}

Monday, December 31, 2018

Ask Arthur 2018, Part 8- About me and my parents

Here we are, at the final post in This year’s “Ask Arthur” series. Such good questions this year—so much so it took me a bit longer to get through them all than I’d originally thought. Better than no questions at all, though, right? I always worry that’ll happen, but so far it hasn’t. Whew!

Today’s first questions are from my friend Andy. His first question:
You recently celebrated two milestones. The first was an anniversary of your move to New Zealand. The second was an anniversary of your marriage to Nigel. I have a couple of questions around these milestones because they represent important events in your life.

My first question comes in multiple flavors, like Neapolitan Ice Cream: "what on earth possessed an American from Chicago to emigrate to New Zealand? What was your decision process, your rationale? Why New Zealand?"


This is the easiest of the two to answer, because, technically, I didn’t choose New Zealand. Instead, as I used to joke, I chose Nigel and New Zealand came along for the ride. Thing is, that’s actually true.

I shared the entire story in 1995, my 20th Anniversary in New Zealand, but the gist of it is that I was originally going to Australia and New Zealand as a tourist, nothing more, but I wanted to make contact with locals who could tell me what to see and—more importantly—what not to see. Nigel was the one I “met” online.

Months later, I came to New Zealand, we met in person, and confirmed that we wanted to be together. However, at the time, the only real way for that to happen was for me to move to New Zealand. Back then, a US citizen could only sponsor a foreign national who was a close family member or their spouse. But marriage for gay couples wasn’t legal anywhere in the world at that time. So, the only way he could come to the US is if he found a job that would sponsor his visa, and that wasn’t very easy to do.

At that same time, New Zealand allowed its citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-gender partner for immigration, but there was a very long waiting period, and I needed to find a job that would sponsor my visa, and I did. But we knew that there was a clear path to permanent residence in New Zealand, but maybe not even a possibility of it in the United States.

So, technically, I didn’t choose New Zealand. Instead, it allowed Nigel and I to choose each other, to be together, and to stay together, all things that the USA didn’t do at that time. Fortunately, it all worked out!

Andy then asked:

The second question has maybe "mind-your-own-business" for an answer, but I'll ask it anyway: "Looking back on your lives together, was there a particular catalyzing event or reason that made you decide to get married, and if so, what was that? Was it a gradual decision, or was it impulsive and spur-of-the-moment?"

I have very few limits in these “Ask Arthur” series, and this one was nowhere near one! Marriage was mostly an evolutionary thing. Neither of us were particularly eager to get a civil union when they became available, and for me that was mostly because I saw it as “Marriage Lite”. I didn’t see any particular reason to get a civil union, though it would cement our legal status as each other’s next of kin. When we actually decided to have a civil union, some four years after they were introduced, it was a spur of the moment thing, decided at Christmas at Nigel’s brother’s house—about a month before the ceremony. In the end, we also combined it with my 50th birthday party.

When marriage became possible in New Zealand, we got married (technically, we changed our civil union to a marriage) only a couple months later. We were both keenly aware of how marriage is a big deal, something that most of us grow up expecting to have some day. But it was also something that had always been denied to us. Everyone knows what marriage means, but most people have no real idea what a civil union is.

I don’t think there was any particular thing that made us want to be married, apart from growing up expecting it and knowing it had been denied to us for all our lives (up until when it wasn’t denied to us anymore). I think both of us felt the struggle to win marriage equality, and the energy behind that, and maybe that’s what drove us forward.

The reality, though, is that we waited for several years to get a civil union because we saw little reason to get one, which made the decision to do it a spur of the moment thing. By the time marriage was available, it was something we very much wanted, something whose time had come.

Thanks, Andy!

Today—and this year’s—final question is from Roger Green:

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you walk near? No, wait, that's a Carpenters song.
Tell stories about your parents you've never told before.


I put this one off for a very simple reason: I couldn’t think of an answer. I’ve already told most of the stories I’d share, either because others are personal or not terribly interesting, which is true of most of our own stories, of course.

So, the best I could come up with for my dad is this. After he retired from the ministry, he worked for a time as a counsellor at our county sheriff’s work release program for male prisoners convicted of minor crimes, with an eye toward rehabilitation. Because of that, he came into contact with a lot of young people. He told me about one young man with “LOSER” tattooed on his fingers, and it clearly affected him. At this point my dad suddenly realised the importance of parental love, and that’s the point at which he worked pretty hard at becoming my friend, something I’ve referred to in the past. He even had one of those banal, but still true, bumper stickers that said “Have You Hugged You Kid Today?” he was a one-man crusade in an age when no one was listening.

The end to that particular story is that a new sheriff was elected, and he changed the program to make it tougher, more like jail, so he could cut costs. My dad became little more than a jailer, and he left soon after.

I couldn’t think of any new stories about my mother, since I’ve told so many, except for this (which I hope I haven’t already told): She wasn’t a very good cook. She used to experiment with all sorts of trendy things that were, um, well, terrible. Awful, even. Like the casserole made with saltines and Velveeta cheese. Then there was the time she made two packets of something called a “TVP Dinner” (TVP was “textured vegetable protein”), but she used half the water. When I was a baby she made my cereal and put in salt instead of sugar (she told me that story—I clearly don’t remember it). When we went camping, she made tinned salmon, peas, and white sauce on chow mein noodles. She also made a whole chicken that came in a can. Her standard dishes were awesome, though, and some of them I still make.

Her baking was uneven. She was often too slow to take cookies out of the oven, and occasionally she left out an ingredient. But when she got it right, it was awesome.

All of that was terrible, and still gives me nightmares (well, they don’t, but it would be understandable if they did).

Thanks for the challenge, Roger!

Well, that’s it for another year! Thanks for all the questions, and enduring my answers. See you next year!

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

Previously:

Let the 2018 asking begin – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 1: Perfect place
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 2: Living where?
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 3: About religious stuff
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 4: About what I like
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 5: About conversion therapy
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 6: About blogging stuff
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 7: About current gay issues

My year in health

My Health Journey this year has certainly been, um, varied. While I don’t do “my year in review” posts (because this blog has details of my year that I’d talk about anyway), I think I can make an exception for this subject because it changes so much, and often so fast. So, this is an update on where things stand in my Health Journey at the end of the year; that’ll make it easier for me to check progress at the end of next year.

In my last update, at the end of November, I talked about how I’d discovered the true cause of the gout attack I’d been experiencing. Against that background was my constant battle with fatigue. Both of those now have updates.

I recently back taking tart cherry capsules again, something that had been part of my gout prevention strategy for years. When I started, it was out of desperation, I’ll admit: The prudent thing would have been to check with the chemist first to make sure there’d be no interactions, but the gout attack was going on so long, I decided to use it anyway, with a “it’s just cherries” attitude, and the rationalisation that “if I wasn’t meant to have any cherries, they would have told me, like they told me to avoid grapefruit.”

Whether that was wise or even mildly sensible is kind of beside the point: I did it. More importantly, it DID help—just not completely.

So, thinking about it some more, I remembered was that the research to date was on using tart cherry taken with allopurinol, and I decided to interpret that literally. So, I now take my cherry pill in the morning with my other pills (and not at lunch as I had been). The result has been no further gout attacks, and even the minor pain I’ve often experienced has been reduced. That means that, so far, I can avoid increasing the dose of allopurinol, something I’m quite keen to avoid because the risk of side effects goes up with the dosage. I rate that a full win.

I’ve been battling fatigue ever since going on diltiazem to control my heart rhythm, and to deal with that the cardiologist I saw the end of October cut the dosage of my statin. Nothing much changed for weeks and weeks since then.

In time, my energy levels have improved, if only slightly or somewhat, however, the drug doesn’t seem as bad as beta-blockers were, and they’re dramatically better in one important respect: My head doesn’t feel like it’s filled with stuffing anymore. I can show that with one list:
► December (57)
► November (58)
► October (32)
► September (28)
► August (45)
► July (39)
► June (25)
► May (21)
► April (16)
► March (9)
► February (17)
► January (17)
That list is of the number of blog posts by month, up to today (but not including this post). From January through June, I was on beta-blockers. In April or May, I’d started taking the pill at night so I’d have more energy in the daytime, which did help. Then in June I was weaned off of beta-blockers and onto diltiazem. In September I was hospitalised with Afib, and they increased my dosage of diltiazem.

What all this shows is that I was least productive (in terms of number of blog posts) when I was on beta-blockers, and far more so once I’d changed to diltiazem. This demonstrates that my mind is much clearer now than it ever was under beta-blockers. There were times I wondered if I’d ever get my blogging mojo back, but more than that, if I’d ever get to be ME again. Clearly, I have.

So, while I am more tired than I’d like to be, it is nevertheless such a vast improvement on how I’d been feeling mentally that I don’t really care. My energy may eventually further improve over time, too. Well, I can hope. In any case, I rate that a major, though not full, win.

There have been other, unexpected changes. I don’t drink as much coffee as I used to because I just don’t feel like it. I also don’t drink much alcohol anymore for the same reason. Neither is necessarily good, bad, or indifferent, just reality.

There have been other side effects, in the “TMI” category, probably. One of the new drugs was causing quite a bit of flatulence, which smelled like sour milk. I recently started taking some probiotic capsules (more convenient than eating yoghurt), and that problem has pretty much disappeared.

Those are all the major changes that I’ve experienced over the past few months, and the list of blog posts by moth provides a stark contrast to how things are now as compared to where I was at the start of the year.

The New Year will no doubt bring new challenges. Most do. But for the first time since after the first few months after this whole journey began, I feel like I’m moving forward again. I’ll take that.

My plans for the New Year include working on losing weight and beginning (mild) exercise, two things that were impossible when I was beta-blockers and had no energy, nor when I was enduring gout attacks. Maybe progress on all that can be fodder for updates next year, rather than dealing with new challenges. Like I said, I can hope.

So, all things considered, this year ended up much improved on where it began, and that’s what matters most to me. A lot. Besides, with this post I’ve now achieved my annual target of 365 posts, something that seemed improbable at the start of the year. That, too, matters to me—much more than I let on. See? This year did end well.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Still remembering my mother’s birthday

Today one thing has been on my mind, and it’s not the end of the year, my looming “Big Birthday”, and certainly not whether or not I’ll make my blogging goal for the year. The one thing I’ve been thinking about the most today is my mother’s birthday. Today is her 102nd birthday.

I’ve told so many stories about my mother over the years, and repeated some of them, that finding something new to say is now very difficult. But that’s not really the point of these posts or why I make them. Instead, it’s about the remembering itself.

Part of that is about ensuring I remember her birthday even now, because when she was alive it could get lost in the midst of all the holidays. But the cool reality is that she’s been gone so long now—the better part of four decades—that I can go days, weeks, or even longer (months?) without thinking about her or remembering her except for, maybe, a moment. By making a point of remembering her birthday, I’m assured I’ll think about her not just on the day, but in the weeks leading up to it. I like the comfort of that.

So these annual posts are about honouring my mother and her legacy for me, for remembering her birthday itself, and for ensuring that I remember her by thinking about her in deeper thoughts than I may have for most of the year.

She was a big part of helping me become who I am now, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. The least I can do is ensure I remember her, AND her birthday.

So, once again and always, Happy Birthday, Mom and thanks. Always.

Related:
Tears of a clown
– one of my favourite posts about my mother

Previous years’ birthday posts:
Remembering my mother’s birthday (2017)
My mom would be 100 (2016)
Mom at 99 (2015)
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Ask Arthur 2018, Part 7: About current gay issues

This year’s “Ask Arthur” series is ending, so yesterday I issued a last minute invitation for questions. Roger Green obliged with two different, but very topical questions. This is now the penultimate post, and tomorrow will be the final in this year’s series.

So, Roger first asked:

Is there an anti-gay backlash in New Zealand (and Australia, since you seem to keep track) as there is in Germany?

Not in New Zealand, no. Not yet, anyway. We have a problem with far too many fundamentalist religionists (mostly Christian, but other religions, too), but there aren’t any real issues for them to fight about here: Gay couples can get married and that means they can adopt (not that it happens all that much, mainly due to a shortage of kids available for adoption). Aside from that, the human and civil rights of gay people have been protected for decades, and they are legally equal in every way. Social/religious conservatives may not like gay people very much, and some try to discriminate from time to time, but they don’t get away from it. And no one is leading the call against gay people—or trans* people, either. Maybe that’s just not the Kiwi way.

Australia, however, is another matter.

They have long had a problem with extreme conservative “Christians” who are also politically active. Their current Prime Minister (this week…) is Scott Morrison, who is an extreme conservative religionist (Pentecostal/Ass. of God). He claims to not like people using the Bible as a “policy manual”, but he’s decided to pander to radical-right anti-LGBTI “Christians” by championing the “religious freedom” scam in which rightwing “Christians” use their religion as an excuse for discriminating against—even persecuting—LGBT+ people.

And yet, the pandering so far has been just that—or, all sizzle and no sausage. As one writer for Sydney’s Star Observer recently observed, somewhat sarcastically, 2018 was “the year gay kids came into existence for the religious right”. Nevertheless, the fact that the views of religious extremists can be taken seriously and as legitimate could become a problem for Australia.

Australia has had a problem with nationalist politicians, New Zealand less so, and in both countries the main object has been Asians. Australia has endured politicians who were overtly anti-Muslim, New Zealand MUCH less so. That matters because the far right in Europe and the USA have focused on their anti-Islamic bigotry.

What is especially interesting is that most of the far right in Western Europe, and even the faction in the USA that adores the current occupant of the White House, is not anti-LGBT+ as such, but has even used their support for LGBT+ people as a reason people should join them, because they’re “protecting” LGBT+ people from the “violence of Islam”. Indeed, gay people are often leaders in the new European far-right.

In the Netherlands, openly gay Pim Fortuyn crusaded against Islamic immigration, and the current far right leader in that country, Geert Wilders, has often used pro-gay rhetoric in his anti-Islam campaign.

The situation with Germany is unique (so far), but the country that unleashed violent fascism and genocide on the world ought to be far more careful about embracing far-right politics. The article that Roger linked to pointed out that the far-right “Alternative for Germany” party is co-led by a lesbian, Alice Weidel, as if that mattered. At all. It doesn’t. She is a far-right extremist first and foremost, and being lesbian does not excuse or change that fact.

What those European examples show is the how the far-right can exploit the fear of violent homophobia from fundamentalist Muslims as a way to recruit people who would otherwise never pay any attention to the far right. It seems to me that this is a real danger, because once in power the far-right will always—always—turn on LGBT+ people, without exception.

To be clear—ALL fundamentalist religion poses an existential threat to freedom, liberty, and democracy, and fundamentalist Islam is no different. But that’s no excuse to try and use LGBT+ people as a way to advance an inherently racist agenda. If they want to do that, leave LGBT+ out of it.

Roger next asked:

And since it was linked in the previous article, Is it time to drop the ‘LGBT’ From ‘LGBTQ’?

When I read the headline, I did an eyeroll. When I read it, not so much. I do think the “Q” thing is a bit silly, personally, but I think his point is a good one. The thing that conservative politicians have successfully exploited is a reaction to “Identity Politics”, that is, people who put their identity, and political needs associated with it, ahead of everyone else and their needs. That’s been gleefully exaggerated by the Right, but their rhetoric is based on truth, and that’s what gives it power and currency.

This relates to the previous question because in the USA in particular, rightwing politicians have used and stoked the backlash to “Identity Politics” to attack and defeat the Left. They also use it to fuel their opposition to protecting the human and civil rights of LGBT+ people.

This is a subject in itself, but I’ve been increasingly concerned about how “Identity Politics” has replaced “Movement Politics”, and how oversensitive some people have become about their identity, sometimes stalling or even reversing progress. I see this all the time in LGBT+ communities that get so bogged down in catering to every initial in the collective name that they forget what it is they’re supposed to be working on.

There are far too many people these days who are part of “The Bubble Wrap Generation”, needing to be encased in layers of protection to keep them from feeling hurt or even challenged by anyone. Real life isn’t like that and—as the rightwing likes to say, “real life doesn’t care about your feelings.” That slogan works because it’s true.

It seems to me that what LGBT+ (or whatever) people need to do is to find a way to celebrate uniqueness—Identity—without making it the sole focus. When I was an activist, the various identities now represented by a letter in our collective name didn’t necessarily like each other—and sometimes they were quite hostile to other letters. But we found ways to forge alliances on specific issues at specific times, and we’d leave each other in peace the rest of the time. It worked, and all the progress of the 1980s and into the 1990s was built on that pragmatic solution.

So, I agree that the focus on adding ever more letters to the string is making us weaker overall (and one of the many posts I’ve abandoned in recent years was about that subject). Where I differ with the author is that I don’t think that assigning a single letter—Q—to describe us is going to fix anything whatsoever.

What bothers me about that is not that we’re not united, it’s that we’re allowing our differences to stand in the way of progress, and that we’re allowing outsiders—Left and Right—to exploit those differences in order to divide us further, from each other and from the Centre and Left in general, thereby creating room for the far-right in particular to advance its agenda. It’s part of what helped the current regime get into power, but overcoming those divisions might help expel it.

Thanks to Roger for these questions!

Tomorrow is the final post in this year’s Ask Arthur series.

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

Previously:

Let the 2018 asking begin – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 1: Perfect place
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 2: Living where?
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 3: About religious stuff
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 4: About what I like
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 5: About conversion therapy
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 6: About blogging stuff

Weekend Diversion: Favourite songs from 2018

My Weekend Diversion posts about music have (mostly) been about sharing music that I’ve recently run across and that has struck a chord with me. This post is about that, though somewhat different than what I usually post. This one is about songs that I heard for the first time in 2018, regardless of when they were actually released, and that I came to love.

Now, “Arthur’s Law”, and all that, I know that other people may very well totally disagree with my choices, and even that I or anyone “should” like these songs. That’s fine. The point of this list is that it’s entirely personal—they’re songs that I connected with in a personal way because they spoke to me emotionally, and I was sometimes even tearful listening to them. A song that can make me feel like that always gets my respect and usually makes my list of awesome songs.

My original plan was for this to be a “Top Five for 2018”, but after reviewing the songs I shared this year, there were few that I heard for the first time this year, and of those, only a few that spoke to me in the way I described. So, this list is my Top Five Minus One. Hey, my list, my rules.

I’m including a link to the post where I originally talked about the song, because it will provide a fuller explanation of why the song is on my list, but I also have a brief one-sentence reason, too.

1 Mitch James: "21", which I originally talked about in July:



I think this is a pretty much perfect pop song—well-crafted, well-sung, and the video is well done.

2 Passenger: “When we were young”, from April of this year:



I love this song for its sound and lyrics, but mostly because, between health stuff and my impending “Big Birthday”, I’m keenly aware of getting older.

3 Tom Walker: “Leave a light on”, from October:



I love the sound of this song, the lyrics, the message, and the video.

4 Shawn Mendes: “In My Blood”, from August:



I think this his Shawn’s best performance to date, with the spare sound of the song, Shawn’s vocal performance, and the video all combining to make this one of my favourites for this year.

•  •  •  •  •

Well, that's it, my Top Five Minus One for 2018. In order to to this next year, I'll have to share more songs so I have more to choose from. Such a burden.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ask Arthur 2018, Part 6: About blogging stuff

This year’s “Ask Arthur” series is nearly over, with a post each on the next two days scheduled, with the possibility of one more post if I get any last-minute questions. Today’s questions are from Roger Green, and they're the simplest yet, though, naturally, there’s a bit more needed to answer fully. Roger first asked:

Are there any posts, besides Arthur's Law, that you tend to cite in your subsequent posts? For me, at least this year, it's the Green Book post, in large part because of the movie.

The “Arthur’s Law” post Roger referred to is my 2013 post about pithy a rule I came up with about pop culture. I called it “Arthur’s Law” because “it’s frankly catchier than what I used to call it: ‘My Pop Culture Mantra’.” It’s very simple:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
I’ve frequently linked to that post over the years, rather than quoting the Law itself, because those who already now it don’t need to read it over and over, and because the original post explains why I came up with it in the first place, and context is often crucial for understanding something.

As it happens, it’s probably the post I share the most often in comments on Facebook posts (mine or others’), too. It’s been helpful.

However, I can’t point to any other particular posts that I frequently cite, and for several reasons. The first is that my memory isn’t good enough, of course, but also because Blogger doesn’t have a way to track links to other blog posts, let alone show me the cumulative numbers of links to posts.

But the bigger reason is because I link to previous posts all the time—probably a majority of posts in any given month have at least one link to a previous post. There are some bloggers who would do that just to get more page views because they potentially get more money from that, but since I get no money from blogging or page views, I don’t have that incentive. Instead, I just do it because it’s easier for me and helps me not repeat myself as much.

Each time I first blog about a topic, I include links to outside sources, so when I talk about the topic again (or a related one), linking to my earlier post provides an easy way to link to all the sources for the information I’m talking about or referring to, meaning I don’t have to do that again.

So, while there are a lot of older posts that I link to, there aren’t necessarily any that are the most frequent (as far as I remember…). However, there are certain topics that I’ll refer to again, like about US or NZ politics or history, for example.

There are also posts I link to a lot simply because they’re part of an annual series (like my birthday, or some anniversary or other), and I include the links every year. Over time, the oldest post gets a lot of links. But those aren’t ones I refer to for any other reason.

Having said all that, two posts that I know I’ve referred to a lot are both about religion: “The road from Damascus” and “Religion isn’t the enemy”, both of which I linked to in Part 3 of this series.

Roger next asked:

What words do you have the most difficulty spelling?

Okay, technically this isn’t about blogging as such, however, most people see the words I misspell on this blog, so it’s related. To me, anyway.

The word I misspell the most often is “from”; I type “form” instead nearly every time. Yes, that’s a typo, but it happens so often that it’s a bit more than a garden-variety typo.

The words I have difficulty with are the ones that I rarely use, which is why I can’t remember them. It’s not common for me to forget how to spell words I know and use fairly often, but it does sometimes happen.

Spellcheck catches most misspelled words, either as I type or when I paste the text into Blogger—or both, because each catches words the other one misses. In most cases, they’re just typos, but sometimes it catches words I’ve messed up—words with unusual consonant or vowel combinations, for example. Proper names often stop me, too, like Shakespeare, for example. Fortunately, I can easily look up anything I’m not sure of, and I do.

In my years in New Zealand, I’ve found (and still find) that Kiwis often misspell words because they spell it sort of phonetically. I talked a bit about that in a post last year.

I have had the outstanding luck to have been born with the Spelling Gene: I learn the correct spelling of words and then don’t forget them. And this is, apparently, the main reason I don’t have many words I have trouble spelling—yet!

Thanks to Roger for these questions!

Time’s running out to ask a question—this is your last chance! Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can also email me 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”.

Previously:

Let the 2018 asking begin – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 1: Perfect place
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 2: Living where?
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 3: About religious stuff
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 4: About what I like
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 5: About conversion therapy

2018 in review


The video above from Vox is easily described by its title alone: “2018, in 5 minutes”. It’s the first “year in review” video I’ve seen this year, so, naturally, I went looking for others, and I found the one from the Associated Press, below. They’re both good.

Both videos try to provide context to what they show, and both emphasise different things. So many of the images and stories they include were striking, and remain so. For me, the most memorable story of the 2018 was the rescue of those boys from the cave in Thailand. No one thought it would work, or that they’d all survive. It was the one damn near perfect story of the year: Good news, positive, happy ending, and so damn heartwarming that it almost singlehandedly erased all the utter shit that happened all over the rest of the world in 2018. Almost.

Each year has good and bad, and 2018 has been no at least we got the one great story this year. Maybe next year we’ll do better.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ask Arthur 2018, Part 5: About conversion therapy

As we near the end of this year’s “Ask Arthur” series, the remaining questions were thought-provoking for me, and today’s question from Roger Green, was that, and also about a controversial topic:

Did you see this story about "gay conversion"? [video below] CAN you see it in NZ? If you can, what did you think of it? Regardless, were you, or anyone you know, subjected to it?

Before answering, I need to make a point of personal privilege: The video from CBS Sunday Morning, was introduced by Jane Pauley. I first saw her many years ago hosting Chicago’s local TV news. Same place I saw many others, like Lester Holt, for example.

That out of the way, yes, I was able to see it. After a long period in which we were geoblocked from being able to see such videos, that’s becoming more rare as time passes. I have no idea why that is, but at least now more often than not I can see what people are talking about.

Speaking of which, the video Roger was talking about:



I’ve heard many of these sorts of stories many times, including, as this time, whenever the mainstream media exposes the lie of “ex-gay” torture programmes. It was appropriate that the report mentioned the film Boy Erased, which I talked about a couple months ago, because that’s what the movie was about. I think it’s good and important for the lie that is this “therapy” be exposed as much as possible, so this report was good, if short.

I say this because it’s a subject on which I won’t concede anything: The practice of “gay conversion” is disgusting and evil. It should be outlawed altogether. I’m not the least bit interested in any “middle ground” on this issue because I will not compromise now or ever.

Here’s why I’m so unalterably opposed to the “ex-gay” torture program fundamentalist “Christians” love: It doesn’t work—at all—and it’s immoral and sick to even try. The main reason everyone should oppose it, though, is that it kills.

Being gay is not a “sin”. I’m well aware that fundamentalist “Christians” think it is, but that’s just plain stupid, and they need to get over that delusion. I could give them the scriptural and theological reasons why they’re wrong, but they’d never listen to or believe me, especially considering I’m one of the people they’d like to erase through their torture programme.

That aside, the reality is that being gay is no more “sinful” than being lefthanded—though once upon a time “Christians” used to beat kids who used their left hands because they believed it was of their devil. They now realise how sick and stupid that was, and some day they’ll realise the same thing about their persecution of gay people.

The biggest problem is that the “ex-gay” scam does actual, serious harm to people. It gives people dealing with prejudice of the people in their lives they most trust—parents, preachers—the false hope they can stop being gay. But because that’s not possible, and they will fail, far too many will see suicide as the only way out.

Moreover, it carries the presumption that the gay person is “broken” and needs to be “fixed” (they’re not and don’t), and it carries the delusion that there’s something inherently wrong with being gay when there isn’t. When someone is dealing with what the fake “Christians” love to call “same sex attraction”, it causes harm to tell them to constantly tell them that they’re “broken”, and/or that they’re “defying” the fundamentalists’ god, and/or that they’re doomed if they don’t stop being gay. This, too, can lead the victims of the fake “Christians” to see suicide as the only way out.

Even when the victims of the scam don’t choose suicide, they will carry mental and emotion scars from the abuse that will haunt them for years, and take a lot of time and work to undo.

This scam is so dangerous and even deadly that all real professional mental health organisations ban the fake therapy. The potential for severe harm to children and adolescents is the reason more and more jurisdictions are banning the use of the torture programme on children and young adults (hopefully New Zealand will soon ban it, too). In my view, this doesn’t go far enough and it ought to be outlawed altogether for all people, regardless of age. It’s that dangerous.

Religion is the driver of the crusade against gay people, but it has to be enabled by non-religious people cooperating, even if it’s just for the money. For example, there was an App to promote “ex-gay” torture, and when Apple was made aware of it, they banned it. As of today, Google and Amazon have not banned the “ex-gay” App. They must do so.

I was never a victim of the scam, but I never had the chance to come out to my parents, so that could never happen to happen to me. Moreover, it also wouldn’t have happened because Lutherans are Mainline Protestants and most of us rejected the bizarre beliefs that fundamentalists clung to. So, there was never any risk that I’d be subjected to that torture scam for that and other reasons. Lutherans were never at the forefront of the fight for the human and civil rights of LGBT+ people, but neither were they lighting the torches and sharpening the pitchforks.

I was trying to remember if anyone I knew told a story of any form of “ex-gay” torture, religious or not, and I can’t remember any. That doesn’t mean that none did, just that they weren’t close enough to me for me to remember it clearly. I certainly don’t remember any close friends telling me they’d been victimised, but that could just be because of my ageing memory—though I don’t think so, because my hunch is none did.

Thanks to Roger for these questions! Now, go ask him a question!

It’s not too late to ask a question—though it’s getting close: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can also email me 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”.

Previously:

Let the 2018 asking begin – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 1: Perfect place
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 2: Living where?
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 3: About religious stuff
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 4: About what I like

Tidy Kiwis Band Together


The video above, a shorter version of which is on NZ television as a commercial, is part of a new public information campaign aimed at reducing litter. It’s a problem that never goes away, but maybe this will help reduce it.

“Band Together” is a 3-year public information campaign and is a partnership between the “Be A Tidy Kiwi” campaign, the Love NZ (recycling) brand, and several corporate sponsors. It has “significant funding” from the Ministry for the Environment's Waste Minimisation Fund. In addition to the public information campaign, they’ll also be piloting “smart technology bins” and schools education programmes around the country.

The background music, “It's just how we do things round here”, is intended to be an “anthem to encourage everyone to do the right thing and put litter in its place.” The song can be purchased, but I have no idea who gets the money from song sales.

In general, I think public information campaigns to change people’s behaviour can be a good thing, particularly if they’re effective at changing bad behaviour. But after decades of road safety and drink driving ads, we still have people driving badly or under the influence, so the track record is, shall we say, mixed.

Still, anything that helps to reduce littering is a good thing, and if this campaign does that, then so much the better. We’ll know soon enough if it’s helping or not.

The decline of the American Empire

Much has been written and said about the decline of democracy in the USA, and the grave, possibly lethal, threat to it from the current occupant of the White House and his regime. But at the same time, and because of that same man and his regime, respect for the USA around the world us plummeting, and the country’s adversaries are pouncing to fill the vacuum. That could end very badly.

We saw the first signs of the USA’s decline way back in January when Gallup released poll results that showed that global approval of US leadership had plummeted to 30% approval, with 43% disapproving. At the end of President Obama’s Administration, 48% approved of US leadership and a mere 20% disapproved.

That means that only a year into his regime, the current occupant had destroyed the USA’s image, reversing the positive feelings the world had for the USA under President Obama.

Ten days ago, Pew Research issued a report (see chart above) indicating that 93% of International Relations experts said that the USA is less respected that in the past. 68% of the general public said the same thing. By a margin of more than three to one, both thought this was “a major problem”. Probably because it is.

The views of the American public are also sharply partisan. Only 42% of Republicans think the USA is less respected that in the past (a notion I’ve personally seen expressed by Republicans), so it’s not surprising that only 28% of Republicans see this decline as “a major problem”. Among Democrats, a whopping 87% say the USA is less respected than in the past, more than double the percentage of Republicans, but still fewer than among the experts. Similarly, 70% of Democrats see this loss of respect as “a major problem”, again more than double the rate of Republicans, and still a lower percentage than the experts.

The partisan divide isn’t the least bit surprising: Over the past decade or so, the USA’s partisan division has become more rigid, absolute, and bitter. Throughout the Obama Administration, Republicans consistently thought that the USA was far less respected than did Democrats, and they felt that this was “a major problem”, which Democrats didn’t. Those views have now reversed.

What this means is that Republicans believe, without any reason to, that the USA became more respected after the current occupant took office, while Democrats believe it is less so. The evidence is clear and undeniable that Democrats are right, and Republicans are wrong, but that’s not the interesting thing about that. Instead it’s that at various points during the Obama Administration majorities of Democrats believed the USA was less respected, which is more evidence that Democrats are more influenced by facts and reality than are Republicans. If the percentages remain so widely divergent as the current regime lurches from one foreign policy disaster to another, the proof of this difference will be further reinforced.

While the USA’s various partisan factions argue with each other about their country’s position in the world, the USA’s adversaries are filling the vacuum left by an absent USA.

China is working hard to extend its influence throughout the world. That’s not necessarily popular, as I said earlier this month about China’s image downunder, but at the same time, a huge margin says China is “playing a more important role in the world today than 10 years ago” while a mere 31% said the USA is (this was the eleventh of Pew’s “Most Interesting” findings of 2018, a list I talked about recently). Despite the reality people see, by far most respondents saw this as a bad thing, with 63% believing it would be better for the world to have the USA as the leading power, with a mere 19% thinking it would be better with China.

The world is at a crossroads. Germany is assuming greater leadership in Europe—and NATO—because the UK is embroiled in Brexit-related chaos and France is consumed by internal political divisions. Russia is exploiting that reality to
assert its influence everywhere it can, including Eastern Europe (this was the whole reason they wanted their man installed as US president—to destroy the Western Alliance so it would descend into chaos, thereby allowing the Russian dictator to recreate the Soviet Empire unimpeded).

Neither Russia nor China are democratic, both are hostile to democracy and freedom, liberty, and self-determination of people or countries. They are not in any way friends of Western nations. Yet with the USA in decline, incompetent in foreign relations, and an unreliable ally, they’re moving quickly to assert world leadership in the vacuum the current regime has created.

This could lead to global war. Either China or Russia or both could go too far even for Republican politicians to excuse or tolerate, and they could force the hand of the current occupant. Given how quickly he does something stupid (like deciding to shut down the government) just because rightwingers criticised him, it’s not hard to imagine he might launch a military strike because some bloviating blowhard on the extreme right said mean things about him.

On the other hand, other world events may slow down the progress of Russia and China, allowing the USA time to send the current regime into retirement (assuming they even can). But even then the current regime has done so much damage to the USA that it will take decades to repair it all, and the USA’s reputation and global influence will not miraculously repair itself if US voters successfully dump the guy in the White House.

And all of that is why the USA’s decline on the world stage is so frightening. The coming two years will be the most dangerous the world has seen since the end of the Cold War. Democrats controlling the US House are, at the moment, our best hope for restraining the current regime, because they’re the only ones who can. At least that’s something.

See also: "Gallup's Top World Findings for 2018" – Gallup editors' picks for some of the most important world polls.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Explaining things

One thing characteristic of this time of year is that it’s social. People get together and talk about things. Sometimes, that means talking about things that we’re told to avoid, like politics. That’s easier when it’s talk about another country’s politics, and who better to ask about US politics than someone from there originally? Well, that’s the way it’s been lately.

It’s not surprising that Kiwis would ask me about US politics, not just because I’m from there, though that’s the connection for people first meeting me. Those who’ve known me, though, know that I’ve been studying US politics and the Constitution for some 40 years, and was engaged in politics for much of that time. Besides, who else are they going to ask?

Kiwis have moved well beyond “how the hell did that man get elected?!” to “why can’t you get rid of him?” Most Kiwis understand that it’s extremely difficult in the USA’s weird system, but they don’t get why in practical terms it’s impossible. They also wonder, “why didn’t the Democrats mop the floor with Republicans in the recent elections?” and for that I have to explain how Republicans have rigged the system to prevent Democrats from winning, as we saw most obviously in the US House elections, which I talked about last month.

The one thing that Kiwis have said to me that I can’t argue with is that Democrats must choose someone with charisma if they have any hope of defeating the current occupant of the White House. I think they’re right, because nominating just any ol’ person won’t do, nor will nominating someone to tick off some sort of quota, because the Republican candidate will be a formidable opponent.

It’s a sickening fact that the current occupant of the White House is, at the moment, the odds-on favourite to win the 2020 election. At this point, after all his crimes and scandals, he ought to be less popular than syphilis, but that’s not how it is.

In his first two years in office, Gallup’s tracking of the current occupant’s approval ratings shows they ranged between a low of 35% approval to a high of 45% approval. That means that his approval ratings, while significantly lower than majority approval, are nevertheless more stable than any other president has enjoyed, according to Gallup.

So far, the current occupant’s average approval rating is 39%, which, coincidentally, is also his most current (Dec 17-22, 2018) approval rating. Opponents take comfort that the percentage who disapprove is always higher, but there’s a huge problem with that: Enthusiasm.

There’s no doubt that the vast majority supporters of the current occupant are unshakable. If that wasn’t the case, his approval rating would have plummeted each time there was a new scandal, or another of his close officials was indicted, fired, or resigned, but the rating remains stable. There’s no reason to believe that would change, even if the current occupant is indicted for his crimes—in fact, it may perversely actually firm up his support.

The flip side of his unwavering support is how divided his opposition is.

In 2016, part of the reason the current occupant was able to barely eek out an Electoral College win was because 79,000 votes in three states went to him. That can be partly chalked up to the pathetically stupid decisions made by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to not campaign in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the closing days of the campaign. But the biggest reason was the Russian government’s successful propaganda campaign to elect their chosen candidate.

The Russian propaganda sought to rally rightwing support, and to depress the vote for Clinton. Their specific tactics were to build up and encourage votes for the truly loopy Jill Stein, and to discourage Black Americans from voting. The Russians didn’t need to win millions of votes for their chosen candidate; all they needed to do was win a few thousand more votes in just the right places—79,000 in three states, to be precise.

Absolutely nothing has been done to protect the US election system from foreign meddling. We know that the Russian government hacked into the election systems of several states in 2016, but we still don’t know what, precisely they did, nor whether the vulnerabilities have been closed. In Georgia they apparently haven’t been, as we found out this year.

All this matters because one of the lessons from 2016 is how susceptible to ideological pandering and propaganda the various factions on the Left are, and that hasn’t changed: Not only do the various parts of the Democratic Party not like each other very much, many of them hate other factions within the party. The Republican Party knows this, and having seen how effective the Republican government was in electing the current occupant, they will no doubt try to divide the Left. It’s easy to do.

If the current occupant’s approval ratings remain firm, he’ll start with a solid base of 39% of the electorate that cannot be persuaded to tell him he’s fired. All his campaign has to do, with or without Russian help, is divide the left. If they’re successful, part will go with the Democratic Party nominee, part will go for a minor party, and a large part will simply staying home—and that will be enough to re-elect the current occupant.

However, if there are more scandals, and if the current occupant himself is indicted for his crimes, whether or not they include his collusion with the Russian government, that could—could—inspire his opponents to turn out to vote against him. However, it has to be enough votes in the right states, and that’s where the candidate comes in.

The Democratic nominee can’t be so Progressive as to alienate moderates and conservatives, nor can the candidate be so Centrist as to alienate Progressives and Liberals. That balancing act may be impossible, especially given the stated determination of the Democratic Party’s leftwing to nominate a Progressive or else. Can there be a candidate who’s an acceptable compromise to the many kinds of Democrats? And, if so, can that candidate win over true Independents in a coalition to drive the Conman in Chief from the White House?

Which brings me back to those conversations I’ve had in recent weeks. Kiwis feel that the Democratic candidate will have to light a spark in voters. While many of them agree with me that the nominee could well be someone not currently being talked about much (or even at all), they nevertheless feel that without something that can take an energetic campaign to the Republican candidate, they can’t beat him, and I agree with that.

There are too many unknowns at the moment, but we know the system is rigged to elect Republicans. We know that the Russians and others will try to manipulate public opinion in favour of the current occupant. We know that Democrats, and the Left generally, are extremely easy to divide. We know that the current occupant has a stable level of support as his starting point. All of those are warning signs.

I pledged long ago that I will vote for the Democratic nominee in 2020, no matter who he or she is, and no matter whether I agree with that candidate on very much. I’m prepared to hold my nose, if necessary. I will vote against the current occupant rather than for the Democrat, if necessary. But there is no way I’ll sit out the election, and there’s no way I’ll vote for any candidate other than the Democratic nominee. The real problem we have is that not many Democrats, and very, very few on the actual Left, are willing to make that same promise to America. That may prove to be the biggest danger of them all.

This blog isn’t insecure

Recently, Google, which hosts these Blogspot/Blogger blogs, made a change to allow secure connections over “https”. This is a good thing because it prevents malicious code/links from being loaded to infect/cause problems for visitors’ computers. However, it can cause problems for otherwise legitimate blogs, too, which requires some work. Bloggers with Blogspot/Blogger blogs will need to learn how to make sure their blog can cope with this change, and that will mean tinkering with things. I did that today.

The purpose of a secure connection is to keep the connection between a site (in this case a blog) and the user secret, that is, no one can view the network traffic to see what information is being exchanged. On most sites, this is really useful, on a blog, not as big a deal. The only information send from user to the site is usually comments, which aren’t usually very risky for anyone, but it’s good to keep those secure, too.

The easiest non-compliant things to fix were the clocks/timer in the upper right corner of this blog. They link to timeanddate.com, which is pretty safe—at least, I’ve never heard of any hackers exploiting it. With a secure connection to this blog, the clocks and timer disappeared. All I had to do to fix that was change the URL from http to https, since the site already accepted secure connections.

The bigger concern for me was how to change the Disqus commenting system I use. That took me several days to figure out.

The help section on Disqus talked about using the “universal code” and used words and phrases that I presume were English, but I had no idea what they meant. That option wasn’t really an option.

So, I kept looking for how to fix it when I decided to look back at the way to install Disqus on a Blogger blog. I went to the gadget to try and edit it, but there was no code to edit.

Next, I went back to Disqus and changed the address for my blog to an https address. That didn’t fix the problem.

Finally, as an act of desperation, I went back to the Install part of Disqus to generate a new gadget which, I was hoping, included the universal code the original help file was talking about. I installed that, and the problem was fixed: Comments reappeared.

I began this post as a way to provide a workaround for readers of this blog, but I realised it was better and simpler for everyone if I could figure out how to fix the problem rather than try to get visitors to take special steps. That’s what I spent my afternoon doing today. How was your afternoon?

My podcast site is really a self-hosted Wordpress blog, and because I pay for the hosting I have full access to the HTML code, which actually makes it easier to fix problems like this (although, at the moment it doesn't accept https connections—but that's a project for another day). Editing computer code doesn’t sound easy, I know, but sometimes it’s really easier than trying to fix things in closed systems like Blogger/Blogspot or a Wordpress.com (free) blog. This is probably a case of “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Well, assuming one has a lot of time to work through the problem. Lucky for me it’s summer holidays right now.

In the dozen the years I’ve done this blog, I’ve had to fix problems several times, and each of them took a lot of my time, generated a lot of frustration, and, ultimately, I succeeded. I’ll admit that it certainly feels like I’ve spent a lot of my time fixing stuff, but the reality is that when spread over 12 years, it’s not really all that much, I guess.

In any case, the important thing is that there were problems with this blog caused by what was really a good idea/upgrade to Blogger/Blogspot blogs. I fixed those problems. And once again peace reigns supreme in this corner of the blogging universe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The stormy Christmas



A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Our Christmas this year was wet and stormy, which was a little different than we’ve had in recent years. We still had a brilliant time, but it was definitely wet. And stormy.

The Instagram photo above is of the surface flooding in front of our house around 10am on Christmas Eve, just as we were getting ready to leave to stay with family members for Christmas. The flooding wasn’t as bad as back in August, but it was also only the start. It had been raining all night, and much of that was hard rain. The rest was just pretty steady. That continued in the morning as we got ready to leave. And it didn’t stop all day.

An hour or so after we left, a car hit a power pole on the road we drive along, blocking the road. There’s an alternative route that’s longer, so we were lucky we’d left so much earlier. That accident was probably a good indicator of the mayhem to come.

At the time that car hit that pole, we were moving slowly along the motorway, held up by heavy rain and our abundance of caution. As Nigel put it, we weren’t in a hurry to get there, and we’d rather actually get there.

Once we got to Hamilton, the rains continued virtually without interruption the entire day and evening. The next day—Christmas Day—had long dry spells, and even a bit of sun, but everything was pretty damp, and the air was humid.

Back home, there were multiple lightening strikes in the larger district that cut the power all over the place, including at our house. That was bad timing, to say the least. As the local power company put it on Facebook:
Merry Christmas everyone! We've got multiple outages around the district due to lightning strikes. Our crews are working as quickly and safely as they can to restore power so you can enjoy your Christmas dinner. We can't send crews up the poles while there is lightning around but we are on the job and working to get the power flowing.
Just a reminder to stay well clear of any downed lines and to always treat all lines as live.
Stay safe out there.
We knew about the loss of power because Nigel gets an alert on his phone when there’s a power outage and our computer server has to re-start. Since we weren’t home at the time, and apart from clocks showing the wrong time when we did get home, it wasn’t a big deal for us.

The trip home today was largely uneventful, though we saw surface flooding everywhere. The skies were overcast, but it didn’t rain. But every time we passed shopping area, there were traffic queues.

Boxing Day is New Zealand’s biggest shopping day (roughly equivalent in that respect to Black Friday in the USA). Apparently, people arrived at Sylvia Park, currently New Zealand’s largest shopping mall, at 7:30am to get a car park, and by 8:30 the carparks were “nearly full”.

Then when we got home we saw that the wind had blown some of the trellis at the top of our fence (photo below) into our yard (and yes, I know there are weeds around that rock…). Our neighbour told us a couple of the plants in her garden were knocked over, too. We wondered if there had been a mini-tornado, since we’ve had very strong winds before and that trellis remained intact, and because the trellis appears to be wrapped around itself. We’ll never know the answer, and it doesn’t matter: We just have to fix it.

Despite the weather challenges, we had a really good Christmas, a bit smaller gathering than usual with family members celebrating with their respective parts of the family. But the food and company were awesome, as always, and being together is really the entire point.

Now we’re getting ready to celebrate New Year’s next week—and when I saw “we” I actually mean me, because Nigel and his mum don’t usually stay up until midnight. I always do, of course. But that’s next week.

Right now, this week, we’re back home after an awesome Christmas. I hope yours was awesome, too.

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2018


It’s Boxing Day in New Zealand, and Christmas Day in the United Kingdom, so the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast to The Commonwealth is now available on YouTube, so that means I can share it, making anyone qho sees this post a sort of honourary citizen of the Commonwealth.

The British Monarchy fascinates many Americans, including me, mainly even if many New Zealanders are fairly indifferent overall, and especially so to the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast. Since arriving in New Zealand in 1995, I’ve (nearly) always watched and was interested in the broadcast, mainly because of the long tradition behind it. Still, it’s pretty much like anything else, really: Those who are interested in the broadcast can be, and anyone who isn’t can ignore it.

It may have been my imagination, but it seemed to me there was less of an emphasis on overt religiosity this year, though it was still there, of course: The Queen is head of the Church of England, and by all accounts religious herself, so that makes sense. It just seemed to me that she placed more emphasis on family than anything else. Or maybe I’ve just gotten better at tuning out the religious bits.

In any event, those who are interested can watch the broadcast and draw their own conclusions, whole those who aren’t interested can ignore it. It’s pretty much like anything else, really.

Related: "How the tradition of Queen Elizabeth II's annual Christmas speech began"Washington Post via Stuff.

Previously:
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2017 (and 1957, too…)
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2016
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2015

Previous years’ broadcasts are no longer available.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

It’s Christmas Day here in New Zealand, and, as usual, I’m spending the day with family. That means that I won’t have a chance to write a fresh blog post for the day, so, for a change, I’ve created this one to publish automatically.

As I say every year, I’d like to send holiday greetings to all my whānau, friends, and friends I haven’t made yet. Everyday is what you make it, but that’s especially true for holidays. I won’t waste it, and hope you won’t, either.

Merry Christmas!

I took the photo above in December 2016 at Birkenhead Wharf.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve 2018

Today is Christmas Eve! Which isn’t a holiday, though people’s heads are probably already there. Many Kiwis bodies are already, too. But it is just a Monday, technically speaking.

New Zealand’s Christmas public holidays are Christmas Day (December 25, of course) and Boxing Day (December 26), which is Tuesday and Wednesday this year. So today, Monday, is just a normal business day, even though it’s Christmas Eve.

Naturally, some businesses decided to close today in order to give their staff a give-day weekend. That doesn’t include retail stores, of course, though most of those close earlier than they normally would on a weekday.

The fact that there are two business days after Christmas—Thursday and Friday, the 27th and 28th—means that, if they can, people will take those days off to give themselves nine days off in a row. But then the following week, January 1 and 2 are public holidays, so why not take of December 31? And then January 3 and 4, which would give people 14 days off, four of them weekend days and four of them public holidays.

The reality is, of course, that not everyone can do that, and some will have really weird weeks this week and next week. There have been years I had weird work weeks like that. I’m really glad I don’t anymore. This could also mean the rest of us will have a weird couple weeks with some businesses closed, others open

No matter what people’s work schedules are over the next couple weeks, there are holidays in both of them, and that’s what we’ll all focus on. Because, that’s really the point of it all, after all.

More emailed fun

It’s been ages since I’ve shared some email fun, but the other day I got a scam extortion email that was so transparently stupid—and topical—that it deserves to be shared. I’d like to think that no one would fall for a scam like this, but I know some will. I can’t stop that, but I can mock the scammers.

The email wasn’t to me, exactly. It was sent “from” my email account to the same email account. But the servers rejected it: “A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error.” Which means it was sent from “me” to me and I couldn’t do that. Well, duh, the email account is dead. Any real hacker would know that.

The message, with the subject “Security Alert. [dead email address] was compromised. You need change password!” It was dated 9 Dec 2018 00:18:18. The date is important. Here’s the scam message (bad grammar and spelling and weird wording were all in the original, but I fixed its terrible spacing to make it read a little better):
Hello!

I have very bad news for you.
09/08/2018 - on this day I hacked your OS and got full access to your account [dead email address].

So, you can change the password, yes... But my malware intercepts it every time.

How I made it: In the software of the router, through which you went online, was a vulnerability.
I just hacked this router and placed my malicious code on it. When you went online, my trojan was installed on the OS of your device.

After that, I made a full dump of your disk (I have all your address book, history of viewing sites, all files, phone numbers and addresses of all your contacts).

A month ago, I wanted to lock your device and ask for a not big amount of btc to unlock.
But I looked at the sites that you regularly visit, and I was shocked by what I saw!!! I'm talk you about sites for adults.

I want to say - you are a BIG pervert. Your fantasy is shifted far away from the normal course!

And I got an idea.... I made a screenshot of the adult sites where you have fun (do you understand what it is about, huh?). After that, I made a screenshot of your joys (using the camera of your device) and glued them together. Turned out amazing! You are so spectacular!

I'm know that you would not like to show these screenshots to your friends, relatives or colleagues. I think $724 is a very, very small amount for my silence. Besides, I have been spying on you for so long, having spent a lot of time!

Pay ONLY in Bitcoins! My BTC wallet: [redacted]

You do not know how to use bitcoins? Enter a query in any search engine: "how to replenish btc wallet". It's extremely easy

For this payment I give you two days (48 hours). As soon as this letter is opened, the timer will work.

After payment, my virus and dirty screenshots with your enjoys will be self-destruct automatically. If I do not receive from you the specified amount, then your device will be locked, and all your contacts will receive a screenshots with your "enjoys".

I hope you understand your situation.
- Do not try to find and destroy my virus! (All your data, files and screenshots is already uploaded to a remote server)
- Do not try to contact me (this is not feasible, I sent you an email from your account)
- Various security services will not help you; formatting a disk or destroying a device will not help, since your data is already on a remote server.

P.S. You are not my single victim. so, I guarantee you that I will not disturb you again after payment! This is the word of honor hacker

I also ask you to regularly update your antiviruses in the future. This way you will no longer fall into a similar situation.

Do not hold evil! I just do my job.
Good luck.
Nothing about this is real, of course, which is what makes it so hilarious.

First, this was for a dead email address, not a site. Email addresses can’t access any sites whatsoever, so the whole premise was so transparently fake that I really did LOL at it. The next thing was that the email was dated 9 December, but it claimed to have “hacked” my “OS” (no, it was a dead email address, actually) on “09/08/2018”. Assuming that this came from Russia/Eastern Europe, as most of these do, it would be 9 August, yet they emailed four months later? Or, was it supposed to be American-style dates, since they would probably assume their marks were American, that would still be September 8, two months before the actual date. No real hacker would wait 2 or 3 months to make an extortion demand.

And, for the record, I have no webcam, and an email address cannot visit a site where some scammer can pretend to have “made a screenshot of the adult sites where you have fun”. Neither of those were possible. All of which is the kind of scam the NZ government has been warning people against, something that came up around the time of their “Fraud Awareness Week”.

All of which made me wonder: How many people have enough things in the faked email that are true enough that they might think the extortion was real, and not a scam? There was no way this could be true for me, but what about people who do have a webcam, and who do visit “adult sites”, who don’t know for sure it’s fake? And that’s why these scams persist: If one in a hundred thousand people take it for real, it makes the whole effort worthwhile. If everyone ignored such emails, they would eventually go away.

But not everyone does or can know what’s real and what’s a scam. That’s how these things persist. Sure, it’s kind of sick and pathetic that people would prey on ignorance and naiveté, but when has that ever NOT been the case? The Internet makes it easy to make a lot of money from a lot of gullible people, but this has been going on—on a smaller scale—for centuries. Technology has changed, but people haven’t.

This is the first of these extortion emails I’ve “received”, but it was by accident, because the scammers used a dead email address they faked to try to send it to a dead email address. Otherwise, I’d never have seen it. And, they failed, of course: They didn’t gain control of a site because it was actually a dead email address, and I wasn’t stupid enough to take them seriously. A couple years ago, I received a similar scam about a site I controlled (in part), and I knew, or guessed, that was fake.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is to assume that all such emails are fake and scams unless there’s some good and very specific reason to think otherwise. If that’s the case, contact the relevant cybercrime authorities to deal with it. But, chances are good that it’ll be a scam, as this one was.

And I really did literally LOL at it.