Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ask Arthur 2018, Part 1: Perfect place

It’s time to begin answering the questions in the 2018 Ask Arthur series, a little later than I’d planned to start this year. It happens. This year’s questions are varied, as usual, and as in previous years, I’ll sometimes group related questions into one post. I may not always answer the questions in the order they were given to me, but this first question is also the first asked, and once again, real-life and long-time friend Sherry was first in with a question:

If the world were a perfect place, would it be closer to the U.S. or New Zealand? What would be the key measures of perfection?

It’s an interesting question, and one that could be more than a little fraught: If I say a nice thing about one country rather than the other, potentially someone may be offended. So, it makes sense to say, as I have for the entire time I’ve lived in New Zealand, that there’s no such thing as a perfect country. People can claim there’s one all they want to, but the reality is that countries, all the way down to a local community, are built by human beings and we’re all flawed in some way, so our creations are, too.

The next important point is that the real measure of the perfection of a place is a simple one: Whether it’s perfect for oneself. I wouldn’t want to live in a desert, for example (though I might consider living in a dessert…), but some people absolutely love it. Same with a place that’s cold and snowy for most of the year: Definitely not for me!

With all that out of the way, and those caveats taken on board, the next thing to say is that place isn’t really all that relevant because beauty is found in all parts of the planet, and the climate we like the most exists in many places. So the perfect place it’s less about those things because, theoretically, at least, they can be found in many places.

For me one of the top criteria for a perfect place is that English is the main language. The reason for that is that I’ve come to realise that I don’t have the capacity to learn another language, beyond a few words or phrases. It’s not for lack of trying—definitely not—and I’m stubborn enough to refuse to give up. But I’m also realistic enough to know that the odds of picking up another language are remote, and becoming more so the older I get. So, I’d struggle anywhere where I couldn’t live using English alone. Some people would find that sad; to me, it’s just reality.

So, with natural beauty, weather, and non-English language out of the equation, that leaves all the things that make a country unique, it’s culture, absolutely, but also the values that make that place what it is.

I have found some things to be true. More democracy is generally, though not always, better than less democracy. Working together as a society to solve our shared problems is better than always going it alone, and personal responsibility means nothing without social responsibility. Care and concern for out planet, its wildlife and wild places, the air, the water, the climate, is non-negotiable. Healthcare is a human right.

In each of those areas, New Zealand is, in my opinion, better than the United States.

Democracy is the structure that keeps us from ripping each other’s throats out when we disagree. It’s what keeps things orderly and predictable because we know that if we lose the argument on the day, we may win it on another day.

For that to work, government and its democratic institutions must have legitimacy—basically, people have to believe they can effect change through the democratic process—the consent of the governed, and all that. New Zealand clearly has the edge on the legitimacy of its democracy, and so, its democracy is better.

Part of this is because New Zealand has a parliamentary system, which means the executive can never have more power than the legislative because they are the same. It means the legislature can get things done, and if it goes too far it can easily be changed completely.

We also have a proportional representation system so that our parliament reflects, as closely as possible, the will of the people. If the USA had that, even only just for the US House, it wouldn’t have half the problems it has. Mind you, New Zealand has no upper house, so the USA would have to abolish the Senate to have the same level of democracy—and that’s not necessarily a bad idea.

On the other hand, we elect representatives to our District Health Boards, which control healthcare within specific regions—the hospitals, the priorities for the area, especially in public health, those sorts of things. This was brought in by Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Labour Government (which ended in 2008), and I think it was a mistake. Too many people (dozens, even) we don’t know at all to choose among for a handful of spots, and some people run just out of personal ambition. Our local elections (towns and cities) are done by postal ballot and it’s appallingly bad—mid 40s percent bother to vote. The authorities adamantly refuse to even consider how online voting might be done. So, our democracy is not perfect, just better.

Because New Zealand is a social democracy (basically, that’s a fusion of socialism and capitalism within a democratic system), we value collective action. We believe that together we can do more than any of us could do alone, and that we can solve problems and move forward together. So, like all but one developed nation, we have national healthcare. Education, police, fire, are all functions of the nation's government which minimises political interference (I say “minimise” because politicians like to muck around with education all the time, and they sometimes pander on crime).

The USA doesn’t share in that ethic—it once did, but no more. However, New Zealand is far from perfect: We have the world’s worst youth suicide rate, among the worst domestic violence rates, the gap between rich and poor is growing, and people with mental illness have problems getting the help they need. The reason for all those persistent problems is that we don’t take enough social responsibility, leaving it up to individuals to work out. That’s failed. We should get back to Kiwi values and work together to solve those problems.

And that’s why I say, “personal responsibility means nothing without social responsibility”. People can’t “tough it out” when they’re in emotional or psychological pain, when they have no decent housing, when interpersonal violence is chronic. Essentially, we act too much like the USA, and not enough like New Zealand.

New Zealanders really do care about the planet and our environment—it’s not all hype and tourism slogans. However, we’re hamstrung by a strong farming lobby that prevents action on things like pollution of fresh water—our streams, rivers, and lakes—by dairy farms, something they deny is even a problem. The corporate sector—most of it owned by foreigners—doesn’t want strong action on climate change because, like corporations everywhere, they care only about their immediate profits.

What is different about New Zealand as compared to the USA is that all our political parties believe in science and they all want action on climate change. They differ only on what action we should take and how soon. The parties of the Left generally promote more urgency, the Right less, but ALL sides agree on the basics. Unlike the USA.

And the big one: In New Zealand, healthcare is a human right, and no one is denied healthcare because they can’t afford it. We don't even get a bill when we're discharged from hospital. People are still free to pay for experimental treatments themselves if they want to, but except in the rarest of cases, all treatment is possible in the public system. In the USA, well, things are very different.

So, when you look at what makes New Zealand society and culture what it is, its shared values and, especially, its commitment to social democracy, add in the natural beauty, good weather, and English as the main language, and New Zealand is for me the perfect place. For someone else, it could easily be somewhere else. Indeed, for most of the world, it is.

It’s okay to think of a place as being perfect, even if no one else agrees with you. Because the one thing I believe more than anything else is that the real measure—the only one that matters—for deciding on the perfection of a place is simple: Whether it’s perfect for oneself. New Zealand is—for me.

Thanks to Sherry for the question! I was the—ahem!—perfect place to start.

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can also email me (mailto:amerinz@yahoo.com?Subject=AmeriNZ%20Blog) your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though some people may want to keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. If you’re on Facebook, you can send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-18”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, "Ask Arthur”.


Let the 2017 asking begin – The first post in this year’s series.

Changing nature of Christmas

Christmas in New Zealand is a mostly secular/cultural holiday, which means that most people don’t engage in the religious traditions surrounding the holiday. It seems as if the USA may be slowly catching up with New Zealand in the way Americans observe Christmas.

This time last year, Pew Research released a look at the relative importance of the religious aspects of Christmas in the USA, and the results show a definite decline in the importance of religion. However, it still matters to most people.

Pew sums up the entire report in its opening:
As long-simmering debates continue over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past – even as relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend. In addition, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. And compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season – whether with “merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans are more likely to back traditional Christian religious views of Christmas, Democrats less so. However, what’s different is mainly the percentages, rather than having completely different positions on the underlying religious assumptions. Even so, the strength of adherence to a religious Christmas is declining for both sets, a trend that, all other things being equal, is probably likely to continue.

This also isn’t about religious orientation as such. A non-religious Christmas is sometimes called a “cultural holiday” because the people themselves may be at least somewhat religious or spiritual, even if they don’t treat Christmas as a religious thing. That matters because of the automatic assumption that people who don’t observe a religious tradition are atheists or agnostics, but, statistically, most such people are religious/spiritual, but don’t necessarily adhere to any particular religion—the “nones”, as they’re often called in statistics reporting.

I’m one of those who doesn’t think the religious side of Christmas matters (except to the religious, of course, and that’s their business, not mine). But Christmas can be a purely cultural, or secular, holiday involving time with family and friends, and for many of us—including most New Zealanders—that’s exactly what it is. I like it that way.

DJ Earworm 2018 Mashup

The video above is this year’s annual mashup by DJ Earworm, “United State of Pop 2018 (Turnin' It Up)”. It’s much like the mash-ups for other years, and this year also continues a personal trend: I’m familiar with a lot of the videos, and very familiar with a pretty high proportion of the videos included.

There are 25 videos featured in this mash-up (the complete list is in the YouTube description). I’m very familiar with seven of them, having seen them many times. While that’s less than a third of the total, there are more that I’m at least somewhat familiar with. This trend of knowing videos included, which has been developing over the past few years, has happened because I frequently watch our free-to-air music video channel (often when I’m blogging, actually). Those seven videos, however, aren’t ones I’ve shared on this blog. Knowing them doesn’t necessarily mean that I like them, after all.

In any case, these mash-ups are a quick look back at the pop songs that were the backing track to the year, and that’s kind of nice. It’s just what is. Not everything has to be serious.

Previous DJ Earworm mash-ups on this blog:

DJ Earworm 2017 Mashup (2017)
First December Mashup (2016)
Season of mash-ups (2015) – First video
And the roundups begin (2014)
Poptastic assault (2013) – First video

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

More American fast food arrives

American brands, both businesses and products, can be found throughout New Zealand, though there are plenty that aren’t here, of course. The fast food industry is particularly well represented, with another chain planning to launch next year, and a convenience store chain already opening locations.

Restaurant Brands, which currently runs KFC, Carl’s Jr., and Pizza Hut in New Zealand, announced this week that they’re bringing Taco Bell to New Zealand, something that’s been rumoured for many years. Mexican food of any iteration—real Mexican, Tex-Mex, or Californian-Mexican—is still pretty rare in New Zealand, so there’s at least a potential for it to succeed here, given it operates at the lower price end of the market, as the main burger chains do, too.

Restaurant Brands runs Taco Bell in Hawaii, Guam, and in New South Wales in Australia. They think that Sydney in particular is a model for what they can do in New Zealand. Over the next few years the company plans open 60 Taco Bell units, with about 20 in New Zealand.

The NZ Herald was particularly eager over the news, telling us what Taco Bell could cost in New Zealand, and that the first unit “could” open by July next year. I don’t know if New Zealanders are waiting with baited breath for Taco Bell to open, but it seems like the Herald might be.

Restaurant Brands used to run Starbucks in New Zealand, but they sold that business this past September to a company owned, in part, by a company that runs coffee cafes, which certainly sounds like a better “fit” than Restaurant Brands’ focus on fast food. [See also: “Why Starbucks 'struggled' in Kiwi coffee culture”].

There are, of course, some people who hate the very idea of Taco Bell, turning up their noses at it. So, there’s a kind of irony in the fact that Restaurant Brands appears to be about to be taken over by a Mexican company. Business is business, after all.

Another brand that originated in the USA is rolling our locations in New Zealand, and it’s entering a market that has far less competition.

Last month, Circle K Stores NZ opened their first location in Cook Street in Auckland. The second location opens in about a week in the Newmarket part of the city.

Circle K was founded in El Paso, Texas, in 1951, but is now owned by Canadian company Alimentation Couche-Tard. There are few American-style 24-hour convenience stores in New Zealand, most of them are connected to petrol stations (and the earliest of those didn’t allow customers into the shop in the evening, making them pay and get their goods through a teller-like window).

In New Zealand, the nearest equivalent to a convenience store is what we call a dairy, basically a very small, family owned and run superette. They all close in the evening. After that are small grocery stores, like Four Square (which also closes in the evening), and sometimes the shops of petrol stations, which may or may not be open into the night (or 24-hours).

When I lived in Chicago, I used 7-Eleven or White Hen Pantry locations when I was out late for whatever reason and normal grocery stores were all closed. Circle K plans to be similarly useful in New Zealand, locating stores where apartments (in particular) are higher in density, and that’s a niche for which there’s little or no competition at the moment.

They also offer American-style hot dogs and coffee, among other things, but the photos of their cabinet food on their Facebook Page shows that, as other American fast food companies have done, they have NZ-focused food on offer, with all the sorts of things that Kiwis would expect at any modern petrol station shop: Meat pies, sausage rolls, and backed goods like lamingtons.

I think Circle K could do well, since there’s nothing else quite like it. Like it is for every other business, they’ll need consistently good quality and service and prices that Kiwis think are fair—the fundamentals, in other words.

I haven’t personally heard any rumours of any other US chains poised to enter the New Zealand market, though supposedly Amazon, which opened a distribution centre in Australia, is looking to do the same here so it can get into the grocery delivery market. I’m a little meh about that, though, because we’ve heard for years that Ikea was coming, and it never has. Also, when I arrived in New Zealand there was talk of Australian-based department store David Jones entering New Zealand, but it’s only doing so now, more than two decades later. But, then, I was surprised when Krispy Kreme Donuts opened here, so I’m clearly not very good at predicting such things.

I’m pretty relaxed about all this “creeping Americanisation” as it’s sometimes called. People like what they like, and they’ll discard whatever doesn’t work for them. For example, Australian chicken chain Red Rooster didn’t work here (much to my surprise), and they quit New Zealand only some five years after opening their first unit here.

In general, I think that people should be free to like whatever they like, and it’s silly to judge people based on something as trivial as what fast food chain they like. Maybe it’s because I like fast food, or maybe it’s also because I think what people choose to enjoy is none of my business. Live and let eat, I say.

Local reaction

A foreign backpacker* was murdered in Auckland earlier this month, and that set off an extensive public reaction across New Zealand. While it’s good the victim is being remembered, there are aspects of this that aren’t good. The questions about all this outpouring are, first, why this case, why now? And, more importantly, what can we do to fix things?

It’s good to mourn the loss of someone to murder, and not the perpetrator. And, sadly, this backpacker is not the first, and probably won’t be the last, to meet their death here, though by far the most common reason is accident. But the large public reaction is unusual, and it seems somewhat out of proportion, especially because this backpacker’s not the first to be murdered.

The alleged killer was given name suppression in court, which means it’s a prosecutable offence to reveal the alleged killer’s name in any way, including on social media. Unfortunately, some New Zealanders openly defied the law, or came close to it, in their anger over the crime. Name suppression exists to ensure the accused gets a fair trial, and also to protect the victim in some cases (usually cases dealing with sexual assault or abuse). Part of the idea behind it is that it’s impossible to “un-do” publicity about the fact that someone has been accused of a terrible crime, which means that if they’re not convicted, their life will be destroyed. This is especially true since the Internet is forever, and anyone Googling an acquitted person’s name after the fact would find out about the charges—but not necessarily about the acquittal (probably wouldn’t, even).

The right to a fair and impartial trial is fundamental to any concept of justice, and yet, because people are so worked up about this case, as they have been about others in the past, some are willing to risk breaking the law. The bigger issue here isn’t that they could be prosecuted for their Tweet or Facebook post, but that they could derail the trial completely—cause a mistrial—and that will only prolong the ordeal for the family of the victim and delay justice even longer. So, breaching a suppression order is always a stupid thing to do.

There’s room for a robust debate on whether there should name suppression at all, but that debate cannot be advanced by deliberately breaking the law, unless one is willing to pay the consequences of doing so in order to make some point. Most of us aren’t—or wouldn’t be if we calmly reflected on the matter.

It seems to me that the sometimes reckless disregard for the consequences of violating a name suppression order is merely the result of people’s outrage over this case, which is the same reason it’s happened before. People are also embarrassed that this has happened in New Zealand, when our international guests, whatever their age, gender, nationality, mode of touring, etc., OUGHT to be safe. Sometimes, no matter how good the vast majority of us are, one bad—or evil—person can stain us all.

But there have been other tourists murdered, and plenty of New Zealanders are murdered every year, too. So, why this case? Why has this one hit a nerve that those others haven’t? I don’t think we can fully understand that yet, but there are pointers.

It’s true that the news media has been fuelling people’s passions by giving the case extensive coverage, but they do that all the time, so that’s not a logical reason. Something else must be actually fanning the flames.

It could be that social media is stoking the fire by giving people an outlet to express their raw emotions—grief, shame, rage—without any brakes or space for reasoned thought. Social media—Facebook in particular—profit when we are in a heightened emotional state and reacting broadly, unthinkingly, and confrontationally, and probably out of proportion to an incident. That’s what social media encourages us to do.

We should remember murder victims like this one, we should feel sympathy for their families and friends, and we should also redouble our own personal efforts to make our foreign guests feel welcome and safe. All of them.

What we mustn’t do is allow our raw emotions to drive us to lash out in irrational and counterproductive ways, nor to allow one case to blind us to all the similar and, sadly, even worse cases that don’t make the news or social media posts.

In short, we need to be better humans. We cannot by ourselves prevent this from ever happening again, no matter how good and noble our intentions. But if we all work to become better humans, maybe—maybe—bad things like this will become so rare that a strong reaction will not only make sense, it’ll be required.

The way we’ve been acting as humans allows things like this to happen. By being better humans we can help to fix that.

*I’ve chosen not to name the backpacker, or to use identifying descriptors of the victim, even though the linked stories all do, because my questions and unease actually have absolutely nothing to do with this particular case. It’s also one of the few ways I can limit how much I add to the frenzy surrounding this tragedy when, again, this particular case isn’t the point.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Uncertain guarding

The caption to the Instagram photo above pretty much tells the dogs' story today, about one dog’s enthusiasm for a treat, another’s indifference/disdain for it, and the third’s not wanting it nor wanting to give it away, either, and choosing to guard it without being certain it was a good idea. Or not.

In the end, Leo did follow me out on the deck as I got ready to clean out the gutters, and when we went back into the house, Sunny had taken his chew stick. Leo looked around for it, seemed both displeased and not quite sure where it had gone. But he likes Sunny, so he wasn’t mad at her (assuming dogs even get mad at each other…). Soon, of course, he’d forgotten all about it.

What the dogs experienced today was kind of an ordinary day for them, even though they don’t get chew sticks very often. Watching them was an ordinary day for me, too. I like that.

YouTube Rewind 2018: Everyone Controls Rewind

The video above is the annual “rewind” video from YouTube, this year introduced by actor Will Smith, who is not a YouTuber (and, at 50, seemingly a little old to be one…). I said about last year’s “Rewind” that it was “apparently a colourful amorphous blob that doesn’t actually have any point.” This year’s is the same, but has a sort of structure, and a bit of a focus.

As has been common in recent years, I don’t recognise most of the YouTubers included in the video (they’re all listed in the video description on YouTube and also on a separate page called “2018 Rewind Creators”, which links to each of their YouTube Channels). In fact, out of the dozens listed, I only recognised 8 people from four Channels: The AsapSCIENCE boys, Casey Neistat, Sam Tsui, and The Try Guys.

The video’s theme is people controlling this year’s “Rewind”, and, as they say in the description, “All comments featured in Rewind inspired by real comments from the YouTube community.” So, technically, the video has a point: The “YouTube community” determines not just what’s in the Rewind, but also what YouTube is. Personally, I think that point is kind of muddled, but it’s there nevertheless.

In addition to Will Smith, this year’s rewind also has other non-YouTubers I’m familiar with—Marshmello, Adam Rippon, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah—all of whom (apart from Rippon) I’ve watched on YouTube. No, that doesn’t make them YouTubers, because they create stuff for other media, and it may be posted to YouTube, too. I don’t recall a “Rewind” video having so many non-YouTubers before.

I liked this year’s Rewind more than last year’s, but that’s probably not saying much, considering how much I disliked the 2017 version. Still, it’s an improvement, right?

Still, everything else aside, what makes these videos interesting is that they’re a sort of time capsule about what videos people were into in a year. Well, maybe it’s just what people in the “YouTube community” were into. That’s still something.

It would be nice if they made one that was a little more accessible for the rest of us, though.

Related – Previous posts about YouTube Rewind videos:
YouTube Rewind: The Shape of 2017
YouTube Rewind: The Ultimate 2016 Challenge
YouTube Rewind: Now Watch Me 2015
YouTube Rewind: Turn Down for 2014
YouTube Rewind: What Does 2013 Say?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Coca-Cola Christmas 2018: Be Santa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Coles Christmas 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 07, 2018

Sudden recollection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP, Pete Shelley, and thanks.

The existential threat to America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woolworths 2018: ‘Home for Christmas’

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

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Target Holiday 2018: ‘Gather Round’

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Once was smooth jazz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The things you find on the Internet, eh?

Christmas from Kmart Australia

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Trying meat-free ‘meat’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Amazon Holiday 2018: ‘Can You Feel It’

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

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

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

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Hot Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA, China not very popular downunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 01, 2018

George H.W. Bush: Last of a kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, Bush was elected, and everything changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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