Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Talk: ‘Defining Marriage’

Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matt Baume

I watched Matt Baume's YouTube videos for years, sharing many of them on this blog, and because of them, I came to think of him as sort of the storyteller of the fight for the freedom to marry in the USA. So, I expected his book would be an expansion of that, especially telling some of the stories that went on in background. I wasn't disappointed—it was all that, and more.

What I didn't expect was how often I'd find tears in my eyes, especially from reading the stories of people who I'd never even heard of before, but who were important players in the battle. I was also surprised at how often Matt's stories brought up strong memories of my own, like when I learned that California's Proposition 8 had passed; many of those memories were painful.

I’d forgotten, until I read this book, how awful election night 2008 turned out to be, and my story mirrored some of those in the book. At first, it was all exciting (I live-blogged the election night coverage), but I went to bed pretty sure that, as I put it then, “hate might win” in California. I was madly refreshing my browser hoping, hoping, HOPING that there’d be a sudden turnaround for the good guys, but it never happened.

The next morning, I was still happy that Obama had won, but it was bittersweet, to use a wildly inadequate term. The profound sadness I felt about California made it hard to feel happy about the new president-elect. I never wrote about about that on this blog, though I later wrote about many other aspects.

Still, the book also included plenty of laughs and happy stories, as I read about the things that led, ultimately, to full marriage equality in the USA. It was great to get them in the context of the larger decades-long story of the struggle.

Toward the end of the book, Matt talks about the profound change in strategy in 2012, a change that led to victory in four out of four states in which marriage equality was on the ballot. Like most people, I wasn’t aware any of that was going on, though I did notice that the ads seemed much better in 2012.

However, sometime later I saw an article about how to talk about marriage equality. Instead of “rights”, it said, talk about commitment and responsibility. Instead of justice or equality, talk about freedom, and, most especially, talk about love. I took that advice to heart.

I’ve never mentioned this before, but when New Zealand had its own battle for marriage equality, I shifted my own rhetoric based on that advice. For example, a typical way I phrased it was, “the government should allow loving same-gender couples to make the same legal and public commitment to each other as opposite-gender couples”.

I still used the term “marriage equality”, since it was by then already well established in the public discourse, but I also started using “freedom to marry”. But I always talked about love, commitment, responsibility—all the things the radical right claimed we were incapable of, but that the people we needed to win over valued.

So, without even knowing it, I was employing the same strategy that worked in 2012 in the USA. Nothing had changed in my attitude—just the way I talked about it. And it was weird. I wasn’t the sort of person who went around talking about love—until I realised how important it was to talk about the reason that the freedom to marry mattered so much.

After reading Matt’s book, and looking back at that long fight, I now think that back then I saw civil unions as being about rights, and marriage as being about love. Civil unions (and similar) provided at least some of the legal rights of marriage, but marriage alone provided the public declaration of love of, and commitment to, one the person who mattered the most to us.

Well, it mattered second most. It was having the option that mattered most. As Matt put it:
“It’s not the act of getting married that matters: it’s the freedom to decide how to define your relationships and define what you have with the person you love.”
Exactly. At its very core, the whole battle was only ever about one thing: Love. And, as I always said it would, love triumphed. And if that's not an awesome happy ending for a book, then I don’t know what would be.

What I read: Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matt Baume, Kindle Edition, 229 pages, Published July 8 2015 by Matt Baume.

This post is expanded from a review I posted to Goodreads.

2Political Podcast 110 is available

Episode 110 of the 2Political Podcast, recorded last week, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Foreign-born human

What’s the difference between the words “expat”, “immigrant” and “migrant”? Is it race? Culture? Class? Until this year, I’d never thought about it, but as an immigrant and a left-of-centre person, the answer matters to me.

This all came up because several months ago my friend Linda shared a link with me on Facebook, a link to a piece on the Guardian’s website that discusses this very topic. All of which is part of the story. I tried to write a response at the time, but I was of two minds and after weeks of trying, I just couldn’t finish the post.

Then, today, I read about how Al Jazeera has announced that they will no longer use the word “migrant” when talking about the people, nearly all of them refugees from war or worse, trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe. They argue that word “has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative.” I think they have a point.

The Guardian link from last March, the one that started this line of thinking for me, was to a blog post called “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” by Silicon Africa blogger, Mawuna Remarque Koutonin.

He begins his post by staking out his thesis in his first paragraph:
“In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word ‘expat’.”
He next mentions the standard definition of expat explained by Wikipedia, a definition I’ve used on my blog many times, in many posts (such as one this past February). All of this is to get to his main point:
“Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad.”
To be completely honest, my eyebrow was firmly raised by then. The word expat was implicitly racist?

I never really thought about the word until I came to live in New Zealand and encountered the word frequently. Up until that point, when I thought of expats, I thought of Americans of long ago hanging around in Paris with Gertrude Stein. But, Gertrude Stein was white. So was Hemmingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sinclair Lewis, and—in fact, all the people I'd thought of when I thought of Gertrude's expats were white. Uh, oh…

Three years ago, Ritwik Deo, an Indian writer living in London, wrote “The British abroad: expats, not immigrants”, also published by the Guardian. He talks about British people living overseas basically act like the British Empire still exists.

Both of these writers see the word expat as being something of an imperialist throwback, something applied mostly to white people. It’s hard to argue with their perception, particularly with the concrete examples they provide. But could they actually be talking about a problem for British people? Maybe this isn’t actually a white problem as such, but a remnant of colonialism?

Christopher DeWolf, a Canadian writer and photographer who has lived in Hong Kong since 2008, wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in December last year, talking about who is, and who is not, considered an expat in Hong Kong. The dividing lines in Hong Kong are primarily ethnic, even among Chinese. He also suggests that the term expat is more about privilege than race.

In New Zealand, the term expat is used for a variety of people, not all of them white, and the term immigrant is frequently used to describe people of all races, cultures and classes who have moved to New Zealand. I’ve seen no evidence that in this country, at least, the term is used to classify people by race. It also seems to me that the word immigrant is starting to be used instead of the word expat, with the word migrant also being used more.

From what I’ve seen of Americans liiving overseas, it seems to me that expat is used to refer mainly to business migrants, not worker migrants, so it does imply a class distinction, though not necessarily a racial one. The term immigrant is a highly politically charged term in the USA, often used as if it always means “illegal immigrant”, an even more politically loaded term. When the word immigrant is used so negatively—and even pejoratively—in the USA, it’s little wonder that Americans living overseas would prefer the term expat.

Personally, I don’t care what term others use to describe me. I’m an immigrant, obviously, so being called that doesn’t bother me at all. However, I’ve often used the word expat to describe myself because to me it better describes the modern nature of immigration. Where once migrants had to leave their homelands forever, and often had little or no contact with the folks they left behind, that’s not necessarily true for modern migrants.

A good example of this is what led me to this topic in the first place. Linda and I met and became friends when we worked at the same place, and that was nearly (gasp!) 30 years ago. Facebook allows us to easily keep in contact, despite me living in another country in a different hemisphere.

Similarly, I am in frequent contact with family and friends in the USA, through all sorts of technology, as well as friends around the world I know only through social media. All of that has developed since I’ve been in New Zealand.

For me, being an immigrant is completely different than it was, say, for my great grandfather, the last of my ancestors to migrate to the USA, around 1870. It feels less permanent because it IS less permanent, and national borders themselves matter less than they ever have. Now that Nigel and I are married, I could sponsor him for US immigration, something that only became possible quite recently.

So, I think the term expat implies a status that’s a bit more fluid, a bit more flexible, than traditionally has been true for immigrants. I don’t personally see it as racist, but I do think there are class overtones.

The point in all this is that people moving from one country to another, for whatever reason, are people, not labels. It’s why Al Jazeera dropped use of the word migrant, and it’s why I now think we should avoid casual use of words intending to label immigration.

For example, I could be called an “American-born New Zealander” instead of an “American expat”. After all, it’s what I call myself in the banner for this blog and other sites.

I’m a human being, and so are all immigrants, migrants, expats, and refugees. Maybe if we started thinking of them that way first—as human beings—we might not need labels as much, and maybe then we could calmly and rationally deal with migration policies.

Monday, August 24, 2015

When the ‘good guys’ are wrong

Recently, Roger Green has sent me links to several things he knew I’d be interested in, which isn’t unusual; sometimes I send him links, too. Yesterday’s post was inspired by something he sent me, and today’s is based on another. It turned out, however, that this post is about what can be wrong with the Left’s political discourse: Lack of accuracy. We MUST be better than our adversaries each and every time.

The piece Roger sent me was about Democratic Illinois US Representative Dan Lipinski, written by David Nir for Daily Kos: “This Democrat sits in a blue seat—and he wants to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage”. There was a lot wrong with it, and it was typical of what frustrates me so much about commentary on the Left.

The piece says:
“According to a 2014 candidate questionnaire put out by the conservative Illinois Family Institute and just unearthed by the Washington Blade, [Dan] Lipinski supports an amendment to the constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.”
That’s true, but hardly news: The Illinois “Family” Institute [sic] is a notorious far-right anti-gay activist group that routinely ranks politicians. The fact that the Washington Blade only just now found out what Illinois folks knew (or could have known) in 2014 doesn’t suddenly make it news. The Blade’s own report also points out that very often Lipinski votes “present” rather than actually voting against the LGBT people of his district, which hardly makes him an evil monster.

Nir continues:
“What's really insulting is that Lipinski represents a solidly blue district in the Chicago area that Obama won by 56-43 margin, so Democrats can and should do better. Pathetically, the establishment has long propped up Lipinski, even going so far as to remove the home a potential primary challenger from his district back in 2011. (Lipinski's father, Bill, was also a congressman; he handed his seat to his son years ago by retiring after the filing deadline.)”
Let’s unpack that. First, it’s absolutely true that the Chicago and Cook County Democratic establishment DOES prop up Lipinski, and plenty of folks in Illinois Democratic politics are plenty pissed off about that. But it’s entirely irrelevant.

What Nir and the Blade both ignore is that Lipinksi’s district is very conservative, and has been for decades (I lobbied his old man, Bill, and had him marked as not supporting LGBT issues). The district IS Democratic: It’s voted for a Democrat for US Representative for most the past 55 years, and it’s also voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in the last six elections. However, the district was also one of only two (out of nine) Chicago Congressional Districts to vote for Reagan in 1980. They did it again in 1984, and then for Bush the First in 1988.

Rather than having mainstream Democrats as neighbouring districts do, Lipinski’s district is made up of what Chicagoans used to call “white ethnics”, folks also once called “Reagan Democrats”: Nominally Democratic, mostly working class white people who are very socially conservative (and often conservative religionists).

What all this means is that even though the Democratic establishment propped up the Lipinskis, a true progressive Democrat is unlikely to do well in that conservative district. A more progressive Democrat could do okay there—but they’d be unlikely, statistically speaking, to topple an incumbent: In most districts, challengers are unlikely to defeat an incumbent of their own party, and that’s true of both parties. In an open primary with no incumbent, a less conservative Democrat would have a chance, but only just.

All of this is knowable stuff. If Nir or the Blade had done a little research—hell, they could have consulted Wikipedia for a very accurate look at the district—they would have known that Dan Lipinski mostly reflects his district, and that's why he’s outside mainstream Democratic Party values.

So, Nir and the Blade made a political argument not related to the facts, then compounded that with something that’s too common at the farther ends (Left and Right) of political discourse, namely, to declare that because a thing was true once, it must always be true. To me, that’s just plain silly.

Yes, for the 2014 elections Lipinksi backed a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and that’s a reprehensible thing. However, two things about that: We don’t know—and neither Daily Kos nor the Blade suggested—that it’s still Lipinski’s position following the US Supreme Court ruling mandating 50-state marriage equality; it seems unlikely that he’d still back that now. At most, he might back a “let states decide” amendment, something that wouldn't affect his own LGBT constituents, since the Illinois legislature already passed marriage equality—Illinois did decide.

The other important thing here is that it’s impossible for a Constitutional Amendment banning marriage equality to happen: That ship sank decades ago. So, backing such an amendment is merely pandering to his socially conservative voters. Sure, it’s vile and not what a real Democrat would do, but neither is it the greatest threat to the republic or even the Democratic Party that we’ve ever seen.

I have one serious concern about Lipinski, though: His sponsorship of the pro-discrimination “First Amendment Defense Act” which seeks to specifically permit anti-gay discrimination by anyone who claims they have supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs” mandating discrimination against LGBT people.

Let me be clear: I truly wish that a real Democrat would challenge Lipinski and knock him out; it disgusts me that a rightwing, anti-gay politician like him can claim to be a Democrat and get away with the fraud. Illinois, the 3rd District, the Democratic Party, and the US House all deserve a real Democrat, and not a fraud like Dan. However, the voters in that district clearly have other ideas, and it’s their right to elect whomever they want. Whether I think he’s a fuckwit is totally irrelevant. So is the opinion of Daily Kos, the Washington Blade, HRC, or anyone else.

So, my concern here isn’t really about the DINO Dan Lipinski, but rather about sites on the Left ignoring facts—knowable things—to try and score partisan political points without reference to facts, context, or any of the other reality-based tools that they should be using.

This matters because the rightwing media in the USA uses lies, smears, defamation, and distortion with giddy abandon in order to score partisan political points—especially on LGBT issues. Media on the Left must always go out of its way to be better than the Right—more accurate, more factual, and paying attention to context.

We MUST be better than our adversaries each and every time.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Absurd flag flapping

The debate over New Zealand’s flag, to the extent it happens at all, will probably be pretty quiet. I think—but don’t know—that most New Zealanders just aren’t interested in all this and are ignoring it. The fringe, however, are already spreading nonsense.

Today I saw the unsigned graphic at left on Facebook. To the casual reader, it makes no sense whatsoever: Why would the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) “need” anything, much less a new flag? The meme doesn't say. So, what’s this all about?

Chances are I wouldn’t have known, but, coincidentally, Roger Green emailed me a comment that had been left on a YouTube video of a segment on the New Zealand flag that was on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show a year or two ago (I saw it at the time and I thought it was stupid). But recently someone left a comment that was just, well, weird, and Roger sent the comment to me.

So, I went to the video and found a similar one that “credited” two people. One of them had posted the same thing as a comment on a TV3 post of a story they’d done about the flag, a week or two ago. That one, at least, was in full paragraphs. I eventually found the concept was taken from a guy who runs a far-right “news” site/radio show/etc. based in Dunedin. He peddles all sorts of mostly far-rightwing conspiracy theories.

What they were promoting is something they call “due authority” which, they’re convinced, only exists if the British Union Jack remains on the New Zealand flag. Why would that matter? Well, it doesn’t—not at all, not in even the remotest possible way. End of story—except to the conspiracy theorists, of course.

“Due authority” as they're using it is an entirely made up concept that has no relationship whatsoever to constitutional law. It does pop up in commercial law, however, especially with contracts, where a person (particularly someone who's part of an organisation) offering a thing to be sold (like a security) has to have the legal capacity—due authority—to execute and deliver on the agreement.

This seems to be related to a particularly wacky far-right, conspiracy-theory based movement called the “Freemen on the land”, active in several English-speaking countries. They believe that the only laws that are valid are those they agree to, and that such agreed to laws form a contract between the government and these so-called “free men”. If such a thing was really true (spoiler alert: it absolutely isn’t true), then, maybe, “due authority” might have some relevance. However, it’s completely irrelevant (this movement, by the way, is related to, but quite different from, the even more extremist “Sovereign Citizen” movement in the USA).

The site where this stuff seems to have originated quotes from a Cabinet Office paper from 2004, “New Zealand’s constitution – past, present and future” (PDF available). This document was a sort of briefing paper prepared for the then-Labour Party-led government. I don’t know the context of the briefing paper, but in 2003 the government had abolished the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (usually just called the Privy Council) in London as the final court of appeal, replacing it with a Supreme Court of New Zealand.

The reason that’s important is that it demonstrates how easy it is to make constitutional change in New Zealand because New Zealand’s constitution isn’t entrenched. That means that the monarchy or anything else in the constitution can be removed or changed by a vote in Parliament (though huge changes—like becoming republic—would go to referendum).

Nevertheless, the conspiracy theorists cite as their "evidence" the section of the Cabinet Paper that begins by saying, “Some links and institutions inherited from the United Kingdom remain. Some are ‘core’ to our current system of government”. The list includes the Queen as head of state of New Zealand, appointment of the Governor-General by the Queen, and “various statutory references to the Queen and the Crown”, among others; these three are central to New Zealand as a constitutional monarchy.

However, the conspiracy theorist then jumps in his copy of the list, moving immediately to include “the union jack on New Zealand’s flag” on his list (and putting it in all caps), without bothering to mention it’s actually included on a list of items in the next, entirely separate section, that calls the things “more symbolic”. That omission was clearly deliberate.

So: The links to the UK listed in the Cabinet Paper “could be reformed without changing New Zealand’s constitution in any fundamental way”, as the Paper puts it, and the Union Jack on our flag is symbolic. And, of course, anything in the constitution can be changed easily at any time.

In short: The flag is not the constitution, the constitution is not the flag, and the conspiracy theorists' “due authority” is an entirely imaginary thing that doesn’t actually exist in constitutional law, and has nothing whatsoever to do with either the constitution or the flag.

The TPPA, meanwhile—assuming it is ever finalised—will go before a Select Committee in Parliament which will vote on it, but, ultimately, the Cabinet alone will decide whether New Zealand signs on, and that’s entirely within our constitutional system for them to do this. Whatever happens, it won’t matter what flag is flying over Parliament!

The most important thing to know about all this is that whether the TPPA is approved or not has nothing whatsoever to do with any flag. In fact, the decision about the TPPA may be over before the second flag referendum, or the current flag may ultimately win and the TPPA could still be approved, anyway.

This is all knowable stuff, easily researched from official sources. But some people clearly prefer to make up their own story and spread utter nonsense.

Ah, politics…

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I break things

I break things—mostly just software, fortunately. Unfortunately, it usually takes a lot of work to set things right. This week, I had yet another such breakage and subsequent repair job. At least there were no reported injuries.

I’ll admit something this one time only: Sometimes I don’t read instructions onscreen as carefully as I should. Mostly, this is because my attention span has shortened dramatically over the past decade or two, but the other thing is that sometimes what I think I read isn’t necessarily what an alert actually says. So, I click “Okay” at the wrong time, or I otherwise proceed when I shouldn’t.

In this case, it was web browser frustration that started it all.

I’ve used Firefox (mostly) for many years, and it’s had numerous upgrades over that time. The most recent one disabled all sorts of important extensions—ones I use every single day—because they “could not be verified”. This included my password manager among other important add-ons, which made Firefox basically useless to me (I accessed my passwords through Firefox, which no longer allowed me to access it).

When I went to investigate how to turn them back on anyway, Mozilla offered this, oh, so helpful, advice:
“If any of your installed add-ons gets disabled because it haven't been verified, contact the add-on developer or vendor to see if they can offer an updated and signed version of that add-on. You can also ask them to get their add-on signed by following the developer guidelines.”
This annoyed me even more, so I clicked on the page not being useful and, when it asked me for feedback, I told them I should be able to enable the add-ons, that I didn’t need them to be my mother. Only, I was a wee bit more direct.

So, I switched to Waterfox, which is supposedly much faster on a Mac, and it preserved the important things I’d lost in the Firefox “upgrade”. So, I used it for a few days, and then I remembered why I hated it so much and dropped it before: Video playback was about the same as from dial-up. I subscribe to several YouTube Channels, including that of a friend, and I quickly got sick of the video freezing momentarily, then carrying on, only to freeze again for a moment, carrying on again, and so on. Meanwhile, the audio carried on, quickly getting out of sync with the visual.

And this is where it all went horribly wrong.

Waterfox had a message telling me it noticed it was slow to start up (to say the very least) and it offered a solution if only I’d click through. So, I did. The solution was to reset Firefox—how bad could that be?—and I went ahead and did that without fully grasping what it meant: All my bookmarks, gathered over many, many, many years, all my extensions and plug ins—in short, everything that I’d spent years adding to Firefox was gone, and it was all my fault.

So, I went to reinstall my extensions, but the very Mozilla site that lists all the myriad extensions was blocked by Firefox as “untrustworthy”. So, I had no extensions and couldn’t get any (this seems to have been a brief bug, because today I was able to access add-ons).

I’d installed an add-on (back when I could…) that synchronised bookmarks between Firefox, Safari and Chrome, so two out of three had a complete set of bookmarks. I decided to try the others.

I tried Chrome first, and it was VERY fast for some things. But it was also maddeningly frustrating to customise. It also turned out that some add-ons weren’t available for Chrome, which was frustrating on its own.

Next I tried Safari, which I’ve used in the past. It’s easier to configure than Chrome, but add-ons aren’t as varied as for either Chrome or Firefox, in my opinion. It also doesn't seem to have a bookmarks toolbar like Firefox and Chrome have, but I haven't made an exhaustive search for it, so I might be wrong.

So, I started re-building Firefox, only to hit the weirdest thing yet: It let me sign into my Google account, but wouldn’t let me edit my blog posts or create a new one. That’s kind of important, obviously, so I tried Chrome, but it was returning error messages. I was finally able to edit old posts and add new ones in Safari (and I found all this out while working on my previous post earlier today).

Now, I have a partly re-built Firefox that doesn’t do enough of what it used to, Chrome that’s fast on some things, maddening on others, and Safari, which just doesn’t seem complete somehow. I use all three for different tasks, and I’m not happy about that.

On the other hand, I downloaded the App for my password manager so I can access and maintain my passwords without using a browser; this was a very good idea, so it's one good thing that came from the whole mess.

I said that this whole mess happened because I screwed up and clicked something too quickly. That’s true, but the other problem was that I had Firefox set to automatic upgrades, and that turned out to be a huge mistake. In the past, some add-ons wouldn’t work whenever there was an upgrade (until the add-on’s maker released an update). I should have turned off automatic upgrades much earlier, and if I had, none of this would have happened.

Whatever, all I know is that this repair job took hours and hours and still isn’t done. At least there were no reported injuries—yet.

Update: There's an update to this post (third item).

Memes and lessons

Yesterday, a friend posted this picture meme to Facebook. I happened to check Facebook shortly afterward, so I saw it, more or less by chance. And several lessons followed.

First things first, and, as I sometimes do, I had to check whether the meme was accurate and true. What I mean by sometimes is that I usually don’t have the time or inclination to check out the accuracy of a meme, however, when I plan on sharing it or talking about it on the blog, I always check it out. There have been too many times that I’ve seen things that simply aren’t true.

So, I did some digging (it was a little more complicated than I’d thought) and found, first, that Paul Thomas is a columnist for the Weekend Herald, the Saturday edition of The New Zealand Herald. To be honest, I’d never actually heard of him and I’m not sure whether I’ve read any of his columns.

Next, I searched for the column the quote came from. It turns out, it was from his July 17 column, “The greatest threat to America? Republicans” and, as the title suggests, it’s about far more than just Donald Trump. In fact, I think it’s a very strong column precisely because it’s about far more than just Trump (I also found a more recent column, “Trump speaks right language to right people” that is also very strong).

So, I found out that the meme was true and accurate, which is always good. I also heartily endorse the sentiment the picture meme expresses.

Then, things got a bit weird.

I shared links to the two columns in comments on my friend’s Facebook post because I thought my friend (and others) might be interested. Later, another comment was added by someone I don’t know: “I don't like him but I also don't care what the New Zealand Herald has to say about the American political process.”

I was taken aback by that—I’d forgotten how parochial some Americans can be. I realised that the person’s attitude wasn’t mean-spirited, just, er, um, unenlightened. So, I responded with a relatively gentle (for me) approach:
Gosh, that's a bit harsh! The PAPER hasn't said anything, of course, a single columnist did. It's no different than a columnist for a US newspaper commenting on other countries' political processes—and they do that every single day! Quite frankly, I can't see what possible difference it makes what newspaper in which country a commentary comes from if it's valid, as Paul Thomas' certainly is.

Personally, I read commentary from newspapers from all over the world to get a variety of perspectives on the issues of the day, and I certainly don't dismiss them out of hand because they come from Washington, New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo, Sydney, or even Auckland, New Zealand.
I added a wink emoticon to make clear I wasn’t angry, but some hours later the person replied, “I did not mean to upset or offend you with my comment. I may be crazy but I still believe that America is exceptional.”

I took that head on:
“I assure you, you did neither. But as an American citizen living overseas, I can also assure you that citizens of every country believe their country is equally exceptional, so in that sense, at least, the USA is completely UN-exceptional.

My point was that commentary on US politics from any source—including within the USA!—ought to be judged on its validity, not its country of origin. The alternative, of course, is that if foreign commentators can't comment on US politics, then, obviously, US journalists would have to be forbidden from ever expressing an opinion of any sort on any other country and its affairs. Fair is fair, after all.”
It had never occurred to me that someone would dismiss what Paul Thomas said, not because they disagree with him, but merely because of where his column was published. I knew that such attitudes exist—I’ve seen them expressed in comments on mainstream news sites, and far more crudely put on very rightwing sites. But until yesterday, I’d never personally experienced the attitude. I was lucky that in this case it came from a normal person, not some screaming irrational partisan, but I still wasn’t really prepared for it.

Maybe it’s just me: I truly don’t care where political commentary comes from—country or ideology—as long as it’s rational, well-argued and based on facts. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily agree with it, of course, just that I won’t arbitrarily dismiss it.

Today, another friend shared the picture meme on my Facebook and asked for my thoughts. I shared the two columns again, but this post, really, is about what I think about the meme: It’s a good quote and a valid point, but some Americans just don’t want to hear that message. I think they should.

We all have lessons to learn about people in other countries and their perspectives.

I’d be curious what others think: Do you have an opinion on whether foreigners should comment on the politics of countries they don’t live in, or should they refrain from doing so? Do you mind if foreigners criticise your country, again, assuming it’s rational, well-argued and based on facts?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Puppy love

There are times when furbabies seem so human that it’s hard to ignore. I had one of those times yesterday, and had my phone with me so I could preserve the moment.

I’d just finished my morning ritual of checking my email and the news that happened overnight, and stood up to leave, when I noticed Jake and Sunny sleeping in the doorway. There’s nothing unusual about that, but then I noticed that they looked like they were “holding paws”, and I took the photo (above).

I’m fully aware that their position is completely coincidental, and there was no meaning in their touching paws (apart from them being in close physical proximity). However, I do think it shows how well they get along. They often sleep near each other, sometimes touching each other, as numerous photos on this blog have shown.

Over the years, I’ve known plenty of people with two or more dogs that sometimes didn’t get along, with snarling, snapping, or more. We have the exact opposite of that. They seem to genuinely like each other, which isn’t surprising since they spend so much time together or, at least, in the same general area. Or, maybe it IS surprising because of that. In any case, we’re pretty lucky.

Mainly, I just thought it was really cute and deserved a photo. Besides, it was nice to have something positive to blog about when so little in the news is.

Once again, Jake and Sunny save the day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The looming Australian battle

One way or another, Tony Abbott’s days as Prime Minster of Australia are running out. There are many reasons for that, but the final push toward his sacking will be marriage equality. They all know it, too.

Marriage equality will arrive in Australia—no one seriously doubts that—but by trying to delay or stop it, neither Tony Abbott nor his Liberal/National Coalition Government can survive the looming political battle. Even the opponents of marriage equality in their party know they’re doomed, and they’re starting to lash out in frustration.

Last week, Tony Abbott—a rabidly conservative Roman Catholic and staunch opponent of marriage equality—forced a political move to ensure that he could force his will on his own front bench. Using a rare political trick, he had the question of a conscience vote taken up in a joint caucus meeting of his own Liberal Party MPs in the House, along with MPs of his coalition partners, the rural-based hard-right National Party, as well as Senators. It was meant to pack the room with pro-discrimination folks to ensure he’d get his way.

The Nationals are as staunchly opposed to marriage equality as Abbott is, but his own Liberal Party has large numbers in support of marriage equality—including on his front bench. The only way to ensure that his MPs wouldn’t get a conscious vote was to beef up the anti-gay side, and so he did exactly that, and a conscience vote was rejected, just as Tony demanded it must be.

Tony Abbot is a crass partisan moron on his best days, but his power play is going over like a cup of cold sick, even among his Liberal Party MPs. Over the past week, several Liberal Party MPs announced that they’ll cross the floor and vote for marriage equality if they get the chance, so Tony has retaliated by promising to sack any frontbench MP who defies him.

Liberal Party MPs have continued to speak out, and today Abbott declared there "would be consequences" for any Liberal Party MP who doesn’t shut up about marriage equality. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop scolded colleagues that they should think how their advocacy of marriage equality in defiance of Abbott will effect an upcoming by-election in Western Australia.

The problems of Tony Abbott and his Liberal/National Coalition are far greater than some MPs choosing to stand on principle and not be one of Tony’s obedient serfs. Abbott is very unpopular, and polls show that if the election were held now, the Coalition would be turfed out in a massive swing to the Australian Labor Party.

Obviously, Julie, Tony, and the other pro-discrimination MPs know all that—they can read the headlines in the newspapers. They’re lashing out irrationally because the real problem they have with marriage equality is not that some Liberal MPs have dared to speak out in favour of it, but that the Coalition opposes it and is willing to play silly games to prevent it.

70% of Australians back marriage equality, as do hundreds of major Australian business (with more joining the list every day), so Abbott and his fellow hard-right religionists are running out of options. Denying a conscience vote on marriage equality assures it won’t get through the Australian Parliament.

So, with Liberals openly fighting about marriage equality, Abbot and his closest far-right allies are looking for ways to stop the infighting as well as stop marriage equality. It appears likely that they’ll approve some sort of popular vote, and therein lies the rub.

The government could go with a referendum, which is what the anti-gay far right wants because it’s almost impossible to pass. A referendum would require a majority vote of all Australian voters, AND approval by majority vote in a majority of states—a double majority, as it’s called—which seldom happens. However, a referendum isn’t necessary, since referenda in Australia deal with constitutional change, and none is required.

So, some in the government are talking about a plebiscite in which it’s compulsory to vote, but—and this is significant—the result is advisory only. They’re talking about holding it before the next national election, which would be an expensive stunt that would please no one—not the supporters of marriage equality, who never wanted a popular vote, and certainly not the far-right supporters of discrimination who demand a referendum. (For more details on the differences, see: “Plebiscite or Referendum – What's the Difference”).

I think the most likely outcome is that cabinet will approve a plebiscite and order that it be held at the next national election, because it would be political suicide to hold it at any other time. The second most likely is to vow to hold a vote—plebiscite or referendum—after the next election, if they win.

Meanwhile, Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, has pledged that if the ALP wins the Australian elections next year, they’ll enact marriage equality in their first 100 days. If I bet with real money, I’d place my bet on this as the way Australia will finally get marriage equality.

Because Labor has already staked out it’s pro-equality position, and given that Tony Abbott’s political games have positioned his party in support of discrimination and against the will of the majority, it’s pretty certain that the already unpopular Abbott has sealed his fate.

I think it’s pretty certain that Tony Abbott will be rolled as Prime Minister well before the next election so that the Liberal Party can have at least a slight hope of avoiding a catastrophic landslide defeat next year. At the moment, I don’t think that even sacking Abbott will help the Coalition.

So, by denying a conscience vote on marriage equality in the Australian Parliament, Tony Abbott has pretty much guaranteed that, one way or another, he and his Liberal/National Coalition Government cannot survive the looming political battle that Tony’s launched. They all know it, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The missing clown

Oops. I missed mentioning the 17th and—we all fervently hope—final clown to climb aboard the Republican presidential campaign bus, James Stuart "Jim" Gilmore III. In reality, I didn’t really miss anything, nor did anyone else, and he’ll be gone soon, anyway.

I read the announcement that he was filing papers, but I’ve always waited for the actual announcement. In this case, that was apparently made on an extreme rightwing site that still bears the name of its dead founder. No wonder I missed that.

I was also busy with work and that thing called “real life” at the time, and that was far more important than yet another “WHO?” announcing a political campaign he’ll never succeed at. So, even if I hadn’t been so busy, I might have ignored him, anyway.

Actually, why should I have bothered about him? He’s just another radical right fundamentalist Christian—as if there weren’t already enough of them running for the Republican nomination, right? A Roman Catholic news amalgamation website said in their headline to their post about him that he’s a “staunch supporter of ‘Christian values’”, and it’s hard to argue that assessment, given the evidence presented in the post they shared. Clearly, he’s a dime a dozen among Republican clowns candidates.

This means, of course, that he opposes a woman’s right to choose (Duh! He’s a Republican—it’s a requirement!), and, as The Advocate reported, he hasn’t repudiated his staunchly anti-gay record. Pretty ordinary in that respect, too, then.

His campaign has not yet fired even one cylinder, as he hasn’t even managed to snag an invite to CNN’s televised “debate” of Republican clowns candidates—the only one that failed to do so.

Still, because he did enter the race, let’s play our little game. Gilmore is 65, an age that puts him in the older bunch of the Republican clowns candidates. Because of when his birthday falls, on Inauguration Day he’ll be 67 years, 107 days old. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, Hallowed be his Name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

Gilmore may not be the first Republican clown candidate to drop out—both Rick Perry and Rick Santorum have been shedding staff as money dries up—but I’m pretty certain he’ll be gone before the first votes are cast.

There, my job is done. I mentioned him. That’s more than enough—far more than enough. There are real Republican clowns candidates to pay attention to, after all.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Men in Black, Safety Defenders

I think we’ve established by now that no airline does flight safety videos better than Air New Zealand. I’ve shared several over the years, and the video above is the latest. I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ll admit that when I first heard they’d done this one, I moaned to myself. It’s such an old movie (1997), I thought, and I think the All Blacks of that time did something back then. And, yet…

The video pays true homage to the original Men In Black movie (which, full disclosure, I loved) while remaining true to the purpose: An inflight safety video. I think it works.

The man in the first scene with the newspaper is Steve Hansen, coach of the All Blacks, and the two agents are Ritchie McCaw, All Blacks Captain, and Dan Carter, also a long-time star player. They’re joined by “Agent S”, Stan Walker, a Kiwi living in Australia who was the winner in the final Australian Idol series. His musical numbers are joined by Israel Dagg, who many people I know consider to be a comely lad. I couldn’t possibly comment.

These videos are meant to be a bit of fun—obviously—and to be a bit unusual in order to get the attention of passengers who normally tune out during the flight safety video. But when they’re done well—as so many have been—they go viral, which gets attention for Air New Zealand, and that’s good for the airline (and New Zealand taxpayers, who are the major shareholder).

So, this isn’t a commercial, though my sharing it does help promote Air New Zealand. Mainly, it’s a bit of fun as we gear up for the Rugby World Cup, which is a HUGE sporting event in this part of the world (so, not coincidentally, the devilish-looking characters are all former opponents of the All Blacks).

Remember to keep your seatbelt fastened at all times.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Oh, hail…

Today was mostly a day to relax after a busy week and weekend, and also to take care of a few chores. One of those was going to the grocery store, and on the way back it sleeted. I was concerned, and trapped in my car for awhile.

When I arrived at the supermarket, there were dark clouds in the sky, and I thought that there might be a bad rainstorm—but the clouds didn’t look “right”, since they were kind of mottled. I realised later that they were more like “snow clouds”, but since I seldom see them in Auckland, I didn’t recognise them right away.

It was raining when I left the grocery store: Not heavily, but big, fat drops that kinda hurt when they hit my head. I loaded the car and returned the trolley as fast as I could.

It rained most of the way home, then, as I started down our street, it got weird. “That’s hail,” I thought to myself. It got heavier. Then heavier, and heavier again. I even popped on my sunnies in case the glass broke, not that it was likely.

By the time I reached our drive, it was kind of a slushy precipitation, and there was what we used to call “accumulation” when I lived in the Midwest of the USA: White stuff building up on my windscreen wipers.

I pulled up in front of our garage, and parked. I sat there: It was still hailing/sleeting/slushing too hard. Nigel, who happened to be home, opened the garage door for me and I ran inside. It hurt hitting my head, far more than before. I got my gardening hat and went back out to get the groceries, closing the boot between trips.

Once back in the house, I looked out at the deck, which was covered in the slushy mess. The photo above is an example, with distinctly clear areas that were under trees. If that particular area of the deck looks kind of familiar, it was in my YouTube video back in June.

So, the weather today was kind of weird. It’s only the second or third time I can remember weather like that happening since we moved to this house nine years ago. And, it didn’t last long: It was all melted within half an hour.

We had a blot of lightening within a couple kilometres of our house, followed by loud thunder that echoed for several seconds. There were apparently funnel clouds in nearby Glenfield.

And then it was all over—which is a description of winter in Auckland, actually. Which, by the way, ends three weeks from today; not soon enough.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Visiting Takapuna

Earlier this week, I was in Takapuna for awhile, so I went and visited the beach there, which is the subject of my latest brief YouTube video. I haven’t been there in awhile, so it was nice to stop by.

Being winter, it was a little cooler than I would have liked, but the beach was still quite busy, anyway. The clouds were moving pretty quickly, so an area of beach that was in full sun one moment could be in shade the next. I didn’t realise that was happening until I edited the video.

I’ll let you in on a secret: At one point in the video I have a title that says it’s looking toward the Pacific. The truth is, on the eastern side of Auckland’s North Shore (where Takapuna is), everywhere one looks toward the east is looking toward the Pacific, though there may be islands in the way.

I used that phrase to give some sort of geographic orientation to foreigners, and so they’d know what ocean they were looking at. But that part of the North Shore isn’t really directly open to the ocean (because of islands). So, the label I added is a little misleading: It’s true, but probably not quite in the way some viewers will take it.

It was one of those times when simplicity was better than strict accuracy, something I’ve run into before when I’ve made these videos. Actually, I’ve learned a lot of things since I started making them. I’m sure that as I continue to learn more, and as I get more confident, I’ll make longer videos.

At any rate, making the videos has been fun. And, it’s always nice to have an excuse to visit favourite places.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Stonewall: ‘Where Pride Began’

The video above is the trailer for the film Stonewall, which tells a story about the Stonewall Riots, providing context as well as drama. It’ll be in cinemas on September 25. The YouTube description says:
STONEWALL is a drama about a fictional young man caught up during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) is forced to leave behind friends and loved ones when he is kicked out of his parent’s home and flees to New York. Alone in Greenwich Village, homeless and destitute, he befriends a group of street kids who soon introduce him to the local watering hole The Stonewall Inn; however, this shady, mafia-run club is far from a safe-haven. As Danny and his friends experience discrimination, endure atrocities and are repeatedly harassed by the police, we see a rage begin to build. This emotion runs through Danny and the entire community of young gays, lesbians and drag queens who populate the Stonewall Inn and erupts in a storm of anger. With the toss of a single brick, a riot ensues and a crusade for equality is born.
It looks like it could be a good film. As always with films based on real events, as long as important facts aren’t distorted to make the story work, not being completely historically accurate won’t matter too much. That assumes that the performances, direction (and all the rest), are good, of course, because otherwise it won’t matter.

In any case, this is a story that needs to be told. I hope it’s a good telling.

Update: Jeremy Hooper shared his take on his site, Good As You, and it's pretty much mine, too.

The centre ring is ready. Yawn.

The Republican “debate” on Fox “News” is ready to go, with the final clowns now selected to perform in Fox’s centre ring. Yawn. The only result will be that the clowns left out will end their campaigns sooner rather than later.

I’m not a fan of reality TV shows, especially not the celebrity survivor style ones like Fox’s show, so I won’t be watching. Why would I?! I already know the results: The rightwing media will gush about how awesome and wonderful and did we say awesome? each of their candidates are (apart from the ones they don’t like). Centre and Leftwing media will criticise all of the candidates, but if any of them actually say anything that isn’t totally and utterly batshit crazy, they’ll compliment it. And, the mainstream media will strive for “balance” by both mildly criticising, a teeny, tiny, little bit, and gushing with praise most of the time, all while treating even the most bizarre and irrational statements as if they’re actually legitimate. In the real world, where facts and being rational matter, people may see things somewhat differently.

We know that at one point or another, ALL of the clowns will lie, mislead, distort, smear, and/or defame. They need attention and money, after all, and none of them have anything good to sell. Still, ThinkProgress has thoughtfully provided a list of “11 Things You’ll Probably Hear During The First GOP Debate That Are Totally False”. I know there will be far more than eleven.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported today that Fox “News” made a surprise last-minute change to their criteria for selecting debate participants that makes it look rigged to get who they wanted on stage (video) to get who they wanted. Later in the same show, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, one of the acknowledged authorities on US electoral politics, suggested that the Republican Party used Fox to winnow down the field (Video), and that those excluded have to be assumed to have doomed campaigns.

So, no, I won’t be watching the Fox/GOP phony “debate”. I have FAR better things to do with my time than watch a bunch of puffed-up, self-important rich men I’d never consider voting for perform to please the most rabid and frothing members of their own party.

For the record, the ten clowns selected to perform are: Donald Trump, Jeb (just don’t say) Bush, Scott “Koch” Walker, Canadian-born Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, teabagger darling Ben Carson, Rev. Mike Huckabee, Chris “Bullyboy” Christie and John “WHO?!” Kasich.


Senator Warren to the GOP: This is 2015!

"Do you have any idea what year it is?" Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) begins in the speech above. "Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950s? Or the 1890s? Should we call for a doctor? Because I simply cannot believe that in the year 2015, the United States Senate would be spending its time trying to defund women’s healthcare centers."

Senator Warren is absolutely right in everything she says in her speech, and even touches on the real reasons Republicans are pushing defunding of Planned Parenthood.

It seems to me that if the Republican Party is really upset at being accused of waging a war on women, then maybe they ought to, oh, I don’t know, stop the Republican Party’s war on women!

Writing on Salon, Bob Cesca points out that all sorts of states have exonerated Planned Parenthood from the smears in that defamatory selectively-edited extreme rightwing propaganda video. But Republicans have seized on that propaganda hit job as an “excuse” to defund Planned Parenthood. In his article, Cesca also details the dire consequences for women—poor and minority women in particular—if the Republicans succeed.

Senator Warren succeeded in stopping the Republicans—for now. The battle is far from over, however, and we know the Republican presidential clowns candidates will use the debunked and discredited propaganda video for political gain. And Democrats will continue—correctly, I might add—to highlight the Republican Party’s war on women.

Like I said: If the Republican Party is really upset at being accused of waging a war on women, then maybe they ought to stop waging their war on women.

Related: Vox explains the propaganda video and what’s going on:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 6 – On the other side

This is the penultimate post in this “Ask Arthur” series, and this post is about questions relating to ideological differences, and dealing with them. It’s a vexed subject, since it gets to the very heart of why it’s so hard to find common ground.

First up, Roger Green asked on Facebook:

“What do some smart (IQ) people have such stupid ideas, such as creationism?”

Man, I wish I knew! There are many theories and explanations for how it can be true that, basically, people who are smart enough to know better say or believe things that simply aren’t true. Here’s why I think they do it.

In some cases, it has to do mainly with ideology, either political or religious. They can’t accept something as being true because their politics denies it or their religion preaches against it. This is, of course, cognitive dissonance, which is basically a coping mechanism, a way of reconciling contradictory beliefs. In such situations, some people will pick their belief structure over reality and spout all sorts of nonsense.

The people whose cognitive dissonance leads them to bizarre justifications based on falsehoods tend to be sincere: Generally speaking, they really believe that they’re the true and honest ones, and those on the side of the evidence are all deluded, lying, or corrupt (or a combination). Sincere people may, over time, be reasoned with, though actual change requires them to first open up their minds to the possibility that they may be wrong, and that can be a huge hurdle.

The other kind of person espousing “stupid ideas” is pretty despicable: They do it for personal gain. Such people are usually politicians or preachers, but there have been other people who clearly know better but still sell absolute nonsense (like doctors on TV chat shows). Politicians may say utterly asinine things (like against LGBT people, or Black people, or women) not because they believe it, but because they see it as a way to gain and hold onto power. Some preachers, especially on TV, will similarly promote utter nonsense as a way to gain donations. Personally, I have contempt for such people.

Which brings me to a related question from Roger:

“And from Jaquandor to me: In this age of increasing partisan division, I am finding it harder and harder to even empathize with the “other side” (in my case, the political right in this country). I used to at least understand how they arrived at their worldview, if not share it, but now I increasingly can’t fathom how or why they would look at the world that way at all. Does this make sense to you, and if so, what can be done about it?”

I used to be a Republican, so for many years I understood how Republicans came to their ideological positions, even though I didn’t share them. But that hasn’t been true for 20 years—the change started with the gaggle of far right extremists that Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landside bought to the US Congress.

I actually do understand why so many people come up with a worldview I don’t even remotely share. For example, I can understand (yet despise) why politicians, Republicans in particular, pander to their most ardent base; their worldview is based on what will get them votes/campaign contributions, and they’ll change as soon as their base changes.

Among ordinary people, there are a large number who are just completely uninformed, and a large number who are badly informed. They’re actually quite different.

The completely uninformed are the sorts who never watch the news, or hear it on radio, never pick up a newspaper, and they may not even vote. They’re disengaged, detached, and form their opinions primarily on what other people talk about. Sometimes they defer to someone else—an opinionated co-worker, a preacher, a partner, parent, or a friend. For such people, the quality of information depends entirely on how well informed the people they listen to are, since they don’t seek out other views or information. To be brutally honest, I don’t get very upset at the idea of such people not voting.

What we have nowadays, though, are people with access to ever more diverse sources of information and opinion, yet they end up badly or narrowly informed. I’m in the camp that believes that the great variety of news, views and information on the Internet has resulted in the narrowing of perspectives because people tend to focus in on what reinforces their existing belief structures. In a way, this is no different than the old days when people read one newspaper and watched one TV news and listened to one radio station: For such people, their information was similarly narrow.

What HAS changed is the hyper-partisanship that exists now—not always in the literal sense of reinforcing one particular political party, but more in the sense of general political orientation: Left v. Right. In such a dynamic, even people who are familiar with a wide range of topics can still be badly informed, and have a shallow worldview because their sources of information are so narrow.

I’m extremely pessimistic about this, because I can’t see a way forward. The mainstream news media is, more often than not, shallow and doesn’t challenge the folks in power or the assumptions they promote. The interests of the oligarchs, plutocrats, and corporations are promoted, while at the same time, dissenting views aren’t given a fair hearing. How can anyone see a different way of doing things when they don’t even know there IS a different way?!

Roger answered the question on his blog, and his answer is somewhat different from mine, even though we had some common themes. That’s not uncommon, actually.

The next post in this series will be the final, and it promises to be eclectic.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A bunch of busy days

I’ve been unusually busy lately, and while all of it’s been good, it’s left me no time for blogging. In fact, when I don’t have time to blog, it’s actually a good indicator of how busy I am, since it’s the last of my “fun” things that I give up.

On Tuesday, I went to an “outlet mall” called Fox Outlet Centre, a sort of small mall of discount retailers. When the centre opened several years ago, it had a reasonable number of shops selling clothing, kitchenware, athletic equipment, camping stuff, CDs, and so on. But the centre’s shops didn’t do well in the global financial crisis, and it’s been all downhill since then.

The largest retailers have all left, as have all the smaller outlet stores for major retailers. The mall is mainly small, independent discount retailers and the physical location for the largely online retailer, Pharmacy Direct (I ordered my contact lenses from them back in the day).

The largest retailer at the moment is The Clearance Shed, in a short-term location. That was my destination. The store sells a variety of (mostly) homewares at very low prices. Most of the stuff is very high quality, and I was there to buy towels. I ended up buying a lot of other stuff, too.

The next day, in addition to being able to meet Nigel for lunch (a rare midweek treat), I went to Bunning’s Warehouse were I picked up Simple Green Outdoor Cleaner concentrate (photo above). I’d posed a question to my Facebook friends in New Zealand about what they used to clean the green gunge that builds up on wooden decks in winter. A friend recommended I try the Simple Green stuff.

The weather Wednesday was sometimes rainy, so I decided to wait until Thursday to clean the deck, because that day was supposed to be sunny. So, I spent some time that afternoon finishing editing the video I posted that day.

Thursday was as bright and sunny day as was predicted, so I got set up to scrub the worst parts of the deck, and I set up cameras to video it for a YouTube video. I’ll talk a bit more about the cleaning effort in a post later on, because it’s still a work in progress (and there may or may not be a video). I want to see a bit more of how the story evolves before I say anything more.

Friday was mainly my weekly chores, but I was frankly pretty worn out from scrubbing the deck, which was more physically demanding than I’d expected. I was probably na├»ve not to realise that.

Saturday, we headed down to Hamilton for my mother-in-law’s birthday parties: She had an afternoon tea for some friends and extended family, some of whom are older. That evening, we had a party with the immediate family at the home of one of my sisters-in-law. Both were really great—good time, good food, and great company, especially because there were a lot of family members we don’t see very often, including some who now live in Australia.

Today, we got together with some of the family who live in (or were still in) Hamilton, before we headed home, arriving back around 4:30.

The furbabies were extremely happy to see us. Our very good friend Pete stayed at our house on Saturday night to “furbabysit” the kids. They apparently all enjoyed that!

So, it was a great weekend after a very busy week. There were a few issues with the trip, but that’s a topic for another post, when I can give it proper attention. While I have a very busy week coming up, I still have several things lined up to talk about, including the final “Ask Arthur” posts. How many of those are actually published will show how busy I am.

Because, like I said, when I don’t have time to blog, it’s a good indicator of how busy I am.

As is my custom, I've been deliberately vague about family members, and about specific details about what we did: I simply don't discuss family members without their permission, because that just isn't fair to them.