Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fifth Anniversary

Today is the sort of anniversary that most married couples acknowledge: Five years ago today, Nigel and I were legally married. It seems a little odd to mention it because we’re so used to being together, and had been for many years by that point. It was still important to us.

The reason we were so used to being together is because by that point we’d been together just a whisker under 18 years, and had been in a civil union—for which we had a big ceremony for 4¾ years. I used to joke that we had the wedding 4¾ years before we were married, but that means asking people to think about the joke, and that’s seldom a good idea.

While it really didn’t change anything about the way we lived our daily lives, it nevertheless cemented our legal place as a family, and it did so in a way that everyone could understand, neither of which was completely true of civil unions or just living together as we’d done for so many years. As I often point out, it made us equal to the heterosexuals in our lives, and that mattered a lot, probably more than I thought it would—until it did.

So, five years ago today, “we achieved the ordinariness that our heterosexual friends and family always took for granted,” as I put it last year. But, to borrow from what I also said last year, to me, that ordinariness doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that I’ve spent another year married to the person I love most in this world. And that was what the whole long wait and the struggle for marriage equality was ALWAYS all about.

I often say that love always wins in the end, and it does. But sometimes it needs a helping hand and a whole lot of hard work to help it win. Nowadays, it’ll also require a lot of defensive work to protect what we have from those who would take it from us. Love is worth the hard work. It’s one of the few things in this world that truly is.

Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)
To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more

The photo up top is of our wedding rings, which I took the morning of October 31, 2013. Unlike most of my other photos on this blog, this one is copyright, all rights reserved. Of course.

Inadvertent concern making

One of the worst things about social media is how easy is it to offend people without meaning to. Similarly, it’s easy to confuse people without realising you’re doing it. The Instagram post above is an example of the second one.

Yesterday I had to go to Pukekohe to get my car its annual Warrant of Fitness inspection. This is a safety inspection to make sure a vehicle—any vehicle used on New Zealand roads—is road worthy. I’ve written about this several times before, usually with some kind of resigned-to-my-fate sort of humour. Which is what I did in the caption to the photo.

However, when I began it with “Been sick for several days”, and mentioning being sick again later, I accidentally created the impression I’d had something bad or unusual. It was neither, but it’s been inconvenient.

I had a gout attack because of something that happened last week that upset me, because stress is my major trigger of gout attacks. I first noticed it on Thursday when I took my mother-in-law home after her visit with us. It began as a little soreness in my left ankle, something that’s happened before and it usually goes away in a day or three without becoming an actual attack. This one didn’t work out that way.

My ankle got sorer as the days passed, and by Sunday night I felt pretty miserable. It wasn’t pain, it was the flu-like feelings I get with an attack. Those symptoms are sometimes really bad, and this was one of those times.

I got up Monday morning like usual, but then went back to bed for a couple hours more sleep. Taking paracetamol helped with the symptoms, but I still felt like I had a fever (I didn’t), and, well, like I had “the flu”. So, I rested all day.

I went to bed Monday night still feeling terrible, and wondering how I would cope going to get the warrant the next day. I woke up in the night feeling terrible, took some more paracetamol and wondered again how I’d cope the next day.

Even when I woke up in the morning I was dubious, but my ankle felt reasonably okay, if still very sore, and I didn’t feel so flu-like. So, I went, and made the post to Instagram. The reason I didn’t say I had gout was that I’m much more restricted in why I say on that platform. It’s public, like this blog, but the audience is very different; people who spend a lot of time on Instagram don’t usually read blogs or vice versa. So, the things I say there are always a bit more restricted than what I say here. And that was the whole reason I wasn’t clearer in my post, which then concerned some people when they saw it on Facebook.

In general, my gout is well controlled now, with little more than the occasional soreness in a joint, almost always my left ankle. It never lasts for more than a few days, and isn’t particularly painful. This one has been a bit worse, and has been going on for about a week now.

This all happened, though, against the backdrop of the prescription drugs they have me on which have caused terrible fatigue and memory problems, along with a feeling that’s a bit like an existential shrug of the shoulders: I often can’t work up the energy to do things (like blog), or the motivation, or both. Shrug. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel like it,” I tell myself. A lot.

As it happens, I got a phone call today from the facility where I’m due to have a consultation with the cardiologists. They had a cancellation tomorrow and wondered if I wanted the time slot. I snapped it up immediately. I hadn’t yet been offered an appointment, so I have no idea when they’d have gotten round to me otherwise, so it was prudent to grab the opportunity. Plus, I’m not happy about what these prescriptions are doing to me and I’m hoping they can make changes. More on that, I hope, after the appointment tomorrow.

All of that—the fact I was really talking about a gout attack, combined with the real underlying issues that also can make me feel miserable, meant I felt a little, well, embarrassed, I guess, about inadvertently making people concerned. I also felt that right then it was all a little too complicated to explain when the reality, and shorter version, was that I just felt yucky. Shrug.

One way or another, all of this will soon be getting better. Whether I’ll feel up to anything approaching regular blogging again will depend in large part (I think) on what happens tomorrow. If that appointment doesn’t lead to any changes, though, I’ll still have to find ways forward.

This story isn’t over yet. I must try harder, though, to not do any more inadvertent concern making.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Matthew Shepard to be Interred at Washington National Cathedral

Earlier today I ran across a press release from National Cathedral in Washington, DC:
Washington, DC – October 11, 2018: Matthew Shepard, who was murdered at 21 years old in 1998 in an anti-gay hate crime, will be interred at Washington National Cathedral following a service of thanksgiving and remembrance on Friday, Oct. 26, at the request of the Shepard family. This Friday, Oct. 12, is the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s death. The service will celebrate and recall Shepard’s life and will be followed by a private interment in the Cathedral crypt. The service will be presided over by the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

“We’ve given much thought to Matt’s final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother. “For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world. It’s reassuring to know he now will rest in a sacred spot where folks can come to reflect on creating a safer, kinder world.”

A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issue of the church in the 21st century. The Cathedral hosted its first same-sex wedding in 2010, and welcomed its first transgender preacher, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, to the Canterbury Pulpit in 2014.

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral. “In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place.”

Shepard will be one of approximately 200 people to have been interred in the Cathedral over the last century. Others interred at the Cathedral include President Woodrow Wilson; Bishop Thomas Claggett, the first Episcopal Bishop ordained on American soil; Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan; and U.S. Navy Admiral George Dewey.
The service will be steamed over YouTube (video below) while I’m asleep, however, it should be available as a recorded video afterward

• • • • •

This caught me by complete surprise because I had no idea it was happening. That means I don’t know the backstory about how this came to be, how the timing was selected, etc. None of that matters, of course.

I have no use for organised religion, but I nevertheless think this is pretty awesome, though not for the religious aspects—that’s the family’s business. Instead, there are plenty of other reasons this is a good thing.

First, it’s important to have a celebration of Matthew’s life. The circumstances of his death made him a symbol and an inspiration around the world. The intolerance and hatred that killed him gave a face to everyday oppression in a way that resonated with “ordinary Americans”, and while of course they should have cared before, Matthew gave them a reason to care that statistics in a report never would. There’s more to say about that, but not here, not in this context. What matters is that he still provides inspiration.

The symbolism of being interred in the crypt at National Cathedral is important. The church strives to be “a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation”, which makes him being placed there important for symbolic reasons, the nation symbolically engaging in a small re-balancing of the harm done to Matthew—and all the LGBT+ victims in America whose names we’ll never know.

Finally, there’s also a very practical thing here. If his remains were going to be interred anywhere, then the crypt at National Cathedral is a safe place. It’s among the least likely places that anti-LGBT+ extremists would be able to desecrate his grave, something I’m absolutely certain they would do were he interred in a conventional cemetery.

The fact that Matthew died 20 years ago this month means that holding the service and interment this month was logical. It marks an appropriate point to wrap up the 20-year anniversary remembrances.

This story is obviously not getting much media attention, based on the fact I’d entirely missed it until mere hours before the event, and then I saw it only by change when a Facebook friend shared a link the landing page for the event. Because of that, it will probably have little impact beyond those at the cathedral, at first, at least.

But there are reasons why this is a good thing to be happening. And if it brings some peace to Matthew’s family and friends, that would be the best result.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Just another Spring day

Today was an ordinary Spring day, and I decided to document a small part of it. The Instagram photo montage above is the result, and it also contained a trial. That’s an ordinary thing for me, too.

The caption tells the story of what the photos are about, and basically they document a specific part of my day (which also included lunch with my mother-in-law and a stop at the nearby location of the home centre where we got our tomato cages for this year, and I finally got the fourth one we needed).

The clouds were cloudy when we left, and there were some occasional sprinkles, but not much. As I drove back home to Auckland, the skies cleared as I sang a song about sunny days chasing the clouds away, which clearly was some sort of magic incantation. We gays control the weather, remember.

Anyway, at some point I wished I had a “dash cam” to show the pretty Waikato and Franklin District countryside I pass through. I don’t have one, but my phone was in a special cradle facing me, which meant its camera was facing the rod.

So, I woke up the phone with its camera and touched the shutter release button. I did all of this one-handed while watching the road, so I wasn’t even sure the camera was pointing in the right direction. Because it was positioned vertically, I knew I could crop out all the dashboard that I knew would be in the foreground.

I didn’t know how well it would handle the motion, but it actually did okay, though it was a little less focused that a regular photo would have been with the phone held still. But that also added some interest to some spots of the photo, I thought.

One thing I realised is that if I do that again, I should use the earbuds that came with the phone because it can be used as a shutter release cable. That would mean I wouldn’t have to reach over to the phone and risk bumping it, which moves it and changes what it’s pointed at. The camera would be more stable, in other words.

Using the camera to record video is much more problematic. The holder keeps the phone upright, not horizontal, which is what I would want. While I could set up some sort of rig to film horizontally, the better solution is to use a high resolution dashcam (as most are these days). We actually have one that’s not being used at the moment, and I may try that.

It was fun to experiment with something new, but I doubt I’ll do it again. If I do, I’ll have everything all set-up in advance. But today’s effort was spur of the moment, so it was what it was.

So, those photos were little bits of my day today, and one of them was a bit of an experiment. Basically, it was just another Spring day.

I like that.

Calum Scott – ‘No Matter What’

Every once in a while things kind of circle back around, including topics I’ve blogged about before, or the topics that made me blog about it in the first place. This week it was a surprise interview with UK singer Calum Scott, who was in New Zealand for one concert. That led me to find the song above.

Calum was the subject of one of my Weekend Diversion posts back in May of last year, and I’ve heard his songs occasionally since then. But when I saw him interviewed on TVNZ’s Breakfast show (Facebook video below), I was surprised—I didn’t know he was performing in New Zealand. He had a single show that night in Auckland—his first show here.

During the interview, they talked about Calum’s new song “No Matter What”, without playing even a clip from it. Naturally, that couldn’t stand, so I went and found it (video above).

The song, released just this month, is about his coming out experience, but even more so about the love or a parent for their child. It is sad that this is a necessary topic, but there are plenty of LGBT+ kids who are not loved by their parents “No Matter What”. Maybe some day.

In any case, I think it’s a really nice song with a great message. Definitely worth sharing.

“Heartwarming applause makes Calum Scott emotional | No Matter What” – video on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

New films about something that should not be

Today I ran across a piece about two new films about the “ex-gay” torture scam. It is something that should never be allowed to exist, and is increasingly being outlawed. But times are changing, going backward, so maybe it’s a good idea to talk about it in film.

The review I saw was “Boy Erased is a safe and predictable take on the horrors of gay conversion” by the University of Melbourne’s Stuart Richards and published by Australian site, The Conversation (an interesting project, by the way).

The film in the title, Boy Erased (trailer above) is based on Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family by Garrard Conley. In talking about the film Richards presents the film as being something for general audiences, to help them understand the problem with “ex-gay” torture scams. The film will be released in the USA November, but not until sometime in 2019 in New Zealand.

That description made me think of the 1982 film Making Love, which could have been a similar educational movie—except that it was apparently mostly gay men who went to see it. At the time, a friend said to me that he wished the audiences for Making Love and Victor/Victoria, which was around the same time, were switched.

In any case, the other film that Richards talked about, and felt was better, was The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which was released in the USA last August, and is now at one Auckland cinema. The US trailer:

Miseducation is about friendship, while Boy is about a family, so they are very different approaches, even if they’re based the same problem—the “ex-gay” scam.

I’ve already seen a film about this, but it was a comedy that makes the grim subject bearable. It was 1999’s But I’m A Cheerleader (trailer below).

Obviously this subject is not funny, even though a comedy film can be. What amazes me is that in 2018 we’re STILL talking about ending the “ex-gay” torture scam—and New Zealand is nowhere near the point of doing it. Maybe films will help speed that up. But, I kind of doubt it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Halloween stasis

I shared the above on Instagram, which automatically shares to my personal Facebook page, too, and the comments from friends were varied—far more so than I expected. It’s probably partly emblematic of the ambivalence Kiwis have about Halloween.

For all the years of retail promotion of Halloween (in fits and starts), it’s just never caught on here. There’s trick or treating in some areas, but not everywhere, and even where it is, not everyone is happy about that.

It may not be obvious from the photo, but most of the stuff on sale was decorative—we still have no massive displays of Halloween candy like in the USA. This is probably because Kiwis, if they observe Halloween at all, are far more likely to do so with a party than anything else. Even so, the store is clearly very well stocked eight days before Halloween.

I’m pretty agnostic about Halloween: I don’t care if people celebrate it or not, or whether it takes root or not. I personally hate Halloween and have ever since I became an adult (and even by the time I was nearing middle school age), but my personal dislike for the day is exactly that—personal. What others do is for them to decide. But I’ve still seen no evidence that it’s catching on in New Zealand.

Still, as I noted in the caption, the display is “bigger than I’ve seen in a while”, and that’s definitely true. I just don’t think that means anything.

Still, early days, right? I’ve been in New Zealand more than two decades, and in that time Halloween’s no closer to wide acceptance than it was when I arrived, but maybe it’ll just take a bit longer. Question is, would that be a trick or a treat? I couldn’t possibly comment.

A non-labouring day

Yesterday was the Labour Day holiday in New Zealand, a date set aside to commemorate the eight-hour workday. Or, as NZ History Online put it:
Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.”
The Labour Day public holiday now observed on the fourth Monday in October, which was yesterday. So, why didn’t I post about it then? I was resting from my labours!

Actually, we did a lot around the house over the weekend, including yesterday. On Sunday, we planted our tomato plants, which are doing well, thank you. We also cleared a lot of weeds. I also put a couple big numbers on our recycling bin so I can see the numbers from the footpath, which will make it easier when I go to collect the bin. I found out that each number was part of a pair—should I use them on the side of the bin on the side I’ll approach it from, or should I save them for the rubbish bin Auckland Council will give us in the next year? Decisions, decisions.

Yesterday was about removing the last of the weeds and finishing up some more on our household “to do” list (something we really do have). The gardens are (mostly) ready for summer, though I still want to increase the area we have for vegetable gardens. A work in progress.

All of that left me tired, but yesterday evening I felt kind of sick—sort of flu-like. It crossed my mind that I’d taken my garden trowel to loosen stuff in our tumbling compost bin—and I hadn’t worn a dust mask. Oops! I felt yucky enough that I decided against blogging yesterday, and I went to bed somewhat earlier than usual. So, I really did rest from my labours.

Another trip to a different home centre tomorrow for some more bits and pieces, and then I should be (mostly) done with the yards for awhile and can concentrate on the inside? Well, that’s y hope. I have plenty of projects for that, too.

The graphic above was posted on Facebook by Kiwibank (owned by New Zealanders through the government). They said:
Can you imagine working a 14 hour day? Samuel Parnell couldn’t, so in 1840 he took a stand and won New Zealand workers the right to an 8 hour day. Today commemorates that victory! So whatever you’re up to on your day off, remember it was this guy who made it happen. Cheers Sammy!
Indeed. We were able to enjoy the day thanks to “Sammy”. It’s good to know why we get to enjoy good times and holidays, I think.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Internet Wading: A bit of it

I missed sharing links last month, for whatever reason, but the links keep piling up no matter what. So, time to share the things I’ve been paying attention to over the past couple months.

First up, the video above, “Why we say ‘OK’”. Because, really, who doesn’t want to know why we say okay?!

Another topic I like, but seldom (?) share on this blog, is photography. There have been a couple things I saw recently that captured my attention. First, “Jack Delano's Color Photos of Chicago's Rail Yards in the 1940s”. The photos are amazing as art, but even more so as a record of a city/state/country that is long gone.

Photography, like all art, can make us look at things in new ways, and one way to do that is to reimagine things. A good example is “Male Photographer Reverses Gender Roles In Sexist Vintage Ads, And Some Men Don’t Like Them”. I thought this was a really good effort, though it was far too challenging for some people. As always.

And then, just recently, we saw “Trump Hangs ‘Tacky’ Fantasy Painting of Himself With GOP Presidents in White House” and the comments have been fierce and partisan. The painter is Australian-born, and has made similar paintings of Democrats. Indeed, his work is clearly bi-partisan, and his motivation, if it can be called that, seems to be to make money. Is that not The American Way™? I think the painting is nauseating, but I’d actually say that for all his works. Despite that, I can admire his focusing his work on what would sell to the USA’s hyperpartisan market. Yes, the picture is utter crap, but full credit to the creator for working out how to market to, and take advantage of, the USA’s hyperpartisan reality.

Mind you, not everyone is happy about that hyperpartisan reality: “I’m Convinced There’s No Hope for America. Please Talk Me Out of It,” by Paul Fidalgo. I can’t contradict him.

Of course—as we all know—part of the reason the USA is so hopeless and helpless is social media, the place without rationality or reason, where discourse goes to die. And, we’re ALL things to be bought and sold, whether we know it—or agree to it—or not. For example: “Anti-social media: Facebook and surveillance capitalism”. True, dat.

Well, screw reality!! How about what we really care about?!! “WishbookWeb Catalog” has various US catalogues from days gone by (are any of them still alive?), and they’re the stuff of my younger days. The men’s underwear ads. Nuff said.

Screw politics, too, and all that junk, let’s—well, not do that. How about we consider: “Sail Away: How Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ Went From a Hit to a Punch Line to a Pop Culture Anthem”. Back in the “New Age” era, I was living in Chicago, and I really did listen to a radio station, WNUA, that had as its tagline, “Music for a New Age”. One of my favourite albums from that time was a “New Age” Christmas album, and though I haven’t heard it for more than 20 years, I still remember how it made me feel. Enya, well, maybe not so much, but sometimes, sure.

And that’s it for this month’s (or is it months’?) Internet Wading. More—well, next time.

Productive holiday weekend

Labour Weekend has traditionally been a time to plant gardens for the coming summer season. This year, for the first time in many years, we did that. Today we planted the tomato plants [photo above] that we bought yesterday. It’s a departure from last year, where the plants came from free seeds, but it’s also a more predictable way to get results. More on that as the season progresses, of course.

It’s been a very busy holiday weekend, actually. We also cleared a lot of weeds around the section, and even got some things done in the house, too. With one more day to go.

I love holiday weekends, whether we get projects done or not. This year, this time, we did. I like that, too.

Charlatans without shame

The charlatans and conmen in the “Christian” Right have ceased any pretence of trying to hide their partisanship: They are Republicans exclusively, and they want you to believe their god is, too, and if you don’t believe that, you’re damned. Well, they can say whatever they want—freedom of speech and all that—and, for the very same reason, I get to say what I honestly think of them, too. So, in my sincerely held opinion, they’re frauds and liars and Frank Graham is among the worst of the worst: Total fraud, liar, conman, and downright evil.

The graphic above is a post from Frank Graham, the scamvangelist who has done everything in his power to destroy whatever good feeling there once were for his now dead famous father, Billy Graham. Frank has long promoted rank bigotry, religious chauvinism, and christofascism. But the post above exposes the extent of his fraud: The ONLY thing he cares about is power through Republicans.

His post is filled with utter lies, and that can only be explained by two possibilities. First, he’s lying and knows it, but justifies it because, Jesus (and more power for him and his fellow scammers, just coincidentally). If true, this would prove he’s a fake Christian. Or, he really can’t see the criminality and immorality of the current occupant of the White House, in which case he’s so pathologically stupid one must worry for his well being. I’m betting on the first option.

Let’s correct his idiotic post, shall we? Yes, let’s!

“[The current occupant of the White House] has kept his promises to Christians, that he would protect religious freedoms and appoint conservative judges to the federal courts and to the Supreme Court.”

The current occupant and his Republican enablers in Congress have absolutely appointed extremist radical rightwing judges, but the current occupant couldn’t possibly are less about that—he’s outsourced it. Republicans and the “evangelical” charlatans care a lot about that because their agenda calls for taking away the right of women to control their own health decisions, for taking away the right to marry for gay couples—and outlawing our lives, and for increasing the power of corporations. So, yeah, yay Jesus! You know, the guy who, according the very stories that Frank must have heard at some point in his life, consorted with the outcasts and advocated for the poor and powerless—NOT people like Frank.

Let us never forget that “Religious Freedom” is Republican jargon which means “the right to tell fags to get the fuck out of my shop” and nothing more. Ever. Oddly enough, if an atheist refused to serve a Christian THEIR religious freedom would NEVER be defended by Frank and the scamvangelists. Funny, that!

But, our boy continues:

“And he has kept the promises he made to our country to create jobs, strengthen the military, lower taxes, and strengthen our borders.”

Every single thing is a lie. Already, jobs are being lost all over the Midwest because of the trade wars the idiot in the White House has started. Coal is dead—jobs have been lost since he took power. Strengthen the military? For WHAT?! To repress the civilians at home who DARE to disagree with the current regime? Lower taxes? Not unless you’re a corporation or obscenely rich. Strengthen borders? Don’t make me laugh more than I already do.

Frankie goes on:

“But for him to continue fulfilling the promises he made to the American people, he has to have a House and Senate that will work with him to bring positive change, regardless of party. The midterm elections are just 17 days away, and it is one of the most important in our lifetime. Pray before you vote, and don't let the media that is trying to divide our country, influence you. Look at the facts, do your research, pray, and vote.”

What. An. Asshole. He is flat out lying when he says “regardless of party”—that’s just a cynical sop to avoid endangering his tax-free status, and we all know he’s lying through his teeth: Democrats will not cooperate with this regime, nor should they ever. Everyone knows that. So, clearly Frankie wants people to vote for Republicans, and only Republicans. The media dividing us?! Is he fucking serious?!!! Has he not heard the lies and smears coming from his Dear Beloved Leader?!! Or the smears and lies from Republicans running for office? Or the cynical tricks they’re committing to get elected? Of course he has: Frank is an asshole, but he’s not stupid, and he knows damn well what a fraud the current occupant is and how Republicans say one thing and then do everything they can to help the rich and corporations and ONLY them, ordinary people be damned.

I’ll tell you what, Frankie: I don’t need to do any "research" or to "pray" to know what a fraud you and the other scamvangelists are. You don’t give a damn about anyone but yourselves and your ability to tell everyone else how they must live their lives—no, to order them how they must live their lives. To Frankie and his fellow scamvangelists, freedom ends at the nail on their bony, scolding finger wagging at us ALL disapprovingly.

So, no, Frankie, I will NOT vote for ANY Republican—not this year, not any year. Put that in your holier-than-thou scam bucket and drink deeply, Frankie! You attack me and those I love, and I will resist you. I will vote until your friends take that right away from me—as they will if they can. And if you think you win, you will be wrong. Truth, justice, freedom and liberty will never surrender to you and your scamvangelist buddies. EVER.

That’s the real truth. Not that Frankie and his scamvangelst friends have any idea what the truth actually is.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pop music wins

Infographic: The World's Favorite Music Genres | Statista
I talk about pop music a lot because I like it, because I listen to it, and because it’s been the soundtrack to so much of my life. It turns out, I’m not alone in that affinity, as the Chart above from Statista shows: Pop music rules!

There was a time I didn’t always talk so openly about liking pop music—though, in fact, there were a great many things I didn’t talk about openly back then. But when I was young and especially vulnerable, I didn’t talk about liking pop music in case it was something that opened me up for ridicule, or worse, suspicion that I wasn’t like “them”. As a teenager, I was keenly aware of the sort of music that might make people suspect I was gay, something I definitely didn’t want to happen.

I’ve talked about that a couple times, the first back in October 2006—the second month of this blog. Back then I was talking about Disco in general. Then, in 2012, I talked about Donna Summer. The common thing about both of those posts is that I censored myself to avoid being identified as gay.

By my early 20s, I didn’t care anymore, and I liked what I liked—sort of an early version of Arthur’s Law. My experience is not unique: I know of plenty of gay men who did exactly the same thing as me in their youth. Here’s a secret: Every now and then, I still do the same thing, or pause and think about doing it. It’s not that I care about what people think—I mostly don’t. But I survived being gay in the 1970s by sublimating and hiding, not by being open, and the survival instincts I learned then have never gone away. Some days, I think that’s a good thing because one day I may need them again.

Most of the time, and in most of the present, I just like what I like and forget about everyone else. And what I like is, mainly, pop music. It’s always good to find out I’m not alone.

Footnote: Last week I mentioned that I get email alerts from Statista, and this post, like others before it, is the result of one of those alerts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Blogging post

Are there some things that bloggers shouldn’t write about? My friend Roger Green promoted a recent post saying, “I'm told that blogging about blogging is a sin. But when there's an ask Roger Anything query on the topic, I MUST respond!” And so, he did.

A few days ago, Roger published a post answering a question about the “The hardest and easiest thing about blogging”. I could relate to much of what he said, and there was one thing in particular that I couldn’t relate to: “There was a point less than a year ago that I had 70 posts written and scheduled,” Roger said. “Right now, it’s 29.”

Roger has always been good at writing posts in advance, and I haven’t been. I’ve certainly pre-written posts in advance to publish later, at times I knew I’d be busy, but the only time I set up several posts to publish later—Roger Green Style—was when we went to Australia late last year for a surprise birthday party.

So, my own answers to the question Roger took on would have to include among
“hardest things” pre-planning and pre-writing posts. If I did that it would be so much easier to keep up the pace needed to meet my annual goal.

Of course, THE hardest thing for me over the past year and half has been beyond my control: Prescription drugs which have zapped me in similar, though different ways. The new drugs haven’t been AS bad, but it’s obvious that September was the month I started on them. This month, though, still running ahead of the daily average goal, is still lower than I’d expected.

But, of course, quantity isn’t everything (and, no, I’m not claiming quality is the alternative for me, even though some posts have been pretty good). The main thing that’s important is that I still enjoy doing it. Do I? Not always.

A week or so ago, I published a post and got the screen I always get, which is a list of all published posts from newest to oldest, 100 posts per page. That list includes the number of page views per post, and for no reason in particular, I looked at them: They’re all mostly fairly consistent—with consistently low page views. My first reaction was, “why am I bothering anymore?” My second reaction was, “THIS is why I never look at page view numbers.”

There’s a bit of advice that’s repeated so often it must be some sort of Blogging Law: Whatever frequency you blog, stick to it and be predictable. That’s important to building an audience, say the blogging experts (which is a self-claimed description; I couldn’t possibly comment on whether it’s a serious one or not). With the trouble I’ve had blogging over the past year and a half, it’s no wonder the page views remain stubbornly low.

Another reality this has created is that I’ve had no time or energy to promote this blog, so page views are unlikely to grow.

I know all that. I know enough not to care that much about it, particularly when I’m not in a position to do anything about it at the moment. But there are times it gets discouraging, and when it does, I absolutely don’t enjoy blogging.

So, I saw those numbers, was discouraged, and instantly thought of stopping blogging, podcasts, videos—everything. I thought a bit about what I might do with my time if I wasn’t blogging, etc., anymore. I thought about taking more photos—and then what? Change them around on my office wall? What good, I thought to myself, is working on them if no one sees them?

And that’s kind of the point of blogging, too. I can share my views and opinions about current events with friends and family, but that’s kind of the verbal equivalent of taking photos and hanging them on my wall. And they already know about New Zealand. I’ve learned that there’s always the chance that some post I publish will resonate widely, or even just deeply, for the people who see it, beyond anything the number of page views might suggest.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to get discouraged if one doesn’t see much result from one’s labours—page views, podcast downloads, video views, whatever. But it we focus on why we’re doing it, that can be far more important to us than any kind of literal reach. Anyway, that’s usually enough for me.

Time challenges, pharmaceutically induced lethargy and occasional discouragement are the hardest things. But I actually find blogging itself quite easy. I agree with Roger on the easiest part of blogging:
For me, the easiest thing about blogging is finding topics to write about. If one is reasonably observant, subjects find you. What are you reading? I skim a LOT on the Internet: left and right-wing politics, for instance. I’m an old political science major, so that’s interesting to me.
I never run out of things I to write about, though sometimes I just don’t want to talk about any of those things. A bit of that is the lethargy, and sometimes even I get sick of talking about a topic (usually political). I think that if I don’t want to talk about something (or even anything), I should listen. It’s always obvious when I’m just not into it.

Blogging is easy enough to do, though remaining committed to it can be difficult. But there’s one thing more: It’s possible to meet a lot of great people through blogging (like Roger), and that alone makes it worthwhile. Add to that individuals who get something out of your efforts, and that matters more than any of the negatives there might be.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Simon’s circus

National Party Leader Simon Bridges, who has overseen a shambolic and badly targeted Opposition, is now under pressure as never before. One of his party’s MPs has gone rogue, accusing Bridges of corruption, among other things. This is one of those times we need ample popcorn to watch all the political infighting.

The story has so many twists and turns that it would take forever to tell coherently, so here are few relevant pieces on it from the NZ newsmedia:

“Jami-Lee Ross accuses Bridges of corruption: the National implosion, explained”The Spinoff
“Recap: National MPs stay 'strong' amidst 'disloyalty and threatening behaviour'” - RNZ
“Bombshell after bombshell: a day in NZ politics like no other”The Spinoff
“Jami-Lee Ross posts images of Simon Bridges with '$100k donor' Zhang Yikun”New Zealand Herald
“Simon Bridges continues to stonewall questions about donations and sexual harassment claims”New Zealand Herald
“Jami-Lee Ross accused of inappropriate behaviour for a married MP: Paula Bennett”New Zealand Herald

Like most people, I have no idea who’s telling the truth and who’s not. There are things that suggest that Ross is telling the truth, but Bridges is so strongly adamant that none of it is true—without denying specific allegations. If there’s anything to the allegations of corruption, it’ll be for the police to discover.

Conservative-leaning pundit Bryce Edwards dismisses it all: “National's hollow political scandal entertaining but insignificant”, while Stuff’s Tracy Watkins says, “After a horrendous day, Nats leader Simon Bridges is still standing – for now”, and far-left blogger Martyn Bradbury reckons it’s all part of a plot to replace Bridges: “BY-ELECTION SCANDAL: That cold, terrifying and soulless nails-on-blackboard sound you hear right now is Judith Collins sharpening her talons”. Whatever. There’s no way that we mere mortals can know who or what is correct.

But, since everyone else is sharing their reckons, here are mine. First, there’s something going on here, even if there’s no criminality. This kind of explosive response isn’t caused by a minor disagreement. Second, if Ross thinks he’ll win a by-election, he’s probably dreaming. It’s a solidly Tory electorate, and it seems, at best, improbable they’d vote for an independent. He won there not because it was him personally but because he wore the National Party rosette. Finally, Bridges' days as National Party Leader have always been numbered, and this will do him no favours. He didn’t win leadership on the first ballot, and since his election he’s been hapless and hopeless as Leader of the Opposition. Other National Party MPs are very ambitious, so it was always a matter of time before he was rolled, and that day is now sooner than it had been.

Beyond that? Not my circus, not my monkeys. I don’t really care who leads the National Party because I wouldn’t vote for their party, anyway. But, on the other hand, I do care about their leader because he may become prime minister, and Bridges should never get that job. The real question to emerge from this, though, is this: Does National have anyone fit to be prime minister? On current performance, absolutely not.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Water issues

Our water was turned off one day last week so they could replace a water main. This is one of many times since we’ve moved in that either the water or the power or both have been turned off, and, like most of them, we received a notice about it (the top of which is in the photo above). But unlike the previous times, we were fully prepared. Even so, other issues emerged.

Unlike the last time this happened, when I completely forgot about the power being shut off, I rembered and was ready. I’d had my shower, had breakfast, and made myself a coffee before the power went off. I gilled a pitcher with water and put it in the fridge, and I also filled our old whistling kettle with water so I could heat some water for coffee (we have an electric jug, but it’s in the laundry, were I use it to boil water to kill weeds, so it was probably dirty with dryer lint, and I didn’t have time to clean it). So, I was about as prepared as I could be.

When the power goes off in our area, our water does, too. But this time it was only the water, and that meant there was no doubt that the sewerage was working, too. So, the toilet was usable, but it would have no water. Or, would it?

After our weather event last April, I filled a very large plastic jug (it probably holds around 15 litres or so) with water to flush the toilets. I did that because another storm was predicted for the next day, and I wanted us to be prepared.

There hasn’t been another severe weather event since April (yet…), and the jug just sat around. I was never going to use it for anything else because it had no lid to keep dust and dirt out (I think we still have that lid somewhere…). This was the perfect time to get rid of that water, and that’s what I used it for (though it took a couple days to use it all).

The flyer said that when the water came back on, we should flush the system by turning on an outside tap, so I did. The air in ghe line seemed to get better pretty quickly, and I couldn’t see any discolouration, so it seemed okay. After I went back inside, the taps all worked find without banging, though for some reason one of the toilets made a loud bang the first time it was flushed.

What we found out the last time the water was shut off is that for several days afterward there’s air in the lines. This isn’t always obvious, like banging pipes or whatever. Instead, we draw water and it looks fine, and then quickly turns “milky” as all sorts of tiny bubbles form, and eventually break and the water clears. Last time this took several days to go away. It’s perfectly safe, but doesn’t look very appealing. So, I used the water in the fridge for drinking until it ran out a couple days later. The water still has the tiny bubbles to some extent, and while the bubbles aren't as bad and dissipates much more quickly, it just doesn’t seem to want to go away.

In the old days, after they finished working on a water main they’d flush the system by opening the nearest fire hydrant, but they don’t do that any more. Is this why it takes four or five days or so for it to get back to normal?

Meanwhile, a little while after the water was turned off, someone posted on our community’s Facebook Page asking if anyone else’s water was off. I suppose that it WAS easy to miss the flyer amid the free newspapers and advertising junk mail. When the water was back on, someone else posted about the “milky water”.

So, this time I learned that a little preparation goes a long way for a planned event, which means it would be even more useful for an unplanned event. I also learned that putting a pitcher of water in the fridge is a good idea—it’s more appealing. And, I also learned that while there may be no perfect way to alert affected people about planned interruptions to services, clearly flyers in the letter box isn’t necessarily the best or only thing they should do.

This was kind of similar to the notification about the changes to postal delivery that I blogged about last week. I posted a link to the NZ Post site son that community Facebook Page so people could check their own address for the delivery days. I actually did that because of the issues I saw with the water shutoff. Neither I nor anyone else should have to do that, but maybe there's no choice.

Still, this water outage, while annoying, as they always are, wasn’t too bad. Preparation clearly works. Now I just have to redouble my efforts to make sure we’re prepared for emergencies, too.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Women’s work

I’ve long said that if the USA wants a better class of politics, we need a better class of politician. And what that means in practical terms is that we need younger people, people of all different races and ethnicities. We need people of all religious beliefs—including especially those with none. And we need a LOT more women in office. The ad above highlights that particular effort.

The ad is from Serve America PAC, founded by progressive Democratic US Representative Seth Moulton. He is a combat veteran in the Iraq War, and many of the candidates the PAC supports, and all the women in the ad, are military veterans, too. The PAC is committed to “transforming our nation’s capital and state capitals across the country by supporting a new generation of leaders who will put people over politics.” It is a worthy goal.

The women in the ad all decided to run for office after having already served their country. They saw that their work serving the country wasn’t done, and realised that if they didn’t step up, who would? More of this, please.

I know plenty of men like me—middle aged and older white men—who get defensive and even lash out when it’s suggested that we’re not always the best choice for elected officials. I used the word “always” deliberately, because we white men, older white men in particular, have always taken for granted that of course we’re the best choice for election, no matter what. Well, sometimes we’re not. In fact, these days quite often we’re not the best choice.

This isn’t about us being men or white or older—all those things by themselves are irrelevant. But they often combine in ways that end up advancing the interests of other white older men to the exclusion of others. But the USA is becoming browner over time, and eligible Millennial voters now outnumber eligible Baby Boomer voters. We need the people who are the USA—and the future—to be in the halls of power. As the modern proverb puts it, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” something that younger people, women, and every minority has experienced first-hand. We need all of America to be represented at that table, and not only, or predominantly, older white men.

We older white men have our roles to play, too, of course. We can help younger people and women of all races get into office. We can advise and support them. We can also still run for office—as long as we work with everyone else, not against them. I’ll still vote for older white men, obviously, but only the ones who want to move us all forward together, not the ones who look out only for themselves and those most like them.

We need a better class of politician. We’ve tried changing older white men for other older white men, but nothing changes. Maybe it’s time we tried something different. Things can’t possibly get any worse—but they can get so much better.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Judging a meme isn’t easy

The Tweet above was posted above by NBC News, and while its subject is pretty sickening, it's also hardly surprising. But when I saw a meme based on it today, it underscored how hard it is for ordinary people to evaluate memes. The Tweet above is both real and from a reputable source. But memes based on such Tweets can accidentally call that into question.

I originally saw the meme (below right) earlier today, and thought nothing of it. When I was back on Facebook to reply to a comment on the Facebook Page share of my blog post from earlier today, I noticed it again and that someone had noted the date on the meme—October 13, when it was October 12 in the USA, where NBC News is based.
The meme in question.

This was an astute observation, and sometimes it might even be enough to call the truth of a meme into question. But not this time.

The problem is that date stamps on Tweets don't mean anything because they're displayed according to the user's settings (which makes sense since there's no such thing as a "correct" time). Any screen grab of a Tweet will display the date stamp of the device/computer taking that screen grab. For example, if I take one from my computer, the picture of the Tweet will show New Zealand time, not the date and time of the person who posted the Tweet. I’ve actually run into that very issue several times, which is why I usually embed a Tweet or delete the timestamp from a screen grab to avoid confusion—or anyone assuming it’s fake because the time stamp is “wrong”.

The original NBC News Tweet was posted at 8:08pm Eastern (USA) Daylight Time on October 12. That same moment was 2:08am October 13, as in the meme, Central European Summer Time (and 1:08pm NZDT October 13 here in New Zealand). What this means is that either whoever made the meme was in the Central European Summer Time zone, or their device was set to that time zone, or else they used a meme-making service that’s located there (I have no way of knowing which it was). The time stamp in the embedded Tweet above will probably display what time/date it as in your own time zone.

All of this can be very confusing, of course, but unless all Tweets were stamped with UTC rather than localised time, this confusion is unavoidable. However, a simple check for the original Tweet, as I did, is all that’s really necessary to verify it. I just took the further step of working out what time zone was in the meme in order to put anyone else’s mind at ease (because the question had been raised, merely sharing a link to the original Tweet didn’t seem enough).

The best way around this is to share a link to the original Tweet, not a picture of it, because people doubt a lot of things they see on social media—which is a good thing! Unfortunately, though, most people don’t doubt enough. Add that to the fact we’re all very busy and don’t have time to search out verification or sources for everything we want to share, and it increases the opportunity for false information to spread.

My advice is simple. First, stick with reliable sources, ones that can be checked easily. Memes made from some random person’s Tweets aren’t as reliable, without checking further, as ones from reputable news sources. But even if the source is credible, verify the meme is really based on something they said, reported, etc. Otherwise, give it a miss. If you simply must share something unverified, then at least say in your post something like, “I haven’t had a chance to verify this yet.” Someone may do the job for you—or debunk it. Either way, the truth will win.

I hadn’t set out to make this Internet Meme Verification Day, but when things fall into a blogger’s lap, there’s no escape. And, no, I haven’t verified that assertion. It isn't easy to judge a lot of things.

Meme-ingful information

The meme at left popped up on social media in the past few days, but without any links or other information on sources, it’s hard to evaluate for truthfulness and accuracy. However, I did the research the original meme-maker did not, and it turns out that the core point of the meme is true and accurate, and it also turns out that the lack of sourcing is not the fault of the person who originally shared the information. This underscores how dodgy political memes often are.

The meme originated as a reply to a Tweet back in September, part of a discussion about voter suppression efforts in the US state of Georgia. The graphic in the meme made it look like it was singling out the USA, which it wasn't. The original graphic was from Statista, whose charts I’ve shared several times. It was their “Chart of the Day” back on February 2. I’ve included the full chart below.

The information in the actual graphic (shared on Twitter) is drawn from the “2017 Democracy Index”, published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which was released in January of this year [download the PDF]. The Index ranks countries on a democracy scale of 0 to 10 based on five criteria. Business Insider explained the criteria:
The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair (“electoral process and pluralism”), governments have checks and balances (“functioning of government”), and whether citizens are included in politics (“political participation”), support their government (“political culture”), and enjoy freedom of expression (“civil liberties”).
The biggest and most important thing about actual Index isn’t that the USA has fallen out of the top 20 rankings of democracies, but this: A country must have a rating of at least 8 to be classified as a “full democracy”, so the USA slipping below 8, as it actually did in 2016, means it has been downgraded to a “flawed democracy”; its ranking has been declining for years. In short, a low ranking among democracies is bad, but a downgrade to “flawed democracy” is much worse.

The reason the meme’s so popular on social media all the sudden is undoubtedly because of the upcoming the US elections, but it has very little usefulness for that purpose.
The actual Tweet.

First, the meme has no sources, apart from hints in the subhead that one could Google (the original Tweet shared the complete graphic which does include some very basic sourcing information, and he separately Tweeted a link to the Business Insider piece). This is a constant problem with political memes, and especially ones “borrowed” from other people on social media. Sure, someone can always do as I did and spend some time hunting around, but we shouldn’t have to do that—ever. Sources matter because facts matter: Without sources we have no way of knowing if a meme is factual or mere propaganda.

The second problem is more about what might be called utility: The people already opposed to the current regime in the White House will take this on board as more evidence of how bad the current regime is, however, its supporters will simply not believe it’s true. This is always a problem, obviously, when the current occupant of the White House constantly dismisses truth and facts as “fake news” and attacks journalists as “the enemy of the people”. But not everyone supporting the regime is all in without questions, and those people can sometimes be open to new information.

To accept that the information in the chart even might be true, it’s vital that they’re able to check it out for themselves. However, if they did and found out that the USA was downgraded to a “flawed democracy”, it’s questionable how many marginal supporters of the regime would be willing to accept that. Part of this is the ideology of American exceptionalism that the rightwing in particular is wedded to, and it leads them to deny and dismiss anything critical of the USA or its democracy—basically, it’s a kind of denial that anything could be wrong with the USA.

For those reasons—the lack of sourcing and the fact that marginal supporters of the regime would be likely to see the Index as an attack on and insult to the USA—it has no usefulness as a campaign graphic. But, that aside, what about the information itself?

I haven’t read the full report, though I’ve now downloaded it (link above). I was probably aware of it when it was released, if only vaguely, because I get email alerts from the EIU. Similarly, I get email notifications of Statista charts, so I would have received a notification of the chart shared in the Tweet. But there are a lot of international rankings every year, and I can’t look into all of them!

Even so, the Democracy Index is a rational ranking of democracies based on its criteria. It provides a standard by which commitment to democracy can be measured, not just among the 167 countries ranked, but also regionally and globally. A frightening fact from the 2017 Index: Only 4.4% of the world’s population live in countries with “functioning democracies” according to the Index’s scale.

All of which is fascinating to politics geeks like me, and probably frightening to anyone who cares about democracy, but I think there’s another, different lesson here.

A point I've been making for decades is that there’s NO SUCH THING as a "perfect" country: Humans are imperfect and any government system they create will be imperfect, too. However, it's possible to be better, and better is good. Every country is good at or ranks higher in something good than other countries. Human nature again. But we should never be blind to where other countries are better or doing things better so that we can learn from them and become better ourselves—whether we like doing the reality check or not.

That’s not an easy concept for many conservatives in the USA to accept. It’s what leads them to embrace banal slogans like the red hat slogan of the current occupant of the White House. Thing is, what he was actually implying is that there was a mythical time in the past when the country was the best it could possibly ever be. That's just silly. ALL countries—every single one—can become better, always. Rather than looking backward to an imaginary "best ever" past, we should be looking toward the future and work on becoming the best we can be.

For those of us who don’t support the current regime, their silly slogan just makes America GRATE again.

So, the meme shared part of a graphic from an actual Tweet from September which, in turn, shared a graphic from February that was based on information originally released in January. While stripped of context, the meme’s nevertheless both real and an accurate, if edited, representation of what it purports to be. But, it should have had a source(s) provided, and it’s of no real use in election discourse. That’s too bad, because Americans really ought to be more self-reflective about their country and how it compares to other countries.

I have to admit that when I first saw the graphic on social media, none of this was on my mind. Instead, my first thought was, as I said to a friend who also shared the meme, “I’m just pleased that New Zealand is rated better than Australia by yet another international measure.” I was joking, of course (kind of…), but no one can take everything in politics seriously all the time. If we did, well, with everything bad in the world these days, it’d just be too horrible.

There’ll be a meme for that, too.

Chart from Statista.