Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dear Wayne Mapp

Please stop being such a moron. I keep resolving not to write about your stupidity, but it is so deeply stupid. I end up wasting my time and yours. So I ask you take a few simple steps before you speak in order to ensure that you're not going to tempt me to make the cheap joke:

1. Try to make sure that the policy you are attacking wasn't introduced by a National Government. The last National Government didn't feel the need to attack Maori as cover for the fact they were attacking poor people (they just attacked poor people directly), so they may not have been as frothing at the mouth racist as you'd like.

2. Go here, and look up the meaning of important words before use them. This might avoid problems like this: "Statistics New Zealand has decided our country should not only have two official languages, but that we should also become bilingual".

Yours Sincerely


PS I will try and have some more self-control next time.


There are times when it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer awfulness of the world, and the size of the things that we have to fight.
John Marsden's The Rabbits is one of the most heart-breaking and beautiful picture books I have ever read, but it overwhelmed me in exactly that way.

I'm not going to talk much about it, becaue I think you should just go read it (get it out of the library, read in the bookshop, give it to the next person you are obliged to get a gift for and read it first, beg, borrow, or steal - it's that good).

But I wanted to write about the feeling of despair mostly to fight it in myself, because I think that the difference between someone who worries about what's going on and an activist is hope. That hope can come from all different places, but it's very hard to maintain long-term. While there are lots of other reasons people drop-out of political activity, I think losing hope is often a big factor. I try and nuture my hope through history, through what people have been able to achieve in the past, but I don't think I've been doing it enough - because otherwise I wouldn't have had that level of despair.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Everything girls need to know

I was browsing the books at The Freedom Shop (the Wellington Anarchist bookstore), and found a Girls Survival Guide, put out by an American alternative group. It's my sisters birthday tommorrow so I bought it as a present. Then I started skimming it, and it looked a little simplistic, but full of useful information, of the sort that it's usually hard to find. Until I got to the page of advice about low-fat, low-sugar snacks (I took it back to The Freedom Shop, and they gave me a refund, because they're good people - you should go have a browse - it's on the Left Bank).

Now I could take this to an extremely long rant about how easy it is for activists to build up a shining new eating disorder culture, which makes conformity look like rebellion. But since I'm writing something much longer about that I'm just going to write about the two things that sprung to my mind.

1. I'm finding it really hard to believe that there's anywhere in America or New Zealand where a teenage girl is sitting thinking "I really want to know what the low-fat alternative to ice cream is, but I just don't know where to find that information."

2. A little tangentially: among animal rights activists, and others who see vegetarianism and veganism as political acts, it is quite common to put great emphasis on alleged health benefits of not eating meat and dairy.

Unless you believe in a vengeful God (and most political vegans I know don't) there is no inherent connection between the rightness of political action and the effect it has on you personally. So I just don't understand why anyone wanting to promote political veganism would promote the health benefits, to the level that they do get promoted.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A question

One of the problems of having a blog is the temptation to write about things you don't know that much about. For me Israel and Palestine is certainly one of those issues. While my belief in self-determination gives me a starting point for my analysis, I've never felt like I had a very firm grip on the facts, which makes my analysis not that important (for instance I didn't figure out till really recently that the West Bank was in the East, and the west referred to the bank of the river - feel entitled to ignore everything else I say, because that is pretty monumentally stupid).

So instead of a big comment on the results of the Palestinian elections, I'm just going to ask a question: I've heard lots of Is there a logical argument for the claim that a party with a armed wing, which operates outside the country, can't participate in government/parliament?

If you think representative democracy is the greatest thing since sliced bread, then I can understand the logic behind the argument that a party that is participating in armed struggle within the country should not be part of parliament. You should choose between the two different ways of trying to get power.

But there are lots of parliaments/governments that are all about armed struggle in other countries. Hamas is directing its armed goal at Israel not at Palestine. If, by voting for Hamas, the people of Palestine are endorsing that armed struggle. How is that different that the re-election of George Bush endorsing the Iraq invasion?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Actually it Explains a Lot

Political partisans (or at the least the male ones who were the subject of this study) don't use their brain when talking about politics:

During the study, the partisans were given 18 sets of stimuli, six each regarding President George W. Bush, his challenger, Senator John Kerry, and politically neutral male control figures such as actor Tom Hanks. For each set of stimuli, partisans first read a statement from the target (Bush or Kerry). The first statement was followed by a second statement that documented a clear contradiction between the target's words and deeds, generally suggesting that the candidate was dishonest or pandering.
and then
While reasoning about apparent contradictions for their own candidate, partisans showed activations throughout the orbital frontal cortex, indicating emotional processing and presumably emotion regulation strategies. There also were activations in areas of the brain associated with the experience of unpleasant emotions, the processing of emotion and conflict, and judgments of forgiveness and moral accountability.

Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning (as well as conscious efforts to suppress emotion).
This is why I find partisanship so boring, and a lot of political blogging (particularly in New Zealand where there are much fewer non-partisan) so dull. To quote Billy Bragg: "And there's only two teams in this town/And you must follow one or the other/Let us win, let them lose, not the other way round." That's not what politics is about for me, there's no-one, particularly not anyone in power, who I care enough about to defend the indefensible.

One of the things that is wrong with the Greens

From Frogblog:

the Transport Ministry has confirmed it is investigating a Green Party proposal to link car registration charges with fuel efficiency as occurs in Europe. Such an initiative is used in France, where car taxes are graduated according to engine size, while in Britain charges are based on vehicles’ CO2 emissions per mile.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who is in charge of the Government’s energy efficiency programme, said such a scheme would reward people who bought “environmentally sensible” cars.

“It is essential to improve the efficiency of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet as quickly as possible to protect ourselves against ever-rising fuel prices and to reduce unnecessary climate change emissions,” she said.

“The only way to do that is to target vehicles entering the country.”
Now I don't know much about cars (understatement of the year), but my understanding that old cars are particularly fuel inefficient. You know who earns old cars? People who can't afford new cars. It's all very well to pretend that the only people who use lots of petrol are people who are using a gas-guzzling SUVs (it helps if you follow this up with some kind of gendered insult about the sort of person they are), but that's not reality. Too many of the Greens policies rely on regressive taxes to get behaviour changes, because they seem to blame ordinary people for the state of the world.

I'm not convinced by capitalism, governments, or much of what we have going on, but I do sometimes have opinions about how they should operate. Here's a basic philosophy: No policy goal is worth taxing the poor to achieve.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just a tad late

If (like me) you found it hard to find your round tuit (as my Dad used to call it) to read Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech do it now. It's beautifully well written, and powerful. Here's just an example:

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as "low intensity conflict." Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued--or beaten to death, the same thing--and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.
But don't be satisfied with an extract - go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Not Quite a Hypothetical Question

Say there's a man who comments on a few issues that involve women reasonably commonly in the media. These issues are not solely about women, and he is asked to comment because of his knowledge of other facets.

Then say that you hear that he used to beat up his wife; you don't know if he does anymore. Does it effect the way you view his comments?

For me some information I was passed on at the wedding I attended (and it was from a reasonably reliable) has meant that I will never listen to what he says again.

It's not that I don't think that a man who has been violent against women could never have valid contributions to any issue involving (although I do think a man who is currently violent against women is showing their attitude towards women). I do like to think (although I have no evidence for this hope), that violent men can change, that there is hope. But for me to believe that this change had happened (and I have no reason to believe that it happened in this case) then the person involved would have to stop hiding their violence.

Monday, January 23, 2006

21 things I learned travelling round the North Island

So as I said I've been on a road trip for the last two weeks starting in Napier going round the East Cape and ending up in Hamilton for a wedding. Here are my thoughts in rough chronological order:

1. New Zealand towns tend to be either farming towns or tourist towns; Napier is both. As a visitor I think you end up with the worst of both worlds.
2. It is truly ridiculous that a 27 year old woman has no idea what a vegetable looks like when it's growing. I'd drive past fields of crops and have no idea what was growing there (unless it was corn or grapes). I'd try and guess, but my only guesses would be onions (this was for any field that looks like onions do when you leave them in the cupboard too long and they start to sprout out the top) or potatoes (that was everything else). Possibly I should use google to make me a little less ignorant.
3. There are train tracks all the way out to Mahia pennisula. We used to have a working passenger railway system in New Zealand. I know one of Richard Prebble's nephew and he tells a story of playing with paper trains that he got because his uncle was working for the government - as he says 'and thanks to him those were the last trains I ever owned'.
4. Michael King's Penguin History of New Zealand is awful - I disagree with his emphasis, and a lot of his arguments, but he wasn't even straight up about what those emphasis and arguments were (also as one of my travelling companions asked, why are the penguins writing a history of New Zealand, wouldn't that be a little distorted?)
5. The thing about environmental history is that you can see it in the landscape. You can tell that the bush was turned to pasture, and the land turned out not to be able to sustain all those sheep.
6. Whangara is where Whale Rider was shot (one of my travelling companions was an English teacher and she'd taught Whale Rider last year), and the locals really don't want tourists (there's a keep out sign on the entrance to the town), after a short debate we decided to respect that wish.
7. In Tokomaru Bay you can also see the economic history in the landscape: the wharf, the tramway, the old meat works.
8. Sometimes shops close and you can't buy what you want to buy (the car load of townies took rather a long time to learn this one).
9. The government doesn't make many of its services available in Ruatoria, but it does have a Corrections Department office. I'm sure that works well.
10. If you're on a two week road trip every joke gets funnier the more it gets driven into the ground.
11. Campsites are full of slightly odd people and mosquitos. Personally my tolerance for the first went down significantly as I got bitten by the second (although the 11 year old who was fascinated by us, and in particular wanted to know who was the oldest, and who was the youngest, reminded me of a time when that mattered a lot).
12. You can see the Auckland money as soon as you turn the corner from the East Coast to the Bay of Plenty
13. Someone with Psoriatic Arthritis is apparently the most interesting thing from Gisbourne to Whakatane - fucking sucks.
14. People didn't clear the bush for sheep runs in the Bay of Plenty, which maks it very beautiful, but I want to know why.
15. Being intolerant to dairy (which I really am) is even more a pain in the ass when you're travelling than it is normally. Although the good news is chocolate oreos are dairy free.
16. It doesn't matter how far away you are, or how little attention you're paying you will know when Angelina Jolie gets pregnant (also Jen is currently winning the cover war, at least in New Zealand).
17. The mount is my least favourite place I've ever been to in New Zealand, although this was probably exacerbated by the fact there was a cruise ship in the harbour.
18. Don't underestimate the amount of work it takes to convince even a sweet and on-to-it guy that rape isn't just an occasional horror, but part of a culture that effects women all their lives.
19. Almost no movies pass the Mo Movie Measure. I went to see Good Night and Good Luck in Rialto and the previews were for Joyeux Noel, The Assissination of Richard Nixon, Capote. Good Night & Good Luck didn't have two women talking to each other, and I wouldn't be surprised if none of the movies I saw previews did either.
20. Good Night & Good Luck isn't a particularly good movie, and it's politics are unbelievably wet. If I was going to make a movie about McCarthy I'd include some actual communists.
21. I'm always a little unsure about weddings I find so much about the whole concept weird and strange, but they do always end up being really cool and fun".

Sunday, January 22, 2006


So I haven't had much time for The Listener since Findlay McDonald left. But this weeks cover story on depression wasn't about beauty or house prices, so I thought it might be worth a read.

One of the interesting issues they raise is why diagnosed rates of depression are so much higher among women than men. The list of reasons that they come up with interesting (and very nitpickable - but as I've just got home and have seven seasons of Buffy and the Serenity DVD to watch, as well as lots of washing to do I'm not going to do as through a job as I'd like).

But there was one glaring omission from the list. Women are raped and sexually abused by men. The women I know who have been raped or sexually abused have suffered depression as a result.

Think that might be relevant?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Inherently healthy

So I'm in Hamilton for a wedding and home on Sunday (not a moment too soon, considering I have large amounts of geeky DVDs waiting for me - including this).

I'd like to write a bit more about the East Coast, but I'm tired and there's an easy target I have to hit first.

A couple of days ago NZ Herald had a big hoopla about how the new healthy foods standard would classify an apple as 'unhealthy' because it had too much sugar. This was followed by a hilarious letter to the editor by some atkins/zone supporter, explaining the dangers of sugar and how we should all restrict our apple intake because it'll make us gain weight (and of course if you gain weight you can't be healthy). But what I really wanted to draw attention to was this statement the next day:

Ms Buchtmann [a spokesperson for the food standards group] said it was never the agency's intention to penalise "inherently healthy products such as fruit and vegetables".
Wow it's nice to know that there are some products (not even foods, but 'products') that have inherent qualities of health.

My understanding that the purposes of this 'healthy foods' standard is that unless foods meet this standard they won't be able to advertise any form of health claims. Now I'm all about restricting companies ability to advertise bogus claims(Nutella's 'less fat than peanut butter, more sugar than jam' ad really cracked me up). But why not just ban advertisers from making any 'health' claims about their products, why does anyone think we would get good nutritional information from people trying to sell us stuff?

But then I'm always a little confused with the idea that the problem with nutrition is that people have a shortage of information (I think the problems are more likely poverty and that food is made to make money, rather than being made to be nutritious). It's not just government departments that think this; I've had men my age complain that no-one told them any nutritional information when they were growing up. It's not so much that I don't believe them, it's just that I find it hard to comprehend. I don't even care, and I can tell you a whole bunch of random nutrition information, because in our society food matters to women, and men don't have to care about it.

Friday, January 13, 2006


So I've found an internet cafe, and so I can post a short update. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to write a complete fuss on the cricket kerfuffle (short version a plague on both their houses, I don't believe that the right for straight women to kiss each other to titilate men is an important one). But I did want to write briefly about where I'm staying.

I'm staying at a place in Tokomaru Bay called 'The Ruins'. They're cabins in the grounds of an abandoned freezing works, which operated between about 1910 and 1950. All through Tokomaru Bay you can see what used to be. There's are tram tracks on the very long wharf, what used to be a bank and the freezing works themselves.

The freezing works closed at the same time as Maori urbanisation (I assume, but don't know, that most of the people who worked at the freezing works were Maori), it was probably part of that process. I wish I knew more about the people that lived there, but it's clear that more than the freezing works were ruined.

Monday, January 09, 2006

My problem with -isms

I've already written about some of my reactions to this post on Alas, but when Heart wrote about racism and classism, I realised I had fundamental objections to the -ism tag. I think left-wing blogs are particularly likely to use these terms: as well as racism and sexism, it's classism, sizism and able-bodyism, and so reading these blogs has crystalised my objections.

To be totally clear it's not that I don't think these issues are important. It's that I think the -ism tag makes it sounds like these forms of oppression operate in the same way, when I think they operate in very different ways. I have a similar problem with the term 'identify politics' - I think the movements that have grown up to fight these issues are as different as they are the same.

First lets do a quick history of the words. The term 'racism' was coined in the 1930, and a resonably standard dictionary definition looks like this:

1: the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
2: discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race
Sexism was coined by the feminist movement in the 1960s, and obviously based on the word 'racism' (I've seen documents from the late 1960s when the term 'sexism' was footnoted and explained). It became widespread at a time feminist theory and analysis was in its infancy. All the other terms have come into use more recently

The problem to me of using -ism words to describe oppression is that the tag has a certain set of implications, they imply that the problem is a problem with indviduals, and they don't imply any analysis of power. So you talk about 'institutional sexism', because without it 'sexism' is assumed to be the act of an individual. You can talk about Maori racism against Pakeha, because there's no assumption that 'racism' or 'sexism' involve power.

So, to me, neither 'racism' or 'sexism' really describe what's going on. In New Zealand I think the term 'colonialism' is more useful to describe relationships between Pakeha and Maori, because it's more specific. While in America the term 'white supremacy' is often used.

The use of terms like 'classism', 'sizism', and 'able-bodyism' just exacerbate this problem. To me, the term 'classism' implies that the problem with class is discrimination, when I think any analysis of class has to start with the extraction of surplus labour. As I said on Alas: The problem with the class system is that people get to live off someone else's work, not just that they make fun of their accents while doing so.

Meanwhile 'sizism' and 'able-bodyism' imply that we already have an analysis of the body in society, and that it is analogous to the systems of race and gender. I'm not convinced on either point.

Homophobia and Hetrocentric, on the other hand, do a pretty good job (between them) of describing what is actually going on (although they still have individualistic over-tones). I think rather than using terms that imply that all oppressions work the same way, we should use terms that analyse of how different oppressions actually work.

I find I'm writing more about language far more than I would have expected. I think there is a link between precise language and useful analysis. If we're not quite sure what's going on, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to explain it.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

War and gender

Although I imagine most people were never in any doubt, Huibin Amee Chew has an important article Why the War is Sexist (from reader John A, and Alsis on Alas). She gives seven different starting points for the discussion on the gendered nature of war:

  • Soldiers are not the only -- or main -- casualties of war.
  • The economic harms of war for women are exacerbated by patriarchy -- both within the U.S. and in Iraq.
  • Militarization intensifies the sexual commidification of women.
  • Militarization helps perpetuate sexual violence, domestic violence, and violence against women -- both in the U.S. and Iraq.
  • Militarization and war decrease women's control over their reproduction.
  • Militarization and conflict situations result in a restriction of public space for women -- impacting their political expression.
  • Occupation will not bring women's liberation.
She concludes:
A gender analysis -- a recognition of the connections between imperialism and U.S. patriarchy -- drastically widens the spectrum of people we must consider the "casualties" of war and deepens our understanding of imperialism. Not only does the war perpetuate sexist inequality and patriarchy, but also it enlists patriarchal relations -- economic, sexual, and ideological -- to carry out its operations. I have outlined ways women are affected by the war -- both as distinct from men, and disproportionately compared to men, due to gender inequality. Righting these injustices requires special attention to gender -- merely opposing the war is not enough.
One of the most important ideas for my feminist analysis is that experience is gendered: women and men experience the world differently because of their gender, but men are the norm. So if your analysis ignores gender, then it's ignoring women. So go read her article.

Do the crime, do the dyin'

If a bird flu epidemic hit New Zealand prisons some prisoners would be let out while the rest would be left in the prison while they were locked down (no-one in and no-one out) until the epidemic had run its course. Apparently that's not good enough for some:

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said prisoners should not be freed under any circumstances, even if keeping them in jail meant they stood a high risk of dying from bird flu.
Death as an unfortunate side effect of being in prison - huh. I'm glad I'm against prisons in general.

More on a theme

Since yesterdays theme turned out to be one of the more fundamental reasons capitalism sucks (we can't have the decisions about how production will be organised made by people whose only motive is profit, because there are far more important considerations than that - including whether or not people die), I thought I'd deal with a common solution: lets just make it more profitable for companies to work environmentally sustainably, or not kill people, or whatever it is.

Now I certainly think, under capitalism, there's a place for trying to make dangerous practices expensive (whether it's through protest, suing them, or regulations), otherwise there'd be a lot more deaths in the mines than there are at the moment. But it's not enough, because companies have more power than those who are trying to fight them.

I'm going to use And the Band Played On as an example, because I think it's very small scale shows that these problems are pretty unsurmountable. The bath-houses were one of the major advertisers in the San Francisco gay press. So the press didn't want to print anything that would ruin their major advertisers. Which was a little bit of a problem, as you can imagine.

Of course when you get to the stage of a mine it's all a lot more complicated, and there's lobbyists and so on, but it's still the same basic principle. Money gives you power.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

It's All Capitalism's Fault

I was a little ambivalent writing about the death of trapped miners in America, both because the situation of the families was so unbearably awful, and because I know there are lots of mining disasters much closer to me geographically than America which I don't write about. I was worried about reinforcing the relative values of huma life that newspapers are so fond of.

But I have to recommend Behind The Mine Disaster: Act of God or Corporate Shortcuts? Can you guess what the answer was?

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Sago Mine had been cited over 200 times in the past year. Because the Mine Safety and Health Act require every mine to be inspected four times a year, numerous citations are not uncommon. The troubling thing is that both citations and injuries have gone up significantly since last year. The mine's injury rate is three times the industry average and it has been plagued by a dozen roof falls in the last half of last year.
People die in mines (and other workplace) because the cost of making the mines safe is more than their lives are worth to those who make profit from their labour.

Small Businesses Are Not Our Friends Either

After I read And the Band Played On I promised I'd write about some of the things that it made me think about - and I haven't yet, but thought I'd start now, because my thoughts on small businesses in the gay community in the 1980s fit quite nicely with my thoughts about Jared Diamond's thoughts about big businesses

One of the most interesting issues, for me, in And the Band Played On was the bath house controversy in San Francisco. Not surprisingly sex was pretty central to the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, and bath houses became an important part of both the movement, and the community that was built up around that movement. They were more than just a space in which to gather, they were also an important advertiser in gay magazines, and some of the owners of bath houses were on the boards of various gay organisations. They were also businesses that made their money from providing space for sex. People's livelihoods (in some cases very good livelihoods) depended on the financial viability of space for sex.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s having sex in a bath-house was playing Russian Roulette. Because no-one wore condoms, and people were having multiple sexual encounters a night, the chances of getting the HIV virus got higher and higher.

There were people, both within the gay community and outside it, who wanted to shut down the bath-houses. Randy Shilts (the author of And the Band Played On was definately one of those, and there those who strongly disagree, and I can see why - the bath houses in San Francisco were shut down by the state, and that's highly problematic..

But the central point I want to make is that despite being members of the gay community, despite being part of the sexual liberation movement, the bath house owners acted like the business owners they were. They resisted any linkage between unprocted sex and GRID (as it was then known). They would agree to put up education about safe sex, and then only put it at the end of a corridor no-one went down. One bath-house owner said to one of the doctor's who worked in an early AIDS treatment facility: 'we both make money from the epidemic, us when we go in, and you when they go out'

There's a moral in this for me, which is that we can never trust the owners of business to act in the interests of anything but their bottom line, no matter how socially conscious they are, no matter how much they're part of our community, no matter how much they're providing a service we want. Yes, people dying is quite an extreme end of the scale, but it demonstrates an important point, small businesses have no place in an activist community, because they will always act in the interests of their bottom line. I actually don't think it matters if they're operated by a single owner, or by a collective: if people's livelihood depend on selling stuff, they'll do what it takes to keep on selling stuff.

Last post on Jared Diamond

So I finished Collapse last night, and I just have one more point to make. When talking about companies' environmental impact he basically says - companies will be environmentally friendly if it's more profitable than not being environmentally friendly.

On one level that's blindingly obvious, companies will publish anti-capitalist writing, if it makes money - that's the whole point of capitalism. Profit, not ideology, is the motive behind what companies do.

But actually it leads me to opposite conclusions Jared Diamond, if companies will only refrain from destroying the planet that we all live on if it's profitable to do so, then they can't be allowed to make decisions about production in our society. I don't understand how anyone can acknowledge the limited circumstances under which companies will operate in an environmentally sustainable way and then say "look they can operate sustainably" rather than "this is not a good way to be making decisions about our society".

Mission Accomplished

I may be able to end my quest for political common ground with George Bush. He criticisedPat Robertson for saying:

During his show, Robertson said, “Sharon was personally a very likeable person and I am sad to see him in this condition; but I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The Prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’ God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says ‘this is my land’ and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he’s going to carve it up and give it away, God says ‘No, this is mine.’”

Continued Robertson, “And the same thing, I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated. It was a terrible thing to happen, but nevertheless he was dead, and now Ariel Sharon, who is again a very likeable person, a delightful person to be with, I’ve prayed with him personally, but here he’s at the point of death. He was dividing God’s land. And I would say, woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.’”
I'm fairly sure that I couldn't even agree on the colour of the sky if I was unlucky enough to have a conversation with Pat Robertson.

As for Ariel Sharon, he's the same person he was before he had the stroke, but lacking a vengeful God I can't claim any connection.

Going on a Summer Holiday

I'm currently in Napier and will be on holiday round the East Coast for a couple of weeks. I'll be writing from internet cafes, but I probably won't have that much opportunity.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nothing better for your mental health than a forced pregnancy

The findings of the The Canterbury Health and Development Study, that there may be a correlation between abortion and mental health problems, aren't as momentous as the Dominion Post wants you to think. The abstract of the article is here. There have been a number of studies, including ones that used this sort of methodology, that looked at the connections. This one had a relatively small sample size, comparing 90 women who had had abortions with 410 who had not. Last year the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists did a literature review that examined the link between abortion and mental health problems and came to the following conclusions:

• The overwhelming indication is that legal and voluntary termination of pregnancy rarely causes immediate or lasting negative psychological consequences in healthy women.
• The following factors seem to predict negative psychological outcomes: certain personality traits including impulsivity, attachment, low self esteem and dependency, late gestation abortion, prior psychiatric illness, and conflict with religious or cultural beliefs.
• Overall, the research seems to suggest that greater partner or parental support improves the psychological outcomes for the woman and that having an abortion results in few negative outcomes to the relationship.
• Comprehensive reviews of the adolescent-specific literature have concluded that the effects on younger women are mild and transitory and that other confounding factors may influence negative outcome.
The decision to terminate a pregnancy due to medical or genetic reasons seems to have more of a negative impact often eliciting grief and depression amongst women.
• Some studies have reported positive outcomes such as relief.

This study is entirely consistent with those findings. Why? Because correlation (if correlation exists) does not equal causation. Just because abortion may be linked with mental health problems doesn't mean that it caused those mental health problems. The mental health problems described could make someone more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, or make it more likely that they'd choose to terminate the pregnancy, or the mental health problems and the abortion (or unplanned pregnancy) could both be caused by something else, like an abusive relationship, or the abortion could cause something (like rejection by anti-abortion nutbars) which cause depression. A simple correlation (particularly in a study this small) doesn't tell us anything about what the relationship between abortion and mental health problems actually is.

I'm arguing the case based on facts but I want to be really clear that even if it was conclusively proved that abortion can cause depression I still absolutely believed abortion should be legal. The only person who can weigh up the risks of giving birth versus the risks of pregnancy is the woman who is pregnant.

There are probably cases where abortion does cause depression, if women are ambiguous about the decision, if they're pressured into it, if they're judged for the decision they make. People can make decisions they regret about abortions, just like they can about everything else, and I really admire Annika Moa for speaking out about her experience. Ken Orr, who is an anti abortionist, apparently believed talking about a woman he knew helped his cause: "I have a friend who cries herself to sleep every night because she can't forgive herself for – as she puts it – killing her baby." That's a really awful situation, I don't know under what circumstances she had an abortion, but I wish that society had provided her with what she needed to continue the pregnancy, if that's the way she felt. But the fact that people regret choices, and feel they made the wrong ones, doesn't mean we should take them away.

Meanwhile SPUC (or whatever they're calling themselves now) are arguing that this shows that 98% of abortions are illegal. As I've written about before New Zealand abortion law is pretty appalling. The law was written by pro-lifers (including David Lange) to try and restrict access to abortion. In order to have an abortion you must have to Certifying Consultants (doctors who have been approved by the Abortion Supervisory Committee not to have views that are contradictory to New Zealand abortion law) say that the abortion will damange your physical or mental health and that this is not just the normal risk of pregnancy (because women should just suck that up). There's one other condition - I think it's that the pregnancy was a result of incest (I know it's not rape because the fuckers voted down an mendment to make rape an automatic ground for abortion, because then women would claim they had been raped to get an abortion, and I will not be happy until I've danced on every single one of those men's grave). Despite this most women who want an abortion can get one, as 98% of abortions are given for the reason that pregnancy would damage the woman's mental health.

Of course SPUC miss most medical points, as well as the ones I've already made, even if abortion does directly cause mental health problems in a significant number of women, forcing women to continue pregnancies they don't want could very easily cause more mental health problems. The only way to find out would be to turn down half the women who wanted abortions and compare the mental health of the two groups, which is obviously not going to happen. I wonder if SPUC would jump aboard that study on the grounds that it would safe half the 'babies'.

But if 98% of abortions are illegal that's an enditement on the law, not on practice. Women shouldn't need to claim that a pregnancy will damage their mental health to get an abortion (although a forced pregnancy would damage my mental health). I have no hope that New Zealand abortion laws will be changed while Labour is relying on the support of Peter Dunne to prop up their government.

NOTE: I've already got a thread where you can discuss the morality of abortion. If you want to discuss the morality of abortion go discuss it in this thread. This thread is to discuss the study. If someone tries to discuss the morality of abortion those posts will be deleted, please do not engage with that argument.

UPDATE: Go and check out Tigtogblog who makes this important point (among others):
The trends do appear to hold, although I see no indication that there was any comparison with women who had continued with unplanned pregnancies, a distinction I would think crucial.
Amanda at Pandagon also has a good discussion.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Summer Fun at the Union Office

So not only is everyone in my office back at work on the first day after the Christmas break, we also spent the morning with a fun argument about the Holidays Act over cups of tea.

The question in point is what happens if Christmas isn't your normal day of work, and you work it, but you don't work Tuesday (and that's not your normal day of work either).

The answer (according to our office) is you get sweet fuck all, but they can't make you work Christmas Day (even if it says in your employment agreement that you'll work on public holidays), and you should just say stuff off, I'm not working Christmas unless you pay me time and a half.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Why I call myself a feminist, and don't qualify that statement

There's an interesting discussion on Alas: 'Is The Oppression of Women The Root Of All Oppressions?' Now I've given my response to that argument in the comments (Short Answer: Don't know, don't care. Slightly Longer Answer: Will you shut up with comparing black men to white women already; I'm glad that the rest of us have learned a bit from the 19th Century), but I thought I'd take this opportunity to write a little about why I just call myself a feminist, and don't put anything before or after it.

If you read any introduction to feminism, or introduction to political science, it will usually contain a description of the different types of feminism. The big three, that are almost always included, are: liberal feminism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism. Then you might also get anarcha-feminism, lesbian feminism, third-wave feminism*, eco-feminism and so on. It might look something like this

Liberal Feminists: Believe that if we all just gained formal legal equality then it'd be hunky dory. Are rather lame. Want all women to go out to work and don't necessarily like mothers very much.

Socialist Feminists: A bunch of communists who look at class as well as gender. Don't like blaming men for things. Will often ignore things men are responsible for. Want to work with men, because they want men to like them.

Radical Feminists: Believe women are the first and most important group to ever be oppressed. Hate men, and sex. Like hippy women-only events that will never change anything.
Ok they may not look exactly like that, but they can be about that simplistic; they give the idea that feminists all fit into 3 (or 8 or whatever) groups and they organise along these lines.

I actually think this is fundamentally inaccurate. I know a bit about the New Zealand feminist movement, and while at sometimes some women organised themselves into groups on this basis, the majority of time they didn't, particularly in the early 1970s. Now I know that it was slightly different in America where NOW was formed completely seperately from the women's liberation movement and the two existed as two seperate strands of feminism. But I still think you can overestimate the usefulness of that sort of scheme as a way of describing feminists and feminist action, as opposed to feminist theory (the writers of which, I believe, are more likely to fit this scheme, than your common or garden feminist).

I think feminists tend to take a little from column A, a little from column B, and use it analyse the situation they're in. For example, in New Zealand in the early 1970s feminists (of all stripes) agitated for a motherhood wage (this was a solution to the reproduction problem that was more important, and developed earlier, in New Zealand than anywhere else). It actually got to the stage where the 3rd Labour Government (slogan: If you think we're bad wait till the next one) proposed a motherhood wage at about $10 a week (more money than it seems - I don't have my wage calculator on me but I think it'd be at least $100), which would be funded by cutting the family benefit from women who were working. Now there are a couple of different accounts of feminists' reactions to this which compare one reaction (usually called the liberal reaction) which said that the amount wasn't enough, and another reaction (usually called the radical reaction) that said that it would force women to continue to carry out child-care roles. But if you go back to the source material you see that feminist groups of all different sorts were making exactly these two criticisms (and a third criticism that it wasn't ok to make women who looked after children in the home richer by making women who worked outside the home poorer).

I think if people self-identify as a certain type of feminist, more power to them, but I don't believe this sort of scheme covers the feminist movements, or feminists particularly well.

That's not the reason I just call myself a feminist, but it's an important piece of background.

I don't call myself a radical feminist because the argument about primacy and firstness of oppression bores me. On a more philosophical level I don't think you need to add the term radical to feminism - the word makes it very clear that it's looking at women, what could go more to the root than that?

As for the other terms they are all coupling feminism with another theory, each with it's own history and each of which was developed by men who often forgot women existed. I don't believe you can take a long standing theory add a feminist analysis and hey presto both are enhanced. There's an article called 'The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism' which says that Marxism and Feminism became one and that one was the husband. I don't think feminism needs to be married to any other theory in that way.

As feminists we do need other forms of analysis than feminism, the world is a complicated place, and gender isn't the only thing affecting women's lives. But I don't think they need to modify our feminism. Our feminism can stand on it's own two feet.

*I've always found the term 'third-wave' feminism unsustainably arrogant. It was bad enough in the 1970s when women called themselves second-wave feminism (ignoring all the feminist work that happened between winning the vote and the 1970s), but they didn't know about women's history because that history had been buried. We now know about the history of post-suffrage feminism. To say that a third-wave has started already implies that what's going on now is more significant than anything that happened between the first and second wave - which is simply not true.

Drugs are bad mmm-kay

More from the Sunday Star Times: The Rhythm and Vines organisers offered $2,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest of a dealer:

Rhythm & Vines is about sharing a good time with your friends on New Years. Hugs not drugs! So if you see a dodgy dealer we want to hear from you. This new scheme will help to ensure the R&V party is clean. You can help by taking a photo using your phone and contact the venue Police. A cash incentive will be offered. More details to follow...
I'm glad they've nipped the relationship between weed and dub in the bud.

Dumb Diets in the Sunday Star Times

So obviously papers have a very loose definition of news on January 2. I was already grumpy because they didn't do a Sunday magazine - it's the holidays and I've got nothing better to do than make fun of overpriced, ugly clothes. Then on page 4 of the 'news' section they printed an article where 5 members of the Sunday Star Times staff each trial a different diet for two weeks. Each diet is evaluated about by a dietician (for extra confusion between 'news' and 'advertising' the dieticians contact details and website are at the bottom of the article).

Now two and a half of these diets say that they mimic what our ancestors ate. This is an unbelievably moronic idea, and I have been looking for an opportunity to mock this idea shitless for quite a while. But I wanted to point out that just because I'm mocking a few of the other diets more that doesn't mean weight watchers is any better. Despite huge wittering to the contrary, weight is not a good indicator of health. It's true that diet and exercise can impact on people's health, but if you change your diet and exercise for health reasons, rather than as an effort to lose weight, you're more likely to see better health results. I would find diets like Weight Watchers slightly more palatable, if they were just a little bit more honest, and admitted that the reason people want to loose weight is because of society's pressures about our bodies. But I have some mocking to get into, so I'm not going to get into that rant right now (although I recommend Ampersand, he has a lot of good information and analysis - even if I don't agree with all of it).

Anyway let the mocking commence:

One of the diets is the Warrior Diet: "Mimics ancient hunter-gatherers by promoting exercise and under-eating (raw fruit and veges) by day, and overeating (nearly anything you want) by night." That actually just mocks itself, but the blood-group diet is equally ridiculous. The idea is that blood type is an evolutionary marker of the sort of food you can eat:

I am Type O, The Hunter, [...] According to my red blood cells I am a muscular, active sould who thrives on a meat-rich diet. I am not sure I am true to my type but I know I am not Type A, The Cultivator, whose blood dictates they should avoid red meat and only eat vegetables. Type B is The Nomad, the only type that can thrive on dairy products.

There's also the Australian Total Well-Being Diet (brought to you by the Australian Meat Board) which is a low-carbohydrate, high protein diet. Now I only counted this half because as far as I know it doesn't reach back into time to find out what we should eat. It's slightly nuttier cousins The Zone and Atkins both do, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to mock them as well (the argument goes that the domestication of grains is a relatively recent invention and therefore our ancestors didn't eat that much carbohydrates because they were all out killing dinosaurs - or something)

So there are a whole bunch of diets out there with various eating programmes that all defend themselves by saying they were how we used to eat back when we were living on plains. Now, the fact that there is more than one diet that does this is the first signal that maybe we shouldn't trust them. But more importantly, we're a pretty adaptable lot; we've lived from Greenland to the Equator, and had a slightly different diet everywhere we went. We've hunted large mammals until they died out, and then found other things to eat. We've lived in areas where there's lots of protein, and areas where there's little protein. Just about every society Jared Diamond described in Collapse had a slightly different diet - some high in carbohydrate, some high in protein - and whether they died out or not depended on what they did to their environment, not the ratio of 'carbs' to protein in their diet.

However, that's just a pimple on the bottom of the the fundamental logic problem these arguments have; they all say that eating like our ancestors will help us lose weight. Lets go back to life on the plains (or early agriculture, or most times in history) what were people's main nutritional needs? Throughout the vast majority of history there has been only just enough food to feed the people who want it (and not enough in some years). So our main goal was to have enough food to live through the next winter (or drought depending on where you were). If you put on some weight this was a good thing because that store of fat was energy that you could use to get through hard times.

Our ancestors wanted to gain weight not lose it; there is no reason at all that eating like our ancestors would make us lose weight.

I know the diet industry is one stupid unbacked up statement after another, but the complete lack of basic logic here stands out even so.


I'm reading 'Collapse' by Jared Diamond, author of Guns Germs and Steel. I'll do a longer review when I've finished it (short review fascinating, although seriously limited by his inability to analyse power structures), but something occurred to me when I was reading last night, and I wanted to write a little more about it.

The book first focuses on ancient societies, and then looks at modern societies that have collapsed, or could collapse. I find his analysis of those societies interesting and useful, in roughly that order. I don't think I can put this all down to his complete lack of power analysis.

I wonder if it's actually because he comes from a scientific background, and his skill is in controlling and comparing the variables. We know so little about Easter island, the Anasazi, and the Norse in Greenland, that in a weird way it's easier to compare them. The irrelevant fluff (and probably lots of relevant stuff) has already been filtered out. When he's talking about China, he doesn't seem to put it together to anything coherent, there's too much detail about China coming in and out of the WTO, the one child policy (which he doesn't have a problem with - his lack of power analysis goes quite deep), and just too much stuff for someone who has a smattering of knowledge about the subject to disagree with him about. At the same time it's not really good qualititive work, it doesn't explore the reality of the interaction between people and the environment in China (and you couldn't, not in a chapter), because he sees the environment and people as two variables, and doesn't seem interested in a more nuanced understanding of what's going on within 'people'.

Possibly it's just me being a discipline snob, but I do think that there are problems with trying to explain human behaviour in a quantative manner because ususally there are just too many variables.

Wrong, wrong, wrong

I think it's colonialism's fault that I'm grumpy. We have Spring festivals in Autumn, and then don't have any actual Spring festival, then we have our Winter festival in Summer and don't actually have a winter festival. I know this isn't exactly original, but I feel gypped every year.

I wonder if I'd feel more New Year-y if it was actually the middle of winter. I suspect I'd just feel grumpy and cold.

But I just wanted to remind people of my on-going quest to find a public holiday for July or August. In order to help get this public holiday through I think we need to commemorate someone really awful, so the right would support the idea of more time and a half. If this was America I'd suggest Ronald Regan day, but we don't seem to like our leaders that much. So if anyone can think of a hero of the right (or possibly the whole population) who was born (or died) in July or August, we need to start a ground swell of public support for them having a public holiday. I don't care how awful they are; I'll put up with everything, but the horrible ahistorical military glorification on ANZAC day, for a day off

Possibly I'll give it up and just start celebrating Matariki, although possibly I'm too white for it to be anything but cultural imperialism.