Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Walking in mud

Warning: this post contains references to WoW. Do not be afraid, I will use as general terms as possible.

One of the things I say sometimes about having mental illness, and knowing you have it, is that you know how it affects you. You know that your emotions can't be trusted. There's this cognitive dissonance where you're feeling something, like anger, but you have no idea whether it's justified, if it should be more or less or at someone else or at yourself, whether it's an actual emotion or if it's those wonky chemicals in your brain making things misfire.

It's the same now. I was healing a Zandalari dungeon with a group of guildies - it's a hard dungeon and you need good gear and good awareness of what's going on, though it's not a raid, which has more people (10 or 25 instead of 5) and even harder bosses. As healer, I have to react quickly and be aware of everything at once - what bad stuff is on the ground, where the other players are, what the boss is doing and what the boss is going to do, what spells I have available and which I can't cast yet, how much mana I have and what ways I have to get more, etc.

It was like thinking through a layer of dirty cotton wool. I could see that my reaction times were slower, not like my body was moving through thick air that slowed it down, but like my thoughts were. And every time something went wrong I could feel the frustration surging up. I have done this before. I remember doing it. I remember it being, while not easy, easier.

That is, basically, what quake brain is. Everything is harder, but you can remember when it wasn't hard, which is frustrating, and frustrating makes you get emotional and strung out and want to cry.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Money and the communal spirit

Let's get this right out there first thing: How many homeowners in the parts of Christchurch that are to be abandoned don't have insurance? I'm willing to bet it's not a huge number. Which means that the cost of buying them out is going to be pretty damn small in comparison to how much the government is spending on fixing this mess, or even to the cost of buying out all 5000 or so homes, whether insured or not.

Yet it's that relatively insignificant amount of money that had the EQNZ feed turning on itself last night. You see, these people made the choice to be uninsured, and letting them get some kind of compensation would devalue the insurance of those people who were responsible enough to never have an unexpectedly tight budget. In fact, if we were to bail out the uninsured, insurance would be worthless.

Never mind that someone without insurance whose house was damaged or destroyed in a more common means would not get paid out. An individual story of misfortune would get little attention or sympathy. However, a massive natural disaster is entirely different from a solitary house fire. Who would we be, as a people, if in the wake of this we simply shrugged and said "too bad, so sad" and allowed those few uninsured to simply lose everything? Especially when we've been investing so much in this image of ourselves as resilient, as coming together to rise above hardship, as helping our neighbours through it all? Right now, volunteering to shovel silt in the hardest hit suburbs is a legitimate and pretty common social activity. But that's completely incompatible with the attitudes displayed by some last night, the people who claimed that social welfare would pick up the slack, that no one's stolen to eat in twenty years, that it's a moral hazard to look past the technicalities and stick black and whites to actually help these people out.

I can only imagine that these attitudes come from a place of irrational selfishness, the kind that hasn't actually been bothered to look at the studies on economies of inequality and economic disparity to realise that it's far, far more expensive to allow people to subsist on the most mediocre of incomes so that their nutrition suffers, preventative healthcare falls by the wayside, their very living conditions wear at their immune systems. This is why we still have rheumatic fever in New Zealand. It's a disease of poverty and the fact that it's a problem here is nothing but shameful. But, I can understand (while strongly disagreeing) ignoring the problem of the already-poor, especially when they're in rural areas and overwhelmingly of a different ethnic group. It's this callousness towards the people who could be anyone, your neighbour or kid's school teacher or the person who checks your tire pressure, that I don't get. What's the benefit in condemning them to poverty?

I think I figured it out, though, when I reopened Twitter this morning. One of the @ replies that came in after I all-caps yelled at someone and left for the night said, "Yes but some of us went without so we could pay our insurances..."

And that's what it comes down to. Pure fucking resentment. How dare anyone get help when I don't? Never mind that you don't know what situation they're in. It's the same argument people use against affirmative action or treaty reparations or any other attempt to reverse the drastic and blatant inequalities in our society. "I got mine - screw you!"

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

RESOLVED: wanted to talk

Post title is an actual log subject from work this week.

The organisation (I haven't named them here; I don't speak for them, can't speak for them, so it's easier to make a nominal point of anonymity even if a large proportion of readers know which org I'm talking about) I work for is currently moving the call centre down from Wellington. This week we get 50% of the call volume, next week we're going to 100%. I pulled the morning shift for the first three days of this week - Monday I then went straight into Payments to help with a pay run that was unexpectedly complicated, so ended up pulling a nine hour shift. I heard a rumour there was daylight that day, but couldn't say for sure.

Today, the 22nd, is four months on from February. From Twitter and from first-hand contact with the public, I can develop a picture of the emotional state of the city - perhaps not in high detail, but enough to make out the shape of it. And while psychologists are telling us we can cope, there are people who are questioning that. There are even some who've committed suicide already as a result of the ongoing stress and uncertainty. There's a peculiar phenomenon in human psychology - if you put two people in confinement (whether that be prison, solitary, a POW camp, whatever), and tell one that they will never get out, and refuse to tell the other anything, in many cases the former will be able to handle it better. It's not, strictly speaking, the situation itself that is proving so hard, though it certainly is extremely difficult. It's that there's nothing to look forward to. We don't know when it's going to end or how bad things are going to get.

I think it's not irrelevant to this that February wasn't even the beginning. Remember that we had that 7.1 on September 4th - February was six months after that. We are now ten months, not four, into the intermittent shaking, the questions without answers, the property damage and emotional stress, the loss of landmarks we had believed would always be there. We had thought that September was the worst, that after that things would slowly taper off - there would be significant aftershocks, sure. There was one in October, another on Boxing Day. But go back to January and ask any random person on the street and nobody expected any of what we're going through now. So now? We don't expect things will just calm down and stop. We can't. Last time we believed that, things got suddenly and unexpectedly worse by magnitudes (6.3 of them, to be exact).

The two big shakes last Monday (13 June) only reinforced that.

After last night's 5.4 and the dozen or more that followed overnight I was expecting a bad day on the phones today. It was surprisingly calm, with most people in pretty decent moods, and I had some really nice chats with almost all of them ending well. Yesterday was far worse, actually. It's a little inexplicable, but that's how things are now.

I will say, last week was the first time I wasn't able to say that I felt things were improving. Now? I'm not sure. I suppose they are. We're about to get some definitive news, proper long-term stuff of the utmost importance, and that's going to go a LONG way towards fixing some of the communication breakdown that we've been noticing lately. Some of us, at least, are going to be told when their release date is, and as much as the reparation money, the sheer emotional relief of that knowledge is going to do a lot of good. But beyond that, I can't say. My confidence in the future is, shall we say, shaken.


(Because hey, at least we can joke, right?)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

LGBT rights by country

Yesterday, after being accused of being (along with Dan Choi) a closet GOPer (lol), I was told to name countries that allowed gay marriage, with the note that NZ is not one of them. Thanks, I'm aware of that - I live here, and when I'm ready for a relationship it'll be with someone of the same gender the government thinks I am. Mind you, I had already told this person that their previous statement was so ridiculous that I was going to go and look at pictures of bunnies, so I did not reply. When I had exhausted trademe's bunny section, though, I did go to the fastest information source there is - wikipedia. LGBT rights by country or territory provides tables, subdivided by region, of (as you can imagine) rights that LGBT people have in various countries.

It's not a perfect list, I'll say that first. It focuses largely on recognition of relationships, while other rights such as protection from unfair dismissal or eviction, or the right to visit loved ones in intensive care, or the access to hormone treatments and surgery, tend to be grouped under a single column or two. It's a decent overview, though, and provides a very simple way to rank countries.

Firstly I'm going to list the countries named as allowing gay marriage (not civil unions, as New Zealand has), and then I'm going to give a descending list of the number of ticks countries have until I reach the US, as the original argument was centered on the relatively few rights that queers have there.

South Africa, Canada, Mexico City, Argentina, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain
Pending, partial or under consideration:
Uruguay, Israel (recognised, but not performed within country), India (not outlawed, and some cases reported), Nepal, China, Cambodia (technically prohibited but there has been at least one case), Finland, Ireland, UK, Luxembourg

Number of ticks by country:
South Africa (7), Canada (7), Norway (7), Sweden (7), Netherlands (7), Spain (7);
Israel (6.5);
Uruguay (6), Iceland (6), Isle of Man (6), UK (6), Belgium (6), Croatia (6), Portugal (6);
Australia (5.5);
New Zealand (5), Argentina (5), Brazil (5), Colombia (5), South Georgia (5, one "unknown"), Denmark (5), Poland (5), Slovenia (5), Pitcairn Islands (5);
United States (4.5), Finland (4.5), Greenland (4.5).

Finland and Greenland are good company, I'm sure, but it interests me to see which countries are much higher up in the list - Uruguay is probably not a country that springs to mind when you think gay rights, let alone Croatia. At any rate I think it's safe to say that the US is not the leader in LGBT rights that these guys were trying to paint it as.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Why Labour won't win back the Beehive

While all elections are important, 2011's may be a particularly significant one. National has been in power for three years now, and those three years have seen changes to tax, GST, labour laws, health funding, education funding, welfare costs, copyright law.... The most notable thing, though, is how many of these changes have been a) very public, and b) largely legislated this year. An election year. Most of them have also been highly controversial and contentious. Usually, the months before an election would not be the ideal time to be pushing through restrictive new laws like this, earthquake or not, and that National has been speaks to a huge level of confidence.

And why not? Since Helen Clark retired as leader of Labour with the last election, the party has seriously lacked a strong face. Phil Goff has been so utterly forgettable that on at least three occasions I've had to turn to Google to recall his name, including just now to make sure that he was, in fact, the person I meant, simply because it would have been incredibly embarrassing to have gotten that wrong. Many people are hard-pressed to list many of Labour's policies, though would probably do better at listing National policies that Labour oppose. Mind you, in theory Labour was opposed to the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act, and it's difficult to see exactly what benefits their arguments and negotiations got for the public. Jail time is no longer an option, and disconnection has been put on hold - but not taken off the table entirely. The bill still operates on a guilty-until-proven-innocent basis (122N assumes that "each incidence of file sharing identified in the notice constituted an infringement of the rights owner's copyright in the work identified" and that the information is correct - ie, they just assume the right's holder isn't making shit up). To the layperson, it looks as though any actual negotiation on Labour's part was done with perhaps the verbal equivalent of a wet noodle, whether that impression is correct or not.

Perhaps surprisingly I now know more people who plan to vote for the Greens than for Labour. Unfortunately, the Greens are too small and too controversial to be any real competition for National - while they determinedly stand by their principles and make a point of representing those people who traditionally have the least political power. As I write this, the second most recent post on the Greens blog is regarding a conference on Welfare and Social Sector Policy and Reform, which will cost (at a discounted rate) $895 to attend. They note that the Alternative Welfare Working Group is hosting their own conference on the subject for only $8.95, and free for beneficiaries. Skimming through the back posts reveals many such discussions about issues that other parties simply ignore, like a mandatory register for political lobbyists - issues that would create a more open government, that people would be able to trust because they could look up information that concerned them and find the answers.

None of this, of course, from either Labour or National. At this point there's barely any point in National even campaigning - neither the Greens nor Labour are a match for them. The difference is that in the latter case, it's entirely within their control.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Changing Face of Christchurch

The power cut out here at 2.20pm, with no sign of when it would return. The fact that it coincided with a 6.0 earthquake indicated that it could be a while. My oldest sister wanten go home so she walked her round to the breidge and then wandered round taking photos there are a lot of sand volcanoes. sediment/sand/silt, really dirty looking water. The colour of it makes me worry, and I won't lie, I did rinse my sneakers off a couple of times. My sister has a video clip of me poking one of the swollen bits in the road with my foot and wathcing it sluise out.

The local library has been in a state of completely disrepair since February but it has noticeably more damage now.

As for me... I've taken 3mg lorazepam through the afternoon. It's nearly half past seven and I'm thinking about curling up on a couch to try for a sleep. I think, even on Tuesday (February), we had aftershocks but they were small. There, there was a 5.5 at 1, a 4.4 a few minutes later, and after another hour a 6.0, which knocked our power hout. I just sort of want to cry miserably into a pillow.

New Zealand's call for development

Several major US corporations have been in talks with New Zealand Prime Minister John Keyes this month amid revelations that the small Pacific nation may be in dire financial straits.

"We have always been motivated by the needs of the people," said SkyVille CEO Newton McMorrison when questioned on the negotiations. "It's clear that this country needs our help, and we have a duty to provide that as patriotic Americans."

Though he was tight-lipped about the agreement that might be reached, business insiders say that the aim is to create a surplus of low-paid jobs for the impoverished islanders. "It's a well-known economic fact that lowering the minimum wage and removing liberal employee 'protections' leads to increased productivity and cost-efficiency," a film industry financial expert, who did not wish to be named, explained. "By investing off-shore, everyone will benefit, through increased employment - or increased profit."

Not everyone agrees - there have been reports of protests from some native New Zealand fringe groups, claiming that labour protections are vital to prevent inequality. A group of almost thirty people gathered in the streets of the capital of Auckland, shouting communist slogans as they stumbled through the city's bar district, many displaying gang insignia.

New Zealand Development Minister Dan Carter dismissed the groups, though. "We fully expect that this deal will be good for the country," he said yesterday. "And it's only the beginning. We want the United States to know that New Zealand is open for business."

The offer seems to be genuine. Despite repeated claims to the New Zealanders that welfare programs, education and socialist healthcare are simply too unwieldy and expensive, the small nation's Treasury has been extremely generous to those businesses that have already invested on the islands. "We got twenty five million up-front," admitted Hobbit director Peter Johnson, a native-born New Zealander who emigrated to America in an inspiring rags-to-riches story. "Tax breaks, labor law amendments... and the best part is that we've really opened the door for others. A single payment only helps one business. Law changes help everyone who comes afterwards. It's a real bright day for America."

And New Zealand?

"Oh, yeah," he agreed, laughing. "Them too."

- Wall Street Today

Saturday, 11 June 2011

No one got rich being sick

For the last few weeks, I've been working two shifts a week - each one is four hours, so that college students and people with other jobs can fit them around their other commitments easier. After some deliberation I decided to increase this to three.

I realised last night that this twelve hours of work, at the rate of $15/hr (higher than the minimum wage, but not higher than what some political parties are saying should be the minimum wage), I will be earning nearly as much a week as you can get on the sickness benefit. (I could basically equal it with thirteen hours.) While you can get additional medical costs and accommodation supplements, the way those scale is something of a joke. Last time I got the accommodation supplement it was $6 a week. Plus, you can get supplements whether you're on a benefit or not.

The sickness benefit is for those who temporarily can't work part- or full-time - presumably, fifteen hours a week or more. To support these people, the government doles out an amount that's less than what even the minimum wage would pay for fifteen hours of work. So, let's be clear here - if you work forty hours a week, <em>don't get sick</em>. Especially don't get sick in a way that requires a particular diet, or better temperature control, or any accommodations for injuries that aren't explicitly medical. Definitely don't get sick if you have children or pets, or pay extra for a nice place to live. Don't get sick if your medical providers are a bit of a drive away and you're worried about the price of petrol, or if you can't now or won't be able to drive and are going to need taxis. Don't get sick if you have credit cards to pay off, purchases on layby or furniture or car/s bought on financing. Don't get sick with something that will cause you to gain or lose a lot of weight and require new clothing. 

Because even if you're paid shit all, you're going to find yourself fighting with WINZ to get an income that will max out at one third of what you're used to.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Commenting Guidelines

I'll be honest, I don't expect epic debates of philosophy here. However my belief on healthcare is prevention > cure, so perhaps I should apply that to online blogs as well. (As opposed, of course, to offline web-logs.)

1. While English is a vast and varied creature with an astounding number of dialects, each as valid as the next, one should aspire to be understood. One should also aspire not 2 typ lyk dis - a little bit as part of internet-based English dialects is fine (see: point 4), but doing it because you're too lazy for full words is annoying.

2. Astoundingly, I have examined in detail common arguments that run contrary to my beliefs. Want to explain to me why it's okay to hate minorities? Want to tell me my gender doesn't exist? Want to play devil's advocate for people who done bad? Do it somewhere else. I have heard it before and it didn't change my mind last time either.

3. Don't be a creeper. "Creeper" will be defined by me and is subject to change without notice.

4. Emotions are not bad. If you think someone is being emotional and wish to accuse them of such as thinly veiled code for "your argument is invalid because you have feelings", be advised that no1curr.

5. Academic essays with footnotes and a well-padded bibliography are not a requirement. On the other hand, if you tell us that a minimum wage of 39c/hour will increase wages by 500% and decrease unemployment or that restricting food intake to 400 calories a day causes a 5 year weight loss success rate of 95%, you should probably expect to be told [citation needed].

6. Personal attacks are very rarely necessary, especially if you think a personal attack can legitimately draw on a person's weight, looks, gender, sexuality, libido, medical status, etc. Protip: they can't, because none of those things have moral weight. Bigotry does, though.

7. I do not owe you anything. Full stop. (Unless I borrowed money.)