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

Friday, June 30, 2006

Gmail issues

Just a quick question - is anyone else having problems with gmail, i.e. is it a system problem or is it just me?


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some impressions of "Mother England"

I wrote most of this, as part of a bigger communication home, while I was in Brighton, a few weeks back. All up I think I was in England for about 3 weeks (visiting Scotland first and Wales for two days in the middle), including only 3 days in London.

I'm probably about 90% of English extraction, and in many ways I was raised on a diet of English television (Worsel Gummidge, Dr Who, The Goodies, Dangermouse, etc etc) and books (Enid Blyton and Narnia in particular). It's been highly surreal at times to be in the place that all of this came from, which my ancestors came from, and to find that it isn't nearly as cheesy as I'd imagined - in fact it's all real.

I've seen castles and rabbits, badgers (dead on the side of the road) and robins, the light coming through the trees in a way I'd always assumed was fanciful when I saw it in paintings. The moon has hung in the sky in quite a different fashion from anywhere else I've been, and I've been in cathedrals that seem straight out of Pillars of the Earth.

England has been exactly as I pictured it in my head for all these years, but that makes it stranger, because I'd assumed my imaginings were miles off the mark.

We headed from Scotland down to Carlisle, just over the border, and then wombled around the North for a while, before going across to Wales for a few days. Now we are back in England again, swinging our way around the South, up to Cambridge and then into London for our last days on the other side of the world.

I'm not going to write in detail about all of this because I just don't have time, but my highlights have been our trip to Chatsworth (home of the last living Mitford sister, Debo), the time spent in York (with it's quaint little medieval streets and buildings), Salisbury Cathedral (the building was spectacular enough but it also has one of the four originals of the Magna Carta), St Martin's Church in York (heavily focused on peace and reconciliation, including praying for the Germans who bombed the church in WWII), and our time in Salisbury driving around the English countryside (and stopping to watch a cricket match for a few hours in the sun with a great picnic).

I find it odd that I share so much cultural heritage with a country on the other side of the world, but I can now understand why there are New Zealanders who still think of England as Home.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

an excuse for racism

I was overseas when the Kahui twins were killed, and when the media attention began, and so I wasn't going to post on it. But the reaction, and the coverage by journalists and bloggers, has really got to me, even though I've tried to avoid it. A conversation at work today has pushed me to actually write about it here, to somehow try to communicate, without falling into the trap of seeming to excuse the actions of the (still unknown) killer, that the race of the family is not the key issue here.

I find it incredibly sad when children are killed. When Coral Burrows went missing I was glued to the radio, wanting, desperately, to hear that they had found her, that she was ok. Like many others I know, my heart sank when I heard of her fate.

But I don't recall any statements at that time that it was because Burrows' step-father was Pakeha, and that you just expect that kind of thing from those kinds of people. (I would also note that at the time Graham Capill's name was made public there was no claim that that's just the way whities are brought up, it's their cultural thing to sexually abuse children.)

Yes the rate of death by murder amongst Maori children is higher than in the general population. But, as noddy points out in a comment on Kiwiblog, surely that is an argument for the idea that some separate policies and initiatives for Maori might be needed? Something many of those muttering "bloody Marees" oppose tooth and nail.

From what I've heard and read, the Kahui and King families were right on the margins - they lived in a world I would imagine very few bloggers have seen or set foot in, let alone lived in all their days. It's certainly a place I've never seen more than a few glimpses of.

I'm not denying that there are cultural issues behind violence. We need to tackle them, for sure, but we need to do it in a way that people will actually listen - labelling it as just something those People Who Are Not Like Us do is not going to make any difference.

I suspect that the main common factor amongst child murders in NZ is that the victims, and the killers, come from low-income families where there is a high level of alienation. In other words: poverty.

The Herald's incredibly unhelpful, dare I say blatantly irresponsible, article Taxpayers shell out for Kahuis claimed that the family's nine adults/teenagers and several children will be receiving between $845 and $1395 a week in benefit payments. According to the Herald there is only one paid worker in the family, who is a cleaner, and, as I've previously blogged about, cleaning isn't the most lucrative of jobs. Very generously assuming that the cleaner's wage is enough to support himself and the children, that means there are another 8 people, 3 of them teenagers who might be at school, living off a maximum of $1395 a week. That's $174 each a week, at the most, and quite possibly considerably less. Not exactly a lot of dosh, in fact it's the equivalent of being paid $4.35 an hour (after tax). Not surprising then that this is a family living below the poverty line, below the radar of our society, and beyond the understanding of many in the more comfortable classes.

When a family is under continual financial stress violence and abuse become more likely. Add in a past history of family violence, substance addictions, unemployment, and the pressure of new born twins, and the odds increase. Put a person pre-disposed to lash out into that pressure cooker and matters become even worse.

What is the first thing that can be done to try to stop this cycle? Increase incomes. Take the financial pressure off and you allow a family to live in a situation that is not cramped and untenable in the long term. You give them the head space to be able to say no to bad options, to cut their reliance on bad people, to seek help* and advice (which is so rarely free these days).

None of this excuses the killer. None of it. But it is a more useful discussion, surely, than just to say it's because of the race of the family.

To say that this case proves that child abuse is a "Maori" problem is to excuse non-Maori who abuse their children. It puts the problem in a little box that means that those who aren't tangata whenua can ignore it, because it isn't our problem. The most strenuous things will get for us is the danger of straining our finger muscles when we wag our disapproving digits in the direction of those Other People, over there.

Isn't the death of these children sad enough, without it being used as an excuse for blatant racism, and a justification for ignoring the real issue?

* And on another note, we need to stop attaching so much stigma to seeking help, from CYFS or anywhere else. But that's a whole other post.

Postscript: I noticed, just after I first posted this, that Idiot Savant has written about the right to silence in the Kahui case and I whole-heartedly agree.

Update: Since I posted this yesterday DPF and Jordan have posted their contrasting views (DPF also includes a selective round-up of some other views on the blogs and from politicians).


The Red Letter, which I found via NRT's blog roll, was doing a great weekly round up of the senseless nastiness of some commenters on the right, which I missed cos I was gallivanting around the world.

I hope they start it up again, there's certainly plenty of material, even if they only looked at Just Left and Kiwiblog.

Monday, June 26, 2006

cleaning up

Jeremy has a post about a Time article showing the alarming difference in pay and conditions between unionised and non-unionised cleaners in the USA. It's a gap I see time and time again - when workers organise and bargain collectively they get a much better deal than when they try to go it alone.

When it comes to wages you don't get what you deserve, you get what you can negotiate, and your strength at the table only grows when you negotiate together.

Which seems like an excellent excuse to link to the Service and Food Workers Union's Clean Start campaign.

Cleaning is a crappy job (sometimes quite literally). But that doesn't mean the pay and conditions should match - if anything they should be enhanced to recognise that it is an undesirable and often unpleasant job (which is not to say that it isn't an enjoyable job for some by the way). It's physically hard too - aching backs, knees, calluses on the hands, plunging your fingers into very very hot or very very cold water, the caustic cleaning fluids, etc etc.

And cleaners make a big impact on our daily lives, although we often don't notice it. Almost every place you go out to will be commercially cleaned in some way. Movie theatres, shopping centres, hospitals, restaurants, buses, office buildings, even strip clubs have cleaners.

I'm going to make an admission here, one that will possibly make me hideously unpopular in some left circles - since I started back at work full time my partner and I have employed a cleaner once a fortnight to help us keep on top of things. The simple reality is that neither of us have the time or energy to clean much, and we can afford a cleaner so why not make life less stressful for us and create some work for someone else?

Before we engaged the cleaning firm I talked to the woman who runs it. We discussed their pay rates (at that time, a few years ago, about $11 an hour, which was low in general but not too bad for cleaning) and I was able to get a good sense of how this woman would treat her workers. She clearly genuinely cared about them and their welfare, and I was quite impressed. I thought she should be paying them more though, so silently decided to leave them a big tip each time, which I've done, so that they should be getting roughly $20 an hour I think (I'm not good at maths that involves fractions of 60). They make a huge difference to my quality of life and I try to leave them notes to make sure they know this!

Individual actions aren't going to change much for cleaners in general though. What needs to happen is for cleaners to get organised, work together and bring their invisible work out into the media spotlight. And not just to improve their pay and conditions but to get the respect they deserve, for doing the dirty work that so many of us create. It's heartening to see that process happening with the Clean Start campaign.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

ramblings - index for travel-related posts

And herein lie my travelling posts, of various divers nature.

General travel ramblings and the like
Reasons Not to Envy - some reasons why being there is not always everything
Don't Forget - a few essentials for the backpack/suitcase, IMHO

Vietnam - 2005
The Right Hand Side of the Road Stupid - post I
The City Which Never Stops Honking - post II
I Love the Smell of Asphalt in the Morning - post III

Europe - 2006
Bye Bye Birdie - what happens when you cross from Turkey to Greece with a cold
Quaint European Customs - Eurovision - watching the contest in Spain (and in sometimes in Spanish)
Some Impressions of "Mother England" - pretty self-explanatory
It's Up to All of Us - a nasty incident on the London Tube

More to come.

i believe Louise Nicholas

I was away when the verdict was delivered, and Maia has covered it all very well elsewhere, but now that I'm back in NZ and back blogging, I just wanted to state my opinion briefly.

I believe the nail in the coffin (which is exactly what it must have felt like for Louise Nicholas) was the disclosure that she had previously made an accusation of rape and the defendant had been acquitted. That Nicholas' legal history, in regard to rape, was allowed, but that of the defendants was not, disgusts and frustrates me.

I'm glad I was overseas when the verdict came in, because if I'd been here I might have said and done all sorts of things, wise and unwise.

How many women will not come forward now because of the ordeal Louise Nicholas faced? To me, she is a hero.

back in black (not so much bitter as cynical)

I got back to NZ on Friday night, after an unscheduled delay in Melbourne (which involved five different queues and thus no shoe shopping). As you may be able to tell from the time stamp, I'm having some trouble adjusting to changing 11 time zones in less than a week. I'd be a total wreck if it wasn't for a three day stop over in Bangkok (three words: hot, muggy, traffic).

Anyway, after my break, from blogging and my normal life, I'm feeling much refreshed. A new lease on blogging has come over me, as those who caught my mainly short and infrequent posts during the last three months may have worked out. I've decided to avoid the blogs that depress and frustrate me, for the most part, and be a bit more positive in my writing. One of the themes I'd like to explore is the future for the NZ Left, which Idiot/Savant, Jordan and I had a bit of a post conversation about some time ago (for some of my past posts on this, scroll down to the bottom of my 2005 best of index). I'm going to revamp the look of the blog a bit too, and the blogroll, although I don't anticipate any major template changes just now.

I'll also be writing some travel posts, to add to Bye Bye Birdie (the tale of my compulsory detention in a Greek hospital), Quaint European Customs - Eurovision (hopefully self-explanatory) and Reasons Not to Envy (why travelling isn't always so aceburger). If anyone has any particular requests please email or post in comments below.

I would appreciate it though if readers (if there are any left) could check out my request for their top three political (or political blogging) events since 27th March and comment or post accordingly (if they haven't already), so that I can have a bit of a catch-up. Having to rely on the Herald Online, and even that very sporadically, has left me somewhat out of the loop.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

don't mention the war

I'm trying to decide what is more worrying about the English fan behaviour:

1. The chant "Two World Wars and One World Cup"


2. The wearing of white plastic versions of German army helmets (think Sergeant Schultz) with COME ON ENGLAND stickers on them.

I thought the English were supposed to hate the French, but it seems there is plenty of bile to go around.

Friday, June 09, 2006

reasons not to envy

Yes I'm still on my travels, currently in Salisbury wrestling with a foreign computer and blogger doing strange things. But here are a few reasons not be jealous that I am in exotic foreign climes and you are not (despite the fact that the weather here is beautiful right now, it's England, it won't last).

1. No one is likely to mistake you for an Australian. And thus serve you Fosters when what you really really wanted was something actually local and not skippy piss.

2. You probably don't feel totally disconnected and isolated from your family, friends, workmates, the politics of your own country, and the Super 16. Thank goodness for email, that makes me feel slightly better, as Mum is regularly updating me on the movements of family and did mention that the Crusaders beat the 'Canes.

3. It's highly probable that you have a choice from more than two pairs of pants to wear on any given day.

4. When you go to have a shower you won't have to assess it beforehand for water pressure, water heat, or whether or not there is a door.

5. If you want to have macaroni cheese for dinner, as cooked by your family for at least one generation, all you have to do is amass the ingredients and start cooking. Having to eat out constantly means you are totally at the mercy of the local cuisine, which in the UK means pub food. I can feel my arteries hardening bite by bite.

6. Put simply - money. £1 = NZ$3 and €1 = NZ$2 (roughly). I've been on unpaid leave now for over a month and when I get back there will be no days off until Labour Day (in November) and no actual annual leave until next year.

But all up I'm having a fab time. Just thought the above might make you feel a wee bit better about being in NZ in winter, possibly even in Palmerston North. Don't say I never do anything for you.