Friday, June 30, 2017

Internet Wading: Pride in June

June was a surprisingly sparse month for Internet Wading, mostly because I just didn’t copy the links to sites that should have been included. Oops. Nevertheless, things demand to be shared, so on with the linkage.

June is LGBT Pride month, of course, and there was, um, interesting stuff this month. First, as I absolutely expected, Don failed to issue a presidential proclamation of LGBT Pride Month, as President Obama always did. Considering he slighted Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day and basically ignored Ramadan, this can be no surprise whatsoever. But, hey! At least Don found time to proclaim June and National Homeowners Month!

Writing in the Boston Globe, Renee Graham wonders, “Is LGBT Pride up to Trump’s challenge?” I’d say the jury’s out on that. There was also pushback: Don was slammed for not proclaiming Pride Month, and his daughter was slammed for a self-serving Tweet (runs in the family?). And, while support for marriage equality reached new highs in the USA, questions remained: “Are LGBTQ Rights Safe Under Trump?”

The thoroughly dreadful far-right christianist activist turned one of Don’s minions, Betsy DeVos, picked THIS month to declare that, “Discrimination on basis of sexual orientation 'unsettled' law". A leopard cannot change her spots. But Betsy’s boss one-upped her! Don decided Pride Month was a great time to praise the anti-LGBT bigots in the professional anti-gay industry who use every waking moment to make life worse for LGBT people.

Is it any wonder that Don’s deluded LGBT supporters may possibly have been excluded from Pride Parades? Well, writing for Newsweek, one rightwinger is outraged that LGBT pride parade committees should stand on principle. Cry me a river, then build a bridge and get over it. And no, it’s not even remotely similar to St. Patrick’s Day parade controversies.

Oh hell, Pride is all about celebrating and having a great time, and all this shade from Republicans is ruining the mood. Let’s leave all that unpleasantness behind for a little while, thanks to Time Out New York’s “The 50 best gay songs to celebrate Gay Pride” (most of which I'd concur with), which even includes a Spotify playlist at the very end. I’m sure that must be wonderful for Americans: Only three tracks avoid the rejection notice: “This track is currently not available in New Zealand. If you have the file on your computer you can import it.” Story of life outside the good ol’ U. S. of A.

Oh well, back to reading: Roger Green answers my question on “The intrinsic value of blogging”. I agree with him.

On to “Ancient Rome’s System of Roads Visualized in the Style of Modern Subway Maps”. Because you know you want to see ancient data in modern terms. I do.

And the weirdest story of the month: “Exploding cream dispenser kills French fitness blogger”. That’s certainly not the way I’d want to go—unless there was a cherry on top of my head, because the irony would be funny to me.

And finally, this week the NZ Electoral Commission started sending out packs confirming voter registration, and the commercial at the top of this post has been running in heavy rotation this week. The actual election is in September.

That’s it for this month. Maybe in July I’ll actually remember to copy the links.

Missing city

It’s been foggy on many recent mornings, and while that’s not necessarily unusual for winter in Auckland, it does seem to have been a bit more common this year than most. Still, the phenomenon can often be pretty localised, and it's possible we’re just in an area getting it more than others. Maybe we’re just lucky.

I posted the photo above to Instagram this morning, and the graininess was mainly because the camera had trouble focusing with so much mistiness around. The photo below is of basically the same area (I think…) as shown in the photo at the top of my post from last March—when it was much warmer, nicer, and not foggy in the morning.

When I got up this morning, it was around 6 (42.8F). By midday, it had only managed to climb to 11 (51.8F), and because it was still foggy, it felt much colder than it really was—probably due to all the foggy dampness, I suppose. But, that’s just winter, something that will be going on for another couple months—and July, which we’re about to start, is often the coldest and most wintry of the lot. Yippee.

Still, there’s something kind of magically mysterious about thick fog, the way it changes everything familiar into things that are not. The only similar thing I’ve experienced has been heavy snowfall on an otherwise bright day. I’d rather have fog than snow.

Like everything else, this fog, and winter, will pass. That’s good. It’s too hard to take decent photos on a foggy day.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Actively revisiting Papakura—and more

Today I had some errands to run in Takanini, so I stopped first in Papakura for a wander. I last spent time walking around the business area back in October 2009, so I was interested to see how things have changed. The short answer: Not very much.

When I was there in 2009, I commented on the number of discount stores and second hand shops, and also that “many shops on the streets were … empty.” If anything, there were more empty shopfronts now than then, including the very large McDonald’s, which was abandoned and behind chain-link security fencing after they built a new one well down the road, in an area where shoppers travel by car far more than by foot. There were still several national retailers, but far fewer of nearly everything else.

On the other hand, graffiti seemed to be under much better control now, something that had been a real problem back in 2009. In fact, one unusual place I found graffiti back then was completely clean this year (there’s a photo in that 2009 post). The main shopping area seemed cleaner, if less active and with fewer shops.

The two streetscape photos I posted back in 2009 look pretty much the same now, though some shops are gone or changed to different ones. Traffic was a little heavier, too—with cars passing through, as I normally do, on the way to and from Takanini.

My visit to Papakura wasn’t just to revist a place I’d been before: I went to go to two op shops (charity re-sale shops) because I had this idea that I could refurbish/upcycle an old dining chair as a desk chair. But the two shops I visited had very little furniture, and both shops were actually pretty depressing and shabby. I can’t imagine I’ll ever go back.

I then went to Takanini, which was my actual destination today. I went there because I needed closet shelving from Bunnings Warehouse (an Australian-owned hardware/home centre chain), and that was the closest branch. While I was in the area, I went to the local Warehouse Stationery for the first time (quite small, but a nice shop), and also the local Warehouse (a very nice store, but, like most of them these days, with very long queues of customers because it seems like none of the locations ever have enough people running the cash registers; this is the single biggest reason why I don’t go to The Warehouse—that, and the fact that many of the products they carry have become noticeably cheaper in quality—definitely not all, but the difference is enough to notice).

After that, I did the grocery shopping at the Countdown there, which is a very nice store—and nearly the same layout and look and feel as Pukekohe’s, the one I normally go to. Both stores could use brighter lighting, nice though they otherwise are.

I then headed home before school let out for the day, so I had a good run. But after all the walking around, I was pretty pooped by the time I got home. On the other hand, I know that all this activity was good for me—and it was recorded.

The photo up top is of my Apple Watch a little while ago. All three rings exceeded the targets for today, which is great—and a little unusual. The red outer ring is my “Move” goal, and measures my active time in terms of kilojoules burned, in this case, 2528kj of the current daily target of 1680kj, or 151% of today’s goal (that’s apparently about 604 and 401 calories, respectively). The next ring, the green one, measures actual exercise time, in this case, 35 minutes, or 116%, of my 30-minute daily goal. Exercise is mainly walking reasonably fast, but going up and down stairs (as I do several times a day) doesn’t count (it’s also possible to get exercise time counted merely by waving one’s hand/arm vigorously which, to be fair, actually IS exercise, though it seems like cheating to me). The innermost, blue, ring measures standing time, in this case, for five minutes in each of 15 hours out of a daily goal of five minutes in each of twelve hours, which is 125% of my daily goal. My watch tells me all that.

Personally, I don’t think these measures are particularly useful by themselves, particularly because it also tells me that this amounts to 7,212 steps covering 5.81km (3.6 miles), which doesn’t sound very active to me, so I can’t quite grasp the correlation between those numbers and what's on those rings rings.

However, the good thing for me is that it gives me something to shoot for every day and, because I can be competitive, I want to meet or beat my daily targets. One has to start somewhere.

The Apple watch also measures my heartbeat frequently during the day, and most of the time the watch is actually reasonably accurate. As I adjust to various medication, this is useful information.

So, today was an active day, revisiting a place I haven’t wandered around in many years, shopping at others places, and exceeding exercise goals for the day. Today was a good day.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Toilet humour

There’s a lot about New Zealand that’s very different from the USA, some of that is serious, but much of it isn’t. Sometimes it’s unusual things that show up how different the cultures of the two countries really are, and the graphic above is such a thing. It’s part of an ad for a local government, and it reminded me of how different things are here.

The ad from the Waikato District Council, which is just south of Auckland, is trying to get people to help keep the wastewater lines clear by not flushing the wrong things down the toilet, nor dumping the wrong things down the drain. The lower half, which is in the photo above, tries to be humorous and clear, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

The top half of the ad, which is in the format of an advertorial, is headlined “Ponder at the porcelain and think at the sink”. The text tells people to “only flush the three P‘s down the loo – pees, paper (of the toilet variety) and poo.” It also admonishes people to not pour cooking oil, grease, or food down the kitchen drain.

The full page ad.
This has been a topic in the news in recent months, with a consumer TV programme even testing wipes to see how quickly they break down (most of them didn’t). It turns out that those wipes, together with nappies (diapers), sanitary pads, bound with cooking oil and grease, are responsible for most of the blockages in sewer lines and gum up the machines in sewage treatment plants that are meant to break up stuff before it’s treated.

The congealed food fats often form big clumps nicknamed “fatbergs” that are a major problem all on their own. Throw in the “foreign objects” (which includes things like clothes), and it’s kind of amazing that sewers don’t block more often.

That’s the problem that this ad is trying to help fix by getting people to change their behaviour. If they pay attention, people may just do that.

I used to buy cleaning wipes to use to quickly clean the bathroom, and I always flushed them down the toilet without a thought—right up until I found out they don’t actually break down like normal paper does—even paper towels. I stopped using the wipes once I found this out.

I also once got rid of cooking grease by putting it down the drain with hot water because I thought, wrongly, that would be okay. Several years ago I saw a British home renovation show and found out for the first time that fats congeal and block the pipes, despite using hot water at the tap. I never did that again.

So, I bet other people will be just like me and stop doing the wrong thing once they learn why it’s wrong. Maybe this ad is the best approach—lighthearted graphics at the bottom, a somewhat more serious approach at top. If not, we’ll see other approaches.

But when I lived in the USA, I would never have seen a newspaper ad from a local government talking about “pees” and “poos”. I doubt there’s anywhere in the USA where an ad like this would appear even now.

And that’s why this is one of those times that something unusual shows how different the cultures of the New Zealand and the USA really are. I like that difference.

AmeriNZ Podcast 329 ‘Big Move' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 329 – Big Move” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast: “Despite the tail end of a winter cold, I was determined to resume recording. So, I did,. This episode is mainly an update on what’s happened since I last recorded…”

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The change we don’t notice

The video above is an ad currently in rotation on New Zealand television. The ad is significant not for what it sells, but for the change it represents. It’s also a reminder that we sometimes don’t realise how far this country has come.

I watched the very beginning of the recent test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. While I watched, I noticed something when they played the New Zealand national anthem: Participation.

Nowadays it’s customary to sing the first verse of the national anthem first in Māori, then in English. This is something that’s been done at netball matches for a very long time, but with rugby test matches, it was always English only.

In 1999, Hinewehi Mohi sang the anthem in Māori only at the test match at Twickenham. The outcry was palpable. The debate was useful, however, because it led to the current tradition of singing the first verses of both the Māori and English versions of the national anthem.

In 2014, TV3 (now called newshub) brought on a new weather presenter, Kanoa Lloyd. She frequently used Māori placenames in her reports, and referred to the country as Aotearoa. People complained. “I've never really encountered people who take offence to Maori being used," she said at the time.

By 2016, TVNZ had introduced its new lineup for its Breakfast morning programme. From the beginning, the presenters have routinely used Māori placenames and greetings, and one commenter on Facebook was not having it: “I watched this week and hated the maori [sic] greeting nonsense and the maori [sic] place name nonsense.” He said that on Facebook. Where everyone can see a person’s real name and, more likely than not, quite a bit about them. Well, points for owning one’s racism, I suppose.

The thing is, there are always racists and monoculturalists in New Zealand as elsewhere, and there probably always will be. Despite common belief, they’re not all foreign-born, either, but they do seem to make up an extraordinarily large segment of listeners of talkback radio.

Be that as it may, the people who become apoplectic at the use of, say, Tāmaki Makaurau instead of Auckland are becoming fewer and fewer as the use of Te Reo Māori becomes more common.

Which brings me back to the test match. The cameras panned across the faces of the All Blacks, and most were visibly singing along to the Māori version. So were the people in the stands—and the fact they were was obvious in the audio. They all also sang the English version—which was, admittedly, louder, no doubt because so many people still don’t know the Māori version.

But it struck me how far this country has come since the national controversy in 1999, and how clearly the Māori version of the national anthem was being embraced, especially by proud younger New Zealanders, but by all age groups at the rugby match.

Then, a day or two later I saw the ad up above, and noticed how strongly everyone sang the anthem in Māori. 20 years ago, such an ad would never have been made, let alone broadcast, and not just because the anthem at rugby matches was English-only 20 years ago: The idea of everyday Kiwis embracing Te Reo Māori, even if only a bit, was still little more than a dream.

So, sure, we have our very own racists and bigots, and we have people who resist change just because it’s change. But we also have millions who embrace New Zealand’s unique identity that merges Māori and European cultures in a way not like anywhere else, and more and more these days that means embracing, at the very least, Maori words and phrases—and a verse of the national anthem.

We ought to take stock of how far we’ve come. Sometimes a mere ad can drive that point home.

The lyrics of the New Zealand national anthem:

E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai

God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.

Complete lyrics are on the website of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which is the arbiter of everything related to use of the national anthem.

America’s Cup and us

Today Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup, and they’re bringing it back to New Zealand, where the next regatta will be held in 3 or 4 years. There are plenty of people who are ecstatic, others who are indifferent, and also some who are actually hostile. I’m not a fan of sailing, yacht racing, or even boats, truth be known, but I think this is awesome news. This is good for New Zealand in so many ways.

First, it’s important to note what a huge success this is: Team New Zealand had far less funding at its disposal than Oracle Team USA, but they had ingenuity, determination, and, it’s now obvious, the better team. The team included the helmsman, 26-year-old Peter Burling, was the youngest helmsman to win an America’s Cup. It seems like only a few weeks ago that he and fellow TNZ team member, 27-year-old Blair Tuke, won gold at the Rio Olympics.

Many pundits have been blathering on, as they do, about how this win is yet another example of New Zealand “punching well above its weight” on the world stage, and trite and cliché though that is, in this case it’s actually true.

Many of the normal participants in the America’s Cup Regatta opted out this year because of the unfairness of the rules, which Oracle Team USA wrote to benefit themselves. Many sailing experts still blame them for the “creative” rules in 2013 that saw Team New Zealand go from 8-1 races won—only one race away from taking back the America’s Cup—to losing 8-9 (after the race committee ordered the race that would have sealed victory for Team New Zealand abandoned because it “went on too long”). But Team Zealand didn’t dwell on that, and focused instead on building a better boat and superior team, and to put them together with other technology to win. When New Zealand succeeds in something big internationally, this is how it usually happens.

Despite all that, it’s fair to say that most people don’t pay much attention to yacht racing, even the America’s Cup. I well remember brief updates on the “CBS Evening News” when I was young, but even I don’t remember hearing about New Zealand winning the Cup back in 1995, though when I moved here I sometimes told American friends I was moving here “to look after the America’s Cup.” I’m not sure how many of them even knew what I was talking about, much less found that as funny as I did. Humour, and knowledge of current events, varies.

The most frequent criticism levelled against the America’s Cup is that it’s a “rich man’s game”, and that used to be fair since the very rich had always been the people behind the racing. Nowadays, though, that’s not true, and it’s corporate sponsorships that pay for the racing campaigns (Team New Zealand’s main sponsor is Emirates Airlines, but almost no one in New Zealand ever refers to them as “Emirates Team New Zealand”, even though that’s actually their name; we’re a bit contrary like that here).

But all racing regattas also involved government money somewhere, and that’s true for Team New Zealand and the two defences in Auckland (2000 and 2003), and Team New Zealand’s ill-fated challenge in 2013. What did we get out of that?

In Auckland, an area known as Viaduct Harbour (also called Viaduct Basin) was extensively re-developed, first for the bases of the America’s Cup teams, then, after 2003, it was turned into Auckland’s premier restaurant and nightlife area. It’s now a stunning place. But, there was much more benefit than just that.

According to the NZ Government, the 2000 defence alone “generated $640 million of value added in the New Zealand economy” as well as “$473 million of value added in the economy of the Auckland region”. For a small country like New Zealand, that’s big money—and just for one of the regattas, the first held in New Zealand.

According to Tourism New Zealand:
The two America’s Cup events in Auckland were conservatively worth NZ$1.2 billion to the economy with economic impact reports stating a two-dollar return for each dollar invested.
Much of this activity was direct—money spent by the various teams—and a lot was indirect, such as infrastructure improvements, increased employment by companies supplying the teams and regatta, additional tourism, and all the tax revenue that created. So, the economic benefits to Auckland and New Zealand were enormous.

What will the defence of the America’s Cup bring us this time? Similar dollar amounts, sure, but it will depend on where the defence is based. If it’s in Auckland, it could finally spur redevelopment of “Tank Farm”, an unsightly collection of fluid tanks between the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Viaduct Harbour—prime harbourside land, in other words.

A challenger series will bring tourists to New Zealand, and, yes, many of them will be wealthy, which means they’ll be able to spend up large. This is very good for the economy. But it may also spur tourism-related work, such as hotel upgrades, and maybe even a start on the rail link to Auckland Airport, something that the current government refuses to start for another 30 years (!). And, of course, there will be a benefit from the exposure the regatta will bring, enticing some tourists to visit.

There will be more related benefit, too, such as employment: The people employed in the hospitality industry, by suppliers to the racing syndicates, and even to the boat building industry, which gained a lot from the previous America’s Cup races in Auckland. An increase in jobs is always a good thing.

We have gained other things, too. For example, when Rocket Lab launched it’s first rocket from New Zealand (which I mentioned in May), their first ever in the world all-carbon composite rocket was “devised with some of the knowledge and experience garnered from America’s Cup campaigns past.”

So, here we are again: Holders of the America’s Cup, and playing host to a regatta that will have fair rules and fair competition. The country will benefit from the regatta in many ways, and some people will oppose it. All of this is the New Zealand Way—as it should be.

Congratulations Emirates Team New Zealand for winning, and for doing so the Kiwi way.

Related: “America's Cup” – New Zealand History, a project of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Photo: Emirates Team New Zealand sail past Rangitoto Island in Waitemata Harbour, off Auckland. Credit: Chris Cameron www.etnzblog.com [CC-BY-SA; Via NewZealand.com]

Monday, June 26, 2017

Taste Test: Substitute naughtiness

Like a lot of people, I may try new food and drink products as they’re released, if it’s something I might be interested in, anyway, but I don’t normally blog about it. Truth is, I have no idea why I don’t, so it’s time to change that with a new product from Coca-Cola.

Today I tried Coca-Cola No Sugar, yet another sugar-free version of Coke, this one, the company thinks, being the closest yet to the sugar-full version. New Zealand is the third country to get the new product, after Mexico and Spain.

The company was so eager for people to try the new product that they decided to give out some 200,000 free samples around New Zealand, according to Newshub. I have no idea whether that’s a lot or not, but I can say this: I bought my own drink at a store—it wasn’t free.

This is actually the second time I tested the product. The first time, I compared it to Coke Zero, because it’s the version I normally drink, and because I don’t drink “real” coke. At the time, I reasoned that since that’s the case, it didn’t really matter much to me whether it tastes a lot like the original. But the company’s whole focus was on its comparison to—ahem—the real thing, so I realised it was unfair to not include that. But, to be totally fair, I’d have to add Diet Coke, too. This became way more complicated than I’d planned.

So today I went and bought a 300ml bottle of each Coke variant and, after taking the photo above, set about the comparison.

For each bottle, I opened it, let the gas out, then sniffed it to see if it had a smell (“bouquet”?). I tried a sip as I’d normally have one—I didn't leave it in my mouth because that can irritate my tongue, and I didn’t slurp it like wine. Instead, I treated it as if I was drinking it normally.

Between each bottle, I had some water, rinsed my mouth, ate a couple plain salty but otherwise unflavoured potato chips, and rinsed with water again. I chose potato chips because they’re relatively bland, and because I often drink cola when I’m having a meal with potato chips or fries. I also felt the saltiness would make sure I wasn’t desensitised to sweetness in the various drinks.

I sampled each drink in the order they were originally released (left to right in the photo), and sampled them each three times. This is from my notes (energy content per 300ml is what was printed on the label of each bottle):

Coca-Cola Original (540kj per 300ml): Smells like Coke, tastes like what Coke should be. After one sip, there’s a hit of very sugary sweetness and a mouthfeel of syrupiness. The carbonation was the gentlest of the three.

Diet Coke (4.5kj per 300ml): Little to no smell, a sharp sweetness mixed with strong carbonation. The taste seemed slightly bitter and metallic—“fake”, if you like—but was definitely lighter mouthfeel than original Coke.

Coke Zero (4.2kj per 300ml): I’ll admit upfront that I’d always assumed that this and Diet Coke were just different packages of the exact same thing, but, maybe not: Coke Zero had a very slight/light citrus smell. While it doesn’t seem as sharply sweet as Diet Coke, it did also taste slightly metallic. However, it was not as metallic/bitter as Diet Coke—not as “fake”, I suppose. The carbonation was not as strong as in Diet Coke, and that may be why it had a lighter mouthfeel than Diet Coke.

Coca-Cola No Sugar (4.2kj per 300ml): The guest of honour at today’s test kitchen had a slightly bitter smell, but that wasn’t reflected in the taste. It had very strong carbonation and a slightly acidic mouth feel, possibly due in whole or in part to that carbonation. To me, it basically tastes the same as Coke Zero, but less sweet and less bitter than Diet Coke.

My conclusion is that, no, Coke No Sugar is not like the original sugar-full version, but is more like Coke Zero than it is like either the original or Diet Coke versions.

All three Cokes without sugar use aspartame (sweetener 951) and Acesulfame K (sweetener 950). Like saccharin, Acesulfame K can be somewhat bitter. It could be that the specific balance of sweeteners accounts for the flavour variations, especially the relative bitterness, or maybe not. I should add, too, that original coke in New Zealand uses cane sugar alone, and always has.

While I only drink sugar-free fizzy drinks, I don’t drink any kind very frequently. In fact, I’m far more likely to have soda water with a bit of fresh lemon rather than any commercial product. Nevertheless, if I’m going to have a cola product, I’d definitely consider Coke No Sugar as a choice, but, to be honest, I’d probably choose Coke Zero first: There are reasons I prefer it over Diet Coke and the original version, after all.

Finally, it’s important to point out the bleedin’ obvious: The non-science here. I’m not any sort of professional taster, nor did I use double blind sampling nor any controls. This is not intended as an objective or even remotely scientific evaluation: It’s just me taste-testing the latest variety of one of my favourite treat foods and reporting what I found. Your determination, gentle Coke-sipping reader, may be completely different from mine, and that’s okay: I don’t see why Arthur’s Law can’t apply to food tastes, too.

This was all a bit of fun, really—and a good excuse to try the new Coke product. As luck would have it, this also gave me a topic for a blog post—wins abound. Now pardon me while I go and finish some of my Coke products: They won’t stay fresh forever once the bottle has been opened, and I don’t want to waste any!

The products tested, their names, and their bottle shapes, are all registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me for this taste test. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturer, or the retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Old Tunes, Part 1

Photos of our past are nice, moving images and audio recordings are even better in some ways. But when one grows up with neither, is there a way to capture at least some of the look and sound of our youth? I recently came across something that sort of did that for me.

When I was a kid, I envied friends whose families had home movies. Sure, they were silent, but those families could see people actually move, and that seemed kind of magical to me. A generation later, families started making home videos, but we didn’t do that, either.

There are photos of me in my childhood and youth, but no film/video, and no audio recordings. So, I don’t know what my family and I sounded like decades ago, nor how we moved, nor do I know what I was like in the first years of my independent life.

Recently, I was going through boxes of papers to determine what had to be filed, what had to be shredded, and what could just be chucked in the rubbish. And, a lot of it was rubbish, too—but one thing caught my eye: It was a list of songs that I’d written down at some point (the front page of that list is the photo above). This was something I’d done a lot in the 1980s as a way of remembering songs I might like to buy.

This particular list has moved around with me for decades, most of that time in my address book, something I haven’t used for years. At some point I put it aside to check out later, and then never did.

I don’t remember making this specific list, but I know it must have been in 1987—thirty years ago, give or take. It was written on a sheet of notepaper that my boss printed up to give away to customers, and I had some by my phone. Looking at it, I suspect I was watching MTV’s “120 Minutes”, at the time one of my favourite shows, which aired videos from the “alternative” genre of music, what I was into in those days. Judging by the deterioration in my handwriting as the list went on, I suspect I may have been drinking at the time, too. I was still in my 20s. It happened.

In any case, that list is a snapshot of sorts into what music appealed to me one night in 1987. Sure, I still know a lot of the music I liked in that same era, but this list is an actual record of my personal history, and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what one of my nights would have sounded like back then.

So, this week and next I’ll share those songs and what I was thinking, if I even know, when I put them on the list.

First up is Sonic Youth “Schizophrenia”, from their 1987 album, Sister. This wasn’t a single, but an album track, and this isn’t an actual video:

The next item on the list is the most enigmatic: It mere says “The Wolfgang Press”, with no song listed. I have NO idea what song it would’ve been. I listened to a few of their songs from around 1987 on YouTube and none of them were remotely familiar. The “post-punk, post-industrial” genre isn’t one that would normally be something I’d be into, although that same year I bought Opus Dei by Laibach, as I mentioned several years ago, so anything’s possible.*

Next was Visiting Kids’ “Trilobites”. The group, described as “the spawn of Devo” was closely associated with that group. It is pretty surreal on all counts. The video was directed by someone called Rocky Schenck (no relation).

The next song on the list, Echo & the Bunnymen's “Lips Like Sugar”, is crossed out because I later bought the album the song was on, their eponymous fifth studio album, “Echo & the Bunnymen”. I still like the song, though I no longer have the album.

Gene Loves Jezebel - “The Motion Of Love”, one of their better known songs, though I never bought it or anything else by them. Still, it appealed to me at the time.

Finally for this week, “Crazy”, the 1987 single by Icehouse. Icehouse is an Australian band, though I doubt I knew that at the time. This song reached number 4 in Australia, Number 10 in NZ, Number 38 in the UK, and Number 7 in the USA. At the time, I loved this song. This video is the US version, which is what I saw back in the day, of course [Update: That video was deleted, so I replaced it with the "International Version"].

Once I moved to New Zealand, I heard much more of their music, such as 1982’s “Great Southern Land” [WATCH/LISTEN], which never charted in the USA, and also “Electric Blue” [WATCH/LISTEN], which was also released in 1987. I still hear this song on the radio.

That’s all for the first page of that note to myself from thirty years ago. Next week, the rest of that list.

See Also: "Weekend Diversion: Old Tunes, Part 2" from July 2, 2017.

I’ve created a Spotify Playlist, “One Night in 1987”, for all the songs on that list (all the songs in both this post and Part 2).

*Update: December 15. 2021: After returning to this with fresh ears, I now think the song by The Wolfgang Press was most likely “I'm Coming Home (Mama)” [LISTEN] from their 1985 EP, Sweatbox, because this single sounds most like something that might’ve appealed to me, though it could have been something older, or a non-single, too. Still, this I think this is a good guess.

I’ve created a Spotify Playlist, “One Night in 1987”, for all the songs on that list (all the songs in both this post and Part 2).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tenth ‘Faceversary’

Ten years ago today I joined Facebook. I knew this was coming up, but Facebook itself reminded me of it: When I looked at Facebook this morning, I saw the graphic at left. It was for a video celebrating the event, which I reviewed and then posted.

The only time, I think, that I talked at any length about this anniversary, and why I joined Facebook, was back in 2013. The important parts are that Facebook was actually the third social network I joined (MySpace was first, followed by Twitter), and that I joined them to promote my podcast. While that use declined over time, Facebook itself has become useful for me for other reasons, and it still is.

Facebook is far from perfect—a bit like those of us who use it, actually—but it does some things right, things I’ve talked about on this blog. Among them are those silly little videos like the one I was presented with today. Utterly unimportant, not terribly useful, really, but kinda fun all the same. It’s also positive and upbeat, which wins points from me.

So, I’ve spent a decade using Facebook, though there’s very little of that I remember in any great detail. Fortunately, I’ve blogged about some of that, too, which is how I can know about some of the Facebook shenanigans I’ve gotten up to over the past decade. I guess that’s a good thing.

So: First decade on Facebook is done. Will there be a 20th ‘Faceversay’? If there is, it better get a lot of “Likes”!

‘The Americans Are Coming’

Apparently New Zealand is the new "it" country for Americans. Who knew?! I actually pretty much agree with what the presenter says about New Zealand in the video above. Its fairly light-hearted approach tries to explain why so many Americans want to move to New Zealand. It does a good job.

This piece has a very specific person—explaining why New Zealand is an appealing place to move to from the perspective of recently arrived American expats, or those who hope to become one. As such, it’s enlightening. The fact that it doesn’t really talk about problems facing New Zealand isn’t important, in my opinion, since that wasn’t the purpose of the piece: It merely tried to explain why New Zealand is popular with some American émigrés, and not whether it’s a good choice or not.

One thing I do want to push back on, though, is the idea that New Zealand is some sort of “apocalypse insurance”. If the USA starts a nuclear war, we’re all dead. It may take a bit longer for the Southern Hemisphere to be wiped out, but that’s nevertheless inevitable.

However, for other forms of catastrophe, it could be another story. If the USA becomes a fascist dictatorship, or climate change causes famine in the USA, or in the case of any number of other non-world ending scenarios, there may be safety for American expats, at least for a time, in countries like New Zealand. Whether that would be the case or not is purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to test the theory without an actual catastrophe. I think we all agree that we hope there’s no chance to ever test the theory.

So, the video is accurate, more or less, and does a good job of its single purpose: Explaining why so many Americans want to move to New Zealand. In this case, that’s enough.

Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green, who shared the link to this video in a comment on a post yesterday.

This is how you do it

This is an ad for Randy Bryce, a man seeking the Democratic nomination for US Representative in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. That has national significance because the seat is currently held by Republican Paul Ryan, currently Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and one of the most important people advancing Don’s agenda in the USA. Defeating Ryan would be awesome, a service to the entire nation.

Bryce describes himself as “a U.S. Army veteran, cancer survivor, and union ironworker”, and says he’s running for Congress because “his values are our neighbors’ values, and Washington has gotten way off track”. All of which is true, especially when contrasted with Ryan, Don, and the Republicans. Specifically, Bryce says:
“My mother has multiple sclerosis, my father is in assisted living, and I survived cancer in my 20s to have a miracle child in my 40s… What Paul Ryan and the Republicans are doing to take health care away from millions of us, to make it cost more and cover less, and to allow the protections we’ve gained to be stripped away – it’s just unacceptable.”
Healthcare is one of the issues on which Republicans are most vulnerable. Tens of millions of Americans will lose their health insurance if TrumpCare becomes law, with tens of millions more paying more money for less coverage. Personal bankruptcies, which plummeted dramatically thanks to Obamacare, will soar once again as people lose everything paying for their healthcare. A majority of voters—even in deep red US states—don’t like TrumpCare.

On the other hand, most of the US newsmedia is ignoring the whole thing, just like US Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell wants it. He’s drafting his bill in super-secret, keeping the details not just from the American people, but also from Democrats in the Senate. He wants to be able to ram it through before anyone has any idea what’s in it.

If McConnell and Senate Republicans succeed in ramming Trumpcare through the Senate, The US House will rubberstamp it and Don will sign it into law. Will 18 months—the rough time until the next Congressional elections—be enough time for Americans to lose their health insurance because of TrumpCare? Will Democrats be able to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire over TrumpCare and the disaster it would mean for millions and millions of Americans? If Democrats can do that, it’ll be by personalising the issue so average voters can identify with it.

And that’s why Bryce’s ad is so good: It talks directly to voters about issues they can personally identify with: Family, hard work, the need for healthcare. He portrays himself as “one of them”, because he is, and that contrasts sharply with Ryan’s elitism and privilege, and although the ad doesn’t make that point directly, voters would get it. Want to reach ordinary voters? This is how you do it.

Republicans always wrap their election messages in appeals to fear of “the other”—immigrants, Muslims, terrorists, LGBT people, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Liberals, Democrats, and so many more. Democrats can appeal to the very real and justified fears of what Don and the Republicans are doing to ordinary voters and their families. But, unlike Republicans, Democrats also need to provide real, concrete, and achievable solutions that will make things better for individual voters and their families. Let Republicans be negative, non-specific, and unfocused, but Democrats must always be positive, specific, focused, and appeal directly to the voters in a way they can identify with.

I have no idea whether Randy Bryce is a good candidate overall, who the other Democratic candidates will be, or who, ultimately, will be the Democratic nominee to take on Paul Ryan. Ryan is vulnerable for being smug, arrogant, selfish, and privileged, sure, but mainly for what he, Don and the Republicans are trying to do to harm the very people Ryan claims to represent in Congress. Defeating Ryan, no matter who does it, would be performing a service to the entire nation.

Update August 14, 2018: Randy Bryce one the Democratic nomination for the race to succeed Paul Ryan who, fortunately for Wisconsin and the entire USA, is retiring from Congress.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The shortest day

Today was the shortest day of the year. Well, the day wasn’t actually any shorter, of course, but in one sense it was. And that confusion is only compounded when people contemplate when seasons will change. Or the weather.

The June Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 4:24pm this afternoon. That means that today had the shortest amount of daylight hours for the year, and now the days all start getting longer (it’s the exact opposite for our poor friends in the Northern Hemisphere). It’s the shortness of daylight hours people are referring to when they talk about “the shortest day”, and while I would’ve thought that was bloody obvious, apparently for some it isn’t.

Solstices and equinoxes also have nothing to do with weather—they merely mark the sun’s position north and south of the equator thanks to the earth’s axial tilt. Put another way, in a sense it’s really kind of imaginary: The sun is where it always is and the only thing that changes is whether the top of the earth is tilting toward the sun or away from it.

The talk of days getting longer or shorter is also kind of pointless. First, right after the solstice the changes are seconds or a minute, eventually increasing a little bit. But because the speed of change is so slow, neither winter nor summer end just because of a solstice.

In fact, some of the worst winter weather in New Zealand is often in July, the month following the solstice. Moreover, true spring weather—as opposed to merely mild weather—doesn’t arrive until maybe September, possibly October, and sometimes not even until November, the month before summer begins. Actually, when we can truly notice there are more hours of daylight, that’s when the weather seems to warm up a bit. Like I said, these astronomical events have very little to do with weather.

Even so, many of us look forward to the winter solstice because it’s a reminder that spring will return. Some of us (well, okay, maybe just me…) like to pretend that the lengthening days are noticeable immediately, and it means we can look forward to the return of warm weather. I wonder, though, will climate change affect that eager anticipation?

This year we mark our winter solstice with a major storm bearing down on us. There will be severe wind and rain in the upper North Island, and snow in the South Island. Yippee.

Overall, Northland, where the storm hits first, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and, in the South Island, Canterbury, are expected to get the worst of it. Yippee again. We’ve had several storms this autumn and winter, and I’m not keen on another. I’m supposed to go do the grocery shopping tomorrow, and I thought I might make a couple more stops. I think I’ll decide all that based on the weather. It’s not like I don’t have plenty to keep me busy here in the house.

Welcome to the shortest day, Southern Hemisphere 2017 Edition. Pardon me if I don’t break out in spring celebrations quite yet.

The image accompanying this post is a screen grab of something Facebook posted for us Southern Hemisphere folks today. The birds were animated. I also noted that Facebook called it “winter solstice” when “June solstice” is the normally accepted term nowadays. I think they were trying to go all local on us—even spelling “cosy” the way we do in New Zealand.

Drive one mad

Infographic: Which Side Of The Road Do You Drive On?  | Statista
I get a lot of questions about what life for an immigrant like me is like in New Zealand, how to migrate here, and things about New Zealand in particular, or The Commonwealth, or even the about the Southern Hemisphere in general. One area people are often curious about is driving on “the other side of the road” (from their perspective, of course). But driving on the left side of the road isn’t as rare as some people might think.

The infographic above is from Statista, and which side of the road various countries drive on. Like all maps like this, at first glance it tends to present a somewhat distorted view of the situation.

Nevertheless, two-thirds of the world’s population, living in 163 countries, drives on the right side of the road, while the rest, living in 76 countries, drive on the left side of the road. This is mainly historic. As Statista puts it:
The bulk of countries that drive on the left are former British colonies including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Only four countries in Europe still drive on the left and they are all islands. They consist of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
Clearly the influence of the British Empire remains active in this area, among others. The thing is, though, that people in those 76 countries are as used to their way as are the people in those 163 countries, so they have no compelling reason to change.

There are two factors that might nudge New Zealand to change. The first is if Japan were to switch, because New Zealand is a major market for used cars from Japan. If that country switched, all their cars would have the steering wheel on the left side of the car, which isn’t appropriate for driving on the left side of the road.

The other factor might be if Australia were to switch, since the two countries have so many business and tourism ties. However, I’m not convinced that a change like that alone would be enough to convince New Zealand to change.

There’s another possible scenario that could force New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries to switch: If left side of the road countries with large populations were to switch sides of the road—say, if the UK, Japan, and India all switched—then there would be little choice for the rest of the left side of the road countries other than to switch. Right-hand drive cars (for use on the left side of the road) are manufactured for use in those 76 countries, but if the big countries switched, there probably wouldn’t be a big enough market for manufacturers to continue to make cars for use on the left side of the road. However, there are companies in New Zealand that specialise in converting cars from left-hand drive to right-hand drive so they can be used here. Maybe that would become a bigger deal, at least for awhile.

The important thing is, though, that there’s no incentive for any country to switch, especially not island nations, or those for whom land links may not be as important or much of a problem. So, it’s pretty unlikely that New Zealand will ever switch.

For me, it actually wasn’t that hard to adjust to driving full-time on the left side of the road, and it’s now second nature. However, there does seem to be a problem with foreign tourists causing crashes by driving on the wrong side of the road. There have been many suggestions for ways to fix that, including some that are pretty heavy-handed, but one thing that’s becoming common everywhere are arrows painted on the road to show which side of the road to drive on, to remind foreign drivers. It’s too early to tell whether that has helped or not.

The fact that New Zealand drives on “the other side of the road” may or may not be interesting in any way, but it’s certainly not the most interesting thing about the country. It’s also not all that unusual. The Internet is a wonderful teacher.

Related: “Linksverkehr”, my 2010 post about getting my New Zealand Driver Licence.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don’t say

The English language evolves wherever it exists. New words are coined, old words are ignored or take on new meanings, fads and fashions come and go, taking their slang with them—all that and more. But sometimes words cans shift within a culture because of the influence of another culture. I’ve seen that happen here in New Zealand over the past two decades.

Most of the change I’ve seen has been predictable: The ordinary rise and fall of words as fashions change. For example, when I first arrived in 1995, many Kiwis used the word “heaps” to mean “a lot”, as in, “I saw heaps of stars last night”. Use of that word has become rarer over time, but it’s still around. Less so the phrase “shout out” to mean special greeting, as in, “I’d like to give a shout out to all the mums visiting from Palmerston North” or whatever. That phrase was already largely gone by the time Americans started using it.

But a lot of the change to New Zealand English has gone the other way: Americanisms replace Kiwi words and phrases. Critics often call this “creeping Americanisation”, and it’s used to criticise everything from American slang, the attempts to impose Halloween on Kiwis, and what is perceived as US-style politics. The list is seemingly endless.

I have two examples. The first was a more recent one: Talk radio replacing the Kiwi talkback radio. I actually only noticed this a couple weeks ago in a piece in a NZ newspaper about online commentary I shared on Facebook. I don’t listen to that sort of radio, so I don’t read about it, either, and that means that I didn’t really have any reason to notice the shift.

When I shared the article on Facebook, I commented on that shift, and wondered whether the change happened “before or after the common Kiwi words 'toilet' and even 'loo' were replaced with the banal American word 'bathroom'". This is the other main change I’ve noticed over the past year or two.

When I first started work in New Zealand and my workmates would say something like “Be right back. Just going to the toilet”, my American ears were surprised. I quickly learned that the word was common, and so was the more delicate (to American ears) British word loo. But nowadays, I often hear radio and TV presenters refer to “the bathroom” when they mean the toilet (as in “public bathroom”, as well as the phrase I first heard more than 20 years ago). But the use of the banal “bathroom” is most common, I think, among younger New Zealanders. Critics would argue that they’re immersed in American culture, from movies and TV shows to music to YouTube videos, but, apart from that last one, that’s been true for decades. What’s so different now? I don’t have an answer to that—maybe it simply has to do with speech that’s acceptable within their peer groups. If so, that would make it similar to a fad, and it might go away, much as the Kiwi slang I encountered when I arrived here has faded.

Whether Kiwi-isms prevail or not isn’t something that anyone can guess. If I were to bet, however, I’d be inclined to wager on the side of “bathroom” taking root here because it’s constantly reinforced in NZ popular media. The “talk radio” v. “talkback radio” thing, however, is probably one that nobody much cares about.

But for me, the worst part of this shifting of language is that I’ve become so used to the adoption of Americanisms that I don’t even remember that the words used to be different. I can sometimes notice it if I read something published before the shift and see the old word or phrase, a bit like reading a novel from the past and noticing all the odd phrases or slang—except in this case it’s noticing what used to be not so very long ago.

It’s worth noting that sometimes Americans’ adopt of words or phrases that originated in this part of the world, like the phrase, “at the end of the day” (which was popularised by NZ rugby commentary and is still commonly used here). There have actually been many times when a friend has made a comment on Facebook and I have to stop and think where I first heard the particular word or phrase they’re using (because at first I think it’s Kiwi).

I don’t think most New Zealanders ever think about this sort of stuff. Americans don’t, either (unless it’s to complain about Spanish words entering common use…). I think the fact that I notice at all is probably because I’m an immigrant and it’s words and phrases from my homeland I see being adopted. So, I may have a sensitivity to change that someone born here just wouldn’t normally have.

The one thing we know for certain is that the English language evolves wherever it exists, in New Zealand, in the USA, everywhere. Occasional petty annoyances with some adoptions aside, I think this is a really good thing, overall. It keeps the language alive and fresh and always moving toward the future. I do wonder, though, if we’ll still understand each other when we get there.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

It should be obvious

This should be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but, times being what they are, it clearly does: Today’s shooting of a US Representative is inexcusable. There can be no defence of the attack itself, nor of the person who perpetrated it. End of story. Except, of course, it isn’t.

The USA’s politics are often described as “polarised”, and they are, but that word is far, FAR too kind: US politics have become utterly toxic. The political divide in the USA is now deep, angry, and seemingly unbridgeable, with both sides unable to agree on anything whatsoever.

I have my own views, often expressed on this blog, about why this is now the state of politics in the USA, but it doesn’t really matter what I or anyone else thinks, not when so many people quite literally hate those they disagree with—regardless of which “side” they or their adversary are on (even the same “side”). How is it even remotely possible to talk about “restoring civility” and the like when people don’t see their opponents as human?

Another thing that should be obvious: Not all people, however partisan they may be, are as aggressive and bitter as those who scream the loudest on social media. Hardly any are actually violent or likely to ever become so, but it doesn’t take many violent people to upend everything, nor does it take many vitriolic partisans to poison the discussion for everyone, making civil discourse impossible and screaming matches certain.

Anyone can point at the fringe voices that have made vitriol their standard response, aggression their standard procedure, and who have helped legitimise offensive speech. The only real difference between the “Bernie Bros” of the Left and the “Alt Right” white supremacists on the Right is some ideology—which, it must be noted, is usually partly or wholly inconsistent with their erstwhile fellow travellers on their side of centre.

Because of this, claiming that only “the other side” is responsible for the current disgusting nature of US politics—as always happens when there’s something like this shooting—is merely part of that same sick politics, boiled in its broth of seething resentment and baked within its self-righteous shell. This is one of those rare times when we can legitimately and fairly say, “a pox on both their houses.”

I have no solutions to offer. I have suggestions, sure, things that might, maybe, help turn down the volume and heat a bit, but no one’s looking for solutions. Maybe there’s too much money to be made by enabling the twisted anti-human frenzy?

So, we are left knowing two things. First, there can be no defence of the attack itself, nor of the person who perpetrated it. The second thing is the worst part: It will happen again.

That IS obvious.

Book Talk: ‘Happily Ever After’

Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One [Kindle edition] by Chas Addams

This is not a new book, nor is it one I read recently. It is, however, a book to which I have strong nostalgic ties, which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t mention the book before now.

To begin, the review I left on Amazon’s site (via Goodreads):
This is a collection of cartoons by Chas Addams, many of which had been unpublished. They give an overview of Addams' offbeat and often macabre humour. His cartoons inspired the 1960s TV series "The Addams Family", and some of the cartoons in this collection hint at that.

One drawback with the Kindle edition is that the captions are sometimes on a different page than the cartoon they refer to. Not the end of the world, sure, but it interrupts the flow and the visual aesthetic of what is mostly a book of illustrations.

I bought this book because my parents had a copy of his book, "Addams and Evil" when I was growing up, and I spent many hours looking at that book. Fortunately, some of those cartoons are included in this collection, along with ones I'd never seen. Together, they reminded me of what I liked about Addams all those years ago.

All of which makes this a good basic collection of Addams' cartoons, though it would be nice to see some of his older books re-issued. Still, it's a good place to start.
That review because is the gist of what I think of the book, including the flaws with the Kindle edition (reviews on Amazon criticised the print edition as being “cheaply printed”, and I’ll have to take them at their word). Were it available, I’d have preferred Addams and Evil, his 1947 anthology I mentioned in the review—it was a better anthology, I think—but the virtue of this one is that it includes cartoons from later in Addams’ career, which is a good thing.

But as is sometimes the case, this one book alone isn’t all there is to the story: Addams’ work was a beginning point for me.

I spent hours trawling through Addams and Evil when I was a kid (I’d already seen The Addams Family TV show by then), and I loved it. Whether this is where it began, or Addams merely touched a part of my personality and sense of humour, I went on to become a fan of comics that were somewhat outside the mainstream, such as “The Far Side” by Gary Larson, or the “Life in Hell” comics by Matt Groening, who is now better known for The Simpsons and Futurama. I bought Groening’s Work is Hell book when it was published in 1986.

So, Chas Addams prepared me to like cartoons that were offbeat, often darker, sometimes macabre, and not necessarily totally mainstream. In other words, all the things that, say, Mary Worth wasn’t.

However, throughout, I’ve preferred cartoons published in newspapers and magazines—both mainstream and, especially, alternative—mainly because of ease of access. When I was younger, I thought that all comic books were about super heroes, which didn’t interest me very much. If I’d only known.

My sense of humour still favours the offbeat, often darker, and sometimes macabre themes I’ve enjoyed ever since I first encountered Chas Addams work when I was a child. This book, while far from perfect, was a wonderful reminder of what I loved so much when I was a kid, and what I still love.

What I read: Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One by Chas Addams, Kindle Edition, 176 pages (print edition), Published by Simon & Schuster, June 16, 2008.

Footnote: I bought the book in January, sort of a birthday present to myself, and I posted the review to Goodreads in February—just about the time we were getting ready to move, which explains everything: I didn’t have time to blog about it then, nor since then, either, apparently. Also, this post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Remembering the victims of the Pulse shooting

One year ago, a gunman entered Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was Latin Night. He then murdered 49 innocent people, and wounded 53 more. The victims must never be forgotten. These videos are one way to remember those we lost.

TIME has also posted the anniversary service for survivors and families (the video is an hour and a half long):

Monday, June 12, 2017

Winter wonderland

Winter days in Auckland can be some of the best of the year: Clear, sunny days with brilliant light and fresh air. But skies don’t have to be cloudless to be brilliant: Clouds can also be brilliant. But good weather or bad, Auckland’s winter is always better than what I experienced in my native Illinois, and that’s a good thing all on its own.

Early this morning, it was a bit cold, with fog. But unlike the pervasive fog we can get in winter, it was more like a cloud had come in for a landing, lying close to the ground.

As the sun rose, the fog lifted, but it made it a prettier day. I took the photo above from our deck mainly because I thought the clouds and shadows were nice. But it was actually my second photo of the morning.

I took the photo below first, after I’d looked out and saw drops on the clothesline in the light of the rising sun. I thought it was pretty and decided to go take a photo. I then looked over, saw the scene in the photo above, and went up onto the deck to take that photo. I decided it was a better photo for Instagram, and that’s why I posted it instead.

A nice start to the day, sure, but the real story behind this photo is that it was all actually at the end of my day.

I’d been up all night working, finishing around 7am this morning. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often fortunately—I’m not as able to cope with all-nighters as I could when I was half my age—but this month it did happen, and I survived. I needed to stay up a little longer to take my medication, so I was awake (and, apparently, aware enough) to take these photos.

Photo opportunities aside, the best thing from my perspective is that our winter mornings don’t have snow, rarely have frosts (and not severe ones when they do happen), and never get anywhere near as cold as I experienced in Illinois. That probably makes it easier for me to appreciate the beauty of Auckland’s winter days, whether subtle or obvious. These days I’m also likely to have my phone—and its camera—with me.

That’s the story of how these photos came to be, and also of what a nice winter morning we had today—what I saw of it.

Foreign support

There are few topics more controversial for men than choice of underwear. A potential source of anxiety in the changing rooms at the gym, or a source of possible social ostracism in ordinary conversation, it is a topic that many men will avoid—unless it’s to avoid talking about “men’s health” (better known as prostate exams), penis size, and other things men are uncomfortable talking about. My more serious problem was the need for foreign sourcing.

I’ve preferred the same brand of underwear for decades, and it’s a choice akin to publicly stating that one likes Abba or The Carpenters (which I always have…), so I won’t mention the brand, but it’s what the ad up top from the mid 1980s is for (actually, the real reason I’m not mentioning the brand is because they haven’t paid me to do so; that’s a joke, too…).

In all seriousness, I started buying the brand regularly sometime in the 1970s, and my initial reasons were the cost (they’ve always been inexpensive), they were 100% cotton (I could wash them in hot water with bleach to keep them fresh), and they were comfortable. Later, the fact that they were made in the USA made me especially loyal.

By the 1980s, men were switching to colour underwear, but I stuck with my white briefs—and still do. This was a source of amusement to Nigel, who called my underwear “old man undies” or “grandpa undies”. In fact, he still does. That didn’t deter me then or now.

What did cause me problems, however, was the fact that the brand isn’t sold in New Zealand, and sooner or later, a boy needs new underwear. My choice was to try something different (What? CHANGE?!) or to find a substitute. I decided on the latter.

I found some white mostly cotton briefs at The Warehouse (a New Zealand discount store chain) which were okay and were my choice for a couple years—right up until, as is typical for The Warehouse, they abruptly stopped carrying them. I found a different brand at K-Mart (which in New Zealand is a subsidiary of an Australian retail corporation). They, too, dropped the white briefs.

I tried Jockey, which I could get at Farmer’s (NZ department store), and while white, and mostly cotton, were every bit as uncomfortable as I’d remembered: I kept “falling out” of them. ‘Nuff said.

I realised that I had no choice but to order my usual brand from the USA, and there it gets tricky.

There was a NZ online store that I could order them from—at something like $7-$10 per pair (roughly 5 to 7 US dollars each). I like that brand, but not THAT much.

Many US retailers won’t ship overseas, and while there is a way around that (a subject in itself), I decided the easiest way was to order them through Amazon. And that brought me to other barriers.

The NZ dollar has been weaker against the US dollar, so buying products from Amazon USA is more expensive than it used to be. I kept waiting, hoping that the Kiwi dollar would strengthen, and it just hasn’t (mostly because our interest rates are low).

Things began to get critical: The waistbands in my pairs of K-Mart undies were beginning to quit their jobs, opening up holes. In general, they were looking more and more tatty, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, “always put on good underwear when you go very far from home in case you’re in an accident.” If I had been, the ambulance crew may have concluded I was derelict, because my undies certainly were.

So, I went ahead and went to Amazon to place my order. I was in luck: The packs had 8 pairs instead of the usual 7—bonus! Since I was ordering from Amazon, and had to pay their high shipping charges, I decided I may as well order a few books that had been on my wishlist for awhile, so I picked three and was ready to place my order—and I paused: How many packs of underwear should I buy? One? More?

I was well aware that the briefs have changed over the years—thinner fabric, changes to the waistband, etc.—so I thought I might not like the current version. But then I thought about how much trouble this has all been, and I ordered two packs, thinking if they were okay I’d order a couple more sooner rather than later.

I placed the order Sunday, May 28 (my time), and the order shipped on May 31. They told me the order, in two parts, would arrive on Friday the 16th and Monday the 19th. They actually arrived Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th. I mention this because I chose the cheapest shipping, which normally takes the longest, and yet it actually took less time than the second-most expensive shipping option I chose last time. I thought that was a reasonable turnaround.

The new underwear are no longer 100% cotton (the package doesn’t even list cotton, actually), and the fabric is thinner, but still better made than what I used to buy from The Warehouse. It’s also now “Hecho en El Salvador”, as a sticker on the package informed me; the brands I bought in New Zealand were made in China or elsewhere in Asia, so country of manufacture no longer matters to me. [UPDATE: The package doesn't say anything, but the sticker that says where they were made does say "100% cotton" in small-ish letters]

Now that the new underwear has arrived, the worst of the old underwear has been binned, because, unlike my mother, I won’t use old underpants as cleaning rags—I didn’t like it when she did it when I was a kid, and nothing’s made me change my mind. I did keep the least awful pairs for my emergency supply, part of my “Get Thru” preparations in case disaster strikes the day before laundry day. Be prepared, and all that.

I’ll probably buy more underwear sooner rather than later, and will probably finish off my book wishlist (most of the others on the list are Kindle books, which I can get at any time). While I don’t actually care what anyone thinks about my underwear preference, I nevertheless do think it’s an interesting challenge to find an overseas source for a product unavailable here, and then finding ways to get that product. Global community, eh?

And finally, a couple more videos to round out this topic. First up, a commercial from the late 1980s, when the “fruit guys” were starting to be phased out:

To finish this off, here’s something completely different: A parody music video making fun of the commercials, and country music video tropes at the same time. Because even a topic like this allows me to find new things.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Brian Hyland

Last weekend, I shared some things I’d learned about the movie of the musical South Pacific as I was researching an unrelated blog post. It’s happened again, but this time because of what another blogger shared.

My pal Roger Green posted “Itsy bitsy teenny weeny yellow polkadot bikini”, a post about that “novelty song” (video up top). It was an interesting post on its own, as his are, but there was one important thing I didn’t know until I read the post: The name of the artist who recorded it.

I learned his name is Brian Hyland, something I’d never learned. But the record artwork that Roger shared made him look really young, so I looked him up and learned that we was sixteen (!) when he had the hit (in 1960). There were two things about this. First, I’d heard the song on the radio for years and always assumed it was someone considerably older.

The other thing is that I’m pretty sure if I’d known about him when I was a kid I’d probably have fancied him. I can’t know that for sure—I was an infant when the song was a hit (he’s a little more than fifteen years older than me (he’s 73 nowadays)—but I know that when I was a little boy I liked male singers who were fairly pretty and non-threatening, much like the boys that little girls of the same age liked, and that’s what he looked like in the early part of his career.

But that all kind of fell by the way side as I found out more about his career, and found out there were other songs of his I didn’t know were his.

First up was in 1962 hit “Sealed with a Kiss”, which made it to Number 3 in the USA. I’d always assumed someone else had recorded that (I think that as a kid I thought it was the Everly Brothers or someone similar). Here’s his song:

I didn’t see any other songs I recognised as I read through the rest of his singles until I saw 1970's “Gypsy Woman” (the version below is audio only). It was another song I thought was by someone I’d heard of, but as with “Sealed with a Kiss”, I could never quite put my finger on who it was—it “sounded kinda like…” but that’s as far as a I got.

There’s a YouTube video of him singing the song on a TV show some years later, though I don’t know when it was recorded. The performance is incomplete.

So, because of Roger’s post I found out the name of the artist who did a song I’d literally grown up with. And, because I was curious, I also learned he’d recorded two more songs I was very familiar with. So, I ended up finding out who recorded three songs I knew, all because of one blog post. This is what I like about blogging: I tend to learn stuff because of where posts lead me.

And finally, as a sort of bonus, I also ran across a cover of “Sealed with a Kiss” I was unfamiliar with: It was by Jason Donovan, an Australian actor and pop artist whose version entered the UK chart at number one in 1989. I’m sharing it because I think he did a pretty good job with the song, but also because the video is SO 80s! I actually think the video is pretty bad for an era when there actually were a lot of really good ones made; this just wasn’t one of those good videos, I don’t think. Because he wasn’t popular in the USA, I’d never heard of him until I moved to New Zealand, and even then I wasn’t really familiar with anything he’d done (though I quickly learned that he’d worked with Kylie Minogue).

The things you learn because of blogs…

Saturday, June 10, 2017

15 Years a NZ citizen

Fifteen years ago today, June 10, 2002, I became a citizen of New Zealand. Life has mostly just ticked along since that day, as it tends to do, in very ordinary ways. In fact, this anniversary has been so behind-the-scenes all these years that I don’t remember it without prompting. This year? It seems a bit more important than previous years.

I became a New Zealand citizen, as I said the only time I talked in depth about this, back in 2014, because, basically, the country had taken a chance on me in 1995, and I felt I owed it to the country to make a commitment in return. It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. Besides, by then New Zealand was clearly home.

In 2002, George W. Bush was nearing the midpoint of his first term. I opposed Bush (and never voted for him), and I was deeply concerned about what his regime would do to the USA, but that was pretty much the extent of it. After all, in the years between when I took part in my first presidential campaign at age 17, the person I backed had won only twice out of seven elections. So, I was used to being opposed to whoever the president was.

In 2002, Helen Clark was in her first term as Prime Minister, and New Zealand voters were heading to the polls in just under seven weeks. They would hand the National Party and its leader, Bill English, their worst-ever defeat—only 21% of the vote—thereby giving Helen Clark and Labour their second term in government.

Things are a bit different 15 years later.

Obviously I never supported the guy who became the titular US president in January this year, but this time it’s not just about opposing him: Unlike any other time in my life, I have very grave concerns about what will/could happen to my native land if that man remains in office—and other, equally serious concerns about the man who would replace him if Don is forced out or resigns. For the first time in my life, I’m profoundly grateful that I have a second passport.

New Zealand voters are going to the polls on Saturday, September 23, and this time Bill English is Prime Minister, following the sudden, surprise resignation of John Key late last year. At the moment, English and National are polling well enough to win the election and a fourth term in government—though the election is a very long time from now by New Zealand standards, and things could change completely.

Other things have changed, too. Australia has changed the way it treats New Zealand citizens living in their country, so the benefits of being a NZ citizen living in Australia that I obtained when I became a citizen are now nearly all gone. Not that it matters for me personally, but it’s a major change nevertheless.

There’s one more difference between now and then: In 2002, my blog was more than four years away, and my podcast was the better part of five. I haven’t given up on either, despite lately sometimes feeling that I should, and in my head I keep planning on ways to do more.

The reality is that, overall, things are far less hopeful than they were 15 years ago, for both the countries of which I’m a citizen*. I’m not sure there are enough Republicans in the US Congress to join Democrats to do what needs to be done to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, as they’ve all sworn to do. I’m also not sure that New Zealand voters have the desire to turn away from the tired and complacent National Party government to embrace forward-looking change.

However, “less hopeful” is absolutely NOT the same thing as hopeless. In fact, hope is the thing that often matters most of all.

Looking at the world as it is today, and comparing it to the one 15 years ago, it would be easy to be despondent or resigned or fatalistic. That’s not me. No matter how bad things may seem most days now, I choose to believe that they can get better, that they will get better, despite everything.

Hope is a powerful force: It’s what brought me to this country in the first place, and it’s what makes me continue to believe—no matter what—that the future will be better, even if there are a few bumps in that road along the way that make progress seem unlikely. Having hope is a sort of armour against all the bad. In my opinion, hope is not optional.

Today, just like on June 10, 2002, I’m still filled with hope about the future. And, I hope that’s proven to be justified.

*I am what’s called a “dual national”, a citizen of both the USA and of New Zealand.

In the photo at the top of this post, George Wood, who at the time was the Mayor of the former North Shore City, shakes my hand to officially congratulate me on becoming a new New Zealand citizen. Waiting nearby was Diane Hale, who at the time was Deputy Mayor. I originally published the photo in the post in 2014 that I mentioned in this post.