Sunday, April 29, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Passenger

I hardly ever listen to the radio anymore, so I don’t generally run across new music as often as I used to. Still, it happens sometimes, either when I hear it in a store or when I catch a music video on TV. I’ve talked about both before, but today’s Weekend Diversion is about an artist I heard in a store.

The first time I remember this happening was about three years ago when Nigel and I were in a computer (and more…) store and “Uma Thurman” by Fall Out Boy came on. I wrote about that a few months later. This past February, some three years after the first time, it’s happened again when Nigel and I were in a home centre and heard a song playing.

The person we heard was English singer-songwriter Michael David Rosenberg, an English singer/songwriter who performs under the name Passenger, which was originally the name of a band he fronted until it broke up.

The video up top is “Let Her Go”, his 2012 song that was also his best-selling single to date, hitting Number One in several countries, including New Zealand and Australia, Number Two in the UK, and Number Five in the USA. The album it’s from, All the Little Lights, hit Number Two in Australia, Number Three in the UK, Number Nine in New Zealand, and Number 20 in the USA. But the truth is, I don’t remember hearing the song on the radio at the time; maybe it was during one of my frequent “not listening to the radio at all” phases. But, what do I know? The video above has had 1.85 BILLION views on YouTube—so far.

The song we heard in the store is called “Fools Gold” (audio-only video is below). What’s remarkable is that we were in a big, cavernous, noisy home centre, and we could hear the song clearly—so clearly, in fact, that Nigel was able to use Shazam to find out what it was. The song was an album track on his 2016 album, Young As The Morning Old As The Sea. That album hit Number One in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, but only reached 70 in the USA.

Once we were back home, I checked out some more of his songs, including one I truly love: “When We Were Young”, which was also an album track from Young As The Morning Old As The Sea, and not a single. I love the melody and arrangement, and the lyrics are beautiful, but what appeals to me the most is that the lyrics can be taken as wistful and melancholy, or as a warning to not let our lives slip away from us (which is true of many of his songs, actually). Mostly, I just think it’s a beautiful song and video:

Most of the new (to me) music I run across has always been accidental, but in the old days it used to be on the radio. Now, though, it tends to be music used in a TV commercial, or from a music video I happen to see, or even from the background music played in a store. The important thing is that I'm still running across music I've never heard before. I'm glad.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Free speech, outrage, and facts

The thing about politics that most ideologues ignore is that very few people are consistent all the time or about similar issues. That’s not about party, or ideology, or issue—it’s about being human. One of the best places to see that in action is when it comes to free speech. But on that issue one side is conspicuously less concerned with facts than it is with outrage.

Recently, a judge dismissed a man’s lawsuit claiming that he was unfairly evicted from a New York City bar for wearing a “Make America Great [sic] Again” hat. Predictably, fans of the current occupant of the White House were apoplectic, and took to social media to condemn “the Left” for “hypocrisy”, and the newsmeda for a “liberal bias” for not reporting the story and for not standing up for the guy who wore the hat. Naturally, it’s not exactly as they claim, and their outrage, real or not, is misplaced.

The gist of the story is that the man claims he was told to leave the bar when he refused to remove his hat, and he further claimed, "I spoke directly to the owner and the owner told me that anyone who supports [the current occupant of the White House] or believes what you believe is not welcome here! And you need to leave right now because we won't serve you!"

The Right was outraged by the alleged treatment, of course, but their attack on Liberals was that, they said, we wouldn’t permit a baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple, but had no problem with someone being refused service for wearing a political hat we disagreed with. One would think they’d have been absolutely fine with the guy being thrown out, if the story was true as claimed, because they demand the right to refuse service to LGBT+ people, so obviously liberals should have that same choice, right? Well, no, of course not.

The Right’s outrage machine got the details wrong. The guy claimed he was thrown out for his political beliefs, however, political or supposed patriotic views aren’t protected under New York’s state anti-discrimination laws. So, the legal claim the guy actually made was that he was wearing the hat as a symbolic expression of some sort of “sincerely held beliefs”, and the hat was “an essential component of [his] overall personal and spiritual expression." The problem was that he couldn’t articulate what, precisely, those beliefs were, and he acknowledged that he never told the bar staff of his “beliefs”, so they’d have no way of knowing about the alleged beliefs. What THAT means is that the staff did not illegally discriminate against the man because of his religious beliefs, because to do so they’d have to have known about or suspected the man held those beliefs, and neither was true.

So, as a matter of law, there was no legal reason reason why the staff could not evict the guy.

Second, the guy was NOT refused service. Receipts filed with the Court [the PDF is available online] show that the guy paid $182.91, plus a $36.00 tip, for a grand total of $218.91. Those same documents show the guy spent hours in the bar.

Beyond all that, this story, like all stories, also has two sides.

In a statement to CNN, the bar’s owner said they “firmly support women's rights, marriage equality, gun control, the environment, and regard for the truth—we don't discriminate." The statement went on:
"What's gotten lost in this story is that the guest wasn't kicked out because he was wearing [that] hat—he was asked to leave after being verbally abusive to our staff, which is something we don't tolerate regardless of who you are."
That’s an entirely different version of events. If the owner’s version is correct, then the guy wasn’t kicked out because of his hat, or because of his choice of political candidate or because of his “beliefs”, but because he was abusive, and kicking someone out for that is completely legal everywhere. Considering that this came after several hours in the bar, it seems pretty clear to a fair minded person that the hat was irrelevant, there was no restriction on the guy’s free speech, and the Right’s outrage is grossly misplaced.

Having said all that, if the guy really had been kicked out because of the hat and nothing else, that would be wrong, regardless of what the law says specifically, just as it’s wrong to discriminate against LGBT+ customers. But the evidence is clear that he was not refused service (he was there for several hours and spent $218.91, including tip). Beyond that, it’s impossible to know for sure what actually happened, but the facts as presented in Court don’t support the narrative being sold by the Right on social media.

Freedom of speech is a precious thing, and so is the right to be free from discrimination. But the fight for both is cheapened, and real victims trashed, whenever false claims are made and then used to score political points. The judge dismissed the complaint because the evidence presented in Court showed that no discrimination had occurred. It’s hard to see, based on the evidence supplied, how any other result would have been just.

Facts and evidence always matter. Partisans of all stripes would do well to remember that before stirring up the social media outrage machine. Recent history suggests that won’t happen. That’s not about party, or ideology, or issue—it’s about being human these days, it seems, and that's what's truly sad about such cases.

Documents for the case, Index No. 152578/2017, are all availble online.

Culture Cruise: ‘Homer’s Phobia’

Every once in awhile I see a video that gives me an entirely different perspective on something, and the video above is one of those times. It’s the latest episode of Matt Baume’s “Culture Cruise” series in which he looks at the 1997 Simpsons episode “Homer’s Phobia”. In the video, he says the episode:
…doesn’t just mark a turning point for queer characters on television, it’s a turning point for homophobia on television as well.
I vaguely remember seeing the episode, but I have to admit that I’ve seldom given the show that much detailed analysis—I’ve always just taken it as it was. But I think Matt makes really good points about that episode, and its place in American pop culture. The thing about pop culture is that it’s often a subversive force for change because it normalises things that were once shunned (or worse). This is why it matters so much for TV shows and movies to have fully formed LGBT characters, and not—ahem!—mere cartoons.

I didn’t know that Matt was making these videos, mainly because I haven’t been on YouTube much lately. Fortunately, he shared this one on Facebook, where I saw it early today. I’m glad he did. I always like getting an entirely different perspective on something.

Friday, April 27, 2018

A keyboard conundrum

Technology always creates new problems even as it solves old ones, and that’s certainly been true in communication, too. Consider the monks of centuries ago trying to copy books by hand, having to deal with frozen ink in the winter time (and frozen rooms), poor lighting, and having to correct mistakes by scratching out the mistake. Compared to that, we have it so much easier these days, until we don’t. As I recently learned yet again.

A little over a year ago I wrote about a technical problem that was keeping me from blogging: A broken keyboard. At the time, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before:
In one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever had happen to me, PART of my keyboard stopped working, and for no obvious reason. Specifically, the letters Z, X, C, V, B, and N didn’t work, nor did the left side of the space bar, nor the modifier keys on that side (shift, command, option, control). The letter W also didn’t work, so I couldn’t close a window with a keyboard command. Confusingly, some characters on that side of the keyboard did work.
A year ago I switched to another Mac keyboard we had, and carried on—until recently. In recent weeks the same thing, basically, suddenly happened to the second keyboard. I know we have a brand new one in a box somewhere, and have seen it only recently when going through boxes, but I couldn’t find it when I looked for it on purpose. So, I borrowed a PC keyboard from Nigel, until he wanted that one back and had me use a keyboard designed for use with a Mac (it has a Command and Option key right next to each other, which facilitates keyboard commands in the MacOS).

The two borrowed keyboards have very “clunky” keys, that it is, they take some effort to push down and are very noisy when used (the second keyboard actually sounded a bit like an old typewriter to me). I made a lot more typos on those keyboards, mainly because the keys are higher and harder to press than on the Mac keyboard I was used to.

I first used one of those keyboards when I bought my iMac back in 2008, and I thought it was the best keyboard I’d ever used. The keys are low profile (a bit like on a Macbook Pro or similar laptop), soft touch (require very little pressure to type), and they’re very quiet when I type (no distractions from the clicking and clacking of the keys). I’ve loved the keyboard ever since.

Through this experience I’ve come to appreciate how important a keyboard is to one’s overall experience using a computer, and how well/often they use it. For example, I don’t like texting on my phone because the onscreen keyboard is too small for my big fingers. So, I think it actually matters that people have a keyboard that they actually like, one that “feels” right to them.

And therein lay my problem.

Last year, Apple introduced new versions of their wireless keyboard that included a number pad (vital for me) and a new mouse, both with much longer battery life, among other things. However, for reasons that are way too meta to get into, my computer doesn’t like Bluetooth devices, so I wanted a USB keyboard, not a wireless one. The problem is, Apple discontinued their USB keyboard in June last year, and they’re no longer available.

I couldn’t find the new-in-its-box Apple keyboard, I couldn’t buy an Apple USB keyboard anymore, I was doubtful the wireless one would work, so, what could I do? I turned to to the Internet, of course.

I found out from The Verge that a company called Matias was “Building the wired Mac keyboards that Apple won’t”. It turns out, they make a wide variety of Mac keyboards, including the one I ultimately bought (photo up top), which looks and works like the discontinued Apple keyboard.

I should add that I also Googled how to try and clean Mac keyboards, since I thought fluff might be keeping the contacts from working. Turns out, it’s really difficult to do. I even found out that some people advocate putting them in the dishwahser (!), which CNET said you can do, but probably shouldn’t, Daskeyboard (makers of the second, clunky keyboard I used) declared, “DON’T Use the Dishwasher!”, and Computer Hope said earlier this year, “Yes, a computer keyboard can be cleaned in a dishwasher. However, we are un-aware of any manufacturer that recommends this method as the way to clean their keyboard.” Personally, I think that sounds nuts, but I may try to clean under the keys using more conventional methods.

The bottom line is that I got a replacement keyboard that meets both my needs and keyboard preferences, and it works great. But it wasn’t something I ever expected to need to do, let alone twice. And that missing new-in-its-box Apple keyboard will have a use, once it’s found, because we still have my old iMac, which we plan to use for other things, but it doesn’t have a keyboard (I looked inside its box to make sure there wasn’t one). So, everyone wins. Or, something.

Now, obviously, this whole thing is what people like to derisively call “First World Problems” because I have a computer and keyboard in the first place, regardless of whether I like a particular keyboard. Yes, of course. But it’s also the world I know, and central to what I do for pay and for fun. So, it looms a little larger for me than it would for someone who has to engage in hard physical labour every day just to survive. For example. I’m well aware of that, the fact that I don’t have to engage in hard physical labour every day just to survive, and that these facts and my awareness of them change nothing about how my life is affected by things others would never care about because their lives are so different.

In my reality, the world I live within, technology always creates new problems even as it solves old ones. This has just been a story about how I recently learned that yet again.

This post was written on my new keyboard. Of course.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

About Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush, wife of former US President George H.W. Bush, was buried today. That will end the talk about her, at least until her husband dies. But some of the reactions to her death haven’t been entirely edifying or ennobling. Because she held no office herself, and wasn’t a public or political leader, some of the reactions have seemed a bit over the top. She was what she was.

Like everyone else, Barbara Bush was certainly not perfect. She was a fierce defender of and advocate for her family, and that frequently got her into trouble. But some on the Left launched into strong condemnation of her, branding her racist. An English professor in California went on a Twitter tirade against Bush, earning strong rebuke and suggestions that she may face disciplinary action.

The racism allegations are based primarily on two things. The one I’ve seen the most often is that in 2005 she said of the people evacuated from the arena in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina , “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” At the very least, those remarks were tone-deaf, insensitive, out of touch, and maybe classist. But were they racist? Decide for yourself, but the fact that most of the people she was talking about were black wouldn’t by itself seem to make the remarks automatically racist, at least not without something showing that that’s what she meant.

The other main piece of evidence was what she said about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill in her memoir. She said that Thomas was a “good man” who had been “smeared” by Hill. She wrote:
“Is this woman telling the truth? I do not mean to sit in judgment, but I will never believe that she, a Yale Law School graduate, a woman of the 80s, would put up with harassment for one moment, much less follow the harasser from job to job, call him when she came back to town and later invite him to speak to her students at Oral Roberts University.”
Was that racist? She was defending a black man against allegations made by a black woman, so if anything the remarks might maybe be called sexist, but calling them racist seems to me to be painting them with a little too broad a brush. One would think she was entitled to express her opinion, shared by many other Republicans, without automatically being labelled a racist for it.

I met Barbara Bush once. It was at a Republican presidential forum held in Rosemont, Illinois in 1979, in the run-up to the start of the 1980 presidential campaign. I met her in the Bush hospitality suite, standing beside her husband who was running for president at the time (Reagan, the eventual nominee, was a no show). They both seemed nice enough, pleasant, too, but I couldn’t make any character assessments based on that brief interaction.

What I do know is that with the possible exception of Nancy Reagan, I’ve never actively disliked any First Lady, though, admittedly, I liked some more than others (and I was too young to form an opinion about either Lady Bird Johnson or Pat Nixon, and I don’t remember Jackie Kennedy as First Lady at all). So, I didn’t dislike Barbara Bush at that time, or since. I’ve seen no convincing evidence that she was racist, but maybe there’s something I haven’t seen. The fact she was the mother of George W. doesn’t make her evil, either: He was president, not her, so how can she be responsible for what her adult children did? I’m including Jeb in that. It seems to me that disliking her sons, their politics, and what they did in their elected positions doesn’t mean that their mother should be despised. So, it certainly doesn’t seem to me like she was evil incarnate. She was what she was.

While I’m absolutely not dancing on Barbara Bush’s grave, I’m also not exactly mourning her death, either. I never voted for her husband or her sons, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly a fan of the dynasty.

However, it was self-evident that she and her husband were thoroughly in love for more than 70 years. Actually, it was obvious that Nancy and Ronald Reagan clearly were, too. I can despise someone’s politics without despising them, and I can note the human qualities—like love for their spouse—that they showed.

Similarly, I don’t think that the California professor should be harshly punished for her Twitter tirade. I disagree with her, I don’t think she proved her case (or helped it very much, either), but I don’t get why she shouldn’t be entitled to express her clearly strongly held views. I also can’t help but note the irony in the fact that so many of the people condemning her and demanding she be fired have condemned the Left whenever a rightwing speaker is criticised for similar rants. There’s no difference—especially when the right hasn’t also gone after the obnoxious rightwinger who is a close friend of the current occupant of the White House. That friend called her names, and yet he hasn’t faced the same level of opprobrium as that professor has (I’m sure the rightwing just hasn’t heard about it yet, and they’ll attack him any minute now…).

So, Barbara Bush is gone. Some will mourn that, others, apparently, will rejoice. Personally, I just note her passing, her place in history as the wife and mother of US Presidents, her strong opinions (sometimes badly expressed), and her clear love for her husband and family.

Barbara Bush: She was what she was.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hidden progress

We all go to the doctor at some point. How and when may vary depending on our circumstances, but they usually break down to a few common reasons: Because we’re sick, because it’s time for a routine check-up, or maybe some combination. Sometimes it might seem like nothing has really changed, but even then it may turn out to be more than it seems.

Today I went to the doctor, the first time since the unfortunate trial of a beta blocker called Bisoprolol. When I dumped that drug and switched back to Atenolol, they wanted me to come in to have my blood pressure and heart rate checked, and I needed an influenza vaccination, too, so it all came together today. It turned out to be a good visit.

The doctor is referring me to a private cardiologist who specialises in heartrate because he may have special insight into the way forward. I asked my GP if the pill is permanent; it is, and because without it my heart may become enlarged, which is bad. I also asked how it affects occasional need for higher heart rate, and she said it doesn’t stop that, it just keeps my ordinary heartrate at no more than 70bpm. I didn’t ask any of my other questions, because I decided I may as well ask them of the specialist.

What I hope will happen is that given that he’s a specialist, he can head off some of the trouble, that is, given the two drugs I’ve reacted so badly to, he can rule out drugs likely to have a similar effect on me. Related, he may have special insight into a drug that may be better for me. Or, at the very least, being a specialist he’s likely to have a particular view on the way forward that a non-specialist wouldn’t have. I think this is a very good idea.

So, while it may seem that nothing much happened today—I’m still on the same drug, after all—the referral to a specialist is a way of moving forward, and probably with a little less trial and error. This is a good thing and could turn out to change everything.

And there’s one more thing that was a welcome surprise: The flu jab. The doctor gave me the flu jab first thing, then carried on with the consultation. My previous doctor used to have the nurse do the flu jab after the consult, and I had to wait a further 15 minutes before I could leave (to make sure there was no reaction). The way the new doctors do it meant I could leave right away. That was awesome!

I actually told the doctor how good this way of doing this is, and she said, “I think time is valuable.” I laughed and said, “We do, too.” And, we do. But this is the first time in my decades in New Zealand that a doctor has taken a concrete step to respect MY time as much as theirs. That’s pretty remarkable, really.

So, yeah, it may sound like nothing much happened today, but things DID happen. I got a referral to a specialist who may be able to hurry this process along, and I found a small thing that made me like this new practice even more. Those are both very good developments.

Sometimes it might seem like nothing has really changed, but even then it may turn out to be more than it seems.

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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mama Nature is be-yooo-diful

The video above is an ad from Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB) , an organisation whose purpose is pretty self-evident in their name, with a special emphasis on ending littering (similar to Keep America Beautiful). The ad is part of a series of ads designed to get Kiwis to stop littering. It’s also among the most over-the-top ads we’ve had in awhile.

The ad stars New Zealand-born Samoan actor David Fane as Mama Nature. He’s been in far too many rolls to list in this post, but I’ve seen most of them. All of the spots created can be viewed on KNZB’s site on the resouces page (scroll down to “Mama Nature Resources”).

An article in the New Zealand Herald explains the purpose of the ads:
Mama Nature was developed by KNZB to encourage Kiwis to do the right thing with their litter including disposing of it in the bin, taking litter home when a bin isn't available and picking up litter they come across.
This ad does that, obviously, but clearly not everyone gets it. Someone who must really fun at parties left a comment on YouTube:
Beyodiful is as bad as spelling congraDulations. Kids these days are already failing at reading and writing so why keep showing them ways how to not spell? The real spelling is under that, sure, but since the wrong spelling is above that and bold then guess what the kids are going to look at first and ignore the other?
To which someone correctly replied (without pointing out the mispelling in the comment they were replying to):
You're missing the point. The spelling reflects the kiwi accent—that's how 'beautiful' is pronounced here. Writing it out as 'Be-yooo-diful' is a nod to drag culture and Mama Nature. Seeing it spelt that way in print will make everyone say it the way she's done in the video, which is just clever marketing. The organisation is still called Keep New Zealand Beautiful and that spelling won't change, so no one's corrupting the kids here.
Apparently humour really doesn’t translate.

I like this ad and its quirky New Zealand humour. I don’t know if these ads will make Kiwis more conscientious about putting litter in the bin, but I it’ll certainly make them say “be-yooo-diful”, and that at least creates a chance for the larger message sink in. Anyway, that’s what Mama Nature hopes.

And, you never want to disappoint your Mama!

Marriage diversity in the USA

The video above is from National Geographic, and features 17 couples from the Washington, DC area in the USA. The video includes same-gender and opposite gender couples, is often funny, and very informative. It’s frankly not the sort of thing I expect from National Geographic, but maybe that’s why it works so well.

They said about it on their site:
In 2015, 17 percent of U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. That’s roughly a fivefold increase since 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriage legal. Changing the law was a start—but it didn’t “necessarily do anything to change people’s minds,” says Syracuse University law professor Kevin Noble Maillard, who writes frequently about intermarriage. Partners of different races or ethnicities are nothing new, he notes: “But it’s very different when there’s public recognition of these relationships and when they become representations of regular families—when they’re the people in the Cheerios commercial.
Of course, Loving v. Virginia more accurately made interracial marriage legal in the entire United States, because there were 33 states in which it was already legal, in the same way that Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) made marriage between people of the same gender legal in all 50 US states, but it was already fully legal in 35 states. Worth noting (for me…) is that interracial marriage was already legal in my native state of Illinois at the time of the Loving decision (and had been since 1874), and it had enacted marriage equality before the Obergefell decision, with its law taking effect on June 1, 2014, more than a year before the ruling.

Interested as I am in the spread of the right to marry, all this also interests me because I’m in an interracial/intercultural marriage, something that many people don’t even realise until they think about it. In New Zealand, marriage across races and cultures is common enough, though older people tell me that decades ago it was frowned on. That doesn’t surprise me, considering that while such marriages have overwhelming support in the USA now, as recently as 1991 only about half of Americans approved.

And that’s the thing about social change and prejudice. As I often say, it’s easy to hate people in the third person, those black people, those gay people, those interracial couples, but it’s much harder in the second person, you my neighbour, you my boss, you my child, and you my best friend. It’s a case of familiarity breeds respect.

Even though times are changing, being part of an interracial or intercultural married couple can be a challenge, especially in the USA, or any other society that isn’t fully accepting of the idea. But the fact that societies are evolving to accept them means that I’m sure eventually people will get over the idea of two people of the same gender being married. But, as I was saying yesterday, we’re not quite there yet.

Read the full April 2018 National Geographic article on intermarriage, “The Many Colors of Matrimony” [may be available to subscribers only].

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five years later

Five years ago tonight, the New Zealand Parliament passed the marriage equality bill. Introduced by Labour MP Louisa Wall, the bill attracted support from 71 MPs, and opposition from an antique-minded 41. The celebratory graphic above was posted to Facebook today by the New Zealand Labour Party. It was nice to celebrate.

Naturally, that brought out the “Christian” extremists who never miss an opportunity to tell LGBT people that they’re all going to hell, that their love isn’t “real”, and blah, blah, blah, the usual hatred, bigotry, and fake-Christians messages. It’s profoundly sad that so many “Christians”, pretenders though they may be, think that the perfect day to spread their religion-based hatred and bigotry is on a day of celebration for LGBT people, as if LGBT people would be receptive to such negativity and hatred at that exact moment. To those possibly sincere extremists, apparently, nothing says “Christian Love” quite like telling happy people they’re shit.

This time, at least, the Labour Facebook post was moderated a little, and some of the most bigoted comments were deleted. That was something that wasn’t done in the past, and it was really great to see, even if plenty of other bigoted comments were left.

Meanwhile, marriage endures, New Zealand endures, conservative religion endures—and so does hatred and bigotry against LGBT people. Even so, the biggest survivor of all is love itself. Love triumphed five years ago tonight, and it has triumphed every time a happy couple—gay or straight—gets married. Sure, the bigots of all sorts keep trying to drag us all backward, and down to their level, and, yes, bigots keep society from becoming truly free and equal. But five years ago New Zealand took a giant step forward toward recognising that love is love.

The struggle for marriage equality was always about honouring love. Five years later, the law still is. Hopefully some day the bigots will finally understand that, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Weather event

People talk about weather all the time, and especially when a big storm hits. When a storm has unexpected ferocity, that talk takes off in an entirely different direction. One result from the storm that stuck Auckland last night is a lot of questions.

A strong storm was predicted due to a particular combination of events: A major storm system roaring up the country from Antarctica, colliding with a strong Low over the Tasman. The resulting storm smashed into Auckland, which was hit far harder than either Northland to the north or Waikato to the south.

At its peak, the storm packed wind gusts of up to 213 kph (about 132 mph). Wind speeds were equivalent to a category 2 tropical cyclone, which is stronger than any actual cyclone that’s hit Auckland in ages. And hardly anyone had any clue it was going to be that bad.

The reason Aucklanders were caught so unaware is that warnings weren’t strong enough. Weather reports on the evening news warned of a storm, but there was no sense of urgency or warnings to, for example, secure outdoor furniture or to watch out for falling trees and power lines. Met Service and Weather Watch were warning people on social media, but, it has been alleged, Civil Defence didn’t issue any warnings, so the media didn’t, either, as Ben Ross said on Twitter:

Civil Defence, of course, defended itself, suggesting that plenty of warnings were issued on social media. To whom? Power was out by 9pm at our house, and was intermittent for an hour or so before that. I seldom use Twitter anymore, and I saw nothing on Facebook, so the odds of me seeing any warning on social media were slim to none. What about people who don’t use social media at all?

The storm was the fiercest I’ve ever been in, including when tornado-bearing storms hit when I lived in Illinois. There were times I was sure the roof was about to come off, and the house was creaking and groaning like an old wooden sailing ship. The power went off (and stayed off) just before 9pm, and when it went the water went, too (no power for the pumps to deliver the water to us). Naturally the power went out JUST before I was going to make myself a nice hot coffee, as the house was beginning to get cooler in the driving winds.

The power came back on at 1:56am, and I got up and turned off the lights and television before going back to bed. Apparently the power went off again and came back on just before 3am. It stayed on after that, but there are tens of thousands of homes and business in Auckland that are still without power 24 hours later, and may be without it for days.

Most of the damage, in addition to electricity infrastructure, was to bring trees down. We had two small trees flattened (photo up top). They were in an area of our property that was near a small gap between neighbours’ houses allowing the fiercest winds off the Manukau Harbour to hit the trees. At ground level, the trees looked like they were sheered off:

This probably means they weren’t the best choice for a spot where they could be subject to strong winds. Aside from that, there were small branches all over the yard, but nothing large. The largest branch was wedged between the fence and the grapefruit tree (there’s also a small branch in the grapefruit tree, on the left side (the damage to the fence was from an earlier storm):

Aside from that, the pressure of the wind pushed our front gate open, pulling out the latch. It was pushed into the latch on the fence, which meant it was in a safe spot overnight, especially since the winds were weakening by 11pm, when I discovered the gate was open as I headed to bed. We fixed that this afternoon.

Our next door neighbour has an asphalt shingle roof, and several of the shingles (which some Kiwis call “tiles”) were ripped off. We found one on our driveway, and it had been lifted and ripped off right where the shingle above it overlapped. That was all I saw in our area, apart from a couple sections of someone’s fence being knocked down. We were very lucky, especially as compared to the areas where large trees came down and caused major damage.

Another storm is heading for Auckland and Northland tomorrow evening, and it’s expected to have winds of 110kph, which is fairly typical for a bad storm—and about half as strong as the winds last night. Even so, authorities are warning that trees weakened by last night’s storm may come down tomorrow—and there could be yet more power outages. Oh, joy.

This is all happening partly because the La NiƱa weather system we had this past summer left ocean temperatures much warmer than usual, and that, in turn, has created stronger Lows. A warmer and rainier autumn was predicted at the start of autumn last month.

And all this comes after a summer in which we had a plague of crickets, which not only aren’t native, they’re a pest insect species. We’ve had dozens get into our house, chirping away, before they die. Then I have to vacuum up the corpses. This is waning, but still going on.

So tomorrow I’m going to do the grocery shopping I put off earlier this week because of weather. I hope to finish it and get back home before the weather closes in. Again.

And those are our weather events—for now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

50 years after the Wahine Disaster

Today is the 50th Anniversary of New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster, the sinking of the ferry Wahine, which capsized in Wellington Harbour on April 10, 1968. The video above from RNZ describes the tragedy. There were 736 people on board, and according to History New Zealand, “Fifty-one people lost their lives that day, another died several weeks later and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained in the wreck.”

This video from Archives New Zealand is of photos from that fateful day:

According to the video’s YouTube description:
This video was created by Archives New Zealand in 2013 for the 45th anniversary of the disaster. It shows a number of images and documents on the 'Wahine' from our holdings, including onboard photographs, images of the rescue effort, and underwater shots.
The final video, which aired yesterday on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme, tells the story of two people who were brought together and linked together by the tragedy:

Shirley Hick’s son, Gordie, is the one who died in 1990 because of the brain damage he suffered that day.

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, the tragedy had happened only 27 years earlier, so a huge number of New Zealanders had personal memories of the tragedy. I heard about it many times in my early years in the country, and then, over time, I started to hear about it less often. It’s the way things go as historic events begin to fade from living memory and become the stuff of history books and dark, grainy archival film. That particular inevitability adds another layer of sadness, I think, but that, too, will fade as the event continues to disappear from living memory. Then, as it disappears from living memory altogether, only the tragedy will remain, and it will be remembered in a different way.

The important thing, though, is that it will be remembered.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Loophole for principle and profit

The thing about so many anti-LGBT business owners is that they seem to have no sense. They insist on being aggressive and confrontational in promoting their particular religious beliefs when simpler, lawful ways of achieving their desired result are available. Too many businesses owned by rightwing religionists seem determined to violate laws to make some point, even if that risks financial burden. They seem incapable of seeing a better way. Finally, some rightwing religionists have chosen a different, far more sensible path.

“The Friendly Atheist” on Patheos reported recently on a new tactic deployed by a wedding venue in New York State. They’d refused to allow a lesbian couple to hold their wedding on their farm, and the state fined the owners $10,000 ordered them to pay the couple $3,000.

Normally, the radical right would be wailing and rending their garments while demanding special rights to discriminate against LGBT people. But this particular venue chose a different way, similar to what I’ve suggested for years, a lawful way to promote their religious views while ensuring that potential LGBT customers are neither discriminated against nor tricked into participating in their own oppression.

The venue posted a disclaimer on their website under a headline saying the business “Gives Back to Strengthen Marriages”:
…our deeply held religious belief is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and the Farm is operated with the purpose of strengthening and promoting marriage. In furtherance of this purpose and to honor and promote our moral and religious beliefs, we donate a portion of our business proceeds to organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.

The patronage of all potential clients for all services offered is welcome regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability or marital status. All couples legally permitted to marry in the state of New York are welcome to hold their wedding at Liberty Ridge Farm. We serve everyone equally.
This is a smart move from the religionists. As gay people well know, the Family [sic] Research [sic] Council [LOL] is not actually involved in “promot[ing] strong marriages”, but is solely involved in political activism on various rightwing social issues, especially denying the human and civil rights of LGBT people. The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors them on its “Hatewatch” blog, in the same way it monitors various other hate groups. Gay people wouldn’t want their money going to support that group, and it could be why the religionists chose that group to mention specifically.
This also serves to alert mainstream heterosexuals about the anti-LGBT beliefs of the owners of the venue, and they, too, can choose to avoid the place. The owners are gambling that it won’t happen and/or that they’ll get enough new business from like-minded religionists that they won’t lose any profits. They may very well be right about that.

This strategy makes perfect sense: The owners make plain that they’re going to obey the law, but they’re also making LGBT and LGBT-supportive people aware of their attitudes so people can instead choose somewhere that’s welcoming. As a side benefit, they also provide an attractive opportunity for similarly rightwing religionist heterosexual couples. In this scenario, everyone has freedom: The owners express their religious/political beliefs, the state gets assurance that the business will obey the law, and potential customers are well aware of the attitudes of that business, and what would happen if they use the venue anyway (which they may support or oppose). That sort of freedom of choice is how the free market is supposed to work—freedom and liberty within the bounds of the law.

I’ve frequently said that businesses owned by rightwing religionists should be doing this sort of thing. I’ve suggested that a bakery or florist or whatever could put up signs celebrating their Jesus, or quoting judgemental Old Testament passages, etc. The wedding venue telling potential customers that a portion of their money will go to organisations that work against the human and civil rights of LGBT people adds another layer of sense to this strategy.

I’ve never been in a moral quandary over whether to perform professional services for people actively working against my human and civil rights, but I came up with a plan on what I’d do. I decided that I’d calculate how much of my salary came from working on that project and I’d donate it to a group working against whoever I was objecting to. This is basically what that wedding venue says it would do, only they’re doing so openly and pretty transparently, which is more than I can claim to have thought of doing (in my case, it was because, as an employee, I never felt in a position to either object or to tell an employer of my plan, had it ever been necessary).

I honestly don’t know if this strategy will work. It’s possible that the state could consider the disclaimer to be a form of intimidation, and maybe it is. But the whole point is that no LGBT person I’ve ever known would ever dream of going to a business run by anti-LGBT owners, however, they also deserve to not be humiliated by being discriminated against when they ask about a business’ services. The wedding venue’s approach means that LGBT people can avoid any confrontation or embarrassment and instead choose a welcoming business. And, as a bonus for the business, they’re signalling other rightwing religionists that theirs is a business that fully shares their religious beliefs.

Still, there are some rightwing religionists who would flat out refuse to take this approach because they’re hellbent, so to speak, on being dicks about forcing their religious beliefs onto everyone. They feel that they must defy the law because they think their flavour of religion demands it, and they expect to be permitted to do so without consequence. Such rightwing religionists, backed by extremist professional anti-LGBT activist hate groups, dig their heals in to make “martyrs” of themselves—or is that just to make money for the hate groups? Maybe they just enjoy being nasty.

Whatever the situation, there’s a hardcore group of anti-LGBT rightwing religionists who would never take this approach, and the anti-LGBT hate groups are counting on that to achieve their political agenda of making anti-LGBT discrimination completely legal.

But the other, perhaps more sincere, rightwing religionists have other ways to make their point and profess their religious beliefs without breaking the law or being assholes about it. That wedding venue in New York is promoting one way. That, or something like it, is a far more sensible path.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Fifty years ago today

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was the beginning of his transformation from controversial political figure to martyr, and he became a hero to many who weren’t even born when he died. His legacy of a commitment to non-violent social change is still something to be admired and emulated, even if far too many still fall short. That’s the thing about human examples: They continue to show the way long after they’re gone. Dr. King became a hero to me, despite all sorts of reasons why that might not have happened. This post is about why all that is so.

I remember Dr. King and his assassination, though barely: I’d turned nine the previous January, so his career and death all happened when I was too young to know much about it, to understand it, or to even care about social or political issues. That was all outside of everything I knew—but that would change.

I grew up Republican in a white, Mainline Protestant household that was, by appearance, anyway, middle class. I knew nothing about the realities of life in America for its black citizens, especially poor black people. There were a few black kids in my primary schools, but we moved to a different town in December 1968, and things were very different in the new town. Among other things, my new primary school had no black kids, and I don’t remember if there were any Mexican kids (the fact I don’t remember suggests there weren’t).

High school didn’t help much, either. We weren’t taught much about recent history (Dr. King was assassinated 9 years before I graduated from high school), and we had one black family in our school—and they moved away before we graduated. Our school was mainly white, with growing numbers of the children of Mexican immigrants with whom the white kids didn’t mix a lot. So, most of us white kids didn’t have either formal education or personal experience to teach us about the realities of being poor and non-white in America.

For me, then, the life and death of Dr. King didn’t change anything—until I became and adult.

At university I finally began to learn about the realities of race in America, and that picked up pace toward the end of my university years when I came out and wanted to know everything about other oppressed people and, especially, what things they’d done successfully to change society: I wanted to learn from their experience.

Through that process, Dr. King became a personal hero of mine. A large part of my own single-minded determination to demand justice for LGBT people, and refusal to settle for anything less, is directly attributable to the inspiration I drew from Dr. King. That also led me to seek alliances with other non-LGBT oppressed people in society where possible—and, for many reasons, it wasn’t always possible—so that together we might make the world a better place.

All of which goes to show that Dr. King’s optimism wasn’t misplaced: People can grow beyond the world they knew to help build a better one. Also, (almost) no one is a lost cause, not matter how it may sometimes seem.

My dad was a good man who tried to do the right thing, but he, too, was the result of the world he was raised in and knew. I remember him making what we’d now call racist jokes that were, by way of description, mostly in the minstrel show sort, not vicious ones. I also know that as a Republican he wasn’t a particularly big fan of Dr. King’s work, though he shared many of the same theological views. When Dr. King was assassinated, he was extremely subdued and was saddened. Sure, he didn’t agree with Dr. King’s politics or perhaps tactics, but he didn’t want him dead, either. By the end of his life, my dad had become a much more socially aware person, much more evolved, and we had many good discussions about fixing what was wrong with society. Dr. King was more of a direct influence on me than he was on my dad, to be honest, but it’s fair to say that the passage of time helped even my dad to take on board some of what Dr. King tried to do.

American society in general is better than it was fifty years ago, but far from where it should be. Poor black and brown people still struggle and feature at the wrong end of every statistic. Unarmed black men are still dying from police bullets. White supremacism has become resurgent since the 2016 presidential election. And, while the black middle class exists, it has declined from 2001-15, and remains stubbornly lower than the percentage of middle class white people. That’s largely because of the stark reality of America: In general, a white kid is seen as their economic class, a black kid as their race. Being middle class won’t protect a black kid from prejudice, racism, or being shot by a cop without cause, and not even large wealth can protect them.

When President Obama was elected in 2008, lots of white people—good people—said it was the start of “post-racial America”, something that made anyone who’d been part of the struggles for social justice cringe. We knew it was nonsense, and within two years the rise of the openly racist “tea party” movement showed how “post-racial America” was a delusional fantasy. The 2016 election raised the volume on America’s racist reality to 11.

Despite all that, America IS better than it was when Dr. King was murdered. There have been millions of people inspired to be better and do better and to demand better. And for every drooling racist carrying a badly-spelled protest sign and Confederate flag, there are thousands who are repulsed by that behaviour. There are plenty of white people who want to end racism and racist behaviour in themselves and others. All of those are things to inspire hope.

As a gay man, I’ve seen the current regime in Washington working hard to undo all the progress that LGBT people have achieved over the past 10-15 years, so I can imagine how the regime’s active racism must feel to black and brown people, as if all the progress of the past half century is about to be erased. And yet we see signs of hope that this regime may be contained later this year, and, if so, defeated in two years. To ensure that happens, hard work will be required.

The USA has so very far to go before achieving Dr. King’s dream. Not only is the promised land he glimpsed still over that mountaintop, the mountain is much higher than any of us could have imagined. But Dr. King gave us hope that it’s possible to climb over that mountain, that hard work, determination, and complete commitment to the non-violent demand for justice will get us there. Dr. King never gave up then, and we can’t give up now.

Having a symbol of hope was important fifty years ago, and it still is today. That’s the thing about human symbols: They continue to show the way long after they’re gone.

Photo above: By Nobel Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Jake is 11

Well, what do you know? It’s Jake’s birthday already—and another chance to celebrate a day that means far more to us than to him. Jake doesn’t seem to mind the extra attention he got today, and he even sought out some cuddles today, which is a dog’s way of showing they’re in a good mood. He even cooperated with me taking some birthday photos of him (like above)—although, “cooperated” is a relative term (he still didn’t seem to actually like it).

Jake is as happy and affectionate as ever, however, this year he’s clearly better than he was about a year ago. And the difference is what I’ve been giving the dogs.

Some months before we moved to this house, the vet suggested that we give Sunny fish oil capsules to help avoid any problems down the road with the hip dysplasia that’s common with cavoodles. I couldn’t give it to just her, though. I was already taking capsules for my own health, as suggested by a doctor I had awhile back, so I started cutting them open and squeezing them onto their food, which was messy and more difficult (because I had to put their bowls up, put the food in, then cut the capsules and squeeze the oil onto them, then give the their bowls (before that, I just scooped their food into their bowls). So, I stopped.

I did some research about whether they could eat the gelatine-based capsule, and the consensus was it probably wouldn’t hurt them (though no site would commit to saying that definitively). Apparently the biggest concern was that they could become stuck in a dog’s throat, much as they could in a human child’s.

So, after we moved here, I decided to give them a capsule each with their morning food. I keep them in the fridge, so I warm them in my hands before putting them in their bowls with their food. The dogs eagerly eat them up as they munch their dry food. They seem to really like them.

There haven’t really been any noticeable results with Sunny, though it was meant to be preventive with her. With Jake, however, there was a noticeable change. I said in last year’s birthday post for Jake:
He can get a bit grumpy when confronted with young children or young dogs, both of which are a bit too “manic” for him. He likes things to be more quiet and slow moving.
Within a few weeks of giving him the capsules, he was like a new dog. No longer grumpy or as slow moving, he actually runs around with excitement when we get home, and he tolerates children and dogs, and if it gets too much for him, he just goes to bed—he doesn’t get grumpy. Mainly, though, he just ignores whatever he wants to ignore, rather than get upset. It was as if several years were melted away.

Now, I should of course make the obvious disclaimer: We gave them the capsules originally at the suggestion of the vet, and it was to try to preserve better mobility as they got older. The benefits that Jake has shown were unexpected, and might even be fairly rare—I have no idea. So, just as with our own health, it’s always important to talk to a health professional for advice and guidance.

Despite all this, Jake IS getting older. His fur is greying, especially on his ears, and he is moving a bit slower overall. But he’s such a happy and active boy that sometimes we forget what age he is. In fact, I usually only remember as I get ready to do his birthday post every year.

Last year’s post summed up things perfectly:
So, Jake is still the same loving boy he’s always been, and is still a joy to share life with. He’s made our lives so much better. He came to live with us at a sad time, and made the sadness go away. He still makes us very happy. He has magic powers, it turns out.
Magic powers, indeed.

Happy Eleventh Birthday, Jake!

Related posts:
Jake is TEN
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Farm report

Our farming days are pretty much over for the year. After roughly two months, we’re harvesting the last of our tomatoes (photo above). It’s been a very good haul, and all for (mostly) free, which is even better. Next year, I’ll be braver.

I posted about the first harvest back in early February, and we’ve had many hauls just like that one in the weeks since. We guestimate that we’ve harvested around 10kg of tomatoes (about 22 pounds), which is pretty good. We’ve had them raw in salads, cooked on eggs, reduced into several litres of tomato puree, sliced in sandwiches, and we gave away a lot. We had so many tomatoes that we even lost a few to rot.

The tomatoes were free. I harvested the seeds from supermarket Roma (acid-free Italian) tomatoes, so the seeds were free. I bought a couple bags of compost and one of tomato mix for the planter where they’d go. The soil was compacted and not very accommodating before then.

Nearly all the seeds I planted sprouted, so I planted them out. I honestly didn’t expect them all to take, nor to produce, but they all did. As a result, the patch was way too crowded, but it was also (obviously) highly productive. Next year, I’ll plant some other varieties, too, and plant them a little more sparsely so they get more air.

Back in February, I mentioned harvesting capsicum seeds, too, and said they hadn’t produced anything. Well, maybe not.

I planted a seedling in a pot, which my garden book said would work. The plant grew well, and then became stunted, and it has never produced any fruit. However, ONE of the plants I planted out in a raised bed did produce baby capsicums, possibly delayed because it’s a mostly shady bed. I’ll leave it to see if anything matures, but I suspect the cooler weather will end that experiment. Oh, well, live and learn: More sun would have been better. At least I didn’t pay for the seeds.

So, that was our sort of tentative return to vegetable gardening after a gap of some 13 years. Next year will be even better (and more work, but we’ll worry about that then). Mainly, I think this is one of those times when a little success creates a desire for more success.

Just don’t expect the birth of a real gardener, let alone a farmer. Still, I suppose it IS blog content.

Bon appƩtit!

Easter 2018

Today was Easter, which is of no particular significance, apart from being one day in a four-day holiday weekend and a day with a trading ban. It was also the first day after we changed our clocks (one hour back), and having two days afterward to recover from that is a good thing.

Nigel’s Mum is staying with us, and while we had family around Friday night, it’s mostly been us. We’ve had a nice, quiet time. The Easter Bunny left the chocolates above, which is similar to what he did back in 2015. He came back later and left more chocolates and altered the note—that rascally rabbit! I didn’t see it until the morning, of course, but I successfully avoided chocolate for most of the day.

The weather was cooler for the first day after the changed clocks, though there was heat in the sun. We didn’t notice because, apart from a few forays out on the deck, it was a resting inside sort of day. Sometimes those are the best ones.

At least I didn’t have a chocolate coma. Yet, anyway.