Friday, 30 September 2011

When consent of the governed cannot exist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Why I hate Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 September 2011

40 metres of ribbon and a weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Enough hypocrisy to go around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 September 2011

Why I support a UBI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 12 September 2011

Piracy leads to scurvy and starvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Institutional racism

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 September 2011

Haere mai, National.

UPDATE: Pictures are now up on the Events page.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A date with destiny

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

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

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

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

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