Friday, 29 February 2008

changing the world

didn't have time to post yesterday. was too busy trying to change the world (or at least a small part of it), and will be pretty occupied with that over the next few days. ask me in a couple of years time whether or not i was successful!

other people trying to change the world are the aotearoa new zealand centre for peace and conflict studies trust. bit of a mouthful, but these hardy souls have managed to set up a chair in peace and conflict studies at otago university. not a bad effort for a couple of years of solid effort. apparently they are currently advertising the director's position, so if you're interested in spreading peace in the world, here's your chance.

the major problem will be getting the students. in the current world where studies in humanities are seen as having little job potential, and given the closures of various departments around the country, it's going to be a challenge to get our young people to take out student loans for peace studies. which is a pity, because, as i mentioned in an earlier post, if we put as much money into peace as we do into war, the world might look a little different today. the centre is still looking for funders, so if you're interested in donating or want to be added to the mailing list, you can email

on another note, the ABC network (american, not australian) did an interesting programme, where "ABC outfitted a Texas bakery with hidden cameras and had actors play a female customer wearing an Islamic head scarf, or hijab, and a sales clerk who refused to serve her. The actor playing the clerk also used anti-Muslim slurs." the results were quite interesting and apparently mixed. it would be a good idea for someone to try that kind of thing here, and find out if us kiwis fare better than our american counterparts. i suspect results in various parts of the country might differ. or maybe not.

also, a recent gallup poll "shows that shows that the overwhelming majority of Muslims condemned the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 and other subsequent terrorist attacks". the sample size was apparently more than 50,000.

which seems to indicate that more people want peace in this world than want war. but somehow we're not winning. which is why i'd urge you to support the peace studies centre. it's a small first step.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

family values

the families commission is often seen as one of those parts of the "bureaucracy" - the "pencil-pushers" that mr english is so keen to get rid of - that apparently provide little of value. both the families commission and the commissioner for children received a lot of flak for their support of the repeal of section 59 of the crimes act. advocating for children was somehow portrayed an attack on family values, and indeed on the new zealand family.

today the families commission released their report on elder abuse and neglect. from the reaction so far (which has been pretty muted), advocating for older people seems to be more acceptable. this is an issue that has only recently been getting coverage in the media, though the abuse is nothing new. our elderly, as the report details, are often the subject of greed, impatience, anger or just plain neglect.

one of the things that frustrates me about many right-wing groups and their attitude towards (coloured) immigrants is that such immigrants are often told they should respect new zealand values. when asked what those values might be, "family values" is often near the top of the list. this is problematic, first because claiming this as a new zealand value implies that those from other nations do not have strong family values; second because the evidence doesn't tend to support the notion that all kiwis are strong on family values.

i spoke at the SPRE conference last year about the fact that asians consider themselves to have extremely strong family values. they find quite shocking the notion of elderly people living in resthomes rather than with their own children. it's seen as a form of neglect, particularly when some residents don't have visitors for weeks.

respect for elders is ingrained in the asian psyche, as it is across the middle east and africa. which is not to say that elder abuse doesn't happen in those countries as well - i've heard of some terrible cases. but on the whole, elderly parents will be cared for at home, and they tend to have considerable status and power within the family structure.

strong family values would seem to imply a respect for all members of the family. the research is showing that "between 15,000 and 50,000" elderly people are not getting the respect, nor indeed the caring, they deserve. so good on the families commission for carrying out the research. and here's to our senior citizens, who contribute so much and enrich our society.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


nah, i'm not going to talk about that programme on tv3, which i followed for a while in the first season before i got bored with it. i started thinking more about real life heroes today, when i was listening to coverage on the oscars.

ok, so let me explain the wanderings of my mind. i started thinking about all the glitz and glamour, and basic adulation these people (namely the a-list) will get as they walk down the red carpet. they are the people who are supposedly successful, the ones who have "made it". and the criteria for them having made it are:
1. that they are there (ie at the oscars and walking down the red carpet)
2. that they are rich
3. that they are famous.

and not too much more than that. now let me note that i do actually believe film is an art form, and i think it's totally legitimate to recognise those who have excelled in this particular form. i don't have a problem with the notion of the oscars, and there are many actors, directors, writers etc who have done some amazing stuff that well deserves to be celebrated.

but it seems to me that many of the people receiving attention these days don't really deserve it. i think back to previous times, of people like martin luther king, mother teresa, mahatma gandhi, nelson mandela (ok, i know he's still alive). these were people who touched millions. they reminded us of what we should be, they encouraged us to strive for something better. they showed us an ideal and the way to work towards it. they showed us our current weaknesses and the way to overcome them. if they were famous, it was a by-product of their activism. and none of them, at the height of their activism, had much in the way of material possessions.

who is that person today? which one or two people could you point to and say "this is the person who inspires me to be better"? i look around and find it hard to think of such a person. i know people who inspire me in my day-to-day life, i wrote about one of them a couple of days ago. i know many people who go out of their way to do things for others, big or small, or who show courage in unexpected ways. i think of them as heroes. but i can't think of someone who's doing that on an international level right now.

i think it's sad to be living in a time without such people. especially when there is so much that needs improving.

Monday, 25 February 2008

late night tv

just had an absolutely hectic weekend, with no time to post. i'm too tired to say much, but i did watch the film "control room" which TV1 aired late last night. it's a pity the good stuff has to be on so late. it's an excellent documentary about al-jazeera's coverage of the iraq war. i'm really glad we're getting more of al-jazeera's coverage here, and i'm a real fan of not-for-profit news programming. when the news doesn't have to provide a return on investment for its shareholders or win a ratings war, you actually get some decent coverage. and al-jazeera proves that providing fair and honest coverage does actually get you the ratings as well.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

bye margaret

a great woman has announced today that she won't be standing at the next election. i bet this woman won't make a lot of noise, she will retire quietly and efficiently, as she does most things. that can be evidenced by her understated press release.

i've been a great fan of margaret wilson, ever since she was dean of the law school at waikato university. she was appointed to build the law school from scratch, only to find the newly elected national government pulled $10million of government funding before the school was even established. but margaret persevered, and built a school that is highly reputed with its own distinct flavour.

as an MP, pretty much the first thing she did was to bring in the employment relations act. i found this old archive page from her early days as a minister. for a list of her current and former roles, see here. and of course you can find more about her role as speaker here.

she was in the vanguard of the fight for women's political involvement, activism and leadership back in the 70's and 80's; and she lead by example. she was a key advocate for women's rights, and has been a force that has shaped the country in positive ways. she fought for economic independence for women, for opportunities to obtain employment and for equal pay. she advocated policies to support women in the workforce, such as parental leave, affirmative action, reform of rape laws and much more. i have a copy of a paper she wrote in 1983 about feminism, in which she writes:

Feminism is concerned with women obtaining choice, which involves the ability to make decisions about their lives.... Feminism is not necessarily about destroying marriage and the family. It is about giving women greater control and independence so therefore it must be about changing those institutions.... It is true that if women are to obtain control over their lives, this will necessitate a revolution not only in attitude, but in the way in which society is to be organised.

we've come pretty far in that revolution, even though there is still a long way to go. we haven't yet reached the stage where "the traditional domestic role of women is shared equally", and i wrote about the wage gap yesterday. but for all that, the efforts of women like margaret have made all our lives so much better.

i remember when i first met margaret, in christchurch, november 2003. i've met her several times since, and found her to be inspiring, ethical and tough. last week in katherine rich, we mourned what might have been. in margaret, we have a full and successful career that deserves to be celebrated. and i'm sure it's not over yet. no matter where she goes next, the one thing i'm sure of is that she will continue to make an impact.

bye margaret. we'll miss you in parliament, but hope to see you doing well in your next role.

Friday, 22 February 2008

the wage gap

ok, this is appalling:

In New Zealand, men earned an average of $832 (up 10.4 per cent) and women $510 (up 7.8 per cent).

see here for full article. even adjusting for the fact that women work fewer hours, the gap is still way too much. the implications of this in the longer term are:
- it takes much longer for women to pay off their student loan, which in turn means:
- they aren't able to save money until much later in life, which in turn means:
- they don't have much saved up when they retire, which means:
- poverty in their old age (or earlier).

now we know that a significant proportion of these women are in long-term relationships, so their current standard of living will not be quite so bad. however, we also know that new zealand has quite a high divorce rate, and that women end up significantly worse off once the settlement proceeds are divided up - especially if they have custody of the children.

given that financial stress is one of the major factors leading to divorce, and given that data now shows that educated women have lower divorce rates, it's likely that divorced women will be much more likely to live in poverty.

so how do we decrease that wage gap? one way is to ensure that women get paid the same wage rates as men. despite all the human rights legislation, women are still getting paid less to do exactly the same job - particularly with higher paid jobs. the employment contracts act and the scrapping of award rates has helped a lot in that regard. because there is now a great pressure to keep wage rates secret (how many of you have had the boss say "don't tell anyone else about that bonus/pay rise because everyone didn't get one"?), often women don't know that their male counterparts are getting paid more. when wage and salary rates were open and transparent, this kind of thing didn't happen.

another way to decrease the gap is for women to work more hours. but most women with children actually want to be able to spend time with them. unless they simply can't afford it, women tend to choose part-time work in order to balance their family life. while we can encourage more women into work with better and cheaper childcare (and this government has definitely put effort & resources into that area), there is nothing that can stop that instinctive need to be with your kids.

i would also advocate for student loan rebates for women who take time out of the workforce to have children and spend a year at home with them. the paid parental leave scheme is great, but it doesn't compensate for the full wage loss of many women, and only goes to 14 weeks. it doesn't cover the fact that a women is unable to pay off her debt during this period.

in any case, this is an issue that needs more work. unfortunately, speaking out for women's financial independence these days sees you being labelled as a feminazi, or part of the sisterhood, or being too politically correct, or worse still, not having "family values". these are labels intended to try to shut us up. let's ignore them and speak out.

oh, and for those of you not on AEN, just a note that today is international mother tongue day, and this year is the UNESCO international year of languages. so go on, go out tomorrow and learn how to say hello in another language.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

beauty is in the eyes...

we're eating mushy food at the moment, as one of my kids has just had braces fitted. which has lead me to ponder on the efforts we go to in order to improve our appearance.

the process is excruciating and takes so long. from the teeth being pulled out to the discomfort of the braces and the constant pulling of rubberbands. what does it say about us as a society that we think it's ok to put our children through this for 2 whole years, just so they can have nice straight teeth. and let's not even talk about the cost. a family in the developing world could have decent meals for a year on the amount of money the orthodontist is taking from us.

in a perfect world, it wouldn't matter if your teeth were crooked. i've always been one to advocate judging people by their actions rather than by their appearance. it's a constant effort to encourage my kids to develop their self-confidence. i don't want their happiness to depend on what other people think of them. it seems paradoxical that they don't care about how weird they look with braces on, but do care that their teeth are crooked.

it's important to me that they shouldn't care. because it means that they have developed an independence of spirit, allowing them to judge things in light of their own ethics without worrying what others will think of them. it means they won't be like sheep following the crowd, but will have developed the ability to speak up and speak out, to be a visible minority when they know the majority is wrong.

on the other hand, i've never had crooked teeth. so i don't feel that i can deny my child braces just because i want her to think a certain way. in the end, she has to come to that conclusion herself. as a parent, i can encourage her thinking but i feel that i have to support her in things where she feels differently to me - as long as what she's doing is legal! so i guess it's mushy food for a few days yet. and the hope that at some time in her life, she will remember what her mother said, and that will help her to be the confident and independent young woman she deserves to be.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

"better banks"

tonight was the AGM of the waikato interfaith council. we had a guest speaker in crystal mann who organised the "keeping faith" exhibition at the waikato museum. it was fascinating listening to her describe the exhibition from conception to execution. it is a difficult topic, and she did very well in shaping it to be a positive and interesting one. the exhibition is on until easter monday.

this press release from finsec came out today, asking for greater regulation of the finance sector. the union is starting a campaign this year, aimed at improving employment and customer service in the finance sector. i remember a couple of years ago, workers in the finance industry were complaining about how hard they were required to push credit on to customers they knew couldn't afford it. because of the way their pay systems were structured, staff were disadvantaged if they failed to "sell" the required amount of credit.

as an accountant, i've had clients tell me that their bank manager is pushing them to buy a rental property, with a 100% mortgage. they tell clients that the tax losses from the rental can be offset against other income, and the capital gains are tax free. it's apparently the perfect investment. what they don't make clear are that the tax losses are cash losses - the rent from these properties is never enough to cover the mortgage interest & principal, let alone rates, maintenance costs etc. for people who aren't cash rich, it's a risky investment - particularly one with a 100% loan. and rental properties don't always deliver a gain. one client had to spend $30,000 refurbishing a bathroom that had been totally trashed by a tenant. the capital gain only ensues if the property is well looked after.

there is a wider issue. if financial institutions are consistently lending to people who can't afford to repay the interest and principal, this can only lead to disaster in the long run. in america, some institutions were lending to people who had no income and no assets. no wonder the sub-prime mortgage crisis has occurred, and financial institutions are either collapsing or having to cover major losses.

the american response to this has been to lower interest rates. i don't get it. the problem is risky lending. to fix the problem, measures should be put in place to reduce the level of lending, ensuring that borrower has sufficient income to service the loan. lowering interest rates, on the other hand, will increase the level of lending because it's cheaper to borrow. tax cuts won't solve this problem, as those on the lower end of the income scale aren't going to get anywhere near enough to cover their debt servicing costs.

excess borrowing has been one of the major causes of inflationary pressures in our economy. the level of borrowing per person has been increasing rapidly, and most of that money has gone into consumption. there are some who would have you believe that increased government spending is the major cause of inflationary pressures, but it's nowhere near the amount that is coming through our lending institutions. i heard an excellent lecture by bryan gould on this topic, and his book "The Democracy Sham:How Globalisation Devalues Your Vote" is well worth a read. see here for a review.

another group that are against the current monetary system are the democrats for social credit. while they are mostly a way-out-there leftist group, their ideas around the current monetary system quite seem quite interesting. i met a group of them in hamilton a couple of years ago, when they asked me to do a speech on the islamic banking system. if nothing else, they do challenge the conventional view of things, and as gould pointed out, there is not nearly enough debate about the monetary system, and things like the reserve bank act. we mostly accept things as they are because it takes an advanced degree in economics to understand the alternatives!

but good on finsec for starting this campaign. unfortunately, i haven't heard any mention of it on the tv news, i don't expect it to create headlines in tomorrow's papers either. banalities around owen glenn seem to be much more important than the country's financial wellbeing.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

junk food advertising

i've had a busy couple of days, not much time to post. this poll caught my eye today. it's not a political one, but a poll related to parent's attitude towards advertising of unhealthy food and drink aimed at children. the poll found that 82% of parents or grandparents agreed that such advertising should be stopped.

what i find most interesting about this is that there's so much noise about society being over-regulated; "nanny state" is in almost every sentence used by right-wing parties; yet it appears that people do want regulation around issues that matter. the sample size was small for this poll, so it's probably not particuarly accurate. the herald's on-line feedback shows a very mixed response - although these kinds of on-line forums, like talk-back radio, seem to be where the rednecks congregate, so that's probably not very accurate either. however, there seems to be a sense that some control is needed in this area, particularly in light of the problems around obesity.

another example where more regulation is asked for is around the finance sector, particularly in relation to the collapse of so many finance companies. in this instance, the feeling seems to be that financial advisors should be subject to greater regulation. and people seem to be happy with the regulations around the real estate industry as well, and the majority seem to be particularly happy about bars and restaurants being free of smoke.

the conclusion would be that regulation in certain areas is desirable, sometimes essential to the overall well-being of society. it's a pretty sad society when taking care of people's well-being is seen as a bad thing.

on another note, good to see the conference on disarmament happening this week. let's hope something good comes of it.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

poll on discrimination

i had a good look around, but i couldn't find this reported anywhere else*. it's the latest poll by the human rights commission on discrimination. the news is apparently good, in that:

the proportion of New Zealanders who see "some" or "a great deal" of discrimination against Asians has dropped from a peak of almost 80 per cent in 2003-04 to just 68 per cent at the end of last year.

but asians are still perceived to be the group that is most highly discriminated against. more relevant perhaps is how these minorities feel about the discrimination they face:

The polls of 750 people by UMR Research found that 71 per cent of Asians themselves still feel that New Zealanders discriminate against them - 26 per cent "some" and 45 per cent "a great deal".

Pacific Islanders feel more accepted. Only 4 per cent feel they are discriminated against "a great deal" and 58 per cent feel "some" discrimination.

But Maori feel even more heavily discriminated against than Asians - 24 per cent "a great deal" and 49 per cent "some".

of course this is all about perceptions. i guess it's really difficult to collect hard data about discrimination. HRC can count the number of complaints they receive, but very few people make formal complaints. often it's very difficult to prove, and sometimes the discrimination is something that it's perceived by the recipient but not intended by the other person.

the drop in the initial number (from 80% to 68%) may relate to 2003-2004 being the time of the infamous orewa speech by one dr don brash. it was a time when racial tensions were particularly heightened. although the 2005 campaign did have that immigration speech by dr brash and the "end of tolerance" speech by mr peters, which didn't help matters much at all.

it will be interesting to see how campaign 2008 affects race relations. john key has decided not use race relations in the way brash did, as can be evidenced by his taking the young maori girl to waitangi last year, his friendliness with titewhai harawera & tame iti this year, and his trying to attend every major ethnic event on the calendar. i think he's figured out that ethnic minorities can vote too, and that support from the maori party is going to be crucial for him.

this leaves the field open to minor parties, at least one of which is likely to use immigrants as a target this time around. being tough on immigrants has been a regular vote-catcher. only the right kind of immigrants though. not this guy, who is white, from england, and apparently has plenty of money. and certainly not this guy, who is also from england and has plenty of money. we don't know if he's white, but it seems pretty likely.

i wonder what the narrative would have been if these two gentlemen had been from asia? isn't it strange that when there is media outrage about an immigrant not being allowed to stay, that immigrant is invariably white? i have yet to see a story of outrage about a non-white immigrant not being allowed to stay. instead, the stories of brown immigrants are usually about the crimes they have committed or the damage they inflict - zimbabweans bringing aids to the country, rich asian immigrants pushing house prices up, and so on. of course i'd love to be proved wrong on this, so please let me know of any stories in the major dailies going out to bat for non-white immigrants. [post script: i just thought of an example - the iranian overstayer who converted to christianity. can't think of any others]

the worst story i've seen would have to be the one headed "refugee rapist dies in crash". imagine how this man's family felt, having to deal with his death, then having this headline appear in the paper. it's a level of cruelty beyond belief.

it amazes me that we accept this kind of reporting. we accept the unequal media treatments of immigrants of colour. here is an area where we can get some hard data. i'd love for the human rights commission to start documenting positive and negative stories relating to migrants, taking into account the race and nationality of the migrant. then we'd know a lot more about discrimination than we do now

*(for further details of the research, see here).

Saturday, 16 February 2008

shakespeare at the gardens

i've been working on the appearance of the blog, really appreciate the commenters who have helped me out. i can now link properly - woohoo! and i'm loving the new specially designed header.

not in the mood for a serious post today, even though there is
this, and this or a number of other things which could have me carrying on for a while.

but i'd rather talk about the
hamilton gardens summer festival which started today. there are some great events happening in beautiful settings. our favourite is the shakespeare plays, which we've been going to for the last five years. it's lovely to watch a live performance in a flowered garden, as the sun sets and the sky slowly darkens. when i first started taking my kids, i thought they wouldn't enjoy it so much because they wouldn't understand the language. but they can pretty much follow the story lines, and enjoy the costumes, the performances and the setting.

so for those of you that think hamilton is just a provincial town, well you're absolutely right. but we can do culture too!

Friday, 15 February 2008

festival of love

well, that's the literal translation of "eid-ul-muhabbah", the arab version of valentines day. i'm not going to wax lyrical about love, romance or other related topics. mostly because it's been done a million times already, and by people much more gifted than moi! the reason i bring it up at all is because i did a brief guest spot on the panel today, which you can find here. my bit is towards the end of the clip.

can't say i'm a particular fan of valentines day. i put it in the category of mothers day, fathers day, and even christmas, easter, & halloween. events that are driven more by commercialism than anything else. i'm not sure why people buy into the theory that the more you spend the more you care. maybe it's because they don't really care as much as they should, so spend up to ease their sense of guilt. anyway, i'm more into recognising people regularly and in unexpected ways regardless of what "day" it is.

it's apparently love of another kind that has lead to katherine rich leaving parliament. i guess we will have to take accept ms rich's reasons at their face value, although i thought it a little arrogant to act like she would definitely have been a minister if she stayed, as if there's no need for an election. there's still a strong chance national will not be forming a cabinet at the end of the year. of course it seems strange that it is the non-conformist of the national front bench who is leaving, and no matter what she says, there will always be suspicions that she was pushed or resigned in disgust of a right-wing agenda she can't agree to.

as many have already said in various media, she did seem more like a labour person than a national one. had national not had so few women MPs, i suspect she would have been gone long before now. voting against the party, or failing to follow the leader's line is genrally an unforgivable offence. you can do it once, if you're lucky twice. but that would be about it. no party is successful when there's disunity in the ranks - it shows that the leadership is not in control. so it's hard to believe she wasn't under some pressure to conform or leave.

in any case, it's a loss to parliament. even in this country, where women are apparently treated as equals (i say apparently because there is still plenty of data to show they aren't), there are still too few women MPs. it's still difficult for women to be selected as candidates for electorate seats. when they get selected, it's difficult to win.

MMP has definitely helped increase the number of women, with the list providing an opportunity to get women through. however, the actual numbers that get through via the list are relatively small. and there seems to be a perception that list MPs are of less value than electorate MPs. even though they contribute significantly to the work of parliament, even though the list selection process is extremely tough and those on the list bring significant skills, they are seen as second-class MPs.

women face tougher criticism. they are criticised for their appearance in a way that men generally aren't. i can't believe people have written letters to the editor complaining about helen clark not wearing a skirt for dinner with the queen. this is important to her running the country how? then there are comments about her hairstyle, her deep voice.

the mechanics of taking part in politics are difficult. there's a huge amount of travel time, meeting are often at the time when dinner has to be put on the table or kids helped with their homework. teleconferences don't wait until the kids are in bed. attending as many community events as possible means long hours. it's usually women with highly supportive partners willing to take over child-rearing duties who tend to be successful; or else women for no children at all. it's certainly a very difficult path for single parents. yet if we want our parliament to be a true representative of the country, it's important that we have a higher number of women parliament. all indications seem to show that the number of women will decrease rather than increase.

don't know how we could make things easier. but we should certainly be more forthcoming in appreciating the personal sacrifices made by our political representatives. i wish katherine rich all the best for her future career. a pity that it had to end so soon.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

saying sorry

don't know why, but i had tears in my eyes when listening to kevin rudd read out the apology to the aboriginal community today. perhaps it was the memory of the film "rabbit proof fence", which personalised the experience of children taken away from their families. or perhaps it was the thought of anyone taking my own children away from me. it would be absolutely devastating. i can't imagine a life with any meaning if i didn't know where my children were or couldn't have contact with them.

it was a powerful moment, wonderfully done. the full text of the speech can be found here. the speech of brendan nelson, leader of the opposition can be found here.

the contrast between the speeches was vast. from kevin rudd we had:

I offer you this apology without qualification.

nelson's speech was full of justifications, of excuses for the inexcusable. i found his speech to be offensive and badly timed. having read through most of it, i now think it's a damn good thing that john howard never tried to say sorry. his refusal to do so was much more respectable than the speech from the current leader of the opposition. it's also a good thing that john howard stayed away - in this instance at least, you can't call him a hypocrite.

rudd's speech was offered with sincerity, and had practical solutions around provision of housing, early childhood education, primary & preventative health, and interestingly, "work on the further task of constitutional recognition of the first Australians". that sounds a lot like the treaty of waitangi, and i hope kevin rudd has the political strength to pull it off. it would probably be timed with australia's becoming a republic.

the speech did not deny the possibility of compensation, but rather skirted around the issue, leaving open the room for future debate. nelson, on the other hand, had this to say:
There is no compensation fund, nor should there be. How can any sum of money replace a life deprived of knowing your family? Separation was then, and remains today, a painful but necessary part of public policy in the protection of children. Our restitution for this lies in our determination to address today's injustices, learning from what was done and healing those who suffered. [emphasis added]

no, money can not replace a life. but it can help rebuild a life that has suffered from the consequences of policies put in place by the crown. what i found most offensive about the litany of failures and problems in the aboriginal community listed by nelson, was the inability to recognise that most of those problems resulted from the actions of the crown. the crown created the mess, it should pay to fix it. unfortunately, a "blame the victims" mentality seems to permeate the australian opposition and those who support them. instead, they should blame the perpetrators, and provide the victims the restoration and rehabilitation that is so badly needed.

parliament starts

parliament was sitting for the first time this year, and political junkie that i am, i had it playing in the corner of my computer screen at work (hey, i'm a woman, i can multi-task!), then listened off and on by radio when i got home. i'm just loving the wider coverage of parliament that was put in place last year. ok, please stop thinking "GEEK" now...

well, it can be quite entertaining. much as the rt hon winston peters irritates me at many levels, he performs extremely well in the house. he totally "got" john key today, with the photo of mr key & mr tame iti sharing a moment. it was hilarious, though not particularly commendable.

mr key's speech was a lot of nothing. no substance, no vision, nothing to inspire really. but there were some impressive announcements from the PM. of particular interest to me is the $446 million over 4 years to support community groups providing essential social services:

Our new funding model will see essential services with which we have multi year programmes, such as parenting programmes, support for at risk youth, women’s refuge services, family violence programmes, and services for victims of crime, funded for the full cost of delivering the agreed services.

belonging to a community organisation that provides such services, i know how difficult it is applying for funding to many different funders, scraping together $5,000 from here and $10,000 from there, to try to get together enough to pay the rent, wages, and other operating costs. most funding is project based, and many funders won't fund wages. it's a time-consuming and stressful process.

such organisations provide crucial support for the vulnerable members of our society. most are run by a large amount of voluntary work, and it is in these organisations that you find some of the most generous and caring people in this country. unfortunately, the pool of volunteers grows ever smaller (we really need to be encouraging our young people in this regard), which makes it harder to function.

not only is the funding very welcome, but the move to a grants based system to reduce compliance costs will save valuable resources. it means that these organisations can focus their efforts where they will be most useful: on programme delivery.

another important area for me is the emphasis on victims rights. as i've said previously, i don't believe we are doing enough to support victims of crime in this country, so it was good to see this:

The Government will respond shortly to the select committee report on victims rights.
- We will be developing and implementing a Charter of Victims’ Rights and making amendments to the legal aid legislation.
- A nationwide 0800 line and an information website for victims will be established.

- We have asked the Law Commission for advice on the Select Committee’s recommendation for a victims’ compensation scheme, and will make decisions on that after receiving that advice.
- We are also considering the introduction of victims’ advocates in family violence courts.

the justice system is particularly difficult for victims to deal with. the processes are difficult, victims often don't realise that the prosecutor is not acting on their behalf. one of the saddest books i've read is "fatal observations" by catherine merriman. it tells the story of a "leather-clad biker" who was violently murdered. during the trial, the defence assassinated the victim's character. a passage from the book:

When the case came to court the prosecution were only interested in proving their case, and not in protecting [the victim's] name; I didn't recognise him as the man I knew from what was said about him. What he had done may been unwise, and even provocative, but he had done it for other people, not himself, and it was his life that was lost...

The defence was allowed to get away with describing him as a violent bully, as someone who had continually threatened [his girlfriend's ex-husband], interfered wilfuly in his marital affairs, and whom [the ex-husband] had good reason to believe had deliberately manipulated the affections of his ex-wife.

The prosecution had no interest in disputing these claims, or at least re-interpreting them, because they were irrelevant to the plain facts of the murder.

it must be extremely difficult to have to sit through this kind of thing. "the victim was asking for it" is such a standard defence strategy, but extremely devastating for the victim, particularly when it is part of a public court trial. the provision of victim's advocates and compensation will go a long way in getting victims the support they need.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

bomb disposal

just spent the evening with duraseal and 1B5's. the education system finds many ways to torture parents (don't even get me started on homework), and this is one of the worst of them. at least it involves only 1 night in a year!

just a collection of random thoughts today. found the interview about the removal of cluster bombs in lebanon on morning report interesting
. i just can't understand the use of cluster bombs, landmines and depleted uranium bombs. it's one thing to carry on an armed conflict (well, a terrible thing actually). but to use weapons that will continue to inflict damage on innocent victims for many years to come must require a very deep-seated hatred of the target population and their children and grandchildren. i just can't make sense of it.

i have a book called "the ultimate war crime" written by robert anderson. it has details about how depleted uranium bombs are created, and the history of their use in the since the first gulf war. not recommended as bedtime reading, as it deals with some truly disturbing stuff.

on a brighter note, nice to see more funding going to early childhood centres ( one of the most important policies last year was the investment into early childhood education. the positive impact on children in later life is well proven, and there's a good mix of centres getting funding - including the "global indian montessori early childhood education centre" (?!)

in listening to all the news coverage of the attack on the president of timor leste, i have not heard the word "terrorist" or "terrorism" used once. this appears to be a cold-blooded, planned attack to remove the political leadership and put the country into chaos. sounds like a terrorist attack to me. and very sad for a country that has already been through so much.

finally, i'm really pleased to hear that tariq ramadan will be visiting the country later this month. i've not read nearly enough of his work, but i have been impressed with what i have read. i also heard a BBC interview with him on the radio last year. he seems to be a voice of sanity in an increasingly hostile world. here's a sample his most well-known book is "western muslims and the future of islam". i'm really looking forward to hearing him speak in nz.

post script: had to take the radio nz link off, as it's no longer on their website. apparently there is to be a conference in wellington relating to cluster bombs this week.

Monday, 11 February 2008

twelve zeros

it's been an extremely busy weekend - in auckland most of the day yesterday, then popped over to tauranga today, so haven't had too much time to post.

got this from one of my networks (fncl is apparently a quaker group):

**Military Budget Has 12 Zeros**
For the first time in history, the total 2009 U.S. military budget proposed by the president will surpass one trillion dollars. The military budget has increased by 70 percent since President Bush took office, according to the White House. FCNL calculates that the increase may be closer to 100 percent:

but has the world become a safer place?

i wish peace groups could get similar funding. wonder what results they would get with that kind of money! or maybe money is as corrupting as power. probably they'd end up fighting over who gets to spend the money, and on what.


Saturday, 9 February 2008

hostage crisis

heard the news about the hijacking around 8.30am this morning. as always, with incidents of this type, my first thoughts were "please God, don't let it be a muslim". sure enough, information came through a few hours later of a somalian woman being arrested, and it didn't take long for the usual suspects to come up with the nasty comments. i won't bother linking to them here.

the main media have been more reasonable in their coverage, with the focus on airline safety rather than on "muslim terrorists". although i did have to grit my teeth watching close-up this evening, when they did their bit on how there was absolutely no security on local flights. yes, there's an issue there, but i just felt that it was really blown out of proportion. kudos though to ethnic affairs minister chris carter for his meeting with the somalian community & his press release asking for the somali community not to be targetted (

but back to asha ali abdille. in the coming days, there will no doubt be in depth press coverage of her background. having been named by hon winston peters in parliament leads one to instinctively have sympathy with her. we know that she's been in constant trouble with the law, and has failed to settle well in new zealand.

a friend in christchurch sent me a copy of an article from a hamilton community newspaper published on 19 august 1999. in it, asha talks about her past and her difficulty in settling in new zealand. she apparently came to this country in 1994, as an 18 year old. she had no direct family members here to support her. she talks of several experiences of rape and gang-rape during her life in a kenyan refugee camp. in one attack, her nose was broken.

even in 1999, she talked about shunning the muslim community and refusing to live with other somalis. strongest of all was her desire to have her immediate family with her.

questions will inevitably arise about the support asha has received. she was known widely to be a troubled person - known to agencies, to police, and to the public. she appeared to be isolated, without a community that she could belong to, given that she had rejected the one she would have been expected to fit into. i wonder if the host community took her in, to provide her the companionship she needed. the evidence appears to show that they did not.

i remember when the first somalian families came to hamilton in the early 90s. nz had just joined the security council, and one of the requirements for this was to take in a regular quota of refugees. at that time, there were virtually no support services. the christian community were the ones who provided the majority of support, while the muslim community got involved and helped where we could. our family took the responsibility of one refugee family - helped them with their weekly shopping and in other ways. this family was made up of one woman with 12 - yes, twelve - children. given the children's ages, it was impossible for them to all be biologically hers. it's likely that her closest relatives asked her to take their children with her. it was very difficult for her to look after them.

thinking back now, it angers me that the government of the day did so little for these people, knowing they came from difficult backgrounds and had gone through traumatic experiences. in the last few years, we have finally had a propert resettlement strategy put in place, with $60 million of funding over 4 years. at least now there is some initial counselling provided, though i suspect it's not nearly enough. there is a more concerted effort to help refugees gain qualifications, and i see some wonderful success stories here in hamilton.

but asha is not one of these. i expect the anger against her will rise, there will undoubtedly be some backlash against refugee communities. these people have already been through so much, i wish we could spare them from the negativity. the attitude of some new zealanders towards refugees amazes me. we take a miserably small number of refugees. try comparing this to the hundreds of thousands taken by kenya - a country that is much worse off than we are. think of all the iraqi refugees that jordan has accepted or the huge numbers of afghanis that have poured into pakistan. i remember a talk by iranian academic based in britain, dr haleh afshar. she talked of the refugees that came in droves from iraq during the war between those two countries. she said the iranian government never had any refugee quotas, never put any restrictions on the numbers. they took everyone that came, and provided for them as best they could.

are we really missing that kind of generosity here in new zealand? do we care so little for them and so much for our own precious high standard of living that we grudge the few that come any state assistance? i remember a conversation with a wellington cab-driver 3 years ago. he was complaining about the "huge handouts" that refugees received from the government. i told him that all they received was a benefit and an initial couple of thousand dollars to set up a house. he replied that they didn't even deserve that. i couldn't believe it. here was a healthy man, obviously well-fed, begruding these people the very food on their table.

i don't know how to go about creating empathy. i don't know how to get these people to see the humanity and the suffering of their fellow human beings. asha's actions will make the situation worse for all refugees. i wish our politicians had the sense not to add fuel to the fire. unfortunately it's election year, so i don't hold much hope.

Friday, 8 February 2008

on fairness and prosperity

saw hilary clinton on the late show last night. it was an interview that was aired on monday night, before "super tuesday" (see for youtube videoclip). thought she did quite well, even though she was given some pretty patsy questions by mr letterman. one that did interest me was the discussion on state funding of political parties. hilary was very supportive of state funding, particularly after letterman was pushing the US$1 billion that has been spent on the campaign so far. hilary was probably taking this line to try to protect herself from accusations of having been bought. or maybe its because of the cash problems she's having about now.

in any case, the points were still valid. that US$1 billion could have gone to the 35 million americans who don't have enough to eat. or to the 45 million who have no health insurance. state funding will provide more chance of independence, with candidates less likely to be bought. i did find it interesting when hilary said that their supreme court has, uptil now, blocked any moves towards state funding. she wasn't clear about how she might get around that hurdle.

back here, the tax cut debate has started again with dr cullen's speech today (see of course the opposition has started with the "election year bribes" line - as though somehow when they offer tax cuts, it's not a bribe!? but i was more interested in this bit of the speech:

For too long, our economic debate has seen policies for growth pitted against policies of fairness. But together over the past eight years, we have shown that this competition was false. We have shown that fairness actually makes our economy stronger.

this truth of this statement can be seen when the minimum wage rises. it has risen every year since labour has been in government. every time, employer and business groups predict doom, predict that businesses will have to shut down because they can't afford higher wages, or that prices will have to rise. yet every year, unemployment keeps reducing, the economy keeps growing, and the main drivers of inflation have been house prices and petrol prices, neither of which are affected by the minimum wage.

Cullen goes on to say:

It is my hope that this year, after eight years of expansion and success, we can have a new debate. The time is now for a national discussion on how to have a growing, a fair, and a sustainable economy and in the process how we can achieve a new period of unprecedented prosperity for all New Zealanders.

it'll be interesting to see whether or not that discussion happens. listening to the opposition today, i'm not particularly hopeful. john key on the panel today had very little substance, and was clearly misleading. he said that national's 2005 tax cut plan would have cost $2 billion over 3 years. i'm sure the figure was something more like $11billion, and was going to require considerable borrowing. had we done so, the economy would have been poorly placed to deal with the turbulence caused by the american sub-prime mortgage crisis.

finally, i've just booked my ticket to go to the national interfaith forum, from 8 to 10 march. further details can be found here i've been to three of the last four forums, and they are really great experiences. its nice to know that there is a committed group of people in this country who want to work towards creating an inclusive society.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

another beautiful day

first, thanx I/S for sorting out the rss feed. as for choosing a template, i picked the one with what i thought were the prettiest colours. were there other criteria i was supposed to consider? it seems to be so...

second, i'd like to thank this blog for mentioning mine also a new female blogger, whom i hope you'll support.

third, i will have to sheepishly admit to spending part of the day at the shopping malls. not a good look after yesterday's comments, but one of my offspring's wardrobe needed replenishing. i wasn't looking forward to it, shopping for girls clothes in summer is usually a waste of time for us. end of last year we walked into urban angels and asked if there were any long-sleeved tops. the answer was no, not one. but we struck lucky today - some pretty tops with long sleeves & 3/4 sleeves that actually cover the midrif. yippee!

it was another beautiful day in hamilton today, bright sunshine, hardly a cloud in sight. unfortunately that is not a good thing. we're desperate for rain here. i flew out of town a couple of weeks ago, and from up high, all i could see were brown fields - very unusual for the waikato. as an accountant, i've been busy over the last couple of months working out how our clients will deal with the tax bills from the large dairy payout. but with the lack of rain, there's been a big drop in production, so it seems the farmers won't be quite so lucky after all.

there's a strange tension in the air. weird how waking up to a sunny sky is depressing. i started thinking about aussie farmers who've been facing long-term drought. i now begin to understand how desperate they must be, how heartbreaking to see the land with deep cracks and no water in sight. suddenly the story about a guy beating up his neighbour for watering the lawn isn't quite so outlandish.

then i started thinking about those further afield, about parts of africa. for them, the lack of water doesn't just mean losing their livelihood, it means losing their life. i can't think of anything worse than a mother having to watch her children die due to lack of water or food. we had shepherd pie for dinner today, and broccoli with cheese sauce. plenty of water to drink. just a brown lawn.

and on a day that is dedicated to nationalism and national issues, it struck me that until we think of ourselves first and foremost as citizens of planet earth, nothing will ever change.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

go maori tv!

first of all, a huge thank you to russell brown for mentioning me on his blog today(,937, really didn't expect that when i sent him a quick email, and i really appreciate him taking the trouble to do it. sure made my day.

kowhai, i'd love to turn on the rss feed thing, but don't know how. i looked through all the "settings" tabs and none of them seemed to do that. if you or anyone else can give me simple instructions, i'll definitely get on to it.

yesterday i saw a half-page ad in the waikato times from maori tv, explaining their coverage on waitangi day. have to say that i'm totally impressed. it's full of debates, documentaries and live coverage relating to the treaty & the events of the day. i think its a great effort, and am looking forward to watching what i can. the only sad thing about it is that the people who would most benefit from these programmes are probably going to be spending the day at the beach or at the shopping malls.

in fact, i've been impressed with maori tv for a long time now. i particularly like the foreign language and off-beat films they put on in the weekends, as well the documentaries on indigenous peoples around the world. its just what public service broadcasting should be, and seems to me to be tax money very well spent.

the only issue i have is the separation of maori programming on a single channel. i have the same issue with all the separate ethnic media - the indian radio channels, the chinese newspapers, iwi radio etc. what bothers me is that communities are not talking to each other nor hearing each other's points of view.

i agree with the need for people to be able to express things in their own language. but i remember a conversation i had with bill ralston when he was still with tvnz. he complained that he would like to have more maori reporters for tv1 news, but all the good ones preferred to work for maori tv or iwi radio. they didn't want to work for him. the net effect is that the non-maori population is not getting a strong maori perspective on the most popular new programmes - be it tv1, tv3 or prime news.

this is more evident with newspapers. i think there's a terrible lack of diversity in the newsrooms of our major newspapers (although things are slowly improving). yet there is some damn fine work being done by ethnic language newspapers. the rest of the population doesn't get the benefit of that work, so doesn't get the benefit of the ethnic perspective, or an understanding of how ethnic communities view the world. i would, for example, love to know what the chinese community are saying on skykiwi - what their key issues are, how they go about debating them, what conclusions they come to.

there are a few exceptions - lincoln tan in the herald, although i much prefer reading tapu misa's pasifika perspective. there's derek fox on radio nz, as well as the waatea news they broadcast in the mornings and evenings. but these examples are too few.

i don't know what the answer is. as i said, i see the need for people to express themselves in their own language. and there are things are particular to each community eg i expect most new zealanders aren't interested in bollywood gossip, but the indian community loves it. perhaps more sharing between media outlets is the answer - like the waatea news which is created for iwi radio but also broadcast on radio nz.

in the meantime, go maori tv! you guys are doing a great job.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

don't be distracted

another hectic day - spent 4 hours after work at a strategic planning session for one of the organisations i volunteer with. at least it was a productive meeting, with free pizza at the end of it!

i'd like to thank all the people who've provided feedback, on the blog or by email. really appreciate your support. i'm still trying to figure out how it all works, and i think i've made it easier to post comments now. i'm moderating comments because i really want to avoid the trolls and other generally nasty people out there. maybe i'll stop moderating once i get a bit more confident...

i'm too tired to write anything very serious today. but one thing that did cheer me up was this morning report news item no, don't worry, i'm not celebrating the wedding of the president of france. what i am celebrating is the reaction of the french public. the fact that they just don't want to hear about it is very refreshing.

don't know about you, but i am totally sick of the celebrity culture, the endless stories about britney spear's miserable life etc etc. i loved hearing people interviewed saying they were more interested in the issues and how sarkozy is managing (or mismanaging it seems) the economy. maybe the french will start a worldwide culture change, and we don't have to hear so much about paris and her friends. what is really annoying though is when the media finishes deluging us with the latest banalities, they then have to run the mandatory "why are we so interested in britney/ paris/ oj simpson/ anna nicole/ [latest fallen star]".

of course if the ratings stay high when they dish up this kind of stuff, it shows people are interested. the only way to combat it is to stop buying the gossip magazines, or clicking on "entertainment" internet stories. it's only when we refuse to be distracted that the serious issues will get the attention they deserve.

finally, i couldn't resist mentioning this conclusion from tracey watkins' latest op-ed ( talking about national's policy flip-flops, she writes "it's a form of pragmatism that the remaining hardliners in national's caucus might find hard to swallow - but they've been out of government too long now to worry overly much about standing on principle..." so she's basically saying that it's ok for national to ditch any principles they have in order to get elected? this is somehow a good thing? i would think that voters would prefer a party that states its principles clearly, and stands by them.

Monday, 4 February 2008


the national party had fired the first shot in the bidding war on law and order (see looks like they want to outbid nzfirst and the act party as to who can be toughest on crime.

what i can't figure out is the promise to build more prisons. i've watched national party MPs consistently fight plans to build youth justice facilities in hamilton & rotorua, backing NIMBY groups to the hilt. one of the funniest examples were protest signs painted on the back of a national candidate's campaign hoardings. not even an attempt at impartiality there!

so how are they going to get the resource consents for lots more prisons? oh that's right, they're going to repeal the resource management act - or at least repeal large parts of it. so basically they get to build prisons where ever they want, without local communities getting a say. it amazes me that a lot of these NIMBY groups have not thought that one through, nor have the national MPs that support them.

more concerning though, is the failure of the policy to deal with causes of crime. crime reduction doesn't happen by locking criminals up and throwing away the key. if it was that easy, everyone would have done it long ago.

once the debate really heats up, all the hard work going into justice policy gets lost. while family group conferences don't work for everyone, they can often be a powerful tool in making people face up to the effects of their actions, and to put a human face on the suffering that they have caused. similarly, home detention is an effective tool in that the recidivism rates are so much lower. i remember going to a seminar last year, where someone from the justice sector said that the worst thing you could do to criminals was put them all together in one place. it's a very ineffective way of dealing with them.

i guess there's just that overwhemlming need to do _something_, anything. and that something should be sharp and painful. having been the victim of a burglary some years back, i remember how violated i felt at the thought of some unknown person being in my home, going through my stuff, picking the best of it and taking off. i remember being really angry at the time. but thinking back now, if that person ever got caught, the best outcome at a societal level would be for that person to stop stealing, get a decent job and become a contributing member of society. long and harsh sentences will never achieve that. an effective rehabilitation policy will.

it depends on how much effort we want to put into making people suffer like the victim has suffered; and whether any good comes from that in the long term. having said that, i do think that there is a lot more to be done in supporting victims of crime, but i'll leave that for another day.

on another note, good news today that turkey has lifted the ban on women wearing headscarves at university. finally women can choose to wear what they want. for a democratic country, i could never understand the ban. if they're afraid of women will be co-ereced into wearing scarves by conservative elements in their country, then surely the way to deal with that is through education, through advocacy and through public debate. why use the force of law to remove a woman's choice as to how she should dress?

the interesting thing is that in countries like egypt and turkey, it's the educated women who are going back to wearing the headscarf. whether, as in iran, it's a statement of protest against the west, or a return to their culture and heritage, or a simple act of faith, it's a conscious choice that many muslim women are making in countries where there is no overt social pressure to cover. it's sad that this choice is being linked to extremism & terrorism.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

my first ever post

after a couple of years of thinking about it, i've finally set up my own blog, and here is my first post.
it's a bit of a scary step to have my thoughts put down in writing, and out there for the world to see, and in a pretty permanent way. i know millions of people are doing it, but will still take a little while for me to get used to.

anyway, first of all, why i chose the name stargazer. it's mostly because my name (anjum) is persian and means stars. (i used to say that i was just a heavenly body, but unfortunately that is no longer true. childbearing will do that to you!) it's also because i think it's important to spend time in your life just thinking, daydreaming if you will. it's that kind of activity that leads to brilliant or quirky ideas, that helps people to develop a vision, or to solve problems. one of the benefits of gazing at the stars is that it reminds us of how spectularly small this planet is, and how spectacularly small each one of us is in relation to it. a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, as douglas adams wrote (ok, not a great philosopher, but the phrase stays in my mind). for egotistical beings (as most humans are), it's a great way to keep things in perspective. and finally, looking at the stars is a way of focusing on the beauty of our universe, our planet and our own lives. at times when so much is ugly, it's a good way to remember that not everything is bad.

this is not to say that my posts will be full of enlightenment, although i wish it were so. i am of course limited by my own capabilities and by the life i lead, which tends to be pretty busy. nonetheless, i hope you'll find something of value.

on to more practical things. just read an article (sorry, i can't do those link thingies properly). it's about mr obama going all out to convince voters that he is not a muslim terrorist in disguise, planning to destroy america. he feels the need to do this because of emails and stuff on the internet making all sorts of claims about him. so, to counter this, he has chosen to aggressively display his christian credentials - you can see the details in the article.

what he doesn't do, as far as i can see, is ever say "even if i were a muslim, that doesn't make me a terrorist, or a person who is bad for america if elected". he never takes the trouble to affirm that muslims are mostly good citizens, who have plenty to contribute. by countering the claims that he, for example, was sworn in on the quran by stating firmly that he was sworn in on the bible, he embeds the notion that being sworn in on the quran is bad or somehow wrong. what i would like to hear him say is "actually, i was sworn in on the bible, but if i was sworn in on the quran, so what? it wouldn't make me less american than anyone else."

ok, maybe i'm being naive. the guy wants to be elected, and needs to say what the voters want to hear. and they currently want to hear that he's a committed christian, muslims being personae non grata in america. but then he also says that he won't just say anything to get elected. being from a minority that has been discriminated against for centuries in america, one would hope that he would stand up for other minorities. i'd like to hear him talk about the positive values that he gained from his father & step-father, and how they helped shape who he is. instead, you get the sense that he is a little ashamed of his past and would rather de-emphasise it.

i must say that i haven't followed his campaign closely, i haven't read what he says widely, so there may be occasions where he does take the trouble to do this. who knows. but at this stage, he fails to inspire me.