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.

Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui

I wasn't sure about the wisdom of going to work today, but I'm glad I did. Without an exception everyone was very nice, even when I had to give bad news.

On the way home I stopped just around the corner to say hello to two little terriers who had had their walk interrupted when their owners saw a couple they knew. When I straightened up one of the men said to me, nothing about the extremely nice weather we've been having for the last couple of days, but instead, "How's your house?"

This is the new normal, it seems.

- 22/8/2011 - RIP -

Friday, 19 August 2011

Eating cheap - discount food on the web

Today at work I was informed about the presence of the website Reduced to Clear (NZ) when one of my coworkers came in with a pile of chocolate to hand out. I didn't have a huge amount of time to check it out, but as well as lollies it does cover quite a few categories of groceries, and the prices look like they vary quite a bit - some close to what you might get in a supermarket, some quite a lot less. He said you have to spend about $40 to get free shipping, but it could be a pretty good resource if you're keeping an eye out for deals.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Steal bottled water, sentenced to be thrown on the streets

At a certain point, any civilised society should ask itself what the purpose of the justice system is - rehabilitation, or revenge? So many of the dominant Western countries, though, seem excessively confused on this simple question. I suspect that most clashes over the relative length of prison sentences arise over a difference of opinion here. Personally, it seems to me that the only rational answer in both a social and a financial sense is that it should be for rehabilitation, but lawmakers tend to consider the general population to be a bloodthirsty lot - often not without reason. And it's far easier to appear to be tough on crime by increasing punishments than to fix the problems before the crimes happen.

When I was a small child, I read a lot, and learned somewhere that in about the 1600s in London, you could be executed for stealing a shilling. Now, I don't think that that was the norm. Sure, it probably happened, especially if the thief happened to belong to a minority that was not socially acceptable at the time, but I don't think the big book of law and punishments actually listed execution as a stock standard sentence for that crime. But that leads to the question: In 500 years, what will children learn about us?

It's not just the riots in the UK, though John Cameron's talk about having offenders evicted and cutting benefits to all of them, not just those jailed, as well as targeting families, is pretty disturbing. Especially when you consider that there have been people arrested for stealing not just minor items, but minor items generally classified as necessities (and in at least one case for receiving a minor item). As media becomes more personalised with the internet, as economies become more and more divisive and unequal, there have been an awful lot of pretty disturbing stories about the punishments poor people have been getting. Among some highly publicised ones have been a man stealing $1 from a bank to get healthcare in jail, another stealing $100 to get into detox, then feeling remorseful and turning himself in and being hit with a fifteen year sentence, at least two homeless mothers claiming a false address to get their children into school who apparently need to be made examples of - how dare they think children are entitled to an education? - and, somewhat related, mothers having newborn babies being taken away after eating poppy seeds skewed the results of the "standard" opiate tests given to women giving birth in Philidelphia. (I don't mean to pick on the US with these - because it's so dominant and has such a large population, most of the most publicised cases tend to come from there. Certainly the class warfare in other countries is often just as bad.)

Put simply, most criminals are not exactly ruthless sociopaths. The risk of reoffending for a huge number of them is actually ridiculously low, especially once they've been faced with jail and thus been shown that their actions are taken seriously. Some people do need to be put away for life, of course; Clayton Weatherston, for example, is highly unlikely to ever be safely released, based on his behaviour during the trial which seemed to show a massive disconnect between reality and how he viewed it. But for others, the risk of reoffending only exists because they are forced to it - while for some who never see the inside of a police station, let alone jail, the risk of reoffending is extremely high because society will tolerate criminal behaviour, as long as it doesn't step outside acceptable lines. Date rape? Totally okay. Business fraud on a massive scale? Not exactly desirable, but you're such a nice white man, so prominent in the community, so you just get a slap on the wrist. Forcing people to acknowledge poverty? LOCK THAT SHIT DOWN. And dear god, don't even think about daring to be poor if you're black!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Playing with matches

The New Zealand blogosphere is all a-twitter with John Key's welfare plan for teenagers on benefits. I have some lengthy thoughts, but first I'm going to link to a video: The Intervention - Witness - Al Jazeera English

I'v already linked this a couple of times on Twitter and a week or so ago on Google+, but I think it's particularly relevant right now. It's nearly an hour long, but worth it - it covers the intervention program in Australia which took control of the incomes of Australian Aborigines in the far north of the country and the fall out from it. Obviously there are differences to what John Key is proposing - for starters we're not going to be taking away jobs that young people already have - but it's important viewing.

The thing about National is that I can't trust they've thought any of their policies through. The complete shambles of the Skynet law proved that. And that leaves me with a lot of questions about this one. What is this supposed to achieve, exactly? Are they also going to make a push to teach people budgeting skills, or are they just going to do it for them? Is there going to be room in the system for birth control, and if so, will people be able to choose the one that suits them the most or will they only have a few options? (eg, a certain dollar value a week might be good for condoms or the pill, but not an IUD, which is a cost outlay to begin with and then no more for years) What happens when something unexpected comes up that needs to be paid for - most people will sit down and make a decision, like, maybe I'll spend a bit less on food and put off paying the power bill until Tuesday. Will beneficiaries be able to do the same thing, or are they just screwed? Have they actually considered the fact that 16-17 year olds can't legally buy alcohol and cigarettes anyway, so if they're doing so it must be through a method that isn't necessarily going to be affected at all? (Note in the Intervention video, at one point a shop owner says that though he's been losing money, alcohol sales haven't changed at all. It's the food sales that suffered.)

Even aside from practicalities, I have little doubt they haven't given serious consideration to the emotional affect of something like this. In essence, we'd have people leaving high school ready to join the adult world, and then finding that if they can't get a job they have to go into this system where they're treated like small children. If we want to beat them down and humiliate them, it's probably a good policy. If we want to build resentment, it's great.

I really can't help but notice that the only people who think this is a good idea are those who think people want to be on a benefit. Look, I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. Being on a benefit is hell. For starters, your income is far less than a minimum wage full-time job would give you, and it's still less than many minimum wage part-time jobs would give you. Beyond that, though, there's the constant worry. How do you explain the gaps on your CV? In my case, how do I explain my complete lack of references even from when I was working? I had a nervous breakdown at work, and then somehow went through two more jobs before finally realising I couldn't actually keep going - as a result, I don't have anyone from back then who'd even say neutral things about me, let alone good. Most unemployed people don't have that problem, but that's another issue with this system - it treats everyone the same, when everyone is not the same. Then there's the self-blame and confusion. Am I really on this benefit because I have to be, or am I self-sabotaging? If everyone's saying this is my fault, are they right? Maybe I am just useless. Maybe I shouldn't even bother. Maybe I should just live down to their expectations. It would be easier than trying to prove myself over and over again and never, ever managing it. (In the case of teen parents, I suspect, but don't know, that this might be even more common. Society hates teen parents.)

Ultimately, this policy does nothing to address the real issues. It does nothing to create jobs. It does nothing to teach young people skills. It does nothing to give them confidence in themselves, to find their strengths, to help them realise their goals. It's just a looming dark pit, right behind them, waiting for them to make a single mis-step. Given ongoing events in the UK, given the financial crisis in Greece, given the growing inequality in New Zealand and the repeated outbreaks of preventable illnesses and the high numbers of young people without futures, this is going to do nothing but doom us. And I, for one, am terrified for the results of this election. I have no realistic hopes that Labour will beat National, but all I can do is hope that their majority is slim enough that they need a coalition - and not just with ACT.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Doing Studylink

It turns out the government is so committed to making tertiary education accessible that there's a whole department dedicated to putting students in debt. As well as a basic student loan to cover course fees, if you can't afford to eat while studying full-time, you can borrow your living costs from the government.

Okay, this isn't entirely fair - they also manage student allowances, again for full-time students. Here's where I get lucky. Because I'm closer to 30 than 20, my parents' income doesn't get means tested when they decide whether I can get one. Remember how I said I was the fourth of five children? To raise five kids, my parents had to draw in a pretty decent sum of money. Unfortunately Studylink doesn't take into account the fact that all seven people in the house needed to eat and have things to wear, they just look at the income and say it's too much. Now that I'm over 25 though, they trust that I actually have to support myself (I guess most poor people are supposed to still be supported by their parents for quarter of a century), though the fact that I'm boarding in my parents' house (due to the fact that I cannot afford market rent prices; I pay an amount closer to what market rent was when I was renting a few years ago) does affect how much of a student allowance I could get. The fact that I could get one at all is due to limited full-time - basically, I'll have to get Massey to tell Studylink that I'm too sick to study full-time, so just handwave and pretend that I am.

Anyway, on the Studylink website, you sign up for an online user id so it will save your eligibility test results and let you apply over the internet. Oddly enough, despite the rather confusing nature of the actual eligibility test when your situation isn't completely straightforward, it was signing up for a user id that I had the most trouble with, and this is due to strength. If you've signed up for a lot of online accounts you've probably come across at least one that will tell you your "password strength". It's based on factors like the length, the type of characters used, and sometimes whether it's made up of words you can find in the dictionary. Studylink loves strength. It protects your account from hackers who are too lazy to actually hack! Not that they even have a name linked to my account yet. Here's what you give them when you're signing up:

Password: You'll see why I'm listing password first in a moment. The strength restrictions on your password are that it has to be 8-15 characters, made up of both letters and numbers. Easy enough.

Username: Your username, which you use to log in as, has exactly the same requirements as the password. This is where I had to think for a moment because none of the various handles I use online have numbers in. I just replaced some vowels with numbers.

After confirming your password you get another common security feature - Challenge question. If you forget your password, the question will come up and you have to give the right answer to reset it. Studylink offers ten choices of question. However, here's the trick. The answers have strength restrictions too. They don't have to have numbers in them, but they have to be 6-30 characters, with no spaces. I'm going to list the questions they offer, with my answers, using x for every letter.

What was the name of your first school? xx xxxxxxx
What is your father's middle name? xxxx
What is the first name of your favourite childhood friend: Either xxx or xxxxx
What street did you live on when you were five years old? xxxxxxx xxxxx
What was your first job after leaving school? xxxxxx xxxxxxxxx
Where did you celebrate the start of the new millenium? I honestly can't remember, but at a guess, xxxx
What is the name of your first stuffed toy? xxxxx
What was the first concert you attended? xxx xxxxxxx
What is the middle name of your youngest child? I don't have one.
In what city or town did your mother and father meet? I'm not sure about this one either, but several of the options have two words.

Notice something about that? Every answer that I know for sure is either too short or has a space in it. Even the ones I'm not sure of or have a couple of answers for won't work. In the end I had to adjust an answer and hope that if I ever forget my password, I'll remember what the hell I did. On the plus side, I guess anyone else would have trouble figuring out what the hell I did, too.

At this point, I am actually going to pause a little in the whole process. My next step would be to apply for a student ID and PIN at Massey, which is the first step in online enrollment, but tomorrow I have an appointment with a Justice of the Peace - after wanting to do it for a few years, I'm getting my name changed so my surname will no longer be a rough equivalent of "Pleasestalkme". I want to hold off on giving my name out to a whole pile of institutions until I have that done, because it's much easier than trying to convince them to change it in their systems later.

In the meantime, I'll be sticking with my budget and keeping on clocking in hours at work, trying to get the money to pay for as much of this as possible. Kia ora!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Isn't there a grant for that?

(Two quick corrections to yesterday's post - first, with education discount the lower end Mac Mini would be $919, not $949, and my weekly income of $240 is before tax. My actual take home pay is a fortnightly sum of $310.60.)

A common refrain in regards to high costs and low government subsidies is that private charity will pick up the slack. In regards to education, this takes the form of scholarships. There are a lot of scholarships, so many that the Funding Information Service has a website database of them - more than 2,200 - which you can search. If you have a subscription. How much is that subscription? Well, from the website...

"BreakOut Easy-Pay prices for individuals:
Start-up fee: $28.75 this includes half an hour access
Subsequent hours: $51.75 per hour"

What? $52 an hour just to find out if there are people who might help you get an education you couldn't otherwise afford? Needless to say, I do not have this much money, and given that I live in Christchurch, the nearest public library that might have free access is a while away - my local library has been demolished. Nor can I use a secondary school's access, as I'm, you know, not a secondary school student.

Given that Massey is my only really viable choice for university (Canterbury doesn't offer Social Policy and Massey has by far the best extramural program), I instead looked at the scholarships section on their website. There are 128 scholarships available for first year students, and after my first look through them I decided to roughly categorise them, for fun. Some scholarships - probably most of them, actually - apply to more than one category, and just because you meet the criteria of one category (say, being a Food Tech student) doesn't mean you qualify for all the scholarships in that category. This is especially true for the Maori students scholarships, as most of them are for particular tribes, and I'd wager there are few people who can demonstrate a legitimate claim to all of those tribes. Most Maori students would probably qualify for two or three of those scholarships at the most.

A couple of extra notes - "agriculture" I've used for anything specifying farming, or agriscience, agricommerce... basically, anything that starts with agri- I put into agriculture. Similarly horticulture includes scholarships for those looking to work in the citrus industry, growing kiwifruit, etc, and animal science covers veterinary students. In the ethnic minorities group, the scholarship for Korean people also applies to students who had a parent serve in the Korean War, and in "family of..." there's one for orphans, but most of them were for those who work for, or whose parents work for, a particular company. The gender category is not a euphemism for women - there were a couple of scholarships that were only for men, as well. I put the music grants into art. School specific refers to former students of a particular primary or secondary school, not the university they wish to go to.

So, in descending order:

Location specific: 37
Agriculture: 29
Horticulture: 22
Maori students: 12
Family of...: 10
Disability: 8 (4 deaf, 2 blind)
Animal science: 7
School specific: 7
Sports: 7
Engineering: 6
Health: 6
Gender: 6
Ethnic minorities (non-Maori): 5
First time students: 5
Science: 5
Food tech: 4
Hardship: 4
Business: 4
Environment/resource management: 4
Art: 4
Meat industry: 2
Math: 2
Military: 2
Trades, Religion (Christian), Language (Japanese), Forestry, English: 1 each

If you're wondering, I qualify for exactly none. While I'm semi-disabled, my financial hardship isn't directly related to that disability, and there are people who would need it far more than I do. I'm not okay, personally, at my education blatantly coming at someone else's expense. The same goes for one scholarship that would otherwise be pretty good - people studying an array of subjects that would ultimately lead to working in the field of Maori mental health, which may or may not be restricted to those of Maori descent. It might be one thing if I was for sure dedicated to that field, but honestly, I'm not. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, just that it will ideally be something helping disadvantaged people at a community level.

On the plus side, work is ramping up again for the next couple of months, so I'm setting a budget. I'll pay my rent, necessities for my rabbits, my WoW subscription (don't judge me) and allow, weekly, $20 for transport and $20 to spend on whatever. The rest should go first to my credit card (I just dumped another $250 on there now since it's payday, that puts the debt down to $610) and then to savings. We'll see where that gets me.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Why don't poor people just skill-up?

Let's start by getting this out there: I'm the good sort of poor. I'm white, for starters, and I do have something of a financial safety net in that my parents were pretty comfortable growing up. I'm not at risk of living on the streets. If I had absolutely no income, presumably they'd still feed me and all. But they don't have massive amounts of spare money to be throwing at us, especially considering I'm the fourth of five children - even birthday and Christmas presents maxed out at about $50. I have a full high school education and no children, particularly no children born in my teens, nor do I have any substance abuse problems. OTOH I'm (nominally) female and mentally ill, but on the whole, as poor people go, I'm on the more socially acceptable end. I'm not really poor. I'm just experiencing cash flow difficulties.

Here's the heart of the matter: I want to go back to tertiary education next year. Part time. The part time part is a problem, because it means I don't qualify for a student allowance, and the education part is a problem, because it means I don't qualify for the sickness benefit anymore whether I'm working or not. (I hope to be working - part time - but I don't know when my current job will end and how easy it will be to find another.)

After investigations into my chosen field of study (Maori Studies, minoring in Social Policy) and best university for it (Massey's extramural school) I identified the papers I want to take in my first year and went to find out how much it would cost me. A full time student would take four papers a semester. I'll be taking two. The full year will be approximately $2,546.50, as well as textbooks and assorted materials and the cost of traveling up to Palmerston North for a week each semester for contact days. Luckily, I have an uncle there so accommodation is easy enough, but the flights are still an issue.

Ideally, I would also have a reliable computer - this one is about four years old, and it's a laptop, and it's a Mac (sorry, I'm just a Mac person, though I don't see the point in trying to convince everyone else to be one too), so you know just from that that the power supply is dodgy. I've never had a new computer - this one was the closest as an ex-lease - but if I get a new one I expect I would want either a new or a near-new Mac Mini, and the thing about near-new Macs is that they cost almost the same as new Macs. The cheapest new Mac Minis are $949 - I have a monitor, keyboard and mouse, so I'd only need the actual computer. So let's say a reliable computer plus my study costs would top out at about $4,000.

I earn $240 a week, plus my reduced sickness benefit of $80. I pay rent and my travel costs (my work is on the other side of town and I take the bus) and some food, though my rent covers the staples of my diet and the utilities. I currently, as in right now, have $980 owing on my credit card. I also already have a student loan from previous failed attempts at tertiary education, which I think is about $7000 - I have deductions taken off my pay to pay that back, but very small deductions because I don't earn much, and I'm unwilling to haphazardly add to it if I don't have to. Looking at Massey's hardship scholarships, I don't qualify for any of them, and I'm still looking over the other scholarships, most of which apply to particular professional fields and some to ethnic minorities. [Note that I believe this is entirely fair.] At any rate, I'm not banking on getting any.

So, that's pretty much my situation. First, working to get the credit card debt down as low as possible, because the interest on that is ridiculous. Secondly, a good start at the fee money. Thirdly, a reliable computer. Fourth, travel costs. I completely welcome any creative (but realistic!) suggestions - this is going to be my major ongoing project for obvious reasons.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Sense from Chaos

It's human nature to try to rationalise things, to understand them. It's an amazing skill which can be applied to anything from scientific research to creating works of art. So it's only natural that people would be trying to apply this skill to the things that are happening in London.

But the thing about riots is that they're inherently irrational - once you start trying to understand them logically, you've already failed. They're not a behaviour confined to humanity, either. My social rabbit owners list has had plenty of discussions about grumpy rabbits throwing food and water bowls around; there have been experiments done on rats that showed how they became aggressive and unstable when confined to a too-small place; cattle stampede when stressed in the wrong way. Small children throwing a tantrum will damage their own possessions, too - and self-harm is a common element of mental illness. Of course it makes no sense. The point is that by the time a population hits the tipping point into rioting, nothing makes sense. It requires a particular combination of long-term stress, frustration, disempowerment and helplessness. The UK is one of the countries with the highest level of inequality in the developed world, and also among the worst in terms of social mobility. There is almost no hope for self-improvement if you're born to the "wrong" family.

But the fact that they're illogical doesn't mean they can't be predicted. Writing in the Guardian on July 29, less than two weeks ago - but before the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan that sparked the original protest - Alexandra Topping says,

"Aaron is one of hundreds of youngsters in the north London borough of Haringey whose youth clubs were shut after the youth services budget was slashed by 75% after a cut of £41m to the council's overall budget. Hundreds of thousands of young people throughout the UK are affected.
Gang experts, MPs and sector workers are warning that these cuts – which have hit youth services harder than any other area of local authority spending, according to the education select committee – could have a serious impact on the safety of young people in urban areas."

(I suggest you read the whole article. It's pretty chilling, in retrospect.)

And it's not as though the police are regarded as holy figures who ought be immune from attack. Since 1998, there have been at least 330 deaths in police custody (two a month), but investigations by the IPCC have resulted in a total of zero convictions despite numbers that point at the very best to extreme negligence. Meanwhile, Tottenham is subject to frequent stop and search policies which result in weapon stashes in an attempt not to be caught with a knife, meaning that anyone can likely find a deadly weapon at any time.

I could, I guess, talk about the hypocrisy in talking about riots depending on where they take place and whether we're supposed to like the government that caused them (see: Egypt over the last few months, Syria, the French Revolution), or unpack things that have been popping up on Twitter like, "I saw 3 or 4 young women looting Tesco Express for nappies and milk tonight. Difficult and serious problems beneath this mess." I could disclaim the whole post by saying that I understand the visceral reaction to people destroying their city when we've been struggling with nature doing it to our own. But mostly I think it can be summed up thus:

Cuts to youth services. Cuts to education. Cuts to welfare. Cuts to health. Cuts to preventative programs to reduce crime or substance abuse. Cuts to jobs. Society has been telling these people for years that they are disposable, useless, a blight on humanity. The message has been reinforced so much that they've started to believe it. Are we surprised, now that they've started to act like it?

Monday, 8 August 2011


This is not a political post, for which I'm tremendously apologetic, but sometimes you need small things. Like, for context, today was (emotionally) a terrible day at work. No huge dramas or anything, just people in need. All morning. And then two calls in a row from people who mentioned that they'd been in the CBD on That Day. Now, I don't want people to stop talking to me - I have come to believe that a good part of my job is being a listening ear for people who might not have anyone else to talk to and are unwilling to or don't think their troubles are big enough to call a helpline specifically for the purpose. I have logged calls in the system with the subject "RESOLVED wanted to talk for a while". And I have actually learned that despite being an epic introvert with social phobia, I like talking to people! The framework of my job takes away a lot of the stress about it, which makes it a lot easier.

But you need small things.

One of those is that, at work, we take the daily trivia quiz. We have the scores written up on the whiteboard in the call room for the last few days. Last week I made a mediocre showing, coming up with 6/15 two days in a row.

The first question today asked the definition of the word "zephyr", a word I have loved for many years. And the rest followed that start. When I was done, I got up from my computer, walked over to the whiteboard, picked up the pen... and calmly wrote 14 under my initials*.

The year of the Rainbow Warrior bombing? The year of the Oklahoma bombing? The name of the man who did it? That quiz was made for me.

*[It does occur to me that once I get my name-change I'll have the same initials as a coworker, but seeing as this is a temporary job, however long a temporary, it's easier to just stick with the old one until we finish up.]