Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Internet Wading: Winter’s call

Infographic: Who's Contributing How Much to Directly Financing NATO? | Statista
Today is the last day of May, and that means it’s the last day of Autumn today. Winter begins tomorrow, and since that’s my least favourite season—well, the less said the better, right?

After a few false starts, maybe now I can resume regular blogging? Yeah, well, healthy sceptism is a good idea in this case. No, this post isn’t “Navel-gazing about blogging”, as Roger Green put it recently about his own challenges. But I reserve the right to gaze in that way in the future. Of course.

Instead, this is a round-up of things I’ve seen on the Internet this past month, including some I might have blogged about if I was blogging regularly—not that I’m talking about that this time…

First up, something I saw by chance: The chart up top was originally published by Statista back in February, but they sent it out again by email when Grumpy Don was on his Rainbow Tour and moaning endlessly about how “bad” NATO is. Specifically, Don bleated on about how other NATO Countries aren’t pulling their weight, but, as usual, he’s not exactly correct. Pesky thing, those facts. Maybe he’ll just talk it out over his non-secure, easily tapped cellphone.

New Zealand joined the Space Age when Rocket Lab, the California-based, Kiwi-infused company, launched a rocket from the Mahia Peninsula last week. The New Zealand Herald talked about that and the company’s enthusiastic CEO, Peter Beck. He, the company, and the New Zealand government all think there’s a market for a company to provide frequent launches of small payloads blasting off from New Zealand, something big companies charge too much to do. Mostly New Zealanders are kind of pleased with the idea of space rockets launching from New Zealand.

Speaking of New Zealand, the current government has released its 2017 Budget. Reaction has been mostly subdued, with pundits suggesting that this budget is just a start at catching up on what National has fallen behind on over the past nine years in government. I have to agree: National looks tired and complacent, and this budget does nothing to change that perception. New Zealand’s next elections on September 23.

“The British and Irish Lions have landed in New Zealand”: That’s about rugby, not animals, and is a very big deal to those who care about such things—or does it only look that way because it’s been endlessly and breathlessly hyped by the New Zealand media? The media makes it sound like this a very rare thing, but they were last here 12 years ago, so “rare” is a relative term.

Speaking of over-hyped stories, the America’s Cup is under way again. New Zealand is doing well. So far.

Those are a few things that caught my eye this month, none of which were significant enough to get a blog post. Actually, few things were, of course. But, then, I’m not talking about that. Not right now, anyway.

Internet wisdom fails label gunk

Once again, I turned to the wisdom of the Internet to solve a problem. I always try to keep an open mind when I try a method I learned on the Internet, even if I’m sceptical, but this time it turned out my scepticism was well-placed.

Recently, I emptied a plastic—what’s the word? Jar? Container?—that used to hold fish oil capsules (photo at right). It’s reasonably tall and has a screw-on lid, so I realised it would be perfect for storing things in the garage, like nails or screws or something like that. I know that it’s always a good idea to first try using what’s already around rather than buying new when organising things—the Internet didn’t teach me that, it’s just common sense (though I see it repeated all the time on Pinterest).

To reuse this particular container, I wanted to remove the label and a sticker on the lid (promoting the fact it was an “economy” size). I wanted to do that in order to put on another label later, or maybe to just write on it. The original label was in the way.

First, as I usually do, I soaked it in hot water with dishsoap, and that allowed me to remove the outermost layer only: A mushy papery layer was still stuck to it with the glue underneath. The label on the lid wasn’t moved at all.

So, I turned to the Internet, and found many places that suggested rubbing it with a mix of equal parts baking soda and cooking oil (any variety). First, I soaked the container again, as before, then I tried rubbing the mixture on the container and rubbed it some more. It did nothing. I used the oily mix with a scouring sponge. It still did nothing.

Next, I took one of those plastic tags used to close the bag a loaf of bread comes in and used that to gently scrape the papery residue off. Basically, this is in place of using my fingernails: It’s stronger, has a square edge, and doesn’t let gunk get under my nails—a win all around. Once I had the papery stuff removed, then I tried the oil mixture again to remove the adhesive residue, and it still didn’t do anything to the adhesive gunk. I grabbed a scouring sponge and again tried the oily stuff with that: Still nothing.

Finally, I washed the oily stuff off with dishsoap, then got out rubbing alcohol and used it to remove the adhesive, using a scouring sponge in particularly bad areas. Then, I washed it all with dishsoap again. It’s now label-less and not sticky—ready to re-use, in other words.

The lid was much more difficult to clean (the label was an entirely different sort—more like a really strong sticker. Even so, the procedure was exactly the same, with two differences: Using the bread bag closer to scrape off the label was much harder to do, and even after all those treatments there’s still a little adhesive residue on the lid, something I noticed only after I’d washed it and it had tried. I’ll have another go with rubbing alcohol later.

So, I’d rate the cooking oil and baking soda method an utter failure. I think that baking soda with undiluted dishsoap would have had exactly the same effect (little to none, on other words), because the baking soda is a mild abrasive and the dishsoap, like the oil, could help make it easier to rub the container than, say, plain water would have. But, in the end, it just didn’t work.

I may try another, different method in the future, but I know that soaking off what I can of a label, using a bread bag closer to scrape residue off, and following that with rubbing alcohol to clean off the remaining adhesive gunk is an effective method most of the time.

Sometimes, clearly, the Internet does not know best.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


The Internet can teach us many things. While some of them are merely entertaining, like how to play a game, some are particularly useful, like how to remove odours, for example. Recently, a technique I tried before came back to help me again.

Back in February, I wrote about using a technique I’d read about on the Internet, specifically, using white vinegar to try to remove the fake coconut oil stench of sunscreen from clothes. It worked, and I decided to try it again.

The first task was the most urgent. I discovered that Bella had peed on a mat in the bathroom (Not entirely her fault: She was locked inside all day, and since she doesn’t have a litter box, she was caught short). So, I put the mat in a bucket of hot water and white vinegar, as might be expected, the resulting smell was, um, unique.

I drained the water, gave the mat a little rinse, and then washed it as usual. Being heavy, it took forever to air dry, but the smell was gone. I vaguely remember doing something like that years ago, with a different cat, but forgot all about it until recently (partly because Bella doesn't usually do that).

A week or so later, I had two t-shirts that smelled sour, like a kitchen cloth or sponge left too long without washing and disinfecting. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but it could be I washed them during one of our many rainstorms and then hung them up to dry in the airing rack in the house. That could have meant they were damp for too long. In any event, merely washing them wasn’t removing the smell.

So, I soaked them, too, in a bucket of hot water with white vinegar and then washed them like usual. They came out smelling fresh and clean.

I know that I might find something that this method doesn’t work with, but I haven’t yet, which is the main thing. But the other thing is that this gave me a passing thought that I ought to try more of these things the Internet told me about, and report back on what happened.

I actually thought that after I’d already tried something completely different that wasn’t as successful.

Something I found through Pinterest told me that a soft cloth with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) would remove water spots from stainless steel. We have a stainless steel water pitcher that, I think, had been washed in the dishwasher and ended up with water spots. I’d washed it and re-washed it by hand several times, but the spots remained. So I tried the alcohol method, and it helped—didn’t completely fix it, but it’s much improved. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a “before” photo, so an “after” photo was kind of pointless (and in that way, a topic for a blog post was lost…).

The larger point here is that as long as the Internet advice isn’t clearly dangerous—like combining household chemicals that must never be combined—there’s often no reason to NOT try methods, even if they seem unconventional. I will, and I'll continue to share what I learn.

Right now, though, I can affirm that soaking clothes in white vinegar does indeed remove most unpleasant odours.

I wonder what would happen if there was a white vinegar rainstorm over the White House…

Related posts:

Weekend Diversion: Learning stuff (2010) – The first post, I think, where I shared a technique I learned on the Internet. I still use this technique.
Weekend Diversion: How to fold a shirt (2013) – I still use this technique, too.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#CultureOfLove spreads a great message

The United Nations’ Free & Equal project has launched a mini-campaign exploring the role that culture and tradition play in the lives of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people around the world. The #CultureOfLove campaign features three short videos that show what it looks like when culture and tradition are opened to LGBTI people. I think they’re awesome: Anyone who is LGBTI—or loves someone who is—should watch them.

In Tradition (above), as the Free & Equal project put it in an email, “a young man in Mumbai brings his boyfriend to a family celebration of the Festival of Holi”. One of the end title cards (shared with all three videos) says, “Culture and tradition should bring us together, not tear us apart”. No one with a heart could possibly disagree with that.

The second video I watched was Culture, though it was actually the third posted to their YouTube Channel (where, as usual, all these videos are available in a variety of languages). In this video, “a genderqueer youngster in Britain joins their father at a soccer match and basks in the camaraderie that goes with supporting the local team”:

Finally, in Family, “Chinese parents shake off their initial hesitation and include their daughter’s same sex partner in their traditional Lunar New Year celebrations”:

What all three videos have in common is that they show very traditional cultures that are traditionally more or less anti-LGBTQI, and how people letting go of the chains of traditional culture and embracing love of family can make the world a better place.

All of this is based on Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. In the website for the campaign, they say:
Culture and tradition are profound parts of our lives. They allow us to come together to mark life’s milestones, and celebrate our heritage and the people we love. For many, they provide a sense of home, of history and identity.

Culture and tradition belong to everyone. Each of us gets to interpret, adapt and practice the beliefs, customs and rituals that are meaningful to us as individuals. These are basic cultural rights – guaranteed to everyone without discrimination.

Sadly, some people see the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people as a threat to their cultural values. They may try, wrongly, to rationalize violence and discrimination as a way of protecting their beliefs in the name of culture and tradition. No matter how diverse people’s beliefs and values, culture and tradition are not a license to discriminate or an excuse for violence.

Culture and tradition are not fixed: they change over time and are viewed and interpreted differently within societies. There are traditions of hate and repression, just as there are traditions of equality and justice. It's up to each of us to decide for ourselves which ones to carry on. You decide.
This is the heart—literally and figuratively—of this. In Western societies we’ve seen rapid progress for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people, even as we see growing repression of, and hatred directed toward, Trans people. LGB people have won, for now, the right to marry and be treated as any other citizen in most Western countries, but Trans people are still left to wonder when their time will come, when they, too, will be welcomed as free and equal people.

To be sure, the West has no room to gloat or to puff out its chest: Homophobia and Transphobia are rife throughout our societies, and even the hard-fought right to marry for same-gender couples could be taken away in an instant if we become the same object of hatred that Trans people are now, or as we were in the past.

But even where legal protections exist, so, too, does violence, hatred, and discrimination. There are many reasons for that, but culture and tradition are often used as justifications for it (as for example to justify the creation of concentration camps for and torture of LGBT people in Chechnya), and it is always wrong and unjustifiable.

My personal belief is that if one’s culture or tradition tells one to use violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, there’s something wrong with that culture or tradition, not the object of their enmity. Love and family must always come before culture and tradition, and when it does, change happens and cultures grow and form new, inclusive traditions.

Still, it’s impossible to wave a magic wand and transform a culture or to make long-held traditions adapt. Instead, WE do that, and it begins with a simple and clear determination to put love and family first. This is the way forward, I think.

The UN’s Free & Equal Campaign has put out some great videos over the years (see also below), and this series continues that. They’re doing good work toward making this world a better, safer, more peaceful place, and they should be commended. I hope they succeed in changing hearts and minds. I hope they help us all become Free & Equal.

Previously on this blog:

Suggested realities (2013) – My post where I first mentioned the Free & Equal Campaign
Free and Equal (2013) – From later the same day as the first post in this list, it was where I first shared a video, The Riddle.
Free & Equal – ‘The Welcome’ (2014)
UN Fighting to make LGBT people Free & Equal (2015) – A post with five videos from Free & Equal
This is my fight song (2016) – With the video Why We Fight featuring the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, the first time I’d ever heard that song.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Issue storytelling done by a storyteller

Political messaging comes in many forms, from overt advertising, viral videos, pop songs, TV satire, and so much more. When it’s done right, it can influence opinion and voting behaviour. The best issue messages come from proven storytellers, and the video above is an excellent example of that.

The video is called “UNLOCKED”, and was made in support of Planned Parenthood by “screenwriter, film and television director, film and television producer, comic book author, and composer” Joss Whedon. He clearly knows what he’s doing.

Over three minutes, Whedon masterfully shows two entirely different realities for three women: One in which rightwingers succeed in their campaign to close down Planned Parenthood, and the other in which the organisation can continue providing the important health services they provide, ending with the direct question: “What world do you want?”

The answer to that question really is about politics, sure, but even more it’s about simple humanity and human decency. While it is inflammatory to say so, it’s nevertheless true that rightwingers who want to end Planned Parenthood are okay with a world in which women die or suffer needlessly. Those who support Planned Parenthood are not.

Rabid anti-abortion people want to “de-fund” Planned Parenthood because, they say, giving the organisation money for women’s health services frees up other, non-government money to be used for providing abortions. Only about 4%, more or less, of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are related to abortion, but to fervent anti-abortion activists, the women who benefit from the 96% of the services related to women’s health should suffer.

It seems to me that Planned Parenthood’s rightwing opponents can be broadly divided into two categories. The first are the True Believers, who are almost always religiously activist conservative Christians (Protestant and Catholic) who are fervently opposed to abortion, and often contraception, too. There’s no reasoning with this crowd, and no compromise is even remotely possible.

The other, possibly bigger, group is made up of Opportunistic Opponents, mainly politicians who exploit the crusade against Planned Parenthood for personal political gain: They feel that they can tap into the rightwing crusade as a way of fooling True Believers into thinking they’re as anti-abortion as they are.

It’s entirely possible that among the Opportunistic Opponents are people who really do oppose abortion on “moral grounds” possibly for reasons not based on regurgitated religious doctrine. But here’s the thing: In the roughly 40 years I’ve been paying close attention to politics, often participating in it, I have never—ever—met anyone who is “pro-abortion”, despite the defamatory rhetoric used by the rightwing. Not once.

Instead, mainstream people, regardless of party, believe, as President Clinton used to put it, abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”. Supporting the right to choose and access to abortion is not the same as supporting abortion itself.

Instead, mainstream people support age-appropriate sex education to help prevent teenagers from creating unintended pregnancies, as well as life skills education to teach young people how to deal with societal pressure to have sex, that “no means no”, and so on. We also support the right to full access to birth control, and that it be free for those who can’t afford it. But if all that fails, we still believe that the choice is between a woman and her doctor, end of story.

Planned Parenthood is involved in that sort of education, as well as providing birth control and related advice, education, and services. Abortion services are a minor part of what they do.

But aside from all that, they also provide the only healthcare that some women—poor women in particular—can get, especially for services like cancer screening. That clearly has nothing to do with abortion.

Personally, I have zero sympathy for those who want to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. Sure, their little fantasy world in which cutting of government funding for Planned Parenthood is morally justifiable must help ease their consciences, but in the real world it would mean that women die. Since no government money can be spent on abortion services (which is stupid in my opinion, but a different topic), then their ability to provide such services is entirely dependent upon being able to raise the money privately. If people didn’t support those abortion services, they wouldn’t give money to Planned Parenthood, and the government funding has nothing to do with that decision—but women’s lives will be sacrificed because of the—let’s be honest here—batshit crazy fantasy of anti-abortion extremists.

No matter how much it drives some rightwingers into a frothing rage, abortion IS legal in the United States. Until and unless that changes, the zealous rightwingers are really demanding that government money provided for vital healthcare be cut off to stop private people from donating money to support a perfectly legal medical procedure. That’s just nuts.

The video above won’t change any rightwingers’ minds, and it doesn’t need to change the minds of those in the Centre or and the Left who support Planned Parenthood. But it could help the huge number of people who really don’t understand what’s really at stake here, and how very, VERY wrong the rightwing is.

And, if I haven’t been abundantly clear already, “I Stand With Planned Parenthood”. I know what world I want, and Planned Parenthood is part of it.

In any case, this video is very well done.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

2Political Podcast 123 is available

Episode 123 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

The wind began to switch

There was a storm on Tuesday night. There’s nothing unusual about that, apart from the fact we had no idea it was coming. The wind was fierce, often driving a hard rain. It was bad enough that I talked about it on Facebook:
Well, THAT was wild weather last night!! It started raining in the evening, and got more steady and often heavier as the night went on. After midnight (I don't know what time, because I was asleep), the winds began—house rattling and moving winds, "someone's going to lose a roof tonight" winds, even "are we safe?" winds.

The wind woke us up about 4am, and it was too loud -- and, frankly, too scary -- to sleep. We got up about 4:15, and saw the next door neighbours were up, too. Sometime after 5, I went back to bed and managed to sleep.

The wind and rain continued into the morning, then around 10, it all just stopped—no gradual dying down, more like someone threw a switch.

I had a quick look around, and there doesn't seem to be any damage, and no real surface flooding. I wouldn't have guessed that because it SOUNDED so much worse than the weather bomb or ex tropical cyclones we've been hit by over the last few weeks.

Last night, I was really annoyed that the App that's supposed to warn of hazards (including storms) never did. Maybe that's because it was all sound and fury amounting to nothing? No, the new "Hazard" App is terrible, and nowhere near as good as the old Civil Defence App it replaced. There SHOULD have been a warning about damaging winds.

It was the not knowing that kept us from being able to go back to sleep. That, and all the noise from the wild weather last night.
A friend later pointed out on Facebook that there have been other storms that hit with no warning. That’s true, and when combined with the number of times they’ve predicted bad storms that never happened (or weren’t as bad as predicted), it’s little wonder that most Kiwis take weather predictions with a grain of salt.

I actually have a lot of sympathy for them. Being an island nation, the weather for New Zealand is notoriously hard to predict. Even so, it would have been nice to have advance warning or, if that wasn’t possible, at least a warning through the Hazard App.

Yesterday was pretty quiet, really, but this morning the winds picked up again and were sometimes incredibly strong, though not as bad as they were on Tuesday night. Or, did the daylight just make it seem better?

As my mother always used to say, “Whether it rains, or whether is snows, we shall have weather, whether or no.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Midweek Diversion: Ozzy v. Earth, Wind & Fire

If there was a list of best mash-ups ever, this would have to be near the top—it’s truly inspired. The video above is itself a mash-up of video footage of the two performances, and it somehow works, just like the “song”.

This was made by a guy called DJ Cummerbund [YouTube Channel] did a mash-up of Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train and Earth, Wind, & Fire’s September. To me, it sounds like an actual song, something that isn’t always the case with mash-ups. It also sounds like it could have been a hit back in the day.

Still, the meshing of Ozzy and EW&F is so out there, so beyond normal human thought, that the result just begs to be shared. So, since I saw it shared all over the place today, I decided to do a “Midweek Diversion” post, something that’s so rare I don’t even have a Label (aka tag) for them, and that I haven’t done since October, 2014. Which is not to say this is going to be even almost as frequent as my Weekend Diversion posts, but it does mean that maybe I should think about a label/tag for these posts. Maybe I’ll wait for the next one.

Health and sickness

Yesterday I finally had a consultation that should have happened months ago, and the results were all good. But getting to that point made me feel really quite unwell, and that was despite the fact that I wasn’t, in fact, unwell. It was all because of a weird coincidence of events.

The appointment at the cardiology department at the hospital yesterday was supposed to have happened last October but, for some reason, it didn’t. It was about the time of the junior doctors’ strikes, so maybe that affected things. And, there was weird confusion about it, as I mentioned in the last update.

In the week or two leading up to the appointment, I began to get more anxious about it: What if they found something was wrong? What if I was getting bad again? I think this is the reason I had trouble sleeping the couple nights before that, which I mentioned on Monday.

The particular reason I got worked up about it was some coincidences: First, at the end of that day I had a meeting—a meeting for the same group that was meeting the first day I was in hospital, and I had to send my apologies because I obviously couldn’t attend the meeting that night in August. If the two events hadn’t both been yesterday, I may not have had the very real reminder of what it felt like nine months ago.

But in the months since then, particularly after I was able to stop taking the Clopidogrel (blood thinner), I began to wonder, how would I know if things were getting bad again? I didn’t know it was happening the first time. I worried about that, sometimes too much, and always forgetting that I see my doctor every three months, so it’s not like I’m going unmonitored.

It turned out, there was probably no need for worry. The first thing they did when I got to the hospital yesterday is do an ECG, and the results were normal. It was a bad ECG that sent me to the hospital last August, so this was both significant and a major relief.

After meeting with the staff, it turns out that I’m mostly doing very well. In my last update, I also mentioned my blood test results, and we went over those yesterday. Turns out I was right: My cholesterol levels are really good (I’m supposed to have considerably lower levels than a person who hasn’t had my problem). My low “good” cholesterol is a problem, but it turns out there are a lot of reasons why that could be happening, and they seemed less concerned about that than I am.

However, they want to increase the dosage on my blood pressure medication again. My blood pressure is in a range that would be acceptable for a man my age who hasn’t had my health issue. The dosage was last raised in March, and it has come down, but not enough. So, I’ll soon start a higher dosage, then, if I tolerate it and it doesn’t lower my blood pressure too much, I’ll get blood tests ten days after starting to make sure I don’t have signs of kidney damage from the higher dosage.

So, things are going well, really, and once my blood pressure stabilises it means I’ll actually be better than an unaffected man my age: I’ll have lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. That’s kind of ironic.

All of this was true despite my worry, something I intellectually knew would be the case, but feared would not be. But now that I’ve finally had the consultation, and knowing that I see the doctor every three months, I know that I’m still fine, and that’s ultimately what matters. Well, that and keeping it that way.

Finally, today is nine months since my hospital adventure, something I was also aware of leading up to yesterday, as well as th efact that yesterday was nine months since I found out I was getting a stent, the day after I arrived at the hospital in the back of an ambulance. It all added another layer of coincidence to yesterday. But there was one more thing about yesterday that was good: I left the hospital with no bill. Just like always.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Today’s dilemma

The caption for the photo above pretty much describes what it’s about. When I sat to write the caption so I could post it, I really just wanted to tell the tale sparely. When I was done, the last line just sort of popped into my head, sort of haiku-like.

For many years, I never took naps. That was because I wore contact lenses and had to take them out and disinfect them, a pain in itself, and the disinfection process was a time consuming one that often took longer than a nap would be.

After my Lasik eye surgery, I could nap again, and I have main times in the years since. However, I envy the dogs’ ability to just lay down anywhere and go to sleep. It always takes me longer to fall asleep, and usually the conditions have to be just right.

Last night, for some reason, I was wide awake until quite late. I drank a cup of chamomile tea to make me sleepy, something that doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t I have a second. I had a second cup last night. Then a third. And still I wasn’t sleepy.

I went to bed anyway, and it took me the better part of an hour to fall asleep, though I’d dozed lightly a bit before then. I have no idea what that was about, since nothing like it has ever happened to me, as far as I can remember. Still, once I was asleep, I slept really well.

So, today when I saw Sunny just fall asleep so quickly and easily, I probably envied that a bit more than I would normally.

A dog’s life, eh?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

So, Mother’s Day

Among the last photos I took of my mother, ca. 1980. 
Today is Mother’s Day, which, unlike Father’s Day, falls on the same date in both New Zealand and the United States. In both countries it’s very commercialised, with promotions to buy cards, gifts, and for taking mother out for a meal. Despite all that, the day is meant to be—and still largely is—a day to honour one’s own mother. But those of us who’ve lost our mothers are included—whether we like it or not.

Every year there are outpourings of love and gratitude for one’s mother, living or dead, and many of those are shared on social media. In my own Facebook feed today I saw post after post along those lines. I think it’s touching.

I do wonder sometimes, though, how all this public focusing on mothers affects people who have recently lost their mother, or, worse, perhaps never knew theirs, or, worse still, ended up estranged from their mothers. Does the saturation coverage—well, saturation marketing—bother them?

As someone whose mother is long gone, I’m at a place where I can appreciate the reminder. And, I like seeing people acknowledge their mothers. I especially love seeing posts from people who have the chance to express their love and appreciation for their mother who is still alive, because I can no longer do that, of course.

Those who find the mother-focus to be too much, for whatever reason, can mostly get away from it, more or less, if they really want to. But even I was given pause by a game I play that gave me a “badge” when I’d accumulated enough points. “I ❤️ Mom”, it said. I do, even now, but would others mind that badge being added to their profile picture without being asked?

Like always, I try to be sensitive to how others feel, that some people may have entirely different feelings about their mothers or Mother’s Day than I do. But, of course, that doesn’t stop me from liking the day or remembering my mother (or thinking about my awesome mother-in-law, and making sure Nigel rings her, though he always does without my prompting). To me, this is one of those things where people must “live and let live”, that we may not all experience, think about, or react to the day (or our mothers) in the same way, and that’s fine.

Me, I remember my mother every Mother’s Day, and I wish I still had the chance to do so personally. Instead, I can just be happy for those who can, and a good dose of “the feels” never does anyone any harm.

Footnote: Today I puzzled about spelling. I thought maybe it should be “Mothers’ Day”, a day belonging to all mothers, or maybe “Mothers Day” the say of mothers. But it turns out that it really is “Mother’s Day” because the founder, Anna Jarvis, wanted it that way. She wanted people to celebrate and honour their own mothers—but without all the commercialisation. The day began in 1905, and by the 1920s the commercialisation had well and truly set in, and Anna was NOT happy about it. She’d probably be pleased that so many people still share her feeling. The fact it was only today that I looked it up is probably an indication of how little a role the day actually plays in my life nowadays.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

High crimes and misdemeanours

Where do we even start? No, seriously! WHERE do we even start? The US has a dangerous unhinged autocrat in the White House, and no one seems to know what to do, or even what the hell is going on. I don’t either, but we all have some thoughts on this whole mess. Here are a few of mine.

Did Don fire Comey to try and avoid prosecution?

It sure looks like Don fired FBI Director Comey because he was investigating the links between Don’s campaign—maybe even Don himself—and the Russian government’s attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 US elections. After all, Don fired two others who were investigating him, so, where there’s smoke there’s fire, right?

That may be, but it’s also possible that it was the people most likely to be investigated (indicted?) told Don to fire Comey, and he did. And, as we all know, Don is way too narcissistic to believe that he’ll ever face prosecution for anything.

It’s also possible that Don just got his knickers in a twist, probably because Comey was getting far more media attention than Don was, and Don hates that. That coverage not only made Don look bad, Comey also had the temerity to say publicly that Don’s lies about President Obama “bugging” Trump Tower had no basis in fact. So, it’s equally plausible that Don just got pissed off for purely personal, petty, egotistical reasons. Supporting evidence includes the fact that there was clearly no plan, no probable successor, no media talking points ready to go, and the letter firing Comey was delivered to FBI Headquarters—not where Comey actually was at the time—by Don’s personal bodyguard, not a government official. It all seemed so impulsive and without any critical thought, like a live-action version of one of Don’s Tweets.

What we know for sure is that their stated reason for the firing is utter nonsense: Don spent months attacking Hillary Clinton over her emails, so to expect us to now believe he NOW thinks Comey was too hard on Hillary is laughable: That’s NOT why Comey was fired, and we’re not stupid enough to believe that steaming pile of male bovine excrement.

But Don’s second paragraph in his letter firing Comey speaks volumes about his motivation, and may be his undoing:
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
What the F…?! “Under investigation” for what, precisely? Collusion with Russia to influence the election outcome? Engaging in corrupt business practices overseas in violation of US law? Violating the emoluments clause of the US Constitution? Don doesn't say, but it sounds an awful lot like Richard Nixon declaring, “I am not a crook”, and that didn’t turn out too well for Nixon. In any case, it’s a totally irrelevant insertion into the letter and actually increases the likelihood that Don fired Comey in an attempt to stop the Russia investigation (among others). It’s the focus of what Comey was investigating, and that paragraph makes it look like Don was desperate to make himself sound blameless. At the very least, it certainly increases the appearance that it was the motive for the firing.

This really is similar to Watergate.

The comparisons to Watergate have been flying everywhere, and that makes perfect sense: It’s the closest thing we have to this situation. In that case, the president fired a special prosecutor who was investigating his administration, and, it turned out, the president was a crook. In 2017, the titular president fired the man investigating his campaign for criminal and possibly treasonous collusion with a hostile foreign government to steer the results of a US election. Then, the questions were, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Now, the questions are exactly the same, and, also just like back then, there’s the strong probability of criminal activity by people close to the sitting president.

Firing the special prosecutor was one of the actions that led directly to the probability that Nixon would be impeached and removed from office, so Nixon resigned instead. Will that history repeat, too?

Don will almost certainly not be impeached.

For impeachment to happen, Republicans would have to agree to do it, since they control both houses of Congress. There is simply no way that Republicans—who always put the interests of their party ahead of the needs of the country—would ever agree to bring articles of impeachment to a vote in the US House. Hell, they’ll never allow the House Judiciary Committee to consider articles. We know this because of the unholy alliance of the radical-right extremists known as the “House Freedom [sic] Caucus” and ordinary self-serving politicians who are terrified of losing their elective office and the money-train that gives them.

However, if Don’s situation becomes absolutely untenable, and the House did the unthinkable and actually voted to impeach, then the situation changes.

The US Senate is no less partisan than is the US House, however, it isn’t under the stranglehold of the radical right. That means that should Don be impeached, then there is the very real possibility that the Senate would convict him and remove him from office.

But the House will almost certainly never allow impeachment to proceed unless there’s an equivalent of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes lurking somewhere—or something worse. Then, they’d have no choice.

There are things that can happen.

First, Mike Pence, Don’s Vice President, and a majority of the cabinet could certify that Don is unable to execute the duties of the office of president, and Mike would become acting president. This is the bloodless coup allowed by the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution. What’s unclear is, why couldn’t Don just then send his own letter saying Mike's wrong and he’s fine? And if that happened, what next?

Second, Democrats could re-take control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. They could then impeach Don and remove him from office. Or, they could just do to Don what Republicans did to President Obama with such great success: Refuse to go along with anything that Don wants. That has the benefit of not putting Mike, a religious extremist, in the Oval Office.

Third, Don could just resign. As I said recently, Don may have already been hinting that he’ll resign. But to encourage him to do so, Mike would no doubt have to promise to give Don a pardon, much like the one Nixon got. Mike would definitely use that as precedent, though there’s no evidence that President Ford ever promised in advance to pardon Nixon.

This is not normal.

Nothing about Don, his behaviour or anything related to his regime, is normal, and this situation isn't normal, either. But because it's all so abnormal, none of us has any idea how this story will end, or when. There will be inevitable leaks about Don and/or his people, and there will be a lot of attempts at distraction and diversion—it's what Don always does, after all. I'm not convinced it will work anymore.

But, then, nothing is normal about all of this. So, who knows?!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Good dogs

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

As a rule, I don’t like posting Instagram photos in sequential posts, but cuteness demands otherwise. That, and my continuing inability to resume normal blogging. Well, never look a gift dog in the mouth, right?

I took these photos this morning as we waited for the plumber to arrive to carry out some work for us. At the point, the dogs were stuck in the house with me, since the front gates were open, so they lay down and watched the front gate through the window.

The photo up top, the one I shared to Instagram, is clearly out of focus, but it had the cutest pose—and it was easier to see Jake’s head, something that’s difficult under the best of circumstances.

The photo below is basically what I saw that made me take photos in the first place. They stayed like that for a little while, but both moved after I sat down in a nearby chair. Both prefer to be close to me.

The plumber arrived and did the job, and all three furbabies were well behaved, as usual. He left and all three went back to their normal day (sleeping, mostly…) as I moved around the house working on various projects.

And, of course, they did one more thing: They gave me something to share on this blog. That was probably their biggest thing they did for me today.

Good dogs.

Related: Yesterday’s Instagram photo I shared here.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Cat naps

Lately, Bella has decided to start sleeping in some new places, some odd places. The photo above shows one of them: On the stairs. The particular step in the photo above was a new one—until now it’s been the last step before the top.

Last week, I also saw her sleeping under my dresser—well, mostly under, since her back was showing. She’s also slept on top of a little table, and on top of a small square woven basket-like box with a lid. She uses her new spaces until she moves on to new new spaces.

This has been kind of entertaining, to be honest, but also sometimes a little concerning because I have no idea where she is. When I find her, she’s asleep.

I sometimes wish I could do that, too.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Calum Scott

The past couple weeks, I’ve shared videos I stumbled across on New Zealand’s free-to-air music video channel. This week’s artist is one I was reminded of, but someone I first saw elsewhere: Calum Scott.

Callum shot to fame on the first episode of the 2015 season of Britain’s Got Talent. He was there mainly to support his sister Jade, who was auditioning for the show. She wasn’t selected, and he had to follow her. His audition is the video above, a slow version of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” [WATCH], a song that had been a mild hit for the Swedish singer in 2010.

After his audition, Simon Cowell hit the “Golden Buzzer”, which sent Calum straight through to the live semi-final shows, which was a big deal. At the time, Cowell said, "I've never ever in all the years I've done this show heard a guy with the talent you've got. Seriously. And the version was sensational, which shows to me that you're more than a singer, you're an artist and that's why you got that (the Golden Buzzer)."

Calum got through the semi final, but ended up sixth out of twelve. He eventually released “Dancing On My Own” as a single:

The song reached Number 2 in the UK and Australia, Number 5 in New Zealand, and Number 15 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. It was 2x Platinum in the UK, 3x Platinum in Australia, and Platinum in New Zealand. There were also dance remixes (like this one), but I personally prefer the more spare arrangements.

His first single of a song he wrote, "Rhythm Inside", was released earlier this year (video below). "It’s the polar opposite of 'Dancing On My Own',” he told Billboard. “You’re not in the corner anymore, you’re right in the action. There are a lot of songs about love and how it starts, whether that’s realising it yourself or coming to find it later on—but no sort of talk about the actual feelings that are created from love and passion. I wanted to go a little bit deeper into the internal side of it. Like, the beat of your heart, your hair is standing on end, and the adrenaline. I wanted to capture that. It’s a hopeful song and it’s more positive.”

The song has not been as successful as “Dancing On My Own”, but he’s said his goal is to like one of his own idols, Adele, and be consistent as an artist. That suggests that not every song will be a commercial hit, though if he’s like Adele, some could be huge hits.

I like "Rhythm Inside". It’s a nice pop song that's pretty much as he described it. This song is also the connection to that music video channel: I was watching one night and this video came on, and I wondered if he’d ever publicly come out (or, maybe, if my hunch had been correct). It turns out he had, and discussed what it means to be a gay artist in an interview with Attitude, an interview that I thought was quite interesting.

So, I first heard Calum Scott on Britain’s Got Talent (and only because my brother-in-law and his daughters shared the YouTube clip above with us), and, just like Simon Cowell, I’d never heard anything like it in all the years of talent competitions. I was reminded of all that because I happened to catch the video for "Rhythm Inside", and that made me want to know a little more about him, and that, in turn, made me want to share his music.

Personally, I hope he has huge success. This certainly seems to be the era for singer-songwriters that have soulful delivery of well-written songs. Long may that continue.

Friday, May 05, 2017

First ad against Republicans' healthcare repeal

The video above is an ad for Democratic candidate for Virginia Governor, Tom Perriello, and it was released minutes after Republicans in the US House passed Don's Trumpcare bill to take away health insurance from millions of Americans in order to give big tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires like themselves. Expect to see more ads like this because Don and the Republican's Trumpcare is so desperately unpopular in the USA.

There’s an obvious caution here: The midterm Congressional elections are about 550 days from now, and if a week is a long time in politics, then some 18 months is an eternity. If the Senate rejects Trumpcare, then the issue will die. And, of course, Don will obviously say or do something incredibly stupid, offensive, idiotic, dangerous, irrational—did I mention stupid?—in the next few days that will deflect attention. It’s the one thing he can be counted on to do. He’ll also do that every single week—several times a week, most likely—right up until the midterm elections (assuming he stays in office that long, of course). So, keeping the outrage alive that long will be a challenge.

Still, because Americans reject Republicans’ Trumpcare, it makes sense to wrap support for it around the necks of the Republicans in Congress who supported it. As Nate Silver points out on FiveThirtyEight, there are plenty of Republicans with margins close enough for this issue to make a difference in 2018, and if Democrats can make Trumpcare stick to them, the House could flip to the Democrats. We’ll see.

At the very least, acting right now to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire and associate them with Don, who continues to be unpopular, is a good strategy at the moment. As we clearly saw in the 2016 elections, negative narratives and associations, repeated over and over, can have a long-term effect in reducing support for a candidate. So, while the issues may change over the next 18 months, and this particular issue may be dead by then, the negative impressions of Republicans will remain if the messaging against them is constant.

In any case, this is a good political ad for setting out differences and drawing a line. This is obviously not intended to be an ad promoting specific policy—first things first, and reminding voters of what Don and the Republicans are trying to do them is important for now.

Fun Fact: The ad was recorded live, in one take.

Related: A majority of Americans, especially independents, support the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Is the special relationship ending?

Australia seems determined to destroy the “special relationship” that has existed between that country and New Zealand since the disaster of Gallipoli. On Monday, mere days after Anzac Day, the day set aside to remember the sacrifices at Gallipoli and beyond, Australia stuck the knife into New Zealanders yet again.

Since 2001, Australia has been moving farther and farther along a road toward making New Zealanders living in Australia second-class citizens. Back then, they cut off New Zealander’s ability to become citizens and to receive welfare, including disability benefits, even though they pay taxes to Australia like all workers do.

In 2006, actor Russell Crowe, who was born in New Zealand but who has lived in Australia since he was a child, was denied citizenship because he had been outside Australia in 2001 working on the Oscar winning film Gladiator, and returned after the law had been changed. Here’s a guy who brought fame to Australia, and millions of dollars, but they still treated him like a second-class citizen.

In 2005, Australia cut off the ability of New Zealanders living in Australia to access student loans. Probably as a result, children of New Zealanders were half as likely to go to university as the children of Australians. In 2016, Australia did restore the ability of New Zealanders to get student loans.

On Monday, Australia announced that the children of New Zealanders will no longer be able to pay the domestic fees for university—despite Kiwis paying taxes to support the university system. Instead, their fees will go up A$8000 per year (about NZ$8700). Oddly enough, their taxes and levies are not being reduced.

The Australians say Kiwis will still be able to access student loans (gee, thanks…), and at least they won’t be paying as much as non-resident foreigners, who face a 500% increase, paying an average additional amount of A$33,000 (NZ$35,600) per year.

Worst, the Australian Government didn’t even have the decency to warn the New Zealand Government before announcing the change—and only days after Anzac Day. Two weeks ago, Australia made it even tougher to get citizenship, and again they didn’t bother to warn New Zealand.

In 2015, Australia suddenly decided it would deport some ex-criminals, no matter how long they’d lived in Australia, even if they’d arrived as a child, regardless of whether they had any connections whatsoever to New Zealand, and no matter how many years they’d lived cleanly.

Australia just started deporting, including people who knew no one in New Zealand, and had no idea where to go or what to do. Some of them were legitimate criminals, but because Australia gave New Zealand virtually no notice it was doing this, New Zealand had to rush through a law change to allow the New Zealand Government to monitor prisoners deported to New Zealand.

Add it all up, and it’s not really such a “special relationship”, not when one side disrespects the other so much.

By way of contrast, Australians who move to New Zealand can vote after living here one year and can get welfare benefits after living here for two years.

So, what to do? Well, New Zealand Governments—Labour and National alike—have expressed how darn cross they are and done nothing else whatsoever. There are some 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, their rate of participation in the workforce is higher than Australians’, yet they’re still treated like this, and the New Zealand Government does nothing about it.

This has got to change.

It’s time that New Zealand started changing the way Australians are treated here so that their citizens face many—but not all—of the same problems that New Zealanders face over there. One thing we mustn’t do is cut off all access to welfare, disability benefits in particular, because we’re better than that.

I also note that Australia has done this stuff under rightwing Liberal-National Coalition governments, not under governments run by the Australian Labor Party. The Coalition tends to want to pander to racist and xenophobic Australian voters, but the real reason they do this is money.

Australia collects the taxes and levies from hundreds of thousands of NZ-born Australian workers, but it provides them with very little in services. From a budgetary perspective, it’s a pretty sweet deal! And, they know that New Zealand governments won’t retaliate, so there’s no risk to Australians.

Any chance that Australia and New Zealand might one day be part of the same country is now well and truly dead, and the Australians are the ones that finally killed off the idea. There’s also pretty much no chance of currency union, either, which is a good thing for its own reasons.

The worst that could happen is that relations could deteriorate so much that the two countries treat each other like totally foreign countries. But Australia won’t want to risk the money it gets in taxes from New Zealanders living there, nor from Kiwi tourists visiting the country, nor from trans-Tasman trade. For New Zealand, it’s mostly about trade, and a bit of tourism.

So, both countries have financial incentives to plod along, and they’ll do so. Even when Australia once again sticks it to New Zealanders living there—and they absolutely will—nothing will change; the New Zealand Government of the day will express how darn cross it is and do nothing else whatsoever.

The real issue here is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are being treated very badly by Australia, and the Australian Government just doesn’t give a damn. Yeah, that’s a really “special relationship”, alright.