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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Asking the unasked question

I'm going to put it out there:

Is Public Address a blog?

It's a topic us lowly NZ Pol 'Sphere bloggers seem to often muse about amongst ourselves, but generally off-blog. No one wants to offend the mighty at PA, even though those of us out here in the shallows very very rarely gets any links from them anyway. But the massive hit increase when you do get a link is well worth maintaining a friendly visage, and linking to PA even though they don't link back to you.

But now to the question itself...

Factors tending towards yes:
- a blog can really be any kind of online website where the author posts regularly
- widespread recognition of PA as a blog
- widespread recognition of PA founder Russell Brown as Blogfather of the Nation (the Judy Bailey of blogging, if you will)
- PA has won various blogging awards

The above list all tends towards the self-labelling argument - if you think you have a blog then you have a blog, regardless of any external standards. If you are recognised by others as having a blog then this belief is further validated. And maybe that's really all that is needed - I think I have a blog, therefore I do indeed have a blog.

Factors tending towards no:
- no comments
- little interaction in the NZ blogosphere (or at least the political one) by the writers

Both of these factors seem to offend a lot of bloggers I've discussed this with over the last few years while Spanblather has been operational. There is often muttering that "PA isn't a real blog". I think I've observed in the past that it is kind of more like a group of columnists (but then that doesn't necessarily mean it can't claim to also be a blog).

But are public comment threads, and copious links within our small pool, necessary to be a blog? After all you can turn off comments on a blogspot blog (and no doubt on other ones too), and PA does have a good facility for sending private comments to the authors, which are sometimes reproduced in future posts. Is a website that has no comment threads somehow less of a blog than one that does allow comments but doesn't get any?

As for the linky love, there are certainly other bloggers in our 'sphere who are lazy about linking to others, which may be frustrating at times but is certainly within each blogger's rights as author of their own content.

Perhaps the real question here should not be is PA a blog, but why do we lowly minnows care?

The fears of one woman

I can only really write about this from my own experience, and from the anecdotal evidence of talking to female friends and relatives, but rape is definitely something I worry about frequently. Most often when I'm in carparks, but other times too.

Even though I know that if I am ever raped it will most likely be due to the actions of someone I know, stranger-rape is much easier to fear, in an odd way. It means you don't have to confront the fact that men you know, men you like, could be rapists. It doesn't really bear thinking about too much.

But I can think of two men that I have been friends with over the years who I know for sure either raped or had to be stopped from raping. One started penetrating his girlfriend after she said no. When she protested further he did stop, but he never should have started. The other told me himself that he had to be pulled off a young woman once when he was drunk. In both of these cases never were the words rape uttered between us.

The first of these incidents (amongst other things) soured the friendship slowly but surely and I no longer see this man, and have no desire to. It wasn't really until a few years later, when I was running date-rape awareness seminars in hostels, that I put the pieces together and recognised his act as what it was - rape.

In the case of the second we are still friends. I turn my brain away from it as it is too horrible to think about, that he might have raped if he hadn't been stopped. And that he has never thought about it as attempted rape. And that there are probably many many other men I know who have similar stories to these two, in their sexual histories somewhere.

So when I read posts and comments maintaining that there are as many mothers who kill their children due to postnatal depression as there are rapists, I am disgusted. My own fears - of rape, of molestation, of attack - are minimised by this attitude. It's an attitude that says that women fear irrationally, and that rape is rare. Or that if rape is not rare, neither is infanticide by mothers. Either way it is an attitude that hates and blames women.

Rape is not rare. I wish it was. To minimize it's frequency is to protect those who rape. Sometimes this attitude actively protects those who are aware of their actions. But I suspect more commonly it makes men who touch or use women's bodies without their consent feel that they are not doing anything wrong - that their actions fall short of that standard. They don't have to confront their sexual practices because they can explain it all away - rape is rare, I didn't rape, I'm not a rapist, I don't need to change, I didn't do anything wrong.

The attitude of (male) ownership and entitlement needs to be challenged. No one owns my body but me.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Hair-raising (boom boom)

Ok this is weird.

Nick Kelly is selling his hair on Trademe. I kid you not.

I assume this is some strange bid to get into Sideswipe?

Update, same day, 2.54pm: It occured to me that some readers may not know who Mr Kelly is. He's the current VUWSA president and used to have a blog some time back. He was a frequent commenter, of the rather abusive left variety, but seems to have stopped bothering.

Some union news

For those who haven't yet heard (and most in the SFWU diaspora seem to have, from all the texts and emails flying around) Jill Ovens is the new Northern Regional Secretary for the SFWU.

Len Richards has a great post up at newsoc about it all, including the speech Jill gave to the voting delegates. Having heard Jill speak on many occasions I'm sure she had a mighty impact, as the 68 to 44 vote shows.

Ovens has won this election against the odds. It's been a long time coming, but the changing of this guard at the SFWU can only mean good things for its members, and bad things for the bosses it deals with.

Can you tell I'm elated?

Also the NDU has an excellent website up for their Shelf Respect campaign for supermarket workers.

The Clean Start campaign, which I blogged about a few weeks back, is well worth catching up with too.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Little Less Conversation?

What message were the National Party leadership trying to send on the weekend by using the Elvis song A Little Less Conversation (remixed for the yoof vote of course) as backing music?

It's a song about wanting more sex in a relationship.

Who exactly needs to give National "a little more action"? It's members? It's MPs? Or just the voters?

(More regular bloggage will return soon, very busy week at work.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Clearing up Span's views on clearing the Field

My previous post on Taito Phillip Field has lead to some confusion about my views on the MP and his dodginess (or lack thereof).

It's understandable, as I haven't stated my thoughts about him since September last year. Also my recent post focused on why it is in Labour's interest (although possibly not Field's) to have a full inquiry, so I didn't castigate the Minister for Hopeful Thai Immigrants for his faults. I got caught up in The Game, rather than actually posting what I think of the man himself and his dealings. Thanks to the commenters on my earlier post for prompting me to write more.

DPF and Idiot/Savant have got a number of posts up on the details of the Ingram Inquiry. I suggest those who want to devour the nitty gritty of this case head right over there and wallow about in it all. I'd also like to point readers to the latest from Tze Ming in her Tilegate series, over at Yellow Peril.

As for my thoughts? Let me be clear: I think Field should go.

My reasons for this are not exclusively to do with what has been exposed recently. As I said in September 2005, I think he is a conservative backwater in the caucus, and any edging out of those forces for "morality" is a Good Thing.

But on the accusations of abusing his role as a Minister and an MP to take advantage of constituents (and would-be constituents), I guess the lukewarm response from me is because I'm simply not surprised.

I'm not surprised at the possibility of a Labour MP violating the rights of workers, having seen some (not all) future Labour MPs amongst the union movement put the interest of the party (or their own ambitions) first.

I'm not surprised that Field seems to have acted at times as if he was a lord in a fiefdom, having met many electorate MPs of various political stripes.

I'm not surprised that he may have genuinely thought that his actions, so obviously suspect to our clear eyes, were ok and were helping people other than himself.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Spambot harvester alert

Yesterday I received the below email from a good friend:

[Span's Friend] just sent you this link:
1. Click on your link above to activate it.
2. Complete
your info to enter the Web site.
[Span's Friend] selected you for
this on 07-18-2006 21:57 ET.


For reference, the address of The Names Database is PO Box 550175, Waltham,
MA 02455.

Now I clicked on the link (the one above won't work because I've scalped it) and it asks you to put in four email addresses before you can get on to the second page of the site, which is, apparently, the page you really really want to see.

I put in four email addresses, but was a bit suspicious, so I just put in other emails for myself. It wouldn't accept any emails that it already had so I had to do this a few times, and ended up using fake ones based on a domain name that I end up with all the incorrect aliases for anyway.

Eventually I came up with four satisfactory addys and then lo and behold, I got through to the next page which told me that I could find old friends and schoolmates, but....

I either had to cough up some dough OR give it another 24 email addresses.

So just a warning to anyone else out there who gets this email, because it will doubtless come from someone you know and like - looks like a bonafide spambot harvester to me. And Wikipedia seems to largely agree.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Clearing the Field

It seems to me that Labour could be quite advantaged by a full commission of inquiry into Taito Phillip Field.

During the interminable length of the inquiry it would suck up the attention and work of National, on an issue that I don't think the public really care about all that much anymore.

If Helen Clark could get Field to agree to stand down at the next election then they could announce his retirement before the inquiry reported back and then the Labour leader wins three ways; she gets rid of a conservative caucus member, practices some much needed renewal, and distances her Government from any dirty dealings. Sorted.

Field himself should be welcoming the inquiry too - failing a coup within Labour that radically shifts the caucus' balance of power he's never getting back into Cabinet, so he might as well try his best to clear his name. After all he's going to need a career after politics and his reputation will be important. Of course if he has got something to hide then going for an inquiry would not be the thing to do. Right now he looks like he has so much to cover up that it would take all the tilers in Thailand a hundred years to cover that stain on the floor.

One thing that does strike me as quite hypocritical though is National's calls of slave labour when that party only seems to care about the rights of workers when they are working for Labour (ex) ministers. To on the one hand be crying foul on behalf of a few, whilst trying to take away the rights of the many, well that's just typical National really.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

File under R

The Red Letter has an excellent post on National's Waste Watch examples and their woeful inadequacy. I recommend you run right over and read it. Assuming you haven't already of course.

Bury the 90 Days Bill please

CTU figures show that 297,000 people change jobs in NZ in every 90 day period. I would be prepared to bet money that many of those people will be those most vulnerable - the young, the old, women, immigrants, members of various minorities, the unskilled, those returning to the workforce after time off to have children, etc. Not exactly the kind of people who are in a position to turn down work or dictate conditions.

That means nearly 300,000 workers will be without employment rights at any given time if Wayne Mapp's Ninety Days of Slavery Bill passes.

Here are links to all the media statements out so far from groups planning to oppose the Bill at protests and rallies around the country tomorrow:

The full list of events can be found here (scroll down, note Auckland is protesting in August), and hopefully fair-minded folk can make it along to one and show their opposition.

You can find out more about the campaign to oppose Mapp's unfair Bill at WorkRights.

Update, 10.48am, Friday 21st July 2006: Jeremy has a good report on the Wellington protest here and a few pics too, while Maia gives her opinion on the protest at Parliament here. Scoop also have a whole lot of coverage, including more pics, currently at the top of their front page.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Coping mechanisms

I've been thinking a lot lately about the things we do to get by in the society we live in, how we cope.

Partly this has been spurred on by reading The Personal is Political (Hat tip: Capitalism Bad), and thinking about the pro-woman line espoused in that article. I've never really studied feminism and I'm bad at reading non-fiction, so some of the stuff that will seem elementary to some of my readers is All New to me I'm afraid.

The pro-woman line recognises that we shouldn't blame individual women for actions that they undertake to survive or cope in a sexist society. For example, it would be a pro-woman action to picket the Miss NZ competition and criticise the competition itself, but it wouldn't be pro-woman to attack the actual competitors for taking part. (Someone correct me if I've got that hideously mangled).

Similarly I think there is a need to recognise coping mechanisms that other groups use to deal with a society that discounts them. Those on low incomes often turn to crime or fraud, or addictions, or violence, for example. While I don't endorse their individual actions, far from it, I can have some sympathy for those who do these things as a means (conscious or not) to survive in a capitalist system which values greed above all things.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I would be interested in some feedback.

Catching the bug - Firefly & Serenity

I've been a bit late getting on this here wagon, but a friend recently leant me the complete series of Firefly, plus the movie Serenity, and I've spent most evenings of the last fortnight or so watching it with Nickname Pending and Mara in front of a nice warm fire, sometimes with popcorn or cake.

I can finally join the ranks of Maia and Make Tea Not War, not to mention some of the posters and commenters at Alas, and gush.

It's not just that it's got strong women characters (and some strong male characters who don't treat the women like dirt). It's not just that it's a western, in space (!) It's not even that it's the first sci-fi series I've seen in ages where you didn't notice the bad effects because the plot and characters were commanding all your attention.

It's funny. Really funny. And, after hearing it 13 times over approx 10 days, I wasn't sick of the theme song either (although I'm not sure I could actually sing it, unlike the fans on the Q&A extra).

I'm quite sad that there will be no more - the series was cancelled while they were still filming and the filum apparently didn't do well enough to secure a sequel.

But that does mean that I'm free to make speculations about what happens next which make me feel better.

In particular I'd like to think that Zoe is pregnant, it makes me feel less upset about Wash getting killed off in the movie. Zoe and Wash did have an argument about having a child in Heart of Gold, and a baby would be an interesting addition to the crew, especially now that River is no longer really a child.

While I liked the movie I did prefer the telly series - the violent scenes were shorter and less gratuitous, and there was more ability to develop the character arcs. Also the promotion for Firefly didn't seem to include dramatically inflating River's bust, unlike the graphics for Serenity which ticked me off.

So now that I've belatedly discovered the wonderfulness that is Joss Whedon, it's on to Buffy next!

No comment

Over on Public Address Tze Ming has queried the lack of posting, in the NZ pol 'sphere, about the Mumbai bombings. Russell Brown has responded for himself here.

For me, I'm aware that I haven't posted about Mumbai, I haven't posted about Israel and Lebanon and Gaza (I started to write something but it sucked), and there are doubtless many other things I didn't post about in the context of international relations and general Bad Things that happen.

My reason is simply that I find these things so bewilderingly horrible that I have little to write or say. The difference for me between Mumbai and the London bombings last year is that I could imagine myself on the Tube in London (and was there less than a month ago) and so there is the added horror of being able to fit myself into that picture, which prompts my fingers on the keyboard.

It isn't that I don't care. It's more that I don't know that I have anything to add but sympathy. Which seems so pathetically insufficient.

Update, 9.04am Wednesday 19th July 2006: Actually I just checked and I never wrote anything about the London bombings (at least not in July). Weird that I thought that I did!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

There is something wrong with some people

Yes the internet is a strange place.

But it's still just plain distressing that you can stumble across something like this.

Assumedly for white eggs only.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A very real fear

There's been a lot of criticism of Maia's post about baby boys, so far all from male commenters and bloggers (as far as I know).

What I took Maia to be posting about wasn't the negative man-hating rant that so many critics have intuited. I read it as Maia's thoughts about how it is that beautiful baby boys sometimes grow up to do terrible things, in particular rape. She doesn't quite ask the question, how can we nurture them in their childhood to avoid that, but I think it is implied in her post.

If we want to eliminate rape then we have to start with raising healthy children - emotionally as well as physically. Children who don't feel so insecure that they need to have power over others, through rape and abuse. Our babies need to grow up with love and understanding, not seeing violence as normal but instead as abhorrent.

The fear of raising a child who does something terrible is probably not something many people think about. But it happened in my family - one of my cousins did a horrific thing, and was in prison for a long time. The torment this has put my aunt through has been never-ending, not just because of how she feels for her son, but also the sense of responsibility she feels towards the victim and their family. I know that I've certainly wondered what I could have done differently, in my interactions with my cousin, that could have averted tragedy.

For Maia to raise this fear, to discuss it openly, may be unusual, but it is certainly not unhealthy, nor is it man-hating. It is simply the way that many of us feel when faced with a baby - hopefuly for it's potential and future, but at the same time fearful of the world it may encounter and how our society may shape the child for the worse.

Maia's post is short, but much has been read into it by those hostile to feminism (and, I would argue, hostile to women). All you really need to know about her post is summed up in this fragment:

I'm so scared of what this world will turn him into... How our world in
general, and the army more than anything, makes men into monsters.
How is it man-hating to hope that we can change our world and raise men who don't rape?

Update, 5.20pm Sat 15th July 2006: Maia has written a follow-up post about all this here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ninety days of slavery

The Herald on Sunday had an article this weekend about a $5000 compensation case, for a young worker who was severely persecuted by his boss.

Said employer abused the 15 year old, and put him in dangerous situations:

As well as the verbal abuse - often in front of clients - Dylan claimed Mr McKay could regularly elbow or shove him as he walked past "just to be able to physically hit me, to make me feel worse. Just to make me feel bad."

Dylan also claimed he was made to do dangerous things at work.

He had once been told to climb a three-storey high, flimsy ladder because Mr McKay had "left something" on the roof of a building. There was nothing there, Dylan said.

He also had been ordered to dig deep holes beside power boxes and work on dangerous scaffolding.

This is exactly the kind of case that shows up the unfairness of Wayne Mapp's proposed 90 Day Bill. If the worker had raised any concerns prior to the 90 days he could be sacked, without reason or compensation. Any of these incidents that happened before the three month mark could not give rise to any action and Thomas would not have received a bean or even have been able to take a case against a boss who was clearly a Bad Egg.

The adjudicator in the Employment Relations Authority is quoted in the article as saying:
"Mr Thomas was young, impressionable and unsophisticated, not equipped with the necessary personal or life skills to cope with behaviour persons well beyond his age would find difficult to endure."
Mapp's 90 Day Bill will not only leave young workers like Thomas in danger (and don't even start me on the fact that there is no minimum wage for 15 year olds). Those who find themselves unexpectedly out of job later in their career, due to redundancy, would also be threatened by the 90 Day Bill - and I imagine that once you have one 89 day dismissal on your CV it's going to be pretty hard to pick up another job, regardless of your age.

We should be setting up an employment framework that protects workers, not increases their vulnerablilty. National is merely showing, yet again, that they are no friend to workers.


Yesterday I heard a man on National Radio who outraged me (and no it wasn't Matthew Hooton). I only caught the end of the interview, but he was on part of Jim Mora's show in the afternoon, The Panel, and he was from what sounded like a very Stone Age organisation, Family First. I think the man in question was Steven Tetley-Jones, but the only person mentioned on their website is someone called Bob McCoskrie, so if any reader can enlighten me I'd appreciate it.

Anyway, The Man From Family First was talking about gay and lesbian adoption. He trotted out the tired old "unnatural" label, and went on and on about two heterosexual parents being best. (Never mind that the traditional nuclear family is in fact not the exclusive group that raise a child - extended whanau, family friends, members of the community, teachers, Plunket nurses, many many people raise every single child in our society. It is often when these other people are absent that a family, however it is composed, ends up under incredible stress and the child's upbringing starts to swing off course.)

Then The Man From Family First used a line that sent a shiver down my spine. He said (I paraphrase)

We don't want people have children for the wrong reason, for their own
ends... We don't want anyone to have a child wanting to raise it to
be just like them.
The implication being that homosexual parents would want to have a child for one of two reasons (or possibly both):
1. To raise homosexual children and thus perpetuate the homosexual master race that will soon outnumber heterosexuals (and no doubt outlaw the missionary position or somesuch)
2. To have access to a child to sexually abuse.
Mora, to his credit, seemed highly uncomfortable with all this, pointing out that the rates of sexual abuse by gay or lesbian people are actually very low. He didn't actually say that most sexual violence and abuse is carried out by heterosexual men, but I was yelling this at the radio so loudly I wouldn't be surprised if they could hear that point in the studio.

What chilled me though was the way this Man From Family First was discussing it all in such a jovial manner. At points he laughed and treated some of Mora's questions as if they were just having a jolly old jape down at their local. How could he reel off these outrageous accusations so lightly, as if they were accepted wisdom and beyond challenge? How can anyone expound such things on a radio station, so casually, and be completely oblivious to their effect?

Later on I slightly balanced up my disbelief by listening to the excellent 20 Years Out documentary that Maia recommended a few days ago. I'm too young to remember what happened and I didn't realise how much I take for granted until I heard that doco. It was startling, the hatred, and over what? If you don't want to have sex with a fellow XXer or XYer just don't. If you don't want to even think about it, then don't. John Banks certainly took the award for worst speaker, at one point denouncing it all as "very very very very bad." How about very very very very lame, John?

Some days I think we've come a long way - yesterday I didn't.

Update: Idiot/Savant has a good post on the anniversary with some very interesting links.

Monday, July 10, 2006

An ode (of sorts) to my travelling pants

Span's travelling pants
March 2006-July 2006

Yes, you were my grey buddy
Through the bleak St Petersburg "thaw",
And the biting spring of Gallipoli.

On planes, trains, ferries and buses
All over Europe
And beyond.

You were all I had to wear
To conform with Dubai's dictates.
You guarded me from

You were tucked up in bed,
That Venetian night when
I thought I was going to die.

But you protected my legs
As I nearly broke my neck
During the Scottish day.

I had to push you away
In the Greek hospital;
You were too much to bear

But didn't we run
And frollick
Through the wet highlands.

You had inexplicable lavendar marks
Along your seams
And oh how we laughed.

You weren't always the best of friends
With the chafing,
And the falling down.

But on the whole
You did the job;
You kept me clean(ish),
You kept me warm(ish),
And above all

You kept me clothed.

No flowers please, by request.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Jesus: the Gloria Gaynor fan

Stumbled across this today on YouTube, my first foray into the video site.

Hopefully this works...

Friday, July 07, 2006

No heart (Happy 90th to Labour)

Idiot/Savant's post about Labour's 90th birthday has prompted me to deliver on my promise in my Back in Black comeback post, to continue to discuss the future of the NZ left.

Often it seems my posts on this topic end up really just being an excuse to vent my eternal disappointment with Labour (as I've commented over on I/S's post).

Today I'm particularly grumpy. Partly because I'm fed up with migraines and food poisoning (I thought fancy restaurants weren't supposed to be the cause of 2am vomiting fits). But mostly because I've been thinking a lot about how Labour acts to shore up the current capitalist system, rather than mounting any kind of serious challenge to it.

What really gets my goat is the number of decent activists who are hip deep in Labour, seeing it as the best way to advance their progressive politics. They will often be people switched on to the value of political activism by their own experiences in unions, the peace movement, Education Action Groups at university (oh dear, showing my age), or student politics. They have good intentions, and I don't doubt those for a second.

But is Labour the best way to achieve such desired outcomes as fully publically funded, publically controlled health and education systems? Can such aims be implemented or sustained in our current political system anyway? And if not, how is Labour changing the way NZ politics and society operate to enable their alleged principles to be deliverable?

Many years ago I was a law student. I had aspirations to practice, until one day I was sitting in one of the few Jurisprudence lectures we had about alternative analysises of the Western justice system, and it all fell to bits - my careful plan to complete law school, practice public law, and generally do good in the world by virtue of being that holy thing, A Lawyer. David Williams was the lecturer and he said (I paraphrase of course):

There is a view that left-wing lawyers who seek to make improvements to our legal system are merely entrenching further a system that is fundamentally unfair. The improvements they seek only make it less likely that real, radical change will ever occur, because they make the system slightly less unpalatable and make it seem as if addressing the root inequities can happen within the current system, when in fact it never can.

In essence he was saying you can make your incremental changes, feel as if you are doing good, but in reality you have not made a dent in the underlying injustice of our legal system. If anything you are helping to prop it up. You are doing the equivalent of buying the workers' happiness with a 2% wage increase when what they really want is democratic control of their own workplace.

I often feel that Labour activists are doing the same thing, but writ larger than just the law itself.

And sometimes when individual Labour activists realise this - when they get burnt out by the frustration of putting up endless remits seeking party policy that reflects what it says on their membership card, only to have Cabinet Ministers speak forcefully against them - they get fed-up with politics in general, bitter and twisted. Their energy and enthusiasm is all used up by a party machinery that is quite happy with capitalism, thanks very much.

Part of the problem is the current lack of viable alternatives for those activists attracted to Labour. Unless they are environmentally minded they are unlikely to see the Greens as an option, and other parties like the Alliance, the Progressives and Democrats for Social Credit seem too old-fashioned, and/or too much hard work. To attempt to operate in left wing groups outside of the parliamentary path is not an option for many - for myself I seek a single organisation that I can be involved in and pursue a number of issues dear to my heart, from both inside and outside the Beehive-centric system.

I have many friends in Labour, and I don't wish to treat them badly. But I do believe their own party uses them, quite disingenuously. If they want to change the direction of Labour, if they want true renewal, then they need to get organised, within their party, or they need to find an alternative outside it to support, so that Labour will seek the left ground as they did when the Alliance was a real threat in the early 1990s. And then they need to cement their power to keep it left, just as those who are quite comfy with the status quo have been doing within Labour these last few years.

Because, as I/S points out, Labour is going to be the core component of any progressive government of the forseeable future. The longer it occupies the centre and centre-right, the worse it will go for us all when National and its kin are in charge.

McCully misses the obvious problem with our police culture

I don't usually read Murray McCully's newsletter, but I'm at home sick, again, and it caught my eye on Scoop.

There's a lot of faff about the Whangamata Marina case which I didn't bother with, and then there's some commentary on the new Police Commissioner, Howard Broad, and the media conference around the ticket quotas/targets issue.

McCully comments as follows:

The accession of Howard Broad to the Police Commissioner's role brought the hope of a new and better culture at Police Headquarters following the regrettable lapses of recent years. Paintergate, speedgate and the recent Police bungling of the investigation into the Labour Party's campaign budget overspend (either a corrupt practice or an illegal practice) have given the strong impression of Police leadership that lacked independence and impartiality.

Not to mention the Shane Ardern prosecution, which Police prosecutors correctly assessed would be thrown out by the Judge, but which Police bosses decided to pursue anyway. There was a need for a new culture at the top of the Police - one which demonstrated independence, impartiality, professionalism. One which turned it's back on the slavish desire to accommodate the political needs of the Government we have seen in recent years.

What's missing from this equation? What serious concerns have been raised about our police force, about their conduct and culture, that McCully misses?

Yes, that's right, any mention of Louise Nicholas (or any of the other, similar, cases), the pornography found on police computers or about what appears to be a misogynist culture of sexual violence is missing.

Clearly traffic tickets and petty political point-scoring (Shane Ardern, Paintergate etc) are far more important to McCully.

Very sad indeed, but somehow not surprising.

Don't forget

Span's essentials for any extended trip (some of which I forgot):

- a travelling companion or group - I know this isn't always possible but it is nice, someone to share the experiences with, help you keep your calm when you're sick and miserable, and lower your costs at the same time!

- playing cards - for those long waits for trains, on trains, on the way to the train, on the way from the train, and when your plane is stuck in the wrong city and the inflight entertainment is on the blink. I struggled to find any packs for under 10 Euros, but eventually picked up a Yellow Submarine set of cards from the Deutches Museum in Munich. Bonus!

- a comb - hair brush isn't really necessary and takes up more space, I tend to think.

- the emails of your friends and whanau at home - because otherwise you will feel completely disconnected from anything except the moment you are in.

- a good digital camera and lots of memory space - thanks to all those who helped out with advice on this back before the trip.

- a suitcase that expands - no matter how much you send home (or how little you buy) you will inexplicably have a lot more in your bag by the end of your trip. Possibly even 20kg more, who knows?

- chafing cream - chafing is the travel ailment that seems to be mysteriously absent from all the travel books. And you try asking for it in a foreign country where you are largely reliant on hand gestures...

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Look Mum, no hands

Over at Just Left, Jordan Carter has written asking how to cut-through to those stuck in the mire of generational welfare dependency. Given the high number of trolls on Jordan's blog, I suspect this debate will go downhill fast, despite Jordan's best intentions, and lo and behold the second commenter, Billy, delivers the usual frothing beneficiary bash:

Continuing to pay them to do nothing but have children is certainly guaranteeing that they never have any incentive to change their lot. Welfare is not the solution: it is the problem. Give that this government has just extended welfare to the highest income earners in the country via working for families they are probably least equipped to come up with a solution.

This right-wing line that welfare is the problem troubles me considerably. I find the idea of living in a country where your own government doesn't support you when you are in need abhorrent.

What would happen to the vulnerable in a nation without a safety net? Where getting sick, losing your job, or being unable to find one, ageing, being a child or a student, having dependents to look after, sentences you to an unpleasant life as Hobbes might have imagined it?

It's hard to imagine being so vulnerable when you are young, healthy and moneyed, particularly if you have no one dependent on you for care or support. But anyone of us can find ourselves at the rough end of this stick at any time - I would like to think I am contributing to a society which looks after those in need, doesn't ignore them.

What could be the outcomes for those ignored? Starvation, no water, no power, no housing, constantly moving, cadging off friends and family, wearing out your welcome with everyone, missing out on education, no social interaction, ill health, no transport, going to the local library to keep warm, relying on substance abuse to get some form of oblivion, I could go on and on (no doubt some will think I already have). What about the children in those families? Do they deserve to miss out on an education, go to 18 schools in a few short years, have little to eat, be unable to get warm, not be able to join the others playing soccer or netball? Does anyone deserve to live a life so alienated and marginalised, regardless of their age?

I just find it difficult to imagine that there are people out there who would rather be able to buy a few more CDs, and ignore all of this. It shouldn't surprise me, it already happens now, with a benefit system. The trolls on Jordan's blog are evidence that there are those out there who don't see "them" (i.e. poor people) as human beings. How depressing is that.

It's up to all of us

One day you get off the Tube at a station in a reasonably well-heeled part of London. Greeting you on the platform is a young man threatening a young woman, looming over her, with one arm up against the wall effectively blocking her way. He's yelling, screaming at her to give him his money. Two other young men, obviously unattached to anyone, are just sitting there watching. The young woman is clearly scared, and both she and the man threatening her are holding beer cans.

What do you do, as the person alighting from the train and happening upon this scene? Do you choose to act, do you choose to watch, do you choose to walk away?

The above is a story from my recent travels, my recent past. My partner and I chose to act. We stopped and asked the woman if she was ok. At first I thought maybe she was too drunk to reply, but as things progressed it was obvious she was in fact too scared to really say or do much. The young man, let's call him XY for the sake of avoiding confusion, rounded on us, particularly my partner, Nickname Pending. What ensued was us trying, with words, to get the woman away from XY, whilst staying safe ourselves, particularly in light of threats by XY to push one or tuther of us in front of the next train rushing to the platform, or just to generally beat the crap out of us.

If I'm honest most of the threats were aimed at Nickname Pending, but the thought of my partner being pushed in front of a train terrified and paralysed me. I was torn between leaving my partner in this dangerous situation to get help or staying with him, and I chose the later. At least that way it was more like one and a half standing against XY, not just Nickname Pending alone.*

What amazed me was how many people went past and did nothing, ignored it, didn't even press the panic button at the far end of the platform to summon help. One particular man looked as if he was going to intervene, but, despite pleas from both Nickname Pending and myself that he do something (help us, get the cops), he remained hovering - not involved beyond obviously feeling that he ought to be. That didn't help much. (The title of this post refers to the posters up all through the Underground network, put up by the UK Labour Government to encourage people to not turn a blind eye, but clearly this campaign is not working.)

Afterwards I realised why none of these bystanders did get involved, why it was only a couple from the other end of the world who did. Britain's "knife culture" isn't reported on much here in NZ, but there death by stabbing is becoming a twice- or thrice-weekly event. When it was all over I suddenly understood this and had a horrible vision of Nickname Pending with a knife in his guts, pushed in forcefully by the drunk XY in full vitriolic flight, and I nearly cried all over again.

Eventually the woman sort of started to leave with us, and she walked to the exit, our bodies in between her and the enraged XY. As we started up the stairs XY hit Nickname Pending from behind, although I didn't realise this until we were home. The ear was swollen and sore for a few days, but nothing serious, either because XY wasn't really as violent as his words made out, or he was too intoxicated to aim well.

Unfortunately this was a Tube station which you left by lift, instead of stairs or escalator. So we all had to wait for the elevator, Nickname Pending and myself, the man who wasn't quite involved and his partner, XY and the woman he was abusing, and a few other people, together. At this point XY was able to catch up to his victim, who seemed to decide that there was no way to escape him as she walked out with him at the end of the ride and made no other efforts to get away that we saw. We were soundly abused by XY as "colonial convict scum", which actually nearly made me laugh.** Perhaps the woman felt less unsafe now, as XY seemed to have focused on us as the authors of his woes, rather than her.

I had pushed the panic button on the way past it to the lift but nothing had happened. When we got out of the lift I went straight to the nearest panic button in the ticket hall and hit it. Everyone else went through the turnstiles and started to leave the station, XY and the woman together (not in a lovey-dovey manner however).

The panic button communicated directly with the guard station, and I ended up in there, talking to a couple of the guards, and looking straight at their impressive array of screens, all live-feeding the CCTV from all over the station. Given that the altercation on the platform had involved pushing and shoving, and lasted at least ten minutes, you would have thought they might have noticed it and actually done something, particularly post the July 7th 2005 bombings and given the knife crime worries mentioned above.

But no. And I was soon to find out why.

The guards were not at all concerned about violence between XY and his partner, by XY towards his partner. They were worried that XY might have hit me, or Nickname Pending, but when it came to the woman who was actually most at risk of harm, they claimed it was purely a domestic matter, and thus out of their hands. I believe one of them might also have shrugged. What does the word "guard" actually mean? Does it mean to sit on one's hands? Apparently so, if the situation is between a man and a woman who may be in a relationship. (Clearly the Underground guards do not consider themselves part of the "us" in Blair's posters.)

I was still shaking from the incidents on the platform and I could tell from their faces that there was no moving them. One guard told me he had gone up to the woman, who was now sitting in the bus stop outside with XY, to ask her if she was ok and she had said yes, thus there was nothing they could do. I did feel slightly better when we walked past the two of them on the way out and XY did seem much calmer and the woman seemed to be doing some of the talking (certainly there was no yelling), but I know that even if she didn't get hit that night she probably will have been thumped by now, or will be in the future. Her paralysed response may be explained by past domestic abuse; XY certainly gave the impression of being familiar with delivering the bash, both psychologically and physically, to his partner.

In rough order, I felt worried, angry, proud (of Nickname Pending for standing up to a bully), scared, frustrated (with the woman involved), terrified, increasingly paralysed by fear, pissed off (at the bystanders), scared, tense, angry (at the guards), scared (as we were walking home down the road, and every time after that when we used that Tube station). I can only imagine how the woman felt, feels.

I'm not going to be overly analytical about this here and now, except to say that a society which turns a blind eye to violence and abuse within a relationship is sick.

It used to be that rape within marriage was not considered legally possible. I doubt that many rapes by partners, married or not, are reported, even though the law has changed, and incidents like this (and this) make the actions of those women who do not come forward understandable. It seems as if, to some (too many), abuse within a relationship is not the business of anyone but the victim and the abuser. In which case justice can never be served.

* Nickname Pending and I discussed this strategy afterwards and have decided that in future the one not irretrievably involved will get help, although I'm not sure either of us will be able to stick to this.
** I have a nasty and seemingly unbreakable tendency to laugh when I am in hysterical disbelief or terror. I once did this and hurt a friend a great deal and that is one of the few incidents of my life that I would change if I could.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Reasons, not excuses

Someone posted a link to my post on the Kahui twins situation, An Excuse For Racism, on this thread at Real Women, resulting in some interesting comments, in particular the following from Grace:

This person [that would be me, span, dear readers] is blaming society, the lack of free help (bollocks), low wages... how about the weather? Or power cuts???? Or simply bad parents and a dysfunctional family? Morals, empathy, a sense of right and wrong and a bit of responsibility - they don't cost anything. The contraceptive pill doesn't cost a heck of a lot, either, especially if you have a community services card. I'm presuming these child murderers know how babies are made? And that they cost money once they are born? Or do people who live in poverty not realise this? If you can't afford to look after your babies, don't keep having them!!! Common sense, no matter what colour your skin is, don't you think? I wonder if this person thinks the mother of these murdered babies should be allowed to go on and have more babies?
No more excuses - they're starting to sound quite hollow.

I have these questions for Grace (and I will post a link to this post on Real Women's forum, for them to see) - how does a family become dysfunctional? Why are parents bad? How is it that some people lack a sense of right and wrong, or an ability to act responsibly? And do you realise that there are women out there who don't have the kind of choices about their bodies and their reproductive health that I might?

Money makes a difference to people's lives - it takes off the pressure about where to live, how to pay the rent, how to pay the power/water/food bills. It means you can save up a bit and buy second hand appliances, instead of having to go for expensive (and often debt-inducing) hire purchases. It gives you independence from those around you (as mentioned in my original post) and the ability to break away from the bad eggs in your life. Living on a low, fixed income, is not an excuse for abuse, but it is one possible reason that families end up under stress and abuse thus becomes more likely.

Fey Hag made a comment later on in the Real Women thread, that really sums up the point of my original post (whether she meant it to or not):
I would like to point out there can never be an excuse for killing.
There can be reasons why it could happen.
If we ignore those reasons we are part of the problem.
Face them & we can be part of the solution.

Carl made the following comment on my original post, which also gets to the nub of things:

I think the key is whether we want to stop it happening again, or whether we just want a chance to yell at disadvantaged people.
To further expand on my original post and my views on the matter, if the reason that the Kahui twins died is because their family is Maori, or the family's main source of income is from benefits, then what do we do next? I don't believe these are the reasons, but if they were, how do we deal with it?

Do we castrate all Maori/beneficiaries? Do we forcibly adopt their children out (to white families not dependent on benefits of course)? Do we sell them only food with contraception in it? Do we end all benefits, to anyone, regardless of circumstances, as everyone on one is bound to turn into a bad egg sooner or later? These are the kinds of solutions racists, eugenicists and those who have little empathy for others propose, in my humble opinion.

As I said in my original post, I am not denying that there are cultural elements behind abuse. I personally believe that the existence of s59 of the Crimes Act sends a bad message to parents; that they can hit their children with quite a high level of immunity from prosecution. (And yes I'm aware that Tony Milne got totally scragged for his post on this point.) I have also witnessed the attitudes of many people to violence within a relationship - that it's "just a domestic" and therefore no one else's business (a post on this is coming soon). These are just two examples I can think of, from New Zealand's mainstream culture (mainly informed by Pakeha culture), that I believe signal that there is in fact a high level of tolerance for violence within the family. Other cultures, including Maori, no doubt have their own values around child abuse, some against it and some for it. The cultural background is certainly a part of the mosaic that forms the reasons for child abuse, no argument from me on that.

But it is just one part, and I believe a relatively minor factor. If the main reasons for child abuse are the kind of reasons I was discussing in the comment thread to An Excuse For Racism (things like poverty, alienation, transience, the stigma attached to seeking help or being helped by agencies like CYFS and Work & Income, a history of family violence, substance abuse in the household, unemployment, etc) then solutions can be found. Not easy ones, but none the less, the abuse rate can be lowered.

Am I just being naive, and want the reasons to be poverty-based rather than the race- or beneficiary-based, because the former have more palatable solutions? Or am I actually correct, that it is the kind of life people are leaving and the history that has shaped them, rather than anything hard-wired in them, that causes most cases of abuse?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ageing beautifully

Over at Alas, Rachel S has posted eloquently about how young feminist bloggers need to be more aware of issues for older women. She has challenged feminist bloggers to post about the issues facing older women.

I instantly thought of women I know of my mother's age (in their 60s) and how differently they have aged physically. My own mother looks much younger than she is, but I often wonder if she feels it is a constant struggle to maintain that appearance. I know that she worries that she dresses too young for her age, that she was very concerned that people would think she was "mutton dressed as lamb" at a recent family event, or that many people think she's had plastic surgery. She carries all of this worry around with her, not because she looks old, but because she looks young.

And then there are the women I know who look their age, or older, and the different pressure on them - the comments that they have "let themselves go" just because they gave up dying their hair, or that they are frumpy because they choose to wear comfortable shoes. Somehow these women are supposed to choose a life revolving around maintaining an appearance that doesn't come to them naturally, that may be unhealthy (physically and mentally) and that pleases others but may be uncomfortable (at the least) for them.

Not much to look forward to for me then - do I hope for my mother's natural youthful looks, or build a shield around myself for the coming barbs about being a "grandma" (as if that's a bad thing!)?

Of course there's the rise of appearance "medicine" which I could always fall back on - lie about my age, and I should be able to get by for an extra decade or so before people start writing me off as a bitter old lady (instead of writing me off as a naive young thing as they do now, or a middle aged moaner as they will in the medium future).

Either way, the mere fact of being female means that your appearance remains a topic of conversation, a tool to judge you by, until your dying days. Never mind my professional or personal accomplishments when I'm 60 - the real factors to assess my worth by will be the colour of my hair, the length of my skirts, and whether I've got crows feet.