Saturday, December 31, 2022

My mother would be 106

Today (US time) is my mother’s 106th birthday. It’s still hard for me to focus on much, including birthdays, but I do try. Sometimes, trying is all I can manage. Like this year. Again.

Last year I said:

I don’t have much to add to what I’ve said in previous years (see the list of those posts below), not because I don’t have anything to say, nor because I don’t want to, but simply because I find it hard to focus on much of anything. Maybe next year will be better?

A lack of focus is still true, and this year I even forgot that in 2019 I said, “I realised it’s actually more appropriate to talk about her birthday on what was the date she experienced, not a day earlier as I’d done on this blog.” Even now, I still don’t know if that’s what I was really thinking at the time, or if it was an excuse or something. Besides, ever since my first birthday in New Zealand, I’ve celebrated my birthday over two days: The day it arrives here, and continuing on until It passes the place of my birth. The reality is that I think about the birthdays of everyone I know when the date arrives here, which is a day early for friends in Europe or the USA. Actually, Facebook does the same thing, reminding me of someone’s birthday when the date arrives here, in my timezone, and not on the date it arrives where the person lives. This situation is confusing under the best of circumstances, but add in my lack of focus and general forgetfulness, and it means that I miss more birthdays than I remember.

Still, I try to make sure I remember her birthday every year, including the past few years when I’ve had so much trouble remembering lots of things. Sometimes, trying is all I can manage. Like this year. Again. Maybe that’s not such a small gift under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday, Mom, and thanks. Always.

Previous birthday posts:
My mother would be 105 (2021)
Remembering my mother’s birthday in 2020 (2020)
Remembering my mother’s birthday in a new life (2019)
Still remembering my mother’s birthday (2018)
Remembering my mother’s birthday (2017)
My mom would be 100 (2016)
Mom at 99 (2015)
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Tears of a clown
– A 2009 post that’s still one of my favourites about my mother.

Ask Arthur 2022, Part 5: Sheepish

Here we are, finally at the end of this year’s “Ask Arthur” series. I saved this one for the end, precisely because it’s a non-serious topic—a bit of fun (for me, anyway…) to end the series.

This final question is from Roger Green, but it wasn’t actually intended as an AAA-22 question. Instead, it was a comment he left on a post last month, “Again seizing opportunities”, where he said:

I'm only partially kidding, but couldn't you just rent some sheep? I hear you have a lot of sheep in NZ. In fact – REALLY – there are sheep for rent in ALB, though I've never used them.

The context here is that my post was about mowing my lawns, something I’ve had to do frequently over the past few months, and rain was making that difficult. The serious (more or less) part is that I didn’t know the answer to the specific question, and the non-serious part (for me…) is that it touched on something that to me—an immigrant to New Zealand—is funny.

But, first things first: Is it even possible to keep sheep in a city?

The short answer seems to be “no”. Maybe—it’s absolutely unclear. In April 2018, Stuff published an article, “Can I keep a farm animal in my backyard?” The article talked about some of the varying regulations for keeping farm animals in cities around New Zealand, and was updated “to reflect bylaws in 2019 after police found a horse roaming the suburban streets of [Auckland’s] Epsom”. The regulations vary widely, but sheep weren’t specifically mentioned.

My next step was to try and find out from the website of Hamilton City Council (HCC) if having sheep within the city was permitted, but in typical HCC fashion, the website was largely unfathomable (yes, I could’ve rung and asked, but I didn’t). As near as I can tell, some farm animals may be okay if the section (property) is large enough, and if the animal won’t be a nuisance to neighbours. Animal welfare seems to be the primary concern, as it should be, and it appeared that in at least some cases, HCC would have to issue permits to keep an animal. Overall, the HCC website had no clear, easy to access answers to my questions (definitely not the first time that’s been the case…). So, I’m going to assume that no, you can’t have sheep in an urban area of Hamilton, like where I live.

I do know that in rural areas people with what we call “lifestyle blocks” (large properties, like, say, a couple acres that aren’t farmed) will sometimes have neighbouring farmers graze stock on their property so it doesn’t have to me mowed. When Nigel and I talked about moving out to a more rural area (even when we still lived in Paeroa), he sometimes talked about exactly that: Having a nearby farmer graze stock on our property. He also said goats weren’t an option because “they eat anything and everything.” We ended up moving back to Auckland, and by the time we moved to a more rural part of Auckland, he was over the idea of having a large property, and so, having stock graze on it.

I don’t know if there’s anyone who actually “rents” stock to property owners, and in the situations I described the farmer looks after the stock and the landowner provides, essentially, free food for it. There may well be financial arrangements akin to rentals going on, but it’s not something I know anything about.

There are times, I’ll admit, where having some grazing animal seems like an attractive option (not counting Leo eating grass, as he sometimes does), but it’s not practical and would be just another burden for me. In otgher words, not an option.

There—that’s the "serious" part done.

The thing that amused me was one thing Roger said: “I hear you have a lot of sheep in NZ”. This is always reminds me how some New Zealanders are irrationally sensitive about the topic of sheep. I think it comes from decades of mockery, especially from Australians, about how there were more sheep than people in New Zealand, and how Kiwis were “sheep shaggers”. The irony is that when I arrived in New Zealand, Australia had far more sheep than New Zealand did, and while I wouldn’t care to speculate on how personally attached individual Australians were to their flocks, I suspect there may have been some very close bonds among them.

Here are the actial facts, for the record: New Zealand’s sheep numbers have been declining for decades as more and more farms are converted from sheep to dairy cattle, urban areas grow to accomodate a rising human population, and lamb, and especially wool, become less profitable. The crash in the price of wool could well be the biggest single factor in the decline of sheep as an industry.

New Zealand had a peak of 70 million sheep in 1982, and that had dropped to 26 million sheep in the year ended June 2020, according to Stats NZ, which was a drop of 800,000 from the previous year (that drop in 2020 was largely because of persistent drought conditions). Over the preceding decade alone, sheep number dropped by 6.5 million, which was a fall of 20%.

For comparison, there were 6.2 million dairy cattle in June 2020, down slightly on the previous year. There were also 3.9 million beef cattle, which was similar to the previous year.

In June 2020, sheep meat exports brought in $4 billion, but wool brought in only $460 million, and that was almost half of the $800 million it earned only 8 years earlier, in 2012. The annual value of dairy product exports in 2020 was $16.6 billion (about a third of which went to China, NZ’s largest dairy export market), and total beef exports were worth about $3.8 billion for the year ended June 2020, up around half a million from the year before. The fact that dairy and beef exports collectively earn so much more than all sheep product exports is why I say it's the main driver for the decline in sheep numbers.

Back in 1995, I was fascinated by NZ’s perceived dependence on sheep, and amused by Kiwis' reluctance to talk about it. I was working for a company that published magazines (as vehicles for selling ads), and one of them was a guide for backpackers visiting New Zealand. We needed some fillers and decided to put in a series of “Did you know?” fun facts about the country to entertain foreign visitors. I decided to find out how many sheep per person there were at the time, so I rang some government agency (it may have been Stats NZ—I don’t remember) to find the answer. A coworker, who also edited the publication, said to me, “I never could’ve done that!” I think she thought it was kind of funny, though perhaps not as much as I did. To me, the whole “how many sheep per person” thing played right in the face of the mockery, which is actually what appealed to me the most.

So, I chuckled when I saw in the Stats NZ piece I linked to above that “there are now five sheep per person – a drop from the 1982 historic high of 22 per person.” When I asked in 1995, there were approximately 14.5 sheep per person, and to update a joke I made when talking about the fall in sheep numbers some years ago, I might say, “In 1995, there were 14.5 sheep per person in New Zealand, and now it’s only 5. Who got my other 9.5 sheep?!”

I mainly made the joke just to watch someone squirm at the mention of the number of sheep per person, because at the time many Kiwis were still uncomfortable with the topic. The truth is that while sheep numbers have been declining for forty years, the human population of New Zealand has also been rising: New Zealand’s population was only 3.2 million in 1982, and had risen to 5.1 million by 2020. Obviously the sheep-to-human ratio had to change.

In my defence, I should point out that I wasn’t being a jerk: One of the best ways to get over a sort of cultural squeamishness is to joke about it. Insults, including ones made by Aussies, lose their power if we’re the ones making the jokes. But, then, I’m an immigrant, so it’s entirely possible I simply don’t get it. But I also know that I don’t get 9.5 sheep that I got in in 1995.

And, that’s a wrap for this year’s “Ask Arthur” series. While I’ve always found these series fun, interesting, and/or educational to work on, they’re also a lot of work. Interest in the series ebbs and flows, and this was a low year. I seriously considered making this tenth annual series the last. On the other hand, this series used to be a good way to beef up the number of my posts at the end of the year, a time when I used to try to hit an annual average of one post per day. I haven’t hit that goal since 2018, and this year will be my lowest full-year annual total ever—and not dramatically higher than the three and half months I blogged in 2006 (this year will have had an average of fewer than one every other day). On the other hand, this series did help make December my “most blogged” month of 2022, so, there’s that, I guess.

Huge thanks to Roger and Sherry in playing along and asking questions. I hope I wasn’t too sheepish in my replies.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


A decade-long inquisition
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 1: Speaking in the House
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 2: Indepen-dunce
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 3: Ranking choices
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 4: Helping Ukraine?

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 375 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 375, “Year’s end”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Google’s Year in Search 2022

The video above is Google’s “Year in Search” video for 2022, and below are some of the “top five” searches globally, in New Zealand, and in the USA. This is something I’ve done several years because, as I said in 2020 (the last time I posted about the Year in Search), “I think it’s important to have a record of what was on our collective minds during a year, and posts like this make it easier to refer back to later,” and these posts make it especially easy for me.

Here’s what was trending in 2022:


Top 5 overall searches in the world: 1 Wordle, 2 India vs England, 3 Ukraine, 4 Queen Elizabeth, 5 Ind vs SA. Top 5 news searches in the world: 1 Ukraine, 2 Queen Elizabeth passing, 3 Election results, 4 Powerball numbers, 5 Monkeypox.

New Zealand

Top 5 overall searches in New Zealand: 1 Wordle, 2 Locations of Interest (probably refers to Covid), 3 Australian Open, 4 Covid cases today NZ, 5 All Blacks vs Ireland. Top 5 news searches in New Zealand: 1 Covid cases today, 2 Ukraine, 3 Queen Elizabeth, 4 Costco, 5 Will Smith.

United States

Top 5 overall searches in the USA: 1 Wordle, 2 Election results, 3 Betty White, 4 Queen Elizabeth, 5 Bob Saget. Top 5 news searches in the USA: 1 Election results, 2 Queen Elizabeth passing, 3 Ukraine, 4 Powerball numbers, 5 Hurricane Ian.

What I find interesting about the searches this year is how common some topics are. The most-searched things within countries are often specific to that country or its region of the world, but somethings transcend borders. I wonder if “Powerball numbers”, the fourth most-searched thing globally, is because of the USA (where it was also fourth in the same category), because not every country has something similar to the USA’s powerball draw. I had lots of similar “I wonder if…” and even just “Huh!” moments when I looked at other search categories (you can get to the three I shared by clicking on any of the three section titles, and once there you can change the country whose search results are displayed).

Funny thing to me, though, is that “Wordle” was the number one general search term globally and in New Zealand and the USA (and for other countries, too). I hadn’t really realised it until I looked at what was trending in search in 2022, but I see now that this year was apparently a lot more boring than recent years preceding it. Here’s hoping the searches in 2023 are equally boring!

Friday, December 30, 2022

The shop repairing stories

I talk a lot about stories because I believe it’s the thing that most sets us apart from our fellow animals—as far as we know, anyway. Everything we do, say, think, imagine, all of it, is related to our own stories, the stories of others, and/or how they intersect. Even objects in our life relate to our stories, and that’s at the centre of one of my favourite television shows.

I began watching the BBC television series The Repair Shop from its first broadcast in New Zealand. I don’t remember precisely when that was, but shows began airing in the UK in March 2017, and there’s always been quite a delay before they get to New Zealand. For example, the episode that aired tonight was broadcast in the UK on April 2, 2021—around 20 months before New Zealand. At any rate, though, I know that the show began airing in New Zealand before Nigel died.

Each episode centres on expert craftspeople repairing/restoring family heirlooms that are damaged for whatever reason. I was originally drawn into the show because I was fascinated by the work the craftspeople did and the results they achieved. I was particularly interested in the woodworking repairs, and enjoyed watching master craftsman Will Kirk, who, to be fair, I also rather fancied. Mainly, though, I enjoyed seeing some techniques I wasn’t familiar with.

Similarly, I was drawn to the work of the other master craftspeople, and was frequently surprised by how much work went into seemingly small things—except, of course, they were all committed to doing the job right, and not just quickly or to a minimum standard.

This continued for the first couple years or so, and then recently I was struck by something: The items being brought in often had little or no monetary value, but to their owners they often had value that was beyond measure. There were childhood toys that had survived the London Blitz, items that people smuggled out of Europe as they fled the Nazis, the only item a family has from a great great grandfather, and so on. Many of the items and the stories around them are interesting in themselves, but the depth of meaning the items carried for some of their owners caretakers was utterly astounding.

There were episodes in which my cheeks were constantly wet watching the reveal segments, and ordinarily I’d make a joke at my own expense, laughing at how sometimes I get all teary-eyed watching a commercial. While that’s true, it’s also dismissive of the very real feelings, my own and the folks for whom the objects meant so much.

This is what led me to yet another bloody obvious realisation: The objects mattered precisely because of the stories they carried, and the meaning they wore. Watching the master craftspeople work their magic on the items is endlessly fascinating to me, but watching the repair and saving of the stories attached to those items, that matters far more.

The show was overseen by the BBC’s head of daytime and early peak television, New Zealander Carla-Maria Lawson. In an interview with RNZ, for whom she worked as chief reporter before moving to the UK more than two decades ago, she said, "People need that sense of positivity and recognition of people doing something lovely. It features people doing something for little reward.” Exactly. And the resons she thought it would work are the same things that appeal to me—and so many others, too.

I believe that everything we do, say, think, imagine, all of it, is related to our own stories and possibly the stories of others. Any TV show that enhances and protects those stories is likely to be a winner with me, and The Repair Shop certainly is.

The trailer for the show is the video up top, and video excerpts from various episodes are on their YouTube Channel.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Ask Arthur 2022, Part 4: Helping Ukraine?

This post is the actual penultimate post in this series, thanks to a question I received after Part 3. The final post in this year’s series will be at the end of this week.

Today’s question is from my long-time friend Sherry, who wrote:

The situation in Ukraine is heavy on my mind. I have no idea how there is never enough money for America, but something like helping Ukraine becomes a global crisis and all of a sudden we have the money to help another country. I can't help thinking what that kind of money would do for the U.S.

I wonder if we will ever get our money back from Russia. We should confiscate the assets we can to help pay for what they have done.

So, my question is… how does the world get Russia out of Ukraine so we can stop funding the war, and so Ukraine can become whole again? I believe in the 10 steps The President of Ukraine laid out...but it seems impossible!

That’s a really good question, and it’s one that comes up in one form or another all the time. I think there are several different aspects to this situation.

The thing that’s probably the most obvious is that there’s only one way to get Russia out of Ukraine without a global, possibly nuclear, war, and that’s funding Ukraine itself. If Western nations can prevent Russia from conquering Ukraine, over time the regime will become so weakened that they will agree to peace terms, or else the Russian dictator “falls out a window”, as so many of his enemies have. Either way, the war will end when Russia has had enough.

There’s no way that Russia will ever pay for its illegal war, and Western governments have (so far) shown very little appetite for penalising big corporations that do business with the Russian regime. The main barrier to cutting Russia off from the global economy is that Europe is still dependant on Russian oil and gas. The European Union is trying to rapidly accelerate their move away from that dependence, but there’s no easy or quick solution, and while it remains, Russia has a source of foreign money to spend on its war, and European nations can’t push too hard without retaliation, as we’ve already seen.

All of which means that the question of cost in a situation like this has to be seen in its larger context, namely, how much higher the cost would be to do nothing—or to do more. The reality is, this isn’t just about saving the Ukrainian people and nation, but about preserving freedom and democracy throughout Europe and beyond. Time was, that sort of statement would have been hyperbole, but now it’s simply the truth.

The Russian dictator is determined to restore the Russian Empire—not merely the Soviet Union, but going back to czarist times. So far, he has relied on installing compliant regimes in former Soviet “republics”. For example, he’s done that in Belarus, which gave him a staging point to use to invade Ukraine when the Ukrainian people had the audacity to depose the Russian regime’s hand-selected despot. It’s obvious now that the Russian dictator really did think that Kyiv would fall in a few days, and the Russians would be able to install an obedient servant to rule what would essentially have been a Russian vassal state. The Russian dictator vastly underestimated the fierce determination of the Ukrainian people and army, and vastly overestimated how good his own army was.

We also know how reliant the dictator is on mercenaries, who are responsible for most of the war crimes, acts of genocide, and brutality—most, but not all. Russia has deliberately targeted civilians in their homes, but they’ve also target hospitals, which itself is a war crime under international law going back the first international convention of 1864. The International Criminal Court and the United Nations have sent war crimes investigators to Ukraine to document Russia’s crimes—and, Russia is obligated by membership in the United Nations to turn over war criminals for prosecution, though no reasonable person could imagine them ever agreeing to do that while the current dictator is in power.

All of that is important to note because it underscores the Russian dictator’s imperial ambitions, ruthlessness, and gleeful brutality. He will never stop with Ukraine: He plans to eventually invade Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and also—at the very least—the rest of the European nations that were formerly controlled by the Soviet Union. However, that would mean a direct attack on NATO nations, which would cause a global war. He’s trying to avoid that by weakening western resolve so countries in the west give up and don’t resist, and then one day, it would be too late to resist.

The Russian dictator’s giddy embrace of war crimes and genocide, along with more routine brutality, is, like his constant threats of nuclear war, intended to frighten the citizens of nations supporting Ukraine. It’s why, as winter loomed, Russian agents sabotaged a natural gas pipeline leading to Germany. This is also why he courts direct support by far-right politicians in countries around the world, people who would be a sort of “fifth column” to help prevent foreign military opposition as he expands his empire.

It’s obviously far cheaper to fund Ukraine than to wage a global war, but it also drains Russian resources which would make a global war less likely, or less likely to succeed, the longer the current conflict continues. In the short term, that does nothing to help the folks in Ukraine or among its supporters, and the Russian dictator is counting on that fact to dissuade the West from supporting Ukraine long term.

So, funding Ukraine is far cheaper than waging a direct war with Russia or doing nothing and waiting for Russia to further expand its empire. However, no matter how important funding Ukraine is, that doesn’t address the heart of your question, about how much good could be done “at home” with money being spent in Ukraine.

I think it’s important to look at why, precisely, the USA never has enough money for its own needs: Pure, bald, crass, selfish politics. The USA could well afford to look after its own and help with problems around the world, but money is always short by design and on purpose.

We all know that the USA’s rightwing doesn’t much like international cooperation: Some factions hate the United Nations, others hate government funded humanitarian aid, and others adore the Russian dictator and his brutal regime. At the same time, other rightwing factions are concerned only with the needs and desires of the ultra-rich and corporations, and the needs or ordinary people are invisible to that faction.

Imagine an alternative reality where the ultra-rich and corporations paid their fair share in taxes—that doesn’t even have to mean higher taxes, just that they pay their existing tax obligations like ordinary people have to. Imagine if all the loopholes that favor the ultra-rich and corporations were closed—not just the ones that let them avoid paying any income tax, but also the ones that let them claim federal welfare payments, too.

Put another way, it’s not that the USA can’t take care of its own AND be an active participant in the world, it’s that the rightwing in the USA won’t allow it, and the electoral system is sufficiently rigged to allow that to continue being the case.

In my opinion, the problem isn’t that there’s a shortage of money, it’s that there’s an excess of greed. It’s not that there’s not enough money available to deal with problems at home and overseas, it’s that there’s not enough humanity among politicians to find ways to solve problems. Fixing that is up to ordinary people, because despite all the nefarious shenanigans of the politicians working to block change, ordinary people in democratic nations are the most powerful force in their countries. They just have to use the power they already have.

Thanks to Sherry for today’s question!

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


A decade-long inquisition
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 1: Speaking in the House
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 2: Indepen-dunce
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 3: Ranking choices

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Productive day

Today I followed through on my imprecise plan: I mowed my lawns. I also did a few other things today. And noticed the sky. It was an okay day.

Yesterday, when I talked about my Christmas, I said that I thought I might mow the lawns in the evening, or else, “another day this week”. In the end, I decided against mowing the lawns yesterday because I decided that one more full day of rest couldn’t hurt.

I went out late this morning, maybe a bit later than I’d hoped, but I realised it’s a good time to go: It’s cooler than it will be in the afternoon, and the sun being relatively hight in the sky means I can fully see what I’m mowing, something that matters because sometimes the weed stalks snap back after the first pass and I need to go over them again.

The cooling and water break I took was shorter than it has been other times in recent weeks, mainly because I didn’t feel I needed a longer break, and because I was keen to beat the afternoon heat. I’m pretty sure that, all up, the job took me much less time than usual, probably because the grass itself wasn’t very long (the weeds were), and because I kept moving.

In any case, I still felt pretty okay when I was done, and after I rested a bit more, I thought about doing a couple other jobs outside, but I didn’t do them: By then it was starting to heat up. There was a brief time, though, when I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do.

I ended up working on some blog posts I’ll publish over the next few days, and before I knew it, it was getting time to make dinner. Well, actually, it was close enough to start making an early dinner, and that seemed like a good idea because I was hungry, and because I thought I might go outside in the evening to work on one of the projects I’d put off this afternoon. I didn’t do that.

However, I did end up going outside to water my plants earlier than normal. One of my tomatoes is starting to ripen (photo below), and I realised that it’s now at the point that I need to water the plants when there’s still enough warmth in the air to dry out the leaves (because I inevitably get water on them).

I usually use a watering can rather than the hose (it feels more precise to me), and while I was filling it up at the outdoor tap, I looked up at the sky (photo up top). I was aware that I was in a bit of shade at the moment, and I looked up to see the clouds floating between me and the sun. I thought it was pretty.

And that was pretty much my day today. It wasn’t unique—just a typical summer day, really. However, after being worried only a few days ago about potential sickness, having a typical summer day was very welcome.

I hope that’ll continue that tomorrow, too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The King’s first Christmas Broadcast

On Christmas Day, right after the 6pm news broadcast, I watched the first Christmas Broadcast from King Charles—and it sounds so weird to say that! I thought it was pretty good. Charles expressed some of the same overt religiosity as the late Queen did, however, I also think he was pivoting.

He spent most of his time talking about service to others (which, to be fair, is what Christianity is supposed to be all about…), something his mother might’ve done, likewise the acknowledgment that ordinary people are struggling. It was at the end of his message that I saw the strongest—and most subtle—indicator of change: He explicitly acknowledged people who have no religion.

I have have an open mind about the king. I’m a firm republican (lower case R only…), however, Charles has the opportunity to modernise the monarchy, just as his mother did, and make it possible for it to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. We’ll see.

These annual broadcasts now have lots of personal history for me. Before YouTube, I used to want to watch the Queen’s message on TV every year, and that amused Nigel. That was because he grew up with them—it was no big deal to him. I think he was also intrigued by how fascinated I was by it all. That figures: Right up to the end, we kept surprising each other.

At any rate, another annual blog tradition is completed—in a new guise, the same but very different. Much like life throughout the past few years.


The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2021
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2020
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2019
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2018
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2017 (and 1957, too…)
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2016
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2015

Previous years’ broadcasts are no longer available.

The year without Christmas

My Christmas this year was something it’s never been before: Technically absent. That’s not literally true, of course: Somehow or other, it came just the same. There’s a story, though.

The story’s core is this: This year, for the first time ever, I spent Christmas alone (with Leo…). I wasn’t sure how it would go—obviously, since I’ve never experienced that before—but it was just fine.

It all came about because early Saturday evening I developed cold-like symptoms, and obviously my first thought was, “uh, oh…” First thing on Christmas morning I took a rapid antigen test (known colloquially as a “RAT test”), which was negative, however: It’s possible to be symptomatic and still test negative, especially within the first few days after exposure. I was going to be spending Christmas Day with family who were heading overseas a few days later, and I couldn’t risk exposing them to—well, whatever it was. Even if it was just a cold, they wouldn’t get over it before leaving. And, if it was the plague—best not to even about that.

So, I told the family that I felt Leo and I should stay home to keep everyone safe. It was the sensible thing to do in the Plague Times, but all that aside, I knew that if the cold-like symptoms persisted all day, I didn’t think I’d have enjoyed myself. That paled in comparison to the risk that it might be the plague.

Leo obviously had absolutely no idea that Christmas Day was anything other than just another day, and I get together with family often, so, really, it actually wasn’t all that different. Except of course, it was: It was a first for me.

There didn’t appear to be all that many people home when I looked out the front window, judging by cars missing from the driveways on the street. I saw a couple who appeared to be late middle-age moving around their car parked at the Airbnb across the street. They were busy loading their car with presents before they left for the day. I wasn’t affected in any way by seeing that, apart, maybe, from the fact it made me think of Nigel and me packing up the car to go visit family—but only a little bit, because as far as I can remember, we only travelled on Christmas Day a couple times. Instead, I mostly thought about how I’d perceived the couple as being older than me, but I then realised they could well be younger. Thoughts about the relativity of age/appearance is an “any day” sort of thing, which, I think, goes to show how I was unaffected by what I saw.

I’d planned to make myself a special Christmas Breakfast (photo at right), but ended up having it a wee bit later than planned, because there was no longer any rush. I toasted a slice of my homemade (bread machine) bread, scrambled a couple free range eggs (with a little dill and garlic powder), added some fresh-cracked pepper, and garnished it with some just-picked fresh parsley from my garden. The actual reason I decided to make scrambled eggs was because I have quite a lot of parsley, and I wanted to use some of it.

I also made Leo a special Christmas Day breakfast, too: I gave him some tinned dog food (a NZ-made “premium” brand I got on special). He gobbled it up quick as—did he even taste it?!

This goes to show that I basically felt okay that day: I just had some discomfort in my sinuses (they felt “hot”, for lack of a better word). I didn’t have a fever (I checked), and so, I thought I maybe I just had a sinus thing of some sort. The weather’s been wet more often than not, and everything—especially weeds—are growing like crazy. I noticed my lawns need a mow, which is part of what made me think it may just be a sinus thing (I sensibly decided I wouldn’t mow the lawns that day—it was Christmas, anyway).

The rest of the day was quiet. I finally decorated my Christmas tree (it only had lights at that point). I hadn’t found the time during the week, so planned on doing it Christmas Eve—until I felt yucky and gave up the idea.

That morning, my brother-in-law kindly dropped off some Christmas dinner for me (including plenty of chocolate), along with two Christmas crackers, one for me and one for Leo. First thing I thought was, “Now I just have to work out how to get him to hold one end.”

I decided to have my dinner later in the day (because of my late breakfast), and, as I said on Facebook, “You know that if I can manage it there’ll be a photo of Leo in his paper hat/crown thingee,” and then added, “And, in the effort, I’ll no doubt lose all the good daddy points I got for giving him his extra special treat for his breakfast.” The photo is at the top of this post, and I was actually very surprised how cooperative Leo was, even when the hat kept sliding down over one eye, something I couldn’t see until after I took the photo. I took several to get the one I shared.

That evening, I had some of the special wine I’d bought to have that day (strictly for medicinal purposes, of course), and I watched some Christmas DVDs I’d brought back with me form the USA the last time I was there: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I finished with a movie we bought here in New Zealand, It’s A Wonderful Life. Then it was time for bed, a little earlier than usual for me.

Yesterday, Boxing Day, was quiet: I felt okay in the morning and most of the day, but decided to rest. I got a call from friends in Auckland, and also from my sister, and then a thunderstorm rolled through. I was glad about the storm: It meant I didn’t have to go water my plants!

By evening I felt yucky again. I went to bed even earlier, and around 4am I got up to go to the loo (I’d been drinking a lot of water all day), and I felt far worse than I’d felt during this whole—well, whatever it is. However, when I woke up for the day a few hours later, I basically felt okay again: A bit tired, and with sinuses that still feel “hot”, the occasional sneeze, but otherwise not terrible.

My lawns still need to be mowed, and if I feel up to it, I may do that this evening when it’s cooler. Or, another day this week (it’s supposed to be hot and sunny the next few days). It’ll depend on how I feel. Even though I joked about not mowing the lawns on Christmas Day, I was actually quite surprised when a neighbour down the end of the street actually did that. To each their own, and all that.

So, Christmas, though very, very odd, wasn’t difficult or anything. I think the main reason is that Christmas hasn’t been a very big deal for me for decades. As I said many times, Nigel and I often bought each other nothing at all, or not much, because getting together with family was what we valued. That fact is both a reason to shrug my shoulders about the sudden change in plans, and a reason to be upset. The reason my shoulders won is probably that, as said earlier, I get together with family often. Besides, I saw my brother-in-law (outside and physically distanced…), and I also spoke on the phone with my mother-in-law, and later with a sister-in-law, and later still with another sister-in-law).

It’s also clear to me that staying home was the right call to make, even if whatever I have isn’t a disease (it could be simple allergies). It was important to do the right thing, and doing so can give us a sense of calm. It did for me, anyway.

And Leo didn’t seem to mind his paper hat/crown thingee. It was a Christmas miracle.

The title for this post was inspired by The Year Without Santa Claus, a 1974 Rankin-Bass Christmas special (which I also have on DVD, though I didn’t watch it this year). The first paragraph of this post uses a quote from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the 1966 animated Christmas special.

My Christmas dinner.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Ask Arthur 2022, Part 3: Ranking choices

This is, at the moment, the penultimate post in this series: I still plan on publishing the final post next week. However, there’s still time to ask a question (details below), should one so desire, and I can always add more posts.

Today’s question is back in sequence: While related (sort of) to Parts 1 and 2, it’s still its own topic. It's also from my pal Roger Green, who asked:

Please explain (again) how an instant runoff voting scenario would work v. first past the post. If you want to, use the GA runoff as an example of a wasteful government expenditure, IMO.

For most Georgia voters (about which, more later), the state’s runoff election is an entirely separate election, held four weeks after the November election. The better, and far less expensive option, is ranked choice voting, the collective name for many different flavours of voting systems, all of which are completely different from what Georgia and other places use for most voters. In the USA, it’s also known as "alternative vote" (AV) or "instant-runoff voting" (IRV).

What all ranked choice systems have in common is that instead of voting for the only ONE candidate for an office, like in a typical first past the post (FPP) election, voters rank their choices from one (the candidate they most want) on down to the candidate they least want. In every system I’m aware of, a voter doesn’t have to rank all the candidates on the ballot. This matters because if a voter deeply loathes parties or candidates, it’s okay to simply ignore them. It’s what happens next that starts to get complicated.

The goal with ranked choice voting is that the eventual winner has a majority of the vote, something that may not happen with FPP. Let’s assume that that we’re looking at an election for a legislative representative in a single-member district, which means only one candidate can win. Let’s also assume that there are six candidates running for the office, and no clear favourite.

Let’s now assume this was the result of the election: Candidate A got 25% of the votes cast, Candidate B got 23%, Candidate C got 20%, Candidate D got 15, Candidate E got 12%, and Candidate F got 5%. Under FPP, Candidate A would be elected with only a quarter of the votes cast because they got the more than any other candidate—BUT the vast majority of voters did NOT vote for Candidate A. This can happen in any FPP election with multiple candidates.

In the real world, votes aren’t usually as close to each other as in this example, especially in elections that historically lean toward one party. The point, however, is that FPP doesn’t always elect someone that the majority of voters are at least okay with, and frequently elects candidates that only a minority voted for. When that happens, it’s typically said the candidate declared the winner got “a plurality of the vote”, which is a nice way of saying that the majority of voters didn’t vote for the winning candidate. That masks how undemocratic the result is, in my opinion.

In Georgia, no candidate won 50% of the votes cast in the November election, though Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat running for re-election, won more votes than his Republican or Libertarian Party opponents. Under FPP, Sen. Warnock would’ve been reelected with less than half the vote, but instead there was the separate runoff election four weeks later, which he won.

In ranked choice voting elections, there are rounds (called different names in different places, but we’ll use that). In the example above, voters could rank their choices from 1 up to 6. The result only be the first round because no candidate received 50% of the vote. So, the lowest ranked candidate (Candidate F, in the example) is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the second choices of Candidate F’s voters. This continues with an as many rounds as it takes until one candidate passes 50% and becomes the winner.

This all happens through mathematics, which is certainly not my strongest subject, so I can’t explain the precise mechanisms. I understand what happens, but not precisely how it happens. The important thing is that it follows mathematics.

This gets at the biggest problem with ranked choice voting: It’s complicated. It’s hard to educate voters used to FPP on how the system works and how to use it. Once they understand the principle of ranking choices, though, it’s simple to use. The next question is, why use it?

The biggest reason is that it guarantees that the winning candidate(s) will have a majority of voters who, at the very least, don’t totally reject them. Under FPP, it’s very easy for someone disliked by the majority to nevertheless win. That also means that the “spoiler effect” inherent in FPP is vastly reduced: Under ranked choice voting, people don’t “throw away” their votes on minor party candidates because if they’re eliminated, their votes will be reallocated to other, possibly similar choices that might win. Under FPP, casting a vote for a minor party candidate could help a candidate one loathes to win. Partly because it reduses the spoiler effect, over time ranked choice voting encourages more minor parties, though, it must be noted, ranked choice voting results usually coalesce around dominant parties.

All that said, another (and completely different) reason to use ranked choice voting in elections is the savings: The immediate “run off” saves the costs of holding an entirely separate election day and having entirely separate vote counting. Equally as important, it spares voters from having to endure further weeks of incessant election advertising and campaigning.

In sum, ranked choice voting is fairer and more democratic than FPP, it encourages the development of smaller parties, and it saves taxpayers money, all while ensuring they don’t have to endure any more electioneering than is absolutely necessary. Infinite wins, in my opinion.

Even Georgia sees the common-sense practicality of ranked choice voting: Overseas Georgia votes (and maybe other absentee voters—I don’t know) were given a ranked choice ballot to use in the November election. This was entirely practical: It would be physically impossible to get run-off ballots to overseas voters and get them returned in time to be counted. What I don’t know is how they were counted. To me, it seems likely that they could’ve eliminated minor party candidates in the second round to get to the two in the run-off, then add those votes onto the total in the run-off. I should emphasise that I’m speculating, because I absolutely don’t know, and it’s also possible that the votes of overseas Georgians weren’t used at all in the runoff.

Finally, ranked-choice voting, in all its many flavours, isn’t merely always fairer and more democratic than FPP, it’s also a system that could be adopted everywhere in the USA without changing the country’s system of government or amending the US Constitution (or, probably, any state constitutions—I haven’t checked that). This would do more to change the USA’s poisoned politics faster than pretty much any other democratic reform. All of which is why the USA’s rightwing and their wealthy donors would oppose it with with all their might: Ranked choice voting would mean they’d lose their unearned, unelected power. To me, that’s just one more excellent reason for the USA to switch to ranked choice voting.

Thanks to Roger for today’s question!

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. To avoid being public there, you can send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page..

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


A decade-long inquisition
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 1: Speaking in the House
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 2: Indepen-dunce

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A hatful of memories

I talk about memories a lot—like I did just this past weekend. I do that mainly because each of them is a story—or several. Yesterday, the photo at left was a Facebook “Memory” for me, and I told the story behind it when I shared it on my personal Facebook. And yet, there was still more I didn’t say.

Sometime before this photo, I went to The Warehouse in Birkenhead (now gone) and bought a bunch of hats to wear when I was working outside. Most of them were baseball caps—and then there was this one. I bought it only because the wide brim would better shade my face, neck, and ears, but I hated it on me because I felt it just didn’t suit me.

What I didn’t know at the time of that photo was that two months later we’d be preparing to move to Clarks Beach in South Auckland. On the day of this photo, I’d never even heard of Clarks Beach, let alone been there.

In the years before the photo, Nigel worked to shift Auckland Council’s contact centre to Manukau, partly because Council was trying to promote South Auckland development, but he did it especially because most of the customer service representatives lived in South Auckland. He decided to relocate his entire department there, too. Trouble was that on some days it could easily have meant he’d have faced a 2+ hour commute to and from our house on the North Shore due to Auckland’s notorious traffic.

As work on his department’s move progressed, we talked vaguely about moving closer, but it wasn’t until December 2016 that things changed: We visited Clarks Beach (with his mum) on what Nigel played as just an outing. I even asked him if I should bring my camera for photos (I did, but I didn’t use it, or talk about the trip here or on Facebook). I found out later he’d been looking at houses online, and the real reason we went there was that he wanted to check out the area, and to see if I thought I’d like it there.

In January 2017, we started looking in earnest, found a house, bought it, and moved in February 25, 2017. The rest is history (…and the stuff of lots of other stories—and Facebook “Memories”).

Which brings me back to the hat. One summer, our awesome next door neighbours at Clarks Beach had a gathering in their garden and invited us. Nigel, who was wary of sun exposure after his skin cancer scare a few years earlier, wore this hat, and he looked faaaaaar better in it than I ever did—or could, actually. I told him that, too—and I also never wore that hat again, not until recently.

A couple months ago, I again ran across the hat tossed aside (safely) in the garage, and I started wearing it for my lawn mowing and other outside work (for all the reasons I wore it in the first place). I still hate the way I look in it, I still think about how much better Nigel looked in it, and I still value sun safety more than either. But it also kind of feels nicer now. Memories can do that, too.

But there’s another, completely different story behind that photo: The reason I was working outside that day, and why I made a joking caption for it on Instagram, was something I blogged about the same day: It was the day that the Electoral College confirmed the “victory” of the orange Republican as US President. I didn’t say that in the Instagram post (which was automatically shared to my personal Facebook, too; I also included it in the blog post that day). The omission was probably deliberate: I was still nauseated by the results of the 2016 US presidential election, but I don’t talk about US politics (or NZ politics very often, either) on social media.

This reality also means that yesterday I also never mentioned the politically-related connection to the photo when I shared the “Memory” on my personal Facebook. Once again, just as it did on the day six years ago, this blog provides a fuller story than what I posted on social media.

There was one more ting I could’ve talked about on Facebook, but didn’t: The shirt I wore that day. It used to be one of Nigel’s he gave to me when it no longer fit him. I used to wear it went I did work outside because it was cool, but it eventually became quite worn, and it became a “painting shirt” instead (in fact, I wore it when I painted the toilet and bathroom at the last house).

There’s more yet: One day in what turned out to be his final months, Nigel was working from home and needed to throw on a shirt to look presentable for a video conference (he’d been wearing a t-shirt), and he grabbed that one from our wardrobe. I can’t remember ever wearing the shirt again after that, though I may have. At any rate, still have the shirt, but haven’t needed it for painting

Memories are really just stories, and this one admittedly minor photo carries a lot of both, even more than folks who don’t read this blog could know. That’s not always deliberate, like, I simply forgot about the shirt until I was preparing this post. Whether deliberate or not, this probably won’t be the last time that’ll happen, knowing me. It turns out this blog is a repository for memories and stories, too.

Oblivious to a solution

There are many ways to solve most problems around the home, to repair something that’s broken, to improve the quality of life, and so much more. Sometimes, though, solutions are so obvious that they never come to mind. Until they do.

When I moved into this house, one of the things I most wanted to do was to have the patio covered. I wasn’t sure precisely what would be best, but my goal was to make it usable most of the year by providing shade from the hot summer sun and shelter from the winter rain. Things didn’t quite work out.

I made some expensive improvements to the house, like the photovoltaic system, and I realised that the sorts of patio covers I considered could easily cost substantially more than that system. That means that a patio cover just isn’t an option at right now, though it will be in the future if I choose to stay in this house longterm.

In the meantime, however, my table and chairs were in the weather all day every day—rain, wind, and, especially, sun. I could see that they were slowly deteriorating, and that made me sad—and determined to do something—but what?

Nigel and I bought the table and chairs two houses ago, and they went under a patio cover, and so, were protected. At our last house, they were on an exposed deck and, just like here, they were at the mercy of the weather. I wondered about putting one of those blue tarpaulins over them, but worried about properly securing it, since the deck often got hit with strong winds from the Manukau Harbour.

Then, everything fell apart, and I left that house. My new patio was every bit as exposed as at the previous house (thought usually far less windy), and after awhile I thought again about putting a tarpaulin over it—but I did nothing.

Recently, I was at one of the home centres, and as I was walking past a rack on my way to somewhere else, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a rack with covers for various types of outdoor furniture. It was a definite ”DOH!” moment.

I must’ve been aware that such covers existed, and I must’ve even seen them in use many times, but for some inexplicable reason, that knowledge and awareness never reached my conscious mind, not until I happened to walk past the display in the store that day. It was the logical solution, one that had completely eluded me.

I knew I’d better measure the table and chair set before buying a cover, so I didn’t buy one that day. Instead, I went home, measured what I needed, and then checked the websites of both the home centre chains. It turned out that they both sold the same brand and—in a very rare event—they both charged the same price. I bought the cover (pictured above, and also in a product photo at right).

Before putting it over the table and chairs, I first scrubbed the table, and was happy to find out that it wasn’t in as bad condition as I thought—it was mostly just very dirty. The cover I bought was the medium size, which was a little too big (the small was too small). This meant that breezes going under the table could make it billow—noisily, I might add. So, I criss crossed it with some old clothesline (also from two houses ago…). And that helped keep it from flapping around too much during storms.

Since then, it’s done exactly what I wanted it to do: It’s protected the table and chairs from the elements, but I realised it also protected them from birds who left their gifts on the chairs in particular. The cover should last at least until I know what I’m going to do—upgrade this place or move on—and that makes it the perfect solution for right now.

The reality is that I can only remember sitting at the table twice since moving into this house in January 2020. The first time was one evening sometime after I’d shifted into the house when family came round for dinner, but sitting outside was only a short time. The second time was when I tool my Christmas Day selfie later that same year. Aside from those two times, I can’t remember sitting out there. I would, however, use the table if the patio was covered, something I know because I frequently used the table and chairs two houses ago, where they were under a cover.

I mention all that because another option was to just get rid of the set or put in the garage (after clearing a space—somehow…). The only thing that kept the possibility of me using them was to cover them for now, until I can find a more permanent solution.

This solution was unexpected only because for some unknown reason, something I must’ve known about, managed to escape my awareness. The fact I became aware of the solution purely by random chance adds to the unexpectedness. It proves, though, that there really are ways to solve most problems around the home, and that solutions can be completely obvious, yet never come to mind. Until they do. And I’m glad this one did.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

2022 pop music mashups

This year, I’m sticking with the same two mashup makers as last year. Part of that is because it’s such a busy time of year, and this is easier, especially because I don’t have time to search for other mixes. Also, some of the folks I used to share don’t do it any more.

The video up top is DJ Earworm’s 2022 year-end mashup, “United State of Pop 2022 (I Want Music)”, which was released two days ago. As in previous years, he includes a tracklist in the YouTube video description, and that’s very handy: I knew very few of the songs this year.

When the free-to-air pop music video channels were discontinued in March of this year, my regular access to new pop music went with it. That’s because I don’t listen to radio, and the only way to access the former “Edge TV” channel is through the web. That matters because I watch YouTube and other streaming content through my Apple TV (and I’ve also use what I call “the Android box”). There is no App to allow streaming, and Apple TV has browser (there is on on the Android box, but it’s buggy as hell, and the streaming wouldn’t work). The only way I can watch the video channel is sitting at my desk, or by streaming it wirelessly from one of my devices (phone, tablet, or laptop). That’s too much hassle, to be honest.

I could, of course, follow the official NZ pop charts, because they provide links to relevant YouTube videos, but the point of the old TV channels was that all I had to do was put the TV on that channel. Any other option now is involved and includes extra steps. So, I just don’t bother anymore.

I mention all that because I also didn’t know most of the songs in the video below, Adamusic’s “2022 RENAISSANCE | A Year-End Megamix (Mashup)”, which was released a couple weeks ago. He doesn’t provide a tracklist, unfortunately, but the YouTube video description does provide links to streaming service playlists. I don’t necessarily think that one or the other is better—the tracklist is better if I want to know what a song is, a playlist is better if I want to listen to them all. It comes down to what someone finds more useful, I guess.

I don’t know that my relative ignorance about the songs in these mashups really matters that much: These things are an entity all their own. If I was familiar with the songs, I might have an opinion about the songs chosen: Did I think there are omissions? Did I think there was too much/too little of an artist? I can’t answer those questions, really, but I usually focus more on the sound of each mashup, anyway.

I think the sound and structure of both of these mashups are consistent with those of previous years. I also think that Adamusic’s has a somewhat younger vibe than DJ Earworm’s does. But that’s just my impression; others may see—or hear—things differently.

In any case, that’s the annual mashup post done. One more thing I can check off my list in this busy time of year.

Memory reminders and personal peace

Memories are powerful things, sometimes lifting us up, maybe tearing us down, or even just helping us stay grounded in and connected to our own lives. So anything that deliberately serves our memories to us has the potential to trigger all sorts of different responses. Technology makes that more likely than ever.

Many mornings I have an alert on my iPad, telling about some photo I’d taken on that date, and they can be about literally anything, even a product I took a photo of to help me find it the next time I went to the shops. Similarly, Facebook’s “Memories” feature tells me each day what I posted on that date over the years. In the past few years in particular, those Facebook “Memory” things have often been a topic for me, and also an opportunity to reflect. Like now.

Yesterday, Facebook book showed me my post from December 16, 2017 when Nigel and I went to see the movie, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in Pukekohe, south of where we were living. On the same date in 2015, Facebook also showed me, we saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, back when were still living in Auckland’s North Shore. I’m pretty sure that 2017 was the last last time we ever went to a see a major release movie together, but I know for certain that it was definitely the only movie we ever saw in Pukekohe.

In 2019, the third movie in the third "Star Wars" trilogy, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, opened a little later in December than the first two—and two months after Nigel died. To this day I’ve still never seen that movie. When it opened, I was in no state to be able to even think of going to see the movie, especially because I’d never gone to a cinema by myself, and doing so in 2019, and only two months after Nigel died, would’ve been completely impossible for me. I rationalised it to myself with the fact I was too busy getting ready to shift to Hamilton, which was true—but that was really a sort of cover story I told myself. I simply didn’t feel strong enough.

I’ve still never gone to the movies alone, but I’ve thought about it in the past couple years, probably for the first time ever. Nowadays, though, the reason I don’t go by myself is simply that the amount of effort and cost required dampens down any mild interest I may have had in seeing a film (plus, ya know, Covid…). Besides, as Nigel would’ve pointed out, I’ve never been into going to see movies as much as he was.

Facebook “Memories”—like the two about the movies—never bother or upset me, though I know such things about a lost loved one can be very triggering for some people. Me, well, these Memories do remind me of what I’ve lost, sure, but I definitely don’t need any help with that. Instead, they let me remember good times, and they give me a chance to remember details I might not have thought about very often.

For me, then, these FB “Memories” let me expand and enrich whatever the presented memory is. In a sense, this makes the memories better and fuller. They do one more thing: They help me sort of check my progress on my journey.

I wish every person mourning a profound loss could feel the same positive things about something as simple as a FB “Memory”, but mostly I hope they find their own place of peace. It definitely ain’t easy, it takes hard work, and it may take a long time, but it’s definitely possible for memories to trigger smiles (and deeper memories), and not just tears. And honestly, that’s the best thing ever when that starts to happen.

For me, then, those technologically-created reminders of memories really do help me stay grounded in and connected to my own life, and whether the reminder brings me smiles or frowns, laughter or tears, being grounded in and connected to my own life is always a good thing. I’ve certainly earned that feeling.

Yep, memories are powerful things.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Ask Arthur 2022, Part 2: Indepen-dunce

Today’s question is out of the sequence I’d planned—it’s the latest arrival, in fact—because it seems more closely related to Part 1 than the question I’d planned for this week. Because this will (still) be a short series this year, I planned one post per week to conclude before Christmas. I’ll now post the final part in this series the last week of the year (and, where has the year gone?!). This means there’s extra time to ask a question (details below).

At any rate, today’s question is from my pal Roger Green, who asked:

How, if at all, does Sinema becoming an independent change the Senate operations? How does it affect her running for reelection in 2024? Will Manchin follow suit?

The first question is the easiest: It won’t necessarily change anything because under the very, very best circumstances, her vote for Democratic bills was always unreliable, and her demands many. Her being an independent won’t change her behaviour at all.

It’s also true that there were already two independents in the US Senate who caucus with the Democrats: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and also Angus King of Maine. Sanders might be considered an “Independent Democrat” mainly because he’s sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for US President. Like Sinema, he’s often criticised Democrats’ policies, priorities, etc., though for reasons opposite hers. That means that there’s a precedent for Sinema caucusing with Democrats while also criticising Democrats.

It seems probable to me that the entire reason Sinema declared herself an independent is Arizona’s 2024 US Senate election. She’s too far to the Right for the Democratic Party that selected her—on a supposedly progressive platform, no less—and she’s too far Left for the Republican Party (although, to be fair, the vast majority of Americans would be called “far leftist” by many Republicans…). Her political problem arose because she betrayed the Democratic voters of Arizona who nominated her, and all the voters of Arizona who sent her to the US Senate believing her when she campaigned as a progressive.

Her treachery means that she was absolutely certain to have been primaried in the 2024 elections, and it’s highly likely that she would have lost re-nomination as a Democrat. However, she could never win nomination as a Republican, so that left only one option: Become an independent. It’s just her typical self-centred, “it’s ALL about me!” vanity. It’s also a sensible move—though crass and somewhat egomaniacal.

The fact is, she has—yet again—betrayed Democrats by blocking their options through giving them the poison pill of letting her win to prevent Republicans winning the seat. This is because Arizona still has a large and powerful rightwing in the state, despite trending “Blue”. She’s betting that Republicans might nominate an at least “not absolutely horrible” candidate, and if Democrats don’t nominate a strong candidate (or one at all), then she can get re-elected by slipping between the two parties.

She may well think that Democrats would prefer to nominate a weak candidate—or none at all—to avoid the possibility of losing the seat to the Republicans (again, assuming Republicans don’t nominate a whack-job). That’s because 2024 could well be a difficult year for Democrats to hold the Senate (and in general, actually…): The party risks losing seats in the Senate. Sinema thinks that Democrats will see letting her win as making it a bit less likely they’ll lose control of the Senate in 2024—and she’s probably right. It’s actually brilliant, in an “evil genius” and “Machiavellian” sort of way.

However, none of this applies to Joe Manchin. No one could credibly call him a “liberal”, and absolutely not a “leftist”. However, with the Republican Party as extremist as it now is, there’s no room for a conservative Democrat to join them because he’s definitely not conservative enough for the Republican Party. If he were to become an Independent, he’d probably lose re-election: West Virginia is hard-right, and were he an independent conservatives would probably vote for the “real” conservative, the Republican.

In West Virginia’s 2018 Senate election, Manchin won with only 49.57% of the vote (the Republican and the Libertarian split the rest of the vote). If a Democrat—even a weak candidate—was in the race with a Republican and an independent Manchin, the Republican would be almost certain to win. There's currently no reason to think that West Virginia voters would be keen to elect an independent Senator if Democrats sat out the election. On balance, if re-election is something he cares about—and he’s said it isn’t—he’d be better off becoming a Republican, but that would be an even bigger betrayal of voters than Sinema’s. On the other hand, Manchin will be 77 in 2024 and may choose to retire, which would make all of this moot—and an almost certain pick-up for Republicans.

So, Sinema becoming an independent won’t change much of anything about the way the Senate operates under Democratic control, nor will it change her behaviour as a Senator. The only thing it may change is the political calculations relating to who might win that Arizona Senate seat in 2024, and so, who does win it. None of that applies to Manchin. He stands to gain almost nothing from becoming an independent, and it could make it harder for him to win re-election, should he choose that.

Thanks to Roger for today’s topic!

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. To avoid being public there, you can send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page..

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


A decade-long inquisition
Ask Arthur 2022, Part 1: Speaking in the House

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Abhorrent law is dead—but the zombie may return

Today, President Biden signed HR8404, the “Respect for Marriage Act,” repealing the last of remnant of the infamous federal law, the Defense [sic] of Marriage Act (DOMA). The new law also provides certainty for married same-gender and inter-racial married couples. How long that will last is the question now.

There were two reasons this law was urgent. First, the far-right extremist Republicans on the US Supreme Court will probably overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that established the right to same-gender marriage throughout the USA, and they may also overturn Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 ruling that established the right to interracial marriage. If they do, then the new law ensures that all US states will be required to recognise same-gender and interracial marriages performed in other states, even if a state decides to outlaw such marriages being performed in their states.

Another important aspect is that the new law ensures that such marriages will be legal under federal law for federal matters—taxes, inheritance, medical care, immigration, etc. This is another ring of protection for same-gender and interracial marriage.

However—and there’s always a “but” central to any talk of progress for justice and fairness in the USA—all of this may still be undone, and we can be absolutely certain that Republicans will at least make a show of trying. It’s what the party now is and does.

First, the far-right Republican radicals on the Supreme Court could breach the bulwark the new law provides by giving states permission to refuse recognition of marriages legal in other states but not their own. They could do this when they overturn Obergefell, but I doubt that they would do that specifically if they overturn Loving (because of optics, not just because Clarence Thomas is in an interracial marriage). More than likely, they’d seek to do that when overturning Obergefell and then just allow it to apply to interracial couples, too (if they overturn Loving).

To be sure, the Supreme Court can’t give states an exemption from the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution without effectively declaring that parts of the Constitution itself are “unconstitutional”. That’d be a nonsense, obviously. Instead, they’d be more likely to declare that Congress overstepped its powers (or something similar) in passing the Respect for Marriage Act.

The biggest, most obvious, easiest and fastest threat could come from Congress: It passed the infamous Defense [sic] of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the first place, of course, and it took a somewhat more sensible Supreme Court to overturn part of it—the part that singled out same-gender couples for animus-based discrimination under federal law; equal protection of the law mattered at the time [the case was United States v. Windsor].

If Republicans have unified control of government after the 2024 elections, all they’d need to do is pass a new version of DOMA, repealing the Respect for Marriage Act. If the radical Republican Supreme Court also overturns Obergefell, as seems likely, then states would be free to ban all recognition of same-gender marriage, and such couples would also lose federal recognition, too.

To reiterate what I said when I last talked about this law, “it’s highly improbable that any US state would try to enact an outright ban interracial marriage”. However, political realities could lurch dramatically to the far-right in the future, and that brings up the most important point of all: Elections have consequences.

If Republicans win unified control of government in 2024, the end of marriage equality for same-gender couples will be inevitable. Being legally allowed to marry in rational, reason-based states will mean little if those marriages aren’t recognised—or of if they’re even criminalised—in other states. And if the federal government also refuses to recognise such marriages, then same-gender married couples in free states could become effective prisoners in their state’s island of freedom.

If Republicans get the power to do so, they absolutely will end marriage equality for same-gender couples. They may also end the nationwide right to interracial marriage, too, though they’d never admit that was a goal until they’re in power, unlike ending marriage for same-gender couples in ever state, something they’ve long and proudly promised to do.

As precedent, look at abortion rights: For years Republicans and their evangelical base promised to overturn Roe v. Wade, and far too few people took their threat seriously—until Republicans succeeded in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision. THEN the people who didn’t pay attention to Republicans’ vows suddenly finally understood that Republicans really did intend to make abortion illegal, without exception, in all of the USA, and they now understand that if Republicans get the power to do so, they absolutely will follow through on their promise. Similarly, those same Republicans have always promised to end marriage for same-gender couples, and it’s about damn time people started paying attention. As Maya Angelou is said have put it, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

Here’s the hope: Republicans are not yet invincible. In this year’s midterm elections they suffered a catastrophic failure in a year in which they SHOULD have had a massive victory. Despite everything in their favour this year, they failed and Democrats had unprecedented success against all the odds. One of the main reasons for that is that Republicans focus ONLY on radicalised divisiveness and culture wars, and have absolutely no policy proposals whatsoever, nor even the tiniest hint of how they might deal with problems facing Americans. This year, voters massively rejected Republicans’ extremism, and the party has responded by doubling down on that extremism. Republican politicians cannot do any differently: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

The enactment of the Respect for Marriage Act protects couples in an interracial and/or same-gender marriage for now. To prevent Republicans from achieving their goal of destroying such marriages, it will be important to elect only Democrats in the 2024 elections. Republican politicians have shown us who they are over and over and over again. It’s about damn time we believe them. I do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The current reality

There’s a new reality that seems to be settling in on Hamilton: Lots of rain and warm weather. It makes plants grow quickly and well. That means more outside work is needed—and harder to get done. That’s the current reality here in Hamilton, and probably will be all summer.

Yesterday, we had a sunny day after the better part of a week with rainy and/or mostly cloudy days. It’s been impossible to tell when it would be dry enough to mow the lawns, so yesterday I again seized the opportunity to mow them, only nine days since I again seized an opportunity to mow the lawns (I say “again” because I’d first done the same thing nine days before that, and also another two days before that). The weather made both the mowing necessary, and made it difficult to get it done—three times now.

This is likely to be the pattern for the summer ahead. According to the forecast from NIWA, temperatures in the Hamilton area are “very likely to be above average”, and rainfall is likely to be “near normal”, however:
Warmer than average regional seas are expected to fuel occasional heavy rainfall events; however, during periods of high pressure, dry spells will occur… A dry spell is possible from mid-December to early January. The risk for dryness and drought is elevated…”
To sum it up: Higher than normal temperatures and near normal rainfall, though there could be severe storms and there could also be dry/drought conditions. Oh, and “New Zealand’s risk for ex-tropical cyclone activity is normal-to-elevated through April.”

What all of this means in practical terms is that getting outside work done this summer will be a challenge. It could be too hot in the middle parts of the day. It could also be too dry, so I’ll have to water my plants more often. Or, it could be too wet. Or stormy. Or—who knows?

The only thing I know for sure that whatever happens, weather is likely to continue being a major character in my story for awhile yet. All I need to do is plan for—well, anything, really. I’ll probably need to adjust my daily routine so I can mow the lawns in the morning, when it’s cooler (assuming it’s not to rainy and stormy…). If I don’t succeed at changing my daily routine, I’ll have to mow in the early evening (assuming it’s not to rainy and stormy…).

The photo up top is a close up of the lawn that I took yesterday, and it's why I had to mow it: Those weed stalks I keep mentioning. The grass itself wasn’t bad, but the weed stalks were already getting quite high. Action was required.

Challenging as all of this has been for me, I know Leo appreciates the effort. When the grass (well, weed stalks…) start to get long, he poops on the patio because otherwise the grass (those weed stalks in particular) tickle his nether regions. I can understand how that would be annoying. And obviously the lawn is only there for him, so best I just focus on my duty to him. Or, at least, that’s the sort of thing I imagine him thinking. He’s a taskmaster, that Leo is.

The truth is, that not just the current reality, it’s every day. I guess keeping the lawns mowed and Leo’s nether regions untickled is just the price I have to pay for being allowed to live in Leo’s house. Seems like a fair deal.