Friday, May 31, 2019

Striking fear

There are some professions that are vital to keeping our civilisation going, and among them is education. They teach the basic knowledge that makes every other profession possible, and they reinforce our civilisation. I have a lot of respect for teachers and the work they do. I don’t think they’re paid enough, not by a long shot, and they should have better working conditions. I’m also now strongly pro-union. But I’m also a pragmatist, and this week’s teachers strike in New Zealand is skating closer to making things worse.

The 50,000 primary school teachers and principals and post-primary teachers went on strike this week, and it was about conditions as much as pay. It was not only the biggest teachers strike in New Zealand history, it was also the biggest strike of any kind (the second largest was the 1951 waterfront dispute, which had 22,000 people on strike at its height. Last year, a total of around 70,000 people went on strike, the highest number since the 1980s.

Times have changed, though. Unlike the five-month long 1951 waterfront strike, modern strikes last a single day. Moreover, it’s illegal for them to strike except during their bargaining period, and they cannot engage in wildcat or solidarity strikes, nor strikes for political reasons (they can still hold rallies for such things, of course—as long as they’re held on their own time).

Unions represent only about 17% of waged workers, most of which are white-collar jobs, especially in government agencies (which includes schools and hospitals). And therein lies the problem.

Government workers are at the whim of the government of the day, and for decades both major parties have pursued basically neoliberal economic policies that avoid public spending and encourage lower taxes and free markets. There are differences in priorities, with the National Party favouring business (big business in particular), and Labour favouring social spending (health and education in particular). Over the nine years that National was in government, it spent so little on education and health that the sectors had effective budget cuts. The current Labour-led coalition government had been trying to fix those issues, health and education in particular.

This raises an obvious question: Considering the virtual pay cut that teachers and nurses endured during National’s time in government, why are they striking now, with a sympathetic government, instead of when National was in power and causing the problems? The heads of the teachers’ unions gave disingenuous answers to that, but it’s nevertheless true that, publicly, the unions did nothing for nine years.

This matters because they’re wearing out the patience of New Zealanders. Overall, people have enormous sympathy for teachers, but if they keep striking—and secondary teachers are striking again next week—that patience will run out. And if New Zealanders then blame Labour for these strikes, then the unions will get to deal with a National-led government in 2020—and they will lose, just like always. Is that really the outcome they want?

To be clear, I don’t think the current government has gone far enough with teachers. I think they should have decided on a smaller budget surplus and instead invested the money in education and health. But Labour is sensitive to the charge they can’t handle the economy; even though the economy does better under Labour than under National, the myth (fuelled by Rightwing propaganda) persists that Labour Governments are profligate. That, combined with a neoliberal economic consensus (maybe Neoliberal Ultra-Lite, in the case of Labour…), it was probably inevitable that this government would go too slowly to fix the problems that the previous National government created.

However, it is what it is: The budget is focused on some sorely needed social spending (like on mental health, for example), and they’ve chosen to run a large budget surplus. But, who knows? If the current occupant of the USA’s White House manages to utterly destroy the world economy through his ignorance, then we may be glad that the current NZ Government has run surpluses. Teachers, however, may feel differently.

I hope teachers get what they want, and that it can happen sooner than next year. But unions have to think long and hard if their strike actions are really helping their goals, or only making a National Party-led government more likely in 2020. If they switch to rallying on their own time, rather than closing schools and inconveniencing parents, they may get away with it. But if they keep pushing so hard, they could end up making sure they’ll have to wait much longer for what they want.

The most successful unions work with management (in this case, the government) to find solutions. I don’t see that happening at the moment, and both sides seem to be digging in their heals. They need to find a way forward, but I just don’t se how continual strike action can possibly bring that about—but it could make things much worse.

Update: "Minister intervenes in teachers' pay dispute, calls forum"RNZ (Radio New Zealand)

On yer bike

What are the best cities for cyclists? According to an insurance company called Coya, that describes itself as “digital insurance specialists” and also as “committed bikers”, Auckland is 7th best city in the world for cyclists, and one of only two non-European cities in the top ten. This is largely because of the huge improvements Auckland has made since Auckland Council came into being nearly a decade ago. There’s still a long way to go, however.

Coya produced its “Bicycle Cities Index 2019” their study focused on six main categories using various factors that to determine how cycling-friendly a city is:

  • Weather.
  • Percentage Bicycle Usage.
  • Crime & Safety: Fatalities / 100,000 Cyclists, Accidents / 100,000 Cyclists, Bicycle Theft Score.
  • Infrastructure: Number of Bicycle Shops / 100,000 Cyclists, Specialised Roads & Road Quality Score, Investment & Infrastructure Quality Score.
  • Sharing: Number of Bicycle Sharing & Rental Stations / 100,000 Score, # Shared Bicycles / 100,000 Score.
  • Events: No Car Day, Critical Mass Score.

Complete details of the rankings and the process used can be found at the link above.

From our perspective here in Auckland, the city still has a long way to go, however, Auckland Council, NZTA (the transport agency responsible for roads, like the Auckland Harbour Bridge) and other government agencies are committed to making cycling more easily and safely.

For example, last week NZTA announced plans for new, improved cycling and walking path next to the bridge. The bridge, which turned 60 years old yesterday, was originally supposed to be built ‘with footpath and cycle-track’, according the 1946 Royal Commission, but by the time the bridge was actually built a decade later, those plans had been scrapped.

Quite why the plans were dropped is a matter of debate, but in the 1950s through 70s Auckland was plagued with shortsighted politicians who couldn’t see how big Auckland would become, and what the implications of that were, so that’s probably a big part of it. Fixing that earlier mistake has taken up the past decade, and finally started moving forward within the past few years, especially with the change of government in 2017 when the new government committed to build the cycling and walking path across the harbour. Finally. Work could start next year.

NZTA is also adding cycling and walking paths as part of their major expansion of the Southern Motorway, connecting Karaka and Papakura. That project will be completed later this year.

Auckland Council is also making cycling safer and easier, by making roading improvements, like on Quay Street in the CBD, as well as in other areas throughout the city. Some of the projects in suburbs (neighbourhoods) are currently under consultation or design, while others have been completed.

Add it all up, and in five years Auckland could very well rise in global rankings like Coya’s. That’s incredibly good news because it means fewer people in cars, more people getting exercise, and both of those will make for a healthier city—and healthier people. It’s a win all around.

I can’t fairly evaluate the index or its rankings—I’m not a cyclist nor an expert in that subject or transport generally. I admit that I think that it is a bit, um, nice to Auckland. But I also know that better and safer cycling and walking is important for any modern city. Anything that helps advance that is a good thing, in my opinion.

The data visualisation of Coya’s index at the top of this post is a “Chart of the Day” from Statista. Their summary of the data can be found at the link.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

More Internet wisdom that worked

These days, whenever we need to find something out, we probably turn first to the Internet. We can learn many interesting things that way, and sometimes we may even find effective ways to do something we need to do, like how to fix something we don’t know how to fix. Today I tried a repair method I read about on the Internet, and it actually worked.

The problem was that our en suite basin, which is made of plastic (or maybe it’s fibreglass), was stained with my beard dye (don’t judge). It happened because the dye’s applied with a little brush and it’s possible to flick the dye without even seeing it until later. Left too long, it stains the basin.

So I turned to the Internet and the wisdom contained thereon was that nail polish remover would remove it (it was also supposed to work on removing the printing from those little plastic tags used to close bread bags).

We had some nail polish remover that we used as a solvent in our old house (maybe it was another Internet answer—I don’t remember). So I tried it and—nothing. I remembered that the instructions specified nail polish remover with acetone, which, apparently, they don’t all have. In fact, it didn’t smell anything like the stuff my mother used when I was a kid. So, I decided to buy some acetone and try that.

I’ve never bought acetone before, and I assumed I could get it at a hardware/home centre, and Google confirmed that. So, I headed out today to get the groceries, stopping first at the nearby home centre, and I bought the smallest bottle they had.

The acetone worked. I had to rub the spots, especially the darker ones, but it did work. I was kind of surprised, to be honest. The photos up top show the before and after, and I do realise it’s kind of hard to see. The shadow of the tap handle at the left edge of both photos is the point of reference.

There was one small (literally) failure, though: I tried the acetone on a bread tag, but it broke apart as I did. Maybe straight acetone is too harsh (it can strip paint, after all), or maybe I was pressing too hard, or maybe it was just a fragile tag. I'll try again another time.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to talk about trying something I learned about on the Internet. Sometimes the method works, and other times it just doesn’t. As it happens, I have another one to talk about, something that’s been in the works for a couple years, actually, and it's still not ready because the trial isn’t done yet (I read about a variation I haven’t been able to try yet).

Sometimes the Internet is pretty useless for telling us how to do things, but other times it actually delivers. This was (mostly) one of those times.

Google Doodle for us, not US?

The picture above is a Google Doodle that appeared on my screen today, and I’m sure it would mystify most Americans. It promotes the ICC Cricket World Cup, currently underway in the UK and Wales. New Zealand, who co-hosted the 2015 World Cup with Australia, is participating, of course.

Cricket is actually played in the USA, mostly, but not exclusively, by expats from various Commonwealth countries. Still, it in the USA, it definitely is what commentators like to call “a minority sport”, and that’s why it’s unlikely that most Americans would have any idea why that Google Doodle was about (the link in the actual Doodle goes to their search page, which includes match results).

The Cricket World Cup is the One Day International (ODI) format, which, in my opinion, is far better than Test Cricket. One the other hand, I haven’t been to an ODI match in so long that I’m not even sure how long it’s been—17 years, maybe? Sheesh!

At least I know what the Google Doodle was about. That’s something, I guess.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nothing shocking

Two weeks ago today I had a shocking experience. Well, my heart did, anyway. The rest of me just went along for the ride. And now, two weeks later, I’m mostly adapted to the current drug routine, halfway through it. The middle of next month, it changes slightly. Overall, it's a case of so far, so good.

The day after I got home, I filled my prescription, but I didn’t start the new drug, Amiodarone, until the following morning. They’re having me take two pills per day—which is quite a high dose—for a month, and then it drops to one pill per day. This is supposed to happen two weeks before I get my first blood test to check for any serious side effects, which will show up there, even if I’m not aware of any symptoms. I have no idea why the dose is so high for a month; if I’d known they were doing that, I would have asked.

Some days I’m extremely tired, which makes sense: The drug regime is keeping my heartbeat consistently around 70bpm or less (it’s usually in the mid to low 60s), something they’ve wanted for ages, ever since they put me on beta-blockers; this is the first time it’s actually happened. Twice so far—both on a Tuesday—I struggled to wake up in the morning, and was dog-tired all day long. Other days I can get more done, but sometimes I need to sit and rest for awhile. However, sometimes I have a good amount of stamina.

Because of that, I think this new drug regime is somewhere between beta-blockers at the worst, and the old regime. Sometimes I’m more tired than I was before the afib incident, but usually I’m better than on beta-blockers. Also, my mind is clearer in the daytime, though, like on beta-blockers, it kind of goes mushy in the evening.

What is very weird, though, is that I find it kind of hard to fall asleep at night. Insomnia is one of the side effects, but that’s not exactly what I experience: It just takes me longer to fall asleep—a half hour, followed by maybe another half hour where I kind of doze a bit until I finally fall asleep for the night. This could be another reason I’m tired.

What makes it weird is that in the evening I can be really sleepy, yawning like crazy, and yet I still can’t fall asleep. To help, I now have a cup of chamomile tea every night—I think the nights I’ve had two cups have shortened how long it takes me to get to sleep, but I’m not sure; I’m trying that tonight to see if it helps.

One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post is that because the medicine can cause liver damage, they urge people to avoid or severely limit alcohol intake. I’m doing the former. There are many good alcohol-removed wines nowadays, and some decent no-alcohol beers and even a sparkling no-alcohol wine—well, technically, it’s a sparkling grape juice, but it’s more wine-like than that sounds. This means that when we’re being social, I can sort of play along, even though I’m not drinking alcohol.

I’ve also severely restricted regular coffee, even though there’s divided opinion on whether caffeine causes afib (most experts seem to doubt it does). However, after all I went through, the last thing I wanted to do was to stimulate my heart. So, I have, at most, one per day.

I do, however, drink decaffeinated coffee, and the problem is that most of them actually do have some caffeine—sometimes, even, not much less (if at all) than a normal cup of coffee. There’s no way to know what the caffeine content is because manufacturers aren’t required to list it on the label. Still, according to my own experience (I monitor my heart rate throughout the day) it’s clearly not as stimulating as the real thing.

After the procedure two weeks ago, they also gave me potassium intravenously. My levels were normal, they said, but on the lower side of normal and they wanted to boost it a bit. Potassium has a lot of functions, including helping muscles function properly (and the heart is a muscle…), and it also helps control blood pressure. I bought some bananas last week, and since they became ripe enough this week, I’ve had a banana most days. Can’t hurt to keep my levels up a bit.

A good thing that’s happened is that my blood pressure continues to be really good. I say “continues” because it started when I was in hospital (before the potassium infusion), and that continues. In fact, it’s never been as well-controlled as it is now.

That’s not the end of the good news. Three weeks ago I went to get blood drawn for my routine blood tests, and though the results took forever to show up online, when they did the results were nearly all good—great, even.

I was surprised that not only had my cholesterol levels not become worse since they cut my dose of atorvastatin, they were actually better—normal for all but one measure. Only my “good cholesterol” level is still too low because I’m not active enough—but even that was better than it's been in a few years.

I have no idea why this result was so good. Maybe my combination of drugs was helping, but I suspect that at least part of it has to be down to my avoiding red meat. It certainly didn’t hurt.

The shocking result, however, was how low my uric acid level was—well below what it should be to prevent gout attacks. Back in early April, I went to the doctors for a routine check to renew my prescriptions. I told the doctor about the gout attacks I had late last year, and its possible connection to the anti-coagulant I’m on, dabigatran. The doctor was somewhat incredulous, which I’m used to, but checked the Medsafe site and saw what I was talking about. He said that a gout attack can be caused by any change in uric acid levels—up OR down, and a big change can trigger an attack.

So now I’m wondering if the dabigatran lowered my uric acid levels, thereby causing gout attacks, but is also keeping them low. No way to know, I suppose, but having the levels so low means that—if they stay there—an attack is very unlikely, which is great news. It also means that if they take me off it, it has to be done s-l-o-w-l-y.

Most everything else was completely normal, though a couple numbers were borderline or not quite right, and will need monitoring. My thyroid had one borderline reading, and my liver had one level that was slightly wrong. The Amiodarone can harm both organs. Something to watch.

But wait, there’s more! There was one other bit good news: My National Bowel Screening Programme result came back, and it was negative, as I expected. So, unless something changes—like symptoms develop or some other risk factor emerges—I don’t need to do anything until my next test under the programme in two years.

The good news here is that despite feeling tired and having a little trouble getting to sleep, everything else has been good or even great: The drugs have successfully controlled my heart rate and heart rhythm so far, and my blood pressure is more controlled than it’s ever been. Blood and bowel test results were also good or great. All things considered, I think I have very little to complain about.

Now I just settle in to this routine for the next couple of weeks, until the Amiodarone drops to a normal dosage. I hope it still controls my heart rhythm as well as it has so far. But I’ll also keep on trying to eat and live in more healthy ways as I wait to see what they suggest doing next.

At the moment, so far, so good.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

One pipe dream fantasy remains

That didn’t take long: Within a couple weeks of first being suggested, one idea for a possible Rightwing “Christian” party is officially dead, and unlikely to be resurrected. This is a good development for all sorts of reasons, especially because New Zealand doesn’t need a bunch of self-righteous extremists trying to divide us into “good” and “bad” as they try to advance an agenda of religiously-based control of our lives by government. One pipe dream fantasy gone, one to go.

When National Party List MP Alfred Ngaro announced yesterday that his Rightwing “Christian” party wasn’t going to happen after all, and that he’d stay in the National Party, he claimed it was “always something I was considering and nothing more than that". Well, obviously: If he’d really put in the hard work, there’s be a party in the process of formation.

The reaction of those on the Right in New Zealand have been fascinating—and silly. Current National Party Leader Simon Bridges said when he discussed Ngaro’s exploration, that forming a Rightwing “Christian” party was an "alluring idea". How so? Well, Simon, among others thinks there’s a “gap in the marketplace”. What they really mean is that at the moment there’s a gap in coalition partners for the National Party, which has no other parties on the Right to form a government with. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether they really think a Rightwing “Christian” party has a place or meets an actual need or not: National just needs some friends.

Hard-right radio blowhard Mike Hosking (who, in my sincerely held opinion based on years of his “commentary” and other media performances, is a strident supporter of the National Party) said some incredibly daft things in his latest NZ Herald “column” [to read it, copy and paste this link: https://bit.ly/2YYoNrh], such as this:
“The one option that hasn't been tested for years (and you could argue never really got a proper chance to shine) is a Christian party. The idea is as tantalising and full of potential as it ever has been. It just needs the right ingredients. And one of those ingredients is a leader and, under this system, potentially, a leg up.”
This was not the first time I read something he wrote and then rolled my eyes so far I could see the inside of my head. What, precisely, is so “tantalising” about an extremist religious party? Presumably hard-right folks like Mike would have a problem with an extremist Muslim religious party, so why is a Christian one “tantalising”? Apparently it’s just because it would give National a coalition partner: “A successful Christian party would have been good news for National, given they're desperate for help.” That doesn’t make a Rightwing “Christian” party either “tantalising” or “full of potential”, just convenient.

A Rightwing “Christian” party is no more “tantalising” or “full of potential” now than it was when the idea was first tried 23 years ago. I fact, it is less relevant now than ever, as I explained in detail last Sunday.

This leaves only the possible new party formed (maybe) by the same church whose party failed spectacularly in 2005. While it’s extremely unlikely they could do any better than they did in 2005, their one chance is if they can find someone that New Zealanders don’t dislike as much as the leaders of the supposed new Rightwing “Christian” party to win an Electorate somewhere. Hitching their wagon to one possible candidate in one Māori electorate doesn’t sound particularly promising for them, as I also discussed on Sunday. But even if they were successful in that single Electorate, it’s highly improbable that the very unpopular leaders of that party could possibly attract enough votes to bring in any extra Members of Parliament.

The time for a Rightwing “Christian” party is long gone—in fact, as I discussed on Sunday, it never existed in the first place. Conservative Christians—as opposed to hard-right religious extremists who want to form some sort of Rightwing “Christian” party—still have the same home they’ve always had, the NZ National Party. Even Ngaro knows that: “I will continue to play a strong role in the National Party and be a voice to the concerns around values that people have raised with me," he said.

New Zealand doesn’t need a bunch of self-righteous extremists trying to divide us into “good” and “bad” as they try to advance an agenda of religiously-based control of our lives by government. One possible Rightwing “Christian” party is now officially gone—one pipe dream fantasy remains.

The 2020 elections now look even brighter than they did before this announcement. That’s very good news, indeed.

Another meat free meal

I’ve written a lot about finding meat alternatives, as I did on Sunday. But I’ve also written about using alternatives that don’t require alternatives—such as lentils. I’ve now added a new recipe.

Last night I made pasta with puttanesca sauce. It’s insanely simple: Tomatoes, onion, garlic, black olives, and capers (many recipes, not mine, call for anchovies, but I wouldn’t use that for all sorts of reasons, not the least is that they’re icky, but especially because of the extremely high salt content). The recipe I used specifically called for kalamata olives, which, while associated more with Greek food, are sure to be genuine, and not green olives that have been dyed black. However, they have to be pitted, and I found out that’s not easy to do. Maybe I should look into a pitting gadget.

My recipe called for a deseeded chilli, and another recipe I saw later called for red pepper flakes (which my mother used in her spaghetti sauce). I used neither because I don’t like heat. The recipe also called for it to be served on spaghetti, but really any type of pasta would work, as long as it can hold sauce. Actually, I read a claim that it could be used as a sauce on fish or even beans, too (cannellini beans would work well). For having so few ingredients, the sauce “gripped” the pasta really well, so it’d grip other things, too, I think. The sauce was also completely vegan, but there was little protein in it (which is why the fish or bean idea intrigues me), so it’s quite different from the sauce with lentils I used to make.

I’ve heard of puttanesca sauce for years, but never had it. I wanted to have it just because the name is derived from the Italian word for prostitute, puttana. One legend suggests it was created by prostitutes who wanted something quick and easy to make to eat in the time between clients. Others suggest that Italians used puttana as a general purpose word, akin to English’s shit, as if whoever first made it said they “just threw some shit together”, or whatever. In either case, it’s a colourful name.

Last night’s recipe was a success, and I’ll add it to the list of meatless dishes to make. This one also gets around at least some of the issues with extensive processing, sodium levels, and carbon footprint that meat substitutes currently have. It’s also nice to have a dish that I can make at any time because I can always have the ingredients on hand. That’s a bonus.

It’s always nice to have options.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Keeping the holidays

Today was Memorial Day holiday in the USA, a day for remembering those killed in wars. Many Americans get it mixed up with Veterans Day, a holiday for honouring living people who have served or are currently serving. That’s always annoyed me. But, at least Americans are in no hurry to give either up.

The chart above from Statista shows the results of a recent YouGov survey that asked Americans what public holiday, if any, they thought should be removed. Around half, sensibly, said none of them should be eliminated, which makes sense: They know that if, say, Columbus Day was eliminated, Congress wouldn’t designate a new one to take its place.

This is because Americans are uniquely shortchanged on paid time off. Public holidays aren’t necessarily observed by businesses, and around a quarter of Americans get no paid annual leave (vacation). The chart at the bottom of this post, Statista’s Chart of the Day from August, 2018, shows the comparison of annual leave/public holiday entitlements in various OECD countries. The USA bar shows there are no annual leave days required by law, and, because the public holidays aren’t necessarily days of for workers, they’re doubly screwed.

I’ve written several times about how good New Zealanders have it for time off compared to the USA. For example, in 2013 I talked about a chart similar to the one below, and corrected errors the chart had for New Zealand, where workers get 30½ paid days off a year.

Then, at the start of this month I talked about how despite having so much time off, New Zealanders worked nearly as many hours as workers in the USA, and slightly more than the OECD average. This goes to show that legislated time off doesn’t hurt productivity. So, why is the USA lagging so far behind other OECD countries? Not that this is the only way the USA is behind other countries, of course. Like other issues, it all comes down to politics, and the lack of advocacy for ordinary workers.

Giving workers mandated time off is really a small thing, but it can make so much difference to people—their health, their commitment to their work, work/life balance, and so much more. The USA really needs to begin to catch up with the rest of the OECD, but we all know that won’t happen any time soon—ever?

Meanwhile, this coming Monday, June 3, is the Queen’s Birthday public holiday. We’re both off work that day. Of course.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

More kitchen adventures

This week we tried yet another meat substitute, Beyond Meat’s “Beyond Burger”. It’s made from pea protein, rather than soy, as most vegetarian and vegan burgers have been, which may be important to some people. It was okay.

This product is new to New Zealand. Earlier this month, premier NZ burger chain Burger Fuel began selling burgers with Beyond Burger patties, and it’s available at some supermarkets, which is how we happened to have it: I ordered in our groceries and ordered the Minced product I’ve been using since December of last year. However, they were out of stock, so they rang me and wanted to know if I wanted them to substitute the Beyond Meat patties instead (I always put “no substitutes” after the Quorn disaster). I said yes.

This week I finally had a chance to make the burgers, and they really were okay: The texture (“mouth feel”) was like meat, it had a pleasant enough taste. The patties didn’t shrink much (if at all), which is good because they appeared small. We liked it well enough to have again, however, we didn’t like it as much as the homemade burgers we made from Minced.

One thing about the Beyond Meat patties is that they’re expensive: The 224 gram pack we had costs $14 (today US$9.17), and a 400g pack of Minced is $10.00 (US$6.55), which means Minced is much less expensive. Clearly the convenience of buying pre-made patties has a price.

We learned that, so far, Minced is—for us—the best beef mince substitute available in New Zealand, but Beyond Meat’s burger patties are an acceptable substitute when Minced isn't available (and Countdown is frequently out of stock on it). I think one day we may find some other “okay” substitutes, and, if so, I’ll talk about them, too.

Meanwhile, the company that makes the chicken substitute we tried is supposedly working on a beef substitute, and it uses the same protein source as Beyond Meat does, so that may be an option eventually.

On the other hand, this week I also read a story arguing that “Plant patties may not be any healthier than beef burgers”, and although I haven’t checked the sources for objectivity, the point that highly-processed foods aren’t as good for us as less-processed foods is a simple fact: Whole foods, simply prepared, are better for our health. But many of us don’t eat that well, or not all the time, and there’s a huge class difference: The better off one is, the easier it is to eat in the ways best for our health. We mustn’t judge people because they can’t choose the supposedly "best" food products available—especially when what’s considered “best” changes all the time.

Still, eating red meat has health consequences—this is beyond argument. I have particular reasons to try and minimise the risks associated with eating red meat, which is one of the reasons I’m trying meat alternatives. Going easier on the planet is another motivation, but that’s a bit mixed at the moment—at the moment. That will change. But even now, before the gap in the environmental benefits closes and meat alternatives pull clearly and unequivocally ahead of animal farming, there are still health benefits to reducing meat consumption. Right now, that’s enough for me.

Footnote: Tonight we had real-beef burger patties. They were highest-quality beef, and cost about the same as Minced, maybe somewhat less, and the patties were about the same size/weight as the Beyond Meat patties. They shrank very little (top quality beef mince is lean), but, to me, they didn’t taste dramatically better than the Beyond Meat patties. That was surprising; it was also probably my last serving of beef for this month.

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

Not their destiny

New Zealand just went through "Christian Political Fortnight" as the newsmedia gave breathless coverage to two people talking about forming Rightwing “Christian” political parties. The important thing to note is that based on history, and the nature of modern New Zealand, and the dynamics of the 2020 elections, any such parties, if either actually happens, are almost certain to fail.

Since the MMP era began in 1996, no overtly or mainly Christian Party has ever crossed the 5% threshold (see chart above) or won an Electorate Seat, and so, none have ever entered Parliament [a YouTube video from CGP Grey, “Mixed-Member Proportional Representation Explained” explains the MMP electoral system we use in New Zealand]. The best they ever did was way back in 1996. Some would say that the second-best year was 2014, however, that year the Conservative Party denied it even was a “Christian” party, though it was led by a self-described conservative Christian and it espoused positions backed by conservative Christian activists. Does it even count as a “Christian” party? Probably not, but including them in the chart shows that not even a non-Christian “Christian” party has been able to get into Parliament.

There was another party, United Future New Zealand, that was formed by the merger of a conservative Christian party (Future New Zealand, which used to be the Christian Democrats) and a centrist one, the United Party. It was in Parliament 2002-2017, though with just one MP from 2008 until 2017. The party was saddled with Rightwing Christianists from 2002-2007, though they left in a huff before the 2008 election, which allowed then party leader Peter Dunne to declare the party solidly centrist. The thing with United Future is that not only was it not officially a Christian party, they also didn’t officially push positions backed by conservative Christian activists, even if its conservative Christians caused trouble for Dunne and the party, particularly when it was in coalition with the Centre-Left NZ Labour Party. The fact that the party did so well in 2002 was precisely because of the centrist policies Dunne advocated, not the because of the Rightwing “Christian” people tagging along, so it’s simply not logical to lump them in with actual Christian parties, all of which have been Rightwing in New Zealand (although the early leaders of the Labour Party often described their agenda as “Christianity in action” or “Christian socialism”). So, the fact United Future had a gaggle of grumpy conservative Christian MPs didn't make it a “Christian” party in any way, in my view.

To do well, a Rightwing “Christian” party would have to tap into a large field of like-minded voters, but there’s no evidence that such a large group exists. Almost half (48%) of New Zealanders said they were Christian in the 2013 Census, the most recent figures we have available due to the disaster that was the 2018 Census. However, 42% of New Zealanders said they had no religion, a figure that includes not only atheists and agnostics, but also believers of various sorts who don’t have a particular religion. 6% declared non-Christian religions, and 4% gave no answer whatsoever.

Conservative Christians of all sorts make up maybe 5% of the population, give or take, but let’s be generous and say it’s double that. Isn’t ten percent of the population enough potentially? No, and for one reason: Adults. The Census counts everyone who is in New Zealand on Census night, resident and visitor, adult and child. We cannot assume that the 5%, let alone the overly generous 10%, are adults eligible and registered to vote.

Even so, let’s pretend that a very generous 10% of the registered voters are Rightwing Christians. Even if that were true, any explicitly or implicitly “Christian” party would still fail to get 5% of the Party Vote, as they always have. That’s because most conservative Christians care about a lot more than just social issues, which is the only point of difference that Rightwing “Christian” parties have from other parties. Such voters know that if they want to get things done in Parliament, they need to be IN Parliament, and the only conservative party that will back them, at least some of the time, on their social conservatism—and get into Parliament—is the New Zealand National Party. Most conservative Christian voters in New Zealand have historically been astute enough to know that a vote for a Rightwing “Christian” party is a wasted vote, so they vote for “good enough” National.

So, at the moment, there’s a lot of blustering about the possible two Rightwing “Christian” parties that may be formed, either by National MP Alfred Ngaro, or by the leaders of a far-right “Christian” cult church that set up a Rightwing “Christian” party that tried and failed to get into Parliament some 15 years ago. Neither one is a serious contender for success this year, though of the two Ngaro has a slightly better chance.

I’ve read commentators making all sorts of breathless predictions, such as, Ngaro (who I think is an opportunistic hypocrite) could appeal to Polynesians who back Labour. That relies on the false premise that they always vote religiously, and they obviously don’t. Second, there are many reasons why such voters often back Labour, just as there are many reasons apart from religion why some conservative Christians back National. Turnout and actual vote totals suggest that National already has the lion’s share, so to speak, of conservative Christian voters of all races, and most such voters any new “Christian” party got would come from National. In any case, it’s insulting to Polynesians—or anyone, really—to suggest they’d be single-issue voters because of their race or culture.

A conservative Christian wrote a piece for Noted, talking about why these parties Rightwing "Christian" parties would be bad for conservative Christians. Among other things he said:
Many voters implacably oppose legalising marijuana. Some Christians seem to believe there is an 11th commandment that says “Thou shall not smoke dope”. This could be a good banner for Ngaro and his Christian soldiers to march under, gathering up other clean-living folk to push the party over the 5% barrier into Parliament without having to win an electorate seat.
What he was talking about is that there will be a referendum on some form of legalisation of marijuana held at the 2020 election. I’m sure it will draw some older voters’ ire, and also that of some religious conservatives. However, they always vote, anyway—older voters in particular. At the same time, that referendum will also draw younger—and more Progressive—voters to the polls to vote for legalisation, and younger voters vote overwhelmingly for the Greens (in particular) and also for Labour—not National, and definitely not for any Rightwing “Christian” parties campaigning against the very position they support.

So far, all that suggests no net gain for National, but probably a loss of Party Votes if the Rightwing “Christian” parties do well, but not well enough to get into Parliament. At the same time, the very referendum that might drive “implacably opposed” social conservatives will also drive younger voters to cancel them out.

That leaves only one way for Rightwing “Christian” parties to get into Parliament: Winning an Electorate seat. They have two ways to do that: That church's party could take the Māori Electorate of Te Tai Tokerau in Northland from Labour, or for National to gift a safe National seat to Ngaro. Both are fraught.

The Te Tai Tokerau scenario assumes an awful lot, not the least that voters will pick the bombastic Hone Harawira rather than the incumbent MP, Labour’s Kelvin Davis, who is a government minister. It’s impossible to see any scenario in which any National Party Prime Minister would give Harawira a ministerial portfolio. I think it’s likely that his time has passed, and his campaign would come across as little more than a quixotic grudge match. And that assumes the often Left-leaning Harawira could resist fighting with the Rightwing “Christians” he was in bed with.

It’s possible that National could gift a safe National seat to Ngaro, but where? There are a lot of electorates that National can count on winning, but that doesn’t mean their voters are obedient and subservient to the party’s wishes as the National voters in Epsom are. Moreover, many National voters have no particular love for Rightwing “Christian” politics, so if they lack party obedience, National can’t count on getting Ngaro in as the candidate from some Rightwing “Christian” party.

This all matters because if—IF—the Rightwing “Christians” fail to cross the 5% threshold, but if—IF—they win an Electorate seat, then all their Party Votes will count. This means that if they got around 3% of the Party Vote AND an Electorate seat they’d likely get 3 or 4 MPs (depending on a number of factors), and that could literally give National a shot at of re-taking government.

On balance, there is a remote chance, built on a a number of things going absolutely perfectly, that could enable Rightwing “Christian” party into Parliament. This is highly improbable to happen because 1. Rightwing “Christian” politicians (and Rightwing “Christians” in general) aren’t very popular in New Zealand (they’re called “god-botherers” by ordinary Kiwis), so they’d have a hard time gaining votes from anyone but their small base—most of whom are too practical to abandon National. 2. New Zealand is barely Christian (or, it wasn’t in 2013…), and the number saying they’re Christian has been falling steadily; New Zealand is much less Christian than it was 23 years ago when a Rightwing “Christian” party came the closest to getting into Parliament. 3. The very referendum that conservatives think will help a Rightwing “Christian” party into Parliament will also drive their exact opposites to the polls, likely far more than cancelling out any benefit to the Rightwing “Christian” party/parties. And, finally, the people behind these Rightwing “Christian” parties that may come into being are people who aren't liked generally and who have a history of saying polarising things that turn off the majority of mainstream New Zealanders, and, partly because of that, there’s absolutely no mass affection for them.

Given all that, and especially if Labour is still popular next year, I feel confident saying that this fortnight’s flurry of news about the possible formation of a Rightwing “Christian” party or parties has been all sizzle and no sausage. I will, however offer two words of warning: Brexit and Donnie. Hardly anyone thought those two elections would turn out the way they did, and that has taught us that one underestimates the far right at their peril. We are seeing the march of far right, fascistic populist nationalism all over the Western world, and it would be foolish to think it can’t happen here, too, no matter how improbable that may be. However, if it does come, it’s unlikely to be religious based, and that’s one thing we can take some comfort in.

Update: One of the two parties is not going ahead.


“Take it from a Christian conservative: a Ngaro splinter party is a terrible idea”The Spinoff (also linked above)
“John Armstrong's opinion: Christian parties are of little assistance to the centre-right” – TVNZ’s One News Now
“I don't see Brian and Hannah Tamaki's Christian party lasting long”Stuff
“Could Christian soldiers march no-mates National into office?”Noted
“Coalition NZ: Hannah Tamaki, KFC, abortion, Alfred Ngaro”Newshub
“The birth of Destiny’s child”newsroom
“Where Hannah Tamaki stands on homosexuality and Jacinda Ardern”Newshub

Friday, May 24, 2019

That impeachment thing

Is impeachment of the current occupant of the White House a good idea, a terrible idea, or is that beside the point because it’s a duty under the Constitution, even if it’s a terrible idea? Do calculations about the 2020 presidential election matter in this? If so, does it matter that there’s no Democratic nominee yet? Is Pelosi a master strategist or an overly cautious obstacle?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, nor what I think about impeachment, but this much I do know: Continuing talk about impeachment and the revelations in the Mueller Report are driving the current occupant of the White House’s current temper tantrums. Each one reminds Americans of how emotionally unstable and narcissistic that man is as he shows his true nature—a petty, vain, vindictive bully. Democrats (and one House Republican…) were always going to talk about what’s REALLY in the Mueller Report, and not the self-interested political spin coming from the current regime. Talk of impeachment isn’t new, either, though a Republican joining the call is new.

If the current regime continues to engage in its cover-up, and if they continue to engage in obstructing Congress, then impeachment is probably inevitable. This is a political process that is playing out, as the comment by Dan Rather was suggesting in his commentary, but we’ve seen this before: It’s worth remembering that Article 3 of the Nixon Articles of Impeachment was about obstruction of Congress.

Two things could yet prevent that from happening. Though the current occupant can’t understand it, Pelosi is actually protecting him (for now) from impeachment. It doesn’t matter that she may be doing so as an election strategy, if she actually is, the effect is the same. Also, if courts continue to rule against the current regime and Congress actually gets the information and documents to which they are legally and constitutionally entitled, that could turn down the heat under the impeachment pot. But if the current occupant continues to act like a spoiled child, the he could well find himself facing impeachment. What happens then is anyone’s guess.

Here’s Dan Rather’s commentary today on Facebook:

This post was originally published on the AmeriNZ Facebook page when I shared Rather's commentary there. This version adds a relevant link and some minor edits.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

That we be not judged

It seems obvious that one thing we humans are extremely good at is judging other people. We have all sorts of reasons, ranging from religious or political belief, to the pack mentality of social media, to matters of personal taste. The thing we judge can be serious, like moral or political choices, or silly and trivial like pop music choices—or even people who use the products in the photo above. Whatever the reason we judge other people, we inevitably will be, too. We need to stop being so stupid.

The products above features three different pre-prepared vegetables promoted in a supermarket’s circular we got at our house the other day. I’ve seen people mocked for using such products, called “lazy”, or “stupid”, and, to be honest, I judge the people who say that for being self-righteous pricks.

People are busy these days, and if we want them to cook rather than buy frozen, prepared, or takeaway food—and we do—then we shouldn’t begrudge them taking a few shortcuts with products that are still vegetables. One thing I noticed in the photo (maybe not as obvious in my photo of the flyer) is that the products all use New Zealand grown vegetables.

Several years ago, I bought a bag of frozen diced onions precisely so it could speed up meal prep time (and because onions were often too big for just the two of us, and if I bought a bag of them, some would inevitably rot). However, it turned out the onions came from Europe, which I thought was dumb. Nowadays, when I chop an onion, I take the half I usually don’t need and freeze it, ready for the next dish that needs chopped onion. But to get to that point, I first tried the prepared pre-chopped version.

I share my experience because it’s an example of something we always forget: People evolve and change all the time: Opinions, attitudes, and the way people do things all change. How do we know that people who buy those products won’t eventually do it for themselves? And, if they don’t, why is it any of our business?

We see the same sort of thing on social media nearly every day, when people judge others for the movies, TV shows, music, or books they like. But it didn’t start with social media.

When I lived in Chicago, for a time I had a job that had a combined commute of more than an hour. I saw people reading books all the time, and I’d see some of them reading what I decided were “trashy” novels, and, for a time, I judged them for it as I smugly looked up from the book of Kafka stories I was reading at the time. One day it suddenly dawned on me: They were reading. I realised that a book doesn’t have to be literary for it to benefit the reader: Even “trashy” novels helped expand the reader’s vocabulary and world, it gave them broader horizons than they otherwise might have had. That’s a good thing. I learned my lesson.

Decades later, I was living in New Zealand and (somewhat sarcastically) created Arthur’s Law:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
That originated because of judgemental behaviour I saw online. It annoyed me that some people felt that simply HAD to publicly tell other people how much they hated the thing the other person liked.

I’m no saint, and sometimes my human nature comes galloping through and I’ll judge someone for not measuring up to my view of what is Correct™. When I do it, I’m an arsehole. Anyone else who does it is one, too. I don’t want to be an arsehole, so I try to just accept people and their choices at face value. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be “right”, I can choose to be better than that.

Surprisingly, perhaps, this doesn’t mean self-censorship or keeping silent. For example, when someone tells me how much they love a movie that I didn’t like, I can say simply, “I didn’t really care for it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.” This can lead to a discussion where we can talk about the movie in some detail.

Still, it’s not usually personal, one-to-one conversations where the worst behaviour is displayed; it’s on social media. There, I seldom respond when someone talks about liking something I don’t like, but I’ve been known to stick up for them when others have a go at them over what they like. I don’t have to agree with their choices or likes to not be an arsehole, just accept they have every right to like something I don’t. My approval is never required, and my expression of disapproval is never necessary. Ever.

There are times when judging is perfectly valid. Considering all the terrible things going on in the world, especially the stuff done by people who claim to be doing it in our name, we have every right to judge them for their behaviour, what they’re doing. That’s fair. But why on earth would be bother judging people for liking a pop song? Just because it’s easier than tackling those big problems?

This is a lesson life has taught me, but I actually learned the gist of the message as a child in a simple proverb: Live and let live. The idea it expresses is contained within the entire passage I was referring to in the title of this post, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

I think we should treat other people with more kindness, and less judgement about trivial stuff. Basically, we need to stop being so stupid.

Still, people have to make their own decisions, and some people seem to need to be judgemental. I wish they wouldn’t be, but if they are, that’s their choice. I won’t judge them for it. Live and let live.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 347 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 347, “Unexpected reboot” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Internet Wading for May 2019

I may not have as many things to share this month, but they were still interesting. Well, to me, anyway.

In last month’s Internet Wading post, I shared a story about a “trash shopping mall”, and a New Zealand version of sorts. This month, I have a similar two-for: “The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging” talks about shops in the UK where things can be bought in bulk, like in grocery shops of maybe a century ago. Here in New Zealand, there’s a chain of locally-owned shops, Bin-Inn, that sell a portion of their offerings in bulk—but not everything. They do allow customers to bring in their own containers, though, as the UK shops do. Another chain called Commonsense Organics also sells some products in bulk. Recently, mainstream NZ-owned supermarket cooperative company Foodstuffs NZ has announced that it will allow customers to bring their own containers areas to staff-run counters (like the deli), mainly for food safety reasons, as well as to make sure people aren’t charged for the weight of the container. One of the few shops similar to the UK ones that I could find in New Zealand is called GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery, with three locations in upmarket Auckland suburbs (“neighbourhoods” in Americanese). Of course, I already use my own bags.

Speaking of buying things, Vox published “How brands get their names, explained by a professional namer”. Some names are definitely dumb, though (“Dunkin”? Seriously?!).

Time for some art: The oldest painting of New Zealand in Te Papa’s collection is going on display at the museum in Wellington. Painted in 1776, it depicts a landing Captain James Cook made at Dusky Sound in 1773 during his second Pacific voyage. A piece called “Unbelievable 3D Sculptures Show How Historical Figures Actually Looked!” is partly interesting—partly because some of the “unbelievable!” images are actually extrapolations based on things like busts. The ones based on skulls, though, are fascinating.

There’s always time for pop music: “100 Obscure and Remarkable CD Covers". I have (or had) several of them.

“10 Emoji Meanings That Don't Mean What You Think”. Unless, of course, they do. For the most part, I thought the meanings were obvious, or else I’ve never seen them used.

An article in The Atlantic, “The J. R. R. Tolkien Story That Makes the Case for Fantasy Fiction”, makes the case that Tolkien’s “tale about a painter that elegantly argues for the value of escapism in literature”. Given the increasing success of fantasy literature, TV shows, and films, maybe he was on to something.

Merriam-Webster: “We Added New Words to the Dictionary in April 2019”.

An article, “Taking Sides: When left- or right-handedness is a matter of life and death” isn’t about politics—it’s about science.

That's it for this short wade; it's autumn and a bit chilly.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Someone You Loved

The video above is “Someone You Loved” by 22-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. It’s not particularly new, but I only started seeing on our free-to-air video channel recently, and often since then. It’s a moving video, starring Peter Capaldi, who’s probably best known as the 12th incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who. I like the song, and the video, which together make a powerfully emotional thing. I’ve noticed that this kind of pop music synergy—symbiosis, really—is becoming increasingly common.

The Wikipedia entry for the song sums up the video well:
The video was made in partnership with charity organisation Live Life Give Life in order to raise awareness for the issue of organ donation. It contains a powerful message of loss and hope, telling a story of a husband who is trying to cope with the death of his wife. She became the heart donor for the young mother of another family, saving her life. Eventually the two families are brought together and the main character knows that his wife's heart continues to live on.
I read that the Capaldis are second cousins once removed, which apparently means that one is the child of the other's second cousin, or else is one's parent's second cousin. The first sounds more plausible to me, though I have no idea. Still, it made me look up what the relationship is and that's—well, a thing, though not necessarily all that interesting or particularly useful. If I need to find out again, I know I'll have to look it up again.

While the song was originally released as a digital download in November, 2018, and the video was released in February 2019, it was some time before it started being played on our screens. Maybe the NZ release was delayed?

In any case, as of today, the song as hit Number 7 in Australia, 64 in Canada, 7 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 1 in the UK (Platinum), and 8 on the USA’s Billboard “Bubbling on the Hot 100 Singles” chart, and also 22 on the Billboard “Adult Contemporary” chart. This is one of the few times that I’ve shared a song while it’s chart performance isn’t finished.

This song struck a chord with because of the video, and it’s not the first time that’s happened. When I was young, there was no such thing as a “music video”, though music bits on the 1960s US TV show The Monkees were surprisingly close to what some music videos would be. As I grew up, I started listening to the radio, and that alone determined whether I liked a song or not.

And then, on August 1, 1981, along came MTV. Everything changed.

I’ve written several times about how music videos influenced the music I bought, and sometimes the videos of some of those songs from the 1980s resonate as powerfully with me—or more so—than the songs themselves do. Nowadays, I often only encounter new pop music as music videos, and I may not purchase it—in fact, I can’t remember what the last music I bought was, or how long ago.

This song fits into that new reality: I really liked the song because of the video. And that’s what I meant when I talked about pop music synergy or symbiosis: It now pretty much determines whether I like a new pop song or not. Not always, of course, but often enough for it to be a “thing” for me.

At least now if I want to hear this song, I won’t have to wait for it to come up in rotation in the music video channel; I can just go to this post. That much is a relatively new thing, and, for me, a good one.

And so is this video and song.

Related: "Someone You Loved" lyrics.

Non-stormy weather

There’s a word of phrase to describe nearly every kind of weather imaginable, but most of them are related to things that happen. There even some to describe things that don’t happen. But we don’t have many ways to describe things that are like storms, but that aren’t, really. We have to fall back on one particular thing that’s happening, and sometimes, like the past week or so in Auckland, that just isn’t enough.

Starting a week or so ago, we started having some occasional heavy rain, then some wind came with it, then it was mostly just the wind. But was the whole thing a storm, as we usually use the word? Probably not. But at times it was pretty intense.

Last weekend, we had some of the strongest winds we’ve had since April of 2018, though it was nowhere near as bad as that. Even so, one of our neighbours had one of the potted plants on their second-storey (first-storey in NZ terms…) balcony.

The winds eased in the evening, then suddenly came back early Sunday morning. The neighbours hadn’t gone out to right the plant that had been blown over, because the wind was still blowing strongly. The wind knocked over another plant.

Meanwhile, the storm also blew a panel of trellis out of our fence along the boundary with a neighbouring house (photo up top). The third photo along in that photo shows the section of trellis that was damaged in a storm at Christmas last year. We put that piece back, but because it was bent, parts of it wouldn’t fasten properly. This time, the entire panel blew off, so when we replace it, it won’t be obvious anything happened to it.

I took that photo above on Monday, as Nigel and I were leaving to head to the A&M at the start of my latest health adventure. It’s unusual in that I only took the one shot—I wasn’t exactly at my best at that moment.

By the time I was back home from the hospital, the neighbours had righted the plants that were blown over. The winds returned Friday and Saturday, and another plant was blown over.

Meanwhile, we haven’t put the trellis section back yet. I’ve been taking it easy ever since I got home, and, anyway, the weather, whatever it’s called, has kept happening.

See, we just don’t have many ways to describe things that are like storms, but that aren’t, really. We have to fall back on one particular thing that’s happening, and sometimes, like the past week or so in Auckland, that just isn’t enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Unexpected reboot

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started.

Monday I ended up in hospital after having another episode of racing heartbeat. Sunday night, I thought I could feel my heart fluttering in afib (atrial fibrillation), which actually wasn’t unusual. I had to go to the periodontist for treatment the next day, the first this year, and I thought I might be feeling a bit anxious about it, in part because the feeling seemed a bit stronger than usual.

The next morning started out normally enough, though I was tired from poor sleep the prior night. Around 9:20, I felt odd, and checked my pulse on my watch and it was around 109bpm, which is quite fast for a resting heart rate for me, since I’m on drugs to keep my heart rate slow. It went up from there.

I lay back down to rest and hoped it’d resolved itself, but it didn’t. Instead, it sometimes sped up, sometimes slowed down, and even though I dozed off, it never stabilised or returned to normal. Eventually, Nigel took me to the A&M (accident and medical) clinic that I’d been to twice before for racing heart rate. It was confirmed I was in afib, and had tachycardia (fast heart rate), and even administering a small additional dose of the drug I take to regulate my heart rate didn’t return it to normal. I was sent on to the hospital again.

First night in hospital.
I was hooked up to monitors in an observation area and they drew blood for tests. After Nigel went home for the night, they took me for a chest x-ray, then moved me to a room in a different evaluation unit, where I stayed that night. I didn’t sleep well.

In the morning, I was visited by the doctors, and they suggested using electrical cardioversion to reset my heart rhythm and heart rate to normal. This involves administering an electric shock to the heart, similar to, but weaker than, the shock they give to someone in cardiac arrest. It’s done under a mild general anaesthetic. Nigel and I referred to it as "rebooting" my heart.

This would mean another night in hospital, since I’d already eaten breakfast. They transferred me to a different room that evening, just in time for dinner. I didn’t choose my own dinner, since I wasn’t there at the time they took orders, but I didn’t mind: It reminded me of church dinners I’d had as a kid. Later that evening, they moved me to yet another room because of a problem with a patient in the adjoining room (which shares a bathroom/toilet with the room I was in).

The dinner I didn't choose,
but didn't mind.
The older man in the new room snored and breathed roughly, but I still slept slightly better, though still not well. I got no breakfast, of course, and just a little water to take my morning pills with. At the time, that didn’t bother me. They took some more blood for benchmark tests, among other things.

Nigel arrived not long after that, and by then it was obvious it was likely to be early afternoon before my procedure was done. It was a long and boring wait, and I was getting hungry (not helped when they stopped by and had me order the next meals). Worse, though, I was exhausted—not just from the lack of sleep, but also from more than 48 hours in afib with a racing heart rate. I occasionally dozed off.

Intellectually, I wasn’t worried. I was in the hospital, and if anything went wrong, they could deal with it without delay. On the other hand, they were going to shock my heart! I was scared it’d stop and they wouldn’t be able to restart it, even though I knew that was unlikely and improbable. Fear is often irrational.

Early in the afternoon, they came and got me after hooking me up to a mobile monitor. First stop was a room just outside the operating theatre, where they confirmed paperwork, my identity, asked yet again whether I had any allergies, and had me sign the consent form. They said normally they did one jolt, but if it was unsuccessful, they may do a second one. I was then given a mild sedative.

Inside the operating theatre, they put an oxygen mask on me, and gave me the drug that made me fall asleep. I woke up—just a moment later, it seemed to me—in the recovery area, a huge brightly lit, thoroughly modern room with maybe ten or twelve beds I could see, with maybe that many in an identical area behind me. They asked if I wanted them to ring anyone, and I asked them to let Nigel know I was okay and all went well, which they did.

The procedure was a success, and I converted to sinus rhythm with only one jolt. I’d felt nothing, and afterward I felt good. I didn’t even feel dopey from the anaesthetic, since it was a mild version of it.

They took me back to the room, and the clinical doctor visited me to go over what happened, what was going to happen next, and asked me if I wanted to go home (duh!). He then went off to do the paperwork. The dinner I’d ordered arrived while we were waiting, and I inhaled it—I was very hungry by then.

The first thing they did was put me on a new drug, Amiodarone, to control my heart rhythm. This drug potentially has a lot of harsh and harmful side-effects, which require close monitoring, so much so that New Zealand’s Medsafe advises doctors to “Keep an Eye on Amiodarone Patients”. My first blood tests will be in six weeks, then again at three months. They also reduced my dose of Diltiazem, the drug I take to control my heart rate.

This new drug regime is a bridge. In a few weeks I’ll see a cardiologist, both for follow up, and to see where we go next. By then I’ll have had one or more blood tests, which will tell them if I have any side effects. The likely plan is to do the ablation procedure to deal with the cause of the afib and, hopefully, take care of the problem permanently. According to the doctors, it may not turn out that way, because in some cases more procedures are required, or they’re not completely successful. But, best-case scenario, it will mean I can be taken off some of the drugs I’m on at the moment.

All of this is necessary because I don’t respond to the available medicines. I couldn’t tolerate beta-blockers, as I’ve documented in these Health Journey series of posts, and—obviously—Diltiazem didn’t keep me out of tachycardia or afib. This means that drug therapy probably isn’t an option for me.

An interesting thing that came out of all this was that one doctor pointed out that it’s impossible to know for sure whether it’s the Diltiazem or the afib that’s causing my ongoing fatigue. But whatever the cause, I’ve been deeply tired ever since this tachycardia business started, so much so that I don’t feel I have my life. I told the doctors that I’m too young to feel this old, and I feel I’m being robbed of what should be good, productive, active years. I think our mutual goal is to change that.

The tests done already have shown one really good thing: My heart is healthy and functioning normally, apart from the afib. The stent is unrelated in that it was for a cardiac artery problem, not the heart itself, and that was fixed. With proper care and monitoring, is unlikely to recur.

I slept 12 hours Wednesday night, and spent Thursday mostly relaxing. The main thing I did was that Nigel took me to get my new prescriptions (I don’t think I was supposed to drive for like 48 hours because I’d had a general anaesthetic), and he took me to lunch while we were out. Friday and today I’ve similarly kept quiet. But, I feel fine.

So, a problem I’ve dealt with before, the tachycardia and the afib, took a new twist this week, and required more aggressive treatment. Doing that actually points to a way forward, though it may turn out there are more twists and turns in this road yet. This week was stressful, and very tiring, but otherwise not as big a drama, fortunately, as it could have been, nor as bad as others have faced.

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started. Fortunately, it ended much more predictably.

Oh, and, of course, I left hospital without a bill.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Blogging revelation and reflection

There’s an old saying that writers want to be read. Or, that they need to be read. Clearly that phrase doesn’t apply to bloggers, not if they’re realistic, because the vast majority of bloggers have a small readership and very little profile. Consequently, despite all the breathless posts on Pinterest, most people will never make a cent from blogging. All of that is simple reality for most, though obviously not all, bloggers. Which is why all the bloggers I’ve known, including me, do it for completely different reasons.

This was driven home to me following the end of Google+. Back in February, when I talked about the approaching end of the service, I talked about how I shared blog posts to the service. It was a mostly automatic thing, and I didn’t think much about it, but always assumed that there wasn’t a whole lot of benefit to doing that. It turns out, I was wrong.

I’ve noticed that since Google+ went away, the number of page views for my blog posts have dropped—actually, plummeted is probably a better word. In the first week after I publish a post, page views are about a third less than they were when Google+ was still around—but that’s at the end of that first week. In the first few days after I publish a post, page loads are usually about half, or less, what they were when Google+ was around. By comparison, episodes of my AmeriNZ Podcast have more downloads in the first week or so than any blog post does.

I have no explanation, and can no longer check out any theories, of course. I’d always assumed that not many people actually saw a post on Google+, though I had no way of knowing (stats showed “Google”, but not G+ specifically). So, maybe the page views were the result of bots/webcrawlers? No idea.

But a few days ago, after seeing there was no improvement in page views, meaning the audience for most posts is pretty tiny, I had a similar reaction to a less severe drop in page loads I noticed back in October of last year:
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.”

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.
All of that ran through my mind this week, too, and I remembered the bit about photos as I thought about what I might spend my time doing if I stopped blogging and podcasting. Nothing’s changed since last October: I still have no alternatives.

But then, as before, I remembered that I don’t actually do this for “exposure”, or whatever, and whether a post has one reader or a thousand (it’s much closer to the former…) isn’t actually something I usually pay much attention to. This time, like in October, it was because of a recent decline in page views.

When people share posts, as sometimes happens, page views go up, which makes sense, of course. It doesn’t happen all the time, or even necessarily very often, but that probably just means that I’m not writing about popular things. Even so, from time to time posts about all sorts of subjects may be “popular”, relatively speaking, while other posts on the same topic are not.

I recently saw a piece about the most popular types of blogs, ironically, maybe, on a site for WordPress beginners. The ten most popular types are, in order: Fashion Blogs, Food Blogs, Travel Blogs, Music Blogs, Lifestyle Blogs, Fitness Blogs, DIY Blogs, Sports Blogs, Finance Blogs, and Political Blogs. Personal blogs like this one were ranked 13th. This sort of ranking is probably most useful for people who want to start a blog and make money from it. Even then, getting readers is an entirely different matter.

Maybe part of the problem is, as Vox put it recently, “…the internet is destroying our collective attention span”, something they say may be shortening our individual attention span, too. Even if it doesn’t, the way that “hot” topics come and go so quickly, any blogger pegging their hopes for readers on blogging about those “hot” topics is probably going to be exhausted all the time.

So, despite the brief discouragement caused by a drop in page views, nothing has actually changed. I still blog about what I want to and when I want to. As long as I get something out of it, I’ll keep going. It’s nice to have people read what I produce, nicer if they get something from it—and it’s kind of nice to know that people read it, too.

But, like all the bloggers I’ve known, I do it for completely different reasons.