Thursday, May 31, 2018

Furbaby month

This is my last post for May, so why not end with a furbaby post? May was my most-blogged month so far this year, and they’re one of the main reasons for that. Even so, I don’t expect that’ll continue next month—though, come to think of it, I didn’t expect that this month, either. So, yeah.

The Instagram photo above is actually from a couple days ago, and I either forgot to share it here or wasn’t up to it. I’ve actually taken more photos that I haven’t shared to Instagram, and a couple more are below.

The animals are all getting on well, though Leo is still a bit leery of Sunny, especially when she barks (because she’s so loud, we think). We think it’s funny how we used to think of Jake and Sunny as being fairly small, but now when compared to Leo they’re quite big. Perspectives, eh?

Jake, Leo, and Bella all use the new dog doors (one of which is in the photo up above) with no problem, but Sunny is still too frightened to go through it unless someone holds it open for her. It seems she doesn’t like the magnet, because it pulls the door closed and holds it closed. We’d had it taped open until yesterday in the hope it’d get her used to it, easing her fear, but we had to remove the tape when the temperature dropped. That’s when we knew she still wasn’t ready to open it herself. This is a holiday weekend coming up, and we’ll try working with her some more.

To round out this last post of the month, here are the other two furbabies in photos I took this morning:

Sunny found a sunny spot to sleep this morning.
Jake wondered what I was taking photos of—or, something…

Keep your extremists, thanks

Two far-right Canadian “commentators”, including one banned from the UK for spreading racist material, are coming to Australia and New Zealand in July. They (I’m deliberately not using their names so as to avoid giving them Google Juice) are mounting a “speaking tour” to make money—oops! sorry—to speak at shows around Australia and in Auckland. They should stay home and leave us alone.

It’s probable, though not certain, that the two will have willing listeners on their tour, and not just the sort who are expecting a freak show and trainwreck. All countries have their radical elements, and as long as all they do is talk, there’s not much that can, or possibly should, be done about it. That doesn’t extend to foreign agitators, however, who enter a country, stir up trouble and bugger off with their pay, never having to worry about or experience the consequences of the extremism they spread and encourage.

What puzzled be about the younger speaker is that they’re only 22. How, I wondered, could someone so young become so filled with the negativity and regressive agenda of the radical right? Maybe the answer really is money.

According to news.au.com, the website of News Limited (all prices are in Australian dollars):
General admission tickets to the pair’s talks, starting on July 20, cost $79 per person. Those who want to get in early for “first choice of seats” can pay an extra $20. From there, it gets steep.

A meet-and-greet with the pair for 30 minutes will cost $199. If you want to spend 45 minutes and get some signed merchandise, it’s $499.

An “intimate dinner” with the pair will set you back $749.
Not bad for not doing any real work.

The young speaker promoted their appearances by saying to Australians, “Do you want to retain your culture, do you want to retain your borders, family, identity, or will the boats keep coming, will the no-go zones keep growing and will you become another victim of multiculturalism.” Whatever that means, it sounds more than a little racist.

The reason the young speaker was banned from the UK is that they distributed flyers intended to provoke Muslims. The speaker claimed the stunt was a "social experiment" to prove Islam is a homophobic religion. It doesn’t take a genius to know that deliberately provoking people proves absolutely nothing, and one could get the exact same result by passing out similar leaflets about Jesus—or maybe the current occupant of the White House—to far-right “Christians” in the USA.

These far-right folks always pretend to be a victim, with absolutely no responsibility for any violent confrontations that may happen. That’s a bit rich, since they always deliberately attempt to provoke violent confrontations.

The young speaker demurred, “I’m certain our ideas will shock people and our arguments will bring a lot of excitement to Australia, but I don’t remember discussing throwing bottles or rioting or setting anything on fire.” Then they stoked the flames: “We’re not going to be the ones bringing the mayhem, the left-wing rioters who are going to be there — they’ll be the ones doing that.” The far-right speakers clearly hope that’s the case so they get more publicity.

Both Australia and New Zealand have the power to block foreign trouble-makers from entering the country, and it would be understandable if the countries did so for these two. However, I don’t think that will happen, for a lot of reasons, and maybe that’s for the best: Banning them would do nothing to stop their racist agenda, but the publicity from doing so would build their popularity with their fans and vulnerable people who might be susceptible to recruitment.

The best thing to do would be to ignore them as much as possible: No counter protests—in fact, nothing more than a symbolic sole picketer (with a vehicle nearby to drive them to the hospital in the highly possible event that a far-right provocateur attacks them). Having one peaceful protestor designated as such would by itself provide a strong marketing image, and a far more effective one, and a much better strategy, than the violent confrontation the far-right folks crave, and the Left too frequently obliges with.

Honestly, though, it would be better if the pair just stayed home. They’re not wanted in this part of the world, and there must be a lot of people in North America they haven’t bothered yet, so why travel all this way just to annoy us?

They should just stay home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Getting the slang of it

There’s no better way for a newcomer in a community—or country—to begin to fit in than to master the local slang. This can be a difficult process under the best of circumstances, but the Internet makes it easier than in the old days, and these videos are good examples.

The video above is from Jordon Watson for his “How to DAD” YouTube Channel, and in it he present Kiwi slang in his usual laid-back, often very dry, humour. Nevertheless, what he says is all true, and some of that stuff took me years to fully "get". I think the humorous style makes the slang easier to absorb, even if his style night seem confusing because he acts so haphazard.

Related: “The difference between Australia and New Zealand”, the first of Jordon’s videos I shared.

The video below, “Old Gays Try New Gay Slang” is quite different—and for a few people some of the language may be inappropriate for work:

I’ve known older gay men just like these guys—and before I know it I’ll be in their age grouping. I know a lot of the slang terms, even though many of the young guys using them weren’t even born until I was already living in New Zealand. Moving on…

I agreed with the guy who said that young gay guys watch too much RuPaul, which is an older gay guy’s way of saying, “you kids get off my lawn!” However, I’d only think that, not say it out loud—yet.

Both these videos are meant as lighthearted and fun, but the truth within them is that slang varies from place to place as well as over time. To truly understand a place and time we need to understand the slang used, whether we use it or not.

But I do use slang, and videos like the one on top would have been VERY helpful when I first arrived in New Zealand. I’m not sure the other one will be very helpful to me, since I’m unlikely to need to understand the slang of young gay Americans. But, you just never know.

Tip o' the Hat to my fellow American Expat, Dawn, who shared these videos.

Barring Roseanne

It’s amazing how often some pop culture thing “blows up” to use a click bait phrase, and then “the Internet goes wild!” to use another. Today was such a day with word that Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne reboot was cancelled after the comedian made a racist Tweet. For the better part of a day there was no other story being talked about.

Roseanne’s rebooted show was a political football from the very beginning, with the Left condemning the show and declaring they’d never watch it because of Roseanne’s often stated—and often crudely stated—support for the current occupant of the White House. That’s the same reason folks on the Right fawned over the new show, the current occupant included, who talked about the show’s ratings, of course.

The whole thing became so hyper-politicised, as quite literally everything in the USA seems to these days, that I didn’t know what to think. My initial inclination was to follow the lead of my tribe—those of us somewhere to the Left of Centre—and not watch it. Easy for me to say: It was an American TV show and unlikely to air here, I thought.

Until it was broadcast here about a week behind the USA, I think.

I was a huge fan of the original Roseanne, with its often—though not always—accurate portrayal of the zeitgeist of its time. It portrayed working class realities more than any other show of its time, with good acting and writing (most of the time).

So, carrying the memory of the show I once watched and liked uneasily paired with my rejection of Roseanne’s personal embrace of the current occupant, I ended up watching the show.

The first one I saw, I held the remote in my hand prepared to change the channel the moment it pissed me off. I watched to the end. And I watched episodes after that. In my opinion, both the Left and the Right overreacted, as they so often do. It wasn’t raging Trumpeteering as the Left predicted, nor as good as the Right declared.

I saw Roseanne (the character) argue about the 2016 election with her sister Jackie (played by my fellow native Illinoisan Laurie Metcalf). Roseanne said why she’d voted for the current occupant, and Jackie said that Roseanne’s constant abuse of Hillary Clinton drove her to vote for Jill Stein—much as happened in a lot of places, including the three states that put the current guy into the White House.

I also saw Roseanne be certain that the Muslim family next door were terrorists as her president’s team constantly preached. But she learns that they’re real people who are facing their own problems, and she defends the Muslim mother in public when a snotty teen abuses her.

In another episode, husband Dan (John Goodman) loses out on a contracting job because the lower bidder—as they put it—“hires illegals”. In a subsequent episode, Dan is desperate to raise the money to pay for Roseanne’s knee surgery so she will stop abusing painkillers. He decides to hire “illegals”, too—and then fate intervenes with flooding bad enough that there’s plenty of work for everyone. And that’s where the series ended.

There were a few moments that were vaguely doctrinaire, but in general the show was NOT a commercial for the current occupant—not by a long shot. It was mostly an updated version of the old show, but putting the Connor family into the current time with all the problems people of their class might face—rationing their prescriptions because they can’t afford them all, being unable to afford surgery, feeling trapped by circumstances not of their making, and, in the case of Roseanne, being desperate enough to vote for a racist con man and buffoon “to shake things up” (the episodes I saw never said how anyone but Roseanne and Jackie voted).

The show’s main problem was that it just wasn’t all that good. Sure, there were some good jokes, but the whole thing felt tired, as if sometimes they were just going through the motions. The acting was often quite good—and could even be better than in the original series—but it also sometimes felt flat. It was pretty much the same thing with the writing and the quality of the jokes.

Even so, it was no horror show or exercise in political indoctrination. It MOSTLY rang true, it MOSTLY described modern working class problems fairly accurately, but, the thing the Left and Right both missed, I think, was that the characters—especially Roseanne herself—grew.

So it turns out that the problem here wasn’t the show Roseanne itself, it was actor Roseanne herself, as the Left said all along. In particular, it was Roseanne’s inability to keep her mouth shut. She kept Tweeting insulting things about her political opponents, including sharing debunked lies, as well as sharing all sorts of conspiracy theory nonsense. She was a problem waiting to explode, as her American TV network, ABC, must have known.

So today, and not for the first time, she Tweeted out racists insults. Fox "News" defended her, of course, as did all the Trumpeteers on Twitter. The thing I personally saw that made me laugh and sad at the same time was a huge number of Tweets from Trumpeteers saying that Valerie Jarrett “looks white”, so, therefore, the remark couldn’t be racist. A few even put up photos of Rosanne and Jarrett claiming that Roseanne “looks darker”. To me, that tactic seemed especially desperate and deluded.

The tragedy in this is not the fall of someone who was once quite good and relevant, but who is now a political extremist focused on the bizarre and just plain nutty. The tragedy here is that hundreds of other people have lost their jobs, too, people who would never do anything as stupid as what Roseanne did. They don’t deserve what happened to them because of Roseanne’s moronic behaviour. Still, you’d think something like this was inevitable.

For months, I kept hoping that Roseanne was pulling an elaborate prank, that at some point she’d tell everyone that she was pretending to be a supporter of the current occupant just to prove how gullible his ardent fans really are. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. She’s really as weird and downright loony as she’s seemed, so today’s events were inevitable. This time, there probably can’t be a return. That’s clearly not a bad thing.

Update May 31–further reading: "Roseanne Tried to Use ‘Roseanne’ to Prove that Trump Voters Aren’t Racist. There Was Just 1 Problem." from The Nation. I think this explains why the character of Roseanne defends the Muslim mother, even though the comedian Roseanne attacked Muslims on Twitter.
"The extreme right won’t stop defending Roseanne" from ThinkProgress. This is not the far-right's finest hour.

The image up top is by cartoonist xkcd, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Furbaby love

The photo above is of Sunny, Leo, and Bella all in my lap, as the captions says. This isn’t a regular occurance, but it’s not uncommon, either. The photo below is of the three dogs looking at me as they waited for their dinner (I sat down to see a report on the news, and they had a better idea of how I should spend my time).

Puppy love, eh?

Technology can help

At first glance, this may seem like it’s the most bourgeois thing I’ve ever posted. But given the context of this blog, it’d be safe to assume that there’s more to it than it may seem at first glance. In either case, we now have a robot vacuum at our house, and sometimes technology creates big and positive changes.

Nigel was lobbying for us to get a robot vacuum for a while now, and I resisted. I thought of them as being as pointless as a leafblower—using a machine to do something that could be done better by more traditional means. While I’ve come to accept that, at least sometimes, a leafblower has its place, I couldn’t see the point of a robot vacuum when we already have conventional ones.

Turns out, I was wrong.

The machines are far less expensive than they used to be—far less expensive than the last “big” vacuum we bought, in fact. They’re also much better than they used to be—they don’t fall down stairs or get easily confused about where they are. It turns out, it does a very, very good job vacuuming the house in about 73 minutes.

But it’s not the lower cost nor the good job it does that sold me: It was the energy saving, MY energy.

As I’ve documented on this blog, I’ve had terrible problems with fatigue and energy levels over the past year, ever since I started taking beta blockers. Add that problem to memory problems and lack of focus, and the past year has been bloody awful. The robot helps with that.

Up until we got the robot, I ran out of steam cleaning the house and was seldom actually able to vacuum. Worse, sometimes having the need to vacuum hanging over my head was tiring all in itself, enough so that it could make me skip other routine cleaning. Things are better now.

Because of the robot vacuum, I can concentrate on all the other cleaning I need to do and let the robot vacuum take care—very efficiently—of that one task. This matters because I need to ration my energy, and if I don’t have to spend any on vacuuming, I can use it for other cleaning. This is a major advance.

A couple months ago, I wrote:
Maybe there’s a better drug for me—or, maybe I already have the best I’ll ever have or, as I put it last time, that what I already have may be “least awful of all the drugs”. And that, to me, isn’t good enough.
My first strategy here is to come up with coping mechanisms to help me in case this is as good as things will be. I don’t have a solution for the memory or focus problems, at least, not yet, but this robot helps with my energy/fatigue problems, and that’s a start.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment with a private cardiologist on June 20, which was delayed because he’s been on annual leave overseas. Ironically, I may have been able to get a public system cardiologist appointment faster, however, this guy is a specialist in heart rate problems, so that’s a good thing. I’m hoping that he can shorten the time and trouble it will take to either find an acceptable beta blocker or a different class of drug, something that a specialiast can do better than a GP. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve found technology that helps me to have a better quality of life than I could have otherwise, and that’s no small thing. Sure, it’s bourgeois as hell, and it’s Middle Class Problems writ large, but that’s my life and it matters to me because it’s my life. The Mainstream Liberal in me is embarrassed at how happy this technology makes me, but after a year of this shit, I can live with that embarrassment because easing the burden matters more. Sometimes technology creates big and positive changes.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sewer time again

Yesterday, we had to have Watercare come out to clear blocked sewer lines, something we found out about at 7am when Nigel was about to leave for the day and saw a growing puddle. I went outside when there was enough daylight and found sewerage bubbling up out of our gully trap and running across our lawn. This was similar to what happened last September, although less severe.

Watercare says these blocks happen because people flush things that should never by flushed, like sanitary pads, tampons, wet wipes, nappies, etc. (see their poster at left). Such things block the pipes—which aren’t very wide—causing sewerage to flow overland—in this case, our yard.

Another problem is that the access points—“manholes”—have often been buried, sometime by the builder/developer, which means property owners may have one on their property and not even know it. Watercare can come and dig up a manhole, and the owner can’t object (I don’t know if the property owner is charged for that or not, and I didn’t think to ask). The Watercare people told me that at one house nearby the owners had a shed on top of the access, which is illegal (they can order it be removed).

We know from our September experience that we don’t have any sewer access points on our section.

I shared most of this information on a local community page, and my personal Facebook, mainly as a way to ask that people don’t flush anything except for what Watercare delicately calls “human waste” and toilet paper—nothing else. As I said on the community page, “We’d rather not see your, um, stuff, flowing up out of our gully trap!”

What I didn’t say in the post, because most people here know this already, is why we even have a gully trap.

Basically, a gully trap works like a sink: Sinks, showers, and/or laundry (also known as “graywater”) empty into it, and as it fills with water, gravity pushes the water into the sanitary sewer. It uses the same principle as the S trap under a sink, or the water in a toilet bowl: The water blocks sewer gasses.

The reason for them is because of exactly what happened to us: If there’s a sewer blockage, the sewerage will back up through the gully trap, rather than into the house. This is why it’s placed between the house and the connection to the sewer line. By code, at least one graywater pipe must drain into the gully trap to keep the water level up because if the water evaporates, it’ll smell.

In cold areas where water freezes in winter, gully traps won’t work. In North America, for example, they use a backflow preventer, which is kind a specialty flap that closes if the sewer starts to back up into the house. The problem with that is that the pressure caused by the blockage can cause manholes to be lifted—even violently, and with a sewerage fountain. Nice!

While I learned some of that over the years, I didn’t know most of that until the overflow last year. I wanted to understand what was going on, so I read up on it.

So, the sewerage overflowing the gully trap is a good thing—it protects the house—but it only happens when there’s a blockage, which is a bad thing. Most blockages in residential lines are caused by people flushing things down that toilet that don’t belong there. As one of their more colourfully worded posters (PDF) put it, “Only toilet paper, pee and poo should be flushed down the loo!” And so it goes.

See also “Toilet humour” my post from June of last year about this topic and newspaper ads about it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Settling In

Leo is pretty much settled into our household now, as the Instagram post above shows. He’d been a little leery of the other dogs, but after we gave Sunny a clipping on Saturday he’s been much better, maybe because she doesn’t appear as big and intimidating.

On Friday we had new dog doors installed, one on ground level, and the other upstairs leading out onto the deck. Leo and Bella worked out how to use it pretty quickly, and so did Jake, which is pretty surprising: He hated it when we changed the dog door at the old house back in 2014. Sunny hated that change, too, but unlike Jake, she’s been unable to bring herself to use the new door here. At the moment, the one downstairs is taped open so she’ll use it.

So, three quarters of the furbabies have no trouble using the dog door, which I suppose is mostly good. Sunny will get there eventually.

Apart from the door problems, they’re all getting on well. Jake takes little notice of Leo, but every once in awhile Sunny tries to play with him, sometimes scaring the crap out of him, which kind of makes sense: Her haricut may make her less intimidating, but she’s still bigger. Meanwhile, Bella has the cleanest ears of any cat in New Zealand.

So, all up, I have to say that Leo is pretty much settled into our household now. That’s good news.

Internet Wading: Think for ourselves

Now that I’m resuming Internet Wading posts, why not return to the original day, my “month day” as I set out to do four years ago? This edition has it all: Critical economic analysis, royalty, and interior decor.

The video above is the latest from Newsbroke, a product of AJ+, the digital arm of Al Jazeera Media Network. The host, Francesca Fiorentini, debunks the many rightwing myths about socialism, and in so doing exposes a truth about them: They’re mere propaganda talking points, not coherent arguments.

One of her best points is also one of the shortest: She mentions the rightwing talking point that the socialist stars among the world’s nations are small, so, therefore, socialism “can’t work” in the USA, and she points out that they’re essentially arguing that Americans can’t do “scaling up”. It was delivered in a mostly joking way—as truth often is.

Here in New Zealand, we also have rightwingers blustering loudly that “socialism doesn’t work”, etc., etc., which is absolutely hilarious considering they ALL have benefitted from and/or personally know people who have benefitted from New Zealand’s public education system, single payer national healthcare, the police, the fire service, the NZ Defence Force—I could go on and on and on, just like they do, but the facts are on my side, and they know it. They’re just spinning propaganda slogans just like the USA’s rightwing does, only maybe here there’s a less-gullible audience?

Maybe it’s just that the word socialism is too scary for Americans to even be willing to contemplate, let alone learn about or understand. Maybe they could look at the core problem.

“Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?” was published late last year by Fast Company. It points out the sorts of the flaws in modern capitalism (or corporatism, as I call it) that most of us know, at least instinctively, along with some measures to fix a broken system.

Of course the first superstar critic (though not really in his lifetime) of capitalism was Karl Marx, a name that all by itself strikes fear, loathing and revulsion into the gut of most Americans from the just Left of Centre to the Far Right. In a piece published by Vice, Oscar Rickett explains why “Karl Marx Has Never Been More Relevant”. It turns out that those problems with capitalisam that most us know, at least instinctively, were first described or predicted by Marx. And yet few conservatives, moderates, or even traditional liberals have ever read his work—I never have, either, actually. So how can we be so sure that his work is of no value? We can’t—and we need to find out for ourselves rather than allow polemicists of any stripe dictate truth to us.

Related: "The meaning of life in a world without work" from The Guardian.

Related to all this, Caleb Crain wrote a long book review published by The New Yorker, “Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?” (print edition title: “Merchants of Doom”), which takes a critical look at: “The idea that authoritarianism attracts workers harmed by the free market, which emerged when the Nazis were in power, has been making a comeback.” He has issues with the book, and some of the underlying ideas, but also reinforces some. Put another way, readers are required to think about the topic themselves—these days a far more radical proposition.

Enough with all this thinking about the economic perils in front of us, let’s instead breathe the rarified air of royalty: The Royal Wedding. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t popular about Leftists, even here in New Zealand, where Queen Elizabeth is Head of State:

I’ve followed Morgan on Twitter for years, and have traded the occasional Tweet with him. Sometimes I disagree with him, most times I agree with him, at least in part. In this particular case, I thought he was a bit churlish, although, as another person I follow said in reply, “More than fair enough – but honestly, I've been muting folks who feel obliged to slide into my mentions to 'splain me about an institution whose flaws and abuses I'm perfectly well aware of. Thanks for not doing that.” Yeah, I suppose there’s that. To which Morgan replied, “Fair enough too. I mean, we all deserve some spectacles, and we can participate without being dupes about it,” which I thought was a better point than his original Tweet.

Another person (who I don’t follow, so no link) replied: “Yes, but the power of the symbolism – the mother descended from slaves watching her daughter marry the brother of the future king. Whatever the crimes of history, the message was in that moment.” And that, to me was the more balanced perspective.

A NZ Leftist said on Facebook, “Not watching the Royal wedding although I like them both and wish them well. I don't feel comfortable watching such extravagance (paid by the UK taxpayers I understand) while others live in poverty,” and adding later in a comment, “And if there weren't people living in poverty and important health and social services being cut by Tories the tax payers expense wouldn't bother me."

All of that suggests that some NZ Leftists hold more nuanced views on the event than it may sometimes seem. But there were things about the wedding that should cheer the Left’s bleeding hearts, not the least the American bishop preachifying to the staid royals and stiff upper lip upper class folks in attendance. But there were also smaller details, like this: “Why the electric Jaguar at the royal wedding was a symbolic step forward”. I actually had no idea that the Jag was electric: Our news evening bulletin yesterday didn’t mention it. But, I DO think it mattered.

Enough with Royal Weddings, royal arguments AND economics, time for something unimportant: “The Biggest Decor Trends The Year You Were Born,” which was published by Elle Decor in 2016. I just saw it today, when it showed up on my Facebook newsfeed, and after clicking through all the photos, I knew I wanted to share it. Economics? Sure. Politics? Of course. Current events? Yep. I like all those things. But I may like history—cultural and pop cultural history especially—just a little bit more. These days it’s a little less contentious, too—unless we argue over whether a particular look is awful or wonderful, but the “entire world” is already arguing over laurel v. yanny, so maybe we can skip decor arguments—this time.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Another new addition

We have another addition to our clan: Leo (pictured) has joined the family, joining Jake, Sunny, and Bella. Leo needed a new home, and we couldn’t say no. But it is interesting that he’s the third furbaby in a row that we didn’t name.

Leo came to us because his former family couldn’t keep him. He already knew us, and Jake and Sunny, so it wasn’t a totally new and scary thing for him. Since he joined us a week and a half ago, he’s slowly started to fit in—very well in some ways.

Leo is best friends with Bella, partly (mostly?) because he likes licking her ears, and Bella likes that. They often sleep next to each other on one our laps, and often trade sniffs.

Leo is a little wary of Jake and Sunny, however, especially Sunny—possibly because right now she needs a trim and is huge from Leo’s perspective. He sometimes growls at the dogs, Jake in particular, but we’re working on that, and we’re kind of old hands at that.

I joked recently that this is becoming “Arthur and Nigel’s Home For Wayward Pets” because our last three came to us when they needed a home, not because we sought them out. We have the time, energy, and inclination to give them a home, so why not? Someday taking care of pets—or several, anyway—may be too much for us, but that day is not today.

Besides: Who could resist such cuteness? But, I do think we’re now officially a zoo.

Jake (top) and Leo lying near each other yesterday. It's progress.

UN Free & Equal: Be there. Be an ally.

The video above is the latest from the United Nations’ “Free & Equal” campaign. The UN released the video on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia to introduce a new mini-campaign “celebrating allies and the vital role they play in the lives of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people”, as they put it in an email. It's a good effort.

The video highlights the different ways one can be an ally. As they put it in their YouTube description:
Being an ally is about more than silent acceptance. It’s about being there for your lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours. It’s about striving to understand their experiences, and helping them to understand yours. It’s about supporting one another in times of need. It’s about setting a positive example for others. And most importantly, it’s about creating a more inclusive and loving society where everyone is valued, no matter who they are or whom they love.
The website for the Free & Equal project has several suggestions on on how someone can be a better ally:
  • Come out as an ally! Be vocal of your support for the LGBTI community at school, at work, in your family, community and on social media.
  • Educate yourself about the diverse experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, their issues and concerns – in your community and around the world.
  • Reach out to organizations that are raising awareness and advocating to end criminalization, violence, discrimination and other abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people – and ask them how you can support.
  • Respect safety, privacy and confidentiality – do not refer to, or reveal, a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics without their consent.
  • Use people’s preferred terms, pronouns, genders and names. If you don’t know – respectfully ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.
  • Confront your own prejudices and bias – especially if it makes you uncomfortable to do so.
  • Speak out when you hear bullying, insults and harmful myths and stereotypes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex children and adults. Avoid jokes, slurs and harmful stereotypes that can be hurtful to LGBTI people and let other people know that you find them offensive.
  • Speak out when you see bullying and insults against LGBTI children and adults.
I think this is a good idea. Being supportive of LGBT+ people is important, but heterosexual people are sometimes unsure of how, exactly, to do that. Providing specific information on how to be an ally, and why it’s so important, is a really good thing, these days especially.

I have to admit I was worried about the Free & Equal campaign after the change in Secretary General, because I wasn’t sure he’d have the same level of commitment as his predecessor. I still don’t know whether he personally does or not, but the project is still there and still trying to advance the cause for LGBT+ people worldwide. That’s a very good thing, indeed.

No one campaign or even organisation can make the world a safer and better place by itself, but everyone working together can—even just ordinary people acting as true allies. I hope this campaign helps more people become allies.

We need allies now more than ever.

This is a beer ad

The video above is a commercial for the New Zealand beer brand Speight’s. Called “The Dance”, the ad is a major departure for the brand, and NZ beer advertising in general. It’s a remarkably real ad, portraying both believable life situations and the meaning of mateship, and returning to a classic slogan and infusing it with new vitality. It’s a very good ad.

The ad was created by DDB NZ and was directed by Steve Ayson (for The Sweet Shop). Intended for use online, making it ripe for sharing, it’s also been shown on NZ television late in the evening (alcohol cannot be advertised on NZ television until late in the evening, after young children are in bed). I first saw the ad on TV and was caught from the very first image: “What’s this about?!” I thought to myself. The answer doesn’t come until the end of the ad.

"Masculinity is evolving, even in Heartland New Zealand," Craig Baldie, the national marketing director at the company that owns Speight’s told the NZ Herald. The company studied New Zealand cultural mores to see if the brand was still relevant. "That study showed us it was, but it also told us that the message had to be served up in a different way than it was 20 years ago."

In the 1990s, the brand featured ads with a distinctly male viewpoint, one that was also often not entirely embracing of women, either. That’s how this ad is so different: The whole point of the ad is that the subject doesn’t want to disappoint his woman. A Speight’s ad would never have had that as a theme two decades ago.

Which makes the revival of their slogan, “Good On Ya Mate”, all the more interesting. In the 1990s, it was men alone, friends looking out for friends. Now it still means friends looking out for friends, but in a thoroughly modern context. In the context of the new ad, it feels fresh.

No ordinary ad can change the world, and usually they merely reflect the world around us at any moment. We expect that. But when an ad steps out of its own comfort zone, and when doing that reminds us how much has changed, it’s a pretty remarkable thing.

To be completely honest, I’ve never been a Speight’s drinker, in part because the old ads never attracted me. This new ad direction may very well entice me for those (very) rare times I have a beer. The odds are certainly better.

Regardless, I’m sure of one thing: I really like this ad.

See Also:
“Feeling the rhythm: how Speight's has moved from blokey heroes to celebrate modern mateship”StopPress
“Speight's breaks with beer ad traditions in new campaign: The Dance”The Drum

Friday, May 11, 2018

The new TV reality

The video above is an ad, the long version of one currently running on New Zealand TV. It’s one example of how cross-promotion is now endemic, and this is just one example. The ad is an ad, they can do whatever they want. But the overall trend of embedded ads is not a all good.

The fact an ad promoted an otherwise irrelevant and unrelated thing—a movie—is kind of a non-issue by itself, made more so by the clever use of Mission: Impossible imagery. Ads advertising two things is probably not a big deal of and by itself—they’re still paid ads, after all. The problem is, that’s not where it ends.

TVNZ has been running a series of promotional messages for things that aren’t actually ads—such as, how to make a complaint to the Broadcast Standards Authority, for example—but doing so as promotions for the movie Deadpool 2. I have no opinion on that movie—since I didn’t see the first one—but the merits of the movie are entirely beside the point. TVNZ us using messages that aren’t normally ads to promote one particular movie, and that feels incredibly wrong.

TVNZ is owned by New Zealanders. It’s required to pay a dividend to the Crown, and operates as if it’s just like any for-profit broadcaster. This advertising campaign latched onto something else shows how uncomfortably those two realities coexist.

We deserve clearer boundaries.

The USA’s big mistake

This week the USA made another huge mistake, the latest of several that all originated with its biggest mistake some 18 months ago, but this one could end life on earth. Or, maybe it won’t. Or, maybe it’ll hasten the downfall of the current regime in the US. Or, it’ll hasten the arrival of an authoritarian dictatorship. Which of the many options are the most likely? What will this mistake lead to?

The first and most important thing to understand is that the entire reason that the current occupant of the White House made this stupid move is blindingly obvious: The current occupant has a visceral, irrational, and childish hatred of President Obama. He’s made that clear at every opportunity, and made the opportunity to make that clear where none existed. The ONLY thing the current occupant cares about—to the exclusion of almost everything else—is undoing everything President Obama did. The only thing that the current occupant cares about more than erasing President Obama from history is glorifying himself, and the current occupant thinks his bizarre action will somehow make himself famous. It really is as simple as that.

So, where will this lead? Let’s look at the possibilities one at a time.

The final war

Axing this deal paves the way for the USA to attack Iran, and that could lead to all out nuclear war. There are good reasons to think this is the inevitable course things will take. First, Republicans need something—literally anything—to improve their chances in November, and there’s nothing quite like a war to make people rally around the current president: After the Gulf War, George Bush the first polled at around 90% approval, and all Republicans need is a boost of a of percentage points here and there to retain control of Congress. So, they all have a huge incentive to go to war.

Second, a sizeable portion of Republicans in Congress, and nearly all of the base of the current occupant, and the current vice president, all want to trigger a war in the Middle East that, they believe, will be their mythological “Armageddon” that will bring about the supposed return of Republican Jesus (so-called because that’s what they think he is…). What that means that a huge proportion of the Republican base is fully embracing a death cult. That. Is. Terrifying.

If Republicans start a war, it probably won’t be after September (because they’d be as sure that it’ll be as “quick” and “easy” as they were sure invading Iraq would be). They’re already laying the ground work with disinformation campaigns against Iran, not the least having the Israeli Prime Minister do his one man Powerpoint show. That man lied about Iraq to get the USA into war, some people may remember—or should.

Another shot in the foot

There’s also the possibility that this whole thing will be just another disaster for the USA alone as the world moves on, ignoring the USA, as it does more and more these days. Just as the current occupant has made things worse for the country with his trade war with China and other acts of stupidity, it’s entirely possible that the USA will just be ignored by the entire world.

The countries that signed the deal in the first place all still back it, and if they guarantee no sanctions against Iran, then Iran may continue with the deal [See also: “France: Europe isn’t US ‘vassal,’ should trade with Iran”]. If that happens, the USA—and American companies and workers—will be alone in obeying whatever sanctions the current occupant imposes on impulse via Twitter. This is why it could harm US companies and kill US jobs, just as the current occupant’s trade war with China has.

If this happens, then the current occupant’s stupidity won’t matter—except to the Americans who lose their jobs as similar companies in other parts of the world expand. Make America Grate Again, indeed.

The wildcard

It’s possible that Israel could decide everything. If they continue attacking Iran, literally or merely Iranian military positions elsewhere, it could force the USA into war. Given Republicans’ reflexive and unquestioning support for everything Israel says and does, they would enthusiastically back war (not the least because of their death cult). Democrats don’t have enough votes to stop them—yet.

Where we are

All we know for sure is that, at the moment, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was last week. We also know that the current occupant of the White House has an incredibly short attention span, so he could forget all about this, now that he’s undone another thing President Obama did. Or, at the other extreme, we could be headed toward nuclear war.

If I were to bet, it would be that the USA is shoved further into global irrelevance, thanks to the current occupant. That, too, could lead to war for other reasons, but probably not over this. Just keep the current occupant facing drooling crowds at his campaign rallies, and maybe he’ll leave the rest of us alone.

If that happens, there are plenty of grownups in the world to make us for the infant in the White House.

Related: “AP FACT CHECK: Analyses don’t back up Trump on Iran deal”

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Worth Quoting: Barack Obama

Today former President Barack Obama posted the following statement on Facebook:
There are few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. That’s why the United States negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place.
The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest – it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. And the JCPOA is a model for what diplomacy can accomplish – its inspections and verification regime is precisely what the United States should be working to put in place with North Korea. Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.

That is why today’s announcement is so misguided. Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies, and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated. In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.

Debates in our country should be informed by facts, especially debates that have proven to be divisive. So it’s important to review several facts about the JCPOA.

First, the JCPOA was not just an agreement between my Administration and the Iranian government. After years of building an international coalition that could impose crippling sanctions on Iran, we reached the JCPOA together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran. It is a multilateral arms control deal, unanimously endorsed by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

Second, the JCPOA has worked in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. For decades, Iran had steadily advanced its nuclear program, approaching the point where they could rapidly produce enough fissile material to build a bomb. The JCPOA put a lid on that breakout capacity. Since the JCPOA was implemented, Iran has destroyed the core of a reactor that could have produced weapons-grade plutonium; removed two-thirds of its centrifuges (over 13,000) and placed them under international monitoring; and eliminated 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium – the raw materials necessary for a bomb. So by any measure, the JCPOA has imposed strict limitations on Iran's nuclear program and achieved real results.

Third, the JCPOA does not rely on trust – it is rooted in the most far-reaching inspections and verification regime ever negotiated in an arms control deal. Iran’s nuclear facilities are strictly monitored. International monitors also have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, so that we can catch them if they cheat. Without the JCPOA, this monitoring and inspections regime would go away.

Fourth, Iran is complying with the JCPOA. That was not simply the view of my Administration. The United States intelligence community has continued to find that Iran is meeting its responsibilities under the deal, and has reported as much to Congress. So have our closest allies, and the international agency responsible for verifying Iranian compliance – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fifth, the JCPOA does not expire. The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is permanent. Some of the most important and intrusive inspections codified by the JCPOA are permanent. Even as some of the provisions in the JCPOA do become less strict with time, this won’t happen until ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today.

Finally, the JCPOA was never intended to solve all of our problems with Iran. We were clear-eyed that Iran engages in destabilizing behavior – including support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel and its neighbors. But that’s precisely why it was so important that we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.

Because of these facts, I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake. Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East. We all know the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. It could embolden an already dangerous regime; threaten our friends with destruction; pose unacceptable dangers to America’s own security; and trigger an arms race in the world’s most dangerous region. If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it.

In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.
I agree with President Obama. I’ll have more to say about this topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Moths to a flame

For reasons ordinary people can’t comprehend, some people in the USA are utterly and pathologically obsessed with Hillary Clinton. She was in New Zealand for a speech yesterday, and had lunch with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The photo above was sent out to the media by the Prime Minister’s office, and was published online by them, as well as on social media by various journalists, among others (the one above was shared on the Instagram account of the NZ Labour Party. Once it was online, the comments—some quite unhinged—started flooding in. It looked as if an alternate universe in which Hillary had become US President, or was a candidate for something, had suddenly replaced our own. It was weird.

There are many theories about why the USA’s rightwing—and part of its leftwing—can’t stop obsessing about Hillary. Some argue the obsessed have some sort of personality disorder (or similar problem), but I think that’s just using popular scapegoating as a means of explaining (or attacking). It seems to me that the most probable explanation for why real people—as opposed to bots and trolls—can’t move on is that the USA’s politics is now so divided and toxic that they simply can’t. They spent so much time and energy literally hating one person that they couldn’t stop now, even if they wanted to. And they clearly don’t want to.

To be sure, this sort of bizarre obsessive behaviour isn’t unique to rightwingers, but when leftwingers do this, they move on. A good example is that the leftwing was obsessed with attacking Bush the Second when he was in office, but once he was gone, they promptly forgot about him. The same will almost certainly happen to the current occupant of the White House, depending on the circumstances of his departure, possibly, and we’ll have to see if the Left engages in this sort of bizarre behaviour once he is finally gone. In any case, the rightwing never stops, never gives up, never moves on.

On any given day it’s easy to find hundreds or thousands of comments attacking President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or other prominent Democrats or liberals. They appear on the websites of mainstream newsmedia, on social media, Facebook Pages—petty much anywhere. I absolutely cannot remember the last time I saw someone on the Left attacking Bush the Second—unless it’s part of a larger attack on “the establishment”, maybe, which includes all Democrats (sometimes even Bernie!).

This serves a larger propaganda goal, that is, to delegitimise the opponent, to make them seem weird, evil, or just yucky compared to the preferred person or party. So, the professionals among them deliberately keep up the relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and other Democrats and liberals because it serves to weaken Republicans’ opponents by making them seem awful compared to Republicans. Ordinary rightwingers merely echo the propaganda fed to them and help spread it, probably without even realising (or caring…) that that’s what they’re doing.

However, a huge problem we have with this is that it’s nearly impossible to tell who’s a real—and really delusional—person from bots and trolls trying to stir people up for whatever reason (trolls don’t always play their game as part of partisan political strategy). Unless we’re targeted personally, this may not matter, but the rightwingers’ attacks pollute our social media timelines either through sharing (often because they’re just so outrageous that they’re unintentionally hilarious), or they show up in a comment thread to something we’re interested in.

I don’t like seeing a lot of trash lying around in public, and sometimes I’ll stop to put it in the rubbish bin. I do the same on the Internet.

Every single time I’m on Twitter, I see some political Tweet (Right or Left) that’s stupid, delusional, blatantly racist/misogynistic/homophobic, or sick. When I do, I Block that person. I do that so I’ll never see their Tweets again (I see “Tweet Unavailable” if they respond so a Tweet I do see). They’d never have any interaction with me, anyway, so it’s not about that, just about keeping my own timeline trash-free and excrement-free.

I’ve done the same thing on Facebook when I’ve seem similar comments left on pages I follow, but that’s much more rare. It’s not that Facebook users are better behaved than Twitter users—they’re not. Instead, I just stopped reading comments on many pages I follow. That’s not as easy to do on Twitter, where it’s common for trolls to barge in on a discussion going on among people you follow. However, this is also the very reason I seldom look at Twitter any more: It’s just too toxic and filled with trash and excrement.

In the case of this particular photo, the Hillary Haters™ have been out in force. There were countless attacks levelled at her in response to a Tweet from NZ journalist Henry Cooke, and even Labour’s Instagram post got typical comments. In both cases, however, there was some pushback.

The larger point here, really, is that as with so much else in politics these days, this behaviour is not normal. These people aren’t making reasoned critiques, they’re not offering thought-out positions or commentary, they’re not even expressing an opinion in most cases—they’re just regurgitating propaganda slogans and engaging in drive-by bullying. Their obsession with Hillary is way out of proportion to what a truly rational person would do, all to score points of one sort or another, just as any primary school bully might do.

This sort of behaviour is what turned Twitter, a once-promising place of discussion and information sharing, into a toxic cesspool harbouring monsters: The permanently outraged, the constantly angry, the delusional, the pathologically irrational, and the bullies who get joy from tearing others down, and who go looking to attack anyone at any time, usually for no rational reason whatsoever. Facebook is quickly becoming the same.

Hillary Clinton didn’t create this toxic atmosphere, and after decades of enduring unhinged attacks, she’s used to it. That’s not the point. It’s all the rest of us caught in the crossfire of shots fired by irrational and unhinged bullies. There’s got to be a way to stop this, or, at least, to have online discussions without the bullies trying to destroy it every time. I can’t imagine what the solution could possibly be. But we need to figure it out.

And the Hillary Haters™ have REALLY got to get over it.

Stuff live-commented on the event, and included Tweets on the night.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Where change was cemented

The video above from Vox describes the point at which the US politics firmly pivoted toward the Right, and why it happened. It was moving in that direction, more or less, already, but this is where the course was fixed. It’s been all downhill from there, which probably explains why the train is picking up speed.

The central premise of the video is that George H.W. Bush's pledge to not raise taxes galvanised conservatives around something that’s still central to their politics: Low taxes and hardline positions on social issues, too. At first glance, that may seem to contradict the accepted view that Reagan was the point at which Republican politics veered sharply rightward, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, it explains how the shift was locked into motion.

The video points out that the so-called “Reagan Coalition” included both fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. At the time, I was a Republican, more or less fiscally moderate, but definitely socially liberal. But as the social conservatives began to exert more and more power over the Republican Party, I became appalled. Before Reagan’s re-election arrived, I’d left the party—or as I, like so many ex-Republicans then and since, put it, I didn’t leave the party, the party left me.

Bush the First was no Reagan conservative. He wasn’t as conservative on any issue, though he was still pretty conservative on fiscal issues and some social issues. But he also signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the first federal law to include gay people as an enumerated class (I was there when he did). He also signed the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which, as the video notes, was very significant civil rights legislation. I talked about that on its 25th anniversary, but since then a new regime has taken power in the USA, and it’s done as much as it could to undermine all civil rights protections, including the ADA.

Because Bush wasn’t as conservative as Reagan, his opponents within the Republican Party called him a “counterfeit conservative”. Today, he’d be called a “RINO”, an epithet derived from “Republican In Name Only”. It’s an indication of how much idealogical orthodoxy is now central to the party. Bush breaking his “no new taxes” pledge gave the new core of his party the excuse they needed to turn their backs on him. That helped elect Bill Clinton, and then a Republican Congress two years later. From Republicans' perspective, the betrayal of Bush was good for them and their power.

Over time, Republicans in Congress and the presidency alike have become increasingly rightwing, at a time when Democrats in Congress and the presidency were pretty ideologically consistent. This is surprising to some, rightwingers in particular, who have convinced themselves that Democrats are now the “radical Left”. For those who genuinely think that, as opposed to those who declare it on social media for maximum trolling effect, the explanation is that the Republican Party has shifted so far to the Right on all issues that it makes the Democrats seem much more leftist than they really are.

The important thing here, though, is that this reality hasn’t hurt Republicans nor helped Democrats. In fact, Republicans have managed to do very well, indeed, and while that was helped by gerrymandering districts and by voter their suppression efforts, their tricks don’t explain why they do so well even in areas not affected by those tricks. And, if American voters have stayed more or less centrist, and not shifted rightward, then Democrats should have been doing better than they did until recently.

The upcoming Midterm Elections in the USA could show what the feelings of American voters are. If it’s true that Americans aren’t particularly ideological, as some pundits claim, and when given a reason to vote for Democrats (even if only to vote against Republicans and/or the current occupant of the White House), then there could be a very different Congress elected than serves right now. But if that’s not the case, and the USA itself has shifted to the Right, then not even the dislike of the current occupant or his party will be enough to change Congress.

So, that election will either be playing out the trends that have been happening for more than four decades, or it will break them. The term of Bush the First was the pivot moment, the point where the rightward course of American politics was fixed, and when the Republican Party began sliding downhill, their train picking up speed. The term of the current president could be the pivot point that changes things again, derailing the Republican train. Voter turnout will decide which it is.

The 2018 elections will mark 30 years since the election of Bush the First. Sounds like a great time to cement a new direction.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Bin making progress

Seven months ago, I talked about how we were trying a bokashi composting system to deal with food waste, the stuff that can’t normally be composted. I said at the time I’d do a follow-up post to talk about this experience. This is that post, and the short version is: We found how to make it work. Here’s what we learned.

The first thing that most people want to know about is the smell: Does a bokashi bin stink? Honestly, that kind of depends on what smells one finds bad. Ordinarily, the bin smells kind of like vinegar because it ferments the contents. It’s not a particularly strong smell, but it’s noticeable.

However, there have been two times in which the bin smelled kind of like a wet ashtray—like cigarette ash, the paper, butts, unused tobacco and water all mixed together. That seems to be caused by a kind of fungus growing in the drainage water, and that seems to have been caused by putting in stuff that was too wet to begin with. The contents of the bin haven’t smelled like that, but the vinegar smell was weaker, which can be a sign the bin isn’t working at peak efficiency.

The lesson learned: Try not to put excess water into the bin. It may help to wash the bucket everything drains into, but that’s extra work. Rinsing it with plain water does help a bit.

The ill-fated trench.
The original instructions said to leave the bin sealed for ten days, then put it in your regular compost bin or bury it in a trench. When the first bin was ready, we didn’t have a usable compost bin, though we were planning to buy one (as I mentioned in the post last September). So, I dug a trench and dumped the bin into it (photo at left).
Re-dug trench.
Trouble is, the dogs (especially Sunny) dug it up to eat it (which I mentioned on Instagram, but not here). So, I covered it up, put an old metal truss and rocks on top. Sunny managed to dig up parts of it again (photo at left). Clearly, that wasn’t going to work.

So we bought a rotating compost bin (photo bottom left). It rotates by hand after you release a pin on the right hand side (not visible in the photo). We dug up the ill-fated trench and placed it in the bin, and I added some garden weeds—ordinary compostable stuff. But the bin was very heavy to rotate due to all the dirt.

The next bin was 15 litres (the only size the store sold), so it took a long time to fill. When it was time to head off for our Australia trip, the bin was about ready to sit for the ten days. But we didn’t want anyone else to have to empty the drainage bucket while we were away. So, I put it outside without its drainage bin. I put it on some bricks, surrounded it with heavy things, and hoped the dogs wouldn’t get to it. They didn’t, and I was able to dump the contents in the rotating compost bin.

A few weeks later, it was getting time to empty yet another bin, but we decided to empty the compost bin first. So, I wheeled it over to the same area where we’d dumped the first bokashi bin weeks earlier, and dumped it out. It looked like dirt, with a few sticks, a couple egg shells, and some tea bags. All the other stuff had successfully composted, including the contents of those tea bags. Most of the stuff had been in there about three months, the last bokashi maybe six weeks. This was in summer, when composting works much faster.

Since then, our use of the bokashi bin has slowed, mostly because we haven’t been having as many salads as the weather has cooled, so there’s been less going into the bin. Even so, we did add one more bokashi bin to the rotating bin, and that one stank. This was probably a sign the bokashi didn’t work correctly. I added some leaves and garden weeds and it was a little better, but not much. I recently added more garden waste, but the bin seems to be too wet, possible due to all the storms we’ve had recently. I need to add more dry matter.

With winter fast approaching, and the inevitable slowing of the composting process, it’ll now take a lot longer for things to break down in the compost bin. How much longer, however, is something we’ll still have to learn.

This hasn’t been easy, and I have reservations about it all. First, it’s work to put things in the bin and drain the drainage bucket. Then, there are the times it smells. The bokashi bin we currently have smells okay, but the drainage bin smells like a wet ashtray. If the finished bokashi smells bad, that will mean that two of the bins have been perfect, two have not. That’s actually not a very good average. I should add that they’ve all been handled identically, and I think, but am not sure, that they have had pretty much the same stuff put into them, apart from tea bags, since we don’t put those in any more.

We stopped putting in teabags because, as I said earlier, some emerged from the compost bin intact (though without their contents). The thing is, there were far fewer survivors than there were teabags used. We use two different kinds of tea, so my guess is that either some bags randomly composted and others didn’t, or else one kind of teabag composted and the other kind didn’t (I’m leaning toward this explanation). I could experiment to find out.

The whole reason we started this system is that a bokashi allows people to compost food waste that normally can’t (or shouldn’t) be composted, such as, meat (raw or cooked), cheese, baked goods (like spoiled bread, for example, or dried out cake), that sort of thing. But we don’t eat much meat any more, and don’t have leftover raw or cooked meat when we do, and cheese never last long enough to become compost fodder. So, maybe the bokashi is no longer necessary, and everything we have can now go into the regular compost bin. This is a distinct possibility, and one I need to think about a bit more.

Auckland Council is starting free collection of Council-provided food waste wheelie bins (they're quite small, really) because, I’m told, about 40% of the rubbish sent to landfills in Auckland is compostable food waste (I presume that means by weight, not volume). The new system will eventually roll out to our area, and when it does, I may stop using the bokashi (if I haven’t already) because of the problems I mentioned, and because it’d be easier. But, then, we do have a good compost bin now, and it wouldn’t be any harder to put things in there regularly. I suppose I’ll eventually need another update.

So, for now, we’ll continue to use the bokashi to compost food waste. I can’t be sure we’ll keep using it long term, though.

Friday, May 04, 2018

NZ Govt: ‘Be flexible’

When was the last time any government ever said to the government departments dealing with poor and struggling people, “be flexible”? That just happened in New Zealand, as the country prepares to enter winter with a government determined that homeless families should NOT have to sleep in cars. This is a dramatic change.

Today the Labour Party-led government announced $37 million in urgent funding to help with providing adequate housing this winter, as part of a plan to help the homeless. The previous government under the National Party was shamed into providing some emergency housing in motels. The current government acknowledges that it may have no choice but to use motels again, but it’s asked the public for help in finding suitable winter accommodation for the homeless.

The government parties—Labour, the Greens and NZ First—all campaigned on fixing all the things that National underfunded or ignored when it was in government, and Labour in particular made housing, and ending homelessness in particular, a priority. So the fact that it’s included in the upcoming budget should be a surprise to no one. For its part, the Opposition and its allies in the NZ newsmedia will snipe and snark, but it seems to me that’s largely because they have no answer to nine years of ignoring the problems facing the poorest people in New Zealand.

The Prime Minister said, "We are telling our social services: 'When people come with need, be flexible. Be flexible. Help them meet their needs. Our support network is there for a reason, so help them'." That alone is an enormous contrast with the previous government.

So, when was the last time any government ever said to the government departments dealing with poor and stuggling people, “be flexible”? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I certainly can’t remember ever hearing that before.

See also: “Govt announces $100m plan to combat homelessness”Newshub

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Internet Wading: The return

It’s been a very long time since I shared some of the miscellany I run across on the Internet, and the first of the month is as good a time as any to resume. As it happens, Roger Green, from whom I stole borrowed this blogging idea, just posted his latest Rambling post. I’m still, um, internet wading through the links.

So, to start things out, how about “18 True Size Maps That Prove Maps Have Been Lying To You”? Naturally, I knew about these, or so I'm claiming.

Like a lot of other people, I’m excited that “A Landslide of Classic Art Is About to Enter the Public Domain”. It’s the first time in TWO DECADES that we’ve had such a trove enter the public domain, and there’ll probably be a lot of long-forgotten stuff in that, the result, in part, from stupidly-written copyright laws.

Or, maybe something more practical is in order. How about “Wiki Has Released Over 83,500 Vintage Sewing Patterns Online For Download”. Or, you can skip the talk about it and go directly to the Wiki and start sewing. I don’t sew, but my mother did, and used sewing patterns, so I’m familiar with the concept. Mainly, I think it’s fascinating to look at old designs and what people once thought looked good.

Photography has always fascinated me, as has painting and other visual arts. I’m not necessarily any good at any of that, but, for me, the trying is what I enjoy. I’m also fascinated by colour, and, specifically, how human skin tone is depicted. A few years ago I shared a video about how colour film was made for white people. Well, now I’ve seen something that drives this point even farther: “This Artist Took 4,000 Portraits to Show the Range of Human Skin Color—and the Results Exceeded the Pantone Library”. Pantone® is the colour-match standard used in printing, and it, or the CMYK equivalents, are used to make up every colour possible (which in this case means printable). What the project showed is that skin colour is far more varied that most people realise, and that means that race really is a social construct. But, then, all of you already knew that.

Okay, that’s enough for this outing. It’s been a long time, and I don’t want to burn myself out.

Colour Wheel illustration By László Németh [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Dogged preparation

Every natural disaster reminds people of the things they should do to prepare for disaster. With luck, the disaster that reminds them is somewhere else, or, at least, not severe enough to cause terrible problems. We had that happen recently, and while it encouraged us to prepare for ourselves, it reminded us of one more thing we needed to consider: Our furbabies.

Nearly three weeks ago we had major storms in Auckland with severe winds causing damage all over the Auckland region. That was mostly an annoyance for us, apart for one thing: When we lose power, we lose water, and we can’t flush the toilets, either. We knew we had to come up with ways to prepare for those things, but suddenly we realised one more: We needed water just for the animals.

After that storm, I went to the grocery store and bought a six litre bottle of drinking water and two 1.5 litre bottles for Nigel and me. The smaller ones are in the event of a short interruption like we had last time, the bigger one in case the outage lasts longer. Some people in Auckland were without power for more than a week after that big storm, and no power for a week for us would mean no water for a week. Seven litres is not enough water for us for a week, but it’s not far off.

But, what about the dogs and cat?

I had a two-litre milk bottle I washed out and filled with water after our power came back on, just in case the new storm predicted was as bad as predicted (it wasn’t). I knew that wasn’t nearly enough for a long power outtage, but how much DID we need?

I poured the water from the milk bottle into their water bowls (they all share) and found out both bowls take exactly one litre. One of those two bowls is outside on the deck, and is extra, so the dogs can have a drink after they eat (I feed them on the deck). Their main bowl is inside, in our en suite, and I fill it twice a day. So, I knew I’d need to about least two litres per day just for them—possibly more when it's hot, less when it isn't.

We normally buy milk in 3-litre bottles, so I washed out three and filled them with water, which gives us nine litres of water for them. That’s enough for at least 4.5 days. I’ll soon have another 3-litre bottle to join the supply. And 12 litres is at least six days—probably enough for a week, actually. Just for the furbabies.

But my planning wasn’t done yet. When I went to buy a new bag of dry dog food, the pet store was giving away 12 tins of food for free, and that’s when it hit me: Cans keep for a very long time, and if a major storm hit, say, the day before I was heading to the store to buy more dry food, what would I give them? The recent storm blocked roads with fallen trees, and a bigger storm would be worse and take longer to clear. However, each can feeds the dogs for one meal. So, I now have enough cans to last six days (not counting the food from the fridge and freezer the dogs would probably have to help us eat).

Bella is on a special diet, and I can’t quite as easily stock up for her, but they do make pouches of food for her, so I’ll buy some as an emergency supply. Her water is already sorted, of course.

The thing is, all of the information I’ve seen on emergency preparation has been focused on people, and fair enough, too: They’re the ones who make the preparations, after all. But we’re also responsible for the well-being of our furbabies, and that means we need to make sure they have enough food and water. Until this storm happened, it never occurred to me to include them in our “Get Thru” planning.

To be honest, we’re not quite fully sorted for an emergency yet—though, in our defence, this past weekend we bought a pack of cans of gas for our little camp stove, so we’re acting on what we need. We’re still researching emergency power options (especially for charging cellphones) and an emergency toilet, and I’ll talk about our solutions when we have them. But this is all still kind of new to us, because the power seldom went out at our old place, and we never lost water. This alerted us to new things we needed to provide for.

Worse, the emergency planning people for Auckland Council have warned that a “mega storm” is inevitable because of climate change, and communities might need to be self-sufficient for days, maybe a week, maybe longer, before outside help can arrive. We’ll prepare for those huge events without being over the top or spending a lot of money, but finding the best solution does require some research and effort. We’re equal to the task.

In the meantime, our furbabies will soon have enough water to last about a week. That’s a good, if unexpected, start.