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.

@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.

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.

‘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!

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 http://www.landcheck.org.nz 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?

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.)

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 –

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.

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!