The caption debate

Sarah (Writehandedgirl) has got a blog post up with a transcript of Sean Plunkett’s conversation with Louise Carroll of the National Foundation for the Deaf. If you’re not aware, she was arguing in the context of the Rugby World Cup that we need to mandate captioning for Deaf and HOH audiences, and Plunkett was extremely dismissive of her. Sarah’s post is a great look at the argument from a disability perspective, but I just want to add a couple of things outside of that scope: namely, that captioning is useful for everyone!

Think about it. How many times have you been watching tv when something noisy was happening in the background? Children playing enthusiastically and loudly or crying, someone vacuuming, neighbours listening to loud music, even strong wind can be pretty loud as we know in Wellington. Or a child is sleeping, and you don’t want to do anything noisy that might wake them. Rather than engaging in volume wars or having to turn it off until later, wouldn’t it be easier if you could just turn on captions? It’s the same principle as disabled access ramps – they’re marked as being for people in wheelchairs, and I think this is where a lot of the hostility to expensive PC regulations comes from, because… they’re also good for people with push chairs or prams, or wheeled shopping trolleys, or all sorts of other things. A lot of things that disability networks advocate for that make society easier to navigate for people with disabilities are useful to everyone else as well.

The other point Plunkett makes is that businesses would fund captions themselves if there was a market case for it. This sounds plausible on the surface, but there are also countless of examples of businesses acting against their own best interests. Pretty much every new technology for film – tv, video rental, video recorders, DVD, internet downloads – the studios have put up a huge fuss saying it would destroy the industry. Every single one of them has provided a huge boost to their profits as they allow greater access to their products. Then there’s all those products marketed aggressively to men or which actively snub female consumers, like the huge untapped market for merchandise for female Marvel characters. Or for a local example, TV3 ditching Campbell Live and losing a ton of viewers. A lot of businesses do not want to innovate. It’s risky. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s easier to operate based on received wisdom and convention, and often they’ll cling to it even as the old model is suffering through its last gasping breaths. (See also: highly pollutive industries like coal, oil and gas extraction, as consumers increasingly divest from it and reserves become smaller and harder to access.) If we operated solely by whether businesses thought it was worthwhile to do something we would miss out on a massive amount of innovation and cultural and technological advancement.

Honestly, we should be mandating that broadcasters fund captioning on all content, most especially on pre-recorded content but also live. It’s a matter of equal access for all New Zealanders, it’s a good feature for even people without hearing loss, and it’s quite probably good business too.

“They like sex.”

People who follow politics and the news are likely aware of Anne Tolley’s eugenicist comments regarding “certain families” – namely, that the government should look into telling them to stop having children. Which is serious bullshit on many, many levels that very smart people have been unpacking for two days on Twitter, but today she doubled down on the offensiveness: when asked why she thinks low income women have children, she replied, “I think they like sex.”

For five words, there’s an awful lot of implication in that sentence, and I’m most certainly missing a lot of it. But for the most obvious, does she think well off women don’t like sex? (This enters into speculation about her sex life which I’m not going to entertain.) Or did she decide it was impolitic to end with, “…and are too stupid to use birth control properly”?

However, the racial aspect of poverty and of which families draw the attention of government agencies adds another angle to that line. I’m sure she wasn’t consciously thinking of this when she gave her answer, but that’s the problem with a lot of stereotypes – you don’t have to be thinking about them to reinforce them. In this case, it’s that of the nubile and passionate Pacific woman which dates back to the early decades of European intrusion into the region.

Google search results: nubile pacific womenTolley could do with looking at actual research into sexual, reproductive and contraceptive habits of low income families. (Not just the women!) Do they use birth control consistently? What kind? If not, why not? Do they have access to good advice and medical care? Is it significant that it would be illegal for them to get an abortion due to contraceptive failure, and the hoops to jump through to access it (multiple doctors signing off that it would be a danger to your physical or mental health) are a lot harder for low income women? Are their pregnancies even unintentional? Are they even having that many children? (Teen and unintended pregnancies have been steadily dropping over the last decade, as have abortions.) Why are they having children? Are they seeking partners to help support themselves and their existing families because their own income is inadequate? Are their partners willing to use birth control? (Reproductive coercion is a recognised part of domestic abuse – getting your partner pregnant to keep them vulnerable. This includes deliberately sabotaging birth control, as well as refusing to use it.) Do they place cultural importance on family? Do they see upwards social mobility as essentially impossible no matter what they do, and decide to focus their efforts on their children instead?

There is a huge amount of nuance in these conversations that makes blanket statements about long-term contraceptive use or even sterilisation not only offensive breaches of human rights (yep – the UN says it’s a human right to decide this sort of thing for yourself) that amount to a form of genocide when applied predominantly to non-dominant ethnic groups, but also just plain stupid. How does she expect to be able to set effective policy if her understanding of the situation is a straight out of the Victorian era idea that poor, mostly brown, women are just having unprotected sex all over the place because they can’t resist the penis?

Collectivism is bad and how to fix it

Also today on the New Zealand Herald is an article entitled Collectivist beliefs ‘may hold back Maori success’ – economists. They’ve done a study (which Leonie Pihama takes down as flawed on multiple levels) that basically looks at the values reported by Maori as opposed to non-Maori and points to them to explain why Maori enterprises don’t make profit hand over fist. Essentially, being collectivist, having strong kinship ties, and believing that success is often due more to luck than hard work all contribute to being Bad At Money.

Some of the language in the article is actually amazing in its unashamedly white supremacist lens. Here’s my favourite part:

Dr MacCulloch said other studies had found that people in poorer countries tended to share the same values as Maori people on issues such as believing that success came more from “luck and connections” than from “hard work”.

He said those beliefs were often understandable because of colonial histories that created very unfair societies in which power was held by a foreign elite.

“That can mean that, because of something that happened in your historical past, you have beliefs that weaken the point in working because I may not end up being rewarded for it,” he said. “It’s a very powerful way of explaining why countries have been trapped [in poverty].”

You heard it here (or there) first, folks. The reason countries that have been ravaged by colonial powers are poor is because the native populations don’t believe in hard work. Not, of course, because they’ve been ravaged by colonial powers or because they still have very unfair societies in which power is held by foreign elites. Fun history lesson: in New Zealand in the middle of the 19th century, the missionaries were a big part of convincing Maori to take up European agricultural systems, particularly growing wheat, and integrating them into the capitalist market through trade. And Maori were great at it. So great that pretty soon, settlers started getting very upset about how much better the Maori were doing, and suddenly the settler government started making laws that just happened to impact on Maori economic activities pretty negatively. And guess what? Maori at the time were even more collectivist than they are now, so I’m pretty sure being collectivist does not actually prevent you from succeeding at capitalism.

It’s all okay though, because they reckon we can fix that pesky collectivism right out of them:

Dr MacCulloch suggested that Maori enterprises could change people’s beliefs by giving iwi members individual shares in their companies, as Fonterra had done by setting up a shareholders’ fund alongside the main co-operative.

Enforcing dominant cultural attitudes on a native population that isn’t conforming properly to our own standards… yep, that’s definitely the way to go. Couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Divorced from context

An article on the NZ Herald today says that renters in Auckland can expect to pay a minimum of $400 to their landlord, whatever the property type or size. (I suspect there are some shitty small one or maybe even two bedroom places for less; they list the “typical” [median?] rent as $499.) To those on a low income this is pretty obviously appalling, but I think it’s missing an important piece of context that would put it into perspective for those earning more: the minimum wage and welfare rates.

For example, minimum wage was increased this year to $14.75 an hour, or $590 a week for someone with a full-time job. That’s $30,680 a year – about $26,000 after tax, or just under $500 a week. A single mother with a couple of kids working full time at minimum wage would be spending fully 80% of her income on housing, before things like WFF and the accommodation supplement. (This also assumes no Kiwisaver contributions or student loan repayments, which would drop the minimum weekly income to $450, or $470 with just a student loan. That would bring housing costs to closer to 90% of income.)

The Sole Parent Support (previously DPB) is listed on the WINZ site as $341.98 a week before tax, $300.98 after. Which clearly doesn’t even come close to covering rent.

Then there’s the medians – $499 for rent and, according to the most recent Stats NZ income survey, $600 income (before tax; after tax is $505). That is, the median rent in Auckland is literally 99% of New Zealand’s median income.

I tried to find information on Auckland’s median income, specifically, and the best I could do was a census page from 2006 listing it as $28k~ and a 2013 census report listing it as $29,600. The former compared it to a lower NZ-wide median income of $24k, which is quite a bit lower than the income survey’s figure of $31k. That’s a bit of a discrepancy, since it suggests the NZ median should be lower than the Auckland one, but I don’t think the Auckland median income has risen from $29,600 to over $31,000 in the last two years! But still, the stats from that last paragraph are using the $31k figure which is the highest of the numbers I’ve found, so that’s the best case scenario. I suspect the differences may be caused by whether they’re measuring everyone’s income from all sources, or only those who are employed.

Red Peak

redpeakThis is not my favourite flag. There were two or three from the top 40 that I liked well enough, and this was one of the ones in the middle that were okay but didn’t stand out a ton. But now that the final four are out and really fucking ugly, this seems to be the one everyone’s falling in behind.

I’d still pick a couple others in the top 40 over this. I’m not one of those whose fallen completely in love with it. But it’s better than the top four, and it’s better than what we have. And equally importantly, people are responding to it.

From the sounds of it there’s a couple of different discussions about what to do with the first referendum – one to boycott and one to make an informal vote (whether or not it has anything to do with the bizarre TPPA conspiracy theory that claims you need a specific wording for an informal vote – you don’t, trust me, I’ve worked elections). Personally I think it would be kind of cute if #RedPeakers did a write-in vote. Because even if they don’t count it (they won’t) it will count as an informal vote, and who knows? maybe someone will leak to the media how many of them there were. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do, but as things stand my vote for the second referendum will be to keep the current flag.


As a historical note, this page on Canada’s flag-picking adventures is kind of fun to scroll through, including several early proposals and then a selection from the 1964 submissions and the final three. Like our final four, they’re pretty similar – unlike our final four, though, there was overwhelming support for one of them. Incidentally, they adjusted it slightly after it was picked to make it easier to draw, perhaps relevant here too considering the number of fucking leaves on a fern. (I also kind of like the Canadian Duality Flag at the end.)

Refugees and help that isn’t

In the wake of an absolutely massive refugee crisis centering around the Middle East and Europe (we should all be able to agree that when people are hiding in vehicle engines, drowning at sea and dying in the backs of trucks, they’re not “migrants”) there’s been a lot of talk locally about increasing our quota of refugees, which is currently 750 a year and has been since 1987. We don’t generally hit that total, and the ones we take are usually on a family reunification basis – relatives of refugees who’ve already gotten here. At this point, all of National’s support partners have suggested raising it to 1000, and the hashtag going around Twitter is #DoubletheQuota, which I think would be a good start. (The main problem is that while we have very good services set up, they need more funding (and a bit of time) to be able to scale up effectively, and we know how tight-fisted the government is with funding social services.)

There’s also a push, sparked by the news that 10k households in Iceland have offered to take in refugees, for people to offer up their spare rooms. While this is obviously being done with the best of intentions, I’m very deeply uncomfortable with it as anything more than a symbolic gesture. For starters, it’s attempting to solve the wrong problem. The reason we don’t take more refugees is not that we don’t have enough beds for them. Yes, that might be an issue if we suddenly went from a quota of 750 to accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees right now, and in that case a very strictly temporary arrangement might be plausible, but as it stands it strikes me very much as somewhat equivalent to people who want to go to disaster zones to help, or aid schemes like Toms shoes where for every pair they sell they donate a pair to kids in poverty stricken areas of Africa. Expensive and ultimately counterproductive – foreigners who don’t know the area need to be fed and housed and taught what to do, free shoes are a stop-gap solution that destroys local textile industries, cause unemployment and don’t do anything about the reasons the kids need shoes (cited usually as being unhygienic conditions with walking through sewage, etc, in which case it’s much more effective to install better plumbing).

Think about this: a refugee family arrives in New Zealand, completely disconnected from everything they’ve known before, having been through experiences so traumatic most of us could hardly comprehend them, with almost none of their own belongings, and are moved into somebody’s spare room. The power relationship that results from this would leave them extremely vulnerable – they’re dependent on the goodwill of a stranger who most likely has no experience or training with even the most common of coping mechanisms, they don’t have a space that’s really their own, they won’t have much recourse if their host starts placing conditions on their charity that exploit them such as providing labour in return for board, and their emotional responses to all the trauma and upheaval are unlikely to be understood or catered for. Plus cultural and language differences.

Interestingly, with the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina recently, I just read this article a few days ago about how expectations and realities can clash badly in just this sort of situation.

What might be more useful would be people volunteering to work with refugees through organisations that are already in place, sponsoring families either financially (though this can get kind of murky when the sponsor feels like they have some kind of return ownership) or by helping them adjust to the community. Signing up to help them get places. Spending time with them answering questions. Making them feel welcome. And importantly, speaking out against the racism in our society, especially when it’s leveraged against those already here.

Jobseeking with WINZ (1)

Last Monday, the first one after my exams finished, I did an online application for the Jobseekers Allowance and made an appointment with WINZ to finish the application for today. My local office is up in Porirua – I only need one bus to get there, and it doesn’t take as long as getting into town does, but in total the round trip is about an hour and a half or two hours and costs about $6. When I got in I was told they couldn’t actually find the online application I’d done, and apparently the reference number was about the only thing I forgot to bring with me, having stupidly assuming that it would be attached to my account since I’d filled it out from the secure logged in section of the WINZ website, so I got to start filling in a paper form while I waited to be seen.

We got about fifteen minutes into the appointment before the worker realised that I hadn’t been on a seminar that they were supposed to have sent me on as a pre-benefit activity, meaning if you haven’t been they can’t give you any money. So she booked me in for one on Monday, as well as two others (a CV one and a work suitability assessment). As well as going back up there four more times (for the seminars and another appointment) I have to email them a copy of my CV so it can be amended (or they can amend it? I’m not quite clear on who’s doing the amending here) to suit different jobs. Which I’m already doing, because I already know how to do a CV, but they’re still going to waste my time making me go to a seminar or workshop or whatever it is.

Incidentally, Studylink last semester got to five weeks before they started actually paying me, so I guess we’ll see if WINZ can match that. On Monday they’ll be at two, and the other two seminars are the following Friday and Monday, so they only have to mess around for two more weeks after that. Hey, maybe I’ll even have a job by then.

Pissed off

I am pissed off. And sad, but mostly pissed off, at a lot of things. Like this about no funding being available for counseling for two little girls who saw police kill their uncle. Or this, the Department of Corrections saying that they aren’t going to respond to an OIA request about the treatment of trans women in prisons because they’d have to look at their files and they don’t think it’s a good enough use of their funding. Or the violence that whiteness is constantly inflicting on everyone else because I don’t even know why, we’re too fucked up to deal with our own crap without shitting on everyone and shooting up churches.

Partly that’s all just sort of sitting there simmering in the back of my mind and coming out in something really trivial though. I’m pissed off that I just sat the last exams of my degree, which has had me studying constantly for like three years, no summers off, just two or weeks here and there between semesters, no matter how sick or unstable or insomniac I get, which is a fucking huge achievement, and I don’t even get to be proud because I’m too busy being terrified that now I have to face the job market and the punitive welfare system and the patronising “how to look for jobs” programs they make you take. It sucks because as hard as studying was and as burned out on it as I’ve been getting I kind of wish it wasn’t over. At least with university, it’s predictable. You put in the work. You study. You do your assignments. And you earn your grades. It’s all based on what you put in, pre-defined standards, they even give you marking schedules showing what they expect of you.

But looking for work? Especially the specific kind of work I need, most particularly part time work? There’s no control in it. You have to scour through everywhere to even find places you might fit and then you do whatever you can to impress someone who at the end of the day has a huge stack of applicants to pick through and you just have to hope they decide, on some arbitrary criteria that centres around looking at a couple of pieces of paper and hopefully talking to you for ten minutes or half an hour, that you’re the best there is. It would be like if you enrolled at university and then had to go through all the papers looking for the two or three that let you actually get an A grade and then once you’d signed up for them you had to beat everyone else because there’s only one, and if you didn’t manage to do that you don’t get your degree and everyone has the gall to act as though it’s your personal failing, because there are plenty of As out there if you want them. And it’s not just how people judge you, there’s also the government watching over your shoulder reminding you that if you don’t submit enough assignments they’ll take away the only money you have to live on.

I don’t even actually know if WINZ will let me only look for part time jobs without a medical exemption. You’re supposed to be available for full time work. I’m fairly close to needing to go to the doctor again anyway so I can get it, but what a hassle.

I don’t know. I’m just finding the world to be a very terrible place at the moment. There are too many people who don’t care about anyone else’s quality of life, or even their lives at all. The mental anguish, the torture, the terror, the lives taken violently through murder and colonialism and poverty and disinterest, they don’t even mean anything to society at large. It makes it hard, sometimes, to find the motivation to keep going.

What next?

It feels really, really surreal to nearly be done with my degree. And terrifying, mostly. Right now I have a single 2000 word essay remaining for Politics of Protest and then three exams mid-way through next month, and… that’s it. I would love love love to do post-grad next (I even know what I want to write a thesis on if I can swing it) but right now I am so burned out on studying. I haven’t had a real break from it since I started my degree, because I needed the income from the student allowance over summers.

Unfortunately burned out or not I still need income. Which means that as soon as my exams are done I’m going to have to start looking for work, which is the terrifying bit. I have so much crap stacked up against me in this department:

  • I’ve been variously diagnosed with endemic/major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and social phobia. I’m not sure how many of those are current, but I expect to be medicated basically forever. Which means…
  • There is no way I can jump straight into full time work. None. That would be a recipe for disaster. But…
  • Part time work is ludicrously hard to find, especially if you’re not looking for entry level retail or something. Meanwhile, the budget has just increased work obligations for sole parents – they’re now expected to look for part time work when their youngest child turns three. Where are those jobs? I don’t know, but I’ll be competing with like a million people for them.
  • I really prefer to avoid phones. I hate them with a passion.
  • Since I’ve been focusing on studying, I haven’t worked for the last two years since I moved up here. During that time most of my references have moved on to I don’t know where.
  • Relatedly, I don’t have any references for the time from approximately birth until after #eqnz. That was the year I turned 26. I suspect my CV is just going to say I was studying and working low level retail jobs off and on.

I really don’t know how this is going to work out. All I really want to do is take a break from everything, but that just isn’t going to happen. It’s exams, then dealing with WINZ and job search, then work. That’s it.


From The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce:

“Why?” Sandry demanded, quivering as if she might yet flee him. “Why do you have such a distaste for it, when so many other men do not?”

Ambros cleared his throat. “You judge us all by the actions of a few, Cousin.”

Sandry made a face. “I’m sorry, Ambros,” she apologised, her voice still raspy. “I’m overwrought, I suppose.”

Ealaga sighed. “Really, my dear husband, for a man who is so clever, you can be so shortsighted,” she said with unhappy patience. “What else is she supposed to do, when any unmarried woman of western Namorn must live her life and judge all men by those few who have successfully stolen women away? Each time a man succeeds, we place our daughters and our sisters under new safeguards. We put their lives under new restrictions. We give them new signs that a man in whose company they find themselves might plan to kidnap them. Don’t we teach our women to view all men according to the actions of a few?”