Sunday, April 23, 2017

Weekend Diversion: ‘Symphony’

Recently, I saw a music video that made me stop. It realised quickly there was a gay storyline, one that was uncommon in so many ways. That video, “Symphony” by Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson, is above. I think the video is stunning.

Clean Bandit is a British electronic band that uses elements of classical and dance music, which has given their music style a lot of different names. I’d never heard of Clean Bandit (or Larsson either, for that matter) until I saw this video.

The Wikipedia entry gives a good description of the video, especially for those who don’t like music videos for whatever reason:
The song's music video was premiered the same day the song was released, on 17 March 2017. It was directed by Clean Bandit's members Grace Chatto and Jack Patterson and features Larsson in a glittery dress backed by Clean Bandit and an orchestra while an emotional story plays out. The video starts off with a young man riding his bike and cuts to a crash scene. The next scenes show two men together doing various activities. We see they are a couple and live together and one has been killed in an accident. The man who is alive is shown grieving and visiting the spots where he and his boyfriend used to go. He then begins to write music again as we find out he is a composer and his boyfriend was his inspiration. By the end, he has composed a beautiful symphony in his boyfriend's memory. The video ends with him looking out into the crowd while his deceased boyfriend looks on proudly.
The first time I saw the video, I was channel surfing and landed on the free-to-air music video channel, so I missed the very beginning, and the first scenes I saw were of the two men together. I’ve said many times that when I was younger, and at the start of the music video age, there was simply no such thing as positive pop culture portrayals of the realities of gay people’s lives. But in the USA, there certainly weren’t—and still rarely are—portrayals of black gay men. That made the video remarkable to me, even now.

This is the second time I’ve stumbled on positive gay portrayals on that music channel. The first time as about a year and half ago, when I saw a video by Troye Sivan. Mind you, I’ve also been exposed to a lot of other songs I like, too, but even now the ones with positive gay imagery still stand out for me.

Beyond what I might call personal cultural relevance, I also like the song—it’s a good pop song. I recently heard it playing in a shop I was in and sang along (in my head…). I've seen the video on that video music channel at least one more time, too, as well as several times on YouTube.

I don’t expect anything other than entertainment when I switch to that video channel. It’s nice when I’m pleasantly surprised by something, but it’s great when I also really like what’s surprised me. This was again one of those times.

Small Progresses

At the start of this month, health things were somewhat different. I was getting over a cold, hadn’t had my blood test results, and had lost weight. Although there are now different aspects to all three, things are nevertheless still moving slowly forward, and it’s time to comment on those small progresses before I forget about them.

The cold I had did go away at the start of the month, but then I developed a chesty cough toward the middle of the month, something I got over only recently. At its height, I had to reschedule my periodontist appointment because I was coughing so much. I think this was a separate plague, not a continuation or complication of the first one, but I don’t know for sure.

This past Tuesday, I had a meeting on the North Shore, so I stopped in at the doctor’s office to pick up my bloodtest results. The fact that I have to pick them up in person is annoying. I know plenty of people in other areas—including quite rural ones—who can log in to see their test results (among other things), but not only does my GP’s practice not offer that, they also won’t post or email test results.

Inconvenience aside, the results were quite good. This was the first round of blood tests since I started taking allopurinol for gout, and it has lowered the urate levels in blood to just a hair above optimal. They may choose to raise the dosage, or they may choose to wait awhile and see what happens as my weight goes down. There’s also no sign of liver damage.

The statin is also doing a really good job of controlling my cholesterol, and all that bad stuff is well below normal, and even below the guidelines of the New Zealand Guidelines Group (NZGG), which, as the Ministry of Health put it, “was an independent, not-for-profit organisation, set up in 1999 to promote the use of evidence in the delivery of health and disability services. The NZGG went into voluntary liquidation in mid-2012.”

In this case, the NZGG guidelines, which are still in use, were intended as a measure of recommended cholesterol levels for people at risk of cardiovascular disease, based on scientific evidence. While my bad stuff is all within those guidelines, there is one problem: My HDL (“good cholesterol”) remains stubbornly low, and that makes my ratio slightly higher than it should be. My HDL level has been higher than it was at the time of the test, including even when I was in hospital for the procedure.

I don’t know why my HDL level stays low, since I’m more physically active than I had been in years (and exercise is one of the best ways to raise it, though I also eat foods known to raise it, too). This will be something I’ll take up with my doctor at the next visit. But, since it’s not much below targets, I’m not worried—just aware, and determined to add walking to the plan.

My weight, meanwhile, is stable again, which is how it is most weeks. I keep expecting it to stop going down, then it drops some more. The walking will help with that, too

Finally, a bit of oddness. A couple weeks ago, I got a text message reminding me I had an appointment at North Shore Hospital the following week, and to not reply to the text message. Only trouble was, I had no idea what they were on about.

So, I rang my doctor to see if they’d been notified, but they hadn’t been. So, they gave me the number for appointments at the hospital, I rang that, and they had no record of an appointment for me. I stopped thinking about it.

The day after the supposed appointment, I got a call to reschedule it for the middle of next month. It turns out it was from the cardiology department, but I hadn’t had a phone call or letter from them before. At any rate, I have it scheduled now, and maybe I’ll have more information about all this after that visit.

For now, though, I’m just glad to continue to have some good news, however small. I’ll take it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Any sky can be pretty

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Any sky can be pretty. It depends on the interaction of light and water vapour, clouds in particular, the angle of the sun, time of day and year—and both the observer and the mood they’re in at the time. The sky just IS—whether it’s pretty or not is really up to us.

I took the photo up top yesterday evening at Shepherds Park in Beach Haven, on Auckland’s North Shore. I had a meeting there, was a bit early, and sat down to just enjoy the nice autumn evening. Then I looked up.

The photo's what I saw, though it doesn’t really do the scene justice (the colours were more vivid). Still, I didn’t use any filters nor adjust it either in Photoshop nor using Instagram’s basic editing. It’s pretty much exactly as I took it, which is actually true of all the photos I post to Instagram.

So many people mock or complain about the banality of photos shared on social media, but I’m not one of them. I’m always interested in what has caught the eye of people I know. That includes food photos, too (some of the folks I know produce amazing food porn…).

I suppose this attitude is sort of a variant of Arthur’s Law: I like what I like (and share whatever I want to), and I don’t really care whether anyone else likes it or not. After all, I may not like what others like or share, either. Honestly, life’s just too short to get all worked up about what other people choose to share on social media.

Actually, these days I prefer seeing people share photos of clouds and meals rather than some of the endless political things against Don. I never thought I’d get to the point where I—ME!—would get sick of politics, but there it is.

I haven’t felt like commenting on US politics, obviously, I guess, and I frankly don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon. Maybe that’s a topic in itself. Maybe not.

So, yeah, the sky just is—whether it’s pretty or not is really up to us. Like so many things.

Anyway, that’s how I look at it now. Maybe clouds got in my way.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ban both bans

One of the quirkiest things a new arrival to New Zealand finds are trading bans, the three and a half days on which it’s illegal for most businesses, like stores, to open. But there was such a maze of bizarre, confusing, and nonsensical exceptions and special cases that many people—including New Zealand born—often had trouble remembering what was open when and where. Yesterday, that changed—for some.

For many years, there were three and half days with trading bans: Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Anzac Day morning. MPs in successive Parliaments have introduced Members’ Bills to repeal the trading bans for Easter weekend, at least. None of them ever went anywhere.

Then last year, the current government announced that it was going to legislate to allow local councils to decide for themselves whether they would allow trading on Easter Sunday only. 25 mostly rural councils decided to allow Easter Sunday trading, but all the cities have not. This is nuts.

There are many critics—including me—who said at the time of the announcement that the move was typical of this National Party government, kicking hard decisions down the road for some future government to deal with. I still think that’s true, but I’d also add it’s also typical of National’s less than courageous style of making decisions, basically trying things to see what it can get away with. So, in this case, if there’s no armed insurrection because some local councils allowed trading on Easter Sunday (and there hasn’t been), then they may end up allowing councils to decide on Good Friday, too—or maybe on all trading bans, as big retailing corporations have long wanted.

Whatever happens, this half-baked solution has got to change.

Many argue that there should be a trading ban on Christmas Day because it’s traditionally a day for families, and it definitely is that. Moreover, the day is now mainly secular, so the religious aspects, while important to the religious, don’t really change the mostly secular nature of the day. So, I agree that the trading ban on Christmas Day makes sense.

Easter is somewhat similar to Christmas, really, with the ever-present pagan fertility symbols of eggs and rabbits, neither of which have anything to do with the Christian story, having pretty much replaced the religious story for most New Zealanders. That’s not the case for Good Friday, however, which has no secular meaning, apart, maybe, as a day to travel to wherever people are going for their long Easter holiday weekend. Actually, the fact that so many people travel on Good Friday is reason alone to allow trading on the day.

It seems utterly bizarre to me that National preserved the trading ban on Good Friday—a day with actual religious meaning particular to only one of New Zealand’s many religions (Christianity), while not having any particular meaning to the majority of New Zealanders who are not Christian, for whatever reason. Even so, I’m certain that National wasn’t pandering to the religious minority; instead, it was merely their timidity about acting decisively on such issues, the effect of which was to inconvenience the majority of New Zealanders for no justifiable reason.

This leaves Anzac Day morning, and I think that trading ban should remain. The day is the one true day of national unity, a day that is sacred to the country in a mostly secular way, but with religious aspects, too. Mostly, the whole point of it is to remember the sacrifice of those who fought to defend New Zealand, and I personally think that’s a worthy goal, and a good reason to keep shops closed. After all, it’s only half a day.

It’s also important to note that trading bans are entirely separate from public holidays: Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Anzac Day morning are all public holidays, and no one—including me—is suggesting that should be changed. However the trading bans on Easter Weekend are no longer justified at all in modern New Zealand, even if the ones on Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning may be.

So, I think that the councils that acted to allow trading on Easter Sunday did the right thing, and I hope the rest of the country’s local councils do the same. I also hope that whatever government is elected later this year legislates to include Good Friday. That trading ban makes no sense whatsoever.

Still, no matter who forms the next government, we won’t have any change in time for Easter next year, I don’t think, and probably not the year after. But sooner or later the government should deal with this issue once and for all. It’s definitely overdue.

Related: Liam Dann, writing in the New Zealand Herald, said, "Attempts to loosen outdated Easter trading laws have degenerated into a farce worthy of sketches by Monty Python or the late, great John Clarke." He's absolutely right.

Barrier cleared

It’s not just been lack of time that’s kept me from blogging this week, though that’s certainly been a factor. Nor was it that I had so many frankly more important things to do, though I did. This week I also had a weird technical problem I’ve never encountered before that made blogging far quite difficult. So, this is about all the barriers that led to today’s post.

In one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever had happen to me, PART of my keyboard stopped working, and for no obvious reason. Specifically, the letters Z, X, C, V, B, and N didn’t work, nor did the left side of the space bar, nor the modifier keys on that side (shift, command, option, control). The letter W also didn’t work, so I couldn’t close a window with a keyboard command. Confusingly, some characters on that side of the keyboard did work.

This was annoying partly just because I use keyboard commands to do most things (like closing a window) rather than clicking the mouse. But the bigger issue was the lack of certain letters: After all, it would be rather difficult to blog about anything to do with New Zealand without the letter Z…

I have to be honest: The keys were a little grimy and ready for another cleaning, but they weren’t as bad as the last time I cleaned it. I definitely didn’t spill anything on it, liquid or solid, so there was no sudden change. It was working right up until it didn’t on Monday. The only unusual thing I could remember happening that day was Bella crawling off my lap and stepping on my keyboard, as she’s done in the past, and I thought maybe she’d tracked-in dirt that got under the keys. So, I thoroughly vacuumed my keyboard, but it did nothing.

Fortunately, Nigel had a spare Apple keyboard (because I like them the best), and I have an extra one, too—in a box somewhere. So, I’m now back in operation.

I could have used my iPad, though it’s certainly not the easiest way to create a post, and getting access to documents (like rough drafts, or even saving the final version) is much more difficult. So is inserting links. I could have used my Macbook, but I don’t have it set up to access my cloud storage sites, and by then—after wrestling with the keyboard—I was just over the whole thing.

Tuesday morning I had a few things to do around the house before I left to drive to Hamilton to pick up my mother-in-law, who was staying with us through the weekend so she could attend the wedding of our niece (her granddaughter). On the way home on Tuesday, we stopped to pick up a few things, then we visited until Nigel got home. That night I went to try and either finish a post I started Monday, or to do a new one, and discovered the keyboard problem. I gave up.

Wednesday, I was really quite tired (maybe from the drive down and back the day before), so we had a quiet day. Thursday we went back to the grocery store to pick up supplies for the weekend, because all the stores would be closed on Friday and Sunday due to the trading bans still in place in Auckland (a subject in itself).

As it happens, the remnants of a cyclone were due to hit the North Island Thursday afternoon, so we were in a hurry to get back to the house before it hit—especially after the madhouse at the grocery store and the streets in the area (between the trading bans and the cyclone, a lot of other people were also out stocking up). So, we ended up having lunch at a café not all that far from our house, and not something new to both of us as I’d originally planned.

The fact that the cyclone pretty much fizzled out didn’t matter for us (we weren’t expected to get much of it in Auckland, anyway). But the reaction of people, most of them angry that the weather forecasts were wrong, reminded me, as if I needed reminding, that apparently the Internet is now the place to be angry. All the time. About stupid things. It was probably a good thing I wasn’t able to blog about it at the time, to be honest.

Friday, we had a rehearsal for the wedding (Nigel and I were doing a reading), so we left right after lunch. We'd spent the morning just kind of relaxing for the big and long day the next day. That evening, after the rehearsal, we had dinner at the home of my sister-in-law’s (the mother of the bride), and we got late evening.

Saturday was the wedding, and we left a little before lunch. It was a wonderful day, and the bride was beautiful, but since I don’t talk about family without their permission, that’s all I’ll say about. For this story, the important thing is that both Friday and Saturday were taken up with wedding-related things.

Sunday we were hosting any family members who wanted to stop by on their way home (the reason I needed to make the trip to the grocery story on Thursday). It was a wonderful time, too, and Nigel’s oldest sister and her granddaughter (our grandniece) were staying with us that night, so we spent the entire day visiting.

And now, today. All our guests have left, and we’re having some quiet time. I’ve caught up on my games, done some laundry, and then tackled the physical barrier to blogging by surrendering and using that back-up keyboard.

I still have some topics to catch up on, but some are now pointless: Since I usually write posts just before they’re published, sometimes a current thing I want to write about is over before I can post, so I lose interest, though the topic probably loses relevance, too.

But I’m tired just reading about what I’ve been up to the past week—maybe today isn’t the day do any more blogging catch-up…

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Weekend Diversion: I’ll be your substitute

Roger Green recently did one of his “Music Throwback” posts on “I Will Survive”, the huge hit for Gloria Gaynor. It was an interesting post in itself, but it led me into a YouTube spiral, and that turned out to be a substitute for work. Oops. Nevertheless, I learned a few things along the way.

Roger mentioned that “I Will Survive” was originally the B-side for Gaynor’s 1978 cover of the Righteous Brothers’ song “Substitute” (audio above), which was released in 1975. Gaynor’s version didn’t do well, and when “I Will Survive” became a hit, the single was reissued with “Substitute” as the B-side. That was clearly a wise move.

Here’s Gaynor’s version:

(there’s also a 12 inch version to listen to).

I never heard either of these versions until Roger’s post, but I did hear another version by all-female South African pop-rock group Clout (below). The song was released in 1978, in the middle of my first year at university. Their version reached number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as Number 1 in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Belgium. It was pretty successful, in other words.

I’d heard the song on local radio in my university town, so I was familiar with it. One day I was browsing in one of the local record shops and saw a very cheap cut-out copy of their album, and I bought it. I liked quite a few of the songs on their album, it turned out, but I felt really uneasy about playing it because they were South African at a time when there was a movement to oppose and sanction the country for its apartheid regime. I didn’t know Clout was South African before I bought the album, and I didn’t want to help the South African government or its cause in any way (I was still a Republican in those days, too, at a time when it was still possible to be a Republican AND a Liberal on social issues). It was a dilemma. So, I didn’t play the album ever again.

Even so, the Clout version of “Substitute” has always stuck in my mind because it was part of the soundtrack of my life in my university years. I eventually bought a copy of the song on iTunes, after I lost the album in my move to New Zealand. I don’t feel bad about playing it now, but I seldom actually do. Nostalgia’s best in small doses, anyway, I guess.

All of this exploration also led, indirectly, to me remembering the “supergroup” Artists United Against Apartheid’s 1985 protest song, "Sun City” [LISTEN]. As bizarre a collection of very different artists as any of the other “supergroup” singles of the 1980s, but the song IS kind of catchy.

So, Roger’s post led me to fall into a YouTube spiral that substituted for work. My telling the tale is a substitute for a more substantive topic. But, then, many of my posts are substitutes for better ones by me or other bloggers. I don’t mind that, actually: When your normal bloggers fail you, I’ll be your substitute, whenever you need me.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Little green visitor

There are a number of bugs I see in Auckland that I never saw in the USA, either because they’re not native, or they just didn’t seem to be around. The photo above is one of them.

Some people who love bugs, and others hate them, but I think most of us aren’t on that continuum, but a different one: Some bugs we tolerate just fine, and for others, well, we become Thanatos—we are the bringer of death. For me, cockroaches and most spiders are in that last category.

However, bugs like the one above don’t bother me. Part of that is probably because they’re not a threat to humans, and also because I know they eat “bad” bugs like mosquitoes. I saw a bug very much like this one outside the house recently, and the one pictured may be the same one for all I know. But it’s a fairly common bug, really.

This was one bug I was happy to help continue doing its job eating “bad” bugs, so I escorted it outside. I used an envelope to carry it mostly to avoid hurting it—I have no idea how delicate they are—and because I didn’t want to risk “upsetting” it—or whatever the right word is. I really don’t have much experience with all creatures great and small—just mammals, especially people, dogs, and cats. And mice—I’ve caught a fair few of them over the years.

I wrote bout bugs in New Zealand exactly twice before, as far as I can remember, in 2010 about some sort of stick insect, and also last year about Asian paper wasps as part of my photo challenge that year. Clearly I’m not a bug person.

Still, this little green visitor dropped in and I made sure it could live to catch another mosquito. I like to be helpful.

I had this ready to post yesterday, and then forgot, since I’m swamped with work at the moment. Which is a pity because there are so many things I’d like to comment on…

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Debbie’s Deluge

Minor surface flooding in Auckland from the remnants of Cyclone Debbie, Apr 5, 2017.
It rained last night—a lot. Some areas of the North Island received as much rain in six hours as they might expect for the whole of April, and more was promised. It’s fair to say, we’ve had enough of this.

The rain is what’s left of Cyclone Debbie, and while no longer a cyclone, there rains were pretty much more than any similar ex-cyclone to hit us in the 20+ years I’ve lived in New Zealand. Once again, there were landslips and roads closed and inconvenience, though no deaths.

This storm’s flooding was worse for many people than the recent “Tasman Tempest”, which was called a “once a hundred years” weather event. And while we all know such bad storms will become more frequent as the climate changes, I don’t think anyone expected so many bad storms so close together.

We’re on relatively high ground at our place, but that doesn’t mean we escaped unscathed. We had water pooling on the surface at several low points, including one place I’ve never seen it before: Around the path leading to the clothesline, as shown in the photos above and below. I took the photos just before 7 this morning, and the water stayed there all morning. The ground is saturated.

We were told there was more to come, and that it would hit around midday. Late morning, the clouds thickened, and about quarter to noon it started pouring, as if on cue. But about the same time, the severe thunderstorm warning for Auckland was cancelled, and within an hour or so, the rain stopped. It remained overcast, but didn’t rain again. The severe thunderstorm watch for the North Island was cancelled by early evening.

And yet some areas of the North Island may still have bad weather and flooding, especially Whanganui, which is downriver from other flooded areas, and the Whanganui River was already high. Eastern parts of the North Island may get some of the last of the rains tomorrow.

Auckland, meanwhile, is expected to clear tomorrow, and to be sunny by Saturday. We’ll see—we’ve had so much rain lately that it’s hard to believe there won’t be more.

It would be nice to dry out now.

Minor surface flooding in Auckland from the remnants of Cyclone Debbie, Apr 5, 2017.

Update – April 6: I was going to make a joke this morning about how the sunlight returned and we rejoiced, but Debbie's Deluge isn't funny. Parts of Auckland got 167mm of rain (6.6 inches), while 91 mm (3.58 inches is what Auckland normally gets in the entire month of April. Parts of Coromandel got 200mm (7.87 inches) and parts of the Bay of Plenty got 250mm (9.84 inches).

In today's news we learned that Edgecumbe was evacuated as a wall of water hits the town in what officials called a "once in 500 year event". Thanks to climate change, which will get worse thanks to the greed of Don and his regime in Washington, these sorts of things will become common—not that they care, of course.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Jake is TEN!

It’s hard to believe, but Jake turned ten years old today. He’s much the same as he’s always been, slightly more slow moving than he was years ago, but he still gets as excited about the same things he always has. That’s kind of comforting.

He’s as affectionate as he’s ever been, including being pleased—deliriously happy, even—when we come back home. He enjoys cuddles with us, and he always sleeps on the bed at night. He likes being close to us.

And yet, there are some differences. He can get a bit grumpy when confronted with young children or young dogs, both of which are a bit too “manic” for him. He likes things to be more quiet and slow moving.

His sister Sunny loves being with him, and his cat sister Bella—well, she more or less tolerates him. The feeling’s mutual, actually. But they do all three make for a happy home.

This year especially I also thought of his blood brother, Doyle, who would have been ten years old today, too. He lost his health battle back in 2013, though I didn’t find out about it until months later. The brothers were never reunited after their adoption, and I still wish they had been—even though I know it almost certainly wouldn’t have meant as much to them as it would have to us.

Today, every time I went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, or lunch, or whatever, Jake was lying in his favourite chair, but always looked up as I entered the room. He always watches a lot of what I do.

I took the photo up top around lunchtime, with Jake lying in that favourite chair. The photo below was this morning, before he was actually up for the day. In both cases, he decided against posing for photos, as usual.

So, Jake is still the same loving boy he’s always been, and is still a joy to share life with. He’s made our lives so much better. He came to live with us at a sad time, and made the sadness go away. He still makes us very happy. He has magic powers, it turns out.

Happy Tenth Birthday, Jake!

Related posts:
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival