Saturday, 28 February 2009

6th national interfaith forum

another busy week. thursday nigth we were at the hamilton gardens to watch slip of the tongue perform another shakespeare play. this year they decided to do taming of the shrew. it was performed very well, but still can't say i like the play! still, the kids had a good time.

yesterday was the women's interfaith forum in auckland. i could only attend the afternoon session, but it was a great experience. it was wonderful to see maori, pasifika and ethnic minority women attending as well. the day was mostly about sharing experiences, with women talking about spiritually significant events in their lives. again, when i get a moment, i'll write up some excerpts from my speech (which is currently all in my head!).

last night the 6th national interfaith forum started and is continuing until sunday afternoon. i had to come back tonight, but it was a lovely weekend. the programme today was held at the buddhist temple in east tamaki, which is quite an amazing place. last night we were hosted by the LDS community on pah rd, manukau with food being provided by the hindu community from blockhouse bay.

while i really enjoyed the programme, the best part of the interfaith forum were the breaks, where some really special conversations happened. i had a great discussion with glyn carpenter of the vision network about religious education in schools. and also with a couple of chinese catholics who were 7th generation indonesians. also caught up with a lot of friends and generally amazing people.

the best bit was really the regional reports, where interfaith councils around the country updated us on events they had organised around the country. there is so much effort being put into bringing people together for postive experiences and learning. this work is community based, and very rarely gets any coverage. but it is so crucial in diffusing tension, and building community.

nice to see participation from a member of the rationalist & humanist society. there may have been more than 1 person, but i only came across the one guy.

and it was wonderful to meet dr maureen sier, the development officer of the equality unit of the government of scotland. her main brief is the development of interfaith activities, and she gave us a comprehensive report of what is happening in scotland.

so, yet another busy weekend, and next weekend isn't looking much better!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

the urine test

i can't even begin to express how much i hate viral emails. this one that came to me today left me seething with anger:

The Urine test

This was written by a rigworker off the Taranaki Coast - he makes a lot of sense!
I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit. In order to earn that pay cheque, I work on a rig for a drilling contractor.I am required to pass a random urine test, with which I have no problem.

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a WINZ cheque because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Please understand that I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do on the other hand have a problem with helping someone sit on their ass drinking beer and smoking dope.

Could you imagine how much money the government would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a WINZ cheque?

Please pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don't. Hope you will pass it along though, because something has to change in NZ, and soon!

there are so many things wrong with this little message that i hardly know where to begin. but begin i shall.

the whole email buys into the notion of the "deserving" poor, which many have written about. this is the notion that only those should receive welfare who measure up to some moral standard. if you don't measure up, you don't get it.

let's think of the consequences, in this case. the writer is saying that WINZ could save a lot of money by doing urine tests, which i would interpret as saying that anyone who fails the test should lose their benefit.

the writer may be assuming that if they had to undergo a random urine test, they would immediately stop drinking or taking drugs. that, of course, doesn't take into account the nature of addiction which rather does away with rational thinking. it doesn't take into account depression and hopelessness which overwhelms some people, and again, means that they won't make rational choices. besides which, if they made the rational choice and stopped taking alcohol/drugs, WINZ wouldn't save any money at all, cos they'd all then still be on a benefit.

so, effectively, in the world view of this taranki rig worker, if you fail the urine test because you have partaken of alcohol or drugs, you don't deserve any money from the state whatsoever. no money for food, no money for rent, no money for clothes, no money for transport, no money for electricity or telephone.

this will put you at significant risk of homelessness, disease and starvation. so what the writer is saying, in effect, is that the punishment for alcoholism or drug addiction should be starvation & death. and if you happen to be a child of a beneficiary? he doesn't say. either he would expect the state to take up the care of such children, in which case WINZ wouldn't end up saving any money really; or he is happy for those children to also suffer homelessness/disease/starvation because of the actions of their parents.

the writer doesn't suggest that beneficiaries should get treatment for any addiction, or counselling for potential underlying problems. hey, i would even settle for a conviction for the abuse of illegal substances, and support that position, if it had been advocated. but no, the writer would prefer abandonment by society and a total lack of support, because the undeserving poor person hasn't measured up.

what bugs me so much is the total lack of empathy, the smugness and superiority inherent in these few paragraphs. there are so many reasons that people fall off the rails or fail to perform. for example child abuse; sexual abuse; having to care for a disabled person when you're really too young to do so, thereby limiting your ability to gain an education; not having a computer at home or internet access or parents who are educated enough to help you with your homework, so that you get into trouble at school, fall behind and leave at the earliest possible age; a recession which sees you lose your job, your home and maybe results in a relationship breakup; mental illness; a genetic predisposition to addiction; and many, many others.

of course some people face these terrible life events and survive without having to be dependent on the state. some survive after a short period of dependency. some are able to educate themselves as adults and improve their circumstances. and others aren't so lucky or able. others succumb to addictions and waste their lives away because they just can't cope or they can't see a way out.

for this latter group, the undeserving poor, our writer above has the option of saving some of his tax money by denying these people any income whatsoever. my option for saving my tax money is to get these people stronger support via a decent addiction programme (of which there are far too few in this country), childcare (if this is a barrier to seeking further education), free education, budgeting advice, and basically any other support they require to help them get back on their feet. once they are taxpaying members of society, they will be contributors not only of tax dollars but so much more. isn't that a much better solution than the homelessness/disease/starvation model suggested above?

of course the writer puts in his bit about having no problem helping people get back on their feet. it's pretty much like starting a sentence with "i'm not racist but..." or "i'm not sexist but...". because in the next sentence, he effectively tells us that he doesn't want to help those that smoke or drink, regardless of why they are in that particular circumstance.
i could talk about the lack of logic in his framing: WINZ benefeciaries should get urine tests before they get paid, because he has to get a urine test before he can get paid. this is plainly wrong. he has to undergo urine tests because he will be operating dangerous machinery and putting himself & others at risk of serious injury or death if he is incapacitated. it's not a condition of his pay. it's a condition of him operating that kind of machinery. so it's a silly comparison to make.

and yes, alcoholics and drug addicts can cause harm at any place and any time. but we don't require random urine tests for checkout operators, accounting staff, bank workers and any number of other professions. we do have random breath tests for drivers, because again, they are operating machinery that can be harmful to themselves and others. and we have laws against the use of illegal substances which punish those who are caught.

what the writer also fails to recognise are the stringent requirements of WINZ and the fact that they do actively push people to get jobs where they are available or to undertake further education. with the massive reduction in unemployment under the last government, WINZ workers have been spending increasing time on supporting people back into work. but that reality doesn't fit nicely with the notion of beneficiaries sitting on their fat, lazy bums, drinking beer & smoking dope.

i've been told that i'm reading too much into this; that it's just a light-hearted view of things. i don't know, maybe it's just me, but i don't find poverty light-hearted. i'm pretty sure that none of the people whose email addresses were on the viral email i got (all 49 of them, and many of them are known to me) are on a benefit. i just imagined this email being received by someone who just lost their job because of recession, or who has a permanent disability that prevents them from working. i just can't imagine they'd find it very funny.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

meeting the leaders

i managed to meet 2 party political leaders in the last week. today phil goff was in town, and the party faithful got to meet up with him in the evening at the hamilton gardens. he's been doing various visits around town, except that he wasn't allowed to visit the firefighters. yup, that's right. mr worth decided that the leader of the opposition is not allowed to meet hamilton firefighters until mr worth has met them first. pretty bizarre.

anyway, i personally didn't get a chance to say much more than a quick hi to mr goff. which is about as much time as i got with jeannette fitzsimmons, when she happened to be on my flight from wellington last week. (nick smith happened to be on the flight as well, but i didn't manage to converse with him.) at the time, of course i had no idea that she was planning to step down, so it was a couple of pleasantries and we were on our way.

the first time i met her was about three days before rod donald died. i met them both at a friends house, at some green party thing. not that i was or ever have been a member, but i think my friends would have liked me to join. it was too late, as i was already involved with the labour party.

so when rod donald died a few days later, it really hit me. i guess because i had just been sitting next to him on a couch so recently. but also because i admired who he was and how he dealt with the whole political environment. the one thing you can say about both mr donald and ms fitzsimmons is that they had/have strong principles and stick with them. they've shown us that you don't have to be nasty and underhand to succeed in politics; that you can make a difference without selling your soul.

so i'm pretty sad that ms fitzsimmons is standing down. she brought something good to our political scene, and i don't think the other green MPs come anywhere close. not to say that they aren't principled, but they don't have the same ability to articulate a position. they just don't have the same mana that their first two leaders exuded.

i hope we never have a parliament without the green party, especially because i think it will do no good to this country to go back to the 2-party politics of our pre-MMP history. minor parties are a vital check on the ruling party, and to lose a party of the left would be a disaster.

so here's hoping the new co-leader settles quickly into the position and keeps the party performing well, both in parliament and in the polls.

Monday, 23 February 2009

things have been just a little hectic around here...

i totally meant to post last night in support of the protest against s92A, but just didn't have the energy. it's been a hectic week, which included (as well as the normal day-job and looking after the kids) :

- a meeting of the waikato interfaith council at my place on tuesday night, which started at 7.30 and the last person left around 10.20pm. the council manages about 1 big project in a year, and i was really pleased with our human rights commemoration last year.

- a meeting on wednesday night to help organise a muslim girls camp just out of hamilton. it's looking really exciting, with lots of outdoor activities and some developmental workshops. i then rushed home for a teleconference of which i had to take minutes.

- a trip to wellington on thursday night, for the launch of the crescent moon in porirua. grrrr to air new zealand, as both my flight there and back were delayed, leading to much stress on the way there. but it was a great event, and a lovely exhibition, and i'm glad i went.

- got back from wellington on friday morning, then drove to auckland on friday night for the annual conference of the islamic women's council. our conference is held from a friday night to sunday afternoon, and is always a wonderful event with lots of briliant contributions from muslim women around the country. my speech on education was delivered on saturday, and i may put some of it up later in the week.

- rushed back from auckland on saturday evening to attend a function for sri lanka's 61st independence day. as with indian republic day, there was a strong military theme with celebration of war heroes. it's something i feel uncomfortable with, yet sri lanka is a country with such a violent history (and present). there were political statements made at this event, condemning the activities of the tigers and supporting the military.

- and on sunday, i got around to doing the washing, the grocery shopping, tidying up, and luckily didn't have to cook as i had a dinner invitation.

so while i totally enjoyed my week, i really haven't been in the mood for blogging! but i vicariously supported the blackout over at the hand mirror, where i have posted today about slumdog millionaire.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

in memory of aasiya hassan

i've posted at the hand mirror today about a muslim woman killed by her husband in america. the response by ISNA was something that really touched me.

on a related note, i mentioned to the kids that chris brown had been charged for assaulting a woman, likely to be rihanna. (yes, you'll have to google the names if you're not into modern pop music). they were, of course, shocked. but the first question my elder daughter asked was "what did she do?". i couldn't believe it, not "how could he have done such a thing?" or "what's wrong with him?". it just proved how much the victim-blaming culture is ingrained in our society, because i can assure you that she never got that attitude from me!

of course, daughter got a strong reply along the lines of "who cares what she did, he has no right to hit her", with which she (thankfully) instantly agreed.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

save our community law centres

justice is supposed to be blind. in the sense that your economic status, your race, gender or any other attribute should not be a barrier to accessing the justice system. in order to ensure access to justice in this country, we have the legal services agency (LSA) to administer the legal aid system. a system that ensures that the poorest can have adequate representation when they need it.

there are gaps though, as many people don't qualify for legal aid based on the financial threshholds, but still don't have the funds to adequately access justice. this is why the LSA also funds community law centres. well actually, the community law centres are solely funded from interest off solicitors trust accounts, which has been slashed as interest rates have fallen. the LSA merely administers the funding.

the LSA has confirmed a first instalment of funding cuts of 43%, effective from 1 july 2009. the latest OCR interest reduction has yet to be added to this, which may result in a further 10-20% of cuts. for most community law centres, this may well mean closure.

these law centres help more than 200,000 low income kiwis directly per year for problems not covered by legal aid. the demand for these services will be rising as a result of the recession ie fewer kiwis will be in a position to afford legal services due to economic hardship. yet, instead of increasing funding to account for the potential increase in demand, the funding will be halved. compare this to australia, where funding will be increased to take into account the fact that peoople who previously had good jobs or were successfully self-employed might now need these centres for debt, benefit, employment and even bankruptcy matters.

aside from direct legal advice, thousands of others are helped by law centres through community legal education and law reform work. centres are too busy doing the work to self promote. they are cheap and efficient as they attract and co-ordinate volunteer thousands of hours of donated legal services.

given this vital service, you would think that funding for law centres would have been made more secure. however, no-one at the LSA thought to plan for the time when interest rates went down. and now that it has happened, the LSA has simply chosen to cut funding, without caring about the impact on the poorest section of society. in this regard, the LSA has failed in its primary function, which is to ensure access to justice.

i don't know if it will be worth much, but if you can, please take the trouble to write to our new minister of justice, hon simon power. you can reach him at please reiterate the importance of providing access to justice for all new zealanders, and request that he cancel the proposed reduction in funding, and in fact increase funding beyond what exists currently, to cope with increasing demand. you never know, it might just be you who needs the service when you're suddenly made redundant.

note: a lot of the information in this post was provided to me by richard small, a wellinton lawyer

Monday, 16 February 2009

an example of hatred

one thing about being technologically challenged is that (as i've mentioned before) i really don't have a clue about who has been reading my blog. so it was a surprise to get responses to my post about the pictures of an allegedly iranian boy having his arm run over by a car from as far away as sweden and the US.

of these, i'd like to mention the american commenter. his wife also received the photographs, and responded in pretty much the same way as i did. ie she picked out all the email IDs from the email she received & sent a reply to them all. i'm putting in a part of her response below, because what has happened to this faith community is so terribly sad:

An example of hatred is that 'thing ' - I refuse to use his name - who shot up our church last year killing 2 innocent people and injuring many others, and was fired up to do this act of terror and violence because he read books and listened to radio and TV talk show hosts spewing their vile hatred on air against 'liberals'. How many others whose minds are on the edge have these media hate mongers riled up? Since I received this email a few days ago, how many people worldwide have already seen it (and other emails like it), believed it, and been fired up over it? And how many have been angered enough to be verbally abusive, or enraged enough to 'take action' against innocent people like that shooter did? Do you REALLY want to be any part of innocent people being hurt? Terrorized? Even killed? Would you spread false rumors about friends and loved ones or is it just ok to spread them about strangers? It takes just a few seconds to find out if a story like this is true or not before deciding to forward or delete it. Who knows how many lives you might be saving - including your own - by just finding out the truth! I dread to think what might have happened had Bobby and I been at church that day.If there is one email worth forwarding, I feel what I have written qualifies. However if you don't forward this on, nothing bad is going to happen. You're not going to loose your teeth, tongue or testicles. But those who have been misinformed and angered by misleading emails wont know the truth...and continuing to forward hateful, false and misleading emails like the one below without finding out the truth behind it, just might inflame someone enough to do something crazy and radical like the church shooting. Can you live with any guilt associated with that? I know I can't.

you can read more about the shooting incident at their church here, and here (the comments to the newspaper article are worth a read, except for the ones calling for the killer to be executed). the killer himself describes the shooting as a hate crime, a result of his loathing of liberals and democrats who he believes are ruining his country.

i just can't imagine how a community would begin to recover from something like this, and yet it appears that they are doing so:

My friends at TVUUC are resilient as ever though. I went to this past Sunday's service, which marks the 60th anniversary of the existence of our congregation. We dedicated the library and the fellowship hall to Linda Kraeger and Greg McKendry respectively, the two people who lost their lives in the tragedy. I think they would have been very proud.

there are no doubt many profound things that could be said about hate speech & inflammatory rhetoric, but i can't bring myself to do that just now. my thoughts are with the TVUUC community. i hope that you find peace and comfort from each other and from your faith.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

water & tears

i've posted again at the hand mirror tonight, about the deepa mehta film water.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

violent women... or maybe not

posted at the hand mirror, my thoughts on judge beecroft's concerns about the alleged increase in the level of violence committed by young women.

Monday, 9 February 2009

on bFM re gaza

had a "meet the teacher" evening tonight at my younger daughter's new school. for the first time in her life she has a male teacher. he's very young, 21 but looks like 15. actually, the new school has a good mix of male & female teachers, but this young man informed us that out of 200 people studying at teachers college while he was there, only 12 were male. and not all of those 12 completed the qualification.

not good. my daughter really likes her new teacher (except that she thinks he's too strict), and all the parents in the class provided similar feedback. he's obviously going to be a popular young man, just hope he has the teaching skills to match. we really need to be attracting more young men like him into the profession.

i mentioned a while back that i'd done an interview on bFM regarding the gaza conflict. dave moskovitz had done one as well, and they played them both on auckland anniversary day (26th jan, if i recall correctly).

the interviews are now available by podcast. mine is here & dave's is here. i haven't had a chance to listen to them yet, but dave thinks they came out well, so they must be ok!

and now i'm wondering what my SIS file looks like. many members of the muslim community are likely to be under surveillance & i still recall the visit we had by someone who said he was an SIS officer some 15 or more years ago. it was rather a bizarre experience, and i still haven't worked out exactly what it is he wanted. but if they were watching keith locke even after he was an MP, they certainly could have been or could still be watching me...

as julie anna says, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

summer, not always a good thing...

i've been melting in the heat today. and yesterday, and the day before. we've had a few weeks of glorious weather, but all it does is remind of last year's drought in the waikato. i've been seeing the results of that during the year, as we complete financial statements for dairy farmers. many of them had no milk production for march and april last year, so lucky that they had a record high payout at the time.

the soil outside my window is looking extremely parched, the grass is browning all around the countryside. but even so, it's nowhere near as bad as the current disaster in australia. losing your life in a fire must be one of the worst ways to die - i always remember colleen mccullough's graphic description of this in the "thorn birds".

so my thoughts go out to all the people in australia suffering either because of heat, fire or flooding. i hope things get better real soon.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

book promotions

see the hand mirror for a post about some great books coming up.

Friday, 6 February 2009

not a post about waitangi day... oops, yes it is!

i didn't do waitangi day this year. which is a break from my "tradition" of the past few years of going down to innes common in hamilton & participating in the events there. i can't say that i had any compelling reason to not go this year, other than the fact that i wanted to spend some time with my family.

that's something that really suffered last year, especially with the campaign combined with my other volunteer activities. so i decided that i needed some quality family time, and time to visit old family friends who i've neglected.

i thought others could deal with issues of nationhood and the treaty. i'm not sure there is much new to say on the subject. yet i'm extremely glad we don't have a celebration like australia day which seems to have become (for some) a time to express national pride by hating others. at least we celebrate a day when two peoples came together in agreement (or at least some subsection of each of the two peoples tried to come together to agree on certain principles, about which there may have been a bit of misunderstanding due to translation errors).

but i like that we recognise the difficulties; i'm glad there's protest because it keeps reminding us about the many issues that remain unresolved or not-very-satisfactorily resolved. i'm glad we don't do the military displays of strength, the jingoism. i much prefer the soul-searching, the little bit of confusion about what it really does mean to be a nz'er. i like that it's not a day about pride, but a day for thinking about values and whether we have really lived up to them.

so get lost peter dunne, who wants to "Establish a New Zealand Day separate from Waitangi Day to celebrate our nation’s history, multicultural society". we don't need a nz version of australia day, and waitangi is a crucial part of our history. this supposed celebration of a multi-cultural society does nothing more than deflect attention away from treaty issues, it's an attempt to reduce their importance.

we don't have a great history when it comes to multiculturalism (chinese poll tax? dawn raids?), and i'd much rather celebrate that as we do now ie with the chinese community holding lantern festivals around the country for the rest of us to share, with the hindu community holding diwali celebrations in october, with islam awareness week in august, and all the other expresssions of diversity across the country at the times when various communities are ready to celebrate.

besides which, mr dunne seems to have missed the fact that many communities across the country have chosen to incorporate ethnic communities into waitangi day celebrations. it certainly happens here in hamilton, with many ethnic communities being part of the celebrations.

the only area i think is seriously lacking is the discussion about how ethnic and pasifika communities can fit into the treaty debate and take a greater part in it. i don't think sufficient space has been made for that discussion, although things have been slowly improving in that regard.

hmm, today was not meant to be a post about waitangi day, but look where i've ended up! never mind, i'll write about today's topic tomorrow. i'll end with the 9th down under feminists carnival, now up at the hand mirror. thanx to deborah & others for all their work with it, there's some very interesting reading for the long weekend...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


this very long essay is really one of the best things i've read in a while. the issues of nationalism covered by the author state much more clearly what i was trying to say a few days back. but also, i found very interesting the way he writes about historical views of women and the history of anti-semitism in europe. a lot of this was honestly new to me - i'd never heard of the "blood libel myth", the notion of effeminism and lost manhood.

i haven't read the other posts in the series, linked to at the bottom of the one above, but hope to do so at some point soon. i find the stance of the author very courageous, to be critical of a community he belongs to which has faced, collectively and individually, such a severe degree of oppression is not an easy thing.

it's something i struggle with from the point of view of my own community, where i see many things that need to change, but know that speaking out about these things will just add another layer to the bigotry and hatred already out there. i'm afraid the main message will be lost, and that the only thing taken from my words will be "see how awful those muslims are, we knew it and here is a muslim who confirms our [bigoted] views".

i don't want to end up being another ayan hirsi ali, who makes things worse and not better in the way she approaches things. but i do try to be an agent of positive change, by trying to deal with what i see as "internal" issues in an internal way ie quietly within the community rather than through public condemnation. it's a very fine line to tread, making sure that you're not an apologist for things that are clearly wrong and yet making sure that you don't increase the level of discrimination and alienation.

i'm sure that i don't always get the balance right. i'm sure i could say more about things that i don't speak up enough about. i'm sure i'm probably a bit too vocal on other things. but i hope that sometimes i do get it right, and sometimes it does make a difference even if only in a small way.

just as a post-script, this post by maia and resulting discussion is also well worth a read.

Monday, 2 February 2009

a year later, and i'm still here

as everyone seems to do, it seems appropriate to mark the one-year anniversary of my blog. my first ever post went up on 2 february 2008, and here i am a year later still going (except for an extended break in december).

i'd love to have some stats to share, but i don't know how to do those, sorry. i don't know how many hits i've been getting, i'm not going to go through the long process of counting up the number of comments (i'm sure there's a quick way, but again i don't know how!). i can't tell how many people have linked to my blog (blogger is a real pain with that, so not totally my fault).

i could put the time and effort into learning about these things and sharing them, but it's enough of an effort to get the posts up & i don't have much energy left on top of the other things i do. also, i know i'll continue to write, whether i have 5 readers or 50 or 500. or even none at all.

this is a record of my thoughts, and the person who benefits most from them is me. it clarifies my thinking, and helps me to focus on things that are important. it reminds why i do what i do. it helps me learn new things, as i sometimes research topics i'm writing on.

having said that, of course i get a thrill when someone tells me they read my blog. and i appreciate the people that take the trouble to comment, even though it might take me 24 hours to get that comment up. even the critical ones are helpful, because they make think about my own position and in a few cases change it. it's all good.

the best thing about blogging though, is that it has made me aware of other people's blogs. it has widened the range of my reading on contemporary issues, and the various discussions in various places has enriched my understanding of particular things in a way that i couldn't have imagined. it's one of the wonders of the internet, and i love this technology that has changed the world. it's like everything was black & white before, and now there's a glorious range of colours. i don't like all of those colours of course, but they add up to the whole, and make it all so much better.

so for all of you bloggers out there, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. and i hope to continue to share mine with you.