Thursday, November 30, 2023

Looking up

I’ve shared a lot of photos of the sky since I moved into my house in Hamilton. It’s not that I didn’t notice a pretty sky before, though maybe I notice it more often now. Instead, the vast improvement in the iPhone camera has made my photos so much better, especially at night. It’d be rude not to share them.

The photo above was the sky above my neighbourhood a week ago tonight, something I saw when I took the recycling out to the kerb. When I shared it on my personal Facebook, I said: “Went to put the recycling out before going to bed and, as usual, I looked up. Those white dots are stars, of course.”

Someone asked me if I was sure it wasn’t a Starlink satellite, and I wasn’t—though I’ve since found a site that tracks the satellites’ positions around the globe (one can rotate the globe to look in a specific region). However, my understanding is that once they’re in position they turn their shiny side away from earth, though I don’t know that for certain. In any case, the stars are quite bright in the sky overhead, possibly because this part of Hamilton isn’t very built up.

Three days (well, nights…) later, I let Leo outside and noticed the moonlight. I went outside, looked up, and the photo below shows what I saw. The moon would appear through the clouds from time to time, but because the exposure is a long one, that’s not what I captured: The clouds were moving too quickly. Even so, I love this photo, too.

I always knew that if I tapped on a spot in the image on my phone’s screen. The cameras would focus on that spot, however, I recently learned that if I put my finger on a particular spot and hold it there for a couple seconds, the iPhone camera will lock on that spot. That’s really helpful for night photography because the low light requires a longer exposure. The thing is, though, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I thought to do that for a nighttime photo, even though it was so obvious (or, maybe it being obvious is why I didn’t think of doing it?).

I never shared the photo below anywhere before because I’d shared a night sky photo only a few days earlier. The good thing about having a blog, though, is that I can share the two of them together. And so I have, along with the story behind them.

Sometimes I think I share too many photos of the sky since above my neighbourhood, but to be completely honest, it’s the most attractive thing about the area where I live: Right now, we have no parks, no interesting walks, nothing particularly pretty or that's interesting to me except, sometimes, for the sky. Sure, I noticed pretty skies before, but the vast improvement in the iPhone camera has made me so more likely to share photos of the sky precisely because they’re so much better. It’d be rude not to share them.

Important decisions

Yes, yes, decisions about elections and a new government’s policies are all very important and what not, but there are some things that are far more important than that, so much so that they transcend politics, religion, the current performance of one’s favourite sports team, or the relative merits of Taylor Swift’s latest release. What truly matters is peanut butter.

Five years ago this month, I made a similar joking introduction to a blog post about peanut butter. That post was about brands I tried and what I liked. Then, things changed.

One of the brands I mentioned in that post, “Woolworths American Style Smooth Peanut Butter”, was Nigel’s favourite, something he had on toast for breakfast nearly every working day for several years, right up until not long before he died. After he died, things took an unexpected turn when I decided I preferred that same brand, something I talked about in a post in May 2021. Then things changed yet again.

Sometime in the last year or so, the peanut butter disappeared, then reappeared. At the time, I assumed it was related to the infamous supply chain issues after all the Covid lockdowns. That assumption was reinforced when it appeared in Countdown again—until it finally disappeared again and even the shelf labels disappeared, something that didn’t happen the first time it disappeared. I assumed the brand was discontinued.

The next chapter was, “what should I switch to?”. My first impulse was to go back to the brand I preferred in that 2018 post, the “Pic’s No Salt Added Peanut Butter”. Only trouble is, I didn’t like it nearly as much anymore.

Then, I found out that Countdown started carrying US-made Skippy, so I bought a jar, even though I knew its nutrition profile wasn’t great: On the bad side, Skippy was higher in sodium, energy (kilojoules/calories), and fat (including saturated fat), and also lower in fibre than the old brand. On the other hand, it was somewhat higher protein and lower in sugars (which surprised me because I think it tastes sweet).

When I was a kid, Skippy was my favourite brand. I didn’t have a “taste memory” triggered when I tried it this week, but I don’t know if that’s because the formulation has been changed, or if my tastes have—or maybe both—but in any case, it didn’t compare favourably with either my memory or the now-lost brand.

I’m only two servings into this test, but I’m already certain this is a detour in my search, and not merely because to taste: Today I went into my nearest Countdown for something else and saw that they had Skippy on the lowest shelf, which in my experience is usually where cheap brands as well as where products being phased out often end up. I suspect, but certainly don’t know, that this is at best an experiment to see what happens, and that if it sells well it may move up a shelf or two, or it may otherwise disappear, just like the lost brand did. At the moment, I’m predicting the latter outcome.

In comparing the nutrition profile of the two brands, I looked at the label of my last, basically entirely empty, jar of the old brand, and noticed for the first time that it was made in the USA, too, I thought about how there are plenty of other US-made peanut butters Countdown/Woolworths can sell, but for me, once this jar of Skippy is used up, I plan on trying other brands, ones with better nutrition profiles and, almost certainly, only ones made in New Zealand. Clearly, I have very important decisions to make—far more important than next year’s Local Government elections, right? Right?!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

NZ’s new government: A grab bag of hot takes

New Zealand’s new three-ring circus government goes back and forth from from comedy to farce, and the jokes that are its announced policies, while jokes, aren’t even remotely funny. This is going to a long—well, however long this government ends up surviving before it implodes.

So far, one announed policy scrapping has attracted worldwide attention: The Tripartite Regime has announced it will repeal the landmark world-leading smoke-free legislation adopted by the previous Labour-led Government. That legislation would have slowly raised the legal age to buy tobacco products so that no one born in 2009 or later would ever be able to buy tobacco products in New Zealand. It was also slowly reduce the number of places cigarettes could be purchased from 6000 to 600. Naturally, powerful forces moved against it.

The tobacco lobby claimed that not allowing today’s 14-year-olds to ever buy tobacco would lead to skyrocketing increases in blackmarket tobacco, a dubious claim that the National Party Prime Minister, Chris Luxon, has been parroting since coming to power. Given the declining rates of smoking in New Zealand, and that the law wouldn’t even affect anyone for another four years, this was an interesting claim—and probably utter nonsense.

The real reason for the change seems to be tax (though Chris Luxon now denies that, as well as denying the claim that senior National MP Chris Bishop, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, took part in coalition negotiations on the issue). However, ever since the current Job Share Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters (who himself has been a cigarette addict for decades), killed National’s promise to allow foreigners to buy private houses above $2 million, and so, also killed the 15% tax Luxon planned to charge foreigners, National was desperate to find revenue somewhere to pay for their planned tax cuts (which will almost certainly be targeted at helping the rich, if the past is any guide).

Winston apparently struck again in securing a promise to pull all sex and gender education guidelines from schools. Winston wants to prevent schools from addressing any Rainbow issues, gender identity in particular. During the campaign, he promised that if his party formed government, he would pass a law requiring business owners make sure that toilets for customers would only be used by people whose gender corresponded to their sex assigned at birth, though he didn’t say how, exactly, he expected businesses to do that—did he expect them to conduct inspections of customers’ genitals? Probably.

Winston knew he’d never lead any government—only a small fraction of NZ voters ever vote for his party—but by pandering to the most ignorant, bigoted and conspiracy-loving segments of society, he knew he could win votes and get donations to his party. With Winston, politics has always been transactional, not philosophical or ideological. Well, it never used to be.

The thing is, most of the curriculum was about how the body changes, about relationships, diversity, and—most importantly—consent. The goal was to help young people to understand the changes they were experiencing, that there are rules around sex, and that, most importantly, no means no. That, too, will be dumped so Winston can wage his “war on woke”.

Maybe this shows that Winston has spent too much time around cookers and other fans of conspiracy theories, because in many ways he seems to have gone weird. For example, attacking the news media has always been part of his cynical game: His fans ate it up because they hate the new media and/or just like to see Winston go after journalists. Lately, though, his attacks have become downright sinister.

He spread baseless disinformation and lies born out of conspiracy theories about the New Zealand news media, first at the singing of the coalition agreement, then during the photo op at the new cabinet’s first meeting, and also told a media outlet that he’s “at war” with the news media.

Then he truly went off the deep end, spewing the utterly bizarre claim that the news industry was responsible for the long second Auckland Covid lockdown, asking, "Why did [the media] allow the second dramatic lockdown with only one case in Auckland”, and since he was a real, non-job share deputy prime minister when the lockdown first began—um, every accusation is a confession, maybe? Chris Luxon said that Winston puts things in ways he wouldn’t (which must be the understatement of the week), and the Deputy Leader of his Party, Nicola Willis, tried to diminish the seriousness of Winston’a ravings, calling it “hyperbole”. How long can Luxon and Willis carry on pretending like that?

These are only some of the latest highlights from the 3-ring circus, and there will be plenty more to come until Parliament finally goes away for Christmas and gives us a break from them. At the moment, my personal favourite description of the new government and it’s mishmash of policies came from Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party MP for Auckland Central. Yesterday morning, she told TVNZ’s “Breakfast” programme:
It's definitely not the government of low wage workers, renters, or anybody who sits on the margins of our society. The priorities of the incoming government should be dealing with the dual crises of inequality and the climate crisis.

But instead, what we have with those two agreements is a grab bag of 200-plus-odd random policies that come across more as hot takes from your uncle at Christmas. It's not a vision for the future that New Zealanders deserve. I just can't see how we're gonna get anywhere near the issues that really matter.
Swarbrick also succinctly described the reality of this hodgepodge government: "It's a pair of scissors, it's not a vision for the future of this country.”

This is going to a long—well, however long this government ends up surviving before it implodes or is turfed out.

Keyboard error, here and gone

Typing on a device isn’t easy for a lot of us digital immigrants: Unlike those who grew up with smart devices (phones and tablets), some of us have a bit of trouble or awkwardness using the virtual keyboards on those devices. Sometimes, the device manufacturer can make matters worse. That happened to me, until one day it was gone.

I’ve used the “New Zealand English” keyboard on my iPhone and iPad for many years now, chiefly so I can get the macrons used in most versions of written Māori (for example, in the word "Māori" the “a” has a macron). I pretty obviously like to try to type Māori words correctly, and those keyboards made that possible.

As a bonus, those same keyboards allowed all sorts of other character modifiers used in various European languages, such as, umlauts in German (like in the word “grün”, which means green in English). I have the same sort of commitment to try to to type vowels correctly in all the non-English European languages I use from time to time (in non-English European languages, it’s most likely to be for a proper name).

After some upgrade or other, I noticed that the “New Zealand English” keyboard on my iPad no longer had anything but regular letters and macrons—there were no other character modifiers. I noticed this because I was leaving a Facebook comment and needed an umlaut (for a name), only to discover they were gone.

After some fruitless research, I ended up adding a German keyboard to my iPad, which gave me umlauts again. Unfortunately, that added new problems and frustrations.

In the screenshot avive, the NZ English keyboard is at top, and the German version is below. I toggled between the keyboards by tapping the globe symbol in the bottom row (second key from the left edge). However, that was also how I accessed emojis, something I use a lot in Facebook comments, private messages, texts, etc. It turns out that it was easy to accidentally switch to German and then be faced with a different keyboard layout (apparently called QWERTZ instead of the English QWERTY, and for the same reason). Sometimes I wasn’t even aware I’d accidentally bumped the globe key, so intent was I on what I was writing. Sometimes I also got into a weird loop trying to get an emoji or back to English. I was exasperated enough that I decided to (eventually) delete the German keyboard.

Then, everything changed.

Apple released another update to the operating system for my iPad, and I—eventually—noticed that the New Zealand English keyboard once again had all the special characters that had been missing. I then deleted the German keyboard, and my switching between letters and emojis was once again a peaceful endeavour.

The not noticing thing is a repeating reality, so I don’t know if my iPhone keyboard was similarly afflicted, though I presume it was. I generally only use that keyboard for texting because it’s so small and my fingers aren’t. I also never installed the German keyboard in my phone because I rarely, if ever, needed anything beyond macrons.

The story is even more complicated on my desktop Mac, and another reason I didn’t notice the difference on the iPad.

On my Mac, I use "Australian English" as my “input source” (which is mainly about keyboard configuration, though it apparently helps with spelling/autocorrect; there is no NZ English keyboard). That keyboard has all the European characters—but no macrons. For that, I have a second keyboard—called “Māori”—that has macrons, but no European special characters. Most of the time I have the keyboard set to Māori, which is usually all I need. When I need an umlaut or whatever, I use my mouse and toggle to the Australian keyboard, then back to Māori (there's probably a keyboard shortcut to toggle between the two keyboards, but I've never looked into it; it's highly improbable I'd remember it). When I noticed the change on the iPad keyboard, I just assumed Apple was standardising keyboards between mobile devices and Macs.

At any rate, I'm glad it's once again simple to type whatever non-English character I need, and to only have to use one keyboard to do it. It'd be nice if Apple did something similar with the Mac, but toggling keyboards on my Mac isn't even nearly as annoying as it was on the iPad.

Sometimes it's the smallest things that can make the biggest difference. I just never would've expected a virtual keyboard on a tablet would prove the point.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Errors in my ways

Remembering stuff is important. We have so much to do, so much stuff to keep track of, but sometimes things go awry: We forget things, and because of that, we may let important things slip. We may also lose stuff, and then spend too much time looking for what we’ve misplaced. Any of this can happen to any of us at any time. We find ways to cope.

I’ve talked about the system I designed to help keep me from forgetting stuff—what I’m doing, where I put stuff, etc. I needed to do that because remembering stuff is difficult for me. My system has mostly worked—except when it hasn’t. Today, I was again reminded of my system’s imperfection.

Early this morning, I got a text message reminding me of my upcoming dental appointment, something they always do. I was annoyed: My appointment wasn’t until Friday of next week—why were were they sending me a text early Tuesday morning, the week before my appointment?

When I actually read the message later in the morning, I saw that my appointment is tomorrow, not Friday of next week. It’s true that they changed the appointment twice due to planned staff absences, however, I never updated my calendar the second time, and so, I forgot all about the appointment being rescheduled to this week.

A short while later, after breakfast, I discovered the second failure: I went to grab the Tuesday pouch of my prescription medication, only to discover the pouch said “Monday”. I was shocked, angry with myself, disappointed—and deeply confused. How could I have forgotten again?!

I realised that the day I missed actually could have been any one of several days from Saturday through Monday that I forgot to take the medication, but whenever it was, I only noticed today. I’m absolutely certain I took the pills on Friday, and I also know I got up late on Saturday, which is why that’s the prime suspect. Still, I don’t remember anything, really, about my medication rituals between Saturday and today, so I can’t be sure which day it was—and, of course, it doesn’t really matter.

This latest medication failure was caused by the same thing as the other failures over the past couple years: My system technically worked, but my adherence to it didn’t. I didn’t take my medication one day, marked the reminder that I had, then also marked the double-check reminder that I’d done that. This is the biggest flaw in my system: It still depends on me not assuming anything, and always physically checking and double-checking.

The dentist thing is mainly about me needing to do things like updating my calendar immediately: I can’t trust myself to remember to do such things later. Putting things on my calendar isn’t a formal part of my organisation system, but it’s obviously a close relative, and failures can cause me problems.

The fundamental truth that these two incidents reinforce is that all my efforts to remember stuff, and so, stay focused and organised, ultimately depend on me. If I make any slip-up at all, the whole thing collapses. Short of having a minder—a robot or maybe a handsome personal assistant—to manage details for me, there’s very little I can do to fix things (multiple reminders to stop me forgetting stuff would be so annoying that I’d be certain to ignore them as easily as I can ignore two).

With no real alternative, I’ll just have to try harder, and also accept the reality that I can’t count on always getting it right, and sometimes things will go wrong. Or, maybe someday that robot or handsome personal assistant will arrive for duty. I think I’d better not count in that, either.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Let the annual inquisition begin

Another year, another go at what’s now a more than decade long series of blog posts. Back in 2012, I began an end-of-year series of “Ask Arthur” posts (skipping 2019, of course), and now it’s time for the 2023 version. Or not—it’s entirely up to others. As I put it in last year’s series introduction post:

The “Ask Arthur” series of posts is a chance for people to ask me nearly anything, and I try to answer whatever I’m asked. I’ve never had a question about a topic that was “off limits”, however, I’ve always said that if I couldn’t answer a question for any reason, I’d say so. It turned out that I've never had a question that I wouldn’t answer. It also turned out that I haven’t yet met a topic I don’t have an opinion on. Who’d have guessed that?

Yes, who could or would have guessed that there doesn’t seem to be any topics on which I don’t have an opinion? Over the years, questions have been about me, my personal history, about life in New Zealand—mine or in general—about being an expat, and what I think about various topics or events in the news. The possibilities seem to be endless.

To ask questions, 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 du 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.

Finally, as I always note, this idea is stolen from inspired by Roger Green’s “Ask Roger Anything” (“ARA”) posts. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of thievery flattery. Or, something like that. In fact, Roger’s already passed on a couple topics I haven’t gotten to yet, so they’re my backup plan in case there are no questions this year—I mean, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

So, over to you: Ask your question whatever way works best for you, and I’ll do my best to answer.

All posts in this series will be tagged “AAA-23”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


What do you want to know? (December 2012)
Ask Arthur (July 2013)
Ask Arthur – Again (December 2013)
Ask Arthur Again, again (December 2014)
Ask Arthur yet again (July 2015)
It’s that time again (December 2015)
It’s ‘Ask Arthur’ time again (December 2016)
Let the 2017 asking begin (November 2017)
Let the 2018 asking begin (November 2018)
There was no “Ask Arthur” series in 2019.
Sure, why not ask again? (December 2020)
Yes, ask again (November 2021)
AAA 2022: A decade-long inquisition (November 2022)

New Zealand’s 3-ring circus begins

New Zealand’s new three-ring circus government was sworn in today, beginning the most rightwing government has scene in three decades. It’ll be a wild ride.

Last Wednesday, while the clowns continued the circus negotiations, the saga was still funny. The next day, they announced that negotiations had concluded, and the coalition agreement would be signed the next day. On Friday, the agreement was signed, and today the Governor General swore the new Prime Minister and other ministers into office. The “Speech from the Throne”, which is part of the royal opening of Parliament, will be next week.

Apparently the delay last week was because David Seymour, leader of the hard-right “libertarian-ish Act Party, and Winston Peters, leader of the righting populist New Zealand First party, both thought they should be Deputy Prime Minister. David thought he should get it because he has many more MPs in his party’s caucus than Winston has in his, and supposedly Winston thought he should have it because he’s been in politics for many, many decades, dating way back to when New Zealand was ruled by the Queen (Elizabeth, not Victoria, as perhaps some people might assume…). This is, by the way, the first NZ government to swear an oath of allegiance to any monarch other than Queen Elizabeth II since the middle of the last century.

National Party leader and newly sworn in Prime Minister, Chris Luxon, arranged for David and Winston to share the job. Winston will be Deputy PM for the first 18 months, and then David will take over for the remaining approximately 18 months of the term (assuming, of course, the government lasts 18 months or more). This situation is as absurd as it sounds, but there could be a method to the madness—for one of the two, anyway. Writing in an opinion piece on the website of TVNZ’s 1News, veteran journalist John Campbell said:
Winston Peters gets to be Deputy Prime Minister first, of course. Whoever’s responsible for that is either Winston Peters himself, or someone without a particularly robust understanding of our history. Peters campaigns best when he’s in opposition. New Zealand First has never, once, been returned to government after being in a coalition. Any remote chance of retaining his loyal participation in (to use his least favourite phrase) “Cabinet collective responsibility” would have been enhanced by making him deputy at the end of the three years, not at the beginning. It’s harder to go rogue when you’re second in charge. But his bauble time will be over. (This ain’t his first rodeo.)
The entirety of Campbell’s piece is worth reading, as are several others. Here’s are some more: Former journalist Vernon Small’s piece for The Sunday Star-Times, ”The results are in and it’s Winston by a length” also looks at the shape of the new government. Glenn McConnell, political reporter for Stuff, pointed out the ”5 surprising policies buried in the National, ACT, NZF coalition agreements”, and the news organisation’s chief political correspondent, Tova O’Brien, pointed out the absurdities in the public signing of the coalition agreement (it was pretty much Winston’s show). Finally, Gordon Campbell’s ”On The New Government’s Policies Of Yesteryear”, published on Scoop pretty much sums up the National’s coalition partners, and so, why the coalition took the shape it did:
For all the media attention paid to the Seymour v Peters personal conflict, a large number of crossovers exist between the hidebound conservatism of New Zealand First and the Thatcherite young fogey-ism of ACT. Both parties are actively hostile to any form of identity politics, both detest any expressions of indigenous rights, and both oppose any forms of affirmative action being taken to address the existing levels of ethnic or gender dis-advantage.
I did not vote for the circus, of course, and so, I cannot wish the new government “well”, because that would mean wishing them success, something I cannot do: Success would mean taking actions I absolutely oppose. So, I wish them good health instead. The indestructible Winston doesn’t need such wishes despite being 78, and perhaps David doesn’t either (rightwing politicians rigid ideological certainty seems to be a life-enhancing force for them, though less so their supporters). No, it’s Chris Luxon who needs the wishes of good health. He will have an enormous job merely trying to keep his new playmates under control, Winston alone being a full-time job. Preserving his own well-being while serving as ringmaster for his circus will require his attention and a lot of energy, and for that much he deserves good wishes.

While much of this post was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek (so much so my tongue got cramp), there’s a dark reason for that: The next three years will be painful. So much of what the three intend to do is divisive and will cause a lot of bitter anger, particularly among Māori, but also workers, Rainbow communities, those who care about fighting climate change, and who want action on child poverty, all of whom will be worse off under this government. My concern, though, isn’t that—the next Left-of-Centre government can fix everything the circus destroys, except, maybe, for one thing: The circus’ policies may make more hardcore followers feel they have permission to unleash aggressive, even violent, hatred, just as the leader of the USA’s Republican Party did.

Still, there’s one thing that gives me hope. We had no riots today, no one tried to violently stop the new government. We had no one bleating on that the election was “stolen”. Right on schedule, the caretaker Prime Minister, Labour Leader Chris Hipkins, whose Labour Party lost the election this year, rang the Governor General to formally end the caretaker government’s roll. The new government was then duly sworn in. I didn’t vote for any of them, and while I have grave concerns about how much harm that they will do, that peaceful and orderly transfer of power gives me hope that New Zealand might avoid the fate of so many countries that are falling under the thrall of the far-right, including overt fascists. I suppose the next election will show whether that hope was justified.

Friday, November 24, 2023

2023 New Zealand Christmas TV Ads

New Zealand's Christmas advertising began late last month ago—once they were done with Halloween and the NZ General Election. This year, I shared the first Christmas TV ad I saw, mainly because of how surprised I was to see an ad in October—far too early for Christmas ads. However, last year the ads began even earlier, and it’s at least possible that election advertising may have helped delay Christmas ads this year—which I guess is one good thing about them (there had to be something). At any rate, I started compiling this list the same day I posted that first ad.

In the nearly three weeks since I shared that first ad, a few more have started airing—but not all that many. Moreover, some of the ads that are on TV aren’t on YouTube, generally because the companies don’t do much (or even anything…) with their YouTube Channels, and that presents a problem.

I learned when I made last year’s playlist to not share any ads that aren’t posted to official YouTube Channels. That’s because of one ad, for retail chain Noel Leeming (originally Number 7 on last year’s list). I found it from an unusual YouTube Channel that was eventually deleted, taking the video with it. I had to re-jig the playlist and update it, then update the blog post—all because of one ad that came from a “non-official” YouTube Channel. On the other hand, it allowed me to add the ad from Countdown supermarket, which I didn’t even realise they’d posted to their YouTube Channel (it was a couple weeks after I made the playlist). This year, Countdown has a revised version of that same ad, but it’s not on their YouTube Channel—maybe I’ll be able to add it later? [Update – December 3, 2023: I added ads 7 and 8 to the Playlist and to this post]

At any rate, I began doing these playlists because I had so many Christmas ad posts from previous years with missing vidoes—which makes those posts utterly pointless. I figured that if a particular ad was later deleted by the company, the playlist itself would still be fine. The Noel Leeming incident taught me that if an ad is deleted or made private, I need to delete it from the playlist or it will stop its playback when it gets to the deleted ad (it doesn’t just skip it). Always learning!

This year I used the same criteria I’ve used in the past: The ads must must be airing on New Zealand television (not merely online or on social media or whatever). Second, they have to be New Zealand companies, or companies that are connected to New Zealand. This is because international ads might be seen in many countries, though our ads aren’t necessarily seen elsewhere (the word “necessarily” is actually relevant to this list). However, if there was an “international” ad that was dubbed with NZ voice actors, I might consider including it for the novelty—assuming it’s not geoblocked, as such things so often are. Finally, as I said, the ads must be on an official YouTube Channel, not one belonging to third parties.

A warning: Just like in the past, the annotations below include spoilers, which I mention in case you want to watch the videos first. All that out of the way, here’s a bit more about the videos, all of which are, as before, in the order I first saw them:

1. “However you do Christmas, we've got you sorted at New World - 30 seconds” – New World. New World is owned by one of two supermarket companies in New Zealand, and the only one that’s New Zealand-owned (each store is individually owned). This year’s ad is more straightforward than last year’s, and maybe a bit less fun. Still, it’s a supermarket ad, so it does the job. [Full disclosure: I shop at both New World and Australian-owned Countdown.]

2. “Christmas spent together" – The Warehouse. This ad is my absolute favourite of the year (so far?). It’s also much more straightforward than last year’s ad, but it’s designed to tug at the heartstrings as the boy, Jack, notices the older man next door living alone, seemingly forgotten at Christmas. Jack gets an idea: Using a cricket ball he got for Christmas, he invites the man over for Christmas lunch. The ad has included bargain prices for various things, then in final scene is the cricket ball with “Lunch?” written on it, and a tag “Christmas Invitation $5”. The point of the add is summed up in the narrated tagline when the ball is shown: “Bargain! But the real bargain, a Christmas spent together”. Indeed. [Full disclosure: I shop at The Warehouse.]

3. “Give A Gift That Unleashes Theirs This Christmas” – Spark NZ. This ad is for Spark NZ, one of the two main mobile phone (etc…) companies in New Zealand. It was originally part of Telecom New Zealand until that company was broken into thirds to free up the market. The Spark name began in 2014.

This ad centres on a boy dancing around the house as the family snoozes after their Christmas lunch—a real enough thing, actually. He takes off the paper crown thing at some point and we see he’s wearing earbuds. The tagline on screen at the end underscores what the video is about: “Give a gift that unleashes theirs”, by which they mean a tech gift, one must assume, especially because the final shot of of earbuds given as a gift. [Full disclosure: At the moment, I’m a Spark NZ customer.]

4. “The Home of Christmas” – Farmers. This ad has the same name as last year’s ad, but it’s different. This year, there are more families shown celebrating Christmas, all giving each other presents they bought at NZ department store chain Farmers. Still, it’s a nice, upbeat ad, and, I think, better than last year’s. [Full disclosure: I sometimes shop at Farmers.]

5. “A Christmas to Remember” – Michael Hill Jeweller. This long-version ad, like the ones they’ve run for the past two years, was pretty obviously not shot in New Zealand, and also like previous years, the characters never speak out loud. Still, the company began in New Zealand, which is why it makes this playlist. The version in the playlist is 2:31 long—far longer than the version shown on TV, and that’s a good thing: When I saw the much shorter ad on TV, I couldn’t really work out what was going on, apart from the fact there was a sullen teenage girl, but the specific reason for it wasn’t obvious. This long version make it clearer what the characters’ story is, but maybe a better edit of the TV version would’ve made it clear, too? At any rate, this ad is all that's on YouTube, and I think it's fine—maybe not as good as the previous two years, in my opinion, but still good for what it is.

6. “Variety's Christmas Appeal 2023” – Variety New Zealand. This ad is from the New Zealand branch of Variety – The Children's Charity, and it promotes their Christmas Appeal. This isn’t the first time I’ve shared a charity Christmas ad, and I think they’re good reminders that Christmas isn’t just about gifts and lavish celebrations: It’s about people, children in particular.

7. “Christmas Brand Ad - 15 seconds” – Animates Vetcare NZ. This ad is for Animates (usually called “Animates Vetcare NZ” in social media, due to the co-location of many Animates pet shops with the company’s Vetcare vet practices), and, obviously, the ad promotes Christmas shopping for pets at their shops. This ad is based on a series of other TV ads that use the same music and focus on individual pets looking happy, and it’s fine for what it is—and the tune IS catchy. I don’t know, but I suspect that this may be an Animates-branded version of ads being run by its Australian owners in that country. While Animates began in 1996 in Christchurch, in 2014 it was bought by then-ASX listed Australian pet care company Greencross, which, in turn—well, let’s just say it ended up with the usual labyrinthine world of corporations’ fractured organisation. This ad was posted on YouTube on November 6, but I don’t remember seeing it on TV until very recently. [Full disclosure: I’ve long shopped at Animates, and my furbabies have been patients at Vetcare for years, too—and before that at the predecessors Animates aquired along the way.]

“Air New Zealand presents ‘The Great Christmas Chase’” – Air New Zealand. This adl like last year’s started airing on December 1, which is also when it was posted to YouTube. This year’s ad is—obviously—not about the airline’s service, even though it features a woman dressed as a flight attendant. In the YouTube description, they say, “The magic of Christmas makes the impossible, possible 😉🎁”, which I suppose is kind of what the running woman is doing. The description continues: “…Seriously though, please don't rush at the airport or try this at work. All stunts are performed by professionals; have a nice, slow, safe, relaxing Christmas.” Um, okay? I think this ad is a bit more straightforward than last year’s, even if neither is particularly focused on the airline. Having said all that, I think it kind of works, and the very end is sweet: The flight attendant helps the boy hide the lost gift to his mum before exiting kind of adventure movie style, before the mum can see any of it, and ending with the boy whistling the music used. This ad is kind of a nice alternative to the crass “Buy! Buy! Buy!” of most other TV ads this time of year.

An ad for Mitre 10 has also been running, but it’s the same ad they used in last year, and it’s included in the 2022 New Zealand Christmas TV Ads playlist. I thought about including it again, but decided against it, mainly because if I included it on both playlists and the company later removes the ad from YouTube, it would cause problems for both playlists—and so, more work for me.

There are more ads I’ve seen on TV, but since they're not on the retailers’ official YouTube Channels, they’re not in this year’s playlist. Among those ads is one for Australian-owned supermarket Countdown, and it's similar to the one from 2022 that I mentioned above, but it also includes the rebranding of the chain as the company changes the name of the stores from Countdown to Woolworths, the same as the Australian parent.

As always, if more NZ ads start airing—and they’re available on an official YouTube Channel—I’ll add the videos to the Playlist and the annotations to this post (and post an announcement on the blog that the playlist is updated). However, you can also follow the direct link the YouTube Playlist if you’d rather skip my comments, or even just to share the playlist.

In any event. Merry watching-mas!

Monday, November 20, 2023

My storage wars

The end of last week, I decided that instead of tackling any of the (very) numerous room organisation challenges I have, I’d instead organise my kitchen pantry. I did it because I realised that most of my waking hours are spent in the living area, and if I could get my kitchen benchtops clear, it’d do wonders for my psyche/moods/quiet rage.

I had no idea how how big the project was.

This project has been on my list for Quite Some Time, and I finally started work on reorganising the pantry sometime around September of 2022, only to abandon it in December 2022. In June of this year, I organised one shelf—where I kept my spices—and it was a big improvement, though it was actually only part of one shelf, and two more were also in desperate need of change/organisation.

What bothered me all along was that I often couldn’t find what I needed, and also that I often bought the same things several times because I thought I’d run out of whatever it was. Parts of the shelves were so crammed full of stuff (literally) that things often fell out, or felt like they might.

One of the first things I did was to put all my rice and pasta into storage containers, and that meant no more plastic bags that refused to stack neatly. However, it also meant they all sat out on my kitchen bench because until I organised the rest of the pantry, I had no room to put them in there.

Meanwhile, I re-reorganised my spice storage a bit because I’d started piling things on top of the bottles. The revised system was better than the original one (among other things, I used plastic trays with straight sides, which made it much easier to organise the square-sided bottles.

That’s where things remained until Thursday of last week.

First, I emptied the two upper shelves, which meant covering all my benchtops, the dining table, and, it seemed, most of the North Island with stuff that had been haphazardly stored in the pantry. I worked on it off and on all afternoon, and into the evening—but I was nowhere near satisfied with my efforts.

On Day 2, Friday, I realised I’d need to clear out the cupboard of no return—the one above the fridge—so I could use it, too. It was something I hadn’t gotten around to organising since I shifted into this house in January 2020. Coincidentally, the cabinet over the fridge was also the last one I organised at our last house.

Expired medicines.
Clearing out that cabinet meant going through medicines—mostly prescription, but some over-the-counter, too—and there were a LOT that were expired (including some Panadeine (paracetamol and codeine tablets, that expired in 2013 (until November 2020, such codeine-based medication was available from pharmacies without a prescription; I used them for severe gout attacks up until around the time the tablets expired).

Most of the prescriptions were mine—things I had leftover because of frequent changes my doctors made over the past few years. However, there was also one that had been Nigel’s, a statin he wouldn’t take, but I was on the same drug/dosage, so I kept it in case I ran out—and of course I never did. With all the Covid lockdowns we were having not long after I moved into this house, it seemed prudent to keep the excess drugs just in case. Still, Nigel’s unused prescription, along with some now-expired supplements Nigel bought, and even some of my own prescription receipts from happier days—all before Nigel died—made me a little sad.

However, and on the plus side, there was very little expired food—in fact, only one thing was actually expired, and the rest was merely well past its “best before” date, like some chai latte syrup Nigel bought at least seven years ago. I’m washing out the bottles and cans for recycling. At this point, though, I feel I need to add that I’m well aware that “best before” is NOT the same thing as “use by” (aka “expiry date” or “expiration date”), but what I’m talking about is stuff that’s been in the cupboard for many, many (and even many many…) years.

My organised batteries.
I finished the project late Friday afternoon (photo up top is a kind of before and after, using photos from September 2022 and this past Friday). While the cupboards aren’t perfect, everything’s definitely better and makes sense—to me, which is the whole point, of course. There’s a small amount of stuff I want to find a place for somewhere else because it doesn’t belong with food, like batteries—lots and lots of batteries, because I kept re-buying batteries when I couldn’t find any and thought I was all out (yet again…). They’re all now VERY well-organised.

This was technically only a step, albeit a big one (maybe “huge step” is more accurate…), toward getting my kitchen re-organised, but it was good to get this much done. My challenge now is to remember to tell the family that I’ve moved the chocolate and bags of chips to a new spot. That, and to never again re-buy things or throw them in the pantry haphazardly. It’s kind of a toss-up as to which will be harder for me to do.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 406 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 406, “Interregnum continues”, 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.

Changing Memories, sort of

Well, well, today I was served up a Facebook “Memory” (at right) that was full of things that have changed. Clearly that’s never happened before, I mean surely! Still, it’s a good opportunity to revist those halcyon days of yesteryear, November 15, 2022. Let’s go!

What I posted on Facebook that day later ended up in a blog post, ”The day ended with less than at its start”, and that post included the photo in the "Memory". That blog post was much more detailed than what I said on Facebook, as is often the case, but because it was shorter than my blog post, I’ll quote from what I wrote first, my Facebook post.

I said, “I bought a cultivator (that claw-like thing I’m holding) and a new hammer,” and I was actually holding both in the photo, which I used first on Facebook, then at the bottom of my blog post. I went on:
I hope the cultivator will help me removing weeds from the bank (when the weather permits…). I misplaced my hammer, and I know from experience that the best way to find a misplaced tool is to buy another one. Actually, we noticed some years ago the old hammer’s head was getting loose, and we needed a new one. Never got around to it. Today was as good a time as any.
It turned out that the claw thing has been very useful, though the weeds on the bank completely grew back (and then some…) after all the relentless rainy weather last “summer”. And we’re in the midst of more rainy weather right now—for awhile, anyway: A drought this summer is still possible/probable. Also, within days of the Facebook post a year ago today, I did find my old hammer. It was, not surprisingly, in plain sight all along. I now have two. And, I no longer sing, “if I had a hammer,” unless the next line was something about in addition to the other two…

Next up, I talked about my project to add storage to my laundry area:
I also got some storage containers for the shelves in my laundry area (and filled two of them so far)—but that project has actually stalled, because once I was done hanging the shelves, I didn’t like the result. I’m working on some changes, so The Reveal will be further delayed. This was supposed to be a simple little project, LOL.
A short time after that post, I finished the laundry project and shared the results on Facebook and in a blog post, and, again, the blog post was much more detailed. However, two of the containers I mentioned a year ago are still empty (!), and a couple others could easily be empty, too—but, why waste my time/energy sorting them out when I don’t need them, right? Actually, right now I’m in the midst of plotting changes to that area, and I may repurpose the containers elsewere—and whatever happens, it’ll end up here (and probably Facebook…).

I made that Facebook post after Leo and I got home, because I was doing some shopping while he was being groomed. I said about that:
Still, Leo looks good and he sometimes just stares at me—because he can actually see me now that his fur is trimmed away from his eyes. This evening, I let him outside after his dinner, and I watched him through a small window in the lounge, with the blinds tilted open. He raised his head and froze, looking directly at me from around 10 metres away, then came running back to the house and came back in through the door. That’s never happened before. The lighting must’ve been just right.
This year, Leo isn’t shorn, but over the past several months I’ve been slowly working on grooming him, mainly getting him used to it, and also taking my time to learn how to do it properly. However, I never let his fur get long over his eyes, so that staring at me in wonder thing doesn’t happen. Instead, he just stares at me until I give him treats or let him outside. I think it’s mind control. He may have forgiven me last year, but this year I’m trying to avoid the need for forgiveness.

None of these updates are important, obviously. I just think it’s kind of funny the changes that have happened since then, especially that I really did find my original hammer as soon as bought a new one. Mostly, I suppose, it’s an opportunity to point —especially to myself—that my life really doesn’t stay the same or stand still, not even unimportant things, no matter how it may sometimes seem. It's good to remind myself of that.

New Zealand’s three ring circus

New Zealand’s three ring circus continues, thought at the moment it seems to be the clown show section. This situation is many things, but the word that first comes to my mind is “hilarious”. Of course.

Incoming Prime-Minister-to-be, National Party Leader Chris Luxon, and hard-right Act Party leader David Seymour have finally met with Winston Peters, leader of the rightwing populist New Zealand First party. It only happened after Luxon and Seymour scurried to Auckland yesterday because Peters decided not to return to Wellington yesterday, as had been assumed/planned. Peters is playing them like a well-tuned violin, as is his way, and it seems unlikely they’ll form a new government any time soon.

Historically, the odds are stacked against the new government going the distance: Peters has never had a successful time in government with National. In the early 1990s, before MMP, he was fired by then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Then 61 days after the first MMP election in 1996, Peters went into coalition with National—only to be sacked again when Jenny Shipley rolled Bolger and was briefly PM before losing the 1999 election.

History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself (though Peters completed two different coalitions with Labour), but the past is prologue. Stuff’s Tova O’Brien, who I agree with infrequently, and incompletely when I do, has suggested that Luxon’s inexperience led to him overestimating his ability to negotiate a coalition agreement. That seems likely, since he spent his entire working life in corporate jobs, and had no experience in politics until 2020. Plus, he’d literally never met Peters, without whom he can’t form government. He clearly didn’t understand Peters, either.

Sometime in the next week or two, Luxon and Seymour will find a way to give Peters whatever it is he wants, and Luxon will then spin it to make it sound like it was his own plan all along. And Peters will put on one of his trademark grins, knowing he was the puppeteer.

Gotta say, after watching the circus so far, the odds aren’t looking great that the new government, whenever it finally forms, will make it the entire three years. While the show has been funny to watch, it’s also always interesting how when a new government is trying to form, the country gets along just fine without the politicians. Even though that can’t last, it looks like the lolz will—though possibly not for the entire three years?

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

My important food analysis

Over the years, I’ve evaluated a lot of consumer products, sometimes important but usually not. This is actually both: Today I’m looking at four brands of chocolate chip cookies sold by New Zealand’s two supermarket chains. Clearly, this is the among the most important product evaluations I’ve ever taken on.

Everything I’m going to say is based on my own preferences for flavour, value, etc. Any nutritional information I mention is from the product’s nutrition label while I was researching this post. However, the parts of that nutritional measurements I chose to look at are also based on what is most important to me personally. Other people could easily draw completely different conclusions. What I’m sharing are my genuinely held opinions.

With that out of the way, the next thing to note is that I took on this evaluation because of television. TVNZ broadcasts the New Zealand version of “Eat Well For Less”, and I’ve watched it since the beginning. I was originally interested because I’d enjoyed the original UK series, however, in the first seasons the New Zealand version was essentially an advertorial for the Countdown Supermarket chain. To some extent, this didn’t matter—the point was to help people eat better, more nutritious meals while saving money, and there were some good recipers and techniques included in the show.

However, the advertorial nature mattered when it came to a main feature of the both the UK and NZ versions: Taste tests of consumer products. In the UK—where they have several supermarket chains—they would have people taste-test name-brand products as well as cheaper store own-brands. In the first seasons of the NZ version, they only used own-brands from Countdown, none from its competitor, sometimes name-brands only. This made the taste tests unimportant, and so, something I mainly ignored.

The most recent season of EWFL NZ was NOT sponsored by Countdown, and that meant that they could include products from the stores of New Zealand’s other supermarket company (whose main store chains are New World and Pak N Save). I noticed that immediately in the first episode of the season, and, to be honest, I was really glad. This also meant they might try to find the best-priced substitutes regardless of supermarket chain. It also meant the recipes they used might use store brands from either chain—though that often wasn’t terribly important (there’s not that much difference, beyond price, for various brands of tinned tomatoes, for example).

In an early episode (the first one, I think) of the season just finished, they had consumers taste and rate commercially made chocolate chip cookies. That caught my attention because some months earlier, I happened to see some name-brand cookies were on special at Countdown, so I bought a bag. Since then, I’ve bought them when they were on special, which makes a fairly inexpensive cookie cheaper still—always a win these days. After watching the TV show, I decided to try brands they used to see if I thought they were better, worse, or about the same.

Here, then, are the four brands I ended up sampling, along with my evaluations and opinions about them. These are listed in order from what I personally consider to rate highest to lowest. I rated on five criteria, with a top possible score of five, and a theoretical low score of zero (no product got that rating). Those categories were: Nutrition (energy rating, amount of fat, sodium, and sugars), Flavour, Softness, Dunkability, and Value, all of which I’ll explain more in context.

1. Value Choc Chip Family Favourite Cookies – New World ($2.19 for 325g): These came out with the top score in my ratings—22 out of a possible 25. These cookies had the lowest energy rating of any of the four (1890kJ/452 calories per 100g), and lowest sugars (28.9g/100g). The fat content let them down somewhat, with the third-lowest total fat (20.3g/100g) and saturated fat (11.6g/100g), but I have it at the top score overall, anyway (no one expects a cookie to be health food…). They also got a 4 for flavour (making them second-equal on that score), 3 on softness, a 5 for what I call “Dunkability” (how they fared when dunked in milk), and 5 for value for money (they were the least expensive in my limited test). I thought these tasted buttery, though not very chocolatey. Still, they were pleasant. These cookies are made in New Zealand.

2. Mrs. Higgins Classics Choc Chip Cookies – Countdown and New World ($3.99 for 350g): These got a total score of 19, primarily because to me they tasted the best by far (the only one in which I tasted any chocolate), and they were also the softest of the four, though still chewy (unlike some brands of packaged chocolate chip cookies I’ve bought, these didn’t get softer if put in the microwave for a few seconds). They were also fine for Dunkability and nutrition (4 each), second-best overall for nutrition, but they were also the most expensive in my test, nearly twice as expensive per 100g as the Number One ranked “Value Choc Chip Family Favourite Cookies” ($1.14 per 100g as compared to $0.67/100g). Is that important, though? These cookies are made in New Zealand.

3. Arnott's Farmbake Chocolate Chip Biscuits – Countdown and New World ($3.49 for 310g): These Australian-made cookies were the second-most expensive, and scored the highest on Dunkability with a 5 because they were really nice and soft when dunked in milk. Their nutrition was mixed: While they had a similar energy profile to the cookies rated 2 through 4, they had the highest sugar levels (37.8g/100g), while also having the lowest total fat and saturated fat levels per 100g (19.3g and 10.3g respectively). I like the flavour of these cookies a lot (they had a slight coconut-like taste), but they’re quite hard unless dunked in milk.

4. Countdown Chocolate Chip Cookies – Countdown ($2.50 for 325g): These cookies were the second-cheapest, and almost as soft as number one. Their nutrition profile was similar to the others, overall, but it was the lowest in sodium (150mg/100g). Its biggest downfall was flavour: I thought they had a weird chemical taste. I gave them a very generous Flavour score of 2, only because I found that the jarring chemical hit faded a bite or so later. Their flavour was even odder when dunked in milk, and it didn’t soften them much at all, so I rated it a 2 for Dunkability. I was surprised that some on the taste-test panel in the TV show rated these as highly as they did, because I honestly couldn’t see why. These cookies are made in New Zealand.

Final thoughts

I would buy any one of the first three again, but not the fourth. Of the top three, I’ll likely by Mrs. Higgins the most, so, no, the fact it has the highest price doesn’t deter me—especially because I’ll probably only buy them when they’re on special, anyway. I’ll also buy the Value brand from New World sometimes, too. While I think the Arnott’s ones have a nice flavour, their hardness brings them down, as does the fact they’re Australian-made (I prefer to my NZ-made whenever possible). And finally, for me the whole point of these cookies—and why I bothered taste-testing—is that These cookies are the perfect little snack for me when I want something sweet: I can eat only one and be happy with that, though if I’m dunking them I’ll usually have three.

This whole exercise was really just a bit of fun, but I still thought it was interesting to see how various cookies compared to each other. It’s nothing new for me to change brands of products sold in supermarkets, but this is among the most deliberate I’ve ever been in comparing different products. I think I may do it again.

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

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 13

This week in 1983, another new song went to Number One, and it began another four-week run at the top of the charts. It was also the penultimate Number One song of 1983, which means this series is winding down, too. On November 12, 1983, "All Night Long (All Night)" (above), by American singer and songwriter Lionel RichieIt was the second of three songs to spend four weeks at Number One in 1983. The song was written by Richie and was on his second solo album, Can't Slow Down.

The official music video was produced by Mike Nesmith (formerly of The Monkees and an extensive solo career. It was directed by American film director Bob Rafelson who was also a creator of The Monkees TV series.

I was never exactly a fan of Richie’s nor of The Commodores, which Richie left in 1982, but neither was I—what’s the word? An “unfan”? Like a lot of other performers of that era, his songs were ones I sort of liked, or, at least, didn’t dislike. When I moved to New Zealand, I entered a family that liked him quite a bit more than I did, one of several performers for which that was was true. Karaoke nights are more entertaining, I think, when we feel like joining in, and, well, Richie’s song weren’t usually among that sort for me.

However, I liked this song well enough, and more than some of his other songs. Not that it matters, of course.

"All Night Long (All Night)" reached Number One in Australia, Number One in Canada (Platinum), 4 in New Zealand, 2 in the UK (Platinum), and Number One on the USA’s “Billboard Hot 100”, “Hot Black Singles” and “Adult Contemporary” charts, as well as Number One on Cash Box “Top 100”; it was certified Gold in the USA.

This series will be back in four weeks, on December 10, with another new Number One from 1983, the last Number One song for that year. It, too, had a four-week run at Number One.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 7
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also more
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 8
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 9
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 10
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 11
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 12

New Zealand’s in between days

New Zealand still doesn’t have a government, due to a lot of factors, none of them unusual. In the meantime, the Labour-led government remains in place, acting in a caretaker role until a new government is formed, which is also not unusual. However, there was an unusual change this year cause by the results of the General Election last month.

Because of section 6 of the Constitution Act, all the current Ministers tenure was scheduled to end at 11.59pm last night, Saturday, November 11. That would have left New Zealand without a government until the National Party and its support parties can sign a coalition agreement and be appointed by the Governor General.

To avoid leaving New Zealand without a government, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins consulted with National Party Leader Chris Luxon, the presumed incoming Prime Minister, to advise the Governor General to “to reappoint the current ministry to operate in caretaker mode until the new government is appointed.”

It as a simple fix to to the problem, and agreed to by the leaders of the current and incoming governments. However, there was a small complication: The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, lost her seat in the election, and since she wasn’t on the Labour Party List, she left office at 11:59pm last night. Grant Robertson was appointed as the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In announcing the arrangements, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said: “This solution to a constitutional quirk has been amicably agreed and we continue to consult closely with the incoming Government on all key decisions.” All very of matter-of-fact—and I was struck by the shockingly stark contrast between the peaceful transfer of power in New Zealand being “amicably agreed” and the attempted coup in the USA on January 6, 2021.

However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have rightwing freakouts over the formation of the new government. Every day seems to bring more and more moans from the Right about how awful it is that this process is taking so long, how it somehow “proves” that our MMP electoral system is “awful” or “a disaster” (and similarly aggressively negative terms). As is so often the case, the rightwing freakout is utterly unjustified, and it’s flat out wrong—one might even say “ignorant”, if one was feeling uncharitable.

As of today, it’s been 29 days since the 2023 General Election. The time between the election and the official formation of government took 61 days in 1996, the first election under MMP (which was also a coalition with Winston Peters and his rightwing populist New Zealand First party). The shortest amount of time was 11 days in 2008. Overall, the average has been 28.67 days between the election and the formation of government.

The “slowness” this year, then, is still far short of 1996 and will remain so—that was always obviously going to be the case. This year, in fact, things have moved quite fast—especially when you look at the obstacles.

First, the National Party didn’t do as well as it had hoped. While it was never really possible that it would win an outright majority in Parliament as Labour did in 2020, they still hoped to have enough seats that they could govern with only the hard-right Act Party. Because the two parties combined failed to win enough seats to command a majority in Parliament, they instead have to form a deal with Winston (as part of his election campaign, Winston had flat-out refused to work worth Labour after the votes were counted, and Labour Party Leader Chris Hipkins returned the favour).

On election night, there were a number of seats that were too close to call, and the final makeup of Parliament would depend on the Final Results. This made things even more delayed as the results of several seats were subject to recounts. That, in turn, delayed the final writ from the Electoral Commission, and a new government couldn’t be formed even if the three political parties had agreed to a coalition agreement in mere hours—in fact, they couldn't even really begin full negotiations until the final results were announced. The recounts are now pretty much finished, and they haven’t really changed anything, as expected. Negotiations have been fully underway for about a week. 

Another complicating factor is Winston personally. The word “mercurial” may be the nicest way to describe him and his behaviour. He’s always been a political opportunist, seizing on the latest political passions—especially negative ones—to gain votes. So, in order to placate his supporters, Winston may well demand things National and Act don’t want. Or, it may just be his narcissism that drives him to demand things, no matter how unreasonable. Add to that that the fact that he and the leader of the Act Party both bitterly criticised each other in the campaign, and it was pretty obvious that coalition negotiations between the two were likely to be prickly.

All of which means that a delay was to be expected. It was obvious on election night that there was absolutely no possible way this could go any faster. That aside, the process is well within the range of time it’s taken ever since the MMP era began in 1996, something that's easily knowable.

In sum, then, people who are beside themselves over this process of forming a new government need to chill out. A new government will form soon enough, and then everyone can get back to complaining about it. That, too, is predictable.

Time between Election Days and Government being formed, 1996-2020:

1996 election: Election Day was October 12, government began December 12 – 61 days later (a re-elected government).
1999 election: Election Day was November 27 government began December 10 – 46 days later (a new government).
2002 election: Election Day was July 27, government began Aug 15, 2002 – 19 days later. (a re-elected government).
2005 election: Election Day was September 17, government began Oct 19, 2005 – 32 days later (a re-elected government).
2008 election: Election Day was November 8, government began November 19, 2008 – 11 days later (a new government).
2011 election: Election Day was November 26, government began December 14, 2011 – 18 days later (a re-elected government).
2014 election: Election Day was September 20, government began October 8, 2014 – 18 days later (a re-elected government).
2017 election: Election Day was September 23, government began October 26, 2017 – 33 days later (a new government).
2020 election: Election Day was October 17, government began November 6, 2020 – 20 days later (a re-elected government).

“Governments in New Zealand since 1856” – NZ Parliament
”General Election DaysNZ History, Ministry for Culture and Heritage
“List of New Zealand governments”Wikipedia

The title of this post made me think of a song (of course), the 1985 single “In Between Days”
by English band The Cure [WATCH].

Friday, November 10, 2023

So gone I forgot

At the end of August, New Zealand’s “Covid Tracer App” was officially dropped from Apple’s and Google’s app stores. Apps aren’t automatically deleted from devices, of course, but because they’re no longer being updated, it’ll eventually be impossible to open the App, mainly because of updates to the devices’ operating systems that will make the apps inoperable. That’s not unusual of course, but the fact the date came and went and I completely forgot about it shows how much things have changed.

I remember when it was announced that the App was being discontinued, and I probably thought I should do a blog post about it at the time. I say “probably” because everything about that slipped my mind—at some point. I remember noticing when they said they’d turned off location notifications, something that was mostly (or perhaps entirely?) related to Bluetooth tracing, a feature that allowed the system to automatically send out alerts to anyone who was in close proximity to someone who’d tested positive for Covid, something that was possible because they both had Bluetooth tracing turned on. When I read about that, I realised I’d already forgotten that was a thing at one time.

All up, there were 3,666,310 installations of the App, and 1,016,326 posters were created. The posters contained a QR code that could be scanned with the App so people could “check in” at a location. I made a poster for my house because, at the time, I was planning on having work done. Various lockdowns/restrictions scuppered those plans, which I honestly now think was for the best. Still, I was prepared at a time when it mattered.

All of this came up this past Monday when I noticed the App on my phone and realised I’d forgotten all about it. I tapped it, and the screen above was the message I got. I took a screenshot of that, and also the statistics page at right. I have NO idea when I stopped using the App, but I know that use of the App began to decline after the last Covid lockdown ended at the waning days of 2021. The requirement that businesses and other public places display the QR code posters ended on March 25, 2022, and from that point onward the App was kind of pointless—apart from the Bluetooth tracing, maybe, but by then people were already beginning to delete the App from their phones. I didn’t delete the App from my phone after March 2022 mostly in case things got bad again. Then, as usual, I forgot all about it.

The last Covid requirements ended on August 14, 2023. At the time, I said about the end of restrictions, “we’ve all moved on, and the Government is really just catching up.”
And yet, it didn’t occur to me to delete the App.
As has happened in most places, Covid has now become an ongoing, though far less deadly, public health problem. In fact, we currently have a “noticeable increase” in Covid cases across New Zealand. However, case numbers are about a third lower than around Christmas last year, and modellers don’t think a “wave” is coming—though an important caveat to that is the fact that many people aren’t even testing for Covid when they get sick, let along reporting positive results. So, how can we knew sure what’s actually going on out in the community?

I noticed in the run-up to the recent General Election how many people’s memories appeared to have been dulled by the passage of time, and that, just like sports fans after literally every match ever, they were full of certainty that the government had made the wrong calls when fighting Covid. Whatever. Those people would never believe that estimates are that tens of thousands of New Zealanders are alive who wouldn’t be if the government hadn’t acted as it did, no, these after-the-fact experts are sure none of it was really necessary—“it’s basically just a bad cold!” they declare based on their extensive medical knowledge and training. Also, the loony conspiracy theories of a year or two ago are now often talked about as not loony at all.

Against that backdrop—and, ya know, daily life—I guess it’s not even remotely a surprise that I’d forgotten all about the Covid Tracer App. However, I do remember when it was a part of my everyday life, when it was a small way the vast majority of us were trying to do our part to keep everyone safe.

Times have changed, in so very many ways. I just wish more of them were positive.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Productive start to the week

Weekends are when many people take care of all sorts of chores they don’t get to during the week. Even I do that, despite, technically, having unlimited time. In my case, though, the timing of projects is often determined by the weather.

I’ve needed to mow the lawns for several days because all the rain and mild weather we’ve had lately caused a growth spurt, something that was true before my previous mowing adventures two weeks earlier. Unfortunately, that same rain also made it just as difficult difficult to find the right right opportunity this week.

This past Monday was the day I was determined to do it, but first there was a different projects I needed to to do: I once again had to clean out the weeds from The Damn Raingarden. In the near year since I first wrote about doing that, I’ve had to clear it our a few times, and when I do a normal mini-clear out, I toss the weeds onto the lawn so the lawnmower can grind it up into mulch. There was rather a lot this time.

The mowing when very slowly because the grass clippings being mulched by the mower had trouble getting back out when the grass underneath was so long. I had to frequently stop and raise the mower up so it could spit out all the tiny clippings more easily. Even then I nearly stalled the mower a few times.

Once I was done with the front, I mowed the part of the side yard where I keep my wheelie bins for rubbish and recycling so they’d be easier to roll out. I did that because it looked for a time like it might rain, and I wanted to be sure I got that done in case I didn’t get to finish the mowing.

Back inside, I put the battery on to charge—once it cooled down, something I needed to do, too. Once the battery was re-charged, I headed back out, rolling the mower to the patio. I decided to start with the parts of the lawn I can see from the living areas of the house, because I remembered that last time the battery ran out of charge before I could finish.

I reached my first goal, and the mower was fine, so I mowed more, until the views out my bedroom windows would also be over mown lawn. The mower kept going, so I did, too, and I managed to finish mowing the entire back lawn on one charge—as it always used to be. Along the way, I noticed a small wasp nest on my fence (photo up top), and I removed it. I don’t know if it had been abandoned or if it was just too new to be occupied, but either way, it’s now gone (the wasp species is an invasive and fairly aggressive foreign species, btw).

It was a productive day, clearly, because I closed all three rings on my watch by the time I was done. This usually happens on days when I mow the lawns, so I was expecting it. I’m always glad when it does, because it’s not all that often that I close all three.

Later that evening, I was sitting and watching TV when my watch tapped me on the wrist to tell me I’d hit 200% of my Move Goal for the day, something that’s far more rare than closing all three. The Move Ring (the red one) records an approximation of kilojoules consumed by activity of any kind, especially movement. The user sets the Move Goal every Monday, and mine is set kind of low so I have a fighting chance of closing it every day. The alert made me smile—because I thought it was funny that it happened when I was sitting and watching TV.

I did all this despite being dog tired, so to speak. At some ungodly hour yesterday morning, someone we’ll call “Leo” (for no particular reason…), decided he wanted to go outside to go to the toilet. That ended my sleep—and yet I still managed to get all that outside stuff done (maybe it was the caffeine?). I assumed that I’d probably fall asleep in my chair while watching TV that evening, but I didn’t.

I was kind of puzzled by this: The whole mowing thing had gone better than two weeks earlier, but for the machine and for me. And then I remembered that last time I used the line trimmer on all the edges, and that’s probably what exhausted me personally. I also knew I should’ve done that this week, too, and if I had, I probably would’ve fallen asleep in my chair.

Today I washed and dried tow loads, and I also ran the dishwasher. This is relevant because they, too, were because of the sunshine: I used the free electricity from the sun do run those machines. Unlike the mowing, however, it’s at least possible to do those chores in the midst of rainy weather.

This week, then has gotten off to a productive start. I have some deliveries coming this week, a podcast to record, and maybe even some more projects to get done. Was this week’s start the trend or an anomaly? I’ll know in a few more days.