Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tenth ‘Faceversary’

Ten years ago today I joined Facebook. I knew this was coming up, but Facebook itself reminded me of it: When I looked at Facebook this morning, I saw the graphic at left. It was for a video celebrating the event, which I reviewed and then posted.

The only time, I think, that I talked at any length about this anniversary, and why I joined Facebook, was back in 2013. The important parts are that Facebook was actually the third social network I joined (MySpace was first, followed by Twitter), and that I joined them to promote my podcast. While that use declined over time, Facebook itself has become useful for me for other reasons, and it still is.

Facebook is far from perfect—a bit like those of us who use it, actually—but it does some things right, things I’ve talked about on this blog. Among them are those silly little videos like the one I was presented with today. Utterly unimportant, not terribly useful, really, but kinda fun all the same. It’s also positive and upbeat, which wins points from me.

So, I’ve spent a decade using Facebook, though there’s very little of that I remember in any great detail. Fortunately, I’ve blogged about some of that, too, which is how I can know about some of the Facebook shenanigans I’ve gotten up to over the past decade. I guess that’s a good thing.

So: First decade on Facebook is done. Will there be a 20th ‘Faceversay’? If there is, it better get a lot of “Likes”!

‘The Americans Are Coming’

Apparently New Zealand is the new "it" country for Americans. Who knew?! I actually pretty much agree with what the presenter says about New Zealand in the video above. It’s fairly light-hearted approach tries to explain why so many Americans want to move to New Zealand. It does a good job.

This piece has a very specific person—explaining why New Zealand is an appealing place to move to from the perspective of recently arrived American expats, or those who hope to become one. As such, it’s enlightening. The fact that it doesn’t really talk about problems facing New Zealand isn’t important, in my opinion, since that wasn’t the purpose of the piece: It merely tried to explain why New Zealand is popular with some American émigrés, and not whether it’s a good choice or not.

One thing I do want to push back on, though, is the idea that New Zealand is some sort of “apocalypse insurance”. If the USA starts a nuclear war, we’re all dead. It may take a bit longer for the Southern Hemisphere to be wiped out, but that’s nevertheless inevitable.

However, for other forms of catastrophe, it could be another story. If the USA becomes a fascist dictatorship, or climate change causes famine in the USA, or in the case of any number of other non-world ending scenarios, there may be safety for American expats, at least for a time, in countries like New Zealand. Whether that would be the case or not is purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to test the theory without an actual catastrophe. I think we all agree that we hope there’s no chance to ever test the theory.

So, the video is accurate, more or less, and does a good job of its single purpose: Explaining why so many Americans want to move to New Zealand. In this case, that’s enough.

Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green, who shared the link to this video in a comment on a post yesterday.

This is how you do it

This is an ad for Randy Bryce, a man seeking the Democratic nomination for US Representative in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. That has national significance because the seat is currently held by Republican Paul Ryan, currently Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and one of the most important people advancing Don’s agenda in the USA. Defeating Ryan would be awesome, a service to the entire nation.

Bryce describes himself as “a U.S. Army veteran, cancer survivor, and union ironworker”, and says he’s running for Congress because “his values are our neighbors’ values, and Washington has gotten way off track”. All of which is true, especially when contrasted with Ryan, Don, and the Republicans. Specifically, Bryce says:
“My mother has multiple sclerosis, my father is in assisted living, and I survived cancer in my 20s to have a miracle child in my 40s… What Paul Ryan and the Republicans are doing to take health care away from millions of us, to make it cost more and cover less, and to allow the protections we’ve gained to be stripped away – it’s just unacceptable.”
Healthcare is one of the issues on which Republicans are most vulnerable. Tens of millions of Americans will lose their health insurance if TrumpCare becomes law, with tens of millions more paying more money for less coverage. Personal bankruptcies, which plummeted dramatically thanks to Obamacare, will soar once again as people lose everything paying for their healthcare. A majority of voters—even in deep red US states—don’t like TrumpCare.

On the other hand, most of the US newsmedia is ignoring the whole thing, just like US Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell wants it. He’s drafting his bill in super-secret, keeping the details not just from the American people, but also from Democrats in the Senate. He wants to be able to ram it through before anyone has any idea what’s in it.

If McConnell and Senate Republicans succeed in ramming Trumpcare through the Senate, The US House will rubberstamp it and Don will sign it into law. Will 18 months—the rough time until the next Congressional elections—be enough time for Americans to lose their health insurance because of TrumpCare? Will Democrats be able to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire over TrumpCare and the disaster it would mean for millions and millions of Americans? If Democrats can do that, it’ll be by personalising the issue so average voters can identify with it.

And that’s why Bryce’s ad is so good: It talks directly to voters about issues they can personally identify with: Family, hard work, the need for healthcare. He portrays himself as “one of them”, because he is, and that contrasts sharply with Ryan’s elitism and privilege, and although the ad doesn’t make that point directly, voters would get it. Want to reach ordinary voters? This is how you do it.

Republicans always wrap their election messages in appeals to fear of “the other”—immigrants, Muslims, terrorists, LGBT people, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Liberals, Democrats, and so many more. Democrats can appeal to the very real and justified fears of what Don and the Republicans are doing to ordinary voters and their families. But, unlike Republicans, Democrats also need to provide real, concrete, and achievable solutions that will make things better for individual voters and their families. Let Republicans be negative, non-specific, and unfocused, but Democrats must always be positive, specific, focused, and appeal directly to the voters in a way they can identify with.

I have no idea whether Randy Bryce is a good candidate overall, who the other Democratic candidates will be, or who, ultimately, will be the Democratic nominee to take on Paul Ryan. Ryan is vulnerable for being smug, arrogant, selfish, and privileged, sure, but mainly for what he, Don and the Republicans are trying to do to harm the very people Ryan claims to represent in Congress. Defeating Ryan, no matter who does it, would be performing a service to the entire nation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The shortest day

Today was the shortest day of the year. Well, the day wasn’t actually any shorter, of course, but in one sense it was. And that confusion is only compounded when people contemplate when seasons will change. Or the weather.

The June Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 4:24pm this afternoon. That means that today had the shortest amount of daylight hours for the year, and now the days all start getting longer (it’s the exact opposite for our poor friends in the Northern Hemisphere). It’s the shortness of daylight hours people are referring to when they talk about “the shortest day”, and while I would’ve thought that was bloody obvious, apparently for some it isn’t.

Solstices and equinoxes also have nothing to do with weather—they merely mark the sun’s position north and south of the equator thanks to the earth’s axial tilt. Put another way, in a sense it’s really kind of imaginary: The sun is where it always is and the only thing that changes is whether the top of the earth is tilting toward the sun or away from it.

The talk of days getting longer or shorter is also kind of pointless. First, right after the solstice the changes are seconds or a minute, eventually increasing a little bit. But because the speed of change is so slow, neither winter nor summer end just because of a solstice.

In fact, some of the worst winter weather in New Zealand is often in July, the month following the solstice. Moreover, true spring weather—as opposed to merely mild weather—doesn’t arrive until maybe September, possibly October, and sometimes not even until November, the month before summer begins. Actually, when we can truly notice there are more hours of daylight, that’s when the weather seems to warm up a bit. Like I said, these astronomical events have very little to do with weather.

Even so, many of us look forward to the winter solstice because it’s a reminder that spring will return. Some of us (well, okay, maybe just me…) like to pretend that the lengthening days are noticeable immediately, and it means we can look forward to the return of warm weather. I wonder, though, will climate change affect that eager anticipation?

This year we mark our winter solstice with a major storm bearing down on us. There will be severe wind and rain in the upper North Island, and snow in the South Island. Yippee.

Overall, Northland, where the storm hits first, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and, in the South Island, Canterbury, are expected to get the worst of it. Yippee again. We’ve had several storms this autumn and winter, and I’m not keen on another. I’m supposed to go do the grocery shopping tomorrow, and I thought I might make a couple more stops. I think I’ll decide all that based on the weather. It’s not like I don’t have plenty to keep me busy here in the house.

Welcome to the shortest day, Southern Hemisphere 2017 Edition. Pardon me if I don’t break out in spring celebrations quite yet.

The image accompanying this post is a screen grab of something Facebook posted for us Southern Hemisphere folks today. The birds were animated. I also noted that Facebook called it “winter solstice” when “June solstice” is the normally accepted term nowadays. I think they were trying to go all local on us—even spelling “cosy” the way we do in New Zealand.

Drive one mad

Infographic: Which Side Of The Road Do You Drive On?  | Statista
I get a lot of questions about what life for an immigrant like me is like in New Zealand, how to migrate here, and things about New Zealand in particular, or The Commonwealth, or even the about the Southern Hemisphere in general. One area people are often curious about is driving on “the other side of the road” (from their perspective, of course). But driving on the left side of the road isn’t as rare as some people might think.

The infographic above is from Statista, and which side of the road various countries drive on. Like all maps like this, at first glance it tends to present a somewhat distorted view of the situation.

Nevertheless, two-thirds of the world’s population, living in 163 countries, drives on the right side of the road, while the rest, living in 76 countries, drive on the left side of the road. This is mainly historic. As Statista puts it:
The bulk of countries that drive on the left are former British colonies including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Only four countries in Europe still drive on the left and they are all islands. They consist of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
Clearly the influence of the British Empire remains active in this area, among others. The thing is, though, that people in those 76 countries are as used to their way as are the people in those 163 countries, so they have no compelling reason to change.

There are two factors that might nudge New Zealand to change. The first is if Japan were to switch, because New Zealand is a major market for used cars from Japan. If that country switched, all their cars would have the steering wheel on the left side of the car, which isn’t appropriate for driving on the left side of the road.

The other factor might be if Australia were to switch, since the two countries have so many business and tourism ties. However, I’m not convinced that a change like that alone would be enough to convince New Zealand to change.

There’s another possible scenario that could force New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries to switch: If left side of the road countries with large populations were to switch sides of the road—say, if the UK, Japan, and India all switched—then there would be little choice for the rest of the left side of the road countries other than to switch. Right-hand drive cars (for use on the left side of the road) are manufactured for use in those 76 countries, but if the big countries switched, there probably wouldn’t be a big enough market for manufacturers to continue to make cars for use on the left side of the road. However, there are companies in New Zealand that specialise in converting cars from left-hand drive to right-hand drive so they can be used here. Maybe that would become a bigger deal, at least for awhile.

The important thing is, though, that there’s no incentive for any country to switch, especially not island nations, or those for whom land links may not be as important or much of a problem. So, it’s pretty unlikely that New Zealand will ever switch.

For me, it actually wasn’t that hard to adjust to driving full-time on the left side of the road, and it’s now second nature. However, there does seem to be a problem with foreign tourists causing crashes by driving on the wrong side of the road. There have been many suggestions for ways to fix that, including some that are pretty heavy-handed, but one thing that’s becoming common everywhere are arrows painted on the road to show which side of the road to drive on, to remind foreign drivers. It’s too early to tell whether that has helped or not.

The fact that New Zealand drives on “the other side of the road” may or may not be interesting in any way, but it’s certainly not the most interesting thing about the country. It’s also not all that unusual. The Internet is a wonderful teacher.

Related: “Linksverkehr”, my 2010 post about getting my New Zealand Driver Licence.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don’t say

The English language evolves wherever it exists. New words are coined, old words are ignored or take on new meanings, fads and fashions come and go, taking their slang with them—all that and more. But sometimes words cans shift within a culture because of the influence of another culture. I’ve seen that happen here in New Zealand over the past two decades.

Most of the change I’ve seen has been predictable: The ordinary rise and fall of words as fashions change. For example, when I first arrived in 1995, many Kiwis used the word “heaps” to mean “a lot”, as in, “I saw heaps of stars last night”. Use of that word has become rarer over time, but it’s still around. Less so the phrase “shout out” to mean special greeting, as in, “I’d like to give a shout out to all the mums visiting from Palmerston North” or whatever. That phrase was already largely gone by the time Americans started using it.

But a lot of the change to New Zealand English has gone the other way: Americanisms replace Kiwi words and phrases. Critics often call this “creeping Americanisation”, and it’s used to criticise everything from American slang, the attempts to impose Halloween on Kiwis, and what is perceived as US-style politics. The list is seemingly endless.

I have two examples. The first was a more recent one: Talk radio replacing the Kiwi talkback radio. I actually only noticed this a couple weeks ago in a piece in a NZ newspaper about online commentary I shared on Facebook. I don’t listen to that sort of radio, so I don’t read about it, either, and that means that I didn’t really have any reason to notice the shift.

When I shared the article on Facebook, I commented on that shift, and wondered whether the change happened “before or after the common Kiwi words 'toilet' and even 'loo' were replaced with the banal American word 'bathroom'". This is the other main change I’ve noticed over the past year or two.

When I first started work in New Zealand and my workmates would say something like “Be right back. Just going to the toilet”, my American ears were surprised. I quickly learned that the word was common, and so was the more delicate (to American ears) British word loo. But nowadays, I often hear radio and TV presenters refer to “the bathroom” when they mean the toilet (as in “public bathroom”, as well as the phrase I first heard more than 20 years ago). But the use of the banal “bathroom” is most common, I think, among younger New Zealanders. Critics would argue that they’re immersed in American culture, from movies and TV shows to music to YouTube videos, but, apart from that last one, that’s been true for decades. What’s so different now? I don’t have an answer to that—maybe it simply has to do with speech that’s acceptable within their peer groups. If so, that would make it similar to a fad, and it might go away, much as the Kiwi slang I encountered when I arrived here has faded.

Whether Kiwi-isms prevail or not isn’t something that anyone can guess. If I were to bet, however, I’d be inclined to wager on the side of “bathroom” taking root here because it’s constantly reinforced in NZ popular media. The “talk radio” v. “talkback radio” thing, however, is probably one that nobody much cares about.

But for me, the worst part of this shifting of language is that I’ve become so used to the adoption of Americanisms that I don’t even remember that the words used to be different. I can sometimes notice it if I read something published before the shift and see the old word or phrase, a bit like reading a novel from the past and noticing all the odd phrases or slang—except in this case it’s noticing what used to be not so very long ago.

It’s worth noting that sometimes Americans’ adopt of words or phrases that originated in this part of the world, like the phrase, “at the end of the day” (which was popularised by NZ rugby commentary and is still commonly used here). There have actually been many times when a friend has made a comment on Facebook and I have to stop and think where I first heard the particular word or phrase they’re using (because at first I think it’s Kiwi).

I don’t think most New Zealanders ever think about this sort of stuff. Americans don’t, either (unless it’s to complain about Spanish words entering common use…). I think the fact that I notice at all is probably because I’m an immigrant and it’s words and phrases from my homeland I see being adopted. So, I may have a sensitivity to change that someone born here just wouldn’t normally have.

The one thing we know for certain is that the English language evolves wherever it exists, in New Zealand, in the USA, everywhere. Occasional petty annoyances with some adoptions aside, I think this is a really good thing, overall. It keeps the language alive and fresh and always moving toward the future. I do wonder, though, if we’ll still understand each other when we get there.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

It should be obvious

This should be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but, times being what they are, it clearly does: Today’s shooting of a US Representative is inexcusable. There can be no defence of the attack itself, nor of the person who perpetrated it. End of story. Except, of course, it isn’t.

The USA’s politics are often described as “polarised”, and they are, but that word is far, FAR too kind: US politics have become utterly toxic. The political divide in the USA is now deep, angry, and seemingly unbridgeable, with both sides unable to agree on anything whatsoever.

I have my own views, often expressed on this blog, about why this is now the state of politics in the USA, but it doesn’t really matter what I or anyone else thinks, not when so many people quite literally hate those they disagree with—regardless of which “side” they or their adversary are on (even the same “side”). How is it even remotely possible to talk about “restoring civility” and the like when people don’t see their opponents as human?

Another thing that should be obvious: Not all people, however partisan they may be, are as aggressive and bitter as those who scream the loudest on social media. Hardly any are actually violent or likely to ever become so, but it doesn’t take many violent people to upend everything, nor does it take many vitriolic partisans to poison the discussion for everyone, making civil discourse impossible and screaming matches certain.

Anyone can point at the fringe voices that have made vitriol their standard response, aggression their standard procedure, and who have helped legitimise offensive speech. The only real difference between the “Bernie Bros” of the Left and the “Alt Right” white supremacists on the Right is some ideology—which, it must be noted, is usually partly or wholly inconsistent with their erstwhile fellow travellers on their side of centre.

Because of this, claiming that only “the other side” is responsible for the current disgusting nature of US politics—as always happens when there’s something like this shooting—is merely part of that same sick politics, boiled in its broth of seething resentment and baked within its self-righteous shell. This is one of those rare times when we can legitimately and fairly say, “a pox on both their houses.”

I have no solutions to offer. I have suggestions, sure, things that might, maybe, help turn down the volume and heat a bit, but no one’s looking for solutions. Maybe there’s too much money to be made by enabling the twisted anti-human frenzy?

So, we are left knowing two things. First, there can be no defence of the attack itself, nor of the person who perpetrated it. The second thing is the worst part: It will happen again.

That IS obvious.

Book Talk: ‘Happily Ever After’

Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One [Kindle edition] by Chas Addams

This is not a new book, nor is it one I read recently. It is, however, a book to which I have strong nostalgic ties, which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t mention the book before now.

To begin, the review I left on Amazon’s site (via Goodreads):
This is a collection of cartoons by Chas Addams, many of which had been unpublished. They give an overview of Addams' offbeat and often macabre humour. His cartoons inspired the 1960s TV series "The Addams Family", and some of the cartoons in this collection hint at that.

One drawback with the Kindle edition is that the captions are sometimes on a different page than the cartoon they refer to. Not the end of the world, sure, but it interrupts the flow and the visual aesthetic of what is mostly a book of illustrations.

I bought this book because my parents had a copy of his book, "Addams and Evil" when I was growing up, and I spent many hours looking at that book. Fortunately, some of those cartoons are included in this collection, along with ones I'd never seen. Together, they reminded me of what I liked about Addams all those years ago.

All of which makes this a good basic collection of Addams' cartoons, though it would be nice to see some of his older books re-issued. Still, it's a good place to start.
That review because is the gist of what I think of the book, including the flaws with the Kindle edition (reviews on Amazon criticised the print edition as being “cheaply printed”, and I’ll have to take them at their word). Were it available, I’d have preferred Addams and Evil, his 1947 anthology I mentioned in the review—it was a better anthology, I think—but the virtue of this one is that it includes cartoons from later in Addams’ career, which is a good thing.

But as is sometimes the case, this one book alone isn’t all there is to the story: Addams’ work was a beginning point for me.

I spent hours trawling through Addams and Evil when I was a kid (I’d already seen The Addams Family TV show by then), and I loved it. Whether this is where it began, or Addams merely touched a part of my personality and sense of humour, I went on to become a fan of comics that were somewhat outside the mainstream, such as “The Far Side” by Gary Larson, or the “Life in Hell” comics by Matt Groening, who is now better known for The Simpsons and Futurama. I bought Groening’s Work is Hell book when it was published in 1986.

So, Chas Addams prepared me to like cartoons that were offbeat, often darker, sometimes macabre, and not necessarily totally mainstream. In other words, all the things that, say, Mary Worth wasn’t.

However, throughout, I’ve preferred cartoons published in newspapers and magazines—both mainstream and, especially, alternative—mainly because of ease of access. When I was younger, I thought that all comic books were about super heroes, which didn’t interest me very much. If I’d only known.

My sense of humour still favours the offbeat, often darker, and sometimes macabre themes I’ve enjoyed ever since I first encountered Chas Addams work when I was a child. This book, while far from perfect, was a wonderful reminder of what I loved so much when I was a kid, and what I still love.

What I read: Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One by Chas Addams, Kindle Edition, 176 pages (print edition), Published by Simon & Schuster, June 16, 2008.

Footnote: I bought the book in January, sort of a birthday present to myself, and I posted the review to Goodreads in February—just about the time we were getting ready to move, which explains everything: I didn’t have time to blog about it then, nor since then, either, apparently. Also, this post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Remembering the victims of the Pulse shooting

One year ago, a gunman entered Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was Latin Night. He then murdered 49 innocent people, and wounded 53 more. The victims must never be forgotten. These videos are one way to remember those we lost.

TIME has also posted the anniversary service for survivors and families (the video is an hour and a half long):

Monday, June 12, 2017

Winter wonderland

Winter days in Auckland can be some of the best of the year: Clear, sunny days with brilliant light and fresh air. But skies don’t have to be cloudless to be brilliant: Clouds can also be brilliant. But good weather or bad, Auckland’s winter is always better than what I experienced in my native Illinois, and that’s a good thing all on its own.

Early this morning, it was a bit cold, with fog. But unlike the pervasive fog we can get in winter, it was more like a cloud had come in for a landing, lying close to the ground.

As the sun rose, the fog lifted, but it made it a prettier day. I took the photo above from our deck mainly because I thought the clouds and shadows were nice. But it was actually my second photo of the morning.

I took the photo below first, after I’d looked out and saw drops on the clothesline in the light of the rising sun. I thought it was pretty and decided to go take a photo. I then looked over, saw the scene in the photo above, and went up onto the deck to take that photo. I decided it was a better photo for Instagram, and that’s why I posted it instead.

A nice start to the day, sure, but the real story behind this photo is that it was all actually at the end of my day.

I’d been up all night working, finishing around 7am this morning. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often fortunately—I’m not as able to cope with all-nighters as I could when I was half my age—but this month it did happen, and I survived. I needed to stay up a little longer to take my medication, so I was awake (and, apparently, aware enough) to take these photos.

Photo opportunities aside, the best thing from my perspective is that our winter mornings don’t have snow, rarely have frosts (and not severe ones when they do happen), and never get anywhere near as cold as I experienced in Illinois. That probably makes it easier for me to appreciate the beauty of Auckland’s winter days, whether subtle or obvious. These days I’m also likely to have my phone—and its camera—with me.

That’s the story of how these photos came to be, and also of what a nice winter morning we had today—what I saw of it.

Foreign support

There are few topics more controversial for men than choice of underwear. A potential source of anxiety in the changing rooms at the gym, or a source of possible social ostracism in ordinary conversation, it is a topic that many men will avoid—unless it’s to avoid talking about “men’s health” (better known as prostate exams), penis size, and other things men are uncomfortable talking about. My more serious problem was the need for foreign sourcing.

I’ve preferred the same brand of underwear for decades, and it’s a choice akin to publicly stating that one likes Abba or The Carpenters (which I always have…), so I won’t mention the brand, but it’s what the ad up top from the mid 1980s is for (actually, the real reason I’m not mentioning the brand is because they haven’t paid me to do so; that’s a joke, too…).

In all seriousness, I started buying the brand regularly sometime in the 1970s, and my initial reasons were the cost (they’ve always been inexpensive), they were 100% cotton (I could wash them in hot water with bleach to keep them fresh), and they were comfortable. Later, the fact that they were made in the USA made me especially loyal.

By the 1980s, men were switching to colour underwear, but I stuck with my white briefs—and still do. This was a source of amusement to Nigel, who called my underwear “old man undies” or “grandpa undies”. In fact, he still does. That didn’t deter me then or now.

What did cause me problems, however, was the fact that the brand isn’t sold in New Zealand, and sooner or later, a boy needs new underwear. My choice was to try something different (What? CHANGE?!) or to find a substitute. I decided on the latter.

I found some white mostly cotton briefs at The Warehouse (a New Zealand discount store chain) which were okay and were my choice for a couple years—right up until, as is typical for The Warehouse, they abruptly stopped carrying them. I found a different brand at K-Mart (which in New Zealand is a subsidiary of an Australian retail corporation). They, too, dropped the white briefs.

I tried Jockey, which I could get at Farmer’s (NZ department store), and while white, and mostly cotton, were every bit as uncomfortable as I’d remembered: I kept “falling out” of them. ‘Nuff said.

I realised that I had no choice but to order my usual brand from the USA, and there it gets tricky.

There was a NZ online store that I could order them from—at something like $7-$10 per pair (roughly 5 to 7 US dollars each). I like that brand, but not THAT much.

Many US retailers won’t ship overseas, and while there is a way around that (a subject in itself), I decided the easiest way was to order them through Amazon. And that brought me to other barriers.

The NZ dollar has been weaker against the US dollar, so buying products from Amazon USA is more expensive than it used to be. I kept waiting, hoping that the Kiwi dollar would strengthen, and it just hasn’t (mostly because our interest rates are low).

Things began to get critical: The waistbands in my pairs of K-Mart undies were beginning to quit their jobs, opening up holes. In general, they were looking more and more tatty, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, “always put on good underwear when you go very far from home in case you’re in an accident.” If I had been, the ambulance crew may have concluded I was derelict, because my undies certainly were.

So, I went ahead and went to Amazon to place my order. I was in luck: The packs had 8 pairs instead of the usual 7—bonus! Since I was ordering from Amazon, and had to pay their high shipping charges, I decided I may as well order a few books that had been on my wishlist for awhile, so I picked three and was ready to place my order—and I paused: How many packs of underwear should I buy? One? More?

I was well aware that the briefs have changed over the years—thinner fabric, changes to the waistband, etc.—so I thought I might not like the current version. But then I thought about how much trouble this has all been, and I ordered two packs, thinking if they were okay I’d order a couple more sooner rather than later.

I placed the order Sunday, May 28 (my time), and the order shipped on May 31. They told me the order, in two parts, would arrive on Friday the 16th and Monday the 19th. They actually arrived Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th. I mention this because I chose the cheapest shipping, which normally takes the longest, and yet it actually took less time than the second-most expensive shipping option I chose last time. I thought that was a reasonable turnaround.

The new underwear are no longer 100% cotton (the package doesn’t even list cotton, actually), and the fabric is thinner, but still better made than what I used to buy from The Warehouse. It’s also now “Hecho en El Salvador”, as a sticker on the package informed me; the brands I bought in New Zealand were made in China or elsewhere in Asia, so country of manufacture no longer matters to me. [UPDATE: The package doesn't say anything, but the sticker that says where they were made does say "100% cotton" in small-ish letters]

Now that the new underwear has arrived, the worst of the old underwear has been binned, because, unlike my mother, I won’t use old underpants as cleaning rags—I didn’t like it when she did it when I was a kid, and nothing’s made me change my mind. I did keep the least awful pairs for my emergency supply, part of my “Get Thru” preparations in case disaster strikes the day before laundry day. Be prepared, and all that.

I’ll probably buy more underwear sooner rather than later, and will probably finish off my book wishlist (most of the others on the list are Kindle books, which I can get at any time). While I don’t actually care what anyone thinks about my underwear preference, I nevertheless do think it’s an interesting challenge to find an overseas source for a product unavailable here, and then finding ways to get that product. Global community, eh?

And finally, a couple more videos to round out this topic. First up, a commercial from the late 1980s, when the “fruit guys” were starting to be phased out:

To finish this off, here’s something completely different: A parody music video making fun of the commercials, and country music video tropes at the same time. Because even a topic like this allows me to find new things.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Brian Hyland

Last weekend, I shared some things I’d learned about the movie of the musical South Pacific as I was researching an unrelated blog post. It’s happened again, but this time because of what another blogger shared.

My pal Roger Green posted “Itsy bitsy teenny weeny yellow polkadot bikini”, a post about that “novelty song” (video up top). It was an interesting post on its own, as his are, but there was one important thing I didn’t know until I read the post: The name of the artist who recorded it.

I learned his name is Brian Hyland, something I’d never learned. But the record artwork that Roger shared made him look really young, so I looked him up and learned that we was sixteen (!) when he had the hit. There were two things about this. First, I’d heard the song on the radio for years and always assumed it was someone considerably older.

The other thing is that I’m pretty sure if I’d known about him when I was a kid I’d probably have fancied him. I can’t know that for sure—I was an infant when the song was a hit (he’s a little more than fifteen years older than me (he’s 73 nowadays)—but I know that when I was a little boy I liked male singers who were fairly pretty and non-threatening, much like the boys that little girls of the same age liked, and that’s what he looked like in the early part of his career.

But that all kind of fell by the way side as I found out more about his career, and found out there were other songs of his I didn’t know were his.

First up was in 1962 hit “Sealed with a Kiss”, which made it to Number 3 in the USA. I’d always assumed someone else had recorded that (I think that as a kid I thought it was the Everly Brothers or someone similar). Here’s his song:

I didn’t see any other songs I recognised as I read through the rest of his singles until I saw “Gypsy Woman” (the version below is audio only). It was another song I thought was by someone I’d heard of, but as with “Sealed with a Kiss”, I could never quite put my finger on who it was—it “sounded kinda like…” but that’s as far as a I got.

There’s a YouTube video of him singing the song on a TV show some years later, though I don’t know when it was recorded. The performance is incomplete.

So, because of Roger’s post I found out the name of the artist who did a song I’d literally grown up with. And, because I was curious, I also learned he’d recorded two more songs I was very familiar with. So, I ended up finding out who recorded three songs I knew, all because of one blog post. This is what I like about blogging: I tend to learn stuff because of where posts lead me.

And finally, as a sort of bonus, I also ran across a cover of “Sealed with a Kiss” I was unfamiliar with: It was by Jason Donovan, an Australian actor and pop artist whose version entered the UK chart at number one in 1989. I’m sharing it because I think he did a pretty good job with the song, but also because the video is SO 80s! I actually think the video is pretty bad for an era when there actually were a lot of really good ones made; this just wasn’t one of those good videos, I don’t think. Because he wasn’t popular in the USA, I’d never heard of him until I moved to New Zealand, and even then I wasn’t really familiar with anything he’d done (though I quickly learned that he’d worked with Kylie Minogue).

The things you learn because of blogs…