Saturday, 31 December 2011

happy new year

i've had a nice break from blogging over the past week. mostly because i've been away on holiday. we spent 4 nights at a beach not too far from home, and not too far from civilisation. i love swimming in the sea, but only if there are decent waves. there's something about a big wall of water coming right at me that i find exhilarating, for some absolutely unknown reason. perhaps it's the adrenaline rush and the fun of jumping over it and not being pulled under. who knows, i stopped trying to understand myself a long time ago!

then there was the swimming pool at the motel we were at, with a spa pool built into a corner of it. so straight out from swimming in the sea, we jumped straight in the pool, then when we got tired of that, had a soak in the spa. finished off by a nice hot shower back in our room. lovely way to spend an afternoon. we also managed to fit in shopping, horse-riding, sunset walks on the beach, tv, reading and shopping.

i'm definitely not one for roughing it. i have no interest in camping, can't put up a tent, won't do without electricity and all the other comforts of civilisation. and yes, i know it's a disgustingly privileged way to be, considering the way that some people have to live. i don't justify it, i just know that if i'm going on something called a holiday, then it has to be in a way i'm going to be able to enjoy. i know that even being able to afford to have a holiday is a privilege in itself, and it's certainly not something i take for granted.

in the dying moments of 2011, i've written a post at the hand mirror about the increasing tendency to treat identity politics as somehow taking away from class politics. i think it's a pretty stupid way to view the world, but you can read about that over there - and apologies if the bad language is likely to offend. i just needed to get the anger out of my system.

and as i said over there, i'm not in any kind of reflective mood. i don't want to think about the year past or the year ahead. i just want to enjoy this quiet time which is also a privilege, and enjoy the fact that i don't have to turn up at work for the next couple of weeks.

but i'm not so churlish that i won't wish you all a happy new year. i hope that the new one is good for you, or that you at least have support during the not so good moments of it. seeing as i started the post talking about the sea, i'll end on that note. someone once said that life is like waves in the ocean. when the good times are with you, remember that like a wave they will recede and be replaced by bad times. and when the bad times are with you, remember that they will recede like a wave, and be replaced with good times. for some reason, this has been a really useful piece of advice for me. it helps me to grit my teeth during the bad times and wait for them to be over. and it helps me to not take the good times for granted.

Friday, 23 December 2011

how to make the most out of a disaster

so sorry to hear about the round of earthquakes in christchurch. yet another round of power cuts, liquefaction and general misery. i can imagine just how difficult it must be for them, and wish there was some way to make it better for them, other than just sending prayers and good wishes their way.

in the meantime, our national airline is doing its best to make as much money as it can from the disaster. because the christchurch airport was closed for part of the day, a couple of flights was cancelled, including one that was to carry one of my loved ones. wellington airport was pretty chaotic, the staff hassled and unable to provide much information. it was extremely difficult to get through by phone - the line was engaged for much of the evening and once you got through, it was a 45 minute wait before you got to talk to a person.

when i did manage to get through, they were as unhelpful as could be possible. they are refusing to provide accommodation, or any form of support. they are refusing to put on any extra flights to cover the ones that are cancelled. they have spare seats to other close-by destinations, but in order to transfer to another city, they want to charge an extra $115. even though the seat will otherwise by empty, and even though they were the ones to cancel the flight.

this is yet another example of the contempt that businesses in nz are showing their customers. air nz is in a monopoly position for all but 3 cities in nz, and they are quite happy to abuse their monopoly position to treat customers like crap. talk about failing to take any kind of responsibility. they were as unhelpful as they could be, and pretty nasty to boot.

when i mentioned that we have a holiday booked on the 25th, the air nz staff member showed incredulity with "on christmas day?". to which i replied that i wasn't christian and didn't celebrate christmas, so had no problem travelling on christmas day. but why should i even have to give that explanation. what business is it of hers what day i travel or why?

the situation at wellington airport was apparently just as bad, with staff being just as unhelpful. people were apparently in tears, those who weren't were incredibly grumpy and complaining about air nz. no doubt there are many who have had their special plans to spend time with family going up in smoke.

then there are the other costs - travel to and from the airport, extra accommodation, the cost of toll calls. all of which the airline really doesn't care about, because they are busy trying to make as much money as they can out of the situation.

of course this is nothing compared to the way christmas has been ruined for many people in christchurch, and i'm not in any way suggesting that the travellers have it worse off than the residents of that city. i'm just saying that this is no excuse for air nz to provide such terrible service and to treat its customers so badly.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

full of fail

i'm pretty sure we've all been sickened by the news of a woman being sentenced today for some pretty horrific child abuse. i'm not going to go into details here, but you can read this for background in case you've managed to avoid hearing about it.

there are so many levels of fail going on here, it's hard to know where to start. of course the primary failure is of the parents who abused this child. it's pretty much beyond comprehension that one human being can do this to another, and on this point there's not much more to be said.

then we have the victim-blaming by the defence lawyer. while provocation has been removed as a defence, it appears to be still available for sentencing? maybe there's a valid reason for this being so, but hard to understand how it could be used in this case. we know that this was a difficult child. in some news report i heard about how she had tried to burn her house down to kill the occupants, and there were a range of other behaviour that can only be described as difficult. but none of this is an excuse for abuse.

you would expect that parents who were struggling to deal with a difficult child would have asked for help. and they did. but that help was not forthcoming. given the child had been taken away from the parents and sexually abused while under CYFs care, then returned to them, it would be understandable if they didn't trust the state. yet it appears the state was all they had, and the support they needed wasn't given to them.

which again, is not excuse for what they did to this child. yet there remains the fact that this child belongs to a community and a society. and when the parents are unable or unwilling to provide adequate care and protection for a child, the society has a responsibility to step in. that's why we have government departments, social service agencies and NGOs working in the sector. to step in and help out so these things don't happen.

all of those systems clearly failed this child. some of this will be because of lack of adequate resourcing. CYFs is well short of the staff it needs to deal with the cases that comes to its attention. other issues are raised in the ombudsman's report on this case, and you can find some of his recommendations here.

the response from paula bennett is, frankly, pathetic. yes, the responsibility of abuse lies with the parents and they should face the consequences of their actions. but she is responsible for a department that is supposed to provide social support when needed, and especially when someone is so desperately asking for help that they write to the prime minister.

her attempts to dodge responsibility for failing to provide that support when specifically asked for it were awful to watch. it's so typically ignores the sense of community, a community that should be watching out for its weakest and most vulnerable members - in this case an abused child that could have been better protected if the parents' plea for help had been properly attended to. it ignores the fact that she is being paid a pretty handsome salary to make sure that those who need support receive it in a timely fashion, and that such support is actually meeting the level of need. in this case she has clearly failed, and it's about time she owned that fact.

at the heart of this sorry tale is a child who has been abused throughout her young life in various ways by various people. i don't know where she is now, the news reports haven't said. they have reported that she is still suffering because of her experiences, and that's not surprising. i can only hope that she is finally getting the help she needs, and that the future holds something positive for her.

Monday, 19 December 2011

i'd rather not find that funny

i had an interesting evening on saturday. i went jetboating with a group of people on the waikato river, in the pouring rain. it was fabulous, though the rain did really, really sting on our faces. but the river was lovely, and all the rain caused little waterfalls all along the way, and one reasonable sized one. we got to see fish in the river, and got spun around quite a bit. great fun.

we then got changed at went off to dinner, where the entertainment for the evening was a couple of comedians & an MC. one of the comedians was ben hurley, who we see on our tv screens every now and then, mostly on tv3. i'd like to say the evening was just as much fun as the boating, but no. i'd have to say that the MC was the most appalling of the three we listened to, but none of them was particularly great.

the thing is that the women have to pay the same price as men to get into this event. but it's the women who have to sit there and listen to how we're whiny nagging bitches who won't put out or are too high maintenance, or too ugly or too slutty. and it's relentless, on and on through the evening. some of the women were laughing, some were just waiting for the whole thing to be over.

worst moment for me was mr hurley talking about how he woke his partner up by slapping her face, which brought a loud cheer from the young males in the audience. yes, feel free to call me a humourless feminist. i'd wear that label with pride. because i'd so much rather be one of those than be a person who celebrates and enjoys the thought of hitting a woman to wake her up.

and the thing is that if it's turned around the other way (which it very rarely is - women comdians often tend to denigrate women), the guys aren't laughing & don't seem to be expected to laugh. similar to when it comes to humour around race. it's all very well for white comedians to be "edgy" and "unPC", but when the joke's on white people, even tame ones, they have a tendency to walk out (eg watch the clip i linked to here) or loudly complain about reverse racism. they aren't expected to "get a sense of humour" or not be so "sensitive".

frankly, i don't want to see things turned around the other way. the answer isn't to be nasty about men, to make up for the nastiness about women. the answer is to just stop the nasty stuff about women. i wish i'd had the courage to walk out, or to at least say something to at least one of these guys about how they shouldn't be trying to do comedy to an audience when they basically hate 50% of it. what's the point?

oh, but the women were laughing too? i suppose that makes it all ok then.

Friday, 16 December 2011

the first grader

i went to see a wonderful film tonight called "the first grader". it's a kenyan story, directed by a british man, and funded partly by the BBC. it's based on a true story, and i certainly left knowing a lot more about the history of that country. i was thinking that really, so many of the blockbusters we tend to see focus on stories centred in the west, and there are so many strong and wonderful stories from other parts of the world that need to be shared.

the main focus of the film is on education:

Above all, THE FIRST GRADER pays tribute to Maruge, a man Litondo believes is “inspirational” to his nation. “He’s an inspiration to both young and old Kenyans, who value education. Since Maruge’s story came out, I’ve read other stories of older people going to school,” he adds. Harris concurs. “I love the fact as well that it’s an 84-year-old man wanting to learn. Your life is never over. It’s never too late to learn and to be open to learning as well. I think those are really great messages.

maruge is able to gain his education when the kenyan government announces a policy of free education to all. it makes me think sadly of the policies of this last government, which cut funding to adult education and restricted access to student loans to people over a certain age. the notion of lifelong learning has disappeared from policy. the notion of education as a public good has disappeared. education is now an economic pursuit, a means to an end, that end being the churning out of good, productive workers who can earn lots of money.

there is little value now given to the dignity that education gives. little value given to the notion that education reduces oppression, empowers individuals and strengthens society. in the film, there are people who object to maruge's education on the basis that it's wasted on an old man, especially when resources are scarce and children are deemed to have a greater need. the whole film is a response to that complaint, as well as being so much more.

it's also a tribute to the dignity of old age, and a history of kenya. another quote from the previous link:

What I really liked about it - and it tallied with what I was feeling at the time - is that if you see an old person, you make a thousand assumptions about them. But, that person has a huge life behind them and Maruge has this whole huge life.

i'm going to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that i have been guilty of this myself particularly in regards older people. perhaps being more dismissive than i should, sometimes not respecting or even thinking about the whole lifetime of experiences that make this person who they are today. sometimes we're impatient, intolerant or just too self-absorbed. if this films teaches us anything, it's that we should value each individual, value their dreams and aspirations, regardless of what stage of life they are at.

the other thing i love about the film is that is has a strong female character, maruge's teacher jane obinchu. it's as much her story as it is his, and she shows so much strength and courage in standing up for masuge's right to an education. it's a powerful performance from naomie harris, probably best known as calypso in "the pirates of the carribean" films.

if you get a chance to see it, i'd really recommend you watch this film.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

not so easily bought off

just put up a post at the hand mirror regarding a feel-good campbell live story that was aired tonight, that has left me feeling not so good.

there are several topics i wanted to write about today, but don't have much energy. there's one i'll cover briefly: i'm not particularly impressed with fonterra's move to have free milk in schools. yes, it's nice for kids, but there is no doubt that the co-operative is doing this in an attempt to counter negative publicity over the last year.

but free milk in schools is not going to make up for the fact that they aren't doing enough to combat dirty dairying, regardless of their public statements. it won't make up for them hosting waikato regional councillors (formerly known as environment waikato, but the farming lobby holding the current council seats couldn't bear to have "environment" as part of the name so charged us ratepayers to change it) at the rugby world cup. and it won't make up for the excessive price of milk and other dairy products at the supermarket.

i resent the implication that we can be so easily manipulated to forget all of the above by this move.

there's a good discussion on the topic here at the standard (well, some of it is good), and i particularly like these points:

- But it is a bit of a cynical marketting move, aimed at getting young children into drinking milk for life, and improving Fonterra’s image

- How long before it’s used as a bargaining chip by Fonterra seeking concessions from government? Y’know….”If you don’t give us ‘x’ then the milk disappears…and you know how ‘everyone’ loves us ‘good guys’ and the milk we are ‘giving away’! So feel free to be the ‘bad guys’ losing votes for not bowing to our ‘reasonable’ demands.”

i'm also agreeing that the fruit in schools was a better policy than this one, especially when all kids don't like milk. i hated it from a very young age and would have really struggled if i was forced to drink it every day.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

in the women's studies journal

i was meaning to write a proper post tonight, but my energies got taken up with other things. at least i feel like i'm getting on top of the backlog of tasks i've had on my plate for a couple of months. i might even manage to relax a little over the summer break!

anyway, i wrote this post at the hand mirror about turkey's new policy for women's spaces in mosques.

and here's a link to a piece i wrote for the women's study journal (it's a pdf thing which may take a bit to load up). it's based on a speech i gave at their conference last year, and details some of my experiences in politics. obviously there's a whole lot i can't (or won't) say publicly, because i'm not willing to breach confidentiality. and also because, although i don't have the same level of experience with other parties, i suspect that have similar issues or even worse ones. i'm wary of the way my points could be used as a tool for bashing a particular party rather than focusing on the issues, which i'd be willing to bet are pretty universal.

it's a piece i found really difficult to write. it was easy to deliver as a speech, but getting things down on paper was somehow not so easy and the words didn't flow. then there was the whole editorial process, which was done gently but still involves time and energy.

but it's done and out there now. make of it what you will.

[ETA: if you want to read other pieces in the journal, here's the link.]

Sunday, 11 December 2011

more on bigotry

i put up this post at the hand mirror a couple of days ago about a particularly offensive bigotted attitude. i expected a little bit of flack, but it seems the crowd from nzconservative decided to turn up and attack. it then got picked up by that rather sad internet troll known as redbaiter - banned from almost all left-wing blogs and for good reason. on his blog, the bloggers at the hand mirror have had some pretty misogynist insults thrown at them - which says more about their mentality than anything else. it sounds like nothing so much as certain men not being able to cope with strong women who are prepared to control our internet spaces.

and some of the commenters missed the point of the post, which is about bigotted attitudes that are often expressed by people without any thought of how nonsensical the proposition is. this proposition formed part of one of the questions asked of me when i did a session via skype with a high school class in christchurch. it's that whole notion of people expressing that i don't belong here, which is without any basis. people who can't accept that i have equal rights and equal value to them.

in sort of related news, american candidate (not sure of the correct terms here) for the republican ticket has surprised everyone by refusing to demonise all muslims. i can't say that i've been following that process very closely other than the various embarassments and scandals, most notable of which have involved rick perry and herman cain (michele bachmann has hardly covered herself in glory either).

nothing about mr romney had me enthused - but then i would say that as a lefty. he certainly hasn't stood out in any way, hasn't shown any spectacular characteristics, hasn't clearly been a front-runner. though, given that it's now looking like a contest between mr romney and mr gingrich, i'm picking that mr romney is most likely to win the nomination.

in which case, it was nice to hear this:

A man rose from the audience, claimed he had many Muslim friends, but said, “I have never heard one Muslim condemn Islamic jihad or terrorism. I see Islamic jihad as one of the greatest threats to America and the western world. Are you going to continue to give Islam and Islamic jihad in this country a pass like everybody before you continues to do? The only people that call Islam a religion of peace are the Muslims, and they are the most violent religion in the world.”

Romney said radical, violent Islamists pose a threat to Americans and others around the world. However, he said, “they take a very different view of Islam than the Muslims I know.” He noted that he was raised in the Detroit area, which has a large Muslim population.

“They are peace-loving and America-loving individuals. I believe that very sincerely. I believe people of the Islamic faith do not have to subscribe to the idea of radical, violent jihadism.”

ok, it's not a very positive statement, i wouldn't go anywhere close to saying it was an ideal reply. but compared to what the tea party crowd are saying, and compared to what mr romney was saying just 3-4 years ago, it's a huge shift. it's the kind of answer that our very own bill english didn't have the guts to give, in a similar context.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

are photographs private?

in another lesson of "be-careful-where-you-get-photographed-you-don't-know-where-it-might-end-up", i found that this photo of me at community radio hamilton's end of year function ended up on the back page of the waikato times:

it's not that i mind where it ended up, but it just got me thinking about privacy and how much we're now used to not having much of it. i tend to be reasonably private about my life. i don't put many details on the internet, certainly not on social networking sites. but a camera is something that you really can't control. people can take photos of you at any time without your consent and publish them anywhere.

i find facebook really difficult in that regard. i've never put a single photo of myself on facebook but there are 40 photos tagged to my page. a good number of those don't even have me in them - i'd say only a quarter of them do. and i know i could remove the tags, but i don't want to do that because at least then i know who has put the photo up & what's been said about it.

i don't think a single one of the people putting up my photograph have asked for my consent. when the photo above was taken, i had no idea that the photographer was from the paper. or if he wasn't, that the photographs would be forwarded to the local paper. again, i don't mind any of these photos being circulated and don't want them taken down, but it bothers me that as a society, we have so little etiquette around the use photographs. we seem to assume that if a person consents to a photograph, that gives implied consent that this photograph is publicly available. even photographs taken without the consent of the subject are assumed to be publicly available.

it's probably a result of the celebrity culture and mags that will publish photos taken at any time by anyone of a "saleable" celebrity. and because their privacy means nothing, and because so many of us consume that invasion of privacy, we probably then accept that we can't be picky about our own. except that i don't buy those magazines and i've really minimised my reading of them, even in the extreme boredom of waiting to see my GP. i don't ever click on the entertainment bits of media websites, and i avoid watching shows like "entertainment tonight". in other words, i do try to consciously avoid that celebrity culture as much as i can. but that doesn't mean that i can escape its effects.

of course this is all low-level intrusion that hasn't caused me any personal harm. i can't even imagine what it must be like for people to have their hospital records passed to the public by staff trying to earn money; or to have phone conversations recorded and repeated; to having their rubbish bins searched. listening to the tales of the media inquiries in britain has been quite sad. i wonder though if there will be any significant change as a result of them.

until we stop consuming such stuff and filling the coffers of those who produce it, i very much doubt it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

minorities are actually the majority

i put up a post at the hand mirror over the weekend about how sick i am of the phrase "pandering to minorities". still feeling very much annoyed about that.

tonight i went to the much-publicised meeting in hamilton, where messrs cunliffe & shearer spoke. the two candidates for deputy leader also spoke - nanaia mahuta and grant robertson. it was a meeting for financial members of the labour party only, so i'm not about to disclose what went down. let me just say that labour is lucky to have such talented people to choose from.

i can say that i'm a lot clearer now about who i support and i think party members will certainly have that same level of certainty as this roadshow goes around the country. grant roberston has now put his name forward for the deputy and that makes things difficult. because i like him just as much as nanaia and he's equally capable and principled. i'm just glad i'm not the one having to vote, though i'm very clear who i'd choose. i just hope when all the dust settles that they will both have senior roles in the party.

the process is a really healthy one. it's a competition of ideas, which is clearly important. but it's also forcing the candidates to up their game, to show some mettle and to clearly articulate what they stand for. having to answer questions on the spot is good as well. it gives the candidates an idea of the issues that are most important to the people in the room, and i think there were a good range of questions asked. a pity there wasn't more time. i think these meetings need a good two hours really.

the best thing though was to see so many people engaged and interested in the process. the crowd looked like they really appreciated the opportunity of being there, getting a chance to hear from the candidates and to question them. in terms of process, this has been a really good one. it just needs to be a good one in terms of outcome as well. here's hoping.

going back to the post i linked to above, there's one point i didn't make and it's this. by the time you add up the various "minority" groups in society that have their own specific issues, needs and policy requirements, you'll end up with a majority. and the so-called "mainstream" is actually a minority. think about it. the women's vote, the maori sector, the pasifica, sector, nz'ers with disabilities and so on: if you added them all up, they'd be more than 50% of the population.

of course there would be a lot of overlap, but even so i think it would be over 50%. and even those who see themselves as completely "mainstream" will have some particular issues that don't apply to a whole lot of other people ie a minority issue.

so, if the minority is actually the majority, then doesn't it make total sense to "pander" to these minorities? or to be more specific, to tailor policies that address the needs of specific groups, because all these groups end up making the whole. of course it does. it's more effective, and the overall result for everyone will be a better one because each group will be better able to contribute and will feel more a part of the whole when barriers are removed.

Friday, 2 December 2011

coalitions of the left

i've put up a post at the hand mirror, giving my thoughts on labour's leadership and in particular, supporting nanaia mahuta as deputy leader.

there's one other point i wanted to make while i'm talking politics. much has been said by many about the demise of the ACT, united and maori parties at the next election. it's mostly in the context of the national party losing coalition partners, and it's a valid point. banks might hang on in epsom but i don't think it will be with an ACT party that looks the same as it is now. united will be gone as soon as mr dunne goes, and i think it will be extremely difficult for him to win in 2014. the maori party is highly unlikely to survive the retirements of its co-leaders.

but the one thing no-one has been talking about is the demise of nz first. probably because everyone is still adjusting to the fact that they've come back in to parliament, and with 8 MPs (at this stage). but mr peters also can't last forever, and i'd be surprised if he has more than one election left in him. again, i can't see his party surviving after he leaves. most of his MPs that had profile are not in parliament this time around (i'm thinking ron marks and peter brown - and i am so extremely glad to see the back of both of them). none of the new crop looks able to build up the profile of mr peters (and probably won't be allowed to do so while he's still around) and so keep the party alive.

so where will his voters go? i'd say a good 2% of them will go back to the labour party, as there seem to be a significant number who voted strategically to get him over the line. but his core vote? they won't go back to national because they don't support national's core agenda. but they're also not likely to support another left-wing party because, how can i put this politely, they don't support diversity and inclusiveness.

and if the left can't pick up that vote, how can it win? it will be difficult. they'd have to pick up swing voters in other demographics, but still, it seems to me that labour + greens getting more than 50% of the party vote will be a very difficult task. there is the mana party, which will certainly have life as long as mr harawira is prepared to put himself forward for te tai tokerau. the question is whether it will have traction and whether it can get enough of the party vote to bring more than 1 MP into the house.

if it does, where will that vote come from? likely to come from green party voters, possibly with some of the maori party vote as the latter dies out. however, the maori party never did get much of the party vote anyway, and has been consistently responsible for the parliamentary overhang since it came into existence.

so it seems that the left also need to think about where its coalition partners are going to come from in the longer term as well. the situation for the left is not as dire as for the right - although i suspect national is thinking seriously about supporting the conservative party so that it can have at least one stable partner that can pull in a significant chunk of the vote. if it does so, and if the conservative party can avoid the extremist christian tagging (which mr craig seems keen to do) and maybe look towards centrist policy, they may pick up some of those nz first votes.

in the meantime, the left has to be looking towards winning the arguments on policy. it should have a reasonably good chance of doing that, particularly in terms of the financial crisis and economic recession that looks set to hit the world again. the only danger is that as income inequality and poverty rises, parties preaching hatred of a minority group who is supposedly responsible for all evils in the world also tend to do well. currently in nz, that group is beneficiaries - particularly solo-mums. it's so difficult to counter this sort of nasty targetting, but there is a point at which people start to feel bad about it (eg the reaction after a few years to dr brash's orewa speech).

if the left can offer a better narrative, with positive policy solutions and integrity, i think they can win back a significant chunk of the middle vote. people want hope, they want to inspired by good things. we saw it with the obama campaign. but the thing is to be able not just to promise but also to deliver.