Presents from white guys

A friend was laughing at this eight paragraph spiel from some guy about how feminists are spoiled by literally everything they use being provided by white men and… I mean I could spend days refuting it point by point, but apart from the fact that he name dropped Beethoven as one of his precious white geniuses (which I forgive because most people don’t know he was quite likely not white at all), he also cited medicine. <i>Medicine.</i> Which I mean, I guess if you ignored the fact that men have been criminalising and actually killing women for practicing too-effective medicine for thousands of years (1, 2, 3, 4), that Western medicine has for most of its history been downright dangerous (1, 2 – these are listicles but most of my sources for how crap Western medicine has been are hardcopy notes from uni so I’m just doing quick Googles) or even just contrary to effectiveness (1, 2), that probably most of the money made by drug companies these days is made from drugs derived from treatments discovered by indigenous people (1, 2, 3), that indigenous health systems that have been in use for thousands of years are classed as alternative medicine in the same way as homeopathy and other modern made up nonsense (see some of the previous links, plus 1, 2), that Western medicine has a long history of experimenting on and stealing body parts, knowledge and work from black and brown people (12) and yet they’re still underserved by the medical profession (1), that Western science and medicine has been used to promote eugenics and genocide, that these days most medicine caters to the male body and women’s health and illnesses are routinely dismissed, marginalised and written off as emotional delusions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Yeah. Medicine has been a real gift from white men to everyone else. Cheers guys!

(Yeah, I got bored of citing or most of those numbers would go higher. You can research it yourself if you’re really curious.)

Stuck

The problem with the mental health system in New Zealand (and, to be honest, most of the world) is that there are places to go if you’re in complete crisis, but… nothing much before that except for scraping enough money together to pay for a therapist or whatever. Which isn’t exactly news, it’s just… difficult when I’m a few months from a full year trying to find a job and getting exactly nowhere and I’m losing the motivation to even keep applying to things (I still am) and really starting to struggle with feeling utterly worthless when every contact with WINZ makes it obvious that that’s how the government thinks of anyone who isn’t working. I’ve told my doctor, as well as that my insomnia’s getting pretty bad, but there’s not much he can do when I’m already on about the highest dose of my medication that can be prescribed.

It just… really, really sucks.

Rapists and murderers

I already put together a Storify detailing the first half hour or so of events today in the House. Basically, PM John Key responded to questions about NZ citizens being held on Christmas Island with repeated accusations that the Labour party is supporting rapists. The Speaker held that this was not offensive and did not need to be withdrawn, because the measurement is not whether one member is offended but whether the House is offended. Apparently, the House is not offended by a member accusing the Opposition of supporting sex crimes. This prompted a large number of Labour and Greens MPs to walk out – according to Nathan Simms (@5WinstonSmith5) this was the biggest walk out since Muldoon claimed that Moyle had been stopped by police while gay cruising. That event took place when homosexuality was still illegal, in 1976.

There are some tweets in there regarding a few of the minor crimes detainees were convicted of; here’s a story with more detail about a couple of cases.

At the end of Question Time everyone came back in and Chris Hipkins filed a motion for a vote of no confidence in Carter as Speaker. Unfortunately, since you have to file a motion, even a single objection is enough to block it, and of course National did not allow the vote to be held.

Ironically enough, after this MP Tracey Martin called for an urgent debate regarding police inaction on a group of teenager boys posting photos of them committing sex acts on drunk and underaged girls (I don’t think I need to get more specific than that), which was also denied. By National. Twitter continued in this vein by listing other reasons Key’s accusations were highly hypocritical – defunding of rape crisis centres, for example, or Kelvin Davis’ own history of fundraising for victims through sponsored charity walks.

 

Personally, my position is staunchly that even if all 40 Kiwis being held on Christmas island were criminals of the worst sort, it wouldn’t matter. They served their time and have been released from jail. They should not still be held, whether in a Correctional facility (which Christmas Island is not) or a detention centre. It’s an abuse of human rights.

And it’s an abuse that is still even worse than what refugees there are suffering. What I very much hope is that if anything comes of the Kiwis being held there it’s that the media starts to pay more attention to the conditions. It’s not that we haven’t had serious eye witness evidence to these camps before, but the way the media in almost any country focuses so intently on the local connection to any situation (a hundred people die and we pay attention to the one Kiwi who hasn’t lived here in 20 years who was nearby at the time, etc), maybe, just maybe, having Kiwis in these camps will make it more real for people. Because we really have a strong moral obligation to call Australia out on this shit and instead we’re pandering to them – partly because they’re our bigger neighbour, partly because they’re in between us and most refugees. Politics and cowardice.

And then compare John Key’s behaviour to that of the actual Kiwis in question, as reported in the Herald of all places. (There’s an autoplay video there you’ll have to turn off.)

The unrest began with upset refugees asking officials what happened to refugee Fazel Chegeni, whose body was found on Sunday following his escape from the detention centre on Friday. “They just wanted straight-forward answers, and weren’t given straight-forward answers,” Mr Hohua said.

The hated ERT were sent in, he claimed, and jostled with the refugees. Mr Hohua claims that one ERT member challenged one refugee to a “one on one” fight.

“That’s when us 501s [convicted criminals with cancelled visas] got involved,” he said. “You can’t f***ing do that. Who are you? You know. We didn’t get involved, as in, throw any punches, but we made sure that he wasn’t going to touch the refugee, or any of them were going to touch the refugee. Refugees don’t fight. Refugees just yell and scream and argue and get beaten up for it.”

I’m pretty proud of the people who are working in defense of refugees – whether they be NZ citizens with criminal convictions in the camps or people like Kelvin Davis and the ordinary people going to protests and speaking out. It almost makes up for how fucking disappointing the government is.

The caption debate

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

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

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

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

“They like sex.”

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

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

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

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

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

Collectivism is bad and how to fix it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divorced from context

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

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

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

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

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

Red Peak

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

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

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

 

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

Refugees and help that isn’t

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

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

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

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

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

Jobseeking with WINZ (1)

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

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

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