Tuesday, February 19, 2019

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 342 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 342, “Year’s mixed start” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. Who knows? There may be more episodes soon.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A rainbow in an email

Anyone with an email address probably gets marketing emails, at least some of which are from companies with whom we do business. We may or may not pay attention to them, but every once in awhile one stands out and practically forces us to pay attention. Yesterday I got one of that kind of marketing email.

Yesterday, I received an email from Animates, the pet store chain where I get the dogs’ food, and owners of the chain of vet clinics where we took the animals. There was nothing unusual about it, then I looked closer at the main image (photo up top). There was nothing particularly unsual about it: A large photo with a cute furbaby, this time with people, too. Toward the end of last year, they’d changed the format of their marketing emails (I’m a graphics and publishing professional—that’s the sort of thing I notice) to have a large header at the top with their headline, sometimes with graphics, other times a photo. So, it looked ordinary—and then looked more closely and I went, “hm…”

The lads seemed friendly, with the dog, yes, but also with each other. Were they just friends, or… Or maybe it was just intended as an inclusive marketing image for which everyone could write their own stories.

I also thought it might have something to do with Pride celebrations, since TVNZ changed their logo to one with Rainbow colours for the week. Turns out, is was promoting something very specific.

Animates had received Rainbow Tick Certification, which is “designed to make an organisation a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for people of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation.” They “sensitively evaluate your organisation’s level of LGBTTI inclusion in these five areas: Policy, Staff Training, Staff Engagement and Organisational Support, External Engagement, and Monitoring. If a business id found to meet the criteria in all those areas after a Diversity & Inclusion Audit, they can attain Rainbow Tick Certification. If not, they can take advantage of the organisation’s training programmes to help them pass the audit.

This graphic was near the bottom of the Animates email:

That graphic lead to a statement on their website:
We’re proud to announce that Animates is now Rainbow Tick accredited.

This is a significant milestone for the company demonstrating to our customers, the wider community and our team members, that Animates is an inclusive and welcoming organisation for people of diverse sexuality and gender identities.

The Rainbow Tick celebrates and recognises our commitment to ensuring our team members, customers, suppliers, and anyone interacting with the company can safely express their individuality; allowing them to be their authentic self, confirming our core value of authenticity.

Animates is proud to join the wonderful New Zealand businesses who are Rainbow Tick certified and encourage others to start the accreditation process.
So, an otherwise ordinary email marketing message made me stop for a moment to pay attention to it because of the choice of photo (always a good tactic, by the way—there’s some free processional advice for you), and when I then actually read the email I saw that the photo probably was related to me and my life as I’d wondered. Or, maybe it really was just intended as an inclusive marketing image for which everyone could write their own stories. Either way, it was good news to share—and their marketing worked because it grabbed my attention and got me pay attention to it.

Every once in awhile an email marketing message stands out and practically forces us to pay attention. This was one of those times, one of that kind of email. Well done, to them all, for getting the messaging right, and especially for the Rainbow Tick Accreditation.

Footnote: Because of the sad events of Thursday, I just didn’t have it in me to publish any posts yesterday. I originally planned a post for Wednesday night, but it needed some finishing touches, and I ran out of time to do it because I went to bed early (for me…) that night. I didn’t feel like finishing it the next day, or yesterday. But when I saw the email I mentioned in this post, I thought it would by a nice positive way to get back to blogging again. Because life goes on, doesn’t it? And, for me, that includes blogging.

And, no, I was not paid or compensated in any way to promote Animates or Rainbow Tick. I just wanted a nice story to return with.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bella’s journey ends

Bella c2006–2019
Today Bella’s journey ended. What at first seemed like an improbable life together turned out to be a joy, and she became a treasured member of the family. But everything ends, and today Bella’s journey did, too.

It wasn’t easy when Bella first chose to live with us back in 2010. She used to bite and scratch me without any real warning. She’d jump up into my lap, lie down to sleep, and then suddenly get a crazed look in her eyes and chomp! For a time it was so bad that I thought we might have to send her away—I had scratches up and down my hands and arms all the time. She attacked Nigel, too, but I seemed to bear the brunt of it, probably because I spent more time with her.

Some time later, possibly after Sunny arrived to live with us eight months after Bella, Nigel changed our routine. Instead of just giving the furbabies a treat when he got home, as we’ve always done, he fed Bella her treats out of his hand, one at a time. That was when everything changed. Almost overnight, or so it seemed, Bella stopped attacking me.

She gradually became a more or less normal-acting cat, though with a few toothy lapses every now and then, but that was all over by the time she became sick. Over the past two and a half years, she’s been like any other elderly cat, fine at first, then sometimes having brief setbacks, then rallying. But the decline continued steadily, if slowly.

In recent months she pretty much stopped grooming. She also sometimes had difficulty walking. She struggled to jump up onto anything, like our laps, and if she did try to jump up, she sometimes couldn’t hold on and fell back onto the floor. Every now and then she also seemed to have trouble merely standing. All of that became worse as time went on.

A few nights ago, I found her down in the rumpus room by the dog door, which is normally covered by a baby gate to keep the dogs inside. She didn’t often go down there by herself, and certainly not at night. She was lying facing it the door, looking at as if she wanted to go out. It crossed my mind that she might be wanting to go find somewhere to hide so she could close her eyes for the last time.

I carried her upstairs and put her in her cat box (which was in the bath to protect it from the dogs – a long story) because I thought maybe she realised she couldn’t jump into the bath and wanted to go outside to go to the toilet. In recent weeks, I’d increasingly often heard her struggle to jump into and back out of the bath. In any case, when she was done that night, she waited for me to lift her out again. Afterward, she ate a little bit, but not much.

Over the past few days she was eating less than normal, though still drinking about much as water as always. Last night, she didn’t eat at all, and this morning she ate only when we soaked her food in water, telling us her tooth was bothering her again. When she was done eating and drinking some water, she walked over to the walk-in wardrobe and peed (which, of course, I cleaned up immediately with the special pet wet-vac).

And this is how we came to realise she was struggling more than living. She had trouble eating with the bad tooth that can’t be fixed (because she wouldn’t have survived the anaesthetic), and even if that got better as it did last time, it’d obviously return, maybe worse. She had trouble walking, she couldn’t jump any more—in short, she just no longer seemed like she could enjoy life, apart from when she was sleeping out on the deck in the sun. She rarely purred anymore, either, or, at least, not loudly, like she used to.

Because of all that, late this morning, I made that phone call to the vet to schedule that visit. I fucking hate doing that.

Bella put up no struggle when I put her in the cage, though she looked a little confused. We let the dogs sniff her in the cage, and we left.

We arrived there right on time for our 4pm appointment. We had a very kind and caring vet who checked her and said her kidneys had atrophied to maybe less than a quarter of their normal size, and she could smell the toxins on Bella’s breath—not just the bad tooth. The vet made sure we wanted to proceed, we signed the paperwork, and while the vet went to get a nurse to help her with the prep work, Nigel went to pay so that we could just leave afterward, when we’d be distressed.

I stayed with Bella and waited with her, petting her fur, until the vet returned and gave her a sedative. Looking at her, I realised how tired she looked, and weak. It almost seemed as if she was ready to give up the fight, if cats thought like that. By the time Nigel got back a moment later, she was just beginning to get a bit dopey. She was relaxed and a bit high.

The nurse joined us and they shaved Bella’s front leg to insert the line. The vet explained that sometimes the veins of cats with kidney disease “burst”, as she put it, due to weakness of the vein walls. Bella never fought them during this, because she was doped up. The vet administered the fatal overdose of sedative, Bella stopped breathing, and her tail stopped moving. The vet waited a moment or two, got the stethoscope, listened in several places, and confirmed that Bella had died. She was peaceful, quiet, and really did seem as if she’d just gone to sleep. It was maybe 4:30pm, I'd guess (i didn't look at my watch until were leaving).

The vet left us alone for a few minutes. We shed our tears, petted Bella for the last time, and talked to her a bit. Then, when we were ready, we left. Nigel opened the door to the inner part of the clinic to let them know we were leaving, and we left through the the exam room’s other door, which led out of the clinic. I was last to leave, and I turned around, gave Bella one last pet, and as I was about to close the door behind me, I said “we love you, Bella”, which is what I always said to her when we were leaving the house and she was there watching. It seemed appropriate. We were very sad.

By this time, traffic was kind of heavy, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things. We thought it would be a good idea to do something ordinary, and it was. While we were subdued and, obviously, still sad, it was a good distraction—or, it was until we turned into another aisle and were faced with all the cat food and treats (something we hadn’t been able to buy for two and a half years). Without saying a word, be both looked away. We passed that, literally and figuratively.

Once home, Nigel brought the empty cage back into the house and let the dogs sniff it again. They would have smelled Bella, seen that she wasn’t there, and they may have wondered about that. But I doubt they understood any more than that. We knew; that was enough.

Nigel picked up Bella’s food plate and the container we kept her food in so we wouldn’t have to look at it. I’ll take her cat box outside tomorrow and bury the contents (it’d be quite heavy for the rubbish). And then the house will be catless (she never liked cat toys, so we didn’t have any). I can’t imagine how that will feel, but I think there will be tears.

Today I wore a dark polo shirt. I felt I needed a dark colour because I was already sad, but I chose that one in particular because when Bella was somewhat younger and healthier she’d climb onto my lap and her claws got caught in the fabric and pulled threads out. In recent years, I’ve only worn the shirt around the house (because of those pulls), and every time I’ve put the shirt on, I’ve thought of Bella and those better times. Today, I wanted that, and even now, I still do. It’s kind of like a hug.

Bella lived long enough to live in this house and explore the lawns (something our former house didn't have), lie on the cement driveway, and also lie out on the second storey deck. As she grew sicker, that deck was one of her favourite spots, especially in summer. In the colder months, she slept in the sun against the sliding doors leading out to the deck.

Last night, Bella slept next to me all night long, which was unusual for her to do (she usually moved at some point during the night). I slept very poorly last night, partly because I was worried about her. When I got up this morning, I sat in my chair and Bella jumped up—or, rather, had me lift her up—into my lap. She slept there for quite awhile as I dozed off and on. Bella spent the rest of the day sleeping out on the deck, much of it in the sun. I’m so happy that she spent her last day doing things she loved doing.

Bella was different in so many ways from other cats we've both had over the years. A real lap cat, uninterested in hunting anything, playful with the dogs (up to a point…), totally unconcerned about a houseful of visitors, and she always seemed to be paying attention to me when I talked to her. She also talked to me. Until all that started to slowly fade.

She was very small and thin by the end, and we saw less of her than we had when she was healthy. And yet she filled the house so much that we definitely feel her absence, and no doubt will for quite awhile. But the dogs are still asking for attention, and giving it, and they deserve to have us carry on as before. But we’ll carry Bella in our hearts.

Despite the improbability that our life together would turn out to be a joy, it did. She became a treasured member of the family, and we will miss her so very much.

Bella’s journey
Bella’s condition
Bella’s new normal
Better Bella
Is this it?
Bella’s own plans
All posts about Bella are tagged “Bella”

I took the photo of Bella up top last July, the week of the second anniversary of her diagnosis. It’s one of my favourite of the most recent photos of her. Over the past six months, she started to look worse as time wore on. I prefer to remember her when she was still at her best. The photo montage of Bella at the bottom of this port is from January 2015. It’s always been one of my favourites of her.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The good night

Sometimes, life just is. There aren’t any special events or special meanings, just life. Sometimes that’s the best thing, and last night was like that.

The caption to my Instagram photo above is pretty self explanatory, but, as is so often the case, there’s more to it. It came at the end of a day in which I was tired, not from doing all the much, really but tired nonetheless. I’d done some research for a blog post I was going to work on that evening, but, as with the night before, I was just too tired when evening came round. So, I gave it a miss.

I needed to hang up the shirts that were sitting in the washing machine, and that’s why everything I talked about in the photo caption happened. Once I was back upstairs, and Leo had trotted off to bed, I finished up some chores, like washing some dishes, before I headed off to bed, too. A perfectly ordinary night.

But sometimes, especially when I’m tired, a quiet, ordinary night is just what I need: No demands, no deadlines, no pressure, not burdens, just life. That actually happens far more often than not, of course, but sometimes typical nights are especially welcome.

Sometimes, life just is. There aren’t any special events or special meanings, just life. Sometimes that’s the best thing, and last night was like that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday morning break

Sometimes the things we do a lot become the things we seldom do. We may intend for that to happen, but other times it just happens. The photo above is really about the latter, about realising a change had happened, and about changing that for one day.

As I said in the Instagram caption, we used to got our to breakfast or lunch (or a combination) fairly frequently. And then, we didn’t. It wasn’t on purpose or planned, it just happened. Or, it didn’t happen. Either way, this isn’t a return to our former ways, unless it turns out to be, of course. That’s the thing about this sort of situation: If we didn’t plan to end it, we don’t necessarily plan to resume the things we did before.

One reason I think today’s outing may not mean a resumption of weekend meals out is that it’s more involved now than it used to be. At our previous house, we had dozens of cafes with a few minutes' drive of our house. At our current house, we have four within 15 minutes. Add another ten minutes and the number jumps pretty dramatically, but that would be a bigger trip: We’re unlikely to make a 50-minute (give or take) round trip just for a meal. We might, but it’s more likely we’d do that only if we’re going shopping or something.

This means that over the past two years, our lack of a trips out just for breakfast/lunch is mostly because it’s not a simple thing anymore. On the other hand, when we do make one of these quick(er) trips, we’re supporting truly local businesses, and that’s a good thing.

Obviously, whether we go out for a meal or not isn’t important. At all. The world will neither thrive nor perish because of that, though local businesses might benefit a little if we go out. The point here is merely that there are times when the things we do a lot become the things we seldom do. Most of the time, we’re not aware of that, but sometimes, like I did today, we suddenly realise it.

And it really was a nice rural view we had today, on a warm, but not hot, brilliant summer day. That’s something I'll (probably?) never stop enjoying.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The end of Google Plus

At a time when many people are talking about leaving some social media company or other, we’re seeing one begin the process of leaving us. Google+, the social network set up by Google to take on Facebook, is shutting down for ordinary people on April 2, and some of it is already gone. This isn’t the first time a social network has ended (it’s not even the first time for Google), and it won’t be the last. But this one has more repercussions than most of the others.

Google+ had people who used it all the time, but not many: “Low usage” was the reason Google gave for closing it down. However, it was used by people to log-in sites and it was integrated with other Google products, like Blogger. To me, it seems likely that the loss of those additional things will probably affect far more people than the demise of Google+ itself will.

The sign-ins will be a tricky thing. Google allowed people to use Google+ to sign into certain sites the same way people can use Facebook. Those sign-in buttons will be disappearing in the weeks ahead, though some sites may allow people to use their ordinary Google account to sign in. Google hasn’t said how many people will be affected. I don’t think I’ll be one of them; as far as I can remember, I haven’t used Google+ to sign into anything. But, I’ll find out soon, I guess.

A bigger deal will be the end of Google+ integration with Blogger. For example, Google allowed Blogger users to use Google+ comments instead of Blogger’s built-in commenting system (just as some sites allow the use of Facebook comments). The problem is that Google+ shut it down for Blogger on February 4, with Blogger reverting to the built-in system. Google said that the comments couldn’t be migrated to Blogger, so the legacy comments will be lost (though they can be downloaded with other account data before April 2). This doesn’t affect me because I never used that (instead, I use Disqus, which is independent of Google).

There were other, simpler things that do affect me. I realised there’d been a sudden change when I published a post on February 6 (February 5 in the USA) and got this alert above after I did (click to enlarge):

What affected me in this is the +1 button (similar to Facebook’s thumbs up or Twitter’s heart). I very seldom got a +1 on a post, so this wasn’t a big deal. However, the widget that showed people who followed the Blog on Google+ suddenly disappeared and was replaced with a simpler (and uglier) button that I assume will be removed on April 2 (for now, it provides a handy shortcut to the blog’s Google+ page). Still, not a drama.

It used to be that when I published a post I got a pop-up box allowing me to share the post to a Google+ page, and I did, copying the first paragraph and pasting in quote marks. I’d then copy and past that to use when I shared the post to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page. That’s now gone, though I can post manually by going to the Google+ page, and I’m doing that for now.

This gets at one of the really, really good things about Google+ that Facebook still lacks: The ability to format text in a post.

Google+ allowed uses to edit their posts from the beginning, and Facebook didn’t allow that until quite some time later. At the time, the only way to fix a typo on Facebook was to delete the post or comment and re-do it, which was really annoying. But Google + also allowed the use of italic and bold type within a post, something that Facebook STILL doesn’t allow, except in their little-used “Notes” function, something I guess they intended to be more of a blog-like thing than ordinary posts, which they want to be short and simple.

To see how this worked in real life, compare the shares of one of my recent posts on both Google+ and Facebook (click to enlarge):

Obviously, the graphics/publishing professional in me wants more control over the appearance of the type I use in my posts, and the pedant in me wants to be able to italicise things like titles. Maybe someday I’ll get to do that.

One thing I learned from my use of Google+ was that I should have set up single “AmeriNZ” page, rather than one for my blog, one for my podcast, plus the one Google set up automatically for my YouTube Channel (something I’ve never actually used). When it came time to set up a Facebook Page I set up one single page for, as I often put it, “all things AmeriNZ”—blog, podcast, and videos, even though at the moment only one of those three is an active endeavour. It’s much simpler and easier to maintain and update.

Overall, Facebook has always been easier to use than Google+, something that became more pronounced after a major overhaul of Google+ maybe a couple years ago. In fact, Google+ was so confusing after that overhaul that I pretty much stopped ever going to it there. Maybe it was similar for other users? If so, that would mean that Google wrecked its own product.

So, the loss of Google+ isn’t much more than a minor annoyance for me, fortunately, but I think it underscores an important point: We should never put all our online eggs in a single basket. We can’t do anything about it if Facebook or Twitter closes, but we can control the repercussions by having back up plans in place, and by using other services to help share the load, where possible, like using an independent commenting system, for example, or using a feed supplier in case I have to move my podcast in a hurry, for another example. If I got enough warning, I could easily adapt to any of my providers, paid or free, closing down. Technically, the end of Google+ is like that, too—I can adapt.

I hope the end of Google+ isn’t bad for many people, and I hope they headed the warnings and took steps long ago. This is really a warning to us all.

Friday, February 08, 2019

‘Let’s talk’

The video above, “Let’s Talk”, is an ad for OUTline, a phone support service for those dealing with LGBT+ issues, whether for themselves, a family member, or a friend. It was made by Spark New Zealand, a telecommunications company that is a sponsor of OUTline, and their ad agency, Colenso BBDO. It’s a very good ad.

There was an open casting call for the commercial last month, and it was scheduled for shooting on on January 23. They specifically said that they would love to include trans and non-binary people, and they did. All of which is the reason for the authenticity in the ad.

One of the things that makes the ad so strong, beyond its authenticity, is that it points out that sometimes the families and friends of LGBT+ people need support, and that OUTline can help provide that. This is particularly important since many people don’t know where to turn. Thanks to the ad, more will.

The ad comes not long after TVNZ finished screening the 3-part British TV series Butterfly, a show about an 11-year-old boy who decides to transition into a girl before any male development takes place. It received generally favourable reviews in the UK. Here in New Zealand, there didn’t seem to be a lot of noise about it. What this means is that maybe the ad won’t be as “controversial” as it otherwise may have been.

In fact, I only saw one negative comment about the programme, and that was on TVNZ 1’s Facebook Page when they shared the promo for the series. One person, who may or may not be a real person, scrawled in reply to a comment, “Trans and homosexuality [sic] is a mental problem, NO ONE is born this [sic].” As near as I can tell, that was it. Even New Zealand’s far-right “Christian” activist, who I frequently tussled with during NZ’s marriage equality debate, didn’t say anything about the show, as far as I can tell, even though he campaigns against trans people’s rights all the time.

When Spark posted the ad on their own Facebook Page, there were negative reactions, mostly religious-based, not surprisingly. Spark’s moderators delete hate speech, and while some of the negative comments were strident, and some were clearly bigoted, they weren’t hate-filled. Moderation of comments has that effect.

So, while things may be better here than in the past, and better than in many other countries today, that doesn’t mean everyone’s come along for the ride—yet. The show Butterfly didn’t really challenge people—they could always watch something else if they wanted to. This ad’s been shared online, but I’ve only seen it on broadcast TV once (and it was the short version), though that was on top-rated 6pm news show, TVNZ’s One News.

A realistic hope is that it may help people get used to the idea that trans people exist, and that they’re part of families. When that happens, when they see trans people as human beings, antipathy toward them will slowly begin to diminish. That’s too much to ask of one ad, but it’s a good place to start because its actual purpose is to help people dealing with LGBT+ issues to know they have a place to talk. I hope they do.

Work to do

Infographic: Trump Lauds Women In Congress But U.S. Has More Work To Do | Statista
The chart above from Statista shows the percentage of women in the lower house of various countries’ national legislatures. Ranking 75th in the world, the USA has a very long way to go to achieve better gender equity among lawmakers.

The reason for the chart is, of course, that in his “State of the Union” speech, the current occupant of the White House mentioned the record number of women elected to the US Congress in 2018 (and Statista has a chart about that, too, of course). While that was, indeed, very good news, what he neglected to mention is that at 23.7% female, the US House of Representatives is still less than 25% female and that 87% of the women serving in the US House this term are Democrats (the US Senate is slightly better: It’s 25% female, of which “only” two-thirds are Democrats).

The data comes from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and represents information provided by countries by December 1, 2018, which is why some numbers are slightly off form current data. fair’s fair, and here’s how the countries I typically write about compare to the USA, listed according to their rank from the IPU:

19. New Zealand: 38.8% female (New Zealand has no upper house of Parliament).
38. United Kingdom: 32.2% in the House of Commons, 26.3% in the House of Lords.
51. Australia: 28.7% in the House of Representatives, 40.8% in the Senate.
59. Canada: 26.9% in the House of Commons, 46.7% in the Senate.

The point of all these numbers isn’t to demonstrate how well New Zealand is doing compared to all the other countries I write about—that’s just a nice bonus. The reality is that New Zealand could and should be doing much better. It was the first country to give women the right to vote, after all. The point is that these percentages give us a common-ground way of comparing countries to each other.

Still, it’s interesting that in all but the UK, the upper house has better gender balance than does their lower house. Personally, I think the problem with the UK’s upper house is that it’s an anachronism, bound tightly to the class system that it both represents and perpetuates. Still, that’s no excuse, really.

There are some—invariably on the Right—who dismiss the importance of gender equity in representative government, the whole “the best person should win” thing. In a perfect world, that would be true, but in our societies, with endemic sexism and governmental structures designed by and for men, it was difficult for women to even put themselves forward, much less be elected.

Times and attitudes are changing, as the large wave of (mostly Democratic) women elected to the US House last year shows. There may yet come a time in which the gender of a candidate for any office—including US president—won’t matter, but we’re not there yet. Some countries are doing better: New Zealand has had three female Prime Ministers, the UK two, and Australia one. So far. Change is possible. But there are profound problems facing all the countries I’ve mentioned, and too often they seem intractable.

With so many problems festering, maybe it’s time to try something very different. I think that we should should elect more women and more younger people. It certainly couldn’t make things any worse, and it just might fix everything.

The infographic above is from Statista

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Unexpected wager

As we get older, it often becomes rarer for truly new experiences to pop up. However, today brought a first, and one even more unsusual because it related to religious belief, not a topic I encounter very often these days. It was… unexpected.

I was reading comments on a Facebook post (always a risky thing to do…) and there was a comment by a conservative Christian preachifying to other commentators. Several comments in, and the person offered Pascal's Wager as a reason to accept their preachifying. They didn’t call it by name, but it was their argument for why others should go along with admonitions to believe that made up most of the preachifying.

This was the first time in my life I've ever seen anyone use Pascal's Wager for real, and until today I always thought doing so was largely mythical, that no one actually used it.

Pascal's Wager basically says that if somone believes in a god (usually the Christian one), but it turns out the god doesn’t exist, nothing much is lost. But if one doesn’t believe in such a god and it turns out to be real, then they’re screwed for not acting as if they believed in it. So, the wager goes, it’s better to act as if you believe, just in case.

There are a LOT of obvious problems with this, starting with the lack of honesty and integrity that’s being advocated. Theologically, it’s unsound because it presumes that the god in question is utterly incapable of being able to tell the difference between real belief and faked belief, which doens’t sound plausible: If they’re a god, surely they know the difference?

Another problem is more doctrinal: Most Mainline Protestants believe that a person who leads a good life but is not a believer won’t be automatically damned merely because of their non-belief (and Mainline Protestants’ concept of “hell” is often completely different to that of fundamentalist Protestants, too). Instead, a non-believer who is a good person is actually similar to a person who never heard of the god in the first place. That means, adherents say, that their god won’t damn someone merely for honestly disbelieving if they otherwise lead a good life—though that doesn’t guarantee “forgiveness” of that non-belief, and so, “salvation” isn't automatic.

Obviously no one alive knows for sure who’s right and who’s wrong, because unless the god they’re talking about is a sort of Schrödinger's God, it can’t both exist and not exist. So, we can’t know whether honesty and integrity really matter more than pretending and pretense, but all things being equal, being honest and living with integrity must be the better option.

It’s not about whether the lack of proof that any of earth’s thousands of gods and goddesses did or do exist is a good reason for lack belief. Instead, it’s that, for some, proof is irrelevant, and those who don’t accept belief based on faith alone must be punished in this life. It’s what leads to repressive regimes, the oppression of those with different beliefs, forced conversions (in which the victims are really making a Pascal's Wager, since personal safety is the motivation for their newly professed belief), and genocide.

In a perfect world, people would believe or not, and that would be the end of the story. But after centuries of religion-based wars and pogroms—and those were just between different kinds of believers!—this problem seems unlikely to ever go away. How we feel about and react to these divisions probably says more about us than the quality of our beliefs, whatever they are.

Personally, I’d rather a person be an honest believer or non-believer. I can respect honesty and integrity even when I don’t share the beliefs, but I’d find it very difficult to trust someone whose professed beliefs are based on a silly “better safe than sorry” bet. Trouble is, how can we be sure of the sincerity and honesty of someone’s beliefs unless they tell us?

Most of the time, a person would never actually tell us their religious beliefs are based on a Pascal’s Wager. Today, for the first time in my life, I saw someone use that as an argument that others should adhere to the same religious beliefs as that person making the argument. I doubt it persuaded anyone, but it sure destroyed that person’s credibility in a hurry, and seeing that happen in that way was definitely unexpected.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Not watching

I posted the above on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, and it reveals a secret: I don’t watch the State of the Union address. In fact, I haven’t for a very long time. I have other ways to keep up with it that don’t involve participating in the political theatre, and I prefer it that way. This is an evolved state of affairs.

When I was younger, I watched the address live most years. I can (vaguely) remember watching Nixon, as well as Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the First, and Clinton. I moved to New Zealand during President Clinton’s first term, and that’s what started to change things.

Because of time zones, the State of the Union address is broadcast during the afternoon New Zealand time—during working hours. So, there was no way I could watch it live for many years after arriving here.

As the Internet got better, so did the opportunities to experience the speeches after the fact. Eventually it was possible to read the text online, and in April 2005, Apple’s iTunes added formal support for podcasts. The televised speeches of the then-president, Bush the Second, were distributed as video podcasts, so for the first time I could easily watch the State of the Union speeches.

YouTube was founded in February 2005, also during Bush the Second’s second term, but after Google bought it in 2006, there was an expansion of what was available. Eventually there was a Channel just for the White House, and media outlets and C-SPAN began posting unedited video of speeches like the State of the Union.

By the time Obama was president, and continuing to the present, I could easily watch video of the State of the Union.

We used to subscribe to New Zealand’s pay TV service, and it carried CNN and Fox “News”, meaning it was possible to watch the speeches live once I started working from home. Even so, I seldom did. Neither did I usually watch the video podcasts of Bush the Second’s speeches (I still have them filed away somewhere), nor President Obama’s on TV or YouTube. However, by the end of his term I did something that further change made possible: I streamed it over the Internet while I was working so I could listen to it. Earlier today I got an alert from TVNZ’s “One News” that they’d be streaming the State of the Union speech online, something they frequently do nowadays; it’s not something they’d normally broadcast, of course, since it has no relevance outside the USA.

All of which means that over time the opportunities to watch (or listen to) the State of the Union speech live became better and more varied, but I still didn’t watch them for the reasons I mentioned in the Facebook post. The bottom line is that I think waaaaay too much importance is put on them when the harsh reality is that they really aren’t important.

However, despite the fact that I seldom watch the speech live, it would be fair to assume that there was no way I’d watch the speech from the current occupant of the White House. I try to avoid watching him speak because I find his voice grating and performance irritating. However, one upside of watching structured speeches like State of the Union is that he can be expected to speak in more or less complete sentences and mostly whole thoughts on one topic at a time. Despite all that, my desire to avoid hearing or seeing him speak is not partisan in any way.

As long-time readers of this blog are well aware, I was never a fan of Bush the Second. Even so, I sometimes watched his speeches, and I made a point of watching the State of the Union in 2007 to witness him be the first US President to begin his speech with the phrase, “Madame Speaker”. And, as I said, I watched presidents of both parties in the years before I moved to New Zealand.

So, times have changed and things are different. It's much easier to watch or follow US news events like the State of the Union speech than it used to be. And, much as I have contempt for the current occupant of the White House, that’s not why I won’t be watching. It's just that I seldom ever do anymore.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Linda Ronstadt speaks

This past Sunday (US time), the USA’s CBS Sunday Morning programme broadcast a segment called “Linda Ronstadt speaks” (video above). They described it well on their YouTube post of the video:
In a revealing interview, the legendary singer-songwriter Linda Ronstadt opens up to Tracy Smith about her career, the loss of her singing voice, and living with Parkinson's. She also talks about the release of her first-ever live album, "Linda Ronstadt Live in Hollywood," which presents previously-unreleased recordings from her celebrated 1980 HBO special, recorded at Television Center Studios in Hollywood.
One of the things I’ve lived to regret is that I never saw her in concert. I suspect, but do not know, that the concert will eventually be released on DVD/digital download, and I’d like to watch that, maybe own it. In general, I’m not a fan of most live albums because I think they’re missing something without the visuals. Still, I’ll probably get the album.

It turns out that I’ve mentioned Linda Ronstadt several times on this blog, but not much about her as a person. In my 2016 “Ask Arthur” series, I answered a question from Roger Green where I listed Ronstadt as one of the women I found fascinating when I was younger. I remembered that when I watched the CBS video because of her dry humour, the way she was self-deprecating, her matter-of-fact acceptance of reality—the sorts of things, apart from her talent, that fascinated me back then. This video made me think I’d have liked her/would like her now if I ever met her in real life. Maybe not.

I hope that they do develop a treatment or cure for Parkinson’s that would let her sing again, even if only for herself. I think she’s earned it.

In any case, it was nice to revisit a voice that was part of the background track for my life decades ago. And it reminded me that I was glad it was.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Democracy Dies in Darkness

The video above is the Super Bowl ad for The Washington Post. It talks about what newspapers do, and some of the journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of truth, and ends with the paper’s tagline: Democracy Dies in Darkness. It’s a good ad.

Last year I subscribed to the digital edition of The Washington Post, after considering whether it would be that paper or The New York Times. There was a reason I chose the Post:
…I chose The Washington Post because of the nagging doubts about how easy The New York Times takes it against the current occupant of the White House, for example, never, ever, calling something he said a lie, even when there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he was lying. It makes me wonder what other punches the paper is pulling.
The reality is that no matter the media source, it won’t be perfect. Journalists are human beings and they make mistakes. Sometimes editors make bad decisions. And resources can often negatively affect the quality of the reporting. That’s the place where we all begin our evaluation of news sources.

Contrary to popular belief, most mainstream media sites don’t have a definite ideological position. This doesn’t include opinion pages and columnists, of course, nor does it include Fox “News” which is a propaganda channel, not a real news source. But even Fox will, once in a great while, report a story without displaying its customary biases.

This matters because of the people on the Right, or some who listen to them, repeat the banal declaration that the news media has a “liberal bias”. That’s nonsense for many reasons, but that’s far too big a topic to include in this post. The important thing is that mainstream newspapers, and even most mainstream broadcast and cable news outlets don’t deliberately “slant” the news.

Similarly, it’s a lie and a smear that the mainstream news media report “fake news”. They just don’t. If they did, their audience would see that and no longer trust that news source, and their profits would disappear. That’s because their profits depend on being dependably accurate; if they really did lie, they’d lose everything.

There are two reasons so many people believe the worst of the news media. First, of course, is ideology: The Right has a vested interest in tearing down the news media and the legitimacy of journalism because they don’t want the truth about what they’re up to exposed. The Republican Party has spent decades perfecting their propaganda and disinformation apparatus, and many people—including far too many journalists, actually—fall for it.

The current occupant of the White House has deliberately stoked hatred of journalists and contempt for mainstream journalism. He does that because it suits his agenda, of course, but mostly because, since he’s narcissist, he gets angry when the mainstream news media won’t lie about him and report nothing but nice things and compliments of him personally. He has never attacked Fox “News” which, of course, has never strongly criticised him and always praises him.

The other reason some people persist in believing the worst of journalists is that they do make mistakes. All news organisations have procedures for addressing their mistakes, but those whose minds are already made up in the negative never give journalists credit for that. They want to believe that journalists have a bias and an agenda, so, in their reality, a mistake isn’t a mistake, it’s a deliberate assault on them. It’s personal.

There is a third factor at play in the USA, and that’s the country’s bitterly divided and highly toxic politics. The two sides of the political chasm cannot agree on anything, so it makes sense they project their biases onto others, and, yes, both sides do that. Journalists are caught in the crossfire, trying to report on the truth to the best of their abilities.

It’s important that ordinary people stand up for journalism and journalists. It’s fair to criticise them when they get something wrong, but it is not fair or reasonable to attack them merely for existing, nor to generalise their mistakes as being evidence of bias. We all ought to be able to understand and accept that a story reporting things we don’t like being said, or that point out flaws in the people or policies we favour, is NOT the same thing as those stories actually being wrong. Good journalism should make everyone uncomfortable at some time or other. Instead of getting angry at them, we should instead consider first whether they might actually be right, because if they’re not, it should be easy enough to prove. But when they’re clearly right, we should accept that and move on. And that’s regardless of ideology, party, etc.

Finley Peter Dunne created made a sarcastic description of newspapers, one part of which has become an aphorism about the duty of newspapers: “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. They don’t owe us anything but the truth, whether we like hearing it or not, because it is so important. It’s really true: Democracy Dies in Darkness.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Jamie McDell

This Weekend Diversion about Jamie McDell is different from many that I’ve posted. First, she’s a country artist, which is uncommon enough for me. But I also can’t say anything about chart performance, like I usually do. Instead, this post is mostly about the artist’s music. That probably should be the point, anyway.

Jamie McDell is what what’s called an “alt-country” artist, whatever that means, from Auckland. I first heard of her last year, and was reminded of her recently when I happened on her recent single, 3AM (video above), which was released in November last year. I think it’s a nice enough song, but I have no idea whether anyone else did.

Jamie’s Wikipedia page hasn’t been updated with information about her releases since her 2014 release, so I have no idea what the chart performance has been. Our official NZ music chart site has no search function, nor any tabs for genres, and is limited to the top 40, so I couldn’t really check any chart performance. Nevertheless, I looked at the Top 40 from the first week after the video above was posted up to the most recent, and that song wasn’t on it. For whatever that’s worth.

Her official website isn’t any more helpful about her chart performance, though it does have information about her and her touring data. I think all of this is a missed opportunity for an independent artist: Relentless self-promotion is the only way to cut through all they—let’s be honest—foreign hype.

Be that as it may, I think she has an interesting sound, and her songs’ subjects are varied. That’s a good thing in itself.

The video for the next song, “Running Now”, was posted in July of last year:

Finally, the first of her songs I ever heard, “Tori”, which features Australian country artist Kasey Chambers. The video was released in March of last year.

I’m not exactly a country music fan as such (“alt-country” included…), though there’s plenty I like. But because I’m not a country fan, I’m not really in touch with what New Zealand country music is popular, and that means I miss a lot of what’s released. So, when I happen to run across a New Zealand country artist, that’s unusual enough, and it’s even more unusual for my attention to be captured. This time, it was, and I’d like to see more from Jamie, and to see how she grows as an artist.

But because I know so little about her, her music, and how successful she’s been so far, this post is mostly about Jamie’s music. That probably should be the point, anyway.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

The heat’s been on

New Zealand’s heatwave is in the process of ending, though its reported demise has been somewhat exaggerated: It’s not gone quite yet. Nevertheless, the heatwave really is ending.

The picture with this post is a screengrab of the reading from our weather station at the highest temperature yesterday afternoon. 31.4 degrees is 88.52F, and it felt hotter still. At around the same point today, the temperature was 30.2 (86.36F). This isn’t “hot” by my Illinois-born standards: At least once every summer we’d have temperatures that would hit around 104 (40C), so to me that is hot. All that proves is that what anyone thinks is “hot” is relative.

Because it seldom gets as hot in New Zealand as it’s been recently, people aren’t used to it. They don’t have a frame of reference, and they often don’t have means of coping, like air conditioning, and there aren’t usually “cooling centres” for such people to use in the hottest part of the day, as there are in Chicago. So, people in New Zealand very often have no easy means of coping with high heat, and that’s especially true for poorer people and those who much work outside.

News reports were filled with stories about coping, like fruitpickers working mostly in the earlier morning, when it’s cooler, and stopping early in the afternoon. I also saw someone on TV explaining how to use net curtains (called “sheers” where I grew up) to allow daylight in, but keep some of the heat out. Instead, we closed our curtains on the side the sun was pouring in, something we don’t do on cooler days. The dark actually made it feel cooler.

It was too hot to do things outside, but it was also too hot to do anything downstairs, where there’s no air conditioning. I have to do a lot of work next week, so it’s a good thing the heatwave is ending, because all I have are a couple fans to cool me in my office.

The temperature sensor for the picture up top is located out of the sun, but on the side of the house that’d hottest in the afternoon, so it’s no surprise that it recorded high temperatures. But the reported temperatures in our area yesterday were always similar to what we were recording, at most only varying a degree or so. Today, however, there was a larger gap between what we measured and what the reported temperature was—maybe three or found degrees at one point. That’s not unusual, actually: Auckland seems to have a lot of microclimates all over the place. The other day, the reported temperature for Auckland was upper mid-20s (26 or 27), but 30 was reported in parts of Auckland. So, other areas experience what we do.

I mention all that because what’s reported and what we see are often different, and sometimes quite different, and people experience that same thing in other areas of the country, too. That just reinforces the fact that when trying we’re to find out about a place we’re unfamiliar with, it’s important to find out what people really experience, not just what’s reported in official or semi-official places.

Update – February 3, 2019: The high at our house today was 29.6 (85.28F), so the temperatures really are trending downward.

Update 2 – February 4, 2019: I spoke too soon. Today the high at our house today was 31.6 (88.88F), meaning that the high temperature today was the highest since we began monitoring it. Oh, well.

Friday, February 01, 2019

The best solution

It’s not unusual for a maker of alcoholic beverages to promote responsible drinking. It’s the ethical thing to do, after all. But most manufacturers don’t advertise abstention. This ad above is one of those that does, and it does it well.

The ad started running on New Zealand television several months ago (like all alcohol advertising, after 8:30pm), and I liked it when I first saw it. That was mostly because of the ending text: “When you drive, just one beer is too many. When you drive, never drink”. I endorse this message because it’s what I do. Without exception.

That began many years ago when Nigel and I had dinner at his mother’s house, which was about fifteen minutes from our house at that time, located in Paeroa. I drove from where I was working, in Thames, and Nigel drive from his work. His mum gave me a wine with dinner, using the teeny, tiny wine glasses she had at the time—maybe 80mL at the very most. But when I drove home, I felt impaired. I was actually way below the legal limit, of course, but it was unsettling enough that I vowed to never again have so much as a drop if I was driving. And since then, I never have. That turned out to be the first and last time I ever drove after drinking any alcohol at all.

So, I relate to this ad because it advocates what I do. To me, it doesn’t matter what the legal limit is, it’s about making a choice to avoid any chance of any impairment, no matter how slight the chance or impairment might be.

I can’t remember seeing a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages promoting abstention, even for the very specific reason this one does: In order to drive. There may have been some, of course, but I don’t recall seeing any. In New Zealand, we have public service ads that promote abstention for drivers, but those are government ads. Very different thing.

For many, many years people of various sorts have been campaigning to ban all alcohol advertising in New Zealand (tobacco advertising is already banned). It’s not just the wowsers and “morals” campaigners, but also people who in many ways know what they’re talking about and are generally credible when talking about harm reduction. However, there’s a part of me that still feels they’re being unnecessarily controlling and nanny-like. I’m an example of someone who can change their behaviour all on their own without government regulation. It’s difficult for me to believe that no one else is capable of doing that as a total ban seems to accept. Still, I might be convinced with enough credible evidence.

In the meantime, I’ll share ads like this when I think they’re good. I’m well aware that no matter my motive—promoting the message—I’m nevertheless promoting that beer brand (and the fact that I never mentioned the brand is irrelevant). And, the anti-ad campaigners think this sort of sharing ought to be banned. Maybe, maybe not, but I think the message is important, I like the way it was done, and I have no problem whatsoever both saying so and sharing the ad.

What others do or believe is up to them, of course. Normally, the ability to make such choices is one of the main characteristics of freedom, and that includes the freedom to never drink so much as a drop of alcohol when driving. People try to exert pressure to take away such freedoms. I don’t think they should be allowed to do so.

In my opinion, this is one those times I’ll do as a famous anti-drug campaigner used to put it and “just say no”.