Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A good time was had

This past Sunday we held my birthday party at a café about 15 minutes from our house. It was the closest date we could get to my actual birthday, and while a Sunday may seem like an odd choice, it was in the middle of a holiday weekend, so it all worked out.

It was a really good night, with lots of talk and catching up, some karaoke, great food, and a lovely cake (photo below). It was honestly among the nicest such events I’ve ever been to.

For me, one of the highlights was that Nigel and all his siblings were there, along with his mum, of course. This doesn’t happen as much now that one of his sisters lives in Australia, so that was as special for them as it was for me.

The party was relatively short—5pm to 10pm—which suited me: I can no longer tolerate late nights like I could decades ago. I was in bed by around midnight.

The next morning, those staying with or near us had breakfast together at our house, then the various siblings left to head home. The sister from Australia flew home on Tuesday, which ended up being a rest day for Nigel’s mum and me. Today I took her home, which means that tomorrow will be my first day alone in the house since before my birthday—when I was painting rooms.

I spent a lot of time standing at my party, and it left my legs sore. And, I was tired from the “late” nights and the socialising, so it’ll take me a few more days to fully recover. Well, it was a “big birthday”…

As I said in my birthday post, my actual birthday was a low-key, relaxing day. The next day, Nigel and I picked up his mother, and that night we had corn on the cob with dinner, and it struck me how appropriate that was: It was still my birthday in my native Illinois, and every year my mother made whatever I wanted for my birthday dinner. Several years my mother froze corn on the cob in season so I could have it on my birthday. Having it on what was my American birthday made me feel really good. As if the “big birthday” itself wasn’t reason enough to feel nostalgic.

So, this year my birthday celebrations lasted about a week, and picked up speed as the week went along. Other people would choose different ways of celebrating, of course, but getting together with friends and family is the way that appeals most to me. My ordinary birthdays are much quieter, which isn’t a surprise or unusual, and maybe some year I’ll choose a different way of marking a “big birthday”. This year’s celebration, in it’s entirety, was pretty much perfect.

Our friend made the birthday cake. She also supplied the cake for my 50th and our marriage parties.

Monday, January 28, 2019

My summer project

It seems as if every summer has to have some sort of project. It makes us feel like we’re accomplishing something with the long, mild days, or maybe to make up for hibernating in the winter. Either way, summer is a great time to get things done around the house. This year, my project has been painting.

The photos up top are the before and after photos of our toilet (the room, not the throne), the first room I painted. The before and after photos of the main bathroom, the second room I painted, are below. It turned out to be more of an adventure than I’d expected, but before getting into that, first the why.

The house is what part of a line of a special type of home called “Initial Homes” (and usually stylised as “1nitial Homes”). The homes were a more budget-friendly version of Lockwood Homes, and while the Initial Homes brand has disappeared, Lockwood now has a range of home styles available.

Lockwood Homes use a special system of solid wood married with polystyrene and locking pins. The long sections are manufactured into chunky plank-like things, which are then assembled into a house on site. The somewhat modular nature means that there are numerous modifications that can be made fairly easily and relatively inexpensively.

Traditionally, the houses featured varnished wood finish on the walls (visible in both before photos), and, of course, the varnish slowly yellows over time. A whitewashed look was also available, and now they have a range of finishes/colours available, too. However, for many years, varnished wood was king.

Lockwood Homes generally had solid wood roofs/ceilings, in addition to the walls, and Initial Homes had conventional roofs and gib (plasterboard) ceilings. Some people love the all-wood look, and others hate it, which is all a matter of personal taste. The solid wood roofs/ceilings make for a very strong roofing system, however, it can mean being surrounded by a lot of wood.

Personally, I think they’re great for a holiday home, where the sort of cabin-like feel just seems appropriate. But being surrounded every single day by all that wood everywhere, including inside the wardrobes (closets), is just a bit too much. This was especially true in the toilet, bathroom, and en suite (also known as a “master bath”; I haven’t painted that room yet), which were quite dark and just didn’t feel fresh. In fact, the toilet felt a bit like an outhouse to me.

Before we could do anything, some prep work* was required. In addition to removing things like towel rods, the toilet paper holder, and picture hooks, I also needed to wash the walls. This was for two reasons. First, it got rid of the dust in the grooves between the boards, and second, because it’s good to wash walls before painting: Because they were still in their original finish, they might have dirt/grime/grease after all those years, and the best way to make sure they didn’t was to wash them. I used sugar soap, which is commonly used in this part of the world, the specific brand being Selleys. I followed the label instructions, which included the advice that it wasn’t necessary to rinse/wipe down the walls after washing them with the sugar soap. This was important.

Next, it was time to paint. After doing our research, we chose to prime/seal the wood with Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 by Rustoleum* because—in addition to being recommended by folks who’ve done what we were about to do—it had several important advantages. It’s water-based (easy to clean up), dries quickly (one hour, though it takes 7 days to fully cure/harden), and it can go over any surface without it being sanded first, something that was important for our use—who’d want to sand all those walls?!

The label says that two coats usually aren’t necessary, and in our case we wanted it to prepare the wood for the paint, not to prime the walls. So, I only used one coat. Our top was a primer and paint in one, in a colour called “Black White” which is a white, but with a bit of black to tone it down a little bit, making it sort of alabaster-looking (as paint experts put it). It took three coats of the paint to fully cover the wood.

Because the original surface was smooth, I’d intended to paint the room with foam brushes and very low nap rollers. However, there were areas where sap had bled through and hardened, and there were some saw marks that couldn’t be seen, and they all made the walls rougher than they looked, especially near mouldings around the doors and windows, it seemed. I ended up using brushes exclusively for the whole job.

When I painted the toilet, I laboriously taped all the wooden mouldings, which I thought was a waste of time. But when I went to paint the bathroom, and discovered how hard it was to paint without hitting the mouldings, I stopped and taped them all up. Lesson learned: Mask everything first.

All of which fit our goal: We weren’t trying to hide what the house is or made of, and we wanted it to be obvious it was wood (the outline of the knots can still be seen). Similarly, the fact that some of my brush stokes could be seen, despite all my caution and attempts to do, long, gentle, feathered strokes, meant that it ended up looking like old wood that someone had painted. In a sense, it made the rooms seem kind of vintage, farmhouse-like, even, which is all the rage. It also made those yellowed-varnish walls look like shiplap, which seems to be used in a lot of the American home improvement shows I watch. If we hadn't wanted any of that, and wanted smooth walls, we would have gibbed over (put plasterboard over) the walls, which some people with these homes choose to do.

We decided to leave the mouldings in their original state, varnished wood, rather than painting them, for two reasons. First, they match the rest of the house, and we felt that would add continuity to the look—the difference wouldn’t be so jarring. Second, it provided some contrast with the white walls to help break it up a bit. I think the result did both.

Overall, the rooms ended up looking as we wanted them to, though somewhat different than I’d originally thought I wanted. While I originally wanted perfectly smooth walls, after I realised how rough the walls actually are, I think the result I got is more authentic, for lack of a better word, than a totally smooth finish would have been. Painting the two rooms white brightened them both up, of course, and made them seem fresher and more modern. But they also reflect light into the hallway they both open onto, brightening up what is often a dark space.

Most of the tips I’d give anyone doing a similar project are covered anywhere painting advice is given—like making sure the paint is well stirred, that dropcloths cover the floor (and cover them well…), and that things not to be painted are well masked (and take time to get it right; I rushed too much and should have worn my reading classes. Sigh.). However, I have some specific tips that don’t often get mentioned.

First, if it’s a small room, take the door off its hinges. I didn’t do that with the toilet, and nearly passed out from the heat (not entirely joking about that…), and had trouble painting the moulding behind the door in particular (in this style house, there’s usually very little room, maybe the width of a pencil, between one or both walls near a door and the mouldings around it). I learned my lesson, and took the door off its hinges when I did the bathroom and will do it again when I paint the en suite later this month.

Second, and most important of all, sit on the toilet—literally. Also, stand in a shower, at the vanity, and sit on the edge of the bathtub. Then, look around for any spots you may have missed. People will have the most time to contemplate the quality of your labour when they’re spending time in one place, so it makes sense to quality-control your work from those perspectives. I found small areas I missed that way. Criticism averted.

My greatest challenge was at the beginning: The small size of the toilet made it cramped and too tight to use a stepladder, though I was able to use my small step stool. It was hard painting over my head, and it left my upper arms very tired. That was also the most active I’d been in months, and I felt it. Near the end of the second coat in the toilet, I thought to myself that I wished we’d never started the project. Things got better, though, and the bathroom went better. No doubt part of that was that I’d become just enough fitter that it didn’t bother me as much; I can only imagine how much easier it would have been had I been completely fit.

There was, of course, some inevitable overpainting (for example, when I painted the toilet, and left the door on its hinges, I sometimes hit the hinges or the doorframe when trying to paint behind the mouldings around the door. I also dripped a bit on the tile floor, and a little on the carpet. The carpet spots, which were light, came out easily with the same wet vacuum we use for pet accidents and spills. The overpainting on the mouldings came off with a damp rag and a little rubbing. The drops on the floor I was able to scrape up with a plastic bread bag closer, or, if it was really stubborn, a razor blade. Some tweezers also came in handy for removing little bits of masking tape that stuck to the wood, after I first sliced through the paint with an X-ACTO knife. A photo of the tools I used in my clean up, without the damp rag, is at the very bottom of this post.

Finally, a blogger’s notes on the photos: I took them in as near-identical states as possible. Many times I’ve seen “before” photos that show a terrible room, and the “after” photo shows it all finished and dressed and looking magazine worthy. I wanted to be able to show a more direct comparison of the projects, so neither room has any unnecessary adornments or anything. However, the “before” photo of the bathroom had the photos still on the wall, so the “after” does, too. Also, Nigel had attached the heated towel rail to the bathroom wall before I was able to take the “after” photo (it still has to be connected to the power by an electrician). So, the photos show the rooms in nearly the same state before and after…

And that’s what I’ve done on my Summer Holiday: A Summer Project.

The bathroom, before and after.

My clean-up tools.

*The products listed and their names are 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 we purchased the products 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.

*Update: After I published this post, I realised that I accidentally left out information about the prep stage, and it is an important part of the process. I added the paragraph on prep work for full transparency.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Happiness matters

The Facebook Video above is from the World Economic Forum, and it's about the very different approach toward governing that the current New Zealand Government is taking. Instead of just measuring traditional economic indicators alone, the government is also looking at other indicators of wellbeing. Because happiness matters, and so does well-being, and kindness and compassion go a long way to improving the quality of life of the nation.

When I shared this video on my personal Facebook, I said:
Our Prime Minister has a different approach to government, a view that goes beyond any single election cycle. This could be the antidote to the rise of far-right authoritarianism in Western democracies—if it gets enough time to get off the ground before our next election. You can’t instantly turn a bus around, after all.
And that's the important thing: Rightwing authoritarianism is on the rise, and part of the reason is that people are frustrated with the way things are going and are looking for easy solutions. That's not a majority anywhere, but it's enough to win elections, especially when the Centre and Left are divided. New Zealand's approach is a nation's equivalent of business' “Triple Bottom Line”, a time-tested concept that has value for entire countries.

The catch is that some of the indicators will take years to improve, longer than can be done in any one election cycle (which is three years for New Zealand). If Labour is returned to government in 2020, the new approach can become well-established. And this is what I'm hoping. Indeed, it's what many of us are hoping for, because happiness does matter.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Being carefully taught

Despite all the progress we’ve made in advancing equality of the sexes, some things still pull us backwards, like toys. Even in 2019, we still see toys promoting sexist and outdated gender roles.

The photo above is described in the Instagram caption. It’s a toy sold by The Warehouse, New Zealand’s discount retailer. On the company’s website, the product is breathlessly promoted: “Pretend you're just like mum and dad with the Play Studio Role Play Vacuum Cleaner!” So… only a little girl features on the packaging, yet somehow boys grow up to vacuum, too, and be emulated by—girls only? How does that work?!

There’s been a trend toward gender-free marketing of toys, even though some children will nevertheless choose toys based on “traditional” gender roles, even when they’re all mixed in together. But that’s different from children being steered toward particular toys by the packaging alone.

I don’t remember much (well, anything…) from when I was in the “3+” age group, but I do remember form not much older than that age that I gravitated toward toys that other boys chose or, if that wasn’t a cue, ones that depicted boys on the packaging. Or, at least, I’d have avoided toys with girls on the packaging.

When I was a little boy, I remember that I wanted a toy kitchen, but I also “knew” that such things were for girls, not the least because the packaging made that clear, as did the fact everything was always pink. So, I made do. And when the “G.I. Joe” dolls were introduced, it provided a gender-safe way for boys to play with dolls without any disapproving or worried reactions from adults. And I did.

So, while I can’t remember being “3+”, I nevertheless can know that I wouldn’t have chosen a “Role Play Vacuum Cleaner” that had a girl on the packaging. I “knew” better than that.

One could argue that such packaging merely prepares children for a lifetime of making consumer choices based on marketing and little else. It’s certainly true that children are trained from a very early age, even before they can read or write, to respond to marketing. But that doesn't require companies to reinforce antique views of gender roles, like that vacuuming is only for girls, something that website’s wording doesn’t change, with the intent clear on the packaging.

Sure, this particular toy will not, by itself, undo all the hard work of generations of people who have worked for equality of the sexes. But it sure doesn’t help. It’s time toy companies, and the retailers that sell those toys, did better.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The unhinged busy unhinging

It’s no secret that social media, particularly in the USA, has become a polarised, extremely toxic place, especially over the past couple years. It seems to be getting worse, if anything, with unhinged comments popping up all over the place, often in very unexpected places. It’s getting so the only logical solution is to block unhinged commenters.

Yesterday evening I checked Facebook, and my timeline had a post to a Facebook Group I’m part of, one on print advertising from the middle of last century onwards. I enjoy that subject for multiple reasons—the evolution of graphic and advertising design, nostalgia, even for seeing ideas I can adapt for modern ads. It’s all a bit of fun, really, and nothing serious.

Until last night.

Someone that I do not know—an American or someone pretending to be an American—posted an especially unhinged rant complaining about Leftists commenting that ads are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. From there he devolved into a smears and defamatory nonsense about Leftists more generally. It was all WAY over the top, and totally inappropriate for a forum that’s just not that serious.

I checked out the guy’s profile to try and work out if he was serious or trolling, something I’ve always done in such cases, and nearly all his posts were either general pretty far rightwing memes, support for the current regime, and various attacks on “the Left”. It seemed to me he was another easily-triggered rightwinger who couldn’t stand the fact that someone somewhere might see the world differently than he did.

So, I posted a comment that was dripping with sarcasm:
Fun (apparently little known) facts about Facebook:

Membership in all Groups is optional. So is clicking “Like” for any page.

Leaving a comment or making a post is optional.

Reading a comment on a post is optional.

Bothersome posts can be hidden.

Triggering commenters can be blocked.

All groups can be left at any time, and any Page can be un-Liked.

As Captain Planet used to say, “The power is YOURS!”
If I’d been making the comment on a computer, rather than my iPad, I’d probably have edited that to make it punchier, but that’s not easy to do in a Facebook App, and, besides, comments were coming thick and fast and I wanted to get in before, I assumed, group Admins deleted the post.

Someone responded to my post saying something about people really making political comments like the rightwinger suggesting they did, but I responded basically saying that I didn’t know because I almost never read the comments on posts in that group. But that doesn’t change the truth in my sarcastic comment, the power really is ours to get rid of obnoxious comments.

The qualifiers I used in the previous paragraph are for a very good reason: I can’t remember precisely what was said, and, as I thought would happen, Admins deleted the post in question. The only reason I know what I said is that I got an email notification of the comments, and that included the full text of mine. Lucky me.

Someone else left a totally irrelevant ranting comment about how they’d once believed in “socialism”, but they’d supposedly studied the UK’s health system, and voila!, they abandoned Progressivism and support for Bernie Sanders to vote for the 2016 Republican nominee. I didn’t consider that comment to be legitimate.

And this is a constant problem with comments on posts to groups, media outlets’ pages, etc.: There are comments that may not be from real people, and we have no way of knowing. My standard response has been to block people leaving unhinged comments in such places, some Leftwing (or pretending to be), but mostly Rightwing (or pretending to be).

Today, however, I saw that a person I actually know posted an admittedly political post, so pushback from those who disagree isn’t a surprise. One hopes they’ll stick to facts and reason and be rational, though these days that’s often too much to hope for. It certainly was today: The guy commented making yet another unhinged rightwing rant, full of spittle-flecked rage at those with whom he disagreed, rather than even trying to engage in a discussion.

I checked out his profile, since it was a FB friend of a FB friend, and found that he posted rightwing things, including some anti-gay stuff. I blocked him. Then I commented, again, sarcastically:
Well, a good thing came from this post: One more racist, sexist, anti-gay far-right ranter with a hair-trigger is now blocked on my Facebook so I’ll never see his erudite, correctly spelled, rational comments again.
In reply to another comment, I added:
I had to check out his FB page, which was public enough, and most of the posts were aggressive rightwing memes. But there were also ones that seemed to be him talking (well, yelling…) to himself (apart from someone posting on his page “racist” in all caps).

The thing is, I can’t tell anymore who’s trolling, who’s real and disturbing, or who’s just personally disturbed. The only rational option is to block such people, real or not, so I don’t have to see their unhinged rants. It seems to be something that’s becoming more frequent, sadly.
And that’s the problem: Who is real? And, what comments are real and sincere, and which are faked and trolling? We know that political operatives attempt to game social media all the time, and we know that bots really are a thing, especially on Twitter. Does it make any sense to assume a comment we encounter on Facebook is from a real person?

Honestly, I don’t think it matters. There’s a huge difference between comments left by rational people with whom we may disagree, and irrational people being offensive, confrontational and divisive apparently for its own sake. When the person is rational, we can learn something, including how “the other side” thinks. But when the person is irrational, there’s nothing to be learned or gained.

Instead, I think we have both the right and even an obligation to ourselves to remove those irrational—and possibly fake—people from our attention so that we can better focus of things said by rational people. That’s why I block people on social media so frequently: If they’re irrational, overly aggressive, and offensive for its own sake, they’re gone. I do this mostly on Twitter where I can block 10-20 “people” whenever I visit. I block people on Facebook far less frequently, but I don’t hesitate to do so.

Twitter has become a highly toxic place, so much so that I seldom use it anymore. Facebook’s public pages can be every bit as bad, like, for example, rightwingers (or accounts pretending to be rightwingers) going to Left-leaning pages just to stir shit (all Facebook Pages are public, but Groups can be private). A rational person wouldn’t bother because they wouldn’t care.

Life means disagreement—sometimes heated disagreement. We need to be able to deal with that. But when someone becomes aggressive and ugly in their comments, we don’t have to tolerate it, and I don’t. It’s unusual for two examples to pop up so close to each other, but that’s precisely why I’m mentioning them.

That and, all joking aside, the power really is ours.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ten years later

Ten years ago today—a decade ago—we had our civil union ceremony. That meant we were legally joined in the only way available to us back in 2009, though we were married in 2013. But that day in 2009 was the first time we had a proper legal status, so it matters.

The day was extremely hot, something the family still talks about. That year, too, we celebrated my 50th birthday. A decade later, it’s cooler than it was then, and it rained this morning. Also, my 60th birthday party is this coming Sunday. So, things are very different today than they were a decade ago.

All that aside, remembering is important. I often talk about celebrating the small victories, and also the significant things in our life regardless of how “important” some make think they are (which is the reason I have my largely, but not completely, tongue-in-cheek “Season of Anniversaries”). Sometimes things may be more significant than it may seem to others. Last year, I put it this way:
Everything we do in life is connected to everything else, one way or another, and our civil union was the ceremony, our later marriage the finalisation of what happened nine years ago today. And that’s why I remember it every year.
So, that day in 2009 was overshadowed by later events, but it still mattered for its time. There are a lot of events in our lives like that, some if which only we remember. Maybe bloggers have a small advantage in that we have a ready-made way to memorialise the things that were and important for their time, and for what followed. This tenth anniversary is like that.

So, Happy anniversary to us! Once again.

This now concludes the 2018-19 “Season of Anniversaries”. This blog now resumes normal content provision.


2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary
2015: Anniversaries
2016: A seventh Anniversary
2017: Eight years later
2018: Nine years later

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Becoming a digital near-native. Or not.

It’s interesting how people of different generations react and adapt to technological changes, especially relating to the digital age. Young people—Millennials especially—have never known a world without digital devices and technology, but some Gen Xers, as well as Baby Boomers and older generations, have had to adapt. How much they do that varies, and that is what’s particularly interesting.

Roger Green recently blogged about technological issues, including choosing analog (non-digital) solutions for everyday life. For example, he recently started wearing a wristwatch because:
Sometimes, when I needed the time, and no one has a watch, it seemed laborious for people to pull their various devices from their pockets.
A commenter on Roger’s post had similar issues. To say I couldn’t relate, is a bit of an understatement. With respect specifically to getting the time from phones, I said:
…I don’t get the problem seeing the time on a smart phone. Mine, and every one I’ve ever seen, display[s] the time when the phone is simply raised or, at most, touched. Before I started wearing a smart watch, it took me at most 2 seconds to see the current time on my phone.
Even now, I often check my phone for the time rather than my hand-me-down Apple Watch. My phone is always in my pocket, so I never have to hunt around for it, which is why takes me “at most 2 seconds to see the current time on my phone.”

What this touches on is the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants, something I talked about several years ago. However, there are no guaranteed indicators of how digital immigrants will approach technology.

One thing that’s an example is that I’m often frustrated by websites that aren’t mobile-friendly, ones that can’t change the way they’re displayed from regular websites like one would access on a desktop computer (for blogs, a simple plug-in fixes that problem, and it’s automatic for Blogger blogs like this one). It’s an issue because a website that doesn’t display properly is one that probably can’t be used properly—for example, links to other pages on the site are often flaky or don’t work at all. I expect any website I access to load quickly, operate easily, and produce the same results as a desktop website will, but optimised for the smaller screen on my phone.

I access websites most often through my iPad, sometimes later accessing the same site on my laptop if I’m going to blog about it. So far, I’ve done all my online ordering through a desktop/laptop browser and not on my pad or phone because I find that harder.

Like younger generations, I’d rather text than email or phone, or I’ll use a messaging App. But I don’t use all the same Apps as younger people do, partly because I feel I have more than enough Apps already.

We don’t currently have a DVD player—it’s stored away somewhere (not quite sure where at the moment), and our computers don’t have DVD/CD drives. All our CDs and DVDs are boxed up and stored away, and our CD music is digitised. But we don’t use digital services like Netfix or Spotify (though we both have free Spotify accounts).

Our TV comes through an open-source receiver for our free-to-air digital TV service, Freeview. It also receives some radio stations, though we don’t listen to them. I subscribe to the Washington Post digital edition.

We have a three stand-alone clocks, two of which are ordinary clocks with hands, and one is digital. Our stove/oven has dials (nothing digital), and the washer and drier are hybrids, with electronic controls using an analog metaphor (for lack of a better word).

What all this means is that our day-to-day life is somewhere between being digital natives and digital immigrants: We choose to use digital technology most of the time, but some of our stuff is still analog, and we certainly know how to use the technology.

Whether one is more comfortable with digital or analog technology may or may not say something about the user, I’m not sure. Those of us who are digital immigrants seem to mostly choose a blend of the old and the new, I think, influenced by our experiences, expectations, patience level, and so on. There’s no “right” or “wrong” choice, though our younger friends may be mystified when we don’t choose digital technology. So be it. Maybe there should be a technological version of Arthur’s Law.

The promise of new technology is that it will make our lives better, make it easier, and maybe make it cheaper, to do the things we want to do. It often does that, but when it doesn’t do that for us, for whatever reason, we have every right to choose the solution that does work for us.

Even in the digital age, to each their own.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New Australia-land

The video above is the Australia Day promotional ad for Meat and Livestock Australia, promoting Australian lamb. Ordinarily, that’s not something I’d talk about on this blog, but this ad is funny, and aware of Australia’s problems in a way that may not be that common. And, it makes its humour trans-Tasman.

The ad begins by mocking the revolving door of the Australian prime minister’s office, and also mocks the far-right “One Nation” political party, and the underarm bowling incident of 1981 that still pits Kiwis against Aussies (a documentary about it is abut to air on one of New Zealand’s free-to-air channels. Seriously.).

The ad proposes a new, unified country, New Australia-land. "As we all know, Australia is the greatest country on earth, but frankly right now, New Zealand is doing Australia better than Australia," an Aussie politician says.

The ad continues, "Think about it,” Australia's "lambassador" says, “we've got awesome stuff, you've got awesome stuff. Most of our stuff is already your stuff. Best of all, you get to share our prime lamb.” The politician adds, “And we can share your Prime Minister."

"Sounds like a Fair Trade Agreement," a Kiwi responds.

The ad plays off the traditional good-natured rivalry between the two countries, and is surprisingly self-aware for an Australian ad: They’re usually not as critical of themselves, especially when it comes to comparing themselves to New Zealand.

But the reality is that their politics are a mess, and ours aren’t. They have a Prime Minister du jour, and we have stable government with a popular prime minister at the head. They could do far worse than adopting our prime minister.

But, it’s an ad. It wants Aussies to buy their lamb, and, they hope, Kiwis will, too. We don’t have lamb very often, but when we do, and we have a choice, we choose New Zealand lamb, of course. This ad can’t change that.

But if it could convince Australia to join New Zealand in a new country, rather than us joining them, that would be interesting—but with no chance at all.

Things have moved on since the underarm bowling incident, and the second-best lamb in the world isn’t an inducement to change anything, is it?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Another 'Big Birthday'

Today is my birthday, and it’s another of the big ones. Last year, I thought having a “nine” birthday, was difficult, and I thought that by the time today arrived I’d be used to the idea. Yeah, well, I was wrong about that. Even so, things are definitely much better than they were last year at this time, and that’s a very good thing. That alone makes this a good birthday.

This year I turned 60, the first starting with a “6”. This means that it’s now only five years (or so…) until I reach retirement age, though it doesn’t seem long ago that the prospect of reaching retirement age was unimaginable because it seemed so very far in the future. In truth, it’s still pretty unimaginable, but I’m slowly getting used to the idea. Maybe by the time I get there I’ll be ready. But, then, I thought I’d be ready for 60 by now, and that didn’t quite go the way I’d hoped.

This birthday was actually pretty anti-climactic: After all the build-up, contemplation, and, yes, dread, when the clock ticked over—nothing. It’s not like I actually expected something to happen, it’s just that nothing was any different than it was at 11:59pm. I amused myself thinking things like, “this is the first time I’m loading the dishwasher in my 60s,” or “this is the first time I’m brushing my teeth in my 60s,” but, fortunately, I got over that pretty quickly. Those sorts of things were true in previous decades, but it never occurred to me until this time, so maybe that was the something.

My birthday party is on Sunday (the next day, Monday, is a public holiday), and we’ll be having family staying with us, so there were things that needed to be done. I originally said I wasn’t going to do anything today—that is, no work—but there were those things that needed to be done. Nigel did most of the stuff, but I did the bits and pieces I needed to do.

Because of the party coming up, we didn’t really do anything special today. Nigel made us lunch, using fresh tomatoes from our garden, and we had takeaways for dinner. Even though we had a lot to get through today, we nevertheless both also found time to focus on stuff we wanted to do.

Today ended up being low-key, making it a nice and relaxing day. That’s why those little chores that needed doing weren’t any sort of burden.

It turns out that turning 60 was no big deal. That doesn’t mean I’m used to it, but neither was I ever going to be upset by it. It is what it is. I have no idea what to expect from this decade, so I have a strong incentive to keep blogging and podcasting as I find out what happens next. Let’s see what this is all about.

And that’s it for this year’s birthday, apart from the party, of course. 60, huh? So far, so good.

Here’s my annual birthday selfie, this one taken shortly after my birthday arrived in my native Illinois:

The Illinois Route 60 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. The road goes from the Illinois Tollway toward the town where I lived until university. It passes the mall, then called Hawthorn Center, where I spent a lot of time as a teen. The U.S. Route 60 sign is a public domain graphic , which is also available from Wikimedia Commons. I don’t know if I ever drove on that road, but I may have when I was in university and made a trip to the southernmost tippy-tip of Illinois and crossed into Kentucky.

My Previous Birthday posts:

2018: The annual increasing number: 59
2017: The annual increasing number: 58
2016: The annual increasing number: 57
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The closing of a decade

Today is my “birthday eve”, but this year’s is a little different. Tomorrow I officially begin a new decade, so today marks my final hours in this decade. Obviously, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Many things are. At least it’s complicated in a good way.

First, each birthday marks the end of a year, not the start. Our first birthday marks the completion of our first year of life, and so on. That means I’ve all but completed the first year of my new decade, and tomorrow what actually changes is the tens digit of my age. Still, that’s what makes the decade change official, as well as something we may actually be able to feel.

The other important point is that I wasn’t born here in New Zealand, so, technically, my birthday actually begins some 20 hours after it does here (7pm tomorrow New Zealand time), because that’s when my birthday reaches my native Illinois. This is why I celebrate my birthday over two days. I mean, why not?

Of course, I could put it off even longer, to the actual time I was born, a few hours later still, but that could be splitting the hairs a bit too much. Maybe.

As I said last week, this birthday’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’m not sure I’m any more used to the idea, and I still kind of feel that someone’s made an arithmetic error somewhere or other, because I can’t possibly be this old.

On the other hand, I'm okay with the general concept of getting older, not the least because so many people never get to do that, including lots of friends and family members. Like my parents. Getting older, as the saying goes, is a gift not given to everyone. How could I be upset or whatever about getting such a precious gift?! That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily ready for it, but I'm appreciative all the same.

This evening I was watching a YouTube video that briefly mentioned bidets, and I suddenly realised that I had no idea how they’re actually used. Other YouTube videos told me. So now, at the very end of my 50s, I know how bidets are used. This decade hasn’t been wasted!

A little humour seemed to me to be the perfect way so spend a little of the time waiting as I count down the minutes until my new age and official entry into my new decade. Time always moves forward. I try to do the same.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Another conspiracy theory that isn’t real

The USA’s far-right is awash in conspiracy theories, so much so that sometimes it seems as if they have no time for anything else, including ordinary life. Those conspiracy theories permeate down into the ordinary conservative world and supporters of the Republican Party who spread and spread fact-challenged and elaborate theories of “what’s really going on”. There’s one going around that most people seem unaware of.

The conspiracy theory says that the shutdown is being deliberately prolonged because, they say, after 30 calendar days, or 22 working days, all federal employees furloughed in a shutdown can be fired through a procedure called “Reduction in Force” (RIF). The claim started with an anonymous piece published by the far-right site, Daily Caller [I never link to far-right and questionable sites, but you can copy and paste this link: https://bit.ly/2spIhGT] supposedly written by a “senior official” in the current regime. Maybe. Maybe it’s an elaborate trolling of the gullible in the rightwing media and online groups. Or, maybe it’s real, but, shall we say, uninformed.

That was picked up and explained in self-referential style by lots of entities on the USA’s far right, one in particular tried to connect the dots [again, copy and paste the link: https://bit.ly/2W3g9ai]. They, like many other rightwing sites, also referred to a partial explanation of the RIF process [I haven’t had time to evaluate the source, so: https://bit.ly/2T2VwsS].

When I first heard about the conspiracy theory, I was extremely sceptical. It’s a lie, for example, that federal employees can’t be fired for cause, and if a worker was really deliberately frustrating the current regime’s agenda, that would be cause for disciplinary action. At worst, the worker would probably have to be given the opportunity to improve their performance, which is fair, but non-performance is non-performance.

But then I remembered something. In May of last year, the current occupant of the White House issued three executive orders intended to make it easier for government agencies to fire federal workers. They also placed strict limits on union activities. A federal judges said NO.

However, there was also the fact that the current occupant himself asked Congress to make it easier to fire federal workers, and members of his regime have complained about how hard it is to politicise the federal bureaucracy. Well, that’s not exactly how they expressed it, but it was clearly what they intended to do: Stack the bureaucracy with loyalists who would do anything, legal or not, to advance the regime’s goals.

So: Is there anything to this?

Probably not. As Snopes recently pointed out, the rules for RIFs only apply to “administrative furloughs”: “A planned event by an agency which is designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work, or any budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations.”

What is currently happening is classified as “emergency furloughs”, which results from a lack of appropriations. The main difference is that “administrative furloughs” are planned and foreseeable, while an “emergency furlough” is dependent on action by Congress, which on its best days is unpredictable.

So, the law is clear that the current regime cannot use the RIF process to fire workers because of an emergency furlough—but that doesn’t meant they won’t try. Lawsuits, court injunctions, and more legal defeats for the current regime being the inevitable chain of events.

But while all that was happening, people wouldn’t be talking about how much serious legal trouble the current occupant is, so maybe distraction’s the real plan. Once again.

And, anyway, it’s common enough for the far-right to fall for credible-sounding but completely wrong conspiracy theories.

Earlier this evening, I saw a meme that said that Congress had passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and appropriated $50 billion to build a border fence, but President Obama never did, so where did the money go, and maybe that’s what Democrats were trying to hide. Say what?!

Meme-spreaders (Right or Left) almost never check out the accuracy of the memes they share, so it’s not surprise that this one is flat out wrong.

In 2006, during the time of Bush the Second, Congress did indeed pass the Act, but they appropriated only $1.4 billion; the $50 billion figure comes from estimates: “the whole cost, including maintenance, was pegged at $50 billion over 25 years”. Very different numbers.

The Department of Homeland Security complained that the specified fence wasn’t appropriate for all areas of the border, and in 2007—Bush the Second was still president—Congress amended the Act to allow the DHS Secretary to decide what was best.

By 2011, when President Obama was in office, DHS reported that they’d completed 99.5% of the fence. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that fence had been completed in 2015. In 2017, the GAO reported that $2.3 billion had been spent to deploy the fence—which actually was more extensive than what Congress mandated—and that it would require billions more to maintain.

So: In 2006, Congress appropriated $1.4 billion for a border fence, and not $50 billion. The fence was built and completed during the time of the Obama Administration—repeat that, the fence mandated by Congress was completed, and it was done during the time of President Obama. Nothing about the rightwing meme was true.

That’s two rightwing conspiracy theory memes busted in one post. Whew! I better take some more time off from blogging!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Shadow of summers

Time was, New Zealand basically closed down for the month of January, sometimes starting at Christmas, sometimes ending in early February. Those days are over, with the country’s globalised economy now virtually non-stop (apart from the three and a half days on which there’s a trading ban, only one of which, Christmas Day, is in summer). Long summers with lots of businesses closed and not much happening are mostly gone, but sometimes there’s a small reminder.

The above two marketing fliers were distributed together this week, and provided a bit of a remembrance, a shadow, of summers of the past.

The “Back to School” sales are because New Zealand’s new school year will begin between January 28 and February 7 (it varies a bit from place to place, but schools must begin their year sometimes between those dates). Because the summer break is the longest, some parents will arrange their annual leave so they can have time off with their kids, and that means they’re facing “Back to Work”.

These days, there are plenty of parents who can’t arrange their work/annual leave schedule around their kids’ school holidays, for any number of reasons, so for them the “Back to Work” isn’t relevant. It won’t be long, perhaps, before such a flier wouldn’t be relevant for anyone.

This is sad for some people: A part of New Zealand has disappeared. It was a way of life that I read about when I first moved here, but even by then the reality was that many people didn’t take lots of time off in January. Some still did.

Until very recently, it was common to have a hard time finding suppliers of some goods or services in the first couple weeks of January. I know from personal experience how frustrating this could be for someone trying to get projects done around the house while on summer holiday. However, home centres have become the norm, rather than local hardware stores, and pretty much everything needed for household projects can be found easily, with no more that the statutory holidays (and that Christmas Day trading ban) standing between them and completing their projects.

I have to admit that, since I never experienced the old ways, I’m fine with the way things are now. In the Internet Age, where we can order nearly anything online and get it delivered—sometimes on the same day—it’s natural to expect stores and service provides to be open, too.

As it happens, I’m off the month of January each year, so I’m kind of a throwback to older times. Also, I’m not: My being off in January doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s life or summer. So, for me, there really is a “Back to Work” time, and that flier is relevant. Like, it reminded me I really want to get a smaller desk.

Even though that particular flier was relevant for me, it’s still a sort of shadow of summers long gone, ones I had a small hint of, but didn’t actually experience. It's an unusual amount of social significance from an ordinary marketing flier.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A company’s campaign gets it

The video above is from a company that makes men’s grooming products. The campaign seeks to help men be better men, which is a worthy thing, even if some may not think so for whatever reason. There was a time when such issue marketing never happened, but I think when it’s relevant, it’s a good idea. Why not use their marketing power, and access to the target market, for good? And this video IS good.

The video is from men’s personal care products brand Gillette, which decades ago adopted the slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get”. The campaign is called “The Best Men Can Be”, playing off their product slogan and setting an aspirational target. They said in a statement on their site:
It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.
This is a reference to the fight against what’s popularly called “toxic masculinity”, something that many on both the Left and Right don’t seem to fully understand. I’d sum it up as: Don’t Be An Arrogant Jerk to Everyone.

Toxic masculinity is about what’s toxic to men. It’s what robs men of their emotions except for anger and aggression. It’s what leads men to trying to be the “alpha male”, dominating everyone around them, too often aggressively or even violently. It leads men to assume that every woman is sexually available to them, or that they have the right act toward them as if they are. It leads them to dismiss, discount, victimise, and bully those they perceive as weaker, men and women alike, even if only emotionally. And it means men must never cry.

It leads to rape and sexual assault. It leads to bullying and attacks on gay men—or those merely thought to be gay. It leads to aggression and fights over nothing. And it leads men to strive to achieve an ideal of the “perfect man” that almost no one can naturally be, setting them up for failure, self-loathing, and more aggression arising from the shame and frustration of not being that “perfect man”.

The solutions are to let men be men—no one is talking about changing that at all. Instead, it’s about getting men to stop objectifying women, since that leads to dismissing women, and on to sexual harassment and even sexual assault. It’s about getting men to understand that bullying is wrong, and that achievement, competence, and compassion earn respect, and brute strength does not.

“While it is clear that changes are needed,” Gillette said in their statement, “where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.”

And that’s the key: Men helping men change. We’re the only ones who can do it.

I saw some pushback against “toxic masculinity” arguing that the bad things it describes are “natural” for other animals, as if human beings are captive to our past and can never evolve, as if our powerful brain can’t see a problem and fix it. Human males are nothing like rams that violently butt their heads against each other to win sexual access to a ewe—we’re smart enough not to do that. The masculine traits of men that women and gay men find sexually attractive are NOT the same as for other animals, and it’s silly to suggest they are.

Then, too, some conservatives are deliberately misrepresenting what this campaign is all about by misrepresenting both its intent and what “toxic masculinity” is. Sometimes this is because they don’t understand what that is and how it hurts all men, regardless of ideology. Some do it to attack the Left, using it as part of their “social justice warrior” attacks.

Sometimes the Left doesn’t help things. They may use “toxic masculinity” as something to try to shame men who may not share all of the Left’s agenda. They use it as some sort of political litmus test, similar to what the Right does.

But “toxic masculinity” is real, and a real problem. We need to ignore politics and those who would seek to exploit “toxic masculinity” for ideological or political ends. We need to help men be better men, that’s it. The ideologues can look after themselves.

This isn’t the first time that a company that’s made money off of the stereotypical gender roles has tried to present an alternative, more positive message. For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign tried to improve women’s self image, but the company itself was flawed. Gillette has faced criticism, and, of course, its parent company, Proctor & Gamble, has had many controversies.

This isn’t about the companies or their products. This is about a message, about getting men to talk to other men, and to model better behaviour that boys can emulate when they become men. No company is perfect, neither is any ad campaign. I don’t think that matters. The message is good, it’s from an appropriate source, and it may—just maybe—do some good, and, if it does, it’ll be the best thing we all could get.

The video below is the short version of the ad, suitable for broadcast television. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as effective.

The blame is his alone

Infographic: The Longest U.S. Government Shutdown In History | Statista

The USA is now enduring its longest-ever government shutdown, and the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of one person: The current occupant of the White House. He has been enabled by the US Senate’s Majority Leader and the Republican caucus, but they didn’t cause the shutdown, and they stand to lose if it goes on. Ultimately, Republicans are the only ones who will be able to get the current occupant to end his stunt, assuming that anyone at all can get him to understand reality.

The stunt is a pure partisan game that the current occupant is playing because he was scolded by a couple bloviating blowhard professional Republican moaners. Up until that point, he was willing to work on a bipartisan agreement, but the moment they nutty windbags criticised him, he freaked out and in his panic he abruptly changed course.

Since Democrats took control of the US House, they have repeatedly said they’ll pass the bipartisan measure the previous Congress had taken up. But the current occupant wants it his way only, and he’s trying to bully Democrats into doing his bidding. That’s never going to happen.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Senate are refusing to take up the previously-passed bipartisan spending bill, because their party's leader in the Senate is convinced he can continue to obstruct rather than govern, just as he did when President Obama was in office. This time he's obstructing the US House of Representatives, thereby enabling his president. Republican Senators, many of whom are vulnerable in the 2020 elections, won't tolerate that forever. They're the ones who can force the Senate to pass the measure so they can place ALL the blame on the current occupant when he inevitably vetoes the bipartisan bill. Their motivation—electoral survival—may no less self-serving than their Senate leader's or their president's, but despite that, it's the right thing to do.

Millions of Americans have been affected, from federal employees who may not be able to pay their rent or mortgage and who are seeking help from food banks, to contractors, to companies supplying goods and services to the US government, to ordinary people who want to do something the federal government controls. The current occupant doesn’t care about any of that, of course: It’s always first, last, and in between about him and his massive ego, and nothing more. He doesn’t care who he hurts or how badly he hurts them, because to him no one matters but himself. One thing that’s absolutely certain is that if those same bloviating blowhards criticised him for not reopening the government, it would be open again within milliseconds—or however long it would take him to type out the Tweet.

The chart below shows that a majority of Americans correctly blame the current occupant and the party he leads for this stunt. That’s more than the combined numbers of those who choose to blame Democrats or both parties equally. The other two charts of partisans; views may look like it just shows strong partisan feeling, and it does, but look at the differences between them: A mere 6% of Democrats blame their own party, while two and a half times that number of Republicans know their party is blame. Also, three times as many Republicans as Democrats blame both parties equally, which suggests many Republicans know their party is to blame, but can’t bring themselves to say so. This is why there’s 17 point difference in the numbers of Republicans who blame Democrats as opposed to Democrats who blame Republicans.

No one can say how or when this shutdown will finally end, or what it will take to get the Republican Leader of the Senate to act like a grown-up for a change. We can’t know how many people will ultimately be hurt by the current occupant’s petty stunt, nor how badly. But people will be burned while Nero fiddles.

Still, there’s one thing that both parties ought to do: Unanimously pass a bill saying that in the event of a government shutdown, the salaries of all US Representatives, US Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, the president and vice president and the Members of the Supreme Court will be stopped until the government reopens. If the politicians are going to play games and shutdown the government, then the elites must suffer, too. Or, they should outlaw shutdowns completely. But having one rule for the elites and another for common people is precisely why the numbers of Americans who approve of politicians is declining and the number who perceive government itself as being largely illegitimate are growing. And that’s a far bigger threat to the republic than the Narcissist in Chief or his lackeys in Congress.

Infographic: Who Are Americans Blaming For The Shutdown? | Statista

The chart up top on shutdown length through January 14 is from Statista. The other chart, on who Americans blame for the shutdown, is also from Statista. Both were released under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 3.0 license

Monday, January 14, 2019

Zeroing in on one week from today

My birthday is one week from today. After about 20, I’ve probably dreaded each “zero birthday” more than the one before. It’s not that I don’t want to get older, exactly: There’s only one way to do that. However, I wouldn’t mind the process taking a bit longer.

Our perceptions of when, precisely, old age begins have changed as human lifespan has increased—but not as quickly, probably. During the period I was born, a person could be expected to live until their late 60s, maybe early 70s. However, projected life expectancy isn’t absolute, and improvements in healthcare and medicine have increased the lifespan beyond what was projected at people’s birth—in developed countries, especially, but worldwide, too.

As people began living longer and healthier lives, our perception of when “old age” begins have shifted, too, though slowly. I think that shift needs to pick up the pace.

One of the life events when one reaches their 60s is retirement. For years, the retirement age in the USA was 65 —until they started raising it. The USA started to raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits by 2 months per year beginning with those born in 1938—but it stalled at 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. Then, the rise resumed.

I qualify for Social Security, assuming it still exists, when I reach 66 years 10 months, and this presents a problem. Due to a treaty between the USA and New Zealand, my Social Security benefit will be paid to the New Zealand Government (the two counties have similar agreements with other countries). The problem is that I qualify for NZ Superannuation at age 65, and NZ requires me to apply for Social Security when I apply for New Zealand Superannuation. However, if I apply for US Social Security at 65, it’ll be reduced benefits. Even so, at the moment I don’t plan on retiring that early, anyway, but the point is the two systems don’t match up.

Actually, the bigger problem, if it is one, is that I can’t imagine being retired. Nothing in my life has prepared me for it, since my parents never achieved it. But I also don’t feel old enough to be nearing retirement age—though I also have no idea what it would mean to feel old enough.

Which is why I’m dreading this upcoming “zero age” more than any of the others I’ve been though: I have neither the frame of reference nor any feeling for what this upcoming age will be like. Sure, on my birthday itself it’ll be no different than the day before, but as the years pass, what happens? At all those earlier “zero age” birthdays I had some idea what to expect, and I knew that the following decade wouldn’t be all that much different than the one before it. Neither is true this time.

This isn’t the sort of thing I can be told about or learn about. It’s one of those rare things that must be intuited, and I’m not there yet. Still, time waits for no one, right? And one week from today, ready or not, I enter what’s for me totally uncharted territory.

Still, it beats the alternative.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A good idea is suspended

A programme in New Zealand to collect soft plastics for recycling has been suspended. There was evidence we were headed that way for quite awhile, but its end, even if temporary, was sudden. Whether it resumes or not, the real issue is reducing the amount of soft plastics there are.

The programme began as a pilot in 2015, and was partly funded by the government of the day, led by the National Party, though it was a project of the Packaging Forum, which represents the packaging industry. The idea was to make it easy for people to drop off soft plastic packaging (basically anything plastic that a person could crumple in their hands), and it became very popular.

At the time the programme was begun, there was no governmental move to ban single-use plastic bags, so it was partly a way of dealing with all those used bags. The plastics were sent to Australia, but the long-term plan was to process them here in New Zealand.

In 2016, the project collected 106 tonnes of soft plastic for recycling, which grew to 366 tonnes in 2017. They planned to be collecting 447 tonnes by the end of this year.

However, the Australians stopped accepting our soft plastics, and it began piling up. By November of last year, 400 tonnes was in storage, some of it getting mouldy, making it unusable. A month later, six supermarkets stopped collecting the bags. That was probably the starting point of the end, because a few days later the packaging forum “suspended” the programme on December 31.

The forum “plans to resume a sustainable service in April 2019”, but that depends on finding some way to process the plastics collected, and to do so here in New Zealand. I’m extremely dubious that will happen.

I didn’t know any of this was going on. I didn’t go grocery shopping the end of December (I ordered online), so if there was any in-store announcement, I never saw it.

Earlier this week I went grocery shopping and brought my soft plastic packaging with me. I got to the Countdown grocery store, and the collection barrel was gone. I just thought that maybe they hadn’t been able to deal with it over the holidays. The next day, I went to The Warehouse, which also collected the bags, and looked for their barrel. It wasn’t there, either. When I was in the checkout I saw a sign on the wall saying that the programme was suspended.

I had one small bag of soft plastics, so it wasn’t a lot, but it raised a question: What was I going to do with it? And, should I save and store the plastics for four months in case the programme really does resume in April? No, I shouldn’t. There can be no guarantee the programme will return then or ever, and then I’d have to send it all to landfill. So, I’ll send it to landfill again, and, in fact, we’ve already started throwing it into the regular rubbish. I hated doing that, but there’s no practical alternative.

At the end of November 2017, I said of the programme that “I’d guesstimate I’ve probably diverted the equivalent of five 60-litre rubbish bags (probably more) from landfill.” At the time, I had no way of knowing that it would start piling up in storage and not be recycled.

All of New Zealand’s supermarkets have stopped giving away plastic shopping bags. The government has announced that they’ll be banned everywhere in New Zealand this year. So, the amount of soft plastic packaging we have to deal with will be cut dramatically. But there’s so much more that could be done.

The programme was always a way to deal with a problem after the fact. The better solution would have been to eliminate the problem by eliminating the plastic packaging. While banning the shopping bags will be huge, there’s still a lot of plastic shrink wrapping used, and potato chips and other snacks and food products, like frozen vegetables, come in plastic bags. These are not easy to avoid without also avoiding the products.

I have mesh bags to use when I shop for fresh produce so that I don’t need any plastic bags, which is part of the solution. The packaging industry should work to eliminate all the unnecessary plastics, like shrink-wrap, for example, which is almost never necessary. Despite all that, some plastic packaging will remain, and it would be good to find a sustainable way to recycle it. Maybe it’ll happen.

In the meantime, our own moves toward more sustainability have taken a step backwards. We’ll try to avoid the soft plastics we can, but some will be unavoidable, and that will unavoidably mean it’s headed to landfill again.

Maybe some times good ideas just need more time to work out.