Thursday, January 31, 2008

Goodbye John and Rudy

Goodbye John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani - I'll miss you both - but for very different reasons...

I'll miss Rudy playing in the Republican Presidential race because, IMHO, he was the absolute worst of the bunch, and consequently I would have loved to have seen him get the nomination. I reckon any of the Democratic nominees could have beaten him soundly with their hands tied behind their back.

I suppose it's a good thing to see that the American people (or more accurately, the Republicans who've bothered to vote in the Primaries) weren't fooled by Rudy's "all 911, all the time - I was such a hero pleasevoteforme" schtick.

So I guess I'm rooting for Mitt now - seeing as I have a seriously low opinion of him too...

And now to John Edwards - who became my favourite of the Democratic candidates once I acknowledged that the very wonderful Al Gore wouldn't be throwing his hat into the ring. Ah, John, we'll miss you. You spoke truth to power - which is why those in power in the MSM did their damnedest to ignore you and pretend that you didn't exist.

Your representation of ordinary working people, and your way of standing up to corporate America and against lobbyists of all kinds impressed me greatly. I think you would have made a great President. I wish the media had given you a fair opportunity to express your views.

So now I'm supporting Obama. I think he's a magnificent orator, and a very charismatic man. His message of hope is inspiring many voters in America, especially the young. I don't believe that he can govern on hope alone - and I don't think he has a snowball's chance in hell of working with the opposition - they'll do everything they can to make that impossible - but if hope and the possibility of change is what people need right now, then he's certainly the man to give it to them.

I heartily approve of his stance against the War on Iraq - which he has held since the very beginning - although I'd like to see him promising to withdraw the troops immediately he takes office. I'm concerned about the amount of money he's taking from Big Pharma and the Medical Insurance industry - because that's going to need to be repaid, one way or another...

But in every way I can think of, I prefer him over Hillary Clinton - by about a million miles. Progressives can't stand her, and seeing as in American terms I'd be considered somewhat left of yer average progressive, I'm of the same mind.

The problem with Hillary is that she's far too divisive. People hate Hillary, and whether or not that's justified, that's the way it is. Between 40 and 45% of voters say they would never vote for Hillary, which is a bit of a worry, to say the least. I imagine that if she wins the nomination, Republicans (and maybe quite a few independents) will come out in their droves just to vote against her. She voted for the war and refuses to apologise for that vote, and for me that's unforgivable.

So here we are, with both races narrowing towards a two-person photo-finish. It'll be interesting to see what happens on Super Duper Tuesday. There's no way I'd even try to predict it for the Dems, although I'm pretty sure McCain will get it for the Repubs (as long as he doesn't keel over before then).

I'm crossing my fingers very tightly that Obama will prevail, and that (just to please me) he'll invite John Edwards to stand beside him as VP.

Obama/Edwards 2008 - now that'll do nicely...

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Read the full post

Friday, January 25, 2008

My first Batucada gig!

Ever since I started learning to play the caixa with Batucada, I've been looking forward to performing with the group. Summer is absolutely full of Batucada gigs - including leading the Wellington Sevens parade next Thursday, and a gig at the Sevens itself next Saturday, and I was really hoping I would be good enough to be in the band before summer was over (and secretly aiming towards being ready in time for the Sevens). It seems as though my wish may be about to come true.

The Batucada directors and organisers have pulled out all the stops to enable the newbies to play at least some of the summer shows, and they've even said we can perform in our own white clothes until we get a chance to buy the official Batucada uniform.

So tomorrow Mike and I are heading up the coast to the Toots and Grooves Ska festival at Tatum Park, and I'm going to be playing! EEEEEEEEEEE! Or is that ohmygod!?

I'm a learner-by-doing kind of a person, and I figure that, for me, the way to get ready to perform with the group is actually to perform with the group. We did our 5 beginners' classes last year, and I stuck around for rehearsal after each one. For the final two, the newbies were invited to take part in the rehearsal, which was awesome. I think we had one more rehearsal before Christmas, and we've had one since New Year.

I think I've got the hang of all the rhythms we've played thus far - well, sort of, anyway. I still feel quite unsure about the changes and bridges - I don't think I've even heard all of them, let alone played them, but that's cool - I'll figure it out as I go along. The other caixa players are really good, and very easy to follow, so if by chance I get lost, I'll be able to watch them and get back into the groove.

The first time I was allowed to take part in the proper rehearsal, we played a bunch of stuff I'd not played before, and went through some bridges and changes that were new to me. I really enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with the experienced players, at full speed, and working out what was going on at the same time as playing it!

I think my Many Hands experience was really useful, actually. When I was playing at Full Moon drum circle, or just jamming with the band, the rhythms we played were all completely improvised. You listened with one ear to what was being played around you, and with the other ear to what you were playing, and you made sure that they matched in some way. It means I'm very quick at picking up a new rhythm, which I think will certainly be useful tomorrow!

I have no idea if we're playing on a stage tomorrow, or in a parade-type environment (I don't think so), or in a less formal environment, and I don't know if we get a chance to do a rehearsal before we play, either. I don't know how the director tells us what to play and when to do a change-up in a performance. I don't know if we'll have a set list of pieces so that we know what to expect. I haven't actually seen Batucada perform since I joined the group, so I haven't had a chance to observe how they do things, from the new perspective of someone who's going to be playing in the band.

I think I'm going to be experiencing quite a learning curve tomorrow afternoon! What fun!

I ordered my new caixa from Brazil-via-Germany yesterday, so hopefully it won't take too many days to arrive. I also picked up my new earplugs, which have been made especially to fit my (teeny little) ears. Hopefully they'll dampen down the volume while still allowing me to hear what I'm playing. It wasn't easy playing with cheap earplugs, because as well as blocking out much of the rest of the group, they also blocked out virtually all the sound coming from my own drum... and it ain't easy to tell whether you're in time if you can't actually hear yourself...

I had my first private lesson with Bill Brown on Tuesday - I want to improve my drumming technique, especially the traditional grip - and it was really helpful. I realise I was holding my sticks far too tightly, and that it's all about bounce and THE THUMB. I haven't got it well enough yet to do the bounce and the thumb at speed, but I'm getting there. I'm supposed to practice an hour a day. Crikey!

Today I went looking for white pants to wear at gigs until I get my official Batucada uniform, and I found a pair that are so nice, I think I may actually want to wear them in RL, instead of wearing them once or twice at shows and then never wearing them again. Hooray! It's all coming together!

And the best thing is... assuming I do OK tomorrow, I think I'll be able to take part in the Sevens parade, and maybe even the Sevens gig itself!

WOOHOO! Wish me luck!

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Read the full post

The Gathering on the radio again!

Radio New Zealand are re-broadcasting their documentary The Gatherers, which first hit the airwaves back in December. I know from the web stats that heaps of people listened in and got inspired to visit The Gathering Archives website and blog, but just in case you missed it the first time around, or want to hear it again, here’s the info…

The Gatherers
Friday 25 January at 7.30pm
National Radio 101FM
or listen live online at

You can also grab the podcast from the Radio New Zealand website at - search on “G”.


Oh - I'm in it, btw...

And here's a bit more info about it from The Gathering Archives blog, which I wrote when it was first broadcast.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Read the full post

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Farewell Sir Ed

Sir Edmund Hillary.
July 20, 1919 - January 11, 2008.

Ed Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sir Ed and the children of Nepal.

From the website of the Himalayan Trust UK:
On May 29th 1953 in the British Expedition led by John Hunt, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Sherpa became the first men to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest. In the years that followed, Sir Edmund returned repeatedly to Nepal, and to his friends the Sherpas.

The Sherpas are some of the most friendly, generous and tough people on earth, but their lot is a hard one, living at high altitude, without most resources that we take for granted in the west.

Inspired by his admiration and respect for these people Sir Edmund created The Himalayan Trust in 1960. Since creation the work of the Trust has been based on a few simple but profound principles

The principles of the Himalayan Trust:
  • provide basic infrastructure needs that the Sherpas really want (education, health, forests, monastery repairs and response to natural disasters)

  • the Sherpas themselves to eagerly contribute time and effort to the projects- this "self help" confirming the importance and relevance of the work

  • the Trust to rely on voluntary workers and virtually eliminate overheads

  • the donations to be transfered direct to the projects in Nepal; no money paid to middlemen or agents.

The results of his extraordinary efforts have been both moving and immensely beneficial, and resulted in the creation of many schools, hospitals, health centres and new forests.

Achievements of the Himalayan Trust
  • Two hospitals and thirteen health clinics have been built.

  • Over 30 schools have been built.

  • Over 100 students receive grants annually from the Trust for further and higher education. A programme of women’s Literacy Classes is evolving into Adult Education.

  • For Sherpas, improvements in life expectancy have been achieved through programmes to control tuberculosis, smallpox and other life-threatening infectious diseases. Stillbirth and infant mortality has been reduced.

  • Almost 100,000 young trees are nurtured each year and more than 1 million have been planted in 25 protected sites.

  • Several Sherpas have gained degrees following training in forestry and in national park management in New Zealand and Canada.

  • A three-year Primary Teacher Training project in Solu Khumbu attracted 200 teachers and is seen by HM Govt. of Nepal as a model for other rural areas. This has been so successful that it has been extended for another three years.

  • A three-year Secondary Teacher Training project is being grant aided by the The Community Fund with the grant matched by the UK Himalayan Trust.

  • A pre-University Campus has been established in Solu district and attracts a high proportion of young women.

  • The re-building of Thyangboche Monastery after a fire was helped mainly by the Himalayan Trust.

  • The building of a new monastery at Salleri was achieved by the Trust matching money raised by local people, mainly by those who now live and work in Kathmandu.

  • Isolated communities are helped to re-build washed away bridges and tracks; drinking water systems have been constructed.

  • HM Government has been encouraged to create National Parks and has been advised on their management.

  • Sherpas trained with support from the Trust are wardens of Nepal's National Parks.

  • Above all, the Sherpas are being helped to overcome some of the harshness of their environment and to work for a better future, whilst retaining their independence.

Useful links

Sherpa child with writing tablet.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Read the full post

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fearing the worst, hoping for the best

Winnie's eyes - 08 Jan 2008. Sometime in December I noticed that Winnie (my little back and white cat) had developed dark spots on the iris of her left eye. I did a bit of googling on "cat health black specks iris" and didn't find any worrying info, so I didn't take her to the vet. Last week I decided to do a bit more googling, this time using the search word "spots" instead of "specks" in my search phrases. What a difference a single word makes!

All of a sudden my screen was filed with the words "pre-cancer", "melanoma", "malignant", and "cancer". Shit shit shit.

I took her to the vet straight away, but because it's a fairly rare occurrence, he wasn't really confident about doing a diagnosis. He booked Winnie in to see the eye specialist who, luckily enough, was visiting my vet clinic the following day.

By the time we saw him I was pretty sure what he would tell me. I'd spent time researching iris melanomas in cats, and looking at dozens of photos of cats' eyes, many of which resembled what I was seeing in Winnie's eye. I was right.

Winnie has pre-cancer in her left eye, caused by pigmented cells called melanocytes that have overgrown. The eye specialist used a slit-lamp biomicroscope to look at her eye to see if the lesions were flat (pre-cancer) or raised (cancer). At the moment they are flat, which is good, but if they change in shape or size, or start to affect the pupil, it may mean they have become cancerous.

75% of eye cancers in cats are malignant, so if the spots do become cancerous, the best option would be to remove Winnie's eye to stop the cancer spreading.

Deep breath.

OK - I guess that's not too bad. I mean, it is bad - it's awful - but if it became a question of having her eye removed or seeing her die of cancer, of course I'd choose the former option.

I was just about coming to terms with that possibility when another, much worse scenario occurred to me. What if she develops cancer in both of her eyes? Then I'd have a blind cat, and she wouldn't know why!

Oh God Oh God Oh God.

Winnie having a snooze by the window - December 2003. Winnie is my favourite cat. I know you're not supposed to have favourites, but I do, so there we go. She's my baby. She's family. I love her SO much, it hurts like hell just to have to think about this stuff.

I have to take photos of both her eyes, and the eye specialist will review them over time, to make sure that the spots aren't growing or changing. He told me they do this on a 6-monthly basis, but to me that doesn't seem often enough. What's worrying me is that I think I'm pretty observant, and the spots in her eye seemed to me to appear overnight. By that I mean I noticed them one day and I hadn't ever noticed them before. I looked at older photos of her and she definitely didn't have them a couple of years ago.

Sadly I hadn't taken any pictures of her for a while, so I can't pinpoint when the spots started to appear. Now I'm photographing her every day, trying to get a decent close-up shot of each eye. It isn't easy. Like any cat worth her salt, Winnie is an expert at avoiding whatever it is you want her to do (or want to do to her!). She turns her head away every time I approach her with the camera, or looks down, or shuts her eyes, or simply gets up and wanders off somewhere else. It's so frustrating!

As I'm the only person she allows to get anywhere near her, I can't ask anyone else to hold her while I take pictures, either. So I'm just going to have to persevere and get those photos - and keep on taking them, and monitoring them, and praying to the Great Beagle or the Giant Pumpkin or St Frances or something.

Winnie in the garden.
I was watching her in the garden the other day. She's so fascinated by everything. She's constantly looking at stuff, and sniffing around, and exploring, and checking out the world around her. I can't imagine how she'd manage if she had no eyes. What if she went on the road by mistake? Or wandered to the edge of my garden and fell down the steep cliff onto the road below? Or what if Teddy Cat next door decided to beat her up? She'd have no defenses!

She'd have to become an indoor cat, and I don't think that would make her very happy. Maybe I could take her out into the garden on a cat lead when I was around, and let her explore safely that way...

I know it's not exactly productive to let my mind race away into the worst "what if" scenarios like this. I try not to - it upsets me far too much, and as the outcome is not something I can control, I don't think it's a particularly good thing to dwell on it right now.

Winnie bigface - 14 January 2008. I suppose thinking through the possibilities might allow me to make some attempt to "prepare" myself for the worst. Except I don't think there's any way I can prepare myself for this. My cats are my best friends. They are the ones who live with me and share my life every day. I know that non-pet people probably think that's a little over the top, and a wee bit sad, but those of you with beloved pets will understand completely.

My cats are my fur children. I'm not going to have "real" children, but those of us who lack the maternal gene still have masses of love and affection to give. Many of us choose to give that love to our pets, and those pets become as important to us as any person. To think about the possibility of illness, pain or death in relation to my cats is as hard to do as if they were people. And what makes it somehow worse is of course that I can't explain any of this to Winnie. She will never understand what's happening to her.

Winnie in my bed, February 2004. Winnie and I are spending lots of quality time together. She sleeps on my bed every night, and unlike Bailey who generally goes off to his own bed at some point, she's still asleep on (or even in) my bed every morning. Quite often when I'm having my morning shower she'll come into the bathroom and wait for me to finish before demanding to be picked up for a good long cuddle.

She thinks I'm another cat, and rubs her face enthusiastically against mine in greeting. She curls up next to me on the sofa if I'm watching TV, or jumps up onto my lap if I'm working on my computer. If she wants attention, or wants to play with me, or wants her tummy rubbed, she isn't shy about letting me know.

And right now, whatever Winnie wants, Winnie gets. I don't know how much longer we've got together, and I want to make every moment count. I want to savour every second I have with her, and I want to show her just how much I love her.

So for now, I'm fearing the worst, and hoping for the best. Sometimes cats with iris pre-cancers can continue for years and years without their condition deteriorating in any way, and without the pre-cancer becoming cancer. I'm praying that this will be the case with Winnie.

Iris Melanoma in Cats

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Read the full post