Sunday, April 30, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4

The video up top is the song that hit Number One this week in 1983, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, which was Number One in the USA for three weeks from April 30 to May 14, 1983. The song was released February 14, 1983, the third single from Jackson’s sixth studio album Thriller.

Jackson wrote the song after Quincy Jones urged him to include a rock song on the album, and Jackson said that he wrote “Beat It” as the sort of rock song he’d buy. It features a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, who was guitarist and co-founder of rock band Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen died on October 6, 2020 of a stroke, after dealing with numerous health conditions over many years.

The music video for “Beat It” was financed by Jackson himself because CBS Records refused to pay for it. It was filmed in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, and Jackson decided to include actual members of rival Los Angeles street gangs as a peace gesture. The video opened up opportunities for young black dancers, and it’s often credited with leading to a boom in work for dancers in music videos. The video was directed by American film and television director Bob Giraldi, who had been personally chosen by Jackson after the original theme by Steve Barron, who had directed the video for “Billie Jean” had been rejected. Apparently, the original concept for Barron version of the “Beat It” video was for it to be set on a slave ship with Jackson as the slave master. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like a very good video, certainly not compared to what was actually made: The video that was actually made is perfect for the song.

It’s kind of hard to remember precisely what I was thinking and feeling about this song 40 years ago, especially because I’ve heard it for 40 years, however, I’m pretty sure that back in 1983, I liked “Beat It” more than “Billie Jean”. I know that these days I definitely do, so there’s that.

When I talked about “Billie Jean” in Part 2 of this series two weeks ago, I also talked about about Michael Jackson himself, and how complicated it later became to like his work. I won’t repeat any of that, however, I’ll add what I didn’t say clearly enough in that post, namely, that 40 years ago there weren’t yet any of those complications, and it was easy to like (or not) Jackson’s songs. It’s kind of hard to remember what that was like.

At any rate, every “Weekend Diversion” post about pop music has to have a look at chart performance: In the USA, “Beat It” hit Number One (8x Platinum), Number 2 in Australia (Platinum), Number One in Canada (Platinum), Number One in New Zealand (Gold), and 3 in the UK (2x Platinum.

This series will be taking the next three weeks off, and will return May 21 with a new 1983 Number One hit. Until then, however, it’s worth nothing that last week’s Number One, “Come On Eileen”, has a distinction I didn’t mention in last week's post: When it became Number One, it prevented Jackson from having back-to-back Number One hits. Whether he might have otherwise had them or not is just speculation, but it was certainly possible. As it is, we get to have one little bit of pop culture trivia to add to our 1983 list.

This series is back in three weeks!

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Refreshingly different

I’ve seen a lot of videos about New Zealand over the years, and the quality has been—varied. Sometimes the information included is merely dated, sometimes it’s flat out wrong, and other times there are at least some accuracies. The video above has far more hits than misses, and that’s extremely refreshing.

The video isn’t perfect of course—I firmly believe that few things created by humans are—but I’d say that what I mainly have mere quibbles rather than objections. The biggest of those is that there’s a growing consensus among scientists that Māori probably arrived in New Zealand several hundred years earlier than around 1250 CE as the video narration states, so it would’ve been nice if that had been acknowledged, even in passing. More seriously, perhaps, was that the appalling treatment of Māori by the Crown, and especially the colonial government, should have been addressed by itself because it strongly influenced how land use developed in New Zealand, as well as many of the problems that exist to this day. Actually, another quibble is how “Māori” is pronounced throughout the narration: While it’s not a bad approximation, and arguably better than usual for the narrator’s accent, it’s not quite right.

On the other hand, at one point the narrator was talking about food production in New Zealand, and, it seemed to me, was a bit unnecessarily negative. At the time, I was thinking to myself, “yeah, but we produce enough food to feed 40 million people,” and then the narrator said exactly that and the quibble was erased (and it gave me a chuckle).

There haven’t been all that many videos about New Zealand that I’ve shared/recommended over the years, and most of those are ones made in New Zealand by New Zealanders. A lot of the videos I’ve shared have been ones I thought were funny, especially if I felt they showcased the NZ sense of humour and sensibilities. Of course, that, too, is a useful way to explain the country. But it’s nice to be able to share a quite recent video explaining something about New Zealand that many people overseas would almost certainly never think to explore.

All of which makes this video a refreshing change.

A Tip o’ the Hat to my nephew for sharing the video with me; I doubt I’d have run across it otherwise.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Old ladies’ music

This evening, I was driving home after dropping my mother-in-law back home after our family get-together. I turned on the radio, and an old song was playing. The host came on and said—I thought!—“we’re playing old ladies’ music”, and I thought, “what the…” It was right then I realised he’d actually said, “all eighties music.” I shrugged. “Kind of the same thing these days,” I thought.

(Full disclosure: In general, 80s music is my favourite, and in a few months I’ll be a superannuatant, aka pensioner, so, yeah).

Techniques and strategies help

There are a lot of things I forget a lot of the time, nearly all of them underscoring the sieve-like nature of my short-term memory. I’m developing techniques and strategies to compensate, like my personal organisation system (an update on how that’s going is coming soon). I still forget some things, though, and that can mean I need to re-learn whatever it is I need to know in order to complete a task, like today’s: Dealing with the lawns.

Back in December, the filament in my line trimmer snapped off inside the head, and I had no idea what to do about it. The next month, I used “all my new, old, and new/old skills to solve a problem,” as I put it at the time. This worked great until about a month ago when the line snapped again—and I couldn’t remember how to fix it.

Anticipating the reality that I’d forget how to fix the problem, I’d saved the video I’d watched in January, and I re-watched it and re-learned what to do. It turned out, I’d actually been on the right track, but had forgotten that to tighten or loosen the head, it has to be turned the opposite of normal—I needed it to turn it to the right to open it, and I kept turning it to the left, and merely tightened it.

Re-instructed on what to do, I eventually managed to open the head, but with some difficulty this time: The line was totally jammed inside, which is probably why it snapped as it did. Today I trimmed all the edges out front, and did what I could in the back before the line ran out. I’d loaded all I had left, which wasn’t enough to actually fill it, and I knew that, and that it’d mean I’d run out faster than usual.

Naturally, I also mowed the lawns, and that was a bit more difficult that normal: The lawns were actually very full of moisture, even though they didn’t look it. I thought that after two sunny days, and maybe three without any rain, they’d be reasonably dry; I was mistaken.

This is the autumn and winter reality: The lawns grow more slowly, but they tend to be quite moist near the ground, and that makes the mower work harder (I needed both batteries today). I’d noticed weeks ago how all the rain we had this past summer had made the lawns quite lush, and that only added to the strain on the mower.

There’s been a lot of rain over the past few weeks—well, months, actually—and that obviously affects my mowing, sometimes delaying it by a week. In summer, that’s awful, but at this time of year it’s not (because the lawns grow so much more slowly). Even so, this particular time I was both later than I’d have liked, and dealing with some urgency: We’re about to experience heavy rain from an “atmospheric river”, and I couldn’t be sure I’d get another chance to mow before the rain starts, let alone before the potentially “torrential rain” hits. The linetrimmer was an important part of that: I made sure to use it to completely clear the in-lawn drain in the back.

This story is about mowing the lawns again, sure, but it’s also about the things I need to do manage even ordinary chores. In this case, I had to re-learn something I’d already learned maybe three months ago, but I anticipated that would be necessary at some point and made sure I could watch the video to relearn the task. And everything worked exactly as I anticipated, which makes me feel vindicated, more than anything.

This is also an example of of me paying attention to both current and predicted conditions when planning my chores. I find that easier than remembering stuff, quite possibly because it’s right in front of me in the moment.

In any case, today I managed to mow my lawns, trim the edges out front and most of the edges out back, I prepared for a possible “weather event”, and I was able to do all that because I’ve learned the importance of developing techniques and strategies to compensate for my memory/focus problems.

Finding a path forward, even to manage simple chores, can sometimes mean figuring out what works for us. It took me far too many decades to work that out, but the important thing is that I have now—and I’m not done yet.

And, of course, I’m also not done dealing with the lawns. I just appreciate being able to deal with that shore a bit more easily than I used to.

Update – April 29, 2023: It's clearly a very good thing that I mowed the lawns yesterday: Rain is probably/possible for the entire week (see graphic below). Today washeavily overcast most of the day—often extremely dark—but there was no rain. That'll arrive here sometime overnight or tomorrow morning. Great.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

President Biden: ‘Let's Finish the Job’

President Joe Biden has officially announced that he’s running for re-election as president (video above). There will be an onslaught of often vile attacks from the Right—and probably some from the Left, too—but one thought occurred to me: If the USA’s politics now mostly seems to be populated by a bunch of six-year-olds, maybe a real grandfather is exactly what the country needs, if only to buy a little more time for the nation to grow the f**k up.

I absolutely hate US politics: Calm dialogue between supporters of the two parties is often utterly impossible, but Red Hat Cult members can’t even tolerate the rational members of their own party, attacking them as “enemies”. For the USA, and increasingly in English-speaking democracies around the world, politics is a zero-sum game in which one’s opponents must not only be defeated, they must be utterly destroyed—and some of them mean that quite literally. Increasingly, it’s not a contest of ideas and ideals, it’s how outraged the Right can be at any given moment.

I mention all that because my views of US politics are no longer subtle or patient. I’m sick of the extremes dictating how we all much think and behave, but I’m especially hostile to the far right because of that whole wanting to take away my human rights and criminalise my life thing. Yeah, they can just FO.

That out of the way, I have a mostly practical, utilitarian view of the announcement.

First, there’re the obvious, the refrains, that Biden is too old, and that he’s unpopular, however, both are also true of the presumed Republican nominee, the party’s failed 2020 nominee. In fact, the Republican candidate is in far worse shape because FAR more people hate him (usually literally) than literally hate President Biden. People may not exactly love Biden, but the other guy—well, let’s just say that for normal people, he’s about as popular as an overflowing sewer after an outbreak of norovirus.

We’ve seen this reality played out in every federal election beginning in 2018—especially among younger and women voters—delivering Democrats completely “unexpected” victories, and, most notably, even in years Republicans should’ve cleaned up, like in the 2022 Midterms. We’ve also seen voters in Deep Red Kansas reject outlawing abortions, we saw a Democratic Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate win a landslide election, all of which shows an unmistakable message: Voters don’t like the likely Republican nominee, nor his avowed policies, nor his closely aligned candidates. This means that they’re unlikely to think any more positively about a certain state governor with a fetish for banning books, attacking the vulnerable, and picking petty fights with a major corporation in his state. In sum, the USA has already endured a toxic, extremist, narcissistic wannabe authoritarian dictator, and that wasn’t exactly a positive experience for the majority of US voters.

Seeing all that, plenty of people sigh, “yeah, but are those two really the best candidates that the USA can find?!” For the Democrats, probably not, for the Republicans, it makes no difference: Their politicians are all playing christofascists on TV, regardless of whatever it is they actually think or believe (and express in private). Are they the best possible candidates? No. But of the two parties, only the Democrats will actually have a candidate that the majority of voters don’t hate.

I think that Biden has actually done a good job, and not just because he’s not a narcissistic grifter and con man like his predecessor. I feel much safer with Biden dealing with Russian aggression after the disaster the former guy had proven himself to be (and who would’ve made things even worse if his coup attempt had succeeded in installing him in the office he’d lost). Steady, sane, hands are needed to steer the ship of state through perilous international waters, and that’s something that the self-dealing con-man former guy could never, ever, be.

When Democrats controlled Congress, they enacted laws and programmes that actually helped the American people, things they overwhelmingly supported. Since the loons, goons, and cartoons took over the US House, it’s been nothing but idiotic partisan stunts, grandstanding, and self-fellating in order to get their few seconds of coverage on Fox “News”. If Democrats can regain control of the US Congress in 2024, then the USA can start moving forward again, just as it did 2020-22.

As for me, I would prefer a younger, more left-leaning Democrat. I think that 50-ish probably ought to be the upper limit for any presidential candidate of any party, but the reality is that both parties will have candidates who are quite old. Between the two, there’s only one rational choice, and that’s voting to re-elect President Biden.

There are plenty of valid criticisms of President Biden, and they’d often offered by both the Left and the Right, but, in my opinion, that doesn’t change one essential truth: The presumptive Republican nominee should never be allowed anywhere near Washington, DC, let alone the White House. Joe Biden is far from perfect, but he is what he is, and he’s one thing more: The polar opposite of the narcissistic con-man and grifter the Republicans will nominate for a third time. Biden has often said we shouldn’t compare him to “the almighty”, but to the alternative. President Biden is far, far better than the alternative.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

This is our Autumn

At 4.15am yesterday, Leo decided he wanted to go to the toilet, so I had to get up to let him outside. If he does that—which isn’t often—it’s usually between 4 and 4.30, and most common of all is this particular time.

When I opened the slider to let him out, I thought to myself, “oh my goodness, it’s rather chilly outside”. I’d been sound asleep only a couple minutes earlier, so I can’t remember precisely what I said, but I’m sure that must be close.

Leo often lingers outside, after his mission, just to sniff the air to see what’s going on in the neighbourhood—“reading the local news,” as Nigel used to say. This time, though, he popped back inside pretty quickly. Apparently he thought it was rather chilly, too.

We went back to bed, and I had to check: It was 2.2 degrees outside at that moment (35.96F), which meant it was the coldest night of the year—so far. I pulled the covers up and cocooned myself, and Leo promptly snuggled up against me, where he remained until we got up in the civilised morning hours.

By Noon, the temperature had risen to 16 (60.8F), just one measly degree below the predicted high. Leo decided to lie on the back of the sofa (photo up top), looking at the empty street and the intermittent pale sunlight that managed, briefly, to get past the cloud cover.

This is our Autumn.

That Harry Belafonte album and me

Today we lost Harry Belafonte, an artist and human rights activist—two of my favourite things. For me, it was one particular album of his that I always think of, and it wasn’t even one of his most successful.

One of the first albums I remember clearly was his sixth album, and least successful up to that point: To Wish You a Merry Christmas, released for Christmas 1958 (I was born the following January). His previous five albums had all been (at least) Top 3, and two were Number One, but that one was his least successful of the entire 1950s (it only reached 125 in the USA). However, Christmas records are seldom big sellers, so that’s not a huge surprise. Even so, of all the Christmas records my parents played when I was growing up, that’s one I connnected to the most strongly.

Interestingly, the earliest release of the album didn’t include his 1956 Christmas single, “Mary’s Boy Child”, which hit Number 12 in the USA. I distinctly remember my parents talking about the song in the late 1960s or very early 1970s. My dad wanted to listen to it, saw it wasn’t on the album, and was confused because he was sure they owned it. It was sometime later that it turned up in a boxed set of 45rpm-size records, because they’d bought the single version.

The song was added to a 1962 re-issue of the album. There was another reissue in 1976, named Belafonte’s Christmas, which was basically the 1962 edition with sides one and two switched. In 2001, a CD re-issue called Harry Belafonte Christmas included five bonus tracks.

I bought a CD version of the album while I was still living in the USA. My CD is the 1976 version, but using the 1962 album art. According to the CD liner notes—a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever used on this blog—the versionI have was remastered in 1990. There are, of course, no bonus tracks, unless you count “Mary’s Boy Child”.

I’d missed the record ever since I grew up and no longer had the album, so when I found the CD I was excited. I brought it to New Zealand with me and found out that Nigel wasn’t all that familiar with the Belafonte version: He knew Boney M’s 1978 version, ”Mary's Boy Child – Oh My Lord”, and I, as was often the case, had never heard that version (this could be because Boney M’s version reached Number 8 in New Zealand, but only 85 in the USA).

I eventually stopped playing Christmas music, for no particular reason, so I seldom played To Wish You a Merry Christmas. However, every once in awhile, I still break out in a few lines from any one of the songs, including “Mary’s Boy Child”. I guess the album became a part of me, not just my life.

I don’t remember how much, if anything, I knew of Belafonte’s activism when I was very young, or when I first learned about it. It’s probable that in the 1960s my parents might not have been supportive of it, and, if so, I would’ve followed their lead. But at a point I don’t remember I came to appreciate the fierceness of his determined spirit, something that, as an activist, I greatly admired. I wish more people were like him.

There will be plenty of good and profound remembrances of Harry Belafonte, many eloquently talking about his music, his acting, and/or his activism, but my personal enduring connection is mainly that one long-ago album that was a big part of the soundtrack of my life, literally there from my earliest days. To this day, I still find his vocals and the arrangements, old-fashioned as they may now be, to be as comforting and soothing as if it was a lullaby sung to me by my own parents.

Not every album can affect someone for their entire lives, and not every artist can make that sort of connection. But Harry Belafonte managed that with that album that I’ve known by heart ever since I could understand language. That’s reason enough for me to feel sad at his death, and I certainly do. So much has changed over the decades—my parents are both gone, and now Harry is, too—but thanks to recorded music, I’ll always have this one thing, this one album, to be with me until my own time is done.

Thanks, Mr. Belafonte, for everything, but especially for that one album that became part of me and my life.

Monday, April 24, 2023

A disappointment reworked

Sometimes, recipes we’ve made many different times don’t turn out right. There can be a lot of reasons why it happens, and when it does, it’s disappointing, though no big deal. Recently I had that happen, but the disappointment was broader.

A couple weeks ago, I got into my head that I wanted to have a Reuben sandwich, and that necessarily meant I’d have to make it at home: There’s no place I know of where it’s made on demand. However, the first place I ever had one was actually here in New Zealand, at a long-gone American deli/cafe/food shop that used to be on Auckland’s North Shore. Nigel and I went there his mum many years ago (probably more than 20…), and we all had Reubens for lunch (after which I bought some imported American food items for the first time ever).

The shop closed not all that long later as the village-like shopping area was torn down for re-development. The owner of the shop sold American products online for awhile, but he embarrassed me because, mad at the former North Shore City Council over the redevelopment, he referred to it as “North Short shitty council”; the crass, boorish American behaviour made me cringe, because it was precisely the sort of stereotypical “American abroad” (my mother would’ve called it “ugly American”) behaviour I was trying live down (I should add that later a new, much larger—and better—importer of US/Canadian/Mexican food products opened, and I’ve written several blog posts about going there; the original place was gone long before I began this blog).

With no place to go get Reubens, Nigel and I decided to make them at home, and at first it worked really well—they tasted nearly as good as the ones we’d ordered. The “near” part is because we were using products we could buy in our local supermarket, not products from the USA, and it wasn’t always a good match.

The first issue is that in New Zealand (and other Commonwealth countries) the corned been we have is called silverside (also called corned silverside). Wikipedia explains well:
Silverside is a cut of beef from the hindquarter of cattle, just above the leg cut. Called "silverside" in the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, it gets the name because of the "silverwall" on the side of the cut, a long fibrous "skin" of connective tissue (epimysium) which has to be removed as it is too tough to eat. The primary muscle is the biceps femoris.
What Americans think of as corned beef is a completely different cut, usually brisket, which is cut from the chest or lower breast of cattle. The two versions are very similar, but since I grew up with American corned beef, I can tell there’s a difference.

Nevertheless, it’s close enough to use, and to be sure it was good enough, I bought some sliced silverside from the deli counter at the supermarket, rather than the manufactured and prepackaged sort sold for sandwiches. This wasn’t why the Reuben I made was a disappointment.

Similarly, the Swiss cheese wasn’t a disappointment: While very expensive, it was nice and tasted “right” to me. In the past, Nigel and I had to buy Gruyère cheese, which was less, um, altered than the typical American version. In the many years since, what I think of as “Swiss cheese” has become far easier to get.

The problem also wasn’t the sauerkraut: I bought the tinned version made by an Australian company, and it tasted pretty much like what my parents used when I was a kid. The thing is, though, that when Nigel and I used to make Reubens, the sauerkraut was always acceptable, even if some were nicer than others.

The first thing to be amiss was the bread: The day I was at the supermarket, the only rye bread they stocked was what the manufacturer called “Roggenbrot Dark Rye”, and because Rye is grown in New Zealand, and the bread was made here, the bread was at least possibly in the same country as rye, though I suspect none happened to be in the factory at the time: It just tasted like a slightly denser mass-manufactured wheat bread, though darker in colour. It had no rye taste whatsoever, as far as I could tell, but as a mixed grain bread, it wasn’t bad for mass market bread (I don’t usually buy that brand because, for my taste, they’re all too insubstantial).

The next problem could well have been the “Russian dressing”: The recipe I found may have been too inauthentic, or I maybe I just made it wrong (I’d never made it before). Whatever the case, it added very little to the sandwich (though I liked it).

A final possibility is that I assembled it all wrong: I’m pretty sure NIgel used to make them, or, if I did, I can’t remember the last time I did—meaning, I have no idea what I used to do. Whatever, I don’t think we’d made theme for maybe a decade or so.

This was a huge disappointment because I’d been craving that Reuben. The fact it was a disappointment, though, made me glad I’d only made one. But, what to do with the rest of the stuff I didn’t use?

The cheese and silverside were easy: Sandwiches. I wasn’t sure to do with the unused sauerkraut I put in the fridge.

When I was a kid, my mother sometimes made what she called “sauerkraut and pork”, the two being boiled together and served—I think?—with mashed potato. It’s so long ago that I can’t remember precisely, but I do remember I wasn’t a fan of the pork because there were small bones mixed in (I have no idea what cut it was), and I hate bones in food.

I decided to make something that was kind of an homage to what my mother used to make, but more appropriate to the times (fresh pork is expensive these days) and to what I had on hand. So, I took out three pork sausages I had in the freezer, boiled them and then browned them in a pan. I also boiled actual potatoes and mashed them, and heated the sauerkraut (the meal is in the photo below). It was actually very nice, even if the sausages were heavily flavoured with spices/herbs. In fact, it was better than my Reuben was.

And that’s how I took what had been a disappointment and turned it into something much nicer, without wasting anything. In the end, I was happy with the final result, if not the first one. It’s still no big deal, though: Just a better one.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3

This week in 1983, a new song hit Number One: “Come On Eileen” (video above). The song is by Dexys Midnight Runners, a UK pop rock band from Birmingham. It was number one for just the one week.

Dexys Midnight Runners—now called merely “Dexys” (and still, annoyingly, without the apostrophe…) had numerous personnel changes over the years—so much so that this one of the bands for whom Wikipedia published a chart showing the various members at different times. Still, lead singer Kevin Rowland (now 69) has been, and still is, a fixture.

“Come On Eileen” was released in the UK on 25 June 1982, and became the band’s second Number One hit in there, after their 1980 UK Number One, “Geno”, which was also the band’s second single to be released.

The music video was directed by Julien Temple, who also directed a lot of music videos, including The Sex Pistols and Neil Young in the 1970s, and continuing on with Judas Priest, Gary Numan, Stray Cats, ABC, Culture Club, Depeche Mode—far too many to list here, but there are many of my favourite videos on that list.

This song is one of many over the years that I liked because I liked the sound—but I had little if any idea what was being sung. I didn’t know who Johnnie Ray was, or why, as the song put it, “Our mothers cried, sang along”. Those parts of the lyrics may have been a reference to Ray’s 1951 hit, “Cry”, but in finding that out, I also learned that Ray died of liver failure from alcoholism, and that he was, at least, bisexual, perhaps leaning more toward homosexual (he had been arrested twice for soliciting male undercover officers). All of which could be why he “sounded sad upon the radio”. It clearly would’ve been helpful, back in the day, to be able to read the lyrics, though even if I had I’m not sure I would’ve grasped it was “to make a point about Catholic repression”. Still the lyrics were right about one thing: “you'll hum this tune forever”. Yep.

In addition to hitting Number One the USA, “Come On Eileen” hit Number One in Australia (Gold), 2 in Canada (Gold), Number One in New Zealand, and Number One in the UK (2x Platinum).

Next week, another multi-week 1983 hit.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Something unusual happened this morning

Something unusual happened this morning: I went to have my shower, and Leo followed me, as he always does. I went into the en suite and Leo went in there, too, as always. He usually sticks around a bit before going into the bedroom to get under the bed to snooze, or maybe he’ll go back out to the front of the house.

We usually have a little “chat” before he leaves, and today I said to him, “I noticed it’s been *ages* since you jumped up on the bed while I have my shower.” He left the room as I got myself ready, I turned on the shower and went back into the bedroom to hang up the sweatpants I put on each morning when I get up. Leo was on the bed.

There are two possibilities. First, he understood what I said, and did something he knew would make me happy. More likely, it was pure coincidence. Or, it could’ve been some sort of non-verbal understanding that dogs and their humans seem to develop.

In any case, I gave him a kiss on the head, told him he was a good boy, and how amazed I sometimes am at how he seems to understand what I say to him. He just looked at me, as he always does. He doesn’t look too happy in the photo above, probably because he knows he needs a trim. But whether he understood me or it was pure coincidence doesn’t really matter. He made me happy, just like he always does.

Better Australia/New Zealand relations

Early today (NZ time), Australia announced a “pathway to citizenship” for New Zealanders living in Australia. This brings the rights of New Zealanders in Australia more in line with the rights of Australians living in New Zealand.

For decades, citizens of the either country could live and work in the other country without visas or permits, however, in 2001 a conservative Australian government created a “Special Visa Category” that New Zealanders need to have, but it was hard to become an Australiaqn citizen, or even a permanent resident, thereby blocking most New Zealanders from getting the rights that Australians had when living in New Zealand. New Zealand never did the same, despite the obvious provocation.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is in Australia for, among other things, observance of the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Closer Economic Relations agreement between the two countries. He said, “Most of us know someone who's moved across the Tasman. They work hard, pay taxes and deserve a fair go. These changes deliver that and reverse erosions that have taken place over 20 years."

From July 1, a New Zealander who has a Special Category Visa, and who has lived in Australia for four years, can apply for citizenship, but they won’t need to be permanent residents, unlike other immigrants. They’ll also have to pass routine standards, including a character check, a language test, indicate an intention to stay in Australia, and they’ll have to attend a citizenship ceremony.

Australians living in New Zealand currently have to live here for five years (including at least eight months of each of the five years) before applying to citizenship, and they have to pass a character test and a basic language test. It seems probable that New Zealand will reduce the time to four years, in line with Australia.

Predictably, the leader of the conservative NZ National Party, and Leader of the Opposition, Chris Luxon, praised advancing the interests of New Zealanders living in Australia, but suggested that it could lead to a “brain drain” from Kiwis moving to Australia for better opportunities. However, Kiwis have always moved overseas for better opportunities, including ones that simply don’t exist here. That doesn’t by itself mean they’ll never return, as Luxon suggested, and many do move home to New Zealand. What he didn’t recognise is that there are a LOT of reasons someone moves from one country to another, and it doesn’t always means they’re rejecting their homeland—I’m an example of exactly that sort of person.

The Prime Minister said, "We want to make New Zealand a very attractive place to live, work, to raise a family, so that we encourage more New Zealanders to stay here, and so that we encourage New Zealanders who are in Australia to come home to New Zealand.” He added, "That said, it's always been a feature of our relationship that New Zealanders will, for a variety of reasons, relocate to Australia, and we want to make sure that they're treated fairly when they're there."

It’s also fair to note that this move is, as Luke Malpass put it in a piece for Stuff, “a late capstone to the legacy of Jacinda Ardern’s prime ministership,” because she had consistently pushed hard for better and fairer treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia. He added:
This is a significant moment for Hipkins, who gets to bring home the bacon, but even more it is a victory for Ardern. The former prime minister was very quick to make sure she crossed the ditch to see Albanese once he got elected prime minister last year.

This backed up a significant amount of work New Zealand diplomats have undertaken in Australia for many years, work that was set back after Scott Morrison’s surprise election victory in 2019.
This is a very important change, one that finally fixes the deliberate unfairness—some have even called it cruelty—in the way that New Zealanders living in Australia were treated. This will go a long way to repairing the 22-year-long strain in the relationship between the two countries who otherwise have so much shared history and culture. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called it “a blimmin' good day for Kiwis living in Australia,” and he’s absolutely right. It’s very, very good news.

Friday, April 21, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 380 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 380, “Autumnal revue”, 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.

Crispy no more

Today was a momentous day for me, some might argue among it's my most important days yet. From today, my bath towels are no longer crispy. And behold, the household rejoiced.

There is, of course, a story behind this, one that’s not nearly as big a deal as my introduction pretended, but, then, maybe it is. Our story begins months ago, when my clothes dryer broke down.

For several months, I had to hang everything up to dry, and I used a folding clothesline that I originally bought around 20 years ago for our second house together (because it didn’t have an outside clothesline). This worked well, except for one thing: Towels. I absolutely hate, loathe, and despise crispy bath towels, and that’s all I’ve had for months because they were line-dried.

Although the dryer was repaired back in March, the crispy towels continued their reign due to timing: I’d just finished washing and line-drying towels when the repaired dryer returned home. Nigel and I had enough towels between us to last for many weeks—on purpose, so I didn’t have to rush to get them washed quickly (laundry was my job). After Nigel died, the number of towels was effectively doubled, since it’s just me. Today I reached the end of the final week with crispy towels.

This morning I changed my towels, as I do after my shower every Friday, and from this point on, it’s back to using towels dried in the dryer—nice, soft, smooth towels (the last of the crispy towel sets is in the washing machine at this very moment, and will go into the dryer later this afternoon). I know that other people may have simply re-washed all the already clean, but crispy, towels just to dry them in the dryer, but as I think I’ve made abundantly clear over the years, I’m more than a little unusual, and I just couldn’t bring myself to waste resources merely because I hate, loathe, and despise crispy towels. And so, I waited for time to run its course.

During that “long” wait, I thought about fabric softener.

I remembered how I used fabric softener when I lived in the USA, and I wondered what effect, if any, it’d have on towels that are line-dried—are they less crispy? And that right there led me to notice a cultural difference I’d forgotten: In the USA I used fabric softener, and I still know plenty of Americans who do. But I don’t know of a single Kiwi who uses fabric softener.

Fabric softener exists in New Zealand—I’ve seen it at the supermarket (two brands, both made in Australia), and there’s also a brand of dryer sheets. However, I never used fabric softener because Nigel didn’t; I eventually forgot all about it. It's been many, many years since I've seen any advertised on TV, too.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that I actually do know Kiwis who use fabric softener, but I just can’t recall anyone every talking about it. That could be because it’s just not something that ever came up in conversation (Kiwis don’t seem to chat about laundry procedures). Conversely, I clearly remember American friends talking about the brands they liked, etc. I realised that this not talking about some things is a cultural difference in itself, a notion that was reinforced for me by a completely unrelated topic.

I was recently talking with an American friend who said something about credit scores, mentioned that there are ads in the USA for companies that claim they can improve them, and also how if one does X or Y it could lower their score. In 27+ years in New Zealand, I’ve never once heard a Kiwi ever utter the phrase “credit score”, nor can I recall it ever being mentioned on the news, and it’s certainly never talked about in advertising. In a very real sense, the very concept of a “credit score” seems to be alien to most Kiwis. In fact, I have absolutely no idea whether they’re actually used in New Zealand and, if so, what mine would be—nor do I care. It’s just never been a “thing” in all these years.

Those two things are examples of things that no Kiwi talks about (as far as I know), and, apparently, neither is as big a deal as in the USA. The same would apply to food items, cosmetics, clothes—any number of things that people may encounter or use on a daily basis: They may be very different in the two countries, and so, too, the conversations about them (if any…) may be, too.

Sometimes it’s not just about the end of crispy towels, important though that is. Instead, such a thing can make me aware of other things, like (very) small (and unimportant) cultural differences between two countries. Anything that happens can be an opportunity for awareness and, maybe, even understanding.

Whatever, I’m just glad that I don’t have to endure crispy towels anymore. As a bonus, thinking about fabric softener and other cultural differences kept me from the possibility I might potentially beat myself up over having taken five months to get the dryer repaired.

What matters to me is the momentous event of the day: The reign of the crispy towels has ended. The kingdom of nice, soft, smooth towels has been restored. And behold, the household rejoiced.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Autumnal realities

It’s autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, and the weather in Hamilton is clearly begining to shift toward late autumn. Currently, there’s still nearly 11 hours of daylight, however, due to the move bach to NZ Standard Time earlier this month, sunset is now around 5:45pm, and the light starts dimming before that. Since the sun is also getting lower in the sky, afternoon sun streaming in the windows on the Western side of my house begins to end a few hours before that. All of that is normal, obviously, and I notice the shortening days around this time every year. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The photo above is a tree on my street, and it’ll soon have no leaves. The photo below is of some leaves on my lawn—fortunately that’s about as bad as it gets, really, probably because there just aren’t than many trees in this neighbourhood. I was actually kind of surprised that the trees didn’t start turning colour earlier, but I’ve noticed that once it starts, it doesn’t take long for this tree, at least, to lose all its leaves (I don't watch all the trees in the area…).

The last two months of summer were WET, and the cleanup from the January and February storms still isn’t finished. However, in March, this area had less rainfall that usual—a chance to dry out? Well, yeah, but over the past couple months we’ve had some rainy periods and times with very heavy rain—just not as much as at the end of summer. April has seemed quite rainy (or, at least, cloudy and gloomy) a lot of the time, but in another ten days we’ll find out how rainy April really was: NIWA (the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) releases monthly climate summaries online.

Rainy weather, or even cloudy days that seem to threaten to become rainy, are really only a potential problem for me because they can delay my lawn mowing. On the other hand, the gradually lowering daytime temperatures and reducing daylight hours mean the lawns don’t grow as quickly, so cloudy and/or rainy days aren’t all that bad (aside from being inherently depressing when they go on any on…). Soon I’ll be mowing every two or three weeks instead of weekly. This is a good thing.

Not a good thing is the fact that we’re now only about two months away from the shortest day of the year—definitely not a good thing. It’ll soon get dark early and cold at night, and I’m not a fan of either—maybe I should live close to the Equator?

I know plenty of people who seem to love autumn, but I’ve never been one of them. Summer’s my favourite season, though I don’t mind early Autumn or late Spring because both can be at least somewhat summery. Right now, we’re still in mid-ish Autumn, and the weather is still kind of summery-ish. That’ll be gone by this time next month as we slide toward Winter. The trees will be bare and the days shorter still.

Yes, all of these Autumnal changes are normal, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Clearly, I don’t.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Ten years of equality

Ten years ago last night, the New Zealand Parliament enacted marriage equality into law. I remember watching the final debate live on Parliament TV, so I saw the famous speeches and the waiata after the bill passed it’s final reading. It was a wonderful time.

This also means it’s just a bit more than six months until what would have been the tenth anniversary of when Nigel and I were married, what we both called the happiest day of our lives. We passed the 14th anniversary of our civil union back in January, the day we called that the second-happiest day of our lives, largely because, at the time, being able to legally marry was something neither of us expected would ever become reality—until it did. After that, marriage upped the ante of the happiness stakes. Ten years ago last night, the NZ Parliament made it possible for Nigel and me to be able to fulfill a dream.

I think about all that, of course, though not necessarily often or in depth—but I do think about it. I think, first, about how lucky I was to be able to marry my soulmate, which isn’t a gift given to everyone. Our “married life” was far too short, and it only a fraction of our time together.

I also think about what being ABLE to be married meant to me, something I talked about the night it was passed by Parliament in a post I titled, aptly, “Becoming real”, which, I think, is one of the best things I’ve ever published on this blog. Since then, I’ve often talked about how much it meant to me that marriage equality gave us the ability to take on the same commitment and obligations that any heterosexual could do without question. I finally felt part of society in a way I never had before.

I still believe in the power of love and, for those who choose it, marriage. What I argued for all those years ago was once simple word: Options. All adults ought to have the same legal options, and ten years ago the New Zealand Parliament agreed. It was a momentous day.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2

Back again with the second installment in a series of “Weekend Diversion” posts highlighting the Billboard “Hot 100” Number One pop songs of 1983. This week this series catches up: April 16, 1983 was the last week at Number One for today’s second video.

The video up top is today’s first song, “Baby, Come to Me” by Patti Austin and James Ingram, which was Number One in the USA February 19 and 26, 1983. The song was originally released in April 1982, and was on the “Hot 100” for only four weeks, peaking at Number 73 on May 8. The song was re-released in October 16, 1982 after it featured on US TV soap opera, General Hospital, and then hit Number One on February 19, 1983. All up, it spent seven months on the charts.

The song was on Patti Austin’s fourth studio album, Every Home Should Have One, which was released on September 8, 1981. Today, Austin is 72 years old. James Ingram had 40 Top 40 hits on the “Hot 100” between the early 1980s and early 1990s. Ingram died of brain cancer on January 29, 2019.

In addition to it being Number One in the USA for two weeks in 1983, “Baby, Come to Me” hit Number 38 in Australia, 3 in Canada, 9 in New Zealand, and 11 in the UK. No information on certifications was readily available.

Next up, it’s a song that, as the saying goes, needs no introduction: "Billie Jean" by superstar (or, maybe, super-superstar…) Michael Jackson, which was Number One for seven consecutive weeks from March 5 to April 16, 1983:

Where to even begin with this one?! Well, how about game-changing? Or, maybe revolutionary? The song was the second single from his sixth studio album, Thriller, which itself is the best-selling album of all time. The seven singles from that album—out of the nine tracks in total—were all Top 10 hits, with “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” both going to Number One, which helped the album become a mega best seller—in fact, in 2021, RIAA certified Thriller as being 34x Platinum.

The music video, too, was revolutionary, for a lot of reasons, not the least because it was originally rejected by MTV because they felt that black music didn’t fit in with their programming. Walter Yetnikoff, then president of Jackson's record company, CBS Records, threatened to pull all CBS music from MTV and go public “and fucking tell them about the fact you [MTV] don't want to play music by a black guy.” MTV caved and the music video debuted on MTV on March 10, 1983. It went on to become one of the most lauded and popular music videos of all time, and was, among other things, the first 1980s music video to achieve one billion views on YouTube (it’s currently at around 1.3 billion).

The director of the music video was Irish-British filmmaker, Steve Barron, who made many hit videos, including Toto’s “Africa”, which featured in last week’s “Weekend Diversion”. He also made the famous video for the 1985 hit by Norwegian band a-ha, “Take On Me”. The video for that song is currently sitting at 1.6 billion views. It turns out that he made a lot of music videos I liked.

I bought Thriller soon after it was released, and I saw videos of the album’s hits in gay bars in Chicago that featured music videos (at one point there were three such bars that specialised in music videos, and a couple others that played music videos at least sometimes). However, I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of “Bille Jean”. That was mostly because of the saturation airplay all the singles got on radio (which I listened to in those days), but I was also more into electronic 80s music, especially the sort usually called “alternative”, and, for me, “Bille Jean” seemed “too mainstream”, something that’s funny to me now.

In the years that followed, the media circus around Jackson moved from bizarre to serious, and he was sued over allegations of sexual abuse. For many people, including me, it started to feel a bit weird to play his music, not the first or last time that’s happened as an artist publicly faced some negative issue or other. However, for me, it wasn’t about controversies I didn’t know how to evaluate fairly, it was that he seemed so sad, and because of that, playing his music made me feel uncomfortable. Besides, by the 1990s, I’d moved on from Thriller, and never really got into his later music. By the time he died from “acute propofol intoxication” on June 25, 2009, I hadn’t listened to his music in quite some time (maybe many years?), unless I happened to have the radio on and one of his songs was broadcast, though by 2009 it was already quite rare for me to listen to the radio. Even so, Michael always seemed to be around somewhere—until he wasn’t.

I sometimes wonder what he would’ve created if he’d been happy his whole life, but maybe his greatest work was only possible because of his pain? In any case, I very well remember the energy and excitement associated with the release of Thriller and its many hits, including “Billie Jean”. I can remember those days when it was nearly impossible to go out in public without hearing one of his songs somewhere, and I’ve never really experienced anything quite like that again. There just aren’t any other artists or pop records that have been as large a part of the background music in my life.

No “Weekend Diversion” post about pop music would be complete without a mention of chart performance: In the USA, “Billie Jean” hit Number One and is certified as Diamond (10 million, including both sales and streaming). It was Number 4 in Australia (9x Platinum, both sales and streaming), 9 in Canada (2x Platinum, based on shipping only), 9 in New Zealand (Gold, sales only), and 8 in the UK (3x Platinum, both sales and streaming). Side note: This is the first time I’ve seen Wikipedia list certifications that specifically state it includes combined sales and streaming, though it’s probably been the case for a very long time—maybe I just never noticed?

In their own way, both of these songs were ubiquitous in my early 1983 life, though obviously “Billie Jean” was far more so. Be that as it may, I seldom think of either song (or the ones in last week’s post, either, for that matter). That’s not true, though, about other songs yet to come in this series.

Next week, even more of 1983.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1

Friday, April 14, 2023

Did our pact endure?

I have a lot of very odd anniversaries, each its own marker of the progress of my life. Most are days when something happened—most, but not all. Twenty-three years ago day, Nigel and I made a pact with a friend of ours, one that none of us completed by the “due date”. I’m now the only one left who might still fulfill the pact we made, however late it may be. That one fact outweighs everything else about the pact.

On Friday, April 14, 2000—twenty-three years ago to the very day—Nigel and I were carpooling home with a friend of ours, Sandra, and we decided to stop and pick up some Indian takeaways. There was a wait, so we just chatted while the food was cooked (we may have stopped for a drink at a nearby pub, something I know we did at least once). Somehow or other we got on the topic of goals, and we all talked about wanting to write a book.

That evening, all three of us agreed that by April 14, 2010 we had to have a book written and ready to publish. I added the anniversary to my calendar, noting that the book “doesn't have to actually be published, it just has to be ready.” None of us achieved that.

Nigel originally met Sandra because they worked together, and we all became friends for a lot of reasons, especially our mutual love of Star Trek and science fiction generally. For a time, Nigel used to rent the latest episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and also Star Trek: Voyager—on video cassette (!), no less. There was a video store in the Ponsonby area of Auckland that imported the cassettes from the USA, and they arrived not long after they aired in the USA, but long before they aired in New Zealand.

However, those cassettes weren’t officially released in New Zealand, and the rights-holder (Paramount) maintained an iron grip on release schedules. They demanded that the NZ government outlaw the importation for sale or rental of movies or TV programmes until after they’d been officially released in New Zealand. The government acquiesced (not for the last time), and our “Star Trek Nights” ended.

Sandra bought a house in the same area where we lived at the time, and we carpooled to and from the Auckland CBD together for quite some time (her cat and our cat became best friends, and often napped together on our roof). In 2003, Nigel and I moved to Paeroa, and we returned to Auckland in 2006. Over time, we all had job and life changes, and had less to do with each other. Still, we went to Sandra’s wedding, and she and her husband came to our 2009 Civil Union ceremony (we got married in 2013, only four family members present).

Sandra was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and it claimed her the year before Nigel died from cancer. I don’t know whether Sandra ever started her book, but I know that Nigel at least started making some notes, though I don’t know what he did with them—I haven’t found anything yet. All I know for certain is that I started several books over those years, and finished none of them.

Every year at this time I’m reminded of the pact because the calendar alert pops up on my devices. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only one of us who remembered (because of all those life changes). For many years those reminders weren’t that big a deal, but after Sandra died, the calendar alert made me sad, and that was ramped up to a whole new level after Nigel died. This year, though, with another year’s time and distance, I looked at the actual calendar item and was reminded that the pact was made on a Friday—and I’ve made pretty clear that I like symmetry and alignment of anniversaries. That would be reason enough for me to talk about the pact for the first time.

So, it’s now Friday, April 14, 2023, twenty-three years to the very day after three friends made a somewhat light-hearted pact to write a book, and I’m the only one of us left who might, theoretically, still manage it. That reality weighs heavily on me. To be bluntly honest, right now the possibility I might actually fulfill our mutual promise seems more distant than ever.

I have a lot of very odd anniversaries, each its own marker of the progress of my life. Twenty-three years ago day, Nigel and I made what was a mostly light-hearted pact with a dear friend of ours, and I’m now the only one left who might still honour the promise. That one fact outweighs everything else about the pact. That part’s not odd at all.

An adventure that became a dud

A year ago today, I went on what I called “A mini-adventure”. The title was tongue-in-cheek, because it was about a trip to a nearby part of Hamilton I’d never spent any time in. I went there for the very specific reasons I talked about in that post, but, what happened next?

It turned out that I went back to that shopping area a few months later and had a very bad experience: I went into the NZ Post agent there and the woman sitting at the till completely ignored me and sat watching videos on her phone. I walked out after a few minutes (I stayed a bit longer than I normally would’ve just to see if she ever acknowledged my presence, but she never did). I just wanted to ask her what time the letter boxes were emptied (vandals had torn the stickers off, possibly not the same ones who graffitied them) because I needed to post my ballot in the Local Government Elections. I took my chances and posted it (there are very few boxes around any more, since few people post anything anymore).

I decided I might as well pop in the Countdown while I was there, just to see what they had. The store was small, very dark, and much of the stuff they carried (frozen food in particular) was aimed at the lower-socioeconomic clientele of the area. The beer and wine aisle was extensive and well-stocked, I noticed. There appeared to be anti-theft barriers at the checkouts (to slow down shoplifters, I guessed).

I read on Stuff recently that Countdown is closing that location because it’s old, too small, and the building needs unspecified earthquake upgrades. Local shopkeepers said the “real reason” was how much they were losing due to theft. Whatever, it’s the only supermarket in the area, and to get to another location people would have to drive (if they have a car…) or take a bus—and bus service in much of Hamilton is pretty bad. So, that food store I mentioned last year will probably pick up some customers, and the poor people in the area will be doing it a bit tougher in already very hard times.

Last November, the bottle shop (“liquor store” in Americanese) that had been in the shopping area for a decade lost its license, as the Stuff article put it, because of “its ‘vulnerable and deprived’ neighbourhood, employment record, and police and health concerns.” Among other things, objectors felt it might create a “relapse risk to nearby residents in alcohol and drug treatment”. I bought things from that bottle shop one of the two times I was at that shopping area (I forget which time).

I didn’t go back to that butcher. It turned out that the meat I bought a year ago had a lot of water, and I ended up throwing out some chicken I bought because it went off quickly, before the use-by date. Maybe that was just an isolated unfortunate bad experience, but I’ll never know: I’m not driving there just to save a few cents per kilogram on the meat I rarely buy when I wouldn’t get anything else at that shopping centre—I may as well just buy everything at a supermarket. I said in my post last year:
[Shopping at that butcher] would probably erase all or most of the savings if I wasn’t buying other things at that shopping centre, too, especially because I eat very little meat. If I was feeding a family—or even two people—it would make more sense to make a special trip. Still, other shops in that shopping area may provide the rest of what I need in a routine shopping trip, and, if so, it could be worth stopping at the butcher, maybe stocking up and freezing stuff.
Clearly, things didn’t turn out that way.

When I got back to my car the last time I went to the shopping area, I rang NZ Post to complain about their agent, and while my call was very important to them, the wait time was estimated at 29 minutes. I hung up and drove home, in a rather unpleasant mood. Leo’s happy greeting when I got home fixed that.

I have another close-to-home mini-adventure planned for after the current school holidays end (for good reason), but more about that later. That mini-adventure one year ago today ended up being a bust, but I’d never have found that out if I hadn’t gone there. Now I know. On to the next adventure.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 379 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 379, “April showers”, 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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Our long holiday weekend

The four-day holiday that is Easter Weekend is over for another year. Once again, there were the ongoing debates over whether the trading bans are defensible in 2023, and the media obsessively reporting on the “holiday road toll”. There was also an annoying annual TV ad, too. Meanwhile, the weather was all over the place, as could be expected for April.

The Easter Weekend carries two days with trading bans, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On those days, it’s illegal for many/most businesses to trade, depending on where they are and what the nature of their business is. To say the rules are labyrinthine, confusing, and contradictory would far too kind an assessment. On the very big plus side, there are no TV ads on trading ban days, though the TV channels run promotional ads for their own programmes, so it’s not all that different, really. Among the complications over Easter weekend is the fact the public holidays are Good Friday and Easter Monday; Easter Sunday just has a trading ban.

Labour unions want the trading bans maintained so that low-wage workers (in retail and hospitality in particular) can be sure to have holidays off with their families. I understand the sentiment, and I also understand that such workers have little (well, no…) power to negotiate time off on those holidays, however, if we want to ensure better treatment of low-paid workers, there must be a better way than the trading bans.

I don’t think that trading bans on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are justifiable because those days are aligned specifically with one particular religion, Christianity, which the vast majority of New Zealanders don’t practice, even if a slight majority (may still) call themselves “Christian”. The other full trading ban day, Christmas Day, is now mostly secular, and having trading bans in place that day has a much more universal tone. The half-day trading ban is Anzac Day morning, and while that day has religious overtones due to choices made by some communities in the way it’s commemorated, the day itself it completely secular. I’ve never heard anyone say that the half-day ban on Anzac Day should be abolished.

Another argument for the status quo is that Easter Weekend is the only certain four-day weekend we have each year. While Christmas and New Year holiday weekends are often four-day weekends—two in a row, no less—that’s not true every year: If the two-day public holidays (Christmas Day/Boxing Day and also New Year’s Day and the day after) fall on Tuesday/Wednesday or Wednesday/Thursday (the latter will be the case in 2024), then the weekends are normal. Even so, the trading bans aren’t necessarily integral to that.

There’s one thing that all holiday weekends share: Sombre talk about in the media about the “road toll”, the number of people who die on the roads in official holiday periods. We hear a lot about it in the lead up to a holiday weekend, throughout the weekend, and once the weekend is over.

For Easter 2023, the official holiday period began at 4pm on Thursday, April 6 and ended 6am today (this covers the period when people head out to holiday destinations and when they return to their regular lives). One person died over that period, making 2023’s toll the lowest since 2020’s zero deaths, but was a year when all of New Zealand was under a Lever 4 Covid Lockdown. This year, the person who died did so yesterday, which means that if they had died at 6:01am today, it apparently wouldn’t have counted in the toll. Statistics can be kind of arbitrary.

In any case, overall, the road toll in all holiday periods has been trending down for years, despite a big spike over this past Christmas, and a much smaller bump over Labour Weekend 2020 (Labour Weekend is a three-day holiday weekend), and that’s good news.

There’s one more thing that happens every Easter: An annoying TV ad. It’s run by a seemingly evangelical Christian group—though they’d probably prefer the adjective “ecumenical”. While they use neither word, they describe themselves as being “supported by a diverse group of Christian churches throughout New Zealand”. I’d mainly call them evangelical—in the strictest sense of the word—because they are clearly evangelising. This isn’t meant to suggest what their particular ideological/theological slant might be, because I simply don’t know (and I have no interest in watching all their videos to try and work it out). My annoyance with their ad is aesthetic rather than political or theological.

The oddly staged ad features a woman reciting “An Easter Poem to Consider” [the ad is on YouTube], and promotes an expressly Christian message “you may wish to take to heart”. The poem, however, sounds like something written by an angsty teenager who focuses on Jesus rather than the latest hunky actor or singer like her schoolmates do. It’s banal and the language is far too desperately earnest—in my opinion, of course (Arthur’s Law, and all that). What annoys me, though, isn’t that I don’t think it’s very good as an ad or a poem (again, Arthur’s Law…), it’s that you can’t avoid the thing: It plays on TV several times during, at least, the early evening. Saturation repetition doesn’t make the ad or the poem or the message even slightly more appealing—it’s quite the opposite, actually. Ironically, because it’s an ad, it can’t be broadcast on Good Friday or Easter Sunday because of the trading bans. Maybe that’s an argument for keeping the bans in place? That could be why they run their ad so much in the lead up to Easter.

This past weekend had a lot of weird weather, too: There were four tornados in three days, for example. There have also been warnings of more severe weather this afternoon, too. Sigh.

All that aside, Easter Weekend has never been a big deal for adult me, though I remember one year in Chicago a friend insisted I make roast lamb for an Easter dinner, which I thought was vaguely sacrilegious (the Paschal Lamb…), but I did it, anyway, and even made fresh mint sauce, something I’ve never done since.

Here in New Zealand, if Nigel and I did anything at Easter, it might be to go visit family (since it was a four-day holiday weekend), but we didn’t do that every year. I tried to give Nigel Easter chocolate every year, though. I haven’t bought any since he died. On Saturday, I went to my mother-in-law’s to have dinner with her and a visiting sister-in-law, which was lovely. Other than that, though, it was a very quiet weekend, and that suited me perfectly.

Our next public holiday is Anzac Day on Thursday, April 25, then it’s eight weeks until King’s Birthday on June 5 (3-day weekend), then Matariki nearly six weeks later, on July 15 (another 3-day weekend). There’ll be nothing for three months, until Labour Day on October 23 (a 3-day weekend), then nothing for a further two months when we have Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a 4-day weekend this year). And that’s our public holiday schedule for the rest of 2023. Nice.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1

As last year was winding down, I wanted to come up with some blog posts I could easily prepare in advance, hopefully increasing my overall output. The first thing I thought of was reviving “Weekend Diversion” posts, but how?

I stopped doing regular “Weekend Diversion” posts when NZ's free-to-air video music TV channels ended, because when they did, I no longer had much connection to new music. Still, I’ve done posts about older music many times, and I suddenly realised that this year I could focus on the Number One pop songs of 1983.

The thing about 1983 isn’t (merely) that it was 40 years ago, it’s that it was my first full year living in Chicago, and it’s when I established what my life would be up until 1995 when I met Nigel and moved to New Zealand. 1983 was a very significant year for me.

The idea for these posts is loosely based on a series of posts Roger Green did as artists turned 70. Like his posts, these wouldn’t necessarily be every week because pop songs are often Number One for weeks in a row. Even so, the specific dates are fixed, so I could do the posts well in advance. As a bonus, the Number One dates for 1983 are all Sundays this year—almost like it was planned.

That’s when it all fell apart: I completely forgot all about it. In fact, I only remembered it because I ran across some links I saved at the end of last year, but that means I’m already behind schedule.

So, this week I’ll include three songs, which will mean I’ll be able to get back on track next week. Let’s get started.

The first song to hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 was “Maneater” by Daryl Hall and John Oates, which was Number One in the USA January 1 and 8, 1983:

This was a song I liked back in the day, though not for any particular reason: It had a good beat, and all that. I don’t actually have anything to say about it other than that. I’ve always mentioned chart performance, and in addition to it being Number One in the USA for the first two weeks of 1983 (and being certified Gold), it hit Number 4 in Australia and Canada (it was Platinum in Canada), also 4 in New Zealand, and Number 6 in the UK.

Next up, it’s "Down Under" by Australian band Men At Work, which was Number One from January 15-29, 1983:

Back in the day, more than a dozen years before I met Nigel, I liked this song. In June 2009, the band was sued for copyright infringement, the allegation being that the flute part was lifted from a 1932 Australian song called "Kookaburra", despite a perception in the public that it was in the public domain. The band lost the suit in 2010, and was ordered to pay 5% of its royalties from 2002. My personal opinion was, as it so often is in copyright “infringement” cases, that it was all nonsense, but the Australian courts have ruled on the matter, and our opinions don’t matter at all. The larger issue is that copyright law needs a massive overall everywhere, especially in the USA, which is crazy drunk with fealty to mega corporations and their claim to “copyright” in defiance of the framers of the US Constitution.

All that aside, in addition to hitting Number One in the USA (Platinum), it hit (surprisingly) Number 24 in Australia (Gold), Number One in Canada (Gold), Number One in New Zealand, and Number One in the UK (Platinum).

Finally for this week, it’s “Africa” by Toto, which was Number One on February 5, 1983:

I was never a fan of this song—but I can confidently sing along with it due to how much the song was played back in the day. I quite literally hated the line about Kilimanjaro rising above the Serengeti, which, at the time, struck me as the most insipid and banal song lyric ever, until other lyrics said, “hold me beer!”.

Having said all that, I actually liked Toto, and I bought their 1978 debut album “Hold the Line”. It was this particular song I disliked.

Despite my, um, indifference, the song still reached Number One in the USA (8x Platinum), 5 in Australia (12x Platinum), Number One in Canada (Gold), and Number 5 in New Zealand (Gold), and Number 3 in the UK (3x Platinum). So, what do I know, right? Yeah, well, I still skip it when it comes up in random play on my devices.

That’s technically it for this outing, however, “Down Under” was Number One on the “Hot 100” again on February 12. Next week, more of 1983.

Two years with a dream fulfilled

Of all the things I’ve done since Nigel died, the thing I’m happiest about is having had a solar power system installed at my house, which happened two years ago yesterday (the photo above is from that post two years ago). It was about fulfilling a dream Nigel and I shared in a way I could do it without him, but it turned out it’s also saved me money: My power bills over a year are less than half of what they’d be without the solar power system, and much less than that in summer. When I blogged about this two years ago, I said, “This will matter a lot when I retire.” I read recently that there’s a bit of a boom in NZ with people doing this, as I did. as they near retirement, and for the reason I mentioned two years ago. I’m a trendsetter!

Over the past two years I’ve learned to manage my power use to maximise return on investment, and although that was never a consideration when I had the system installed, it sure is nice. I mentioned above that my annual power bills are less than half of what they’d be without the system, and that doesn’t sound like much, right? That’s only a part of the story: By maximising my use of power in the daytime, when my electricity is free, there’s a whole lot of electricity I don’t have to buy, and that’s actually worth much more than half my bill.

My actual savings are far more than half because the credits I get for the power I generate are far less than what I pay to buy electricity, and so, it makes sense for me to use the power I generate. All of which means that, depending on the time of year and weather, my electricity charges are actually at *most* a third of what they’d be otherwise, something I know because I made spreadsheets to track all this in detail (and I’ll soon have the data even more precise—still working on that).

So, two years ago yeterday I realised a dream Nigel and I shared in the only way I could do it without him, something that aligned with the values we shared. That’s more than enough, of course, but it turned out to be a wise financial decision, too. It’s no wonder I’m happy with it.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Jacinda Ardern’s Valedictory Speech

The video above is the Valedictory Speech from former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is resigning as the Member of Parliament for Mount Roskill See Also: "Watch: Jacinda Ardern gives valedictory speech as she leaves politics" from RNZ]. Such speeches are common for MPs who are leaving at or before the next General Election, which is October 14 this year. Jacinda announced back in January that she would leave Parliament this month, not at the same time she stepped down as Prime Minister, in order to avoid sparking a costly by-election so close to a General Election, which is exactly the sort of common-sense thing she was known for.

She’s taking on two new international roles. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins appointed her Special Envoy for the Christchurch Call, which Jacinda initiated to create a common effort among governments, the tech sector, and civil society to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online, something that helps spread both extremism and terrorism. Jacinda has declined any remuneration for this role. Prime Minister Hipkins said The Christchurch Call is “a foreign policy priority for the Government,” adding that “Jacinda Ardern is uniquely placed to keep pushing forward with the goal of eliminating violent extremist content online.”

The second role is that she’s joining Prime William’s The Earthshot Prize as a trustee. The organisation was “designed to find and grow the solutions that will repair our planet this decade”. In announcing that Jacinda is joining, Prince William said:
Four years ago, before The Earthshot Prize even had a name, Jacinda was one of the first people I spoke to, and her encouragement and advice was crucial to the Prize’s early success. I am hugely grateful to her for joining us as she takes the next steps in her career.
In September 2022, Jacinda attended The Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York where she spoke on behalf of Prince William [WATCH], who remained in the UK following the death of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. She then went on to the UK for the Queen’s funeral.

It’s reasonably common for former prime ministers to take on international roles after leaving Parliament. There have been several who have done that just since I moved to New Zealand in 1995 (listed in order of their premiership): Mike Moore (prime minister 1989-90), served as Director General of the World Trade Organisation (1999-2002), the highest ranking job in an international bureaucracy ever held by a New Zealander. He was also appointed Ambassador to the USA in 2010, before returning to New Zealand due to ill health in 2015. Jim Bolger (prime minister 1990-97) was Ambassador to the USA 1999-2002. The next elected prime minister, Helen Clark (prime minister 1999-2008), became Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 2009-2017. Bolger’s successor, Jenny Shipley (prime minister 1997-99), chose to join corporate boards instead of diplomatic work, as did Clark’s successor, John Key (prime minister 2008-16), and Key’s own successor, Bill English (prime minister 2016-17), did the same.

I’ve said many times that I don’t blame Jacinda for leaving. The loons, goons, and cartoons (LG&C) on the far-right and the fringe conspiracists were relentless in their attacks—and threats. By leaving, she can enjoy a more peaceful existence, one that doesn’t require carrying the burdens of being prime minister. It was the right decision for her and her family.

At the same time, New Zealand did well because of her (despite what the LG&C think), not the least because easily thousands of New Zealanders are alive today because of her government’s response to Covid. Sir Ashley Bloomfield, who was Director General of Health during the response to the pandemic, told RNZ that:
What we found in Aotearoa – in 2020, 2021 – we had less deaths than you would have predicted based on the previous years. And whilst once the Omicron variant came along, yes, we did see Covid-related deaths, the numbers have climbed. Still, if you look over those three years, cumulatively, we're still not back at the level, the number, you would have expected. That is unique, virtually unique around the world.
That’s because Ardern’s government listened to the experts and followed their advice. A good leader does what needs to be done, a great one does what must be done, no matter what. She showed the same sort of determination after the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, the eruption of Whakaari/White Island, and more.

Which is not to say or suggest that everything was perfect. There were times she held back too much, in my opinion, and her government wasted the opportunity given them by the voters of New Zealand who gave her a strong majority in Parliament. However, even that was often on principle: She wasn’t willing to do more things than she’d campaigned on in the 2020 General Election. At the same time, though, with the global economy in free-fall because of Covid, she didn’t want to risk making things even worse for New Zealand’s economy (despite what our rightwing and far-rightwing parties like to say).

On balance, I think her leadership was exactly what New Zealand needed. The fact is, there’s no Labour Government since I’ve been in New Zealand that’s done everything I thought they should/could have, and I’m pretty sure there never will be: Governing in a functioning democracy means compromise and prioritisation. On the other hand, I’ve seen National Party governments go farther and faster than was prudent, so there’s that.

I don’t know that there will be another prime minister as good as her in my lifetime, but we had her at the right time, and that’s what matters most. I certainly wish her well in her post-politics life, and with her new endeavours. The first time I met her, in the 2014 campaign, I knew immediately she was the real deal: Smart, competent, with a deep understanding of policy and solutions, and also able to think rationally and with compassion. She’s proved me right ever since.

Thank you, Jacinda. I wish you nothing but the best for the future.


Watch: "What Jacinda Ardern thinks of her time as Prime Minister"
– Interview with John Campbell, 1News on YouTube