City: North

Since I’m being @newzealand this week, I headed into town today to get some photos to show everyone. I started out in Sydenham trying for the more cheerful ones – lots of bright colours and plants in wheelbarrows and things – then worked my way up to Re:Start, north to Gloucester St, east a few blocks and north up Madras to the 185 chairs installment. It’s been a while since I’ve been more than a block or so north of Re:Start, and once you get north of Cathedral Square itself it shoots up to nearly two years.

The slideshow goes chronologically backwards so it starts with the most depressing and gets progressively cheerfuller. Around Gloucester and Madras, there’s basically nothing. Several non-operative odd buildings. (I found one that was in use and about freaked out when the automatic doors opened when I walked past!) A lot of street signs seem to be missing, which made it really hard to get my bearings – I had no idea where I was a few times except for “north of the Square”. The traffic lights weren’t working either, and some of them were kind of smashed up. Pretty much what there was was safety fences, road cones, plywood, construction equipment, and dust.

One thing that was great to see was a small market on Oxford Tce just north of Re:Start. It was only like 3-5 stalls but it was a central city market! And in the middle was a jewelry stall which had Māori carving that I believe the man did himself – he certainly knew about the designs and stories behind them, because when I was buying a cattle bone fish hook I asked him about one of a man riding what turned out to be a waka and he explained it to me (it was Piranga, I think he said, though the story was the one about Maui fishing up Te Ika o Maui). The sign said it was there 9-4 on Fri-Sun, and that little piece of normalcy was so refreshing.

Acceptance

We all know the five stages of grief, right? I can’t remember the exact order – denial, anger, bargaining, grief, acceptance, I think – but I’ve seen people going through it in the aftermath of the earthquakes, and I’ve done it myself. I pretty much skipped straight through bargaining, and denial was over pretty quickly. Grief and anger, though, tangled me up.

The anger was never directed at the earth or the universe – actually it’s part of my religious beliefs that things like this do happen, should happen, need to happen, and aren’t inherently bad things. They affect people in a bad way, but they’re not in themselves bad. And I feel that my anger at the way the government has handled things is entirely reasonable.

Instead I’d get angry at people outside of Christchurch, talking about their lives, discussing the latest pop culture – things that seemed shallow and pointless. This reminder that they got to hear about it, feel sad or worried or whatever, and then just move on was so infuriating. The really stupid thing was that a lot of the time I’d log on to WoW or whatever because I desperately wanted a moment of normalcy – but then at the same time I’d desperately be hating the very people who were providing it. It was pretty much the very definition of irrational anger.

I realised this last weekend that it’s been a long, long time since I felt that way. It lasted probably well over a year, just these intermittent flashes of “how dare you, don’t you know shit still sucks“, but by now, it’s been a few months. I can’t say for sure they won’t come back, just like I can’t say for sure we won’t have a recurrence of earthquakes like we have several times already – but for the most part, I feel like I slipped into stage five sometime when I wasn’t really paying attention.

A funny thing happened at the petition site

Today I did my democratic duty and signed the petition for #KeepOurAssets. They reckon they have about 80,000 so far of 350-450,000 needed (you gotta aim for more as some will always be struck off for being double ups or not being on the electoral roll).

While I was chatting with the Young Labour guys, something ridiculous and unexpected happened!

So, that red car, that’s the Labour car they arrived in. We were standing on the footpath next to that talking about policy and housing and exciting things like that when a blue car coming south down Wilsons Rd turned onto Walpole St. As it came up to the Labour car, suddenly a dog jumped out the back window and slammed straight into their bonnet.

Everyone’s faces were like “o.o!!!”

The dog stood up, shook itself off, and went racing down the sidewalk – I think it was chasing a smaller dog. The blue car had to pull over, grab it by the collar and drag it back inside. They probably wound the back window up, too.

Sadly it happened so fast that no one managed to get a picture or video of it, because damn, that was hilarious.

Also, if any of you are on the electoral roll and haven’t signed the petition, you should do so! While a citizens initiated referendum like this one isn’t binding, it’ll be pretty embarrassing for the government if the petition gets enough signatures to force a referendum and the referendum returns a result highly opposed to asset sales, since their pitch since last November has been that the election results are somehow a “mandate” (despite them getting less than 50% of the votes with a low turnout). To force a referendum the petition needs to get about 310k unique, qualifying signatures within one year – a little under 900 a day! There’s only been four citizens initiated referenda since the legislation enabling them was passed in 1993, two of them being at the same time as the 1999 election, and three of those overwhelmingly got the result they wanted. The fourth was the smacking one, which got an overwhelming negative result. Sadly of those four, I’m not sure if anything changed for the first one (about firefighter numbers), the one on dropping the number of MPs from 120 to 99 or 100 hasn’t changed anything, the Justice one for focus on victims, minimum sentences and hard labour for violent offenses hasn’t really changed anything, and the smacking one the law did change though people didn’t want it to. (Though personally I’m not sure what my opinion on that law is.)

Despite that, it’s still very much worth doing. Getting the numbers to force a referendum is like having the record officially state how very opposed the country is to asset sales, and while it probably won’t stop them, it may well convince some more of the left wing parties to commit to buying them back – hopefully with no gain to those who buy them.

An open letter to bloggers and journos who aren’t at all racist

So you have some form of column, you say. Piles and piles of readers and your name right there in the byline like you’re famous or something and people you’ve never even heard of know who you are. Awesome, isn’t it? Except that sometimes… sometimes you get criticised. Racist, they call you. Ludicrous! You never think about race in your writing.

Hold up – just pause there, rewind a bit and play it back. You never think about race? Maybe, just maybe, that right there is your problem. You’re white in a majority white country. You don’t have to think about race. But other people do.

Assuming from your defensiveness and heated denials that you don’t want people to think you’re racist, presumably you’re open to suggestions to avoid having it happen. After all, you’re not. You and your friends know that. Hell, you may even be friends with people of other races, and you don’t see them any differently from anyone else.

Unfortunately people on the internet don’t know you’re not racist. Equally unfortunately, there are a lot of white people who are racist. If you don’t want to be mistaken for one of them – like, if you really, really don’t want to, because it’s the sort of accusation that will seriously ruin your week, because it’s utterly repugnant to you – there’s something quite simple you can do to lessen the chance.

Before you publish something, stop. Think to yourself, “My readers don’t know I’m not racist. I can’t even rely on the assumption that all of them read all my stuff; this is the internet. People follow links all the time. Can what I’ve written be misinterpreted? Does it need rewording? Is there anything that can’t be reworded? Does it really need to be there?”

That’s right. I’m asking you to think about race. This may seem counter-productive to you. After all, isn’t that the very basis of racism? Thinking about race? In an ideal world, maybe. but this world isn’t ideal. In this world race is, sadly, of inflated importance. Being visibly of a different race has a huge impact on how people are treated and experience the world. Therefore, to avoid being seen as racist, you do need to think about race. You need to recognise that the actions of racists affect you too, even if it’s narrowly limited to the possibility of people mistakenly thinking that you’re racist, too. It’s all very well to castigate minorities for making assumptions, to tell them it’s just as racist to think all white people are racist as it is to deride, insult, stereotype and oppress an ethnic minority, but this is a natural human response to being hurt. If everyone who hurts you shares a trait, you learn to be wary, whether it’s pale skin or gang colours. If you really, really want to stop other races from making that assumption, you could try calling out the other white people on their behaviour so they don’t have to be wary..

But at the very least, you could think about race.

Hey, remember polio?

Hey, remember polio? Chances are most people reading this don’t personally, though they may know someone who had it when they were younger and still lives with the effects, or know someone who knew someone, etc. There’s really only about three countries left where polio’s a big deal, apparently: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. However, medical workers are making progress on getting numbers down with the help of vaccination programs. It’s been working. This year so far there have been 22 new cases in Pakistan, compared with 52 in the same period last year. That’s less than half, and if numbers continue like that there’ll be well under a hundred cases this year! Hell yes, doctors! Sadly, you might have seen something in the news about how the Taliban don’t want polio vaccinations anymore though, because it’s “against Islam”. I say this because I did, though I didn’t have time to read the whole article.

Hey, remember Osama Bin Laden? How much do you know about how he was captured? I don’t know if the name Shakil Afridi means anything to you, for example. He was a doctor too. He went to Abbottabad in the first half of last year to run a vaccination campaign, oh, and also to spy on Osama. He confirmed to the US that one of Osama’s top local bodyguards was in the compound in April. On May 2, they attacked the compound. (Afridi went on to be arrested and convicted to 33 years prison for his part.)

You may see where this is going. Because now, doctors want to do another polio vaccination drive. They have enough of the stuff to vaccinate 161,000 children under the age of five. That’s fucking huge. But because last year the US used a vaccination drive as a cover for a military operation, some of the powers that be in Pakistan don’t trust foreign doctors anymore. So it’s not so much that vaccinations are against Islam, really. It’s more that they’re worried – and quite possibly rightfully so, considering ongoing drone strikes in the country – that this program will be a cover for spying as well.

So, you know, good job America. Using doctors to do your dirty work, really paying off now, huh? I mean, your wars have already killed more civilians (sorry, “potential combatants”) in the region than anything else, and now you’re getting completely preventable diseases in on the fun as well!

Summary: Medicine should never be a cover for military operations. Ever. It’s simply too fucking important.

We can only try to emulate the virtuous

Had a bad nightmare last night – much more intense and awful than just my usual “people won’t get out of my personal space one” (which affects me worse than you’d think from what they actually are) though it involved a bit of that too. When I woke up I was convinced my clock was two hours ahead instead of one, and when I finally pulled myself out of bed I was quite trembly still so I took some lorazepam with my morning medication as well. It leaves me tired and a bit groggy, but calmer, at least. Then I put my Social Policy book in my bag and we headed off to Te Awa o Te Ora, because while there’s lots of people there, it’s weirdly calming, and I wanted to play with flax and prep some more whenu and have kai with the other weavers.

Hadn’t bothered to check my email or Twitter or anything in the morning, but at one point I pulled my phone out to see if I could figure a way to get a smaller file size when I take photos and checked on my mail and twitter mentions, since before bed I’d posted a picture of my muffins and wanted to see if anyone else had said anything. There was some of that and also a couple of tweets that seemed to link to some kind of trash talking.

Now, normally, I find trash talking hilarious, so when we got home I went to find the whole conversation, and most of it was just as ridiculously pathetic as I’d expected. Apparently having four whole paragraphs on a page designed to tell people who I am indicates that I find myself altogether too interesting. Four paragraphs, people! How did no one ever diagnose my obvious narcissistic personality disorder?

The last two or three tweets is where it went to shit though. Quoting the line from my About section about how I’ve been depressed my whole life (a medical fact that can be backed up by numerous doctors, psychiatrists and psychiatric emergency staff), one of the two in the discussion added “go. kill. yourself.” The next tweet was something nonsensical about living under a bridge with a stolen iphone, then the last one was addressed to me by name, but not twitter handle, asking if I’ve ever “saved child cancer patients” like the other person in the conversation. Well, I don’t know. Maybe. I did help an awful lot of people get funding to keep their power on last winter, quite a few of whom needed it for medical reasons, so it’s possible, I’m not really sure why it’s relevant though. Maybe I was supposed to feel shamed out or something? Coz I don’t. Mostly I feel shitty because despite all the progress I have made in getting and holding a really fucking satisfying and meaningful job last year that led me to come back to school this year and manage so far to maintain pretty good grades for the first time in ten years, this is just another person reminding me that society don’t give a shit about the mentally ill no matter what we do, and on a day when I’m already off-balance and feeling kind of vulnerable.

As a note, I very deliberately am not naming the people involved in this conversation. I blocked the one that was saying the worst things but looking at Twitter support that’s about all I can do unless I get outright credible threats, which isn’t the tone the conversation had at all. If anyone figures out who they are, you can confirm it with me privately, but please don’t mention it publicly. I don’t start flame wars and I won’t appreciate someone starting one on my behalf either. I’m posting this because it’s always been a blog about disability on some level, even if it’s also about a lot of other things. Your average “go kill yourself” attack on the internet I don’t care about, but when it’s so inextricably linked to “oh, you’re mentally ill” it suddenly has a lot of different weight behind it that I think deserves to be considered because it’s a button that affects a lot of people with mental illness very badly, and people know that. That’s why they jump to it.

Is it on a level with using targeted slurs against other minorities? I don’t know, really. I think it probably affects me more than homophobic slurs and about the same as transphobic slurs, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the same “hate speech” category. (Also I’m counting attacks like “you’re a freak of nature” and “gay marriage will lead to paedophilia” or whatever as slurs, not just demeaning words.) I think you’d be hard pressed to argue it legally, but then the mentally ill are often still considered fair game in a lot of ways. Just look at how stories are reported sometime, it’s very telling.

Chinese super-bludging!

Taking a break from studying Social Policy, since Winston Peters is on Native Affairs atm, to discuss this super-bludging thing. Which, predictably, I think is bullshit.

As a history lesson, the Old Age Pensions Act was introduced in 1898. It was the first direct cash benefit, and heavily restricted. To be eligible you had to have been in the country for 25 years, you had to be sober and of good moral character, you had to be 65, and it was incredibly means tested. 114 years later, you still have to be 65, it’s not means tested, and you have to have lived in New Zealand for ten years since the age of 20, at least five years of which must have been since the age of 50. There’s been quite a few changes over the years – the age of eligibility is about the only thing that hasn’t changed.

(As an aside, I don’t necessarily agree that we have some kind of superannuation crisis as regards to cost. My concerns with it are purely based on need.)

At any rate, the discussion Winston Peters started was about immigration – older people, particularly Chinese because Chinese people are scary or something, coming here and ten years later drawing superannuation.

When this does happen, I believe is due to cultural differences. Chinese families tend to have a bigger intergenerational focus than ours. It would not surprise me, then, if the bulk of older Chinese people migrating to New Zealand were doing so either in company with or to join their family. Back in early May I made a post about the cultural differences between middle-class pakeha and (often low-income) Māori and Pasifika that show up in the beneficiary-bashing slut-shaming tropes, which has some similarities. In both cases, there are inherent differences in how we view family, and because Chinese and Māori/Pasifika are both ethnic minorities they’re kind of getting thrown under the bus in the blame game.

I don’t think, honestly, that there are huge numbers of people coming here at age 55 to get access to Super. I don’t think it’s a big problem at all. If someone managed to convince me that we absolutely had to look at some problem, discounting the eligibility age, I’d be tempted to look more at means testing than eyeballing immigrants – though I suspect my means testing would be far more generous than governments tend to apply to other benefits, particularly since retirees do have high medical costs that need to be accounted for. (Full disclosure, my father’s just turned 65 and draws Super. He’s self-employed and gets a decent income, my mother also works, though I don’t know exactly how much. We’re not as well off as we were when I was young and the money definitely helps, particularly since both of them are getting older and they also subsidise the living costs for me and a couple of my siblings. So I’m fully aware that Super can be useful even for people who aren’t exactly eking out an existence.)

FYI, students with disabilities

I got a response today to my OIA request (weirdly, just as I signed in to fyi to see what was going on) and it was… kind of successful. The first part of my question was asking the numbers of students receiving limited fulltime status due to disability and whether they were receiving student allowance, and they didn’t answer that because they don’t keep records of reasons so would have to manually check all 3,000 files. Fair enough, I guess, though personally I would include the reason in computerised records even if just to keep track of how many are doing it as their status quo and how many are in their final year and don’t have enough papers left to be fulltime. Let’s just say, it’s somewhere between zero and three thousand.

The second half was asking for any correspondence or records pertaining to the impact on students with disabilities from changes to the student allowance scheme. The Ministry of Education apparently handles this, but they advised MSD that they didn’t have anything that applied.

What this means is that students with disabilities who use up their 200 weeks of student allowance with part time study will have to apply for the next year under “special circumstances”. Each case is then reviewed individually on its merits and may or may not be accepted – there’s no hint as to what the criteria might be, who judges them or how strict they’ll be. There has been no discussion by policy makers on how this will impact on people with disabilities seeking tertiary qualifications.

I’ll just note again that if you’re doing a half course load, like me, a bachelors degree will take longer than 200 weeks. I’ll make a follow-up request re: the process for considering special circumstances, because right now everything hinges on that.

Whakataukī

For my exam on Saturday I need to learn some proverbs and quotes in Te Reo – some of the past exams just ask you to identify what kind of saying something is (proverb, quotation, tribal saying, or kīwaha/kīhau (small slang sayings)) but others ask you to provide examples. If I have to be inflicted with them, so should you. (I kid, they’re mostly actually really cool.)

Some of my favourites, weighted towards being easier to remember, either because they’re short and simple or because I understand all the words and grammar:

He iti te kupu, he nui te kōrero. Succinct, but laden with meaning.
Whāia te iti kahurangi. Pursue what inspires you.
Tōku reo, tōku ohooho. My language stirs my inner consciousness. – Tīmoti Kāretu
Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori. Language is the source of Māori integrity. – Tā Hēmi Henare
Ko te kōrero te kākahu whakaahua mai i tō hinengaro. Conversation is a garment that reveals your psyche. – Hōri Mataiawhea Tait
Kei mahurangi kē koe. You’re away with the fairies.
Ta kopa iti a Raureka. The tiny purse of Raureka.
Kaua e takahi i te ara a Taihoa, kei tae ki Aua atu. Don’t tread the path of Procrastination, you might arrive at the land of Dunno.