Sunday, July 28, 2019

Remembering ‘Red Summer’

July 27, 1919 was a hot day in Chicago, and people did as they’ve always done in hot weather: They went swimming in Lake Michigan. That day, 17-year-old Eugene Williams, who was black, either drifted or swam (accounts differ) near the “white” area of the beachfront. White people were enraged, someone threw a rock that struck Williams in the head, and he drowned. That lead to a week of rioting in Chicago that left 38 people dead (23 black 15 white) and more than 500 people injured. Yet I never heard of it this until this year, and I know that I’m not alone in that. Ignorance of incidents the USA’s racist past isn’t unique—many people have it, and it’s one reason why the USA continues to be plagued by racism. We must be and do better.

After Eugene Williams was killed, (black) witnesses pointed to the (white) person they accused of being the one who threw the rock. Police refused to act. Instead, they arrested a black man. Fights broke out on the beach immediately, and over the next week it resulted in some of the worst violence of a summer filled with racist violence. The violence that year was so bad that it was dubbed “Red Summer”, apparently so-named because of all the blood spilled.

There were some 38 anti-black riots across the USA, and such racist attacks weren’t unusual. What made that summer’s riots unique was that it as the first time that black people fought back. That year, more than 165 people, most of them black, were killed. Thanks to a series of stories from the Associated Press, I finally learned about all this (the video up top is related to that series).

I think I know why I never heard about Red Summer: The problem with racism has never gone away.

When I was a young boy, racist violence in my corner of Illinois was common, so much so that it seemed there was some racial confrontation going on all the time. On August 5, 1966, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a protest March in Chicago’s Marquette Park, a white, working class neighbourhood. King had led other marches in Chicago, and had met white protesters, many carrying Confederate flags or swastikas. King said, "I have never seen — even in Mississippi and Alabama — mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I've seen here in Chicago". That remark, while accurate, was not liked by white people.

The month after Dr. King’s march, the head of the American Nazi Party led a protest in the area, apparently with far more support than he usually got. He was killed by a disgruntled ex-member of his group the next year. In 1970, a new group for American nazis was formed and it was headquartered in Marquette Park, and for the better part of the next 20 years there was ongoing racial violence in that area.

Considering the ongoing racist violence in Chicago and Illinois, it’s not that surprising that people simply forgot about Red Summer. Dr. King’s march was roughly 47 years after Eugene Williams was killed. Racist violence continued for years, including, in one form or another, even after I left Chicago.

If you add it all up, it’s not in any way surprising that the Chicago events of Red Summer weren’t ever talked about—so much had happened since then, and racial division and racist violence is still a problem in the city to this day (the murder of Laquan McDonald is probably the best-known example in recent years). For Illinoisans, Red Summer wasn’t exceptional, and to me, that’s the greatest tragedy of all.

We must be and do better

Thursday, July 25, 2019

About that testimony

Today (last night NZ time) Robert Mueller testified before the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives. One thing he made abundantly clear is that his report absolutely DID NOT “exonerate” the current occupant of the White House, as he and his sycophantic lackeys have been claiming for months. The reality is, however, that his testimony changes absolutely nothing—the political divisions in the USA are too deep and unbridgeable. The testimony was a mere restatement of facts for the record, ones that have already been firmly embraced by one side, and utterly rejected by the other. And yet, there's still hope for the USA—in the long term.

Veteran journalist Dan Rather talked about this in a post on Facebook:
The report does not exonerate the president. Of course it doesn’t. And Robert Mueller made that clear in a headline answer early in his testimony today. Could the president be charged with a crime after he left office? Once again, the answer from Mueller was yes. Did lies from the Trump administration officials impede the investigation? Another yes from Mueller.

But for all who hoped for a grand theatrical moment that crystallized and unified a nation against the outrages of this president, I don’t think any such moment occurred. And probably none should have been expected. We are a deeply divided nation where millions support and normalize the actions of a reckless president.
He elaborated on that in a follow-up post a few hours later:
We will have a battle of headlines, hot takes and hot air. We will have polls and politics. We will have the schisms plaguing American democracy plunge deeper. I fear little said today will, at least in the short term, provide any balm to our national struggles.

But this was historic. It confirmed what we already should have known. America was attacked by a hostile foreign power. That attack was welcomed and benefited a candidate for president. And that president lied about that attack and minimized it. His enablers and confederates have played along. Many of his aides have pled guilty to lying about their foreign contacts. This is un-American at its core.

That should be enough for bipartisan outrage. Whether we move towards impeachment will be the calculation of House leadership. But we saw in the questioning this afternoon a lot of tap dancing from Republicans eager to not infuriate their president but also not wishing to seem to countenance this type of foreign attack.

In all the smoke, in all the outrage, in all the posturing, we cannot forget the core truth. In between the lines of Mueller’s testimony we see his determination that the risk to our democratic ideals and function is deep and remains very present today. He has performed his service. How he performed that will be for others to judge. But the action now lies with Congress. How they respond, how we respond, will determine the verdict of history.
Rather summed up my initial reaction to the testimony, at least from what I saw in the headline reports (because it happened while I was asleep, I haven’t yet had a chance to read or watch any of the actual testimony). But from those headline/highlight reports, there was at least a confirmation of what we expected would happen: Not much.

We all knew that the current regime was trying to spin the report when it was submitted, something many of us (including me) picked up on immediately (I commented when Barr’s propagandistic “summary” was first released, and then I expanded on that subject the next day) . When the redacted version of the report was finally released, it was clear and obvious that Barr had completely mischaracterised its contents, a reality that was underscored by Mueller’s testimony.

All of which means that the testimony delivered what should have been, and mostly was, expected. It changes nothing because the USA is so deeply divided. In fact, the only thing that will immediately result from it will be yet more unhinged Twitter Tantrums from the current occupant of the White House, as per usual. Those tirades will, as always, tell us much about the current occupant’s (utter lack of) character, but nothing that’s actually useful or informative, as per usual.

The current occupant’s fervent frothing fans will froth and ferment, declaring it’s all lies, lies!, they’ll declare. Nothing could ever shake their certainty that their Dear Leader is the bestest mostest goodest president ever. In November of next year, they will vote in large numbers.

Opponents of the current regime will similarly default to form, calling the current occupant an affront to democracy, the US Constitution, and the rule of law. They’ll talk about how he must be “held accountable”, by which they will usually mean impeachment. Few will volunteer for or donate to candidates to help defeat the current occupant, and many will “forget” to vote next year.

Republican politicians will continue to march in lock-step with their Dear Leader because it’s entirely, 100% his party now. They’ll do absolutely nothing whatsoever to hold him in any way even slightly accountable for anything. It is their way. They can’t even call out his “mild” bad behaviour, much less the man’s obvious crimes.

Democratic politicians will also talk about how the current occupant must be “held accountable” without ever actually doing much of anything to make that happen. Many of them will say that’s based on realism: Republican politicians, who have no conscience, will never hold their Dear Leader accountable, or maybe it’s because too many among the supposedly winnable soft supporters of the current occupant would be turned off by Democrats standing up for the US Constitution and the rule of law. In either case, they’ll talk a good story, but little else.

Meanwhile, the republic is in mortal danger, and a corrupt, criminal, egomaniacal madmen is poised to destroy it all—aided and abetted by the Republican Party, and ineffectively opposed by the Democratic Party. The rest of us are being crushed in a strong metal vice that we can do little about—except for one thing: Voting.

Mueller’s report, as underscored by his testimony, clearly lays out why action against the current occupant is so vital and urgent. If politicians, for whatever reason, won’t do it, we need to do it for them at the ballot box in November 2020.

The saviour of the United States was never going to be Mueller, and it obviously won’t be elected politicians. It turns out that, armed with the truth and facts, including what was in the Mueller Report, the citizens of the USA alone are the last, best hope for saving the republic.

Will they?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Is Boris bad enough?

Last night (NZ time), Alexander Boris de Pfeffel (Boris) Johnson, age 55, was chosen to be the new leader of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, and so, will become that country’s next Prime Minister. A mere 0.24% of people in the United Kingdom decided he should get the job. Critics often call Boris the UK’s equivalent of the current occupant of the USA’s White House because of his frequent lying and buffoonery, but unlike his American counterpart, Boris is quite smart and a career politician. With the fate of the entire UK in the balance, is he as dangerous as everyone supposes?

Boris is certainly capable of becoming a demagogue if he wants to, and some are suggesting he wants to on one issue alone, the one he’s constantly lied about: Brexit. He vowed that the UK will leave the European Union by October 31, “do or die, come what may”. That could mean a so-called “no deal Brexit” in which the UK crashes out of the EU with nothing in place to deal with the resulting economic and political chaos in the UK, not the least because it may spur pro-EU Scotland to vote for independence form the UK, and Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested as much today in a series of Tweets.

Theresa May, the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister, tried to get a deal through Parliament three times and failed three times. A large bloc of Conservative Party (Tory) MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit, and would not support Boris going the no-deal route. In addition, the Tories have a tiny majority in the House of Commons, and will end up with just two votes to spare if, as expected, the Remain-supporting Liberal Democrats pick up two seats in upcoming by-elections.

To get around this problem, Boris is supposedly thinking about proroguing Parliament, that is, briefly suspending it so he can do as he wishes without risking Parliament voting against him. This is widely considered unconstitutional, it’s obviously anti-democratic, and it would be a bad faith move. Would he risk it? Or would he decide to go to an early election it the hope of winning a mandate?

Bets are being taken on both outcomes.

The whole process of Boris’s elevation has been anti-democratic. 159,320 members of the Conservative Party—the pro-Brexit party, of course—were the only ones who could vote. That works out to about 0.24% of he population of the UK who got to choose the next Prime Minister. The Conservative Party’s demographics don’t come close to being representative of the UK: The Conservative Party is 71% male, the highest proportion of any party in the UK. Its members’ average age is 57, the oldest of any political party. So, a small number of people who are more male, older, and concentrated in southern and southeast England, determined who the Prime Minister would be for the entire United Kingdom.

Conservative Party membership went back up in recent years, after a long period of decline, suggesting the party is attracting hardline conservatives, especially nativist/anti-immigration/racist folks. The party had lost about a third of its members after ex-PM David Cameron pushed through marriage equality in 2013, and that further suggests the party has moved more hard right than it was, which would make it more conservative than the general population.

Yet Tories alone, totally unrepresentative of the UK, were the only ones who got to elevate Boris.

In most Westminster-style systems, the party caucus chooses the replacement for a party leader, which also means the prime minister if they're leading government. Ordinarily, it's because the party leader has been rolled, but this is the second time in a row that the Tory Leader/PM has resigned and then been replaced. The normal procedure gives at least a theoretical possibility that the government will fall and fresh elections will be called so that the people can have a voice. In this case, older, white, richer conservative men decided for the entire country, and a Tory MP who defies the will of the party membership would be very, very foolish, and almost certainly committing political suicide.

I should add that I don't have an issue with a party in Opposition consulting its members—NZ Labour did that twice, though the membership only got a share of the total weighting, not the final say. Labour were the Opposition at the time, and who their Leader was didn't matter to government—obviously, because neither party leader chose in this way became NZ Prime Minister.

Still, it's possible that the chaos that will result when ego meets political reality will spark fresh elections called in a few weeks or a couple months. Boris believes in himself more than anything, apparently, he’d want to go for a mandate form the people. But with the Liberal Democrats winning all over the place on a pledge to hold a new referendum, he shouldn't count on holding his razor-thin majority. Whatever happened in the even of a new election, at least the people would get the voice they have been denied.

Is Boris as dangerous as everyone supposes? Potentially, absolutely, however, absolutely nothing is certain. He may try to play games by proroguing Parliament, he may call fresh elections, or for all we know he might get so frustrated by not getting his way that he just storms off.

The fate of the entire UK is in the balance.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Dancing to the music

Most people who watch pop music videos don’t give much thought to them beyond whether they like them or not, and a large part of that will be based on the song itself. Most of the time, probably, we may not even know who is behind a music video, but when it comes to choreography, many hit videos in recent years have been choreographed by New Zealander Parris Goebel. This week’s post is about some of those.

Parris is from Manurewa in Auckland, and got her start in Hip Hop dance here in Auckland, first forming the group ReQuest, which still exists, along with the related group The Royal Family, all based at her Auckland dance studio, The Palace Dance Studio.

The video up top is brand new: It was released on July 19. In fact, this is among the newest songs I’ve ever shared (maybe the newest?). It’s by Sam Smith and it’s called “How Do You Sleep?”, and it was written by Smith, with Savan Kotecha, Max Martin and also Ilya, who produced the song. The video was directed by Grant Singer, and the choreography is by Parris Goebel, of course.

Sam Smith doesn’t usually dance in his videos, so this is pretty unique for him. I think it works well, especially the quasi-biblical tableaux (or maybe tableaux vivants is more accurate). I can’t share any information on the song’s chart performance because there isn’t any yet. I’m sure there will be.

I first made Sam Smith the subject of a Weekend Diversion post in December 2014, and again the following February. Since then, I included him in a Weekend Diversion post about Calvin Harris (second video). My first post to mention him, though, was just an ordinary post one week before Christmas, 2014.

Next up, Justin Bieber’s 1015 song, “Sorry”:

Okay, last week I said that I thought Justin Bieber was underrated, but that’s not why I’m sharing this. It’s actually because the choreography in this video is pretty typical, in my opinion, of Goebel’s work. You can see some similar themes used in all these videos.

One thing I especially liked about the YouTube version of this song is that the video description includes something most music videos don’t, namely, complete credits:
Director: Parris Goebel Producer: Justin Bieber, Scott "Scooter" Braun and Parris Goebel Animator: John Hwang Production Company: SB Films and Taktix Films Choreographer: Parris Goebel Dancers: The Ladies of ReQuest & The Royal Family Dance Crews from The Palace Dance Studio, NZ
The song itself was popular: It hit Number 2 in Australia (7x Platinum), Number 1 in Canada (7x Platinum), and in New Zealand (5x Platinum), and the UK (4x Platinum), and in the USA (8x Platinum).

Finally, “Touch”, a 2017 single by British girl group, Little Mix:

Little Mix was the winner of the eighth season of the UK’s The X Factor in 2011. I’ve heard of them, but the name is burned into my mind mostly because they’ve turned up to the answer for a lot of questions on the original (UK) version of the game show, The Chase (and I’m actually not joking about that).

At any rate, the song hit Number 13 in Australia (2x Platinum), 57 in Canada (Platinum), 22 in New Zealand (Gold), and Number 4 in the UK (2x Platinum). It doesn’t appear to have charted in the USA (only three of their singles have charted there).

• • •

I chose these particular songs because the fact that Parris Goebel was involved is publicly acknowledged, where some others she’s been involved with haven’t necessarily done so. Parris has posted a YouTube Playlist of the all the songs she’s worked on. Some of those songs weren’t singles, and some, well, they aren’t exactly my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I do think these particular videos give a taste of her work over the past five years.

So, this week was actually about people behind some videos, in this case, a Kiwi that most Americans may not have heard of before. That’s a nice thing in itself, and is bit of break from just sharing songs/videos I like. Think of it as a little mix. Sorry. Maybe I need sleep?

50 years ago: TV from the moon

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I remember very little of the broadcast, since I was ten at the time, and it was 9:56pm out time when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon. But I do remember watching it on our black and white television, and I know other family members were with me, but I can’t be sure who: I was transfixed by the pictures on the TV. Much of the world was, too.

I grew up in the space age, and watched the space launches from as far back as I can remember, starting with Project Mercury. I even had a toy Project Gemini Titan II rocket and capsule (the capsule, which survived longer than the rocket, was red plastic). I also had a plastic model kit to make replicas of the Apollo 11 craft, LEM which was meant to sit a bit of plastic resembling, more or less, the lunar surface, and the Command Module “orbiting” on a plastic arc.

So, I have a long history with the space programme, and have always been fascinated by it, so it made perfect sense that I’d watch the live broadcast. I can’t remember for sure, but we may have watched the entire broadcast of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

The Tweet above is from Neil deGrasse Tyson and talks about the Apollo 11 insignia, which was designed by Michael Collins. Tyson later acknowledged that Apollo XIII’s insignia. But the lack of a flag was deliberate, as was the olive branch. If only the promise had been fulfilled.

The space programme and the moon missions were very important for science and to advance our species, however, the promise of peaceful cooperation among all nations was never going to happen then, and it’s no more likely now. That’s the great tragedy of the space programme: It didn’t usher in an era of peace.

Still, the Apollo 11 trip to the moon was a magnificent achievement, an event that suddenly advanced humanity farther than it had ever been before—both figuratively and literally. And it was something that people all over the world got to watch together. Maybe we were temporarily joined after all.

50 years ago, like much of the world, I was transfixed by the live TV pictures from the moon. I would love to feel that way again, but even more, I’d love for the world to feel that way again.

Friday, July 19, 2019

A house divided

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” The United States is now deeply divided, not on a single issue like the slavery that Lincoln was talking about in 1858, but by something beyond issues, beyond ideology, something much worse: Group identity, sometimes called tribalism. The USA is no longer one country, nor even a union of 50 separate republics. Instead, it’s now a mishmash of “Follow Friday” Tweeps and Facebook Blocked lists, it’s MAGAs on one side and The Resistance on the other. It is a house divided, and that cannot stand.

In the video above, CNN’s Michael Smerconish bemoans the absence of any source of unity in the USA, how even things that were once apolitical are now seen only through “partisan” eyes. He’s right about the loss of opportunities for unity, but it’s not because people are partisan, as he seems to think: It’s because they’re part of different group identities.

Ezra Klein recently wrote about this on Vox, and about how what people don’t understand about the current regime and its supporters is that this has nothing to do with conservatism—ideology—it has do with one thing only: winning. The only thing that matters to them is that they’re marching together, and beating “the Left” as they go.

Because we don’t understand the motivations of the Right, we should all do as Sonali Kolhatkar recently did on Truth Dig, and ask: “Are We Underestimating Trump Yet Again?”. The current occupant of the White House’s campaign team know what it has to do to motivate its base, which is part of the motivation for him stoking the fires of racism, as he did this past week. The Left simply doesn’t understand that base, as Klein suggested. But Kolhatkar seems to think that it’s about some sort of ideology:
“…progressives and liberals have to accept the ugly fact that a sizable portion of America’s population is susceptible to [the current occupant’s] propaganda because they back the president’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant, racist, sexist, homophobic, corporatist, war-mongering agenda—even if they don’t publicly articulate it.”
Do they really? Michael Herriot clearly thinks so, at least in part, but maybe only by default. Writing on The Root, he says (in a piece with one of the site’s common enough confrontational headlines), “White People Want Trump”. He has two points worth looking at. First, that if there is such a thing as an amorphous but unified bloc of voters called “Black Voters”, then surely there must also be one called “White Voters”. The important thing about that is it’s stupid to reduce all people of one race into little more than automatons who all vote alike. I’ve frequently commented on this blog about how there’s no such thing as a unified bloc of voters— Black Voters, LGBT+ Voters, Female Voters, whatever—so I think that point cannot be stressed enough.

His other main point is that to White Voters, as a bloc, race trumps, so to speak, nearly everything else. While he’s at pains to acknowledge that not all White Voters feel that way (extending a rhetorical courtesy that most pundits don’t extend to Black Voters or Hispanic Voters…), he nevertheless provides strong evidence supporting his thesis:
In a June 12 national survey of registered voters, Quinnipiac University pollsters matched Donald Trump against the top Democratic presidential candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker. News outlets across the country including CNN, Newsweek and the Washington Post have reported on the results—namely, that Donald Trump loses against every single one of the candidates by a relatively large margin. But relatively few have mentioned that regardless of the presidential final round matchup, one thing remains true: White people are going to vote for Trump.

Among white registered voters, Trump beat Biden by one percentage point (46 to 47) which is within the margin of error. But Trump won the white vote by six to ten points when matched up every other Democratic presidential candidate. The Quinnipiac poll is not an outlier. In a Politico/Morning Consult poll, Trump again landed within the margin of error when white voters were asked to choose between him and Joe Biden. But he won the white vote with every other Democratic contender even though the majority of them disapprove of the job he is doing as president. A poll conducted by The Economist and YouGov from June 9-11 shows that white voters would vote for Donald Trump versus a generic Democratic candidate by a margin of 10 points.
What this suggests is that White Voters are divided along group identity lines, not by ideology. To some White Voters, apparently, race matters more than ideology. When combined with the fact that conservative voters outnumber liberal voters, it points to why Joe Biden polls the best against the current occupant. It also may explain his popularity among Democratic voters who have been polled, even though Democratic activists have a high proportion of women and black people and, well, activists, most of whom are further to the Left and often anti-Biden. This doesn’t mean that a plurality of polled Democrats are rightwing or even necessarily centrist, but that they want a candidate to defeat the current occupant.

The evidence obviously seems to underscore the notion that the “best” candidate to defeat the current occupant of the White House is Joe Biden, and those arguing that have been saying that he has the greatest potential appeal to some of the White Voters that voted for the Republican in 2016. Are they right? The reality is, no one knows.

The obvious counter argument is that someone completely different from the Republican candidate—a woman, a person of colour, a younger person, or even a gay man—would create a point of difference, preventing the contest from ending up being between—let’s be honest—two white male senior citizens. This is a potentially risky strategy, though, because it relies on mobilising voters who often stay home—especially young voters those on the Leftward side of Left (or any group that feels in any way excluded by the nominee’s campaign). Even so, are these advocates right? Again, no one knows.

Somewhere between the two arguments is the fact that many of the White suburbanites who voted for the Republican nominee in 2016 were appalled by the current occupant’s behaviour once in office and voted for Democrats in the 2018 Midterms. This could be the most important bit of information because many of those White suburban voters may be conservative on some issues, but many still voted Republican in 2016, not because they agreed with that candidate, but, rather, because they couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton. Those same voters don’t always respond well to racist appeals, unlike the Republican Party’s base. We don’t have enough information to work out whether they’re sexist, though: They might be, and would vote against any female candidate, or it could be that they simply couldn’t stand that female candidate.

So, it could be that the best Democratic nominee is the one that can best appeal to White suburban voters, without losing or turning off traditional Democratic voters. Or, it could be Democrats need a candidate who’s completely different than the current occupant, while not driving White suburban voters away. The problem is that the two viewpoints have little common ground. Group identity again.

There’s a bigger picture here that’s easy to miss: Group identity isn’t the absolute motivator that some think it is, and that means that the American house isn’t quite as divided as it often seems. Yes, the Republican base is more or less monolithic, but not every voter who backed the Republican 2016 is part of that base. Peel enough of those non-base voters away, without losing any of the Democratic base in the process, and the current regime will be ended.

The USA is at a crossroads. It can continue down its current path, likely leading to cataclysm, or it can change course and begin to repair the damage. But the American house is bitterly divided that it’s unlikely there can be any common ground between the two main warring houses, so only one side can prevail. We know the Right is committed to that goal, and will stop at nothing to win. Is the Left anywhere even remotely close to being that committed?

Those of us who want to defeat the current regime really need to do some deep soul searching on this. The only thing that we should focus on is defeating this regime—it’s the only thing that matters. It’s why so many of us say, “I’m voting Blue, no matter who”, because we know that whoever the Democratic nominee is, that person may well not be our “ideal” candidate. In blunt and harsh terms, we need to get over ourselves and vote for the good of the country.

Let me be clear: I’m NOT suggesting that we should all get behind Biden. I’m also NOT suggesting that we should vote for someone completely different. At this point I don’t personally have a first choice (or second, or third, or…). What I am saying is that we have to be realistic about the electoral challenges we face, including the apparent reluctance of large numbers of White Voters to look beyond their own race, but also the fact that some clearly can and do look beyond race (if the candidate is acceptable), and that there are votes we can win from the Republicans.

The house that is the USA is deeply divided, and only one side can win. But the divisions are more complicated than a simple binary, and therein lies an opportunity. The current regime promises to do even more of the awful stuff it’s already been doing. In stark contrast, the Democratic side is the only hope for restoring the country and rule of law, while beginning to undo the damage the current regime has done.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. But if most of the residents of that house work together, they can repair the house, restore its strength, and keep it from collapsing. That is our challenge, that’s our hope, and it must be our mission.

Let’s ensure the house remains standing.

Tip o' the Hat to fellow expat Wendy, who pointed me in the direction of the Smerconish video.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The better midpoint

Auckland temperatures this evening.
A couple weeks ago we hit the midpoint of 2019, which is some sort of thing. Maybe not important, necessarily, but a marker of time all the same. In this part of the world we’re about to hit another midpoint, one that matters quite a lot to some of us: Tonight we pass the midpoint of winter.

As I’ve mentioned many times, in this part of the world the beginning os the seasons are taken as being on the first day of the month of their start, and not on the equinoxes or solstices that happen some three weeks later. Because our system makes the dates a known thing without variation, it’s easy to calculate what the midpoint of a season is, and the midpoint of winter is midnight tonight.

We know this because June, July, and August have a combined total of 92 days, and that means that the midpoint is 46 days—July 16 (the 30 days of June plus the first 16 of July). And once we pass midnight, we’re officially in the second half of winter.

This winter has been pretty mild, all things considered. It was unusually dry (and often extremely mild) during the first part, and it’s only been in the past couple weeks that we’ve had out typical rainy weather (and more storms are predicted for tonight). But, a few chilly mornings notwithstanding, it hasn’t been terribly cold so far. This evening we hit a low (screenshot of the weather App on my phone at right) of 10 degrees (which is 50F). It feels a bit colder than that due to how damp it is after days and days of rain, however, other winters have been far worse.

Even so, I’ll be glad when winter’s over because I like the warm months. This is actually an odd thing: After more than 23 years here I’ve fully acclimatised to winter here, feeling really cold in Auckland when the temperatures are what in Chicago I may have thought were warm. On the other hand, I like the heat of summer, and while Kiwis are complaining about how “hot” it is, I think the temperature is perfect. What makes this even more odd is that I know Auckland summers are considerably cooler than Chicago summers, and I wouldn’t mind them being warmer.

So I’ve thought lately that maybe it has nothing to do with acclimatisation to Auckland, and it’s just that I don’t tolerate cool temperatures as much as I used to. I’ve always been told that older people feel the cold more—maybe I’m just old before my time? Dunno, but I’m certainly cold before my time.

So here we are, poised to enter the second half of winter. I know it’s entirely possible that the weather—and temperatures—could very well get much worse before the it all gets better, but even if it does become worse, at least we’re slowly moving back toward the warmer months. For me, that makes it easier to endure.

Tonight we hit the point where there are only 46 days left in winter. That midpoint matters quite a lot to one of us.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Rescued songs

Some of these “Weekend Diversion” posts have been harder to put together than others. They all require research, of course, but the whole process became more complicated earlier this month when the free-to-air music video channel that introduced me to many of the songs I shared went off air. As I said yesterday, though, I’ve since found a solution to help me keep up with new music. It’s also allowed me to finish this post (which I’d barely begun), and to do a post I’d only had in my head when the TV channel disappeared.

So, this is the first of those posts that I almost abandoned, but now can finish.

The first song today is the video up above, only one that I’d written down and done some research on. It’s called “I Don't Belong In This Club”, a 2019 single by US pop band Why Don’t We and US rapper and songwriter Macklemore.

I liked the sound of this song—though it was one of the few where I needed to read the lyrics to know what they were singing. Even so, I especially liked Macklemore’s opening rap, especially the “Mackle—who?!” part.

The song reached Number 80 in Australia, and Number 25 in New Zealand. It didn’t chart in any of the other countries I write about. This was Why Don’t We’s first single to chart in Australia and New Zealand.

Next up: Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber “I Don't Care”:

I knew both of the artists in this song, but I hadn’t written down the name of the song. So, that Top 40 list came in handy for me, though I could have found it since I knew the artists. I’ve done that before.

In any case, I like the sound of the song—and it’s just coincidence that it has a similar story to the song up above. I’ve been a fan of Ed Sheeran for years, and I also think that Justin Bieber is underrated by those who can’t accept that artists change, so they continue to mock him for his earlier pop songs, or the fanaticism of his young female fans, or because of all of that. He’s certainly grown up; some of his critics need to do the same. Yeah, yeah, I know—”meow!”

Anyway, the song was actually the fourth time that Sheeran and Bieber collaborated, and Sheeran co-wrote Bieber’s hit, "Love Yourself”. “I Don’t Care” hit Number One in Australia, 2 in Canada 2x Platinum), 2 in New Zealand (Platinum), Number One in the UK (Platinum), and 2 the USA. This week, the song is currently Number 4 in New Zealand, and was Number 3 last week (it was always possible for me to include chart information for songs currently charting in New Zealand, but the source I now use for researching new music makes that much easier to do…).

Finally this week, “Let Me Down Slowly” by Alec Benjamin:

“Let Me Down Slowly” is by American singer and songwriter Alec Benjamin. It was originally released last year, but I never saw the video above until earlier this year. I thought that maybe I’d just missed it last year, however, there’s more to it, something I learned when researching this post.

The video above was the original video, which was released on June 4 of last year. However, in February of this year a new video was released (video below) to go with a re-released version that came out January 7, 2019. The new version was a duet with Canadian singer Alessia Cara. This is the version currently on the charts in New Zealand (31 this week), but for some reason the defunct music video channel only played the older version. I have no idea why that is, but I’d never have known all this if I hadn’t had to expand my research for this post. A benefit of the change, maybe?

I think the new video is much better than the original, and I might have included it sooner if the channel had played the new one. That’s why I’ve done something I don’t normally do: I’ve included two versions of videos of the same song.

I noticed the song at all because Alec Benjamin has an unusual voice; to me, he sounds much younger than he is (he’s 25), and at first I didn’t think it fit him, but I got used to it. It’s one of those songs that grew on my over time.

I always include chart performance, when available, but this time it comes with a caveat: I don’t know if the numbers refer to the original release or the new version. In any case, it hit Number 56 in Australia (Platinum), 49 in Canada (Platinum), 23 in New Zealand (Platinum), 31 in the UK (Silver), and 79 in the USA (Platinum). So far, it’s his only charted single.

Here’s the music video of the newer version:

I said in last week’s “Weekend Diversion” post that “I have one or two of these posts to go, and by then I should know what I’ll do with these posts in the future.” This was one  of the posts I was talking about, and the new research source made it possible.

So, I got curious about something

There’s a small word that infuriates some people, but it’s also quite common: The word so has become ubiquitous, and not just for its normal function as a conjunction. Lately, it seems some speakers use it a lot. So, what’s that all about?

I recently listened to a podcast and the interview subject began every answer with so. Since then, I’ve become aware of how often people do that. Not surprising, probably, I noticed that most of the people who do that don’t answer questions as part of the normal lives. However, even politicians, who ought to be good at being interviewed, do it a lot, too.

The word is usually referred to as a coordinating_conjunction, that is, words that, as Wikipedia puts it, “join, or coordinate, two or more items (such as words, main clauses, or sentences) of equal syntactic importance.” They point out that the words can be remembered as the acronym FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So.

That’s what the word is, but doesn’t even touch on why it ends up in as a “sentence opener”. Wikipedia says that the use of so as a sentence opener is VERY old, dating back (at least) to Chaucer in the 14th Century. They also list several theories as to why the word is used this way, each with its own merits:

As a coordinating conjunctive to refer backwards to something previously mentioned. This is common enough, and one I use the most. In my case, I could substitute something like “to sum up” at the start of a sentence, though that’s more stilted than my natural speech pattern.

As a discourse marker. This is the usage I hear the most often, and is rhetorically similar to people saying “you know”—that is, it doesn’t change the meaning of anything being said, but provides a verbal link. I sometimes use it this way in spoken speech, but very rarely in anything written.

To signal that the following words are chosen for their relevance to the listener. This usage infuriates some people. For example, back in 2014 Fast Company published a piece called “How A Popular Two-Letter Word Is Undermining Your Credibility” by Hunter Thurman. In it, he declares that using the word to open a sentence “insults your audience”, it “undermines your credibility”, and that it “demonstrates that you’re not 100% comfortable with what you’re saying”. So, that seems a bit harsh.

To provide a small amount of extra thinking time. To me, this seems like the best explanation most of the time. It’s very similar to a discourse marker, but completely devoid of any actual meaning. This usage is actually most similar to saying “um”—a mere sound, giving the speaker a brief time to get their thoughts in order, to remember the answer to a question, and so on. This can be as annoying as when people say “um” a lot, but it’s pretty harmless.

All of that explains what the word so is and how it’s used, however, none of that really answers why people seem to be using it more these days. Back in 2015, npr offered a possible explanation:
So, why the recent hue and cry about those sentences beginning with "so"? In part, you could blame the quirk of perception I think of as the Andy Rooney effect, where you suddenly become keenly aware of a common word that's always been part of the conversational wallpaper. Somebody says, "Have you noticed how everybody's saying 'OK' before they hang up the phone?" and all at once the word starts jumping out at you, even though people have been using it that way forever.
The npr piece talks about other explanations for the origins of the current usage, and ways in which it’s typically used.

Overall, I tend to agree that it’s not really new or used being used more extensively now than in the past, and that we just sometimes notice things more frequently than we used to—like I did when an interviewee on a podcast began every answer with so.

So, to sum up, I now know a lot more about so than I need to, but my curiosity has been satisfied. Isn’t that one of the main reasons for having the Internet?

So, that’s it for this look at so.

So is also the name of a hit 1986 album by Peter Gabriel. The album cover is up above.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Updating again

Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything, as we all know. The subjects of posts on this blog have changes, but most of them go unnoticed (not the least because most aren’t all that important). Still, there are regular readers who are along for this ride, and for them it may be useful to know when something has changed so the story this blog paints makes sense.

Back in 2015, I began a series of posts to give those sorts of updates, mainly to posts about my life and things I’ve been doing. I figured that posts about stuff in the news are easy enough for readers to check on, if they want to, but that’s not true, or as easy, for some posts. The Update states were meant to take care of that kind of post.

I have no idea why, but I stopped doing that after only four posts, the last in May, 2016. As it happen, there are two updates to that post: The first item is something that I stopped using not all that long after writing about it, going back to hair dye. The second item talks about things that haven’t changed much since then, except that I now also use Apple’s Reminders App because it sends alerts to my phone and watch.

But this post is actually about updates to much more recent posts.

Let the music play

About a week and a half ago, I wrote about the loss of our free-to-air video music channel (near the end; the link goes directly to that part). At that time, I had no idea where I’d find out about new music, let alone the videos for the songs. I have part one of a solution for that.

I had a hunch and clicked on the link for “Official NZ Music Charts” in the “In New Zealand…” section of the righthand sidebar (near the bottom). There they have a number of official Top 40 pop music charts, along with—and this was my hunch—a Spotify Playlist of the songs for that week (in this case, the Top 40). This gives me a chance to listen to the most popular songs in New Zealand—with the occasional ad, usually for Spotify Premium).

In some ways, this is a huge improvement because I hear songs that wouldn’t be played on the old music video channel. The web page often has direct links to the video for the song, but I can also double check myself (if I like it well enough) when I know what the song is called and who it’s by—two things that aren’t always obvious to me. In the past, I usually noticed the video if I liked the song, although sometimes it was the other way around. In that sense, this method isn’t all that different.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll be doing this every week, because it’s a lot of extra work to listen, and then search for the video, and then decide if I like it enough to share (and, generally speaking, that often took several views in “the old days”). Even so, I can see opportunities to mix it up a bit when I prepare one of those posts.

In any case, the next Weekend Diversion post will have one of the leftover videos I mentioned in that post a week and a half ago, plus others I didn’t write down before the video channel shut down. Whew!

Still teatotalling

Back in June, I talked about how I was teatotalling to try to reduce the risk of liver damage, which one of my prescription drugs, amiodarone, can cause. It turns out that I basically stopped having it after that post, but for a simple reason: Calories.

People don’t drink wine or other alcoholic beverages just for the taste, even if that’s one reason. If we’re truly honest, most people drink it—at least in part—because of the pleasant effects that come from it. However, those drinks are also empty calories, providing little or no nutritive value. The alcohol-removed wine I tried is the same—empty calories—but without the payoff of real wine. I never really thought about the empty calories before, and it took this substitution for me to do so. I’ll still have it for social occasions, of course, but I’m now aware of the empty calories as I never really was before, and so, I’ll have less of it.

Meanwhile, the café nearest to our house has now added the brand to their offering. That means that if we go there, I can have a glass of that while others have their real wine. I like that.

• • •

As I said in my last Update post more than three years ago, “That's it for this update. Maybe the next one will be sooner—or, not…” So far it’s been “not”, but maybe that’s just changed?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Hope and optimism these days

This is obvious to anyone who really stops to think about it, but hope and optimism are different things. They’re closely linked to each other, and sometimes they’re spoken of as near synonyms, but they’re still different. These days it’s more obvious than ever.

In basic definitions, hope is merely “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen,” while optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.” Optimism is implicitly based on hope, but one can have hope without necessarily feeling optimistic that “a particular thing” will actually happen. The difference is that word confidence: Those with optimism think “a particular thing” probably will happen, while someone with hope but no optimism may not expect it to actually happen, even though they wish it will.

This trip though lexicography gives us a way of looking at how people can approach the same thing from very different reactions, even while desiring the same thing—like in politics, for example, and the future one may be facing.

In the United States, the difference between those with hope alone and those with optimism couldn’t be more stark or consequential. But it’s also more complicated than it may seem.

The supporters of the current regime controlling the White House are loudly optimistic about what their guy will do, regardless of the fact that the evidence contradicts that belief and, in fact, shows more betrayal than fulfilment of promises. To those fervent believers, no facts can possibly change their mind.

On the other side, there are those who are pessimistic about the future. They see the current occupant of the White House “joking” about remaining in office for “10 or 14 years” (as he did just today), and they hear him constantly attack the free press as “the enemy of the people” and “fake news” because it won’t be a sycophantic propaganda voice for him. They see him idolising brutal dictators. They see him defying the rule of law and the US Constitution. And, because of all that, there are those who have no optimism that the USA even can get out of the mess it’s in.

In between them are people who don’t support the current regime—and the majority of Americans don’t, of course—but who are nevertheless optimistic about a return to the norms of government and the rule of law. Such people are clear-eyed about all the bad stuff the current regime is doing, but they remain optimistic that the republic will overcome all that and move back toward normality.

What gets forgotten in talking about these divisions is that even the pessimists can remain thoroughly hopeful about the future, and, just like the optimists opposing the regime, they desire that the republic will overcome all the bad the current regime is doing. The difference is that the optimists have confidence that the USA will inevitably move back toward normality, while the pessimists are afraid that it can’t.

At this point, we have no way of knowing who will be proven right, however, the omens and portents clearly aren’t good, no matter how much people truly want them to be. All we know for certain is that there are two opposite possibilities: Things MAY get better, or it all MAY get very much worse. That means, then, that opponents of the current regime who are pessimistic may actually turn out to have been hopeless about the future and may be cynical, despairing, or despondent—or realistic. At the same time, the optimists who oppose the regime could be feeling not optimism, but delusion, self-deception, and/or fantasy. Or, they could be sensible.

Between now and the 2020 US elections, it’ll become clearer which future—return to normality or collapse—the USA is headed toward. Until then, there will be no shortage of opinions on which view is most “realistic” (a word too often used to dismiss those with opposing views).

In the meantime, sure, it’s obvious that hope and optimism are different things, and that people can look at the same situation and have very different reactions. Hope? Optimism? These days the difference is more obvious than ever.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Managing vampire visit options

The thing about chronic health issues is that they require management. Sometimes it’s really easy, other times it’s more challenging, but whatever the case may be, some sort of attention is needed. Yesterday I added a new option for some management I’ll need to do for the next few months.

The one thing I’m expected to do frequently over the next few months (aside form not missing a dose of my prescriptions) is to have blood tests. I need to have them every six weeks to three months, because the tests are sort of an early warning system for any problems the amiodarone may cause, like organ damage. Considering how worried I am about organ damage, I’ll be going about every six weeks.

Yesterday I went for my first round of tests since leaving hospital, and because of that I’ve added another set of vampires.

I went to Pukekohe to do my normal grocery shopping, and decided I’d give the vampires there another try. I’d gone there in March 2018, but left without getting the tests done (as I mentioned briefly in a post at the time). This time I went there in early afternoon, and there was no one waiting, so I got to go straight to the procedure room. I asked what times were worst, and the phlebotomist said between 11 and 1 or 1:30, which was the timeframe I was there that one time. Now I know.

It turns out that the test order form I was given in hospital is good indefinitely, since they specified I’ll need repeated tests. They photocopied the form to send with the samples, and gave the original back to me for next time. I had no idea they do that, and it was a huge relief: I was imagining having to go the doctor every few weeks to get a new order for tests. That could get pretty expensive. The way things are done makes so much more sense, but it’s something I never knew about until now.

The last tests I had done didn’t show up on my doctor’s web portal for the better part of a week after my blood was drawn, so I don’t know when these results will be ready. I also don’t necessarily know that I’ll be able to work out whether the test results are good or bad. But that’s something for another day.

If the tests turn up problems, they’ll need to change the drug (I suppose they might make the procedure urgent; I have no idea). I’ve given some thought to this, and if they need to change the drug, I think they should go back to the atenolol I used to be on. I wasn’t as profoundly tired on that drug as I am on this one (in that regard, this drug is more like the metroprolol I used to be on). On the other hand, my mind is clearer than it was on the atenolol (and my memory is slightly better).

There’s a part of me that thinks I should ask them to look at switching me, anyway, because if I’m going to feel so tired regardless of what drug I’m on, why not be on one that doesn’t risk damaging my organs? So far, this one has kept my heart rhythm stable, but I didn’t have an afib incident the entire time I was on atenolol, either, so maybe it does the job, too. Dunno—I’m no expert, obviously, but I do know my body and how it reacts to the drugs doctors have put me on. That’s what I bring to the discussion. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll get an appointment for the ablation evaluation sooner rather than later.

I was a bit late getting this test done: It should have been six weeks after I started the new drug routine, and that would have been July 5. But I was busy with work and couldn’t spare the time, and the first couple days of this week I couldn’t quite muster the energy to go do it (that chronic tiredness in action). But, now it’s done, and I wait to see what it says.

On the whole, I’m actually doing pretty well, which is the point, of course. Yesterday I added a new option for the health management I’ll need to do for the next few months. It’s always good to have options, even when choosing the vampires to vist.

Important note: This post mentions 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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Political Notebook – Departures and arrivals

Yesterday the number of Democratic Candidates for US President dropped by one, only to go in the wrong direction today, going back up by one. On the other hand, today we also saw an interesting Democratic candidate enter a US Senate race. There will be more of these sorts of stories in the weeks and months ahead.

Yesterday, US Representative Eric Swalwell of California dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, three months after entering it. It had become clear his campaign wasn’t catching on, despite a strong performance on the second day of the first Democratic Debate. [See also: “Why Eric Swalwell’s Campaign Failed” from FiveThirtyEight].

Today, Tom Steyer, a billionaire who is best known for funding a campaign to impeach the current president, joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Earlier this year he said he wouldn’t do that. I’ll be honest: When I saw that he was running, the first thought that popped into muy head wasn’t charitable. “Oh great,” I thought to myself, “Just what we need: Another white male billionaire who’s sure he has all the answers for us.” Having said that, his ideas are definitely a lot more sensible than a certain other white male billionaire could ever achieve, but we have two dozen Democratic candidates! We should be winnowing down the field, not adding to it. [See also: “Impeachment and environmental activist Tom Steyer announces presidential bid” from Politico and "Why We’re Not Treating Tom Steyer As A ‘Major’ Candidate (Yet)" from FiveThirtyEight].

One of the reasons Swalwell dropped out of the race is that, struggling to poll above 1%, it was improbable that he’d make the next Democratic Debate. Steyer acknowledges it’s similarly improbable that he’ll make the next debate, and they say they’re aiming to make later debates. Maybe he will, but is that really what we need?

Defeating the current occupant of the White House is the most important job for the 2020 elections, but it’s hardly the only one. There are plenty of state legislative races and Congressional races that might be swung if they got cash infusions, and, in my opinion, that would be a far better use of Steyer’s money than mounting what could well prove to be a quixotic campaign. Still, maybe he’d prove me wrong. It’s happened in the past.

Meanwhile, Amy McGrath, as described by the Associated Press, “a Marine combat aviator who narrowly lost a House race to an incumbent Republican in Kentucky, has set her sights on an even more formidable target: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell”. If she succeeds, it would be a HUGE national service to the entire United States.

Naysayers (Republicans, that is…) point out she lost her race in a Blue Wave election, which is cute, but irrelevant. Kentucky is a deep Red state, and ending up only three points behind the incumbent Republican is remarkable. Can she pull off a big upset victory? Maybe. She should have plenty of cash at her disposal, but given how hard Mitch and his party will fight, and how low they’ll be prepared to go, she will have to be awesome. [See also: “Former fighter pilot launches Senate challenge against McConnell” from Politico, and “The Democrats Have A Candidate In Kentucky. But Can She Beat Mitch McConnell? FiveThirtyEight].

There will be more Democratic candidates dropping out, including some who may be persuaded to run for the US Senate instead in order to improve Democrats’ chances of taking control of that chamber. However, one person who won’t be among them is Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She told Politico that she will not be running for open the US Senate seat from Kansas currently held by Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring. After stepping down as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration, she said there was “not a chance” she’d run for office again in Kansas, which means her announcement is no surprise.

Meanwhile, Politico has also reported that “'Members are looking over their shoulders': Democrats spooked by new primary threats”. That could mean a lot of turmoil in Democratic primaries—or not. Very often such candidacies turn out to be all talk, however, the talk alone can weaken an incumbent Democrat, especially if it convinces Leftist voters to not vote for them, and that creates an opening for Republican challengers.

Speaking of departures and arrivals, the Associated Press tells us “Who’s in, who’s out: Meet the Dems running for president”, a list that will be changing a lot over the next few weeks and months. Related to that, Politico tells us “Who’s in and who's out of the next Dem debates?”. That list will change, too—in fact, since it was published before the comings and goings among Democratic candidates this week, it’s already getting out of date, though it’s basic information is still correct.

And that’s it for this edition of the Notebook.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 348 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 348, “Midyear” 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, July 08, 2019

This old dog still learns

If we’re smart, we value learning for our entire lives. Scientific research has show that learning new things—facts, skills, whatever—is one of the most important things we can do to keep our brains resilient, young, even. Tonight I tried something entirely new to me: I cooked a dish with tofu in it. Even at my age, it turns out, I can learn something new.

In recent months I’ve been trying new dishes without meat as part of a having a more heart-healthy diet. Many of the dishes I made were more or less traditional recipes that normally have meat, but made with the substitute instead. Other were completely meatless, such as the pasta with puttanesca sauce that I first made back in May.

I found that particular recipe in the sale flyer from a supermarket chain. At the same general time, they had one for what they called “tofu with spiced black beans”, and it sounded interesting enough to try.

As with the puttanesca sauce, the recipe called for chilli to be added, but didn’t put any in. It had a lot of cumin and about half as much paprika, but I put in less of both than the recipe called for. Even so, the spice taste was strong.

The rest of the ingredients were a tin of tomatoes, a tin of black beans, and firm tofu. I’d never cooked with tofu before, but I thought it might be a good one to try.

The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of tofu. At best, I thought it was bland and tasteless, and it reminded me of fried eggwhite. But my own journey here has moved from trying to use meat substitutes to ditching them too, making full vegetarian, even vegan, meals. This is less expensive than using meat substitutes, but the main reason I’m trying this different approach is that if I’m trying to avoid meat, it seemed to me that I should try more purely vegetarian dishes.

And that’s where the tofu comes into the story. Tofu is a common ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan dishes—but I had no idea how to use it.

The recipe said to slice it, fry it, and that place it on the sauce. So, I sliced the tofu, then cut those slices into rough thirds so they’d be bite sized. I put the oil in the pan, and put the tofu in. Then I realised something: If I hadn’t ever cooked with it, how would I know when it was ready?

I remembered seeing TV chefs talking about browning it, so that’s what I set out to do. Then I became concerned I might over-cook it. I took it out when it seemed to be getting a little too firm. Then I put it into the sauce so it could pick up some of the flavour—because, as I said, I’ve always thought tofu was bland.

And, it worked: The tofu was perfect, and not overcooked, and it did pick up some of the flavour. For my taste the sauce was a little too heavy in cumin, but Nigel liked it well enough.

So, my first attempt at cooking with tofu was a success, overall. I never even thought about cooking with it until relatively recently, and it was good to know that’s it’s easy enough to do. Now that I've learned how to cook with tofu, I can continue with other recipes.

Yes, this was a simple thing, unimportant in a lot of ways. But after all these years I tried something entirely new to me, and that’s a good because it’s good to learn new things, especially including things that we never knew we could do, not matter how simple they may be.

Today was a good day.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Mitch James again

Kiwi singer/songwriter Mitch James was a Weekend Diversion in July of last year, and while I have repeated someone not all that long after I last shared their videos, it’s not all that common. So, consider this a rare treat, then, not the least because this could well be one of the last of these posts.

Early last week, when I was talking about the Midpoint of the year, I talked about how our free-to-air video music channel is now gone, something I didn’t know was happening until it disappeared. I also said that I had a few Weekend Diversion posts I was working on, and this is one of them, a post that may never have happened if it hadn’t been for that video music channel.

The reason the channel led to this post is the video above, for the song “Old News”, and released late last year as the follow up to his hit song “21”, a song I really liked (so much so that it made my top 5 minus one last year). When I first saw it—on that video music channel—I knew the basic concept wasn’t necessarily terribly original (record company execs offering advice on how to make a music video that ends up being a little off). Even so, I liked the use of chats/texts to convey that specific conversation, even though that basic idea has also been used. But weaving in and out through the entire video is the sort of self-deprecating humour that Kiwis as known for. The video, then, mocks the music video making process and Mitch himself.

The song reached Number 8 on the NZ music chart and went Gold.

Another video played on that music video channel also caught my eye, “Bright Blue Skies” [explicit language]:

That particular video is a “lyric video”, called that for pretty obvious reasons. There are a lot of them on YouTube, and the music channel used to have an entire evening of videos that were just that sort of video. What struck me about it though, apart from the fact I liked the song, was that the “swear words” were intact—not just sung, but even in print. To me, as a firm believer in both artistic integrity and authenticity, it was great. I hate it when videos are censored.

When I watched the video the first time, I thought, “what’s with the dogs?!” I later realised that they could be why he doesn’t need a goddam thing from anyone. The credits at the very end are absolutely perfect—and match my sense of humour, which is always a plus for me.

The song is Mitch’s most recent single and reached Number 4 on the NZ chart and went Gold. This was also his first single to chart in Australia, reaching Number 75.

The final video today is also the oldest, “All The Ways To Say Goodbye”:

The video was released in late 2017, and was his single before “21”. It’s a nice song, but I can’t remember for sure whether I saw it on the music channel, but if I did, it would have been after “21” was a hit. I think. At any rate, I went looking for it on his YouTube Channel when I started putting this post together after I saw it listed on his Wikipedia page, which was very incomplete last year. In last year’s post, my comments on chart performance came from me looking up individual weeks’ charts on the RIANZ site because information on chart performance and certifications was missing from the Wikipedia entry at that time (I really should have given myself a research credit on that…) Wikipedia’s information on what were his first and second singles was muddled at that time, too. Oh, well.

At any rate, I like the song well enough, though it’s also true that I haven't yet found one of his songs that I dislike; I just like some more than others. The video at the top includes a brief segment from this video, which is kind of nice for the sake of continuity. Or, something.

The song reached Number 12 on the NZ chart and went Gold.

And that’s it for our second visit with Mitch James. I don’t know if I’ll share another of his videos on this blog because I’d have to know about it first, and I haven’t hit on a suitable way of keeping up with current music short of—gasp!—listening to the radio, something that’s much harder to do now that we’ve either gotten rid of or packed away all our radios—seriously, though we have a tinny-sounding battery operated one for emergencies/disasters. Certainly not suitable for listening to music. Maybe the solution will eventually be a post in itself.

In the meantime, I have one or two of these posts to go, and by then I should know what I’ll do with these posts in the future. For now, though, they make it easier for me to find videos of songs I like and by artists I like, which is useful for me, anyway.

Still, this could well be one of the last of these posts. Stay… tuned?

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Necessity’s child

There are plenty of times we have to come up with a solution for some issue or problem in our daily lives. It doesn’t matter whether the problem is serious or insignificant, either way we need to find a solution to solve it. I recently faced that over something that wasn’t serious or important, merely annoying, and the solution I came up with was simple, free, and effective.

Back in 2016, at the start of my Health Journey, I bought a 7-day pill storage box to help me keep track of all the pills I was taking. I liked it because, as I said at the time each day was a separate and detachable “pod”, making it convenient the rare times we were going away for the weekend (it’s in the photo at the bottom of this post).

Time passed, and a couple years later they changed around my drugs, adding dabigatran to the mix. That wouldn’t have been a big deal except it was—literally—a big deal: The pills have to be kept in their foil blister packs. There as no way they would fit into those pods—especially because I needed to take two a day. So, I bought a much bigger 7-day pill storage box to put them all into. The photo up top is that storage box (a little worn already).

The two pills at the right side of the photo are the dabigatran. Each pill in in its own section with perforations between them to make them easy to separate, though I tear them as shown and fold them along the perforation in the middle. It’s easy to do and has worked well—until recently.

After my hospital adventure in May, the doctors put me on yet another drug, one called amiodarone, and therein lay the problem I had to solve: The drug was in a blister pack (at the left edge of the photo above), and the instructions said clearly that they had to be kept sealed until taken, too. So, at first I took some scissors (very small scissors I use to trim my moustache) and cut them apart. I did that because I knew that if I didn’t put them in the appropriate day’s compartment, I’d inevitably forget to take it, and apparently that would be very bad.

Cutting them apart turned out to be very difficult (and impossible without very small scissors). I knew that sooner or later I’d accidentally snip open one of those cells (or whatever they’re called), and it would probably happen on a day when I’d already had the pill for that day.

I knew that I needed a new option, one that was easy for me to do, that helped ensure I took the pill every day, and that kept them all together in their blister pack.

I had the idea of using some sort of token that I’d put into each day’s compartment, but there were two obstacles: The token had to be small enough to fit in an increasingly crowded compartment, and I had to have some way of verifying that I’d actually taken the pill for that day, aside from seeing an empty compartment for that day (that’s the way I make sure I take all my other pills).

I originally thought about using some of the ceramic beads I have for blind baking pie pastry, but they’re a bit large, I’d need something to keep the “used” ones in, and there was no specific way for me to double check that a day’s pill was taken.

The solution turned out to be obvious: Those plastic tags from bread bags. They’re recyclable (I think), but I always just chuck them in a tray under the kitchen sink to use when I need to scrape something, rather than using my fingernails (I talked about using them that way at least twice, first some two years ago, then again when I talked about my painting project this past January).

The tag has one side with the various codes and the freshness date, and so far I haven’t found anything that removes that (I tried acetone in May, and that didn’t work), so I used the other, blank side. I grabbed seven tags of three different colours and used a permanent marker to write one or two letters for the day they corresponded to (two when it wasn’t obvious, specifically Tuesday and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; the tag for Thursday is in the photo above).

First, I should (defensively) say that I can read my own handwriting, so the quality of the lettering wasn’t critical. The reason I used three colours of tags was to make sure that I didn’t use the same colour two days in a row, this to help make it a little easier to tell them apart when I use them.

To use them, I put each day’s pills in their compartments, along with the token for that day. Then, when I take my pills, I grab the box from the chemist with the blister pack in it, pop a pill for that day, and take it. Then I take that day’s token and put in the chemist box with the pills. At the end of the week, when I fill all the compartments for the following week, I take the tokens out of the box from the chemist, and put them in the appropriate compartment, and the process begins again. If I want to double check that I’ve taken a pill, I check the "used" tokens in the box from the chemist (this is actually a check I can't perform for any of the other pills).

My solution was free (I had the bread bag tags already), easy to do, and—so far—works perfectly. It didn’t occur to me right away, but when it did it was kind a duh! moment: So obvious.

Considering how much I love my technology, one might wonder why I don’t use some sort of electronic, well, something. I don’t know for sure, but I bet there are Apps that would track my pill-taking for me, but there’s one slight problem with that: The drugs affect my memory, and I may forget whether I took all my pills for that day, and checking them off on a list wouldn’t be actual proof. I needed something physical and non-electronic.

This is why I use a good old-fashioned compartmentalised 7-day pill box—for me, it’s very nearly fool-proof. However, that meant I needed to come up with a way to leave the amiodarone alone in its blister pack while also having a physical way of telling whether I had taken the pill or not. Wins abound in this story, and no electricity or wifi is needed.

There are plenty of times we have to come up with a solution for some issue or problem in our daily lives, including some insignificant ones. This wasn’t a serious problem, but the solution I came up with was simple, free, and effective.

I love when a plan comes together.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Sunny is eleven

Today is Sunny's eleventh birthday—already! The Instagram photo above is her official birthday portrait, and another one is below. She was actually quite the cooperative photographer’s model today, which was nice. She also got into some birthday mischief today, but we won’t talk about that so it doesn’t diminish her day.

Last year I mentioned that she’s slowed down a bit, which she had. But she also can still be as active as ever, especially when playing with her little brother Leo, and sometimes her big brother Jake. She also has the loudest bark in the family. That’s not relevant to her birthday or anything; it’s just a fact.

As always, Sunny is still one of the happiest dogs I've ever known. So, we still say, “Sunny by name, sunny by nature”. We can’t imagine her—or life—any other way.

Happy Eleventh Birthday, Sunny!

Related posts:
Sunny is ten – Last year’s birthday post
Sunny is nine
Sunny is eight
Sunny is seven
Sunny is six
Sunny is five
Sunny is four
Sunny is three – Her first birthday with us
Sunny has arrived – When Sunny came to live with us
All posts mentioning Sunny