}

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Good riddance to 2017

It’s 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve, and that means that 2017 will be over in 30 minutes. Finally. It’s been a terrible year, for a lot of reasons, most very well known. On the plus side, we didn’t all die in nuclear fires and winds, so that’s something, right? Maybe it’ll still be true at the end of 2018, too.

And that’s the thing about New Year’s Eve: It represents the chance to leave behind the bad and unpleasant things in the old year and hope for better times in the year about to begin—including improvements to those bad and unpleasant things. Sure, at 12:01am January 1, that disgrace will still be occupying the White House and his enablers will still be controlling Congress, but maybe—MAYBE—the second one will end next year, and that could hasten the end of the first problem. Hope is our first, best defence against the awfulness we resist.

In any case, that’s a wrap for this year—for us, for me, and for this blog. I couldn’t make my annual average this year. Oh, well, just another disappointment to leave behind. Next year will bring new opportunities, but that’s for the New Year—once this terrible, awful year is finally over.

So, good riddance, 2017. Here’s looking at you, 2018—with a lot of hope.

Arthur Answers 2017, Part 8: Music and song

Here we are, finally at the end of this year’s “Ask Arthur” series. It’s also the last day of the year, which seems appropriate. Today’s questions are from Roger Green and about one of my favourite topics, pop music. First, Roger asked:

What are your favorite songs originally done by the Beatles?

This was a much harder question than I could’ve made it because I decided to look at cover versions, rather than just the songs themselves. Mainly, I often tuned out others people’s versions because I heard the Beatles first and, as is my way, I liked them first, and so, the most. The larger problem was remembering songs I’d liked over the years. In recent years I’ve found out that there are a LOT of songs I’d completely forgotten about until something reminded me, like a TV commercial, movie soundtrack, that sort of thing.

So, the first thing I did was trigger my memory by checking out Wikipedia’s "List of cover versions of Beatles songs”. Then, I rearranged the list in chronological order. That actually helped quite a bit.

The first cover versions I can remember were on The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, a 1964 album by Alvin and the Chipmunks. I don't know why, precisely, I heard it, because I don’t think anyone in the family had a copy—maybe someone borrowed it. There was one single released from the album ("All My Loving" b/w "Do You Want to Know a Secret?"), but I I have no idea if I heard it on the radio, either. The year was 1964. I was five. Cut me some slack on this one. I do remember that I liked The Chipmunks at the time, so I probably liked their covers. Like I said: I was five; cut me some slack.

The first real cover I remember hearing and kinda liking was Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” from his 1969 album of the same name. I also remember seeing him perform it on television and thinking, “WTF?!” except, good Christian boy that I was, it would have been cleaner language. But John Belushi’s later imitation of Cocker was a dead ringer.

The first cover I owned was “Ticket to Ride” by The Carpenters. It was their first charted (barely) single in 1969, but I never heard it until the release of their 1973 album, The Singles: 1969-1973. I later bought the album it came from, which was originally called Offering but had been re-released as Ticket to Ride in 1970. I’ll be honest: As big a fan of The Carpenters as I was, I never particularly cared for their version, mostly because I preferred the sound they developed in the mid-1970s, not their early stuff.

Another song from the year after The Singles was released that I did like was Elton John’s 1974 cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

Skip ahead a few years to 1978, and I liked Aerosmith’s cover of “Come Together”. Unfortunately, the song was from the soundtrack album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which I frankly thought was mostly pretty awful. To this day, I’ve never seen the 1978 movie.

In 1981, I was in university, newly out, and going to the gay bar in town. One of the things they played was the melody by Stars on 45, and I liked it—enough to actually buy it, which is ironic because I bought the album that the Carpenter’s cover was on, and I didn’t even like that one. To be honest, though, the main reason I liked it was that when I listed to it, the medley reminded me of the bar and the safe place it was for a newly-out gay boy.

I don’t know quite where to put this one chronologically, but I suppose it ends up in the same place: I like Rufus Wainwright’s cover of “Across the Universe”, which was a 2002 release from the soundtrack to the 2001 film I Am Sam. I never saw the movie, and I never heard Wainwright’s version until this year when it was used on TV ads for Samsung mobile phones [WATCH the music video].

That’s pretty much it for me, though.

Roger also asked:

Who would you say are your current favorite musicians, and how has that changed over time? And specifically, how has being in New Zealand affected that?

At the moment, I don’t have any favourite musicians as such, precisely because it changes over time. However, current artists that I really like—at the moment and in no particular order—are Ed Sheeran [Also see about Ed Sheeran], Sam Smith [Also see about Sam Smith], P!nk [Also see about P!nk], Katy Perry [see also about Katy Perry], Troye Sivan [See also about Troye Sivan], Lorde [See also about Lorde], and many others (I picked ones whose music I’ve actually bought). I often share music I like, new and old, on this blog under the tag/label Music. Nearly all of them have videos (or had when I posted them…).

I’ve frequently mentioned older artists I liked (and often still do), and but what’s changed since I arrived in New Zealand is that I became familiar with New Zealand, Australian, and British acts I’d never heard of until I moved here, plus ones that emerged after I arrived. Very often artists from those countries don’t get airplay in the USA, so there was a lot of music from the 1980s, for example, that I would have loved back in the day if only I’d known it existed.

Nowadays, I tend toward favouring electronic pop (or synthpop), even EDM (electronic dance music), which is something I didn’t hear much when I lived in the USA, so living in New Zealand has in some ways focused my music preferences—while adding singer-songwriters. Having said that, in the USA I liked British acts Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), and others that were electronic pop.

However, not everything has stuck. When I arrived in New Zealand, I discovered that reggae and reggae-influenced music was quite popular, especially among Polynesians in particular. I didn’t like reggae then, and I still don’t. On the other hand, there was something liberating and energising about being exposed to so much music I’d never heard before, and from so many countries, that it began to broaden my appreciation of pop music—including even music from my homeland, especially genres and older artists I’d always ignored.

So, my music tastes have changed over time, though evolved is a probably a better word, and living in New Zealand is the main reason for that. Music hath charms, and all that.

Thanks to Roger for these questions!

And that’s it for this year’s series of Ask Arthur posts. Huge thanks to Sherry, Linda, my sister, Roger, and Andy for all the questions! I plan on doing this again next year, but whether that’s something to look forward to or to dread is completely up to you.

Thanks!

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-17”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:
Let the 2017 asking begin The first post in this series
Arthur Answers 2017, Part One: NZ Example
Arthur Answers 2017, Part Two: Addiction and song
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 3: Easy answers
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 4: About the regime in DC
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 5: About the nasty folks in DC
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 6: Penultimate answers
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 7: Bonus questions

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Always remembering my mother’s birthday

This time of year, it’s not necessarily the ending of the year that’s always first in my mind because the day before, today, is my mother’s birthday. This makes sense. My mother laid much of the foundations on which I’ve built my life, and New Year’s Eve always fills me with a sense of possibility. It’s a logical combination.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about my mother, especially at her birthday. I’ve shared stories, memories, anecdotes, and sometimes what they meant, or still mean, to me and my life. But it’s also true, as I noted back in 2015, that as the years pass it becomes more difficult to “think of something different to say about her, or about her influence on me”.

Even so, I continue to try. I am what I am in large measure because of my parents, especially my mother, and I have a kind of high duty to observe their birthdays. I have no other way to thank them for what they did, of course.

For me, though, the annual remembrance is enough for another, personal, reason: Remembering my mother’s birthday makes me think of her, and I remember the good and bad things and sometimes even draw new insights at a time decades after she was no longer here to teach me lessons. For me, that’s probably most valuable of all.

So, once again, Happy Birthday, Mom and thanks—always.

Related:
Tears of a clown
– one of my favourite posts about my mother

Previous years’ birthday posts:
My mom would be 100 (2016)
Mom at 99 (2015)
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Arthur Answers 2017, Part 7: Bonus questions

Surprise! This is a bonus post in this year’s Ask Arthur series! Yesterday I issued the last call for questions, and I got two. So, here’s an unplanned extra Ask Arthur post for this year’s series.

The first questions today comes from my friend Andy, who asked:

Alright, Arthur – I've got a question. What was your best – and worst – experience since arriving in New Zealand?

I could be glib and say the best thing was Nigel, because what could be better than finding the love of one’s life, then getting to be with them? That’s an obvious answer though, and while he was the entire reason I came to this country, Andy’s question is actually asking about New Zealand itself.

There are a lot of things I liked about New Zealand from the very beginning, and I’ve written about many of them over the years. But the best experience I had, overall, was my participation in Labour Party politics at the local level. That has nothing to do with party or ideology, but about the things that are still great about New Zealand.

What I found in my years of volunteering was that there are people who care passionately about their community and their country, and who want to make both a better place. They are people who are willing to give freely of their time and energy and talents to make that possible, and, with effort, they may even succeed. It’s an ethic that seems to have been lost in my homeland.

The other thing is that it’s very easy for an ordinary person to become friendly with politicians, local or national, and friendly enough that the politician will recognise them and they can have pleasant conversations. That’s happened to me many times over the years, and there’s just no equivalent in the USA, at least, not for national politicians. The personal and familiar—sometimes even familial—nature of New Zealand politics was a surprise to me (I actually wrote about that—in a more partisan manner—in a post about the Labour Party’s campaign launch in 2014).

So, the experience that was the best was that, and, indeed, all the community groups I participated in, not just that political one. New Zealanders are pretty awesome most of the time, but especially so when working together to make their community better.

The worst experience is much harder for me to define. Part of the reason for that is that I try hard to avoid dwelling on the negative—people or events—to focus on the positive. I don’t always succeed, of course, but because it’s what I try to do I often simply forget about negative things.

Certainly the earliest bad experiences were dealing with NZ Immigration in the days before I was a permanent resident. A lot of the time it was fine, but other times it was truly soul-destroying. Jury duty was similar for me—I absolutely hate, loathe, and despise jury duty in any country, though, so that’s not unique to New Zealand.

The trouble is, most of the things I think of are irritations or annoyances, not anything bad enough to be called “worst”. In fact, the truly worst things were all personal, having nothing to do with New Zealand (the usual sorts of things—death in the family, sickness, that sort of thing).

But that gets at what I’d consider the worst: The realities of being an expat, specifically, the personal toll that time and distance can take. For example, my good friend’s mother died, a woman who was very important in my own childhood, and I couldn’t go back to the USA for the funeral or to be a support for my friend, nor more recently when his dad died. Some of my family members were in a serious car accident, and I couldn’t go back to support them in the immediate aftermath.

That, too, has nothing to do with New Zealand as such, but it’s about the reality of living so far from my native land, as this country is. That’s not a great answer, I suppose, but at the moment it’s the only thing that comes to mind.

The next question is from Roger Green who asked:

This is a variation on a question you asked me last year. Do you think tRump has destroyed Barack Obama's legacy?

No, but he’s certainly tried to. As recently as a few months ago, I’d have said he’d utterly failed, but times have changed and I now say he’s succeeded nearly completely in hiding President Obama’s legacy, though not destroying it. Despite what the current occupant of the White House obviously thinks, he’s no pharaoh, and he can’t wipe out his predecessor's existence by chiselling his name off monuments. When the current regime is gone, saner heads will prevail and will undo all the damage the current occupant and the Republican Party have done.

However, much of what President Obama achieved will take years—maybe even decades—to restore. If the petulant brat in the White House cared about the American people just a tiny bit as much as he’s jealous of and hates President Obama, the Affordable Care Act could have been fixed and been a good way to steady things until the inevitable time arrives to move to single payer. But the current occupant’s obsession with undoing President Obama’s legacy means that real healthcare reform in the USA will now take decades, quite possibly not until after the utter defeat of the Republican Party at the state as well as federal levels, and that won’t be any time soon.

So, destroy? No. Hide? Absolutely. Because everything that the current occupant has attacked and attempted to destroy can be restored once the grown-ups are back in control and saner heads prevail.

Thanks to Andy and Roger for these questions!

At the risk of playing the same note again, the next Ask Arthur Post, which I’ll publish tomorrow, really will be the final in this year’s series.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-17”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:
Let the 2017 asking begin The first post in this series
Arthur Answers 2017, Part One: NZ Example
Arthur Answers 2017, Part Two: Addiction and song
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 3: Easy answers
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 4: About the regime in DC
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 5: About the nasty folks in DC
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 6: Penultimate answers

A year of resistance


The video above, “Looking back on a year of resisting Trump”, is from ThinkProgress and provides a pretty good overview of the many large marches this year against the current regime in Washington. It’s a different sort of review than many more general ones released this time of year, and far more specific.

While the swearing in of the current occupant of the White House was a terrible low point (among many) of this year, The Resistance offered hope that it might be possible to defeat the forces, foreign and domestic, trying to destroy the USA. That’s what Dana Fisher was getting at in the video when she said that the current occupant had unleashed civic engagement that hadn’t been seen in a very long time.

However, she glossed over the effectiveness of that engagement. Marches, together with protests at Congressional offices and constant phone campaigns were successful in defeating Republicans’ repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and came close to stopping the Republicans’ tax scam which cuts the taxes of corporations, billionaires and gazillionaires while raising the taxes of ordinary people.

Republicans are gambling that in around 11 months Americans will have forgotten all about their tax scam and the Tweeter in Chief at the head of their party, that after a year of their onslaught against America people will be worn out, exhausted, and The Resistance will die. Their jobs depend on being right about that, but they have history on their side—or, do they? We’ll know fairly early in the New Year, and that could well determine what happens in November.

Summer things


This week was filled with summer things. That happens when the weather cooperates, and it’s especially likely in the days between Christmas and New Year. This week showed that.

The photo above is of a fruit & vege shop at the top of the Bombay Hills (also called “The Bombays”). The hills, which are particularly high, serve as the southern boundary—physical and symbolic—of the Auckland region. People on the rest of New Zealand sometimes claim, not always without justification, that “Aucklanders don’t care about anything south of the Bombays”.

That particular truism is false because so many Aucklanders, in fact, came to the region from “south of the Bombays”. But it’s true insofar as Aucklanders care about their city (sometimes begrudgingly) and sometimes resent it when we don’t seem to get our fair share from central government. In other words, Aucklanders are just like people who live in other regions.

That particular fruit shop isn’t all that great, to be honest, and the “real fruit ice cream” wasn’t as good, was smaller, and was more expensive than one we’d had from a fruit shop closer to our house earlier in the week. But, it was nice enough, I suppose.

That particular day we were taking Nigel’s Mum back home after her Christmas visit with us. We then had an early dinner with family in Hamilton, and left for home, arriving just as the light was fading at around 9pm or so.

The second photo, below, was just a sunny day’s activity. I try to hang up the washing in the summer when it dries quickly and completely. I can—and do—hang the washing out year round, but in winter (or near to it on either side) it doesn’t dry completely. So summer and it’s drying is always a good thing—and saves us money on electricity, of course.

And these are just ordinary, everyday sorts of things in my summer in Auckland. Sometimes I like ordinary summer things best.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Arthur Answers 2017, Part 6: Penultimate answers

One thing that’s common in these Ask Arthur series is that I often miss questions, even though I’m much more careful than I used to be (for example, I put all the questions into one document so I can track and them make sure I answer). Sometimes, mostly because I group questions thematically, I sometimes miss questions, and today’s totally different questions from Roger Green are two such skipped questions.

So, to start out this penultimate post in this year’s Ask Arthur series, here’s Roger’s first question, a political one:

Who will be the last person standing after Mueller implicates Jared, Jared rats out Sessions, et al?

This assumes that the current occupant of the White House doesn’t fire Mueller before he has a chance to hand down indictments of people close to him. I’m not sure I’d take that bet. The current occupant is clearly and obviously setting up an attack strategy to fire Mueller to prevent him from issuing indictments—especially of the current occupant himself. The whole smear campaign against the FBI is intended to set the stage so that he can use it as “justification” for blocking the pursuit of justice.

However, if for whatever reason the current occupant doesn’t fire Mueller, then the last person standing will probably be the current occupant himself. If, as seems obvious, senior staffers and advisers were all in on collusion with the Russians, then there’s no one who’s innocent. But the current regime is arguing that collusion with the Russians isn’t even a crime, which under some circumstances might actually be true—though it’s unlikely to be true in this case. That would leave Mike Pence to step in and pardon the current occupant, probably as part of a deal to get him to resign rather than face criminal trial, so technically Mike would be the very last person standing—assuming he wasn’t already indicted.

Let’s suppose the speculation accurately foreshadows Mueller being fired. And let’s further suppose that the current occupant of the White House pardons everyone indicted by Mueller (again using his smears against the FBI as “justification”). With all the evidence of obstruction of justice, the US House of Representatives should impeach the current occupant and the US Senate should convict him and remove him from office. But none of that will happen. There is, in fact absolutely nothing the current occupant could do that would be bad enough to make them remove him—he really could even shoot someone in Fifth Avenue in New York without any consequence, as he famously bragged during the 2016 campaign. In this scenario, too, the current occupant would be the last one standing.

So, it all comes down to when the current occupant fires Mueller. But at the moment all signs point to the current occupant himself being the last one standing.

Roger’s next question is totally unrelated:

Which blogpost or posts have gotten the most comments well after when you first posted?

This question has a very short answer: I have no idea. The problem is that I use the Disqus commenting system, and it tracks total numbers, not the number of comments per post (something Blogger’s built-in—and spam-plagued—system did do).

Even so, the bigger issues is that like most small bloggers (meaning small readership; I’m actually rather tall), I generally get very few comments. In fact, Roger is often the only commenter. So, when I do get comments well after I first published a post, they’re almost always spam, but even then there’s not a huge number.

The old posts that attract spam comments are usually ones with popular topics that spammers can try to leverage, or things that show up in Google searches. If I had to pick a post that attracted a lot of spam comments, it would be a 2011 post called “Coffee or Tea?” that kept getting comments well after I published it, including some VERY spam-ful comments I deleted. But, even so, at the moment there’s only six comments in that post, one of which is from Roger (I sometimes, though seldom, get more comments on a current post). I also had an emailed request to use one of the graphics I made in a UK course teaching students how to interpret infographics, something I particularly liked since that sort of graphics work isn't something I do all that much. In fact, that’s the main reason that particular post sticks in my mind.

Thanks to Roger for these questions!

The next Ask Arthur Post will be the final in this year’s series—and that’s music to all our ears. Look for it on New Year’s Eve (New Zealand time, of course).

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-17”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:
Let the 2017 asking begin The first post in this series
Arthur Answers 2017, Part One: NZ Example
Arthur Answers 2017, Part Two: Addiction and song
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 3: Easy answers
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 4: About the regime in DC
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 5: About the nasty folks in DC

The time for reviews

The end of any year is always a time for review: We look back on the year we’re about to complete, and, probably, toward the new year about to begin. News organisations do that, too, and it runs out so do some of the sources that journalists rely on for their stories. Sometimes those are the most interesting.

Pew Research, which is responsible for some of the deepest and broadest attitudinal studies, especially of the issues underlying US politics, posted two different looks at 2017. They both tell us a lot about the sorry state the USA is in right now.

The first report, published on December 20, was “From #MAGA to #MeToo: A look at U.S. public opinion in 2017”. The first chart I encountered is at the top of this post (though it’s actually from a piece they published back in June). It’s sobering. I know conservatives who are adamant that the current occupant of the White House has “restored” the USA’s standing around the world, that other countries “respect” the USA where once they didn’t. This one chart shows what utter bullshit that is.

The current occupant of the White House is considered a joke and ignorant buffoon throughout the world, and the respect that the USA enjoyed during the Obama Presidency is now gone. Countries throughout the world are coming to the conclusion that the only way forward is to ignore the USA and forge new alliances, and China has been a clear winner in that shift. The most obvious example of this is the UN vote against the USA and the occupant’s dumbassery in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Allies of the USA have been explicit that they don’t back the USA on this and they always set an independent foreign policy. Under President Obama, that didn’t happen.

There’s plenty of evidence that the disdain the world has for the current occupant of the White House is now becoming a dislike of the USA itself, that the ridicule that man so richly reserves is also being extended to the entire country—though, so far, mostly to the people who actually voted for him, and the especially the unfortunate souls who still insist on supporting him for some reason.

It’ll take a new president to fix all that, but no Republican is capable of it. And that won’t happen in 2018, anyway.

The other report was published on Boxing Day: “17 striking findings from 2017”. There was one crystal clear fact that stands out. summed up in the very first finding: “Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values”. Time and time and time again, it’s demonstrated that the partisan divide in the USA is deep and seemingly unbridgeable. In the USA in 2017, party identification has become the single best indicator of what a person thinks about any number of issues, such as, among the 17 findings they cite, guns, the role of the newsmedia, the role of universities, whether whites benefit from social advantages blacks don’t benefit from.

There were more general demographic findings, too, but having seen the role that partisan identification plays in the USA, I could imagine how the two different sets would react to those otherwise non-partisan findings. Even so, the more general findings were fascinating in their own right.

And finally, today Gallup published “The American Public in 2017: What We Learned”, essentially a month-by-month review of the various findings Gallup has released, some of which I missed at the time, and would have commented on if I hadn’t. It’s fascinating to read the article through without going to the sources they link to because it provides a sort of timeline of the US stories of 2017.

Taken together, these pieces are a bit more matter-of-fact than a lot of the “year in review” pieces published by news organisations. That figures, though, because they actually list the sort of source data that journalists use in their reporting, but without the, um, additions. For that reason alone, I think they’re not just interesting, but incredibly useful to anyone with an interest in current affairs.

It’s probably good to keep looking forward, in this case, toward the new year about to begin, and, if so, it’s definitely good to look back on the year we’re about to complete. That’s because to truly know where we’re going, we need to understand where we’ve been. News organisations help with that, but source material, like that from Pew and Gallup, can help provide a better, more complete picture than news organisations alone can do. It’s not a question of either/or, it’s about being as broadly informed as possible.

And once we know and understand where we’ve been, we can move to change things for the future. That’s never been more important than right now.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

DJ Earworm 2017 Mashup


The video above is this year’s pop music mashup from DJ Earworm, “United State of Pop 2017 (How We Do It)”, the fifth time I’ve shared one of his mashups. Unlike some previous years, however, I knew most of the songs, at least a little bit. One small change I made this year is the reason for that.

I was familiar with so many of the songs is that this year because I’ve watched our TV video music channel from time to time—enough to see many of the videos included in the mashup (and some of them many times, like Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” [WATCH], fortunately for me, a video and song I liked a lot; the video was directed by Joseph Kahn). Doing that also led me to share many of those songs and artists on this blog (though not “Thunder”, for some reason).

As I’ve said many times, I love pop music, and I love mashups. It’s not actually necessary for me to like or even know all the songs in a mashup for me to like that mashup. But it’s really easy to like a mashup when it’s made by someone who’s clearly good at making them (synching audio and video, and combining them with a consistent beat, is not an easy task).

It’s got a good beat, you can dance to it, I give it—a very high score.

As usual, the MP3 of this year’s mashup is available from DJ Earworm’s Soundcloud, and the list of featured artists and the "lyrics" are included in the YouTube description.

Previous DJ Earworm mashups on this blog:

First December Mashup (2016)
Season of mash-ups (2015) – First video
And the roundups begin (2014)
Poptastic assault (2013) – First video

The year in search – 2017


The video above is Google’s “year in search” for 2017. This year, Google tells us, the world looked for “how”. Maybe so, but apparently the one “how” much of the world wanted to know was “how to make slime”—but that probably wouldn’t make a good video. Even so, this video is, like all the others Google has made, interesting for the portrait it paints of a the year we’re about to leave. Whether they’re accurate portraits or not is up to us to decide.

These Google videos are always emotive and maybe just a bit manipulative, in that they try to evoke a feeling or impression of what the year was like. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not “true”—after all, people really did search for the things they pictured, and those searches really do suggest that the world was a bit at a loss this year. This was underscored, so to speak, by their music choice: Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times” (video below). There’s no wonder in any of that, especially for the USA, which is always over-represented in global searches and has had a particularly difficult year, for many reasons. But was the year really as depressing as the video suggests?

The overall rankings of the top searches people made during the year, both globally and in various countries, probably tells us more than these videos do. They also tells us the things that people in the various countries worry about or just want to know more about (like “how to make slime”). Even so, because these videos are a glance over the year we’ve just survived, I think they’re valuable.

Besides, I really like that song.

The top 5 overall searches for the world were: 1 Hurricane Irma, 2 iPhone 8, 3. iPhone X, 4 Matt Lauer, 5 Meghan Markle.

The top 5 overall searches for the USA were: 1 Hurricane Irma, 2 Matt Lauer, 3 Tom Petty, 4 Super Bowl, 5 Las Vegas shooting

The top 5 overall searches for New Zealand were:
1 Lotto result NZ, 2 America’s Cup 2017, 3 Fidget spinner, 4 Election NZ 2017, and 5 NZTA road closures. The fourth and fifth most-searched things were also the first and second (respectively) most-searched news things (Cyclone Cook was third, North Korea was fourth, and Hurricane Irma was fifth).

Looking at those searches, it suggests that people were focused on a lot of sad or depressing things, as the video suggests. This is not to suggest that there was nothing good in the year that’ about to end (and earlier this month I shared a video talking about some of those good things).

The fact is that every year has good and bad in it, and how we perceive a year is largely, though not entirely, shaped by what happens in our own lives: Whether we personally had a good year or a bad one will influence how we perceive the year in general. We all know this intuitively. And yet, we also are influenced by what happens around us, what we see and hear, what people are talking about.

It’s because our perception of a year is so highly personal that one’s reactions to a video like this, or any other “year in review”, is so personal. Whether videos like this or other reviews are accurate portraits of a year or not is up to us to decide.

And that’s how it should be. Perceiving any Sign of the Times is always up to us.



Previously:
The Year in Search – 2016
The Year in Search 2015
Spirit of the Times – 2014
Visual Reminders (2011)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Arthur Answers 2017, Part 5: About the nasty folks in DC

The Christmas festivities are now over, so time to get back into this year’s Ask Arthur series before the year runs out. Even though this is winding down, there’s still a window of opportunity to ask questions—just leave a comment to this post (or see the bottom of this post for more options).

Today, Roger Green asks about the bad folks in the Washington, DC.

Here’s Roger’s first question:

Do you think the election of the Pussygrabber in chief has led to the #MeToo? Would it have happened if HRC had won?

I don’t think there’s any causation there—but they’re not merely coincidental, either. It’s unlikely to have happened just because of the allegations against the then-Republican presidential candidate. No one—not the mainstream newsmedia, not the voting public, no one except those who were already opposed to him anyway—cared that the Republican presidential candidate had bragged about committing sexual assault and—in addtion—that there were credible allegations of sexual harassment and even assault. That certainly frustrated many people, but to suggest that it alone caused the entire thing seems a bit farfetched to me.

However, the Weinstein allegations are probably tangentally related: There’s been the constant suggestion, so far neither proven nor disproven, that the prominence given to those allegations was because he’d been a donor to the Democratic Party, and Republicans, their spokespeople on mainstream news shows and, obviously, their Fox propaganda channel, were desperate to deflect attention from the current occupant of the White House and the serious allegations against him.

There’s an absolute logic to that supposition, and it may even be—and definitely could be—true. However, the allegations against Weinstein were so salacious and grubby that there was no way any news outlet would NOT give the scandal saturation coverage. And they did. From there it was a short jump to a frenzy of allegations and recrimination and public shaming (especially on social media) of anyone who didn’t unquestioningly accept all allegations as equal and equally true.

So, if it was the salaciousness of the Weinstein allegations that brought the attention and encouraged the frenzy, then it could have happened regardless of who was in the White House. However, if it really was hyped as a plot to distract from the criminal allegations (Russian, financial, or salacious) against the current occupant of the White House, then that frenzy, and the “MeToo” movement it spawned, might not have happened if Hillary Clinton was president.

For me, the question comes down to whether the powerful elites who backed the Republican nominee and his party would’ve had the determination to hype the scandals if Hillary Clinton was president. Certainly the allies of the guy installed as president would have siezed on ANY opportunity to embarrass Democrats, because they always do, and they would have wanted alllegations of sexual assault in the news because that’s been one of their constant lines of partisan attack against Hillary, that somehow she’s responsible for the allegations against her husband.

Therefore, on balance, I think there’s a high probability that the frenzy would have been in the news regardless of who was president because strong partisan motivations by Republican allies would have ensured that it was ONLY allegations against Democrats, and not any against Republicans—including the Republican nominee—that got all the attention. Whether that taints any good that came from the “MeToo” frenzy is for others to judge.

In a related question, Roger asked:

Should Al Franken resign? Should John Conyers?

My short answer would be that since the current occupant of the White House wasn’t forced to resign after serious allegations were made against him, then, no, neither one of them should have resigned. However, the unpunished sins of one don’t excuse the admitted sins of others, so just because the current occupant of the White House is getting away with being a sexual predator is NOT a reason why others shouldn’t be held accountable.

One thing that does concern me is that for Democrats—and absolutely NOT Republicans—accusation means guilt means something to be punished with full fury and retribution. Actually, that was an unfair characterisation of Republicans, because they absolutely DO support punishing a politician accused of sexual harassment or assault with full fury and retribution IF—and only if—they’re Democrats. Republicans, as we’ve seen, can molest children and be within a whisker of being elected US Senator.

For Republicans, it’s all about partisan politics, and their own cognitive dissonance: They truly believe that any Republican—even a child molester—is preferable to ANY Democrat, so to reconcile their moral revulsion to enthusiastically supporting a child molester (for example—could be a “pussy grabber”, too), they go on the offensive (the best word in so many ways…), declaring the accusations are false, lies, smears, “fake news”, partisan attacks, all so they can live with themselves for choosing to vote for a child molester (or a “pussy grabber”).

For the Left in general, and many Democrats, it’s all about moral superiority: The Left feels smug and superior because they force out anyone who is accused of any sexually-related impropriety (against women…), no matter what, and they gang up on anyone who doesn’t share their particular view. On the plus side, they act the same way toward Republicans and Democrats alike. That’s probably a good thing.

However, where is the path to redemption? In the recent frenzy, some of the accused made jackasses of themselves, however, some of them made what seemed to be sincere acknowledgements and appologies, but they were never good enough. They were driven out of their professions, all based on allegations. Is that always the best solution? Is there no way an accused can ever redeem him or herself? Certainly the Left’s excess is better than the Republican approach of no consequences of any kind ever no matter what a Repubican is accused of, but there has to be a better way than utter and permanent destruction of the accused.

The problem is, first, not all allegations are equal, no matter what the Left says. There’s a HUGE difference between someone accused of rape (actual or attempted), child molesting (actual or attempted), and someone accused of making sexually-suggestive remarks/propositions. Yet at the height of the frenzy, they were all treated as if they all carried exactly the same seriousness and had to be punished equally seriously.

Which brings me back to Franken and Conyers. The allegations against Conyers were very serious, and his resignation seems like a good outcome. But unless there were more allegations against Franken that we weren’t told about—which is absolutely possible—forcing him to resign seemed excessive (I certainly raised my eyebrows at what seemed like an over-the-top response from Kirsten Gillibrand). Still, maybe there’s more that we don’t know about, but, if so, forcing him to resign doesn’t seem like a good way to prevent those allegations from being reported. Which is why I have my doubts that forcing him to resign was the right move. But, I can certainly be persuased.

Thanks to Roger for these questions!

It’s still not too late to ask a question—though time is running out! Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though some people may want to keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. If you’re on Facebook, you can send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-17”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:
Let the 2017 asking begin The first post in this series
Arthur Answers 2017, Part One: NZ Example
Arthur Answers 2017, Part Two: Addiction and song
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 3: Easy answers
Arthur Answers 2017, Part 4: About the regime in DC

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day 2017

Today is Boxing Day, which in New Zealand is mainly a day for special sales in the shops. Stores tend to have special promotions on all sorts of things, and people exchange the Christmas presents they didn’t like or that were inappropriate for whatever reason.

Most of the cafes within a short drive of our house were closed today, not that it mattered, because Nigel and I stayed home and had a quiet day. However, other family members did go out and were surprised that so many places were closed, even in Pukekohe, which is much bigger. The big shops were open, of course—there were Boxing Day Sales to be held.

Tomorrow is a normal business day, but this time of year many businesses remain closed as staff take off the entire period between Christmas and New Year’s. Time was, New Zealand pretty much shut down for the entire month of January, and while some businesses still do that, most are open apart from the public holidays, and, maybe, those days between them.

After New Year’s, the next public holiday for us is Auckland Anniversary Day, which is on January 29, 2018, followed by Waitangi Day national holiday on February 6. Not surprisingly, those holidays have retails sales, too (as does New Year’s, of course).

A busy summer is ahead. Just not today.

Related:

Public holidays and anniversary dates

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2017


The video above is the annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth from Her Majesty, the Queen of New Zealand (and other places). This one is better than others, opening with a look back and some of the Queen’s usual dry wit. It’s a nice video.

This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the first televised Christmas Broadcast (video below), also delivered by Queen Elizabeth. The messages began in 1937 as radio broadcasts, and the first was by King George V delivering a speech written by Rudyard Kipling and broadcast over the BBC’s Empire Service (now called World Service). The Queen is George V’s grand-daughter.

The messages are always broadcast on Christmas, which means that it can be seen in New Zealand before anywhere else in the Commonwealth, however, the YouTube version above wasn’t posted until today (which is, of course, Christmas Day in the UK). Once it’s posted, I can finally share it here, too.

And here’s the Queen’s first—and the first ever—televised Christmas Message:



Related:
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2016
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2015
Previous years’ broadcasts are no longer available.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

It’s Christmas Day here in New Zealand, and I’ll be spending the day with family. That means that I probably won’t have any time for a fresh blog post today—not that that’s any different from usual these days.

Be that as it may, I’d like to send holiday greetings to all my whānau, friends, and friends I haven’t made yet. Everyday is what you make it, but that’s especially true for holidays. I won’t waste it, and hope you won’t, either.

I took the photo above last year at Birkenhead Wharf.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve this year

Christmas Eve this year has been a quiet one. Apart from going out for lunch and picking up a few things, today was about a few chores and relaxing a bit. The main event, of course, is tomorrow.

Tomorrow some of our family is coming round for some lunch/dinner, which is always fun. This year will be a bit quieter than usual, since this is one of the years in which the various parts of the family are dispersing to their respective families. But, then, we also had a big family party in Australia earlier this month, so we kind of already did the big family thing.

The weather should be nice tomorrow, but we don’t know how windy it will be. This matters for whether we’ll use the deck, which is on the upper level of the house. If the sun is shining, we need to use the shade sail for protection, but that can’t happen if the wind is too strong. Still, it’s good in a way that we have no idea what will happen with that part of the day.

So, this year will be pretty much like most years, and yet quieter than most years, too. In any case, it’ll be a good day. That’s the main thing.

Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 December Solstice

The December Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 5:27am this morning. That means that today was the longest day of the year, and we’ve already though begun the slow march back toward winter. But that’s still months away. Fortunately.

As I’ve said many times, the Solstice doesn’t have any special meaning in this part of the world; summer began on December First, for example. Even so, there are people who do mention it—sort of. I heard a few Kiwis mention yesterday that the Solstice was that day, possibly because it’s often on December 21. Not this year, of course. And the date and time of a Solstice is exactly the kind of detail I always need to check.

So, that’s the he last astronomical event for this year. The next one will be the March Equinox. That arrives in New Zealand at 5:15am on March 21, 2018, by the way.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Christmas experience

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The photo above is part of what I did yesterday, and why blogging just wasn’t an option. It was also the execution of an experiment I’d been planning, trying to prove what I thought to be true. That’s a lot of work for one little selfie to do.

Yesterday I drove down to Hamilton to pick up my mother-in-law, who’s staying with us for Christmas. Ordinarily, I’d drive down and back the same day, but this time I stayed at her place because the retirement village where she lives was having a “friends and family” Christmas dinner, and several of our family members were going. It was a really nice meal and a really nice time. Today we drove back to Auckland.

I took the photo above after last night, we’d popped our Christmas crackers and put on our silly paper hats, after the dumb jokes had been read, and prizes examined. I have to admit that I still don’t really “get” this tradition, though my sister told me on Facebook that she remembered something similar for birthday parties when she was a kid; I don’t.

I first encountered these things, not surprisingly, my first Christmas in New Zealand, and for years afterward I felt really self conscious when I put on the paper hat. In one of my early years in New Zealand, I “accidentally” tore my hat so I didn’t have to wear it, though, in my defence, it was incredibly hot that day and the hat would have fallen apart from my sweat, anyway.

Be that as it may, Kiwis seem to love the things, and I admit that I still don’t get why, but I play along nevertheless. It may not be my tradition, but it seems to matter to them, so, why not be part of it?

And this is where the experiment part comes in.

I’d noticed that my various Instragram posts have very few “Likes”—generally around a dozen, sometimes a LOT less. My most popular posts have had photos of the furbabies in them, and sometimes pretty secenery. So, I wondered, would a selfie by more popular than my posts typically are?

I decided I’d post a selfie, but the hard, cold reality is that I don’t often do anything that’s all that interesting, so I was having trouble coming up with an idea or inspiration. I was stuck. But then, at that party, I was wearing my silly paper hat, it really was something I don’t “get”, and there it was: The perfect opportunity for a selfie.

And the result was exactly what I expected: A much larger number of “Likes” on Instagram, and also on my personal Facebook when I shared it there—both much larger than usual, though, obviously, not “large” in the Social Media Star sense of “large” number of likes.

What I thought was interesting is that it seems that photos of people doing everyday things is more interesting to people than anything else, with pets a reasonably close second, pretty/interesting scenery a respectable third, and everything else trailing behind—often very far behind.

What I take from this experiment is that people would rather see others doing things than photos representing whatever they’re doing. I need to do more experimenting to verify that, but it seems likely to be true.

I’ve never been one to take a selfie just for the sake of taking a selfie—it’s always been as a way to tell a story—the same, actually, as every other photo I post. Apparently, though, people can identify more directly with a selfie than a more abstract photo meant to help tell essentially the same sort of story.

So, yesterday I was busy getting ready to go to Hamilton, then in Hamilton, then today we came back to Auckland. But along the way I was able to post a photo that seems to prove my hunch. I’m not sure where that will lead, but I kind of look forward to finding out.

It’s all about telling stories, even Christmas stories.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Incomplete adaptation


The Instagram photo above was about a find, some food, junk food, really, and not important. And yet, it’s actually about something else: How even after all these years I still find ways of recapturing what I don’t have in New Zealand. This is a useful thing and, I think, a good thing.

In this case, it was about cookies that are very much like what my mother used to make. I’ve said similar things about the chilli from Wendy’s. Apart from that, I’ve sometimes described some cafe’s pizza as being “the most like American pizza I’ve had”, until Sal’s came along, serving New York-style pizza.

I’ve also written several times about trying to find subsitutes for things I couldn’t get in New Zealand. Recently, I also wrote about some of the problems associated with trying to adapt my American recipies. Sometimes, this is the only solution because there is no store-bought product that is similar enough to whatever I had in America.

But, of course, it’s not all about food. For example, there’s also language, another topic I’ve written about several times, including just last Friday as part of this year’s Ask Arthur series. Language can actually be the hardest thing of all.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was writing about coming up with organising solutions for our kitchen drawers. The specific context was that about the same time I was actually working on the project there also just happened to be several Kiwis writing “draws” on Facebook posts when they meant “drawers”. This is because in the New Zealand accent, the two words are homophones—words that sound alike but that have different meanings, and often different spelling (“bare” and “bear” are more good examples).

I’ve run into this same thing for as long as I’ve been in New Zealand. The most common is when Kiwis write “sort” when they mean “sought”. Again, they sound alike in the Kiwi accent.

The version of HGTV in New Zealand is running a commercial for House Hunters International in which a perky young American woman says she was searching for overseas job opportunities “and New Zealand popped up on the list”. Later in the ad she says, “although the accent will take some getting used to”. It’s the homophones that can make it hard even for me, not because I can’t tell what they mean (context usually tells you that), but because it hints at how vowels and stresses can be very different from other English speakers. Every once in awhile even I get caught out—and it’s usually kind of funny when I do.

Taken together, what all this means is that even after 22 years in New Zealand, I’m not totally assimilated, and that means my adaptation to New Zealand is incomplete. I tend to think this will always be true in some way, no matter how long I live here, and I bet I’m not the only English-speaker this is true for.

This probably doesn’t matter—it doesn’t affect the quality of my life, and it doesn’t cause any problems. But it’s something that most people would never even think about when beginning an expartiate journey, and that IS important because it implies that at least in small ways, being an expat never ends.

But, I’ve only been here 22 years so far. Ask me about it in 2039.

A good end to the year

Five weeks ago today I saw the doctor to complain about how truly awful I was feeling, something I wrote about at the time. Since then, things have been pretty good, and today I had my final check-up of the year, and it was great.

What I complained about last month was the beta blocker they had me on, Atenolol, which was only slightly better than the one I had been taking, Metoprolol, which was truly awful. I felt exhauted much of the time, and very, very tired the rest. I was, as Nigel put it, like a zombie.

So, I went back to the doctor

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.

The doctor told me to reduce my dosage by cutting my pills in half (I already had a pill splitter), and then wait a month to see how I was doing.

So today I told the doctor (my usual one) that I still wasn’t sold on beta blockers, that I felt I was more tired than I think I should be, given my better health and increased physical activity. She said she wanted to wait a bit longer to see if things settle down, and I don’t feel bad enough to argue with that. She did say, though, that this drug is the older version of the one I was on, and that this drug is short-acting, whereas the other one was long-lasting, which I thought was interesting: Often at night I don’t feel as tired as I’d expect to, so maybe the drug’s at the centre of all that.

Beyond all that, I had some tests done, and those results were really good. As I said yesterday, the results of one test “likely excludes diabetes”. The reason this is significant, which I forgot to say yesterday, is that a long time ago, before I went on any medication and long before the stent, test results indicated that I was pre-diabetic. Now, that’s completely normal (well, still normal, actually, because it’s been that way for quite awhile now). The point is, the changes I’ve made, combined with the medication I’m on, brought me back from the brink.

The other test showed I have normal kidney function, which is a routine test because some of my drugs have a potential side effect of kidney damage. So far, so good. This test is repeated frequently.

The thing that shocked me, though, was that my blood pressure was bang on normal: 120/80. Considering how very high it once was, this is a dramatic improvement, especially because I was a little stressed by the trip to the doctor: Heavy traffic took me an extra half hour and made me a little late. And yet, my blood pressure didn’t show that. This is very good news, indeed.

However, the doctor is—under ideal circumstances—about an hour’s drive from home. That’s not too bad for a quarterly check-up, but what if I get sick? Driving an hour (or much more…) when I’m sick doesn’t seem like a great idea. That’ll be a project for the new year, as will a round of the more comprehensive blood tests, something I usually get done once or twice a year.

So, as this year winds down, my health is really good, my energy levels are better than they were a month ago (even if I still think that could be better), and I have a strong platform to build more improvements on. I think that’s a pretty awesome Christmas present to myself.

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.

Best way to fix the Electoral College


In the short video above, Robert Reich explains the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which is the only way to ensure that the person who becomes president wins the popular vote. It’s a good explanation, and a good idea.

In November last year I talked about reforming the Electoral College, and I rated the NPVIC as the second-best option. However, I acknowledged about my preferred option, the Alternative Vote: “in many states adopting this system would be a VERY difficult thing to sell, and impossible in some.” If anything, the chances for the Alternative Vote are even more remote now that the USA has become even more partisan and deeply divided than it was last year.

So, on balance, the only rational path forward is the NPVIC because ensuring that the Electoral College always follows the popular vote is a moral necessity. This isn’t merely about the current occupant of the White House, it’s about ensuring that whoever is elected president—Democrat or Republican—wins the votes of a majority of Americans. The NPVIC is the best—maybe the only—option we have to make that happen.

This video was actually released back in September, but I only saw it today when it showed up in my newsfeed on Facebook. Every once in awhile Facebook’s algorithms do good things.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Positive changes


I posted the photo above to Instagram today, and I wrote the sarcastic caption because I always think it’s kind of funny how something that was a childhood staple for me is now so very different. But, it turns out, it’s been good.

The truth is, despite my sarcastic dig at doctors (which isn't serious), I’d made most of the general changes that sandwich represents without a doctor’s encouragement: I’m smart and I can read, so I made some dietary and lifestyle changes that when combined with medication, that stent, and refinements suggested by the doctor (and my own research) have paid off for me.

For example, I just got my latest routine blood test results, and one test’s results “likely excludes diabetes” and doesn’t need to be repeated any time soon—just as part of my routine cardio vascular disease assessment, something they do maybe a couple times a year.

But some of the changes I made on my own help with all that. I watch what I eat in the sense that I try to get enough fibre and fresh fruits and vegetables, and I’m doing much better with both. In addition to that sandwich, I had All Bran with fresh blueberries for breakfast this morning, and chicken and vegetables for dinner. I use very little salt, opting for the “low salt” variety when I just HAVE to have some, I don’t generally eat anything with sugar (like baked goods, which are a treat), and I stopped using white sugar in my coffee years ago.

On the other hand, there's debate around any number of choices I’ve made, with scientists making arguments for and against those choices, as well as for and against other choices. It’s all very confusing.

But I figure that if I feel well, and my various tests indicate I am well, then it’s pretty much full steam ahead, even if that means a (modified) peanut butter and jam sandwich. Adaptation can be pretty tasty, it turns out.

A little (more) good news


From time to time, John Green, best selling author and one of the Vlogbrothers on YouTube, produces a video in which he talks about the good news that’s all around us, but which we may not see. It’s particularly good when he does one in December to help close out the old year, and to keep hope alive for the new year. The video above is one of those.

As far as I know (because I shared it here on this blog), the last time John did one of these in December was in 2013 (though he’s done some in other months since then). What I noticed about this one are a couple references to the awful side of social media, which has been particularly noticeable this year. Personally, I feel the same way he does, but, also like John, it doesn’t cancel out realisation that there is much good that is still going on in the world, no matter what it may sometimes look like.

It’s difficult to remain positive in the face of relentless bad news, such as when a particular person’s latest irrational and unhinged Tweet leads the news cycle yet again, or somebody else shoots masses of innocent people, or we see criminals and dictators getting away with their crimes.

It seems to me that it’s precisely because there’s so much bad that sometimes we need to be reminded of the good. How else are we ever going to rise above the awful if we don’t see that there are good reasons to be hopeful? Hope alone won’t help us defeat evil, of course, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

And I certainly hope that the new year is a better year than the one we’re leaving—basically the same thing I wish every year, actually. Videos like this help remind us that in some ways, at least, that wish is granted every year.

The drawer project

There are ample resources to help people organise their homes, from commercial products, to stores that specialise in such products, and on to an endless stream of advice all over the Internet. There are useful things amid all that, and a whole lot of useless noise. Recently, I sifted through all that and discovered some solutions that worked for me, and it ended up being a blend of all that.

Since me moved into our current house, I’ve installed a new wardrobe system to increase storage in the master bedroom’s wardrobe, added small shelves (tiers, really) in the pantry and other cupboards to increase their storage, and added some plastic boxes with lids to hold things we don’t need very often. I also pared down some stuff—that’s a project in itself.

Our kitchen drawers were the glaring exception to all my organising efforts because they were nothing short of a disaster. There are four drawers in our small kitchen, and the top one had a plastic insert to separate cutlery, but the other three drawers were just drawers.

Organising has long been one of the things I searched for on Pinterest, and some of the solutions were reasonably good—but nothing was quite right. One day I was at Storage Box, a chain of stores that sells all sorts of storage items plus a lot of other homewares. Run as a cooperative, the chain’s stores are all independently owned. At the store I visited, I found different solutions for each of the drawers.

I was familiar with the sort of drawer liner that was already there: A rigid plastic thing with wide edges giving room to cut it down to fit a particular drawer (not necessarily easy to do, but it's possible). The problem is that those wide edges waste space, and the one we had wasted a lot of space (plus it was too narrow, so it slid around). My solution was the most expensive solution for any of the drawers: a Madesmart Expandable cutlery tray with eight compartments. I chose this because I could adjust the side compartments to fit our drawer, and I already knew the depth was about right. In the end, however, to get any decent size compartment on the outside, I took the one on the right side away entirely. Who knows—I may need that in a different kitchen some day. Here are before and after photos:

The cutlery drawer before (left) and after (right).

This particular tray also has “non-slip base” in each section, which makes the drawer quieter (it cutlery rattles a lot). There was one other problem, though: It was a little too short. The solution was provided by some little foam rectangles that were originally part of the packaging for some curtain rods we bought, so I re-purposed them by putting them firmly at the far end of the drawer (not visible in the photo). This had the added benefit of increasing the noise dampening in those drawers—a bonus, and a solution that was free.

Next up was the worst drawer of all, the utensil drawer. I didn’t want to get an insert because I’d put one in our previous house and didn’t like the results: The compartments weren’t quite right, and there was the usual problem of wasted space.

So, I bought a set of three expanding drawer dividers. I’d seen similar ones on Pinterest, and I decided to give them a go, even though I was a little worried they might slip. They ended up working really well, though they do slip a bit over time. I can live with that so far. Before and after photos:

The cooking utensils drawer before (left) and after (right).

The final drawer I did was the drawer that mostly has serving utensils of one sort or another (separated form the cooking utensils mainly so there’s more room in the cooking utensil drawer). The truth is, I wanted to use expanding drawer dividers in this drawer, too, but the store only had one set.

Instead, I bought three plastic basket-like trays that had dividers. I ended up not using all the dividers because I didn’t need them, but they’re all in the drawer in case that changes in the future. The trays are a little shorter than the drawer, so I used a couple more of those little foam rectangles to secure them side to side, and they now stay firmly in place.

Before and after photos are below, and it’s worth noting that the plastic container on the right holds clips for bags of chips or whatever, and it has a broken lid so we can pop a clip we’re not using at the moment back into it without having to take out the container and open it. Sure, I could have cut a hole, but at least this way nothing falls out. And, the container, like those little foam rectangles, were free.

The serving pieces drawer before (left) and after (right).

I haven’t done anything with the bottom drawer yet because it’s the deepest and I’ve been considering a two-tiered approach. But first I want to see how it works to see what solution is best. Besides, at the moment it mainly has tea towels and dishcloths in it, so it’s not a high priority.

This project was a LONG time coming, and in the end it amounted to looking at what was readily available, and what would work for our particular drawers. I had to modify those things slightly to make them work, but doing so didn’t cost me anything extra.

I might have been able to make dividers out of wood, as I saw somewhere through Pinterest, but I didn’t trust my woodworking skills. My path seemed the best for us, and, so far, it has been. And that’s the real point of this endeavour: Because of the Internet, I found various potential solutions, and that meant that when I found things in the store, I knew how I could make them work because, in a sense, I’d already done that. In this case, the Internet didn’t provide THE solution, but it definitely helped me find solutions that worked.

Full disclosure: I purchased all the products mentioned at retail. Neither Storage Box nor the particular store provided any sort of compensation, special pricing, or anything else. Or, to put it as I do in my standard disclaimer: I have not received compensation of any kind for this post—not that I’m above that or anything, it’s just nothing’s ever been offered to me. So, the opinions in this post are entirely my own sincerely held opinions.