Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July’s farewell

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Well, this was a month. There were good things that happened, and some that were not so good. Most things were actually pretty ordinary—and all sorts of examples were on this blog.

July was my most-blogged month this year, and the “extra” posts this month (including this one) wiped out the deficit from June, with three to spare. Sure, that didn’t exactly wipe out the deficit from the rest of the year, but that would be asking a lot of only one month.

This month was filled with all sorts of things that I post about, from the personal to the political, and other things, too. It’s nice to get back to ordinary blogging again.

The photo above shows part of the lunch my mother-in-law and I had today after my periodontist appointment. It turned out to be the highpoint of the day, not just because it was so much better a time than my appointment was, but mostly because we got to have lunch out, which is always fun.

But most of the photos I shared this month were of the furbabies, which isn’t a surprise, really. One I didn’t share was this one from yesterday:

That photo was just an ordinary thing, the sort of photo that tells a story, making it the sort of photo I like to share. There will be more next month, I’m sure.

But why not end the month with a good-news story? A seven-year-old girl got New Zealand’s roading agency to change sexist road signs:

And that’s it for this month—on to the new month tomorrow. I’m ready.

Tooth Tales: O.M.G.

Today was not a good day. Pretty devastating, actually, though I’ve since moved on and developed a slightly different plan. It happened because I went to the periodontist for a routine checkup, my first since February. He found that the areas that were trouble before still are, maybe even more than in February, and even though I saw him only five months ago and saw the hygienist the end of March. But there was far more bad news than just that I need two sets of expensive treatments.

The need for the work is partly my fault. I haven’t been good enough about using those annoying little brushes and flossing, however, I’ve been much better since I went off of beta-blockers. The reason for that is the main reason I haven’t used the things consistently is that I simply kept forgetting. I remember better now, but a few weeks don’t make up for not doing it consistently for weeks prior to that. Even so, the deterioration is faster than should have been expected, so there are clearly some factors unique to me. Which suggests that trying hard isn’t good enough, I need to be beyond perfect to stand a fighting chance of keeping the disease at bay.

Bad as that news was, it’s not the first time I’ve been there, so it was a disappointment, not a shock. That came next.

Back in May 2016, I had a tooth crowned, That tooth has now died, and there is an abscess down at the root level. Moreover, there appears to be a horizontal crack around the gumline somewhere. The periodontist said the tooth has to be removed, and suggested either a bridge or an implant.

First, the extraction: I think he said was $350—but it could have been considerably more. I was kind of in shock and didn’t really pay close enough attention to any of the prices. The cost of the bridge and implant is on top of that.

A bridge would cost some $3,500, give or take, for the best-case scenario with no further complications. It should last 12-15 years, but it does depend on the surrounding teeth to survive, and if I recall correctly, one of them needs a crown, so it might not work. This doesn’t sound like an option.

An implant would cost more than $7000 (maybe even $7500), plus $450 for sedation. If they have to do a bone graft, the price goes up. Then, I have to go to the dentist for the tooth part, which is an additional cost. This is an absolute non-starter.

So, I decided to go back to my dentist who put the crown in to see what his advice is. That’s partly second opinion, but I’m pretty sure he charges much less for an extraction, if that's the best option. However, he also uses the newest techniques to save teeth, and there are things that can be done even with a dead tooth to keep it there, rather than spending thousands on an implant or a bridge.

If he can’t do anything to save the tooth, there may be an option for a one-tooth denture (I’ve heard they exist). But even if that’s not an option, I’ll almost certainly save money on the extraction.

Worst case scenario, I’ll leave the space empty. I cannot justify some $8000 or more for an implant—that’s why it’s an absolute nonstarter. A bridge, at about half the cost, would rely on possibly dodgy teeth to work. That just doesn’t sound like a wise use of money. The tooth isn’t visible when I smile, so most people would never know if there was just a space there.

But, the next step is to see the dentist to get his opinion on what all my options are. However, the periodontal treatments may actually come first. We’ll see.

I was pretty devastated by the news. Losing a tooth and replacing it with some sort of false tooth is, in my mind, yet another sign of getting old(er). Getting the crown was kind of like that for me, too, actually.

I’m well aware of what a pity party that is, that other people have had far worse teeth than me, including my dad who had a LOT of dental work and replacements done in the last years of his life (my mother, on the other hand, had very few problems). I also personally know people who had major problems at much younger ages than I am now, and in that sense, I’m very lucky. But, quite frankly, knowing all that doesn’t make it any easier for me. Does it ever?

I was, after all, a colossally stupid person who stubbornly avoided taking medications because I felt that meant I was getting older. That was a mistake—but, unfortunately, only one of many that I’ve made in my healthcare management over the past couple decades. I can’t change that. All I can do is move on and, to paraphrase Maya Angelo, when I knew better, I did better.

Now, I just need to make the improvements both permanent and consistent. This story is clearly far from over. Still.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Kansas

Last week’s Weekend Diversion was about some random songs I ran across unexpectedly. Today’s post began the same way, when I was reading comments to a friend’s post on Facebook and someone said, “Carry on, son”, and that reminded me of the song by Kansas. And that, in turn, reminded me of the band, something I probably hadn’t thought about in years.

Kansas was an album-oriented rock band formed in Topeka, Kansas (hence the name). They were originally active from 1973 to 1984, then again from 1985 until now—with personnel changes, of course.

“Carry On Wayward Son” was from their fourth album, 1976’s Leftoverture. It was the first of their songs I’d ever noticed, and that was mainly because it was their first radio hit and had heavy airplay in Chicago. It reached Number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, Number 5 in Canada, and Number 51 on the UK singles chart. It was certified Gold in the USA.

The song was a last-minute addition to the album, and mainly because they needed a single to keep their contract, and they got one. The band was well known for their Christian orientation, something I knew about at the time as was fine with since I was also a Christian at the time. It’s about a spiritual sojourn, apparently.

Their next single, from their 1977 album Point of Know Return, included the hit single, “Dust in the Wind”. That song reached Number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, Number 3 in Canada, Number 36 in New Zealand, and Number 52 in Australia. The song was certified Gold in the USA, and in 2008 the song became the first of their songs to be certified Gold for digital downloads.

I have a personal anecdote about the song. When it was still on heavy airplay it came on the radio when I was with my long-time friend Jason. I said something like, “that’s a pretty song”. He said to me, “Have you actually listened to the lyrics?!” I hadn’t, so I did. And I apparently replied with something like, “Jeez, that’s depressing!” He’d remember that anecdote better than I would, but the lyrics are depressing.

The last time I paid any attention to Kansas was when they released their 1980 album Audio-Visions. I don’t remember if I bought it or not, but I’d gotten a dummy cover from a record store that was getting rid of them after their promotion of the album was over. That, and other album covers I got at the same time, became decorations for the last place I lived at University. I also liked the name for a record and video store idea I fantasised about at the time (retailers that now barely exist). Those memories make me think I might have bought the album, though it’s not something I would’ve bought. So, no idea.

Whether I bought the album or not, I was aware of the only charted song from that album, “Hold On”. The video below is an audio-only version, though there’s a video on YouTube of them performing an acoustic version, but it’s not well recorded, so that’s why uncharacteristically I’m sharing the audio-only version.

The song was the last song by the original line-up to make the Top 40—barely: It hit Number 40 in the USA only. The song was supposedly written by Kerry Livgren to try to convince his wife to convert to Christianity, as he’d apparently just done. I wasn’t aware of that at the time, and never would have gotten that by listening to it.

And all of that came back to me because of a stray comment on a friend’s Facebook post. But it also gave me the chance to share a couple bits from my young adult self. That’s reason enough to share on this blog, of course.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Show me the (no) beef

There have been many times I’ve run across recipes to try after watching television. Some of them have been vegetarian, or mostly so, but the latest was actually nearly vegan. And it was really good.

The TV show I watched was the BBC Series Eat Well For Less, Series 3 of which, from 2016, is currently airing on TVNZ’s TV One (in the UK, the show is on Series 5). In each episode, the presenters, Gregg Wallace and Chris Bavin work with a British family who are spending a lot of money for food. Despite spending too much, their diets are often not nutritious, or too high in sugar or fat, or sometimes too many takeaways.

The show takes away all their usual foods and replaces them with foods in plain packaging. Sometimes it’s their normal brand, sometimes a different one. They also give them some recipes to try, mostly with an eye to making a less expensive meal that is highly nutritious.

The episode I watched featured a vegetarian recipe they called “Puy lentil bolognese with pasta”. The main feature of it lay in substituting lentils for the beef mince (known as ground beef in the USA). I thought it sounded good, especially because I make Bolognese quite often.

The hosts said that using lentils would be dramatically cheaper than using meat, and it would have high, and high quality, protein, while being lower in fat and contributing three serves of vegetables, all of which sounded like a good idea.

They had the family use dried lentils because they’re cheaper. When I went to the grocery store, I was looking for brown lentils (I didn’t know what Puy lentils were at the time), but the only dried lentils our store carried were the red ones at 99¢ per 100 grams. I found some lentils in the “health foods aisle”, and they were much more expensive—$1.55 per hundred grams for organic French green lentils.

However, in the normal aisle I found tinned lentils on the shelf next to ordinary beans. The unit price on the shelf told me the ordinary store brand was about 31¢ per 100g, and the organic one (pictured) was 35¢ per 100g. There was so little difference in price that I bought the organic brand, just because.

In my university years, and shortly thereafter, I ate lentils a lot. I knew they were hearty like meat, but much cheaper, so I was pretty sure I’d like this version. However, the recipe called for chopped carrots, something I never put in my own Bolognese, so I finely grated the carrot instead. I knew the carrot would add a little sweetness, and being finely grated, it would thicken the sauce.

However, I didn’t have the recipe at the time I made it, and was remembering what they’d said in the episode, so I was actually winging it. That meant, among other things, I used the herbs I’d normally use—mainly basil, and some oregano. I frankly forgot about thyme, which I normally add. I knew they’d said to add some celery, but Nigel isn’t that keen on celery, so I skipped that. I didn't know about the vegetable stock, but I only needed a little water, anyway. I also poured a little wine in the pan once the onions and garlic were cooked, allowing the alcohol to evaporate off before continuing.

The instructions said to serve the finished dish with a green salad, but instead I added some chopped spinach to my sauce. I knew that spinach is often used in vegetarian meals because it adds meat-like bulk, but I wanted it for its different nutritional properties. And, of course, I used tinned lentils (which I rinsed).

I made less than the recipe calls for—there are only two of us, after all—but it still made enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

The meal I made was vegetarian because all the ingredients were, but I grated actual parmesan cheese at the table, not the vegetarian versions (which I presume are available at our grocery store, but I’ve never looked). Wthout the cheese, it may have been vegan, but none of the tinned ingredients claimed they were, and I have no way of knowing.

The object here was to make a non-meat meal that was yummy, and that I’d want to have again (it definitely was both). The reason I’m doing it is that after my stent, the doctors wanted me to cut back on red meat in particular, and to generally eat more of a vegetarian diet. They recommended the Mediterranean diet because it’s heart-healthy.

As it happens, a largely vegetarian diet is also helpful for avoiding gout attacks, so everything all comes together. However, I am not vegetarian (and certainly not vegan), and I have no intention of changing to eliminate animal products completely. I like dairy products (cheese in particular) and chicken eggs, as well as meat. I’m just eating more vegetarian, or largely vegetarian, meals.

Because I want to cut down on meat, I’m quite curious about the non-meat meat substitutes coming onto the market. Most of them so far have been made from legumes, but there will be all sorts of new varieties coming onto the market in the years ahead, as we need to reduce pollution caused by farming animals for meat production, and as fresh water becomes more scarce. I talked about how dietary changes can help fight climate change late last year.

This is only one dish, but it’s part of a growing list of meatless or largely meatless meals we’re now having. Given how well my cholesterol levels are doing, it’s clearly a good idea. And once I’ve perfected all my recipes, I may even put together an e-book of them. Because, why not?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Once more unto the breach

The winter yuckiness of a couple weeks ago finally ended, but it has been replaced by a new affliction, a bad winter cold. That now seems to be ending, too, but not without a fight, or a return to the remedies I mentioned in the previous post.

I’m pretty sure that I caught the virus at a family party we attended this past Saturday. Though I wasn’t aware of anyone with sniffles at the time, it was the only place I was around a group of people before the symptoms appeared, and there were several germ factories (also called “children” by some) there, too. So, it’s a logical conclusion.

I first had symptoms on Monday night, when I felt feverish, extremely tired (even for the middle of the night). The next day, I felt awful, had some sneezing and popped paracetamol. Wednesday was more of the same, but with sneezing fits and coughing fits. Yesterday was still more of the same. Today, was just coughing—and pretty bad. I didn’t need any paracetamol today, but I had to use Carmex for the first time since the last illness.

This has been a particularly bad cold, as such things go, but they’re short-duration, which is kind of the point, really. No matter how bad we feel, it will end in a few days. But these colds always make me think about how awful it would be to have a chronic or very serious illness. It makes me re-resolve to get the influenza vaccination every year, since it’s one of the few serious diseases we can prevent.

Still, I felt so bad that I didn’t feel like blogging, though I did try (I just didn’t finish anything). My voice was so hopeless that I had to postpone recording a podcast, which I was otherwise all set for and had time to do. Best laid plans, and all that.

I hope I’ve turned the corner, especially because that coughing fit tonight was diabolical. And, hopefully this is the last affliction of the season. More importantly, I hope this is the worst sort of thing I’ll experience. Don’t we all hope that?

The title if this post comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V, act 3, scene 1: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”

The products and/or names used or depicted are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Our lying eyes and ears

The current occupant of the White House is a chronic and severe liar. Everyone knows that. He lies about obvious things, things that can be checked or things that we’ve seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears, and even about what he himself has said or done. This is not normal. But is it the beginning of an Orwellian era?

A couple days ago the current occupant spoke to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City. As usual, he turned it into yet another campaign rally, and told the audience: “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Steve Bennen, writing on Maddow Blog for MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, pointed out many more instances of information suppression. That dictating of alternative facts as the only truth is hardly unique, nor are attempts at suppressing truth and facts.

Recently the current regime announced that it would stop publishing public summaries of the current occupant's phone calls with foreign leaders. This is not normal for Republican or Democratic presidents. Back in April of 2017, the regime announced that it would no longer publicly release logs of visitors to the White House. And, of course, when the current occupant met with the Russian dictator in Helsinki, he refused to allow any aides to be present, and now the Russians have been talking about some sort of security agreement the two men came to, but US officials have no idea what they’re talking about. None of this is normal.

The current regime has also mounted a constant war against a free press. Recently the White House barred a CNN reporter from covering an event because the current occupant didn’t like a question she asked. The official spokesperson for the regime lied about the events, which is also not new. And all of this included the current occupant constantly referring to “fake news” to refer to any and all real journalism that doesn’t bow and scrape before him and stroke his massive ego.

Which brings us back to his Kansas City campaign rally. Was he really making an Orwell-like directive?

On Tuesday (US time) edition of The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel reported that the White House had posted an official video and transcript of the current occupant’s press conference with the Russian dictator that left out critical question and answer about whether Putin wanted the Republican candidate to win. It was a serious allegation, but also one that Phillip Bump at The Washington Post disputed with a long piece including video evidence. It seemed that maybe Rachel got it wrong—until the White House, being made aware of the problems, didn’t correct it, as Rachel pointed out Wednesday (US time):

What’s the truth? How the hell can we even know anymore? The current regime has a huge incentive to not correct the record available to the public. Ordinary people could access the transcript or watch the video and think the “fake news” were “making up” what happened in Helsinki. Rightwing people would share and link to the official—and wrong—versions as proof that the current occupant is correct: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Even correcting the transcript and video later won’t change their feeling the real news media is “lying”.

All of this is a huge problem. It’s bad enough that the guy occupying the office of president is a chronic, habitual, and reflexive liar, and that his regime follows suit more often than not. But it’s not in any way acceptable for the current regime to put out lies and distortions and claim they’re fact, and it’s dangerous when the current occupant of the White House continues to call the free press “fake news”.

Ultimately, this could be how the Republic dies. As George Orwell put it in his famous novel 1984:
The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final most essential command… and if all others accepted the lie which the party imposed, if all records told the same tale, then the lie passed into history and became truth.
We must never allow this to happen.

The meme graphic with this post was all over social media recently, but I have no idea who made it.

The long-term path

A recent poll claimed that three-quarters of Americans wouldn’t vote for a “socialist”. While there’s truth in that assertion, the reality is, of course, far more complicated than that poll suggests. It does, however, hint at the way to utterly transform US politics.

The Hill.TV/HarrisX American Barometer poll released earlier this week found that “an overwhelming majority of respondents, 76 percent, said they would not vote for a ‘socialist’ political candidate, while only 24 percent of those polled said they would vote for a socialist candidate.” Other polls have found similar opposition. But, as always, the headline fact doesn’t tell the whole story.

First, and most importantly, no data was reported that would allow us to evaluate the poll. What was the sample size? What was the margin of error? What is the confidence level? All those are vital to being able to determine the validity of the poll. Moreover, we don’t know how the questions were asked, and this matters a lot, too.

Very often pollsters ask generic questions that produce merely generic answers. For example, asking if someone would vote for “a socialist” will produce quite different results than asking if someone would vote for, say, Bernie Sanders. People vote for people, not ideologies, though the platform presented by a candidate matters a lot for gaining supporters, and, more importantly, for motivating supporters to actually vote. In the USA, voters are generally more likely to be motivated by the specific person rather than imprecise labels, as even self-described conservatives have discovered. However, the labels “Republican” and “Democrat” do matter most of the time.

That aside, there’s no doubt that Americans have a particular antipathy toward the word “socialist”, despite their strong support for socialist programmes like Social Security. This suggests that the problem is one of labelling, not substance or ideology.

We shouldn’t be at all surprised by this. Ever since the “Reagan revolution” in 1980, Republicans and their so-called “conservative movement” have been working hard to demonise mere liberals by branding them “socialists” (or sometimes “Marxists” or “communists”, though ordinary rightwingers often string them all together, often throwing in “fascist” for maximum silly belittling). So, after nearly 40 years of constant propaganda against everyone on the Left, and socialists especially, it’s no surprise that ordinary American voters have a sort of visceral reaction against the generic label “socialist”.

The bigger question is whether socialist ideas and agendas can win votes, and the reality is that we just don’t know. Certainly Bernie Sanders was more popular than would have been expected if people were as repulsed by socialists as common wisdom would have us believe. Same for the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York's 14th District. She describes herself as a Democratic Socialist, as Sanders has sometimes done, too.

The Democratic Party’s establishment is having none of it. US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was asked by CBS News after Ocasio-Cortez’s win whether Democratic Socialism was in the “ascendant”, and she answered with a firm “no”. She added: "It's ascendant in [Ocasio-Cortez’s] district perhaps, but I don't accept any characterization of our party presented by the Republicans. So let me reject that right now."

And that right there is the problem: “I don't accept any characterization of our party presented by the Republicans” is not the correct answer. One must never let one’s adversaries define the terms of battle, but the Democratic Party establishment has been keen to roll over and let exactly that happen without so much as a whimper.

There is an alternative.

In 1988, TV preacher Pat Robertson ran for president, and while he did well with evangelicals, he scared the hell, so to speak, out of ordinary Republicans. He said after his defeat that his faction had it backwards, and rather than start at the top, they needed to start at the bottom—school boards, county boards, etc., and work their way up.

This is the only time I’ve ever said this: Pat was right. Thirty years later, they have complete control of the national Republican Party, most state parties (and lots of local offices), and the US Vice President is one of their politicians. While the religious extremists still scare the hell out of a huge chunk of the American electorate, a big enough percentage of voters have no problem with voting for religious extremists, even if they’re not actively seeking them.

The lesson is that Progressives and even—gasp!—socialists need to do the same thing and get elected to the smallest offices in order to show voters that not only is there nothing to be frightened of, there are very good reasons to vote for candidates on the Left.

But it starts with showing voters that socialists, Progressives, and even good ol’ Liberals are not the monsters the Right says we are. We must define ourselves, and not let our adversaries do it for us. It worked for Pat Robertson and his religious extremists, and it will work for us, too. It’ll take time, energy, and money, but it WILL work.

Of course, all of this assumes elections will still matter in years to come, which is still an open question. But if the Republic is strong enough to survive its current nightmare, then something must change. By building a solid base of support for the Left from the ground up, it will eventually make it impossible for the oligarchs and plutocrats to impose their will on the American people, and that will utterly transform US politics.

Is that not worth the effort?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Have you signed in?

This video is by comedy duo The Fan Brigade performing their song “RSA”. Shot in the Huntly RSA, the bit is quintessential Kiwi humour—especially the naughty words at the very end, and the last line in the credits.

I saw them perform this on this year’s TV3’s “Comedy Gala”, which was part of the NZ International Comedy Fest. I thought they—and this song in particular—were among the best things I saw on that broadcast.

I came down with a bad winter cold a couple days ago, and it’s gotten worse since. I’m hoping that it’s starting to go away, but I haven’t been up to blogging. All the more reason to have a laugh.

Footnote: The RSA (technically, Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association) is one of the oldest of its kind in the world. It’s a bit like the American Legion or the VFW in the USA, except that anyone can join the RSA.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Bella's own plans

I took the photo above of Bella earlier today, one of several I took. The Instagram caption pretty much tells the story, and it’s something I was going to talk about this week at some point. The photo is a good reason to do so now.

Bella is doing okay, despite everything—much better than anyone would have expected. But it’s also why I haven’t talked about her condition much over the past eight months: We have no idea how she’s really doing.

Last November, I blogged about how we thought Bella’s journey was coming to an end. It turned out that she’d just had an upset tummy, but when I shared the Instagram photo, there was such an outpouring of support and kindness on Facebook that I was actually embarrassed, not the least because it turned out to be a “false alarm”. So many people I know have lost furbabies, and know what that pain is like, and I felt bad for unnecessarily bringing up those memories and feelings.

So, when Bella had another turn a couple months ago, I didn’t say anything. That turned out to be a sore tooth, probably the one they can’t fix because she can’t have anaesthetic due to her kidney disease. We didn’t have any of the special wet food for her, so we took her renal dry food and soaked it in water to soften it, and she was fine with that, and ate normally. Since then, she’s gone back to her dry food and continues to eat, drank (and use her catbox…) a lot.

So, every time some silly human has been convinced she was on her way out, she’s proved them wrong. Like I said in the caption, “she clearly has her own ideas.” We’re good with that.

Footnotes: I took several photos today, but I chose this one because she’s looking more or less at the camera, not off to the side as usual. I really like it. And, it goes to show it’s possible to get a really good close-up using the camera on a smart phone, something I’ve sometimes struggled with. Good to know for the future.

Also, this is post number 31 for July, meaning I've now made this month's goal, the first time this year. Every post over the coming week will reduce the deficit so far this year. Will that make any difference? Will this be the year I again make my annual goal? We'll see.


Bella’s journey
Bella’s condition
Bella’s new normal
Better Bella
Is this it?
All posts about Bella are tagged “Bella”

Why Is Australia Deporting So Many Kiwis?

This video above (which runs 29:34 and has some occasional language that some may consider NSFW), is from the “Foreign Correspondent” series of Australia’s ABC News. In it, Peter FitzSimons reports that, “Australia is detaining, cuffing and deporting more New Zealanders than any other group.” FitzSimons shows the unfairness and capriciousness of Australia’s policies.

In May of last year, I talked about the increasingly awful way that Australia is treating the New Zealanders who live there. Fortunately, they haven’t sprung any more surprise policy changes since then, but the unfairness and injustice remains.

I said last year that one of the main reasons we won’t treat Australians living here as badly as Australians treat Australians there is that “we’re better than that.” That sentiment was echoed in this video by New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters (who is presently Acting Prime Minister while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is on maternity leave). What it boils down to is that two wrongs don’t make a right. So, New Zealand will continue to do what’s right, even as we wait patiently for Australia to come to its senses.

Relations between New Zealand and Australia are still strained, which is a problem when, as Winston Peters said, the two countries need each other to deal with the geopolitical realities we share in a dangerous world. Hopefully the Australians will realise that before a crisis happens.

But I certainly won’t hold my breath waiting for them.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Unplanned pause

Today there was a power outage, apparently so they could do some electrical work for the new subdivision being built near our house. There was no warning of any kind, and, since I was planning on doing things that required electricity, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. The photo above is one thing I came up with, when I was becoming thoroughly bored.

The day started in a perfectly ordinary way. I put on a load of washing, did some stuff on my computer, and planned other mini-projects before the main project of the day, working on organising the garage.

About 12:30, I decided to have lunch before I took care of the load of washing I’d done and put on another one. So, I went upstairs and made myself some scrambled eggs in the microwave. I went and changed the bedding so I could take that down to the laundry, and then I headed downstairs.

I took the washing out of the washer and put it in the dryer, but I held off starting it while I hung up shirts that I air dry. I went back to the dryer and turned on the power: Nothing happened. I turned off the power at the wall, turned it back on, and still nothing. How could it suddenly fail like that? And then I realised the power must be off. I flicked the nearby light switch and nothing happened. I walked a little farther and realised my computer wasn’t running. This was just past 1pm.

I went upstairs where it was really quiet and tried to figure out what to do. I knew that without electric light, it would be too dark in the garage, and it was a bit too cold to open the overhead doors.

So, I found some “busy work” projects: I took the rubbish and recycling outside, cleaned out the catbox, tidied a little, but I didn’t want to start a bigger project because I had no idea how long the power would be out.

I surfed the web on my phone, using cellphone data, since our computer network was off. Then I stopped. There was a lot of that. I was literally wandering around the house and saw the plant blooming and decided to take a photo, but there aren’t that many Instagram photos with me in them, so the result is above (one of several I tried—I had time to fill, after all).

The power came on again around 3:30pm. This was particularly good because I started dinner around 4. And that was my weird day.

I was really annoyed that they’d shut off the power with no warning whatsoever (though because it was local, we at least had water, even though I couldn't make a coffee). It derailed my entire day, and I could easily have planned around that if I’d known. This was the third unannounced power outage since the work on the subdivision began, and this was among the longest ones (of course, not counting the one they warned us about last month, or another announced one months earlier that I didn’t blog about).

This is, of course, an unimportant problem. It didn’t endanger my life, health, or livelihood (blogging and such doesn’t count, since I don’t get any money for that), and was just an annoying inconvenience. If it happens again—and it may for all I know—I’ll at least have a few more ideas now. I just hope there’s a flower or something else to photograph if it does.

Update August 20, 2018: I've blogged about how I make scrambled eggs in the microwave in reply to Roger Green's comment to this post.

Choosing products

There are all sorts of reasons why we choose consumer products, including things like cost/value for money, reputable brand, recommendations, promotions, values, politics, and so many more reasons. Whatever the reasons we have, using a brand is a matter of choice. Sometimes, those choices are made for unexpected reasons, like petroleum.

Several years ago, I began switching the household cleaners I use to a New Zealand brand called ecostore. I picked them because they don’t use petrochemicals, instead using plants and minerals to make their products. The reason I made the change was because I was worried about Peak Oil.

Peak Oil refers to the point at which the extraction of petroleum hits its peak before beginning a gradual decline and eventual depeletion. In the earliest stages we’ll have plenty of time to make changes to move away from petroleum, but over time—especially if we don’t make changes fast enough—the supply of oil will become scarcer and scarcer, and prices will soar.

Weaning Western Civilisation off of oil will be slow and painful, and I realised that there were some things for which plastics made from petroleum will be needed for a long time. I was thinking particularly about medical products, things for which the plastic needs to be pure. So, it didn’t make sense to me to use petroleum to make household cleaners when there were alternatives not made from oil.

I started thinking about all this when Jeannette Fitzsimons, who was co-Leader of the NZ Green Party 1995-2009, started talking about the topic, as she did in the early 2000s. When she left Parliament, she was focused on the topic nearly full time, and it got my attention.

And that’s the entire reason I made the switch—to do my part, basically, and to tell others about the products if they worked. Turns out, they do work, BUT, they’re significantly more expensive than the oil-based mass-market cleaners. My strategy was to buy them when they’re on special, when the price is much more competitive.

Over time, I added shampoo, conditioner, soap, and even lip balm to the list of their products I use, and throughout that time the reason was the same as always: Avoiding oil-based products. I learned, though, that some of the people using the products did so because they believe that plant and mineral based products were somehow less toxic than ones made from oil. The reality, of course, is that many natural substances are, or can be, highly toxic, every bit as much as ones made from petroleum. The main difference is actually that plant and mineral based products are generally more sustainable than petroleum-based products, particularly as the company moves away from pure plastic packaging, as they have been.

The company’s founder, Malcom Rands, sold out of the company. The managing director who succeeded Rands, Pablo Kraus, said, "We're not saving the planet, we're trying to save ourselves so that we can live on the planet: I think it's a really big distinction to make." I think that’s a good, achievable goal since they’re making it easy to tread more lightly on the planet. A portion of the company’s profits still fund Fairground Foundation, which funds sustainability and conservation projects, among other things, which the Rands founded and now devote their time to.

As it happens, the company and its products align very well with my own values. The products they produce are good and effective, and are affordable when bought on special. But the whole reason I started using them was that I wanted to eliminate the unnecessary use of petroleum-based products, and to show it can be done, because it can be done. And, of course, all of this was before the move to ban single-use plastic bags, too. Things are moving in the right direction.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Random remembrances

Most of these Weekend Diversion posts have been about songs that are new to me, ones I find through often indirect means—because it’s played on a TV commercial, I see the artist perform or be interviewed on TV, or many because I saw their video on our free-to-air music video channel. But sometimes I unexpectedly run across some random song I once knew very well. This week there are four songs I was unexpectedly reminded over the past week or so.

First up, and the song I was reminded of just tonight: The late 1980 release by American Donnie Iris, a song that hit Number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Number 6 in Canada the following year. That song, “Ah! Leah!” was extremely catchy, so much so that I bought the album it came from, Back on the Streets, which reached 57 on the Billboard album chart in 1981. I actually liked most of the album, but that one song is the only thing on the album I still remember.

I was reminded of this song because someone on Facebook mentioned a metal band with a name similar to the song name.

Next, 1984’s “Meeting in the Ladies Room” (below) by all-female American pop/R&B group Klymaxx. The song only reached Number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it did much better on R&B and Dance Music charts, where it was a Top Ten hit. I remember the song mostly from it being played in the gay dance clubs I was going to at the time (I never bought the single), and also from the fairly bizarre video, which annoyed me from the very first shot: “Ladie’s Room”? SERIOUSLY?!! And what the heck was with that shirtless guy sitting on an office chair gyrating? Sure, I sort of fancied him at the time, but that bit was just weird. The video also features actress Vivica A. Fox.

I was reminded of this song recently because someone shared the video in a comment on one of my friends’ Facebook posts.

In 1983, Scottish band Big Country released what would turn out to be their only Top 40 hit in the USA, “In A Big Country”. The song reached Number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, and also Number 34 in New Zealand, Number 17 in the UK, Number 7 in Australia, and Number 3 in Canada. A friend I’d known since Junior High played the song for me, as he often did in the early 1980s (including groups like Erasure, New Order, and others I really liked). I liked the song, but I never bought the single or the album, though I eventually bought the song on a compilation CD.

I was reminded of this because I saw someone use the phrase “in a big country” in a totally unrelated context.

Finally, a direct reminder: Canadian rock band The Kings and their 1980 song “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide”, which was on their debut album, The Kings Are Here. The album, which I bought, went Gold in Canada. The single reached number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I was reminded of this song because a Canadian-born friend shares their music on Facebook from time to time. I once responded by sharing one of my favourite song lyrics, from “Switchin’ to Glide”: “Nothing matters but the weekend/from a Tuesday point of view”.

None of these songs were huge hits in the USA, and I orginally heard them indirectly. But because they weren’t huge hits, they didn’t get a lot of repeated airplay over the years, and so, I forgot about them.

It’s nice to unexpectedly run accross some random song I once knew very well and liked, but seldom remember nowadays. It happens all the time, actually, but this was the first time I took real notice of it. I like that, too, for entirely different reasons.

Five years using Instagram

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Five years ago today, I posted my first photo to Instagram (above), something I blogged about at the time. As I said back then, I’d actually signed up “a very long time ago, but never got around to setting it up and actually using it”. So, this isn’t my fifth anniversary on Instagram, just the fifth anniversary of using it for the first time. And that’s why this won’t be making my list of anniversary observations.

As it turned out, I wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic user at first. In 2013, I posted 12 photos, but only two each in 2014 and 2015. I picked up the pace in 2016, having finally remembered to use it—and how to use it—and posted 44 photos. 2017 included our trip to Queensland, Australia, so the number soared to 90. So far this year, it’s 29—I guess I should pick up the pace.

In 2017, I also posted short videos for the first time, one at the carwash in January, and the second from Brisbane the end of that year. I haven’t done any of the long form vertical videos Instagram now allows, though I probably will eventually, even if only just to experiment with a vertical format video. Many of my photos have been experiments, too, after all.

All up, I’ve posted to Instagram 179 times since my first photo, and I still like it, especially for its social media integration. That’s a particularly ironic thing about this first photo, though. I said on my blog post about it, “the fact that [Instagram’s] now owned by Facebook makes it among the easiest ways to post photos to Facebook,” however, that’s not what I did that day: I shared the photo on Facebook the ordinary direct and separate way. The truth is, though, that this was only because at the time I either didn’t know how to share it on social media or I didn’t have my log-in details when I was ready to post the photo. Or, maybe both (I can’t remember).

I eventually figured out how to share my Instagram posts on Facebook and Twitter, and how to embed them here on the blog, too. That latter part in particular came about because I was trying to move toward a “publish once” model similar to the way digital publishing now tries to make the same published content available on many devices without any re-formatting. However, since the different places I share the content ARE different, I almost always say something about the photo when I share it on this blog.

What’s also changed over those five years is that back in 2013 I also said, “and I can post [an Instagram photo] to Twitter, the network I use the most, at the same time [I share it on Facebook].” I hardly ever use Twitter anymore, in part because I inevitably end up blocking accounts from trolls, bots, and obnoxious extremist rightwingers. To me, it’s just so toxic now that I hardly ever use it for anything.

One final thing that’s changed is that I usually shoot all the photos I take in the Instagram-standard square format. I started doing that only to make sure the subject in a photo I intended for Instagram would be entirely in frame. But then I decided I liked the challenge of not relying on extra space in either direction, and I also liked the visual focus the square format gave the subject. I still take photos in a rectangular format (horizontal or vertical), but few of those ever end up published precisely because I like the square format so much—well, for now, anyway.

So, that’s my first five years using Instagram. I’ll enjoy it while my enthusiasm lasts, because if my Twitter experience is anything to go by, it may not last another five years.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Internet wading: Lost and found

Every month the Internet shows me things I didn’t already know, as well as some I’ve seen and forgotten about. These “Internet Wading” posts are my way to share that sort of stuff, most of which wouldn’t make it into a blog post otherwise. But this month begins with something I thought I’d blogged about, but didn’t.

The video above, “How gay men used to speak – A short film in Polari” is a fascinating look at the coded language gay men used in England when homosexuality was still illegal. The langauge is largely dead now, but still exists in some pockets (see also: “This Secret Language Allowed Gay Men To Communicate When Homosexuality Was Illegal”).

The piece, “A brief history of George Washington Carver: the greatest 'bisexual' black scientist of his time”, was talking about another person who was bi or even gay, though most people these days still don’t know that. As I said last month when talking about Baron Von Steuben and other famous dead gay people:
What all these people have in common is the need that some heterosexual scholars have to “de-gay” people in the past. It denies LGBT+ people our history and our culture, but, worse, by erasing us from history, it also perpetuates the political myth that LGBT+ people are something new, and it’s some sort of fad.
Besides, where do those scholars get off acting like there would be something BAD about someone having been gay?!

Speaking of history: “Nina Simone’s Childhood Home Gets ‘National Treasure’ Designation”, a story that made me happier than it probably reasonably could be expected to have done.

Maybe some more of the past being encountered in the present: “Out of the wreckage”. “Last year, a Yukon couple investigated a crashed plane in the B.C. mountains near Alaska. What they uncovered solved another family's 50-year-old mystery.” It’s a fascinating story, and a very human one.

It wouldn’t be one of my Internet Wading posts if some pop culture didn’t sneak in: “‘Babylon 5’ is great, so why does it look so bad?”. Sure this answers a question I didn’t know that I wanted an answer to, but it turns out to be a really interesting subject. I was a fan of the show back in the day, and its multi-year story arc (something Star Trek: Deep Space Nine also did really well).

Maybe some personal improvement? “Miserable in your 40s? Don’t panic, it’s perfectly normal”. Well, I certainly wasn’t miserable in my 40s, and that’s coming up on decadeS (plural) ago, but it’s interesting all the same to learn about the commonality of human experiences.

Something unexpected: “The Best Way to Wipe Your Butt, According to the Experts”. Who doesn’t want to be clean and tidy downunder? Based on the title, I thought this article might be a bit tongue in cheeks, so to speak, but it’s actually serious. I suppose someone had to be.

Something we all need: “10 Science-Backed Tips for Getting a Cat to Like You”. Personally, I don’t think it’s that difficult.

Did you know that “Our homes don’t need formal spaces”? well, sure, we probably all DO know this. Maybe it’s why I’m so utterly fascinated with tiny houses, even though I could never live in one.

Back to some things I meant to share at some earlier point, like this article from 2012: “Jesus wept … oh, it's bad plumbing. Indian rationalist targets 'miracles'”. At the time I saw it, it made me chuckle—until I found out that those revealing the truth were facing jail time for having done so. Sheesh, some people need to relax!

Another article from 2012, “’Can I Use This?’ How Museum and Library Image Policies Undermine Education”, talks about how museums and libraries are missing out on the digital age, partly for lack of appropriate use of technology, through to inappropriate use of copyright, and forms of harm these policies cause.

From the (2013) news files: “Gavin Newsom: We put a human face on same-sex marriage debate” from Salon. The article takes on the charge that Newsom’s actions helped re-elect Bush the Second.

That same year, TruthOut published a piece, “FCC Poised to Open the Door for Unbridled Expansion of Media Empires”. This seems so quaint now, with the FCC now under control of more radical rightwingers, the end of Net Neutrality, and the growing influence of far-right media outlets, many of them outside traditional media structures.

These old articles were “lost” to me because I’d saved links to them on a page of an Apple program called “Notes” on my desktop computer and laptop. There are equivalent Apps available on all iOS devices, like my iPhone and iPad, as well, and they all sync with each other using the cloud. Some years back, when I saw an interesting article, I’d put those links on a Notes document—and forgot about them. I also tried a Google Doc for the same purpose, and created one of these posts from it. However, it was much more cumbersome than Notes. Later, I started emailing links to myself, something I still do, in fact.

However, I've realised that having one place where everything is accessible from all my devices is incredibly useful, and starting this month I resumed using Notes. And that’s how I came across those old articles (I saw the video up top about Polari when it was new, back in 2015).

Now that all ye olde links are out of the way, I’ll clear the file so I can use it for next month’s post, and so on. I finally have a system to ensure I keep doing these posts regularly.

Which goes to show that I can learn something because of Internet Wading posts, too.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Water must happen

New Zealanders are constantly reminded to be ready in case disaster strikes. That’s great advice in a geologically active country. Tsunamis and storms that are becoming much worse due to climate change are as much of a threat as earthquake and volcanoes are, and storms are the most likely disaster of all. All of them have the same basic requirements for preparation, and the messaging is now ramping up a bit.

It’s no longer just “Get Ready, Get Thru”, nor is it just about securing heavy objects like bookshelves, nor how to know when to run from the threat of a tsunami. Now, they’re adding specific advice for preparation for disaster.

The specialised “It Happens” site warns that “In New Zealand emergencies can happen anywhere, any time, and without warning. When they do, Civil Defence and emergency services will be busy helping the people who need them most.” In other words, we must be self-sufficient, which we should have known already. The site breaks this down into specific areas, like having enough water, for example.

The video above is a short message on how to save water for an emergency. I recently wrote about storing water for the animals, but the principles are the same for humans, too. The relevant part of the website has practical advice, such as:
Keep your empty water, juice and fizzy drink bottles, give them a good clean and fill them with water – you need three litres of water for each person for each day that you are without water. Don’t forget to store water for babies and pets too.
This is the first time I’ve seen messaging talk about the specific amount of water needed—AND the first time I’ve seen them mention pets. This is real progress. But this was even more practical advice:
You can keep stored drinking water for up to a year if you add non-scented household bleach (half a teaspoon for every ten litres of water and don’t drink for at least half an hour after mixing).
I actually knew about this. In fact, I specially bought a 1 litre bottle of plain bleach precisely for this purpose, and it became a part of our “Get Thru” kit—until I needed the bleach for cleaning. I should probably buy a new bottle from time to time, anyway.

I liked another thing labelled a “Top Tip”:
You can also fill plastic ice cream containers with water and keep them in the freezer. These can help keep food cool if the power is off and can also be used for drinking.
This is similar to what I did when there was a planned power outage last month, when I bought some ice and put a bowl in the fridge. At the time, I figured that in the event of a future power outage, I could put some ice in the fridge again. The ice cream tub idea is certainly easier and neater, even if they take up more room.

No one can ever know when a disaster of any sort will strike, though severe storms usually provide some warning. But no matter the disaster, it’s just smart to plan and prepare.

At our house, we’re much farther along than we were a few months ago, but we’re not done yet. This is a good reminder to finish the job.

Fog of confusion

A few days ago, Robert Reich posted the video above, talking about the current occupant of the White House’s “five tactics to create a fog of confusion and bewilderment”, something Reich argues is done to create a constant state of confusion to deflect and hide from public scrutiny and opposition what the current regime is doing. As usual, the video is well-made, and it’s good in describing the techniques, however, it relies on an important assumption: That the current occupant is a competent actor, doing everything he’s doing deliberately. Is he?

The reality is that we can’t be sure if the current occupant is some sort of evil genius, albeit one affected by severe personality disorders, or the biggest moron ever to presume to act in such an office, merely bumbling his way through. A third possibility is that he might be suffering from the early stages of aged-related dementia, which would also account for his erratic behaviour.

All of those possibilities are, at the moment, equally plausible explanations for his irrational, impulsive, and incompetent actions. Without competent professional examination of the current occupant, we can’t know for sure what’s going on. Of course, if the current occupant was temporarily removed from office under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, such an examination would become compulsory if he tried to resume his office.

The bottom line is, we can’t know whether the current occupant is really in charge of his faculties, much less his regime, so this video may describe group action rather than his own. On the other hand, this video is nevertheless a good description of how the current regime—whoever is doing the work—is creating a constant fog of confusion and bewilderment to hide what they’re doing to the USA.

It doesn’t really matter whether he’s in charge or not because the destruction of the USA, its democracy, and the Western Alliance that’s protected the world since World War 2, is proceeding apace precisely because the general public is distracted by the fog. Understanding the extent to which the current regime is distracting everyone is the first step in fighting back, and that is the task before all true patriots.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Facts matter in memes, too

I kept seeing a false meme about impeachment being spread on social media, so I whipped up a little something to set out the facts:

The truth is, this really annoys me. Yes, I got my Bachelor’s in Political Science, so that's to be expected, but we also studied this in high school civics class. I just think it’s so fundamental that all Americans should know it.

I know that most people probably don’t care, or have forgotten it, but it’s still important to be correct about the Constitution when our adversaries have such contempt for it. Also, it’s so easily checkable, and we KNOW that the Right would love to rub the Left’s noses in it for making such a glaring mistake. And, we also know that Russians and other mischief makers are posing as Leftists on social media to spread false information exactly like this to make the Left look stupid to Independent voters, and also to undermine our confidence in each other.

All of which means that being factual is always important, and for a lot of reasons.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Worth quoting: Sen John McCain

US Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement today on President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki:

Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivetΓ©, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.


It's fair to say that I often disagree with Senator McCain, and always have, however, when he's right, he's right. And he's been critical of the current occupant of the White House when most Republican politicians choose to remain silent, for whatever reason. And that means that there are times I not only agree with him, I appreciate his words, and the fact he's taking a stand. What he's saying here is the truly patriotic thing to do. I'm sharing this because of all that, and because I haven't seen the full text shared anywhere.

Leo has a bath

Today I gave Leo a bath. Nothing unusual about that, except it was the first time. That, and being fully onto adult dog food means he’s now fully a grown-up part of the family.

I got the idea to use the laundry tub for his bath after some earlier incidents in which he ran around in the mud and I needed to wash his paws. That was much easier than sitting on the floor and washing him in the shower, as I do with Sunny and Jake (for now). I’ve always washed the other two in the bath, but can’t do that at the moment (which is why there’ll be a change eventually), but whether using the bath or the shower, it hurts my lower back. A lot.

Washing Leo in the laundry tub was better—for awhile. By the end, though, my back hurt every bit as much. Maybe a bit more. On the other hand, no sink is actually high enough for me, so even using the kitchen sink would have ended up hurting my back (don’t look at me that way: I happen to know that people have washed human babies in a kitchen sink, and I fail to see the difference).

Against that backdrop, last night I have Leo the last few nuggets of puppy dog food. We’d bought a bag of puppy food back when he came to live with us, but he turned one year old on June 1, and that meant it was time to change food.

It was the middle of June before I finally got the adult dog food, in part because we had so much puppy food. When I finally started the transition, I put a few little bits of the adult food in with his puppy food. Over time, I gradually increased the amount of adult food, and began decreasing the amount of pupy food until last night, when he got the last of the puppy food. All up, it took three weeks or so to make the change.

Many, many years ago I’d read that this is the best way to change doog food, even if it’s only one brand to another: A gradual transition. That way, I’d learned, they have time to adjust so they don’t get an upset tummy. It’s always worked for me, and this time was certainly no different.

So, today got his first bath in his still kind of new home, and has fully changed to adult dog food. It wa a big day for him, but, I’m sure, a little bigger for me. That’s also not unusual.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Weekend Diversion: Mitch James

All the Weekend Diversion posts this year have had something in common: They were about artists I stumbled across accidentally. Three were artists who were unfamiliar to me, one was an artist I did know. Today’s artist, Mitch James, is in that latter category, and, like the others, I looked for more about him after I happened to see his music on TV.

Mitch is a young (23, I gather) New Zealand singer-songwriter. The bio on his website sums up why he became an object of fascination for the media:
Born and raised in Auckland, up and coming artist Mitch James started playing music at 14 while at school, and on morning tea and lunch breaks he would take himself off to the music room and teach himself the guitar.

Mitch left school at 17 and got a job cleaning cars, where he made enough cash to buy a one-way ticket to London. He went in the hope of hitting it big like many of those before him. Mitch arrived in London with a £20 pound note, zero contacts and zero experience performing live. Without a place to stay, Mitch would attend open mic nights and play, hoping to land a paying performance gig – which he eventually did for a short time, until the venue closed down, forcing Mitch to go home.

During Mitch’s time in Europe he slept 8 weeks on the street altogether, played 230 gigs, busked over 100 times, was robbed twice, beaten once and witnessed a stabbing. When Mitch moved back, his covers of other artist’s songs on YouTube landed him a signing with Sony Music NZ.
There aren’t many artists with such an interesting backstory, especially ones as young as he is. This was how I came to hear of him originally. One of the TV 7pm magazine shows had a story on him, and I thought his music sounded nice. I always meant to look up some of his songs, then forgot.

Until this past week.

I was watching the music video channel and they played the video for his new single, "21" (video above), which is currently at Number 5 on the New Zealand chart. The song is about looking back at some of his good times when he lived in Dunedin, where the video was filmed. I thought it was a nice song, and a well-made video, but it was the end of the chorus that struck me:
Who would’ve thought
I’d be so lost at 23.
Oh lord,
Take me back to 21.
We so often think of wistfulness and regret as being an older person’s thing, but young people can have it, too. When I was just a little younger than Mitch is now, I was talking to a workmate at my summer job. He told me how he felt frustrated and sad that he hadn’t accomplished what he thought he should have. He was only 25.

Next up, is “Move On”, his debut single from December, 2016. It entered the NZ Top 20 the week of 19 December at Number 20. It dropped out of the Top 20 the following week, but re-entered at Number 7 the week of January 16, 2017, rising to a peak of Number 3 the week of January 30. It bounced all over the Top 20 until the week of April 3, when it dropped off the Top 20 again.

Finally, “No Fixed Abode”, his first track with Sony NZ, though not promoted as a single. The name comes from an incident in Amsterdam where police asked him for his address. When he replied that he didn't have one, they wrote: "No Fixed Abode".

I’m not good at predicting who will or won’t be big stars, so I have no idea whether Mitch will become successful beyond New Zealand. But he has an easy-to-listen-to style that is quite popular these days, and he reminds me of Ed Sheeran, who’s a big international star (and who Mitch opened for in Dunedin earlier this year). So, you never know.

But he’s another artist I’d heard of, but kind of rediscovered because I just happened to see his music video on TV. No wonder I like watching that channel so much: It’s a voyage of discovery and re-discovery.

Accessible turkey

Things disappear, things become hard to find, and sometimes something better comes along. This is one of those times.

Several months ago, I blogged about how Denny’s in New Zealand had dropped turkey dinners from their menu (and I blogged about the dinner itself back in 2015). The issue, as I said back in February, is that “it’s still not all that easy to find true American-style food in New Zealand restaurants.” The thing is, it’s not that easy to find turkey, except as a frozen bird or a frozen turkey roll, and both of those require long roasting (I roasted a while turkey for Thanksgiving in 2010, and I roasted a turkey roll for the day in 2016).

Other years, beginning in 2012, my sole turkey was a sandwich. In 2016, I had one again and noticed, thanks to the product’s new labelling, that they emphasised the “honey roast” part. They used to emphasise the word “sliced” with the old packaging. But it suddenly dawned on me why it wasn’t quite right, not quite what I wanted.

And that’s where things stayed until I saw the product in the photo with this post. The turkey is just roasted turkey, nothing fancy. They also make a sandwich slice version. I think both of them are quite nice, and more what I think of when I think of turkey in this form, but so far I’ve only seen it at Countdown stores.

This probably doesn’t matter. Nigel recently realised that he just doesn’t like turkey, which, while I obviously think that’s abominable, it’s not a legal reason for divorce. The more you know. The result is that I no longer buy it because I’d have to eat the whole package myself, and much as I like turkey, it’s not enough to eat it every day for several days until all 300g is gone. The sandwich slice version is probably manageable, though, since it has less in it.

The real story here isn’t this brand of ready-to-eat turkey, of course, it’s that this is such a rare thing that’s it’s downright exotic—turkey, for goodness sake!! In the USA, I’d sometimes buy some sliced turkey from the deli counter, diners offered sandwiches with turkey in them, and there were all sorts of variations on frozen meals with turkey. But here in New Zealand, I have to make do with prepared turkey that’s at a premium price (even more than might be expected for processed food).

This is why I’ve given up so many of the foods—good for me and, well, less good—that I used to love in the USA: They’re just too hard to find, too expensive, too different, or some combination. Not worth the effort, in other words.

To be sure, there are plenty of things I love about New Zealand foods, so it’s not like I’m “suffering”, or anything, but, then, I’ve been here more than 22 years, so maybe it’s easier for me than it would be for a new arrival. Maybe we do learn to change out of necessity as much as anything else.

Meanwhile, I’ll still have to occasional turkey sandwich, but not often. Everything changes, after all, even favourite foods.

Observant readers will note that the expiry date on the product in the photo is 22 Feb 2018. That’s because I actually took the photo on 7 Feb 2018, a few days after that Denny’s menu change I mentioned up top. I intended to blog about it at the time, but somehow it never happened, not the least because it all happened during my annus horribilis—there were only 17 posts total that month, for example. Things are improving now. Clearly.

Update July 16: Welcome Redditors! Someone shared THIS post, of all things, on a New Zealand Reddit. There are far more interesting posts about New Zealand on this blog than this one! For the benefit of any Redditors visiting this post: I am not complaining about the lack of turkey or American-style food generally. Instead, I’m merely observing differences, something that may be useful for any Americans considering migrating to New Zealand, and something that’s of interest to curious real-live Americans who follow this blog. Obviously countries are different from one another. That’s an objectively good thing. As a bi-national person, I often comment on the differences between the USA and NZ, again, something many followers of this blog are interested in. I’m also never totally serious about anything, including about not being totally serious about anything. And, there really are far better posts about New Zealand on this blog than this one. But thanks for stopping by!

Products listed/depicted and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.