The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Looking back in langour

It's the time of year for navel-gazing and introspection. And using redundant words to pad out posts in the hope of looking like there's something new to read.

I quite like the meme Maia has picked up, of posting the first sentence of the first post you wrote each month, to give a summary of your year's blogging. Here's her 2006 effort, and here's mine, all run together to see if they make some kind of decent paragraphs:

I never used to make New Year's Resolutions, but in the last few years I've found them a useful way to give myself a bit of a kick in the arse. For work, for a few days. There's a song by this woman called Jill Sobule, titled "Bitter."

Yes this blog is still in hibernation. I've recently had the good fortune
to be in Europe, specifically Spain, for two major events on the European
competitive calendar - the European Cup* and the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes
I'm still on my travels, currently in Salisbury wrestling with a foreign
computer and blogger doing strange things.

Over at Alas, Rachel S has posted eloquently about how young feminist bloggers need to be more aware of issues for older women. This post has been about eighteen months in the making.

As no doubt every person who has ever read this blog (except ferringers of
course) already knows, the MP for Mangere has been stood down on full pay* while the police investigate various allegations and complaints. Any spare online time I have at the moment is dedicated to a) clearing the spam backlog on my Xtra account(gee I love their spam filter - after only 4 days away for work I had 12MB of spam waiting for me); and, b) afixing labels to the over 600 posts on this blog.

Well the problem is that I'm not really. I've been thinking a great deal of
late about the culture of martyrdom in political movements and organisations,
particularly on the Left.

Well that didn't make much sense. Still, serves its purpose as padding quite admirably methinks.

If Spanblather had a theme this year it seemed to be rape. Bit heavy, I know. But that's where my thinking was at and there were quite a few additional posts about rape that I started but never published. It was all a weird bit of synchronicity that now makes sense to me, although of course it won't to you (nor should it).

However the post I consider my best of 2006 was in fact about pregnancy (despite it's Queen/Bowie-esque title), Under Pressure. It also received the most comments from readers (53), with second place in the comment-stakes going to Is the Young Nats a sexist 0rganisation? (38), just nudging out No vision (Happy 90th to Labour Part II) by 2.

2006 was also the year I discovered (somewhat belatedly) the wonder that is Firefly, and also blogged rather indulgently on the matter of the new Doctor Who. Posts about both of these subjects, and others, can be found in the Sci-fi category. Gosh I love those new labels.

There have been a few periods of breaks, hiatuses, and general states of feeling totally over blogging. More recently though, I decided to make this blog a bit more positive, for myself as the writer, by peppering it with snaps that I rather like. Hopefully this new approach will help me to make it through to the third anniversary of Spanblather in June 2007.

Elsewhere various political bloggers have made their political reviews of 2006 (if I've missed yours feel free to add it in comments), as have many many newspaper columnists and editors. The general consensus seems to be that young English has done better than many expected. Me, I'm still gleefully singing the Toast song. I know I should move on, and really I have, but it's just so damn catchy! Who would have thought, at the beginning of 2006, that Brash* would have been through so much, and ended up with so little. Certainly not me.

I've been frustrated with Labour this year.** They haven't front-footed enough, they've let National make too much of the running. It occurred to me recently that although Hager acted independently of Labour, some people on the red team must have known what was coming, in general if not in specific. So why the big strategic mistake over the election spending issue? If I could make a New Year's resolution for Clark and Cullen it would be "more humility please."

The Greens have been holding up well, poll-wise, despite a lower profile since the loss of Rod Donald. While part of this will be down to climate change becoming the issue of the moment, I think it also highlights two trends a) Labour not doing the left-thing enough, and b) the Greens are seen as a legitimate part of our political establishment now and no longer an unsafe vote. Winston has been away so much it seems unlikely NZ First can re-establish itself in Tauranga (and indeed they haven't been showing any intention to). Act has had a weird year - while Rodney has a high profile the party itself doesn't - and both United Future and the Progressives have continued to appear to be defined wholly and solely (or should that be soully?) by Dunne and Anderton. The Maori Party continues to be politically odd, but Pita Sharples has definitely been awarded his media wrangling badge (although I'm in two minds about the merit of that). And the Alliance got a new President, lost an old one, and seems to have something of a new lease of life if the spandangly website is anything to go by.

One of the coming tests in 2007 will surely be the Maori Party's Foreshore and Seabed Bill, if drawn. While we all know what Labour will do, the intentions of other parties, in particular National, are somewhat opaque at this time. Will Key et al decide to back repeal, although it could mean many legitimate iwi court cases, with outcomes National's heartland supporters are bound to dislike? If I were Key I'd be flooding that Private Members' Ballot with National MP bills to lower the chances I have to make that call any time soon.

Overall I hope that 2007 does not continue the negative politics that came to dominate this year. Quite simply I don't think it's good for democracy, and it certainly isn't good for the Left, because it switches people off - from voting, from participating in democracy, from using and protecting the power they have in our society. At the end of every year I hope the next 52.14 weeks will see more people realise how important our democracy is, and how crucial their personal involvement is for this system to succeed. 2006 has definitely been a step backwards on that long journey.

*Does anyone else remember when Simon Power was the new-MP-most-likely-to-be-National-Leader, before John Key was the new-MP-most-likely-to-be-National-Leader? Or was that all a figment of my imagination? ** Okay, I'm frustrated with Labour every year.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reach for the sky

Like a good cosmonaut would.

Going blind

Saddam Hussein's death penalty was carried out earlier today, as Idiot/Savant has already reported.

In Ancient History one of my lecturers used to repeatedly say to us, encouraging our healthy academic scepticism about ancient sources, "remember, winners write history."

It worries me that not only do the winners write the authorised version of the past, they also use those edited truths to justify their own barbaric actions.

And then at some later point a new set of victors will do the exact same thing, to make acceptable further injustices.

Where do we stop? When does it end? Why can't we find solutions that don't involve killing?

And how many more will die because of the death of a former dictator today?

Back - but...

Just had a lovely break in Rotorua for about a week, now back in town (and back at keys).


Puter is playing up big time. Frustrating me no end and meaning blogging likely to be even lighter, as my profile won't work at all and internet is generally spotty on Nickname Pending's too.

Once I'm back at work (and have another puter to play with) I hope to put this one in to be seen to, but that's not until the 8th.

Actually I'd quite like to be back at work now, unlike Stef's lazy kiwi stereotype, as this is the time of year when the phones don't ring and you can get something done without interruption. But we have a compulsory two week shutdown, so at least it's at a time of the year when you only have to use 6 days of leave.

And, except for this morning, the weather has been sufficiently warm and sporadically sunny so far.

Lake Rotomahana and Mt Tarawera, from Mt Hasard, Waimangu.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Goose steps

Western Springs

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

After only two years of looking I have finally secured my own pair of proper boot roller skates, complete with red sparkly wheels. I spotted them on the weekend on Trade Me and put a bid in but I didn't want to get too excited in case they turned out to be the wrong size, or I missed out.

Today though, instead of supping from the bitter chalice of disappointment, I fulfilled a rather humble dream - to own some proper adult roller skates, with red wheels festooned sparkle-wise.

What a lovely way to end the working year - last day at work tomorrow, and not a moment too soon. Phones have kept ringing and ringing today, it'll be nice to have a fortnight off, despite that background niggle that January is going to be just as hectic as November and December have been.
Part of me can't believe how busy this year has been - I feel like I've worked a whole 12 months despite skiving off to the northern hemisphere for a quarter of it. Every week I seem to have been able to see a clear patch about a fortnight ahead, but by Friday it will be closed in, full to the brims with running and attending meetings, letter-writing, participating in teleconferences, sitting on my butt for some brain-melting wage analysis, making and returning the endless phone calls, reading, visiting, and all the other regular tasks that are necessary in my job.
In November my grey matter really started to dribble out of my ears when we sat down and looked at the calendar for 2007. Only 6 weeks are at the usual level of expectation - all others require extra. I'm trying not to let it get me down.

Still, positive thinking. Work pays well, is often enjoyable, and does have the necessary quota of universe-saving to keep me sane and happy, and it'll be much the better for a bit of a break. Now if we could just level the carpark, to make it suitable for roller derby...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Not sure I spelt that right...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Paid minimum wage does not mean worth minimum wage

While it's good news that the Government has announced it will lift the adult minimum wage next April, I'm a bit disturbed by some of the commentary around the blogs that this is for "unskilled" workers. (Between starting and finishing this post ...the gossip beat me to it though, by pointing out that many of those on minimum wage are doing the skilled work of caregiving, and no doubt other jobs that require not only skill but also experience).

It is clear to me that there are many people paid less than they ought to get - when it comes to pay people don't get what they deserve, they get what they can negotiate.

The current adult minimum wage is $10.25. On April 1st (boom boom) it goes up to $11.25. Since 1999 governments have increased the minimum four times, by 46%. Maia indicates that around 120,000 workers are currently on either the adult or youth minimum wage. That's a pretty significant chunk of the workforce, and obviously the increase will have a positive impact on their lives.

I'm worried though that there really is no commitment to abolish the age discrimination of a seperate youth minimum (and in fact no minimum at all for those under 16). The obvious steps that Government ought to be taking is increasing the youth minimum by more and more to close the gap with the adult minimum, but the increase next year will be less for 16 & 17 year olds than it will be for those over the arbitrary age of 18. Seems pretty silly to me.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Little bit of a tidy up

I've thrown around the new template button and whizz-bang here we go. It looked funny with colour bands at the top and the snaps, so I wanted something a bit more neutral.

I like this template except for two things:
1. Blog name has to be in caps. I get all self-conscious when shouting in a non-protesting context.
2. Blog tagline floats in the middle, but blog name hangs to the left. Would prefer both to be firmly on the red side of the left/right equation.

Also I've cleaned out the blog roll. Basically I've taken out the blogs who haven't published for a while, plus those who haven't returned the linky love and are also people I'm not absurdly patient with. (If that makes sense).

This is a chance though to promote your blog for linking - if I took you off and you don't like it please comment. If you're not on there and never were, but would like to be, please similarly comment and I'll see what I can do. Quick responses from Span are not the name of the game 'round here at the moment though, patience please dear readers.

Ok, enough self-indulgence. I might even manage to write something political this week, if I can manage to think of something that won't just encourage the trolls and/or be a wallow-fest of negativity.

A nice day to be in Auckland

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


We won't get fooled again?

A funny thing happened on the way to being in Government (or not). It seems that National have forgotten that their party has internal policy processes.

Since John Key's elevation to the leadership he's made a number of announcements and references indicating a significant policy shift. This creates some confusion for back-room boffins like myself, when Key makes speeches indicating a move away from Don Brash-era policies like a timeframe for abolishing the Maori seats, focusing on the issue of climate change (which Key and other leading figures considered questionable not that long ago), not to mention endorsing a nuclear-free New Zealand. Did National squeeze in some remit voting between Brash stepping down and Key opening his mouth?

Now please don't think I don't want National to talk policy. I definitely do - not only so that voters can see what National would do in power, but also because I think it's an important part of democracy that the Opposition not only criticise but also put forward alternatives.

But in the wake of The Hollow Men and the insight that gave into National's policy processes prior to the 2005 election, you'd think Key would be trying to distance himself from the perception that National are more Decepticonz than neocons. By changing policy himself, by media statement and speech-making, he is signalling that National is still a party which will change policy not via it's own, long-standing democratic processes, but to suit political whims.

I'm also a little perturbed by National's approach to industrial relations, which Jordan has already blogged about, as has the gossip. Key has said that they wouldn't shift away from the ERA as the key piece of legislation, however continuing to endorse Wayne Mapp's 90 day probation legislation suggests that National would still want to make some radical changes to employment law. Simply saying that they'd keep the ERA isn't honest enough if they intend to gut it or pass other legislation that nullifies much of it.

So is it a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

Monday, December 11, 2006

A small transformation

Well, as you may have noticed, I'm not all that motivated about writing at the moment. I find the unrelenting negativity of blogging from a left wing and feminist perspective in an environment dominated by those of, ahem, radically different persuasions, frustrating.

So I've decided that I'm going to indulge one of my interests, in the hope of changing the tone of the blog a bit. I'll be posting photos, and still posting political stuff from time to time, to keep the blog alive in a way that doesn't also gouge holes in my soul.

Let me know what you think.

And here's one of my favourite places from my now not-so-recent sojourn in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

We don't need another hero

I've been thinking a great deal of late about the culture of martyrdom in political movements and organisations, particularly on the Left.

It seems to me that we are too hard on ourselves, and each other.

I remember realising I was a workaholic and control freak at university, and consciously deciding to thus pursue options that I could work incredibly long hours at, like politics (which I was already involved in), law, and the like. But I'm not one of those people who can get by on 4 hours sleep a night, so my endeavours were doomed.

Why do we do this to ourselves and other people, in particular those who are on the same side as us, and frequently our friends? Why do we snap at others when they leave at 5pm, or take decent lunch breaks, or commit that heinous of all crimes, actually go away for a break at Easter?
It seems to me that many of the left groups I have been involved in which have had unhealthy cultures have shared this feature - the flagellation of others, and ourselves, when we turn out to be less than super-human.

I look forward to the day when we can all just work out paid hours and no more, and go home without guilt. I've learnt the hard way that there is no point trying to kill yourself for the job - the kind of work I do (paid and unpaid) will never be finished. But I could be.

I wonder too if this is more prevalent on the left, and/or more common amongst women?

Thoughts, dear readers? (I'm more interested in comments from those of a leftward persuasion.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brownlee jumps too

Just heard on Nat Rad 3pm news that Brownlee has announced in a press conference he called this arvo that he is standing down from the Deputy Leadership of National and will not contest it tomorrow at caucus.

The news item also stated that the expectation is now that Key and English will be elected to the two top spots tomorrow, with the Leadership going to the MP for Helensville.

So it looks like the caucus may have done the real decision- (and deal-) making over the weekend and tomorrow will be designed to show that National is stable, united, able to move forward together, marching in step, signing from the same hymn sheet, and generally all on the same page.

Those pesky unionists

Recently I heard Don Brash defending the sources of his (former) party's political funding by saying that Labour had funding from (shock, horror) unionists!*

I know, this is pretty stunning news, and we all await the best-selling expose book with glee. (Suggestions for the title welcome in comments.)

But there is rather a big difference between the kind of secretive business funding that Idiot/Savant has summed up well today, and the donations unions give to Labour (and other centre-left political parties).

1. Unions are run by their membership through democratic structures, meaning the people who fund unions (members) say how those funds are spent. This extends to donations to political parties for election spending. Union's financial statements are published and easily accessed.

2. Everyone knows unions give money to Labour. In fact many people assume that all unions give a great deal more to Labour than they actually do.** In particular Kiwiblog commenters.

3. Unions do not publicly distance themselves from their donations through anonymity or trusts. The donations are instead publicly declared.

None of these three points apply to all businesses who give donations. I'm sure there are many who do it above board, but Hager's book is purported to show evidence that there are some notable exceptions. And that is Not Good for our democracy.

I'd also note that the kind of returns for investment that Idiot/Savant is talking about in his post, for business donations, aren't really available to unions. A union could not make hundreds of millions of dollars from a change in Government policy, unless that policy remained unchanged for a considerable period of time. And that extra money wouldn't come directly from tax-payer funds, unlike the sort of business advantages I/S details.

Right, now that I've nipped that one in the bud I'm off to bash a tennis ball repeatedly against a wall. Yay!

* In the interview I heard, which I think was on Nat Rad, and definitely pre-dated his resignation, Brash actually said "unionists and communists" fund Labour. I find the communist accusation so funny - I hear that God loves a trier.
** And in fact, to the best of my knowledge public sector unions (who have the most dosh) don't give money to political parties at all.

National-related natterings

Regretfully I was away from keys for several days recently. Luckily Danyl Mclaughlan wasn't. He's read The Hollow Men already and has his initial impressions up on Public Address.

While who will be the new National leader is of some interest to me, it seems Key is almost inevitable. I've long wanted to see the return of English, not because I think he'd be bad for National (if that was my motivation then I'd say bring it on, Judith Collins), but because I think he's one of the few National MPs who could actually do the job. Key, like Brash, has a lack of experience. As time goes on fewer and fewer National MPs have ever been in Cabinet. I think it's important, for our democratic process, that the other candidate in the Prime Ministerial stakes has a range of political experience, beyond being a relatively new MP. Brash didn't and it showed. In this regard, Key is in the same category as the man he wishes to succeed.

For the sake of showing unity and stability, National really needs the leadership to be uncontested. For this reason English may decide to forgo an attempt, unless he knows he has the numbers. For every National leader since Bolger it has felt like there was a clear successor always waiting in the wings - someone we all knew by name and face long before the knife went in. You can hardly say the same of Labour in the last decade, and it has been a definite strength for the centre-left, long accused of division.

The Deputy Leadership will possibly be more interesting though. I've heard media commentary that Brownlee has done a deal to sew it up for himself, and Russell Brown has blogged that, but since then there has been speculation that English may win the spot. Collins has also indicated she'll be in, and there are rumours about Katherine Rich too. Again, lack of contest would be a good sign to the public that National can provide a viable and secure alternative Cabinet, but it seems unlikely.**

But perhaps the aspect of this that fascinates me the most is what will happen to Brash now, an element STC has also been musing on. Given his age, and the damage that politics so far has wrecked on both his personal and professional lives, Brash may be set to stand down, bringing Katrina Shanks in on the list (the one advantage I guess of having a leader without an electorate). How will a new leader reshuffle portfolios to show some change to the public, assert their authority, reward their friends, safe-guard against their enemies, and also deal with Brash in a way seen as fair (from many different angles)? Speculation in the Herald yesterday (offline) was that English might be brought back into Finance and Brash thus given education (shudder) or economic development.

Whatever happens it will be interesting to watch how it unfolds, when it unfolds, and whether National's poll ratings hold up. I suspect that poll-wise any damage to National will mean voters either switch off in disgust or attach to United, Act or NZ First instead, rather than heading to Labour. If Labour's percentage stays stable, or improves slightly, it could well still end up ahead of National if the Tories shed enough.

We're still a long way from the ballot box anyway, but if Labour could end the year ahead that will be a psychological advantage.***

* Not least because I'd like to know what to name the new category I'll now need
** In general I think contested elections, in any environment, are A Good Thing, as they show the health (or otherwise) of democracy within an organisation. But in terms of The Game, electoral contests can be more wounding than winning.
*** And put the new National leader on the back foot. Key/English must be a bit miffed at the timing - I'm sure any leadership hopefuls would have wanted Brash to carry the poll drop that was likely to come out of The Hollow Men and other recent troubles (and a slightly resurgent Labour), rather than presiding over it themselves.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brash's short memory

Campbell Live tonight showed media questioning of Don Brash as part of today's frenzy (which I've already blogged about) and included Brash denying that National had done anything unlawful before the 2005 election.

Instead the National Leader claimed that we all knew Labour was the only party who did anything unlawful.

This is despite the fact that actually all parties in Parliament, except the Progressives, were tarred in the Auditor General's report on unlawful election spending. Yes Labour was the worst, but hardly the "only".

It also flies in the face of National's admission that they didn't pay the GST on their broadcasting spending.

Not to mention Brash's misleading statements over his relationship with the Exclusive Brethren. I note that he further repeated tonight on telly that he didn't know about the Exclusive Brethren's pamphlets ahead of time, which contradicts his statements prior to the last election on bfm.

This reinvention of history is frustrating. Somehow Brash, and by extension his party, seem to think that if they just repeat something enough we will believe them.

Regrettably I suspect they may be right.


So who else was riveted to the spot, listening to Mary Wilson on Checkpoint this arvo interviewing first Nicky Hager and second Don Brash, about Hager's injucted new book, modestly titled The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception.

Ye gads.

I even began to warble my special Toast song, usually reserved for the walk to the staff room from my office every morning to turn my Vogels bread into toast with jam for breakfast. Somehow melodically singing "toasty toasty toasty, toast toasty toast toast toast" seemed appropriate to the occasion, not just for Brash but also for John Key.* Oh I do so like toast.

Hager's claims seem to be, from what I've read and heard so far:

- Brash, Key and Steven Joyce (National's campaign manager for the 2005 election) had medium-term associations with the Exclusive Brethren, with regular contact from at least May of 2005, not August as Brash has previously claimed (and indeed continued to claim tonight on Checkpoint). All three were "explictly and totally" aware of the EB's pamphlet campaign, is what Hager said on the wireless tonight.

- That the policy intentions of the National leadership differed significantly from the published and promoted policy of party

- Widespread Exclusive Brethren donations directly to individual MPs, as part of the association with the EB that National leadership were aware of

- National's strong links to neo-conservatives in the USA, including input to their 2005 campaign from both American and Australian soucres

- Dodgy dealings in terms of industry lobby groups and National's big donors

Now some of this stuff is by no means illegal (and nor should it be). But the bigger issue will be how National portrayed themselves publicly and how they responded to specific questions about these issues. Brash has already been caught over the Exclusive Brethren once before. How he can possibly continue to say to the media, and I heard him say it to Mary Wilson today, that he has never misled the NZ public is completely beyond me. (And I'm a little frustrated he doesn't get called on it more often by journalists, but anyway.)

It's important to note that Hager didn't seem to be saying that this book is based solely, or even wholly on the stolen emails. What I understood from listening to the interview was that some of the research involved emails, given to Hager by National sources, and for this reason he is concerned that the book breaches the injunction. Hager made it clear that he's been researching this book since after Brash's first Orewa speech, which significantly predates the stolen email saga, and that he has done a great deal of research apart from reading and analysing emails, such as looking at other internal correspondence and conducting interviews with National party sources. Hager's clear message was that it had come from National insiders, and that all source material had been returned to the person providing it already.

This is all fitting rather too well with Jordan's past point about Brash believing in a "moral obligation to lie." Idiot/Savant has pointed out umpteen examples of this and has written about this new development twice already today, on both the hypocrisy of Brash's action in seeking the injuction when National uses leaks frequently (lots of great links in the comments), and Brash's defence that publishing the emails will invade the privacy of others. Bomber over at Tumeke has Marilyn Waring's forward to The Hollow Men, as well as linking to the Herald article covering Hager's situation which clearly states "the majority of the book was based on documents other than Dr Brash's emails."

DPF has already posted once with the announcement that Hagar has a book "based primarily on the Brash emails" (which doesn't seem to be the case) and posted again using Russell Brown quotes about Hagar, in relation to Corngate, to try to discredit him.** Spin spin spin. Jeremy, who describes Hagar as "a low-grade sensationalist writer" speculates a little on what may be in these emails that is so damaging.

Well it will be interesting to see what happens next. As Brash got his interim injunction in a John and Jane Doe order the judge was not able to consider arguments against the injunction. But now that Hagar is on the case, it will be interesting to see how the interim injunction holds up, especially as Hagar claims the book doesn't cover Brash's private life.

Update, 8.02am 22nd Nov: David Slack has some other books possibly caught by the injunction. My favourite is Tze Ming's.

* Rumour within the Beltway has said for some time that Key was strongly implicated in the EB scandal last year, and that there was email proof in the stolen emails. I bet Bill English is smiling on the inside right about now.
** Good luck with that - Corngate reminds us all that Hager is hardly a Labour hack, and RB has commented on No Right Turn already as follows:
"I was critical of the way Nicky Hager sprang his Corngate documents. I didn't think the possibility of an injunction was real enough to justify the way he acted. I think Don Brash has now vindicated that action, and I'll be saying so in the blog tomorrow."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Powerful Fellas

Jeremy has the Listener's latest Power List over at Aucklander at Large.

Jeremy's struck by the absence of unionists, as am I. Particularly as unionists have become more prominent in recent times, even outside of specific disputes, eg Laila Harre's current stint on National Radio up against Matthew Hooton.
Also of note is the influx of Maori figures new to the list. Perhaps the Maori Queen's funeral and the media frenzy around the Kahui twins has brought them more to mainstream media prominence.

There's rather a lack of Cabinet Ministers, or indeed politicians in general, reflecting the shift in power from democratically elected people to private individuals that privatisation inevitably seems to bring. It would be interesting to do some kind of analysis comparing the Power List and the Rich List methinks.

But the one thing that really stood out for me, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise to regular readers, is the lack of women.

Sure the top spot is a woman, but I agree with Jeremy; you would expect the Prime Minister to be in or close to number one in any year.

You have to go down to 14 for the next woman - Paula Rebstock, who is apparently the Commerce Commission Chair and is new to the list. Then at 21 and 28 are Dame Sian Elias (Chief Justice) and Heather Simpson (H2 as she's known) respectively. Neither are new and neither are suprising. Julie Christie in 30th place rounds out the five women, and twenty-five men, in the top 30.

In total there are 8 women on the list, 16%. Out of 50 people altogether. It's almost as bad as the National Party front bench before the last election!

Mind you, it is an increase of 1 on 2005's list.

Here's a few ideas, of some other powerful women who perhaps should have made it:
  • Carol Beaumont - Secretary of the Council of Trade Unions

  • Margaret Wilson - Speaker of the House

  • Ann Sherry - CEO of Westpac

  • Laila Harre - already mentioned for her media role, also National Secretary of the National Distribution Union

  • Theresa Gattung - CEO of Telecom (who has featured in the last two years, in 2005 at 8)

  • Jeanette Fitzsimmons - Co-leader of the Greens

  • Kim Hill - or another of the large number of prominent women journalists
I may not like all of these women, or agree with them, but they are powerful in our country. A Power List is always going to be a subjective thing, but surely more than eight women would show up on anyone's list of their top 50? After all, isn't this Socialist government we suffer under supposed to be run by a lesbian sisterhood?

If you consider the list reasonably accurate then it's depressing - so few women, so few people outside business, so few who aren't Pakeha.

And if you don't think the list is on the mark, then that's depressing too - that the people who are perceived to be powerful in our society, by a supposedly liberal magazine, are still largely so like the be-suited, clubbable, older men that would have dominated a list of this nature twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago.
Update, 2.38pm 20th Nov: DPF has also posted on this topic, with similar points about the lack of representation from the public sector.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Oh rapturous wonder!

Whilst looking for Deborah Coddington defending herself against Keith Ng's excellent fiskings of her latest faff* on National Radio this arvo** I stumbled across a review this morning of a new Lolly Leopold book.

A NEW Lolly Leopold book!!

Much excitement in the Span household. I adored Clubs, which won the Book of the Year in the 2005 NZ Post Children and Young Adults' Book Awards and really is a work of art, and not just for the drawings either.

The new book is called Billy (scroll down) and it's out sometime this month in hardback.

One part of me is persistently whispering Buy It, Buy It, You Wants It, Buy It, BUY IT!

But another part is aware of the proximity of that orgy of gift-giving, tree-wasting and generally spending money on useless unwanted pap also known as Xmas.*** And that sector of my brain is far more cunning than the profligate part that would see me rushing down to St Lukes right now with the $10 Paper Plus voucher I won yesterday and poking the unaware shop assistants with the corner of said voucher hissing "Billy, Billy, BILLLLLLLYYYYYY!"****

So, if you are a reader who is inclined to purchase Span a small token of acknowledgement of her wonderfulness on the occasion of the inaccurate anniversary of the birth of a carpenter, or indeed you know someone else who is so disposed, then kindly head in the direction of Kate de Goldi and Jacqui Colley's new book with the lovely blue cover.

Thank ye kindly.

* Asian immigration + former Act MP = zany statistical mastication and racism masquerading as journalism
** It's not up there yet.
*** Yes, yes, crossing out the Christ, blah blah.
**** I tried something similar when Clubs came out, after hearing the authors interviewed on the radio. Now when I worked in a bookstore I did actually bother to keep a bit informed about books. I can understand why many who work in such soulless chain stores don't, but disavowing all knowledge of any book called Clubs when it had just won a rather big book prize really took the chocolate eclair.

Weekend Weather Talisman the Second

Well it worked sufficiently last time and I'd really like nice weather tomorrow, for entirely selfish reasons, so I'm going to give it another go:

Plus I always like reminding Stef that she really does want to come home at some point.

Line in the ether

Nevermind that it was in the latest "newsletter" that comes with my Telecom bill, Swarmsketch is actually quite nifty.

You get to draw one continuous line, of 100px, in a collaborative drawing. 100px is not very long, so I'm pretty impressed with the person who managed to draw a feather in the hat of the current artwork, titled Renaissance Costumes.

The best feature though is looking at the history of the pictures, watching them come together over time. Quite the worthy procrastination tool, methinks.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Just looney tunes"

Usually my father and I don't agree on much that has a political element.*

And in general my reaction to Stadium Madness is similar to Idiot/Savant's; I don't really care.
Don't get me wrong, I do care about rugby. So does my Dad. I care so much that these days I cannot actually watch a game. I get so wound up by half time (even if my team is winning) that I can't watch the second half. On the occasions Nickname Pending watches a game I will do a crossword or read a book and glance at the screen from time to time, lest I turn into The Incredible Span, all green of skin and exploding with rage.

But to get back to the point - at last Dad and I agree on something. We don't need a new stadium. Let's just use Eden Park, as we promised in our World Cup bid, and spend the dosh on something else.
  • A decent public transport system for Auckland - one that is actually accessible from most suburbs, and goes to places other than a big Grey Elephant on waterfront
  • Pay increases for some of those workers funded by the Government who are currently campaigning for them - aged care nurses and caregivers, radiotherapists, kindergarten head teachers, support staff in schools, hospital staff, I'm sure there are many more.
  • Funding more than one parks officer in the whole of Auckland City - with that kind of money we could fund several for over a decade
  • Commissioning some really crash hot research to find out how to actually address our drinking culture problems (without giving in to the simplistic, knee-jerk and ineffective option of raising the drinking age). I suspect this may need to start with that earth-shatteringly obvious step of actually asking people why they do/don't drink. I'm prepared to give them that starter for free. Just part of the service here at Spanblather.
  • Shortening waiting lists - hip ops, cataracts, breast reconstruction, some men's health operation thingy - half a billion wouldn't even touch the sides in the health budget, but it could make a practical difference to the people (both patients and staff) who would get those ops.
And that's just a few minutes worth of thought. No doubt everyone else has their own ideas, although if your idea is a tax cut then you haven't thought hard enough.
I do know that we'd have to spend money on Eden Park regardless. But it's a lot less and there's a lot less risk of it blowing out. And there was Professor Andrew Zimbalist on National Radio yesterday talking about the really quite large number of stadiums of the Stadium New Zealand genre that have gone bust. For a real life example not that far from our fair city, you could have a look at this article from last year, about Telstra Stadium, aka Stadium Australia. Dad reckoned he heard today somewhere that they had gone bust recently, but a quick google didn't turn it up. Update, same day 7.51pm: DPF has it though, so it must be true.

So for someone who doesn't care I've written quite a bit, above. I guess ultimately I won't care if they don't go with the waterfront. I will care if they do, because I'll resent it.

But either way, is there not some other news in this damn country, besides where we put a building for a one off sports event in five years time?

PS Dad also reckons any new stadium has to have a roof on it. So if anyone reading this is ever talking to Mr Mallard about this, you might want to pass that on.

Update, 19th Nov 10.55pm: The Red Letter is keeping a tally of bloggers for, against and undecided.

* Case in point, I rang him last week and he said it hadn't been a very good week for his side politically. I immediately assumed he was talking about the Republicans losing control in the USA and said " well I don't think it's that bad that the USA has it's first ever female Speaker". He immediately interrupted me and said "no, I don't care about that, I'm a New Zealander." He was down in the dumps about the drinking age, so we had a good ol' disagreement about that. We never even got to disputing the 100 MPs Bill Dad's side lost the same night. I remember many many moons ago when my boyfriend at the time wasn't allowed to come into the house until he signed the 99 MP petition. I was perversely proud that Dad's copy of the petition never got more than two signatures - his own and that of my intimidated boyfriend.

Monday, November 13, 2006

If you're a leftie and you know it raise a hand

Is it just me or do there seem to be a lot less left commenters around the blogs than there were a few months back?

I feel as if whenever I post something political most of the responses are from right wingers (hence a certain feeling of frustration and demotivation to post) and I've noticed a similar trend over at Capitalism Bad. No Right Turn has long attracted commenters from all over, but there too I feel as if there are considerably more right than left, in an imbalance not so noticeable in the past.

Partly I wonder if the advent of Public Address System will consolidate many left wing commenters in one site, although from what we're seeing so far there don't seem to be too many of the usual suspects from here over there (although the request for real names makes it hard to tell).

Anyway, that's my impression, based purely on not much at all. What have other readers observed? Has there been a left exodus off the blogs?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kit kat time

I'm writing this for two reasons:
1. I really am struggling to find a) time and b) inspiration to write much here at the moment
2. Usually when I put up one of these "I'm not going to be posting for a little while" posts something happens pretty quick smart to get me off my lardy arse* and back into active blogging.

Here's hoping...

* Hmm, I guess that ought to be "get me onto my lardy arse", but hey, I'm happy to pretend blogging is exercise if you are.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Being bothered

Well the problem is that I'm not really. Bothered that is. There's a few things I'd like to post about, but haven't been able to find the time in a very busy work schedule and I seem to be currently un-afflicted by the usual compulsion to blog, as my job is taking all of my mental energy.

What I would have written about if both factors were present might have included:

  • The possible (probable?) Key leadership challenge on the back of the TV3 TNS poll - actually I've recently been thinking that Brash has held on a lot longer than I'd thought he would.
  • The Sunday programme on the meningitis vaccine tonight - there may be a case to make for the vaccination programme being a mistake, but the standards of journalism in that show really let their side down. I've had ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) - no one knows what causes it, although there are various theories. Sunday failed to really show causal links, and they certainly didn't show that the NZ authorities were aware of the cases from Norway that the telly went on about. At one point they said that 33 people had been paid out compensation in NZ for side effects, when in fact we know from earlier media coverage as a result of Tony Ryall's questions to the Minister that these were almost all reactions to having an injection (any injection). I'm reasonably sure that it wasn't so much that people were being paid compensation as they were having their medical costs covered under the ACC scheme, as they should be. Anyway, I'm not an expert, and it would have been nice to see some NZ expert comment in the doco. (No I do not count Sue Kedgeley as an expert.)
  • Jordan's recent post defending himself against the trolls (yet again) and encouraging others to keep blogging. I really have reached the conclusion that many of those who comment on various blogs just wish those of us in the minority here in the 'sphere (that would be those of the left leaning inclination) would migrate to Mars at the earliest possible opportunity. Thanks to Jordan for the much-needed bolster.
  • And a surprising bouquet for Xtra. Yes, don't fall off your chair and rip your pjs, those letters were X, T, R and A. I'm very sceptical about the upgrading of their broadband speeds, as we got a letter from them a few months back saying that our line couldn't go as fast as our plan allowed at that time, so assumedly we haven't seen any improvement now. But a very very welcome side-effect seems to be that they have finally addressed the spam problem. Instead of getting 150-200 spams a day now I'm now getting one or two. Single figures! The spam filter was my main reason for shifting to Xtra in the first place and I'm finally seeing the benefit - hurrah!
Hmm, that's a bit longer than you'd expect from someone who can't be bothered...

Sunday, October 29, 2006


In pursuit of yet another self-indulgent Google-fest, masquerading as a Sunday post, I decided to put "span" in and click...

The A and N often seemed to stand for Action Network. For example the Suicide Prevention Action Network in the USA, the Single Parents Action Network in the UK, EU-funded Strategic Planning Action Network, the American Student Peace Action Network, Ohio's Single Payer Action Network, and the School Pyschologists Action Network.

The Small Publishers Association of North American worries me - shouldn't that make SPANA? Isn't that worrying given they are publishers? Similarly, the Student Project for Amity Among Nations ought to spell out SPAAN, hmm maybe entrance standards aren't that high at the University of Minnesota.

Then there's New Jersey's Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, California's Spay/Neuter Animal Network, the Dutch Security PhD Association Netherlands, Spelthorne's Personal Alarm Network, Solidarity Philipines Australia Network from across the ditch, and Arlington's Street People's Assistance Network.

And, although it's not an acronym, it's always nice to know that there's a Norwegian punk band that shares your name.

Spanblather itself came up in spot 222 and after that I stopped bothering.

Now, I wonder what else DPF might stand for...

Friday, October 27, 2006

A photo for the weekend

Hopefully this will work as a good weather talisman!

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I'm a little perturbed at politics and political coverage lately. I haven't written about the pledge card and associated election spending shendengle because I've largely agreed with Idiot/Savant and when I've had time I've indulged myself, in the form of a scattering of comments, over on No Right Turn.*

But it seems that National is unable to get out of Attack Attack Attack mode. Russell Brown has written today about two recent beat-ups by Nat MPs, Simon Power and Tony Ryall (aka Secret Smile), and I suspect that these will continue. National has had a great opportunity to score points against Labour in recent months (two actually, if you count the Taito Phillip Field saga as well) and has certainly fulfilled part of the role of the Opposition; to hold the Government accountable. In the last Parliament it often felt that this vital function was left to Act.

But there's another, very important role, that the Opposition should play, and that National needs to remind itself about; putting up an alternative. With many of the issues that National is raising it's unclear to me what a National-led government would change or manage differently.

It's disappointing also that many of the media don't seem to be asking that simple question: What Would National Do?

One of the reasons I like National Radio so much, is that the interviewers (eg Sean Plunkett, Mary Wilson, Kathryn Ryan) do tend to pose this query, and the answer is often very revealing. For example, Plunkett asked Ryall this morning if he would still have chosen to give his child the meningitis vaccine if he had known about the ACC claims beforehand. Ryall said yes he would (although he then went on to say "because the risks outweigh the benefits", which I'm assuming was just a mistake because otherwise he makes no sense!)

So it seems we are still waiting for the National-led policy debate that Don Brash promised over a month ago in the heat of the revelations about his private life. I'm starting to wonder - why don't National want to talk about their ideas?

* To sum up my thoughts:
1. I believe that the parties whose spending was found unlawful genuinely thought it was inside the rules at the time.
2. It seems to me that the Auditor General has changed the established custom and practice, if not the letter of the law.
3. National is using this as an opportunity to foment public opposition to any public funding of political process beyond the actual mechanics of the vote itself. This is a great danger to our democracy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who you gonna call?

I recently read a Marie-Claire article about abortion counselling in Australia. The article worryingly showed that the main free phone lines for abortion counselling across the Tasman were all related to, or run by, anti-abortion groups. There were some horror stories about the kind of advice being given out to women seeking open minds and all the options, but finding only guilt trips and judgement in spades.*

I decided to do a little sleuthing of my own in NZ to see if there was a similar trend here. Now of course this isn't at the level of investigation a proper journalist would do, but...

Of the 52 "pregnancy services"** listed on the Yellow Pages site:

The first listing is Family Life International, whose tag on the Yellow Pages site is "Our mission is to bring the pro-life family message to as many people as possible in NZ and polynesia. We are here to help you!" Now their toll free counselling number, 0800 FOR LIFE, would hopefully give some women an idea of the politics of this organisation, but for many, looking for an objective counsellor and someone to talk to, they wouldn't necessarily pick up on this, particularly as many of the listings don't mention the words that the numbers spell. FLI also promote on their websites various Catholic organisations, including Project Rachel, a "post-abortion supoprting and healing" service. I'd say there may well be a heavy guilt focus, judging from these quotes:

"Are you hurting from a recent or past abortion?
"Do you experience feelings of guilt, anxiety, shame, or fear whenever you recall your abortion experience?
"An abortion is one of the most traumatic experiences that a woman
can go through. It is much more than just a simple medical procedure and it has
serious implications for a woman's emotional, physiological, and spiritual
"While every woman's experience is unique, the common thing that
is shared amongst those that have experienced an abortion is the overwhelming
sense of loss and grief."

The sixth listing is a counselling service called Education for Change which appears to be totally focused on quitting smoking (including during pregnancy) and SIDS. They pop up a number of times in the listings.

In the eighth spot is Pregnancy Counselling Services' National Office. Their rules at the time of foundation can be found on the Voluntary Organisations Register and include the following gems:

4. ... (b) That all human life is inviolable from conception.
5. ... (c) That the killing of children by induced abortion is not a proper or
necessary solution for women having difficulty in coping with their
pregnancies or in need for any reason.
(d) That the killing of children by induced abortion is bad medical practice and is harmful to the mental and physical health of women.

They have a toll-free number that isn't at all transparent (0800 NEED 2 TALK) and branches in 22 towns and cities through-out the country. Nowhere on their website (which is quite spartan) does it mention that they are a pro-life group.
The eleventh listing is PCS again. The fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth services are local PCS branches.

The seventeenth listing is for The Pregnancy Centre in PN, which I couldn't find anything out about, other than the fact it is run by (or just supported by?) PALM, a church group. I couldn't find anything overtly pro-life or pro-choice in their mission statement. If anything they sound very open-minded, but I note that they seem to be an umbrella group for a very wide variety of denominations, and as such it really depends who runs The Pregnancy Centre as to whether it provides independent counselling or not.

The eighteenth listing is for Parents Place in Hamilton. From a quick skim of their details on the Voluntary Organisations Register they appear to be basically a pro-parent group more than anything else.

The twenty first listing is PCS again, the twenty second is the Family Life Crisis Pregnancy Centre in Pt Chev, which I think I can assume with a high amount of probability is run by FLI, as the Pregnant and worried website FLI run mentions a "Crisis Pregnancy Centre".

The twenty third listing is for an organisation called The House of Grace Trust Inc. Now to be fair this one doesn't put itself out there as a pregnancy counselling service, it is a house for pregnant teens which gives them a safe environment for their pregnancy and teaches them life skills, which I tend to think is a much needed opportunity for many young women. Just as well it isn't a counselling service really, as it is affiliated to Heartbeat International, a well-known anti-abortion group.

The twenty ninth listing is FLI again. Thirty eighth on the list is FLI yet again.

Listings thirty nine and forty are for Pregnancy Help Inc. This is an organisation with a number of pregnancy and maternity services including counselling and free local phone lines. I didn't notice anything in their rules on the Voluntary Organisations Register that indicated a tendency either way on the abortion issue, and there is nothing on their website either.

Listing forty two is for "Pregnancy Counselling 24HR Services Inc", which gives a Tauranga number on the Yellow Pages site. A few cursory searches didn't come up with anything about them, but there is no such incorporated society listed in the Voluntary Organisations Register (the aforementioned PCS is the closest in terms of name).

The remaining listings, of the 52 total, don't appear to offer counselling, but cover such services as midwifery, family planning, maternity, fertility and baby clothing and the like.

Going solely on the Yellow Pages site, it appears that there are three organisations that dominate pregancy counselling in NZ; Pregnancy Counselling Services, Family Life International and Pregnancy Help Inc. Two of these, as explained above, are clearly anti-abortion organisations, the third doesn't appear, from my cursory investigations, to have an opinion. And it is PCS and FLI who certainly dominate the Yellow Pages listing.

Now the Abortion Services in NZ counselling page has some interesting information. It's clear that many of those who receive counselling will do so via another medical service that they access eg GP, hospital, clinic, etc. The Abortion Supervisory Committee's standards of practice for counselling seem to apply mainly to these situations.

But I suspect that many women who find themselves pregnant and unsure about it are going to find the provision of 0800 numbers highly attractive. It's likely they'll prefer an anonymous counselling session over the phone to fronting up to the family GP for the very first conversation on their options. If they turn first to the Yellow Pages, to find that number, it's highly likely they'll end up chatting with a member of a group that is staunchly anti-abortion, which is bound to undermine the informed consent process.

Wouldn't it be great if there was an independent pregnancy counselling services, with a nationwide free phone line, a 24 hour service, and enough money to advertise widely enough that it was the clear first option to call, rather than relying on groups whose commitment to empowering women through honest and open discussions of their options was limited by their pro-life stanch?

In related news, Ms Magazine is running a campaign to show that the women who have abortions are real, that it's a choice not just made by Those Loose Chicks In That Part of the City I Don't Live In.

*Unfortunately the article itself doesn't seem to be available online, but there is an update on the campaign sparked by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja's bill to seek transparency about the nature of pregnancy counselling lines.
** Initially I searched for "abortion counselling" and "pregnancy counselling" on the Yellow Pages site. Both of these searches only brought up one result - Family Life International. From their listing I noticed the category "Pregnancy services" which is the list the above analysis is from.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Let's raise the age of consent!

Well folks, it seems to me that there's a problem with under-age sex. Too many people are having sex too young. We can't have those young things doing stuff with their bodies that they aren't physically, emotionally or mentally able to handle.

And of course I know they can't handle it! I couldn't handle it when I was doing it at their age either! I'm sure I wouldn't have ended up with arthritis if I'd just kept it all in my pants until my sweet sixteen. Stupid fingerless gloves.

So, to recap, I don't think we need to know why those kids are doing the ol' horizontal boogie before they are legally allowed, let's just raise the age of consent. I reckon that'll fix them young folk.

[/crotchety hypocritical old person tone]

(A more serious post on the really really stupid constant revisiting of the drinking age, which I already blogged about last time around, may follow.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Can Labour be left again?

Recently I wrote about the current political vehicles for those of the Left persuasion as part of my eagerness to work out some kind of political future for myself and others with similar political concerns and predilections. Today I want to address Jordan's post responding from a Labour activist's point of view.*

Jordan outlines what he sees as Labour's Third Way solution to the problem, and asks three specific questions of people like myself:

  • What campaigning methods and communication styles do you think would develop public support for more progressive politics?
  • What key policy planks would you propose to distinguish yourselves from the moderate left?
  • How would you interact with the moderate left? A conciliatory or a hostile approach?
As the comments on his post are (unfortunately and typically) dominated by those not of the left-wing persuasion**, I'm responding here.

Campaign methods - a wide range of methods could be employed, to reflect the different ways that people engage in politics. Some are happy to go to a public meeting, others to sign a petition, many just want some information and to read the various arguments; there are of course many more techniques, tactics and strategies too. But what frustrates me about the current approach is that it seems Labour only properly campaigns, in a way that involves the public and doesn't just deliver the Good News from on high, when it isn't in government. This attitude needs to change. I know that when the Alliance was in government the grassroots activists were often pushing to campaign on this or that piece of legislation to put across the arguments and vitalise public support, but the leadership wasn't keen, they had Other Ways of delivering (which tended to fail). The Civil Unions Act is the one piece of legislation I can think of that Labour has treated in a campaign way, and of course that was a conscience vote and Labour itself maintained some distance.

One key part of successful campaigns is timing. You can't just strike up a campaign a month before the vote is on in the House and expect the public to fall in behind. A media statement is not going to create a groundswell. It's necessary to genuinely engage with actual people over a length of time - polling can only deliver so much, as countless election results have shown.

Another vital component is people - I have to say I'd find the Labour party a damn sight more attractive option for my active involvement if I knew that I'd be able to really campaign on issues I care about.

As for key policy planks, I'd see a commitment to a number of things as crucial.
  • Publicly provided, funded and controlled education - from early childhood to tertiary
  • Publicly provided, funded and controlled health - including primary healthcare and preventative strategies (eg Quitline, Plunket).
  • A social welfare system based on justice and fairness, and recognising the genuine levels of need of different people. Not just seeing those reliant on a benefit as worthless non-worker ants who are grudgingly given a subsistence level income. I think Working For Families has been a valuable step here, but so much more needs to be done.
  • Recognition of the Treaty commitments our nation is bound by and a meaningful ongoing education programme for all New Zealanders to overcome the misunderstandings and ignorance of the past.
  • Brave, forward-thinking, stances in the areas of gender, sexuality and racial equality - the PaEE audits are a good start and the Civil Union Act was a triumph.
  • A fair taxation system which is truly progressive, not truncated as our current structure is. We should turn our thinking on its head - raise the tax we need to fund the vision we have for our country, not limit our policies in an inevitable race to the bottom on the tax issue.
I'm not saying all of these things would have to happen overnight (and in fact I suspect I could come up with a longer list if I thought about it for a bit longer) - but a commitment, and the framework of a plan (a vision even!) to progress towards these stated end-goals would seem a minimum to me (even if the fruition of these plans is a decade or more away). It's also part of being honest with the electorate. By stating these things clearly and openly then voters can make an informed choice, can weigh up how long things might take with the possible plan for the meantime, and also parties can't rely on voters crediting them with a vision they don't actually hold because they never go into detail.

I think Jordan knows me well enough to know that for the most part I am personally reasonably concilliatory towards the moderate left. Actually I consider myself to be just to the left of moderate left, although of course that's all a matter of subjective judgement. However I acknowledge that there is a level of hostility, including at times from me. For me, and possibly others, it rises out of frustration over the vision thing, which I've written about before (probably more than once).

There is also, I feel, a certain arrogance around some in Labour, that they are the One True Left of Centre Party and the rest of us should just Grow Up, Get Mortgages and Get Real. I've received a fair bit of nastiness from people who have assumed for various reasons that I am in Labour and are then Very Very Disappointed to find out I'm not. It's the sin of hubris, and it pushes people away and makes them wary of working together. I think some of it comes out of a deep defensiveness many Labour activists feel about the Fourth Labour Government (particularly the older ones). Perhaps there needs to be some process of reconciliation before we can get past these barriers?

I don't know if acknowledging all that history counts as hostility. Maybe it does. But I think it's fair to say that the hostility isn't necessarily just from my corner of the playground...

So how do we move forward from here? I called this post "Can Labour be left again?" because I was thinking about how welcome these ideas and thoughts would genuinely be in Labour. Perhaps some of the Labour bloggers and commenters out there (many of whom I consider friends in all of this) would care to share their thoughts?

* I'd also like to post in the near future responding to Sanctuary's thought-provoking comment on my Whither the (parliamentary) Left post, but that will have to wait until I have more time I'm afraid.
** My perception is that rather than debating the issues on Jordan's blog, these commenters are instead looking for an opportunity to rip Jordan limb from limb as the local representative of Labour who they can take their hate out on without risking repurcussions for themselves.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The problem with the profit motive

Now there has been a lot of criticism, and rightly so, of China's use of organs from executed prisoners.

But yesterday I heard on Nat Rad about a massive scandal in the USA, where a New Jersey company that trades in human tissue, in particular bone marrow, has been found to be illegally sourcing some of its wares from funeral homes. Those who run the homes have acted to increase their own profits with little thought for the families of the corpses they have raided, or the dignity of those who have died. In fact they haven't even considered the safety of what they are doing - the radio story mentioned that the cause of death has been changed on some of the death certificates, so that the human tissue is more likely to be accepted as useable (and thus more money is made).

This is what happens when people put profit and greed first. And what does capitalism do? Encourages it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Labour Weekend comes but once a year

The excellent unofficial Finsec blog, the gossip, has a good post up on the public holiday we are all entitled to on Monday - Labour Day.

I've been particularly hanging out for this Labour Day. Due to the massive amount of paid and unpaid leave taken earlier this year to sratch my travel itch, I have no annual leave until Xmas. Monday will be the first public holiday since I got back - my, it's a long time from Queens Birthday to now.

It's important though to recognise Monday for the history it has, for the struggle that it represents. That struggle sadly continues today - at the moment it feels like everytime I listen to the radio there is news of another stack of redundancies coming before Xmas. How many of us work an 8 hour day now? Or are paid for the true hours we work? And what about all those whose work is not paid at all, but remains invisible despite its huge value to us all?

I could go on ad nauseum about all the employment and worker issues that still challenge us today, but Labour Day is also a time to remember: united we stand, divided we fall. Without the collectivity of unions we wouldn't even have a holiday on Monday.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Where In The World Was Span?

With all this heavy political point-scoring going on, here's a pleasant distraction...

Below you will find five photos taken on my travels. The competition is to guess correctly where in the world each of these photos was taken. Guesses should be in the form of a comment to this post and you have to get all five right to win. I've indicated for each one the level of detail required.

If people don't seem to be getting close then I will give out some clues. I cannot guarantee that these will not be quite cryptic in nature.

And what's the prize I hear you ask? A guest post on this site, on whatever you wish to write about.

And of course the immense kudos of winning Where In The World Was Span!
Here are the pics...
Picture 1. Please name the thing this stands on, the city and the country.

Picture 2. Guessers must correctly identify the attraction (for want of a better word), city and country.

Picture 3. Kindly name the body of water, the city and the country.

Picture 4. You are stating the name of the building, city and country.

And finally, where was I when I took Picture 5? Building, city, country please.

Ok folks, let the guessing begin!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Recent comments not working properly

Dear readers,

For some reason that I can't fathom the recent comments are not coming up promptly, or at all. I suspect this is some problem at the feed end, to do with blogger, as they were coming through the Bloglines feed much faster than they were popping up here, but now even that has stopped working. They do seem to still be coming through to my email though, which is a relief.

Anyway, this is really just a notice to let you know that if you are only checking the recent comments on the sidebar then you are missing out, as there are currently new comments (since yesterday) in the following posts as well:

- Whither the (parliamentary) Left?
- What might have been
- A new lease on life IV - the end of the beginning
- Is the Young Nats a sexist organisation?

There may also be some others that I have missed, so please do have a look around rather than relying on the recent comments sidebar function at this time.

Update, same day, 10.48pm:
Thanks to a commenter for emailing to tip me off that comments have stopped working altogether in the last hour or so, since I last commented myself. ARGH! If people have comments that they want to make please feel free to email them to me (including what pseudonym/name/anon you want on them) and I will put them up as soon as blogger and work allow. Email is spanblatheratgmaildotcom.
Update, same day, 11am: Ok it seems to be a beta-only blogger problem, based on my exhaustive research that NRT is ok to comment (hasn't shifted to beta) on but CBTP isn't working (and has shifted to beta like me). The problem seems to be that the visual verification picture isn't coming up, so if it isn't fixed soon I might just switch that off for a while and see what happens...
Update, same day, 11.17am: well that was quick, you can comment again (I hope).

Thanks again for visiting and commenting!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Whither the (parliamentary) Left?

When I got back from my travels and back to blogging I said that one of the things I wanted to focus on more was the future of the NZ left, in particular in regard to the parliamentary path.

Since then I've written twice about my doubts about Labour, in particular about the lack of vision the party seems to have. No Right Turn and Just Left have also contributed to this debate, along of course with many valuable commenters. But recently we've all been a bit more focused on other matters. I'd like to get back to this subject because I really want to find a way forward for myself and possibly for others.

There are many non-parliamentary, non-party outlets (& inlets) for those interested in changing NZ for the lefter. But few hold the attractions that a political party does, as I am searching for a vehicle that not only covers a spectrum of issues but also has a structure that invites real member involvement in decision-making.

Let's look at the current options, party-wise. Since I last looked at them things have changed significantly, in terms of Rod Donald's death, the growth of the Maori Party, the election result and all the fall-out from that, the continued decline of the Alliance, etc.

In Parliament:

  • Labour - Pros: the biggest cab on the rank, with the most resources, highest profile, and the biggest political impact. The core of all future left-of-centre governments of the foreseeable future. Cons: quite simply, not left enough now and difficult to shift to the left in the medium term. No clear successor to Helen Clark who is on the left of the party, suspicion abounds after the 4th Labour Govt, plus hasn't treated other left parties well in the past.
  • Greens - Pros: politically the most left in Parliament in many areas, both in policy and in action. Some key left activists already members, eg Sue Bradford, Keith Locke. Structure-wise probably easier to get involved in than Labour. Has 5% plus following so likely to be safely in Parliament in medium term. Cons: environmental issues are priority and significant proportion of membership more Blue-Green than Red-Green (although National's shifts in this area might change that) or just Green-green.
  • Progressives - Pros: Small and possibly easy to get involved in. Cons: Jim Anderton, ambitions to be the party for small business, socially conservative in some areas eg marijuana, abortion, reliant on Anderton's seat so medium term future gloomy, policy-wise and media-wise not seen as separate from Labour. Quite old-fashioned left.
  • Maori Party - Pros: Tariana Turia hates Labour and thus maintains distance, new growing party with different approach to politics in some ways. Cons: Turia hates Labour and thus often motivated by this in a destructive way (eg how she cast her votes in the last Parliament). Focused on Maori, so appropriateness of tau iwi left being involved is questionable? Not clear whether they are left-of-centre as have little policy and seem to decide voting pattern bill by bill and even MP by MP(eg 90 Day Bill).
Outside Parliament:
  • Alliance - Pros: existing brand, mostly good left policies, some key activists with track record amongst left and valuable experience. Cons: Spent force? History. Profile members have left and media ignore those who remain. Few resources and possible struggle to maintain registration.
  • Workers Party - Pros: novelty factor, should have good left policy. Cons: likely to be seen as revolutionary and thus too fringe, some activists are not known as good at playing with others, no resources, no registration yet.
  • Socialist Workers et al - all small groups that have not succeeded in the past, and many don't actively seek votes.

Is there a possibility for a new vehicle, a new parliamentary party? There are many old players who I suspect it will be necessary to get back in the same tent again, eg Laila Harre, Jill Ovens. Many of the personal rifts that grew amongst some of those activists in the 1990s and early 2000s seem to be healing, but the deeper rift between those that left Labour in the late 1980s and those who stayed seems unresolvable for a large number.

I'm not sure that the Alliance can be the party to bring everyone back together and to enthuse and attract new people. I doubt that any of the existing parliamentary parties will work either, or it would have already happened. The only way I can see that changing is a major personnel change in Parliament, for example if Laila Harre got the vacant co-leader spot in the Greens when Jeanette Fitzsimmons goes (possibly for the 2008 election).*

Then there's the money problem. As the current funding system works there is effectively nothing for those outside parliament. Labour has signalled they may look at state funding of some sort, but the public would be highly cynical about such a move given events in recent months, and it would be a very unpopular move. Even if there was a system it would be highly skewed towards the major parties, which I think is unfair (but I've ranted about that before). Finding big pocket backers is not so hard for those on the right, but on the left it's all pensioners sparing you $1 a week off their pension and the odd union giving you $10,000 at election time if they haven't spent it all on Labour already.

But the biggest hurdle of all to a new party is really the 5% threshold. It effectively holds new left parties out, meaning the only possibilities are:

  • Capture a seat - best done by seducing an existing MP away from another party (Labour probably), or building around someone who leaves of their own accord (as the Maori Party did). But then you become beholden to them and many with a past in the Alliance would be wary of going down that road again.
  • Plug away for years and years on the outside pouring in resources (no taxpayer funding except for a small amount of broadcasting money every three years) and asking people to commit to possibly wasting their votes for several elections before success. Risky in the extreme, and likely to churn through a remarkable number of activists. Parties outside Parliament end up playing electoral catch 22 at the business end of the cycle, particulary with the media and thus with the public. It's a frustrating game to play and activists and members will only do it for so long before they look elsewhere.

All in all, it's not looking all that hot for some magical new left party to fall out of the sky and fulfill all my dreams. Or even give me something to get excited about and work tirelessly for.

Comments and thoughts please.**

* The rumour does NOT start here. I'm just speculating and have no inside info whatsoever.
**Obviously those on topic will be more appreciated than comments that merely seek to attack the left, lefties or left wing parties.