}

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Non-odoriferous

The Internet can teach us many things. While some of them are merely entertaining, like how to play a game, some are particularly useful, like how to remove odours, for example. Recently, a technique I tried before came back to help me again.

Back in February, I wrote about using a technique I’d read about on the Internet, specifically, using white vinegar to try to remove the fake coconut oil stench of sunscreen from clothes. It worked, and I decided to try it again.

The first task was the most urgent. I discovered that Bella had peed on a mat in the bathroom (Not entirely her fault: She was locked inside all day, and since she doesn’t have a litter box, she was caught short). So, I put the mat in a bucket of hot water and white vinegar, as might be expected, the resulting smell was, um, unique.

I drained the water, gave the mat a little rinse, and then washed it as usual. Being heavy, it took forever to air dry, but the smell was gone. I vaguely remember doing something like that years ago, with a different cat, but forgot all about it until recently (partly because Bella doesn't usually do that).

A week or so later, I had two t-shirts that smelled sour, like a kitchen cloth or sponge left too long without washing and disinfecting. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but it could be I washed them during one of our many rainstorms and then hung them up to dry in the airing rack in the house. That could have meant they were damp for too long. In any event, merely washing them wasn’t removing the smell.

So, I soaked them, too, in a bucket of hot water with white vinegar and then washed them like usual. They came out smelling fresh and clean.

I know that I might find something that this method doesn’t work with, but I haven’t yet, which is the main thing. But the other thing is that this gave me a passing thought that I ought to try more of these things the Internet told me about, and report back on what happened.

I actually thought that after I’d already tried something completely different that wasn’t as successful.

Something I found through Pinterest told me that a soft cloth with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) would remove water spots from stainless steel. We have a stainless steel water pitcher that, I think, had been washed in the dishwasher and ended up with water spots. I’d washed it and re-washed it by hand several times, but the spots remained. So I tried the alcohol method, and it helped—didn’t completely fix it, but it’s much improved. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a “before” photo, so an “after” photo was kind of pointless (and in that way, a topic for a blog post was lost…).

The larger point here is that as long as the Internet advice isn’t clearly dangerous—like combining household chemicals that must never be combined—there’s often no reason to NOT try methods, even if they seem unconventional. I will, and I'll continue to share what I learn.

Right now, though, I can affirm that soaking clothes in white vinegar does indeed remove most unpleasant odours.

I wonder what would happen if there was a white vinegar rainstorm over the White House…

Related posts:

Weekend Diversion: Learning stuff (2010) – The first post, I think, where I shared a technique I learned on the Internet. I still use this technique.
Weekend Diversion: How to fold a shirt (2013) – I still use this technique, too.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#CultureOfLove spreads a great message


The United Nations’ Free & Equal project has launched a mini-campaign exploring the role that culture and tradition play in the lives of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people around the world. The #CultureOfLove campaign features three short videos that show what it looks like when culture and tradition are opened to LGBTI people. I think they’re awesome: Anyone who is LGBTI—or loves someone who is—should watch them.

In Tradition (above), as the Free & Equal project put it in an email, “a young man in Mumbai brings his boyfriend to a family celebration of the Festival of Holi”. One of the end title cards (shared with all three videos) says, “Culture and tradition should bring us together, not tear us apart”. No one with a heart could possibly disagree with that.

The second video I watched was Culture, though it was actually the third posted to their YouTube Channel (where, as usual, all these videos are available in a variety of languages). In this video, “a genderqueer youngster in Britain joins their father at a soccer match and basks in the camaraderie that goes with supporting the local team”:



Finally, in Family, “Chinese parents shake off their initial hesitation and include their daughter’s same sex partner in their traditional Lunar New Year celebrations”:


What all three videos have in common is that they show very traditional cultures that are traditionally more or less anti-LGBTQI, and how people letting go of the chains of traditional culture and embracing love of family can make the world a better place.

All of this is based on Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. In the website for the campaign, they say:
Culture and tradition are profound parts of our lives. They allow us to come together to mark life’s milestones, and celebrate our heritage and the people we love. For many, they provide a sense of home, of history and identity.

Culture and tradition belong to everyone. Each of us gets to interpret, adapt and practice the beliefs, customs and rituals that are meaningful to us as individuals. These are basic cultural rights – guaranteed to everyone without discrimination.

Sadly, some people see the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people as a threat to their cultural values. They may try, wrongly, to rationalize violence and discrimination as a way of protecting their beliefs in the name of culture and tradition. No matter how diverse people’s beliefs and values, culture and tradition are not a license to discriminate or an excuse for violence.

Culture and tradition are not fixed: they change over time and are viewed and interpreted differently within societies. There are traditions of hate and repression, just as there are traditions of equality and justice. It's up to each of us to decide for ourselves which ones to carry on. You decide.
This is the heart—literally and figuratively—of this. In Western societies we’ve seen rapid progress for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people, even as we see growing repression of, and hatred directed toward, Trans people. LGB people have won, for now, the right to marry and be treated as any other citizen in most Western countries, but Trans people are still left to wonder when their time will come, when they, too, will be welcomed as free and equal people.

To be sure, the West has no room to gloat or to puff out its chest: Homophobia and Transphobia are rife throughout our societies, and even the hard-fought right to marry for same-gender couples could be taken away in an instant if we become the same object of hatred that Trans people are now, or as we were in the past.

But even where legal protections exist, so, too, does violence, hatred, and discrimination. There are many reasons for that, but culture and tradition are often used as justifications for it (as for example to justify the creation of concentration camps for and torture of LGBT people in Chechnya), and it is always wrong and unjustifiable.

My personal belief is that if one’s culture or tradition tells one to use violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, there’s something wrong with that culture or tradition, not the object of their enmity. Love and family must always come before culture and tradition, and when it does, change happens and cultures grow and form new, inclusive traditions.

Still, it’s impossible to wave a magic wand and transform a culture or to make long-held traditions adapt. Instead, WE do that, and it begins with a simple and clear determination to put love and family first. This is the way forward, I think.

The UN’s Free & Equal Campaign has put out some great videos over the years (see also below), and this series continues that. They’re doing good work toward making this world a better, safer, more peaceful place, and they should be commended. I hope they succeed in changing hearts and minds. I hope they help us all become Free & Equal.

Previously on this blog:

Suggested realities (2013) – My post where I first mentioned the Free & Equal Campaign
Free and Equal (2013) – From later the same day as the first post in this list, it was where I first shared a video, The Riddle.
Free & Equal – ‘The Welcome’ (2014)
UN Fighting to make LGBT people Free & Equal (2015) – A post with five videos from Free & Equal
This is my fight song (2016) – With the video Why We Fight featuring the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, the first time I’d ever heard that song.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Issue storytelling done by a storyteller


Political messaging comes in many forms, from overt advertising, viral videos, pop songs, TV satire, and so much more. When it’s done right, it can influence opinion and voting behaviour. The best issue messages come from proven storytellers, and the video above is an excellent example of that.

The video is called “UNLOCKED”, and was made in support of Planned Parenthood by “screenwriter, film and television director, film and television producer, comic book author, and composer” Joss Whedon. He clearly knows what he’s doing.

Over three minutes, Whedon masterfully shows two entirely different realities for three women: One in which rightwingers succeed in their campaign to close down Planned Parenthood, and the other in which the organisation can continue providing the important health services they provide, ending with the direct question: “What world do you want?”

The answer to that question really is about politics, sure, but even more it’s about simple humanity and human decency. While it is inflammatory to say so, it’s nevertheless true that rightwingers who want to end Planned Parenthood are okay with a world in which women die or suffer needlessly. Those who support Planned Parenthood are not.

Rabid anti-abortion people want to “de-fund” Planned Parenthood because, they say, giving the organisation money for women’s health services frees up other, non-government money to be used for providing abortions. Only about 4%, more or less, of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are related to abortion, but to fervent anti-abortion activists, the women who benefit from the 96% of the services related to women’s health should suffer.

It seems to me that Planned Parenthood’s rightwing opponents can be broadly divided into two categories. The first are the True Believers, who are almost always religiously activist conservative Christians (Protestant and Catholic) who are fervently opposed to abortion, and often contraception, too. There’s no reasoning with this crowd, and no compromise is even remotely possible.

The other, possibly bigger, group is made up of Opportunistic Opponents, mainly politicians who exploit the crusade against Planned Parenthood for personal political gain: They feel that they can tap into the rightwing crusade as a way of fooling True Believers into thinking they’re as anti-abortion as they are.

It’s entirely possible that among the Opportunistic Opponents are people who really do oppose abortion on “moral grounds” possibly for reasons not based on regurgitated religious doctrine. But here’s the thing: In the roughly 40 years I’ve been paying close attention to politics, often participating in it, I have never—ever—met anyone who is “pro-abortion”, despite the defamatory rhetoric used by the rightwing. Not once.

Instead, mainstream people, regardless of party, believe, as President Clinton used to put it, abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”. Supporting the right to choose and access to abortion is not the same as supporting abortion itself.

Instead, mainstream people support age-appropriate sex education to help prevent teenagers from creating unintended pregnancies, as well as life skills education to teach young people how to deal with societal pressure to have sex, that “no means no”, and so on. We also support the right to full access to birth control, and that it be free for those who can’t afford it. But if all that fails, we still believe that the choice is between a woman and her doctor, end of story.

Planned Parenthood is involved in that sort of education, as well as providing birth control and related advice, education, and services. Abortion services are a minor part of what they do.

But aside from all that, they also provide the only healthcare that some women—poor women in particular—can get, especially for services like cancer screening. That clearly has nothing to do with abortion.

Personally, I have zero sympathy for those who want to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. Sure, their little fantasy world in which cutting of government funding for Planned Parenthood is morally justifiable must help ease their consciences, but in the real world it would mean that women die. Since no government money can be spent on abortion services (which is stupid in my opinion, but a different topic), then their ability to provide such services is entirely dependent upon being able to raise the money privately. If people didn’t support those abortion services, they wouldn’t give money to Planned Parenthood, and the government funding has nothing to do with that decision—but women’s lives will be sacrificed because of the—let’s be honest here—batshit crazy fantasy of anti-abortion extremists.

No matter how much it drives some rightwingers into a frothing rage, abortion IS legal in the United States. Until and unless that changes, the zealous rightwingers are really demanding that government money provided for vital healthcare be cut off to stop private people from donating money to support a perfectly legal medical procedure. That’s just nuts.

The video above won’t change any rightwingers’ minds, and it doesn’t need to change the minds of those in the Centre or and the Left who support Planned Parenthood. But it could help the huge number of people who really don’t understand what’s really at stake here, and how very, VERY wrong the rightwing is.

And, if I haven’t been abundantly clear already, “I Stand With Planned Parenthood”. I know what world I want, and Planned Parenthood is part of it.

In any case, this video is very well done.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

2Political Podcast 123 is available

Episode 123 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

The wind began to switch

There was a storm on Tuesday night. There’s nothing unusual about that, apart from the fact we had no idea it was coming. The wind was fierce, often driving a hard rain. It was bad enough that I talked about it on Facebook:
Well, THAT was wild weather last night!! It started raining in the evening, and got more steady and often heavier as the night went on. After midnight (I don't know what time, because I was asleep), the winds began—house rattling and moving winds, "someone's going to lose a roof tonight" winds, even "are we safe?" winds.

The wind woke us up about 4am, and it was too loud -- and, frankly, too scary -- to sleep. We got up about 4:15, and saw the next door neighbours were up, too. Sometime after 5, I went back to bed and managed to sleep.

The wind and rain continued into the morning, then around 10, it all just stopped—no gradual dying down, more like someone threw a switch.

I had a quick look around, and there doesn't seem to be any damage, and no real surface flooding. I wouldn't have guessed that because it SOUNDED so much worse than the weather bomb or ex tropical cyclones we've been hit by over the last few weeks.

Last night, I was really annoyed that the App that's supposed to warn of hazards (including storms) never did. Maybe that's because it was all sound and fury amounting to nothing? No, the new "Hazard" App is terrible, and nowhere near as good as the old Civil Defence App it replaced. There SHOULD have been a warning about damaging winds.

It was the not knowing that kept us from being able to go back to sleep. That, and all the noise from the wild weather last night.
A friend later pointed out on Facebook that there have been other storms that hit with no warning. That’s true, and when combined with the number of times they’ve predicted bad storms that never happened (or weren’t as bad as predicted), it’s little wonder that most Kiwis take weather predictions with a grain of salt.

I actually have a lot of sympathy for them. Being an island nation, the weather for New Zealand is notoriously hard to predict. Even so, it would have been nice to have advance warning or, if that wasn’t possible, at least a warning through the Hazard App.

Yesterday was pretty quiet, really, but this morning the winds picked up again and were sometimes incredibly strong, though not as bad as they were on Tuesday night. Or, did the daylight just make it seem better?

As my mother always used to say, “Whether it rains, or whether is snows, we shall have weather, whether or no.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Midweek Diversion: Ozzy v. Earth, Wind & Fire


If there was a list of best mash-ups ever, this would have to be near the top—it’s truly inspired. The video above is itself a mash-up of video footage of the two performances, and it somehow works, just like the “song”.

This was made by a guy called DJ Cummerbund [YouTube Channel] did a mash-up of Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train and Earth, Wind, & Fire’s September. To me, it sounds like an actual song, something that isn’t always the case with mash-ups. It also sounds like it could have been a hit back in the day.

Still, the meshing of Ozzy and EW&F is so out there, so beyond normal human thought, that the result just begs to be shared. So, since I saw it shared all over the place today, I decided to do a “Midweek Diversion” post, something that’s so rare I don’t even have a Label (aka tag) for them, and that I haven’t done since October, 2014. Which is not to say this is going to be even almost as frequent as my Weekend Diversion posts, but it does mean that maybe I should think about a label/tag for these posts. Maybe I’ll wait for the next one.

Health and sickness

Yesterday I finally had a consultation that should have happened months ago, and the results were all good. But getting to that point made me feel really quite unwell, and that was despite the fact that I wasn’t, in fact, unwell. It was all because of a weird coincidence of events.

The appointment at the cardiology department at the hospital yesterday was supposed to have happened last October but, for some reason, it didn’t. It was about the time of the junior doctors’ strikes, so maybe that affected things. And, there was weird confusion about it, as I mentioned in the last update.

In the week or two leading up to the appointment, I began to get more anxious about it: What if they found something was wrong? What if I was getting bad again? I think this is the reason I had trouble sleeping the couple nights before that, which I mentioned on Monday.

The particular reason I got worked up about it was some coincidences: First, at the end of that day I had a meeting—a meeting for the same group that was meeting the first day I was in hospital, and I had to send my apologies because I obviously couldn’t attend the meeting that night in August. If the two events hadn’t both been yesterday, I may not have had the very real reminder of what it felt like nine months ago.

But in the months since then, particularly after I was able to stop taking the Clopidogrel (blood thinner), I began to wonder, how would I know if things were getting bad again? I didn’t know it was happening the first time. I worried about that, sometimes too much, and always forgetting that I see my doctor every three months, so it’s not like I’m going unmonitored.

It turned out, there was probably no need for worry. The first thing they did when I got to the hospital yesterday is do an ECG, and the results were normal. It was a bad ECG that sent me to the hospital last August, so this was both significant and a major relief.

After meeting with the staff, it turns out that I’m mostly doing very well. In my last update, I also mentioned my blood test results, and we went over those yesterday. Turns out I was right: My cholesterol levels are really good (I’m supposed to have considerably lower levels than a person who hasn’t had my problem). My low “good” cholesterol is a problem, but it turns out there are a lot of reasons why that could be happening, and they seemed less concerned about that than I am.

However, they want to increase the dosage on my blood pressure medication again. My blood pressure is in a range that would be acceptable for a man my age who hasn’t had my health issue. The dosage was last raised in March, and it has come down, but not enough. So, I’ll soon start a higher dosage, then, if I tolerate it and it doesn’t lower my blood pressure too much, I’ll get blood tests ten days after starting to make sure I don’t have signs of kidney damage from the higher dosage.

So, things are going well, really, and once my blood pressure stabilises it means I’ll actually be better than an unaffected man my age: I’ll have lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. That’s kind of ironic.

All of this was true despite my worry, something I intellectually knew would be the case, but feared would not be. But now that I’ve finally had the consultation, and knowing that I see the doctor every three months, I know that I’m still fine, and that’s ultimately what matters. Well, that and keeping it that way.

Finally, today is nine months since my hospital adventure, something I was also aware of leading up to yesterday, as well as th efact that yesterday was nine months since I found out I was getting a stent, the day after I arrived at the hospital in the back of an ambulance. It all added another layer of coincidence to yesterday. But there was one more thing about yesterday that was good: I left the hospital with no bill. Just like always.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Today’s dilemma


The caption for the photo above pretty much describes what it’s about. When I sat to write the caption so I could post it, I really just wanted to tell the tale sparely. When I was done, the last line just sort of popped into my head, sort of haiku-like.

For many years, I never took naps. That was because I wore contact lenses and had to take them out and disinfect them, a pain in itself, and the disinfection process was a time consuming one that often took longer than a nap would be.

After my Lasik eye surgery, I could nap again, and I have main times in the years since. However, I envy the dogs’ ability to just lay down anywhere and go to sleep. It always takes me longer to fall asleep, and usually the conditions have to be just right.

Last night, for some reason, I was wide awake until quite late. I drank a cup of chamomile tea to make me sleepy, something that doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t I have a second. I had a second cup last night. Then a third. And still I wasn’t sleepy.

I went to bed anyway, and it took me the better part of an hour to fall asleep, though I’d dozed lightly a bit before then. I have no idea what that was about, since nothing like it has ever happened to me, as far as I can remember. Still, once I was asleep, I slept really well.

So, today when I saw Sunny just fall asleep so quickly and easily, I probably envied that a bit more than I would normally.

A dog’s life, eh?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

So, Mother’s Day

Among the last photos I took of my mother, ca. 1980. 
Today is Mother’s Day, which, unlike Father’s Day, falls on the same date in both New Zealand and the United States. In both countries it’s very commercialised, with promotions to buy cards, gifts, and for taking mother out for a meal. Despite all that, the day is meant to be—and still largely is—a day to honour one’s own mother. But those of us who’ve lost our mothers are included—whether we like it or not.

Every year there are outpourings of love and gratitude for one’s mother, living or dead, and many of those are shared on social media. In my own Facebook feed today I saw post after post along those lines. I think it’s touching.

I do wonder sometimes, though, how all this public focusing on mothers affects people who have recently lost their mother, or, worse, perhaps never knew theirs, or, worse still, ended up estranged from their mothers. Does the saturation coverage—well, saturation marketing—bother them?

As someone whose mother is long gone, I’m at a place where I can appreciate the reminder. And, I like seeing people acknowledge their mothers. I especially love seeing posts from people who have the chance to express their love and appreciation for their mother who is still alive, because I can no longer do that, of course.

Those who find the mother-focus to be too much, for whatever reason, can mostly get away from it, more or less, if they really want to. But even I was given pause by a game I play that gave me a “badge” when I’d accumulated enough points. “I ❤️ Mom”, it said. I do, even now, but would others mind that badge being added to their profile picture without being asked?

Like always, I try to be sensitive to how others feel, that some people may have entirely different feelings about their mothers or Mother’s Day than I do. But, of course, that doesn’t stop me from liking the day or remembering my mother (or thinking about my awesome mother-in-law, and making sure Nigel rings her, though he always does without my prompting). To me, this is one of those things where people must “live and let live”, that we may not all experience, think about, or react to the day (or our mothers) in the same way, and that’s fine.

Me, I remember my mother every Mother’s Day, and I wish I still had the chance to do so personally. Instead, I can just be happy for those who can, and a good dose of “the feels” never does anyone any harm.

Footnote: Today I puzzled about spelling. I thought maybe it should be “Mothers’ Day”, a day belonging to all mothers, or maybe “Mothers Day” the say of mothers. But it turns out that it really is “Mother’s Day” because the founder, Anna Jarvis, wanted it that way. She wanted people to celebrate and honour their own mothers—but without all the commercialisation. The day began in 1905, and by the 1920s the commercialisation had well and truly set in, and Anna was NOT happy about it. She’d probably be pleased that so many people still share her feeling. The fact it was only today that I looked it up is probably an indication of how little a role the day actually plays in my life nowadays.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

High crimes and misdemeanours

Where do we even start? No, seriously! WHERE do we even start? The US has a dangerous unhinged autocrat in the White House, and no one seems to know what to do, or even what the hell is going on. I don’t either, but we all have some thoughts on this whole mess. Here are a few of mine.

Did Don fire Comey to try and avoid prosecution?

It sure looks like Don fired FBI Director Comey because he was investigating the links between Don’s campaign—maybe even Don himself—and the Russian government’s attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 US elections. After all, Don fired two others who were investigating him, so, where there’s smoke there’s fire, right?

That may be, but it’s also possible that it was the people most likely to be investigated (indicted?) told Don to fire Comey, and he did. And, as we all know, Don is way too narcissistic to believe that he’ll ever face prosecution for anything.

It’s also possible that Don just got his knickers in a twist, probably because Comey was getting far more media attention than Don was, and Don hates that. That coverage not only made Don look bad, Comey also had the temerity to say publicly that Don’s lies about President Obama “bugging” Trump Tower had no basis in fact. So, it’s equally plausible that Don just got pissed off for purely personal, petty, egotistical reasons. Supporting evidence includes the fact that there was clearly no plan, no probable successor, no media talking points ready to go, and the letter firing Comey was delivered to FBI Headquarters—not where Comey actually was at the time—by Don’s personal bodyguard, not a government official. It all seemed so impulsive and without any critical thought, like a live-action version of one of Don’s Tweets.

What we know for sure is that their stated reason for the firing is utter nonsense: Don spent months attacking Hillary Clinton over her emails, so to expect us to now believe he NOW thinks Comey was too hard on Hillary is laughable: That’s NOT why Comey was fired, and we’re not stupid enough to believe that steaming pile of male bovine excrement.

But Don’s second paragraph in his letter firing Comey speaks volumes about his motivation, and may be his undoing:
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
What the F…?! “Under investigation” for what, precisely? Collusion with Russia to influence the election outcome? Engaging in corrupt business practices overseas in violation of US law? Violating the emoluments clause of the US Constitution? Don doesn't say, but it sounds an awful lot like Richard Nixon declaring, “I am not a crook”, and that didn’t turn out too well for Nixon. In any case, it’s a totally irrelevant insertion into the letter and actually increases the likelihood that Don fired Comey in an attempt to stop the Russia investigation (among others). It’s the focus of what Comey was investigating, and that paragraph makes it look like Don was desperate to make himself sound blameless. At the very least, it certainly increases the appearance that it was the motive for the firing.

This really is similar to Watergate.

The comparisons to Watergate have been flying everywhere, and that makes perfect sense: It’s the closest thing we have to this situation. In that case, the president fired a special prosecutor who was investigating his administration, and, it turned out, the president was a crook. In 2017, the titular president fired the man investigating his campaign for criminal and possibly treasonous collusion with a hostile foreign government to steer the results of a US election. Then, the questions were, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Now, the questions are exactly the same, and, also just like back then, there’s the strong probability of criminal activity by people close to the sitting president.

Firing the special prosecutor was one of the actions that led directly to the probability that Nixon would be impeached and removed from office, so Nixon resigned instead. Will that history repeat, too?

Don will almost certainly not be impeached.

For impeachment to happen, Republicans would have to agree to do it, since they control both houses of Congress. There is simply no way that Republicans—who always put the interests of their party ahead of the needs of the country—would ever agree to bring articles of impeachment to a vote in the US House. Hell, they’ll never allow the House Judiciary Committee to consider articles. We know this because of the unholy alliance of the radical-right extremists known as the “House Freedom [sic] Caucus” and ordinary self-serving politicians who are terrified of losing their elective office and the money-train that gives them.

However, if Don’s situation becomes absolutely untenable, and the House did the unthinkable and actually voted to impeach, then the situation changes.

The US Senate is no less partisan than is the US House, however, it isn’t under the stranglehold of the radical right. That means that should Don be impeached, then there is the very real possibility that the Senate would convict him and remove him from office.

But the House will almost certainly never allow impeachment to proceed unless there’s an equivalent of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes lurking somewhere—or something worse. Then, they’d have no choice.

There are things that can happen.

First, Mike Pence, Don’s Vice President, and a majority of the cabinet could certify that Don is unable to execute the duties of the office of president, and Mike would become acting president. This is the bloodless coup allowed by the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution. What’s unclear is, why couldn’t Don just then send his own letter saying Mike's wrong and he’s fine? And if that happened, what next?

Second, Democrats could re-take control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. They could then impeach Don and remove him from office. Or, they could just do to Don what Republicans did to President Obama with such great success: Refuse to go along with anything that Don wants. That has the benefit of not putting Mike, a religious extremist, in the Oval Office.

Third, Don could just resign. As I said recently, Don may have already been hinting that he’ll resign. But to encourage him to do so, Mike would no doubt have to promise to give Don a pardon, much like the one Nixon got. Mike would definitely use that as precedent, though there’s no evidence that President Ford ever promised in advance to pardon Nixon.

This is not normal.

Nothing about Don, his behaviour or anything related to his regime, is normal, and this situation isn't normal, either. But because it's all so abnormal, none of us has any idea how this story will end, or when. There will be inevitable leaks about Don and/or his people, and there will be a lot of attempts at distraction and diversion—it's what Don always does, after all. I'm not convinced it will work anymore.

But, then, nothing is normal about all of this. So, who knows?!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Good dogs

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

As a rule, I don’t like posting Instagram photos in sequential posts, but cuteness demands otherwise. That, and my continuing inability to resume normal blogging. Well, never look a gift dog in the mouth, right?

I took these photos this morning as we waited for the plumber to arrive to carry out some work for us. At the point, the dogs were stuck in the house with me, since the front gates were open, so they lay down and watched the front gate through the window.

The photo up top, the one I shared to Instagram, is clearly out of focus, but it had the cutest pose—and it was easier to see Jake’s head, something that’s difficult under the best of circumstances.

The photo below is basically what I saw that made me take photos in the first place. They stayed like that for a little while, but both moved after I sat down in a nearby chair. Both prefer to be close to me.

The plumber arrived and did the job, and all three furbabies were well behaved, as usual. He left and all three went back to their normal day (sleeping, mostly…) as I moved around the house working on various projects.

And, of course, they did one more thing: They gave me something to share on this blog. That was probably their biggest thing they did for me today.

Good dogs.

Related: Yesterday’s Instagram photo I shared here.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Cat naps


Lately, Bella has decided to start sleeping in some new places, some odd places. The photo above shows one of them: On the stairs. The particular step in the photo above was a new one—until now it’s been the last step before the top.

Last week, I also saw her sleeping under my dresser—well, mostly under, since her back was showing. She’s also slept on top of a little table, and on top of a small square woven basket-like box with a lid. She uses her new spaces until she moves on to new new spaces.

This has been kind of entertaining, to be honest, but also sometimes a little concerning because I have no idea where she is. When I find her, she’s asleep.

I sometimes wish I could do that, too.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Calum Scott


The past couple weeks, I’ve shared videos I stumbled across on New Zealand’s free-to-air music video channel. This week’s artist is one I was reminded of, but someone I first saw elsewhere: Calum Scott.

Callum shot to fame on the first episode of the 2015 season of Britain’s Got Talent. He was there mainly to support his sister Jade, who was auditioning for the show. She wasn’t selected, and he had to follow her. His audition is the video above, a slow version of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” [WATCH], a song that had been a mild hit for the Swedish singer in 2010.

After his audition, Simon Cowell hit the “Golden Buzzer”, which sent Calum straight through to the live semi-final shows, which was a big deal. At the time, Cowell said, "I've never ever in all the years I've done this show heard a guy with the talent you've got. Seriously. And the version was sensational, which shows to me that you're more than a singer, you're an artist and that's why you got that (the Golden Buzzer)."

Calum got through the semi final, but ended up sixth out of twelve. He eventually released “Dancing On My Own” as a single:



The song reached Number 2 in the UK and Australia, Number 5 in New Zealand, and Number 15 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. It was 2x Platinum in the UK, 3x Platinum in Australia, and Platinum in New Zealand. There were also dance remixes (like this one), but I personally prefer the more spare arrangements.

His first single of a song he wrote, "Rhythm Inside", was released earlier this year (video below). "It’s the polar opposite of 'Dancing On My Own',” he told Billboard. “You’re not in the corner anymore, you’re right in the action. There are a lot of songs about love and how it starts, whether that’s realising it yourself or coming to find it later on—but no sort of talk about the actual feelings that are created from love and passion. I wanted to go a little bit deeper into the internal side of it. Like, the beat of your heart, your hair is standing on end, and the adrenaline. I wanted to capture that. It’s a hopeful song and it’s more positive.”



The song has not been as successful as “Dancing On My Own”, but he’s said his goal is to like one of his own idols, Adele, and be consistent as an artist. That suggests that not every song will be a commercial hit, though if he’s like Adele, some could be huge hits.

I like "Rhythm Inside". It’s a nice pop song that's pretty much as he described it. This song is also the connection to that music video channel: I was watching one night and this video came on, and I wondered if he’d ever publicly come out (or, maybe, if my hunch had been correct). It turns out he had, and discussed what it means to be a gay artist in an interview with Attitude, and interview that I thought was quite interesting.

So, I first heard Calum Scott on Britain’s Got Talent (and only because my brother-in-law and his daughters shared the YouTube clip above with us), and, just like Simon Cowell, I’d never heard anything like it in all the years of talent competitions. I was reminded of all that because I happened to catch the video for "Rhythm Inside", and that made me want to know a little more about him, and that, in turn, made me want to share his music.

Personally, I hope he has huge success. This certainly seems to be the era for singer-songwriters that have soulful delivery of well-written songs. Long may that continue.

Friday, May 05, 2017

First ad against Republicans' healthcare repeal


The video above is an ad for Democratic candidate for Virginia Governor, Tom Perriello, and it was released minutes after Republicans in the US House passed Don's Trumpcare bill to take away health insurance from millions of Americans in order to give big tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires like themselves. Expect to see more ads like this because Don and the Republican's Trumpcare is so desperately unpopular in the USA.

There’s an obvious caution here: The midterm Congressional elections are about 550 days from now, and if a week is a long time in politics, then some 18 months is an eternity. If the Senate rejects Trumpcare, then the issue will die. And, of course, Don will obviously say or do something incredibly stupid, offensive, idiotic, dangerous, irrational—did I mention stupid?—in the next few days that will deflect attention. It’s the one thing he can be counted on to do. He’ll also do that every single week—several times a week, most likely—right up until the midterm elections (assuming he stays in office that long, of course). So, keeping the outrage alive that long will be a challenge.

Still, because Americans reject Republicans’ Trumpcare, it makes sense to wrap support for it around the necks of the Republicans in Congress who supported it. As Nate Silver points out on FiveThirtyEight, there are plenty of Republicans with margins close enough for this issue to make a difference in 2018, and if Democrats can make Trumpcare stick to them, the House could flip to the Democrats. We’ll see.

At the very least, acting right now to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire and associate them with Don, who continues to be unpopular, is a good strategy at the moment. As we clearly saw in the 2016 elections, negative narratives and associations, repeated over and over, can have a long-term effect in reducing support for a candidate. So, while the issues may change over the next 18 months, and this particular issue may be dead by then, the negative impressions of Republicans will remain if the messaging against them is constant.

In any case, this is a good political ad for setting out differences and drawing a line. This is obviously not intended to be an ad promoting specific policy—first things first, and reminding voters of what Don and the Republicans are trying to do them is important for now.

Fun Fact: The ad was recorded live, in one take.

Related: A majority of Americans, especially independents, support the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Is the special relationship ending?

Australia seems determined to destroy the “special relationship” that has existed between that country and New Zealand since the disaster of Gallipoli. On Monday, mere days after Anzac Day, the day set aside to remember the sacrifices at Gallipoli and beyond, Australia stuck the knife into New Zealanders yet again.

Since 2001, Australia has been moving farther and farther along a road toward making New Zealanders living in Australia second-class citizens. Back then, they cut off New Zealander’s ability to become citizens and to receive welfare, including disability benefits, even though they pay taxes to Australia like all workers do.

In 2006, actor Russell Crowe, who was born in New Zealand but who has lived in Australia since he was a child, was denied citizenship because he had been outside Australia in 2001 working on the Oscar winning film Gladiator, and returned after the law had been changed. Here’s a guy who brought fame to Australia, and millions of dollars, but they still treated him like a second-class citizen.

In 2005, Australia cut off the ability of New Zealanders living in Australia to access student loans. Probably as a result, children of New Zealanders were half as likely to go to university as the children of Australians. In 2016, Australia did restore the ability of New Zealanders to get student loans.

On Monday, Australia announced that the children of New Zealanders will no longer be able to pay the domestic fees for university—despite Kiwis paying taxes to support the university system. Instead, their fees will go up A$8000 per year (about NZ$8700). Oddly enough, their taxes and levies are not being reduced.

The Australians say Kiwis will still be able to access student loans (gee, thanks…), and at least they won’t be paying as much as non-resident foreigners, who face a 500% increase, paying an average additional amount of A$33,000 (NZ$35,600) per year.

Worst, the Australian Government didn’t even have the decency to warn the New Zealand Government before announcing the change—and only days after Anzac Day. Two weeks ago, Australia made it even tougher to get citizenship, and again they didn’t bother to warn New Zealand.

In 2015, Australia suddenly decided it would deport some ex-criminals, no matter how long they’d lived in Australia, even if they’d arrived as a child, regardless of whether they had any connections whatsoever to New Zealand, and no matter how many years they’d lived cleanly.

Australia just started deporting, including people who knew no one in New Zealand, and had no idea where to go or what to do. Some of them were legitimate criminals, but because Australia gave New Zealand virtually no notice it was doing this, New Zealand had to rush through a law change to allow the New Zealand Government to monitor prisoners deported to New Zealand.

Add it all up, and it’s not really such a “special relationship”, not when one side disrespects the other so much.

By way of contrast, Australians who move to New Zealand can vote after living here one year and can get welfare benefits after living here for two years.

So, what to do? Well, New Zealand Governments—Labour and National alike—have expressed how darn cross they are and done nothing else whatsoever. There are some 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, their rate of participation in the workforce is higher than Australians’, yet they’re still treated like this, and the New Zealand Government does nothing about it.

This has got to change.

It’s time that New Zealand started changing the way Australians are treated here so that their citizens face many—but not all—of the same problems that New Zealanders face over there. One thing we mustn’t do is cut off all access to welfare, disability benefits in particular, because we’re better than that.

I also note that Australia has done this stuff under rightwing Liberal-National Coalition governments, not under governments run by the Australian Labor Party. The Coalition tends to want to pander to racist and xenophobic Australian voters, but the real reason they do this is money.

Australia collects the taxes and levies from hundreds of thousands of NZ-born Australian workers, but it provides them with very little in services. From a budgetary perspective, it’s a pretty sweet deal! And, they know that New Zealand governments won’t retaliate, so there’s no risk to Australians.

Any chance that Australia and New Zealand might one day be part of the same country is now well and truly dead, and the Australians are the ones that finally killed off the idea. There’s also pretty much no chance of currency union, either, which is a good thing for its own reasons.

The worst that could happen is that relations could deteriorate so much that the two countries treat each other like totally foreign countries. But Australia won’t want to risk the money it gets in taxes from New Zealanders living there, nor from Kiwi tourists visiting the country, nor from trans-Tasman trade. For New Zealand, it’s mostly about trade, and a bit of tourism.

So, both countries have financial incentives to plod along, and they’ll do so. Even when Australia once again sticks it to New Zealanders living there—and they absolutely will—nothing will change; the New Zealand Government of the day will express how darn cross it is and do nothing else whatsoever.

The real issue here is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are being treated very badly by Australia, and the Australian Government just doesn’t give a damn. Yeah, that’s a really “special relationship”, alright.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Weekend Diversion: ‘Heavydirtysoul’


I stumble across a lot of pop music by accident, and these days it’s also mostly through New Zealand's free-to-air video music channel. Last week I shared one song I discovered by accident, and this week I thought I’d share another.

The video above is “Heavydirtysoul”, a song by 21 Pilots from their fourth album, Blurryface. The group is summarised by Wikipedia:
Twenty One Pilots (stylized as TWENTY ØNE PILØTS) is an American musical duo originating from Columbus, Ohio. The band was formed in 2009 by lead vocalist Tyler Joseph along with former members Nick Thomas and Chris Salih, who eventually left in 2011, and currently consists of Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. [Bolding is in the original]
21 Pilots played in Wellington and Auckland last month, and were very well received. They also said nice things about New Zealand on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp, something Kiwi journalists love rather a lot. The album Blurryface peaked at number 7 in Australia, number 2 in New Zealand, and number 1 in the USA. “Heavydirtysoul”, however, wasn’t a mainstream hit in any of those countries.

While I really liked the sound of the song, it was the video that caught my attention. It’s fascinating (the video below is a “behind the scenes” look at the making of the video). I saw it a week or two before they came to New Zealand, and until I saw that video I'd never heard of them.

One thing that I didn’t know at the time, or until quite awhile later, is that both Joseph and Dun are Christians, and their music is positively swooned over by Catholic bloggers (like this one from New Zealand, or a rather over-the-top one from three years ago). I dunno, maybe those Catholics are right, but I think they could be trying to read too much into the band and their songs. At any rate, these guys are like most young people: They’re not trying to force their religion on anybody—which is obvious because they’re not the ones bringing it up.

At any rate, I liked this song and this video, and it’s just another one that I found completely by accident because I happened to tune into the free-to-air video music channel at just the right time. I’m sure it won’t be the last time this happens.

Internet Wading: Very recent stuff edition

Today is April 30, the last day of the month, which is as good a time as any to resume these Internet Wading posts. This is also the end of the titular US President’s first 100 days, which means we can stop hearing about that—after a few things about it that caught my eye this weekend.

Yahoo News had published a couple good things on the subject, starting with fact checking “The White House’s claims about Trump’s first 100 days”. Naturally, reality is somewhat different than the spin coming from Don and his regime. In a more chartiable mood (when writing the headline, at least), Yahoo News also published, “The 45th president’s norm-busting first 100 days”, which has bonus points for pointing out actual history.

Vox, meanwhile, checks the results of Don’s first 100 days against his promises, and ThinkProgress noted that Don “broke 80 promises in 100 days”.

The UK’s Independent looks at “How relations between White House and intelligence agencies crumbled in Donald Trump's first 100 days”, and in an editorial the paper concludes that “The evidence from his first 100 days in office is that he can be pushed around”.

Also this weekend, and related to Don, as Salon put it, “Another weekend, another protest: Thousands turn out for worldwide ‘Climate March’”. CNN said, “Climate protest takes on Trump's policies – and the heat – in DC march”, while Vox provided “10 of the best signs from the People’s Climate March”.

Speaking of marches, my nearly life-long friend Jason attended the March for Science and blogged about it, including LOTS of signs—great signs, some just fun, a lot with brainy jokes, but all of them with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Of course. Side note: Posts about things like this are this are among my favourites that Jason does.

But enough of Don and his politics, eh? How about something much more serious? Roger Green has a system for “Systematically listening to the music” in his large CD collection. I’ll admit that his system was far too complicated for me, but it’s kind of interesting all the same. Our own CDs are all still boxed up after our recent move, and I’d actually like to leave them there: They’re a pain to dust all the time, and we don’t even have an easy means to play them. We have to keep them because we’ve digitised them all and when the New Zealand Parliament finally legalised format shifting, it required that people must keep the CDs they digitised so they could produce them on demand in the event of some sort of allegation that one’s digital music was illegal. Or, something (the reason never made much sense). Oddly enough, the last time I mentioned that was also in relation to something Roger posted.

And finally, how about one of the dumbest ideas ever? A new sports stadium has been proposed for Auckland’s waterfront, which isn’t unusual (many have been proposed over the years), but this one is a bit different: It would be submerged. Dubbed “The Crater”, most of the stadium would be below the water, with only the top above the water.

Building a stadium mostly under weather in an era that will see rising sea levels due to climate change doesn’t seem like the brightest idea ever. And imagine terrorists blasting a hole in one side—or even just structural failure—drowning everyone inside. Not a pleasant thought.

All that aside, Aucklanders turned out to protest the loss of their harbour when Ports of Auckland wanted to extend a wharf. What on earth makes anyone think that Aucklanders would accept a massive stadium taking up the harbour they fought to protect?!

And on that appropriate note, that’s enough for this Internet Wading, the very recent stuff edition.

The graphic accompanying this post is an Internet Meme making the rounds the past couple days. I have no idea who wrote it or who created this graphic. But it is so VERY true.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

‘I thought it would be easier’

If there was only one sentence to sum up the entire ethos of the current titular US president, it would be this: “I thought it would be easier.” That’s what Don said about being president, reinforcing his image as a lightweight. He deserves all the scorn he’s getting.

Don has a reputation for being shallow and disconnected, largely based on the fact he spends most of his time watching TV and then using mainly Fox “News” talking points as subjects of his Tweets (as for example, “A Running Guide to the Cable-News Segments President Trump Is Cribbing His Tweets From”, and also  “President Trump once again tweets info he first saw on Fox News”). His erratic and often bizarre and wildly factually incorrect pronouncements on various policy issues are now so common that they've become expected.

All of which means that the guy just ain’t right.

But could there be a hidden message in his comments to Reuters? The whole quote:
"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
That sounds like someone setting the stage to just up and quit. Indeed, quitting is by far the most likely way that Don would depart before the next election. No matter what he does, Republicans in Congress, who clearly care about nothing other than holding power, would never—ever—impeach him, let alone remove him from office. Neither will they use the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution to remove him, though that’s probably a good thing, since it would amount to a coup.

But if Don just quits, he’d give Mike Pence time to become identified as president before the elections. But when would be best for that?

If Don quits with less than half of his term to go, then Mike could run for two terms of his own, though on the face of it a zealous religious extremist like Mike would seem unlikely to be a successful candidate.

On the other hand, if Don quits sooner, say, within the next year or so, it would give voters time to forget what a disastrous joke he’s been, and that may mean that Republicans can be assured of maintaining control of Congress. Mike is a loyal Republican (though he ranks it well below his religion…), so he might be willing to put aside his personal ambition—two terms plus nearly half of Don’s—in order to keep his party in power.

The problem for them is that Don clearly doesn’t care about the Republican Party or its future, and he certainly couldn’t care less about what happens to Mike. If he does quit, it’ll be when he feels like it, no matter how that affects the Republican Party.

Will he quit? I think he will either quit before the 2020 elections, or he’ll stay and possibly win re-election (right now, there are FAR too many unknowns to gauge whether Don would win re-election, so that’s a topic for a future time). If he quits, it could be sudden. If he does quit, his remarks to Reuters will prove to have been the first hint.

But whether he quits or not, one other thing is evident from the interview with Reuters: The man is absolutely obsessed with relitigating the 2016 election. He clearly hates the fact that he lost the popular vote, and he’s trying to find all sorts of imaginative ways to try to rewrite history and facts. He has proven there really is such a thing as a "sore winner".

Don apparently really did think that being president was like being a king, and with a wave his small hand his bidding would be done. You would think that a man who spent years attacking President Obama at every opportunity would realise that plenty of people would now be attacking him, but it seems Don didn’t work that out, and the realisation is now helping drive his dissatisfaction with his job. Maybe it’s really true that he never expected or wanted to win. It sure looks that way.

If he were any ordinary worker and felt so dissatisfied with his job, the logical advice would be to quit. Like many people, I hope that’s advice Don takes. Being president is never easy. The USA needs a president who knows that and can deal with that reality, and Don can never be that person.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Workers deserve better


Today was International Workers Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the workers killed or injured at work. The day was observed here in New Zealand, too, of course, in the midst of a TV ad campaign with ad above in heavy rotation. There has never been a better time for workers to demand better treatment.

In New Zealand, workers have fared increasingly worse since the neoliberal “reforms” of the 1980s/90s, many of which set the stage for the economic inequality New Zealand struggles with today. Recently, former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger expressed regret at some of what neoliberalism wrought, particularly its catastrophic effect on unions. Bolger was prime minister when I arrived in New Zealand, and their Employment Contracts Act was a radical departure for me. In 2000, the law was replaced by the Employment Relations Act by the Fifth Labour Government. A major improvement, it was nevertheless not perfect, made worse by the current National Party Government’s 2008 Employment Relations Amendment Act.

The bottom line is that by weakening unions, neoliberals not only increased the profits of corporations and the 1% that own them, it pretty much destroyed the former middle class lives of so-called working class workers. Skyrocketing inequality has been the result. This has been seen throughout the Western world, wherever the “nothing matters but profit” greed of neoliberal policies—the so-called “Chicago School” of economic theory—became government policy. It has been responsible for much suffering in the world and little to nothing of any benefit to ordinary people.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The first step is for workers to never accept mere words. In the USA’s elections last year, Don lied through his teeth, declaring he’d put coal miners “back to work”, knowing full well that will never happen. They bought it. And now Don will thank them for their votes by taking away their healthcare.

Workers, especially vulnerable workers, must unionise, and they should demand specific plans from politicians seeking their votes, not mealy-mouthed spin-doctored marketing slogans like Don gave American workers: Plans, then results, are what matters, not words.

Until the balance between workers and corporations is re-balanced, there’s unlikely to be a major change in the rates of worker injury and deaths. Workers organised and operating from a position of strength can demand safer conditions, going where governments are too timid to go because of the cowardice of politicians. Mere voting is not enough.

Things could change. Workers can take control of their own destiny, or they can continue to hope against all evidence that politicians will do the right thing—eventually. My money’s on the workers, every time.

Footnote: There’s a longer version of the above ad, too, which I’ve seen on TV at least once.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tenth Twitterversary


As the Tweet above suggests, yesterday (April 24 here, April 23 in the USA) was the tenth anniversary of me joining Twitter. The fact that I forgot all about it probably says all I need to about how diminished its role has become for me. Even so, it’s nevertheless a real-time history of how my use of social media has changed.

I summed up the history of all this four years ago:
Twitter was the second social network I joined, after MySpace (I joined Facebook a few months after Twitter). My original plan was to use those social networks to promote my podcast. I did that for awhile, but Twitter was one of the first that I started using for other things—or, to put it another way, it was the probably the first that I stopped using to promote my podcast (although in those days I hardly used Facebook for anything). I set up a separate Twitter account for my AmeriNZ Podcast in December of 2009, and one for 2Political Podcast in July of 2010. [Links in the original]
In the years since, I added an AmeriNZ Facebook Page to promote the stuff I do, but I still don’t use my personal Facebook to promote anything, and seldom use Twitter either. On the other hand, I rarely podcast these days, and haven’t blogged much this year, either, so it’s not like anyone would even notice that I used social media to promote something. Instead, I use the Facebook page to share stuff I won’t share on my personal Facebook, mainly stuff about US politics.

There’s no particular reason why I reduced my use of social media, Twitter in particular—I just have. Maybe I got tired of it, or of the constant waves of negativity that seem flow through it too frequently. Sometimes I got sick of shallow thinking or self-righteousness, but that was rare. Mainly, I think I just moved on.

I don’t know how I’ll use social media in the short term, much less the long term, or even if it will exist months or years from now in anything like the form it does now. But the truth is, I really don’t care. I use social media when I feel like it, I often get interesting information from it, and I often have fun. Right now, that’s enough.

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.