It’s cold outside for a blogger

There’s been talk recently about things like the home insulation scheme that the Greens introduced, which has been shown to have done about $4 of good for every dollar spent on it in savings in health costs and energy. There was some attention a couple of weeks ago too when Clare Curran live-tweeted being on hold with Housing New Zealand on behalf of a family in her electorate who hadn’t had any heating for four weeks, who ended up with a baby in hospital with croup and two older children with bad colds. And of course there’s the ongoing problems in Christchurch with damaged housing and no repairs in sight for a lot of people.

But it’s coming into winter, so at the same time as all of this, there’s also people talking about how the cold is better than the heat – not as a personal preference, just as a statement of fact – because you can always warm up but you can’t cool down. And while that’s technically true, I just wish, I really wish, that people would stop to consider that realistically it’s not always possible.

There’s a bit in Watership Down about how it’s a very human thing to be able to say that winter is your favourite season, and a lot of the time when people say that, they mean they enjoy sitting inside by the fire while a storm rages outside. And I’m absolutely not denying that hot weather can be dangerous – that would be ludicrous. And yet.

I have a problem with weight. I’m medically underweight, the last time I tried to donate blood they wouldn’t even weigh me, they just looked at me and told me to put on five kg and come back afterwards. I’ve been through periods where I would eat a lot of crap, because I didn’t care, and I wouldn’t put on any weight. And I’ve always had a problem with the cold, which is quite possibly linked in some way, and maybe there are other things going on with circulation or whatever and maybe there aren’t, but either way, until we installed a heat pump, I spent 3-6 months of every year with aches in my bones, chilblains on my hands and feet, fingers and toes red and painful, getting up during the night to run them under warm water to ease the itching tingling for a few minutes, utterly miserable. With the heat pump, it’s okay if I stay in that room during the day. But I can’t spend the entire cold part of the year in one room, that’s just not a reasonable solution, and telling me to put on a jersey doesn’t help. Turning on a standard fan or vertical heater doesn’t help, and also gives me guilt complexes about the amount of electricity those things take. Warm socks only help a little. I can’t wear warm gloves all the time because almost everything I do requires manual dexterity.

I’m hardly the only one. New Zealand in particular is known for its cold, damp, badly insulated houses. Christchurch is known for its cold, damp, badly insulated houses with cracks all through the walls and exterior cladding replaced with plywood or tarpaulin. People just… seem to forget that, even while discussions are ongoing about how the housing insulation scheme has saved x amount in prevented health issues – because that’s money, maybe, not people. But there are people behind those numbers. There are cold, miserable people who would love if it was as easy as putting on another jersey.

But it’s not, and when people are talking about how they personally prefer colder weather to heat, it would just be nice if they’d remember that, and maybe rephrase a little. Not a lot. Just… enough to make it clear that you know not everyone is able to enjoy it, and it’s not because they’re too stupid to layer their clothes.

Lines of reasoning

It was suggested to me that since we don’t have youth wages, to be consistent schoolchildren, or at least 15-17 year olds, should also be taxed at an adult rate because they should be required to contribute to society the same way adults do.

I disagree completely. If we were a brand new country setting up our laws from scratch for the very first time, I could probably go either way, but we’re not. We have history and context, which means that government has to actively change legislation to tax youth the same as adults, rather than actively change legislation to, say, institute a capital gains tax or at least partially reverse the upper bracket tax cuts. (Both of which would, I suspect, bring in a lot more money than taxing kids.)

The context that makes me so opposed to this move is this:

We’re already developing a tradition of politicians stripping people of the advantages their generation had. This is just one more on the heap.
Rich people, when given tax cuts, get to choose whether or not to spend their extra money. Poor people (which includes youth unless they’re getting a thousand dollars a week in pocket money or whatever) don’t. A small increase in their income just means they can afford more necessities, so the money goes straight back into the economy.
At the same time as we’re taking money away from kids, we’re increasing the cost of education. I’ve met a hell of a lot of very smart teenagers and I think we’ll start to see an increase in kids getting part time after school jobs and saving part of their earnings for when they go to uni. The longer they can support themselves without resorting to the student allowance, the better, because it gives them more room to change their minds about courses, take longer degrees, go on to post-grad study, do double degrees, etc. It also means borrowing less money – imagine if no first year internal students took out course related costs because they had enough money saved up to pay for textbooks and other such things.
Apparently, this is fantasy world and “most kids” don’t use their rebates responsibly, if they even know to apply for them. For the latter, if they don’t know to apply for them we should be making sure they know they’re entitled, and for the former, it’s funny how no one seems to care whether rich adults are using their tax cuts responsibly, isn’t it? And since National claims to be the party of personal responsibility and choice (unless you’re on a benefit), it would hardly be consistent to take away rebates from all youth because some spend it on things adults don’t approve of.
National wants to reinstitute youth wages anyway.
Possibly most importantly, school children are not treated the same as adults, even if they have the same minimum wage. Namely, they can’t vote. They have no say whatsoever in what those taxes get spent on. To me, that’s a huge thing. Taxes in my view are tied more to government policy and spending than they are to wages, so we should be looking at whether or not they can vote, not whether or not they’re allowed to be paid less for the same work (which, oh, is a government policy).

The stand-up conversation

A few people are having this conversation again and while I’m here I realised I do, actually, have something to say. This post has some links in it to what others have already posted.

Basically, it started when a couple of my Twitter friends walked out of a Raybon Kan show when he started making rape jokes. I can only wish I’d have the guts to do that honestly – knowing me I’d be too scared to draw attention to myself, second guessing myself over whether I was being “too sensitive” or over-dramatic, etc – plus I’d most likely be there with other people and I’d be similarly too nervous to suggest it to them.

Instead, I just don’t go to stand up comedy.

Ever.

I mean, this is a pretty popular genre of entertainment we’re talking about here, especially when you count the panel and quiz shows that feature comedians (I do watch QI on occasion, though the white-meat-sausage-fest is depressing as hell and I do find myself having moments of “Not Funny” still). It’s also one of the genres of live show that’s still going strong in the age of tv and movies zapped direct to your computer. And yet, I doubt I’m not the only one who has a policy of just avoiding the whole thing, just in case.

For me, it’s not just rape jokes, either. Chances are pretty high that any given comedian I know nothing else about will use those. But chances are even higher that even if they don’t, they’ll use jokes where the punchline is “and someone was gay!” or “and someone was trans!” or “and someone was mistaken for being gay or trans!” or “haha, foreigners!” On a visceral level it’s the first ones that bug me the most, of course, because I’m lucky not to be directly affected by racism, but I sure as hell don’t find it funny even if it doesn’t make me sick and angry and ashamed at the reminder that there are significant portions of society who think I’m not worthy of being considered a person.

I don’t want to pay to be made to feel like that. And there’s never any guarantee that it won’t. Even when a comedian’s been good in the past. Even when they’ve challenged the status quo on another topic. Hell, even if they’ve challenged the status quo on that subject. It still happens.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against jokes about gay people, or trans people, or whatever. But there is simply a huge difference between a joke involving a minority, even a joke that revolves around being a minority, and a joke where just being a minority is a punchline. Apparently it’s a difference too subtle for these people to grasp, and until they can, I can’t trust them with my money.

The Gods are dead, long live the Gods

So season two of the Almighty Johnsons is over, and I’m told by Michelle Langstone that season three has not yet been confirmed.

If you think the show is awesome and we need more NZ tv like this, here are the contact details for TV3 and South Pacific Pictures, the production company. I propose sending apples. Further suggestion came in for Pacific Rose variety, specifically. Of course if sending an apple is too costly (no sarcasm here, times are tough) you can send a plain letter, email or phone call instead, but I definitely think we need to let them know we want more.

In “Oh, Twitter” related news, tonight the #almightyjohnsons hashtag is getting spam for the very first time. We’re a real hashtag now!

Student priorities

Apparently some people are shocked, shocked! that students are still stubbornly taking arts degrees. Philosophy and religious studies more popular than chemistry? Say it ain’t so! Why doesn’t anyone tell these children that no one’s going to hire them?

Interestingly, at the end of the article they quote a psychology major who wants to get into HR but is having a tough time. Personally, if I was hiring for HR, psychology would be right up there in the fields I’d want a potential employee to have qualifications in. It’s hardly the only one like that in the arts, either – I’ve had plenty of people tell me that my Māori Studies/Social Policy degree should do well for me, particularly in the public or charitable sectors, which… is basically where I want to work anyway. Massey classes Emergency Services Management, Development Studies, Geography and Rehabilitation Studies as part of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Do we really think those areas aren’t important?

‘Auckland University of Technology vice-chancellor Derek McCormack said arts students learnt vital skills, including essay writing, analysis and communication skills. “What you are learning is not just narrow skills for a job, you’re learning transferable skills for a career, and that requires an ability to access and interpret data.”‘

That paragraph, to me, is important. Because it’s true. Pretty much every career is going to require you to be able to interpret and analyse and to communicate your results. They just… apparently want you to learn that by yourself, outside of school, where there’s no way of showing how well you’ve done at it.

Personally I don’t think the problem is kids with the wrong priorities in picking study. I think the problem is a society with the wrong priorities in what it places value on. Maybe big business needs to take a look at what students find so compelling about the arts before it starts spouting off about what they think kids should be doing with their education.

The value of our oceans

“One of the largest convictions the southern fisheries have seen.” That’s how Gregory James Fife’s sentence was described by the Southland Times.

Apparently we’re supposed to be impressed at the $20,000 fine he’s been told to pay along with serving 200 hours of community service. I gotta say, I’m not. He was convicted of eight charges of making false records in fishing returns and one of failing to furnish a return. Basically, he was lying about where he’d gotten his quota of blue cod from – and due to the way fish populations are measured, this was giving an inaccurate picture of how much were out there, making the numbers look healthier than they really are. That means that when it came time to review quotas, a higher one may have been placed than the fish populations could actually handle.

Several months ago I saw a set of two maps showing density of fish populations in the worlds oceans at two points in time – one in the past, and one today. The modern fishing industry has had a huge impact. There are species of fish and other marine mammals critically endangered or even extinct that once were incredibly plentiful. This is why we have quotas – they are the lowest possible level of effort we can put into preserving fish stock.

For $20,000 to be one of the largest convictions in the southern fisheries is ridiculous. 200 hours of community service to go with it is a joke. We need to be sending a clear message that messing with this system is not to be tolerated. It’s good that they caught this guy, but the penalty for this sort of crime needs to be higher – preferably high enough to put anyone off even attempting it.

But then, our coastal waters are hideously under-regulated, with ships out there that don’t meet basic safety standards, crews of slaves and a Minister of Labour who doesn’t care, and the possibility of ships carrying yellowcake through our ports that we don’t even have the ability to test the water for should something happen to one of them. Given that we’re an archipelago nation, it’s either tragedy or a joke.

Canada, why?

Under new legislation in Quebec, if ten or more people are gathered together in a public space, it may be illegal.

Special education bill 78 outlines the exact situations applicable, sort of, by stating that “a person, body or group that is the organiser of a demonstration involving ten people or more to take place in a venue that is accessible to the public” must make their plans known to the police at least eight hours beforehand. While it defines all sorts of other things, it doesn’t define what a demonstration is. Obviously there are problems here. Besides the extreme restrictions on the right to protest, it’s the nature of protests to grow – what if you only intend it to be a few people, but more join? What about spontaneous demonstrations, e.g., in response to a speech? You’re also liable if you join a protest without taking reasonable steps to make sure procedure has been followed, meaning you have to track down the organiser and ask them – I can only assume you’re allowed to take them at their word!

What’s more, you’re also guilty of the offence if, by act or omission, you incite or encourage or induce someone to commit the offence. What does it mean to incite someone to do it by omission? Are you obligated to tell them not to? Are you obligated to inform them of their duty to abide by the bill? It doesn’t say.

As for punishment, for a single person it’s $1-5k. If you’re any kind of important person in a student association, a federation of associations or an association of employees, or if you’re a senior officer or representative of an institution, it goes up to $7-35k. And if you’re actually a group yourself, eg if it’s decided that the bill was breached by “XY Student Association”, it’s $25-125k.

Oh, and you know what else? Institutions (eg universities) must provide information to the Minister of Education when asked for, for the purposes of this Act, or they’ll also be subject to that $25-125k fine. As will any institution who does not report a “situation” (a demonstration that blocks access to classes or similar) to the Minister immediately, or who, if they didn’t do so because a student association was blocking them from doing so, doesn’t cut that student association off from all support and services. Etc etc. There’s a couple of other provisions like that, that involve organisations being forced to stop supporting each other.

How’s that there democracy for you, huh?

Bad education

A couple of days ago on Twitter I was talking about a Scholastic-Gates survey (the article is also in my Diigo bookmarks and you can go directly to it with this handy link) asking teachers about their work conditions. It’s a US survey, but the results I think are applicable in pretty much any Western country, and with the way National is sniffing at the leavings of the US it’s even more relevant here – especially now we have announcements of larger class sizes and performance-based pay.

So what did it say, for those who don’t feel like reading the whole article? Well, the things the teachers thought were the most important for improving student outcomes were these:

Family involvement and support (84%). High expectations for all students to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies of failure (71%). Fewer students per class (62%). Effective and engaged principals (57%).

Not that this wasn’t just the number of teachers who said yes to each option – this was the number who “very strongly agreed”, meaning the numbers who thought they would help to some degree were even higher. The things ranked as least important were:

A longer school day (6%). Monetary rewards for teachers based on a) the whole school’s performance (8%) or b) individual teacher’s performances (9%). A longer school year (10%).

Almost all the teachers hated standardised tests, with percentages who strongly agreed that they were important often in the single figures, and while they also hated teacher evaluations that were similarly standardised, like checklists or purely by pupil scores, they were quite happy with evaluations that actually looked at what they did in the classroom, talked to them, and were run by professionals.

And what did they say would keep them in the profession? Well, it wasn’t merit pay. It was pretty obvious things to anyone who knows anything about teaching, actually – better support, more non-teaching hours (to do things like planning the curriculum, marking assignments and working with other teachers), more family involvement and more help for students with problems (eg behaviour or disability).

The survey also found that, on average, teachers worked for upwards of ten hours a day (it lists two figures – 10h40m and 11h25m)!

So what can we take from this here in New Zealand? Well, Treasury’s recommendation to apply larger class sizes is obviously going in completely the wrong direction. Even when I was last in high school ten years ago, classes were often higher than 30 students until sixth or seventh form (Years 12-13), about 28-30 when I was in primary school, and from anecdotal evidence they seem to be in about the low thirties now. The recommended ratio will be going up to these figures:

Year 1: 1:15 (teacher:student)
Year 2-3: 1:23
Year 4-10: 1:27.5
Year 11-13: 1:17.5

You have to wonder, if the recommended ratios are so much lower than actual class sizes, what will happen with them increasing? One prediction I’ve seen is that 90% of schools will lose at least one teacher, which is about 1800 jobs gone. Hekia Parata reckons that “the changes were critical in helping to increase productivity.” That’s like the idea that increasing your work day increases productivity – you’re working longer so you’ll do more work, right? Except that’s not true. Past eight hours, you start to lose productivity at an alarming rate, so much so that it would be more productive to cut everyone’s hours back down to 40. There’s an article on that here. There is only one teaching style that works with a large class size, whether it be 35 students or 350 – lectures. I had one teacher who did lectures at high school. They were very occasional and he only did them for the senior students in a class that was mostly full of future uni goers (Classical Studies). He was a truly excellent teacher who was preparing us for the learning style we’d have to adjust to at university because he knew we could handle it.

Do we really want to be subjecting ten year olds to lectures, though? Does anyone really think that would be productive?

Education is not something you can do on a production line. There are at least four main learning styles (audio, kinesthetic, visual diagrams, visual text) and endless combinations and sub-styles. I’m something of a spatial thinker and I tend to a mixture of visual diagrams, text and kinesthetic, while I’m terrible at audio – I can only manage to listen for a few minutes before speech just becomes white noise and I have to actively focus back on what the lecturer is saying. Doing that for an hour is exhausting, which is why even if I do eventually move to Palmerston North I’ll probably remain an extramural student. Teachers rarely had to give me extra attention because I really liked to learn and found my own ways around it, but that’s always going to only be a minority of students. Especially when they’re young, kids need individualised attention so they can, at the very least, learn how to learn.

In the meantime, teachers remain too poorly paid for the work they do. Increased class sizes will make that work harder, and increased qualifications required will mean higher levels of debt by the time they start working – if they can even get through the system with the new student allowance restrictions. This is really not the way forward.

“Awkward”

A note, first, that this post is going to be discussing domestic abuse and societal attitudes.

On the way into Te Awa o Te Ora where we do our flax weaving today, the radio was tuned to Mai FM. The DJs were discussing an upcoming show in Las Vegas where Chris Brown and Rihanna will both be performing, describing it as “awkward”. What else is “awkward”, apparently, is that Chris Brown has recently released a track with lyrics saying “Don’t [eff] with my old [B-word] / It’s like a bad fur / Every industry [N-word] done had her / Shook the tree like a pumpkin just to smash her / [B-word] is breaking codes, but I’m the password.” After this, Rihanna unfollowed him on Twitter, and he responded by doing the same and tweeting, “Assumptions! I didn’t say any names so if u took offense to it then it’s something you feel guilty about.” (from here.)

They went on to talk about how Rihanna is rumoured to be releasing a track soon with some blistering words directed at him, and how it was probably going to be a really epic zing, because women can hurt men with what they say than men can hurt women [with what they say]. You know, it might just be me, but I’m not sure what she could say that would hurt worse than having to listen to him apparently brag about how he beat and choked her to the point that she passed out, while yelling that he would kill her, in a song that’s probably going to do extremely well and be played on the radio a hell of a lot.

Actually awkward: really fucking clueless cis guys talking about things they really shouldn’t be talking about.