For next year

I can’t actually remember the last time I made resolutions, but this year end feels kind of significant – I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve done things I wasn’t sure I was capable of, and I really want to continue that. So, knowing that the best resolutions are both specific and realistic, my three goals for 2012:

  1. Barring uncontrollable external forces, I will pass all my courses at uni. (Four.)
  2. I will make handcrafts to sell and get around to actually attempting to sell them – I’d like to say one a month, but in combination with #1 and because it relies on other people I won’t make that a set-in-stone part. (2a I’ll also finish the Cathedral/Starry Night and Holly cross-stitches. Hopefully. >.>)
  3. I will get rid of the boxes that have been packed since I first left home in 2003.
It’s not world peace, but it’s something I should be able to do.

12 Women Who Aren’t Pandas

Many people have read by now of the BBC’s Top 12 Women of 2011 list, which consists of a lot of women who were victims, married famous people or were a fucking panda. The BBC has done this before, when they included a horse on a list of top female athletes.

The silly thing is that it’s not even that hard to think of twelve women who’ve done outstanding things – all of whom are human!

This isn’t really in any particular order.

1-3. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, joint winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
4. Aung San Suu Kyi, recipient of the 2011 Wallenberg Medal awarded to outstanding humanitarians.
5. Ni Yulan, Chinese human rights lawyer (who’s permanently disabled) facing trial on extremely dubious charges.
6. Samira Ibrahim, who brought the case before the courts which ruled that “virginity tests” performed by the Egyptian military on her and six others who were arrested during a protest on March 9 were illegal (and a massive human rights violation).
7. Because I’m horribly biased, Mojo Mathers, New Zealand’s first deaf MP.
8. Michelle Bachelet, the first female Prime Minister of Chile and now the head of UN Women. (She was appointed last year in September, but most of her work has been this year, and in May she was named Women’s eNews Newsmaker of the Decade.)
9. Naama Margolese, the 8 year old Israeli girl who’s the face of the damage done by Hamedi fundamentalists. While it’s something done to her, rather than something she’s done, and most of the reason she’s getting attention because she’s adorable little white (depending how you define it) girl, I still think she’s pretty brave to be allowing herself to be put out there.
10. I’ll agree with the BBC’s inclusion of Gabrielle Giffords who was shot early this year at a “Congress in Your Corner” gathering in Tucson, Arizona. Despite a massive injury her recovery has been going really well.
11. Also, Eman al-Obeidi, though I hold the same reservations with her as with Naama with regards to her being a victim. It’s her epic bravery afterwards that puts her here, since it’s so dangerous for almost any woman who’s been sexually assaulted to talk about it, even when the punishment is “only” blame and shaming rather than your government (associated with the people who assaulted you in the first place) kidnapping you.
12-> The women of the Arab Spring movement. The women in Saudi Arabia who filmed themselves driving in a place where it’s illegal for them to do so. Ndumie Funda and women like her who protested successfully against the South African government about “corrective rape” of lesbians, forcing them to admit to the problem and respond to it.

There’s an interesting difference between my list and the BBC’s, aside from the fact that most of the people on mine actually accomplished something meaningful (I count bringing attention to a problem as an accomplishment). Only, like, three of them are white, and Mojo’s inclusion is only because I live in New Zealand. Have a look at the BBC’s photos. Some of them are pale skinned but of other ethnicities, but there’s an awful lot of pasty white skin there, particularly of the “notable for marrying someone” variety. Seems like there’s more than a few problems with the BBC list.


Something very obvious about yesterday’s post now that I think of it (though in fact I thought of it about twelve hours ago when I was trying to get to sleep) is the finance of foster care. In places where children are being put into the system to “ease the burden” on (overwhelmingly) single mothers, the trail of money says something about the actual priorities here.

Typically the government pays foster parents. Kids are expensive.

In at least some cases, the mother will still be drawing assistance.

So the government is paying the mother, and also paying the foster parents of the kid/s that have been taken from the mother, and while those two sums might both be smaller than the sum that would be paid to the mother with dependent/s, it’s probably still higher when combined than the assistance due someone with dependent/s.

Why is it, exactly, that the government would rather pay someone else to take care of the children of unemployed mothers who are fit parents in every respect except for not having a job? It certainly isn’t for fiscal reasons.

Cutting down welfare: the wrong way

“In Georgia, for example, families applying for TANF must face waiting periods before they can get cash assistance, which Spatz calls ‘the welfare equivalent of a poll tax or literacy test — with caseworkers offering to send children into foster care or put them up for adoption to ease the burden.’
“As a result, Georgia is now spending more on adoption services and foster care than it does on assistance to families, Spatz writes.”
Welfare “Reform” Laws Deepen, Perpetuate Poverty – Sherwood Ross

Welfare reform these days seems to be all about getting less people on benefits and, ultimately, spending less money. But if spending less money was really the goal, there are far better ways to go about it – investment in routes out of poverty is far more effective, for example, in a similar fashion to preventative healthcare and programs to help addicts being more cost-effective than cleaning up the mess later. But even if you don’t believe that, surely pushing people off benefits at any cost can’t be the right answer.

Caps on how long you can draw a benefit (in many states in the US the limit is 48 months, down from 60), restrictions on what you can do while unemployed, regulations that force people to take any job, no matter how low it pays or how little chance for promotion there is or how difficult it is to get to or how bad the hours are – these things are extremely successful at getting people off unemployment. But they’re terrible at getting people out of poverty.

“Tens of thousands of low-income mothers were made to quit college to do up to 35 hours per week of unpaid ‘workfare.'” – Diana Spatz, executive director of LIFETIME.

I’ve blogged before about the hoops I’m jumping through to get back to school. I still don’t have everything organised – I need to get someone from Massey to fill out page 2 of my application for limited full-time status, which is a pain because Massey is half the country away, and then I need to get an appointment to talk to someone from Studylink to redo my loan contract because their system doesn’t understand name changes. Studylink doesn’t have an office in Christchurch, so I have to do that through WINZ somehow and hope I can find someone who knows what they’re doing.

Speaking of WINZ, I took in my last(!) medical certificate yesterday to get my sickness benefit extended to when I start uni. What should have been a quick in-and-out took fifteen minutes. I remember when all you had to do was put the form in a box. Then they took the box away and you had to wait in line to hand it over at the counter and wait for them to photocopy your ID. Now you have to wait in line to be told to sit and wait for a case worker to be free, go over to their desk and wait for them to scan in both your ID and the medical certificate, wait for the system to send it through, wait for them to check it’s right and attach it to your file… I know why they’re doing it (it’s useful to have the information stored digitally in case a branch is put out of operation unexpectedly, as Sydenham was) but do they need me to sit there and wait while they do it? And the real welfare reforms, that the government wants to put through soon, haven’t even come in yet. This is just a simple procedural change, but it’s one that seems to take up an awful lot of time for both staff and clients – it seems like it would be a lot more efficient to have someone just scanning in all the documents and matching them to the appropriate files, all at once.

At least that isn’t as damaging as the removal of course-related cost loans for part-time students though, or the restriction on studying (even a single paper, which is about a quarter of a full-time study load) while on the sickness benefit, or any number of other policies that make it harder and harder for people to get the education to improve their lives.

I can just be glad we’re not [on a wide scale] taking away people’s kids here yet.

“I’m not a bad mother, I’m just unemployed,” one woman complained to Georgia State Senator Donzella James, who is getting calls from constituents whose children are being taken away by the Department of Family and Child Services.

Making and doing

At the encouragement of friends, I decided to pick up crochet. Because, you know, I totally have time for more crafts. My crochet hooks were supposed to get here last week, but of course the 5.8 and 6.0 quakes put paid to that as the mail wasn’t running on Saturday, so I got them the next working day, ie, yesterday. Coincidentally, Spotlight is having a Boxing Day week sale which ends next Tuesday, which includes 40% off yarn. I also got a $10 discount voucher from the VIP club which had the simple condition that the purchase must be at least $10 after all discounts have been applied – so no getting everything for free.

I had errands to run today anyway so I went in and promptly found more yarn than was easy to carry. I ended up spending about $15 – this covered 11 skeins of yarn (8 of them are 100g acrylics, three are smaller fancy ones for when I get better), plus a gauge, plus stitch marker loops. All in all I now have about a kilogram of yarn, which is a really sizable amount, and bodes well for making a bit of a profit if I get confident enough to sell anything. I’d have to go pretty close to nothing to sell at a loss, at this point.

The thing I have learned about crochet since yesterday is that it has the lowest gradient learning curve of any craft I have tried, ever. I did a few practice scraps yesterday to get the hang of the basic stitches, and today I decided to take on a narwhal, which I refer to as an “awkward narwhal” on account of my noob skillz and in reference to the awkward narwhal meme we started on Twitter a couple of months back with Labour list MP Jordan Carter (who I suppose isn’t actually an MP, but I can’t remember the word for MPs who don’t actually have seats this term).

I did completely forget to check if they had polyfill at Spotlight, but luckily for me I mentioned this to my sister and she said, “Oh, I have some” and brought down a 500g bag. It turns out 500g of polyfill is a huge amount – I could practically stuff me with that. So I have now completed my awkward narwhal, except for the bits of yarn sticking out that I haven’t tucked in yet, and possibly eyes. I guess he’s a blind awkward narwhal with seaweed on him at the moment.

While trying to find where to buy polyfill online, I also stumbled across Felt, which is the New Zealand version of Etsy in the same way that TradeMe is the New Zealand ebay. I haven’t opened an account for two reasons – firstly, the username is restricted to twelve characters. My consistent username is 15. Secondly, I actually read the terms and conditions (I know!) and while you can link to your site for more information on listings, you can only do so if your site doesn’t a) sell things and b) have your contact info. I have no idea if they mean that particular page or the entire overall website or something in between, but to avoid getting nabbed it would mean I couldn’t link back to this site at all. (Presumably I could link from here to there, but I quite like having my identities across different platforms interconnected – it’s why I use the same username everywhere.*)

Incidentally they also have a rule against items that are (among other things) racially offensive, and yet people there are still selling golliwogs. There’s one person who seems to imply she sells nothing but, though she only has one listed at the moment.

I am, however, on Ravelry. My username there is… er, thelittlepakeha. Obviously.

*Excepting alternate circles and “socks” – this identity does connect to me in real life, so there are spaces where I don’t want that to happen and use different identifiers.

I enjoy being told how to feel about #eqnz

Here we go again.

This wasn’t really a huge surprise – I think they’d been saying it was about a one in five chance of another big quake – but it’s terrible timing and I’m not sure what it’s going to do to the city.

Meanwhile, it’s been less than 24 hours and people are already trying to regulate the emotional reactions of Cantabs, from the inevitable “omg stop making jokes” to the “duh everyone should just leave because I’m a dimwit who can’t understand that it costs money” to the “stop clogging up my news with this predictable shit” and of course the “don’t express any frustration with small things just get over it”. The common thread between most of it is that the people saying these things are usually, you know. Not here.


This city is traumatised. Go read some fucking books about trauma. Every single reaction that Cantabs have been having is completely normal. Crying, joking, getting angry, fretting over tiny details, all incredibly common. Wanting to get the hell out and stubbornly digging in, both valid.

Please, please, just leave us alone to deal with the emotional side however we need to. You’re not helping – you’re just making things worse.

A new stage for #eqnz, and me

Today was my last day at work at the Red Cross; my contract expires tomorrow. Originally it was for six months, but I’ve been there for nine, starting on verifications and dabbling in data entry, payments, filing and call centre. It was my first office job and kind of my first real grown up job – it was also both the best and worst job I’ve ever had.

Verifications basically involved sitting in a room with a desk and a few chairs and boxes and boxes and boxes of grant applications. We would take a pile of them and check each one to make sure the forms were filled out, the address looked reasonable (this was very easy to pass, but there were a few that got raised eyebrows) and it had the right supporting information. If it did we’d mark how much money they qualified for and put it in a pile for data entry. If it didn’t we’d write what the problem was and put it in a pile for exceptions. Later on, this step was merged with data entry, but that wasn’t until the room full of applications was reduced hugely. This job, as well as call centre, were the two where I was most dealing with the things that people were going through. Here it was a lot more indirect – a lot of people would write letters or just little notes, either of thanks or explaining their situations, or both. I saw one that just had a note memorialising someone who’d died in the quake. It was emotional and could be difficult, with moments of frustration and quite a bit of humour. Early on we worked three hour shifts and there could be up to four of them a day – I frequently worked three shifts in a row.

Call centre was that multiplied exponentially. By then the shifts had normalised (four hour shifts, two a day, so we were essentially working office hours) and I was mostly just doing mornings, but the sheer volume of calls we were getting meant that even a four hour shift was pretty exhausting. Well, not just the volume. For a long time it was a good day if no one cried over the phone. I had a system where I got to buy Subway if I had to deal with death. Once when I was doing outbound calls (following up on applications with problems) it was suggested I take a break after my side of a conversation: “Hi, this is Chris from the Red Cross, can I speak to [name]? …Oh, I’m just calling about the Winter Assistance grant she applied for, when’s a good time to get hold of her? …Oh, I’m so sorry. Shall I just cancel it then? …Okay. Take care. …You too. *hang up* What’s the code for ‘applicant deceased’? She died yesterday.” There were angry people, desperate people, grateful people, people who were so happy just to find out they were speaking to someone from Christchurch, people who seemed to call mostly because they wanted to talk to someone without feeling like they were burdening their family, people who would come out in the middle of a conversation casually announcing that they were in the city centre, or that they’d been standing metres away from the bus that was crushed, or any number of other horrifying scenarios. People I talked to every day, sometimes more than once, people who made me want to actually go to their houses and drop off food parcels, people who were astoundingly nonchalant about the damage to their houses – “Can I ask what sort of damage you have?” “Oh, it’s not too bad. They’ve propped up the back wall now so it won’t fall down.”

In call centre I heard a lot about what EQC, CERA, WINZ and other agencies wouldn’t do for people. I heard a lot about what people would do for friends and neighbours, too – it’s very common for people to call on behalf, either to get the forms or to clarify things or to provide a go between so they could explain something in a way they knew the person would understand. Sometimes people call up wanting to know how to donate items (as far as I know we only take money, if anyone’s wondering, but you can call the main office to talk to them about it). I talked to one guy who’d run out of money after making sure all his elderly neighbours had food when power cuts ruined their supplies. A few days ago someone else mentioned he’d had fourteen people in his house (which was now a write-off) and hey, the BBQ had worked.

Some people thought we gave away too much money to the wrong people. Others thought we were too strict. I’d get furious at letters to the editor saying that losing utilities for at least a week didn’t constitute hardship, with no thought about what conditions would be like after that long without power for fridges or freezers, or sewerage, or running water to at least stay clean and hygienic, and above all the fact that these people were not prepared for it. Especially when you’re poor, you don’t have the money to put away extra supplies. You often don’t have the room.

The Red Cross turned me into an activist and made me radically re-evaluate what I want to do with my life. It’s because of this job that I’m going back to school next year and that I want to minor in Social Policy. Ironically, being able to do this work has made my emotional health better this year – I am struggling with the earthquake, but in other regards my mental health is enormously improved and I have a lot more confidence in myself and my abilities.

It’s incredibly strange to think that I won’t be going back there. But ultimately, it means that an important part of the recovery is over and it’s time to move on. There are still a lot of people suffering, and for many of them it actually peaked months after the earthquake, rather than days, but overall the needs are less immediate now, and if we manage to avoid another large seismic event we can only improve from here. I’m not sure how long the trauma will last – for some, it may only die with them – but I’d like to see us learn from this year. Unfortunately I think that may only happen on an individual scale, but I hope I’m wrong.

In hindsight, what the fuck?

A woman has just been jailed for seven and a half years for some pretty horrific child abuse. There are questions of failure on the part of government departments to notice what was going on at the time. However, one comment from Paula Bennett interests me, in regards to a letter the mother sent to John Key asking for help.

“In hindsight I wish I was writing back and saying the police are knocking on your door we’re removing your children from you right now.”

In hindsight, it absolutely would have been the best thing for that to happen. But not because of the letter. Because of evidence that the 25 agencies involved with the family should have found, yes, but not because of the letter. Child seizure is a controversial and often dubious measure that tends to target particular families over others and often does not result in the child’s best interests – even in this case, the girl had been taken before and had been returned after suffering ongoing sexual abuse while in care [with and from a relative]. And honestly, there is nothing in that letter that would justify it. Any of thousands of families could have sent that letter and a tiny minority of them merit a visit from the police. A lot of families who would never have sent a letter like that would also merit a visit from the police. So this comment from Paula Bennett makes me raise an eyebrow and wonder a little exactly how defensive she is to be so incredibly over-stating what she thinks she should have done.

(For the curious, the text of the letter:)

My name is Ms X and I am writing this letter to you in regards to my daughter who is currently 8 years of Age and was Sexually Violated and Indecently Assaulted from her caregiver when she was approximately 4 and a half years old up to when she was returned to my care which was 3 years later.

This is very unfortunate that this ordeal has happened to my child but my main concern is that my daughter has some very disturbing issues due to her injury and there is no support from CYFS who were responsible for my child at the time of this incident.

I am very disturbed that my child had suffered this sort of treatment considering that CYFS said to me that they would protect my daughter better than myself, Yet I have 5 Children in total and none of them have ever ended up like this?

Because of the situation for you as New Zealand’s Prime Minister I would like to know your views on my situation.
I hope I am not offending you in anyway, but I am very sad to see my daughter suffer from the trauma she has been through, which I hope you understand.

My daughter has been to the Evidential Video Unit and made a Video which I have not seen but have heard from the Detective and other sources which say that the Video that my Daughter has made is very detailed to the point that she knows things that no child should know at that age?

I have contacted CYFS in regards to Counselling for my child and they did pay for 12 Sessions for her and when I approached CYFS again for my daughter to return to Counselling CYFS had given me a letter to say that they were not prepared to pay for counselling as it is too expensive and there is not enough in the Budget.

Work and Income pay for her counselling now and I am disappointed that CYFS would treat my daughter this way.
I have contacted ACC in regards to making a claim for my daughter for these counselling fees for her to continue her counselling for a very long time as she has very sensitive issues around what has happened to her?

I currently have all 5 of my children in my custody at the moment and I am doing a great job looking after all my children too.

In your opinion Mr Keys do you think that my child is entitled to compensation for what happened to her for the past 3 years, because to be honest with you my daughter is going to be needing Constant Care and Protection as well as love and compassion from her loving siblings and myself of course. I have spoken and also looked up on the website in regards to compensation for my child for her the abuse she has suffered but ACC have made things clear that children are not Entitled to Lump Sum Compensation as She is too young. But please contact me as soon as you are available please. This Issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

My Family and I would like CYFS to sign my children off permanently and please let me and my family be together and try to give my daughter the support she needs.

I am very sorry Mr Keys But I have been seeking help everywhere for my child to get better and try to let go of the poison that is inside of her at the moment. I am sure you will agree with me about this problem because my child cannot even concentrate on School because all she thinks about is the abuse she has suffered and what effects this has on her when all she thinks about is doing silly things like what her caregiver done to her. So far the Police are doing an excellent job as the perpetrator has been in Court and we are awaiting the Jury date for the hearing.

Ms X

PS: If you have any Queries regarding anything you don’t understand then please contact me.

Kill all sea lions

The government is proposing to remove the fishing related mortality limit on sea lions around the Auckland Islands (off the south coast of the country). They claim it’s not necessary because the ships are using SLEDs which allow sea lions to escape the nets. I disagree. NZ sea lions are labeled as critical and deserve as much protection as we can offer them – they’re simply too important to the ecosystem to do anything else. Also, adorable.

The Greens have put a form up to make it easy to make a submission on the proposal, and I’ve also started a petition that you can sign here.

Look at dem faces:

Don’t you want to help save them?

Don’t underestimate the small

I got bit by my rabbit today.

It was my fault –  she and the baby I’m trying to bond her with had been sniffing each other through the door of a carrier and she looked like she was about to lunge at him, so I put my hand in front of her to push her back. People, it is always a risk to stick your hand in front of a pissed off animal, whether it’s a mouse or an elephant. (Though if it’s an elephant you can change that to “your hand, or any part of you, or twenty metres around you”.) Pretty much any animal can bite, and if it feels cornered it can bite hard.

Turns out people can bite too if they feel cornered, but the powerful tend to forget this. I think it’s because of guns. You don’t even need to have your own gun if you have a police force willing to use theirs.

The problem is, you have to sleep sometimes.


(For the curious, my rabbit and I made up. She let me stroke her for a while and gave me a lick, and then I lay in her pen and she came and ate grass next to me while I dozed in the sun.)