Sunday, 24 July 2011

Feels like: -3°C

There's a moment in the narration of Watership Down where Richard Adams points out that the enjoyment of winter is pretty much a purely human trait. Huge numbers of animal species spend most of the year preparing simply to survive winter - through stockpiling food, or putting on weight for hibernation, or any number of other methods that have developed over the last several million years. Humans, on the other hand, have houses and insulation and clothing and electric heating. Getting through the winter is something that's taken for granted.

Richard Adams didn't go far enough though. Humans who like winter, who claim it for a favourite season, are part of a vast minority privileged enough to be able to block out the cold, even when they're out in it, skiing or snowboarding or having snow fights.

Then there are those whose toes and fingers ache all through the colder months, who don't own warm coats, who worry constantly about paying their power bills. There are those who are sick, whose illnesses worsen in winter. Death rates are seasonal.

And here, there are those with houses being shaken apart, and a thick layer of snow might be the difference between a precarious, but intact, structure, and a collapsed roof.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Spot the bullshit

You know, I really can't be bothered with a coherent essay regarding Paul Holmes' utter idiocy on multiple subjects (but mostly burqa). Instead, I'm just going to quote the most ridiculous parts - the cliches, strawmen, stereotypes and misinformation.

It starts in the very first paragraph - and remember, in journalism paragraphs are incredibly short. "It really is an offensive piece of medieval kit that speaks of medievalism and religious extremism." Aside from the bigotry, this is a just plain bad sentence. It's a piece of medieval kit that speaks of medievalism? That man has a way with words, truly. But then, I say that as a radical that speaks of radicalism.

"[I]n the countries where Islam reigns, they tend to have stalled in their development several hundreds of years ago" Oh.

The biggest population by country of Muslim people is in Indonesia. They have problems with poverty and corruption, but countries several hundred years ago didn't have, say, telephone systems: coverage provided by existing network has been expanded by use of over 200,000 telephone kiosks many located in remote areas; mobile-cellular subscribership growing rapidly. Unemployment is 7.1%, with the biggest employment sector being services with 48.9%. Unemployment in the US is 9.7%, with much lower agricultural and industry employment but a comparable poverty rate (12% in the US, just over 13% in Indonesia - but the US figure is from 2004 rather than 2010, and may be higher now due to the recession and increasing inequality). And the lowest 10% of the households in the US have an income of just 2% of the total, compared to an admittedly-not-much-higher 3% in Indonesia. (Unfortunately the CIA World Factbook does not have poverty rates and household income percentages for New Zealand.) Debt as a percentage of GDP is also far higher in the US, as an aside, since right-wingers like to bang on about how bad that is so much. The most recent data on the Factbook is 58.9%, with a lengthy footnote about how it is defined by the government with a conclusion that if it were all totalled up it would be about 30% higher. Indonesia has 26.4%. I was going to do an OECD comparison as well, but I found the website incredibly confusing to operate.

At any rate, many Islamic countries have growing technological centres, and while inequality is an enormous issue, you can't discount the fact that it's getting to be a pretty pressing matter in the US and NZ as well. You also really can't conflate Islamic with Arab - only 20% of Muslims live in Arab countries. And, by the way - if you're talking Christian countries, you'd have to go with Brazil, which has the highest population of Christians of any country that is over 90% Christian. Brazil has a 7% unemployment rate, 26% of the population below the poverty line, and a public debt of 60%. Other strong showings for Christian population are Ethiopia, the Congo, Nigeria, Mexico, Philippines, Ukraine, Armenia, East Timor and American Samoa. Not exactly what you'd call world leaders when you're picking a statistically good place to live, unless you're super rich I guess.

Oh right, I was talking about Paul Holmes and the second half of that sentence. "so the general cleanliness of their communities - and by that I mean the dust flying round and the rubbish people discard - and the burqa helps keeps your clothes cleaner for longer. This was my observation in Yemen."

It was his observation in Yemen, people. Clearly we are dealing with an expert. Also, there is no dust and rubbish in the modern world, and certainly not New Zealand.

"So I'm not actually bothered too much by the burqa. It just looks silly, antiquated, foreign." Silly? I don't know, I find a lot of fashion pretty silly. Warm tops with three-quarter sleeves, for example. WTF is the deal with that? If you need a warm top, chances are you need it to go the whole way down your arm, and yet the three-quarter sleeve top is something that recurs frequently in the cycle of what clothes you can find in stores at any given time. Purely aesthetically, I actually prefer a lot of styles of hijab to some Western fashions, and a simple Google image search for "hijab" throws up a lot that are anything but antiquated.

"I don't think we mind too much the head scarf, the hijab, though I'm sure most of us think it silly, in the same way we think Exclusive Brethren women silly with their inevitable covering of the hair." Uh, not really? Then: "You see head scarf and you know you're looking at bigotry." This sentence is about the most ironic thing I've seen all week, and I've been reading a lot of politics lately.

"No, it's the mask. The scarf wrapped round the head and underneath it, just below the eyes, the niqab. What's more, it is intimidating." I can think of dozens of things more intimidating than a woman in niqab. Like white men in Western clothes.

"It says: 'I am not part of your filthy heathen community. I'm here enjoying all of the privileges the enlightened West can provide, but I don't really approve of you all and have no desire to be part of you. I am happy to be a long way from the atrocities, monstrosities and medievalism of the country I fled, but still, I cannot be part of you.'"

Even if it did say that (which is very debatable - I'd argue it says "for personal reasons that are none of your business, this is how I prefer to dress right now"), is there actually anything wrong with that last sentence? Is it really more important for refugees to 'properly integrate' into our culture than it is for them to escape the "atrocities, monstrosities and [here it is again] medievalism of the country [they] fled"? Is it a requirement of holding a particular belief that you look down on others who hold different beliefs? I guess Paul Holmes thinks so.

"Look, if one of us is going to a Middle Eastern or Muslim country we make sure we take suitable clothes. So New Zealand women will take clothes that cover their body and they'll take a headscarf. We know it. Wear a pair of cut-off jeans in Morocco, for example, and get spat on and mauled by the men. That's what happens. I've seen it." Paul Holmes knows all about sexual harassment. Also, it's an important religious belief that no one should wear too much clothing in our culture and it would be incredibly shocking to-- Oh wait. See my next paragraph.

"In our communities, we expect to see the face of the person we are meeting or trading or interacting with. We don't like seeing a face covered. Simple as that." Winter is a very difficult time for me. The scarves, hats pulled down, faces tucked into coat necks, hoods drawn up... terrifying. In fact the worst part of the earthquakes has been people wearing dust masks! "To us it seems deceitful, weird, untrustworthy." By covering your face, you're lying. Somehow.

"Want to get ahead in New Zealand and Australia? Take off your stupid niqabs." 'Stupid'. A+ rational argument there.

"I venture to suggest that even the most reasonable New Zealander - even the most pro-immigration as I am - will tell you they hate the Muslim face mask." Well, I don't know. I think I'm pretty reasonable. Would I tell you I hate the Muslim 'face mask'? Let me consider this deeply for a moment.

...No. No, I would not. I would tell you that I hate bigotry, intolerance, lack of compassion, the legislation of such things and violence - both verbal and physical - towards those different from you.

"The French, in overwhelming numbers right through their legislative process, banned them in April." Also, the Swiss banned the building of minarets, and Californians banned gay marriage. Wait, are these supposed to be evidence of good things?

"Said Nicolas Sarkozy, 'In our country we cannot accept that women can be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.' That says it all, really." That's true, that would be awful. And banning the burqa in public means that women who have a strong investment in wearing that are - wait for it - going to be cut off from social life, prisoners in their homes, with vastly reduced chances to create ties to the local community or access needed services. Consider for a moment - if the government were to ban covering your upper body in public, how often would you go out? I would send an email quitting my job right the fuck now.

"And it ain't right to try and get on a bus with your face covered up because of some old medieval claptrap. It ain't how we do things. It is, as Sarkozy says, all about imprisonment." Going about your day is all about imprisonment. Yup. You heard it here, folks.

Luckily for my blood pressure, he's about exhausted himself on the subject there. There's only a couple more paragraphs in the column, which are sure to be completely inoffensive.

"What was also awful this week was the mauling of the visiting Australian women's guide dog, Perry," <- yep, pretty awful. "by a rampant, murderous pitbull in Hamilton." Well that's... emotive, but okay. I guess attacking another dog out of the blue is probably worthy of an emotive description. "The Labrador looking after his mistress suddenly found himself under attack by the monster owned, probably, by someone who does not seek work." Wait, what? Is there some statistic I'm missing here? Maybe a pie chart of rampant, murderous pitbull owners and their job search status? Though statistically I guess most people aren't seeking work - most of us are already in employment.

The comments and other links (whether other Opinion headlines or other 'articles' by Paul Holmes) would no doubt give me even more to comment on, but honestly I've been at this for something like an hour, absent a quick break to feed, water, cuddle and praise my rabbits. Paul Holmes can have one hour out of my week - and even that's pretty damn generous. Now I'm going to do something far more important - play computer games.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Performing gender

When it comes to gender presentation I over-compensate - I have curves and breasts and I'm about 5'3 or 5'4 short, and I hate all of it. In an ideal world I'd probably identify more masculine than feminine anyway, but we're not an ideal world, so I get vehement about women's issues because whether I like it or not, they affect me to a great degree. But it bothers me that it's so damn hard to get people to notice that I'm explicitly trying to present as not-female. An mtf transgender person is recognised more easily (notwithstanding that it's also much more dangerous, since societal misogyny can't deal with the idea that a man would "try" to "look like" a woman, let alone with the idea that she is a woman), but someone who's female-bodied with short hair wearing men's business wear, carrying a completely non-feminine bag from the men's section of the luggage store, is still referred to as a lady and called ma'am.

At any rate, I've been trying to be aware of the unconscious things I do as a result of being socialised female. One example is trying to walk more confidently - head up, brisk pace - because somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I should try not to draw attention to myself (see: street harassment). Something else, though, was about my messenger bag. I love it, it's very utilitarian, and I can just sling it over my shoulder. I've always had this strong feeling, though, from seeing countless women do the same, that holding onto the strap with my hand to my shoulder was a feminine thing to do - whether that's true or not - though I wasn't really aware of how or why. But today it came to me. I've always held onto my bag strap, whether it's a backpack or a single shoulder strap, because it's on the list of Things Women Should Do To Avoid Being Attacked. It's more geared towards muggings than sexual assault, but it's still tied into the idea that women should always be wary of something happening - even walking through an area full of offices, even at rush hour with witnesses everywhere. Not to mention that if something did happen, hanging onto the strap means you can swing the bag around, build up momentum, and use it to hit an attacker.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Dear ACT party, help me out here

Why is rationality better than emotions?

For that matter, how do you know your rationality isn't a simple disguise for emotion itself? Because none of your arguments seem very logical to me.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Rabbit Feeding, completely gratuitous

This has nothing to do with politics, society, quakes or current events.

[description from YouTube:]
Dim as he is, my mini lop has learned what happens at dinner and gets really impatient. Unfortunately I didn't actually think ahead so occasionally I had problems holding the camera steady while trying to open the new bag of oats (he loves them) etc. It's also a bit dark, especially towards the end.

(Ignore the sirens in the background. That's quite normal here, I'm living in an earthquake zone.)

Incidentally, I got a response from Metroinfo about the problems with the website - they're going to fix the 12 route map but the comments about the uselessness of the timetables was basically "yeah, well, we'll get to it sometime." I also forgot one of the things I was going to put in that last post - sitting in a bus earlier this week, parked in the middle of the road outside Barringtons while the driver argued with a passenger about her not being able to hear his instructions because his radio was too loud.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Metro, a subsidiary of ECan't

It seems like most people in Ōtautahi have a story.

Not about the earthquakes - about buses. Up until last year and very early this year, I loved our bus system. It was a cheap, efficient way of getting around the city, with generally good service. Now, four and a half months after The Quake, things have changed. A friend's husband had two buses drive straight past him. My sister called me one evening after waiting two hours for a bus (the Orbiter, which should have been coming every ten minutes) asking me to cook dinner because she wouldn't be home in time. She eventually took a taxi. Route maps on the MetroInfo website change, but the actual route doesn't. Timetables seem to be merely suggestions.

This would be irritating enough as a simple matter of poor service from a company, but it's wider-reaching than that. Metro is a government-run piece of infrastructure with several goals: to provide transport for those unable to drive, to reduce road congestion, to reduce air pollution, to cut down on fossil fuel consumption. (At least, those should be the goals. Knowing the government, they might not be.) Considering how much we invest in the image of Clean Green New Zealand, the utter failure of Metro to adjust by now to conditions in post-quake Christchurch is unacceptable. If you want to persuade people to use cleaner methods of getting around, you need to have reliable cleaner methods of getting around. If people know that the bus system is basically a gamble, that your best bet is just to go to the bus stop and hope one will come past, it's going to stop being their first choice.

But then, given that permits have now been issued for fuel companies to look into lignites, I think we all know that this government has no commitment whatsoever to the environment - let alone alone to the young, old, poor or disabled that make up so much of Metro's customer base.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Strange but true

* In 1898 Morgan Robertson published a book about the SS Titan's maiden voyage, in which the allegedly unsinkable ship sank after hitting an iceberg. In the story the Titan's 24 lifeboats were woefully inadequate for the three thousand passengers and crew aboard the ship, leading to great loss of life. Fourteen years later...

* The same bus company in Auckland employs two drivers with the same phobia of masks or face coverings (a genuine condition, let's be clear). Despite the season, which can be cold even in the north of the country, the passengers in each case who set off this phobia were not wearing scarves and hats, but instead were two of the extreme minority of religious Muslim Kiwi women who wear hijab or something similar.

* Back in 1914, a German mother photographed her baby boy on a film plate and took it to a shop to be developed. The outbreak of the war intervened and she was never able to pick it up. Two years later after the birth of her daughter, she bought another film plate to photograph the girl, and when it was developed she discovered that it was a double exposure - over the top of the photograph of the little girl's older brother.

* Anthony Hopkins co-starred in the 1974 'The Girl from Petrovka' as Kostya. The film was based on a novel that, the previous year when Hopkins had first signed the contract, proved extremely difficult to get hold of, until he spotted a copy sitting on a bench at a train station. The scribbles inside, and later confirmation from the author George Feifer himself, proved that the copy was Feifer's own, missing after having been lent to a friend.

* In PM John Key's office, the pay gap between genders is 27.5% - a fact which has nothing to do with gender.

Though, personally, I do wonder why no one is talking about the reasons for pay discrepancies that can be explained without pointing (directly) at pure sexism. Like that fewer women are in high ranking positions. (Even in "female dominated" fields like nursing, teaching and non-profits there is a disproportionately high number of men in management positions.) Or that women are more likely to take a sick day to deal with children. Or that women are, you know, more likely to be the primary caregiver of children. Or that women are more likely to live below the poverty line. Or that women are less aggressive in negotiating pay. Or that women are taken less seriously in positions of authority. Or that an atmosphere is more likely to be described as hostile to women than to men. Or that more women leave good jobs due to sexual harassment than men. Or that the work often done by women is considered less important. Or that women tend to seek work that offers more flexibility (because they're more likely to be the primary caregiver of children) for less pay. Or that women are more likely to take several years out of the employment market, sacrificing their career progress, despite maternity leave policies allowing them to keep their jobs when they have children. Or that women are less likely to take a promotion that requires them to move to a different city.

You know, little things like that.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Not Charity

So, Auckland had a 2.9 quake, and then Melbourne had a 4.4 - sort of. An area 120km out of Melbourne had a 4.4, really. Now, these are pretty unusual, and obviously people were taken by surprise and startled. And then, obviously, some people from Christchurch expressed the sentiment that perhaps people who were genuinely upset about these quakes should "harden up". In response there came a rush of criticism, all of which invoked the spectre of financial donations towards earthquake recovery.

In essence, it boiled down to, "How dare you mock us - we gave you money!" or "Don't you dare mock us or we won't give you any more money."

That is possibly fair enough, except when you actually think about the Christchurch point of view - not just over the last few days, either. The quakes here have been devastating. Aside from losing possessions, this is a small city, and most people at the least probably know someone who knew someone who died, even with the high number of those being foreign students. Then there's the property loss and the security loss - fears of looting as well as the knowledge that your home (if it's still livable) isn't safe anymore. In fact, no where is safe, and you can't control it. The financial damage is huge, but so is the emotional damage. People here can technically be diagnosed with PTSD already (one of the diagnostic factors is the time since the traumatic event, and while it's still ongoing I'm fairly certain they'd measure that from February 22) and many of them are genuinely traumatised. While people react differently, I know from experience that one reaction involves irrational anger at those who aren't affected for being able to live normal lives without thinking, constantly, about the earthquakes, even at the same time as you're deliberately trying to do something to get away from the earthquakes. It's utterly illogical, but it's there. And when we see people reacting so much to something that happens every day here, of course some people are going to scoff a bit.

So at this point, it's a bit of a stalemate - it's understandable to react to the little wobbles when you're not used to them, and it's understandable for Cantabrians to think you're being completely stupid about it.

But what of this other part, the implied threat to funding? Let's not forget, also, that the rest of the country hasn't been entirely saints about that to start with. There have been many heated arguments over the last few months started over someone saying we should just abandon Christchurch, that they don't want their taxes going up over the cost to rebuild (let's not get into the cost of relocating an entire city, of course). I have not heard many, if any, Cantabrians saying that - they have all been from the North Island. Now they're responding to a completely understandable emotional reaction with more of the same.

Never mind that inequality hurts everyone (except the extremely rich). Never mind that we have a social responsibility towards those in need. To these people, it's all about their feelings. They feel good about giving to charity, but being told they're over-reacting ridiculously hurts their feelings and they don't feel good anymore, and because of that, we all deserve to suffer. Not just the few people on Twitter who told them to harden up, everyone. They, apparently, would be completely fine with people living in their damp, damaged houses, with power bills they can't afford if they try to actually stay warm over winter, with reduced incomes and increased costs, no money for doctors so health problems that start small quickly grow (which is why we have rheumatic fever in Northland, and I will continue to use that as evidence of the shocking poverty present in New Zealand), meaning productivity will be slashed, not just in the short term, but for years and years as young people's growth is badly affected. Eventually many people will end up getting emergency treatment, but in every case this will be more drastic and more expensive than the preventative care that would have prevented it. Some will qualify for benefits, and those whose health is damaged might end up on a permanent invalid's benefit, but they won't be working, and in the minds of most people working is the only way to contribute to society. And that's not even touching on the emotional affects those conditions have, emotional affects that can echo down through generations.

Apparently none of that is worth considering, because a few people from Christchurch were mean.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Te Manākitanga

It's that time of year again - Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. Because every national language needs less than 2% of the year devoted to it! We're watching Te Kāea, which does mean that I need to actually watch the screen for the subtitles, but I'm starting to be able to pick out words more and more often.

That... isn't really enough though. We were building a place at Te Awa o Te Ora, but now that our kaiako harakeke has left the city we haven't been much, plus I've been working more. (I'm up to sixteen hours a week, which is awesome but exhausting.) As for at home, there's a reason we refer to Wednesday as Maori TV night - dad either has meetings or he and mum go to play bridge. He is... not the most Maori-friendly person, to say the least. In fact during Te Wiki last year I posted a rant about his scathing comments towards kupu pōriro like "hipi" for sheep and their authenticity. Because, you know, native languages are supposed to just freeze at the moment of contact, unlike other languages which are allowed to evolve.

At any rate, we watch Toku Reo at least once a week, more when we can, but we live in a very white world. They do say that Ōtautahi is the white supremacist capital of New Zealand. So it's difficult. But by the next census, I want to be able to tell them that I speak Te Reo. That's my goal.

I feel like I should write something eloquent, now, about the meaning behind Te Manākitanga, but honestly I kind of think "Te Manākitanga" is eloquent enough. We don't have a word that concise in English, which seems to be the way with a lot of Maori phrases. Hospitality is about the closest, but manākitanga goes both ways - respect for your hosts, being welcoming to your guests, and there is, I think, something to be said in there about the English (and bear in mind I'm using "English" as shorthand here) refer to this as something that the host does, but to Māori it's a mutual thing. We've failed that. As a collective, we have no respect for Māori, and we have to change before it's too late - because it will be. Te Reo is dying out and so are parts of the tikanga. A lot of knowledge has probably already been lost. And everything I've learned, at Te Awa o Te Ora and other places, tells me that we would be very much the worse for it.