Friday, July 21, 2017

The ol’ grey hair

We all face challenges as we get older, some bigger than others, and some entirely insignificant. How we choose to respond to the cosmetic challenges are entirely up to us, though others seem they think they have a right to judge. The thing is, we have so many more options now than we used to have, and in the future there will be even more options. I act on mine. This is a good thing.

A couple days ago, I dyed my beard and hair, as I have so many times before. In fact, I last did it two or three weeks earlier. But what makes all that different is that up until that time a few weeks ago, I’d decided it was time to stop dyeing my whiskers. Then, I changed my mind.

I’ve felt for a very long time that there will come a time when it’s more than a little ridiculous for me to continue dyeing my whiskers/hair. As the grey (well, mostly white these days…) hair resists colouring more and more, it seems like it’s becoming more trouble than it’s worth—so much so that I recently thought I reached the stopping point.

Part of what reinforced that for me was that Nigel said that what makes me look old is when I let my whiskers grow too long, not merely the fact they’re grey (well, white…). Only trouble with that was that I didn’t agree.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I resumed: I felt that I looked tired and older than I actually am with the un-coloured whiskers. My hair is mostly my natural colour, apart from a few odd patches, so my increasingly grey (well, white…) whiskers stood out by contrast. And, of course, they’re what I see first when I look in the mirror.

There was a time in which no man would admit to colouring his hair because that was something that only women did. Men were supposed to “grow old gracefully”, and they weren’t supposed to do anything to make themselves look younger.

That all started to change in the 1970s when men first started taking more care with their appearance (1970s fashion notwithstanding) and more male-oriented grooming productes emerged, as did “the dry look” for hair.

Over the intervening years, more and more products were introduced for the specific needs of men, not the least of which is seeming to be different from the exact same thing used by women. Hair dye is actually a good example: There’s really no difference in hair dye products, but labelling it “Just For Men” makes it seem very different—and, this works, because that’s the brand that I buy.

Men also have what are really cosmetics created and marketed to them, though they’re not called cosmetics, of course. This is a return to the past because centuries ago it was common for men to pay far more attention to their appearance.

Even so, if men are “too” open about what they’re doing, it’s often treated as a character flaw. “Why would you do that?”, they ask. “Just be yourself,” they add—even as they tell a woman who colours her hair how good she looks.

I colour my hair not for anyone else—I don’t care what they think—but for myself. As I’ve put it many times before, I don’t want to look dramatically older than I feel, and that’s all there is to it: It’s about what I see in the mirror.

There’s still one more thing that made me want to stop dyeing my whiskers. As I get closer to 60, and plan on talking about all that more, and I felt I needed to be more “authentic”. That is, I thought that up until I realised that wanting to look as old as I feel IS authentic for me, regardless of whatever anyone else may think. It’s also true for other middle aged men trying to find their way through a rapidly changing world. Being true to myself means, in this case, that I colour my hair.

And that brings me to the reason I’m bringing this up today: 18 months from today I turn 60. I can’t quite wrap my head around that fact, and I don’t know that I will even when the birthday arrives. But over the next year and a half, I’ll be trying to make sense of it all, including how I’ll dye my damn hair if I want to.

But the fact that I’m still here to talk about all this, when there was a good chance I may not have been, is the best thing of all. Put another way, like so many of my age-peers, I’m trying to figure this all out, and I get to do that. This, too, is a good thing.

But the old grey hair, it ain’t what it used to be. Either.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When the news stirs up bad memories

Stories in the news can sometimes have indirect but important personal connections to us. When there’s a positive new devlopment in an old story, it can drag up those connections once again. Time moves on, circumstances, feelings, and attidtudes can all change, but memories? They have a habit of sticking around. Today I was reminded of a time that put my own life on pause.

Today (Wednesday US time), Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart announced that they had positively identified a previously un-named victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Jimmie Haakenson was 16 on August 6, 1976, the last time his family ever heard from him. It’s believed that Gacy murdered him that day or soon after.

Gacy, of course, is notorious for having murdered 33 young men, most of whom he buried in the crawlspace under his house. The state of Illinois executed him by lethal injection in 1994, which was far too kind to him.

The case was huge news in December 1978 when Gacy was arrested and charged and the bodies were found. But it was especially huge news in Illinois, where Gacy was from, where he hunted his victims, and where they all died. It was all—well, shocking is far too mild a word.

In December 1978, I was 19, a month short of turning 20—right in the age range of Gacy’s victims. I was also still closeted, though by that time I’d had a couple casual, short-term boyfriends. But this case, probably partly because it was so sensational, had a profound affect on me, and further delayed my coming out.

It wasn’t that I thought I could have been one of Gacy’s victims (that was pretty much impossible), but how could I know whether there were more killers like Gacy? And, if I didn’t know HOW to be gay, how could I protect myself from being a victim? I felt the only safe option was to supress everything, to just not think about being gay, about how to find a potential boyfriend or permanent partner, how I might build an authentic life. No, I thought it was best to just pretend none of it existed, to be asexual.

There was something else that had already led me to think there could be a real menacing danger lurking out there.

In March 1975, about six weeks after I turned 16, Joseph “Joey” Didier, a 15 year old paperboy in Rockford, Illinois, was abducted, raped, and murdered. The papers were filled with pretty lurid stories about the murder, and I was affected by them. His murderer was eventually caught, tried, and convicted, and died in prison in February of this year.

That sensational murder case was seared into my young brain, and so was the victim’s name, and I’ve remembered it all for 42 years. So, when the Gacy case hit the news some 2 years and 9 months later, it did so with the earlier case as a backdrop, especially because in 1975 I was also in the age range of Gacy’s victims.

What all this meant was that the message I got when I was a teenager and young man was the idea that it was dangerous—possibly even fatal—to be young and gay. I took that message because, even though most—or, for all I know, all—of the victims weren’t gay, they were preyed upon by men who got sexual gratification from victimising and murdering young men, guys who were the ages I was in those same years.

I have no way of knowing if I would have moved past that fear on my own, though I think I would have. Had I taken the same first steps toward being true to myself that I ultimately did in 1981, I would have found my through. But the catalyst for me to do so was the death of both of my parents when I was 20 and 21. After that, I felt life was too short to wait to be happy.

One could say that I was just lucky when I finally came out—I met good and caring people, and it kept me safe. But Southern Illinois wasn’t exactly a gay-friendly place in the late 1970s. In fact, even as late as 1988, only around six years after I left, 23 year old Michael Miley was murdered and his body decapitated, apparently by a man who made a sport out of harassing gay men in town.

By that time I was living in Chicago, and two years later, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested for his heinous crimes. A friend of mine was particularly shaken by that case because he thought Dahmer was the sort of man he’d have gone home with, and, as far as we know, all those who did were murdered.

Things were very different for me by the late 1980s/early 1990s. By that time I’d spent several years as a grassroots activist working on gay rights. I’d had serious relationships, and I’d learned to be “streetwise”, to the extent anyone ever actually does. I heard about the Miley murder a year or two afterward, and in the context of my activism. It was impossible to miss the Dahmer story, but by then I was 32 and established in life.

Those sensational crimes in the 1970s definitely held me back out of fear that I could become a victim just like those other young men my age had been. But the other side of that is that there were no positive role models for young gay men when I was one. After all, Harvey Milk had been assassinated a few weeks before Gacy was arrested, and there were no famous openly gay people in pop culture, politics, or anywhere else to take positive messages from.

In the late 1970s, church and state alike wanted there to be hostility toward gay people in society, and society responded. At that time, it was difficult not to see the world as a hostile and possibly dangerous place for gay people.

So much has changed since those days. There are positive role models everywhere, and while violence and danger still exists, it’s something that most young gay men in our Western societies don’t need to worry about. If I was 16-19 now, things would be unimaginably different.

And yet, despite it all, I made it through those years, as did millions of others. Some of them would die in the plague years, but millions of us survived those years, too. The human spirit is often far stronger than people can imagine, and we transcend the challenges we face. Hopefully.

But even decades later, all the feelings and fears and memories can be dredged back up through the release of what is undeniably good news out of Cook County. How it feels now is different—time and distance matter—but the vivid memories still come to fore, because memories have a habit of sticking around. This time, they also allowed me to reflect on how I took my life out of pause, and how good things became because of that. There’s value in that—and in remembering.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trying the new naughty

Sometimes it seems it’s the supposedly “naughty” things that make life most worth living. Whether food or drink or sex or whatever, it’s possible to indulge in a way that’s responsible, if only barely so. Making chocolate eating responsible, however, may be among the most difficult things to do.

On Monday, I talked about the new premier chocolate range from New Zealand company Whittaker’s called Destinations. They were released in New Zealand that day, but originally available at New World supermarkets. As luck would have it, I had a meeting near our old neighbourhood yesterday evening, and there’s a New World nearby, so…

Yesterday evening I bought one of each of the Destinations (photo above) and I tried them then and today. Here’s what I thought:

1. Destination Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Heirloom 76% Dark Chocolate. It’s made from “Nicaraguan Heirloom cocoa beans”, whatever that is. The company says it has “hints of tart, red berries”, and it does, even though there apparently aren’t any berries in it. Dark chocolate isn’t usually very sweet, and this isn’t, but perhaps it’s a bit sweeter than my normal favourite, Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana. I liked it. I’d rank it second of the lot.

2. Destination India: Indian Cardamom & Apricots. They say of it: “The exotic citrusy taste of Indian cardomom perfectly matched with Indian apricots in smooth 33% Creamy Milk chocolate.” Not sure what’s so “Indian” about this, but still. I didn’t taste the cardomom, but I did taste the apricot. It was okay, but I’d probably rank it fourth of these four. It reminded me a bit of a chocolate that was in the variety box of American chocolates we had at Christmas every year when I was a kid, the one with the map in the lid. I didn’t like it then, though I didn’t hate it. I feel exactly the same about this—I wouldn’t mind not having it again, but I didn’t hate it.

3. Destination Italy: Italian Piedmont Hazelnut. This is made with 33% cocoa milk chocolate, and hazelnut paste and roasted Piedmont hazelnut pieces. Similar to the Indian one, this doesn’t seem particularly “Italian”, but it’s quite nice. I’ve never had Nutella, so, I have no idea if there’s any similarity, but as a chocolate bar, it was really nice. Sweeter than I normally have, yes, but not sickly sweet. I rank this one third.

4. Destination Canada: Pecans Waffle & Canadian Maple. The package says it has “caramelised pecans”, while the website says it’s “pan roasted pecans coated in Canadian maple syrup and crunchy waffle” with 33% cocoa milk chocolate. I don’t normally like maple chocolate or ice cream, though I love maple syrup on pancakes and waffles. This was the one that actually made me want to try the range, when I heard someone in the TV ad talking about how it was like having a waffle… something, something, whatever, I love waffles (and made some from scratch just the other day). So, I had both high expectations and high worry about this one, and I really liked it. It’s sweet, yes, but not in an obnoxious way, and the maple just works, especially combined with the crunchiness and the mild, smooth chocolate. This one is my favourite.

This little taste-test is a bit of a surprise for me: I wasn’t a big fan of the Artisan range, as I said on Monday, most of which I thought were too sweet, and I also thought the ones I tried had too little to balance the sweetness. This Destinations range is completely different: They’re sweet, to varying degrees, but none of them obnoxiously so. I prefer them to the Artisan range, but some of the ordinary products taste better to me than some of the premium ranges. And, the premium ranges ARE more expensive than the ordinary ones.

I applaud Whittaker’s experimentation with different combinations, and it’s important to note that no one can please everyone. This means, first, that having a wide variety means that they’re almost certain to have a product that will appeal to everyone who likes chocolate. However, it also means that any particular person may disagree with my opinions about this range (or the rest of their product range, for that matter). That’s fine. To each their own, but getting chocolate does seem to be important to humans. George Orwell included chocolate rations in his dystopian novel 1984, allowing his authoritarian “Big Brother” regime to include chocolate rations.

Two things I need to add. First, I tried these one last night, the rest over the course of the entire day, not all at once—all things in moderation, right? Second, and maybe most important, as I say with nearly everything, like what you like and forget about everyone else. But, don’t be afraid to try new things, either. Sometimes you will be sweetly surprised.

Full Disclosure: I received no compensation of any kind for this post, and as I said in the post, I bought the products at a retail store using my own money.

The timeline so far

I don’t usually share Keith Olbermann’s videos mostly because so many of them are pretty aggressive, and while he may be right and fair, they are nevertheless somewhat unhelpful for the larger goal of informing people people about the corruption and criminality of Don’s regime. Nevertheless, sometimes his videos are useful, and this is one of them.

In this video, Keith lays out the full timeline for Don's campaign's meeting with Russians that present prima facie evidence of collusion with a hostile foreign government. What struck me about the timeline is that is seems obvious that Don has been lying about when he first heard about this particular meeting, and also when he claimed for months that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. It seems obvious now that he knew all along and has been trying to cover that up.

Another thing is something that I haven’t yet seen reported by any other media outlet, for lack of a better word, namely, that Don first mentioned the very specific number of supposedly missing Hillary Clinton emails, 33,000, on the very day that his son and son-in-law met with Russian government representatives. That, and Don hinting at information “to come”, is really strong evidence that Don was fully aware of the meeting and what it was all about.

Don and his entire family look corrupt, and if this evidence turns out to be what it looks like, they’re also guilty of treason. So, the title of Keith’s video could very well be proven to be apt. When the inevitable indictments of people close to Don are released, we’ll begin to find out how serious this all really is.

This much we do know: We’re a very long way from hearing the end of this story.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Chocolate ‘Destinations’

Yes, the video above is an ad, but I really like it and wanted to share it. It has no social message, no promotion of a cause, and no in-depth information on a subject we should all know more about. No, it’s just an ad for chocolate, and I really like it.

The ad is the 60-second version currently playing on New Zealand television, and, I presume, in other markets (the 15-second version is below). It features British cook and TV presenter Nigella Lawson, who is the “brand ambassador” for New Zealand chocolate makers Whittaker’s, especially their premier “Artisan” range, and now their new range, “Destinations”, which is available in New Zealand starting today.

I have to admit up front that I’m a fan of Nigella, and I love a lot of Whittaker’s chocolates: Their Fairtrade Certified Dark Ghana with 72% cocoa is a personal favourite, but I like many of their others, too. However, I’m not a fan of the “Artisan” range, which I find to be too sweet. I haven’t had the new “Destinations” range yet, but I may try some tomorrow.

So, my liking this commercial is mainly because they’re all pretty lighthearted and friendly ads, and this one features a couple more of my favourite Brits, Stephen Fry (who was the first celebrity to follow me back on Twitter…) and also Joanna Lumley.

Last night I saw the ad for the first time, and I really did—literally, even—laugh out loud when Stephen Fry was a the door. It’s been awhile since an ad made me laugh (not counting the ones I laugh AT, which is quite a different thing). I knew then that I’d share the ad here, and Whittaker’s uploaded the ad to YouTube earlier today, so, here we are.

I’ll share ads when I like them or think they’re well-made, think their content is good, etc., and I do so even knowing they help promote the company or product in the ad. I don’t mind that, especially when I like the company, as I do in this case. And, I am sharing this only because I like it—I haven’t been paid to promote the product or company, and I haven’t received any other compensation, like free samples, though I’m certainly not above accepting such things. I mention that because these days one is supposed to disclose any compensation, actual or potential, so pointing out there was none seems like a good idea, too. And, who knows? Some day I’ll say something like that, as I often do, and some company will decide to send me free samples (actually, a couple times companies have offered samples, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t take the emails seriously).

No, this post is just about sharing an ad I like for a company I like featuring people I like. And those are pretty good reasons to share anything, I think.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Weekend Diversion: The Erie Canal

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in the USA when building a canal was a technological revolution, akin to railroads or even the Internet. On July 4, 1817, construction began on the Erie Canal, and that changed everything.

The video above, from CBS Sunday Morning, talks about the canal, its construction and what it meant at the time. The video begins with the song "Low Bridge, Everybody Down", which was written in 1905, nearly a century after construction had begun, and which, as the video explains, actually had little to do with the canal at the time the song was written. Nevertheless, the song is the main reason I know about the canal, because we were taught it in primary school and it’s stuck with me over all these decades.

The canal was built at all mainly because of DeWitt Clinton, a governor of New York (among other things), who was a passionate booster of the canal, leading opponents to call the canal “Clinton’s Folly” or “Clinton’s Ditch”, among other things. It came it at $140 billion in today’s money.

Funding for the canal had been opposed by both Presidents Jefferson and Madison, but was found, anyway. Construction took about eight years, and once it was up and running cut transportation costs by about 95%. That’s because there were no railroads yet, nor any sailing route through the Great Lakes that didn’t require portage, so the main way of shipping was by pack animal, which was slow and expensive.

The canal led to a big increase in the population of Western New York State, as well as areas farther west, and helped boost the economy of the state and the United States generally, and helped turn New York City into a major world port. In short, it was a huge success.

The canal was expanded several times over the years, and is now largely redundant after the growth of railroads and also the construction of the New York State Barge Canal in 1918. What remains of the canal is mainly used by pleasure craft, though there’s still some commercial shipping.

Because the Erie Canal is largely relegated to the past, it would be easy to forget, and so, it’d be easy to forget how important it once was. I might never have learned about it in the first place if it wasn’t for that song, and the song also helped me remember.

Funny the things primary school helps us remember.

LISTEN: “Low Bridge” by Pete Seeger

The decline of American democracy won't be televised

This video from Vox describes the path the USA could take to the end of its democracy. This is based on classic political science theory on how democracies can die without violence or force. As Vox puts in the YouTube description:
We imagine democratic failure will start with a spectacular event: a military coup or the declaration of martial law. But in a country like the U.S., democratic backsliding will likely to start off looking a lot more normal – with slow, legal attacks on our democratic institutions. It's the kind of thing that won't generate many news headlines – at least not until it's too late.
The question here is obvious: It it already too late?

The current regime in the White House has demonstrated consistent and fervent devotion to distraction, lack of transparency, deception, misinformation, and outright lies. The fact that many of the regime’s lies are about things that don’t matter or are insignificant (like lying about how “large” the crowd was(n’t) at Don’s swearing in) misses the point: They lie so much and so often so that eventually no one will be able to tell what’s true and what isn’t. This is also what’s behind their constant use of the phrase “fake news” to describe everything that they don’t like or find uncomfortable or inconvenient—even when that news is actually fully verified, factual, and truthful, though unflattering to Don and his regime. They need to sow distrust and disbelief in journalism so that no criticism is effective or, ultimately, even possible.

The fact that Republicans are pressing ahead with Trumpcare, even though big majorities oppose it, shows they don’t have a commitment to democracy and that they don’t care about the will of the people (apart from the insanely rich ones, of course). This is not going to change unless the hardcore base of the party turns against Don, and that will almost certainly never happen. Indeed, it seems he has a hardcore of support among the general public: Frank Newport from Gallup pointed out recently that Don’s approval rating, though well below historical averages, “has not changed materially over the past four months”.

Democrats, meanwhile, are plagued by a fifth column within their ranks, people who claim to oppose Don and the Republicans but whose incessant attacks only serve to advance the extremist agenda of Don and the Republican Party. To be sure, the Democratic Party has many very real problems, but dealing with them is markedly more difficult when there are people who seem far more concerned with tearing down the only vehicle for opposition now, and for defeating the Republicans next year. Apparently both mainstream Democrats and their supposed opponents on the same side haven’t learned from the 2016 elections.

I think the next three months will be crucial. During that time, the case must not only be firmly made for removing Don from office, but the necessity for doing do so must be widely accepted. Only then will there be an imperative among voters for taking away political control from Republicans one year later. If we go much past that point without the tide having decidedly turned, it may be too late.

Can American democracy be saved? I think so, yes. But much needs to happen for that to be the case. If the effort fails, then it definitely won’t be televised. This is one good time to hope for wall-to-wall television coverage.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Frozen words

It’s winter, it gets cold. It also snows in places where it snows. And sometimes we have bad storms. It can happen any winter, or every winter, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like it, and I don’t. This week’s winter storms have been especially unpleasant, and the fact it’s all so ordinary changes absolutely nothing. I hate being cold.

The problem for us was a weather system brining up cold air from the Antarctic combined with plenty of moisture and strong winds. The specific weather varied widely form place to place—snow in the South Island, hurricane-strength winds in the Wellington region, and winds and rain here in Auckland. And, of course, very cold weather everywhere.

In our specific area, the temperatures were cold by Auckland standards, but not by the standards of places that get worse winters. Still, we don’t live in those other places—we live here, and this is the winter we know.

The coldest night, Wednesday, it dropped to 5 degrees (41F), and that’s pretty cold for Auckland (though not the coldest I’ve experienced even here). Thursday the high reached around 10 (50F), which it was today, too. These temperatures, thought they’re cold for Auckland, felt much colder because the air was damp from the rain and the winds were very strong.

Our heavy wooden gate across our driveway blew open when the force of the wind forced a loose screw out enough for the latch to ocme loose. It nearly happened another time, too, and would have had I not been out there and checked it yesterday evening. This evening when I went out to pick up takeaways, the screw was almost completely removed. The gate only remained closed because the wood had swelled with all the rain and it was basically stuck closed.

All of that was an inconvenience, but there was more.

Yesterday afternoon, the power went off at about 4:40pm. This was annoying, because I all out heating is electric, and so is our stove and hot water. The power went off just as I was about to make myself a cup of coffee—that was the annoyance.

I realised that without power, the temperature in the house would drop pretty fast. However, I’d taken banana bread out of the oven only a few minutes before, so I opened the oven door to let the heat out, and that really did help.

By this time, I pulled out my phone and checked the Facebook Group for our area (cellphone towers usually have independent power), and found out the power was out all over the area. And then someone asked if the water was out. I checked and ours was, and then I found out (also from that group) that the water to our area depends on local pumps, and without power, the pumps didn’t work, so we had no water.

So, without power, there was no heat or lights, no cooking facilities, and no water, either. This was a first for me.

When we lived on Auckland’s North Shore, the power went out a handful of times over those more than 17 years, usually because of an accident somewhere, like a car hitting a transformer, and not because of weather. Still, when it did happen, we never lost water. And, since we had a gas hob (cooktop), I could boil water for a coffee and could cook. This is why the power outage was so unusual.

The power came back on in about 25 minutes, and apart from clearing the air from the water lines and taps, there wasn’t much to do to put things back to normal. The result of this is that we need to revamp our emergency plans: We need to have a much larger supply of drinking water (we dumped everything we had at the old house, which was due to be replaced). This will mean we can raid the supplies for a brief outage without dipping into our Get Thru supplies. We also need to find our little butane camp stove so we have cooking facilities (in this case, we couldn't have used our BBQ, because the weather and winds were just too bad). The fatc is, you never know when it’ll happen again, or how long it will last if it does, so best to be prepared for even short events.

The loss of power and water was an unusual twist to this winter storm, but there was one other: It was far too cold in my office to spend any time there, so yesterday I never even turned my computer on. I was there for a little while today, really just to catch up on email, but I knew blogging was out of the question.

So, here I am at my Macbook upstairs in the warmth. I put some files in the cloud so if it’s still cold tomorrow, I’ll have easy access to the things I may want to blog about. Or, not.

The thing is, I may not feel like blogging if the weather hasn’t changed tomorrow. I hate being cold.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Safety dance

This morning, when I was walking up Queen Street in Auckland’s CBD, there was an incident. Relatively minor in the overall scheme of things, but it resulted in me taking action onthe spur of the moment. And I’d do it again.

Here’s how I described it on my personal Facebook”
I think this was the right thing to do – judge for yourself.

I was in the Auckland CBD this morning walking along Queen Street for the first time in maybe a couple years. It was fun seeing all the changes, all the people walking up the street toward work, busy city-ness. It was great.

But then ahead of me I saw a drunk beggar approach a thin, pretty blonde young woman (probably mid to late 20s). Every time she moved to avoid him, he moved to block her. This happened a couple times, then she stopped, backed up a step and tried to pass and he blocked her again.

By this point I'd drawn even with them, slowed, and was about to pass when I saw her back-up. I stepped sideways to block him and said, "Look, she's really busy," which gave her the space and distraction she needed, and she passed us both behind me.

Once we were both clear, she smiled and thanked me, but I felt a little guilty for just intervening when she didn't ask, so I said to her, "Sorry for intervening, but he seemed a bit aggressive." She smiled and said, "That's okay. Happens to me all the time," which didn't surprise me. She thanked me again, I wished her a great day, and we parted.

I don't like assuming a woman "needs" my help, and this woman may have had a black belt in karate for all I knew. But the drunk, even though he was unsteady on his feet was quite bulky and COULD have hurt someone, drunk though he was (like I said, he seemed aggressive). But I towered over him and I think I had the advantage in bulk (and sobriety, of course), and I just acted on impulse and maybe instinct.

Maybe the woman could have taken care of herself far more effectively than I could have been helpful if it had come to physical force. And in the time since then I've thought of better things I could have said to the drunk man (as always happens...), but I couldn't just stand by and do nothing when someone may have been in difficulty or danger. Sooner or later that could get me in trouble, either by insulting someone who doesn't need my help or by intervening when someone really is dangerous.

But if I was in trouble, or someone I love was in danger, I'd hope that someone would help, even if it wasn't needed. That's why I have to be that someone for strangers. It's the human and humane thing – the right thing – to do, I think.

As I finish typing this on my phone, sipping my warming coffee (it's COLD today!), the music playing is Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance". Perfect: That's what I had this morning out on Queen Street in Auckland's CBD.

Have an awesome day!
Several of my Facebook friends commented, and I realised pretty much right away that I’d made a mistake in the first sentence. As I put it in a later comment:
I feel I should apologise, though, because I realise now that the way I started this made it sound like I was looking for validation, while what I was REALLY thinking at the time was "this is what I did because I thought it was the right thing to do. Others may not approve, but I'd do it again."
That was why I’d explained in the original post how even though the woman didn’t ask for help, and she may have been better equipped to handle it than I was, I acted on instinct. To be completely honest, I don’t really care if someone didn’t approve of what I did: I still think it was the right thing to do at that time.

Other comments noted how women are often just tired of having to confront this sort of male behaviour, and what a bad thing that situation was. As I said to a friend:
And it makes me sad as a human being, and pretty damn pissed off as a man that other men make women feel like that. Those men have no excuse, and the rest of us men should never let them try to make one up. IMHO.
Here’s another truth in this for me: Men have to stand up to the bad behaviour of other men—it’s kind of our duty, I think, when it’s safe to do so. Of course, as I also commented, these situations are much safer in New Zealand than in the USA because no one will have a gun. That possibility in the USA would make me hesitate.

Still, this isn’t the first time I saw something I thought was wrong and acted on impulse. Last year, it involved me driving to check on a woman who I thought could be in danger. What I’ve found is that action makes more action easier.

Friends also commented about how support for the woman today was important, and how distraction is an important tool in a situation like this. All of that’s true, but in a sense, I was doing it wrong, which is what I was alluding to when I wrote: “…in the time since then I've thought of better things I could have said to the drunk man (as always happens...).” What I had in mind when I wrote that was a graphic I saw online last year:

While that graphic is about dealing with islamophobic harassment in particular, it’s obviously applicable to any sort of harassment. An important point in that graphic is that the intervener talks to the victim, not the agressor. By not engaging with the agressor at all, it helps avoid the risk of escalating the situation, and makes defusing more likely. At least, that’s what I read mental health professionals say at the time; I've never tried it.

So, in the aftermath, when I had some quiet time to reflect, I thought that maybe I could have talked to the woman instead, pretending that I knew her, and talking to her, while I escorted her away. The main risk is that she may not have clicked to what I was doing and may have acted as if I was mad, but if it had been a stronger harasser—someone who was not impaired or who was bigger than me—this may have been a better strategy. I’ll try to keep it in mind as a possible tool if there’s a next time.

The main thing for me, though, is something I keep repeating: Be the change you want to see. I want the world to be a better place, where we treat each other with dignity and respect and where we stand up for those who are in difficulty of whatever kind. It’s not easy for anyone, but if we try our best to be our best, maybe one day we won’t need strangers to engage in a safety dance with us.

We have to start some place. Dancing is optional, though.

Arthur’s day out

Today I had an impromptu time in Auckland’s CBD. By that I mean that it wasn’t planned at all, but it turned out to be a good adventure, one too long delayed. And, there are tales to tell.

Nigel had a meeting in the CBD after which he was coming back home, so he invited me to go with him and have a wander around the central city, then we’d have lunch and go home. It’s probably been a couple years since I did that, so it seemed like a good idea.

The traffic into the central city was quite good today, and we got there before 9am, much earlier than we’d expected. A lot of shops weren’t open yet, so I went for a walk down Queen Street, then back up, and then all around. There’s a tale that goes with that, which I’ll talk about in a different post [UPDATE: That other post is now published].

I had two places I wanted to visit. The first of those was the Farmer’s store in the former Whitcoulls building (I posted a photo of the former store in a post from November, 2009). I wanted to see how they’d re-done it, and, to be brutally honest, I didn’t think much of it. Whitcoulls had become rather shabby by the end, and had few books (most of their stores now focus far more on craft supplies, some office supplies, some gift-y stuff, and with only a few books), and I don’t think that Farmer’s really did very much. Sure, it looks better than at the end of the time that Whitcoulls was in it, but it was nothing special. And the men’s clothing section was a joke.

Interestingly, there’s a passage way off the second level/first floor called “Little High Street”, which has a few shopfronts on it, some empty. One of the occupied shops was a Whitcoulls, which, while tiny, ironically seemed to have more books in it than the former big store had at the end.

The other place I wanted to see is in the photo at the top of this post: The CAB in what they’re calling “the Civic Quarter”, though it’s adjacent to Aotea Square. It’s the residential redevelopment of an old Auckland local government office building. The work hasn’t begun yet, so the “model apartment” is on the ground floor and a kind of a mock-up, but they had large versions of the floor plans on display and very friendly staff, even when it was clear I wasn’t a potential buyer. By my count, they’d sold 32 apartments so far, which means they must be closing in on the halfway point. It looks like it'll be a great place when it's all done.

As I walked out of Aotea Square, I stopped and took a photo of the temporary skating rink there:

It certainly seemed cold enough for ice skating today, though in fact the truly cold temperatures in our current winter storm are hitting tonight. I went somewhere to warm up and wait for Nigel to finish his meeting.

Next, we had lunch at a teppanyaki place in the “Sky World Indoor Entertainment Centre” in Queen Street on the edge of Aotea Square. in Queen Street on the edge of Aotea Square. The centre used to be called “SkyCity Metro” (it’s partly in photos in a post from 2010, but it’s been redeveloped a bit. Lunch was awesome:

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After that, we went home, arriving back here in the early afternoon. It’s true that I didn’t get done the things I'd planned, but I had a good day and got some bonus time with Nigel. I count today as a definite win.