}

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Fast away the old year passes

No guarantees or anything, but it looks like 2020 is about to end. Here in New Zealand, we’re mere minutes away from 2021, and that brings far more hope than a New Year usually does. I hope we get a much better year in 2021. I think on that point, the world is pretty much united.

Google’s Year in Search 2020

Every year, I like to share Google’s “year in search”, both the year’s video (above) and some of the “top five” searches globally, in the USA, and in New Zealand. I think it’s important to have a record of what was on our collective minds during a year, and posts like this make it easier to refer back to later. I think those sorts of things are useful, too.

In the following lists, clicking on the section headline will take you to the Google page for the “Year in Search” results. From there, it’s easy to change the view by country.

So, here’s what was trending in 2020:

Global

Top 5 overall searches in the world: 1 Coronavirus, 2 Election results, 3 Kobe Bryant, 4 Zoom, 5 IPL. Top 5 news searches in the world: 1 Coronavirus, 2 Election results, 3 Iran, 4 Beirut, 5 Hantavirus.


United States

Top 5 overall searches in the USA: 1 Election results, 2 Coronavirus, 3 Kobe Bryant, 4 Coronavirus update, 5 Coronavirus symptoms. Top 5 news searches in the USA: 1 Election results, 2 Coronavirus, 3 Stimulus checks, 4 Unemployment, 5 Iran.

New Zealand

Top 5 overall searches in New Zealand: 1 Coronavirus, 2 US Election Results, 3 Zoom, 4 Seesaw, 5 Kobe Bryant. Top 5 news searches in New Zealand: 1 Coronavirus, 2 US election results, 3 Australia fires, 4 Election results NZ, 5 NZX50.

I said something in last year’s post that turned out to be true: “2020 is an election year in New Zealand and the USA, so I expect to see terms relating to politics on the lists for the two countries.” That was obviously going to be true, but the next sentence, “And plenty that aren’t,” turned out to include one of the biggest things in our lifetimes, the one event that dominated the year for the entire planet (and its searches): The global pandemic. Which goes to show, I guess, that at the end of one year we can never guess what we’ll be searching for in the next.

Here’s hoping the searches in 2021 are boring!

Related: In October, Google also posted an hour-long video, “Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answers: A (home) movie about how Google Search works”.

My year in health: 2020

Sometimes it’s difficult even for me to know what to say and what to leave out. Although I’ve spent several years describing and detailing my Health Journey, it’s still easy (even for me) to lose track of everything that’s happened. This year, there’s another, completely different complicating factor, one that isn't even about me.

Two years ago, I published a post about “My year in health”, and I noted:
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.
Since I wrote that, so very much has changed that this blog can no longer be said to have “details of my year”. It just doesn’t. Some of it, sure, but so much is missing. This year it’s still true that when it comes to this subject, it “changes so much, and often so fast” that I still think an annual reflection makes sense.

The important thing that happened this year is, of course, that I got my cardiac cryoablation procedure done earlier this month. Finally. Only about two months before that, I was frustrated that it seemed my procedure wouldn’t be done. The following month, October, I saw a cardiologist privately (which means I paid the full price for the consultation), and he said he’d go to bat for me. By the end of the month, I was on the waiting list for the procedure, and it was done something like five weeks later.

Getting to that point certainly wasn’t easy. The cardiologist changed some of my prescriptions in an effort to reduce the side effects I was experiencing, fatigue in particular. Doing that scared the hell out of me because I was facing it alone (meaning, without Nigel). As it turned out, I was right to be concerned, because I couldn’t tolerate the first of the drugs I’d switched to, so four weeks later I switched back to my old prescription.

Meanwhile, I also needed dental care and found out how limited that is in Hamilton. While the dentist I chose was great, I was still surprised at the long waiting time to get things done. As it happened, though, a cancellation meant I had my tooth extraction done a week after my cardiac procedure and that’s gone well, but healing has been slower than I’d hoped). The next appointment is with the hygienist—on my birthday. That’s not by choice, of course, but because it was the earliest appointment available—that limited availability thing again.

This year, too, I got a new GP, and have been seeing him for my maintenance (mainly repeat prescriptions, though I imagine I’ll get my Covid vaccine from him next year). I also have a new chemist, one close to my doctor. That’s not especially newsworthy, except that it means that all three of my regular healthcare providers—doctor, dentist, and chemist—are all different than they were at this time last year, and they’re all Hamilton-based. Lockdown delayed all of those changes, except for the chemist: My GP in Auckland sent my prescription through to the new chemist for me to collect because I couldn’t yet see a new GP. That wasn’t long after we went to Level 3 (I think; if only this blog had included “details of my year”…).

Here I am, then, at the end of my Health Journey – 2020 Edition. I had my cryoablation procedure three weeks ago, and what I said about it one week after the cryoablation procedure is still true: I don’t feel “better” than I did before it because my fatigue is still as bad. However, there’s been one definite improvement: I feel that the “brain fog” has eased a bit, at least during daylight hours. I can think more clearly, concentrate better, focus on what I’m doing, and even remember (somewhat) better than I could before. They’ll review my prescriptions sometime in the first few months of 2021, and they may be changed. That will trigger fear again, but I’m hoping it’ll also trigger further improvement, too. But that’s for next year’s story.

There’s one more major health thing to note—not my health, but Sunny’s. She hasn’t been right since her teeth were removed in May, and she’s now nothing more than fur and bones. She refuses to eat when her bowels are playing up, and she has no reserves to draw on when she doesn’t feel like eating. I feed her more than I used to, but it’s not enough, and she doesn’t gain back even a tiny amount of the weight she’s lost (mainly because she can’t get enough nutrients from her food).

I mention Sunny’s health problems in this post because it directly impacts on mine: It’s been a huge strain on me—though emotional rather than physical. I worry about her constantly, and I keep watching her for signs she’s in her final decline and it’s time to take her to the vet for the last time. She rallies and I get hopeful, only for her to decline again. Sometimes when that happens, I wake up in the morning sure she must’ve died in the night, only to have her rally yet again (with the help of steroids).

I have no idea how long Sunny will carry on, though I no longer think she’ll improve. It’s all according to her schedule, not mine. Because nothing I’ve tried has worked, whether official advice or Dr. Google, (apart from the prescribed steroids that have kept her eating anything at all), I feel cheated. Most dogs with inflammatory bowel disease can live even for years with proper dietary management, but that doesn't appear to be the case with Sunny. Of course, I'm used to being cheated by fate, and that does—oddly—help me.

I have no idea how long Sunny will carry on, so I’ve decided I won’t travel anywhere until she dies because I couldn’t put the burden of caring for her on anyone else, but mostly because I’ve seen how upset she gets when I’m away. I want her final days to be peaceful and for her to feel safe and loved. I owe her that.

This year, then, has been a rocky one for my health, with all of that heaped on top of my profound grief. Despite all that, my health year is ending better than last year’s did, which leaves me hoping the same will be true for 2021. Hope is probably one of the most important and underappreciated parts of anyone’s health journey, especially mine. I’m trying to remember that.

Remembering my mother’s birthday in 2020

Today (US time) is my mother’s birthday, her 104th. As of this year, she’s been gone for 40 years. This year was far more notable for other reasons, of course, but it's still notable. I think her birthday is far more notable, though.

Over the past year, I’ve often thought about how my reaction to my parents’ deaths, four decades after they happened, compared to the death of Nigel last year. Naturally, they’re nowhere near being the same thing, for a lot of reasons, but one thing is certain: I’m at the point of remembering birthdays more than the loss.

I remembered my mother’s birthday yesterday, but decided against writing about on the day her birthday arrives in New Zealand, as I always used to do, because I read last year’s post where I’d said I didn’t post on the usual day “because I’d been upset about Nigel earlier in the day and I simply didn’t need any more reasons to feel bad.” I have no doubt that was true, but I think the second part of the explanation was more revealing: “At the same time, I realised it’s actually more appropriate to talk about her birthday on what was the date she experienced, not a day earlier as I’d done on this blog.”

Maybe that was true. While I’m second-guessing myself, I nevertheless think it was far more likely to have been because I was way too tired to blog, something that plagued me all year (and in several recent years, for that matter). Maybe I actually mostly forgot on the day (as in, didn’t remember when I had the energy to write a post).

I mention all that because I’m still struggling with blogging, and even with doing what's a perfectly routine annual post. I think maybe I was making excuses for myself last year, or maybe I’m just being unkind. After all, last year I also said:
Next year will be different—a year is a long time, after all. I have no idea what I’ll be feeling then, or where/how these conflicting memories and feelings will settle, but I know that I’ll try to do a post honouring my mother’s birthday, and probably on this date again.
All of that proved to be true—and that last line is actually why I deliberately postponed this post until today. I note that I also made no firm promises last year, and that’s something that’s definitely still true.

All of which just underscores that I’m nowhere near being out of the woods yet, either physically or emotionally. Even so, I wanted to be sure to do a post honouring my mother’s birthday this year, and I intend to as long as I continue blogging (as with everything else, no promises about that, of course).

I’ve done these annual posts to I remember my mother’s birthday mainly because, as I’ve said many times, when she was alive her birthday often got lost amid all the holidays this time of year. This is one small, tiny way I can make that right.

Yet I still managed to make this post about me, yet again. I shouldn’t be surprised, and I bet my mother wouldn’t be, either. I’m not ready or able to return to any sort of “normality”, not when literally everything in my life is in a state of tempest-tossed flux. Still, it’s not much more than a year (15 months) since Nigel died and my life changed so dramatically. I simply need the gift of time, and I know my mother would agree with me—and understand completely where I’m at right now. That's just one more reason for me to remember her day.

In any case, I DO remember my mother’s birthday every year, even this year, and despite everything. It is, quite literally, the least I can do.

Once again and always, Happy Birthday, Mom and thanks. Always.

Previous birthday posts:
Remembering my mother’s birthday in a new life (2019)
Still remembering my mother’s birthday (2018)
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)

Related:
Tears of a clown
– A 2009 post that’s still one of my favourites about my mother.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ask Arthur 2020, Part 4: A dreamy end to this series

This is the final post in this year’s shortened “Ask Arthur” series. It’s been varied, as the full seasons, so to speak, of previous years have been—just less of it.

Today’s question is from Roger Green:

Dreams: I've had a few. Are you having dreams in 2020, ones more vivid than in previous years? Please share a couple.

I must dream—scientists say we all do—but I seldom remember any of them, and this year has been no different. However, I do remember having some that were very cinematic—big, sweeping, and/or dramatic stories that were very movie-like. I didn’t remember them for long, but I do remember one involved fighting terrorists, like in an action movie. I can’t remember, though, if I was the fighter or just watching the movie.

The thing about the dreams that I did remember, however briefly, is that I’m very often not in them or even part of them: I’m just an observer. I also very seldom dream about people I actually know, and that includes Nigel. When he was alive, I almost never had a dream about him or with him in it, but I know that he had dreams with me in them because he’d wake up and hit me because he was angry about something “I” did in his dream (and when I say “hit”, that’s dramatic license, because when it happened I was asleep and he and wasn’t actually awake, so it seemed like a bigger thing than it actually was).

Still, I did have some dreams that I remembered, mostly because I wrote notes about them, and all of them were after the Covid nightmare began, apart from one.

A dream I had fairly soon after I moved in to my new house, and before lockdown, included Nigel. I’m not sure he was dead in my dream, but he seemed to have been away. I remember saying to him, “I love you,” and he replied, “I know. I love you, too.” Then I said something about missing him, and the dream ended. That’s not a particularly interesting dream (well, fragment of a dream…), except for one thing: I’ve known plenty of people who’ve had dreams about Nigel that they interpreted as visitations, and this was, and still is, the closest I’ve come to having a dream like that. I wish I remembered more of it.

Months later, in August, I had a particularly bizarre dream with Nigel in it. I knew he’d died and he’d returned. At first, it was him—appearance, voice, everything. But later, maybe after I realised that it was impossible for it to be him, the person was someone else in appearance, voice, etc.—but I knew it was actually him. After that, the dream became about how I was going to convince others that it was really him when he didn’t look or sound like Nigel. “This is so hard,” he said to me. “I know,” I replied. Then I woke up.

The only reason I remember that dream at all is because I wrote down some notes about it, only because I instantly saw how after some tweaking and expansion it could be a good fictional story. That happened to me one other time, but then it was Nigel who’d had a bizarre dream, and when he told me about it I knew that would make a good story, too—and I even started writing it. But it all fell apart because I know nothing about American police procedure, and that was an important part of the story. But the possibility that my own dream might be a story is the only reason I wrote down anything about it—and even that wasn’t very detailed.

A month or so later, I had another dream with Nigel in it, but only kind of peripherally, because what stuck out for me was a song. I blogged about that at the time in a post called "The dream about my ‘only you'", and there, too, details about the dream itself are mostly missing.

I may or may not have had dreams about Nigel after that (or at any other point this year), but if I did I either don’t remember them at all. I also don't remember any other dreams in any detail, if I remember anything at all.

That is, until December 23.

I was thinking about dreams because Roger had posted his question only some 10 days earlier, and I was in the midst of planning my posts in this series. When one popped up, I immediately wrote it down in some detail. Sadly, Nigel wasn’t part of it.

The dream began when someone rang my doorbell (which I installed not long after I moved in, by the way…), so I opened the door and a realtor for a major chain was putting up a “For Rent” sign on my front lawn. I just looked at him, and he said something like, “As you know, these houses were built by a Christian group to provide rental housing…” and then some other bits I didn’t quite catch. I was pretty incredulous, especially because he was implying I didn’t own my house which was absurd because, as a realtor, he would know I did. I pushed back: “So, originally all these houses were supposed to be built by a religious group?” I was thinking that as far as I knew the builder for my house wasn’t religious, and I knew a secular house-building company owned the lot to one side of my house, and the house on the other side was being built by another secular house-building company specifically for a couple. I thought about how other houses on the street didn’t seem to be rentals, and I was about to push him on what the hell he was on about.

Then I remembered that at one time or another I thought about maybe moving back to Auckland and renting out this house. It’s never been a serious thought, more like a daydream along the lines of, if I did that, how would it go? Where would I put stuff? That kind of thing. So, even though the thoughts were little more than idle speculation, they nevertheless seem to have inspired a dream. I was just about to point out that I owned my house, and it wasn’t for rent, but he should keep my details on hand, just in case I changed my mind. I was about to tell him all that, when suddenly the realtor was a woman who sells houses, not rents them, and I was going to tell her to keep my details on file, but instead I woke up.

I don’t think that dream “means” anything, apart from the fact it’s really “about” how unsettled I am in life, which should surprise no one (and it certainly doesn’t surprise me). I thought it was interesting how clear-headed I was in the dream—I knew reality and was going to push it, but I didn’t get the chance. That’s interesting to me because of how often dreams are bizarre and surreal (like Nigel morphing into a different person that I knew was still him, but no one else could/would recognise or accept him, or an epic battle against terrorists. The list is endless.

The only reason I remember that dream at all, really, is because I wanted to write it down specifically for this post. I thought—correctly, it turns out—that I might not/probably wouldn’t have another dream to include between the realtor one and when I wrote this post. I guess the real lesson there is that if for any reason I wake up remembering a dream—even if only “What the hell was that about?!” I should write it all down. Knowing me, though, I’m unlikely to heed my own advice, even if Nigel is in or part of the dream.

I have one other dream story, going back to when I was a kid. I had an involved, epic dream that was only “part one”, something I realised when I woke up. I told my friends about it, and mentioned it several times over what seemed like years, but that was probably actually only weeks at most (weeks and months seem very similar to a kid). I wanted to know the how the story turned out. One night I dreamed the “conclusion” of the dream, and woke up knowing it was. Unlike so many movie sequels, the dream conclusion was satisfying. And then I promptly forgot both parts. So, me not remembering dreams in any detail, or at all, has always been part of me, and not even 2020 could change that.

That’s it for the 2020 series of “Ask Arthur” posts! Maybe I’ll do another series next year, and if I do, I’ll try to give more notice so it can be more like it used to be. Or, not—no promises. I should point out, though, that I welcome questions all year long.

Thanks for this year’s questions Roger and Sherry!

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-20”. All posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Sure, why not ask again? – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 1: An untold story
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 2: Same as it never was
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 3: Important and not

Love has everywhere to go

There’s a meme that’s quite popular on social media, so much so that there are countless versions of it. One such version is above. It’s popular, I think, because it’s one of those social media memes that seems so intuitively correct that it practically demands that we share it. Too bad it’s not true, not really.

The quote comes from author Jamie Anderson, who I’d never heard of before, but she’s apparently the author of some Doctor Who novels, among other things. The meme above contains a fuller version of the quote than many others do, and some reduce it to its last line, which is a shame because it’s the least-true thing in it.

People often quote that last line, “grief is love with nowhere to go”, as if the fact that the person we love has gone means our love for them is left sort of hanging in space. Indeed, the full quote implies that, too. It’s not. The love didn’t die just because our loved one did—it’s still there, still directed at the same person, and usually as intensely as it was in life. As I’ve said many times, we don’t grieve because the person we loved is gone, we grieve because they’re never coming back.

Because of that, it’s not that our love has nowhere to go—the fact that we still have it, feel it, express it, and send it “out there” means that our love does have somewhere to go. However, it will never again be returned by the one we love, except in our memories.

We grieve because we’ll never again feel the warmth of an embrace with our loved one, we’ll never see them smile at us as only someone who deeply loves us can. And especially because we’ll never hear them say “I love you” again. The need and desire for that connection with our loved one remains, and that has nowhere to go.

But our love itself? It still shines out from us, still spreads out into infinity, just without coming back from our lost loved one. It’s more accurate to say that grief is love that can no longer be returned, because that, in my opinion, is the core of why grief is so damned hard to live with.

It’s also true love isn’t a limited-supply kind of thing. We can love living beings strongly in many directions at once, and even deeply. The difference is just that that love can be returned.

So, if in our grief “love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest,” it’s not because it’s homeless, it’s because the loved one is no longer there to receive it and, just as importantly, to return it.

Love, then, really has everywhere to go.

This post began as comments I made, and also didn’t make, on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ask Arthur 2020, Part 3: Important and not

Today’s questions are serious/important and, to lighten things a bit, one that’s, well, not. At least, not to me. I suppose some might see tings the other way round.

Be that as it may, today’s first question is from longtime friend Sherry, who I’ve known for—well, a very long time:

I have always loved your take on American Politics.

I want to think my Trump supporting friends and family only supported him because they are Republican, or Anti-abortion. Not because they are like him, because I think character makes the man. And I believe in my heart, Trump is the worst human to ever sit in our White House. I pray my loved ones are not condoning his behavior.

I believe his lies alone have set our country in a terrible direction, because his in-your-face behavior says "it's okay," to be like me.

With you having come from a family where your father was a Pastor, do you feel Trump's character will forever change America? That 4 years of this man's behavior has brought out the worst in America? That it's okay to dehumanize women, hate Muslims, create division, encouraged violence, dismiss science, openly lie, ignore laws designed to protect a country from nepotism, benefiting financially from your position.

I'm afraid his influence on our morality is almost worse than his policies and political fallout. If so, how do we fix it?


I’m glad you like my take on politics, especially because I’ve been giving US politics little blogging attention for awhile now. There’s no doubt that the USA has been launched in a terrible direction, and the questions you raise are important ones.

First, his supporters. I think it’s important to separate 2016 and 2020 because the first lot may or may not have known what he was really like, but many didn’t care because they just wanted to “burn it all down” after decades of being ignored by the political establishment. Naturally, I think they chose the wrong solution to very real problems, but that’s mainly about ideological as well as tactical disagreements.

However, there were significant numbers of his supporters in 2016 who did, indeed, think he was just fine to be president, despite being an awful human being. In 2016, such people were very often anti-immigrant, racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, etc., but in 2020 the proportion was clearly higher.

In 2018, just a month out from the Midterm Elections, The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote “The Cruelty Is the Point”. He said:
Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.
I think the important point there is that the cruelty and hatred unleashed by the soon to be ex-occupant of the White House merely tapped into existing prejudices and hatred. In other words, he didn’t create the moral collapse in the USA, he mostly just exploited it.

Prior to 2016, it was (mostly) socially unacceptable to say racist things out loud and in public. Once racist and xenophobic and similarly bigoted Tweets and campaign rally taunts became common, everyday things, it opened the floodgates for people to express what they were already thinking and feeling. Because of that, I agree with you that “his influence on our morality is almost worse than his policies and political fallout,” but that leads to another question you asked, whether his character “will forever change America”.

The hard, cold reality is that after four years of the current regime, half of the USA quite literally hates the other half. It’s more than mere ideology, it’s basically tribal, especially for Republicans (though Democrats have been drawn in, too). How do we put the genie back in the bottle? After all, while 80 million people voted to make Joe Biden the next president, some 74 million decided that an incompetent, ignorant, lying narcissist with psychopathic tendencies was exactly who they wanted in the White House. Moreover, Democrats actually lost seats in the US House and in state legislatures, and failed to take control of the US Senate (on the night, anyway; we’ll know for sure early in 2021).

The solution to Making America Moral Again is far more than just electoral politics. Earlier this month, FiveThirtyEight published a piece, “Why The Suburbs Have Shifted Blue”, which talks about opportunities as well as cautions for Democrats in continuing to win what had been strongly Republican areas. While demographics in the suburbs are clearly trending toward Democrats, it could take some time for an actual shift to happen. The article quotes Ashley Jardina, a political science professor at Duke University:
“The big question mark for me is what happens in these suburban areas in two years or four years if [Republican candidates] adopt a similar strategy to Trump but with more competence and decorum?”
In my opinion, the real danger is not the current guy, it’s what happens if a smart, savvy person with the exact same immorality and amorality becomes the Republican standard bearer? The inept and ignorant current Republican leader managed to show how easy it would be for someone smarter and more capable to completely dismantle US democracy and establish an authoritarian dictatorship. Add to that the Republicans rigging the system to keep themselves in power, especially in Congress and the state legislatures despite being a minority of all US voters, and it raises huge warning flags that go far beyond the current guy.

Which doesn’t mean there’s no hope. If Democrats win control of the US Senate, they could move quickly to enact reforms to make it much harder for future wannabe dictators to damage the country. But the biggest of the necessary reforms—abolishing the Electoral College, reforming the US Senate by making it proportional like the US House (or even abolishing it), ensuring every citizen can vote—are all beyond the power of Congress, and would require Republican-controlled state legislatures to ratify Constitutional Amendments. As the saying goes, that would be like turkeys voting for an early Christmas—suicide, in other words.

No, I don’t think his character “will forever change America”, because he merely unleashed what was already there. Whether things can be fixed or not will be the big question, and it will depend on 74 million Americans being able to admit they were wrong, to learn from the experience, and to grow. Right now, we cannot know whether any of that is even possible, let alone whether it will happen.

Today’s second question is from Roger Green, who asks:

What products or services from the US – which you believe still exist – do you miss now that you're in New Zealand?

The short answer is nothing. Much of what I might miss (like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s) I know is gone. I’ve long forgotten what other products or services I used to buy because I've been here for 25 years now.

Still, there are a few. I miss Fruit of the Loom underwear, so much so that I’ve ordered it from the USA. I also miss clothes shopping at places like Target where I could get good quality inexpensive shirts (and that underwear…). In New Zealand, I’ve found shirts that are inexpensive or good quality, but not often both. Books and technology products (like from Apple) are also dramatically cheaper in the USA, however, I can get those here and do, so it’s just the cheap prices I miss.

There’s also food. American-style pizza and Mexican food isn’t easy to find, though most American fast food is available here. Apart from that, some food items (like kosher dill pickles) either aren’t available here or are very expensive.

So, after living in New Zealand for 25 years, there really aren’t that many products or services from the USA that I miss. I’ve either adapted, found ones here I like better, or, probably most common of all, I’ve simply forgotten about the old ones. All of which is for the best.

Thanks for the questions, Sherry and Roger! There’s still one more post in this series, which I’ll publish before the year is out. Of course.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-20”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Sure, why not ask again? – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 1: An untold story
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 2: Same as it never was

Boxing these days

Yesterday was the Boxing Day Holiday in New Zealand, because the actual day—December 26—fell on a Saturday this year. When either Christmas Day or Boxing Day falls on a weekend, the Statutory Holiday (colloquially knowns as “stats” or “stat days” is observed the following Monday (and Tuesday if needed). It sounds far more complicated than it actual is. The bigger point is, New Zealanders got Monday off this year. That, and the idea is slowly spreading.

The graphic at left is a sales email I got from the Chicago Tribune for some sort of marketing company they own (I’ve never followed any of their links, so I have no idea what, exactly, it is). The point is, they’re trying to hook onto Boxing Day as a way of promoting more consumer spending, and was the only Boxing Day promotion email I received from a US-based company (for comparison, I started getting Boxing Dale Sale emails from NZ retailers on Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day—and every day since).

Apparently US companies promoting Boxing Day sales is becoming a more common thing.

A piece from Vox published earlier this month was a pretty good explanation of what Boxing Day is. I liked that it’s irreverent (just like the Antipodean sense of humour, in which pisstakes abound). It also talks about US retailers embracing (or trying to…) Boxing Day, like in that email. I think that if it makes sense for NZ retailers to embrace “Black Friday” to increase sales, and they certainly are, then it makes just as much sense for US retailers to embrace Boxing Day sales for the same reason. After all, what unites retailers throughout the world is that they just don’t have enough days to pin sales promotions onto, right?

I didn’t venture out to any Boxing Day Sales over the weekend (or yesterday). I didn’t want to get caught in traffic anywhere, and I didn’t have any urgent need to go anywhere, anyway. Instead, I unpacked about nine boxes in the garage, and yesterday I figured out what to do with the things I was keeping (I threw some things away, others went into the recycling bin). Today or tomorrow I’ll head out to get dog food because I’ll need more soon and the store has a Boxing Day Sale. Of Course. And, no, they don’t call it their “Boxer Day Sale”, nor their “Barking Day Sale”. They don’t discriminate and, in fact, sell stuff for all pets. Like all NZ retailers, apparently, their “Boxing Dale Sale” actually lasts until early January.

Boxing Day for me is mainly just another public holiday, one I’ve not often treated as a shopping day. This year was no different.

Previously

2009: “And now Boxing Day”  – My first post where I talked specifically about Boxing Day, which, like this year, was on Saturday.
2010: “And back to it… again” – Boxing Day was on Sunday that year, so Monday and Tuesday were both Stat Holidays.
2011: “Holiday (observed)” – That year, the Christmas stat holiday was moved because it fell on a Sunday.
2012: “Boxing Day” – A post on the actual day!
2013: “Boxing Day quiet” – On the actual day again.
2014: “Day of boxes” – Also on the actual day.
2015: “Holiday’s unanticipated ends” – Boxing Day was also on a Saturday that year, but it didn’t go well for us.
2016: “Missing summer” – The post very briefly mentions Boxing Day when talking about our holidays.
2017: “Boxing Day 2017”.
2018: “The stormy Christmas” – Posted on Boxing Day, and about what turned out to be our last holiday together.
2019: “It turned out okay” – My first Christmas and Boxing Day without Nigel.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Successful wastefulness

Christmas Day was unique for so many reasons: First Christmas in my new house, near the end of my first full calendar year without Nigel, and because I had a strong incentive to waste electricity. I succeeded in getting through all of those.

My electricity provider has a reward scheme for customers in which every so often they’re allowed to choose a day for “free” electricity. They encourage customers to use more power, to do things that require more electricity, like using the clothes drier. Customers can also also choose among a range of days to get that free power, and when I went to the website to choose my day I saw December 25, and I chose that day. Call it my Christmas gift to myself.

My original thinking was that it might be hot on Christmas Day and I might want to run the air conditioner. At the time, I was also planning on making a roast chicken dinner, which meant using the oven. Beyond that, I hadn’t really thought about using extra power because I’ve had decades of practice conserving power, and not so much as a moment even thinking about deliberately wasting it.

I eventually decided I’d do some laundry, so I washed some towels so I could put them in the drier. This was progress. I’d planned on getting out my chilly bin (ice chest/esky) to put drinks in, but then I realised: Since I wasn’t paying for electricity, why not use the power-hungry bar fridge for the day? And, I did.

I did wash and dry those towels, plus I washed and dried another load, and also did a third, hot water wash (the washer heats the water, which uses electricity). I washed two loads of dishes in the dishwasher, and hand washed the dishes I needed to hand wash. I also ran the air conditioner all day. And I was done with all that before midnight, when my power use returned to normal.

I found through this that it’s actually not all that easy for me to deliberately waste electricity, not when I ordinarily try to be as careful with my power use as I can be. It was an interesting experience.

However, I think that encouraging people to use extra power—basically, to waste electricity—isn’t exactly a great idea. Part of why electricity companies do it is because of the powerful psychological draw the word “free” has for most people: They see the word “free” and think they’re getting a special deal. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes, and someone, somewhere always pays for something that’s called “free”. In this case, the electricity provider charges more in its ordinary rates to easily cover the “free” power day—in other words, we pay for that day every other day.

The company could easily give a “free” day without encouraging wasteful excess power use: They could tell the customer that their highest-use day in the previous month has been “gifted” to them as a “free” day. This wouldn’t cost the company anything extra—probably less, actually—and it wouldn’t encourage wasting electricity. While it doesn’t have the power of the word “free” and the emotional appeal of choosing a “free” power day, it would still generate good emotional buy-in from customers who would feel their power company was treating them well.

Things are what they are, though, and it would have been foolish for me to walk away from a “free” day of power when it was on offer. And since I took the offer, it wouldn’t have been in my interest to restrict my electricity use. So, I didn’t do either. Difficult as it was, I managed to use extra power. When a “free” power day comes my way again, I’ll take advantage of it again, but I’m unlikely to go out of my way to use extra power: I’ll just do things like washing and drying towels.

So, yeah, I used more electricity than usual, and that was difficult for me to do. But I’d already paid for that power over time, and I’d have used it sooner or later, anyway, so I didn’t really have a “free” anything.

It turned out that being successful at wastefulness was much harder than it seemed. That’s a good thing, I think.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2020

The video above is the Queen’s annual Christmas Broadcast to the UK and The Commonwealth, and this year was a bit different: I saw it when it was broadcast on New Zealand’s TV One (they prefer it to be called “TVNZ1”). For several years I’ve see the broadcast only on YouTube, but this year, with my Christmas Day festivities over, I was home and had the TV on at just the right time. It was kind of odd after so many years seeing it only online.

I assumed the online video version of the broadcast would be available at the same time, or soon after the time, I saw it on TV. However (and I think I may have known this), it seems that it's not available on the official Royal Family YouTube Channel until it’s broadcast in the UK.

I was wondering how she was going to talk about what was a shit year for most of the world, and I thought she took a measured approach. Whether she should have been stronger or not is a matter of opinion, but mine is that I thought she did fine.

I’m not going to share or link to the deepfake video made of her by one of the UK’s privately owned television channels, but I think that making and broadcasting it wasn’t a good idea (I watched it on YouTube so I’d know what I was talking about). At all. First, it wasn’t a true deepfake since it was so very obviously not her voice, and so, it could create the false impression that real deepfakes are easy to spot: The whole point of them is to fool people by having the faked videos convincingly pass as the real thing, and the reveal at the end doesn’t change that fact, especially because many people never make it to the end of YouTube videos. That aside, I don’t think that claiming that they were trying to issue some sort of warning about the disinformation technique was a legitimate reason or justification for what they did. I suspect that they’d argue a warning would have to have “entertainment value” to get people to pay attention. Whatever. I disagree with the whole thing.

In any case, that’s another year’s actual Queen’s Broadcast done.

Previously:

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2019
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2018
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.

I had myself a merry little Christmas

Christmas Day 2020 was a good one for me. They always have been, even in 2019, the first one after Nigel died. Since Nigel and I didn’t have special things we did for Christmas, apart from spending it with family, I really had nothing to miss on Christmas Day—apart from Nigel, obviously, but I miss him every single day, holiday or not.

Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it was the lack of any traditions with Nigel that made it much easier for me than I thought it could be, but it ended up being roughly what I expected. However, even then I didn’t realise how lucky I was to not have traditions. I’ve seen an extraordinary amount of deep pain expressed on the Facebook group pages for gay widows/widowers I’m part of. It’s been heart-wrenching, and it’s left me thankful, if that’s the right word, for being in a better position than I could have been in.

Because last year was fine, I knew this year’s Christmas Day would be okay for me. too, and my belief was reinforced by the good day I had on Christmas Eve. I had some family around to my house for lunch, and the day was all over before six, with the sun still shining. I even had nearly all the dishes done before the evening got too late.

The photo up top is of me at the end of Christmas Day. My caption on the Instagram/Facebook post was “End of another Christmas Day. It was a really good day for me—hope it was for all of you, too.” But I added another story for that photo in a comment on my personal Facebook:
This selfie was right after I took my last Christmas Day guest (my mother-in-law) back to her home. It was a long day, and a very, very good one. Also, this is my first alcohol in some 19 months. And behold, it was good.
I’d actually had my first glass at lunchtime, and, part from not remembering how to pour bubbles and having it overflow the glass, it was fine. No affects, but, then, most of the day I drank my 0.0% alcohol beer, so that probably makes sense. I decided to have another glass once I got back home as I relaxed for the evening. I had been worried (a little bit) that since it had been so long, the alcohol might go straight to my head. Since it didn’t earlier, I knew another glass would be fine.

To make sure I’d have enough room in the fridge, I used the little beer fridge Nigel and I almost never used. That was very handy. The photo at the bottom of this post is of the pavlova we were supposed to have for dessert, but forgot all about. As I said in the Instagram/Facebook post:
The one Christmas non-casualty casualty: My brother- and sister-in-law brought pavlova for today, and my S-I-L dressed it, only for us all to forget about it! Now I have to finish the pav all by myself. The sacrifices I make, I tell ya, I’m a bleedin’ saint! Especially because I also forgot about the chocolate fudge I made and now I have to eat it all. A saint, I am.
I realised all this when I was clearing out the beer fridge to turn it off. It was a bit of an “oops” moment when I found them. I managed to have some of the pav last night and more today, but the truth is that most of it will end up gong down the waste disposer because whipped cream doesn’t keep very long. The fudge, on the other hand, will last for as long as it takes me to get through it, something I can safely say because I know it won’t last very long (I also moved that from the beer fridge to the main fridge).

So, the day was a pretty good one, and even the weather cooperated: Sunny, but not hot (just right, in my opinion). I guess I was lucky in many ways. And merry.

The forgotten pavlova.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve was nice

There are a lot of people who have a rought time at Christmas, especially this year. Those mourning the loss of their spouse/partner are often particularly vulnerable. I talked about that last week, and also about why the Christmas Holiday isn’t especially bad for me.

So far this year it’s been nice.

This year’s Christmas Eve began when we celebrated my niece’s 11th birthday together with that part of the family (and along with pizza—always a winner with me—and cake). Then I took my mother-in-law to my cousin-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve drinks (I had the non-alcoholic bubbles I often have, this one a festive pink 🙂). We visited for a few hours with that part of the family, which I seldom see (I think the last time for some of them was at a family reunion in February of last year). It as a lovely day and I was home by like 8.30 (I didn’t actually look…) to spend some time with the puppies before doing a couple things and then heading to bed.

I have some of the family coming to my house for lunch tomorrow. Christmas Day. This is my first Christmas in this house, so I wanted to stay home. It’ll cap off the holiday nicely.

I’m spending New Year’s Eve at home this year, for the same reason I wanted to be here on Christmas Day, but that’s a story for next week.

So far, it’s been a good Christmas holiday.

This post began life as something I shared on my personal Facebook.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Ask Arthur 2020, Part 2: Same as it never was

Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about all sorts of things—politics, religion, even my own philosophies, among many other things. Today’s question is no different.

Today’s question is from Roger Green:

This is actually a question that came up in a Bible study this morning. The assumption is that people want to get back to the way they were before COVID (and George Floyd and 2020 generally).

What processes are most likely NOT to go back to what had been the norm? And related, how do you think people have changed by 2020? Kinder, greedier, more or less tolerant?


I think the answer to that is really, “depends on where you’re talking about,” because, as with fighting the pandemic itself, everything depends on where one lives. For that matter, the problems of the year that seemed the biggest also depended on where one lives.

First, the pandemic. I think there will be some lasting changes in all developed countries. Chief among them, there will be more people working from home, at least part of the time, but probably more than that. It will mean more corporations downsizing their real estate, which, in turn, could mean large vacant office buildings in major cities. Because of that, the hospitality trade in business areas will suffer dramatically, which will mean going out for lunch or after-work drinks workmates may become less common.

People will desperately want to get back to what they had, so I expect there will be problems with compliance with things like physical distancing and wearing masks. I say that in part because I’ve seen a notable drop in people using New Zealand’s Covid Tracer App. Obviously my personal observations aren’t evidence, but they at least suggests that some people in New Zealand have already become complacent—the very reason the government launched its “Make Summer Unstoppable” campaign.

While everyone want to get back to “normal”, we have no way of knowing if that will even be possible. We don’t know if people are infectious after getting the vaccine, or how long their protection lasts, so we can’t be sure it’ll ever be safe to go back to what we had before. The only way to make that more likely is for people to get vaccinated and to continue wearing masks and physically distance until we have better answers about immunity for, and transmission by, vaccinated people.

A huge amount of kindness shown during the worst of the pandemic, most of it unheralded. In New Zealand, kindness was a cornerstone of the government’s response because they needed us to do our part, not just to get through lockdown, but also to help ensure that others did, too. It worked. However, I’m not convinced that kindness is a natural state for humans in normal times, so I think that most of us will probably go back to being cantankerous and unforgiving when the crisis does eventually end. I hope I’m wrong about that.

In the USA, much of the turmoil and stress was stuff caused—usually directly, sometimes indirectly—by the soon to be ex-occupant of the White House and his disastrous mishandling of the pandemic. Having a real president and vice president in office, pursuing perfectly rational policies and upholding the rule of law will go a long way toward turning down the flame under the societal pot. I certainly don’t expect any of the issues—like Black Lives Matter, for example—to be solved in the next four years, however, we at least know that none of them will get worse like they did in the previous four. That alone should allow a bit of a return to “normal” for society generally—the caveat being that patience is not infinite, and the new administration will need to take action to make things better because simply not making them worse is no progress at all, not really.

Similarly, the new US administration will need to act on climate change, which even with action will continue to disrupt societies with more (and more frequent) severe storms and wider, more destructive events like wildfires. But there can be other natural events, like the eruption of New Zealand’s Whakaari/White Island, something that happened only a year ago, in December 2019, mere weeks before Covid emerged. All of those sorts of things—weather related and non weather related events—are by definition unpredictable. We can only hope that things will be better in 2021 than they were this year, and if they are, that, too, will help restore a sense of normality.

People throughout the developed world have been changed by 2020, and some of that may be permanent or, at least, long-lived. The deep and bitter political division in the USA, for example, won’t vanish any time soon (it built up over decades, after all), but it might get better if nature doesn’t get too dramatic and political progress is made.

As a sign of hope, I offer New Zealand: Faced with many of the same challenges as the USA—the global pandemic, systemic racism, a large income divide and poverty, etc., New Zealand voters saw they had a strong, capable, competent government that was trying to unite, not divide, the country and they re-elected their government in an historic landslide. That’s what good government can result in. So, if the new administration gets the pandemic under control, if it makes progress on finally dealing with simmering unresolved social and political issues, there is hope for a return to more normal times.

All of which puts aside questions about “what ‘normal’ are people expecting to return to”. What people perceive as “normal” isn’t necessarily desirable, and it may not even be real. I’m thinking especially of the folks who are convinced that there were no racial problems until “troublemakers” started rioting. And there are still people who believe the fantasy version of 1950s America is something to aspire to. None of those viewpoints are based on reality, and if that’s what the “normal” people want, they will be hugely disappointed.

Thanks to Roger for today’s question, my rather in adequate answer notwithstanding.

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. You can also send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-20”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Sure, why not ask again? – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2020, Part 1: An untold story

Before, during, and after: It’s mow big thing

Today I was determined to give the lawns a Christmas Eve-eve mow, and before the predicted rain arrived. I got the front lawn done, and in the back not much more than the “after” shot (right. Above) before the battery ran out.

I went inside put the battery on to charge, sat down to rest, and took care of some bits and pieces while I waited for the battery to charge—which it did pretty fast, as always. I went back outside, put the battery in the mower and finished the back. And then, one more thing.

In the “during” photo (left above) there’s a glimps of my Vegepod, and under it is extremely very long weeds. That’s because the VegePod is very heavy, and so, difficult to move on grass. But the weather’s already started getting summery-dry, and today I was able to roll the thing out of the way.

The photos below show the Vegepod when I moved it out fo the way (left), and after I put it back over freshly-moved grass (and weeds…), no longer extremely very long. As a bonus, I was able to put it in its final position—properly centred in the place I put it (whew!) and closer to the wall than it had been. I was particularly happy about getting that done ( ordered the Vegepod back in October).

This was my first “strenuous” physical activity in two weeks, when I also mowed the lawns (among other things). I feel I need to add that I’m usually more active than once a fortnight—no, really!—but I was told to not do anything strenuous for two weeks after my cardiac cryoablation procedure).

After all the lawns were finished, I still had to vacuum, but I was pretty shattered. Vacuuming will have to wait until morning when I do my routine cleaning of the house.

I always planned on mowing the lawns once I could do more active stuff again, and I originally planned on hurrying it along (and even asked the cardiologist if I could mow them a little earlier than two weeks). However, I was sore for more than a week after my recent tooth extraction, so I didn’t feel like doing anything until it was Tuesday, anyway. It rained that day. That left today as my last chance to mow the lawns before Christmas, which is a problem because I still have a lot of things to get done before Christmas Day, and I only have tomorrow morning, really, to get everything done. It’ll be tight.

But at least the lawns are mowed, including under the Vegepod. It was a good day.



This blog post began life as a post to Instagram/Facebook. This, however, is expanded, not the least with additional photos.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

More 2020 music mashups

A few days ago, I published a post with a 2020 music mashup, by someone I’ve posted many times before. That post made me curious and, as a result, I realised it wouldn’t be the only such post. Today’s came about because of that first one.

My main “complaint”, if it can be called that, with the first video, was manipulated audio, but I also noticed (probably for the first time) the level of deliberate choice involved in who is included and who isn’t. I said:
I think it’s impossible to please everyone, and the somewhat short length of the video makes it absolutely impossible. Like anyone else, I think there are some oversights and some overplayed. That’s life, and it doesn’t necessarily change how much I like or don’t like a mashup.
I began to wonder if a longer video might provide a better look at the year just ending. It turns out that there are a lot of year end mashup videos on YouTube (and no, I have no idea why I never looked before now), and most of the ones I saw, and certainly the ones I liked, were considerably longer than the first one—three times, sometimes nearly four times, longer. It turned out that I was right: More time did, indeed, present a fuller picture of a year, however, a shorter one is definitely more accessible in a time-starved world.

Some of of the videos I’ve chosen to share were posted earlier than the first one I shared, but they nevertheless included more songs from the end of the year, which is another reason that it’s a more inclusive picture. The logical assumption is that the earlier a video is posted, the more likely it is to miss out on some big hits, but I suspect it’s more about how early a video is completed, which is a very different thing. Having said that, a video with a longer format has more room to include more songs, including very recent ones, and that’s another way it can seem more inclusive.

The videos are more or less in the order I first saw them. Because they’re all considerably longer than the first one, even I’d come back to this post to watch others later. It’s a busy time of year, after all.

First up, “STUCK IN 2020 | A Year-End Megamix (Mashup of 100+ Songs)” by Adamusic:



When I first watched the video, I really liked it. There’s some manipulated vocals, but it’s at a minimum, and I thought that on balance it worked. I liked the 80s-ish vibe on some of the rhythm tracks laid down over the original songs, but I especially liked that it included a lot of songs I liked that didn’t make the cut in the first one, like Taylor Swift’s “If I were a Man”, which was one of the year’s stand-out tracks for me. I also noted that the video included more of the K-Pop songs of 2020 than just the one megahit, and artists like Conan Gray.

So, I looked up his YouTube “About” page and it said “Adamusic is Adam Wright, a 20-year-old mashup artist and music producer based in LA. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan!” I began to wonder how much age might have a bearing on song choices (DJ Earworm, who made the first mashup I shared, is 38), but I think it’s more about personal likes and dislikes than age or anything else. After all, I’m old enough to be DJ Earworm’s dad, yet I generally prefer the choices of Adamusic, who is young enough that I could have a grandchild his age (sigh). So, I definitely don't think that age by itself is a factor. 

All of which means that this was making me curious about these videos and the choices made. I needed to investigate further.

Next, “SAY 2020 - Year End Megamix (Mashup of 150 Songs)” by KJ Mixes:



What struck me about this is that there was less vocal manipulation, bit it was otherwise similar to the first one in this post. I noticed that a lot of the songs didn’t make the Billboard Year End Hot 100 Songs” for 2020, more so than in the first video in this post (and, apparently, DJ Earworm uses that list for his annual video). I actually think that straying from the list increases the representativeness of the year, though it doesn’t necessarily present a picture of what was popular in the year. But, then, do the charts? I liked this video, too, but I don’t know anything about the DJ other than what he said of himself, that he’s “just a guy that likes making mashups and mixes.”

Finally for this post, “Make It Alone: 2020 Megamix (A Year-End Mashup of 230 Songs)” by Joseph James:



This was the third of these “alternative” mashup videos I watched, and this was when I noticed that dividing longer videos into “chapters” seems to be a thing. I think that’s a really good idea when it’s done well, and most of them pull it off, at least most of the time. This video has less of a driving dance vibe than a pop music vibe. I like both, so that’s fine with me. I also noticed that it seemed to include a high percentage of songs by former members of One Direction. Like the other videos, it featured some video clips of songs not in the audio (or not for long), which was visually interesting. In this particular case, the overall result of all that was that I thought this video had an almost cinematic feel. Oh, and the DJ? He said of himself, “I'm a 15 year old that makes mashups, that's about it.” Bloody hell.

• • •

That’s it for this collection, but I’ll have one more post in this unplanned series. “Unplanned”—one of many good words to describe 2020.

Monday, December 21, 2020

A decade of Sunny days

Ten years ago today, Sunny joined our family. She’s been through a lot, and I‘m pretty sure she won’t still be here next year because of her new health challenge. There have been plenty of days over the past few months when I thought she was on her way out, only to see her rebound each time. That won’t continue, and she’s definitely not as full of life as she was. Still, ten years ago today she joined our family and, to borrow a TV commercial’s line, isn’t that wonderful?

The photo up top is of the moment she first set paw in our house on December 21, 2010. I used it in the blog post about Sunny’s arrival. I still have the outdoor umbrella stand to the left of the doorway, but it doesn't look as new anymore.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Ask Arthur 2020, Part 1: An untold story

I hadn’t really planned on doing an “Ask Arthur” series this year (I didn’t do one last year, either). But then, along came a hypothetical question and I decided to go ahead this year, anyway. So, here we are.

The question was from Roger Green, added to the end of a comment to my post about my recent cryoablation procedure. He asked/commented:

So, if I were to Ask Arthur Anything, it'd be about the scar he got when he was 14..

What Roger’s referring to is a brief, off-handed remark I made in that post:

As it happens, [injection of the local anesthetic] wasn’t particularly painful because they chose a site next to a scar I got from surgery when I was around 14, and the skin between it and my leg has no feeling.

Obviously there’s a story there, one I’ve never told before merely because it’s not that interesting to me, and so, not on my mind very often. I’m not embarrassed by it at all, and the fact that I’m not, and that I wasn’t upset back then, says something about how I’m wired, I think (or maybe that should say “weird”?). That’s getting ahead of the story, though—one I think I also placed in the wrong year. More about that, too, later.

Back in 1972 (I now think…), when I was 13, I was sleeping on the floor of my parents’ room one summer night because they had a window air conditioner, and it was very hot. I woke up in the morning with the feeling that I’d been “kicked in the groin”, as “they” politely put it—“kicked in the balls”, I’d say. It turned out I’d had what the doctor called a testicular twist, something that’s usually formally known as testicular torsion. The Wikipedia article describes it well: “Testicular torsion occurs when the spermatic cord (from which the testicle is suspended) twists, cutting off the blood supply to the testicle.” That same article has good information on causes, probability, and so on,. By the time I saw the doctor, the only possible treatment was removal of my right testicle.

When the surgery was done, they entered through my abdominal wall, where it meets my right leg, and removed it that way. I have no idea why. That’s why I have that scar, and why I have no feeling in the skin there. Then, they made a small incision in my scrotum and “tied down” the other one to prevent it from twisting. That definitely worked.

I was fatalistic about it all, with the same sort of “it is what it is” attitude I’ve often had about things I can’t change. The nurses told my mother that there’d recently been another boy in there for the same thing (he was older—16, maybe). Apparently he was angry and depressed, full of the “why me?!” sort of thing. The nurses were amazed, for lack of a better word (though it’s probably a pretty accurate one), at how calm and nonchalant I was about it.

Be that as it may, when I said I wasn’t embarrassed, that’s absolutely true. However, some gym teachers decided they’d try to make me feel embarrassed.

Doctors didn’t want me to participate in any sort of contact sports or training because of the obvious risk to my remaining testicle. Some gym teachers decided to try to humiliate me for not participating. Sometimes that meant making me do some sort of alternative, non-contact activity, and only a few of them called any attention to it by having me do whatever the activity was in full view of the other boys. Most gym teachers weren’t sadistic—disinterested, if anything, and many of them made me sit on the sidelines (probably because they didn’t want to supervise some alternative activity and the other boys).

That’s actually how I know it was probably 1972 when the surgery was done. During one gym class session in junior high school, I was excused from activity and I was sitting on the bleachers playing with my cassette tape recorder that had an AM radio. One song that played frequently was Elvis Presley’s hit song, “Burning Love”, which was released August 1, 1972. That doesn’t rule out it having been the following year, however, I seem to remember that the song was in heavy rotation, and that suggests 1972. Still, whether it was 1972 or 1973 doesn’t really matter.

In the years since, I’ve been aware of the need to protect myself from injury, but that’s about it. No embarrassment, no issues of any kind. At one point I wondered about getting a prosthetic implant (which I’d just learned were a thing), but since I don’t parade around naked (and, at the risk of TMI, no partner ever said anything), I realised it was a pretty silly idea.

It never occurred to me to tell this story before precisely because it matters so little to me, and is so seldom front of mind—not until it became relevant again when I had that cryoablation procedure.

And that’s a story I’ve never told before, and still wouldn’t have if Roger hadn’t hypothetically asked a question. But, then, I'd also never have done this year's series if he hadn't. And now this year’s series has officially begun.

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. You can also send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-20”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Sure, why not ask again? – The first post in this year’s series.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

More New Zealand 2020 Christmas ads

Here are more NZ Christmas ads for 2020. There are a few running now, including some international ones, but most of them don’t seem to be available on YouTube, so I can’t share them. Still, there are a few more to share.

The ad up top is from Mitre 10, a New Zealand-owned chain of home improvement stores. Probably obviously, the ad is too long to air frequently, and I saw it for the first time tonight. The ad is a parody of Mitre 10’s series of videos called “DIY Easy As”. some of which are also edited into ads. The ad is exactly like such videos are done—matter of fact building—and the fact it makes fun of itself, down to using ordinary builders’ tools instead of kitchen appliances, and with a straight face, is such a Kiwi thing to do. So is making a pav (pavlova), the quintessential Kiwi dessert, especially at Christmas.

As a bonus, I’m including another, more traditional video on making a pav (at the bottom of this post) from NZ-listed retail chain Briscoes Homeware. It’s related to Christmas, but not an ad. Mainly, it’s just a more straightforward explanation of how to make a pav (but not the recipe).

Speaking of food, and ad for Countdown, the New Zealand operation of Australian supermarket company, Woolworths:


One of the reasons I like the ad, I have to admit, is that the opening reminds me of Rankin/Bass’ 1964 animated Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The ad itself has a lot of Christmas scenes, though I suspect that some of them were shot in Australia for Woolworth’s ads (I don’t know for sure because their ads aren’t shared online for some reason). At any rate, it’s a nice ad, especially for showing what Christmas in this part of the world is like.

Finally, an international ad currently running in New Zealand:



This version of the ad is longer than the one on New Zealand TV right now (and, it turns out, there’s a far, far longer version, too). Their YouTube Channel has different international ads, including this one intended for various markets, and I think that’s fascinating. Coca-Cola is an international brand, of course, and it makes sense to tailor ads to various countries, or to make then non-specific, as this one is. Still I did note that the pick-up truck appears to be North American (based on the license plate), and both trucks are left-hand drive. All in all, it’s a nice ad.

I wasn’t necessarily expecting to have any more Christmas ads to share this year, but Christmas is all about surprises, right? Surprise! Now, go make a pav.

A ‘memory’ about trust

Today, like nearly every other day, Facebook served up some of what it calls, “Memories”. They can make me happy, sad, or reflective, but to be honest, the vast majority of the time they make me go, “meh.” Today’s was a more reflective one.

Three years ago today I went to the doctor for a routine check-up and prescription renewal, and dutifully did my “check in” on Facebook. In 2017 I wrote:
Time for quarterly check & prescription refill. This will probably be my last time here—an hour and half drive to get here, at least an hour drive back home, it’s time to find a new doctor closer to home. Not looking forward to THAT!!
I’ve changed doctors twice since I posted that, and both times I was slow to do it because, as I said in a reply to my sister’s comment on the original Facebook post, I have to trust my doctor. That’s mattered a lot to me in recent years. Still, it was necessary because of that long drive caused by the exasperating convergence of Auckland’s notoriously bad traffic congestion and road construction on my only route there. I just couldn’t see driving that long/far if I was feeling sick.

The first doctor I changed to was the closest to our house, and was very kind. She also treated Nigel at the very end, sending him to hospital the first time and then dispatching the practice nurse to see him at our home on the day he went hospital for the last time. That doctor and I had an unusually personal bond because of all that. Even so, after I shifted to Hamilton, that doctor was also more than an hour’s drive away, and I needed a new doctor again.

My current doctor was recommended to me by my brother-in-law, and I’ve seen him a few times now. My medical needs now are mainly about maintenance (which is a relief!), but I knew I could trust my new doctor from the very beginning: His name’s Nigel.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that matter the most, like being free to choose a doctor based on trust. The fact he’s called Nigel is just a bonus. Today’s Facebook Memory left me a bit more reflective than usual, but it also made me realise that at the moment I’m very happy with my healthcare arrangements. That matters a helluva lot, too.

This is a revised version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

2020 music mashups begin

‘Tis the season for end-of-year year videos of various kinds. As a dedicated follower, so to speak, of pop music, I always look forward to year-end music video mashups. This year is no different, except that I’ll have at least two posts about it this year.

I’m starting with DJ Earworm because I’ve shared those mashups more than any other. I posted his 2019 mashup video on January 2 of this year because last year’s end wasn’t pleasant. At all. Of course. I said in last year’s post:
…As with last year’s video, I’m familiar with a lot of the videos, and even shared some of them. That’s unlikely to be true this year since I don’t watch music videos as much as I used to. Oh, well.
This year I’m even more familiar with the songs because, contrary to my expectations, I did, in fact, “watch music videos as much as I used to” because the video music TV channels returned this year. In fact, there are times when there are four different channels broadcasting at once (most of the time there are only the two that may be going away at some point).

All of which means that, again, I did share some of the videos in the mashup above, and there are other songs I planned to share, but just didn’t get around to it because I wasn’t feeling up to blogging. Maybe I’ll make a series of posts on missed videos or something.

In any case, all video music mashups vary in how much I like them, which must be the reaction of others, too. Some years I really like a DJ’s work, other years, well, not as much. I’m afraid this year is one of the latter kind.

To be brutally honest, I’m getting quite tired of manipulated and filtered audio tracks. I realise it ends up evening out the sound, making it more like one comprehensive work rather than a string of unrelated songs, but so many songs start out with vocals that have been manipulated and filtered that it begins to sound, at best, way over-produced and, at worst, silly. In my opinion, of course—others will have their own opinions. Obviously. Arthur’s Law and all that.

Still, on balance, I do like this year’s mashup, and I noted the appearance of a New Zealand artist, Jawsh 685, who with Jason DeRulo had a big hit with “Savage Love”—one of the videos I meant to share this year. I was also reminded, for the millionth time, that I simply cannot understand (at all) why Billie Eilish is so popular. But, yeah, Arthur’s Law.

Which brings me to who’s in and who’s left out. I think it’s impossible to please everyone, and the somewhat short length of the video makes it absolutely impossible. Like anyone else, I think there are some oversights and some overplayed. That’s life, and it doesn’t necessarily change how much I like or don’t like a mashup.

Actually, just yesterday DJ Earworm provided an example of how incredibly difficult it must be to select songs. He posted a video, “Time of Our Lives: Songs from EVERY YEAR (1970-2020)” (video at the bottom of the post) in which he includes snippets of popular songs from each of those years. As with every other mashup, some people will agree or disagree with the choices, and I certainly did both. I thought there were notable snubs and I also had no idea what some of the songs were, even for the years when I was far more attuned to pop music than I am now, like in my 20s when music seemed so all-important. In fact, there were plenty I didn’t know even when I checked the list of songs in the YouTube Description, which means it’s pretty much like any other music mashup, to be fair. Still, Arthur’s Law—I’m sure others will like it as is. My point is just that the more stripped-down video below demonstrates for me how incredibly difficult it must be to select a song, to choose between many good or even great choices.

I also must acknowledge that there’s no way in hell I could do one of these mashups. I’m not stupid enough to even daydream about doing one because there’s simply no way, no how, I could ever do it. So, in critiquing mashup videos, I’m not criticising the mashup-ers themselves. I admire what they do, and what they produce, and I’m very glad they do what they do. I just have my own opinions about the videos, as everyone does. Have I mentioned Arthur’s Law?

Let the mashing continue!

As in the past, the YouTube description for this year’s mashup video has a list of all the artists and their songs, listed by artist, in alphabetical order.

Previous DJ Earworm mash-ups on this blog:

The annual mashup post (2019)
DJ Earworm 2018 Mashup (2018)
DJ Earworm 2017 Mashup (2017)
First December Mashup (2016)
Season of mash-ups (2015) – First video
And the roundups begin (2014)
Poptastic assault (2013) – First video