Thursday, November 30, 2017

The end of things

Everything ends sooner or later. We all know that, and we’ve seen the evidence. Technology changes a lot, too, and new products and services come and go all the time. One technological change is happening here in New Zealand and it’s the first of its kind for me, and also the end of something that lasted 21 years.

Vodafone, one of the telecommunications companies operating in New Zealand, announced recently that it was shutting down its email services as a stand-alone service beginning today (emals to those accounts will be forwarded for awhile yet). This affected me because I had a few email addresses that were provided through Vodafone after 2006 when the company bought the New Zealand Internet Service Provider we used at the time, ihug (also known as “The Internet Group”; the acronym stands for the “Internet Home Users Group”). By then, we’d been with the ISP for ten years. That means that we had that original email address for more than 21 years (the others somewhat less) when it ended.

Over the years, I’ve added a lot of email addresses, ones I’ve used for different purposes. But even though I still have many email addresses I can use, it feels weird to be losing the one that was a constant for most of the time I’ve lived in New Zealand. I didn’t still use the addresses for anything other than some email alerts I got for products, services, and news organisations (most of which I’d been receiving since before Vodafone’s acquisition, some since near to 1996). It’s been that way for quite a few years now. The thing is, I got that soon-to-be-gone email address when everything about New Zealand was still new to me, so it feels weird to be losing it.

The address I used when I first came to New Zealand was one I’d set up with Apple Computer’s eWorld online service while I still lived in Chicago. Apple closed the service down in March, 1996, some six months after I arrived in New Zealand, and that was why we got an account with ihug.

It’s hard to remember how things were back then. It wasn’t easy to get extra email addresses in 1996 because ISPs didn’t provide more than one. Originally, Nigel and I shared the email address, something I can’t imagine doing now.

Hotmail (now called Outlook dot com) was launched July 4, 1996, some four months after we joined ihug, and it was created specifically so people could have email addresses independent of ISPs. RocketMail was also launched in 1996, and then its parent company was acquired by Yahoo! in 1997 and the service was rebranded as Yahoo! Mail. I set up my Yahoo! Mail address (the address I currently use for this blog) in 1999 as we prepared for a trip to visit the USA. It was the second email address I’d set-up after moving to New Zealand. I still have that one.

Throughout the 1990s, it was common for people to have the same email address—and to share it—for many years. People also didn’t switch ISPs all that often, so for a long time they didn’t change email addresses, either. That all started to change as ISPs started permitting more than one email address, and as people started to buy their own domains and email hosting. In 2004, Google launched Gmail, and it finally ended beta testing and went public in 2009. I remember when I was finally able to get a Gmail address, and that was sometime after it went public.

So much has changed over the years. The ISP we switched to in 1996, ihug, is largely forgotten now, though it once was a kind of a big deal. Vodafone itself is rumoured to be in trouble, and looking to exit New Zealand or merge with another company. And email itself is both ubiquitous and temporary: Most people add or delete email addresses all the time, even if only as they change jobs.

I spent about a month going through emails sent to my ihug email addresses, trying to update the ones I wanted to keep, unsubscribing from the ones I didn’t want. There were some that I couldn’t change, so I unsubscribed, including: Democrats (had to create an account; that option didn’t exist back when I signed up for email alerts), Democrats Abroad, Organising for Action (OFA), Dick Smith (online retailer), Chicago Tribune (I was able to change the address, but emails kept going to old email address, anyway. I unsubscribed and then the emails switched to the new address), and AA Smartfuel (again, I was able to change the address, but emails kept going to the old email address, anyway. I unsubscribed.) Similarly, I changed Adobe, but kept getting emails—even ones about my account—to the old address. I contacted their help system, they told me they had the correct address, but he manually purged the old address from their systems. Now I’m not getting any emails at all. Sigh. This sort of thing ought to be much easier by now.

On the other hand, I was could easily change some, including: New York Times, Disqus, and Countdown (NZ supermarket).

I’m actually kind of surprised these addresses lasted this long before being closed down. I’ve barely used them for years, and I don’t actually need them anymore. And yet, there was that one address I’ve had for more than two decades, a thing that was a constant over all that time, and it will now be going away. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. eWorld was gone less than a year after I joined it. The ISP we joined to replace eWorld was acquired by Vodafone, but service continued. But now the last remaining technological tie to my earliest days in New Zealand is going away, too, and that’s the first of its kind for me. It’s unlikely anything exactly like this will happen again.

So, here’s to a first and last event of its kind, all in one.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sainsbury’s 2017 Christmas ad

The ad above is the Christmas ad for UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. I have a confession to make: When I started watching the ad the first time, I didn’t like it because I thought it was really naff. But as it went on, I was drawn in by the infectiousness of the enthusiasm of the people taking part. It was fun, much to my surprise, and that’s a good thing.

The ad is very different from their 2016 ad, which is another reason I didn’t like this year’s ad at first. They say in the YouTube description: “The 2017 Sainsbury's Christmas advert squeezes every bit of Christmas into a wonderfully fun and festive song, sung by people all over Britain.” It reinforces their theme, “Every bit of Christmas”, and it does it well.

But when I watched the ad more carefully, after I decided I liked it, I noticed how multicultural it is: There are same-gender couples, interracial families, young, old, all celebrating Christmas. It made me like the ad just a little bit more.

Sainsbury's also released a karaoke version (below), but I kind of think they don’t get karaoke: Their video has all the lyrics, but doesn’t include the melody. That would make it kind of hard for anyone who doesn’t know the melody to have a go—though after a couple mulled wines (or whatever…) that might be very entertaining.

At any rate, the ad (the actual ad) is meant to be fun, and I think it is. Clearly when they say “every bit of Christmas” they mean the fun bits, too. That’s a good thing, I think.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

M&S Christmas ads

The ad above is the 2017 Christmas ad for UK retailer Marks & Spencer, these days usually stylised as “M&S”. Like their 2016 ad, this one is also quite good.

This year’s ad shows, they say, “the tale of true Christmas spirit – with our favourite Paddington Bear”. I think it’s quite entertaining, and even heartwarming. It’s nice.

M&S is also known for food retailing, and they have a separate ad for that:

That food looked awfully tempting. I guess that’s a sign of a well-made ad.

There are more ads I’ll be sharing, including tomorrow. I love well-made ads, and well-made Christmas ads most of all. Obviously.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shared spaces

The video above from Vox is about a particular type of shared spaces, in this case, intersections where signs and traffic signals have been removed, and paving changed, to make a more freeflowing public space. Auckland has very different shared space solutions, based on streets being shared rather than intersections. Both can work, and have worked—but they are a radical change.

The video talks about the problems people with disabilities, the visually impaired in particular, can face when trying to cross shared spaces. Auckland’s shared spaces have raised bumps to help visually impaired people manage, something that is also put at conventional crosswalks, so they’re familiar to people in Auckland.

I have to admit that when the idea was first proposed around 2004 I thought it was insane. I was sure that people would be run over all the time, and cars would crash into stuff. I was wrong. As a rule, shared spaces tend to be much safer than conventional streets and crossings because, as the video also notes, the visual cues are much different and drivers slow down a lot and drive more carefully, and pedestrians pay more attention.

I think shared spaces are something that definitely takes some getting used to, but I also think they’re very much worth it in the right places. I also think that it’s funny how the way things used to be long ago are actually better suited to the modern world than the systems we developed for it.

At any rate, I really like the shared spaces in Auckland, and I’d never want them to revert back.

Lunch at the Atrium – my post from January about a trip to Elliott Street, a particularly nice shared space.
B&W photo challenge: Day four of seven – My photo in the post from earlier this month was taken on Elliott Street. I was actually sitting down on a bench and enjoying the plaza-like feel of the shared space at the time.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

In the event of a non-emergency

Today Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management tested its new Emergency Mobile Alert system, which allows the Ministry to send emergency notices out to New Zealanders. Well, SOME New Zealanders: Only about a third of all cellphones in New Zealand can receive the signal.

Our cellphones were compatible, which demonstrates that even non-current models can be compatible, as long as their operating system is also kept current (we do keep ours updated). So, it’s good to know we can get an important warning.

However, the message (image at right) and the—ahem—alarming tone both disappeared when we pressed the Home button. That meant the text disappeared before I had a chance ot actually read it (I was trying to take a screenshot at the time—oops). It turned out that it was saved along with all other notifications, something that I didn’t realise at first because I don’t get many notifications (I often turn them off because most of them are annoying). Still, it’s good to know they’re there.

Hopefully, I’ll never have to get a real emergency message. But, if one is necessary, at least I’ll get it. Still, I couldn’t resist joking about it:

David Cassidy

David Cassidy, who became a “teen idol” because of his co-starring role in the1970-74 TV series The Partridge Family, died last week at the age of 67. This made me sad for a whole lot of reasons.

When the show debuted in September 1970, I was 11 years old. I’m about seven months older than Danny Bonaduce, who played Danny Partridge to Cassidy’s Keith, which means that Cassidy was nearly nine years older than me. Nevertheless, I found David Cassidy—fascinating.

In retrospect, I can see I fancied him, though it wasn't a crush, exactly: I just enjoyed looking at him, and I felt a certain something I couldn’t yet define when I did. That wasn’t the first time that had happened: I also liked Davy Jones in The Monkees (1966-68), and also Bobby Sherman in Here Come The Brides (1968-70), though in that particular case I especially liked the theme song [WATCH/LISTEN]. There were also a few others. I talked a bit about that sort of fascination back in 2015.

I really liked The Partidge Family’s big hit, “I Think I Love You” (video above) from their first album, The Partidge Family Album, which I bought [See also: The Partridge Family Discography]. I also bought their second album, Up to Date, and their third album, Sound Magazine, and that was it. I was 12 by then, and starting to realise that liking them wasn’t cool, so I stopped buying their records. I liked their first four singles, all from the albums I bought—and I actually still do, though maybe mostly for the nostalgia.

“I Think I Love You” reached Number One in the USA, Canada, and Australia, Number Five in New Zealand, and 18 in the UK, making it their biggest hit by far. However, they were consistently more popular in Australia than the other three countries. I don’t think that means or says anything about Australia, but it is kind of interesting.

As I drifted away from The Partridge Family, I stopped paying attention to David Cassidy. I was aware of his first solo single, Cherish, which I was fairly blasé about because I liked the 1966 original by The Association better (in those days, I almost always preferred the first version of a song I heard, regardless of what version was the original one). The song was from Cassidy’s first solo album, also called Cherish.

What all this means is that, for me, David Cassidy is firmly stuck to the time I really liked him, back in the first couple years, maybe, of the The Partridge Family. He did a lot more after that, of course, and I know that he had sort of a rough life, including announcing earlier this year that he’d been diagnosed with dementia. But none of that intrudes on the misty, soft-focus memories of a singer I once really liked, and who was among the first male celebrities I found fascinating, in that particular way.

Goodbye, David Cassidy. And thanks.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Let the 2017 asking begin

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, so that means it’s once again time for my annual “Ask Arthur” series of posts, something I’ve been doing every December since 2012 (plus two July series). This year, I thought I’d ask for questions the end of November so that I can begin the answers earlier in December (last year, it took me nearly two weeks to begin answering questions).

This series is a chance for people to ask me nearly anything, and I try to answer whatever I’m asked. I have no particular topics that are “off limits”, but if I can’t answer something for whatever reason I’ll say so, though I’ve never had a question that I wouldn’t answer.

I’ve been aksed about myself, my past, about life in New Zealand—mine or in general—about being an expat, what I think about various topics or events in the news, and so on. Many different things, many possibilities.

To ask questions, leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though some people may want to keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog.

UPDATE: My friend Linda reminded me that you can also send a question as a private message by clicking on "Send a Message" on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page. I forget about that because, as the page owner, I don't see that button whenever I visit the page.

Finally, as I always note, this idea is stolen from inspired by Roger Green’s “Ask Roger Anything” (“ARA”) posts, which he still does, and far more often than I do.

So, over to you: Ask your question whatever way works best for you, and I’ll do my best to answer it.

All posts in this series will be tagged “AAA-17”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


What do you want to know? (December 2012)
Ask Arthur (July 2013)
Ask Arthur – Again (December 2013)
Ask Arthur Again, again (December 2014)
Ask Arthur yet again (July 2015)
It’s that time again (December 2015)
It’s ‘Ask Arthur’ time again (December 2016)

Dawn of an Internet constant

There are all sorts of things one can find out in the Internet, but one of the things it’s particularly good at is delivering instructions on how to do things. Just as in real life, the quality of the suggestions we get can vary widely, but at the very least, they can provide a starting point. Sometimes they also raise more questions, even about dishwashing liquid.

One of the things I searched for on Pinterest were recipes for homemade cleaners, not just because they’re often less harsh than commercially manufactured products sold in the supermarket, but also because they don’t use chemicals made from petroleum. They can also be cheaper.

One of the things I noticed immediately was how many—maybe even most—homemade cleaner recipes that use dishwashing liquid as one of the ingredients specified a particular brand, namely, Proctor & Gamble’s brand Dawn. Naturally, I wondered why.

It turns out it has to do with a particularly famous event: The Exxon-Valdez Disaster, when 10.8 million US gallons (which is 260,000 barrels, 40,882,447 litres, or 41,000 m3) of crude oil were spilled in Prince William Sound in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989. People who worked to rescue the wildlife found that Dawn worked the best for removing crude oil (See: “Why Dawn Is The Bird Cleaner Of Choice In Oil Spills” from npr).

There were more than a few eyebrows raised at that, since Dawn contains chemicals made from petroleum. While many of us might see that as ironic, others felt that using such products helps to perpetuate demand for petroleum that led to the oil spill they were fighting with petroleum based cleaners. I get the argument, but I almost needed to draw a flowchart to follow it.

Okay, so maybe Dawn really is the best for cleaning crude oil off of birds and other wildlife, the origin of its ingredients notwithstanding. Most of us just don’t need to do that around our homes, so maybe we don’t need those particular miraculous properties in our homemade cleaners, either?

A big issue for me, though, was that Dawn isn’t sold in New Zealand (technically, it IS available in NZ from specialist retailers selling to Kiwis, sometimes actually overseas, and I’ve seen it offered at three to ten times the price someone would pay in the USA). I knew that if I was going to try mixing any of the cleaners I was reading about, I’d need to substitute the dishwashing liquid for something I could actually get.

And that was why I looked into why so many people specified Dawn dishwashing liquid in their homemade cleaner recipes: I needed to understand why they were doing that in order to pick a substitute. I chose a replacement, and I’ll be talking about my experience and results in future posts. However—spoiler alert!—it turns out that pretty much any dishwashing liquid can be used in those recipes instead of Dawn. Quelle surprise!

There are often specific reasons why people do the things they talk about the way they do them. If we find out what those reasons are, we can decide for ourselves whether those reasons are sound, and whether we think that how they do the the thing is a good idea, necessary, or whatever. This was one of those times for me, but I sure wish that most of the time it was that easy to find out the reasons for stuff.

Still, I guess you could say this was the Dawn of a new adventure (thank you; I’m here all week).

Friday, November 24, 2017

Much to be thankful for

Today is Thanksgiving in my native USA, a day on which—among other things—people typically reflect on what they’re thankful for. That can include anything, often unique to an individual, but for most it’s other people who rank pretty highly on the list. As they should. But there’s so much to be thankful for.

The video above from Vox highlights nine things we should be glad about, because they’re things that are getting better. In fact, as I often point out, there’s a lot that’s getting better all the time. Yes, there absolutely are bad things and people in this world, but there are good things and good people, too. Too often we focus on the bad and ignore the good.

I admit that these days I’m far more pessimistic than I am optimistic, at least when it comes to my native land. But the things that bring me down the most reliably are also the things I can do the least about. So, instead, I focus on what I CAN do something about.

When I go to shops, or deal with anyone who has to deal with the public, including people working for government, I’m always nice. I smile. I try to be friendly so that even if every other customer they deal with that day is a prize prick, for a few minutes they have one interaction in which they’re treated like a fellow human being. I don’t think that’s all that hard to do.

I try to acknowledge the good things other people do, to cheer their successes, and to encourage their good feelings, even if only in small ways. It doesn’t matter if I share their feelings about, say, a movie, I can nevertheless cheer their enjoyment, because them being happy is a good thing, and me not liking whatever they like is irrelevent (Arthur’s Law is a good thing, I tell ya). I don’t think that’s all that hard to do.

Mostly, I just try to be human and civil to others I interact with, or I hold my tongue. Most of the time, my challenging other people isn’t necessary and won’t accomplish anything. Besides, I’ve finally learned that I don’t actually have to be “right” all the time. I don’t think that’s all that hard to do.

I fail—a lot. I’m sometimes unkind or, at least, unthinking. Sometimes I’m not as supportive as I should be. Sometimes I just don’t feel like smiling at a store clerk or being chatty. Sometimes I have a bad day, maybe even a very bad day. But I’m trying to make all that the exception, the increasingly rare deviation. Maybe I’ll eventually even get there. But the point is, I’m trying to get better, too.

So, I’m thankful for all the wonderful people in my life, whether they’re at the core of my life, like Nigel, or people further out who inspire me or teach me or light up the world around me. All of them make me want to be a better person, and it’s what I’m trying to do all the time. Sure, I don’t always succeed, but I can see where I want to be, and who I want to be, and all those people have helped me make it this far.

With the world doing better in so many demonstrable ways, and with so much to be thankful for personally, how could I be anything but grateful and thankful? Thanksgiving Day is a holiday. Being grateful and thankful ought to be a way of life, I think.

There’s much to be thankful for.

Another sweet NZ ad

The video above is the Christmas ad for Mitre 10, a New Zealand chain of hardware and home centres (and not to be confused with the Australian company of the same name). This commercial very subtly promotes what the stores sell, and what they’re all about, without any obvious product placement. That sort of subtly is common for NZ television ads, especially at Christmas.

I think the ad is really sweet. It portrays a father who sees his young son’s worry about how Santa will get into their house, he works hard to do something about it, and, essentially, makes his son’s worries disappear. If only life was always as easy as that!

At first blush, especially to foreigners, the music in the background might seem an odd choice. The melody is, of course, We Three Kings, a hymn written for a Christmas pageant, and still associated with the holiday ever since (even though its subject actually makes it an Epiphany song…). However, even this could be a very subtle Kiwi cultural reference.

A New Zealand born comedian, the late John Clarke, created a character called Fred Dagg, who was the quintessential Kiwi farming bloke, and he had his own version of the song. It had the same melody, but these lyrics:
We three Kings of Orient are
One on a tractor, One on a car,
One on a scooter, tooting his hooter,
Following yonder star.

Oh, star a wonder, star a bright
Star a bewdy, she’ll be right,
Star a glory, that’s the story,
Following yonder star
I don’t know for sure that the music choice was an homage to Clarke, who died in April of this year, but I like to think it is. It would be appropriate as a tribute, sure, but also as a wee wink toward Kiwi sarcasm and humour (I know plenty of Kiwis who can sing the Fred Dagg song without needing to think about the lyrics).

Regardless, the commerical is sweet. This time of year, that’s enough.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sustainability project

We’ve completed the early phase of another thing that’s part of what I’m half-jokingly calling our “Sustainability Project” (photo above). It’s joking because there’s a lot in life that I don’t take totally seriously, and this is one of those things. However, we really are trying to live more sustainably and this is another example of that.

Quite some time ago, when we were still at the old house, we bought an EnsoPet Pet Waste Composting Kit (link goes to the Australian manufacturer), but never quite found the time/place to bury it. This week we finally found both.

As I said in the Instagram caption, it’s basically a composting toilet for pets which safely deals with the waste and diverts it from landfills or wastewater systems. The end result is enriched soil, which is also good. However, even though the system is designed to deal with pathogens that may be present in animal waste, it doesn’t necessarily entirely eliminate them, so the finished compost shouldn’t be used where food will be grown.

We had the EnsoPet long before we bought the Bokashi bin (which I’ll talk about again in more detail when the first “batch” is fully composted), but also long before we took most other waste minimisation steps. Even so, we were already doing some conventional things.

Awhile back, Auckland Council increased the size of the recycling wheelie bins to 250 litres, and they accept a wide range of materials. The bin is so large that it can take two months for us to fill it.

Meanwhile, a pilot project slowly being rolled out around the country collects plastic shopping bags and other “soft packaging” at various drop off points. Such things couldn’t go in the normal recycling bin, and finding a place that took them was difficult. However, since the project began, I’d guesstimate I’ve probably diverted the equivalent of 5 60-litre rubbish bags (probably more) from landfill.

With all that stuff being recycled, and us now using the Bokashi bin for kitchen composting, our 35 litre kitchen rubbish bin that used to fill up every week to ten days can now take the better part of a month to fill, and it never smells (because it’s mainly unrecyclable packaging, like polystyrene trays, for example, and contaminated paper, like from the fish and chips shop).

The EnsoPet will mean pet waste will be diverted to composting, too, where before we used to flush it down the loo. It’s frankly a little more work for us, but the rewards are pretty good—for us, and also for the environment.

We’re also growing some vegetables this year—not many, and it’s not a first for us, but it’s been a fair while. Mainly, this is sort of a warm up for next year.

And there are a few other things we’ve been up to, too—topics for future posts, mainly because there’s more information to gather. And I wouldn’t want to post about something without complete information.

And more information is something I gathered today. A friend asked me about putting cat poo in the EnsoPet, since it would have kitty litter stuck to it if the cat uses a litter box. This is an issue for us, too, because while Bella always used to go outside, as she got older she became more reluctant to go do that, and, with her kidney condition, that last thing we want is for her to “hold it”. So, we got her a dirt box.

The problem is, what do you do with the gifts from a cat?! The litter we use clumps when wet, and a daily emptying of the gifts in the box is quite heavy. Most people place that in their household rubbish—sending it to a landfill, and also leaving very little room for actual rubbish since there’s a weight limit on the bags we use.

So, I asked the EnsoPet people about cat litter stuck to cat poo, and they said that should be alright, but to avoid the large clumps of clay, people should use biodegradable litter. I haven’t put any cat stuff in the EnsoPet yet, mainly because I clean out both kinds at once. I’ve buried some of that so less has to go to landfill, and with the EnsoPet now installed, maybe I can find a way to deal better with the cat gifts, too. Here’s hoping.

The larger point here is that we’re trying to reduce our impact on the planet, and to do so in a way that ultimately saves us money. We have saved a little, mostly from being able to buy fewer rubbish bags, and ultimately other savings will creep upward. The investment in various bins will take a long time to be paid off from the savings, but that was never our main goal, reducing our impact on the planet was and is. So, long term we may save some money from doing this, or we may not, but we’re sending less to landfill and to sewage treatment plants, so all that alone is a good result.

It would be nice if someone could develop easier and much cheaper ways to do all these things so that more people could and would take part. But we live in an age when a great many people don’t know how to grow vegetables, so asking them to actively reduce their waste is too much. We can, so we do. If more people in our situation did the same thing, it could make a huge difference.

You gotta start some place.

A video about the EnsoPet from the people who supplied our Bokashi, and who also helped develop the EnsoPet:

Good riddance to utter rubbish

Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator is finally gone. This is good news the world can be very glad of, though it was far too long in coming. Now, of course, will be the waiting to see if democracy finally returns to that shattered nation.

Back in 2008, I said:
“I’m going to say something that most people won’t say, but know is true: Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator Robert Mugabe will only end Zimbabwe’s suffering by dying or being driven from office. It’s now abundantly clear, as I said last April, that he will never give up power willingly.”
This wasn’t brilliance on my part—unless stating the only possible conclusion is “brilliant”. After years and years of rigged “elections”, brutal reprisals against “enemies” and opponents, and all sorts of repression and kleptocracy, it was self-evident that he’d have to be forced out. And that’s exactly what happened.

Any time a brutal dictator is forced out, it’s good news. But whether the story has a happy ending or not depends entirely on what happens next. A country can emerge from repression and oppression only to slide back into it, Russia and Cambodia, for example. Will that be Zimbabwe’s fate, too?

The country’s presumptive new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, arrived home to cheers. That’s good—but he WAS a confidante of Mugabe’s, and his hands are hardly clean. Will he give up power in free and fair elections, if they’re held and he loses?

New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, said: “This moment will be seen as a critical point in the history of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean people have voiced their support for change in a peaceful way.” I agree with him, and with the statement that “New Zealand supports the efforts of the Zimbabwean people to uphold democracy and to return to a prosperous and vibrant country free of oppression.” But the international coalition that opposed the Mugabe dictatorship, something that obviously included New Zealand, couldn’t help bring about change. Can we do anything to help it along?

Right now, we should be glad that a brutal dictator is gone. Let the people of Zimbabwe enjoy their liberation. But the world must be ready to help them keep oppression from ever returning.

Australia’s shame

There’s a story about Australia that’s well-known in this part of the world, but not much beyond. It’s about how Australia set-up prison camps for people who have tried—and failed— to illegally reach Australia by boat. People have been stuck in those camps for years, and in many cases it’s because of the Australian government. Then, when New Zealand raised the issue by reaffirming its offer to take some refugees, it was made out to be the ogre. But New Zealand isn’t the reason for this situation—it’s just trying to be part of the solution.

Australia set up the camps to prevent “asylum seekers”, as they’re often called, from reaching Australia’s shores. The government says that since setting up the camps, no asylum seeker has drowned at sea, and that, they say, proves their harsh policies are effective. The problem, of course, is that correlation is not causation, and there are probably other factors involved, ones that don’t reinforce a largely political narrative. Regardless, Australia also doesn’t seem to want to do anything that would settle the refugees cases at least in part because it believes doing so would encourage more people to board boats bound for Australia. It is, in their view, a sort of “tough love”.

The situation at the facility on Manus Island became dire when the Australian government wanted to move asylum seekers to new facilities, and they didn’t want to go, fearing violent reprisals from locals, among other things. Australia, in a frankly petulant response, simply shut off the water and electricity and ended routine medical assistance, effectively turning their backs on the men remaining, perhaps hoping to make them desperate enough to go to the new camps. This seems a foolish attitude, since these are people who were desperate enough to cross oceans in rickety boats, so defying Australia’s demands would seem like an easy thing for them. It also opened Australia to worldwide condemnation.

Australia’s treatment of detainees, especially on Manus Island after they retaliated against those who wouldn’t leave, has caught the attention of SOME around the world. For example, according to a major piece in the New York Times: “Veteran United Nations officials said this month they had never seen a wealthy democracy go to such extremes to punish asylum seekers and push them away.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand had an election and a new, more Left-leaning government took over. New Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeated the former National Party-led Government’s offer to take 150 refugees, and Australia at first flatly rejected the offer, then, after more international attention, softened their attitude somewhat, suggesting they’d consider it.

Australian politicians—and conservatives in New Zealand—attacked the new NZ government, saying they were “meddling” in Australia’s “domestic” policies, that we must never upset Australia because we need them far more than they need us, that the new government was being naive and even a bit childish. All this despite the fact the offer—originally from a conservative New Zealand government—had been on the table for a very long time. Clearly pure politics was the sole reason for the criticism of the NZ government.

However, Australia was obviously rattled by the attention on its appalling treatment of the refugees. In addition to verbal attacks from Australian government politicians, the Australian government also leaked unsubstantiated and uninvestigated claims that men on Manus Island were guilty of child sexual abuse. The smear was an attempt to convince the world that the detainees were all “bad” people (a line of attack picked up by conservatives in New Zealand) and therefore they “deserve”, as the narrative goes, their harsh treatment.

The Australian government has also repeated its claims that it intercepted and turned away “several” boats filled with refugees headed for New Zealand. They’ve never publicly released any proof that this claim is actually true. Is there any?

So, what’s going on here? First, Australia apparently really does believe that their harsh treatment of asylum seekers has stopped the flow of such people. Whether that’s actually the reason for the reduction or not is beside the point: They seem to sincerely believe that.

Second, Australia doesn’t like being told what to do by anyone, including the United Nations, and definitely not New Zealand. It will only change its treatment of asylum seekers if it suits them.

Third, and related to the second reason, it’s good politics in Australia. Australian voters have rewarded tough treatment of asylum seekers, most recently in returning the conservative Liberal-National Coalition Government to power. Because the asylum seekers are held in remote facilities, well out of view of Australians and their news media, it becomes a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. The Australian public never sees the extent of the harsh treatment, perhaps precisely so they can’t care about it. I don’t know that any country’s people would be any different under similar circumstances (for example, Guantánamo). This is also why the detention centres are NOT in Australia.

Finally, there’s a particular reason the Australian government is opposed to New Zealand taking any asylum seekers, in addition to all the reasons above. If the refugees are granted permanent residence in New Zealand, and then become citizens, they can move to Australia to live and work. One of the main reasons for Australia’s ongoing crackdown on the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia is because the Australian government believes it’s too easy for people to gain New Zealand citizenship, and that they use it as a means to settle in Australia legally. The truth is, they’re right in that a foreigner who couldn’t qualify to legally live and work in Australia could do so if they become a New Zealand citizen first. That’s even true for me.

However, it’s not quite as easy to become a New Zealand citizen as Australia seems to think it is, but that’s still their view, and it is the basis for much of their government’s hostility to New Zealanders living in their country and why they dismiss the simple repeating of NZ’s existing offer to take 150 refugees.

Where does this leave us? Nowhere. The United States would probably be the ONLY country in the world that might have some influence over Australia, but it no longer cares about human rights, is openly hostile to immigration (legal or not), and will do nothing to ease people’s suffering. The current occupier of the White House famously hung up on the Australian Prime Minister the first time they spoke because he was angry that President Obama had agreed to accept some of these same refugees, something he called "the worst deal ever". He also referred to the phone call as “the worst call by far”. While that was all probably mostly about the current occupant’s abject hatred of President Obama, it nevertheless damaged US-Australian relations.

New Zealand has no leverage with Australia, either, for completely different reasons. Despite a relationship forged on foreign battlefields, Australia mainly tolerates New Zealand, as one might an annoying younger sibling, but they don’t really care what we think, whether it’s about them, world affairs, or even how they treat New Zealand citizens living in that country.

There is one possible glimmer of hope, though: If the United Nations could somehow broker an agreement to at least remove the refugees that the UN has recognised as genuine. But, with the UN both cowardly and compromised these days, I wouldn’t hold my breath about that, either.

So, the situation shows no sign of improving any time soon. It’s not even clear that a change of government would matter. What is clear is that barring the UN suddenly growing a metaphorical backbone, or regime change in the United States, there’s nothing that can push this situation toward resolution.

And that, really, is the world’s shame.

Tip o' the Hat to Roger Green for the link to the NYT article.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Seeing change and not

Earlier this week, we were out on our deck and were talking about the TV aerial (photo above). It was the first time I’d stopped to realise that most of it is now useless. It made me stop and think how much things have changed, and how quickly.

The VHF aerial (the lowest parts of the aerial) haven’t been used in Auckland since December, 2013, when the old analog TV network was turned off. I blogged about the digital switchover back in 2012, when the first regions went digital-only. At the time, it didn’t affect us because we had Sky TV, the satellite pay TV services, which was already digital.

We dropped Sky a few months ago while we were living at our old house, and switched to Freeview, the free to air digital television network. We could use the sky satellite dish to receive the standard resolution signals, or we could use UHF for high definition channels. We’d already had a special UHF aerial installed, and used that.

The new house had no Sky dish, so we hooked up the UHF aerial here (the uppermost part of the aerial in the photo above), and it’s been fine. But, to me, it was just a TV aerial until Nigel pointed out the redundant VHF aerial, which is now nothing more than a roost for birds (and the reason we talked about it at all was because I was telling Nigel that was why plants kept growing in our gutters.

There’s another aerial mast up higher on the roof, orginally used for some sort of wireless Internet receiver, also apparently not usable anymore. So, we plan on having a new, better UHF aerial installed up there, and we’ll remove the current aerial—goodbye birds’ perch and plants-in-gutters.

Today I was out on the deck looking at the sky, and happened to notice that a neighbour’s house had a similar, though bigger, aerial up on their roof, Obviously they don’t use theirs anymore, either, but I wondered if they’d thought of removing it. Then I wondered how many houses all over the country must still have those useless aerials up on the roof.

TV aerials were once ubiquitous. Before Sky’s satellite TV service, all television was received by aerial. Now there are more choices for broadcast, and also Internet streaming is a viable option, a developement that happened faster than many of us thought it would. Yet those old aerials are still all over the place, and would be a reminder of old, abandoned technology—if people thought about them at all. Until the other day, I was like most people and never thought about the aerial—or, more specifically, the useless parts.

Technology changes quickly, and this particular revolution was televised.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Countdown

The video above is the Christmas ad for Countdown, one of New Zealand’s two national grocery store chains. This ad is the same as in 2016 [WATCH], but I didn’t share at the time. This particular video is the long version—the actual ad currently shown on television is 30 seconds, so there are some bits cut out of it. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of “Christmas in New Zealand” in this ad.

Countdown is owned by Australian supermarket company Woolworth’s, through its New Zealand subsidiary, Progressive Enterprises (chains include Countdown, SuperValue, and FreshChoice), and a fair number of the products sold are either from Woolworth’s or sourced overseas by the Australian parent (I still remember seeing Egyptian breakfast cereal on the shelves for a short a time). Despite that, Countdown mainly sells New Zealand-made products, “Australasian” products (often local products made by international food conglomerates), or imported stuff (including a lot more products imported from America than was the case when I first moved to New Zealand). This means that Countdown is very much like its supermarket rival, the New Zealand cooperative company Foodstuffs (chains include New World, Pak’nSave, and Four Square). From what I can tell, most people seem to choose the store they shop at mainly based on price, convenience, or habit (I’m mostly the second two).

Countdown’s ads are generally not all that interesting, but I think this Christmas ad is particularly nice, not the least because it touches on much of the cultural imagery—tropes, if you like—of a Kiwi Christmas. Christmas ads are an appropriate time to do that, and I think this ad does it well.

Full disclosure: I do my “big shops” at Countdown, and my frequent “in between shops” at Four Square, which is 5 minutes from the house (Countdown is about 20 minutes away). In the past, I was a regular shopper at New World when we lived only a few minutes away from one.

Related: New World’s Christmas ads.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

First UK Christmas ads

Advertising can be interesting—the techniques used, the creativity of the ad, and so on. But for Christmas TV ads, the standards may be a bit higher. It’s fun to take a look at such ads, and the first ad I shared this year was a New Zealand ad, followed by another together with its series of ads over the years.

Now, it’s time for more ads, starting with the 2017 versions of ads for two UK retail chains I shared in 2016 (Link has the videos and more about the stores).

The first ad, up top, is called “Moz The Monster”, and it’s for high-end UK retailer John Lewis. According to the BBC, reception to the ad has been mixed. It’s a very well done ad, but it doesn’t seem all the Christmasy to me, but in a way that’s true of their 2016 ad, too. The song in the background is, of course, The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers”. It is performed by Elbow.

The second ad, below, is "Christmas Together", and is for UK supermarket chain Waitrose, which is owned by John Lewis. It’s kind of cute. Even if the very end is somewhat predictable, it’s appropriate for a Christmas ad.

Previous John Lewis ads I’ve shared:
Buster The Boxer (my post: “Buster the Boxer’s ad") – 2016
Man on the Moon (my post: “Something nice") – 2015
Monty the Penguin (my post: “Another nice ad”) – 2014
The Bear and The Hare (my post: “Because it’s nice”) – 2013

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Finding and fixing a Disqus problem

This blog uses Disqus commenting system, a free service that replaces the built-in commenting system for Google’s Blogspot/Blogger blogs. For the most part it’s worked well, though there have been sometimes been glitches that needed to be fixed. Today I discovered a new one I had to fix.

My installed Firefox recently automatically upgraded to the latest version, 57, which they’ve named Firefox Quantum, reputedly now the fastest browser available. When I accessed my blog, commenting wasn’t available, not even on posts that I knew had comments. I tried accessing a post with comments by itself, which always used to make comments appear, but that didn’t work. However, the comments were there on Chrome, so I knew the problem was with Firefox.

Without getting overly detailed (I’m happy to provide more details in the comments—just ask), I restarted Firefox in “Safe Mode”, which strips it back to basics and disables all add-ons (aka extensions). Comments reappeared. So, I then restarted Firefox normally, disabled all add-ons, restarted, and then re-enabled add-ons one at a time at repeated until I found the culprit.

It turned out it was “HTTPS Everywhere”, an add-on from EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) that “encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.” That add-on apparently blocks Disqus. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has caused me problems: In 2013 it was much worse.

With “HTTPS Everywhere” disabled, comments loaded normally. So next I went to Chrome, where comments had always worked, and discovered I didn’t have the add-on installed. So, I installed it—and the same thing happened.

It turns out that the add-on can be disabled just for Blogger.com, which is what I did on Chrome, and it worked. That leaves the add-on functioning to preserve my privacy elsewhere, while allowing me to see comments on my blog (and any others using both Blogger and Disqus).

I never would have known any of this if Firefox hadn’t updated to their new, flashier version. I want to try it as my default browser, but the commenting glitch would have made that impossible. There is, however, one remaining glitch I need to solve.

When I go to my blog on Firefox, I’m not logged in, and I always used to be in older versions of Firefox (and I still am on Chrome). Firefox made a change several updates ago that changed something (no idea what), and now if I access my blog—even if I’m logged into the dashboard on another tab—I’m not logged into my blog. This only matters because after I publish a post I always read the final version, right away or later, and I often notice mistakes I didn’t see before. On Chrome, I just click the “edit post” icon, but on Firefox I have to log in. I could have to repeat that process several times before I’m happy with the post, and on Firefox, re-logging in is annoying.

Still, the thing that I thought would make Firefox unusable for me—a problem with a particular add-on—is now sorted.

Improved commenting – I talk about the switch when I first made it
How to comment – I provided complete instructions on how to use the Disqus system
Solving commenting problems – the post in which I talked about how to fix a Blogger glitch that prevented the Disqus option from showing up for some people
Unexpected and expected – Not about Disqus as such, but it’s why I permit anonymous comments
The last commenting glitch – this post is about how to work around comments not showing for the most recent post. This is still a problem, and this is the method I tried first when I noticed that comments weren’t appearing on any post with Firefox Quantum.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is this it?

Our cat Bella has not been herself the past day and a bit. Very quiet, sleeping virtually all the time, and now eating and drinking very little. The journey that began 16 months ago may be coming to an end. Or, she could rally once again. There’s always hope.

When Bella’s kidney problems were diagnosed in July, 2016, we were told she had a few days, a couple weeks at most. And yet she rallied and improved, and kept improving. Up until yesterday she was doing quite well, if slower and thinner than she was before this journey began.

But now she just seems detached, as if she’s disconnecting. On the other hand, she could just be feeling unwell at the moment, and she’ll come round, she’ll rally again. But even if she does, this won’t go on forever. We know that. We’re grateful for the 16 unexpected months we’ve had with her and we’d like her to stick around—but only as long as she’s happy and content. At the moment, she seems comfortable, not in any pain or distress, so we’re watching her for any change—or improvement. She’ll lead us in the direction she needs to go.

At the moment, this is taking up most of my thoughts when I’m not busy with other things. I guess that figures. I guess I should try and keep busy.

Bella’s journey
Bella’s condition
Bella’s new normal
Better Bella

Update November 18: Bella is doing very well today—eating well, drinking, and she seems much brighter. Yesterday she seemed a bit "warm" to me, as if she had a fever, and today she doesn't. She's even gone back to sleeping on one her favourite chairs to sleep on, something she hasn't done the couple days before then. While it's too early to tell if she's going to "surprise us again", she clearly is better today, and that's a good thing, whatever that leads to.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Australia’s important step

Today the results of the Australian Government’s voluntary postal survey on marriage equality were released, and they were a stunner: 61.6% voted YES, 38.4% voted no. As impressive as that win is, it becomes even more important when you consider the turnout was a massive 79.5%, which makes it a landslide result for marriage equality. Now, the real work begins.

The campaign against marriage equality was divisive, often vicious and bigoted, and ultimately losing. Ex-Prime Minister, and perpetual annoying twit, Tony Abbott campaigned hard against marriage equality (despite his sister being lesbian—their family get-togethers must be interesting…). He said that a 40% “no” vote would be a “moral victory”, but his anti-gay side couldn’t even manage that. In fact, his own electorate voted 75% in favour of marriage equality, suggesting his views aren’t very popular among the people who sent him to parliament.

The massive turnout, and the overwhelming YES vote will make it hard for some MPs to oppose marriage equality when the bill comes before Parliament soon. To be sure, there are some bigoted MPS in the Liberal Party-National Party (LNP) Coalition who have promised to stop marriage equality, or, if they can’t, to effectively do the same thing by loading on anti-LGBT+ killer amendments.

The rightwing can’t stop marriage equality if it was offered as an up or down vote in Parliament: The Australian Labor Party (ALP) supports it, and enough Liberal Party MPs will support it to pass it in an up or down vote. However, the rightwing is declaring it will offer amendments to guarantee “freedom of speech” (even though that’s already protected), “freedom of conscience” (ditto). They also plan on trying to use the bill as a vehicle to attach the same sort of license to discriminate measures US Republicans favour, amendments that would legalise discrimination against LGBT+ people even outside the question of marriage equality.

Australia is a much more conservative country than New Zealand is, so it’s difficult to gauge how successful the rightwing will be. However, it’s pretty much impossible for the rightwing to stop marriage equality completely. Can they pass enough amendments to make the final bill unacceptable? Maybe, but I have a hunch that even Liberal Party MPs will see the writing on the wall and will stop any poison chalice amendments, even if for only practical reasons: If the anti-LGBT+ far right succeeds, this issue will continue to boil away, made worse by the LNP effectively thumbing its nose at the majority of the Australian public. That alone could very well hand the next election to the ALP, who announced last election that would legislate for marriage equality, and they still hold that position.

So, one way or another, marriage equality IS coming to Australia, the question is, simply, when? I think that Malcolm Turnbull, the current prime minister and a marriage equality supporter, wants this issue settled. I’ve seen many pundits who said the whole plebiscite thing was his ploy to break the blockade against marriage equality from within his own LNP Coalition so the issue can be settled once and for all. While he personally wants marriage equality, he wants the issue off the political agenda even more. That’s okay: The only thing Australians care about is getting marriage equality.

The viciousness of the anti-equality campaign didn’t surprise anyone—we all predicted how awful it would get. And, right on cue, the rightwing is attacking Yes supporters for being “intolerant”. As if! The Yes Campaign was relentlessly positive and never descended to the level of the viscous bigots who did their damnedest to provoke them. Obviously, a popular vote should never should have happened at all, because the very idea of ever putting minority rights up for popular vote is vomit-inducingly sick and disgusting—extremely fucked-up. Always.

However, the vote has happened, it has produced a landslide victory for marriage equality, and that fact should force any previous opponent who has an ounce of sense—or sense of self-preservation—to vote in favour of marriage equality. Marriage equality WILL come to Australia: What MPs want to be remembered as being one of the losers who stood in the way of love?

Finally, here’s the celebratory video from Australian Marriage Equality. To them, heartfelt congratulations and huge thanks for a job well done. Besides, who doesn’t like seeing happy people being joyfully happy?!!

The image up top was posted to Facebook by Australian Marriage Equality.

First attempt at resolution

When I last posted a Health Journey update a week and a half ago, I’d pretty much decided to ride things out a little while longer in the hope that things would stabilise. I changed my mind, and went back to the doctor yesterday to complain about how truly awful I felt most of the time. As a result, we’re trying an adjustment to see if that helps.

As I said last time, the most complained about side effect of beta blockers is terrible, even debilitating, fatigue. The drug I’m on, Atenolol, is slightly better than the one I had been taking, Metoprolol, which I simply couldn’t tolerate at all. The old drug was so bad for me, in fact, that some days I just sat in my chair unable to work up the energy to even walk the few steps to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee or whatever. I tried a low-dose vitamin thinking maybe it would help my energy levels, but instead I felt worse and stopped the vitamins.

When I first switched to Atenolol, I did feel better—but maybe that was just because Metoprolol had made me feel so bad. After nearly a couple months taking it, I’d settled into the “normal” with the drug, and it still left me profoundly tired most of the time. In talking over things with Nigel, I decided to go back to the doctor.

Because of work commitments, I wasn’t able to go until this week, and that was yesterday. I left the house in a good mood, because it was such a beautiful Spring day—bright, sunny, and nearly even warm. But about five minutes into the drive, I noticed storm clouds in the direction I would be heading, and I could clearly see it was raining to the South. When I reached the outskirts of Karaka, I rounded a bend and saw white stuff all around the sides of the road, and I thought maybe a truck had lost part of its load. Then I saw the slush on the road ahead of me. Hail, I realised, had pelted the area just a few minutes before I got there.

It was raining heavily when I got on the motorway. The first part that I use is under construction as the road is widened to add another lane. Because of that, the lane markers are just very basic paint, since they ned to move lanes from time to time, and that meant that in all the water and glare, I couldn’t see where the lanes were. There was a big truck up ahead of me, and I figured since he was up much higher, he could probably see the lane lines better than me, so I pointed my car so it followed in the “treads marks” left in the water on the road. It was exhausting.

Nevertheless, I got to the doctor’s office some 15 minutes early. About 10 minutes after my appointment was supposed to start, the folks at reception began ringing patients to tell them the doctor was running 15-30 minutes late. I didn’t really mind, actually, because it gave me a little more time to calm down from the drive so I’d have a more typical blood pressure reading.

I saw the doctor maybe a half hour late, and told her what had been going on with me. She was aware that severe fatigue was a common-enough side effect of beta blockers, and I told her I didn’t know what we should do, but I couldn’t go on like this. I told her I was reluctant to begin a new drug that may be no better or even worse for me. I told her I was aware that calcium channel blockers were sometimes used to control tachycardia, and I thought that was ironic because my original blood pressure medicine was in that class.

Through our discussion, it finally dawned on me that the various doctors have been reluctant to deal to the beta blocker too aggressively because they were unclear why I’d been given it in the first place (to prevent tachycardia). That’s because it’s also give to people who’ve had a heart attack to help heal the heart and prevent another heart attack. I never had a heart attack, but because that’s one the most-common reasons the drug is prescribed, I now understand the doctors’ caution.

So, she suggested that I reduce my dosage by cutting my pills in half. She noted I was on a low dose of the other drug, and while dosage isn’t directly comparable, the current one was reasonably high. She wants me to try it for a month so there’s time for me to adjust. I’m due to go back next month for a re-check and to renew my prescriptions, so the timing would be perfect.

I did a little shopping after the appointment (nothing exciting—mostly just a couple grocery stores). By the time I was done, and on the road, it was very late afternoon. Traffic was a nightmare from earlier breakdowns on the motorway. When I got to the construction area again, it rained hard again, with the same result as when I was heading north. Fortunately, this was near the end of the construction zone, so it didn't last as long as on the trip North.

Because of all this, I got home exhausted.

I was so tired, in fact, that I actually dozed off in my chair watching TV. I had some things I needed to do that evening, and I did them anyway, then got to bed late. All of which is is why I didn't write this post last night.

I was tired this morning, even before I took the first half-pill dosage. I had things I wanted to do today before the predicted rain arrived—and, I did them.

Mainly, I wanted to clean out the gutters (often called “spouting” in New Zealand) on the sides and back of the house (grass grows in them because of this bottle-brush like stuff previous owners put in there to stop grass from growing…). This is the second time I’ve cleaned out the gutters since we moved in back in February.

After that, I pulled weeds out front, something I’d wanted to do for a very long time, but couldn’t muster the energy to actually do it. And, I felt… fine. I’m tired from a messed-up sleep schedule in recent days, and when I stopped I was tired from the physical activity (from being unfit, basically), but that’s pretty much it. The test will be how I feel tomorrow, whether I have the energy to do anything or not. If I do, the dosage reduction may have done the trick. Or, maybe I just had a good day today. I’m optimistic, though, because the lack of sleep left me tired, and yet I was able to get done all the physical jobs I wanted to get done today.

Obviously, it’s way too early to know if a reduction in dosage will fix the fatigue problem, and, if it does, whether it will still help prevent tachycardia incidents. And that, ultimately, will be the subject of future posts.

Right now, this was just another episode of my health journey—this time including actual journeying. The important thing about today’s episode, though, is that I feel a lot more optimistic than I did a week and a half ago, and right now, I’ll take that.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Explaining that photo project

The thing about social media photo challenges, is that they come with rules. Sure, rules are meant to be broken sometimes, but unless there’s a good reason to do so, it makes more sense to play along. It’s part of the challenge. Even then, there can be ways around the rules, and this post is an example of that.

Recently, I took part in a photo challenge: “7 days, 7 black and white photos of your life, no people, no explanation.” Leaving the photos unexplained was part of the challenge for me and anyone seeing the photos. Sure, the main question could be “why did he choose that?!”, but there’s also the much simpler, “where/what is that?”. This post will answer that last question for each photo.

Starting in the upper right corner is Day One (links for each day are to the blog posts about each photo): That grid-like pattern is shadows on the carpet, as may be obvious. It’s the shadow of the vertical blinds hanging in front of one of the doors in the lounge that lead out to our deck (we’re not keeping the vertical blinds, but don’t have a better alternative yet). It was not, however, the photo I was going to use. That photo is at the bottom of this post (and in colour). I didn’t use it because I was under the mistaken notion that the photos were supposed to be inanimate objects. As soon as I posted my first photo, I saw someone else taking part in the challenge had posted a photo of their furbaby. Doh! It’s too bad because I liked the photo of Sunny’s paw much better, but one of my own rules was the photo I posted had to be taken that same day, so I couldn't use it another day.

Day Two, left most photo in the middle row: This is of tomato and capsicum seedlings in our kitchen window. I almost posted a comment about them because I was concerned a botanically-challenged viewer might think the tomato plants were something illegal, but I realised that would be an explanation, so I said nothing. Until now.

Day Three: This is from our deck, and I’ve posted similar photos before, but this one struck me because a storm was moving in and there was a weird mix of light—the last gasps of sunlight as the clouds thickened, the different light hitting the clouds over the harbour, all that. I just liked it. Apparently, others did, too, because as I’m writing this that photo got more Instagram likes than any other photo in the series.

Day Four: This photo came about because of an unexpected opportunity. As the geo tag in the original post said, it was at Smith & Caughey’s upmarket department store in central Auckland. The photo’s actually of the back of the store on Elliott Street (its main facades are on Queen Street and Wellesley Street). The Elliott Street side looks very urban to me—a bit New York, Chicago, etc. It’s a heritage listed building built in 1929, though it looks much older (the company itself was first established in the 1880s). It was unexpected because Nigel had a meeting in the CBD and asked me if I wanted to come along for an hour or so, and I knew I’d have a photo opportunity or two, so I went, and this photo was my favourite of the options I saw walking around for most of that time. This was my second most-liked photo.

Day Five: This is a welcome sign on the road leading into the area where we live. Nothing special to report about that, except I actually was in the car with the dogs on my way back from picking up the package with the flag poles and flags that the courier had delivered to their local agent rather than us (long story). I stopped, shot some photos, and continued on home.

Day Six: One of two least-liked photos, this is our letterbox. This one bugs me because, due to glare, I didn’t notice how I could have framed the photo better. Oh, well.

Day Seven: This is a shot of grapefruit lying on the ground under the tree in our yard. This will amount to a memorial, since we’re going to cut down that tree: I can’t eat grapefruit, none of the people we know who can eat it actually like grapefruit, so it’s taking up room we could use for a fruit tree we’d actually like (we’re thinking maybe a lime tree, since limes are expensive to buy; we already have a lemon tree). These grapefruit are a particularly cruel variety because the skin is bright orange, so they look like they could be nice—and they’re just not. They’re grapefruit. This was the other least-liked photo.

Since I mentioned it, here’s the relative popularity of the various photos at the moment, from most to least liked: 1. Day 3 From our deck, 2. Day 4 (Smith & Caughey’s), 3. Day 2 Seedlings in our kitchen window, 4. Day 5 Welcome sign, 5. Day 1 Shadows on the carpet (I bet the one I wanted to post would have been more popular…), 6. Day 7 Grapefruit, 7. Letterbox. I have no idea what the relative popularity of the photos means, if anything, except that I agree with the two most popular photos (I like those two the most, too). The thing about statistics, social media likes, etc., is that it’s difficult to draw any guidance from them, which is a shame if the goal is getting more eyes seeing the stuff we post.

So, that’s what those photos are of, and a bit about what I liked about them. However, I haven’t said why I chose those particular photos rather than any others I shot the same day (apart from the one below that I didn’t used because of a misunderstanding). I didn't talk about that one aspect because there are probably some things that should remain a mystery.

That photo that could have been first—and probably more popular than what was first.

The American problem

Many American Democrats were rejoicing after the recent elections in the USA because Democrats did so well. In fact, they did much better than expected. This is a good omen for the US Elections next year, right? Well, no, not really. The American problem is that the current system is set up to prevent change.

The video above from Vox talks about one of the main problems facing US elections: The country’s antique elections system which helps Republicans keep power, even when they win only a minority of votes. Changing the USA’s election system to a fairer and more democratic system is so difficult as to be nearly impossible, but the video is correct about the ways in which it could help—and how it could smash the Democratic v. Republican duopoly in elected offices.

The second big problem is gerrymandering. Republicans made a big effort in the mid-to-late-2000s to take over state legislatures so they would control how election district boundaries would be drawn to ensure their party got as many seats as possible, and Democrats got as few as possible, all to ensure Republicans maintained a majority of elected representative seats (both state and federal), even if they lose the popular vote (which is how Republicans held onto the Virginia legislature this year despite the massive swing to the Democrats in that state’s elections).

The third problem is Republicans’ voter suppression laws designed to keep Democratic-aligned voting groups—especially poor people, working people, and Black and Hispanic voters—from being able to vote. Republicans initially were able to hoodwink some Democratic legislators into supporting them, but most Democrats eventually realised Republicans were lying about their reasons fo their voter suppression laws. By then it was too late.

The final big problem is money: There’s WAY too much special interest money in politics. Because of the rightwing majority on the Supreme Court’s infamous gift to the Rightwing, Citizens United, corporations can spend as much as they want to buy politicians through campaign spending. It, and other, mostly Republican, legislation has increased the availability of “dark money”, the vast, vast majority of which goes to support Rightwing candidates.

Add it all up—an anti-democratic voting system that makes it easier for the two existing parties to remain in power, gerrymandered districts to keep Rpublicans in control, laws to make it harder for many Democratic-aligned people to vote, and virtually unlimited money to help Rightwing candidates, and even under the best of circumstances the odds are against Democrats re-taking the US Congress next year.

Democrats may do better in state legislatures, and statewide races (incuding some Governor races and some US Senate races in some states), but they’re unlikely to make major inroads in the US House until after redistricting, and then ONLY if they get control of the map drawing and are able to do to Republicans what they did to Democrats. Add to that the fact that people generally don’t vote against incumbents, and the odds are long.

There are some things that may help Democrats. As the current occupant of the White House continues to plummet in opinion polls, it could encourage his opponents to go vote for Democrats (his True Believers, it’s important to remember, are a small minority of voters even if they all turned out to vote). Of course, if he resigns, is impeached, or removed under the 25th Amendment, that might change everything—in either direction; it would depend on the circumstances.

For lasting reform and restoration of democracy, I’d do four things (if I could…):
  1. Switch to a fairer, more democratic voting system. There are several options, but the point is to end the First Past The Post system.
  2. Outlaw gerrymandering by requiring all district boundaries be drawn by independent, non-partisan commissions who would be forbidden by law to consider party identification of voters when drawing maps. Non-partisan systems are used in some US states and many countries, like New Zealand.
  3. Pass new laws making it easier to register and easier to vote. A national Fair Voting Act would outlaw voter suppression laws and ensure every citizen’s right to vote is protected and their participation encouraged.
  4. Amend the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United, to ban all “dark money” in US politics, and to enable legislation to severely regulate contributions to candidates for Congress and President, far beyond any restrictions that exist now.
I don’t think any of my reforms will see the light of day any time soon, and some are clearly more do-able than others. But without serious, strong reform, nothing will ever change. The system is designed to frustrate change, and it keeps Republicans in power. And that is why I’m pessimistic about Democrats re-taking Congress in 2018. In fact, defeating the current occupant’s campaign for re-election may also be very difficult.

And that’s the real American problem.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

B&W photo challenge: Day seven of seven

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The last photo in this series—a sigh of relief for everyone! I thought of this one about the same time I thought of yesterday’s, but I didn’t shoot the photo until today. Like all the others in this series, I didn’t use any special photographic techniques, apart from getting down on the ground to take the photo. Afterward, I cropped it slightly and adjusted the brightness/contrast after converting it to black and white.

In keeping with the rules of the challenge, I haven’t said anything about the photos themselves that could even remotely be thought of as explanation. However, now that the challenge is over, I see no reason why I can’t talk about the actual photos.

So, I’ll do a sort of omnibus post talking about all of the photos, but because I’m busy with work, I may not get to it until next week. I’ll add a link here on this post once that one is up (the explanation post is now published).

Thanks to my friend Linda for tagging me, and thanks to everyone for playing along, or indulging me, as the case may be.

Previously in this series:
A new photo challenge (day one of seven)
B&W photo challenge: Day two of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day three of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day four of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day five of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day six of seven