Monday, November 30, 2015

100 Years of Fashion in less than 3 minutes

I first saw the video above back in July, and meant to share it at the time, but it fell through the virtual cracks. It turns out, there was another version (below) that I only found out about tonight. Both show fashion over the past 100 years in less than three minutes, and I think they’re both fascinating.

I saw the men’s fashion video on gay blog JoeMyGod (which shared it for what I imagine are somewhat obvious reasons…). This probably explains why I didn’t know there was one on women’s fashion, too—or that it was released a month earlier. I only found it because I went and checked to make sure the men’s video was still online. Never too late, I suppose.

Both videos use the same technique: A model is dressed by folks to show the fashions of every decade from 1915 to 2015 (and can we all agree that fashion in the mid-1970s and 1980s was hideous?!). To me, one difference was that the fashions chosen for the woman seemed to be for a somewhat older person than what was chosen for the man, but that could just be my impression.

At any rate, I think it’s interesting to see the fashions “evolve” in this way. I’ve looked at vintage fashion photos before, but there’s something about this approach that makes it seem more real and relatable.

And, it’s all a bit of fun, really.

Flag Referendum Ad: Voting Packs have arrived

The video above is the latest ad from the Electoral Commission, this one informing voters that voting packs have now been delivered, so voters who haven’t received theirs should get a move on to get a replacement. There could be one more alerting voters to the deadline for returning their voting paper.

I haven’t voted yet because I’m still making up my mind what I’ll do. I’ve pretty much decided on 1 and 2, but haven’t quite made up my mind if I’ll rank the other three (I really dislike one of those three).

I’ve talked about the referendum with several people by now, and most of them are planning to vote. Some people have shared how they voted, and why, and it’s impressive how much thought people are giving to their vote—they’re clearly taking it seriously.

I also know of several people who are deliberately casting an informal vote in any number of ways in order to protest the referendum. I suppose that’s valid for those who truly hate the idea of changing the flag or just this particular referendum, but it seems a little pointless to me because their votes won’t matter, and won’t in any way influence the results. Also, unless someone hates all five alterative designs, I would’ve thought it would’ve been better to choose at least one rather than risk a hated alternative actually beating the current NZ flag in the second referendum. But, to each their own.

This has been a difficult referendum. With the misinformation, disinformation, bizarre conspiracy theories, and entirely personal animosity against the Prime Minister. There’s much grumpiness in the land. I’m glad this isn’t the normal way our elections or referenda happen!

I’ll also be glad when this is all over. I hope a good design wins as the alternative flag, because it’s time for a new flag. And that’s why I’m taking my time to get it right.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Weekend Diversion: Troye Sivan

When I was young, there was no such thing as pop music affirming the reality of gay relationships, much less depicting them. Times have changed, and nowadays young gay people are far more likely to see themselves reflected in pop culture, as these videos show.

Troye Sivan is one of the most successful YouTube young stars. He’s an openly gay 20 year old who’s an actor, songwriter, and singer, as well as a YouTuber. He recently released a three-part music video series that’s really pretty remarkable, and it’s what prompted this post.

I first mentioned Troye a couple years ago, when he posted a coming out video on YouTube. I called it “A positive coming out story”, because it was.

Since then, among other things, he’s released an EP Trxye, which I bought, and the single “The Fault in Our Stars” for the movie of the same name, based on the best-selling young adult novel by fellow YouTube (though older…) star, John Green.

His three-part music video series is called Blue Neighbourhood, and is from his forthcoming album of the same name. The three songs are about two young guys who grow up together in a small town, fall in love, and what happens then.

The first of the three, “Wild”, is up top, and it’s the first one I saw, on a music channel on our pay television service (it’s also on our free-to-air digital TV service). When I first heard it, I knew it was Troye, since I recognised his sound and voice, and I watched. I quickly worked out what it was about, so the kiss at the end was particularly satisfying, both to the story and to the expectation I had for what the video was about.

Next up is Part 2, “Fools”, which continues the story into their young adulthood. The first scene in “Fools” is also the last scene in “Wild”. It plays out the conflict between their love and a world that, even now, does not want to allow gay men—especially young gay men—to experience love. It’s about the joy of love, the pain of prejudice and bigotry, and hope that endures despite the odds.

The final video in the series is “Talk Me Down”, which wraps up the story:

The Advocate called it “heartbreaking”, and it is. Having watched all three videos, I knew where this was headed—and yet, the ending is ambiguous. Hopeless romantics like me can still believe that maybe love triumphs in the end, maybe there’s a happy ending. Or, one can see a darker end to the tale. That ambiguity is a particularly good touch, I think.

In an earlier interview, Troye told The Advocate, “I think the most important thing to me at this point in my career is being able to be honest in my songwriting — and these songs are about boys. Hopefully these videos will be the most viewed thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

I hope so, too. As I’ve said many times, I was basically an adult—probably around the same age that Troye is now—the first time I ever heard a gay-themed song that was about the realities of our lives and experiences.

It heartens me to see how much things have changed, and how young artists like Troye can be true to who they are, and express themselves authentically. That in itself is awesome, but the fact that we also get to have pop music with deeper meaning, deeper imagery, is also a great thing. I absolutely love pop music that serves no other purpose than to entertain, and if it’s authentically gay, too, even better. But I also like to be challenged to think and to feel. So, I value diversity.

Many of us from older generations, I think, can be uncomfortable to at least some extent to realise that even kids can be aware of their romantic feelings and sexuality, so these videos will challenge some people because of that alone. It’s what I noticed when I saw the first video broadcast in New Zealand, especially since not all that many years ago TVNZ displayed homophobic bigotry in censoring Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”. So, when the radical right religionists find out about these videos, the first in particular, I’m sure they’ll add it to their voluminous boycott lists.

Normal people, however, won’t do that. We don’t live out lives trying to make other people’s miserable. We value humanity and love, and are glad when love triumphs over those who seek to destroy it. The fact that things like these songs and videos exist, and that there are more and more all the time, shows one thing very clearly: The good people are winning.

The Blue Neighbourhood album is due to be released on December 4.

Information contraindication

Information is a great thing, but sometimes it can be a terrible thing. Sometimes, there’s too much information, and when it conflicts, people will often choose bad information, particularly on matters of health and nutrition. Personally, I often see that with information about gout.

The thing about gout is that it’s very confusing—not the disease itself, but the advice about it. What’s okay to eat? What should one avoid? How does one treat an attack? It turns out, there are all sorts of varieties and flavours of answers.

When I was looking for the video at the top of this post, I also saw some videos talking about how to deal with gout. Some were from what one might kindly call crackpots, people with clearly strong opinions and few facts to back them up. I also saw some videos with actual doctors in them, but these often contradicted each other, as medical sources often do, too.

It was at this point that I had an epiphany: I’ve often wondered why otherwise sensible people will listen to crackpots and cranks for health and nutrition advice, and not to doctors. I realised that the crackpots present their information with definite assurance and certainty. Doctors, on the other hand, base their advice entirely on what science has proven to be true. So, doctors will offer suggestions for things that studies have proven to be useful, but will not offer suggestions for things that aren't proven—even if those things may actually be helpful. Moreover, they’ll often offer the advice with equivocation.

For example, I saw a video made about three years ago in which a doctor said at the end of the video words to the effect of, ”Some people say cherry juice is helpful. While there’s no scientific evidence yet, if you find it helpful, use it.” Since that video was posted, there have been studies that have proven that cherry juice (from cherry varieties known as “tart cherry” or “sour cherry”, though they’re neither) is effective in helping to prevent gout attacks and lessen their severity, particularly when used with conventional anti-gout prescription drugs. At the time the video was made, there was already evidence to suggest that this might be the case, however, because there were not yet any clinical studies, the doctor in the video wouldn’t suggest cherry juice as part of a preventative dietary routine.

Crackpots, however, have no such restraints: They don’t need proof that a remedy is safe and effective, they only need anecdotes. So, an ordinary person coming across the video of a crackpot offering health advice will notice the certainty and unequivocal assurance that everything they say is true. But someone going to a real doctor’s video will notice the equivocation and qualification of the advice offered. When an ordinary person is looking for certainty and for reassurance, information that is not equivocal will usually be more appealing.

It doesn’t help when doctors give conflicting information, either. For example, a booklet from Arthritis New Zealand tells people with gout to minimise the amount of meat, chicken, and seafood they eat because the foods contain protein. They suggest, “Try beans, peas, lentils, and tofu instead of meat. Beans, peas, lentils, and tofu contain less protein than meat and seafood.” However, other medical sources say to avoid beans, legumes and pulses, and that doctor in the video I mentioned earlier specifically said to avoid tofu.

Is it any wonder that people with gout can be so confused about what to do?

Without any real help from the medical establishment, people will often go looking for “alternative” answers, which can cause problems or make their condition worse. It also doesn’t help when actual medical advice is given with a declaratory nature, as in, “avoid this thing”, when gout is highly individual and some things just won’t bother some people.

There was a theory, since mostly disproven, that Vitamin C was helpful. Despite new studies suggesting it has no affect whatsoever, some sites are still suggesting it. Some evidence suggests that low-fat dairy may be beneficial, that it may have a protective affect, while some medical sites still say to avoid or highly restrict dairy.

And those beans and so on that people with gout should avoid? There’s evidence that vegetable sources of protein may be treated differently by the body than protein from animal sources—apart from lentils and black-eyed peas, which are extremely high in purines, the protein component we’re actually trying to avoid.

This could provide the solution to the vegetarian paradox: Gout is so rare as to be virtually unknown among vegetarians. Logically, a vegetarian diet—ideally the lacto-ovo variety—should be the healthiest option for people with gout, though more research is needed. Even so, the fact that some medical sources say avoid all beans confuses the hell out of people.

The video at the top of this post is a TV ad that began running earlier this year, and the thing that started this little journey. It has its own misleading information. It portrays gout as something that springs out of nowhere to strike suddenly, like a steel trap, to catch someone when they’re just out and about. It just doesn’t work that way. Sure, gout can and does strike suddenly, but that’s often at night, when one is in bed. But there are usually warning signs an attack is coming: Unusual soreness in a joint, maybe even general feeling of illness (for example, I usually feel like I’m coming down with the flu before a big attack).

The ad is misleading about the way gout attacks typically happen— in my opinion, unnecessarily. The rest of the ad is spot on—gout is a manageable disease, often through diet, exercise, and healthy weight maintenance alone.

But if even the people who are THE body dealing with gout couldn’t make an ad that was clear and completely accurate, then what hope do we ordinary people have of finding good and useful information?

Real doctors should be less equivocal with their advice, saying what is currently believed, even when adding that more research is needed. We NEED reliable medical information that helps us know what to do. If the professionals in medicine and science won’t provide it, crackpots will, and that benefits no one.

Food, glorious food

This time of year is about food and more food. Social gatherings have food (and drink…), and also more food. It’s a terrible time of year to be on a diet, so I’ll just ignore the consequences of all that food—for this post, anyway.

We had family visiting us over the weekend and, among other things, I was telling them about some of the things Americans often have for Thanksgiving dinner. As a result of that, we decided I’d make some cornbread for our Christmas dinner (which will require a trip to Martha’s Backyard for authentic American ingredients—such a burden I have!). I’m planning on bringing some other special American food treats, but I’ll leave that as a surprise for the family (some of whom read this blog…).

But among other food things that have come up recently as that Tom, a guy I know through social media, has started a food blog, The Cooking Petrolhead (so-named because he’s also bigtime into cars). Among the things he’s done—even before the blog—is reviving forgotten/abandoned British regional recipes, baking in particular. That’s interesting in itself for me because, like a lot of Americans, I have some English ancestry, but none of the English recipes were handed down over the generations.

However, Tom recently decided to make an American fruitcake, thereby doubling the number of them in the world (and he mentions that joke in the post). I don’t like fruitcake, but he does (and I found out though all this that an American friend of mine actually likes it, too, so I know two people who like it…). Even though I don’t like fruitcake, I found Tom’s enthusiasm infectious.

American fruitcake is not what people in Britain or New Zealand would have at Christmas. Since New Zealand has British heritage, Christmas cake is common here (and Tom shared a recipe for that, too).

But in New Zealand, one of the most common Christmas treats is Christmas mince pies (here’s a good recipe). Many people do make them, but—maybe unusually—most commercial ones in the supermarket are actually quite nice. I’m sure we’ll have some of them at Christmas.

Next month, I’ll probably do some food-related posts of my own, as I make things for our Christmas feast. Or, as I just have things in this season of food. Well, both, actually. In the meantime, if you’re into food, check out Tom’s blog.

Bon Apetit!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Photo finish

I played around with my camera last week. I tried some video techniques, and I shot some photo self-portraits (a bit more than just selfies). When I looked at them later, however, what I saw isn’t what I expected. That wasn’t all bad, but one part gave me pause.

I shot the self-portraits because I’d watched a YouTube video on some particular studio lighting, and I noticed how the same model, in basically the same position, could create totally different looks and moods simply by adjusting how they held their heads, and the direction they were looking. I decided to be the model so I could see what happened when I tilted my head just so, or changed the point I was gazing at, that sort of thing. While I was doing it, I decided to take one for a new Facebook profile photo (above), and when I looked at on the computer, I was surprised.

I hadn’t realised how tired I looked until I saw the photo on a larger screen. Although the photo above is lightened, as I’d do for any other photo, the bags under my eyes are still very evident. The fact my whiskers need a trim and the dye needs a touch up all made me look surprisingly tired and worn out. All of which may have been much better if I was smiling, which I didn’t do on purpose.

Yesterday, I had a photo taken of me and our niece at her graduation as a fully registered teacher. I thought I looked older, greyer, and fatter than I think I look in real life. I shared it on Facebook, anyway, though, because it was about our niece, not me, so my discomfort with my look was irrelevant (mind you, she looked fabulous, so even if I’d been in a designer suit I’d still come off second best, so that helped me be a bit more circumspect).

The point is, on two different days this week, photos showed me looking quite different from the way I thought I looked, and that surprised me. In real life, I don’t feel as old, tired, worn, or the rest, as I think the photos make me look. I also know that I’m slowly losing weight (emphasis on slowly…), and this week I just didn’t have time to do the whisker maintenance I usually do. So, the photos probably weren’t really a dramatically more accurate portrayal of my typical look than my mental picture was.

Part of the video I shot was of a tree that’s flowering at the moment (which I still may make into a full video). When I looked at the video on my computer, I noticed bees were buzzing around the flowers, something I hadn’t noticed at the time I was shooting the video. So, even that was different from what I thought it was.

In the case of the photos, the difference was surprising, and pointed out areas where I can make improvement. The video showed nature to be far more interesting and active than I’d realised. So, both were actually quite useful.

Still, I think the next time I decide to shoot some photo self-portraits, I’ll make sure I’m well-rested. Don’t want a photo finishing my delusions again.

Winner winner turkey dinner

For a lot of reasons, I didn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner this year. That’s not unusual, of course, and most years I just have a turkey sandwich for lunch (like last year). But each year I also “threaten” to go to Denny’s and have their turkey dinner. This year, I actually did (photo above).

I did that one other time, long ago (I’m pretty sure it was my first Thanksgiving in New Zealand, 20 years ago). And I’ve said every year since that I could always go have that.

This year, it was basically on a whim. Nigel and I had gone to return some Elfa shelves we bought that were too deep for the space they were going, exchanging them for more standard-depth shelves. Since we were out, we decided to go have lunch and, well, Denny’s turkey dinner popped into my head. It turned out the price was exactly the same as the refund we got on the shelves (which then inspired the title for this post).

Denny’s has the turkey dinner as part of their regular menu, and it’s the only turkey on their menu. So, how was it? Well…

I suppose I could just say, “it was as you might imagine” and leave it at that, because it covers both those who would love and hate it—because both are probably correct. But, I’m in a mood to be daring, so, here goes:

The vegetables were nicely cooked and flavourful, but the white sauce had zero flavour of any kind—not even salt. The mashed potatoes were instant, but were actually nice, as was the gravy (together, they reminded me of a church dinner when I was growing up, which is a fond memory). The cranberry sauce was a surprise: I expected it to be sickeningly sweet, but it was actually nice and I could taste the cranberries and their tartness.

But the whole point of the thing was the turkey, which was nothing special. In fact, at first I thought it tasted like smoked chicken. It was processed turkey, of course, so I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t quite as turkey-ish as I would have liked, and it actually was pretty much what I was expecting (I think the turkey I buy for my sandwich every year tastes more like turkey).

Still, this was about preserving tradition, of a sort, rather than trying to have the best turkey dinner ever. By that measure, it was a raging success.

It is really odd, though, to even think of Thanksgiving when it’s hot and humid outside, as it has been the past few days (it’s pushing the mid-20s here at the moment—which is mid 70sF—and it’s very humid). Over on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, my friend Andy and I were talking a bit about that in the Facebook share of my previous post. I kind of summed up why thanksgiving as he and I know it can’t work here:
…I think that the REAL problem for New Zealand is that thanksgiving is in the wrong season: Thanksgiving in North America (and most other places) is basically a harvest festival, and for New Zealand that would mean it would happen in May. So, I guess that could kick off the festive Queen's Birthday shopping season…

As near as I can tell, there are no Southern Hemisphere thanksgiving celebrations, and that calendar problem is probably why. I really do feel sorry for Anitpodean retailers who have nothing to hook the start of their Christmas shopping season on, but this is probably not the holiday to do it.
I could add that from my Midwest USA perspective, a summery Christmas feels weird, too, but that’s another story, and one I’ll probably talk about next month (because even after all these years, it does still feel weird to me…).

So, it’s not all that easy to keep celebrating Thanksgiving in a place where it has no meaning, AND in the opposite season to when it’s “supposed” to be celebrated. Against such barriers, a Denny’s version of a turkey dinner is a perfectly reasonable solution and compromise.

But, next year I may stick with my turkey sandwich.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Not a black Friday

Some things from American culture can be imported by other countries without any trouble—fast food, for example. Other things are more problematic, like Halloween. But Black Friday is just plain stupid outside of the USA. Still, I can’t blame New Zealand retailers for trying.

Black Friday is, of course, the day after Thanksgiving in the USA, which pretty much means that by definition it has no significance outside the USA. It’s also supposedly the day on which American retailers “enter black ink”, that is, start making a profit. Personally, I think that if that’s really true, one must wonder about the viability of retail as a valid business model. But, I digress.

New Zealand has a holiday shopping season, of course, but there’s nothing between Labour Day (end of October) and Christmas. So, when, precisely, should the NZ holiday shopping season start? Is Labour Weekend too early? If so, what can retailers latch onto to mark the start of their holiday promotions?

So, I have a lot of sympathy for New Zealand retailers, and I accept their need to try and generate excitement so that people will spend over the holiday season. But I’m just not sure that appropriating another country’s marketing, divorced from context, is such a great idea. Why can’t we have a New Zealand event to start the season? How hard can that be? Wait—I’ve done politics in New Zealand, so I know how nearly impossible that task is. Never mind.

The image up top is from an email I received this morning from a retailer that routinely sends me two or three emails each and every day promoting supposedly amazing deals on their website. I never buy. The image below is from a wine marketer that sends me an email every single day, weekends inlcuded. I never buy from them, either, told them never to phone me again, and just haven’t gotten around to unsubscribing from their email list—but, then, if I had, I’d have no image to share, so there’s that.

My point here is that the whole “Black Friday” thing has nothing to do with New Zealand and it feels forced (especially when some retailers have been trying it on for weeks already). Yet I also sympathise with NZ retailers not having a real start to their sales season. But—and it’s bad form to raise a new point at the very end of a post, but when have I ever cared about that?—why do we even need to be so obsessed with consumption?

I spent today with family. It matters far more to me than I can say, certainly far more than anything I could ever buy at any retailer’s sale, “Black Friday” or no.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Being frugal with outrage

Nearly two years ago, I shared videos, John and Hank Green, talking about, basically, good news. The video above from John Green, is a different look at that idea.

John begins by talking about the changes in crime rates in the United States over the last 25 years, and that leads into a wider discussion of outrage, and how life is getting better in many respects, even as we say we feel that it’s getting worse. He also points out, rightly, that some things may be too complex to generate outrage.

All of which makes me wonder: What’s wrong with us?

There have been times I’ve joked that “my outrage meter is broken”, meaning my capacity to be outraged by something in the news is gone. Over time, despite the occasional lapse, this has remained true, but it’s a battle to avoid that becoming pessimism.

“Pessimism,” I said in another post almost a year ago, “makes us give up, withdraw, opt out and tune out at a time the world needs us to engage.” That’s always a dangerous possibility—that we become so overwhelmed by the negative, by things that outrage us, that we think maybe everything really IS crap, so why bother caring anymore?

Even so, there’s a difference between being pessimistic and refusing to be manipulated into outrage. Political ideologues of all descriptions, corporations, religions, elected politicians and wannabes, and even the news media all have reason to stoke the fires of outrage, and all will resort to emotional manipulation to achieve that.

I’m not perfect, and I can be manipulated into outrage, too, but here’s what I do that’s helped: I start by assuming that the latest Internet meme is a lie, or, at the very least, an exaggeration or mischaracterisation of the facts. If my outrage is rising, I fact-check what I’m being served. If the facts stack up, I may respond, but by then my outrage has diminished.

What I’m definitely NOT good at is trying to focus the attention of others onto the things they DON’T hear about, but that they ought to be concerned about (but not outraged—that's something that I think is best kept for things that truly and literally are outrageous, not merely things that annoy or even anger us).

All of us are only human, doing the best we can with the limited time and information we have available. Sometimes we screw up—becoming outraged over something insignificant, or after being manipulated into it based on false information. We also don’t pay enough attention to the things the news media and politicians don’t want to talk about. Maybe our best isn’t good enough.

However, outrage is often overplayed, exhausting us mentally and emotionally and leading us to become pessimistic. One thing we need to do, I think, is simply be a little more frugal with our outrage, saving it for the things that truly deserve it.

The world still needs us to engage. We all need to learn to do so wisely and effectively.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving explanations

Thanksgiving, probably the biggest American holiday, is this week. So, who better to explain the myths and misunderstandings about the quintessentially American day than the BBC—wait, what? Ah, Anglophenia. Carry on.

Above is the latest video from BBC America’s Anglophenia, this one explaining “Thanksgiving Myths”. I knew most of the facts in the video (and won’t say which ones I didn’t…), so the video’s not really a surprise. But I can imagine how some Americans blissfully ignorant of their own history might find this video, um, challenging.

Not so anyone who reads this blog, of course, all of whom, I’m confident, either know all this or are as happy as I am to learn something new. And learning new things is always a good thing.

Happy (less-mythful) Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Auckland’s big booms

Early Sunday morning, not long after midnight, I was awakened by thunder. And lightning. It was one of the most intense storms I’ve experienced—not just Auckland intense, but intense, intense.

It was a big storm: There were some 10,000 lightning strikes in the northern region, and about 1300 in Auckland. The booms were so loud that they kept setting off a neighbour’s car alarm, and the lightning lit up the bedroom, even with the drapes closed. I estimated that it’s height, the lightning was striking about 10 kilometres (6 US miles) from our house, but it moved off fairly quickly.

I experienced some pretty severe storms in the USA’s Midwest, some of which also produced tornadoes, so lots of lightning and thunder isn’t alien to me. But in Auckland, such intense storms are rare, which made it even more noticeable.

The USA’s Midwest had a continent to help build up the power of storms, but Auckland is on an isthmus, located between two oceans. Normally, this geography mutes our storms (cyclones and weather bombs notwithstanding). We just don’t normally get such intense thunderstorms.

This year’s El Niño effect is quite strong, and may be among the strongest recorded. It will mean a hotter and drier summer than normal, and that extra heat could mean more severe storms—if it rains, that is. However, because it’ll be drier than normal—with drought in some areas likely—it could be that this weekend’s storm will remain among the worst I’ve experienced in New Zealand.

So, I lay in bed awake as the storm raged, seeing the lightning flash, even with my eyes closed, and hearing the loud booms, followed by the car alarm nearby—and Nigel slept through it all.

And then there was another thunderstorm around 5am. But it wasn’t nearly as intense.


A Thanksgiving Miracle

I don’t get to see many of the skits on Saturday Night Live, because they’re often geoblocked. I’m glad this one wasn’t, because it's funny—and I bet some American families could use this Thanksgiving Miracle this year.

The YouTube description sums it up:
There's only one thing that can keep a family (Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Matthew McConaughey, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer) from fighting at Thanksgiving: Adele.
I hope all my American friends have a great Thanksgiving, with our without Adele.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Flag Referendum 1: The ballot has arrived

Our voting papers for the first flag referendum have arrived. I’ll be voting, of course—I always vote. I’ll also vote in the second referendum next year, of course—I always vote. How I’ll vote, however, is something I don’t yet know for sure.

In this first referendum, we rank our preferred flags one to five, with one being the flag we like the best. Because this is by PV (Preferential Voting), we can’t hurt our first choice by ranking the others.

Even so, some people have made decisions to not rank all the flags. That’s legitimate if someone dislikes one or more equally, but as long as a voter marks at least one flag with the number one, their ballot is valid.

Which brings me to the anti-referendum types, at least some of whom plan on spoiling their ballot in any one of numerous ways as a protest. That’s fine, and people who feel that strongly against the referendum should do that. However, it won’t make any difference.

Some of the anti-referendum folks seem to believe that if the majority of ballots aren’t valid, the referendum results won’t be binding. Unfortunately, such people don’t know how the law works: The winning design will be the one that has the support of the majority of valid ballots. In other words, “informal votes” will be counted only for turnout, but will have no bearing on the result.

Even now, people will go on and on about how the more than $26 million this is costing us could be better spent on other things, and I agree that the money would have been better spent on almost anything else. However, I actually DO want to see a new flag, so my position is that the whole process was deeply flawed and, frankly, silly. If the process had been a good one, and if design professionals had been on the panel, it would be a different story and every cent would be justified.

But it is what it is: The money is spent, basically, and nothing can change that. The process was deeply flawed, but we have our final designs now, and nothing can change that, either. Maybe the “Red Peak” design shouldn’t have been added, since it wasn’t approved by the panel, or, maybe since it had popular support it was right for the government, with the support of the Green Party, to add it. But all of this—the amount of money, the flawed panel and process, the addition of “Red Peakʻ—all of that is now irrelevant, because the referendum is on.

Most citizens never get a say in their country’s flag, so this is an historic opportunity, and one I take very seriously. I haven’t yet finally decided how I’ll rank the five flags, though I think I’m getting close to a decision. How I vote in the second referendum will depend entirely on which new design the current flag is up against; if I don’t like the winning design, it’s at least theoretically possible that I might make that vote informal. Slightly ironic, I think, given my lack of enthusiasm for people doing that in the first referendum.

There are two things that are certain: I take this referendum very seriously, and also, I will vote. Right now, for me, that’s all that matters.

This video is ‘Something Beautiful’

The video above begins with a simple question: “Why are we so quick to see the ugly… when we stand before the beautiful?” The response is kind of extraordinary, as the son of a famous purveyor of ugliness leads us through a meditation on the things that keep us from embracing the unique wonderfulness of every other person. Hatred, bigotry, prejudice—these are all powerful, but ultimately bizarre human behaviours that make no logical sense, and this video beautifully points that out.

Part of what makes the video so powerful is that the narrator is Nathan Phelps, son of late infamously bigoted preacher, Fred Phelps founder of the notorious Westboro “Baptist” Church. Nathan is now an atheist, regularly speaking at atheist and secular events, and he calls himself an LGBT activist. In a sense, he’s helping to atone for his father’s many sins—although the elder Phelps’ bizarrely vicious confrontational tactics began after Nathan left the church and family.

Even so, Nathan is clearly very well acquainted with the way in which prejudiced people can use religion as a justification for their bigoted actions, as well as their irrational shunning of their fellow human beings, and that made him the perfect person to narrate the video.

Seth Andrews, who produces podcasts and videos under the brand “The Thinking Atheist”, wrote and produced the video. I’ve shared Seth’s work on this blog several times, most recently back in December when I shared his video, “Christmas: Behind the Curtain”.

This and similar videos that Seth has made are simply presenting an alternative viewpoint, and sometimes point out what religions get wrong or, in this case, what they ought to be doing better. Seth can write powerful prose, and I think this video contains a good example of that. Having Nathan Phelps deliver those words makes them all the more powerful.

“Why are we so quick to see the ugly… when we stand before the beautiful?” It's an excellent question. How should we answer?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Internet Wading: Art and history

Time for some more Internet Wading, and this time one thing led to another. And it's all Roger Green's fault.

Roger’s recent post, “October rambling #2: absquatulate” included links to two stories about copyright trolls. Since then, another story was published about the battle over the copyright for Anne Frank’s Diary: “Copyfraud: Anne Frank Foundation claims father was ‘co-author,’ extends copyright by decades". It’s a bizarre story in itself, but also one with very serious implications for all authors.

But following the link in Roger’s post led me to follow other links to interesting places. For example, “How Changing Your Reading Habits Can Transform Your Health” by Michael Grothaus on Fast Company shows the health benefits of reading. Nice to know.

Even farther afield, “Beautiful, free/open 3D printed book of lost Louis H. Sullivan architectural ornaments”. The files for printing them have been released in the public domain so anyone can have them and print them on their own 3D printer. The “lost” part is that the architectural ornaments were in buildings that have been torn down. Preserving art, and making it easily accessible, is one of the many promises of 3D printing technology—until lawyers and copyright trolls try to ruin it for everyone.

Back in the more traditional art world, I recently ran across “Russia Before the Revolution, in Color” on Mashable’s “Retronaut” It features the photos of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944), who was famous in Imperial Russia for a colour portrait of Leo Tolstoy. It’s a fascinating look at a long-vanished Russia—and yet the photos look eerily modern, too.

Also interesting, and from pretty much the same era, is “After the Quake: Earliest Known Color Photographs of San Francisco” taken about six months after the deadly 1906 earthquake by an inventor named Frederick Eugene Ives. As with the photos from Russia, these colour photos provide a totally different way of looking at life a century ago.

And finally from the same site, “The Evolution of Women's Workwear” over the 20th Century is interesting in itself, but I was also fascinated by the changing environment of office work.. Seeing the evolution of work fashion in the context of changes in office environments makes both more interesting, I think.

Finally this time, a straight-up look at history and how complicated it can be: “The Eichmann of the Confederate South” by Gil Troy on The Daily Beast. It’s the story of Henry Wirz, who had been the commander of the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The camp was built for 10,000 but had some 45,000 prisoners, leading to a mortality rate of 29%. How and why it happened is a story in itself, but was Wirz truly the demon he was portrayed as, or was he a victim of sorts, too? History may be complicated, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

That’s enough wading for now.

Explaining science wins

The video above is by 18-year-old Ryan Chester, and it won $400,000. It was all because he wanted to explain Einstein. We need more like him.

The video, “Some Cool Ways of Looking at the Special Theory of Relativity” was Ryan’s entry in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, “an annual challenge that invites students, ages 13-18, to share their passion for math and science with the world”. Ryan said of it:
"Special Relativity has got to rank up there with one of the most revolutionary theories in physics. I've seen it referenced in science books and magazines for years. It was always mentioned in relationship to the idea that you can travel forward in time if you just move fast enough. Time dilation has been in science TV shows and movies like Interstellar so often that I've just accepted it without understanding why it was true. So when this challenge came around I thought this area was a great one to dig into."
In the YouTube description, Ryan explained what he wanted to do in the video:
“110 years ago Albert Einstein published a theory that revolutionized the way we think about the universe. In this video I'll show you how to prove its two postulates using easy-to-understand real-world experiments, and how even the simplest understanding of quantum mechanics can be used to wrap your mind around why time must slow down the faster an object moves.”
Clearly it worked: Ryan’s project won the $400,000 final prize, of which $250,000 will be a scholarship, $50,000 will go to his teacher, and $100,000 will go to his school to fund a science lab. That’s pretty awesome.

I’ve often thought that one of the major problems facing science—beyond politically-motivated deliberate ignorance—is that ordinary people just don’t understand science or scientific concepts. This is part of what makes it so easy for scheming politicians to use that ignorance to steer people into supporting the politicians’ ideological agendas.

There have long been people who did well explaining science. But sometimes the media has referred to them as “science popularisers”, as if that was a bad thing. This implication is that such people aren’t doing REAL science, that making complex scientific principles easy to understand is somehow cheapening science. Obviously, I disagree.

As I see it, science explainers are kind of like those who translate ancient Greek texts in modern English: They take something I could never otherwise understand and make it accessible. Knowledge shouldn’t be locked up and available only to a few who can understand it.

I don’t know what Ryan plans on doing with his life, but if he continues as a science explainer, it would be a good thing. We need more people who can do that so we can all understand the science that we need.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sir David Attenborough narrates Adele's Hello‬

I saw this video a couple weeks ago and forgot about it, which is really a shame because it’s a great video. Sir David Attenborough gives his normal voice over treatment to Adele’s “Hello” video, and it’s hilarious on many different levels. I like David Attenborough’s documentaries, and I like Adele, so this is a perfect marriage. In my opinion.

Flag Referendum ad 3: Be A Part of History

Above is an ad from the NZ Flag Consideration Project, “Be A Part of History”. Like the Electoral Commission ad I posted earlier today, this ad tells us what we have to do, but it’s job, really, is to provide the why we should vote in the first referendum. I think it does a pretty good job.

The ad uses New Zealand scenery to “place” it, and the sweeping shot ends up flying up to and then over a hill where the five alternative designs are flying. The scenic visuals and melodic but non-descript music are typical of election advertising in New Zealand, so in that sense, it’s not very different.

But the point of the ad is in the voiceover. It correctly says, “for the first time in history, the people of New Zealand will decide the future of our flag,” which is no small thing: Every other flag has been decided by the leaders of the day and imposed on the people. All other issues aside, it’s pretty huge that New Zealanders get to decide what flag should represent them and their country.

The ad ends with, “What do we stand for, New Zealand?” which has been the tagline used by the Flag Consideration Project throughout the process. But it’s also a fair question: What DO we stand for? Which flag best represents that? As the voiceover says, we can help “determine how our country could be represented into the future, and out to the world.” This is a HUGE opportunity, and the core reason why we should vote.

This is the ad I mentioned when I shared the first Electoral Commission ad, which means that it was actually the second ad I saw on television. So far, I haven’t seen any ads specifically advocating any particular flag, but if I do, I’ll share them, too.

Flag Referendum ad 2: Voting is now open

Above is the second ad from the Electoral Commission explaining, briefly, how the voting works: We’ll rank our preferences. The winner of this referendum will then go up against the current flag next year.

The first flag referendum ad I shared was about voter registration, and that has now closed. Voting papers will now start arriving in voters’ letterboxes all across the country.

The article “The fit of peak — and the need to vote” by Michael Smythe (who I actually know) on Design Assembly pretty much sums up my own thinking on the referendum, apart from the fact that I haven’t yet made up my mind how I’ll rank the alternatives.

I’ll definitely vote in both referenda.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A good American ad

I've shared ads from overseas retailers, so how about one from the USA? The ad above, “Celebrate Togetherness”, is from US department store chain Kohl’s, and it’s quite good. This ad also celebrates diversity, since it includes a gay male couple and mixed-race couples. But the real point, as the YouTube description puts it: “The best part of the holidays? Being together with family and friends of course!” And it is.

The gay couple is featured in the family tree at the very first shot (and, yes, I paused it so I could check; all part of the service I provide…), as well as later in the ad, together and separately. Very matter-of-fact, as it should be. And yet, we all just know that once One Dozen Moms finds out about this they’ll go apeshit, declare the imminent collapse of Western Civilisation, and then launch their 3,874,392nd boycott—it's what they do, and who they are.

The song in the background—as at least one of my friends already knows—is “All Together Now”, originally a Beatles song recorded in 1967, but not released until the Yellow Submarine soundtrack in 1969 (and even later as a single). The version in the ad is a bit more pop, a bit less skiffle, and maybe even a little sweeter than the original. In any case, the song reinforces the theme Kohl’s is using this year, as is their hashtag, #AllTogetherNow.

Kohl’s is the USA’s second-largest department store chain by retail sales, after Macy’s. They entered the Chicago-area in 1988 when they bought out the MainStreet chain from Macy’s when their vulture capital owners wanted to reduce debt. I don’t remember MainStreet, probably because it existed for only around five years, and because I was living in the city at the time and the stores were out in the suburbs. I’m pretty sure I was in a Kohl’s before I left the USA, though.

In any case, after a lot of bad stuff in the news lately, it’s good to take a break. I’m a fan of good advertising, of course, and also celebrations of diversity, all of which are good enough reasons for me to share this.

Worth Quoting: George Takei

Today the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia issued a statement (at right) trying to order that Syrian refugees not receive any government assistance, even though the order is invalid and illegal. In doing so, he also betrayed his ignorance of American history when he wrote approvingly of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s internment camps for Japanese people.

George Takei, one of the folks who endured FDR’s prison camps, took down mayor what’s-his-name:
Earlier today, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Mr. David A. Bowers, in the attached letter, joined several state governors in ordering that Syrian refugees not receive any government assistance, or be relocated to their jurisdiction. Apart from the lack of legal authority to do so (under the Refugee Act of 1980, only the President has authority to accept or deny refugees), his resort to fear-based tactics, and his galling lack of compassion for people fleeing these same terrorists, Mayor Bowers made the following startling statement:

“I’m reminded that Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:

1) The internment (not a "sequester") was not of Japanese "foreign nationals," but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.

2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.

3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.

Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.

George Takei, writing on Facebook
Footnote: Mayor what’s-his-name is a Democrat. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Third clown leaves

The third Republican clown candidate has left the Clown Car, and few noticed. Today Piyush "Bobby" Jindal dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, with little attention: The AP story I linked to was, at the time I saw it, a mere 130 words in only five paragraphs. Kind of sad for him, really.

Jindal never caught on with Republican voters, despite his constant pandering the most-meanspirited and negative among the far-right religious base of the party. To me, his pandering often seemed like a cynical ploy—a bit like Mike “The Huckster” Huckabee’s decision to go Full Asshole.

Jindal, who is term-limited out as governor of Louisiana, never stood a chance. Despite his constant, endless, ceaseless pandering to radical right “Christians” in his party, they never embraced him, and that segment is pretty critical to winning the Republican contests in Iowa and other states. But Jindal is brown, and despite the nickname “Bobby”, he was just too “foreign” and, well, brown, for the Republican base to accept. He’s also leaving office as an extremely unpopular governor who, in my opinion, was really pretty bad at his job. So, his failure to connect with Republican voters didn’t surprise me at all.

What has surprised me, however, is the reluctance of clearly hopeless candidates to leave the Clown Bus. Jindal is only the third clown candidate to drop out so far, and the previous one, Scott Walker, was nearly two months ago (I had to double-check that: I was sure I must’ve missed someone’s exit…).

While polls continue to show Trump and Carson overwhelmingly dominate the Republican contest, with Rubio an often distant third, there are a total of 14 Republicans still in the race, and it’s obvious that the vast majority will win few if any votes in the early contests, no matter how enthusiastically they pander to their party’s most extremist base. Perhaps the candidates just like the attention, but maybe a more thorough explanation is that they hope to get the best deal for themselves when they do drop out: Supporting the one who eventually does win the nomination could pay off for them.

That wasn’t to be with Jindal: Always scraping the very bottom of opinion polls, with no national constituency or fundraising base, his endorsement offers nothing to any of the candidates, and he didn’t make one. In fact, his pledge to vote for the eventual Republican nominee actually matters little more than my own pledge to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee. That, too, is kind of sad for him.

I honestly have no idea what Jindal was thinking when he decided to climb aboard the Republican Clown Bus, because he never had even a remote chance of winning his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. The fact his campaign ended isn’t a surprise—just that it lasted as long as it did.

So: Who’ll be the next one to quit?

As of today, there's still 11 months, 22 days until the US presidential election.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Flag Referendum ad: Enrolment

Before every election, the Electoral Commission runs information ads telling New Zealanders what the deadline for enrolment is. The first of those ads, for the first flag referendum, is above

Enrolment for the first referendum closes on November 19. In the first referendum, we’ll vote for the preferred of the five alternative flag designs (see video below). It will be conducted by postal ballot this year, and then next year the winning alternative will be pitted against the current New Zealand flag, which means that there will be a new enrolment ad for that referendum, too.

Tonight, I saw the first ad for the referendum itself, from the Flag Consideration Project (under the brand, “Stand For NZ”). That video isn’t online yet, so I can’t share it right now. Still, it basically just says a referendum is happening.

It’s legal to run ads for a particular flag in the referendum, but I can’t imagine anyone will. However, there may be ads for next year’s referendum, and that could be interesting.

In the meantime, people are still repeating the same complaints about the referenda that they have all along. They’re also muttering various conspiracy theories, none of which sound very plausible to me. This whole thing isn’t exactly a high point in New Zealand democracy, that’s for sure.

But I WILL vote in both referenda—after all, how many people get to have a say in their country’s flag? I wouldn’t miss this opportunity for anything, no matter the end result.

The five alternative flag designs:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Like it must have been

Today Nigel and I went out for lunch, as we sometimes do on the weekend. Nigel took a photo of his lunch (at right) and posted it on Facebook. My hand is in the background reaching for my soft drink. It was all so ordinary. I looked around us, and realised something about it.

As we were shown to our table, we passed people already seated and at various stages of their meals: An elderly couple having their meal, two young men, staring down at their phones flat on the table in front them, tapping away as they waited to be served their meals.

Across the aisle from our booth, a family—mum, dad, two kids. Further along, there was a young blonde woman and her partner. An Asian family arrived and sat at the booth next to us, on the other side of the glass partition.

The family near us was already well into their meal when we arrived. The son, who was facing me and looked between 10 and 12, moved something on the table, and his knife started to slip off onto the floor. With lightening fast reflexes, he caught the knife in the air. It was a pretty impressive move.

The young blonde woman and her partner were being served as we ordered. Soon I could kind of hear the Asian family talking, laughing, seeming to have a good time together. The family near us finished and left not long after we were served. They didn’t eat their toast.

We had our meal, and as we finished, I noticed the blonde woman had finished and was laughing and talking with her partner. She wore a white short-sleeve top, he wore a black hoodie, and had stretched his legs out on the booth bench while they talked. She played with her long hair and smiled a lot.

And then, I realised: That would’ve been the exact sort of ordinariness that people experienced in Paris just before the terrorist attacks. Indeed, that must be what it’s like before many such attacks—ordinary, even banal life interrupted, tragically ended—suddenly, brutally, unexpectedly.

I thought about that, of course, because the events in Paris were still raw and in mind, but at any moment something could change everything, whether it’s violent terrorist gangs, an exploding gas main, a plane crash—so many things could have taken the everyday scene we were part of today and turned it into something tragic.

Life is short, life is precious, and we should value every second of it. We all know that! Wait—do we? Because if we knew that, if we REALLY knew that, we wouldn’t spend so damn much time being really awful to each other?

I changed my Facebook Profile photo to the one at left. Facebook made it easy—and easy to make temporary (something I really like, by the way): If I haven’t changed it before then, my photo will automatically revert back to the original in a week. I changed my photo to express sympathy for and solidarity with the people of Paris, and in defiance of the forces of darkness—and nothing more. I certainly didn’t do it to be hectored.

I expected the rightwing to say vile and disgusting things in response to the attacks, and they did. They’ve been loudly denounced, mainly by people who didn’t like them to start out with, so I’m not sure how much good it did, but it was morally necessary to do.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that leftwing people also went after their own “side”. Weirdly, a lot of the Left’s anger seemed mainly against people who did things like changing their profile photo on Facebook.

“It doesn’t actually mean anything!” they declared, even as they proved it does by focusing their Internet scorn on people changing their photo. The lefties said our reactions, and overlaying our photos with the Tricolore, were racist because we only did something like that because “white” people in Paris were attacked, not for the people in Beirut, or Baghdad, or any other place where attacks have recently happened. Never mind that the US newsmedia has reported very little about any of those attacks, so the average person didn't know about them—the ardent lefties declared people "should" have known. And, being me, I strongly rolled my eyes at that notion.

People can’t be faulted for what they don’t know if the newsmedia they trust to tell them important things don’t do so. Obviously, not everyone has the time to scour the Internet to learn about everything that’s happening everywhere.

So, today I watched people doing ordinary things on an ordinary day, and realised how all that can change in an instant. And then I saw people—Left and Right alike—being truly awful to other people. The Right was vile and despicable; the Left was mainly just intensely negative and mean-spirited.

Here’s the thing: If we can’t treat human beings as human beings DESPITE our differences and our differing world views, if we can’t even just accept that a Facebook profile photo is just a damn photo, how on earth can we ever achieve peace? How can we stop people’s minds being polluted and their hearts and moral compasses being destroyed by politico-religious extremism when we can’t even treat each other with humanity and compassion and tolerance—even over something as silly as a profile photo?!

I honestly have no idea how we eradicate this cancer of politico-religious extremism, but I’m damn sure we’ll never figure it out if we can't stop being so awful to each other.

In the restaurant today, I had no idea who was nice and who wasn't, or who I’d like and who I wouldn’t. They were just people living their lives. If only we could accept that all humans are humans, hate each other a little less, and learn to get along despite our differences.

It starts with each of us: Which path will we choose?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

James Bond – Sex Protocol

The video above is a James Bond parody made by XVP Comedy, the same folks who made “Jurassic Park: High Heels Edition”, which I shared back in July. This video has definite adult humour, and implied sexual themes, but I don’t think it’s NSFW—but, then, I’m not a prude, so…

I think it’s a fun video, and—dare I say it?—more adult in its silliness than many comedy videos on YouTube are. What I mean by that is that it plays with absurdity, and celebrates silliness, without ever insulting the viewer’s intelligence. This is a very good quality in my book. Mind you, the good acting and physical comedy helps, too.

I also liked the over-the-top Bond-like technology. I mean, really, why isn’t James ever given anything as useful as a genital scanner, hm?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Something nice

UK department store John Lewis has released it’s 2015 Christmas TV advert, “The Man on The Moon” (video above). It's a gentle, sweet ad, like theirs tend to be. The YouTube description says:
This is the story of a young girl called Lily. Looking at the moon through her family telescope one night, she is amazed at what she finds, a man on the moon.

Lily watches on as our man goes about his chores, all alone up there. She becomes determined to get something to the moon, to send him a message and show him that someone down here is thinking of him.

The music is ‘Half the World Away’ performed by Aurora, the original song was by Oasis.
I’ve shared two of their previous ads, “The Bear and the Hare” (2013) and also “Monty The Penguin” (2014). I’d never heard of the store until 2013 when I first saw one of their ads shared on the Internet. Actually, there’s probably no reason why I would have heard of them, since they’re a UK store.

In any event, I just think it’s a nice ad to end what was a difficult and challenging week. But, more about that this coming week. Right now, I’d like to just share some something nice.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Twenty Years Together

Twenty years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand to live, and my life with Nigel began. I’d first arrived on September 12, 1995, found a job, and then returned to the USA to get ready for the move. Today is the anniversary of when my new life began.

November 2, 1995 was a hot, sunny day. Or, maybe it just seemed hot when I'd just flown in from Chicago, where, only a few days earlier, we'd had our first light snowfall of the season, and the average temperatures were changing from cool to cold. Whatever, the difference was pretty jarring.

Way back in 2007, I talked about my arrival:
"Nigel had just started a new job and couldn't meet me, so I took an airport shuttle to the house, got the key that Nigel hid for me, and went inside. Leading in from the front door was a path of laser printed sheets, one letter per sheet. They spelled out 'Welcome Home'. I knew I was."
This anniversary has always been about the two things: Our life together, and my moving from my homeland to a new country on the other side of the world. This blog, and my podcast, have documented a bit of both, because while they’re separate, one would not be true without the other: Our life together began because I moved to the other side of the world, and I moved to the other side of the world so that we could begin a life together.

When I moved to New Zealand, people told me it was brave. Brave? How was it brave to do the only thing that made any sense? Taking a chance on love may have been uncommon, and moving to another country for it was unusual, to say the least, but brave? Really?! What other choice did I have?

And what of Nigel who, 20 years ago, opened himself and his life to possibility? He was no less brave than I was, apart from that whole moving countries thing. He couldn’t have known how high maintenance I can be; fortunately, by the time he did, it was too late—he was smitten, too. That man deserves a medal.

The point is, we both did what we needed to do. Sure, it may have been radical from the perspectives of people who were not us, but for us, it was merely logical. And necessary. And it all started today, twenty years ago.

All of which is why I’ve often called this “the day that mattered”, as I did back in 2012: It was the day that my life in New Zealand began, and it was the day that Nigel and I began our life together.

So, twenty years in New Zealand, twenty years with my wonderful Nigel, and twenty years building our life together in this beautiful country. It all began on November 2, 1995.

I’ll keep celebrating this anniversary because of everything it means.

Posts from previous years:
Surreal 19th Expataversary (2014)
Eighteen (2013)
The day that really mattered (2012)
Sweet sixteen (2011)
Fifteen (2010)
Fourteen (2009)
Lucky 13: Expataversary and more (2008)
Twelfth Anniversary (2007)
Eleven Years an Expat (2006)

Ex, but not ex- – A 2006 post about being an expat
Changing policies and lives – A 2011 post about becoming a permanent resident
12 years a citizen – A 2014 post about becoming a NZ citizen
Foreign-born human – A 2015 post re-examining the word “expat”

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Family gathering

Last night we attended the wedding of our niece, and it was a really good night. Nigel was the MC, there was pizza, karaoke, and lots of laughs. Turns out, it was the perfect way to celebrate our own anniversary.

I don’t talk about our extended family members without their permission, but even without doing so I can say that our niece was lovely, the groom was handsome, and the evening was really nice. The ceremony was simple, “non-traditional” (though I’m not sure that term really means anything any more…), and secular. Just the way I like them!

It was emotional (in a good way), as such things are, and, quite possibly, I may have had something in my eye a time or two. There were tasteful remembrances of our niece’s dad, Nigel’s older brother, who died many years ago, and it was is if he was there, too. That added a special dimension, I thought.

Nigel’s family is large, loud and fun, but there were plenty more there who were all those things. All of which meant a very fun night. The first food served after the ceremony was small, hors d’ouevre and tappas kinds of things, then later in the evening pizzas from Sal’s New York Style Pizza were delivered (they have a location a few doors away from the venue). I was in heaven at the point, and even I—a pizza fanatic—had enough. In fact, I may even have had more than enough, but I couldn’t comment on that. On the plus side, it certainly helped me make sure I didn’t have “more than enough” wine…

The speeches were good—sometimes funny, sometimes touching. A surprise was that the newlyweds recognised a friend’s birthday that night—and our wedding anniversary! It was a lovely surprise, and very touching. Is it any wonder I love this family I've married into?

So, an evening spent with our large extended family, good food, and lots of good and warm feelings made for an outstanding night—and a lovely way for Nigel and I to celebrate our own wedding anniversary. Not sure we could have had a better night.

So, in honour of our niece’s wedding, and our own anniversary, let me raise a metaphorical glass and offer a toast: Here’s to love! It’s the only thing in life that truly matters.