Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bella’s condition

There’s been no miracle, but Bella’s condition is quite good. The long-term prognosis hasn’t changed, but, despite it all, she’s content, seems happy, and is doing pretty well, all things considered. And so, an unexpected journey has begun.

When we brought her home from the vet a week ago Friday, we were sure she’d last a few days, a couple of weeks at most, and we planned on making her as comfortable as possible during that time. However, it seems she had other ideas: As it turned out, she’s doing pretty well.

She’s been more like her normal self since we brought her home, apparently helped by the special food. As the week went on, and it became clear she was basically doing well, we decided we needed to learn how to do the subcutaneous injections of fluid to give her the best quality in the life she clearly intends to keep as long as she can (apparently the vet staff were really happy we were bringing her back in to learn the procedure, because it meant she was doing well).

So we met with the vet on Friday, and she showed us how to properly handle the large bag of saline solution, the tubes and clamps, and, most importantly, the very large needle. The vet said we were “honorary nurses”.

Yeah, well, not quite yet.

Our first two days didn’t go perfectly. Nigel got the needle duty (and hates it), and I got the holding Bella duty to make sure she didn’t move (never an easy task). Yesterday we had trouble with the needle, today she jumped unexpectedly and the needle fell out. We got about 20ml into her each day, but she’s supposed to have 70-100ml. We’ll all get the hang of it, but the little amount we got into her is more than she’d had in the days between Fridays, so it’s still an improvement.

Bella’s appetite has been really good (she only likes one brand of renal dry food, though). She also goes out to the toilet (despite all the bad weather lately), and she still goes outside to sleep in the sun, but she now comes inside when the weather turns bad—and, when she’s outside, she moves to stay in the sun, all things she didn’t do when she was most unwell.

However, the problem with her teeth remains, and there’s nothing they can do about it since she can’t have general anaesthetic (and would NEVER let them do anything with her mouth if she was awake!). So, she has quite stinky breath, and her tooth problem might become a bigger issue in the future, depending on how her kidney disease goes.

But, for now, she’s doing remarkably well, seems happy, and looks at us with bright eyes. She even “talks” to me when it’s time to feed her, like she did in the old days, before she was sick. All of this is good and makes us happy.

But the long-term prognosis is still bad, and we have no idea how long we’ll have with her. Bella chose us to be her family after quite a while living wild, and that experience made her tough and resilient. She’s showing us how tough she is—and that she still wants to be with us.

It’s our job to make sure she gets her wish for as long as possible.

The photo above is from this past Tuesday, when I accidentally woke her up from a nap on an orange blanket in the late afternoon sun. I chose it because I like the lighting—that, and there hasn’t been enough sun since to take any photos…

Normal weather

The weather lately has been terrible: Severe storms, a lot of rain, strong winds, and some pretty cold temperatures. In other words, it’s been pretty normal for winter.

The fact that the weather is normal doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, of course, and there has been some damage caused by the storms in addition to the usual unpleasantness associated with so much wind and rain.

The other day it rained about as hard as I’ve ever heard it rain in New Zealand, followed by a terrible hailstorm so severe I was certain it would break the Perspex roofs over our decks. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but the tremendous noise made all our furbabies very unhappy, and the loud thnunder frightened Sunny, who doesn’t like loud, explosive noises like that (she’s also frightened by fireworks).

It’s rained at least part of nearly every day for weeks, and over the past couple weeks we’ve had a lot of severe storms. I keep checking to make sure out drains are clear, but that’s about all I can right now; it’s just too yucky to be outside.

And, this is a problem. Last year at about this time, I wrote about cleaning off the gunge that builds up on wooden decks in the winter time. It turned out the product I used didn’t work well at all, and later this coming week or next week (depending on my schedule and the weather) I’m going to try again. And I’ll document it all this time, including last year’s failure.

This time of year, it’s too yucky to go out and about, so there aren’t any photo adventures to share. So, dealing with the bad weather is about it for now. On the other hand, Spring finally begins one month from tomorrow. I am SO ready for that.

My political notebook

This post is something new, based on something old: It’s a collection of political things I’ve seen on the Internet that are interesting and important, but that won’t make it into their own blog posts, for whatever reason, and might not even be referenced in a blog post. Yet I think they should be seen, so, here they are.

This is based, of course, on my Internet Wading posts, an idea I stole borrowed from Roger Green. But unlike those posts, this series isn’t just the weird and wonderful and interesting, it’s also (especially) important stuff I otherwise wouldn’t share or comment on, though I do share such things to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, including some of the things in this edition of my Political Notebook.

Here we go:

The Good news

Every campaign has good news, and the end of last week brought two very good news stories: A Federal judge in Wisconsin struck down Republican’s voter suppression laws that limited in-person absentee voting to one location, limited early voting hours and eliminated weekend voting. The judge ruled that Republican’s voter suppression law was unconstitutional, and "intentionally discriminates on the basis of race," which was obviously the intent.

The same day, a three-judge panel in Federal court struck down North Carolina’s voter suppression law as unconstitutional because of “the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.” The judges felt that the law was specifically intended to keep black people from voting.

Why this matters: North Carolina is a swing state, and Wisconsin is a state poised to dump a Republican US Senator for a Democrat, a raise critical for returning the US Senate to Democratic control. Republican voter suppression laws, like those of Wisconsin and North Carolina, were designed to suppress the votes of minorities and others who typically vote for Democratic candidates. Removing those laws improves the chances of all Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton.

Bad news, part one: Despicable Donald

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be a LOT of stories about how truly awful Donald is. Just today I saw “Donald Trump says he's made 'a lot of sacrifices' in response to the father of a deceased Muslim US soldier” in which Jeremy Burke talks about how Donald thinks that “working hard”, so-called, is in some way exactly the same as Army Captain Humayun Khan giving his life in service to the USA, or that building what he thinks are “great structures” is some sort of sacrifice just like that suffer by Humayun’ father, Khizr Khan, losing a son in war. As if that weren’t awful enough, Donald went on to make racist and sexist remarks about Khizr Khan’s wife, Ghazala. This all prompted Vox’s Ezra Klein to say, “Donald Trump’s slander of Captain Humayun Khan’s family is horrifying, even for Trump”, leading Ezra to—rightly—say:
This is not a question that needs to be asked in most elections, but it needs to be asked in this one: what kind of person is Donald Trump? What kind of person says these things? And is that really the kind of person we want to be president?
Bad News, part two: Donald lies about the NFL

Donald is looking for an excuse to avoid the presidential debates because he knows he’d lose all three. So, he started lying about them. Of course.

Trump Tweeted (of course) on Friday (US time): “As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!” The next day, Donald told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous.'” Problem is, Donald was lying. Of course.

CNN’s Brian Stelter asked the NFL about this: “Top @NFL spokesman tells me: ‘While we'd obviously wish the debate commission could find another night, we did not send a letter to Trump.’" Worse, the Democrats would need a time machine to “rig” the debates: The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates set the schedule in September 2015, so without that time machine Donald’s bombast isn’t just wrong, it’s downright loony.

Why this matters: First and foremost, Donald’s obviously looking for an excuse to avoid the debates, just as he did in the primaries. Second, of the two debates on NFL game nights, the second, on Oct. 9, as The Washington Post pointed out (in the linked article above), “pits the Giants at the Green Bay Packers”. Hillary will carry the Giants’ home state of New Jersey, but Wisconsin is a battleground state this year that Donald MUST win. But, there may not much overlap in audiences, so the thing that matters most is Donald’s attempt to get out of showing up for the debates.

Pence’s senses

Mike Pence, the far-right Republican Governor of Indiana who agreed to be Donald’s vice presidential candidate, has been hitting the campaign trail. He’s been acting as what the Los Angeles Times called, “the anti-Trump”, but that doesn’t mean he’s nicer or better, just that he was “brought aboard the Republican ticket to employ his steady demeanor and conservative bona fides to reassure hard-right voters who remain wary of Trump.”

The paper reported he told a crowd that he’s “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order”. This is nothing new, with Mike having proven his religious extremism in Indiana, but he’s predicted that Roe v. Wade would be overturned if Donald is elected president, making all abortions illegal (it’s unclear whether Mike agrees with Donald that women who get abortions, for whatever reason, should be sent to prison).

Mike seemed to have lost his senses when he declared, "I don't think name calling has any place in public life, and I thought that was unfortunate that the president of the United States would use a term like [demagogue]." Two things, first the most obvious: If Mike was sincere, then he’d never have agreed to run on the same ticket as the man running to be Name-Caller in Chief. Second, President Obama did NOT directly call Donald a demagogue. Is Mike being thin-skinned on Donald’s behalf now, too?

Why this matters: Mike is attempting to get rightwing Christians on board to support the T.P. Ticket. Such religious voters don’t trust Donald, who they think is faking religious conviction. But if Donald were elected president and was later removed from office or quit when he got bored, then extreme religionist Mike Pence would become president (this is putting aside whether Donald really would make Mike the de facto president and himself a virtual king). However, while Mike is shoring up rightwing religious support, he’ll also scare moderate and non-religious voters, and that may help motivate more of them to vote Democratic. In the weeks ahead it’ll become clearer whether having a religious extremist on the T.P. Ticket helps or hurts them.
• • •
That’s it for this Notebook. I have no idea how often I’ll do these posts—more during election campaigns, obviously, but beyond that, well, let’s see how it goes. Actually, I don’t even know how often I’ll do them during election campaigns. But there certainly won’t be any shortage of things to share.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Dangerous Donald

The video above was played at the Democratic National Convention, and highlights a small number of the people who have spoken out about how Donald is unfit to be President of the United States. More reasons are added every day.

North Korea endorsed Donald for president. Let that sink in for a moment: One of the most repressive and corrupt nations on earth thinks Donald should be president. It’s only fair, after all: Donald has praised the country’s dictator. Donald doesn’t have a clue.

Donald has talked about pulling US troops out of Korea unless they pay money to the USA. North Korea would love the opportunity to invade South Korea unopposed. Donald is dangerous.

This week, too, Donald said that if he becomes president, he’s willing to reverse global consensus and recognise Ukraine’s Crimea as Russian territory—even though the world opposes that after Russia invaded Ukraine to seize Crimea. But this is only the latest in his declarations that he’d let Russia do whatever it wants. Donald is dangerous

Last week, Donald said he wouldn’t defend the Baltic countries if Russia invades (as Russian dictator Putin is clearly planning to do). Thanks to Donald, ALL of the countries in NATO have to wonder if the United States can be counted on as an ally. Donald is dangerous.

And then, of course, he invited the Russians to hack an American’s emails to further Donald’s political ends. That’s as close to treason as any major candidate for president has ever come. Treason or not, it could be a felony. Donald is dangerous.

Donald loves Vlad Putin—LOVES him. He’s repeatedly praised the Russian dictator, but the question is, WHY? Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, recently published seven specific alarming connections between Donald and Putin, any one of which is concerning, but taken together, it suggests that Donald is in Putin’s back pocket. Donald is dangerous.

Donald must never be allowed anywhere near the White House, not even as a tourist.

Donald is dangerous.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Republicans dumped their legacy

The video above from Vox outlines the history of how the Republican Party abandoned its proud heritage, descending from Abraham Lincoln to the depths with Donald. The video also outlines some of the history of the Democratic Party along the way, and explains why things are so very different now.

One of the things that this video shows is how the Democratic Party evolved from the party of the southern states to one based in the North, Midwest, and Pacific states, and how it moved from supporting slavery to championing civil rights and progress.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, moved from a party of the North to one in the South and some Great Plains States. It has become older, whiter, and more male as time has gone on—that’s not news or in dispute.

Because of all these shifts, the Democratic Party has become more diverse, and much of that has been because of minorities flocking to the party. It is why the Democratic Party is a party of all Americans and the Republican Party is now the party of very narrow-minded, angry, older, white, mostly male voters.

This reality is why Republican politicians across the country have fought hard to try and suppress the voting rights of minorities: The party cannot attract enough minority votes to win, so their strategy is to keep minorities from voting at all. While for some racism is their motivator, for most it’s probably more about power—gaining it and keeping it.

I don’t know how the Republican Party comes back from this, but continuing to cater to old, angry, white men won’t do it. If it’s even possible for them to return to the real world where facts and reason matter, it’ll take a lot of hard work and a fair amount of pain as they expel their irrational, usually bigoted, extremists.

We need a rational conservative party to provide balance and to keep Democrats moving forward. If the Republican Party can’t return to its proud heritage, if it can’t abandon fear and hatred, then it’s time for the party to die and a new conservative party to rise in its place.

Will the Republican Party become the Whig Party of the 21st Century? That’s up to them. Keeping them out of power until and unless they return to the real world is up to all of us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s video appearance at the Democratic Convention

The video above is a recording of live coverage of the Democratic National Convention today. At the time, I was struck by the visual imagery of the presidents, man after man, until glass “breaks” and Hillary Clinton appeared. It was striking imagery and very well done.

I’ve studied political messaging, formally and informally, for decades. While much can be horrible, there’s some that’s outstanding, and this one of them. The historic nature of Hillary’s nomination was palpable, and the visual of the glass breaking, pieces “falling” to the screens below, and revealing a beaming Hillary Clinton was precisely on-message, and very well done.

I felt very good watching all this live (I was streaming C-SPAN’s coverage today so I didn’t have to deal with the insipid and annoying pundits on CNN), and throught the clear joy in supporters’ faces was pretty contagious.

Then, this evening, I checked Facebook, and saw a friend post a status celebrating the history. He’s a white gay man, and noted that the opposition he’d seen on Facebook was from white heterosexual men, who, arguably, have nothing personal to lose if Donald wins. However, he also said several women he knew were frightened to express their happiness because of the shit they’d get from others—again, mostly white men.

We must do better. I get that some people, for whatever reason, will never support Hillary Clinton. But aggressively telling someone how “wrong” they are for supporting her will NOT change anyone’s mind! If only we could have civil political discussions based entirely on verifiable facts and the opinions we form arising from those facts. That could happen someday, maybe, but certainly not this year.

Despite all that, and despite the fact that some people do hate Hillary Clinton, we now have “the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet”. Hillary accomplished that, and that will benefit us all.

History is made

The Democratic Party has just made MORE history: It just nominated Hillary Clinton for president, becoming the first major party to nominate a woman as their presidential nominee. I was watching live. This is huge, just as when Democrats became the first party to nominate an African American as their nominee. It means that from now on, it will always be a given that any American child, whether a boy or girl, can grow up to be US President.

As a child, I assumed that, apart from John F. Kennedy, one had to be an old white man to be president. I took that for granted. It was obvious. But so much has changed, especially in the past few years, that true equality now seems possible.

And yet, the work has only begun.

When Barack Obama was elected president, the rightwing and far-right worked hard to try and make him fail. Despite all that, and going on to be one of the most successful presidents, his opponents still attack him and lie about him because they cannot accept a Black man being president. It really is that simple.

Now they will do everything in their power to try to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president. They will absolutely resort to sexism and misogyny as they wage their regressive campaign, and we know that because of their Republican Derangement Disease (see my previous post where I talked about that). Republicans have had decades to bake their hatred of Hillary Clinton, so they simply won’t be able to engage in rational debate: They will launch gender-based attacks. It’s inevitable.

Electing Hillary Clinton President is not enough. We must elect Democrats to the US Congress, too, so that President Hillary Clinton will be able to move America forward. Democrats have a strong chance of taking control of the US Senate—which is VITAL—and have a shot at retaking the US House, IF people work for it.

Democrats will have help, of course: The Republicans’ T.P. Ticket is the most extremist and frightening they have ever nominated—and I’ve seen a fair few awful nominees coming from their party over my lifetime.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Today, history was made.

I'm with her.

Meanhwhile, stuff happened

I’ve been distracted lately, and that’s led me to miss commenting on a number of things I’d normally have talked about. I thought I’d catch up on a few of them, but it turned out that I’m not in a charitable mood, not that Republicans deserve charity, but still. So, this post is what it is.

Hillary’s Choice

Tim Kaine wasn’t my first choice for vice president, but neither was he someone I opposed. What little I knew of him, he seemed good, but I frankly didn’t know that much. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about him, and I now see him as a very solid choice.

I know some Progressives are disappointed in the choice (and many of those on my own personal “short list” were progressives they’d approve of), but some of the progressive antipathy toward him is because of deliberate disinformation from opponents.

The fact is that the list of his ratings on his Congressional record is pretty impressive—and often ratings that any progressive would be proud to have (like 100% from Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the Human Rights Campaign, and an “F” from the NRA along with 100% from the Brady Campaign). The point is, he has had a solidly Liberal Democratic record.

He’s also from s swing state, is fluent in Spanish, and compared to the two peas in an extremist pod that is the Republicans’ T.P. Ticket, he’s calm, safe, and non-threatening. Given the need to win over Centrist voters, who are the majority of the general electorate, and with the strong possibility of winning over even some disaffected (and frightened or disgusted…) Republicans, this is a very good thing.

So, Tim Kaine is a good, solid choice—and lightcenturies better than his equivalent on the Republicans’ T.P. Ticket, of course.

Republican Derangement Disease

The video at the top of this post from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (which I actually saw on  TV for a change…) talks about the fundamental problem with the modern Republican Party: They truly believe that “feelings” about issues are the same as facts about them. This had never occurred to me before, though it’s so bloody obvious, and it explains why Republicans always say things that are flat-out not true, yet act is if they are.

Like, for example, their ongoing lies about Hillary Clinton. I’ve known about Republicans’ “Clinton Derangement Syndrome” pretty much since the 1992 election. This led Republicans to be willing to lie about the Clintons, to defame them, and smear them to try and destroy them.

Republicans raised that derangement to a whole new level with their “Obama Derangement Syndrome”, questioning his citizenship, his religion, among other things, and declaring every single year that President Obama was coming for their guns—though that last one may have been a cynical ploy to increase sales of guns and ammunition, it’s hard to tell. In any case, this derangement syndrome led them to eight years of pure partisan obstruction, no matter how much harm their partisan games did the country.

No one is a saint, not Hillary Clinton, nor President Obama, nor Bernie Sanders—NO ONE. But neither are they the caricatures hawked by Republican politicians. But Republicans and their allies in their media been so good at spreading lies, smears, and distortions that many of those lies are now taken as truth, even by those who should know better.

The cure for Republican Derangement Disease is simple: Seek out facts. Whenever we see a Republican attack on Hillary Clinton, we should start out by assuming it’s false even as we attempt to verify it. We’ll seldom be able to verify Republican attacks, of course, but we can speak out with truth and facts, anyway. A lie repeated often enough can become the truth, but declaring that the emperor has no clothes can also eventually get through to those who usually refuse to look.

The Republicans' Circus

I watched some of Day One of the Republican shit show—aptly called that because it was such a fiasco, not just because of the norovirus outbreak. Every speech contained stuff that was factually wrong, usually on purpose, or extremely misleading. I stopped watching at some point, mainly because I didn’t want to frighten the furbabies by "talking back" to the TV. I didn’t watch any other coverage, since they wouldn’t and couldn’t possibly say anything I’d want to hear, and their constant lying and smears were making me far too angry.

However, one thing that did happen was extraordinary: After Donald delivered his “I’m a strongman, I alone can protect you” speech at the end of his circus convention, there were five major news organisations that fact checked him—and those are just the ones I saw. I can’t remember that ever happening before. But, then, Donald has earned a reputation as a habitual liar, so maybe it’s not that surprising. The gist of all that fact checking is that Donald was lying or misleading much of the time. No surprise, of course.

Finally, a lighter moment.

The video below is of Jon Stewart on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In Jon’s classic style, he criticised Donald and the Republican media machine. Best line to Lumpy and his mates in the Republican Propaganda machine and all their enablers: “This country is not yours!”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bella’s journey

I've been putting off this post about our cat Bella (All posts that mention her are tagged "Bella"), partly because we didn't have all the information at first, and also because I wanted to avoid it. I felt that maybe if I didn’t say anything, it would just go away. But, it hasn’t, and we must face reality: Bella’s journey is coming to an end.

On Sunday, I took Bella to the vet because she wasn’t eating much, and she’d lost a lot of weight. The vet said she did have a couple bad teeth—the reason I’d made the appointment—but before treating them he needed blood tests, first to make sure there weren’t any other problems, and also as an assessment to see if she could tolerate the general anaesthetic.

We got the results on Tuesday, and it turned out that her liver was fine, she wasn’t diabetic, but her kidney function was awful. We brought her in that afternoon and they gave her a subcutaneous injection of fluids, and put her on renal diet food. Fortunately, she loved that food, and by the evening, and again in the morning, she was a bit better.

We took her back to the vet on Wednesday morning, and she stayed there the next two days on an IV drip in the hope the protein levels in her blood and urine might return to normal levels. That didn’t happen: Except for a tiny improvement, she remained about the same. This means her kidneys are barely functioning.

So, this afternoon we brought her home so we can care for her, and so she can spend her last days in her home, with her family. We have drugs to help keep her comfortable, but there’s nothing the vet can do, so the end of her journey is now inevitable.

The vet thinks she may have a few days, a couple weeks at the very most, but even with more invasive support (like daily subcutaneous injections of fluid), it would at most merely delay the inevitable by maybe a couple months if we were lucky, but not even that would prevent this. And she’d need to be on drugs twice a day for pain, among other drugs throughout the day, her special diet, and she’d be jabbed with a needle every day. And all of that wouldn’t change anything, just give us a little more time with her, which seems to us to be selfish and cruel.

Our first reaction on receiving the news was to try and think of something—anything—we might have missed that could have tipped us off earlier that there was a problem—but there was nothing.

We first noticed there was a change when she started eating less, but she often does that when she has a furball, and she coughed one up last week. So, at the time, we thought nothing of it. But her eating didn’t improve, and she took to sleeping outside—even in the rain. We thought she had tooth problems, which made it painful to eat, so we gave her tinned cat food, and she gobbled that right up, reinforcing the idea that it was her teeth. Turned out, of course, that it was her teeth—but so much more, too.

There was nothing else that tipped us off that anything was seriously wrong. Her fur had thinned a bit, especially her bushy tail, but that coincided with the change of seasons, and she’s about nine or ten, so we also thought it might be ageing. As recently as three weeks ago, when I was taking photos for Sunny’s birthday, she seemed completely normal.

What all that means, really, is that we can’t think of anything in her behaviour that could have alerted us that there was a problem—up until this week, the week before at most. But it was just this past weekend that we became worried and decided to take her to the vet. Up until that point, she seemed a bit off colour, but otherwise not sick or anything.

So we’d been expecting a simple resolution, then, after the first results, we remained hopeful that Bella would recover, probably requiring a special diet, but have a good life all the same. It wasn’t to be.

The vet told us that over the next few days, she may actually improve a bit, partly from being home. If so, we can have the vet give her those injections to keep her comfortable. But we still know how this story ends, because we’ve been there before, of course.

And so, we’re profoundly sad. The little girl who chose us to be her family back in April, 2010 after a life as a stray, will soon leave us, and, damn it, we don't want her to go. Such is the way with furbabies, who steal our hearts and refuse to give them back. And despite the pain, we wouldn’t be without them.

Right now, I need to go give Bella a cuddle. There’ll be a fair bit of that in the days ahead.

Update – July 31: Bella is doing pretty well, all things considered, so I've published an update post.

The photo montage of Bella up top is from January 2015. It’s always been one of my favourites of her.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Internet Wading - Delayed Miscellany

This collection of miscellany has been months in the making. I started it for March, added to it for April, and again for May, and again for June. Mainly, I kept forgetting about it. As time passed, I needed to check to make sure the links were still working, and that kept delaying things. I very nearly gave up.

The thing is, I run across all sorts of things on the Internet that I’d like to share. While I sometimes now share such things on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, mostly I don’t. That’s a shame because there are a lot of good things about the Internet, like, for example, it can teach us all kinds of things, if we want it to, and it can be a tremendous resource. Other times, it’s just fun or interesting. And then other times…

In “I shower once a week. Here’s why you should too”, Donnachadh McCarthy tells us, “The daily bath or shower… is terrible for the environment and our bank balances.” He goes on:
“It is clear my daily shower habit resulted from falsely imposed cultural norms, rather than any legitimate health benefits. We do need to wash our hands frequently, for obvious hygiene reasons. But our skin has its own natural cleansing mechanism and it is generally only our armpits, feet and privates that produce any odours if unwashed.”

“So let’s ignore the advertising bullies and revert to the traditional weekly shower or bath, plus a daily sink-wash. Apart from anything else, think how much time we’ll save.”
A commenter added: “I have found life without washing hair is so much more pleasant. For showering, only as needed, determined by smell and/or feel. An minimum that is 1/week at max it is about 4 times a week, but even then soap is only used in the armpits.” Um, “determined by smell and/or feel”?!

Speaking of health, the Netherlands Nutrition Centre issued new nutritional dietary guidelines suggesting that people eat no more than two servings of meat per week. It seems the trend these days.

And for health things people obsess about, “An Engineered Protein Can Kill Cancer Cells in the Bloodstream”. And something helpful for the times in which we live: “How to change someone’s mind, according to science”.

Now, here’s some of that edumacation: “48 Hours of Joseph Campbell Lectures Free Online: The Power of Myth & Storytelling”. Originally posted August 31st, 2015, this is one of those things I stumbled across. The study of myth and storytelling is behind some of the great stories that millions enjoy, like Star Wars, for example.

“Metallic Ink Shines in Ancient Herculaneum Scrolls”. This could be huge.

And, let’s not forget about really important things: “Trash for Cash: An Oral History of Garbage Pail Kids”. I was too old for what they mocked, but the humour appealed to me. A lot.

But wait—there’s MORE free stuff! “The New York Public Library Just Unleashed 180,000 Free Images. We Can’t Stop Looking at Them”. As Mother Jones warns, “Say goodbye to your afternoon.”

And speaking of visual things, 3D printing is growing rapidly, and this sort of thing will become more popular: “Now You Can Have New York In The Palm Of Your Hand”.

And while we’re wasting using time looking at old photos (or random Intgernet sites…), it’s good to know that “Scientists May Have Just Figured Out Why Time Moves Forward, Not Backwards”.

Not everything can be serious, so maybe a look at “The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy”. They say, “From the Marx Brothers to The Simpsons, Richard Pryor to Amy Schumer: 100 bits, sketches, and one-liners that changed humor forever.” Even I thought many were funny.

Speaking of funny (because I think I’m secretly still 13…): “If the 2016 Presidential Candidates Had Beards”. Mind you, I also have a beard, so that could be it.

Or, maybe “Ancient Greek sculptures dressed up in hipster clothing”. Just because.

“Here are 35 colorized photos that will completely change how you see history”. I’ve seen several of these before, but I’m always fascinated by them because they do tend to make the past seem more real than black and white images—no matter how beautifully done—can do. At least sometimes.

And speaking of photos, “Why people never smiled in old photos”:

That’s it for this month—well, these months, actually. Maybe I’ll remember to do this again next month—or eventually.

Compare and contrast

Every summer, the two main parties bring in young people to serve as interns. The idea is that they’ll be inspired to take on a career in politics, and the programme also provides a sort of orientation for those who will be leaders in their parties eventually.

Recently, two very different photos of this year’s interns were posted. For people trying to understand the differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties, those two photos provide a strong visual contrast.

First, the Republicans (click to enlarge):

Shared by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on his Instagram, the photo shows the Republicans 2016 summer interns. All those fresh white faces! GQ Magazine has just published a mocking list of the names of the interns, which I think is awfully unfair. It's not their fault that their party's leaders are completely uninterested in diversity, now or for the future of their party.

Now, let’s compare and contrast that with the Democrats’ 2016 summer interns (click to enlarge):

The photo, by Cameron Trimble, was made available by US Rep Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX) on her Facebook Page. These faces look like America.

When the Democratic National Convention begins, we’ll see that again in the faces of the delegates. The people chosen to speak will reinforce that fact.

The two parties have vastly different ideologies and agendas, and starkly different presidential candidates. But for a quick, easy to understand visual explanation of the differences between the two parties, look at the faces.

The two parties could not be more different.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Remote options for U.S. exiles

Several months ago, an Internet meme began, saying that a small Irish island called Inishturk would accept American refugees if Donald becomes president. The short film above, released about three weeks ago, asks the Irish, especially the people of Inishturk, what they think about that. It’s a well-made film.

There have been many articles published for those interested in fleeing the USA if Donald wins, and there are actually several options, including Ireland. All that is mostly a bit of fun, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

The reality is that it’s now a given that around the time of every presidential election, people will say they’ll leave the USA if the candidate they don’t like wins. However, there’s something very different about this year: How early that talk started. After Donald won the Republican contests in Super Tuesday last March, Google reported that searches for "Move to Canada" were the highest they’d ever been in Google’s history. I imagine such searches would break the Internet if he actually wins.

Still, I’m not sharing the film because I actually think Americans would really move to Inishturk if [insert the name of the despised candidate here] wins the US presidential election. I just think this is a very well-made film, with interesting cinematographic techniques that aren’t either cliché or pointless, but rather add feeling, mood, and interest, while also helping to move the narrative forward.

History has shown that very few people ever follow through on their declaration and actually leave the USA. Will this year be any different? Well, if Donald won, it would be more than usual. But hoards leaving? I doubt that. So, Inishturk doesn't have to worry about mass migration, I’m sure.

But if people really do leave the USA after the November elections, that would make for an interesting film, too.

Worth Quoting: Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California and former Mayor of San Francisco, posted this on his Facebook Page, and it's part of my own reaction to the Republican Party daring to play a Queen song as the grand entrance music for Donald and Mrs. Donald yesterday:
“It's important to note that tonight's RNC convention ended with a song, We Are the Champions, sung by a gay man, Freddie Mercury. Freddie Mercury died of AIDS in 1991. His music was played at a convention where the most anti-LGBT policy platform was adopted, just today. His music, which he famously labored over, which was intricate and complex, was played at a convention where Mike Pence, a man who has spent his political career actively looking for opportunities to pass laws that would give others the legal framework to discriminate against LGBT people, sat comfortably in a VIP box. I'm not sure what Freddie Mercury would think of his music being played at the RNC convention, but I do know that if he weren't a famous rockstar, he would have probably been greeted by a wall, a really high wall, because he represented everything that Mike Pence and Donald Trump are scared of.”
Related: This Internet meme is—rightfully—making the rounds today:

Queen responded to Donald’s theft appropriation unauthorised use of their intellectual property:
"We are frustrated by the repeated unauthorized use of the song after a previous request to desist, which has obviously been ignored by Mr. Trump and his campaign. Queen does not want its music associated with any mainstream or political debate in any country. Nor does Queen want 'We are the Champions' to be used as an endorsement of Mr. Trump and the political views of the Republican Party. We trust, hope and expect that Mr. Trump and his campaign will respect these wishes moving forward."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I did have to laugh…

I’m a fair-minded guy, really, despite my partisanship, and when it comes to politics I always try to go to original sources before I comment on things. The Republican Party Platform is a good example: Before I commented, I wanted to read up on it, and, well, it didn’t go well. It turned out the party was stuck in the past—literally!

It all started because this morning I’d been reading about how awful the Republican Party Platform is, like “6 Ways The RNC Platform Is Already Shaping Up To Be Crazy”, and “A GOP Governor’s Unbelievable Defense Of Her Party’s Anti-LGBT Platform” (tl;dr version: It’s really about promoting all Americans’ rights by excluding LGBT Americans from having any legal rights).

But rather than merely reading commentary from others, even those I find to be reliable, I wondered, what, exactly, the platform actually said.

So, I decided to see if the Republican Party had posted their platform online yet so I could read it for myself. I realised it might not be available, since it hadn’t yet been officially adopted, but I decided to check, anyway.

However, I did NOT expect to see the party was literally stuck in the past.

The screengrab above was the landing page for every link to the platform on the Republicans’ site, as well as from a Google search. Wouldn't you think they'd have put in a placeholder there instead of THAT?! (And, isn't it odd that the Statue of Liberty is looking to the Left—and that's where the light is coming from?)

Now, I realise that much of their platform is recycled, like the pandering to the Cliven (or is it Al? I do get confused…) Bundy Faction of the Republican Party, “GOP Platform Proposes To Get Rid Of National Parks And National Forests”, among other old planks, but surely a link to their 2012 platform should have been in an archive section or something, not at the end of the links to what one would expect to be their current platform?

Still, considering how very far in the distant past the Republican Party’s politics are stuck, I suppose 2012 is actually as up to date as we could possibly expect from them.

And, I did have to laugh. Of course.

Addendum: Today the Republican Convention approved the party’s platform for 2016, and the links now go to a blog post about it (seriously!) that includes a link to a PDF of the 2016 platform. Still amusing us, the file was called “DRAFT_12_FINAL[1]-ben_1468872234.pdf”, which is a really helpful and descriptive file name, as I’m sure we’ll all agree. The filename for 2012’s was “2012GOPPlatform.pdf”, so they obviously can’t learn from their past. Clearly.

This post is revised and extended from what I posted this morning on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

Mike Pence: Even Worse than Trump

Back during the fight for marriage equality in the USA, I frequently turned to videos by Matt Baume to explain some of the intricacies of the fight. I’m doing that again, with Matt’s latest video, above, “Mike Pence: Even Worse than Trump”.

Matt lays out all the reasons why Mike Pence is so truly awful for LGBT Americans, and “a far more diabolical candidate than your usual Republican”. I made a few of the points in my highly mocking post about Pence, but Matt lays them out so clearly.

One interesting point is Matt’s assertion that Donald is “one of the most impeachment-ready candidates ever”. That caught my attention because I’ve seen people who hate Hillary Clinton (self-described Republicans and Democrats alike, sadly) arguing that if Donald was elected president, it wouldn’t be so bad because he could always be impeached. Putting aside that no president has ever been successfully removed from office, Matt’s right that it would mean that Pence would become president. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Mike Pence is absolutely far more extremist than Donald, with a consistently far-right theocratic agenda, contrasted with Donald’s ideological flexibility. But comparing and contrasting their extremism is a race to the bottom, and one not worth engaging in: They’re both truly awful.

The T.P. Ticket must be defeated. Not only must Hillary Clinton be elected US President, the US Congress must be returned to Democratic control. That's the only way to get the USA moving forward again. Only a massive defeat could force the Republican Party to finally dump its racism, sexism, homophobia and other bigotry, to get rid of its lunatic fringe, and to finally move into the 21st Century. It’s a big job accomplishing that, one that may not succeed in every aspect.

We must try.

Monday, July 18, 2016


I frequently take breaks from serious subjects, and after a few fairly serious posts in a row, it's time for something less serious. Which is not to say this isn’t an important topic, because if I were about to be executed, I’d want pizza for my last meal.

The video above features the boys from ASAP Thought, the companion channel to ASAP Science. They’re joined by The Domestic Geek to talk about pizza. In this video, they talk about the science behind pizza—why do we love it so much? Turns out there are scientific explanations—not that I care about any of that when I’m trying to consume as much pizza as I possibly can.

The video at the bottom of the post is by The Domestic Geek, who is joined by the boys from ASAP Thought/Science. This video features the making of three pizzas that are somewhat healthier than typical pizzas (mostly because they’re lower in sugar). I’d be interested in adapting the first pizza she makes, and she provides the actual recipes in the description for her video.

We’ve made our own pizzas from time to time, but not for years. More recently, we made our own version of mini-pizzas using corn tortillas as the base. But, we got out of the habit of making those, too, after awhile (maybe we made it too often?), and we’ve never gone back to any pizza making. Maybe it’s time we re-visited it.

I love pizza with an unreasonable passion. Thanks to the boys from ASAP Thought, I now know why. Thanks to The Domestic Geek, I have some ideas for healthier pizzas we could make.

This topic may not be serious, but it’s clearly important to me. And, it IS my blog, after all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pensive choice

Despite asking right up until midnight the night before his announcement if he could change his mind about his choice for a running mate, Donald went ahead and picked Mike Pence, the current Governor of Indiana. Large parts of America promptly said, “WHO?!”, and the people who actually know who Pence is rolled their eyes. For a man who constantly tells us over and over and over again how he’s highly intelligent, Donald made an incredibly stupid choice. Or, did he?

Pence, who has all the charisma of a rubbish bag sitting on the kerb waiting for collection, has been described as “the decaf Trump” because his politics are every bit as extremist as Donald’s in nearly every respect, but next to Donald’s bizarre public histrionics, Pence’s demeanour is positively soporific.

Donald’s advisers probably thought that would be a good thing, that Pence could balance Donald’s public excesses with tedium. The problem is, you can’t win over audiences if they’re asleep.

Those same advisers probably thought that Pence’s extensive political experience as a career politician at various levels and status as a Washington insider would balance Donald’s total lack of any relevant experience. The problem is, Pence was a lousy governor, and had become so unpopular that it looked quite possible that even in a solidly Republican state he could lose re-election. At least he doesn’t have to worry about that now.

In addition to offering no sparkling personality, and having no marketable electoral experience, Pence also brings no political advantage. He’s from a solidly Republican state that will certainly vote for Donald, giving him a whopping 11 Electoral Votes—with or without Pence on the ticket. Despite being a far right Christian, Pence was spurned by that same demographic because, in their wild eyes, he backed down on legalising anti-gay discrimination in Indiana.

For all those reasons, Pence looks like a stupid choice, and Donald must have sensed that if he was trying to back out of it at the last minute, right?

Ah, but there’s far more to this than it would appear at first glance.

Pence really is as stridently anti-gay as he seems. For examples, see “Ten Times Mike Pence Worked to Defeat the LGBT Community” for a partial list of his anti-LGBT antics. Included in that post is a video from the Human Rights Campaign showing Pence deliberately avoiding and ducking and flat out refusing to answer simple and direct questions on whether it should be legal to discriminate against LGBT people (you can also watch the video on YouTube).

Pence is most notorious for being willing to destroy Indiana’s economy in order to make sure that discrimination against LGBT people would be legal in the state. Pence repeatedly lied about the law, while steadfastly refusing to back legislation to protect the human and civil rights of LGBT people.

Obviously, Pence’s radical rightwing ideology doesn’t just attack LGBT people, as the graphic up top shows. The graphic below highlights the ways that Pence and Trump have the same radical rightwing positions on various issues: Two peas in an extremist pod.

So, Pence has the credentials and record as a career-long extreme rightwing crusader. The ideologically flexible Donald totally lacks any such credentials, and THIS is what Donald wants to tap into.

Pence’s temporary spat with Christian extremists is long over. They’ve come to realise that the revised Indiana “religious freedom [sic]” law didn’t really protect LGBT Hoosiers, as they’d been led to believe by the mainstream news media. Since then, Pence has signed extreme controls on abortion into Indiana law, cut education funding to give tax cuts to the rich, among many other extreme rightwing agenda items.

Picking Pence was a way for Donald to further pander to extreme rightwingers, Christian radicals in particular. As part of that effort, Donald and the Republican Party are pushing for a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the US Tax Code that prohibits tax-exempt non-profits, including— but not limited to—churches, from endorsing partisan political candidates or campaigns. The extreme rightwing hates this law, and every year they organise a stunt in which their preachers deliver expressly partisan political sermons to goad the USA’s Internal Revenue Service into prosecuting them. The IRS, which isn’t stupid, has never risen to the bait, and has never prosecuted any of the participating churches or preachers.

The Big Lie being told by Republicans is that the Johnson Amendment restricts the free speech of churches, which is absurd: ALL tax-exempt non-profits are treated equally. Moreover, this merely prevents expressly partisan organising and support, and doesn’t restrict their right to speak out on public issues in any manner, shape, or form—which they all know, of course.

However, they’re not really trying to make a rational argument: Instead, this is merely another attempt to pander to the extreme rightwing base of the Republican Party, people whose votes will be critical if the Trump-Pence (T.P.) ticket is to win the White House, given how Donald, Pence, or both, have already angered women, Black people, Hispanic people, LGBT people, and the families and friends of all those voters.

In addition to shoring up the far-right base of the Republican Party, Trump is looking for the other thing Pence has connections to: Money—lots and lots of money.

Pence has connections to rightwing billionaires, including the notorious extreme rightwing Koch Brothers, and since the brothers’ chosen candidate, Scott Walker, crashed and burned early on, they’ll be happy to transfer their pledged billion dollar campaign spending to the T.P. ticket, particularly if it advocates strongly for the coal and oil/gas industries—which they’re certain to do, of course.

To sum up, then, Donald has chosen as his runningmate a career politician of middling ability, who has made a career out of fighting against the majority of Americans, especially targeting brown people, women, and LGBT people. But his connections to billionaires and extremist Christians means that Pence may turn out to be Donald’s trump card. (sorry)

Yes, Mike Pence is terrible, an extremist determined to turn the USA into a theocracy serving only the interests of billionaires. Teamed with the narcissistic Donald, the two could indeed destroy the country, especially if Republicans retain control of the US Congress.

What happens next is up to voters. If they elect the T.P. ticket, either directly or by casting some sort of “protest vote” against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, then they’ll prove that Donald really is very, very, very intelligent after all.

Image Credits: The two graphics in this post were posted by the Hillary Clinton campaign to their Facebook Page: “Five things you should know graphic” (at top), and the checklist graphic (at the bottom of the post).

Friday, July 15, 2016

Children listen

This video from the Clinton campaign gets at one of the worst things about Donald: His mouth. Every time children hear Donald making bigoted statements, it could easily give them the idea that it’s okay to say what he says. And when those same children see adults making excuses for the terrible things Donald says, it only reinforces the idea that bigotry is okay.

It’s one thing—an ignorant thing, but a different matter—when adults hear what Donald says and excuse the rank bigotry with, “he’s only saying what everyone’s thinking” (he’s not, and most people don’t think like him, by the way). As long as no children are within earshot, then it’s a bit like watching porn or an extremely violent movie: Something for adults only.

But allowing children to think that what Donald says is okay cannot lead to anything good. This isn’t about ideology; this is about morality and basic human decency.

No one is born a bigot. Bigots are made from children who grow up hearing bigotry and learning from it that it’s okay. That’s why this matters so much. Since Donald can’t control himself and refuses to speak with common decency and civility, and not even his own party will condemn his bigotry, it’s up to adults to make sure that children learn how wrong Donald is to speak as he does.

There was no way I’d ever vote for Donald, of course, because I think his politics are reprehensible (depending one which of his many positions on issues we’re talking about…). And, his severe narcissistic personality disorder should scare the hell out of everyone. But his politics and personality disorder are entirely beside the point.

Children listen. Do we REALLY want them to learn that Donald’s hate speech is okay and grow up to talk just like him?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

No comment

An increasing number of media sites are taking “the nuclear option” and closing down their commenting function, including two in New Zealand the past few days. The move is usually the result of the cost—both financial and social. This may not be the best possible response, but it may be the only practical one available, and far more effective than people declaring, “don’t read the comments.”

Of the costs of allowing comments, the financial cost is the easiest to quantify, not surprisingly. Staff time must be spent moderating comments, at least to some extent, even if that’s only responding to complaints. In some jurisdictions, failure to do so could get the media organisation into trouble, but, at the very least, abusive and toxic comments can become a story in themselves, making the media site look negligent for not dealing with them.

The other cost is social, with aggressive and mean-spirited people poisoning public discourse by looking to attack and belittle others. In extreme cases, such abuse can harm the victim/target. But even short of actual harm, it nevertheless cheapens the whole comment thread, and makes reasonable discussion impossible.

So, for many organisations, turning off their comments is the only solution they can come up with.

This is nothing new, of course. Back in 2013, Popular Science became the first major site to switch off comments, because “comments can be bad for science”, since, as they explained to readers, studies have shown that “even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story”.

Last year, Wired published a timeline of sites that had abandoned comments, and even then the list was limited only to major sites, the ones with the most traffic. Many smaller sites have done the same. In any case, the list would be far longer now.

I was probably vaguely aware of much of that, but, perhaps because of my own recent bad experiences, I immediately noticed when two New Zealand media sites announced this week that they, too, were abandoning comments.

Three days ago, Radio New Zealand (or “RNZ” as it now wants to be called) announced that they were turning off their comments. A post on their site—written by their “Engagement Editor”—said “More and more, the conversations around RNZ's journalism are happening elsewhere.” That means Facebook and Twitter, mostly, and it’s where most commenting is happening these days.

Today, Duncan Grieve, Editor and Publisher of The Spinoff, announced they were turning off comments today. He mentioned costs, but said the real reason was this: “We’re turning [comments] off because they have been getting horrible at times. Seriously bleak and offensive. And I don’t see that changing.”

Like RNZ, The Spinoff will leave the comments to happen on social media. Here, Grieve was refreshingly honest:
This doesn’t mean we’ll let anything go on our social channels. But while we will monitor… them, fundamentally those are other people’s platforms. We can control them to an extent, but I feel less of a sense of responsibility for what happens on Facebook than on The Spinoff. For me, all the nightmare shit which happens on Facebook is ultimately Zuckerberg’s problem. Whereas what happens on our URL is on me.
This won’t help if there are spectacularly toxic or abusive comments posted on their Facebook Page and not deleted, but in general it may help reduce the number of outrageously bad comments. That’s the same goal of other sites that do the same.

Where does this leave the rest of us, the folks who act like responsible human beings when we comment? Some will be out of luck if they don’t use social media. Some sites will try and come up with better systems, such as ones in which a person will have to provide real-world verification of who they are and where they live before they’re able to comment. Still other ideas, like the Coral Project, are looking at better software solutions.

Ultimately, though, we’re in this mess because some people just can’t act like responsible human beings, or worse, delight in causing pain to others. At the moment, we have no way to fix that problem, and until some better system or technology comes along, ending the ability to comment may be the only option that big sites can take.

This may not be the best possible solution, but it appears to be the only practical one available. All things considered, it’s far more effective than people having to warn others with, “don’t read the comments!”

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Psychology of Trolling

Why DO people engage in trolling behaviour? What motivates them, and what are some effective ways for getting them to change their behaviour? The video above touches on all that.

This video from the SciShow YouTube Channel, part of Hank Green’s YouTube empire (he’s one of the Vlog Brothers, among other things), was released a few days ago and talks about some of the science behind the sort of behaviour I was talking about on Monday. One of the things I was most surprised about was that very little research has been done on trolling behaviour, despite how important the Internet has become in our lives.

I’m actually not sure that knowing the scientific explanations for trolling behaviour really helps that much, especially if one is the victim of it. However, it’s good to know that finding that sweet spot between no comment monitoring and tight-fisted control of discussion can help reduce the truly awful, toxic trolling behaviour, and that’s good for everyone.

Even so, I still think that in open online discussion forums—Facebook, YouTube, news websites—it’s still usually best to just walk away. Understanding why people troll is important, but keeping ourselves safe is more important. After all, there’s no online discussion in existence that’s worth enduring if it’s toxic.

Still, I would like to see more research into trolling behaviour so we can find better ways of stopping it. We all ought to be able to comment whenever we want without risking troll attacks.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Troll road

Internet fights are boring, whether we’re sucked in or just witness them. But sometimes they’re pretty much unavoidable: Although we can control our own responses, we can’t control what others do, and sometimes we can’t stop escalation. Recently, I accidentally stumbled on a new strategy that can be useful when things spiral out of control.

On the whole, I’m far less likely to take part in comment wars than I used to be. Mainly, I’m just not interested, but I also try to be more careful about who I respond to as well as how. But I recently was caught up in two different comment wars, and they led me, first, to stumble on a strategy, and second, to test it.

The first comment war was a typical Not My Fault situation: I was trading amiable comments with someone, and another person intruded himself and started dismissing what we were saying and belittling us for what we were saying. The person I’d been trading comments with wisely stopped commenting, but I didn’t, something I didn’t immediately realise was a bad idea.

As the “conversation” went on, and after I’d made many of the same points he was harping on, it became clear that for whatever reason he was targeting me for abuse—often without actually bothering to read my comments. I was annoyed, not angry, and gave as good as I got—until, that is, I’d had enough of his narcissism and deleted all my comments.

After I did that, all his comments were orphaned, and it looked like he was having a somewhat unhinged monologue. It made him look not just like an idiot, but like he was downright weird. By the next day, he still hadn’t deleted his comment that caused it all to happen, so his monologue was still there. For all I know, it may still be.

A week or so later, I chose to respond to a god-botherer (what we Americans might call a “bible thumper”) who was railing against gay people on a thread about a meme posted by the New Zealand Labour Party. I mentioned this fight in my post on Saturday when I said:
The second, even more illiterate [comment], was from a guy who similarly decided it was a good idea to preach against gay people. He didn’t know what he was talking about, as is usually the case for such people, and how I eventually dealt with his comments is a topic for another day.
Other people attacked him directly, while I focused only his bad ideas. He was like a lot of fundamentalist Christians who have, at best, a very weak understanding of the bible passages they use as weapons, and this is mostly what I focused on, explaining the truth. As always, this had nothing to do with him, but rather was about the LGBT people were reading his comments and wondering if their god really hated them, and also Christians who were taught those same weaponised, mainly Old Testament, passages, but knew in their hearts that they couldn’t really mean what their preachers claimed they meant.

But the illiterate self-appointed preacher never gave any ground, of course, which I fully expected. But I grew tired of his ad hominem attacks on me (at one point he called me a “backslider”, a term not used in the religious tradition I was raised in, so I never heard it until relatively recent years; now, I think it’s an offensive and stupid word).

So, as with the earlier comment war, I deleted all my comments, which also deleted some of his (ones where he’d clicked “reply”). As before, all his remaining comments were orphaned, and it looked like he was preaching to no one in particular, like a crazed street preacher ranting and raving to absolutely no one—although, his comments where he was responding to something I’d said almost read like he was talking to an imaginary person. Unlike the first comment war, this time the guy eventually deleted the comment that started the whole thing, and all the remaining replies from others along with it.

In the first comment war, I was drawn in when I was attacked, but the second I walked into (following others). In retrospect, I should have ignored him—as I’d planned on doing until others had a go at him in response. I should have followed my instincts and not engaged, however, it did give me a chance to test out my strategy.

In general, I’m far less likely to take part in comment wars than I used to be. But sometimes, despite everything, I can get drawn in. At least now I’ve found a way to have my say, walk away, and derail the other person’s attacks and/or trolling.

But my best strategy of all is the one I still turn to first: Just ignore it and keep my powder dry for a time it may actually matter.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reminders from music of my past

Tonight I listened to old songs, ones I loved when they were new, and I had a firm thought: I have no regrets.

There’s nothing I wish I could do over, or get another chance at, try to do what I didn’t do, or not do what I shouldn’t have. Everything in my life has led me to this point, and to change one thing would change everything, and that’s not okay. I want to be where I am now.

But if I could go back, maybe I’d look more for what I could have gotten in high school, rather than obsessing on getting out. No, I probably couldn’t have done that.

What about my university years? Would they be different?

I had points—especially in my last couple years at university—where I was completely in the moment. I wish there had been more moments like that, times when I was aware of little else but what was happening at that particular time—boyfriends, new friends, new social opportunities, new freedom—and not worry about what was still to come. Then again, no, I moved on.

My early years out of university gave me some awesome times, and I met truly awesome people, and I wish I’d had more moments with them—it was all over so fast! And yet, I also had terrible people in my life at that time, people who beat down my self confidence, my self esteem, my drive, my spirit. No, on balance, I’m better off without those people, and they were part of those days, so, I wouldn’t repeat them, either.

At every stage of my life, I’ve had moments I wish had been longer, people I wish I’d been with more than I was. But many of those people are still in my life, or, thanks to Facebook, they are again. So, what have I really lost—apart from those who did me harm?

Over the years, I’ve accumulated memories and adventures and knowledge and experience and love and new friends and why would I want to miss out on any of that? Collectively, they all matter more to me than those times I wish I could have experienced more deeply or longer.

Everything in my life has led me to the point I’m at now. Loss is part of that, and so is the wish that I’d been aware enough to be in the moment more than I was. But, even those moments—perhaps squandered—helped lead me to where I am now.

I have my heart, my home, my husband, and a life filled with love and adventure. Had any of those earlier moments been different, all that followed might have been entirely different.

And that is why I have no regrets.

Listening to music from my past can remind me of that.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

30 Years since Homosexual Law Reform

30 years ago today, July 9, 1986, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Homosexual Reform Law Act by a vote of 49 Ayes to 44 Noes. It was a watershed moment in New Zealand’s progress, the moment the country took a giant leap forward. The video above has some images and audio from that time.

When New Zealand became a part of the British Empire in 1840, it became subject to British law, which included a death sentence for male homosexuality (sex between women was never illegal in New Zealand). In 1867, Britain reduced the penalty to life in prison, which I’ve read was thought a compassionate thing to do.

But in 1893, all sexual activity between men, even if it was consensual, was defined as “sexual assault”, punishable by life in prison, hard labour, and flogging.

The 1961 Crimes Act removed the penalty of life imprisonment, but all other penalties remained.

There were efforts to remove all criminal sanctions in the 1960s and 1970s, all of which went nowhere. In 1985, Labour MP Fran Wilde’s private member’s bill was drawn, and the battle joined.

The opponents of reform were all the usual suspects—social conservatives, rightwing religionists, conservative politicians who, whatever they really thought, were happy to exploit the issue for personal political gain. They people I know who lived through that time called it once of the darkest periods in New Zealand history, with opponents feeling free to express all sorts of vile anti-gay hatred openly.

One of the absolute worst was Norman Jones, a National Party MP for Invercargill, and a pretty nasty piece of work in general. In the video above, he can be heard screaming out at a meeting at the Wellington Town Hall in 1985, "Go back into the sewers where you come from...let all the normal people stand up ... we do not want homosexuality legalised. We don't want our children contaminated by those people." He concluded his spittle-flecked histrionics that night with, "You're looking into Hades, you're looking at the homosexuals, don't look too hard you might catch Aids."

Jones’ allies included rightwing “Christian” activists Keith Hay (who became wealthy form the home building company that still bears his name) and Peter Tait, who served one term as a National Party MP, among others, who formed the Coalition of Concerned Citizens to oppose Homosexual Law Reform.

The Salvation Army was also active in opposition to the bill, and helped opponents circulate petitions against it. To this day. LGBT New Zealanders have never forgiven the Salvation Army for their actions, despite the goup apologising for what they did, and hveing never interfered like that again (they took no active part in the debates on either the Civil Unions bill or the marriage equality bill, though they opposed both).

Opponents brought dozens of boxes of petitions to the steps of Parliament, with fresh-faced young people holding large New Zealand flags, creating a scene strongly reminiscent of Nuremberg rallies. It turned out that a large number of the boxes were actually virtually empty, and among the 800,000 or so signatures were tens of thousands by Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and others. Hundreds of pages of petitions were clearly all signed by the same person. It was not convincing.

As the bill made its way through Parliament, MPs tried to amend it to make the age of consent 18, when it was 16 for heterosexual sex (and lesbian sex, actually, since that had never been illegal). That attempt failed. The bill finally passed, received Royal Assent two days later, and became law on August 8, 1986.

Jones was dead of brain cancer some 17 months later. Hay died in 1997, age 79, and his son David, who at one point was Deputy Mayor of the former Auckland City, took up his dad’s anti-gay and rightwing “Christian” activism, famously jumping on floats in the former LGBT HERO parade to take photos of participants (I was living in Auckland when that happened), and always trying to prevent any City Council funding going to the LGBT communities as it did for other communities’ special events. Tait died in 1996.

The Coalition of Concerned Citizens tried to defeat the Labour Government in the 1987 General Election and failed (Labour lost only one electorate). The group, which was staunchly anti-communist and racist, as well as being virulently anti-gay, became an increasingly fringe extremist group and ceased to exist altogether in the late 1990s.

The passage of Homosexual Law Reform meant that for the first time in New Zealand history, gay men could live more openly. Civil rights protections wouldn't come until the Human Rights Act 1993. Even so, gay men no longer had to fear arrest for being who they were, because it was never just about sex: Reform meant gay men who fell in love could form a home together without fear of losing everything following an arrest and conviction.

Much has happened since Homosexual Law Reform—the Human Rights Act protections, Civil Unions, Marriage Equality—but there’s till much unfinished business.

The biggest bit of unfinished business for Homosexual Law Reform itself is that convictions of men prosecuted under the old law have never been quashed. Justice Minister Amy Adams, the National Party MP for Selwyn, refuses to even look at the issue, calling it “too difficult”. I don’t know if she gives up so easily on everything demanding justice, but it seems evident her hand will need to be forced.

Despite what Amy thinks, it’s not “too difficult”. The first step is for Parliament to formally apologise to those convicted of consensual homosexual acts before legalisation in 1986. That should be a no-brainer. For the rest, the government can set up a commission to review all the convictions, working in reverse order from 1986 and working backward. Some of them could easily be quashed right away.

Amy herself brought up the issue of pre-1986 convictions for child molesting. One of the problems is that since it was illegal for men to have sex with each other, technically there wasn't an age of consent (you can't give consent to commit a crime). So, many of those "child molesting" convictions could actually be between what would now be consenting adults. So, in at least some cases, pre-HLR prosecutors may have charged one consenting adult with "molesting" another consenting adult—though neither could be that until HLR took effect.

It gets more complicated: Add into the mix things like class and race, and it's probable that many of those convicted of "sex crimes" were, in fact, dealt with more harshly because they weren't white or well off, but their supposed "victim" was one or both. One of the easiest ways for prosecutors to do that was to claim one consensual partner actually raped the other consensual partner, or molested him. In those cases, one of the men could be convicted of assault or molestation when nothing could be farther from the truth.

So, Amy Adams is just being lazy and/or incompetent, making excuses for refusing to ensure justice is done for the victims of a horrendous and inexcusable law. She must do better.

Historic legal issues aside, there’s the larger problem of dealing with remaining anti-gay prejudice and bigotry, and I saw (and challenged) some of that this week.

This week, the rainbow flag was raised over Parliament’s forecourt for the first time in history. I shared a friend’s photo on Facebook, and it was eventually included in this graphic the Labour Party posted to its Facebook Page:

MOST of the comments were positive, but a few were definitely not:

For that screengrab, I deleted one irrelevant comment that was actually second in this block of comments, and I blurred the names and profile photos because they’re not the point here, their prejudice is.

The first comment above never received any “Likes” or comments, which is a good thing. The second, even more illiterate one, was from a guy who similarly decided it was a good idea to preach against gay people. He didn’t know what he was talking about, as is usually the case for such people, and how I eventually dealt with his comments is a topic for another day. But after several people stood up to him and called him out for his anti-gay bigotry, he eventually deleted his comment. The next one was from a guy living in Australia and a pretty rabid rightwinger, but at least he didn’t use religion as an excuse for his prejudice.

The thing about these comments is that they’re not unique. Labour’s posts get ones like them all the time, and not necessarily on posts about a LGBT-related issue, either. We even recently had hosts on a sports radio station make homophobic remarks on air. So, this is not done yet.

However, tonight Auckland’s Sky Tower was lit in rainbow colours to celebrate the anniversary. So was Auckland’s Town Hall. So was the Civic Theater. We saw Sky Tower as we drove home this evening, and I saw photos of the others that Auckland Councillor Cathy Casey posted on Facebook.

Today is a day to celebrate, even if some people don’t want us to, or want to re-criminalise us. Hell, it’s a day to celebrate BECAUSE some people don’t want us to or want to re-criminalise us! Bigotry always loses in the end—always. For LGBT people in New Zealand, anti-gay bigotry began to die 30 years ago today.

The last commenting glitch

Dealing with comments is—or ought to be—an important job for anyone with an internet site, including blogs. This blog uses Disqus commenting system, and after fixing a few glitches, it’s worked well. But there’s one remaining glitch that doesn’t seem fixable. This is how to get around it.

The one remaining glitch is that the newest post often (maybe all the time?) doesn’t show a link for commenting. Sometimes this appears after someone has commented, sometimes it doesn’t even then. Sometimes it appearsafter more than one comment has been left. And, sometimes it’ll appear after some period of time (days? Weeks? Who knows? It just appears). Mostly, it will appear after it’s no longer the newest post.

This appears to be a problem with Blogger itself, and since Google is pretty much ignoring the platform nowadays, it’s unlikely to ever be fixed. So, unless I move the blog—which isn’t out of the question—there is a work around.

The title of every blog post is a clickable link: Clicking on the title takes you to a window/tab with nothing but that post, including the commenting section. If anyone has commented, you’ll see them, and if not, you can leave a comment.

This method will work on a Wordpress blog, too. I said that the problem on this blog appears to be a Blogger problem, but I can’t be sure because I’ve seen similar things happen on my podcast sites, which are actually self-hosted Wordpress blogs. This is how I know the workaround works on Wordpress blogs, too.

I should add that I know this isn’t a Disqus problem because my podcast sites don’t use it (no particular reason why they don’t). I’m also pretty sure it happened at least sometimes before I switched this blog to Disqus.

I may not be able to fix this particular commenting problem, but I can at least offer a workaround. I do try to be helpful.

Improved commenting – I talk about the switch
How to comment – in which I provided complete instructions on how to use the Disqus system
Solving commenting problems – about how to fix a Blogger glitch that prevented the Disqus option from showing up for some people
Unexpected and expected – Not about this blog as such, but it’s why I permit anonymous comments