Thursday, January 17, 2019

Shadow of summers

Time was, New Zealand basically closed down for the month of January, sometimes starting at Christmas, sometimes ending in early February. Those days are over, with the country’s globalised economy now virtually non-stop (apart from the three and a half days on which there’s a trading ban, only one of which, Christmas Day, is in summer). Long summers with lots of businesses closed and not much happening are mostly gone, but sometimes there’s a small reminder.

The above two marketing fliers were distributed together this week, and provided a bit of a remembrance, a shadow, of summers of the past.

The “Back to School” sales are because New Zealand’s new school year will begin between January 28 and February 7 (it varies a bit from place to place, but schools must begin their year sometimes between those dates). Because the summer break is the longest, some parents will arrange their annual leave so they can have time off with their kids, and that means they’re facing “Back to Work”.

These days, there are plenty of parents who can’t arrange their work/annual leave schedule around their kids’ school holidays, for any number of reasons, so for them the “Back to Work” isn’t relevant. It won’t be long, perhaps, before such a flier wouldn’t be relevant for anyone.

This is sad for some people: A part of New Zealand has disappeared. It was a way of life that I read about when I first moved here, but even by then the reality was that many people didn’t take lots of time off in January. Some still did.

Until very recently, it was common to have a hard time finding suppliers of some goods or services in the first couple weeks of January. I know from personal experience how frustrating this could be for someone trying to get projects done around the house while on summer holiday. However, home centres have become the norm, rather than local hardware stores, and pretty much everything needed for household projects can be found easily, with no more that the statutory holidays (and that Christmas Day trading ban) standing between them and completing their projects.

I have to admit that, since I never experienced the old ways, I’m fine with the way things are now. In the Internet Age, where we can order nearly anything online and get it delivered—sometimes on the same day—it’s natural to expect stores and service provides to be open, too.

As it happens, I’m off the month of January each year, so I’m kind of a throwback to older times. Also, I’m not: My being off in January doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s life or summer. So, for me, there really is a “Back to Work” time, and that flier is relevant. Like, it reminded me I really want to get a smaller desk.

Even though that particular flier was relevant for me, it’s still a sort of shadow of summers long gone, ones I had a small hint of, but didn’t actually experience. It's an unusual amount of social significance from an ordinary marketing flier.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A company’s campaign gets it

The video above is from a company that makes men’s grooming products. The campaign seeks to help men be better men, which is a worthy thing, even if some may not think so for whatever reason. There was a time when such issue marketing never happened, but I think when it’s relevant, it’s a good idea. Why not use their marketing power, and access to the target market, for good? And this video IS good.

The video is from men’s personal care products brand Gillette, which decades ago adopted the slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get”. The campaign is called “The Best Men Can Be”, playing off their product slogan and setting an aspirational target. They said in a statement on their site:
It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.
This is a reference to the fight against what’s popularly called “toxic masculinity”, something that many on both the Left and Right don’t seem to fully understand. I’d sum it up as: Don’t Be An Arrogant Jerk to Everyone.

Toxic masculinity is about what’s toxic to men. It’s what robs men of their emotions except for anger and aggression. It’s what leads men to trying to be the “alpha male”, dominating everyone around them, too often aggressively or even violently. It leads men to assume that every woman is sexually available to them, or that they have the right act toward them as if they are. It leads them to dismiss, discount, victimise, and bully those they perceive as weaker, men and women alike, even if only emotionally. And it means men must never cry.

It leads to rape and sexual assault. It leads to bullying and attacks on gay men—or those merely thought to be gay. It leads to aggression and fights over nothing. And it leads men to strive to achieve an ideal of the “perfect man” that almost no one can naturally be, setting them up for failure, self-loathing, and more aggression arising from the shame and frustration of not being that “perfect man”.

The solutions are to let men be men—no one is talking about changing that at all. Instead, it’s about getting men to stop objectifying women, since that leads to dismissing women, and on to sexual harassment and even sexual assault. It’s about getting men to understand that bullying is wrong, and that achievement, competence, and compassion earn respect, and brute strength does not.

“While it is clear that changes are needed,” Gillette said in their statement, “where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.”

And that’s the key: Men helping men change. We’re the only ones who can do it.

I saw some pushback against “toxic masculinity” arguing that the bad things it describes are “natural” for other animals, as if human beings are captive to our past and can never evolve, as if our powerful brain can’t see a problem and fix it. Human males are nothing like rams that violently butt their heads against each other to win sexual access to a ewe—we’re smart enough not to do that. The masculine traits of men that women and gay men find sexually attractive are NOT the same as for other animals, and it’s silly to suggest they are.

Then, too, some conservatives are deliberately misrepresenting what this campaign is all about by misrepresenting both its intent and what “toxic masculinity” is. Sometimes this is because they don’t understand what that is and how it hurts all men, regardless of ideology. Some do it to attack the Left, using it as part of their “social justice warrior” attacks.

Sometimes the Left doesn’t help things. They may use “toxic masculinity” as something to try to shame men who may not share all of the Left’s agenda. They use it as some sort of political litmus test, similar to what the Right does.

But “toxic masculinity” is real, and a real problem. We need to ignore politics and those who would seek to exploit “toxic masculinity” for ideological or political ends. We need to help men be better men, that’s it. The ideologues can look after themselves.

This isn’t the first time that a company that’s made money off of the stereotypical gender roles has tried to present an alternative, more positive message. For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign tried to improve women’s self image, but the company itself was flawed. Gillette has faced criticism, and, of course, its parent company, Proctor & Gamble, has had many controversies.

This isn’t about the companies or their products. This is about a message, about getting men to talk to other men, and to model better behaviour that boys can emulate when they become men. No company is perfect, neither is any ad campaign. I don’t think that matters. The message is good, it’s from an appropriate source, and it may—just maybe—do some good, and, if it does, it’ll be the best thing we all could get.

The video below is the short version of the ad, suitable for broadcast television. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as effective.

The blame is his alone

Infographic: The Longest U.S. Government Shutdown In History | Statista

The USA is now enduring its longest-ever government shutdown, and the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of one person: The current occupant of the White House. He has been enabled by the US Senate’s Majority Leader and the Republican caucus, but they didn’t cause the shutdown, and they stand to lose if it goes on. Ultimately, Republicans are the only ones who will be able to get the current occupant to end his stunt, assuming that anyone at all can get him to understand reality.

The stunt is a pure partisan game that the current occupant is playing because he was scolded by a couple bloviating blowhard professional Republican moaners. Up until that point, he was willing to work on a bipartisan agreement, but the moment they nutty windbags criticised him, he freaked out and in his panic he abruptly changed course.

Since Democrats took control of the US House, they have repeatedly said they’ll pass the bipartisan measure the previous Congress had taken up. But the current occupant wants it his way only, and he’s trying to bully Democrats into doing his bidding. That’s never going to happen.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Senate are refusing to take up the previously-passed bipartisan spending bill, because their party's leader in the Senate is convinced he can continue to obstruct rather than govern, just as he did when President Obama was in office. This time he's obstructing the US House of Representatives, thereby enabling his president. Republican Senators, many of whom are vulnerable in the 2020 elections, won't tolerate that forever. They're the ones who can force the Senate to pass the measure so they can place ALL the blame on the current occupant when he inevitably vetoes the bipartisan bill. Their motivation—electoral survival—may no less self-serving than their Senate leader's or their president's, but despite that, it's the right thing to do.

Millions of Americans have been affected, from federal employees who may not be able to pay their rent or mortgage and who are seeking help from food banks, to contractors, to companies supplying goods and services to the US government, to ordinary people who want to do something the federal government controls. The current occupant doesn’t care about any of that, of course: It’s always first, last, and in between about him and his massive ego, and nothing more. He doesn’t care who he hurts or how badly he hurts them, because to him no one matters but himself. One thing that’s absolutely certain is that if those same bloviating blowhards criticised him for not reopening the government, it would be open again within milliseconds—or however long it would take him to type out the Tweet.

The chart below shows that a majority of Americans correctly blame the current occupant and the party he leads for this stunt. That’s more than the combined numbers of those who choose to blame Democrats or both parties equally. The other two charts of partisans; views may look like it just shows strong partisan feeling, and it does, but look at the differences between them: A mere 6% of Democrats blame their own party, while two and a half times that number of Republicans know their party is blame. Also, three times as many Republicans as Democrats blame both parties equally, which suggests many Republicans know their party is to blame, but can’t bring themselves to say so. This is why there’s 17 point difference in the numbers of Republicans who blame Democrats as opposed to Democrats who blame Republicans.

No one can say how or when this shutdown will finally end, or what it will take to get the Republican Leader of the Senate to act like a grown-up for a change. We can’t know how many people will ultimately be hurt by the current occupant’s petty stunt, nor how badly. But people will be burned while Nero fiddles.

Still, there’s one thing that both parties ought to do: Unanimously pass a bill saying that in the event of a government shutdown, the salaries of all US Representatives, US Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, the president and vice president and the Members of the Supreme Court will be stopped until the government reopens. If the politicians are going to play games and shutdown the government, then the elites must suffer, too. Or, they should outlaw shutdowns completely. But having one rule for the elites and another for common people is precisely why the numbers of Americans who approve of politicians is declining and the number who perceive government itself as being largely illegitimate are growing. And that’s a far bigger threat to the republic than the Narcissist in Chief or his lackeys in Congress.

Infographic: Who Are Americans Blaming For The Shutdown? | Statista

The chart up top on shutdown length through January 14 is from Statista. The other chart, on who Americans blame for the shutdown, is also from Statista. Both were released under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 3.0 license

Monday, January 14, 2019

Zeroing in on one week from today

My birthday is one week from today. After about 20, I’ve probably dreaded each “zero birthday” more than the one before. It’s not that I don’t want to get older, exactly: There’s only one way to do that. However, I wouldn’t mind the process taking a bit longer.

Our perceptions of when, precisely, old age begins have changed as human lifespan has increased—but not as quickly, probably. During the period I was born, a person could be expected to live until their late 60s, maybe early 70s. However, projected life expectancy isn’t absolute, and improvements in healthcare and medicine have increased the lifespan beyond what was projected at people’s birth—in developed countries, especially, but worldwide, too.

As people began living longer and healthier lives, our perception of when “old age” begins have shifted, too, though slowly. I think that shift needs to pick up the pace.

One of the life events when one reaches their 60s is retirement. For years, the retirement age in the USA was 65 —until they started raising it. The USA started to raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits by 2 months per year beginning with those born in 1938—but it stalled at 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. Then, the rise resumed.

I qualify for Social Security, assuming it still exists, when I reach 66 years 10 months, and this presents a problem. Due to a treaty between the USA and New Zealand, my Social Security benefit will be paid to the New Zealand Government (the two counties have similar agreements with other countries). The problem is that I qualify for NZ Superannuation at age 65, and NZ requires me to apply for Social Security when I apply for New Zealand Superannuation. However, if I apply for US Social Security at 65, it’ll be reduced benefits. Even so, at the moment I don’t plan on retiring that early, anyway, but the point is the two systems don’t match up.

Actually, the bigger problem, if it is one, is that I can’t imagine being retired. Nothing in my life has prepared me for it, since my parents never achieved it. But I also don’t feel old enough to be nearing retirement age—though I also have no idea what it would mean to feel old enough.

Which is why I’m dreading this upcoming “zero age” more than any of the others I’ve been though: I have neither the frame of reference nor any feeling for what this upcoming age will be like. Sure, on my birthday itself it’ll be no different than the day before, but as the years pass, what happens? At all those earlier “zero age” birthdays I had some idea what to expect, and I knew that the following decade wouldn’t be all that much different than the one before it. Neither is true this time.

This isn’t the sort of thing I can be told about or learn about. It’s one of those rare things that must be intuited, and I’m not there yet. Still, time waits for no one, right? And one week from today, ready or not, I enter what’s for me totally uncharted territory.

Still, it beats the alternative.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A good idea is suspended

A programme in New Zealand to collect soft plastics for recycling has been suspended. There was evidence we were headed that way for quite awhile, but its end, even if temporary, was sudden. Whether it resumes or not, the real issue is reducing the amount of soft plastics there are.

The programme began as a pilot in 2015, and was partly funded by the government of the day, led by the National Party, though it was a project of the Packaging Forum, which represents the packaging industry. The idea was to make it easy for people to drop off soft plastic packaging (basically anything plastic that a person could crumple in their hands), and it became very popular.

At the time the programme was begun, there was no governmental move to ban single-use plastic bags, so it was partly a way of dealing with all those used bags. The plastics were sent to Australia, but the long-term plan was to process them here in New Zealand.

In 2016, the project collected 106 tonnes of soft plastic for recycling, which grew to 366 tonnes in 2017. They planned to be collecting 447 tonnes by the end of this year.

However, the Australians stopped accepting our soft plastics, and it began piling up. By November of last year, 400 tonnes was in storage, some of it getting mouldy, making it unusable. A month later, six supermarkets stopped collecting the bags. That was probably the starting point of the end, because a few days later the packaging forum “suspended” the programme on December 31.

The forum “plans to resume a sustainable service in April 2019”, but that depends on finding some way to process the plastics collected, and to do so here in New Zealand. I’m extremely dubious that will happen.

I didn’t know any of this was going on. I didn’t go grocery shopping the end of December (I ordered online), so if there was any in-store announcement, I never saw it.

Earlier this week I went grocery shopping and brought my soft plastic packaging with me. I got to the Countdown grocery store, and the collection barrel was gone. I just thought that maybe they hadn’t been able to deal with it over the holidays. The next day, I went to The Warehouse, which also collected the bags, and looked for their barrel. It wasn’t there, either. When I was in the checkout I saw a sign on the wall saying that the programme was suspended.

I had one small bag of soft plastics, so it wasn’t a lot, but it raised a question: What was I going to do with it? And, should I save and store the plastics for four months in case the programme really does resume in April? No, I shouldn’t. There can be no guarantee the programme will return then or ever, and then I’d have to send it all to landfill. So, I’ll send it to landfill again, and, in fact, we’ve already started throwing it into the regular rubbish. I hated doing that, but there’s no practical alternative.

At the end of November 2017, I said of the programme that “I’d guesstimate I’ve probably diverted the equivalent of five 60-litre rubbish bags (probably more) from landfill.” At the time, I had no way of knowing that it would start piling up in storage and not be recycled.

All of New Zealand’s supermarkets have stopped giving away plastic shopping bags. The government has announced that they’ll be banned everywhere in New Zealand this year. So, the amount of soft plastic packaging we have to deal with will be cut dramatically. But there’s so much more that could be done.

The programme was always a way to deal with a problem after the fact. The better solution would have been to eliminate the problem by eliminating the plastic packaging. While banning the shopping bags will be huge, there’s still a lot of plastic shrink wrapping used, and potato chips and other snacks and food products, like frozen vegetables, come in plastic bags. These are not easy to avoid without also avoiding the products.

I have mesh bags to use when I shop for fresh produce so that I don’t need any plastic bags, which is part of the solution. The packaging industry should work to eliminate all the unnecessary plastics, like shrink-wrap, for example, which is almost never necessary. Despite all that, some plastic packaging will remain, and it would be good to find a sustainable way to recycle it. Maybe it’ll happen.

In the meantime, our own moves toward more sustainability have taken a step backwards. We’ll try to avoid the soft plastics we can, but some will be unavoidable, and that will unavoidably mean it’s headed to landfill again.

Maybe some times good ideas just need more time to work out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Hotter and more

New Zealanders have been complaining about the heat lately, and for good reason. New Zealand had the second-warmest year on record in 2018, and the warmest was 2016. January 2018 was the warmest month ever recorded in New Zealand. January of this year promises above average temperatures, too.

The biggest concern with all this is that climate change is gaining momentum, which has very specific dangers: Extended drought, dangerous heat, extreme storm events, among other things.

I’ve noticed this as much as anyone else has. January was hot, as I said at the time. We had a bad storm that same month, plus a far, far worse near cyclone storm in April.

We’ve had frequent minor flooding outside our house, in April of 2017, and also in August 2018, and in the same spot again just last month. All of these have been caused by “unusual” weather, even “once in a century” storms. Those are becoming more common.

The issue now isn’t just about how to be able to sleep on hot nights, it’s about how we’re going to adapt to what looks like permanent changes to our climate. This may be the new normal.

This is what will be keeping us awake at night, regardless of what the weather is doing.

Political Notebook returns

There are always political things I see and would comment on, except that they’re not big enough, or I don’t have enough to say about it, to fill a blog post. Sometimes they end up being things I share on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, but there are things that don’t even get mentioned there. Other times, there are things I do want to talk about, but for any number of reasons I don’t want to do a post on it. So, I decided to bring back my Political Notebook posts to catch those sorts of topics that would otherwise get away.

A ‘fact-challenged televised plea’

Today the current occupant of the White House “delivered a forceful and fact-challenged televised plea to the nation Tuesday night for his long-promised border wall”, as The Washington Post put it. The paper also provided live fact-checking of the speech.

The question is, what’s he up to? Is he really fighting a losing battle he cannot win, or is he setting the stage for something—bigger? Maybe, but because he’s not intelligent it’d be the people directing him calling the shots. Either way, it could be dangerous: “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency”, published last month by The Atlantic, talks about the dictatorial powers a president gets when declaring a state of emergency. Many of the brutal dictators that the current occupant of the White House admires so much have used emergency powers to cement their dictatorship. And, of course he’s said he should be president for life, though his acolytes insist he was joking.

Is it all about cruelty?

Plenty of critics think that the entire point of the current regime’s obsession with the border fence is cruelty, as much as anything else. “The Cruelty Is the Point” of this regime and its supporters, as Adam Serwer put it in The Atlantic a few months ago. John Pavlovitz had the appropriate response last month: “I Don’t Grieve Over His Cruelty. I Grieve Over Yours.”

We need to talk about what we’re talking about

No one can know everything—surprise!—and that’s true of political stuff and policy issues, too. There’s no shame in that, as long as we try to be as well-informed as possible. Recently new US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caused a stir when she suggested a new top income tax rate of 70% to fund a “Green New Deal”. Republicans attacked, of course, but what was shocking was that most of them didn’t seem to understand how marginal tax rates work. Or, they were betting that most Americans don’t, which would be a pretty safe bet, considering how many people of “moderate means” attacked the proposal because they thought—wrongly—they’d have to pay 70% of their entire income in tax (in fact, only the very rich would be affected at all). People really ought to know better, sure, but they need to know better.

A huge number of people don’t understand how marginal tax rates work, and opportunistic politicians exploit that fact to manipulate voters. “How marginal tax rates actually work, explained with a cartoon”, published by Vox, may help make things clearer, and the pocket analogy could be useful. We need to educate ourselves so that unscrupulous, opportunistic politicians (some of whom may not understand this, either) cannot easily manipulate us.

Related to that is a new video from Robert Reich about what he calls “The Big Economic Switcheroo,” thought we’d correctly call it a swindle and con game. Essentially, he explains why the rich paid far more in tax in the past, and that’s why they really should pay their fair share of taxes:

Sometimes issues are more complicated than we think. There’s been a big debate about “arming teachers” in the USA, but while we do, some teachers have already decided. In “When You Give a Teacher a Gun”, Jay Willis takes a look at teachers who are training to shoot to kill. The debate has mostly been about whether arming teachers ought to be a government policy, but another issue is whether suitably trained teachers even be allowed to carry guns. I certainly never thought about the second part before.

• • • • •

That’s enough for this first Political Notebook post in a re-launched series. There will be more to come, of course. Politics is the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Record numbers want to leave

Gallup has released a new poll that found that a surprisingly large number of Americans would leave the USA if they could, and it’s mainly because of the current occupant of the White House. The number saying they’d leave is small, as always, but it’s significantly larger than normal. The more worrying thing is who says they want to leave, because that shows real problems for the legitimacy of the American system of government—but it also shows a path to change.

First things first: The number who say they’d leave—16%—is about average in the world, and undeniably a relatively small minority. However, this is after the current regime has been in power only two years. After two terms, Bush the Second’s rate was 11%, and President Obama’s was 10%. So, while small, the number of people who say they’d leave is 60% larger than under President Obama.

The truly worrying thing is the demographic breakdown—but it’s also not surprising.

Overall, 20% of women would like to leave as against 13% of men. But a whopping 40% of women under 30 want to leave, double the 20% of men in the same age group. Overall, 30% of people aged 15-29 want to leave. Gallup says their results found the differences narrow as people get older and disappear over age 50. Which also should surprise no one.

A whopping 30% of the poorest 20% of Americans want to leave, which is more than double what it was under the average of President Obama’s eight years (13%). Interestingly, the number of rich people wanting to leave is also up—from 8% under President Obama to 12% under the current occupant of the White House, a 50% increase.

There are plenty of reasons, based on these numbers, to blame the current occupant for the rising numbers of people wanting to leave. But it turns out that there’s statistical reasons, too, as Gallup pointed out:
Regression analysis shows that regardless of differences by gender, age or income – if Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, they are more likely to want to leave the U.S. Overall, 22% of Americans who disapproved of Trump's job performance during his first two years said they would like to move, compared with 7% who approved.
The fact that women, young women in particular, are more likely to want to leave is no surprise. Women have seen a serial adulterer and misogynist become US president, they saw a man credibly accused of attempted rape be installed on the US Supreme Court by the old white male Republicans in the US Senate, and they watched those same old white men disrespect, belittle, and attack the accuser, among other women who came forward to accuse Republicans of inappropriate behaviour. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Younger people have seen the movement for gun control run into the power and money of the gun lobby, and the momentum stalled. They’ve watched the current occupant of the White House and the old white men in the Republican caucus in Congress deny the reality of climate change and refuse to act in any way whatsoever—except to make things worse. Indeed, they’ve watched the current regime relax pollution rules to advantage industry and the rich. All of that tells them that Republicans, who have been in complete power for the past two years, don’t care about their future. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Poorer people have seen the Republican power elites in Washington trying repeatedly to take away their health care, cutting the taxes of the rich and super rich while making them pay disproportionately more. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Add it all up, and it makes perfect sense that the people that the Republican Party and the current regime controlling the White House care the least about have the most desire to leave. It may seem a little surprising that the traditional voter base of the Republican Party—richer people, and people over 50, all have more people wanting to leave than under either of the two previous presidents. However, traditional Republicans are not the main base of the current occupant—actually, some have turned away from the Republican Party because of the current occupant. So, it’s not actually surprising that some of them would want to leave, too (though a particularly tiny minority of those various demographic groups that traditionally support the Republican Party).

Beyond all that, it’s important to note that wanting to leave is absolutely not the same thing as planning to leave. Among those who say they want to leave, the vast majority will never leave for many reasons.

Second, the results show that the main place people want to go to is Canada, with 26% naming that country. This also isn’t unusual: After every election the supporters of the losing side say they want to go to Canada. But even this is tempered by the fact that the desire to go to Canada has increased since the current occupant eked out an Electoral College victory, and the number wanting to go to Canada doesn’t normally increase, it goes down.

There are some lessons that can be learned, both positive and negative. First, the negative: If the current occupant is re-elected in 2020, and Republicans do well in Congressional elections, then those who want to leave will feel that US democracy is even less legitimate than they do now. When large numbers of people feel their government is illegitimate, it increases social unrest and the greater likelihood of violence, and a crackdown on civil liberties as a result. In other words, things could get much worse.

On the other hand, the fact that young people and women (young women in particular) feel so detached from the government may inspire them to become involved in elections, to vote, maybe to run for office themselves, and if all that happens, it could change absolutely everything. If they do nothing, however, the first scenario becomes much more probable.

While a surprisingly large number of Americans would leave the USA if they could, and that shows real problems for the legitimacy of the American government, it also shows a path to change. We’ll know which way it’s headed within mere months. Buckle up—whether you stay or go, it’ll be a rough ride.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Videos I don't love

My Weekend Diversion posts about music have (mostly) been about sharing music that I run across and that struck a chord with me. This post is about that, though somewhat different. This post is about two videos I cannot watch.

The video above isn’t a new song, but one from 2014. It’s Irish musician Hozier’s big hit, “Take Me to Church”, and I love that song—but I can’t watch the video. The song is a metaphor, with Hozier comparing his lover to religion. He was frustrated with and critical of the Catholic church’s influence over his country, particularly in areas of love and sexuality.

The music video is best summed up in the Wikipedia entry on the song:
The concept for the "Take Me to Church" music video was the result of a collaboration between Hozier, Brendan Canty and his writing partner Emmet O'Brien. It was directed by Brendan Canty and Conal Thomson of Feel Good Lost and was released on 25 September 2013. The video, shot in grayscale on location at Inniscarra Dam in Cork, Ireland, follows a same-sex relationship in Russia and the violently homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men's sexuality. The video had a budget of 500 Euros. The song went viral following its release. "I remember someone texting me to say it was getting 10,000 views an hour", he recalled. The song achieved 230,000 YouTube views within two weeks.

Hozier stated, "The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious organizations and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish. I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea." [For sources, see the original]
The reason I can’t watch it is because it’s too damn real. We all know that Russian fascists kill gay people all the time, and that violence against them is epidemic, inspired, fuelled and encouraged personally by the Russian dictator. But that sort of thing can happen in any country, including the USA, and I can feel the crime, the pain and the loss it causes and the love—and because of that I cannot watch the video at all. Ever. When it comes on our music video channel, I always look away and just listen, because I do love the song.

For the record, the song was Number 2 in Australia (6x Platinum), Canada (8x Platinum), New Zealand (3x Platinum), the UK (3x Platinum), and on the Billboard Hot 100 (6x Platinum). As I prepared this post, the video has had 250,395,746 views on YouTube.

Next is a video that’s very different, but I still can’t watch it:

The song is “Happier” by Marshmello, an American electronic music producer and DJ, and featuring British band, Bastille. The song is basically about when one person in a love affair says it’s over before one of the two wants to admit it.

I think the song is okay, as such songs go, and kind of summery popness. But the video is quite different (and neither Marshmello nor Bastille appear in it). It tells a story about a different sort of love, its transformative power, and of loss. There’s one scene in the video I simply can’t handle, very much so, in fact, even though I know it’s coming. It’s because—spoiler alert—I’ve loved and lost so many wonderful dogs in my life, and know I will again, so the pain is real and personal for me. So, I always look away when the video, or that scene, are on.

For the record, the song was Number 3 in Australia (2x Platinum), 2 in Canada (3x Platinum), 3 in New Zealand (Platinum), 2 in the UK (Gold), and 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Platinum). As I prepared this post, the video has had 128,710,827 views on YouTube.

What’s interesting to me is that at the moment these are the only two videos that affect me this way. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and am more easily affected (heck, TV commercials can make me weepy under the right circumstances), or if these videos are unusual in being able to affect me so intensely. Certainly there are other videos or songs I really like that can make me feel something or other, but only these two videos (at the moment) trigger such intense reactions.

I was having second thoughts about publishing this post. In fact, I’d decided against it (because I’d already published two posts today). But as I got ready to iron some shirts a little while ago, the music video channel I had on in the background played “Happier”, and I decided to go ahead and publish this. As I finished the post, "Take Me to Church" came on. I didn’t watch either video. Still, the coincidence was interesting. Were they demanding to be shared? (Answer: No. Tonight the music channel also played several other songs I’ve already shared. Coincidence is just coincidence).

In any case, this is a different way to begin Weekend Diversion posts for 2019. I kind of like that.

Epiphany ends the holidays

It’s January 6 in New Zealand, and that means it’s Epiphany. The day may not mean much to most people, but when I was growing up, it was the day that Christmas officially ended at our house, something I wrote about back in 2016. This year, as most years, that was a footnote.

We didn’t decorate for Christmas again this year, which is pretty common for us. Our only real decoration, if it can be called that, was easy to put away: The Christmas cards we got. One came from a couple we know through podcasting who Nigel and I met in person five years ago. We also received another from one of my cousins—and a couple came from realtors. Clearly, it wasn’t a big display, but the ones from the real people we know were nice and cheery to look at.

Other than that, today was a lazy Sunday as we got ready to resume our normal routines tomorrow. I did a couple loads of laundry, and Nigel went out to water the tomatoes, which is how he spotted the two mostly ripe tomatoes in my Instagram photo above. Nigel, who had a somewhat different vision for his photo, took the one below.

This week I have a long list of projects to resume work on, the sorts of routine things that just kind of got pushed aside during the holidays. That includes doing a full grocery shopping trip, and while I’m out I’m going to get some bird netting to, hopefully, help protect the tomatoes.

Other projects will be coming along in the weeks ahead, but those will be topics for other posts. Right now what’s important that today was a nice, quiet, lazy day, the perfect way to end our break for the holidays.

And, we got our first two tomatoes.

What 2019 may bring

These two videos from The Economist list what the editors think will be the biggest stories of 2019. Predictions are always interesting when, as in this case, the source is reputable. So, it’s not whether the predictions prove to be right or wrong, it’s The Economist’s take that’s interesting. But they definitely won’t be right about everything.

The first part, above, includes glowing, breathless predictions about driverless cars. I think they’ll be flat out wrong about the predictions. Elected officials are always cautious about unleashing new technology like this, something that can kill people, and the people who elect them won’t be clambering for them to act faster. Indeed, I think it will take years before the technology establishes a good enough safety record—probably at least 10% less dangerous than human-driven cars—before they’ll start to be accepted by politicians. Besides, there’s zero evidence that people actually want driverless cars, even though transport companies obviously do.

The predictions in the rest of the first part is are less problematic, though I’m far less optimistic about global progress on LGBT+ human and civil rights in a word with expanding fascism. I hope they’re right, of course.

Part two, below, has similar predictions that will have varied results. The use of augmented reality itself won’t suddenly take off, however, I do think research into it will progress, since the usefulness of it is probably obvious when the technology gets far enough advanced. But that won’t happen in 2019, even if progress does.

The bits about Japan were particularly interesting. The upcoming Rugby World Cup has been news here in New Zealand ever since it was announced Japan had would be hosting the Cup, and not all of that news was good. For example, it was announced that the New Zealand All Blacks will be required to cover up their tattoos to cater to Japanese culture (apparently, they associate tattoos with organised crime syndicates). Since then, some relaxation of the requirements were announced, which is good: LOTS of rugby players from many countries have tattoos, and forcing them to cover up their tattoos is a bit over the top.

As outsiders, their look at US politics was good. The USA is so deeply divided politically, and the current regime controlling the White House is so unpredictable that anyone who declares they know for sure what will happen in 2020 is delusional.

The look at Europe was also good. The spread of far right and fascist politics in Europe poses a grave threat not just to the world economy, but also to world peace. An unstable Europe has caused two world wars, and if fascism continues to rise in Europe, another could be unavoidable.

The first video was released on December 27, and I thought the second part would be released on or before December 31, so I planned on posting the two together when both were posted. Unfortunately, it turned out that Part 2 was released on January 2, a time when I was too busy celebrating the holidays to check out YouTube videos. I finally checked last night, and Part 2 had been posted. Oh well, at least I didn’t count on them to meet my quota for 2018.

Predictions are always interesting, and whether The Economist’s predictions prove to be right or wrong, their take is still interesting. But they definitely won’t be right about everything.

And neither will any of us.