem is actually quite specific: Short-term memory, especially immediate memory. That happened when I was on beta-blockers, too, but there it was part of a general inability to focus. It now seems totally random.

I have no idea whether the doctors will change my drugs or not, or even take me seriously when I tell them about the memory problems. In either case, and partly because I can’t afford to forget as much as I do, I’m again looking at Apps to help me keep track of my projects and their related to-do lists. This is the same idea I had even before all this Health Journey stuff.

Back in 2015, I wrote about possibly reviving a paper-based system I designed 20 years earlier so I could keep my grassroots political activism organised. Nothing ever came of that, but the following year I talked briefly about some Apps I’d tried (second item), and even then I thought I’d use a paper-based system. I didn’t.

Some ten weeks later, I got my stent, and priorities changed a bit. After experience with drugs that affect my memory, on top of normal age-related problems, the need to find a solution has become critical.

Today I decided to take another look at Todoist, though I’d forgotten my password (that’s not a memory thing as such—I last used it in 2015, and I wasn’t using a password manager at the time). I also thought I should look again at Evernote, and I may still do so, but it was the post in 2016 I linked to above that reminded me that I thought about using Apple’s own Notes App, which is on—and, more importantly, synched on—all my devices. I’d forgotten I’d thought about doing that.

What I need has to be simple to use, ideally free, and it has to be available on all my devices. I realised recently how important that last part is, because I forget things so quickly that I need to write something down as soon as it pops into my head. Having to head to my office to pull out a notebook system won’t work, nor will writing myself dozens of notes or I’ll end up with notes all over me, looking like Ray Rayner, the Kids TV show host from my childhood.

No, the best answer for me is an App I can use any time, day or night, no matter where I am, to either add to my to-do list, or to check things off. This project is a work in progress, and I hope I follow through this time and talk more about what I think works and doesn’t.

At least I remembered to share the photo above.

The real election adversary

If Republicans or Democrats were asked who their adversary in a US election was, they’d say the people of the other party, and they’d be completely wrong. The reality is that the people who determine election results are by far the biggest group of all: Those who don’t vote.

The brief video above was posted to Robert Reich’s Facebook Page a few days ago and shows this reality graphically.

Of course, this is nothing new, and I keep talking about this endlessly because people don’t seem to get it. In general, Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans, but the latter are more likely to vote, especially in the Midterms when Democrats typically stay home.

Because non-voters are by far the biggest group, they could change the outcome of an election, or they could ensure a legitimate result by ensuring the winner received an actual majority of eligible votes. Instead, they surrender all decisions about their lives to people chosen by those who DO vote. The people elected may do things non-voters like, or they may do things they hate, but either way, the choice of what politicians are in office to make those decisions about their lives was made for them, not by them. That’s stupid.

Don’t be stupid. There have been plenty of elections in which the outcome was decided by a handful of votes per precinct. I once voted in a town referendum that was exactly tied, so it failed. If ONE more person had voted for it, it would have won. Just. One. Vote.

But let’s suppose a Democrat lives somewhere dominated by the Republican Party. So what? Voting for the candidates they support sends a clear message to that dominant party that not everyone agrees with them and they need to govern for ALL, not just those who cheer at their rallies. And if those politicians don’t, the minority may one day become a majority to vote out politicians that ignore the will of the people. Happens all the time.

So, people who want to change the USA need to vote. They must vote as if everything depends on their vote alone alone, because it does. Democrats must get busy, get active, and get voting. We’re going to need every single vote we can get in order to elect only Democrats at the federal, state, and local level. Just one vote could make all the difference. Just. One. Vote.

Democrats: Don’t be stupid. VOTE!

This post is a revised version of something I posted to my personal Facebook page. That version was almost exclusively non-partisan.


Here’s Robert Reich’s latest video, a spoof of pharmaceutical commercials designed to promote voting:

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Other pop songs

When I share songs in a Weekend Diversion post, they’re usually by the same artist, or linked in some other way. This week’s songs are in that latter category: I heard all of them first on TV, mostly on our free-to-air music video channel. There’s something else they all have in common: While I like them well enough for whatever reason, I wouldn’t buy any of them. There are reasons for that.

The song up top is one that’s still played on the music video channel a lot (in fact, it was broadcast this evening). The song is called “Rise” and is by English DJ, record producer, songwriter and remixer, Jonas Blue. The song features the vocals of American pop duo Jack & Jack.

The song hit Number 13 in New Zealand (Gold), 7 in Australia (Platinum), 39 in Canada, and Number 3 in the UK (Gold). It didn’t chart on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA, but did hit 9 on the “Bubbling under the Hot 100” chart, for whatever that’s worth.

It’s fair to say I’d probably never have heard the song if I hadn’t seen the video. I liked the sound of the song—it’s pretty bouncy, and has a sort of island vibe in parts. I liked the repeated parts of the lyrics and the pre-chorus is catchy:
They think we're just drop-outs
Living at our mom's house
Parents must be so proud
They know it all
No, they don't speak our language
They say we're too savage, yeah
No, no we don't give a... anymore
And that same section has what really annoys me about the video version: The song is about teen/young adult rebelliousness and defiance, but the last line is clearly censored which, to my mind, takes the power out of the defiance and kind of infantilises it. I really hate lyrical dishonesty, almost enough to make me want to buy the song to find out if the recorded version is censored—that is, if I cared, and I don’t (I listened to samples on iTunes, and they were all missing the word). It annoys me and, I think, sullies an otherwise catchy song..

Next up, pure pop summeriness:

The song is “Somebody to You” by UK pop rock band The Vamps. The song was released in the UK in May 2014, and is another I’d never have known about without the music video channel. This is sometimes played frequently, but they can go weeks without playing it, too.

At any rate, the song hit Number 17 in New Zealand (Gold), 14 in Australia (Platinum), 68 in Canada (Gold), 4 in the UK (Silver), and, like the previous song, in the USA it was only on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under the Hot 100” list, at Number 10 (and it went Gold).

What I liked about the song was actually something I learned later, namely, that the band is real: They formed on their own and they play their own instruments. I’d assumed, like other people, apparently, that they were a boy band. When I found out that wasn’t the case, I admit I paid a little more attention (even though I often like boy bands, too). The lads are all now 22-24, which means that at the time the video was recorded they were 18-20.

What I liked about the song is its most obvious thing: The spoken/chanted/shouted “Yeah… YOU!” at the beginning and repeated later. The song has a catchy hook, and pleasant enough summery sound, and, well, it is what it is. Demi Lovato provides the guest vocals in the song.

Next up a song that is the newest of the lot:

The song, released in May of this year, is “Jackie Chan” by Dutch DJ Tiรซsto with Canadian DJ Dzeko and featuring vocals by Preme and rapper Post Malone. The video is based on Minecraft.

As near as I can tell, the song is meaningless, but it was nevertheless popular for its summery sound. It hit Number 7 in New Zealand (Platinum), 13 in Australia (Gold), 7 in Canada, 52 on the USA’s Billboard Hot 100, and Number 5 in the UK (Gold).

The video was posted in July, so I may have first seen it then, and I’ll admit that my first reaction when I saw is was “WTF?!”. But the repetition is catchy, even if against one’s will. And, anyway, it’s not really intended as the sort of song that someone sits and listens to or sings along to, it’s a song for the clubs, for beach parties or, in a pinch, a Saturday night at home with friends. It’s more the sort of song we experience in a place and with the people we want to hang out with than it’s a song we sit and listen to. And that’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t buy this song; though I’ve frequently bought dance-oriented music, this isn’t quite that, and it kinda is, and it’s kinda annoying, AND kinda catchy. And it’s still in reasonably heavy rotation on the music video channel, so I can’t really escape it.

Finally, a song I sought out:

The song, from October of last year, is “Leave a Light On” by Scottish-born UK singer/songwriter Tom Walker. I heard this song because it was used in TV commercials for a TV, especially the powerful chorus, “I will leave the light on”. That started me on a journey.

I Googled the chorus and found the song pretty quickly. It was co-written by Steve Mac, who also co-wrote previous Weekend Diversion song, “Symphony” by Clean Bandit. The video was shot in Croatia.

The song reached Number 40 in New Zealand, 24 in Australia (Gold), 20 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40, and Number 7 in the UK (Platinum). It didn’t chart in Canada.

I really like this song. The chorus is what caught my attention and led me to find out more about the song and artist. The song is about addiction and helping a friend find their way out. The lyrics make this clear:
Tell me what's been happenin', what's been on your mind
Lately, you've been searchin' for a darker place
To hide, that's alright
But if you carry on abusing, you'll be robbed from us
I refuse to lose another friend to drugs
Just come home, don't let go
The video perfectly illustrates the meaning of the song without being overly obvious: A young man is adrift alone in the ocean, hopeless and feeling like he is about to lose it all. Finally, he sees that Tom has a left a light on for him. My favourite videos are those that reinforce a song in a fresh way appropriate for the medium of music video, and this video does that very well, I think.

Interestingly, I’d just finished finding out about the song and found the video on YouTube and then I saw it on the music video channel for the first time. That was a little spooky.

And that’s a good place to end this weekend’s Diversion, a bunch of songs that are connected only because I saw them on TV, one way or another. As I said, while I like them all well enough, for whatever reason I wouldn’t buy any of them, except, maybe, I might buy “Leave a Light On”.

There are always random songs that are new to me that I end up liking, but maybe not well enough to buy them. That’s okay, I can just share them here instead.

And I will, of course.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Ordinary days

Today was an ordinary day, one of several lately. We’ve had a pretty good run of weather lately, which helped us get some things done, and we had visitors, too. It’s nice to have ordinary days.

Yesterday I went to see the doctor to renew my prescriptions for the drugs I’ve been on the past month. Normally, I’d get a three month refill, but I got letter from our DHB (District Health Board) that I’ve been designated “Priority 2” for seeing the cardiology team for a follow up, and that appointment should be sometime in the next five weeks or so. It’s possible they might change my drugs or dosage, so I didn’t want to have some I’d have to return for destruction (once dispensed, drugs cannot be re-dispensed to someone else, and the only thing to do is to return them to a chemist, where they’re collected for destruction).

The doctor agreed with my caution, and wrote a one-month prescription. If I don’t hear from them by the time the drugs run our, I’ll go get another month’s supply. The good news is that because of all these drug changes I’ve now reached the maximum fees for the year, and all my prescriptions for the rest of the year are free.

Since my last post on the new drugs, I’ve realised that they leave me as tired as the old beta blockers did, though maybe not quite as profoundly so. However, I’ve noticed some real memory problems that are completely different from what I had on beta-blockers, which was mainly a lack of focus, rather than trouble remembering things, although there was some of that. I’ll have more to say about all that after the drug issue is settled.

Meanwhile, I felt really bad yesterday—a tummy ache and general yuckiness. I felt so bad, in fact, that I just gave up any thought of blogging, which is a shame because this month was going rather well, after I made up for a day off. Still, early days this month; plenty of time to make up for another day off.

The weather has been good lately, allowing us to take care of a few things outside. The rest of the month is supposed to be cold and dry. We’ll see.

The biggest challenge so far this month is in the photo above. Such a burden.

But it’s also just another ordinary day. It’s nice to have ordinary days.

Update: At the time I wrote this post, I hadn't yet opened the bag that had all my prescriptions in them. When I did open the bag the next day, I found that they were all a three-month supply. I don't know who made the mistake, but it's unlikely that the chemist made did. However, I didn't look at the prescription before handing it over, so I can't be sure. I'll have to double-check in the future, I guess.

The way forward

Voter turnout in the Midterm Elections next month will determine whether democracy will survive in the USA. Democrats and Democratic-supporting Independents need to turn out in massive numbers because Republicans definitely will vote. Whoever gets the most voters to the polls will determine everything, and money will help overcome the massive advantages that Republicans have.

It’s important to raise money in to punish candidates who support the extremist Republican agenda, and that’s already happening in the Maine Senate race for 2020, as I talked about in my previous post. But it’s even more important to reward the “good guys”, and that is happening, too.

The chart from ActBlue was posted on their Twitter account, and shows the contributions per minute (that blue part of the graph) after North Dakota US Senator Heidi Heitkamp announced she was voting against Kavanaugh. It was a new record.

But the records don’t stop there: This past quarter was ActBlue’s biggest ever.

On September 28, the day after Professor Ford testified, ActBlue donors contributed over $11 million, the first time donations crossed $10 million in one day. They kept going; $16.8 million was donated on September 30, spread among a record 307,320 contributions. All up, donors gave $184,841,230 in September.

All that added onto the total amount donated in the Third Quarter of this year: $385,176,557 for 9,335 Democratic campaigns, and it was raised on an average contribution of $49.48. The total this quarter was more than the $335 million donated for the entire 2014 election cycle. Moreover, the amount raised to this point in the election cycle, $1.3 billion, is nearly twice what was donated by this point in 2016.

All of that means energy and commitment—people putting their money where their mouth is. All of that won’t mean anything if they don’t turn out to vote, and the contributions this late in the game will help with that, too: Campaigns need money for their GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts.

At the moment, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Gallup reported late last month that supporters of both parties are enthusiastic about voting in November, and provided some historic context:
Sixty-one percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners and 58% of Republicans and Republican leaners say they are more enthusiastic about voting in November compared to prior elections. These levels roughly match Republicans' record-high enthusiasm in 2010, Barack Obama's first midterm, when the GOP won a whopping 63 seats. But this is the first time in Gallup's trend since 1994 that both parties have expressed high enthusiasm.

By contrast, the only two other times a majority of either party felt more enthusiastic than usual about voting, there was a partisan imbalance. In 2010, Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to be enthusiastic—63% vs. 44%—and in 2006, Democrats were more likely than Republicans, 53% to 44%.
In 2006, Democrats took control of the US House, and in 2010, Republicans took it back.

At that same time, Gallup also reported that that many voters planned on using their vote to send a message about the current occupant of the White House, with 25% wanting to send a message in support of him, and 31% wanting to send a message in opposition. This information was based on polling conducted before Professor Ford’s testimony; there’s no way to know how that would affect a poll if taken since then.

Gallup also reported a few days earlier that Republican favourability rating was at its highest point in seven years, hitting 45% as opposed to the Democrats at 44%. Would those percentages be the same after the Kavanaugh confirmation fight? We don’t know.

The important thing about all those poll numbers is that they underscore that unless Democrats and Independents turn out to vote for Democrats, Republicans will win. Raising record amounts of money for Democrats absolutely will help, especially with the vital GOTV efforts, but it will take a lot of work, money, volunteers and—most important of all—VOTES in order to overcome the massive advantage Republicans have from gerrymandering, corporate cash, and voter suppression efforts.

The best news of all is that there CAN be a “Blue Wave” in November. All we have to do is make it happen. Whether democracy will survive in the USA depends on how hard we all work to elect Democrats.

Let’s get to work!

The coming defeat

Tomorrow, unless a miracle happens, the United States and its democracy will suffer a huge defeat when the most UN-qualified Supreme Court nominee in US history is approved by the narrowest possible margin. It will take generations to undo the damage the Republicans are about to do to the Republic—if it can ever be fixed. But if democracy in the United States is to survive, it will require a massive victory by Democratic candidates at the federal, state, and local levels. That alone will save the USA.

The victory of extremist Republican Brett Kavanaugh was assured when Maine’s Republican Senator, Susan Collins, indicated she’d vote for the Republican Supreme Court nominee, as everyone knew all along she would. Collins has often claimed that upholding Rove v. Wade was non-negotiable for her, but if she was ever telling the truth about that, she was certainly lying this time: It is an absolute certainty that Kavanaugh will vote to overturn Roe as soon as possible. And it will be her fault—some legacy!

Collins’ betrayal was so keenly felt that a site set up to collect pledges of money for a primary challenger to Collins in 2020 crashed within minutes of her announcement. Hopefully, she won’t run again in 2020.

Meanwhile, Act Blue is already raising money for the eventual Democratic challenger to Collins in 2020. Americans of conscience need to give generously to that campaign, because getting a Democrat in that seat is more important than defeating her in a primary.

“Democratic” US Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, also announced he’d vote for the Republican Supreme Court nominee. A conservative, Manchin was always assumed to be voting for the Republican, but it was thought that if Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, all Republicans, had voted against Kavanaugh, Manchin might join them and the Republican might lose. Murkowski voted “No” on cloture, but has since said she’ll vote “Present” on the actual vote, effectively a “yes” in this case.

Flake is the real odd one in this group. Swayed by protesters, he backed an FBI investigation, but what eventuated was set up by Republicans to ensure that the truth would never be found out—until after Kavanaugh is on the bench. Numerous private individuals have come forward to say publicly that Kavanaugh lied under oath in his testimony, but the FBI didn’t talk with any of them—because Republicans wouldn’t let them.

Even so, Flake is leaving the Senate, and the current occupant of the White House has relentlessly bullied him. He has absolutely NO reason to remain loyal to the Trumpublican Party, so why not go out with an act of defiance? I won’t say why I think it is he’s folding because it’s a harsh judgement of his character, which I suspect is missing.

So, that appears to be that. Republicans will get a hard-right extremist majority on the Supreme Court for many, many years to come. If Republicans retain the US Senate in the midterm elections, the party will order Clarence Thomas to retire from the Court so they can replace him with an even more hard-right extremist justice. If any of the four remaining moderate justices retire or die with Republicans in control of the Senate, It would lock-in radical rightwing control of the Court for more than a generation, and that could utterly destroy democracy in the USA.

However, if Democrats regain control of the Senate and any justice retires or dies, then they should use the Mitch McConnell rule and hold any seat open until after the next presidential election. The precedent has been set, and Democrats must use it.

The most important thing of all is also the hardest: Defeat Republicans at every election possible. It’s not just the US House and Senate, but also state legislatures and governorships. The more Democrats are elected, the harder it will be for Republicans to force their extremist agenda on ordinary Americans, even with the Republican-controlled Supreme Court trying to do so.

This is the last chance to save America, and the slogan is now a simple one: Save America—Vote for Democrats.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Another 'birthday' for Bella

Today was once again our cat Bella’s “birthday”, and it’s another we hadn’t expected, It was July of 2016 when the vet told us she had kidney disease, but that was more than two years ago now. The fact that she’s still doing well makes us very happy, of course, and we just make sure she’s comfortable and loved for however long she’s with us—basically, what we’d do, anyway.

Bella first chose us as her family back in 2010. She was pretty wild at first, but she settled down over time and even now is still a lap cat.

Photos of Bella aren’t necessarily any easier than they were over the previous couple years—she often looks away—but she will pose sometimes. Lately, though, most of the photos are of her sleeping, often next to Leo, who is her best friend. For example, here’s how they started Bella’s birthday, both of them napping on my lap as I had my first cup of coffee of the day (the orange and brown thing underneath them is Leo’s rope toy; he always brings his toys into my lap):

And here’s an Instagram photo of the two of them that I shared yesterday:

Bella doesn’t spend a lot of time with Jake and Sunny, but they all get on well, which is the main thing—although, if Bella walks away from her food Jake, and sometimes Sunny, are happy to clean her plate for her. Maybe they have a secret deal.

We’re glad that Bella has beaten the odds and then some, and that we still get to share life with her. One day, of course, that will change, but that day is not today.

Happy “Birthday”, Bella!

Bella’s Birthday (2013)
Equal Cat Time (2014) Not a birthday post.
Bella’s ‘birthday’ is today (2015)
Bella’s ‘birthday’ again (2016)
Bella’s ‘birthday’ (2017)

Jason Kander and us

Yesterday, Jason Kander, the former Missouri Secretary of State, the 2016 Democratic candidate for US Senator from Missouri, and a rising star in the Democratic Party, dropped out of the race for mayor of his hometown, Kansas City, in order to seek help with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. It was an incredibly courageous thing for any politician to do, as everyone should acknowledge. This is something that anyone, in any line of work, OUGHT to feel free to do, but we all know that’s not the case, and that’s why his going public matters so much.

He posted this statement on his official site:
About four months ago, I contacted the VA to get help. It had been about 11 years since I left Afghanistan as an Army Intelligence Officer, and my tour over there still impacted me every day. So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it.

But, on some level, I knew something was deeply wrong, and that it hadn’t felt that way before my deployment. After 11 years of this, I finally took a step toward dealing with it, but I didn’t step far enough.

I went online and filled out the VA forms, but I left boxes unchecked – too scared to acknowledge my true symptoms. I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma. I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out.

That was stupid, and things have gotten even worse since.

By all objective measures, things have been going well for me the past few months. My first book became a New York Times Bestseller in August. Let America Vote has been incredibly effective, knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors and making hundreds of thousands of phone calls. I know that our work is making a big difference. And last Tuesday, I found out that we were going to raise more money than any Kansas City mayoral campaign ever has in a single quarter. But instead of celebrating that accomplishment, I found myself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, tearfully conceding that, yes, I have had suicidal thoughts. And it wasn’t the first time.

I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world. When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed.

Instead of dealing with these issues, I’ve always tried to find a way around them. Most recently, I thought that if I could come home and work for the city I love so much as its mayor, I could finally solve my problems. I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me. But it’s just getting worse.

So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.

I finally went to the VA in Kansas City yesterday and have started the process to get help there regularly. To allow me to concentrate on my mental health, I’ve decided that I will not be running for mayor of Kansas City. I truly appreciate all the support so many people in Kansas City and across the country have shown me since I started this campaign. But I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression.

I’ll also be taking a step back from day-to-day operations at Let America Vote for the time being, but the organization will continue moving forward. We are doing vital work across the country to stop voter suppression and will keep doing so through November and beyond.

Having made the decision not to run for mayor, my next question was whether I would be public about the reason why. I decided to be public for two reasons: First, I think being honest will help me through this. And second, I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own.

Most people probably didn’t see me as someone that could be depressed and have had PTSD symptoms for over decade, but I am and I have. If you’re struggling with something similar, it’s OK. That doesn’t make you less of a person.

I wish I would have sought help sooner, so if me going public with my struggle makes just one person seek assistance, doing this publicly is worth it to me. The VA Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, and non-veterans can use that number as well.

I’ll close by saying this isn’t goodbye. Once I work through my mental health challenges, I fully intend to be working shoulder to shoulder with all of you again. But I’m passing my oar to you for a bit. I hope you’ll grab it and fight like hell to make this country the place we know it can be.
Kander’s statement puts his struggle into perspective, and also helps the rest of us to understand something of what he’s experienced. He’s certainly not alone. ThinkProgress noted in their reporting on Kander’s announcement:
According to the VA, between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. About 12 percent of Desert Storm veterans have PTSD, as do about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. [Link in the original]
I hope that when he is ready he runs for office again, because his honesty and sincerity—which he showed in his work for years—is sorely needed in the USA. But when I first heard the news, the first think I thought was that I was worried about my how fellow Americans will react. We all know that the phrase “mental illness” carries massive stigma for some people, and far too many are prejudiced against people with mental illness. Obviously people, including politicians, should be evaluated by their character and abilities and talents and experience, not by physical or mental illness. Americans don’t have a great history with that.

In 1972, the Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee, US Senator Tom Eagleton, had to withdraw from the race when it was revealed he’d received “shock treatment” for his depression. Eagleton was Senator from Missouri and, ironically, held the seat now held by the Republican who narrowly defeated Kander in 2016.

There’s one important thing to remember about his chances in the future: PTSD affected potentially millions of US military veterans and their families and loved ones. Add in those who have had depression, and there is a massive number of voters who are least likely to be prejudiced against him because of what hes been through. Ad to that younger voters who are far less judgemental than their parents of grandparents and he still has a future in electoral politics—if he wants it.

The only thing that truly matters is that Jason Kander is seeking out the help he needs. By being open and public about it, he may encourage others to seek out the help they need, and he may help to destigmatise mental illness, if only somewhat. Much as I would like to see him run for office in the future, it’s more important that he is well.

I don’t know Kander, of course, but I have watched him over the past two years and been impressed since the 2016 campaign. Because of that, I wish him well. There are plenty of people who will take up the oar for him.