Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Metric matters

One of the most jarring things I had to deal with when I moved to New Zealand was abruptly switching to the metric system. While I’d been taught the metric system in school, it all fizzled out when the USA backed out of conversion. It still hasn’t fixed that failure, and it still causes problems, as the TEDed video above mentions.

As the US was beginning the process of conversion, I heard many people—including classmates—say, “why should we convert to the metric system when the rest of the world is converting to our system?!” The truth is, many of us really believed that, in the pre-Internet age when it wasn’t easy to debunk bovine excrement passed off as fact. As we all now know, the truth was the exact opposite.

Actually, I said, “we all know”, but that’s not entirely true: The truth is that even now there are Americans taking to the Internet to declare the myth yet again (I’ve seen it myself). Instead, of course, the United States, Liberia, and Burma are the only countries on earth that don’t primarily use the metric system.

Metric conversion took off in 1975 with the passage of the Metric Conversion Act. We saw road signs with speeds in MPH and KPH, highway distance signs giving dual distances, speedometers in both MPH and KPH, and millilitres and grams began appearing on consumer packages.

On July 25, 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed Executive Order 12770, which, among other things, ordered the US Federal Government to use the metric system in procurements. It was a major step in the right direction, but not one ordinary Americans followed.

Even so, we were taught a lot of equivalencies when I was growing up: A metre was roughly the distance from the floor to a doorknob. A paperclip weighed about a gram. And, a soft drink company—7Up, I think it was—ran commercials for their new litre bottle, declaring “it’s a litre bit more than a quart”. Obviously those all worked, because I remember them to this day. I learned another here in New Zealand: A pound is roughly 500 grams, and I first learned that because butter is sold in 500 gram blocks that are the same size as a pound of butter in the USA.

Because of all this background, I had an easier time than those born before or after me, as I wrote nearly ten years ago, in October 2006:
Adapting to the metric system was easy for weights and measures, a little more difficult for temperature. If someone told me it was 21 outside, I had no idea if that meant it was time to bundle up or strip off.

With both language and metrics, it soon dawned on me that the only way to learn them and make them second nature was to just completely switch and not be tempted to make any conversions…
Even so, I made a little business card-sized chart with common temperatures in both metric and the US system, and I carried around it around so I could double-check the temperature when I was in doubt—which, for quite awhile, was often. Now, after more than 20 years of total immersion in the metric system, I still don’t automatically know what a given temperature feels like, but I’m better than I ever used to be.

I was reminded of all this last week when I was making my pumpkin pies: I had to convert the baking temperatures to Celsius, and I had to pour the evaporated milk into a measuring cup with ounces because the metric can sold here holds more than the 12 ounces I needed. If the USA had adopted the metric system all those years ago, I wouldn’t have had to do any of that. Maybe someday I won’t have to.


As it happens, Veritasium has just released a new video, “What the Fahrenheit?!”, below:

And, earlier this year, he produced a video about the Celsius system called, “Celsius Didn’t Invent Celsius”, which is interesting as history and as science:

AmeriNZ Podcast 323 is now available

Finally! A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 323 – Results” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This is blog post 333 for 2016

This is the 333rd AmeriNZ Blog post for 2016. That number means absolutely nothing by itself, but it’s as good a reason as any for an update on the blog post turbocharging I began last month. The short version is that it’s going very well.

This all came about, of course, because I have a goal of an average of one post per day over the course of a year. Every year that’s meant some months I publish a lot of posts, others, not many. Despite a strong start, I’ve struggled with blogging this year, as I did last year, and both required a revved up effort to meet my annual goal.

In early September, my target was 1.57 posts per day, as Roger Green pointed out to me in an email. As of right now, after this post, I need a daily average of 1.03125 posts. All of which means that I’m well on track to meet my annual goal for 2016, because for the past few months I’ve averaged more than one post per day.

Along the way, there have been some surprises entirely unrelated to the goal: The posts that are the most viewed are often the ones I least expected. In fact, in some cases, I have no idea why they’re popular.

Back in mid-September, I decided to start sharing my Instagram posts on the blog, too. In that first post, I said that Instagram posts were “a very convenient way to share a photo that briefly tells a story, and in a way I don't typically do on this blog.” That’s true, but on this blog I’ve ended up mostly using them to illustrate what I was talking about in the blog post. Put another way, most of those Instagram shares were really not much different than if I’d just used the photo by itself, and none of them have been shared without me saying something.

This has encouraged me to use Instagram more often, and that’s given me things to share on Facebook, too, where short (and, especially visual) personal stories are always better received than long screeds. At least, that’s what I’ve observed among my own Facebook friends. It never occurred to me that I’d use Instagram more if I shared the posts here, but that’s been welcome.

However, what I certainly never expected was that some of those posts with Instagram shares would have hundreds of page views (the first one being the lowest), some over a thousand. That's been true regardless of the subject. I have no idea why this has been the case.

The only thing those posts have in common is that they’re all tagged “Instagram”. In researching this post (yes, even this one…), I found two Instagram posts that weren’t tagged, and they had much lower page views. So, I tagged the two posts and made a note of them so I can check to see if the number of page views increases.

Overall, page views for my posts have been in a fairly narrow range, with most posts about US politics being among the most-viewed, and many of my posts about New Zealand politics being among the least-viewed. Some posts about me and my life are popular. For example, the post about our third wedding anniversary had had a huge numbers of views, maybe because I talked about using the word husband.

The bottom line, really, is that I have no idea why people view certain posts and not others. While I’d like to provide more of what people like, I don’t know what that is, exactly, so I just keep on doing what I’m doing.

And because of all that, there’s now the real probability of hitting my annual goal, something that seemed unlikely only a few months ago. That’s the power of persistence, aided by a very blog-worthy US election, to turbocharge my efforts to meet my target.

And now, with 333 posts done, there are only 33 more posts to go.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Under the Bridge

There are always new places to visit, but sometimes it’s interesting to re-visit places we’ve been, especially if it’s been a long time. This past Thursday, I visited Stokes Point/Te Onewa Pa—underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge, where it lands on the North Shore.

I’d last visited the spot in March 2007, where I took some photos that I shared at the time, including one similar to the photo above. I’m including photos from that day with this post because I didn’t take new ones, and what they show hasn’t changed much.

By 2009, when I again used a photo from that 2007 post, the area was closed to the public while urgent repair and strengthening work was being done on the underside of the bridge. I just never went back to check.

But I never forgot about the spot, either, and wanted to take a photo of the memorial to the workers who died building the bridge (photo at right). In 2009, I was reading the Wikipedia page on the bridge, and it mentioned that there was a memorial to the workers, but implied that it was uncertain that any had died (the current entry does mention the deaths). I wanted to go back and take a photo of the memorial, but couldn’t at the time, and then forgot about it.

Thursday was a beautiful day, so off I went. I parked in the shade of some trees and made my way to the stairs leading up (photo at left). It was daunting, because I could see how steep the steps were. Still, I started climbing, and continued left along the path—forgetting for a moment to take the dirt path to the right. I had to backtrack.

The path to Stokes Point is in the photos from 2007, below. The photo at left is looking back toward the steps, which is at just beyond the point in the distance where the path curves to the right. The photo at right, below, is from the same point, but looking toward Stokes Point and the spot where the memorial is (not visible in this photo).

What is now often known as Stokes Point was originally Te Onewa Pa, a Māori fortification used to protect kumara planted nearby and fishing grounds below the bluffs. Eventually the Crown purchased the land in the Mahurangi Purchase, which covered most of the North Shore. The area was subdivided, sold and re-sold, and eventually became a reserve (parkland), which it still is today.

Back in 2012, criticism was levelled at NZTA, which manages the bridge, for the damage done to the reserve over the many decades since the bridge was built in 1959, but especially since 2000. Nothing has been done to make the area better, and it feels forgotten and completely neglected.

The photo below is from 2007, but it’s no better now than it was then:

I personally don’t think the area could ever be made “beautiful”, but it could be so much better than it is—more welcoming, safer, and definitely more accessible. I don’t like heights, something that’s become worse as I’ve grown older. I felt extremely uncomfortable the entire time I was there, first because of the long, steep steps leading up from the carpark, then because of inadequate fencing to protect people from falling off the point and into the harbour. The noise of eight lanes of traffic above me, however, didn’t bother me, and while it isn’t exactly peaceful under the bridge, it’s quieter than one might think.

When I left, and after I successfully climbed down the steep stairs, I walked over to nearby Northcote Wharf. This is the ferry landing jetty that juts out from the wharf:

I went over there mostly so I could sit down in the shade and post the montage at the bottom of this post to Instagram (this version is slightly different). There was a man fishing off the jetty while I was there, and I included that photo in the montage. The photo of the bridge was taken from that area, the one of the skyline was taken a minute or two after the one up above.

And that was my visit to Stokes Point/Te Onewa Pa and Northcote Wharf. I plan on visiting other spots in the area, but mostly ones that aren’t so high up. Those, too, will be documented.

The danger in not checking

There’s been a dramatic increase in fake news shared online, as numerous real news outlets have reported. Much of that was aimed at rightwing users of social media, but whatever the ideology, motive, or origin, it was a terrible development. Worse, it went to reveal how awful most people are at checking before sharing. We’ve now seen how that failure to check can have serious potential consequences.

Over the past couple weeks, people in New Zealand have been sharing something meant to help prevent suicides by including a helpline. That’s a good thing to do, though I have no idea why it happened. The problem with this wasn’t in the sharing, it was in the details—specifically, the phone number.

The text being shared was taken verbatim from a US posting, perhaps after the recent US election, or maybe in the run up to the Thanksgiving holiday. But some Kiwis posted it complete with the US toll-free phone number, “1-800-273-TALK (8255).”

As pointless as sharing the US number was for New Zealanders, at some point someone made a slight change: They changed “1-800” to “0800” the most common toll-free prefix in New Zealand. The problem is, “0800-273-TALK (8255)” is not a valid New Zealand number for anything, and certainly not suicide prevention.

The New Zealand helpline numbers are:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666

The New Zealand Ministry of Health has a complete list of support and resources for supporting someone who is suicidal.
None of that useful information was mentioned in any of the New Zealanders’ shares I saw on Facebook, and yet it’s information that could really help someone. People shared incomplete or even grossly incorrect information with the best of intentions—their hearts were truly in the right place—but it was because they shared without checking that they ended up doing no good, or—worse—possibly even doing harm. THIS is why it’s important to check things before sharing them—ALWAYS.

I first became aware of this when a Facebook friend posted a status update correcting the meme. Since then, I’ve corrected shares several times, something I did only after I checked. That doesn't mean I’m wonderful and superior, it actually means I’m jaded. In fact, I’ve become so cynical as a result of all the fake or merely unreliable stuff I saw shared during the recent US election that I pretty much just assume that what I see is wrong in some significant way.

Obviously, most of the nonsense people share on social media won’t have life-or-death implications (and I choose to believe this one didn’t either), but sharing bad information, whether merely misleading, or outright fraudulent, damages our society in many incalculable and mostly invisible ways: But damage us, it does.

We must all think before we share, and double-check everything. If we can’t or won’t double-check before sharing, then we probably shouldn’t share the thing it all.

We can never be sure when the consequences of sharing bad or misleading information can turn out to be serious. We need to be better because we can’t rely on anyone else to get it right.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The easy way to remove Don from office

The latest video from Keith Olbermann, above, details an easy way that Don could be deposed as president without impeachment. There would be issues and obstacles to overcome, but the scenario that Keith lays out is legal, constitutional, and possible. Which is not to say it’s likely—or unlikely, either.

Keith is talking about using the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1967, which spells out the provisions for presidential succession, as well as what happens if, in the words of the Amendment, “the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.

Don’s fervent fans would consider it to be a sort of coup d'Γ©tat, however, the better, accurate comparison would be a parliamentary democracy. Keith mentions the UK, but it could be any similar country, including New Zealand and—especially—Australia.

In Australia, Kevin Rudd became Australia’s Prime Minister when his Australian Labor Party won the 2007 election. Then, he was deposed by Julia Gillard, who (barely) won the 2010 election. She was then deposed by Kevin Rudd in 2013, who lost that year’s election to the Liberal-National Coalition, making Tony Abbott prime minister until HE was deposed by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015. Turnbull won the 2016 election and is still the Australian Prime Minister—for now.

New Zealand has been much more sedate by comparison. In 1990, Mike Moore deposed Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer to, as he put it, prevent a greater loss by the NZ Labour Party in the 1990 elections two months later. The National party won the 1990 election, as expected, making Jim Bolger New Zealand Prime Minister. Bolger won the 1993 and 1996 elections, but was deposed by Jenny Shipley in 1997, a little over a year after the 1996 election. National lost the 1999 election, and Labour’s Helen Clark became Prime Minister. No New Zealand Prime Ministers have been deposed by their own party since.

The experience of the UK that Keith describes, as well as that of Australia and New Zealand, demonstrate a way to have a peaceful transfer of power when the head of government can no longer act in their role. That’s what Section 4 of the 25th Amendment does for the United States.

The alternative in the USA is for a president to be impeached by the US House of Representatives and then removed from office by the US Senate. Two US Presidents—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—were impeached, while Richard Nixon resigned before his inevitable impeachment. No president has ever been removed from office, but scholars generally agree that Nixon would have been.

It’s difficult to impeach a US President, and—so far—impossible to remove him. There's also a strong partisan bias against launching proceedings against a sitting president of the same party that controls the US House. This is why it’s unlikely that Don would be impeached and removed from office unless he faces some sort of criminal prosecution, which is entirely possible, or his abuse of his office or corruption in office was too egregious for even the most partisan Republicans to ignore.

The 25th Amendment provides a much easier way for Republicans to remove Don without having to risk failing to impeach and remove him. It would be messy, there would be a lot of awkward moments because of it, but, even so, it's possible. There’s absolutely no way to know if the Republicans would do this, however, there’s also no reason to dismiss the possibility outright—NOTHING about Don was, is, or ever will be, conventional.

Finally, a word about the video itself. During the campaign, Keith made a series of often strident videos for GQ in a series called “The Closer”. After the election, that series was renamed “The Resistance”, a term becoming common among some of Don’s opponents among Liberals and Progressives (thought not all use or even tolerate the term). Many of Keith's post-election videos have been even more strident than the election ones were, but the one above is less so. It also provides some really useful information for helping people understand the US Constitution better, as well as for giving people some hope that Don could be shoved to the sidelines if removing him would be too difficult.

Despite the easier Constitutional path to getting rid of Don, my bet is still that Don will simply resign part way through his term. The sooner the better, in my opinion.

Related: November 27 is the 43rd anniversary of the first time the 25th Amendment was used, when the US Senate voted 92-3 to confirm Gerald R. Ford as the 40th Vice President, to replace Spiro T. Agnew, who had resigned as a condition for pleading “no contest” to a single, lesser charge in his prosecution for bribery and corruption. Nine days later, the US House approved Ford in a 387 to 35 vote, making him the president-in-waiting as the presidency of Richard Nixon spiralled ever closer to its end.

Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center, talks about this, and notes that because the US House was controlled by Democrats, had the 25th Amendment not been in place, the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert, a Democrat, would have become Acting President when Nixon, a Republican, resigned effective August 9, 1974.

Starkest possible contrast

This is how a real President of the United States marked the death of Cuba’s Fidel Castro:
At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.

For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.

Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.
That was the complete text of President Obama’s official statement, which was also released in Spanish.

Now, compare and contrast the presidential statement above with that of the words spewed by the orange idiot soon to occupy the White House:
Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.

Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.
This statement from Don was typically self-congratulatory and also aggressive and attacking in nature. Some may think he doesn’t realise he’s not campaigning any more, but it’s just another indication of how unqualified he is to be president.

A real president doesn’t use the occasion of a foreign leader to attack, but rather tries to build bridges. A real president doesn’t stick the boot to people who are mourning in order to pander to supporters in the USA. Instead, a real president would “extend a hand of friendship”, not use that hand to slap Cubans across the face.

Don is not now, and I don’t believe ever can be, a real president: ALL he can ever be the titular officeholder, because his temperament makes him unsuited to be president, and his behaviour—as demonstrated once again in this statement—shows he doesn't have the capability to act in a presidential manner.

Clearly the US Congress will have to constantly apply the brakes to keep him from doing damage to the United States. But they can’t stop him from saying his standard crass and stupid things, and obviously none of his staff can stop him, either.

It’s going to be a VERY long time, maybe even as much as four years, until he’s gone.

Still, some see a humorous way to put this. Mrs Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian™, posted the picture below, adding: “For those of you looking for a way to respond to Fidel Castro's death, here are two examples. The first is popular with humans. The second is popular with parrots.”

While I was away

We went to Hamilton yesterday for our niece’s family birthday dinner, so there wasn’t really an opportunity to blog. The photo above is from that trip, one that I wanted to share here yesterday, though it wasn't to be.

The photo shows me waiting in the car with Jake and Sunny while Nigel picked-up a few snacks for the party at the supermarket. Jake and Sunny are both looking in the direction of the entrance to the store, where they’d last seen Nigel.

The window next to me was wide open, by the way, and I’m sitting in the passenger seat. I mention both because they wouldn’t be obvious from looking at the photo (particularly the passenger seat part, because people overseas often forget our cars are righthand drive). Also, Bella was at home; she doesn't like riding in the car or travelling.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving again

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

It’s Thanksgiving again, a day that means little to New Zealanders, regardless of whether we expat Americans observe it Thursday, or today—which is Thursday in the USA. It turned out to be a very busy day, so I thought I’d share the two photos I posted to Instagram today, because I’m a little too tired to do a long post.

The day began with my normal Friday chores, and then I headed out to a specialist grocery store, popular with the upper middle class (and those who want to be); the carpark was filled with Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and the top range of many other makers. A large number were SUVs.

This ended up being a very big deal because it took forever to get there due to horrible traffic. And, in the end, I didn’t even get anything useful for tonight’s dinner. Worse, the trip to the next grocery store, one of the ones I go to all the time, was every bit as slow as the first trip.

The second grocery store was much better. I ran into an old friend and co-worker, and it was great to catch up. I got everything I was looking for, and easily. It was in contrast to the other store—and more real, somehow.

Once I got home, later than I’d planned, I had a quick lunch and set about the first task: Making my pumpkin pies. I decided to try making some miniature pies this year, after I saw a similar idea shared on Facebook. I decided to simplify it and make mine more pie-like (the inspiration was made in muffin tins).

I grossly underestimated how much time it would take to make the little pies (the pasty was the hold-up), so I quickly made a second large pie, and ended up with seven little pies (six of which are in the photo below; a seventh was a bit overdone).

This year, I got a turkey roll wrapped around an orange and cranberry stuffing, so I popped that in the oven while the pies were finishing baking. I followed the instructions carefully, but it could have done with a bit less time than that; it wasn’t dried out, but the outside was overly done.

I also made mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and we had small corn on the cob. I decided against making kumara (similar to sweet potato) because we already had a lot of food, and I didn't make cornbread because NZ grocery stores don’t sell coarse cornmeal, just polenta, which is too fine. Coarse cornmeal is one of the things I’d hoped—in vain, as it turned out—to find at that specialist grocery store.

The dinner, ready to be consumed, is in the photo up top.

Dessert was the mini pumpkin pies, which were really nice and one was just enough. I think I’ll do that again, but maybe have someone help me, or else, have plenty of time to prepare them.

I seldom do Thanksgiving Dinner anymore, mainly because there’s always something on around that time. But when I do, I like to incorporate some of my family traditions, modified for what’s available (and what I have time for) in New Zealand.

What I like most about Thanksgiving is something that was never part of my family’s traditions: Reflecting on what I’m thankful for. There’s Nigel, obviously, and also my family by blood, marriage, and choice, spread all over the planet, all of whom make my life better. And this year I’m particularly thankful for excellent medical care that made it far more likely that I’ll live to see more Thanksgiving Days.

Thanksgiving may mean little to New Zealanders, but it still means a lot to me. And that’s truly enough.

Previous posts on Thanksgiving

Winner winner turkey dinner (2015)
Turkey Day (2014)
No thanks (2013)
Thanksgiving thoughts (2012)
Happy Thanksgiving (2011)
Another expat Thanksgiving (2010)
Thanksgiving (2008)
Home for the holidays (2007)
Thanksgiving Downunder (2006)

OK Go Walk Her Walk

I’ve always liked the music videos from OK Go: They’re visually interesting, often amazing in how they’re done, and just plain entertaining. This one for their new song, “The One Moment”, is a little different: It’s trying to help raise awareness of people working to make the world a better place.

The video is a collaboration with Morton Salt (of all things) and their Walk Her Walk initiative. “Inspired by the iconic Morton Salt Girl,” they say, “Walk Her Walk is a promise to make a positive impact on the world. It’s not enough to talk about making a difference. We intend to make one.”

The company goes on to highly five very organisations, and they also promote “Giving Tuesday” on November 29, a day in which people are encouraged to “give back” to their communities (and sort of a human and humane antidote to the crassness of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday").

All of which is great. I know that there will inevitably be critics on the Left and Right who will snipe and snark about it, for their own personal reasons, but I’m a bit more relaxed than they are: I’ve always been much more interested in moving us all forward and making the world a better place than I am in what’s in the soul of the person doing the good work.

I liked this video as I have so many others by OK Go (I posted one back in mid-2014, too). I also liked the song on first hearing, though it’s too soon for me to know if I’ll like it longer term, obviously. The thing is, I like what I like and I don’t really try and analyse things too much, nor do I care whether anyone else likes it or not—Arthur’s Law, and all that.

It's okay for a video and song to just be what they are, after all.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The day before Thanksgiving

This is a first: A post in which I’m sharing not one, but TWO Instagram photos! That’s because they’re both from today, and both about Thanksgiving. Well, the day before Thanksgiving.

Today is the fourth Thursday in November, which, of course, means absolutely nothing in this part of the world. In my American homeland, that Thursday is Thanksgiving, but that’s also tomorrow their time. It gets confusing even for me: Which day should I celebrate? I’ve often had a turkey sandwich on this particular Thursday, as I did today (the packaging has changed since I last did this back in 2014). As it happens, I will be making a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, and that’s why both of these photos are relevant.

After my turkey sandwich lunch, I headed out to the store to get a few supplies, including tinned pumpkin. Only one grocery chain, Countdown, carries it, saving me a special trip to Martha’s Backyard. And that’s where the problems began.

Countdown has a smartphone App I wanted to check to see which area store carried the pumpkin. I had to update the App first. Then, I checked and the area stores did have them.

So, I went to my usual Countdown, and couldn’t find them. They’ve always been in the “International” section, in the part where imported American products are stocked in small quantities. So, I asked at the service desk and the kind lady checked, and their computer did, indeed, show they had some. She went with me to where they were supposed to be, and there was nothing. Then I noticed the price was on the shelf, but there was no stock—they’d spread out marshmallow spread to fill the shelf. She checked in back, but they couldn’t find any there, either.

So, off I went to another Countdown in a local mall (that has two—which is long story). I wandered around, couldn’t find and it was just about to give up, when—Boom!—there they were, and many cans, too (also in that store’s American area of their International section).

So, I grabbed a couple cans (and checked the expiry date…), and as I was putting them in the trolley, I noticed what was on the top of one. The photo of that is below.

I said on Instagram that I was briefly homesick, and that’s actually true: Seeing that on the top of the can of pumpkin I was buying so I could make pies for Thanksgiving was enough to give me “the feels”. And then I went and finished my shopping.

So, I now have all my supplies, and tomorrow will be a busy day. But at least I finally have my tinned pumpkin, and I had my traditional turkey sandwich. Jeez, all that AND beautiful weather, this was a great day, this day before Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Another new adventure

Adventure is a good term, because adventure is a good thing. The word implies a something new, and hopefully exciting, that we’re about to begin. Sometimes, though, it can be used ironically for something that was not positive. Today I began something I hope will be the good kind of adventure.

This afternoon, I posted the photo above on my personal Facebook, and said: “I hold in my hand my brand new prescription for allopurinol, which hopefully will finally end my gout nightmare.” I start taking it tomorrow morning.

As long-time readers are very well aware, I’ve had an ongoing issue with gout attacks for many years now—for several years before I started blogging. I did a quick check, and I’ve mentioned gout in more than two dozen blog posts (so far…), though not all those posts were solely about gout.

The point is, this has been an ongoing issue for me for a decade and a half, and enough is enough.

Things became dramatically worse with my healthcare adventure: Seven weeks of unrelenting, often severe attacks, followed by around another three weeks of intermittent attacks (including one severe one). Moreover, I can’t take any NSAIDS for an attack because it could inter-act—perhaps dangerously—with my prescription drugs. That meant there was nothing I could do about an attack apart from wait it out.

One thing I don’t feel I’ve made clear is that this situation will never change: I’ll be on the prescription drugs for the rest of my life, and that means I’d also have times I’d be completely incapacitated.

Moreover, repeated gout attacks damage joints, never a good thing, but especially bad as we get older. And that, added to the probability of severe attacks I can do nothing to help or relieve, means that aging would mean losing mobility.

And yet, there is a solution: Allopurinol.

This drug isn’t perfect, and it has some drawbacks, along with possible risks and side effects (like all prescription drugs). But it’s the best option available to me, particularly when paired with the tart cherry pills I’ve been taking for several years. I’ll soon publish a separate post about what I do to help prevent gout, what doesn’t work, and so on. For now, though, I’m about to deploy my last, best defensive weapon.

So, that’s the why I’m doing this, but there’s also the why now?

Two weeks ago yesterday, the symptoms from my most recent attack finally ended. My doctor told me months ago that I needed to be symptom free for two weeks, and that in itself was often a difficult thing to achieve. So, on Monday, with the two-week mark rapidly approaching, I made an appointment, and today was the first day available.

My regular doctor is away on annual leave, so I saw another doctor. He did some basic tests, and wrote a one-month prescription for the drug, and ordered blood tests for just before I come back for a refill. They’ll test the uric acid levels in my blood to see of the dosage is effective, and also kidney function (because the drug can damage the kidneys). If it’s working as expected, they’ll renew it, or they’ll increase the dosage if it’s not.

I got the prescription filled immediately, took the photo above, and went home. I’ll take my first pill in the morning, with the others (and food), and that should be that for now.

I’ve been increasingly anxious over the past couple weeks, because I felt there was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode into another gout attack. I was careful not to do anything that might injure a joint (because that can trigger an attack), I watched my diet, drank a lot of water, etc., but still I worried an attack might arrive and re-set the countdown clock. Then, when I read the medicine information sheet, I saw that it said merely that I couldn’t have an acute attack when I started the drug, not that I had to be symptom-free for two weeks. I think my doctor was just being cautious.

At any rate, I’m now beginning a new adventure. I hope will be the good kind.

Trailer: When We rise

The video above is the new trailer for When We Rise, a new seven-part mini-series for the USA’s ABC television network, to be broadcast in February. The series traces the evolution of the gay rights movement in the USA starting with Stonewall in 1969, and seen through the eyes through a diverse family of LGBT people who were part of it. It sounds like “Must-see TV”.

And yet, getting the embed code so I could share the trailer here also revealed how much work is left to be done.

The series was created and written by Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter for Milk, for which he received an Academy Award. He also directed the final two parts. Gus Van Sant, who, with Black and others, was an Executive Producer, also directed the two-hour first part.

The cast has many well-known stars, some in unexpected roles. It looks fairly accurate, as near as I can tell from a mere trailer, and the trailer looks to have addressed the controversy around the trailer for the 2015 film, Stonewall. (I blogged about that film, and included the trailer, at the time).

When I went to YouTube to get the embed code, I noticed that the dislikes outnumbered the likes by nearly two to one. When a video is about anything positive about LGBT people, that’s usually a sign that the rightwing has descended on it to spread spite. The comments proved that to be true.

The comments on YouTube videos are often among the worst on the Internet: People say mean and hateful things all the time, but for something like this trailer, the comments become darker and are more likely to be truly awful—even hate speech. In fact, I reported maybe a couple dozen to YouTube for containing hate speech or extreme violence.

There were several comments that called for LGBT people to be killed. Others used language intended to vilify LGBT people and incite hatred. And, a few were even anti-Semitic, even if only subtly (one person simply pointed out that one of the Executive Producers is Bruce Cohen, and the point wasn't his body of work…).

But it was the sheer stupidity of the rightwingers that was the most stunning: They simply did not know that the mini-series was about real events, or that it was a docudrama about history. Instead, many thought it was a totally fictitious story, that it was about current events (the anti-Trump protests), and even that it was anti-Trump. There were even sadder ones who said it was designed to tear down white people (white men in particular), because the anti-LGBT people were “all white people”. All those judgements based on a 2:15 trailer! And yet they couldn’t even read the text on-screen.

All of that is part of what’s wrong with YouTube—that it brings out the dregs of conservative America, people who are clearly bigots, usually quite stupid, and unrelentingly aggressive. As I scanned the comments, though, I wondered to myself how many of those people who wrote bigoted comments—especially the racist and anti-Semitic comments—would have done so before Don’s election victory. We can’t really know the answer to that, and YouTube is plagued with people leaving such comments, but I nevertheless got the feeling, perhaps unjustified, that some of the people commenting were somewhat newly emboldened. Or, maybe I just need to believe that, because that could mean they were merely sucked into Don’s bigoted rhetoric, and they can be reclaimed by humanity.

Reading all that bigotry and ignorance reminded me, as if I needed reminding, of how far we have to go. Worse, though, it reminded me how fragile all our progress really is.

Still, this mini-series will show the path the LGBT civil rights movement took, and the struggle it was. There will be some people who will watch it and see history they never learned in school, and that’s a good thing.

I’m looking forward to watching it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A stunner of a day

The Instagram caption for my photo above describes the day today: “Absolute stunner of a day in Auckland! First day in AGES without a cloud in the sky, & warmer, too.” It ended up being the first truly spring day yet, really.

I left for today’s first errand late this morning, and I thought it was a bit cool. In fact, I actually thought to myself how unusual it was to still be wearing a jacket this late in November.

But then I noticed the totally blue sky, and the day started to warm up. When I went out again in the early afternoon, it was quite warm: I didn’t need a jacket anymore. Had I not been so busy, I’d have taken advantage of the day by going and taking some photos. But, the beautiful day was a surprise, and I had things to do.

That’s why I took the photo above from our deck—although I realised afterward that anyone can post a photo of the harbour or whatever, and tourists certainly do. This is what someone who actually lives here sees as an everyday sort of thing.

The blooming plant in the lower left is a cabbage tree (Cordyline australis), endemic to New Zealand. A little farther along on the left is a tree fern—I’m not sure of the species, just that it’s not the silver fern. Tree ferns are endemic to New Zealand, too, and there are several varieties. That particular one has a trunk that’s probably more than 2 metres tall (more than 6½ feet).

Over the years, I’ve shot many photos and videos from that same spot on our deck. For example, this cabbage tree is the bottom photo in a post from March, 2015, and the group this cabbage tree’s part of were in Day 5 of my “Nature photo a day” series earlier this year.

My first video from this post is from nearly seven years ago, and was just a quick camera test. The point where it stops is where the cabbage tree is now: It hadn’t grown that tall yet (the ground at that point is a full storey below the deck):

This particular tree, and the others in the group, were first in one of my videos the middle of last year, “Rainy Day in Auckland”:

And again on New Year’s Day this year:

The point of this isn’t that this tree is special, or even that particular view is, but rather that it’s great to be able to revel in the ordinary, and to celebrate what nature and life just hand to us without us having to do a thing. There’s one other thing, though: Sometimes what’s at hand is great.

I don’t have terribly fancy video or still cameras. In fact, most of my photos are taken on my iPhone 5C. I’ve been using smartphones to experiment and learn to take better photos ever since I posted about doing that in December 2014.

Through this, I’ve found that using what’s available is a great way to focus on what I’m trying to create. Personally, I think the challenge of the restrictions from not having “perfect” equipment doesn’t restrict creativity—it unleashes it.

The same thing is true for the scenes around us, too. There are numerous ways to look at the same view, and depending on how we approach it the scene can help convey any number of ideas, feelings, and emotions.

So, having limitations doesn’t have to be bad—it can be strangely liberating.

Mostly, though, a stunning day like today just makes for something awesome to be enjoyed, and I certainly did. It was a stunner of a day in Auckland today.

Professor predicts impeachment

The CBS News video above features Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University, who has correctly predicted very presidential election since 1984, including this year. Now he says Don will be impeached. Is that valid?

My first thought when I watched the video was that this is an example of why most academics aren’t pundits on television: What makes a person good for one field does not necessarily make them good for the other (a few notable exceptions notwithstanding). Even so, he does manage to stay on point, which is more than most pundits can manage.

His “prediction” about Don being impeached is actually more of a hunch, as he admits, but one that’s at least reasonable—though more likely to be probable. It seems to me the main motivation for Republicans to do this would be if Don breaks with them and prevents them from enacting their agenda, or especially if his antics threaten to cost them seats in the midterm elections. The Republican Party, after all, cares about nothing other than holding power.

One thing I did think was hilarious was both of them dissing polling, as if the professor has some unique magical way of always being right. The polls were wrong this year—obviously—but they have been very accurate in other years. Sooner or later, the professor will get it wrong, too: He’s a human predicting the behaviour of other humans, and that means his (admittedly) long streak of correctly calling the winner will inevitably end. He’s been very lucky, but he’s not infallible any more than pollsters are always fallible. We’re talking rationality, after all, not superstition or magic.

So, I think his viewpoint is interesting. Some of what he had to say seemed pretty self-evidently true, and some of it was debatable—and that’s just his talking about why he was right. It’ll be even more interesting to see if his luck holds out for another election or not.

Stopping the trend of hate

It’s no secret that there was a spike in bias- and hate-motivated incidents following the recent US elections. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has documented 701 incidents of hateful harassment so far, which, given what we know of bias crimes, is likely to be only a fraction of the total number. Even so, there IS good news.

The chart above is from SPLC shows the number of incidents by date. Apart from a spike on November 14, the trend has been going down. Any reduction in hateful incidents is very good news, perhaps indicating that the most bigoted of Don’s fanatics must have tired of their election celebrations. But this could just be a lull.

Don has already been seen to be pandering to racists, immigration bigots, and white supremacists with his actual or considered appointments for his regime. These people are likely to continue to fire up the most bigoted Americans, particularly if the rhetoric coming from Don’s regime promotes bigotry and xenophobia as much as his campaign did.

SPLC notes that:
"Incidents by type ranked by number of reports include: Anti-immigrant (206), anti-Black (151), anti-LGBT (80), swastika vandalism (60), anti-Muslim (51), and anti-woman (36). We are keeping track of anti-Trump incidents as well, which rose from our last report from 20 to 27."
Most worrying, they say:
“…anti-immigrant incidents remain the top type of harassment reported and that nearly 40 percent of all incidents occurred in educational (K-12 schools and university/college) settings.”
Kids! Kids are committing hateful harassment. We all ought to be ashamed about that.
The question, of course, is what we do about it. SPLC will become a valuable resource, particularly if Don gets his racist Attorney General who would be unlikely to care about such harassment. States, too, can play an important role.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently set up a hotline for New Yorkers to report incidents of bias and discrimination. Cuomo said on Sunday:
"The ugly political discourse of the election did not end on Election Day. In many ways it has gotten worse, into a social crisis that now challenges our identity as a state and as a nation and our people. It goes beyond politics: it questions our American character—who we are and what we believe."
So far, the hotline has received more than 400 calls since its launch on Friday.

The Obama Administration, meanwhile, is continuing to monitor the rise of bias crimes and to deal with them, as Attorney General Lynch talks about in the video below. However, they only have a couple months left, and with an emboldened Republican Congress determined to prevent them from doing anything, they have a battle, even in attempts to end bias crimes.

This is one of those times when vigilance is vital—to avoid becoming a victim, first and foremost, but also to stand up to bias and bigotry when we encounter it. The current wave of bias crimes may be subsiding, but this is not the time to relax. Instead, we must do all we can do to stop the trend of hate.

Update – November 23: The US Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement condemning a gathering of white nationalists in Washington, DC, pointing out: "The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Internet Wading for November 2016 – Looking and listening

I like sharing things I find on the Internet that I think are interesting for whatever reason, and that’s the point of these Internet Wading posts. One might think that since I missed doing one of these posts last month, I’d have a whole lot of links to share this month. Turns out, that would be an incorrect assumption.

Still, what I have this month is a typically mixed bag—a small bag, but mixed, nevertheless, beginning with the video above from Wired: “The Psychology Behind the World's Most Recognizable Sounds”. The YouTube description sums it up well:
Two sonic branding experts explain the thinking behind some of the world's most recognizable sounds. Featuring: Andrew Stafford - Co-Founder & Director at Big Sync Music. Steve Milton - Founding Partner at Listen.
Well, that’s a bit of sound, about some vision? “17 stunning photos of black Victorians show how history really looked”. It says:
All too often, the movies and media and books that retell the stories of our past err on the side of all-white casting unless it's something that's explicitly about race. And all too often, they use "historical accuracy" as an excuse for that same whitewashing — regardless of the easy-to-find evidence presented above.

They say that "history is written by the winners." But I think it might be time to set the record straight.
I haven’t shared anything from Upworthy on this blog, I don’t think, and I stopped sharing anything on Facebook quite some time ago because it was all clickbait with no substance (typical headlines often ended with “…and you won’t believe what happened next”). But the site started to post more substantive things and began focusing on video. As part of that, not only were posts bylined, they were also dated—previously one of my pet peeves about the site. In any case, this post was interesting—maybe others will be, too.

How about something that crosses the Pacific? “Faith Fraud: the story of Arthur Worthington” tells the story of Arthur Worthington, who was “a con artist who travelled the USA, marrying rich women then abandoning them and stealing all their money.” He fled to New Zealand, started a religion, and when the law started to catch up with him again, caused a riot in New Zealand. The Radio New Zealand podcast available at the link asks not only why he did it, but also “Was he a common crook? Was he psychopathic? Was he a true believer?”

Part of the reason I didn’t do an Internet Wading post last month is that I was posting a lot about the election, including a series of posts that are similar in some ways to these posts—but a bit more serious and completely political. This posts are called “Political Notebook”, and I’ve decided to keep doing them, though I don’t know if they’ll be on any sort of schedule or not.

In any case, the election didn’t go well, and it took some time to decompress. Maybe something otherworldly would help? Roger Green tells us about being hypnotised and a realisation he just had about the experience. I have a small mention in that post; full disclosure and all that.

Maybe some pretty pictures would help. Jason shares fall colours and the last of summer flowers, which I appreciate even though it’s Spring here. It was another nice distraction from the election unpleasantness.

Okay that’s enough Internet Wading for this month. Even that short dip was making my skin pruney.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Near catastrophe

A couple days ago Bella was outside with me, rolling around on the concrete, looking very cute and playful. So, I decided to play with her. That seemed like a good idea at the time, but the healing scratch on my hand in the photo above may suggest otherwise. It wasn’t actually bad, though.

I didn’t feel the scratch at the time, and a little while later it was itchy, which made me think to myself, “uh, oh…” I washed my hands thoroughly (because cat claws have bacteria and such) and that was that. While it’s getting better, it actually looks worse now than it did the first day or so.

The truth is that Bella has often been inclined to scratch me when playing, so I’m very careful about letting my hands get near her claws. But we had them trimmed recently because she’d been scratching herself until she bled. I now know that her scratches actually look worse with dulled claws than fully sharp ones. On the other hand, if they’d been normally sharp, I’d have had puncture wounds, so I guess that’s something.

But this just goes to show that it’s really just normal, day-to-day life again. After all the bad stuff that’s happened over the past week and a half or so, I’ll take it. Sometimes having normal, day-to-day life is exactly what we need to strengthen us for the many battles ahead.

Scratches are optional.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Mrs Claus and a good ad

The video above is a Christmas ad, and I love absolutely love it. A lot. It’s not for a shop here in New Zealand, but that doesn’t matter: It’s about what Christmas is supposed to be about.

The ad (long version) is for British retailer Marks & Spencer, and it plays on the story of Santa Claus, but focusing on Mrs. Claus. I like that they made her a strong, independent woman, but I especially like the focus on her doing something to help someone who needs help, someone who loves someone and needs help to make sure they have a good Christmas. Because, focusing on others is what Christmas is about.

The ad, directed by Tom Hooper, effectively uses special effects, clever editing, and good acting to convey a simple story. The humour is understated and subtle, which makes it work all the more, in my opinion.

I first saw this ad shortly after the debacle of the US election, and it made me feel better. I want to believe in a world in which good always wins, love always triumphs, and there is always something good to believe in. Despite the US election results, isn’t that something we all hope for?

Political Notebook 6: The USA’s ‘Ministry of Truth’?

Is the USA heading for its own version of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth? To be sure, the country’s rightwing media, the Republican Party, and Don’s recent campaign all engaged in blatant attempts to re-invent the past and spin the present, both to hide the truth. But now that they have total power in Washington, this has much bigger implications.

Toward the end of the recent presidential campaign, the USA’s mainstream newsmedia began—very belatedly—engaging in real-time fact-checking to not just point out when Don was lying, but also to show the video evidence that he was lying about things he’d actually said. This was, it turned out, a largely hopeless endeavour, since Don’s fervent fans refused to believe anything that contradicted what their Leader was saying then, even if he was denying something they’d heard him say.

As a result of all this, there was a wholesale re-writing of history: President Obama and Hillary Clinton became singlehandedly responsible for the rise of Isis, Obama was responsible for the Global Financial Crisis (and Don’s fans wondered why President Obama didn’t take more presidential action to deal with it—before he was actually president…), and so on.

After eight years of obstructing President Obama, the Republican Party found that all they had to do was blame him for the obstruction and for everything that George Bush 2 had done wrong. They had discovered the core of Orwell’s “MiniTrue”.

The Ministry of Truth wasn’t only about rewriting the past, but also framing the present. That is now at the centre of the incoming regime and its hardcore supporters. Last week, we saw several bizarre examples of this, from various fervent fans, leaders of the hard right, and even Don himself.

Rightwingers in the USA, from the alt-right creeps to run-of-the-mill hard-right types, backed a boycott of PepsiCo because of totally made-up claims about the company’s (conveniently non-white and female) CEO. They called for the boycott over wild accusations of things she’d never actually said, and they quoted her wildly out of context about other things to make it seem as if she’d condemned Don, which she never did.

Then, we saw the spokesbigot for a powerful anti-gay hate group claiming that Planned Parenthood paid “$1500 per week” for people to protest Don and what he’ll do to the USA. To be clear, as if common sense weren’t enough, there is absolutely ZERO evidence that there is even a tiny bit of truth, which means that the bigot must be both lying and fully aware that he’s lying. Not that this is anything new for him, of course.

Even “mainstream” Republicans got into the act. One US Senator that the media decided to anoint as a “voice of reason” when he criticised Don took to social media to say—now that Don is elected—that he wonders why the newsmedia isn’t “reporting on paid rioting”, mimicking Don’s earlier unhinged rant as Leader of the Republican Party. Maybe they don’t report it because it’s a total, absolute and complete lie? Just a guess, Ben.

And then Don himself got into the act of lying about reality. He tweeted an utter lie that he’d “convinced” Ford to not do something they were never—EVER—going to do, which Don knew and decided to lie about, anyway, probably to inflate his ego and make himself seem like a player of some sort. Even the restrained Associated Press called Don’s lie “misleading”.

This is nothing new, of course. A BuzzFeed analysis found that “Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook”. What this means is that Don’s most fervent fans are used to fake news, lies, and spin, and have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to seek out facts, and THAT means that we’ll see a LOT more of the this sort of lying, obfuscation, spin, and utter bullshit.

This social media trend carries on in so many ways. Rightwingers on Facebook were sharing their declaration that not only had Don actually won the popular vote and not Hillary Clinton, they said it had been a landslide. As The Washington Post reported, in this case, it wasn't a lie as much clever and selective use of data to change the narrative from the truth—that they lost the popular vote—to one they liked, that they’d actually won it in a landslide. And their bizarre changing of facts to suit their propaganda was popular among rightwingers.

Within the past week, Corey Lewandowski, Don’s campaign manager until he was fired when he allegedly roughed-up a female journalist and then became a paid pro-Trump shill on CNN, declared that Don had “won the election campaign by the largest majority since Ronald Reagan in 1984." That was a lie—a demonstrably false lie, as Mother Jones pointed out. And so did Talking Points Memo. But, hey, at least ol’ Corey was honest about how the Republican FBI Director helped Don win.

Don’s Ministry of Truth may be mostly informal and partly outside of government, but that doesn’t change its intention to hide the truth, to lie about facts, and to spin reality to suit Don’s political ends.

In Don’s America, it seems, Ignorance Is Strength.

November 20: This post has been updated to include information on the attempts by the righwing to pretend that Don won the popular vote and that his was "the largest majority since Ronald Reagan in 1984."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flower follow-up

It’s not everyday that I follow up one photo with another. Actually, I’m not sure it’s been any day before this one, but there’s a first time for everything. So, the photo above updates and expands on the photo I shared yesterday.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the weeds climbing in the trees and dropping their flowers for me to clean up. I was pretty sure I knew what it was, but I had to look it up to be sure: The weed’s Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), which, like so many other pest plants in New Zealand, is an escaped garden plant—that is, a plant gardeners introduced, and then the plants went wild in a place with no natural enemies.

This particular plant climbs and smothers native trees and bushes, killing them. It’s very difficult to kill, but once cleared it tends not to come back—unless birds drop seeds, which is probably the way the weed got to us in the first place. We’d never had it before, now it’s everywhere.

The same thing happened with Tradescantia (Tradescantia fluminensis), better known in this country as “wandering willie”, though I grew up knowing it as a houseplant under the offensive name “wandering jew”. It, too, it very difficult to kill, and it forms a dense mat of foliage along the ground that kills native groundcovers and prevents native seedlings from growing.

This is incredibly common, with many former garden plants going rogue, including woolly nightshade (Solanum mauritianum), and wild ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), also known as kahili ginger, ginger lily. Both of these have turned up on our property.

When I first arrived in New Zealand our property was clear, then one year wandering willie appeared, and the next year it was totally out of control. When it first appeared, I recognised it immediately, and was surprised that what I thought of as a houseplant could grow wild, let alone become such a pest.

Later, I found out that another plant I knew only as a houseplant, “mother-in-law’s tongue” (Sanseveria trifasciata) commonly grows in gardens here, and, unlike the other plants I mentioned, it’s not a pest species—at least, not yet.

I’m actually not much into plants or gardening, but the ease with which plants grow—weeds or wanted—is really astonishing to me, coming, as I do, from a place that has a short summer and long, very cold, winter. Our winters here are so mild that plants just keep growing, so anyone with a passion for gardening can have something to do all year round. This is also why the timber industry is so huge in New Zealand: Radiata pine grows particularly well here.

Still, the fact that weeds grow so well means there’s yard work to be done, whether we like gardening or not. Today I started a little bit of the weed control, then decided it’d be best if I learned a little more about the pest plants I need to control to make it easier to deal to them. And now I will.

I guess you could say my plant knowledge is growing. Even so, doubt I’ll cultivate an interest in actual gardening, but one never knows: It’s impossible to tell what'll happen when the seed of an idea germinates.

I’m here all week; please tip the waitstaff before you leave.

Weighty matters

People share all sorts of personal things on social media, including many things they probably shouldn’t. One thing that could be in either category is weight loss: Sure, it can be a proud achievement, or maybe a mockingly self-effacing “humble brag”, or it can be set-up for failure later on. Caution might be a good idea for this topic, as with so many other personal things.

Earlier this week, I posted my three-month update on where I’m at following my hospital adventure. I didn’t mention my weight in that update. It wasn’t deliberate, exactly, because I’ve mentioned it earlier updates, but it’s not something I like talking about, either (I’ve since added it in an update).

Like most people, perhaps, I’ve struggled to maintain—or regain—a healthy weight. Ten years ago, I made a major (and successful) effort to lose weight, and managed to keep most of it off for over a year. I know this because I’ve weighed myself every Friday and recorded the results, so I have a long-running record of how things have gone (or not).

Because of that, I can see how often I’ve lost/gained/lost the same few kilograms, so me saying “I lost X kilos this month” doesn’t really mean anything. This is why I don’t mention weight loss on social media, and it’s why I’m not keen on sharing it even in relevant blog posts.

However, the whole point in my sharing my health journey is that it might be helpful to someone in a similar situation, or for someone who knows someone who is. Not talking about weight loss undermines that goal.

The reality is, I’ve made great progress since my hospital stay, having lost, as of today, 6.4kg (14.1 pounds). That’s happened mostly because I eat less/better, since it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to move around much. As I’m able to increase my physical activity, the rate of weight loss will probably increase. At the very least, it’ll continue, which is the main thing. Update: I neglected to mention that this weight loss has included plenty of stalls, weeks in which I lost nothing at all, however, I haven't yet re-gained any lost weight.

Since I have so much data recorded, I know that I now weigh less than I did some 2½ years ago—which was when this particular journey began, with my visit to the doctor as part of the Tooth Tales adventure that began ALL of this. I actually reached that point last month, which was good, but when I lose a couple hundred more grams (less than half a pound) I’ll weigh the same as I did in December 2013 (and that was higher than I weighed in June of that same year; like I said, I’ve lost/gained/lost the same few kilograms many times).

The point is, as good as my accomplishment over the past three months has been—and I am proud of it—I nevertheless have a sense of perspective about it. Even now, despite what is absolutely good progress, I weigh quite a bit more than I did ten years ago, during that first effort at weight loss that started me recording it.

But that’s actually the bigger lesson in all this: For many of us, “weight” is an issue that can be a source of stress, frustration, and disappointment. Even so, what matters is not giving up—ever. I currently weigh 11.8kg (26 pounds) less than my highest weight ever in 2011 (of course I know that…). While my weight has fluctuated over the years since, I’ve never gone anywhere near matching that record, because I’ve never given up the fight.

There are really only three ways to lose weight and maintain that lower weight without surgery: Eat less, exercise more, or both. Other alternative solutions are quackery, nonsense, or involve drugs—and none of those alternative options can last for the long term. Even surgical solutions require some effort on a person’s part, so there truly is no magic answer to make this easy and effortless.

Which brings me back to people sharing their weight loss on social media. Because it’s so much damn work and effort to lose and then maintain weight, who can blame anyone for seeking, however obliquely some may do it, kudos and encouragement? It serves another function, too: Both a reminder and a reason to stay focused on the goal: No one wants to be embarrassed by having gained back weight they announced losing.

So, I haven’t usually shared weight loss numbers because I know my own history has been more like a rollercoaster I had to run along than it’s been like sliding effortlessly down a hill. But this is different for me. I’m not interested in getting social approval for having lost weight, and it's certainly not about vanity. I’m only interested in a healthier—and longer—life, and maybe my efforts to get there can be an example to those who, like me, struggle to reach that goal. This is also why I’ve talked about this at length: There are plenty of people waging this sort of battle.

Still, I’m only human: A little pat on the back every now and then, even from myself, isn’t a bad thing.