Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sustainability project

We’ve completed the early phase of another thing that’s part of what I’m half-jokingly calling our “Sustainability Project” (photo above). It’s joking because there’s a lot in life that I don’t take totally seriously, and this is one of those things. However, we really are trying to live more sustainably and this is another example of that.

Quite some time ago, when we were still at the old house, we bought an EnsoPet Pet Waste Composting Kit (link goes to the Australian manufacturer), but never quite found the time/place to bury it. This week we finally found both.

As I said in the Instagram caption, it’s basically a composting toilet for pets which safely deals with the waste and diverts it from landfills or wastewater systems. The end result is enriched soil, which is also good. However, even though the system is designed to deal with pathogens that may be present in animal waste, it doesn’t necessarily entirely eliminate them, so the finished compost shouldn’t be used where food will be grown.

We had the EnsoPet long before we bought the Bokashi bin (which I’ll talk about again in more detail when the first “batch” is fully composted), but also long before we took most other waste minimisation steps. Even so, we were already doing some conventional things.

Awhile back, Auckland Council increased the size of the recycling wheelie bins to 250 litres, and they accept a wide range of materials. The bin is so large that it can take two months for us to fill it.

Meanwhile, a pilot project slowly being rolled out around the country collects plastic shopping bags and other “soft packaging” at various drop off points. Such things couldn’t go in the normal recycling bin, and finding a place that took them was difficult. However, since the project began, I’d guesstimate I’ve probably diverted the equivalent of 5 60-litre rubbish bags (probably more) from landfill.

With all that stuff being recycled, and us now using the Bokashi bin for kitchen composting, our 35 litre kitchen rubbish bin that used to fill up every week to ten days can now take the better part of a month to fill, and it never smells (because it’s mainly unrecyclable packaging, like polystyrene trays, for example, and contaminated paper, like from the fish and chips shop).

The EnsoPet will mean pet waste will be diverted to composting, too, where before we used to flush it down the loo. It’s frankly a little more work for us, but the rewards are pretty good—for us, and also for the environment.

We’re also growing some vegetables this year—not many, and it’s not a first for us, but it’s been a fair while. Mainly, this is sort of a warm up for next year.

And there are a few other things we’ve been up to, too—topics for future posts, mainly because there’s more information to gather. And I wouldn’t want to post about something without complete information.

And more information is something I gathered today. A friend asked me about putting cat poo in the EnsoPet, since it would have kitty litter stuck to it if the cat uses a litter box. This is an issue for us, too, because while Bella always used to go outside, as she got older she became more reluctant to go do that, and, with her kidney condition, that last thing we want is for her to “hold it”. So, we got her a dirt box.

The problem is, what do you do with the gifts from a cat?! The litter we use clumps when wet, and a daily emptying of the gifts in the box is quite heavy. Most people place that in their household rubbish—sending it to a landfill, and also leaving very little room for actual rubbish since there’s a weight limit on the bags we use.

So, I asked the EnsoPet people about cat litter stuck to cat poo, and they said that should be alright, but to avoid the large clumps of clay, people should use biodegradable litter. I haven’t put any cat stuff in the EnsoPet yet, mainly because I clean out both kinds at once. I’ve buried some of that so less has to go to landfill, and with the EnsoPet now installed, maybe I can find a way to deal better with the cat gifts, too. Here’s hoping.

The larger point here is that we’re trying to reduce our impact on the planet, and to do so in a way that ultimately saves us money. We have saved a little, mostly from being able to buy fewer rubbish bags, and ultimately other savings will creep upward. The investment in various bins will take a long time to be paid off from the savings, but that was never our main goal, reducing our impact on the planet was and is. So, long term we may save some money from doing this, or we may not, but we’re sending less to landfill and to sewage treatment plants, so all that alone is a good result.

It would be nice if someone could develop easier and much cheaper ways to do all these things so that more people could and would take part. But we live in an age when a great many people don’t know how to grow vegetables, so asking them to actively reduce their waste is too much. We can, so we do. If more people in our situation did the same thing, it could make a huge difference.

You gotta start some place.

A video about the EnsoPet from the people who supplies our Bokashi, who also helped helped develop the EnsoPet:

Good riddance to utter rubbish

Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator is finally gone. This is good news the world can be very glad of, though it was far too long in coming. Now, of course, will be the waiting to see if democracy finally returns to that shattered nation.

Back in 2008, I said:
“I’m going to say something that most people won’t say, but know is true: Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator Robert Mugabe will only end Zimbabwe’s suffering by dying or being driven from office. It’s now abundantly clear, as I said last April, that he will never give up power willingly.”
This wasn’t brilliance on my part—unless stating the only possible conclusion is “brilliant”. After years and years of rigged “elections”, brutal reprisals against “enemies” and opponents, and all sorts of repression and kleptocracy, it was self-evident that he’d have to be forced out. And that’s exactly what happened.

Any time a brutal dictator is forced out, it’s good news. But whether the story has a happy ending or not depends entirely on what happens next. A country can emerge from repression and oppression only to slide back into it, Russia and Cambodia, for example. Will that be Zimbabwe’s fate, too?

The country’s presumptive new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, arrived home to cheers. That’s good—but he WAS a confidante of Mugabe’s, and his hands are hardly clean. Will he give up power in free and fair elections, if they’re held and he loses?

New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, said: “This moment will be seen as a critical point in the history of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean people have voiced their support for change in a peaceful way.” I agree with him, and with the statement that “New Zealand supports the efforts of the Zimbabwean people to uphold democracy and to return to a prosperous and vibrant country free of oppression.” But the international coalition that opposed the Mugabe dictatorship, something that obviously included New Zealand, couldn’t help bring about change. Can we do anything to help it along?

Right now, we should be glad that a brutal dictator is gone. Let the people of Zimbabwe enjoy their liberation. But the world must be ready to help them keep oppression from ever returning.

Australia’s shame

There’s a story about Australia that’s well-known in this part of the world, but not much beyond. It’s about how Australia set-up prison camps for people who have tried—and failed— to illegally reach Australia by boat. People have been stuck in those camps for years, and in many cases it’s because of the Australian government. Then, when New Zealand raised the issue by reaffirming its offer to take some refugees, it was made out to be the ogre. But New Zealand isn’t the reason for this situation—it’s just trying to be part of the solution.

Australia set up the camps to prevent “asylum seekers”, as they’re often called, from reaching Australia’s shores. The government says that since setting up the camps, no asylum seeker has drowned at sea, and that, they say, proves their harsh policies are effective. The problem, of course, is that correlation is not causation, and there are probably other factors involved, ones that don’t reinforce a largely political narrative. Regardless, Australia also doesn’t seem to want to do anything that would settle the refugees cases at least in part because it believes doing so would encourage more people to board boats bound for Australia. It is, in their view, a sort of “tough love”.

The situation at the facility on Manus Island became dire when the Australian government wanted to move asylum seekers to new facilities, and they didn’t want to go, fearing violent reprisals from locals, among other things. Australia, in a frankly petulant response, simply shut off the water and electricity and ended routine medical assistance, effectively turning their backs on the men remaining, perhaps hoping to make them desperate enough to go to the new camps. This seems a foolish attitude, since these are people who were desperate enough to cross oceans in rickety boats, so defying Australia’s demands would seem like an easy thing for them. It also opened Australia to worldwide condemnation.

Australia’s treatment of detainees, especially on Manus Island after they retaliated against those who wouldn’t leave, has caught the attention of SOME around the world. For example, according to a major piece in the New York Times: “Veteran United Nations officials said this month they had never seen a wealthy democracy go to such extremes to punish asylum seekers and push them away.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand had an election and a new, more Left-leaning government took over. New Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeated the former National Party-led Government’s offer to take 150 refugees, and Australia at first flatly rejected the offer, then, after more international attention, softened their attitude somewhat, suggesting they’d consider it.

Australian politicians—and conservatives in New Zealand—attacked the new NZ government, saying they were “meddling” in Australia’s “domestic” policies, that we must never upset Australia because we need them far more than they need us, that the new government was being naive and even a bit childish. All this despite the fact the offer—originally from a conservative New Zealand government—had been on the table for a very long time. Clearly pure politics was the sole reason for the criticism of the NZ government.

However, Australia was obviously rattled by the attention on its appalling treatment of the refugees. In addition to verbal attacks from Australian government politicians, the Australian government also leaked unsubstantiated and uninvestigated claims that men on Manus Island were guilty of child sexual abuse. The smear was an attempt to convince the world that the detainees were all “bad” people (a line of attack picked up by conservatives in New Zealand) and therefore they “deserve”, as the narrative goes, their harsh treatment.

The Australian government has also repeated its claims that it intercepted and turned away “several” boats filled with refugees headed for New Zealand. They’ve never publicly released any proof that this claim is actually true. Is there any?

So, what’s going on here? First, Australia apparently really does believe that their harsh treatment of asylum seekers has stopped the flow of such people. Whether that’s actually the reason for the reduction or not is beside the point: They seem to sincerely believe that.

Second, Australia doesn’t like being told what to do by anyone, including the United Nations, and definitely not New Zealand. It will only change its treatment of asylum seekers if it suits them.

Third, and related to the second reason, it’s good politics in Australia. Australian voters have rewarded tough treatment of asylum seekers, most recently in returning the conservative Liberal-National Coalition Government to power. Because the asylum seekers are held in remote facilities, well out of view of Australians and their news media, it becomes a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. The Australian public never sees the extent of the harsh treatment, perhaps precisely so they can’t care about it. I don’t know that any country’s people would be any different under similar circumstances (for example, Guantánamo). This is also why the detention centres are NOT in Australia.

Finally, there’s a particular reason the Australian government is opposed to New Zealand taking any asylum seekers, in addition to all the reasons above. If the refugees are granted permanent residence in New Zealand, and then become citizens, they can move to Australia to live and work. One of the main reasons for Australia’s ongoing crackdown on the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia is because the Australian government believes it’s too easy for people to gain New Zealand citizenship, and that they use it as a means to settle in Australia legally. The truth is, they’re right in that a foreigner who couldn’t qualify to legally live and work in Australia could do so if they become a New Zealand citizen first. That’s even true for me.

However, it’s not quite as easy to become a New Zealand citizen as Australia seems to think it is, but that’s still their view, and it is the basis for much of their government’s hostility to New Zealanders living in their country and why they dismiss the simple repeating of NZ’s existing offer to take 150 refugees.

Where does this leave us? Nowhere. The United States would probably be the ONLY country in the world that might have some influence over Australia, but it no longer cares about human rights, is openly hostile to immigration (legal or not), and will do nothing to ease people’s suffering. The current occupier of the White House famously hung up on the Australian Prime Minister the first time they spoke because he was angry that President Obama had agreed to accept some of these same refugees, something he called "the worst deal ever". He also referred to the phone call as “the worst call by far”. While that was all probably mostly about the current occupant’s abject hatred of President Obama, it nevertheless damaged US-Australian relations.

New Zealand has no leverage with Australia, either, for completely different reasons. Despite a relationship forged on foreign battlefields, Australia mainly tolerates New Zealand, as one might an annoying younger sibling, but they don’t really care what we think, whether it’s about them, world affairs, or even how they treat New Zealand citizens living in that country.

There is one possible glimmer of hope, though: If the United Nations could somehow broker an agreement to at least remove the refugees that the UN has recognised as genuine. But, with the UN both cowardly and compromised these days, I wouldn’t hold my breath about that, either.

So, the situation shows no sign of improving any time soon. It’s not even clear that a change of government would matter. What is clear is that barring the UN suddenly growing a metaphorical backbone, or regime change in the United States, there’s nothing that can push this situation toward resolution.

And that, really, is the world’s shame.

Tip o' the Hat to Roger Green for the link to the NYT article.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Seeing change and not

Earlier this week, we were out on our deck and were talking about the TV aerial (photo above). It was the first time I’d stopped to realise that most of it is now useless. It made me stop and think how much things have changed, and how quickly.

The VHF aerial (the lowest parts of the aerial) haven’t been used in Auckland since December, 2013, when the old analog TV network was turned off. I blogged about the digital switchover back in 2012, when the first regions went digital-only. At the time, it didn’t affect us because we had Sky TV, the satellite pay TV services, which was already digital.

We dropped Sky a few months ago while we were living at our old house, and switched to Freeview, the free to air digital television network. We could use the sky satellite dish to receive the standard resolution signals, or we could use UHF for high definition channels. We’d already had a special UHF aerial installed, and used that.

The new house had no Sky dish, so we hooked up the UHF aerial here (the uppermost part of the aerial in the photo above), and it’s been fine. But, to me, it was just a TV aerial until Nigel pointed out the redundant VHF aerial, which is now nothing more than a roost for birds (and the reason we talked about it at all was because I was telling Nigel that was why plants kept growing in our gutters.

There’s another aerial mast up higher on the roof, orginally used for some sort of wireless Internet receiver, also apparently not usable anymore. So, we plan on having a new, better UHF aerial installed up there, and we’ll remove the current aerial—goodbye birds’ perch and plants-in-gutters.

Today I was out on the deck looking at the sky, and happened to notice that a neighbour’s house had a similar, though bigger, aerial up on their roof, Obviously they don’t use theirs anymore, either, but I wondered if they’d thought of removing it. Then I wondered how many houses all over the country must still have those useless aerials up on the roof.

TV aerials were once ubiquitous. Before Sky’s satellite TV service, all television was received by aerial. Now there are more choices for broadcast, and also Internet streaming is a viable option, a developement that happened faster than many of us thought it would. Yet those old aerials are still all over the place, and would be a reminder of old, abandoned technology—if people thought about them at all. Until the other day, I was like most people and never thought about the aerial—or, more specifically, the useless parts.

Technology changes quickly, and this particular revolution was televised.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Countdown

The video above is the Christmas ad for Countdown, one of New Zealand’s two national grocery store chains. This ad is the same as in 2016 [WATCH], but I didn’t share at the time. This particular video is the long version—the actual ad currently shown on television is 30 seconds, so there are some bits cut out of it. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of “Christmas in New Zealand” in this ad.

Countdown is owned by Australian supermarket company Woolworth’s, through its New Zealand subsidiary, Progressive Enterprises (chains include Countdown, SuperValue, and FreshChoice), and a fair number of the products sold are either from Woolworth’s or sourced overseas by the Australian parent (I still remember seeing Egyptian breakfast cereal on the shelves for a short a time). Despite that, Countdown mainly sells New Zealand-made products, “Australasian” products (often local products made by international food conglomerates), or imported stuff (including a lot more products imported from America than was the case when I first moved to New Zealand). This means that Countdown is very much like its supermarket rival, the New Zealand cooperative company Foodstuffs (chains include New World, Pak’nSave, and Four Square). From what I can tell, most people seem to choose the store they shop at mainly based on price, convenience, or habit (I’m mostly the second two).

Countdown’s ads are generally not all that interesting, but I think this Christmas ad is particularly nice, not the least because it touches on much of the cultural imagery—tropes, if you like—of a Kiwi Christmas. Christmas ads are an appropriate time to do that, and I think this ad does it well.

Full disclosure: I do my “big shops” at Countdown, and my frequent “in between shops” at Four Square, which is 5 minutes from the house (Countdown is about 20 minutes away). In the past, I was a regular shopper at New World when we lived only a few minutes away from one.

Related: New World’s Christmas ads.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

First UK Christmas ads

Advertising can be interesting—the techniques used, the creativity of the ad, and so on. But for Christmas TV ads, the standards may be a bit higher. It’s fun to take a look at such ads, and the first ad I shared this year was a New Zealand ad, followed by another together with its series of ads over the years.

Now, it’s time for more ads, starting with the 2017 versions of ads for two UK retail chains I shared in 2016 (Link has the videos and more about the stores).

The first ad, up top, is called “Moz The Monster”, and it’s for high-end UK retailer John Lewis. According to the BBC, reception to the ad has been mixed. It’s a very well done ad, but it doesn’t seem all the Christmasy to me, but in a way that’s true of their 2016 ad, too. The song in the background is, of course, The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers”. It is performed by Elbow.

The second ad, below, is "Christmas Together", and is for UK supermarket chain Waitrose, which is owned by John Lewis. It’s kind of cute. Even if the very end is somewhat predictable, it’s appropriate for a Christmas ad.

Previous John Lewis ads I’ve shared:
Buster The Boxer (my post: “Buster the Boxer’s ad") – 2016
Man on the Moon (my post: “Something nice") – 2015
Monty the Penguin (my post: “Another nice ad”) – 2014
The Bear and The Hare (my post: “Because it’s nice”) – 2013

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Finding and fixing a Disqus problem

This blog uses Disqus commenting system, a free service that replaces the built-in commenting system for Google’s Blogspot/Blogger blogs. For the most part it’s worked well, though there have been sometimes been glitches that needed to be fixed. Today I discovered a new one I had to fix.

My installed Firefox recently automatically upgraded to the latest version, 57, which they’ve named Firefox Quantum, reputedly now the fastest browser available. When I accessed my blog, commenting wasn’t available, not even on posts that I knew had comments. I tried accessing a post with comments by itself, which always used to make comments appear, but that didn’t work. However, the comments were there on Chrome, so I knew the problem was with Firefox.

Without getting overly detailed (I’m happy to provide more details in the comments—just ask), I restarted Firefox in “Safe Mode”, which strips it back to basics and disables all add-ons (aka extensions). Comments reappeared. So, I then restarted Firefox normally, disabled all add-ons, restarted, and then re-enabled add-ons one at a time at repeated until I found the culprit.

It turned out it was “HTTPS Everywhere”, an add-on from EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) that “encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.” That add-on apparently blocks Disqus. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has caused me problems: In 2013 it was much worse.

With “HTTPS Everywhere” disabled, comments loaded normally. So next I went to Chrome, where comments had always worked, and discovered I didn’t have the add-on installed. So, I installed it—and the same thing happened.

It turns out that the add-on can be disabled just for Blogger.com, which is what I did on Chrome, and it worked. That leaves the add-on functioning to preserve my privacy elsewhere, while allowing me to see comments on my blog (and any others using both Blogger and Disqus).

I never would have known any of this if Firefox hadn’t updated to their new, flashier version. I want to try it as my default browser, but the commenting glitch would have made that impossible. There is, however, one remaining glitch I need to solve.

When I go to my blog on Firefox, I’m not logged in, and I always used to be in older versions of Firefox (and I still am on Chrome). Firefox made a change several updates ago that changed something (no idea what), and now if I access my blog—even if I’m logged into the dashboard on another tab—I’m not logged into my blog. This only matters because after I publish a post I always read the final version, right away or later, and I often notice mistakes I didn’t see before. On Chrome, I just click the “edit post” icon, but on Firefox I have to log in. I could have to repeat that process several times before I’m happy with the post, and on Firefox, re-logging in is annoying.

Still, the thing that I thought would make Firefox unusable for me—a problem with a particular add-on—is now sorted.

Improved commenting – I talk about the switch when I first made it
How to comment – I provided complete instructions on how to use the Disqus system
Solving commenting problems – the post in which I talked about how to fix a Blogger glitch that prevented the Disqus option from showing up for some people
Unexpected and expected – Not about Disqus as such, but it’s why I permit anonymous comments
The last commenting glitch – this post is about how to work around comments not showing for the most recent post. This is still a problem, and this is the method I tried first when I noticed that comments weren’t appearing on any post with Firefox Quantum.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is this it?

Our cat Bella has not been herself the past day and a bit. Very quiet, sleeping virtually all the time, and now eating and drinking very little. The journey that began 16 months ago may be coming to an end. Or, she could rally once again. There’s always hope.

When Bella’s kidney problems were diagnosed in July, 2016, we were told she had a few days, a couple weeks at most. And yet she rallied and improved, and kept improving. Up until yesterday she was doing quite well, if slower and thinner than she was before this journey began.

But now she just seems detached, as if she’s disconnecting. On the other hand, she could just be feeling unwell at the moment, and she’ll come round, she’ll rally again. But even if she does, this won’t go on forever. We know that. We’re grateful for the 16 unexpected months we’ve had with her and we’d like her to stick around—but only as long as she’s happy and content. At the moment, she seems comfortable, not in any pain or distress, so we’re watching her for any change—or improvement. She’ll lead us in the direction she needs to go.

At the moment, this is taking up most of my thoughts when I’m not busy with other things. I guess that figures. I guess I should try and keep busy.

Bella’s journey
Bella’s condition
Bella’s new normal
Better Bella

Update November 18: Bella is doing very well today—eating well, drinking, and she seems much brighter. Yesterday she seemed a bit "warm" to me, as if she had a fever, and today she doesn't. She's even gone back to sleeping on one her favourite chairs to sleep on, something she hasn't done the couple days before then. While it's too early to tell if she's going to "surprise us again", she clearly is better today, and that's a good thing, whatever that leads to.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Australia’s important step

Today the results of the Australian Government’s voluntary postal survey on marriage equality were released, and they were a stunner: 61.6% voted YES, 38.4% voted no. As impressive as that win is, it becomes even more important when you consider the turnout was a massive 79.5%, which makes it a landslide result for marriage equality. Now, the real work begins.

The campaign against marriage equality was divisive, often vicious and bigoted, and ultimately losing. Ex-Prime Minister, and perpetual annoying twit, Tony Abbott campaigned hard against marriage equality (despite his sister being lesbian—their family get-togethers must be interesting…). He said that a 40% “no” vote would be a “moral victory”, but his anti-gay side couldn’t even manage that. In fact, his own electorate voted 75% in favour of marriage equality, suggesting his views aren’t very popular among the people who sent him to parliament.

The massive turnout, and the overwhelming YES vote will make it hard for some MPs to oppose marriage equality when the bill comes before Parliament soon. To be sure, there are some bigoted MPS in the Liberal Party-National Party (LNP) Coalition who have promised to stop marriage equality, or, if they can’t, to effectively do the same thing by loading on anti-LGBT+ killer amendments.

The rightwing can’t stop marriage equality if it was offered as an up or down vote in Parliament: The Australian Labor Party (ALP) supports it, and enough Liberal Party MPs will support it to pass it in an up or down vote. However, the rightwing is declaring it will offer amendments to guarantee “freedom of speech” (even though that’s already protected), “freedom of conscience” (ditto). They also plan on trying to use the bill as a vehicle to attach the same sort of license to discriminate measures US Republicans favour, amendments that would legalise discrimination against LGBT+ people even outside the question of marriage equality.

Australia is a much more conservative country than New Zealand is, so it’s difficult to gauge how successful the rightwing will be. However, it’s pretty much impossible for the rightwing to stop marriage equality completely. Can they pass enough amendments to make the final bill unacceptable? Maybe, but I have a hunch that even Liberal Party MPs will see the writing on the wall and will stop any poison chalice amendments, even if for only practical reasons: If the anti-LGBT+ far right succeeds, this issue will continue to boil away, made worse by the LNP effectively thumbing its nose at the majority of the Australian public. That alone could very well hand the next election to the ALP, who announced last election that would legislate for marriage equality, and they still hold that position.

So, one way or another, marriage equality IS coming to Australia, the question is, simply, when? I think that Malcolm Turnbull, the current prime minister and a marriage equality supporter, wants this issue settled. I’ve seen many pundits who said the whole plebiscite thing was his ploy to break the blockade against marriage equality from within his own LNP Coalition so the issue can be settled once and for all. While he personally wants marriage equality, he wants the issue off the political agenda even more. That’s okay: The only thing Australians care about is getting marriage equality.

The viciousness of the anti-equality campaign didn’t surprise anyone—we all predicted how awful it would get. And, right on cue, the rightwing is attacking Yes supporters for being “intolerant”. As if! The Yes Campaign was relentlessly positive and never descended to the level of the viscous bigots who did their damnedest to provoke them. Obviously, a popular vote should never should have happened at all, because the very idea of ever putting minority rights up for popular vote is vomit-inducingly sick and disgusting—extremely fucked-up. Always.

However, the vote has happened, it has produced a landslide victory for marriage equality, and that fact should force any previous opponent who has an ounce of sense—or sense of self-preservation—to vote in favour of marriage equality. Marriage equality WILL come to Australia: What MPs want to be remembered as being one of the losers who stood in the way of love?

Finally, here’s the celebratory video from Australian Marriage Equality. To them, heartfelt congratulations and huge thanks for a job well done. Besides, who doesn’t like seeing happy people being joyfully happy?!!

The image up top was posted to Facebook by Australian Marriage Equality.

First attempt at resolution

When I last posted a Health Journey update a week and a half ago, I’d pretty much decided to ride things out a little while longer in the hope that things would stabilise. I changed my mind, and went back to the doctor yesterday to complain about how truly awful I felt most of the time. As a result, we’re trying an adjustment to see if that helps.

As I said last time, the most complained about side effect of beta blockers is terrible, even debilitating, fatigue. The drug I’m on, Atenolol, is slightly better than the one I had been taking, Metoprolol, which I simply couldn’t tolerate at all. The old drug was so bad for me, in fact, that some days I just sat in my chair unable to work up the energy to even walk the few steps to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee or whatever. I tried a low-dose vitamin thinking maybe it would help my energy levels, but instead I felt worse and stopped the vitamins.

When I first switched to Atenolol, I did feel better—but maybe that was just because Metoprolol had made me feel so bad. After nearly a couple months taking it, I’d settled into the “normal” with the drug, and it still left me profoundly tired most of the time. In talking over things with Nigel, I decided to go back to the doctor.

Because of work commitments, I wasn’t able to go until this week, and that was yesterday. I left the house in a good mood, because it was such a beautiful Spring day—bright, sunny, and nearly even warm. But about five minutes into the drive, I noticed storm clouds in the direction I would be heading, and I could clearly see it was raining to the South. When I reached the outskirts of Karaka, I rounded a bend and saw white stuff all around the sides of the road, and I thought maybe a truck had lost part of its load. Then I saw the slush on the road ahead of me. Hail, I realised, had pelted the area just a few minutes before I got there.

It was raining heavily when I got on the motorway. The first part that I use is under construction as the road is widened to add another lane. Because of that, the lane markers are just very basic paint, since they ned to move lanes from time to time, and that meant that in all the water and glare, I couldn’t see where the lanes were. There was a big truck up ahead of me, and I figured since he was up much higher, he could probably see the lane lines better than me, so I pointed my car so it followed in the “treads marks” left in the water on the road. It was exhausting.

Nevertheless, I got to the doctor’s office some 15 minutes early. About 10 minutes after my appointment was supposed to start, the folks at reception began ringing patients to tell them the doctor was running 15-30 minutes late. I didn’t really mind, actually, because it gave me a little more time to calm down from the drive so I’d have a more typical blood pressure reading.

I saw the doctor maybe a half hour late, and told her what had been going on with me. She was aware that severe fatigue was a common-enough side effect of beta blockers, and I told her I didn’t know what we should do, but I couldn’t go on like this. I told her I was reluctant to begin a new drug that may be no better or even worse for me. I told her I was aware that calcium channel blockers were sometimes used to control tachycardia, and I thought that was ironic because my original blood pressure medicine was in that class.

Through our discussion, it finally dawned on me that the various doctors have been reluctant to deal to the beta blocker too aggressively because they were unclear why I’d been given it in the first place (to prevent tachycardia). That’s because it’s also give to people who’ve had a heart attack to help heal the heart and prevent another heart attack. I never had a heart attack, but because that’s one the most-common reasons the drug is prescribed, I now understand the doctors’ caution.

So, she suggested that I reduce my dosage by cutting my pills in half. She noted I was on a low dose of the other drug, and while dosage isn’t directly comparable, the current one was reasonably high. She wants me to try it for a month so there’s time for me to adjust. I’m due to go back next month for a re-check and to renew my prescriptions, so the timing would be perfect.

I did a little shopping after the appointment (nothing exciting—mostly just a couple grocery stores). By the time I was done, and on the road, it was very late afternoon. Traffic was a nightmare from earlier breakdowns on the motorway. When I got to the construction area again, it rained hard again, with the same result as when I was heading north. Fortunately, this was near the end of the construction zone, so it didn't last as long as on the trip North.

Because of all this, I got home exhausted.

I was so tired, in fact, that I actually dozed off in my chair watching TV. I had some things I needed to do that evening, and I did them anyway, then got to bed late. All of which is is why I didn't write this post last night.

I was tired this morning, even before I took the first half-pill dosage. I had things I wanted to do today before the predicted rain arrived—and, I did them.

Mainly, I wanted to clean out the gutters (often called “spouting” in New Zealand) on the sides and back of the house (grass grows in them because of this bottle-brush like stuff previous owners put in there to stop grass from growing…). This is the second time I’ve cleaned out the gutters since we moved in back in February.

After that, I pulled weeds out front, something I’d wanted to do for a very long time, but couldn’t muster the energy to actually do it. And, I felt… fine. I’m tired from a messed-up sleep schedule in recent days, and when I stopped I was tired from the physical activity (from being unfit, basically), but that’s pretty much it. The test will be how I feel tomorrow, whether I have the energy to do anything or not. If I do, the dosage reduction may have done the trick. Or, maybe I just had a good day today. I’m optimistic, though, because the lack of sleep left me tired, and yet I was able to get done all the physical jobs I wanted to get done today.

Obviously, it’s way too early to know if a reduction in dosage will fix the fatigue problem, and, if it does, whether it will still help prevent tachycardia incidents. And that, ultimately, will be the subject of future posts.

Right now, this was just another episode of my health journey—this time including actual journeying. The important thing about today’s episode, though, is that I feel a lot more optimistic than I did a week and a half ago, and right now, I’ll take that.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Explaining that photo project

The thing about social media photo challenges, is that they come with rules. Sure, rules are meant to be broken sometimes, but unless there’s a good reason to do so, it makes more sense to play along. It’s part of the challenge. Even then, there can be ways around the rules, and this post is an example of that.

Recently, I took part in a photo challenge: “7 days, 7 black and white photos of your life, no people, no explanation.” Leaving the photos unexplained was part of the challenge for me and anyone seeing the photos. Sure, the main question could be “why did he choose that?!”, but there’s also the much simpler, “where/what is that?”. This post will answer that last question for each photo.

Starting in the upper right corner is Day One (links for each day are to the blog posts about each photo): That grid-like pattern is shadows on the carpet, as may be obvious. It’s the shadow of the vertical blinds hanging in front of one of the doors in the lounge that lead out to our deck (we’re not keep on vertical blinds, but don’t have a better alternative yet). It was not, however, the photo I was going to use. That photo is at the bottom of this post (and in colour). I didn’t use it because I was under the mistaken notion that the photos were supposed to be inanimate objects. As soon as I posted my first photo, I saw someone else taking part in the challenge had posted a photo of their furbaby. Doh! It’s too bad because I liked the photo of Sunny’s paw much better, but one of my own rules was the photo I posted had to be taken that same day, so I couldn't use it another day.

Day Two, left most photo in the middle row: This is of tomato and capsicum seedlings in our kitchen window. I almost posted a comment about them because I was concerned a botanically-challenged viewer might think the tomato plants were something illegal, but I realised that would be an explanation, so I said nothing. Until now.

Day Three: This is from our deck, and I’ve posted similar photos before, but this one struck me because a storm was moving in and there was a weird mix of light—the last gasps of sunlight as the clouds thickened, the different light hitting the clouds over the harbour, all that. I just liked it. Apparently, others did, too, because as I’m writing this that photo got more Instagram likes than any other photo in the series.

Day Four: This photo came about because of an unexpected opportunity. As the geo tag in the original post said, it was at Smith & Caughey’s upmarket department store in central Auckland. The photo’s actually of the back of the store on Elliott Street (its main facades are on Queen Street and Wellesley Street). The Elliott Street side looks very urban to me—a bit New York, Chicago, etc. It’s a heritage listed building built in 1929, though it looks much older (the company itself was first established in the 1880s). It was unexpected because Nigel had a meeting in teh CBD ans asked me if I wanted to come along for an hour or so, and I knew I’d have a photo opportunity or two, so I went, and this photo was my favourite of the options I saw walking around for most of that time. This was my second most-liked photo.

Day Five: This is a welcome sign on the road leading into the area where we live. Nothing special to report about that, except I actually was in the car with the dogs on my way back from picking up the package with the flag poles and flags that the courier had delivered to their local agent rather than us (long story). I stopped, shot some photos, and continued on home.

Day Six: One of two least-liked photos, this is our letterbox. This one bugs me because, due to glare, I didn’t notice how I could have framed the photo better. Oh, well.

Day Seven: This is a shot of grapefruit lying on the ground under the tree in our yard. This will amount to a memorial, since we’re going to cut down that tree: I can’t eat grapefruit, none of the people we know who can eat it actually like grapefruit, so it’s taking up room we could use for a fruit tree we’d actually like (we’re thinking maybe a lime tree, since limes are expensive to buy; we already have a lemon tree). These grapefruit are a particularly cruel variety because the skin is bright orange, so they look like they could be nice—and they’re just not. They’re grapefruit. This was the other least-liked photo.

Since I mentioned it, here’s the relative popularity of the various photos at the moment, from most to least liked: 1. Day 3 From our deck, 2. Day 4 (Smith & Caughey’s), 3. Day 2 Seedlings in our kitchen window, 4. Day 5 Welcome sign, 5. Day 1 Shadows on the carpet (I bet the one I wanted to post would have been more popular…), 6. Day 7 Grapefruit, 7. Letterbox. I have no idea what the relative popularity of the photos means, if anything, except that I agree with the two most popular photos (I like those two the most, too). The thing about statistics, social media likes, etc., is that it’s difficult to draw any guidance from them, which is a shame if the goal is getting more eyes seeing the stuff we post.

So, that’s what those photos are of, and a bit about what I liked about them. However, I haven’t said why I chose those particular photos rather than any others I shot the same day (apart from the one below that I didn’t used because of a misunderstanding). I didn't talk about that one aspect because there are probably some things that should remain a mystery.

That photo that could have been first—and probably more popular than what was first.

The American problem

Many American Democrats were rejoicing after the recent elections in the USA because Democrats did so well. In fact, they did much better than expected. This is a good omen for the US Elections next year, right? Well, no, not really. The American problem is that the current system is set up to prevent change.

The video above from Vox talks about one of the main problems facing US elections: The country’s antique elections system which helps Republicans keep power, even when they win only a minority of votes. Changing the USA’s election system to a fairer and more democratic system is so difficult as to be nearly impossible, but the video is correct about the ways in which it could help—and how it could smash the Democratic v. Republican duopoly in elected offices.

The second big problem is gerrymandering. Republicans made a big effort in the mid-to-late-2000s to take over state legislatures so they would control how election district boundaries would be drawn to ensure their party got as many seats as possible, and Democrats got as few as possible, all to ensure Republicans maintained a majority of elected representative seats (both state and federal), even if they lose the popular vote (which is how Republicans held onto the Virginia legislature this year despite the massive swing to the Democrats in that state’s elections).

The third problem is Republicans’ voter suppression laws designed to keep Democratic-aligned voting groups—especially poor people, working people, and Black and Hispanic voters—from being able to vote. Republicans initially were able to hoodwink some Democratic legislators into supporting them, but most Democrats eventually realised Republicans were lying about their reasons fo their voter suppression laws. By then it was too late.

The final big problem is money: There’s WAY too much special interest money in politics. Because of the rightwing majority on the Supreme Court’s infamous gift to the Rightwing, Citizens United, corporations can spend as much as they want to buy politicians through campaign spending. It, and other, mostly Republican, legislation has increased the availability of “dark money”, the vast, vast majority of which goes to support Rightwing candidates.

Add it all up—an anti-democratic voting system that makes it easier for the two existing parties to remain in power, gerrymandered districts to keep Rpublicans in control, laws to make it harder for many Democratic-aligned people to vote, and virtually unlimited money to help Rightwing candidates, and even under the best of circumstances the odds are against Democrats re-taking the US Congress next year.

Democrats may do better in state legislatures, and statewide races (incuding some Governor races and some US Senate races in some states), but they’re unlikely to make major inroads in the US House until after redistricting, and then ONLY if they get control of the map drawing and are able to do to Republicans what they did to Democrats. Add to that the fact that people generally don’t vote against incumbents, and the odds are long.

There are some things that may help Democrats. As the current occupant of the White House continues to plummet in opinion polls, it could encourage his opponents to go vote for Democrats (his True Believers, it’s important to remember, are a small minority of voters even if they all turned out to vote). Of course, if he resigns, is impeached, or removed under the 25th Amendment, that might change everything—in either direction; it would depend on the circumstances.

For lasting reform and restoration of democracy, I’d do four things (if I could…):
  1. Switch to a fairer, more democratic voting system. There are several options, but the point is to end the First Past The Post system.
  2. Outlaw gerrymandering by requiring all district boundaries be drawn by independent, non-partisan commissions who would be forbidden by law to consider party identification of voters when drawing maps. Non-partisan systems are used in some US states and many countries, like New Zealand.
  3. Pass new laws making it easier to register and easier to vote. A national Fair Voting Act would outlaw voter suppression laws and ensure every citizen’s right to vote is protected and their participation encouraged.
  4. Amend the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United, to ban all “dark money” in US politics, and to enable legislation to severely regulate contributions to candidates for Congress and President, far beyond any restrictions that exists now.
I don’t think any of my reforms will ever see the light of day, and some are clearly more do-able than others. But without serious, strong reform, nothign will ever change. The system is designed to frustrate change, and it keeps Republicans in power. And that is why I’m pessimistic about Democrats re-taking Congress in 2018. In fact, defeating the current occupant’s campaign for re-election may also be very difficult.

And that’s the real American problem.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

B&W photo challenge: Day seven of seven

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The last photo in this series—a sigh of relief for everyone! I thought of this one about the same time I thought of yesterday’s, but I didn’t shoot the photo until today. Like all the others in this series, I didn’t use any special photographic techniques, apart from getting down on the ground to take the photo. Afterward, I cropped it slightly and adjusted the brightness/contrast after converting it to black and white.

In keeping with the rules of the challenge, I haven’t said anything about the photos themselves that could even remotely be thought of as explanation. However, now that the challenge is over, I see no reason why I can’t talk about the actual photos.

So, I’ll do a sort of omnibus post talking about all of the photos, but because I’m busy with work, I may not get to it until next week. I’ll add a link here on this post once that one is up.

Thanks to my friend Linda for tagging me, and thanks to everyone for playing along, or indulging me, as the case may be.

Previously in this series:
A new photo challenge (day one of seven)
B&W photo challenge: Day two of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day three of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day four of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day five of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day six of seven

Best laid plans

Today we planned to fly our flags for the first time, in answer to long-held wishes. It was the perfect date to begin, but the weather didn’t cooperate, and we instead only had a dry run with no fulfillment. Life is like that.

For more years than I can remember, Nigel and wanted to have dual flag poles so that we could fly the flags of both our native lands. Quite how we would make that happen was the sticking point, and we never did it. We had flags, of course, and at various times we hung them in our house, but the only time we ever hung them outside was in 2011, when the Rugby World Cup was held in New Zealand, and we hung them out under the cover over our deck. And no one outside the family knew.

When we moved to this house, we talked again of flag poles, but erecting free-standing poles in the ground is expensive, and we really had nowhere suitable. So, we decided to hang them from our deck, Nigel found a suitable source for poles, flags, and mounting brackets (not easy to come by in New Zealand…), and we were ready.

Nigel installed the flag holders yesterday, and we did a trial fly, pictured above. It worked well, and our neighbours wondered what the heck we were doing (Nigel saw them, I didn’t), but we brought them inside as soon as we were satisfied that the position was right—entirely our esthetic choice, since New Zealand offers no guidance on how to display flags from buildings, despite offering other advice on NZ flag etiquette.

Today, November 11, is Armistice Day in New Zealand, and Veterans’ Day in the USA, a day to fly that country's flag (the Ministry for Culture and Heritage has posted a list of dates on which flying the New Zealand flag is encouraged). What better day could there be to fly both countries’ flags? The weather thought otherwise. Rain threatened all day, and the winds were mostly very strong, so flying the flags couldn’t happen, despite our best intentions. We’ll eventually have the right weather, I assume.

We both wanted to fly the flags because we’re proud of our respective homelands, even though there have been times they didn’t deserve our affection. And, if I’m totally honest, it doesn’t bother me at all that the fact I want to display the flags of both my countries upsets both those on the Right and those on the Leftward side of Left. It turns out that mainstream Liberals like me can feel for the flag as strongly as the Rightwing does, and despite what the Leftwing thinks—the sort of feeling and freedom of expression that good people gave their lives defending.

So, we now finally have our dual flag poles, and our dual flags (with more to be added). I don’t know when the weather will cooperate, but we’ll be ready and willing when it does.

Today's empty flagholders.

In which John Green is stunned by Kiwi kindness

In this video, John Green talks about how Kiwis’ expression of kindness meant a lot to him by sending in “thousands and thousands” of the now discontinued New Zealand 5 cent coins were gathered and sent to him, all because of the tuatara that was on that coin. And from this story, dear reader, we learn that we should never underestimate the power and effect of helping someone with something small, because it can be quite big to them. Even when it’s a small denomination discontinued coin that means so much more—to them.

Change for the better – my 2006 post on the end of the five cent piece and other currency changes

Friday, November 10, 2017

B&W photo challenge: Day six of seven

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Once again, this is an ordinary photo: There’s nothing unusual in how I took it, and all I did was a tiny bit of cropping and some brightening. This is a photo that popped into my head yesterday, which is handy because it gave me something to photograph today.

I’m quite busy with work at the moment, so this is the only post for today—for a change.

Previously in this series:
A new photo challenge (day one of seven)
B&W photo challenge: Day two of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day three of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day four of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day five of seven

Thursday, November 09, 2017

B&W photo challenge: Day five of seven

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This is the first photo I thought of when I was thinking about this series, but today was the first chance I had to take it. I didn’t use any unusual techniques in this photo—it was all about how I took it. I took the photo from close-up from one particular point, and from a particular angle. So, like all the photos in this series, this one isn’t about unusual techniques, but instead it’s about positioning the camera.

And that, too, is somthing I like about this sort of thing: It makes us look at every photo subject from multiple viewpoints. Digital cameras make that easy to do, of course, and taking multiple photos in multiple angles is always a good idea, in my opinion.

And all of that’s true, even when it’s for a social media photo challenge series.

Previously in this series:
A new photo challenge (day one of seven)
B&W photo challenge: Day two of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day three of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day four of seven

An improvement of a prayer

The prayer recited at the opening of each session of the New Zealand Parliament is changing, dropping references to the Queen and Jesus Christ. There are Members of Parliament who want this change, and others who don’t, as is always the way with such changes, both because it goes “too far” in removing religion, and because it "doesn’t go far enough". Overall, this is long overdue, and while it doesn’t go far enough, it’s a vast improvement.

Parliament's Speaker is consulting with Members about the prayer, but has started using the new version in Te Reo already, which displeases some Opposition MPs. Even so, this is a good way to get the feel of the new prayer in its real-life context, and that’s a good thing.

The original version was:
Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I always loathed that prayer, and had three main objections (apart from their being any prayer at all). First, the people of New Zealand and the country are mentioned only obliquely and at the very end (“and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand”). Who are MPs serving? The prayer made it sound like it was all about the Queen and the church she heads.

Second, and most obviously, the prayer mentioned Jesus Christ, when New Zealand has many different religions, including not only different flavours of Christianity, but sizeable numbers of non-Christians (plus atheists, agnostics, and non-theists, of course).

Finally, the phrase “the maintenance of true religion” is derived from the British tradition in which the Queen is “defender of the faith” because the UK, unlike New Zealand, has an established (which means official) church.

The overt religiosity of all that also bothered me.

For many years, when I watched "Question Time" I'd mute the TV when the prayer was being said. I firmly believe that a prayer doesn't belong in a governmental setting, which is and ought to be totally secular, independent of all religions, and neutral on the very question of religion. I always felt that if religious MPs want to get together before the proceedings—and I never saw any evidence that many did—they could have a private prayer outside the Chamber, elsewhere in the building or wherever else they wanted—that'd be their business. But it just doesn't belong in the People's House.

Despite that, I think the proposed prayer is a real improvement:
Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand.

Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand.

It’s better because it talks about New Zealand in the first sentence: No one would mistake that for a prayer from the United Kingdom or wherever. The second sentence is obviously drawn largely from the old prayer with some improvements, such as, taking out the reference to the Queen.

Constitutional arrangements dictate the structure of New Zealand’s government, but Members of Parliament are the servants of the people of New Zealand, not the Queen. While the Queen can dismiss Parliament, she can’t choose who will serve within it—only the people of New Zealand can do that. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but one day New Zealand will be a republic. In fact, in most respects, it already is in all but law.

I think a further improvement would be to change “for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand” to “for the people of New Zealand and the welfare and peace of the nation” or something similar because the people ought to be mentioned specifically. Still, the fact that New Zealand is mentioned in the first sentence is a vast improvement, and the proposed phrasing IS shorter than my version, so there’s that.

Personally, I don’t care what people believe or don’t—that’s their business, not mine. While I’m automatically suspicious of all religious conservatives, and for very good reasons, I nevertheless don’t pre-judge them or their potential service as an elected representative. All politicians ought to be judged on their performance, and if they put their religion ahead of their public duty, that will be obvious very early on—if it wasn’t already obvious from their election campaign.

My objection to a prayer before a governmental meeting is about ensuring all people, the religious and nonreligious alike, are served by their government. Having a religious prayer at the start of official government business isn’t even remotely neutral, it’s the exact opposite: It’s taking religion’s side. By not having a prayer, all sides are included equally, since the religious are still free to pray privately (as my mother demonstrated to me when I was a child).

I know that New Zealand won't drop a religious prayer any time soon—fidelity to tradition among the parliamentary descendants of the British Empire is still very strong. But it is a discussion we ought to be having as New Zealand continues to evolve into a nation very different from the one it was a century ago, let alone the one from which it was born.

The proposed prayer in Te Reo Māori:
E Te Atua Kaha Rawa, Ka tukuwhakamoemiti atu mātou, mō ngā karakiakua waihotia mai ki runga o Aotearoa.Ka waiho nei I ō mātou pānga whaiarokatoa ki te taha, nei rā ēnei e īnoi atu anamō Tō ārahitanga, I roto i ō mātouwhakaaroarohanga, ā, kia whakahaere aie mātou ngā take o Te Whare nei, I rungai te mōhio, me te whakaiti mō te oranga,te maungārongo, o te tūmatanui o Aotearoa.


State Opening of the NZ Parliament

Yesterday was the State Opening of the New Zealand Parliament, with a whole lot of pomp and circumstance. This post includes the significant videos from the ceremonies, arranged in chronological order, unlike the way they appear on Parliament’s YouTube Channel video listings. These videos are different from the Commission Opening videos I shared the other day in that they’re mostly narrated to explain what’s going on. One note about that: The captions always get Māori words and phrases wrong or leave them out altogether.

Arrival of the Governor General and Mana Whenua Greeting

Inspection of the Royal Tri-Service Guards of Honour

This video is of the arrival of the Governor General of New Zealand, and her inspection of the Royal Honour Guard representing the three branches of the NZ Defence Force (Navy, Army, and Air Force). I noted that the NZ Army brass players playing the fanfare all had sheet music. A very wise move, I thought: You wouldn’t want a nervous person to mess up the whole thing. Also, the New Zealand National Anthem was played a galloping clip, I thought—much less dirge-like than it normally is. Maybe that was because no one had to sing along?

There’s also a half-hour long video of the various dignitaries arriving [WATCH], as well as a video of the arrival of the Governor General is also available [WATCH]. They’re not actually part of the ceremonies as such, and the video of the arrival of the Governor General is quite short, so I’m not including the actual videos.

Members of the House proceed to the Legislative Council Chamber

In this video, the Acting Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is sent to summon the Members of the House of Representatives. The narrator explains all of the significance, but I felt sorry for the guy for messing up the summons.

This video begins where the last one left off, with the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod summoning the Members of Parliament to the Legislative Council Chamber, which was originally the debating chamber of New Zealand’s now abolished upper house of Parliament, the Legislative Council.

Speech From The Throne

The Speech From The Throne is written by the Government, and sets out the goals and agenda of that Government. The Governor General delivers the speech as the representative of the Queen of New Zealand, Elizabeth II.

Members of the House proceed from the Legislative Council Chamber

This video is about the end the events of the day. Again, the narration describes what’s going on until the video resumes covering House business. From there, among other things, the House began the Address in Reply, which includes Maiden Speeches from new Members of Parliament. Those aren’t part of the State Opening as such, but they’re available to watch on Parliament’s YouTube Channel.

And that’s it for another three years.

"It was the PM's turn to strike – and she did not hold back"
 – By Stacey Kirk, Stuff

B&W photo challenge: Day four of seven

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I had an unexpected chance to take this photo, but was unable to share it here on the blog last night. So, here it is. There’s nothing unusual in how this photo was done, although I did crop it slightly and, as usual, brighten it a bit after converting it to mono. This is one of my favourites in the series, for reasons I can't explain without breaking the rules.

On thing I haven’t said about any of these photos is that the reason they’re all square is because that’s the shape that Instagram likes, and these photos are all shared there first. I don’t mind that because I think it adds another layer of discipline and challenge onto the project.

Previously in this series:
A new photo challenge (day one of seven)
B&W photo challenge: Day two of seven
B&W photo challenge: Day three of seven

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

B&W photo challenge: Day three of seven

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Today’s photo has no special technique, apart from adjusting the contrast slightly (colour photos often become muddy when converted to black & white). I can also say that I was being pushed around a little bit by the wind, which had become quite strong. But I can’t really say anything more without getting into explanation. And so, I won’t.

Previously in this series:
A new photo challenge (day one of seven)
B&W photo challenge: Day two of seven

Commission Opening of NZ Parliament

New Zealand’s 52nd Parliament has begun. Today was the Commission Opening of Parliament, the swearing in of the new Members of Parliament and the selection of a Speaker. This happens after every General Election, regardless of whether there’s been a change or government or a re-elected government. It establishes the authority of the new Parliament under law, so it’s very important. The following videos are taken from the live broadcast from the House today.

Reading of Letters Patent

In this video, the Royal Commissioners, three senior judges appointed by the Governor General, enter the House of Representatives Debating Chamber in Parliament, preceded by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (that’s the black stick he’s holding). They then read the Letters Patent appointing them.

Proclamation summoning Parliament

After reading the Letters Patent, the Commissioners read the Proclamation summoning Parliament, followed by a request to select a Speaker who will be presented to the Governor General for confirmation as Speaker. There is also a video following this one [WATCH], but just showing the Commissioners leaving, and the very beginning of the video following it, the next one I’ll talk about.

Swearing in members of Parliament

In this video, the longest of them by far, the Clerk of the House of Representatives administers the Affirmation or Oath of Allegiance, calling MPs in alphabetical order, one to three MPs at a time.

Each Member of Parliament has the right to say either the oath or affirmation, and to do so in either English or Te Reo Māori. After that, they are entitled to repeat the oath in their native language if they want to. The first five people sworn in demonstrate all of that. This is why MPs are sometimes called alone: The person following them is doing something different. They’re called in groups of two or three when they’re all doing the exact same thing—oath or affirmation, and in the same language. It’s kind of interesting how some are better at reading in unison than others are.

It’s worth noting that nothing whatsoever can be concluded by whether MPs choose the oath or the affirmation: Some religious people prefer to use the affirmation, for example. On the other hand, New Zealand is a very secular nation, and many members probably have no religion. You just can’t tell what their story is based only on which they choose.

While I would prefer that the oath and affirmation be worded differently (a topic in itself), this is a remarkably egalitarian and democratic way of doing things. And, yes, I watched or listened to most of it.

Election of the Speaker

In this video, the new Speaker of Parliament was selected. However, it descended into a circus and farce, courtesy of the National Party. The Opposition decided to play stupid games and tried to trick the Government into thinking they didn’t have the votes to elect a Speaker, and National would nominate someone. To get National’s support, the Government had to allow more National Party MPs onto select committees—something they’ve been arguing about pretty much since the Government was formed. So, in other words, it was a power play by the Opposition.

This must never happen again.

National has now demonstrated that they will use every tactic, no matter how underhanded or deceptive, to try and derail the elected Government. Apparently, they just can’t accept that they’re not in government anymore, and are having a perpetually bad day.

Be that as it may, the Government apparently didn’t realise that they did, in fact, have the votes to elect a Speaker without National, which is why National didn’t push for a vote. The government must never again not know how many votes are there, no matter what games National plays. They must also be prepared for more silly games from National—because there will be a lot of games played by them.

At any rate, the new Speaker, Trevor Mallard, was selected unopposed, and he makes his first remarks as Speaker at about 7:40 in the video. At the conclusion of those remarks, at about 13:20, the Serjeant-at-Arms bends over and picks up the Mace, which is the symbol of the Speaker’s authority, and places it on the table in front of the Speaker’s seat. At that point, Parliament is officially in session (though it can be even if the Mace isn’t present or in the right place—it’s just a symbol).

After the election of the Speaker, party leaders congratulate the new Speaker, and it’s mostly good-natured, though with a dig or two. Those videos are available for viewing the NZ Parliament’s YouTube Channel, “In The House NZ”.

In the final video posted to YouTube today [WATCH], the Speaker made his final remarks, and then adjourned the House until 10:30am tomorrow for the State Opening of Parliament, and the Speech from The Throne by the Governor General (the speech is written by the Government). The speech will be followed by the Address-in-reply Debate, leading into the maiden speeches by new MPs. This can take several days, so it’s broken up so the House can get on with ordinary business, including eh first Question Time in the new Parliament on Thursday.

But the main thing is, New Zealand’s 52nd Parliament is now in business.