Thursday, 31 July 2008

asia knowledge

i've got an early morning start tomorrow, so just a few bits and pieces tonight. a new website to promote knowledge about asia to our schoolchildren can only be a good thing. one reason is because our future is more likely to be tied up with asia than it is with europe in the coming years, especially if the environmental cost of transporting goods long distances becomes more of an issue. asians are our closest large market.

another reason is that increased knowledge and understanding of others reduces discrimination. there's a strong hope that for this new generation of kiwi kids, racial discrimination will be a historical anachronism - not just towards asians, but all around.

good news for labour in south auckland. looks like support is still strong within the pacifika community. as this group probably don't feature large in political polling, they may well have a large impact, not taken into account by our current media. what i did hate after the 2005 election though was the nasty comments from some on the right about south auckland voters - as if their vote somehow wasn't as valuable as, say, the rural vote.

on the collapse of the doha round, i can see how that would be bad for nz. on the other hand, i'm glad to see that developing countries are holding out for a level playing field. i wonder if things will change with the new administration in place in US by the end of the year, but somehow i don't think so. the democrats, if they get in, are not into free-trade deals (in order to protect local jobs), and if the republicans were serious about this, it would have been signed off already.

and finally, i can't believe i'm agreeing with something family first have put out - that money and effort put towards banning gang patches should instead be put towards fighting drugs (although i know a lot of serious effort is already going in to this area). but i would have thought FF would have been right behind michael laws and chester borrows. but it seems not. of course, the call for more police does show that they aren't shifting too far towards the left just yet.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

faith-based unit

have posted at the hand mirror.

also this bit of news caught my eye today. i had no idea that there was a "faith-based unit" in our prisons:

For prisoners to qualify to stay in the 60-bed unit, they must have a minimum-to-low-medium security status, be drug-free and willing to explore the Christian faith.

The unit opened in 2003 and is the only one of its kind in the country.

the first question that springs to mind is: what about people who want to explore faiths other than christianity? and what about people who have no faith, nor want to explore one, but are serious about being drug-free and making positive changes to their lives? i'm finding it really hard to see how this unit doesn't breach the human rights act. i guess technically you could say that this isn't discrimination on the basis of faith, because the prisoners are only exploring a faith, not espousing one. it just doesn't look right to me.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

king george

like charles chauvel, i too have been to the dentist today, and had the usual round of injections and a filling (to replace one that came out). hence not in the mood for a detailed post today.

i'd like to recognise the soon to be crowned king george tupou V of tonga. it's not often you see someone prepared to give up some of their power in favour of democratically elected representatives. of course, public agitation and unrest would have played a significant part in his decision, but even so, to take that on board without having to be deposed or imposing a new level of tyranny on the people is something to be celebrated.

now if we could only move to something similar in fiji. a lot of work needs to happen in that country to achieve a similar democracy. however, replacing what is currently there with what preceded it is not the answer. from what i've heard, it wasn't a fair system, particularly for the indian population.

good to see more promotion of breastfeeding. while i do recognise that many women have problems with breastfeeding, i believe that as a society we should be encouraging it where possible. and we should have support structures that make it easier for women to do so.

finally, funniest version of ahmadinejad has to go to tv1's agenda programme, who have transcribed it as "amin deinjad". someone has got to give that transcriber some quick lessons on current world events. even reading the world section of a major newspaper once a week would help.

Monday, 28 July 2008


it's been a week for bomb blasts today, with casualties in istanbul (17), ahmedabad (46) and baghdad (11). [update: the baghdad total is now up to 50].

i can't say i know much about the turkish situation, and we all know the mess that is iraq. but the state of gujarat is one that i do know a little about, and i have to say that today's blasts are far from unexpected. i did some research for a speech a couple of years ago, and found out about the horrific level of violence in 2002, that lead to approximately 2500 muslims being killed. the leader of the state, narendra modi, has been denied entry into the US for his part in allowing such violence to occur. however, within his own state, the situation is thus:

... while on one hand it is the innocents who are killed in the communal violence, the perpetrators and planners of the riots generally go unpunished, many a times their social and political prestige also goes up. Shiv Sena, a close cousin of BJP, was the leading force in Mumbai riots. Its supreme leader, Balasaheb Thackeray, was elevated as Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts) after leading the Mumbai riots. Narendra Modi was given the same prefix, after he "successfully" presided over the Gujarat carnage.

which is not to excuse the horrific blasts in gujarat this week. not at all. by saying that they were entirely predictable, i'm not in any way denying that they were completely wrong and tragic.

steven wilkinson has some useful analysis in his book "votes and violence", some of which can be found here. his did some research on various states in india where communal riots had taken place and compared these to states where that had been no riots under similar circumstances. he sought to isolate the conditions that would lead to a peaceful response. his basic finding was:

... whether violence is bloody or ends quickly depends not on the local factors that caused violence to break out but primarily on the will and capacity of the government that controls the forces of law and order.

Abundant comparative evidence shows that large-scale ethnic rioting does not take place where a state’s army or police force is ordered to stop it using all means necessary. The massacres of Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s, for instance, could not have taken place without the Indonesian army’s approval... Antiminority riots in Jacksonian America were also facilitated by the reluctance of local militias and sheriffs to intervene to protect unpopular minorities. And recent ethnic massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Burundi were likewise possible only because the local police forces and armies refused to intervene against or even directly participated in the violence. Finally, the worst partition massacres in India in 1946–47 took place in those provinces – Bengal, Punjab, and Bihar – in which the elected local governments, each controlled by the majority ethnic group, made it plain at various times that they would not intervene against “their” community to protect the ethnic minority from attack.

he then goes on to conclude:

My central argument is that democratic states protect minorities when it is in their governments’ electoral interest to do so... Specifically, politicians in government will increase the supply of protection to minorities when either of two conditions applies: when minorities are an important part of their party’s current support base, or the support base of one of their coalition partners in a coalition government; or when the overall electoral system in a state is so competitive – in terms of the effective number of parties – that there is therefore a high probability that the governing party will have to negotiate or form coalitions with minority supported parties in the future, despite its own preferences.

so according to wilkinson, the solution is political and there must be a will to actively protect minorities. i see a similarity in the turkish bombings, which appear to have been carried out by kurdish separatists, another oppressed minority.

justice is integral to peace, but unfortunately requires powerful elites to give or at least share that power. until we can figure out a way to change the balance of power in a peaceful way, we'll be hearing a lot more of the sad and sorry news we've had this week.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

powerful woman and powerless women

have just posted at the hand mirror.

also, best thing i have read in a long time here, by che tibby. you'll probably need to read it twice, like i did, to get the full and powerful impact of the message. maybe it will help you realise that [insert minority here] are not just lazy bludgers who live like they do because they can't be bothered to get off their butts and change their lives. maybe it'll help you see that some outcomes are a result of society rather than the individual. but then, if you're reading this blog, you probably know that anyway.

and another piece of good writing here, with irfan yusuf comparing the response to comments made by bishop fisher to the response raised by sheikh al-hilaly.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

drop those rates. now.

interest rate cut today from the reserve bank - yay!!! or not?? i couldn't believe it when i heard this discussion on radio nz this morning with westpac chief economist brendan donovan and bernard hickey, both of whom were justifying why banks wouldn't be cutting their lending rates, even though the reserve bank had cut the official cash rate (OCR).

that's right, they were trying to justify to us that the banks get to keep charging the same rate to it's customers, while taking the benefits of the lower OCR. why did the noise they were making sound so familiar? well that's because it's the same noise the petrol companies make when they dither about cutting petrol prices, even though the price of crude oil has come down.

first let look at the commentators. mr donovan works for a bank. as i've stressed in many previous posts, his job is to ensure the best outcome for the bank, so of course he will try to justify this position. what i don't understand is why radio nz continues to get comments from bank economists, when these economists are doing little more than advertising for their bank or the banking sector in general. it's not like radio nz takes advertising money from these banks, as do all our major newspapers and tv stations. radio nz is independent, so could ask economists from a university (they are happy to use uni experts for many, many other news items) whose income is not dependent on saying what the banking sector want them to say.

but moving on to mr hickey. he doesn't work for a bank. that makes him an independent commentator, doesn't it? well not quite. mr hickey is the managing editor of the site it's a one-stop shop for information on financial products from various institutions. that still sounds independent, in that he doesn't represent any single institution. until you look at the advertising page on this site. items 3, 4 and 5 will be advertising revenue from banks and other financial institutions. a lot of the advertising revenue from items 1 and 2 will be as well. so mr hickey is not independent, in that the income for this site is dependent on those financial institutions. which may incline him to say what's best for the paying customers of this site, rather than what's best for the rest of us. yes, yes, i'm sure he would say, as does any editor, that the advertising is totally separate, he doesn't know who pays how much. doesn't matter. he clearly knows which industry the bread and butter is coming from, and there is the possibility that this will influence what he says.

the dodgiest bit of advice coming out from these two this morning: fix your mortgage interest rates NOW because the bank lending rates won't be coming down any time soon. well they would say that, wouldn't they. of course they want to fix as many people as possible on to a higher interest rate now, cos it means the banks will be creaming it as interest rates actually do come down. and they got away with saying this without any questioning of their motives or any skepticism at all. grrrrrrrr. normally i really enjoy kathryn ryan (actually, i'm a big fan), but today: grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

moving on to the substantive point: the banks should be passing on the cut in interest rate to us, the customers. the reason they claim they can't is because they have to get money at higher rates on the overseas markets, so have to pass that rate on to us.

there are a few things to consider here. first, the reason why overseas credit is expensive is because some cretins in the US decided to make loans to people with no income and no assets. they enticed people to take these loans by initially offering them low interest rates, (higher rates kicked in a bit later). these were risky and stupid loans to make. the people who made them knew this. they managed to create extremely complex financial instruments to sell off some of these risky loans to others. at some point, it became clear that the loans would not be honoured by many numbers of people, and resulting in a crisis which dried up the supply of credit and pushed up interest rates. who is repsonsible for this crisis? the morons who made the initial loans, and then created the financial instruments. but who is expected to pay for their mistakes? all of you with mortgages who will not get a cut in your interest rates.

does that sound ok to you? because it sure sounds like something is seriously wrong to me. the people who cocked up should be the ones to pay up. but like the owners of hanover finance and all the other failed finance companies, they appear to be totally getting away with it.

second thing to consider: with all these finance companies collapsing, people are becoming increasingly conservative with their investments. this means that there has been a lot more cash going back into bank term deposits, as this is seen as the safest form of investment. you would think then, that the banks had plenty of available cash.

third thing to consider: why should the customer pay the full cost of the financial crisis? shouldn't the banks at least shoulder some of the costs? it's not like they are loss making ventures about to go under. every major bank i've heard of, just like every petrol company i've heard of, is continuing to make massive profits. they haven't even had reduced profits. it's not like they can't afford to absorb it. there is only one phrase that comes to mind here: blatant profiteering.

however, on the news tonight, i heard that ASB has cut its rates. hopefully other banks will follow. because for the life of me, i can't see any reason why they shouldn't.

fourth thing to consider: from listening to various commentators during the day, you'd think that cutting OCR was a terrible thing. the dollar is going to fall, which means the costs of imports will be higher, which means higher inflation, which means workers will push for increased wages, which means higher inflation, downward spiral ad infinitum. doom and gloom.

then why exactly has there been a clamour for a cut in interest rates in the last few months? hon bill english has just put out the most attrocious press release (nah, won't link to it), even though he has been one of the loudest in complaining about high interest rates hurting the average homeowner, our hard-working kiwi mums and dads. bizarre. and he has been vocal in complaining about how our high dollar has been hurting exporters and worsening our balance of payments. just crazy.

the facts: we are lucky to have an economy well placed to face an economic downturn. we are lucky to have a government that paid off a lot of our debt, saved for aging population and introduced kiwisaver so that there is cash available for investment. lowering the OCR at this point is a good thing, but yes it will take time to have an effect just as interest rate rises took about 2 years to kick in. that's mostly because of people fixing their mortgage rates. but there should be some more immediate effects as the dollar comes down, increasing the value of our exports. export-led growth is much more healthy than debt-fuelled import-led growth. c'mon guys, this really is a good thing.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

celebrating te reo

have to say that i'm really enjoying maori language week. it's really great to see radio and television pick it up, with presenters speaking more maori as they start their shows. they are probably butchering the pronunciation, but it's the effort that counts.

i've always been a fan of bilingualism, and i think that new zealanders should be able to speak more of the language that is native to this country. i see it as part of our cultural heritage, part of what being a kiwi is all about. english, after all, is spoken all around the world. but maori is special to us, and we should cherish that.

unfortunately i know very little te reo myself. i'll put in the few bits that i know in a pretty meaningless fashion, just to enter into the spirit of maori language week: wahine, aroha, puku, ka kite, kia ora, wai, roto, kai, kai moana, kowhai, haere mai, ka pai, tena koutou ka toa, marae, whanau, iwi, hapu, tangata whenua, tino rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, whakapapa, tikanga maori, mana, powhiri, tangi, waiata, kapa haka, kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, wananga, te tari taake, tahi rua toru wha rima ono whitu wharu te kahu, te arikinui, mihi, korero, kete, whare, waka, rangitahi, mokopuna, pounamu, taonga.

on another note, apparently it is cheaper to rent than to buy a home. that doesn't mean it's better though. i'm trying to recall who gave a presentation a couple of years ago showing the benefits of home ownership - can see his face but can't remember the name. will pop it in if i remember.

anyway, some of the benefits of home ownership are:
- improved health outcomes. homes that are owned are usually better maintained and built with better quality materials than rental properties.
- improved outcomes for children, in that owning a home tends to mean that people settle in one place for longer. that has flow-on effects, eg in terms of kids not changing schools regularly, attending the same GP for a longer period (again leading to better health outcomes).
- improved communties, as people are more likely to know their neighbours and build up a sense of community when they are settled long-term in a particular place. stronger communities mean, amongst other things, less crime.
- increased wealth, because paying rent increases the wealth of the property owner but does nothing for the tennant. however, paying off a mortgage increases ownership of a substantial asset.

there were lots of other benefits, but i wasn't taking notes (i really should have!). the standard sets out why anyone would want to highlight the benefits of renting. turns out it's the lobby group for landlords, who just may have a vested interest in encouraging people to rent. let me state that i'm a landlord of sorts, but can nonetheless see how owning a home is a much better option than renting. in terms of economic and social policy, we should definitely be encouraging the former.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

policing policy

have just posted at the hand mirror on the police association policy wishlist.

Monday, 21 July 2008

skeptic alert

well, it's been a week of pleasant surprises.

saturday night i attended an event organised in hamilton with the theme "security for ethnic minority communities". the guest speaker was the erstwhile editor of indian newslink, one venkat raman. i've known mr raman for a few years now, and he has been extremely helpful in publishing various opinion pieces i've sent him over the years, as well as doing a write-up a few years back on the harassment faced by the muslim community in light of overseas events.

i have to admit i was dreading the saturday evening event, memories of the nz central indian association AGM fresh in my mind. i was steeling myself for another hardline stance on law'n'order, calling for the usual harsher sentences in cruel prisons and the like. but mr raman provided an extremely well-considered and researched presentation, refuting exaggerations and misconceptions. he was helped in having access to good information by sitting on some kind of asian liaison committee within the nz police.

it was really great to have some kind of rational discussion about community safety, and community involvement to ensure safety. a much more fruitful discussion, although there were still the usual concerns about parole and bail.

another pleasant surprise at an event in auckland on sunday. there was a cultural programme with the usual ethnic dances by young women in colourful costumes. but in the midst of it all, there was an performance by a group of chinese women. not one of them was under 65, but they all looked gorgeous not just because of their lovely costumes but more because of their demeanour. here was a bunch of women looking and feeling confident, and believe me, they brought the house down with their elegance and poise.

peter dunne is making noises again which makes me think that he is going all-out to target asians as his party's ticket back into parliament. today, he reckons that many migrants are using nz as a transit lounge, but decides the reason for this is that we are not providing enough settlement support for migrants. in fact, he goes so far as to say that we are not making them feel welcome (almost 2 minutes into the clip). i wonder where he's been the last 5 years, while the government has been implementing a $60 million settlement strategy? and I/S shows just how moot this point is, given that the number of overseas-born kiwis leaving are "actually lower than the equivalent proportion of the general population".

had to share this comment (I/S again) from a public address thread, about whether or not the herald write-up on john key over the weekend was truly an "unauthorised" biography:

But yes, Key can't reprise Brash and have a made-for-election biography published without it being considered an election advertisement. Nice of his mates at APN (the same mates he had heavy a journalistat the Northern Advocate for daring to actually quote him verbatim) to help out.

and as 3410 asked later in the thread: "how do you conduct an unauthorised interview [ie with the subject of the biography]?"

finally, thought this might be of interest to the skeptics amongst you. looks like a whole bunch of them are turning up in hamilton this september. us true believers had better watch out! however, i am interested in hearing "forensic physician Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith [who] will point out the dangers of jumping to conclusions when diagnosing sexual abuse".

Friday, 18 July 2008

meeting an american

i got an email from the american embassy last week. they were bringing a touring american speaker to hamilton, and wondered if i would be willing to meet up with him.

the first time i was contacted by the embassy was a couple of years ago. one of their PR people rang me out of the blue and said that 3 of them would be in hamilton and they would like to meet up with me for a coffee. spooky. but i said "no problem, when and where?". the reaction of the woman on the phone was hilarious (she was actually kiwi by the way). she was all "really! you'll really meet us? are you sure?". i had to assure her several times that i would be quite happy to meet with them.

my reasons for saying yes are pretty much the same as why i get involved in interfaith activities. if you really believe in peace, then you have to be prepared to dialogue with people who you fundamentally disagree with. and you have to be prepared to not only raise the difficult issues, but to discuss them in some kind of sane and rational manner. it's the only way.

so i met roy glover and two others (including the woman on the phone), and it was most interesting. during the meeting, they started asking me if i was interested in visiting america in what seemed to be an embassy-sponsored trip. that was really spooky. not because i thought it was dangerous per se, but i kept thinking that there is no such thing as a free lunch, so what would be expected of me in return?

since then, i've tried to keep a distant but friendly relationship with the embassy. i'm wary of getting too involved, cos i'm still suspicious of ulterior motives. but most of the staff i've met so far are really nice, although they keep leaving every two years (that's the maximum term they get posted here).

so anyway, last week they ask me if i want to meet up with one chris heffelfinger of the jamestown foundation and i say "sure, why not". the name rings a bell but i can't think why. but my gut feeling is that this guy is a neo-con, based mostly on the topic of his speech in hamilton: "radicalisation and al quaedaesque doctrine" and other topics he has discussed elsewhere around the country. so i decide to dig further (thank goodness for google!). sure enough, it turns out that the jamestown foundation is a right-wing think tank. apparently with links to the center for security policy, an even scarier right-wing think tank. and looking at some of their funders didn't make me feel any better.

so now i'm wondering what i've got myself into, and whether it's going to be possible to have any kind of rational discussion with this guy without my completely losing my cool. i'm picking him for a middle-aged muslim-hating conservative, and thinking it's going to be a rather reserved kind of a meeting.

and of course it turns out (as i'm sure you were totally expecting) that mr heffelfinger is a clean-cut young fellow who was pretty easy to talk to, and was actually a muslim with full beard and flowing robes at one point of his life (today though, it was all suit-and-tie with designer stubble). we had a really interesting discussion around a variety of topics, and he didn't come out with any wildly neo-con arguments. although he told me he had read up some of the media stuff i've done, and he would have been informed that i'm a total lefty, so maybe he was just being polite. and the embassy staffer, phil, was very expert at keeping things flowing along nicely.

so, we had a dialogue. i don't know if he felt he'd gained anything out of it. i certainly don't know that i've learned anything from him, other than to not have stupid stereotypes and that it is worthwhile making an effort to get to know people on "the other side". oh, and it reminded me that i really have to work harder on making it illegal for men to have blue eyes.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

why we need strong unions

thank goodness we have unions. two excellent pieces of analysis today which show how important it is to have strong voices for workers in political debate.

the CTU critiques national's just released policy to investigate competition in regards to accident insurance. of course when pushed, mr key stated that they had a firm policy to open ACC up to competition, they would just do an investigation first to ensure that private insurers wouldn't just cream off all the easy sectors and leave the difficult ones for the state.

well aside from the CTU's responses, and the concerns of the nz manipulative physiotherapists association, and the number of facts he has got clearly wrong, no-one has mentioned the fact that an investigation will require... bureaucrats!! or consultants!! listening to the morning report interview this morning with business nz's phil o'reilly and lawyer hazel armstrong, mr o'reilly responded to every concern by saying that the investigation would ensure that it wouldn't happen. sounds like it's going to be one hell of an investigation, and all on the public purse. which means, given that mr key promises to cap spending on bureacracy, someone else somewhere is going to miss out.

if that money went to private consultants, i'd like to be sure it went to consultants who would have the guts to state clearly that all those concerns couldn't be taken care of through a competitive model. because honestly, once you take into account all the issues ms armstrong raised, there would be absolutely no reason to have competition.

but given that price waterhouse, a very reputable firm, have found that our state scheme is much better than australia's privatised one, what is the point of us, the taxpayer, having to pay for a further investigation? just read the first one mr key, and give up on privatising a very successful scheme.

the second excellent piece of work was this piece by the PSA's richard wagstaff. it provides a more in-depth critique of the report by ANZ's cameron bagrie on "back-room" government spending. i just couldn't believe this:

But what about the Government's biggest expenditures, health and benefits? ANZ simply excluded them, noting "We exclude health as, to be honest, we were unsure where to classify it."

That defies all logic. Most employers would agree that having healthy, alive workers contributes to a productive New Zealand. And health happens to be the place that spending has increased the most but it, along with almost $7 billion in superannuation, is excluded entirely from the report.

the critique is purely on the quality of mr bagrie's work, but i wonder if he going to continue to complain about personal attacks, in a very clydesdalian fashion. it appears to be the fashion these days, to act the victim if your work doesn't stand up to scrutiny. mr wagstaff's work however, provides plenty of detailed information showing how meaningless the demarcation of "back-room spending" (bureaucrats if you will) really is.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

another day older

have posted at the hand mirror about aging.

and although there's been a lot of negativity surrounding world youth day, i thought this was a rather nice touch. which is not to say that the protesters don't have a point, but it's just nice to hear about positive things as well.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

islanders in big groups

i listened to this piece on morning report today, and couldn't believe what i was hearing. the issue is a valid one: 250 pacific island workers (presumably on temporary visas) have come to the town of seddon, with a population of only 500. of course there will be issues around pastoral care, about the newcomers fitting in with the locals, and there are very likely to be cultural clashes. that's a big number of people to fit into a small town.

the highlight was this comment from the local tavern owner:

There’s so many together in one lot, so you might get one lot down that end of the bar from a different island and another lot all lined up over here. And I think the local people feel intimidated even though they haven’t done anything. Just they’re in big groups.

i find that really difficult. what are these people suppose to do? not sit together? not go out together? i bet one of the best ways to get over that feeling of intimidation is to go and talk to these people, who would no doubt love to have some interaction and to be made to feel welcome. methinks the intimidation would not have been quite so strong had the workers come over from europe, even if they hadn't spoken english well.

then, even better, a couple who had been investigated by the department of labour for providing inadequate housing had this to say:

This sleepout had 5 beds in it. So we’re not in a 3 bedroom house with 1 bathroom trying to cater for 20 people. Very well set up and they were very happy. More than what they have at home.

ouch. while i'm not saying the accommodation was poor, i would hope that the standards provided in this country would be judged on what's acceptable here. in other words, you don't think "well they were sleeping on the ground so now they've got a foam mattress. haven't we done well". rather, you should think "what would i want for myself or for my kids or for my neighbours. is it something i could live in for several months?" and if the human decency argument doesn't move you, then the health argument might. overcrowding and poor housing standards lead to health problems, so it is in everyone's interests that decent housing is provided. as i say, the people above may have been unfairly targetted. but the attitude needs a little bit of work.

which is another issue. this lot won't qualify for free healthcare in nz, and i bet they don't get paid enough to be able to afford to pay the full costs of healthcare. not only that, but they pay their full share of nz tax, which means that they are in effect paying for our healthcare while getting none themselves. not a particularly fair position.

there were lots of other bits that didn't impress me much. but the main point is that we're bringing workers into this country to fill a shortage. it's low quality work that doesn't pay big bucks. at the very least, they deserve to be treated well and made to feel welcome.

Monday, 14 July 2008

woman v-p?

have posted at the hand mirror.

and i see that both american presidential candidates are considering a woman as their vice-president. they seem to think they need a woman candidate to win the women's vote. somehow that's more depressing than picking a woman because she's the best person for the position. i don't know. if i was an american woman voter, right now i'd just feel manipulated and totally annoyed at the whole thing.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

police without arms

just a bits and pieces post today, as there are a few little things that caught my eye.

as a regular radio nz listener and sometimes panellist, i loved this response by noelle mccarthy to criticisms by bill ralston. i really enjoy radio nz, and if i'm a baby boomer, i'd have to be at the very tail end of that boom. i especially love their website, which means that i can listen to selected bits of programmes whenever i have the time. and as for aging broadcasters, well i still have plenty of time for people like kim hill, whose no-nonsense interview style cuts through any amount of media-training and pre-prepared scripts. but the hypocrisy of course is mr baby-boomer ralston himself being the one to complain!

remember a year or so back when the target programme put out this big scare about formaldehyde in children's clothing. what an uproar there was against imported clothing, a lot of which i suspect was racially motivated - those terrible asians with their lax standards! well, it turns out that the programme has been fined and ordered to apolgise because “The Broadcasting Standards Authority found that Target had misled and unnecessarily alarmed viewers in its presentation of test results of formaldehyde in clothing." somehow, i don't expect this decision will create the week-long furore that the original programme did.

funniest line of the week: "If police haven't got any arms, how can they work?" maybe they can use their legs... but on a more serious note, turangi dairy owners have decided to arm themselves with a baseball bat and a golf club. while i can understand their motivation, announcing it in the paper is a less than smart thing to do. as far as i can see, all they've done is let potential robbers know they need more deadly weapons before they come into the store. which can only increase the chances of armed robbery. the money spent on the closed-circuit cameras and the panic alarm are much more useful. and calling for the police to be armed to prevent robberies is pretty much a waste of time. in almost all cases, the culprits will have left the situation before the police arrive, no matter how quick they are.

sad to see that some employers are trying to have their cake and eat it too. they are taking the government subsidy reimbursing them for their employer contribution to kiwisaver, and at the same time are trying to penalise employees who have chosen to join the scheme by paying them less. it's pretty shameful that the government has to amend the law to prevent this from happening.

finally, national's policy on 20 hours no-longer-free early childhood education is a bit sad. what it means is that they don't guarantee that subsidies will cover cost increases, neither do they guarantee that taxpayers won't be subsidising private childcare centres to make large profits at our expense, especially through charges for those "optional extras". oh, and what julie said.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

twisting the facts

i went to the funeral of dianne yates' father today. it was simple and very nice. he was a fellow who had lived to 96 years old, and was obviously missed very much. it must be really painful to lose a parent, no matter how old they are. given that he died on saturday night, it was especially poor taste for the press reports this week about the offices she now holds.

some of the remarks are particularly spiteful, giving no recognition of an MPs long service in parliament and work on select committees that would have given her a high level of expertise. she knew enough about science to secure funding for the waikato innovation park, a project which has secured another $4 million of funding (in a partnership between central government and the hamilton city council) with the help of list MP sue moroney.

i find it hard to understand why all the nastiness around dianne's positions. no-one has been nasty about positions given to former PM the rt hon jim bolger. plenty of other ex MPs must sit on government appointed boards - i'm not going to go looking for them right now. and it's not surprising. our MPs pick up skills on the job, particularly when they have been responsible for ministerial portfolios or for chairing select committees. providing advocacy for issues also helps develop expertise, and dianne certainly did a lot of work around human reproductive technology and fetal alcohol syndrome.

i have to say that i'm also less than impressed by the latest ANZ cheif economist's report on "back-room" versus "front line" spending. as i've said many times before, these economists are not independent commentators, and given they work for organisations with foreign ownership, you really have to wonder whether they have our interests at heart. they are employed to serve the bank's interests, which means increasing the bank's profits.

i see that the bank workers union, finsec, are also less than impressed:

"It is no surprise ANZ National are attacking back office jobs in the public service given they are sending a good chunk of their own back office work to Bangalore. This is another attack from our wealthiest bank on the job security of New Zealand workers," said Finsec Campaigns Director Andrew Campbell.

and it seems that the analysis is not even accurate:

"However, in Mr Bagrie's analysis, defence spending, police, corrections and courts spending is "back-office" as are school property costs, special education front line services, Work and Income front line services, Child Youth and Family front line services, and IRD call centre staff. This type of spending alone accounts for more than $6 billion or over 60 per cent of all the departmental output spending which Mr Bagrie says is back-office...

"Mr Bagrie’s analysis ignores some pretty basic facts. He talks of the growth in departmental spending and yet totally ignores the effects of the shifts of the Health Funding Authority into the Ministry of Health and the Special Education Service into the Ministry of Education.

it would be nice to see some critical media analysis of this report, but i'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

mark gets low

i had such a hectic day yesterday, having to fit in an orthodontists appointment and a physiotherapists appointment back to back - for the kids, not me! - then having to get said kids across town to their religious class. by the time i was finally free of all chores at 8pm, i was exhausted hence no post.

i've posted over at the hand mirror.

in the meantime, i found this press release by nz first, by reading this lovely piece of satire by lyndon hood. it's beyond belief that mr mark is responding to the feelings of fear and victimisation within the asian community by blaming them for their predicament. it's bizarre. what on earth does purse-snatching or the murder of an auckland store-owner in a hold-up have to do with gangs importing P? i honestly could not think of a more inappropriate response if i tried.

although, mr mark may responding to the comments of mr peter low, in which case he should make that a lot clearer in his press release. just a little sympathy would not have gone amiss, but he seems to have avoided that altogether.

Monday, 7 July 2008

multiculturalism in a bicultural society

i wrote the piece below last week, and sent it off to the herald and the dom post. the dom agreed to publish it, although i haven't seen it cos we don't get that paper here in hamilton.

All political parties were out in force at the Federation of Ethnic Council's AGM last weekend. This is not surprising. Many parties have finally realised that ethnic minority communities are not only a significant bloc of voters, they are discerning voters.

Peter Dunne appeared to offer what our community most wants: recognition. His call for a "Multiculturalism Act" is aimed to please. The idea sounds very nice, but is it in our best interests? Those who do not have an in-depth knowledge of this country's history and the struggle of our indigenous peoples might believe it to be so.

Bi-culturalism is a result of the Treaty of Waitangi. The parties to that Treaty were most Maori chiefs and the Crown. Because that "crown" basically belonged to the British monarch, those of us who don't have a British heritage and aren't Moari often feel excluded from the Treaty. The injustices around colonisation and breaches of the Treaty didn't involve ethnic minority communities. We weren't here in significant enough numbers to make a difference, and often had our own injustices to deal with, such as the poll tax on Chinese New Zealanders.

This lack of connection with the Treaty is exactly what Mr Dunne was playing on in his speech over the weekend, especially using words like "privilege" in relation to Maori (shades of Dr Brash). He failed to point out that the loss of the bi-cultural model will make it much harder to "recognize the unique place that hapü, whänau and iwi have had in our country" (from United Future policy on the Treaty). Note the wording "have had", which implies Maori should no longer have that unique place once Treaty claims are settled.

Therein lies the problem. For Maori, New Zealand is the only country where there language and culture can survive and thrive. It is the only place where they can lobby the government of the day to ensure funding for Maori language television and radio, and for educational institutions that incorporate the learning of Maori culture such as kohanga reo and kura kaupapa. For the rest of us, whether our ancestry is British, Asian or Pacifica, there is another country in the world where our culture and heritage is preserved. Maori have no such back-up.

The issue then remains: how do ethnic minorities gain recognition in this beautiful land? How do we take our place along side our fellow New Zealanders and feel that we belong here? I believe we can do so within a bi-cultural framework, because we belong to "the Crown" part of the relationship. Since the Crown includes us, it needs to incorporate our needs and our issues when developing policy in any area.

Some of that work has already begun. The NZ Police are the best example. The ten-year ethnic policing strategy has resulted in zero-tolerance of race-based crimes, recruitment of ethnic liaison officers and a push to recruit more ethnic police officers. A similar strategy needs to be replicated across other sectors. Some of the groundwork is being done, such as the new curriculum which incorporates the study of a variety of cultures.

Of course more can and should be done in this area. But I'd hate to see a situation where ethnic minority communities and Maori communities are pitted against each other, and a sense of anger grows as each community feels it is missing out. That is what Mr Dunne's proposal, taken in the context of his statements on the Maori seats and Treaty issues, is setting us up for.

It doesn't have to be an either/or situation. Ethnic minority communities have nothing to lose by recognising Maori as tangata whenua, and by encouraging fair settlement of Treaty claims. Rather, we gain because it embeds New Zealand's commitment to justice and to developing an inclusive society. Embracing the bi-cultural model benefits us because it shows we understand the importance of preserving indigenous cultures and languages. Understanding the rights and aspirations of Maori by making ourselves part of the Treaty partnership will improve our sense of belonging in this land.

Ethnic minority communities are already moving in this direction. They have sought to build bridges in a variety of ways. On 8 June 2008, members of the Hindu Council visited Te Puea Marae. It was the first time many had visited a marae. When the Hamilton Mosque was built, Maori elders were asked to perform a blessing when the foundations were laid and when the building was opened.

This shows there is goodwill and a desire to develop understanding between communities. It's vitally important that we don't get diverted by politicians using the language of exclusion and playing up feelings of resentment. Yes, ethnic minorities want recognition, but not at the expense of our Maori brothers and sisters.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

the asians are moving

when the asian community starts moving in big numbers, it's time to take notice. yesterday's rally in south auckland was not surprising, given my experience at the nz central indian association agm. although i wasn't in auckland this weekend, i suspect the messages coming out of that rally were exactly what i heard last month.

the 3 recent murders in south auckland have shaken the aisan community. add it to the number of burgalaries aimed at small businesses, and there is the feeling of a community under siege. but i suspect that the discontent is much wider than that.

i recall taking part in the protest against the danish cartoons published in the dominion post a few years ago. it wasn't because i was so deeply offended by the cartoons (although they were pretty cheap and nasty), nor was it because i had any problem with the paper exercising their right to print them. my reason for marching was because, in the weekend after their publication, i had to suffer 3 incidents of verbal abuse as i went about my daily business in hamilton.

my anger was directed at the anger portrayed towards me for something i hadn't even done, had no choice about and couldn't even influence. i was angry for the dom (and a couple of other papers at the time, as well as the tv networks) for bringing this issue on to our shores, resulting in the targetting of our community, without even caring about our welfare.

no to mention that the cartoons came after a long period when things had been extremely difficult for the muslim community. our mosques had been vandalised after the bombings in london; the media had been pretty harsh in its portrayal of muslims and the level of discrimination appeared to be pretty high.

so the protest, while seeming to be about the cartoons, was about so much more. it was our chance to express our frustration and to stake our place in this country. we belong here, we aren't going to be leaving, and all we ask is to be treated with respect.

i would say that saturday's protest had pretty similar undertones. there is anger at the media in it's portrayal of asians, there is anger at the discrimination asians face in getting jobs. there is anger at being continually treated as outsiders and migrants, even though many have been here for a few generations. this was an opportunity to voice that anger.

the problem i had was with the statement that the government is doing nothing to protect the asian community. it's hard to do more. over the 9 years of this labour led government, we have had:
- an almost doubling of the length of sentences for violent crimes
- a large increase in the numbers of police, including an extra 1,000 since the 2005 election (national is only promising to increase total numbers by 64)
- a zero-tolerance policy on hate-crime, which saw a woman successfully prosecuted for tipping a bottle of water on chinese women for speaking their own language on a train
- the appointment of ethnic liaison officers in the police force
- the recruitment drive to increase the numbers of ethnic police officers
- most recently, legislation to crack down on gangs has been presented, though how useful this will be, who knows

on top of that, we know that overall crime rates are decreasing, and the increase in violent crime are almost totally a result of the increase in reported domestic violence. the latter is likely to be a result of the campaign against domestic violence, with people more likely to report that this is happening.

while i can understand the frustration felt by ethnic minorities, i certainly don't think this is the answer. having vigilante groups trained in violence is not going to make the community safer, it's more likely to increase retaliatory violence and set communities up against each other. in particular, it will set up pacific island & maori communties against the asian community. that is no way to solve the problem.

a better solution would be to bring communities together, to increase interaction and understanding. it's a much more difficult road, and will take a lot longer to show positive results, but both in the short and long term, it is the best solution for us all.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


have posted at the hand mirror today, about bullying.

also getting my goat today is the truck driver's strike, apparently organised several weeks ago ie well before they knew road user charges were going to rise. i thought such a co-ordinated protest across the country was too difficult to organise in just a couple of days.

if i'm less than sympathetic to the truckies, it's because of the false premise of their complaint. maurice williamson, complaining about how hard times are for these businesses, ought to take a look around. it's hard for everyone, but the rest of us don't expect someone else to pay our share of road maintenance and new roads. it's hard for the taxi drivers, the couriers, the businesses that have to pay freight costs, for you and me who have to fill up at the pump every week. it's hard for everyone around the world, for that matter, and most of us aren't in a position to pass our costs on to "the consumer", because we are the consumer.

the upside is that maybe people will realise that we will all be much better off with fewer of these big machines on our roads. i'm just wondering what happens if an ambulance has to get through.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

speaking in tongues

have been again diverted by other happenings to write a long post. so will quickly mention a couple of things. i'll be on the "women's voices" radio show on planet fm being broadcast at 8.15pm tomorrow night. it's a more in-depth discussion about widows.

i found this release, a little too late, about a lecture that was held tonight on bilingualism. it was given by professor pauwels, professor of linguistics at the university of western australia. i'm sort of bilingual, in that i can speak passable urdu/hindi. just don't expect me to hold an in-depth political discourse in that language. i also studied french up to my second year of university. i can't speak it but i can understand quite a bit if it's written text. i also know a few phrases of arabic and a number of malay words.

the fact that this is unusual in nz is actually quite strange. most europeans speak at least three languages fluently. most indians as well, and many malaysians. in fact, in many parts of the world, bilingualism and multilingualism are pretty common. yet raise the issue with most nz'ers, and they think that learning 2 languages is too confusing for little children. in fact, that's not true. i've found from experience that children who grow up with 2 languages are quicker at learning other stuff.

the beauty of learning another language is that you learn another culture, as well as improving your knowledge of english. on top of that, it teaches you logic, memorisation, and self-expression. like the point made in the press release, it's important that we encourage bilingualism, to ensure that we don't lose languages in this age of globalisation.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

community comes first

after a very hectic three days in wellington, i find i have so much to catch up on that i don't have time for a long post today. i was pleased to take part in the inaugural stakeholders forum, organised by the federation of islamic associations of new zealand. it was an opportunity for the community to interact with government agencies, and a very useful step in helping the muslim community integrate in nz.

the forum was preceded by the federation's AGM, which i attended. it was certainly an interesting weekend, with me being the only female in a room of about 25 muslim men. quite daunting you would think, but in practice it wasn't so. the men were all very chivalrous, would make sure i got my meals first, would offer me cups of tea and always listened with respect to anything i had to say. which was a really nice feeling. i recall meetings back in the 1980's which weren't always so! but even so, i can tell you that i was definitely ready for some female company after that two days. (actually, there should have been and usually is at least one other woman present, but the three that could have been there had various illnesses and family problems to contend with).

good news, no absolutely great news: gary mallett and his team were absolutely trounced in the wel energy trust elections which ended this weekend. this gives me great hope, because it means:
1. that splashing around a lot of money on full page advertisements doesn't mean you'll win;
2. that the people of the waikato were willing to put community interest ahead of individual interest.
which means that, despite what the polls are saying right now, there may be still be a good chance for a fourth term labour-led government.