Wednesday, 19 October 2011


No doubt my site is going to have a few issues over the next couple of days - I started out intending to upload some photos of the camp from today and yesterday, and ended up... er, switching hosting companies entirely and planning to switch blog platforms too. In the meantime I'll stick these photos up on photobucket or something because today's ones especially are kinda impressive solely because of the ten people still actually in camp when the main living area has two inches of water on the floor! Thank god it's stopped raining now, and hopefully it won't start again overnight.

ETA: Here's the album with photos from the last two days. The first six are yesterday, the wet ones are today.

Day Four

Christchurch locals will know that the weather was miserable today. I had flax weaving during the day but afterwards made my way to Hagley Park with some paint and tea and a ginger loaf, where people were sitting and moving around wrapped in blankets and warm clothing. A few people were fixing a tent which had collapsed in the wind, which was having a bit of a go at some of the others too, but once I settled down under the gazebo and got my sewing out I got into some conversations and everyone was still cheerful, if cold. The general consensus was that at least people seeing that we were still out there meant they might realise we were serious and not just out for a lark.

We had a couple of people drop things by too, which was awesome - someone brought muffins, and a lady came by to donate a blanket and a couple of big bottles of drinking water. Later on we had a workshop on dealing with the police in a worst case scenario, especially as there's a somewhat disturbing story going around at the moment, but as things stand we are getting on quite fine with the police and I hope that continues obviously.

At eight is the evening general meeting which I got to stay for and quite a few people turned up for that since the meetings are pretty much the most important part of the day. Someone volunteers to facilitate to make sure anyone who wants to speak gets heard and move through the agenda - there were twelve items on it tonight that had been added through the day and at the end people can raise any other points. It's open to everyone so any locals who are interested, they're at 10am and 8pm every day and go for up to two hours, maybe a bit more. They're basically for covering the pragmatic details, and the meeting minutes are posted online on the website.

I did goof and not double check when buses finish now so when we finished I ended up walking home. It was a bit surprising - the city goes dead at night. I saw maybe three other pedestrians the whole way home, and not that many cars either. I probably should have expected that, but it was still a little eerie.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Countdown Begins

I just want to make a couple of things clear here, coming up to the election. The purpose of this blog is not to influence anyone's political opinions, nor to endorse any candidate or party. I particularly have not, do not, and will not accept any kind of financial or physical recompense for advertising or endorsing any candidate, party or political position.

My tangential involvement with the Occupy movement is not political. To me, this is a social issue first and foremost - I think that, as a culture, our priorities are messed up. As far as I'm aware the movement itself doesn't have any particular political position anyway, but really my involvement is simply an extension of my day job in trying to do my best for the society that I really do love, particularly here in Ōtautahi who have been struggling over the last year.

So, yeah, given we're a month out from the election now, I will be largely posting only news especially relating to Occupy, not political commentary. Likely I won't have a huge amount of time at the computer either.

If anyone local wants to get in touch with me for any reason, I of course am on Twitter so you can send me a message there (either through @replies or direct message if you're on my follow list), or you can ask me for my mobile number. Otherwise you can email me, I have gmail under thelittlepakeha, or of course leave a comment on any post here.

Occupy Everything

It all started innocuously enough with a July 13 blog post urging people to #OccupyWallStreet, as though such a thing (Twitter hashtag and all) were possible.

It turns out, with enough momentum and a keen sense of how to use social media, it actually is.

The Occupy movement, decentralized and leaderless, has mobilized thousands of people around the world almost exclusively via the Internet. To a large degree through Twitter, and also with platforms like Facebook and Meetup, crowds have connected and gathered.

As with any movement, a spark is needed to start word spreading. SocialFlow, a social media marketing company, did an analysis for Reuters of the history of the Occupy hashtag on Twitter and the ways it spread and took root.

(more at the link - comments enabled) (video)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Protesters demand to know fate of homes (comments enabled)

More than 100 protesters have vented their anger at the Government for the lack of information on the fate of their earthquake-damaged land.

Yesterday, protesters from around the city attended a rally at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens aimed at lobbying the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority for more information on the fate of homes in the orange and white zones.

Owners of about 9000 homes in the orange zone and thousands more in the white zone have been waiting for months to learn whether their damaged land will be repaired or abandoned.

Supporters carried placards calling for clarity and transparency from the Government and Cera.

Rally organiser Darla Hutt, of Spencerville, said the protesters wanted their voices to be heard. "They haven't been heard, pretty much, since day one," she said.

"Out here in Spencerville and Brooklands, we've been waiting for 13 months now. If they can't tell us what's going on, we want to know why."

Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, and Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel spoke at the rally. Cosgrove said orange and white-zone residents were sick of having a "moving line", and called on Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to be "honest".

"Don't set timelines, and don't say things that are going to cause stress, ratchet up expectation and make promises that you have no intention of keeping," he said.

"The clear message we've got from communities is, `Give it to us, warts and all'."

Hutt said Brownlee, Cera chief executive Roger Sutton and the city's National MPs declined to attend the rally.

The group had planned to march to the Arts Centre after being told it did not have Christchurch City Council approval to hold the event, but, despite a police presence, the protest continued at the gardens without incident.

A spokesman for Brownlee said the Government's view was that orange zones were the top priority.

"We said [last week] Cera would give everyone in the orange zone an update within two weeks, so that means that there will be some form of an update by the end of this week."

Occupy Worldwide (video)

Protests catch on

A month ago the Occupy Wall Street movement had barely registered in the public consciousness.

A formless, seemingly spontaneous crowd of young people had gathered in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan, the heart of American and global capitalism, to shout anti-capitalist slogans at the pampered, overpaid fat-cat bankers and financiers whom they saw as the authors of the economic woes the world seems unable to shake off. But apart from upsetting a few Wall Streeters who were impeded from getting their lattes at lunchtime, no-one took much notice.

Now, through the magic of Facebook, Twitter and the like the movement appears to be everywhere. In the United States, it has spread from New York to a dozen other cities around the country. In Europe, which was already restive after riots in Greece and Britain, demonstrations inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement occurred in Rome and Berlin, where the protesters clashed violently with the police, and thousands marched in London. According to some accounts, demonstrations at the weekend were held in 951 cities across 82 countries, including New Zealand, where unlike the rest of the world where the gatherings were largely leaderless, some unions got on the bandwagon to organise protests.

Some enthusiastic participants are proclaiming the beginning of a mass movement, but apart from a generalised disgust with the performance of the financial world and politicians – sentiments by no means confined to street-marching protesters – it is difficult to discern a common theme to the protests, still less any kind of common answer to the economic problems of the world. In the United States, the movement has focused on the bailout of banks, the huge bonuses bankers have managed to continue raking in despite the havoc they have wreaked, the inequities of the tax system and inequalities of wealth. One segment of the movement claims that they represent 99 per cent of the nation against the 1 per cent of the reigning business and political class. So far as what they dislike is concerned that could very well be true, but when it comes to the remedies to these ills there is no consensus.

In Europe, the protests are even less coherent. In southern European countries such as Italy and Spain, they are focused on the very real unemployment and financial pain being inflicted, particularly on the young, by the adjustments the countries need to make after years of living beyond their means. In Germany, the loudest shouts of the protesters are against the schemes for saving the profligate countries, for which German taxpayers will have to pay.

Unformed as they may be, the protesters are undoubtedly expressing widely felt discontent but converting that discontent into a politically effective message will take more than a few blocked streets in busy business districts. In this respect the Occupy Wall Street movement is a Left-wing counterpart to the Right-wing Tea Party movement in the US. While Tea Partiers have managed to articulate middle-class fears and worries with considerable skill, their influence so far, despite heavyweight financial backing, has been almost entirely negative. Neither movement can be written off at this point, but neither stands much chance of making further headway unless it finds something more positive to offer.

Occupy Day Three

Disclaimer: This is purely my opinion and isn't vetted by the Occupy Christchurch group as a whole.

As I said before I had work this morning, but once I was done it was back to Hagley Park to see how the occupation was going. I caught the end of the morning General Assembly and then we moved the tents around - something they do every day to protect the grass. There was a table set out with food that people could grab and I added my spare bananas to it, as fruit is in high demand, most people eating pretty healthily. For a while I sat with a group just chattin and cross-stitching, answering questions for anyone who came past. We're lucky to ahve a great spot for foot traffic, right by the Parkside bus exchange, so a lot of people stopped over to see what was going on. Only one group was vaguely negative, some teenagers who turned up with a megaphone to troll us, but then even they came over to talk amiably.

Around 2:30 we started up the media and communications meeting, which was relevant to my interests so I joined in with that, which filled up the next couple of hours discussing topics like signage, social media usage, a final edit of our public statement, and what the mainstream media's saying - which isn't much! One of the guys from Unite expressed a bit of concern that we hadn't gotten anything out earlier because Unite had made a statement supporting the occupation and a couple of places took that and started labeling him the organiser which he thought might lead to attacks claiming the whole thing was a union ploy when it's so much bigger than that. I volunteered to look around and collect anything I see, so if you spot anything, dash off an email. You can just put the link in and send it to so don't worry if you don't know what to say.

People are pretty much settling in for the long haul, so any time you're around town feel free to stop by and see what's going on.

Auckland University students protest over fee hikes (video)

About 50 students are currently occupying a clock tower at Auckland University in protest of a proposed fee hike.

Sarah Thompson, speaking from the tower, said the students had broken into the Princes St building and had taken over an office.

The sociology student said the protest was against a proposed four per cent increase in uni fees and the university's refusal to meet with students about it.

She said police were present.

The University of Auckland Council is this afternoon meeting to consider domestic fees for 2012 and international fees for 2013.

Auckland University Students' Association (AUSA) believes the council will agree to increase fees by four per cent, the same as they've done for the previous three years.

AUSA president Joe McCrory is calling for the council to reject the proposal.

"For years councillors have accepted successive governments shortchanging the future of their students when they approve massive hikes to student fees," he said.

Thompson, 30, said the students would stay in the tower until they found out where the meeting would take place.

The protest follows a rally at the student quad that began at 2pm.

Parliament under Lock(wood) and Key

I don't have the time to get too involved in this post as I'm taking advantage of some break time at work, but didn't want to wait until I get home tonight to post it.

The rules on what footage can be shown on Parliament tv (among other things) have been tightened. The article states that they've been changed "by MPs" but it seems to have come largely from Lockwood Smith, the Speaker and National party member, as an obvious response to what happened in the House a couple of weeks ago when a man attempted to jump off the balcony.

Under the new rules "ambient sound" and shots of what politicians are doing would be regulated - meaning that John Key's apparent throat-slitting gesture and the shocked reaction from Labour would not have been allowed into the media if the new guidelines had been in place at the time.

This is not an irrelevant detail. This is important. These are our representatives - we need to be able to know how they act when they're not performing for the cameras. Transparency is a vital part of democracy or there can be no informed consent, and this clearly undermines that.

Parliament is our house. We need to be able to see what goes on there - all of it.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


Today, Occupy protests around the world are being held. In New Zealand they've been organised for six cities, including Christchurch, so when the weather turned too dodgy to harvest flax I decided to head down to Hagley Park instead. I turned up shortly after twelve to see a few dozen people there already. We weren't due to march until later, so the first hour or so I was there was basically just drifting around, talking to a few people, looking at the signs people were making, etc. I painted up one of my own to hold during the march - "Dear John..."

After a little while we ended up gathered around as the organisers said a few words and declared open mic, which opened with some words about the dawn raids back in 2007 - coincidentally, on October 15, so it's been four years today. There was a steady stream of people with something to say and I went up to say something that I'm assuming was coherent because I was complimented on it later. It was about herd immunity and how we don't have to rely on a "love your neighbour" justification for equality, because all of society is stronger when everyone has basic healthcare and enough money to live on and education. About halfway through a motion was passed to remember that we all had different political views (and some don't take part in the political system at all) and to officially declare the occupation apolitical. It passed not quite unanimously, but well over 90%.

The next person to take the mic was a guy from ACT.

Honestly I'm not quite sure what his over-riding point was supposed to be, because he kept veering into really political territory, at which point everyone would start heckling him. Eventually he just gave up and some more people spoke, until maybe five minutes later, another guy from ACT on Campus tried to remind us that capitalism is awesome because otherwise we wouldn't have any scientists. He, also, was heckled until he gave up, and shortly afterwards a science student came up to say that very few of his course-mates were in it for money and that if you wanted to make money you probably shouldn't be in science anyway. Shockingly, sometimes people go into a career because they like it, not because they want to be millionaires. I know, weird, right? There was also a little bit of poetry and a few of us sung Nga Iwi E (though I was sitting down and couldn't be bothered hobbling up to the mic for it with the others who knew the words).

Shortly past two we split up into smaller groups. I drifted into the part where people were talking national issues - we covered a few things like affirmative action, inequality, the price of dairy, leading into dairy farming and the ETS, the state of the education system and how it could be improved, staff cuts at Canterbury University, so on and so on. A bit to eat, and then it was time to head down to Riccarton Road, with me clomping along with my cane at a steady clip.

It was hard to see but a few people moving up and down the line reported that it was very long. Obviously we had far fewer people than, say, Auckland, but it was a good turnout so walking down footpaths we looked pretty impressive. We'd been briefed beforehand on how to keep everything legal so we did, in fact, stay on the footpath and off private property. Not only that, we stopped at cross-lights, and when there weren't any we crossed roads in groups. When I was at the front we also were apologising to people walking the other way and trying to make room for them, though I'm not sure what it was like further back. At any rate, it was an incredibly fucking polite protest march. We got quite a lot of response from passing cars, too, which was neat. We ended up heading right down past the mall to a little park that's sort of halfway between Westfields and Church Corner, where we rested for a bit and then started heading back.

When we made it back to Hagley Park it was just past five, and at that point I was exhausted and thirsty (having drunk all my water while walking down the road) and decided to head home. When I left there were still quite a lot of people there settling down to listen to music and chat more.

So, yes, all in all it was a super day. It looked briefly like it was going to be rainy but luckily it cleared up quite quickly and the sun came out for us. I had some great conversations with some very smart, well-educated people, and the number that turned up was really encouraging. There were quite a few kids and dogs, too, and the alcohol and drug free rule was barely an issue because everyone was just really chill. I'm not sure if anyone's planning on staying the night - there's a bylaw about camping in public places - but there were a couple of gazebos and three or so tents set up, and there was discussion of sitting up into the night wrapped in blankets at the very least.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Racism vs Reason

There is a growing sense of anti-Filipino sentiment in the Bay of Plenty after the Rena crashed, sparking our worst maritime environmental disaster.

This is stupid on a number of levels. Most obviously, the idea that the crew are representative of their entire people is utterly ridiculous. If they'd been white, we would not be stewing in anger at all white people, because white people are seen as the default. Further, Filipinos who are already living in the Bay of Plenty have proven themselves as part of the community. They're just as angry about the oil spill as anyone. Why turn on each other? How is that going to help? They didn't come here as the advance guard for some kind of conspiracy that planned for this to happen - especially not those that were born here.

But even beyond these considerations is the awareness that many foreign shipping companies try to cut their costs as much as possible to maximise profit, something that our government tacitly encourages with our incredibly lax regulations. One of those cost-cutting measures involves the crew. Even in the last few months there have been accusations of outright slavery on ships in New Zealand waters. Now clearly none of us know the exact conditions that the Rena's crew were under, but we do know that the disaster was partly caused by adherence to cost-cutting measures. The captain is almost certainly liable, as are a few others. But we have no idea about the rest of the crew. They may have been victims in this themselves.

All of which means, not only are people completely illogically spreading the blame from individuals to a whole nationality, the individuals may not even deserve that blame in the first place.

All this shows, of course, that the culprits here are simply taking advantage of the situation to express latent racism that they already held, whether consciously or not. Likely it wasn't even directed specifically at Filipinos before, just this murky idea of Others, and the Rena incident has lit a spark to that Othering. But it's no more acceptable than it was two weeks ago. These people should be ashamed to call themselves New Zealanders.

Stop it

It's safe to say that Facebook has critical mass. The number of businesses that have Facebook pages is massive, Safari's spellchecker thinks it's a word, and it's incredibly common to see advertisements for competitions where "all you have to do is 'Like' us on Facebook!" This would be annoying for those without Facebooks in any circumstance, but the fact that a lot of people don't have Facebooks specifically because of the repeated blatant privacy concerns, the willingness of the company to pander to advertisers over users, the lack of moderation of hate pages even when they're reported, makes it even worse.

But when you really get bitter irony is when social protest movements operate off Facebook. You're complaining about corporations running our lives while excluding people who have issues with a pretty dodgy corporation. Seriously?

It might be convenient, but it also serves to really irritate some of the people on your side. Just saying.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

I wasn't even going to bother

So, there's this footage of Trevor Mallard calling another MP "Tinkerbell" during a Q&A session in Parliament. Obviously this is pretty shitty, but I wasn't going to comment on it for a couple of reasons - one, No Right Turn already did, and two, the footage was dated 2009 and he hasn't shown a consistent history of equal shittiness.

Then Labour MPs started getting dismissive and defensive on Twitter.

I mean, I understand the reaction. Homophobia's bad, you don't want to be painted with that brush, especially for something that someone else did two years ago. But the way they're downplaying what Trevor said is actually pissing me off more than the fact that he said it in the first place. There's a very easy way to do it:

"Look, internet, we know what Trevor said sucked. We don't condone that. That's why that footage is two years old - it's not something we would allow one of our MPs to do consistently."

Then Trevor Mallard could say something himself about how he regrets it and he was wrong.

Very simple. Instead we have Clare Cullan calling criticism "ridiculous" and Jordan Carter announcing, "News alert! Homophobia and saying stupid things arent the same thing."

Actually, they are the same thing. And dismissing criticism about it instead of apologising and pointing out the age of the footage looks kind of dickish to the LGBT people who are pointing out that even super awesome people who are strong proponents of homosexual law reform can say homophobic things.

Increasing the cost of education and the unnoticed implications

A few days ago I was part of a conversation on Twitter that I've just been reminded of in which, basically, another user and I went off on a rant about tertiary education with poor Gareth Hughes (of the Greens party) on the receiving end. (Sorry about that Gareth!)

Something that came up that he hadn't been aware of was that in the last Budget (timing reference from @caffeine_addict since I wasn't sure myself when this had happened) a change was made to Studylink entitlements, namely that course-related costs can now only be borrowed by full-time students. For the few who may not be aware, there are three components of a student loan - course fees (paid directly to the university/etc), course-related costs (for buying textbooks and other such things - in my case this will include airfares to get to contact courses) and living costs (up to, unless it's changed recently, $150/week to survive on). The latter two are only for full-time students, and of course those who qualify for the student allowance don't usually bother with the living costs because borrowing money to live on is bad finances.

The problem is, as education gets more expensive and the cost of living increases, the number of people who can afford to be full-time students goes down. While it's possible to both work and study full-time, it requires a job with flexible hours and good time management skills, and in an economy where hundreds of people apply for minimum wage supermarket jobs, the chances of getting such a job aren't great. So basically we have a situation where more and more students are being classified as part-time, and at the same time the financial assistance offered to part-time students is getting more and more limited, which is why situations like mine are so common where without limited full-time classifications it would be impossible for me to go back to university - and if I was under 25 I'd only be able to do it by borrowing money to live on, thanks to the student allowance criteria that means-test a student's parents.

And, of course, these changes are going under the radar. Gareth didn't even know about the course-related costs change and he's an MP - albeit not one in the education field, so I don't blame him, there's a hell of a lot to keep track of - so people who went to university a decade or two ago most likely assume that funding is just as easy, or even moreso, now than it was back then.

(The discussion also touched on the preponderance of scholarships and aid for trades students while other sectors have absolutely nothing at all, but by god I have complained about that more than enough and besides which it's a failing of the very nature of private scholarships [which for the most part I support] rather than government policy.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Breaking Silence

There's a post doing the rounds in the feminist blogosphere that I think is universally important. It's by Sady Doyle on Tiger Beatdown: On Blogging, Threats, and Silence. I grew up on the internet - not my baby baby years of course, but from intermediate school onwards, ten or eleven. We were one of the few families that had the internet at home because my dad works in the tech industry (software more than hardware). I have never used my real name online. Now that I've gotten it legally changed is the first time - I generally receive letters and packages addressed to a pseudonym, and I only give my address out to people I trust, people I've known for a decent length of time. If something's addressed to my birth name, it's probably something official.

Of course, in the wake of the earthquakes, a sufficiently dedicated stalker could potentially figure out my neighbourhood by tracking what I tweet while talking to other locals, though the fact that I live in what's barely considered a large town overseas in a country way down the bottom of the ocean does shield me quite well also. The ones I have to worry about are locals - like the time, several years ago (I may even have still been in high school!), that I wrote a letter to the paper, something I did fairly regularly, and received a phone call at home from some guy who'd felt entitled to ring me up and tell me how wrong I was.

The funny thing, to me, is that growing up there was this emphasis on teaching kids not to give out their personal details online. But now we're in the age of Facebook. There are raging debates about pseudonyms on platforms like Google+ and the World of Warcraft forums, with a lot of clueless people slinging around aphorisms like "if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide" and refusing to understand even when explained that some of us do have something to hide because there is, has been, and will continue to be a subset of the population that thinks simply speaking out is doing something wrong. And the punishment is severe. Of course pseudonyms aren't just an issue of safety, and safety isn't just an issue for women (vis: me), but it is something that's particularly prevalent in feminist and womanist communities... and the fact that I'm not a woman wouldn't particularly help me at any rate, because to the people like this my gender is wrong and my biology defines me.

My biology does not define me. And it certainly doesn't dictate what I can say online.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Today is not a good day to be a New Zealander.

The situation with the MV Rena worsened overnight, drastically. There is now anywhere up to 350 tonnes of oil in the water. There is still little official response to the oil washing up on beaches, with local volunteers spearheading the effort to clean it up despite the risk to themselves in doing so without proper safety gear, which any prepared country should have available. Meanwhile, National's plan is... to wait until it gets worse. @BreakingNews on Twitter, an international newsfeed, has already tweeted that this is our worst maritime environmental disaster ever - how long until they drop the word 'maritime'?

Meanwhile, leaked documents have revealed the government's stance on establishing a marine reserve in the Ross Sea. That is, we can't do it, because it would damage our ability to fish toothfish. Toothfish are longlived and slow-maturing, and as soon as I learned that it told me everything I needed to know. They're fucked. It's been a consistent story through history - species that are longlived and slow-maturing have a tendency to die shortly after encountering humanity. (Not all of them, to be clear - the fact that there are still longlived and slow-maturing species alive does not negate this point. The fact that many of them are critically endangered especially doesn't.)

Today, I am honestly ashamed of this country. I fully believe that the current government will destroy anything that stands in its way if its allowed to continue down this path, and while that would be terrible anywhere, the fact that New Zealand has so much biodiversity that simply can't be found anywhere else makes it even more tragic. The only glimmer of hope lately has been the truly impressive response by the Greens to the Rena disaster - they have been incredibly active in talking to the public, investigating what's going on and keeping people informed - check out this post by Gareth Hughes regarding the helpfulness of chemical dispersants. No one else in the public view is asking these questions. Their web presence is especially vital these days in reaching those who otherwise would have to rely on mainstream media for news, when the media both locally and worldwide has repeatedly failed over the last several months and years to represent situations accurately and without bias.

The fact that anyone could genuinely believe that humanity does not have an important impact on the planet is utterly depressing. The fact our government itself seems to think that "opinion" is more important than science is even moreso.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Money, sex, death

Things are carrying on here, with another 5.5 quake last night and a new water conservation method in my household - making sure to run the shower into a bucket while it's warming. Heading into the summer with restrictions in place, after the rocky months we've had, is a little worrying for so many people who've taken the quality of our water for granted.

Ben Kepes has posted a piece following on from an earlier one about major questions regarding the honesty of demolition companies working in the commercial red zone. Because of a lucky coincidence in the timelines he's able to show evidence of what seems to be a pretty bold rort on demolition costs - namely, a 400% increase from pre-February quotes. There's a couple of comments about one particular point of the breakdown, namely the waste removal charge, that may shape up to be illuminating depending how they go.

I hesitate to use the word sex despite it fitting thematically because this isn't about sex, it's about rape. Every so often I head to and skim through the posts. Some of them are pretty dodgy, but nothing compared to what I found when I clicked on the option to vote on submissions. From the outright statements to statutory rape (FML? FHL.) to, oh, more statutory rape, it was a rather disturbing ten minutes. Note that there were a few more that I clicked past before realising I should have capped those as well! The fact that I turned up so many of these in such a short time really suggests something about how huge a problem this is, especially when you consider that most people wouldn't post something like this on FML. (And yes, I'm aware that one or any of them could be made up, but I think that also ties in to how prominent and insidious rape culture is.)

Though for something slightly lighter, I also caught a birth control stupid.

As alerted by No Right Turn, today is World Day Against the Death Penalty. This post has a couple of suggestions for things you can do regarding the four countries in the South Pacific where the death penalty is still legal, though three of those four aren't actively using the legislation and the fourth isn't enacting it - at the moment.

Though, I do note with interest that the poster used to advertise the day seems to feature a white man, though it's admittedly hard to say for sure due to the colour palette as he could be some variety of light-skinned Middle Eastern.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Tax is good

I'm sure I'm not the only one who played SimCity as a kid(/teen/adult). My usual version was 2000 and the bane of my existence was tax. You usually had it set around 7-8%, because when you put it up people booed and left town, and if you put it lower you couldn't pay for anything. I loved all the little social good programs you could institute, so paying for things was an ongoing problem. Like all good politicians, I solved this by putting it higher than I intended, then lowering it again to trick my people into thinking I'd caved.

In the real world, people have other solutions. In Kansas, the Topeka City Council is struggling with having to pay to prosecute crimes that last month Shawnee County decided were too expensive to deal with and shunted onto local councils. The cases involved are misdemeanours, including domestic battery.

Faced with the reality that you have to spend money to punish criminals, Topeka has come up with the obvious answer: stop punishing them. It will be voting next week on whether to repeal the ban on domestic battery, rendering it not technically legal, but not something that will be actively prosecuted either.

This is pretty solid evidence that austerity is a bad plan, especially considering that most of those who espouse it also try to be seen as tough on crime. In New Zealand the government is essentially paying companies to pollute; in America, tax deferments mean that corporations are operating under a tax rate of 0%, or less. The richest are avoiding paying their share, and everyone else is paying it for them.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

On oddities

This is the letter I just wrote to Mark Stevens:

Good evening,

As you are listed as the Stuff editor I thought you may be the best person to ask: how exactly does Stuff define "odd"? I'm unclear on exactly what is odd about this article:

Is it the neglect? The poverty that caused a family to not be able to afford healthcare? The possible mental illness hinted at by the reference to a psychological assessment?

I had always thought that "odd" had a connotation of something quirky, unusual and potentially entertaining, but nothing about this story seems to fit those criteria, nor any other that I can think of. This situation is, in fact, distressingly common, and there is nothing entertaining about it.

I would be grateful for some insight on this matter.

Thank you,

Pointed question time

Yesterday we got a flier in the mail advertising David Carter (the National MP for my electorate) holding a meet and greet this weekend. And I'm extremely tempted to go.

I mean, really, what better opportunity to ask a REAL LIVE MP about government policy? Like, what he thinks should be done about the rising levels of social inequality, and is he going to accept the payrise that compensates for the loss of the international travel allowance at a rate of 300%, and does he think National subsidising polluters is inconsistent with their pledge to reduce emissions by 50% of the 1990 total by 2050, and is the government planning to install commissioners in Christchurch to replace the city council.

These are questions that niggle, dammit.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

An exciting new project

There's been talk at my weaving group of getting a stall at a market sometime to sell our work.

Today we made it pretty much official. We'll be weaving under the name of [Te Whare] Whiri Pūkenga and selling at markets etc. I believe the first one we'll be at is on October 22nd on the site of the Holy Trinity Church (now demolished) at 168 Stanmore Road. We do a lot of putiputi (flowers) but the group has skills in quite a few areas. I'm hoping, personally, to have some ribbon work done by then.

As for what I've been doing yesterday and today - I was too tired and headachy yesterday to start anything big - here's a picture:

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Enrollment is open!

Before the weekend I sent Massey an email explaining my situation and asking whether my goals would be feasible. Today I got a response.

Hello Chris

Thank you for your query.

Firstly, it would certainly be possible to transfer your credits from Canterbury University, whether these are given as specific papers or general credit will depend on your Canterbury transcript.

Student returning from exclusion are usually only permitted to take 30 credits per semester, and only permitted to continue if they pass a minimum of half their papers in the year. Therefore, I consider your plan to be a realistic one.

I have an additional recommendation that your enrol first with us under a Diploma in Arts (120 credits) which is an eight paper qualification that can be upgraded to a BA at a later date. This will allow you to have a more tangible completion date based on the rate you are completing papers.

Please contact me if you have any further queries.

Having looked at what you have to do to transfer credits (including a fee of $85), I'm not sure whether or not I will, especially since I only have space for, at most, one of the courses I've already done if I do a diploma first. (I'd be doing five Maori Studies courses, one in academic writing, and two elective, which I probably want to do as Social Policy.)

When I was checking the right email address to use to contact them, I noticed that enrollment was due to open in "early October" so I looked back today. Sure enough, it's open. So after I eat dinner I'll be working with the StudyLink and Massey websites to see how much I can get done towards applying for limited full-time status, looking at a student loan, and enrolling. The enrollment deadline is in December, so I have plenty of time, but hell. I'm excited. \o/


Congress has blocked US$192 million in aid to Palestine after their bid to the UN for statehood. The money was to be used for health, food and humanitarian efforts.

Apparently, the move to ask to be recognised as a country is "very dangerous and ill-advised", though I haven't been able to find anything specifying why. So far the only danger I've seen in it is that it's resulting in the US throwing a hissy fit. But that's probably just me being uncharitable - after all, the US cares deeply about the people of Palestine and only wants what's best for them, as evidenced by--

Oh. Wait.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Sex in America

Salon has posted a sex-ed test for adults. Curious, I decided to take it. My total score was 16/27, which, in their summary at the end, means I'm probably Canadian.

I'm used enough to this sort of thing that it just amuses me now - ironically, I would have had a higher score if some of the questions weren't so US-statistic-centric. Among my incorrect answers were the number of US states that allow same sex marriage (I picked four), how many married people are happy with their current partner (I said 64%), the most visited porn site on the web (I picked youporn because it was the only one I'd ever heard of, thank you fanfic) and the percentage of heterosexual men and women in the US who've had anal sex. I picked 25%, because many a year ago I read something saying that about 25% of straight people and 25% of gay people had had anal sex. None of my wrong answers are actually to do with the having of sexual acts, which is funny, because I have very little interest whatsoever in having sexual acts.

Friday, 30 September 2011

When consent of the governed cannot exist

The very basis of democracy is that the government is by the people, for the people, of the people. The government is supposed to act in the name of the people, with their consent - that's what the whole voting process is about. When a significant enough portion of the population votes for a party, it indicates that they approve of their policies.

But for this relationship to have any real meaning, the people must know what the government is doing. Not necessarily detailed information that is highly sensitive, but at least an overall idea - they should know what those secret parts of the government are doing, in general. A government that deliberately hides its actions from the voters cannot have consent, because the voters do not have the knowledge required to form consent.

Which is a problem for National. They have just - finally - admitted that the SAS are in a combat role in Afghanistan, which I suspect quite a lot of people were pretty sure of anyway (I was). But we weren't told. Instead we were fed the lie that they were "mentoring" and "giving aid". In the meantime, there are families in New Zealand who've had members in combat situations while the government lied about it, and presumably the SAS were not allowed to admit this.

And of course, they're still hiding the ACTA and TPPA negotiations. The only information we have on either of these treaties has been leaked, not released officially, and all of it looks bad for us. Yet, if the government signs these treaties (and they look set to sign ACTA this weekend), we will be contractually obliged to follow them, severely limiting the laws we can set in several different areas - for example, one provision that has been partially revealed could well prevent us from enacting laws to protect against the evergreening of medical patents (such as those in India).

America is a bully when it comes to copyrights. It is utterly ridiculous that an easy way to guess whether a book or movie is in copyright is to check whether it came out before Walt Disney's work, yet media corporations like Disney are essentially setting copyright laws for much of the world because of the broken political system in the US and the sycopancy of other governments.

America is a bully when it comes to medicine, too. It's a huge industry over there, with drug companies and insurance providers essentially running the entire show, and the fact that medicines can be bought here for far cheaper than they can in the US upsets them terribly. That's possible because we have Pharmac which can negotiate a decent deal for us, so they'd love for National to agree to anything that would weaken Pharmac's position - another thing rumoured to play a big part in TPPA.

And especially, America is a bully in the Middle East. At this point there are no good guys in this conflict - every side is supporting or has supported or will support at least one dictatorial regime willing to inflict horrors on its people for militarial or financial gain. We should absolutely not be encouraging it, let alone participating, yet National has put us in that situation and refuses to bring us back out of it. To suggest that it would be dishonorable to withdraw is utterly ludicrous and downright offensive. If they had any respect for the dead they would bring the still living home.

If we lived in a fair world, more voters would take National's admission of the true nature of the SAS' mission, as well as the credit rating downgrade we've just received, as reason to not re-elect them. Not that Labour is the best alternative, having just caved on the video surveillance bill, but three more years of National will only increase the death toll - not just for our soldiers, but for those driven into poverty by their failed economic policies.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Why I hate Christians

Before we begin:
1) Yes, the title is deliberately provocative.
2) No, I don't actually hate all Christians. My eldest sister, for example, is fairly devout by NZ standards, and she's awesome. Similarly there are entire ministries that seem to have actually read the Bible and are openly accepting of all people and perfectly willing to not try to convert you in every conversation.
3) It might be more accurate to say I hate hateful people, or bigots, or whatever. But if I say that, it's very easy for people to ignore it. "Well, I'm not hateful," they think, and go on with their day. If someone ties in a group they identify with, they have to actually pay attention, even if they then dismiss it entirely anyway. And the hate is so inextricably tied up with Christian tradition that there is still accuracy in this stance.
4) Before you go further, Google "No True Scotsmen". Here, I'll even do it for you. I will get into this further below, but it will help if you have a basic idea of the concept.
5) I'm aware that other religions hate gays too. Mostly Abrahamic ones. However Christianity holds a hell of a lot more influence over the Western world where most people reading this live, as well as a lot of the rest of the world as well. There are a hell of a lot of Muslims, but on a global level, I believe that Christianity still "outranks" Islam when you look at power and influence, even if both of them have their good and bad parts.
6) I am not a hypocrite for blasting Christians for their hate. Why? Because there's a huge difference between hating a minority group that's minding its own business and hating a dominant group for oppressing you. Don't try to argue this point with me. Anyone who can't see this is either intellectually dishonest or stupid as fuck.

Now that we have that out of the way...

Christianity is the dominant group in Western society. Yes, it is. You may not notice if you're Christian, you may not even notice if you're not, but to someone like me who believes religion is personal and has a completely different belief structure, it is awkward as hell to sit through a Christian funeral service (as far as I can tell this means all of them, unless they're specifically something else), wedding (almost as much so) or prayer in general (every day in Parliament, for starters). The problem is that Christianity is so much a part of Western culture that it's difficult to point to parts of it. It's everywhere. It's our holidays, our calendars, our laws, our social codes, our charities (for a fun time, ask me about the Salvation Army - not specifically the NZ one, it's much worse in eg the US), our media, our stereotypes, our view of history, our discussions, our art, our literature. This isn't always a bad thing, though I'm not sure I'd categorise any of it as good either. It just is. Contrary to what some people think, I'm confident we'd have fair and decent moral codes and laws without Christianity, or even without religion at all, so I don't buy into the argument that Christianity props up the justice system. But it bothers me that everyone is expected to know particular Bible stories, but many New Zealanders only have the vaguest pictures of Maori folklore and oral history.

That's only a minor annoyance though. The real bugbear is [one of] the dark side[s] of Christian morality - its attitude towards LGBT people. I'm queer. I'm not sure I'm specifically trans, but I'm sure as hell not gender-normative. And Christianity hates that. Just this morning I had a Christian guy telling me the names of some books I should read and wishing me good luck on some imaginary quest to somehow become not gay, which is still infinitely better than ex-gay therapy, something that all reputable psychiatrists agree is pretty fucking harmful. It doesn't matter, inherently, whether queerness is nature or nurture, because everything we've learned about it indicates that you can't just choose to stop being gay. (I do think sexuality is in some ways fluid, but that's still not the same thing, which I might get into another time. The tangent would be too long for today.) This guy didn't even think he was doing anything wrong. He thought he was helping me. He probably would have said he was doing it out of neighbourly love - something that couldn't possibly be good for me, would almost certainly devastate the stable mental state I've worked incredibly hard for, and might well kill me.

Many Christians would tell me - and have done - that the bigots are not really Christian. This is where No True Scotsman comes in. Telling me this doesn't help me. It doesn't fix anything. All it does is make you feel better, because it removes your culpability by pushing the villain away from anything you're associated with. Unfortunately for your conscience and peace of mind, they are Christian, and while you're busy disavowing them, they're busy killing people like me, either directly (hate crimes), legally (policy that disadvantages queers and makes us more vulnerable, in much of the Western world, or just straight out outlawing us, in many other places) or indirectly (the atmosphere of hatred and intolerance that fuels homophobic bullying and drives people to suicide). It is Christian groups in the US that are pushing for death penalties in Africa. It's Christian groups that threaten to stop helping the needy if gay marriage passes. I suppose you can argue that Catholicism isn't Christianity, but most of us queers are probably still going to want to stab you in the face if you honestly try to pull a No True Scotsman on the Catholic Church. Yeah, yeah, they're regressive and no one cares about them anymore-- oh wait except the fuckton of people who do. Turns out they have massive influence in South America, Africa, much of the Pacific... a lot of countries that have suffered pretty badly through the era of colonialism and in the years since, largely because of the policies put in place by Christian conquerors.

After all, if you do a bit of research it's pretty easy to find information about the prevalence of particularly transgender or third-gender people in cultures literally world-wide, as well as same-sex behaviour that may or may not be equivalent to our current ideas of being gay or lesbian or bisexual. (I hold that those concepts are fairly modern, in their current form, so you can't really make the claim that someone like Alexander of Macedon was gay - it's something that just didn't apply in that time period. It would be like calling a historical figure a beatnik, except obviously also quite different because beatniks are nothing at all like queer folk. Well, unless they're also queer.) It's also pretty easy to find evidence that most or maybe even all of these cultures were a lot more stable and healthy before they were kindly colonised and subjugated and forcibly converted to Christianity, but again, that's edging off towards a tangent, albeit a very related one.

You know, if you actually take a step back and think about it, it's incredibly fucked up that gay and transgender rights should be up for discussion at all. We are a pretty huge number of people. We are normal. We are natural. We have always existed in some form or other. There are hundreds and hundreds of species of animal where same-sex romantic or sexual behaviour is well-documented. Yet it's actually pretty damn normal for people to honestly, genuinely debate over whether or not we deserve to have the same rights as anyone else. Even in New Zealand, which is often regarded as pretty liberal, though depressingly increasingly less so at the moment, gay couples can't adopt. One partner can, by themselves, but the other would have no legal rights as a parent despite participating just as much in the day to day raising of their child. There are plenty of other issues too, that's just one that's come up recently because of the big gay marriage debate (which would grant us adoption rights).

And really that paragraph, right there, is why I hate Christianity. Because it has made me into the subject of a public debate. Because it teaches people to be disgusted by my existence. Because it encourages violence. Because me having equal rights is so abhorrent that it outweighs hundreds of problems that the millions and billions of dollars spent on political campaigns and lobbying could help to solve. And, also, because so many Christians would rather argue with me about this than actually try to change it into something that would better represent the 'tolerance'* they claim to have.

(*I don't want your 'tolerance', btw. You tolerate eating vegetables you hate for dinner. You tolerate bad behaviour out of politeness. I will never settle for tolerance.)

Monday, 26 September 2011

40 metres of ribbon and a weekend

Actually, a little more than a weekend, but that scans better, and really that's all that matters, right?

At any rate, my project lately has been what I've been referring to as "Joseph's technicolour dream bag" on Twitter - a kete made from ribbon.

Normally I work with NZ flax - harakeke - which looks more like this:

I don't know if anyone's noticed, but flax and ribbon are kind of different materials. Ribbon is slippery and doesn't change texture or size or shape, which means that it won't go hard and shrink when it's dry, but it also doesn't stay in place as easily and can be a lot fiddlier. And it's not free. My materials here were limited by what 10m rolls I could find in the boxes of ribbon at The Warehouse, but I think I came out with quite a good selection in the end. I had to use a lot more pegs to hold things in place than I normally would, and a couple of times I resorted to pins as well, and overall it probably took a fair bit longer than it would have if it were flax (though the preparation of flax takes a while, whereas ribbon is just cut and go). There was a lot of swearing.

So what would I change if I was doing it again? Possibly go and read a few books instead. No, I'm kidding. Honestly - machine sewing.

Before you go "aha, that's how zie did it!", there is actually almost no sewing in this. At the very start I laid all the ribbon side by side and sewed straight across, about 10cm from one end.* Then, at the very end, I hemmed the top to prevent the ribbon loosening and undoing over time. But still, it's delicate work and the needle is hungry for my blood, so next time point me at the sewing machine, baby.

I'm sort of enchanted by this, so I'll most likely attempt more, in different styles and to practice the decorative patterns as I learn them. It should be fun.

* When you do it with flax, using stringy stuff (muka) you get when separating it into pieces to tie them together, my teacher calls it whatu. I hate whatuing. It's fiddly and difficult and the muka breaks on me a lot. I actually tried a different style of kete once without whatuing, and promptly learned why they started doing it in the first place - it's even harder not to.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Enough hypocrisy to go around

One of the articles I read this morning when I got to work was about a walkout at the UN after the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made a speech criticising the US. The article was quick to point out the hypocrisy of the speech, coming from the leader of a country whose last election was highly questionable, where protests are crushed by the military and where there is a great deal of political unrest. It also makes much of the conspiracy theories, such as the claim that most Americans and most outside the US as well believe that 9/11 was staged to ensure the survival of Jerusalem. There seemed to be a fairly decent amount about Zionist conspiracies.

But then near the bottom, Philippe Bolopion (Human Rights Watch's UN director) gives us this with no apparent sense of irony:

"The world assembly should take with a grain of salt the remarks of a leader who said nothing about the public hanging yesterday of a 17-year-old in his own country," he said.

I'm sure everyone knows what I'm getting at with this, but on the off-chance that sometime in the future someone comes across it and can't recall, yesterday also happened to be the day that Troy Davis was executed in Georgia (the US state) despite seven out of nine witnesses recanting and alleging police pressure*, one of the two remaining witnesses being a primary alternate suspect, and three jurors saying that they would change their votes if they could do it again. As far as I'm aware, Obama has made no comment on this.

(*another source I read said ten witnesses had signed affidavits recanting - either way, it is a considerable number)

Ahmadinejad's speech pitted the poverty and unhappiness of most countries against the riches and power of the US and unnamed European nations that he accused of perpetuating wars, causing the current global economic crisis and infringing on "the rights and sovereignty of nations."

He attacked the United States and European colonial powers for abducting tens of millions of Africans and making them slaves, for their readiness "to drop thousands of bombs on other countries," and for dominating the UN Security Council He singled out the US for using a nuclear bomb against Japan in World War II and imposing and supporting military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

"It is as lucid as daylight that the same slave masters and colonial powers that once instigated the two world wars have caused widespread misery and disorder with far-reaching effects across the globe since then," Ahmadinejad said. "Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world?"

Honestly, he may be a complete douche, but I can't say he's entirely wrong here. I do note that there is plenty of poverty and unhappiness in the US and other Western countries as well, of course, this isn't an East-West divide, and I doubt that Iran would do any better if it were suddenly put into a position of global power. But that doesn't make his criticism automatically invalid. And this isn't all distant past, either. There are plenty of people alive who remember WWII, and the propping up of dictatorships is still going on today. It's been a few hours since the House of Representatives cut off a bill that would have continued funding the government past the end of the month, which is a pretty huge deal for the economy of, you know, the world, and it was only a day or two ago too that Obama tried to convince the Palestinians not to approach the UN with a request to become a member state, which unless there's some kind of sudden death double or nothing clause I'm not aware of is not actually going to cost them that much even if it's a no, so I can only assume the only advantage in them not asking is that the chance of it actually happening is vastly decreased.

And really, next to the funding and support of dictators and other such meddling in outright wars for people's very existence, I don't exactly feel right getting into new information about their demands in treaty negotiations. We'll just leave it at: the US does not inspire happy feelings in me, and it's disappointing that it was Ahmadinejad who brought this up simply because he's so easy to dismiss.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Why I support a UBI

You may be wondering, what is a UBI? UBI stands for Universal Basic Income, which is exactly what it sounds like: a guaranteed income for everyone at a level that allows them a basic standard of living, which can be padded by working for money. In my opinion, this extra income should have a higher tax burden on it than is now standard to support the system - others may argue that it can be done a different way.

Isn't this a lot like socialism? Yep, it is. I'm okay with that. I don't see why socialism is a dirty word. We're social creatures who live in societies, and we all benefit when standards of living are increased.

So, why is a UBI better than the current system? We already have benefits, after all. But those benefits don't actually cover everyone, and when they do, they're barely enough money to get by on, with prices rising much faster than benefit payments. Not to mention, our current system is based heavily on the idea that paid productive work is the benchmark we should be judging people on, and that what work is most important is based on the ideals of an entrenched system that devalues some very difficult jobs. This is why teachers are paid so little, school librarians get even less, and parents get nothing. Any job that is traditionally a woman's job automatically gets a massive paycut, simply because it is considered to be a woman's job. If we were to start over with none of those preconceived notions, who really thinks that teachers and nurses would be put into such shit working conditions? These are vital jobs - caring for the sick, instilling knowledge and the ability to analyse and assess into the next generation.

In this sort of environment, we also risk losing a lot of knowledge that isn't considered commercially viable. Not many people have the time to put into learning something that isn't going to help them earn money - in New Zealand this particularly applies to a lot of Maori traditions like carving and raranga (flax weaving), studying Maori oral history or pre-Cook science, interviewing elders about the stories they remember*, etc. This knowledge is valuable, but especially since Maori are disproportionately represented among the poor, it would be very easy for it to die out.

A lot of opponents to the idea of the UBI say that if we give out money for nothing, people won't work. This is categorically untrue. People do volunteer work as it is - quite a lot of it, in New Zealand. Other people really believe in what they do and value things other than income. How many people have taken or would take a job that pays less because they would enjoy it more? Many would have a job just for something to do, to keep them busy. And still more would simply want a bigger income than the UBI would provide, and so would work to earn it. Not to mention that the importance of work and productivity is a cultural one that wouldn't disappear overnight were a UBI to be introduced, so you also have the people who'll work because they wouldn't want to say they didn't work.

And then there's the jobs themselves. As we improve technology, everything becomes more efficient. We need far fewer people to do work that once would have required many. We also have a constantly growing population, and while that means more services have to be provided, as a company gets bigger they can streamline their operations to require fewer staff:customers than a smaller business would. Improved methods of transport and ordering aid this as well - you don't need a brick and mortar store in every town if your customer base is all shopping on the internet and having products sent to them, and you don't need a factory in every city if your product can be trucked down to your other stores without losing quality.

To cling to the idea that someone must work in a paid job to be a productive member of society is backwards. Free market capitalism does not value the things that people value. We would still have art, and literature, and entertainment - but we'd have much less of it... or rather, with a UBI, we'd have more of it. And in my eyes that can only be to the good.

*there is actually a show on Maori TV that is basically just talking to elders about their lives, and it's awesome.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Piracy leads to scurvy and starvation

So, you want to buy an ebook (or mp3, or streaming tv or movie, or other digital media) but it's not available in New Zealand. Of course, you could download it for free, but that would be Wrong. And Bad. And Illegal.

Luckily, there are ways to genuinely pay for products that are geo-restricted. It takes a bit of effort, though. Basically, what you need is generally a combination of the following:

- A US IP address. You can use a proxy or VPN for this, and there are a range of both free and paid services. I have HMA! Pro VPN. The advantage of VPNs is actually pretty varied - showing up as being in a different place protects your identity, which is good for many reasons (victims of stalking, people with controversial opinions, political activists); securing your connection (they tend to have varying connection types, some of which are better than others for this), and of course geo-restrictions. My VPN is one I pay for, but if you poke around a bit you can find plenty of free proxies and a few free VPNs (or VPNs that give a free trial). Technically I could still cancel mine in the next couple of weeks for money back - but I'll note that I had a small glitch where the VPN thought it wasn't connected, so I emailed customer support and had a response in minutes which fixed the problem. Which is pretty damn good.

- A US credit card. I didn't have to do this today, but if I had, my preferred option would probably be to buy a prepaid credit card. Just google that and have a look at some of the results; one of them should work for exactly this purpose.

- ...along with a US billing address. For this, I found a service that is actually a package forwarder. That means that they give you an address that you can have goods shipped to and then forwarded to your real address outside of the States, which also means if I want to buy something physical I can probably get a more reasonable postage rate. I went for VIaddress which has the advantage of being free sign up and membership - you only pay when you actually have something shipped. They also consolidate packages for you, incidentally. You can probably find others by searching for "us billing address" - you'll get a lot of results that are forum conversations about this sort of thing and they often have good suggestions in them. One advantage of VIaddress is that the address they give you is in Indiana, which doesn't have extra sales tax like some other states.

- Occasionally you also need a US phone number. This took a little more work as the first ones I was recommended (from VIaddress' FAQ) have both stopped accepting new registrations. A bit more googling, however, gave me Voxox - you need to give them a mobile number for verification, but they accept quite a lot of countries including New Zealand, and you don't have to pay unless you use the service for outgoing calls.

Once you sign up for these things, you should be good to go. Use the proxy or VPN to mask your IP and head to an IP checker to make sure it's working. What is my IP address, IP Chicken, IP Checking, etc, will all do this. Then go to the site you want to buy something from and either set up a new account or edit your current account with your US credit card and billing address details (plus the phone number if they require it). In the vast majority of cases, this will allow you to successfully buy whatever it is you want to buy, thus successfully not pirating shit.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Institutional racism

This came up on Twitter yesterday after Margaret Mutu's comments, and while I love Twitter, the format is not good for serious discussions and explanations like this. A couple of people were curious so I'm going to expand on what I was saying to make it a bit clearer.

First off, I'm no expert on this. I'm white, I don't have to live with it, this is stuff I've learned from reading and speaking with people who do. Specific to New Zealand your best bet is to ask a Maori person (or other POC but Maori and Pacific Islanders tend to be the worst off, particularly Maori) if they'd mind explaining to you the slightly more subtle ways they experience discrimination, and not argue with them if they say no or you don't like what they say.


The problem with discussions like this is that there is more than one definition of racism. It means hugely different things to different people, where some think of it as only deliberate acts of hatred and others think of it as a wider system of unconscious values and ideals that works to disadvantage particular populations. The definition I use is one that was explained to me which is a sociological, academic concept of racism as POWER + PREJUDICE. A brown person can hate a white person or a Chinese person and a Japanese person living in a Western country (where neither of them have power) can hate each other, but they are not the socially advantaged group, so it's racial prejudice on an individual level rather than the usually far more damaging institutional kind.

Now, when I talk about power, this doesn't mean that everyone in that group is going to be well off. White people can be poor and marginalised. A white, mentally ill woman who's a sex worker and single mother is not going to be a very celebrated person - but she will be better regarded than a Maori mentally ill woman who's a sex worker and single mother. That's the key, that two people in the same situation have different possible outcomes solely due to their (perceived) race. And when I talk about institutionalised, that means it's not all deliberate actions by bigoted people. For example, in the US you'll get a different sentence for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, despite the fact that they're essentially exactly the same thing, because crack cocaine was viewed as more harmful and more addictive (a later study found that they have about the same level of addictiveness, among other things). Originally, the ratio was 100:1, with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for possession of crack. Incidentally, crack users are more likely to be black. Obviously the result is a law that adds to the incredibly disproportionate numbers of black people in prisons. And even within that framework blacks are more heavily targeted - a 1995 study identified users as 52% white and 38% black, but those charged with crimes related to the use of crack were 88% black and 4% white.

Putting black people in prison was not the goal of the original law (probably), which means that by the strictest definition it wouldn't be racist. But the idea that crack is more harmful could have been influenced by unconscious racial views towards the black users of crack, and even if it was all a complete coincidence, it still had a terrible effect on the black population which would fall into the broader definition of racism.

A site I really like is Micro Aggressions. It's a tumblr that has dozens and dozens of tiny little stories, some of them only a couple of sentences, submitted by people who are marginalised. If you read one, it's rarely a "big deal". But the point is that there isn't just one. There's a lot of them. They're things that happen all the time, and that's really draining (speaking as a mentally ill queer person perceived as female, here). So when you live in a society where policy and law inadvertently discriminate against you and where the majority population* doesn't value or understand you, there isn't necessarily any recourse, because if you complain about something, the person with power has no idea of the context. They don't see the micro aggressions that the discriminated against person does. While I've learned from books and essays and blogs and conversations a lot of the ways racism operates towards Maori in New Zealand, I can't fully understand it because I'm still missing most of the picture.

What I do know, though, is that I'm unwilling to condemn a Maori woman for expressing reserve about white immigrants. I think that quotas won't work because the prejudices are already ingrained here too strongly, but I'm not going to argue with her basic premise, and I'm not going to pretend that her attitude damages me, because she lacks the institutionalised power to impact on my life in any way whatsoever. Let's face it - there's a reason she feels that way. Expecting POC not to feel that way is, frankly, a little irrational, considering everything.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Haere mai, National.

UPDATE: Pictures are now up on the Events page.

Today, the Cabinet met at the Copthorne hotel near the airport. There were about thirty people there to "meet" them, so I decided to stop by after work to join in and have a chat to a few people. (I overlooked the fact that turning up in a shirt and tie, accompanying someone with a camera round her neck, made me look a little like a journo, but the lack of a press badge and the fact we stuck around for a while without trying to interview anyone did at least something to dispel that.)

The most striking thing about the crowd was that people had so many different agendas. It's to be expected, really - this was a golden opportunity and there's a lot to be angry about. It did mean, however, a bit of clash when people's opinions overlapped, and a bit of discomfit when people were being particularly noisy about some things that we didn't entirely want to be associated with - there was a fair amount of venom directed towards the police officers, who were actually acting pretty damn professionally, as well as general sexism, fat-shaming, homophobia, and rhetoric comparing our politicians to actual overseas dictators. I mean, hey, I hate John Key with a fucking passion, but I can admit he's no Gaddaffi. I'll grab the photos later and get them up so you can see the range of signs. One of the funniest moments was actually when Roger Sutton was leaving and one guy was saying, "Roger Sutton for Prime Minister!" while another chanted, "Arrest Roger Sutton!"

On the whole it wasn't too bad though, and there were some good people there. Even the guy we got into a bit of a slagging match with apologised for going off. Everyone was incredibly passionate and clearly believed pretty strongly in what they were there for; I was listening to one of the organisers give an interview to a couple of actual reporters and the things he was saying were really succinct and well thought-out. We did get quite a lot of support from passing traffic, too - the best were the big transport trucks blowing those really deep horns, and one guy who went past on a bicycle ringing the bell madly. Predictably, no politicians came out, but as I mentioned above, Roger Sutton did. He was leaving for the day to go and get some more work done, but instead of getting into a car well onto the Copthorne property and having the police escort him out (as everyone else did), he just calmly walked out and stopped for a moment to say hi, answer a couple of questions - or at least, say he couldn't answer them - then got in his car. As he was leaving, he tooted his horn and gave us a wave, which most people were pretty happy about.

I did get a chance to speak, though I will be the first to admit I am not well versed in the use of a megaphone! I got it mostly sorted out though. The gist of it was really that we're increasingly running out of places to turn to. We're not resilient, we just have no other options, but politicians won't listen to anyone long enough to be told that. There was actually a story in the news today in which John Key was quoted as saying that we're "stoic" down here - hardly anyone has come up and complained to him. To which I say, how can we? He was barricaded away inside with six or eight police officers on hand! It isn't any real surprise, really, that people are so eager to talk to me when I'm at work - no one from the government will listen, and then they ask me where I live and find out I actually get where they're coming from and they're telling me things they haven't even told their families. As I said this afternoon, my job is half help-desk and half phone counseling.

There are also going to be more community meetings, to get people organised and talking, because as a few people rightly pointed out, it's only when people are able to share their stories that the best plans come out. The first will be next week, Wednesday the 14th of September, at 7.30pm at the Linwood Community Art Centre, 468 Worcester St. I think it's being run by Action for Christchurch East and Beyond Resistance - there's going to be a couple of short film clips and lots of talking, as well as food and drink and "child friendly space".

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A date with destiny

When a disaster hits, you always hear stories about miracles. Someone didn't leave on time for their jog. Any other day they would have been there. They would have gone if they hadn't come down sick. They woke up, heard something strange and rolled out of bed just in time.

Normally I don't pay so much attention to these - while it's great for that person and their family and friends, I always assume that for each of those, there was probably someone who was on time to walk their dog, who went into work on their day off, who didn't have sick leave, who was a heavy sleeper. But not on September 4, 2010. That day we had the lucky escapes without the tragedies. No one died that morning. And for the rest of the year, people continued to not die, even on Boxing Day when the quake hit in the middle of the day. It seemed like luck was looking out for us.

Probably no one expected that that luck would get cashed in six months later, and now nothing is the same. This last year seems to have consumed everything that we once considered normal and replaced it, with helicopters, with empty sections, with FOR SALE signs on houses still standing, with portaloos and septic tanks, with safety fences, red zones, green zones, soldiers, bulldozers, EQC claims, magnitudes and liquefaction and water tables. I've watched videos taken in the CBD without recognising exactly where they were filmed; photos seem to be completely lacking in context.

The city is more than buildings though. Some of us have left, and I imagine Christchurch will always mean something to them, and many of us have stayed, and I know it will always live in our hearts. Tonight I visited someone who I'd never heard of at this time last year, and we watched 80s movies and drank and laughed a lot, and not that many months ago I'm not sure how easy that would have been. Time makes things easier, but it will never entirely bring back the world we used to live in.

To all those who have been lost to the earthquakes (probably 200 or more now), rest in peace, and kia manawanui. We will never forget.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Our government is tech savvy (yeah right!)

Just about twenty minutes ago, someone shared something on Twitter that really seems a little ludicrous. It's a page from the Environment Canterbury website, a government department:

Click on the image to open the full-sized version.

Considering the fact that it would be a compliment to call National's web presence "mediocre", it's a bit of a concern that government websites are in this state. The most recent Fairfax poll put Greens at 11% - but a similar poll on Twitter recently had them at the time I voted closer to 70%. That's because they're by far the political party with the most successful online presence. Similarly their Facebook page, I'm told, is more popular than both Labour's and National's. And of course, it was National (with the help of Labour, who have now admitted their mistake and are pledging to repeal the law within 90 days if they're elected) who pushed through the notorious "Skynet" law which showed just how complete their lack of understanding of the internet really is. In this generation, can we really afford a government of dinosaurs? Shouldn't we be looking to the future? To do that, we need people capable of navigating the chaos the internet has become, and National is clearly not qualified.

And of course, tomorrow is September 1, the first day of Spring and the day the Skynet law comes into effect.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

@johnkeypm can I borrow a fiver?

Two things today, and I'll start with the moderately more lighthearted one. I'll be headed to the National party welcoming committee on Monday (and hope plenty of other people will too!) and I'm pondering signs. My sister suggests "STFU & GTFO" for the pure simplicity, but I'd like to come up with several over the week so I can choose between them and then actually make the damn thing on Sunday. (Due to the news of my impending $1000 dentist's bill and being given the opportunity to do my raranga two days a week instead of one during September I don't think I can afford to take Monday morning off.) I'm tempted by "dude, where's my economy?", "not going anywhere (coz we can't afford to leave)", "TIA is MIA"... I think the last time I had to come up with a good slogan was during the teacher/student strikes in 2002.

Less jovially, police are still telling women not to go out without an escort. In New Zealand. Only at night time, though! I guess it's fine during the day, but damn, once that sun goes down you ladies had better make sure you have a male family member with you and your ankles covered or you're gonna get raped.

Except, probably not, since stranger rape is by far the least common kind, but if you do it's your fault. You should have been at home with your male acquaintances to protect you. You know, where most rapes happen.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Someone's oversensitive, but not minorities

From what I can tell, Campbell Live did some kind of piece last night on golliwogs, everyone's favourite racist child's toy, and immediately white people came out in force to protest whatever accusations were made. Black people are oversensitive. Golliwogs aren't racist. We need to move on. I don't overreact to Irish jokes. etc, etc, etc. You know the drill - white people are far more qualified to decide what's racist than any of the people who actually have to suffer the consequences.

The thing that really baffles me is that golliwogs aren't even an item of particular importance. What impact would it actually have on someone's life to not actively encourage the enjoyment of them? Unless you happen to make a living off them, I can't imagine it would be something most people even think about very often until someone dares to point out how offensive they are. But when they do, you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd demanded the destruction of an item of truly epic cultural importance, something central to the lives and ideals of millions of people.

What I want to know is, even if defensive white people are able to view the situation completely rationally and there's nothing wrong with golliwogs whatsoever, why is the idea of compromise so terrible? Doesn't the fact that a lot of people think there's something wrong outweigh "rationality"? What do we gain from the utter lack of respect for an entire group of people's feelings, and how is that lack of respect going to lead to a more equal society? Surely racism comes about when we do not respect the values and feelings of other ethnic groups, rather than when we work to shout them down and dismiss their concerns, declaring them unimportant and silly and oversensitive.

Honestly, when I see someone so committed to ignoring other people's boundaries, it makes me wonder which of mine they'd consider unimportant as well. And that's not a nice thought.

Friday, 26 August 2011

'Bias' in reporting

Recently there was an article on Stuff about how John Key told the Americans back in 2008 that National couldn't make any really conservative policies because there was a socialist streak in all New Zealanders. They've now updated this news with more information - John Key has confirmed that he said that!

The article's here.

It's really not particularly interesting, and I'd seen a lot of it before, but the comments are worth a read purely for the highly contradictory nature of them. There are quite a few people bashing Stuff for their anti-National reporting... and also people bashing Stuff for their pro-National reporting. There are a lot of people saying "Well, yes, and that's awesome." But there are also some who hate it. And, of course, the few people who don't follow the journalistic style well enough to realise that only a minority of the article is Key's words, as well as the people who think that rich-bashing is a good political move.

For extra brain-ache, the poll that came up for me in the side bar was asking if I thought benefit payment cards were a good idea. In our apparently socialist country of rich-bashing, 77.2% of the respondents voted yes.

God, I'd hate to see what we'd be like if we didn't hate rich people so much!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Time to take up placards?

"How r u supposd 2 deal with EQC when their systems aren't showing correct info. I can see my claim online & c info they can't & won't! #eqnz" - @sherdooce on Twitter

Christchurch, I'm tired. I'm tired of seeing the stress people are under, I'm tired of feeling the stress myself, I'm tired of being abused because I'm the most accessible person who'll actually talk to people over the phone. Coming out of winter people have power bills in the hundreds or thousands that they don't know how to pay - WINZ are telling them to apply for a Red Cross grant that closed a month ago. The plight of those in the residential red zone who are waiting for (often inadequate) payments has been documented and reported on, but I wonder how many people know that repair work on houses in the orange and white zones stopped as soon as came out? I've come across families that are hoping to be lucky enough that when half their house is knocked down they'll be able to sling a tarpaulin up and live in the other half. I've had people tell me that the damage to their home isn't too bad now that the wall has been propped up to keep it from collapsing. I've talked to at least one person who came down with pneumonia while living in a barely-heated house.

It's easy to say there's help available, it's easy to say people can leave, it's easy to say that living without plumbing isn't that bad. But the information government offices have is out of date or just plain wrong, WINZ turns people down for emergency funds because they earn too much or they've already had their meagre allotment or they haven't exhausted other options, even though no one knows what those options are - either because they can't afford the methods of seeking them out (eg internet, daily newspapers) or because they're poorly advertised. Other people know they'd be able to manage their costs if they moved away, but it's impossible to find the money for transport, moving trucks, somewhere to stay while they find a new home, bond, rent in advance. Some decided early on that they could manage without help, but now are realising they hadn't anticipated how costly things were going to be - and many sources of assistance have dried up several months down the track. And anyone who lives in several particular suburbs in the east knows about the stench of human filth, the effort it takes to carry chemical toilet tanks to a septic station, the frequent trips to arrange around small children or availability of home help, the feeling that you're never quite clean enough.

The fact is that financially things are only getting worse for a lot of people, and it's falling upon private charity to help keep people's heads above the rising tide. And private charity can't do it all.

On September 5, Cabinet are meeting at the Copthorne Hotel in the Christchurch city centre. If I recall correctly, this is the first time they've met outside Wellington in well over a decade - it's clearly supposed to be some kind of symbolic gesture rather than pure coincidence, especially given the date. Unfortunately, symbolic gestures are not what we need. We need help. If we can't get it from government helplines, we still have the right to peaceful protest, and this seems like the perfect opportunity. I want pickets. I want placards. I want our government to see that we're not going to go away. I want to hear what they have to say about their complete failure to protect the people they're supposed to represent. Am I the only one?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The devil's luck

When I called the dentist this morning I was told that they were booked up for two weeks.

However, it so happens that another practice is sharing the building with them, as they used to be located in town. And they had a cancelation just before noon. So two hours later I headed off to find out how financially boned I would be.

In another piece of luck, there was enough of the tooth left to build up a composite crown on. I didn't have to wait for it to be fixed on another day, he just did it right then, and when it came time to pay the cost was $160.

Now, I do have to go back next week for a check up and xrays. At the very absolutely minimum, I'm going to need three fillings, and that's not cheap. But this was far, far better than I'd expected, so I'm counting it as a win.

I'll also be taking the financial hit myself and leaving the special need grant from WINZ as a resort for some other emergency. The downside is that I'm paying for it off my credit card rather than a safety buffer of money in my actual bank account, so there'll be interest to pay off, but if I leave $200 in my account and shunt everything over that to my credit card I'll be able to keep my progress up in getting that down. (I need to leave money in my account because my debit card for it is one of those fake-credit cards that you can use to buy things online with money you actually have, and that "credit" card info is what I wrote on the forms which are now with Births, Deaths and Marriages. I have no idea when they're going to want to get that money, which is somewhat inconvenient.)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Unexpected costs

It's the nightmare of anyone barely making ends meet - the sudden spectre of an unavoidable and unaffordable cost.

I've just broken a tooth. An incisor, even, and the one next to it seems to have a cavity. Last time I went to the dentist I was informed that the medication I'm on is known to dry your mouth out which causes problems with teeth, and I admit I haven't had the greatest habits over the last few months. Comfort food and frequent lack of caring means I haven't been taking very good care of myself - including my teeth. So, this may have been inevitable. I'll be calling a dentist tomorrow for an appointment where the disapproval will no doubt be tangible and I'll be able to ask about payment options; probably I'll be able to pay in installments.

Other than cash assets, there are three places I can immediately go to to see if I can get help with payments.

1. Health insurance, which I do have. However, my plan with Southern Cross is VIP 2. These are the VIP plans:

VIP 1 ► the foundation module that everybody begins with, provides cover for the least predictable, high cost conditions that require in-hospital surgical and medical treatment.
VIP 2 ► provides the same cover as VIP 1 plus consultations with specified specialists and diagnostic tests and imaging.
VIP 3 ► provides the same cover as VIP 2 plus day-to-day medical services like, doctor visits, prescriptions and physiotherapy.
VIP 4 ► provides the same cover as VIP 3 plus dental and optical benefits.

They say it's modular, meaning you can tailor it to what you can pay and choose what you want covered, but as you can see it's incremental - you can only get dental coverage if you also get doctor visits, prescriptions etc. When I was working out what I could afford, I couldn't manage that, though ideally I would have wanted dental coverage. (If you do have VIP 4 it only covers 75% of dental and optical rather than 100%.) I believe they do have plans where dental is truly an optional module that doesn't have other requirements, like Wellbeing, but because VIP is a more restricted one, when I was choosing my plan it was the cheapest option. So, while I will double check, it looks like I don't have much hope here.

2. ACC covers dental injury, ie, a result of an accident or sports injury, or as a result of treatment. They do not cover wear and tear, and "ACC will not fund treatment to teeth that were decayed prior to the accident and the need for treatment is to resolve non-accident related conditions." In complicated cases (where complicated is actually pretty simple) a dental advisor will decide, which can take up to 21 days, or if it's extremely complicated (there was a dental problem before the accident, they need to verify that the treatment is accident-related) up to four months.

3. WINZ has a Special Needs Grant for emergency dental treatment! "Dental treatment must arise from an emergency situation which has given rise to an immediate need." They also provide a helpful link to the maximum payment for emergency dental treatment: $300. If that isn't enough and you're receiving a benefit, you can apply for advanced payment of benefit, which should be no more than $200. At some point in the process, it's not clear where but I suspect before you get anything at all, you must have exhausted other options, including assistance from other government agencies - this may well include ACC, which hopefully doesn't mean waiting four months for their decision.

As an aside, I found the following text on the Other Sources of Assistance page:

"Consider the balance of any Student Loan available. Consideration should be given to declining the application if this option has not been exhausted. Note under no circumstances are students to be referred to institution hardship funds. Students may be eligible for Special Needs Grants assistance." (my emphasis)

I have seen people talk about "student-poor" as being different from actual poor. I guess even the government thinks that "actual" poor people don't study.