Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Prisoners pick apples for 20c an hour

No Right Turn does an excellent job of outlining the problems of using prison labour to pick apples because there's a labour 'shortage' (the quote marks are there because if employment conditions weren't so fucking awful then they'd have no problem getting their apples picked).

I want to just point out the media issue. This was the Dom's headline:

Jail lets sex crims out to pick fruit
Because, of course, the main problem with slavery is that we might get sex offender germs on our apples.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A couple of bits and pieces

I don't really drink beer, mostly because I don't really like it, but because almost every beer ad is actually just clubhouse whose main purpose is the 'no girls allowed' sign on the door. Now it seems I will have to avoid drinking vodka as well. 42 below is using a Russian Bride as a prize for its competition (in the accompanying picture she is scrubbing the floor). It's a good think I'm almost a teetotaller.

There will be no protest blogging this week, because the last few days have been extremely exhausting. I will resume the series next week (when it will become a series and not just a once off).

I haven't written about the Air NZ situation, because I was just too exhausted, and I wanted to be able to do it justice. This is a good article. But what made me furious is that every single news article referred to the plan as saving 300 jobs. They ignored the jobs that would still be lost, and the conditions that would be lost. Now obviously the workers who are facing those choices are the best people to make those decisions. But the least the news media could do is tell the truth.

A Question

I was reading an article today about Sunday Star Times about ADHD and someone was quoting as saying "I come over as a bit weird. I don't htink I'm sleazy though, which is an issue with some of us, we're too full-on. We stand too close, we don't know the social cues."

Now I often feel uncomfortable around men who are really socially awkward (and I'm talking about people who have something seriously physiologically or psychologically wrong with them, not your common or garden, 'oh my god why is my life so much worse than everyone else' - that we're all pretty much trying to grow out of). It made me wonder about the politics of that uncomfortableness. To what extent is it just prejudice against people who don't fit the social norms, and to what extent is it an actual awareness of danger?

I don't really have any answers to this. I certainly don't want to make women feel guilty about their spidey sense for danger (because I don't think we trust it enough - and I've been right about a socially awkward person).

But I think it may be an example of us making the wrong things seem unsafe. Just like we're in much more danger in our own homes than we are in the dark alley at night. We're probably in much more danger from someone who doesn't intimidate us, who doesn't make us feel creepy when he looks at our bodies, who knows what to say.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

An expansion of my comment policy

I've already made it clear that I will delete abusive comments. I've also had an informal policy of trying to promote on topic discussion on abortion threads, for example by providing one single thread where abortion may be discussed.

I'm going to expand this policy so that on some threads I will limit the sort of comments so that they don't get derailed. These will be put at the bottom of the post, and I will delete or move off-topic comments.

I should make it very clear that my intention here is not to provide a forum for political debate between the left and the right. There are plenty of places where that can happen. I think there's a lot of discussion that needs to happen between people who have a common starting point, and that discussion is what I am more interested in.

Today's blog post is brought to you by the letter E

There's a language among activists, where certain words become short-cuts and over used (I'll freely admit that inappropriate is my own personal short-cut for things that I don't like but I'm too lazy to articulate why). Recently I've begun campaigns against some of these words, because I found them annoying an imprecise. The first time was using 'community' when it makes a group of people sound a hell of a lot more homogenous than they actually are, another time it was 'healthy' when used to refer to food (I'm sure that'll surprise exactly no regular readers).

I can't remember if I ever went on a month long campaign against 'empower', but I should have. And Graham Watson's comment on my previous post gives me a perfect example of why:

There seems to be a focus on power in the post.

Surely empowerment, the freedom for individuals to express themselves as they see fit is more virtuous?
So here are the reasons I hate the word 'empowerment'.

1. It sounds, really, really smurfy, even if I was OK with the concept I'd want a word that sounded less like a bunch of hippies sitting round a meadows humming to express it.

2. I think the very word form undercuts the supposed meaning. I empower you; subject verb object. Surely the gaining of power can't be something that is done to you.

3. 'Empower' is a really imprecise word - when you say something empowered you, you're not describing the effect it had on you specifically. It can mean it articulated something you were feeling, it can mean you felt stronger, it can mean it made you feel less alone. I think it's generally a good idea to try and describe things more specifically.

4. People often talk about a particular situation feeling 'empowering', as if that's the only way to evaluate the situation. While I think the way people feel is important, it's no the only thing, we also have to example whether things make us strong or powerful, or just make us feel that way.

5. I think the whole use of 'empowerment' is individualistic. An individual is 'empowered' or 'disempowered' and that's what matters. It's very easy to ignore the fact that what gives us power and strength is each other.

I don't actually have the same criticism of 'disempowering'. I think a lot of people use 'disempowering' the same way I use 'inappropriate' - 'this bothers me, but I don't know why'. I think that's fine, as long as 'disempowering' is not the end of the analysis. I think 'empowering' is more dangerous, because it's much worse to have inaccuate language about what you're aiming towards, than inaccurate languageof what's bugging you.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


The latest Carnival of Feminists from Mind the Gap is amazing, and has heaps of stuff that I want to respond to. I thought I'd start with a question about women and patriarchy from Den of the Biting Bever.

I was reading some comments last night and a thoughtful commenter made a post that really struck a chord in me. In it she asked how I feel about those women who work in the sex industry, and, more generally, how I feel about women who seem to propagate everything that the Patriarchy stands for. The women on "Girls gone wild" jumped immediately to mind. As I was reading the comment the confusion of the poster came through. She noted having some frustration at these women, as well as sadness. She asked if I had any ideas why it is that many women who were abused become advocates of children and women while others seem to try to mold themselves to men's desires.

The comment was thoughtful and, for me anyway, thought provoking. The first part that got to me was the feelings of frustration at these women who seem so bent on helping with their own demise. I know exactly what she means. And it brings into sharp focus for me a question that I've often mulled over but still have a hard time trying to answer.

Should we be blaming women too? At what point do women stop being innocent victims and start being held responsible for the role they play? Do they ever? Are they ever responsible for their actions under a repressive society?

These questions were in my head all day yesterday and I've decided to write about it, even if I don’t' have the answers. Maybe it will set someone else's mind to wandering and they can provide an answer.
I have an answer that works for me, I don't know if it'll work for others. I don't think the examples she gives are particularly difficult, since she focuses on sex workers, and women without power. I don't understand why anyone would hold sex workers responsible for the objectification of women. The blame for that lies quite squarely with men.

But then I long ago developed a simple answer to the question of blaming women for the oppression we face, and that comes from looking at feminist history

A lot of the most important feminist ideas and theory now have their origins in the women's liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s an American feminist group released rats at a bridal show (I think it was W.I.T.C.H - Women's International Terorist Conspiracy from Hell, but it could have been another group on the East Coast). They had perfectly good reasons for doing so - at the time rape within marriage was legal, and they . The problem was the women at the bridal show

So they looked at what they did and realised that it wasn't OK to attack women for their survival strategies. This became known as the pro-woman line, and it's a really important part of my feminism.

I do make an important amendment - I have no problem judging women with power and the way they use that power. I used to have a T-shirt saying Jenny Shipley is Not My Sister, and I wore it with pride, by cutting benefits she attacked the livelihoods of huge numbers of women.

Now this isn't a particularly easy position to maintain. A whole lot of women's survival strategies drive me absolutely insane, and others simply have to be challenged. I was at my little sister's 18th birthday party and the girls there were policing each other's dress and sexuality full-on (and I learned a new disturbing term 'asian skirt' - I didn't need to know that existed). I do try and talk about this with my sister, but I don't hold her and her friends responsible for society's policing of women's bodies, that would be ridiculous.

There's a different between judging and arguing though. It's the difference between saying 'you're insane' and 'we live in an insane world, here's why'. But unless women have actual real power over other women's lives (and the 'power' of being a porn star doesn't count) then they are our sisters and

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

That's usually called lying

So apparently at tonight's youth rates bill Mark Blumsky told everyone that he'd talked to the owner of a supermarket who'd said that this bill would cost him 1.6 million dollars.

Let's do the maths on that shall we. If we take the new minimum wage rates the bill will increase 16 and 17 year old workers by $2.05 cents an hour. So for it to cost one supermarket 1.6 million dollars they'd have to have 16-17 year olds working there for 780,488 hours a year. Or 2138 hours a day. Lets say the place was open 24 hours, this supermarket would have to have 89 16-17 year olds working every hour of the day.

Seems likely doesn't it.

Mary bleeding

I loathe South Park, and think that Trey Parker and Matt Stone's pureile, misogynist liberatarian politics come through in every episode that I've watched. But I am wondering about this latest fuss.

Everything I've read about the episode of South Park that is outraging Catholics , focuses on the fact that the virgin Mary menstruates. Now I don't know a lot about Catholic theology, but surely that's not controversial? She was a woman (she's half your complex - where's the whore without a virgin), women tend to menstruate as long as they're in reasonable physical health. There does seem to be a whole 'periods are yucky and we must not besmirch Mary by mentioning that she had one' tone to this whole debate. Did anyone watch it, can anyone tell me what people were so upset about?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I'm not an expert on climate change, by any means, and I've always kept it as one of those issues I think are very bad and important but don't personally have the energy for. But I have long been a little uneasy about Kyoto. I was listening to Rod Oram talking about it on Nine to Noon today, and apparently I was right.

It does seem to be simply the commodification of pollution, and I'm pretty sure I think that's a bad idea.

Is there any good reason why a left-wing person would support Kyoto?

David Irving

I basically agree with everything Idiot/Savant says on No Right Turn about David Irving.

There is one other important point I'd like to make. Over at Cthulhu is Coming Eleanor challenged other left-wing blogs to reprint the cartoons in solidarity. David Irving has been put in jail for three years for something he said in 1989. This is a much more clear cut case of censorship than the response the cartoonists have seen. Is Eleanor (or others who have made the same argument) going to make the same challenge, or republish David Irvings statements?

Now I wouldn't suggest that anyone should deny the holocaust because David Irving has been censored. I think it's stupid to say something that you disagree with because someone else is trying to stop people from saying that thing. And I'd judge anyone who published a holocaust denial harshly, whatever their excuses for doing so.

But I think exactly the same arguments apply.

It's the vote that did it

From the Dominion Post:

Women are behaving more like men and a tragic consequence is sharply increasing rates of suicides by females, experts say.
By behaving more like men, what they actually mean is using suicide methods that are more likely to work. Twice as many women as men are hospitalised for self-harm or attempted suicide, and more women than men are depressed. To me, focusing on suicide, rather than depression is futile. We shouldn't be relying on the fact that most people can't kill themselves with pills to keep the suicide rate down.

Monday, February 20, 2006

10 Worst New Zealanders

A month or so back a lot of American bloggers put together a list of their ten worst Americans. The lists are varied, and often partisan, but it was a fun thing to do. So I thought I'd start a New Zealand version. I'm encouraging all other New Zealand bloggers to join in and name your worst (if you don't have a blog it'd be cool if you could leave a list in the comments).

Maia's List of 10 Worst New Zealanders (in chronological order):

Just by way of introduction, I've focused on people with power, because they can do so much more damage. I've also tried not to cover the same historical period more than once. I'll probably think of better people tomorrow, I also know more about twentieth century New Zealand history than 19th, so it's a little unbalanced.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield Colonist: I've spent most of my life in Wellington, he could make the list just because he decreed a grid system for Wellington's roads, from London, when he'd never seen our hills.

But no he's on this list for his aim to create a better Britain. With all the classes (someone has to do the work), but without the pesky class antagonism. He wanted to ensure that poor people weren't able to live off the land, so there'd be enough workers for the capitalists to exploit. He didn't seem to mind much that there were people already living there.

John Bryce There is an element of randomness that means that I choose this particular MP, cabinet minister, and military commander to represent the MPs, cabinet ministers, and military commanders that colonised this country. But he showed such bravery defending his home in Wanganui when he attacked a group of unarmed Maori children, and killed two of them, that I had to include him.

As minister of Native Affairs his focus was on strengthening government power and alienating Maori land. In 1880, when he was governer, resistance was primarily from Te Whiti and Parihaka. He was all about crushing this dangerous non-violence movement that was occupying land, so crush it he did. He threatened to resign when parliament wouldn't pass repressive enough laws, and then, when he did resign, he went off to personally supervise the invasion.

Robert Logan, Military Leader: When World War I broke out Britain asked New Zealand to annexe Western Samoa, which was currently colonised by Germany. We thought that a miny empire seemed like a good idea the project was described as 'a great and urgent Imperial Service' and Robert Logan was the man to do the job. Now if all he'd done was invade a country, I'd probably blame his political masters who ordered it. It was the way he administered the country once he'd has his invading fun that earns him a place on this list (and when I put him on this list I didn't know about his appalling treatment of Chinese indentured labourers - or slaves as they're more commonly known).

Most specifically in November 1918 there was a world-wide flu pandemic, which had already hit New Zealand. The Talune sailed from New Zealand to Samoa, and it was obvious that some people on board were sick with influenza, but it wasn't put into quarantine. Three weeks later 7,542 Samoans - 20% of the population - had died.

Those who made Gallipoli a myth The myth of the ANZACs as the creators of some great (and important) national identity is so pervasive, that I have no idea who started making it.

Those kids did not earn anything with their deaths, they ordered to slaughter and be slaughtered, plain and simple. Much as I hate those who gave the orders, the vultures who came after and used the carcases of those boys to maintain their power are worse.

The McMillan inquiry A government inquiry into illegal abortion (it's a bit of a cheat, but if I have to choose an individual I'll choose Dr Paget, who I quote): In the 1930s there was an increase in illegal abortion in New Zealand. A fact that should surprise no-one who knew there was a depression at this time. A lot of the women who have written about their life in the 1930s have talked about illegal abortions, and women who died from them.

The inquiry wasn't exactly made up of feminists, one member asked an advocate of birth control: "You think a woman could be considered to have done her duty to the state if she had three children?" But women came forward and described their lives. It doesn't take much to listen to stories of depression and poverty, and abortion to joina few dots.

The inquiry's response wasn't so big on the dot joining:

"The report identified two main strategies aimed at reducing the incidence of abortion - controlling the flow of birth control information by constraining it to medical channels, and imploring women to be less selfish. The role of the state would be "to appeal to the womanhood of New Zealand, in so far as selfish and unworthy motives have entered into our family life, to consider the grave phsyical and moral dangers, not to speak of the dangers of race suicide, which are involved
If they were going to be such racist, sexist assholes, the least they could have done was provide some serious money, because the actual women were having abortions, was because they couldn't afford to have children.

Peter Fraser Labour Prime Minister 1940-1949: I think he'd earn this just by being jailed for sedition for criticising conscription during World War One, and then jailing conscientious objectors in World War One, who went on to jail conscientious objectors in World War Two. "That war was a nasty imperialist war, but this war is hugs and puppies."

But he was also New Zealand's representative to the United Nations, where we advocated putting a man's right to a family wage into the declaration of human rights. He thought paying women less than men was a human right.

Finton Patrick Walsh Trade Union Leader: I distrust anyone who holds that much power, particularly a trade union leader. Maintaining your own power often runs contrary to the needs of building a movement. But having and maintaing a lot of power (and making a ton of money for himself in the process), isn't why he's on my list.

He's on my list because of 1951. I just wrote about it, he sold out the waterside workers, there isn't much more to say (he is also a stand-in for Ken Douglas, as I didn't think I could have both Ken Douglas and David Lange).

Robert Muldoon National Party Prime Minister 1975-1984: It feels a little bit cheap - he is, after all, the easy shot. But I loathe and detest him with such a fiery passion, that I once kicked the "opened by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon" plaque at the National Library (I'd been doing some research about abortion legislation - you'd kick him too). You could hate him for being anti-abortion on Monday, attacking the DPB on Tuesday, wage and price freezes on Wednesday, Health & Education cuts on Thursday, Dawn Raids on Friday, Bastion Point on Saturday and extending the powers of the SIS on Sunday. And that's without even getting into the tour.

I know it's easy to make fun of him (after all I grew up thinking his first name was 'piggy'); I know that there is a concerted effort to use his policies as an excuse for what the following Labour government did. That doesn't make him any less awful.

David Lange Labour Party Prime Minister 1984-1988: I chose him, of all the 4th Labour government fuckwits, because he tries to weasel his way out of responsibility. He was always the right-wing candidate within Labour, and he rose to power with the support of Douglas and Prebble. That government is his responsibility.

He gets all the credit for the anti-nuclear legislation (which he had to be dragged by his caucus kicking and screaming), but doesn't get blamed for the poverty and misery and economic havoc his government caused. I hold him repsonsible for every railway worker who has died since our railways have been privatised.

Names Suppressed occupation suppressed: Four rapists are currently appealing their conviction for raping a woman some years ago. Two of them have name suppression. They represent all the men who have raped, beaten and murdered women, for their own personal gratification, and to maintain their power.

All material or quotes are from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, except the McMillan Commission which is from Helen Smythe's Rocking the Cradle: Contraception, Sex and Politics in New Zealand

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Protest Blogging: 1951 Lockout

As the Dominion Post helpfully reminded me (otherwise I wouldn't have known) this week was the 55th anniversary of the waterfront lockout.

A very brief history (because I spent too long looking at the pretty pictures while writing my last post) in the 1950s the Waterside workers were one of the most militant unioins in New Zealand, and had disaffiliated from the Federation of Labour, which was at the time ruled by Finton Patrick Walsh (he was on my list of 10 worst New Zealanders, that I never got around to finishing). The company refused to give the watersiders the increase with the latest arbitration round (for nearly 100 years New Zealand had government wage arbitration), and so the watersiders put in an over-time ban. The company responded by locking the watersiders out.

The government swung in behind the strikers invoking laws (brought in by a labour government) which allowed it to declare emergency regulations that would make supporting the strikers in any way illegal (including writing a pamphlet supporting the workers, or giving food to workers families), and government and employers together tried to starve the workers out (and the Federation of Labour helped).

Over the next 151 days the waterfront workers, and their supporters, organised to gather support and to feed themselves. But after 151 days they returned to work, they had lost, not just the battle, but the union, which had been deregistered during the strike.

They didn't win, but they lasted 151 days despite the fact that any support of them was illegal. Unlike the anti-war movement, which failed because we weren't strong enough, they failed because their opposition was too strong.

This is the best website I could find about the strike, and it was where I got my photo from.

Sunday Protest Blogging: February 15 2003

This is where I was, my friends, my family, and a whole bunch of people I don't know.

I'd been really nervous the night before - I had a dream that no-one showed up. But then as I was walking to the protest I saw people I didn't recognise at every traffic light, obviously heading in the same direction, I let myself dream it would be really big. It was bigger than that. We spilled out of the park we'd planned to start in So many people had put together signs, or painted their face - we hadn't really done anything to make it happen (although there were some really dedicated stall holders) - people were just that angry.

It was the greatest protest I've ever helped organise; it was also a bit of a disaster. We'd planned to stop in Midland Park, but we were just too big. Once we got to Parliament we had no Sound System. The program of speakers wasn't the best we've ever organised, so we missed out on a great opportunity to educate people.

There were protests on all 7 continents that day:

Austin, Texas





Antarctica (all photos come from this amazing photo archive - go there I left out many great photos. I also love this book).

That was 3 years ago, the protests are smaller now, and we didn't win. But there were still 30 million of us, and we have, hopefully, learnt something, so we can keep building.

'That's terrible' said Arthur, for he was a Guardian reader

We moved from London to New Zealand when I was 5. My parents were looking to escape the economic policies and Nuclear threat of Thatcher's Britain, and, I think, family situations (2 out of 3 ain't bad).

One of the things this meant is that we subscribed to the Guardian Weekly, where you could get Steve Bell cartoons on crinkly airmail paper. I used to read the Guardian Weekly long before I could understand what was going on. When my parents lived overseas and got the Guardian Weekly and the Listener I teased them that you could tell everything you needed to know about their class, politics and geographical history (although in their defence this was when Findlay McDonald was editing the Listener not the current Pamela Stirling beauty advice central Gordon Campbell firing piece of shit).

When I got old enough I'd always read the column on the right hand side of the second page (which unfortunately got cut in a revamp) it seemed to specialise in bad news from countries I couldn't necessarily find on a map: "1,000 people died in a long running civil war", "200 died in a mine disaster". You needed to have 100s of people dead to make those columns. At the same time I'd read Notes and Queries, where people asked for silly questions and waited for silly replies, usually with enjoyable results. If you look at the online version someone asked what's the least bad ciagertte company, as if the revolution was just an ethical hair-cut away.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is why the Guardian Weekly is not enough, in times like these. It's not just that it's liberal and lets Polly Toynbee tell her readers to vote Labour with a peg on their nose. It's that it never has much space for actual hope.

I'm very wishy-washy about how we could build a new world, I'm happy to argue with most people about why I'm not sure they're right. I do know that if we're going to do it, we're going to do it by being organised, by using the strength and power that we have together.

I realised that I don't talk about that much on my blog, I just say 'that's terrible'. I don't talk enough about protests and resistance. So I'm going to institute a new feature (we'll see how long it'll last): Sunday Protest Blogging. I'll try and skew towards successful protests, although since there were two anniversaries of important, but ultimately unsuccessful protests this week, I'm going to start with them.

Just Because You're Dressed Like This:

Doesn't mean You're a Communist.

I do a lot of leafletting, and other forms of harassing passers by. I have random theories about leafletting (refusals always come in threes, your last leaflet is always the hardest to give away); I'm even quite good at it. But one of the things that sustain me while leafletting is hating people who are wearing Che Guevara T-Shirts but refusing my leaflets (which are always on things Che would support). They're a reasonably common occurance, and if you're a Che Guevara T-shirt wearer who ignores politics, you have no idea how much people curse you.

A Washington Post article about the commodification of Che as reprinted in the Dominion Post this Saturday. I really loathe the way that picture has been used, and see it as the ultimate example of style over substance. Even actual communists I know who have worn Che T-shirts haven't been able to tell me why it is Che, in particular, that they're wearing on their chest.

I think I have a solution. The picture should be licenced so that everyone who wears a Che Guevara T-Shirt has to participate in any protest an actual left-wing activist tells them to, or give a good Marxist reason why not.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


The obesity panic seems to be intensifying in New Zealand, and I feel I should be refuting this idea more. Which is ridiculous because I'm one blog with a tiny readership. But when you turn on National Radio in the afternoon (which I admit is never a good idea on week days) and they have someone saying that anyone who questions the links between BMI and health and longevity is stupid, opposition voices become important. I found Robyn Toomath's lack of grasp of history quite astounding (did you know that in the 1950s no-one lived in suburbs, and that we were all well fed in WW2 and the depression that followed because they grew their own vegetables?).

But what I wanted to talk about today, was the whole idea of childhood obesity, and the proposed solutions to it. My position is quite simple if you're worried about nutrition and exercise, worry about nutrition and exercise and leave weight out of it.

The only proposals that I've heard so far from government are to ban advertising certain foods during kids shows, to stop schools from selling junk food, and to instruct schools to include an hour physical exercise in the curriculum a day.

Only one of those proposals is a terrible idea. I actually don't think anyone should be selling food in schools, I don't think schools should be a business. I'm also all for restricting advertising during children's programmes. In fact if I had my way it'd be TV2 that would go advertisment free - I don't see why it should be the people rich enough to afford sky that get a government channel dedicated to them.

But an hour physical exercise in schools a day? Only if they completely changed the way they taught. Because I hated every second that I spent doing PE at school, except for swimming. I was hopeless at it, it made me feel hopeless, and it made me hate exercise. I think if I'd had to do it for an hour a day, I'd probably be refusing to exercise still (I'm aware this is true of many more subjects than PE, and changing of teaching methods is a wider issue). I don't think forcing kids to exercise in school will make them like exercise, and do it from choice when they leave.

But I have some much better ideas, ones that would actually work. So here's my list of proposals which would actually help kids get better nutrition:

  • Give their parents more money
  • Give their parents more time
  • Provide nutritous breakfasts and lunches in schools
  • Socialise food production and make it for nutritious value not profit
Here's my list of proposals that would help kids get more exercise:
  • Don't give them any homework, so they have time to play after school
  • Make entry to swimming pools free
  • Provide free public transport, so that kids have mobility and independence
  • Build more parks, and put wild areas for exploring in them
  • Stop trying to create panic around law and order to win elections, so people feel safe
  • Not create a whole in the ozone layer which means that it's often dangerous to be outdoors
  • Give their parents more time


Australian women should soon be able to use RU 486 to abort their pregnancies.

It feels like a funny time to be cheering for Australian women though. The changes to employment and social welfare legislation will seriously restrict women's ability to choose to have children. That they're able to terminate the pregnancy with a pill is important, but hardly a great step forward, if they're no longer able to not terminate the pregnancy.


There has been a thread on indymedia with over 40 comments, and a sensible intelligent debate. I know I almost fainted from the shock (but then I read this thread, which made me want to go out and strangle a kitten or two, and I realised that indymedia is still indymedia). The bit I wanted to respond to is this bit:

The point is not that I think that Iran is a nice place for trade unionists (see the article Dave linked to for more on the repression of the left by the mullahs), or that I think building nuclear weapons is the best use of a country's resources, but that I think that Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear programme, up to and including the building of weapons, without being subjected to sanctions, covert destabilisation, and invasion by the US and US allies like Israel.
I think Iran has a right not to be subject to sanctions, covert destabilisation, and invasion, but I actually don't think that has anything to do with the 'right' to build nuclear weapons (which I don't think anyone, or any country has).

What bothers me most about Scott's formulation, is that it implies that the only reasons Iran shouldn't be treated in the way he lists, is because they have a right to nuclear weapons. Even if Iranian politicians are doing something they have no right to do (like invading another country, or killing kittens) then that doesn't mean the US has the right to attack Iran.

My opposition to the US attack is completely independent of the pretext for that attack.


A few weeks ago Idiot/Savant posted a pair of articles about Israel and South Africa. The first article compared the effect of policies in the two countries, and the second talked about the relationship between Israel and South Africa.

I'd meant to write about the first article when I read it; I found it fascinating how state apparatus that I usually think of being mostly benign (like town planning) can be used as a weapon:

One method of preventing further construction by Arabs in the east of the city has been to declare many open areas to be "green zones" protected from building. Bollens says about 40% of East Jerusalem is designated as a green zone, but that this is really a mechanism for land transfer. "The government calls it a green zone to stop Palestinians building homes there, and then when the government wants to develop an area [as Jewish] it lifts that green zoning miraculously and it becomes a development place."
Of course I realised that I knew town planning isn't benign even in New Zealand (no by-pass), but I just didn't think about it.

But now there's an interesting post about it on Alas, which seems to argue that people shouldn't make comparisons between South Africa and Israel, because it'll upset those who disagree with the comparison, and so they won't listen:
I'm also distressed by the Apartheid angle because Apartheid is one of our iconic images of "evil perpetuated by a state." Using such an iconic, stark image of evil to describe the Israel/Palestine conflict has the effect of covering up the extent to which some Palestinians - those that commit or support terrorism - are morally co-responsible for creating the current, appalling situation.
Even ignoring the morally co-responsible bit (which I totally reject, I don't think oppressed people who resist and morally co-responsible for their oppression), I actually think it's a problem if South African Apartheid, or any other regime is considered so awful that it must stand alone and no other regime can be compared to it. It was an actual regime, not an iconic evil. I don't think we should ring-fence anything people have done as too awful to examine, too awful to learn from.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Trevor Loundon for Vice-President

It is rare for this blog to pay any attention to the main political parties - except to criticise them. Internal politics of parties don't interest me that much. However, I'm going to make an exception today and endorse Trevor Loundon for Vice-President of Act.

Who is Tervor Loundon? He runs the most amusing New Zealand blog, possibly the most amusing political blog ever, called New Zeal. Basically he's a cross between McCarthy and a stalker.

Which doesn't sound that funny, but he doesn't have any power, it's just him desperately trying to point out the Red Menace of Jim Anderton to the world.

The highlight is the way he breathlessly lists all the red activities people have participated in without explaining why any of them were bad. Rona Bailey, the high priestess of New Zealand communism was involved in the following scandalous activities in her life-time:

  • "Back in NZ, Rona Bailey became active in the campaign for equal pay for women. Before this successful campaign, women were paid less than men in the public service. Rona bailey was president of the "Public Service Association's" womens committee and used her position to promote the cause. The communists found it easy to gain support for this campaign."
  • "In 1966 she was one of several Communist Party members who were listed as contributing 5 Pounds towards the 2000 needed for Committee On Vietnam leaflets. This literature "exposed" US atrocities in Vietnam, and was timed for release just before the 1966 general election."
  • She protested arpartheid: "Not content with a behind the scenes role, Rona Bailey marched in the huge demonstrations that brought central Wellington to a stand still. In the infamous, Street march, 67 year old Bailey was batoned by police and had to be hospitalised."
Oh My God! Someone who supported equal pay, was against the war in Vietnam and apartheid. How foolishly we have relaxed, not realising such dangerous people were in our midst.

In other profiles he'll go into great detail of solidarity work with the Phillipines and Chile. I'm glad someone is protecting us from those who oppose Marcos and Pinochet.

So I'm endorsing him as vice-president of ACT, because he's a nutcase, and I'd love it if they became a fringe party.

I'm also disgusted with the Greens Russell Norman for engaging with him. He red-baited Russell Norman, and Russell Norman said "yes I have been a communist, but I left them because Marxism is bad." This showed a remarkable lack of solidarity, and a strong degree of stupidity. Of course Trevor Loundon isn't satisfied, and is still going on about it.

There are two acceptable answer to the question 'Are you now or have you ever been?': 'Yes' or 'fuck off I'm not telling you'.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

This is also free speech

I was really unsatisfied about what I'd written about the Danish cartoons. I felt it didn't explain why I felt the way I did, and didn't tease out the important issues. So here's my attempt to explain where I stand . Like I already said I don't have a clue what's going on in the wider conflict, and lacking in knowledge I'm trying to refrain from commenting.

I should make something clear straight up: I don't think we have free speech when speech is something that can be bought and sold. But I still want to examine censorship, and the way it operates.

The first distinction I'd like to make is between a companies and people. I don't actually believe that companies should have the rights of people (which isn't surprising - I don't believe they should have any rights, because I think they shouldn't exist). Howard Zinn is the expert in all this, but the idea that companies should have all the rights of people was created about 150 years ago, because it suited the needs of capitalism.

The most important way corporations are different from people is that corporations need to return a profit, and every decision they make must be contribute towards this goal to create a dividend. This means that in the press all sorts of censorship takes place in order to ensure that this profit continues. I'm willing to bet that the reason the Dominion Post and the Press apologised for printing those cartoons and promised they weren't going to do it again didn't have anything to do with any actual people, but was because our exporters were getting pissed. Fonterra and the meat-board were not happy, and they have a more direct line to The Dominion Post than you or me. Any media that is beholden to their advertisers, grandstanding about free speech leaves a bad taste in their mouth.

I do believe that media should be free from government censorship. Mostly for lack of a better model, than because I think it's standing up for freedom of speech, because it's not.

Censorship by non-state forces is a different matter. Now non-state forces is a pretty wide category, but the first point I'd like to make is that for any kind of censorship to have effect those trying to censor you must have some kind of power over you.

I could get fired for writing this blog if I worked in a government department, or quite a lot of other jobs (not the one I've got though, luckily). That is censorship.

I'm not sure a whole lot of people being angry at you, or even burning your countries embassy on the other side of the world, is censorship. People in Pakistan have no power over the media in Denmark, and whatever power they have, the consequences won't be on the Danish media.

It's nice when they're honest

More from the RU 486 debate in Australia. This is from Danna Vale, a government backbencher:

"I have read … comments by a certain imam from the Lakemba Mosque [who] actually said that Australia is going to be a Muslim nation in 50 years' time," said Mrs Vale, MP for the southern Sydney seat of Hughes.

"I didn't believe him at the time. But … look at the birthrates and you look at the fact that we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence by 100,000 abortions every year … You multiply that by 50 years. That's 5 million potential Australians we won't have here."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Best Website Ever

This is lego-baby Jesus, from The Brick Testament - the bible in lego.

I hadn't realised quite how crazy the bible was, but all the best bits are there, including Lott's wife turning into a pillar of salt. I think I'd find this more amusing, if I was sure no one was following it.

In particular I recommend the law and the epistles. I was making sarcastic remarks about women being property, until I realised that was the point (I can be a little slow).

I know an awful lot more about the bible now than I did this morning. For instance, I'd always thought Jesus was cool and spent all his time talking about camels, needles and loving your neighbour (I once had an argument with someone who thought Jesus was a Marxist-Leninst with Maoist leanings, I said that even if this was true, this would make Marx, Lenin and Mao Christians rather than the other way round). But Jesus has his share of weird. Like why does he need oil? And what is the point of this parable?

Go look at the pretty lego pictures, go now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

2 4 6 8 Youth Rates Discriminate

I went to a great anti-youth rates demonstration in Wellington today. Currently the minimum wage for over 18 year-olds is $9.50, while the minimum wage for 16-17 year olds is $7.60 (80% of the adult rate). Employers can pay under 16 year olds anything they like, so you get 15 year olds making pizza for just $6.00 an hour.

There were quite a few school kids there, and they were leading the chanting, which was fantastic.

The most important point is that Sue Bradford's bill doesn't go far enough. While it would end youth rates for 16 and 17 year olds, it would not offer any minimum wage protection for those under 16. This is a ridiculous situation - the most vulnerable are the ones with the least protection.

We heard that Labour was going to support the bill to the select committee. This will only make a difference a if everyone who cares about the issue sees it as an organising opportunity, and use the next few months to build a campaign. Labour aren't going to end youth rates to be nice, or because they like young people. They'll only do it if we give them no choice.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Telling her truth

While I don't always identify with her spirituality, I've always really enjoyed Anne Lamott's writing. Not quite as much as I enjoyed reading The Rights of the Born though(I've linked to a feminist blog that reprinted the article, because the LA Times requires registration). I'm giving an extract, but only if you promise to go and read the rest:

Then, when I was asked to answer the next question, I paused, and returned to the topic of abortion. There was a loud buzzing in my head, the voice of reason that says, “You have the right to remain silent,” but the voice of my conscience was insistent. I wanted to express calmly, eloquently, that pro-choice people understand that there are two lives involved in an abortion — one born (the pregnant woman) and one not (the fetus) — but that the born person must be allowed to decide what is right.

Also, I wanted to wave a gun around, to show what a real murder looks like. This tipped me off that I should hold my tongue, until further notice. And I tried.

But then I announced that I needed to speak out on behalf of the many women present in the crowd, including myself, who had had abortions, and the women whose daughters might need one in the not-too-distant future — people who must know that teenage girls will have abortions, whether in clinics or dirty backrooms. Women whose lives had been righted and redeemed by Roe vs. Wade. My answer was met with some applause but mostly a shocked silence.

Pall is a good word. And it did not feel good to be the cause of that pall. I knew what I was supposed to have said, as a progressive Christian: that it’s all very complicated and painful, and that Jim was right in saying that the abortion rate in America is way too high for a caring and compassionate society.

But I did the only thing I could think to do: plunge on, and tell my truth. I said that this is the most intimate decision a woman makes, and she makes it all alone, in her deepest heart of hearts, sometimes with the man by whom she is pregnant, with her dearest friends or with her doctor — but without the personal opinion of say, Tom DeLay or Karl Rove.

Drug companies suck, but some of their products are kind of necessary

I find stories like this quite difficult, as I'm torn between two competeing analyses (if you're not a NZer we have a national health service and Pharmac decides which drugs are funded, and which aren't).

I've known people who have tried to get drugs that are subsidised, and fought tooth and nail, because they make a difference in their life (I've also got a friend whose health care has gotten into at least six digits - my general reaction for people who talk about privatised health care is to wish her illness on them). If you have cancer then of course you want every chance you can to try and get a longer life.

The reason I hestitate is that these campaigns are often funded by drug companies, who are on my list of more immoral industries (admittedly the list is quite long and at times all encompassing). The reason they fund the campaigns isn't to help people's lives, but to make money. Drug companies will lie about the effectiveness and safety, perform insufficient testing, and screw anyone over to make a buck. So I really don't want to put any money in their pockets if I can help it.

I suspect the only solution involves ending capitalism. In the meantime I do tend to believe the government should err towards wasting money and occasionally saving lives, than saving money and occasionally wasting lives.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Comic Book Girls

I'm not geeky enough to have ever been into comics. However, I'm more than geeky enough to lay my hands on Serenity: Those Left Behind the comic that bridges the gap between the TV Series and the Movie.

Which made me realise that it wasn't the fact that I'm not geeky enough that made me not into comics, it's the fact that I find the way comic book girls are drawn terribly distracting and so I can never get into the story.

This is what Inara looks like when played by Morena Baccarin:She's both beautiful and conventionally attractive (although that dress is hideous, but that's another matter).

Here's what Inara looks like when a comic book artist draws her:Now she looks like she's had breast implants and had several ribs removed.

It wasn't just Inara, Zoe got her waist winched in as if she was wearing a corset under her combo gear, and River must have bra of steel, the way we can see her breasts under the loose clothes she wears. Kaylee was, if anything, drawn a little shapeless. So if the artists are told (and I'm sure they were) that Kaylee couldn't look like a comic book girl, they don't know how to make her look like a woman.

Television is not well known for portraying a wide variety of body types (Kaylee is described in the Pilot script as Zaftig, which is a whole nother issue I'll rant about sometime), but each of those characters is played by an actual woman, with an actual body shape. The fact that Will Conrad couldn't draw the limited range of women's bodies that are acceptable on TV is really depressing.

Personal and Political

This post was a big step - I didn't want to write about me. I don't talk about my life much here, and I don't want to. It's one thing to write about protests I've been on, it's another to talk about how I feel about myself. This is not supposed to be about my personal life, or what I think about the people around me, and it's hard to talk about me without crossing over that line.

But the more I wrote about food and women's bodies, the more constrained I felt by not writing about me. The more I felt like I was lying. It's very easy, in print (and maybe even in person - I don't know) to come across as someone who had all this stuff sorted. Because I'm writing about what makes me angry it's easy to make things sound uncomplicated. This was brought home to me by a commenter at Pandagon, who described Amanda as an: "effortlessly-slim person who has, presumably, never struggled with an eating disorder."

I can see why, if you don't talk about these struggles, people think you don't have them (although personally I find assuming women do have eating disorders saves time). I was talking about food, and women's bodies, and I was being honest, but I wasn't being personal. I realised that this was, on some pretty important levels, useless. The Personal is Political: more than a cliche.

Before I go any further, I have to interrupt our regular programming with some words from the rant department. The phrase is "The Personal is Political" not "The Political is Personal." There's a really important difference there, and it gets lost (although to be fair less lost in the feminist blogsphere than it does among hippy types).

The feminist revelation wasn't supposed to be that by buying fair-trade coffee, not shaving your legs, going braless, having lots of sex, charting your fertility, boycotting tobacco companies, dumpster diving, dressing butch, dressing femme, not doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, boycotting Domino's, working as a lawyer, raising children, or whatever other individual decision you made, could change the world. These decisions are all fine decisions but they're not political actions and they're not going to change anything.

What women's liberation was saying was that things we experience as individual problems: sexual harrassment, unwanted pregnancy, body hatred, unconcensual sex, domestic violence, depression, housework and so many other parts of being a woman, were actually political problems. They weren't just things individuals were experiencing and they weren't things individuals could fight - they had to be fought collectively. Almost the exact opposite of what the phrase is so often reduced to now.

Every time I hear that phrase so bastardised, so trivialised, and so misrepresented I imagine the members of those early women's liberation groups turning in their graves - and most of them aren't even dead yet.

So having finished defending the good name of someone whose name I can't remember (I don't think it was Kathie Sarachild who coined the phrase, but it was someone like that). I can return to the point I was making.

I don't think we can analyse the political implications of food and women's bodies, unless we talk about what that means personally. And, for possibly the first time when it comes to this issue, I have a sense of hope, thanks to Ampersand's Big Fat Carnival. I have always thought that if there was a way out of this, if there was hope, that it would come from women talking to each other honestly about their experiences, so we feel less alone, and can find a way to fight back.

In my last post I said that, for women I know, being fat isn't a function of size. This is from tekanji:

First things first: I have thin privilege.

More than this, though, I’ve grown up in a family (immediate and extended) that is obsessed with weight. I’ve been taught by my family, by the media, and by society that “overweight” people (ie. people who aren’t paper thin like me) are sad, pathetic, unhealthy, undesirable, and disgusting. I’ve fought against this idea since I can remember but I still sometimes find myself judging people with extra weight. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been discussing something with my friends, whether it be weight, fashion, health or something like that, and I hear myself say something disparaging about overweight or obese people. And those are the times that I notice myself doing that, what about all the times that I don’t?

But I’m not free from it myself. It’s easy for me to advocate for society to adopt a broader image of beauty (and of health) because I’m thin. It’s easy to feel good about my body because I fit into what’s seen as the “correct” weight. But, as much as I try not to, I do think about my weight. I dress it up in pretty words like “healthy” and “toned” but part of it will always be about my body shape. It doesn’t help that every time I see certain members of my family I get comments about my weight. Snarling at, cursing at, and otherwise being angry with them has helped to keep the comments at a minimum, but I haven’t been able to get them to stop completely no matter what I do.
That doesn't sound like privilege to me. I disagree with the idea that there is thin privilege, I think many of the things on Fatshadow's list apply to women of many different sizes. I think we're all in this together.

As if to underscore all these thoughts Winter Woods at Mind the Gap wrote Body Discipline a little too late to make it into the carnvial. By talking about her own life she shows that both eating and not eating; both taking up space and becoming invisible; are coping mechanisms, for living in a society that hates you and claims your body. More than that, they're both, in their fucked up ways, forms of resistance.
Wrong headed and hideously self-destructive, “counterproductive” and “tragically self-defeating,” of course, but a protest nonetheless. Little wonder that we use the only we’ve thing got – our bodies – to mount protests; if our bodies are being surveyed anyway, this is the obvious place to demonstrate. In a sense, the anorexic body throws body surveillance back in the face of culture: “Go on look at me, I am in pain. Do you like what you see? Is this what you wanted?” For women, it is not surprising that the adult female body becomes the object of such intense hatred, because it seems to be the source of our suffering. Many anorexics will tell you that it’s as much about being in “control” as it is about being thin. This is certainly not the whole story, but it is an important part of it. I know that I don’t have any great desire to be thin simply for the sake of it, but I do want to control my body, because for years it seemed to have been taken out of my control, owned, surveyed and grabbed at by other people. Eating disorders are also a way of saying “this body is mine, I will do what I want with it and not one of you can stop me.” I guess death is the ultimate escape from the pressures of womanhood. Anorexics feel this to be true. What we have to realise is that, if we are to survive, there are better ways to resist than destroying our bodies.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I'm so glad I part own this airline

Air New Zealand isn't content with the number of people it has fired, and believes it could, and should fire more. Having outsourced their maintenance, they're now doing the same with the cleaning. They hope to save $1.5 million by getting someone else to employ the people who clean the planes.

The big question is how? Whoever gets the contract will have administration, overheads, and profit requirements, just like Air NZ. Where is this $1.5 million come from?

The pockets of the workers, of course. The new company will find ways to cut wages and conditions, to work faster, and they'll have to, otherwise Air NZ will swap the contract to another company who can do it cheaper.

Which is why sub-contracting needs to be resisted on principle, not just because we can't fix the Chinese to fix our planes (I'm looking at you Engineers Union).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

RU 486

The Australian Senate has passed a bill that would mean that the Minister of Health wouldn't personally get to veto RU 486 (the abortion drug). Currently it's up to the Catholic Minister of Health to sign off on its safety, and its suitability for Australian women ($10 for anyone who can't guess what he decided).

Personally I'm not sure why someone would choose RU 486 over surgical abortion. Surgical abortion is quicker and safer. But guess what? I'm not having other women's abortions, so I don't get a say (and the Male Catholic Minister of Health isn't having anyone's abortions).

I've listened to bits of the debate on National Radio, and avoided crashing my car in fury, so I guess I'm growing as a person. But I have a shortlist of people most likely to cause me to have a traffic accident:

The Finance Minister who used the fact his girlfriend had had an abortion when they were in a relationship to justify his vote against the bill.


George Brandis wanted to correct the 'fallacies' of this debate, one of which was:

Because this is an issue that directly affects women, it is an issue where the point of view of women carries greater weight than the point of view of men
Absolutely, I wouldn't want anyone to think that my view on my body was important.

'Go to hell,' Chavez tells Blair

That was the headline in the Dom Post.

Chavez, a fiery leftist who recently compared US President George W Bush to Adolf Hitler, accused Blair of bowing to Washington's interests and being "shameless" and "immoral." "Stay in your place, Mr Blair, you are not one that has the morality to criticise anyone," Chavez said during a speech. "Venezuela is a free nation. Do you believe we're still in times of imperialism and colonialism?"

"Go right to hell, Mr Blair," Chavez said, using local slang that is more vulgar.
Since Tony Blair is going to be visiting in March I'm going to have to think of some vulgar local slang to use. I'm open to suggestions.


I briefly joined the picket line at the Taylor Preston dispute this morning. It was fantastic, we lined Ngauranga gorge, there were great signs, and lots of tooting (plus someone threw an egg at a scab going in).

This was the third day of a three day strike. I'll update as soon as I know what's happening next. There are workers in the meat works who are on minimum wage ($9.50), and the boss is a mean bastard. But I don't really care; I don't care how much they get now, I don't care how much they're going for, that's their business not mine. I'm there to support them, any way I can (I'll also try and post details of a strike fund if I find one).

I didn't have long there, and in these sorts of situations I often feel too young, too female, too white, too accented (I was born in London and have a bit of an accent, which I occasionally get a little self-conscious about), and too shy to talk to people. But it was just great to be there with people fighting for something better.

Rapist Watch

So I'm going to write about these fuckwits appeal every day I can get some information until their name suppression is lifted. In particular I just wanted to point out that my comment yesterday wasn't hyperbole. The defence are appealing against the fact that rape shield laws didn't allow them to enter evidence about the woman's sexual history. These are the sorts of witnesses they want to use:

An e-mail from one statement-maker to another described the complainant as a "slapper" and described the alleged incident as "a good fun time".
Although the Crown lawyer isn't my favourite person either:
The Crown's other lawyer, Mark Zarifeh, defended remarks he had made to the jury at the end of the trial. He agreed that it would have been better if he had not said that, if the defence was to be believed, the complainant was a slut, but said it still starkly highlighted the contrast between the two sides.
The reason it was a bad idea, because even if she was a 'slut' she can still refuse to have sex with people.

Defence lawyers, prosecution lawyers, and judges all believe that women can do things which mean they automatically consent to sex; they're not alone in that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How can a rapist have a fair trial if only relevant testimony is evidence

I was absolutely convinced that the jury wasn't going to convict in the historic rape case that took place last year. I was driving along when they announced the verdict on National Radio I pulled over, because I was worried I was going to lose it when they announced that they'd been found not guilty. I was surprised and relieved when they were convicted (and at that stage I didn't even know who the guys with name suppression were).

So now the rapists are appealing; objecting to the fact that they didn't get to call her a slut.

Now is the time for the Appeals Court trademark hostility to defendants.

Striking a blow for press freedom everywhere

I do think the freedom of speech issues around the cartoons are complicated, and I want to write some more about it.

But I can't understand any view where The Dominion Post and Press editors are seen as anything but chickenshit, up themselves, self-important, waste of space. The latest developed is:

Two newspapers that printed controversial cartoons have apologised for causing offence and agreed not to use them again.
Just when you think you couldn't respect them any less.

It’s like an all-you-can-eat outrage buffet!*

I love it when feminist bloggers and attack in packs. And in this case the prey well deserved their stalking. Their heading basically sums it up: "Psychiatric drugs restored Nia's sanity and destroyed her beauty, and she doesn't mind."

But if that doesn't make you mad there's more. There's ignoring of harrassment and sexual assault, restricting women's freedom as a result of assault, a limited view of beauty, and a really pompous narrative view.

Anyway piny and zuzu at Feministe and Amanda at Pandagon are all over this. But I think Amanda summed it up in her comments:

"Man, that doctor really does think his job is building a better sex object."

Being angry is one way we can remind ourselves that our bodies do belong to us.

* title from a feministe commenter

I guess this is what Common sense feels like

My love for John Campbell goes back quite some time. It was cemented in September 2001, when I would set my alarm for 8am on a Sunday morning to listen to him interview Robert Fisk, John Pilger and Noam Chomsky on National Radio. I don't actually watch his show that much - I'm never home and I suspect I would soon get annoyed with the stories about fair trade coffee beans.

But his ads for the show this year were fantastic, he was insulting the Labour government, and promised never to have Peter Dunne on the show, all year. That was the sort of promise designed to make me watch, I loathe Peter Dunne, everything he says, and his stupid hair.

So I was very disturbed to find him agreeing with me on youth rates. Him and the Dominion Post does that mean I'm part of mainstream New Zealand?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I'm committed to the geek now, there's no denying it

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes
in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and
psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
–Allen Ginsburg, “America”
Amanda from Pandagon used these poems as the starting point of an excellent post on Happiness, community, abortion, progressive struggles and Buffy. I don't agree with it, but it's a really interesting analysis and ties together all sorts of important stuff, you should go read it now.

Guess which bit I'm most interested in responding to?
Last night I was hanging out the Ethical Werewolf and we were nerding out bad talking “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and how the vision for the show really started to fall apart after the Scooby Gang quit high school. I argued that it wasn’t the move from high school to college that caused the show to lose its way (though it was good all the way to the end, in my opinion), but the way the show’s focus shifted from the group dynamics of the Scooby Gang to Buffy’s tedious love life. I blamed Marti Noxon and pointed out that when Whedon would write entire episodes by himself he would often cram a season’s worth of ideas about the importance of community for individual fulfillment into one episode.
This was exactly what I loved in Seasons 1-3 of Buffy. We were told, repeatedly, that it was having people round her that made Buffy a great slayer, not just her jumping, kicking, stabbing, healing powers. In fact when she was alone in Anne, she denied her power, and it was only by connecting with other people that she could fight back (and only by fighting back, that she could connect with other people). When they had to fight a really big bad at the end of Season Three, it was only because the students united and fought back as a group that they were able to defeat the Mayor.

There are huge number of episodes that could be summed up as "I get by with a little help from my friends" (or What Can't We Face If We're Together - without the dramatic irony). The end of The Wish, where Cordelia's wish doesn't work, and they pan over to Buffy, Xander and Willow talking and laughing is one of my favourite things, for precisely that reason.

Now I think in Season 4 what they were trying to do is reiterate this point. I suspect the idea was supposed to be that they drift apart, but then they have to fight the big bad and it turns out that they're stronger together than alone so they turn into a cyborg. In itself this annoys me. The point of collective strength is that it doesn't need a cheesy, magic, flabotinum, plot line, that it's jsut that it's as real in Buffy's world as it is in our own.

But they never really revisted that theme in the last three seasons, until the very last episode. And although they hugged in the lift shaft (and that whole thing felt tremendously unearned, because of the use of Spike to break the group apart), they didn't translate this into strengthening the group dynamic in Season 5 or 6. I'd thought of all these things seperately, but Amanda's post really put it all together for me. Season Six would have worked so much better for me, if Xander and Willow had played more of a role in Buffy finding something to sing about (or if, you know, they'd occasionally had conversations).

But, as Amanda says again, they really did pull it out again in the end, and I love the power sharing speech/montage beyond the telling of it. So I'm going to leave you with the extended shooting script version
I hate being here. I hate that you have to be here. I hate that there's evil, that it's growing, and I hate that I was Chosen to fight it. I wish, a whole lot of the time, that I hadn't. I know a lot of you wished I hadn't been either.

But this isn't about wishes. This is about choices. I never had one. I was Chosen. And I accept that. I'm not asking you to accept anything. I'm asking you to make your own choice.

I believe that we can beat this evil. Not when it comes, not when its army is ready. Now. Tomorrow morning, I'm opening the seal. I'm going down into the Hellmouth and I'm going to finish this once and for all. I've got strong allies: warriors, charms, sorcerers and I need them all. But I'll also need you. Every single one of you.

So now you're asking yourself. 'What makes this different? What makes us anything more than a bunch of girls getting picked off one by one?' It's true none of you have the power that Faith and I have.

So here's the part where you make a choice.

What if you could have that power. Now. All of you.

n every generation, one Slayer is born because a bunch of guys that died thousands of years ago made that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rules. I say my power should be our power.

Tomorrow Willow will use the essence of the scythe that contains the energy and history of so many Slayers, to change our destiny.

Every girl who could have the power, will have the power.

Who can stand up, will stand up.

Every one of you, and girls we've never known, they will have strength they never dreamed of, and more than that, they will have each other. Slayers. Every one of us.

The line will not longer move through me, it hasn't for a long time. It will move through all of us. Right now. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

Well I think teen suicide is caused by capitalism

I have had enough of Garry Evans. Is there any way we can revoke his coroners licence? If he wants to prattle on about things he knows nothing about he should get a blog.

This appeared in today's paper:

Teenagers could be resorting to suicide because an over-protective society and parents have shielded them from life's problems, Wellington's coroner says.

There was a disturbing trend of teenagers as young as 14 and 15 committing suicide after breaking up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, Garry Evans said.
No mention of depression, of course, what would that have to do with suicide? He's a lawyer and a coroner, not a psychologist. But if he can diagnose the problems with midwife education by studying two births, then surely there's nothing he doesn't know everything about.

I've restrained for ranting about him before, because I've heard in union circles that he's actually a reasonably good guy - I know people who have been represented by him. I stopped caring about the time I noticed that the people who he condemns are always women. Whether it's midwives or mothers (and overprotective parents is just a coded way of attacking mothers), he obviously wants us in our place. I think I'm going to use him to wean me off Wayne Mapp.

The union movement is hardly a bastion of progressiveness towards women generally (conversation round the office recently Me: "So these union people you keep mentioning who stab their wives, is this just one person who comes up again and again?" Older and Wiser colleague: "Not so much")

Monday, February 06, 2006

More Free Speech

When writing about the cartoons yesterday I focused on what was going on New Zealand. This is because I just don't understand the reaction around the world. I didn't really have any analysis, and didn't know where to start.

Iraq and Palestine are under occupation, prisoners are still being kept at Guantanamo Bay, and people are rioting against cartoons published 5 months ago in a tiny newspaper?

Someone or something is fanning these flames, and I don't know who, and I don't know why. But I will say there's more going on than I understand, and leave it at that.

Waitangi Day

National Radio advertised their Waitangi Day programme with: "How did a document signed in good faith by both parties, become some controversial." Well we could start with the fact that the side with the power wasn't that into following it (even if we agree that it was signed in good faith, which is doubtful, and ignore the fact there was more than one document signed by the parties). I thought I wouldn't just shout at the radio, but try and articulate my views of the Treaty of Waitangi.

I know this'll make limited sense to non New Zealanders (all 30 of you). I'd like to recommend some really good links, but I don't have any, but this or this might give you some background.

My starting point in examining the treaty of Waitangi is as a historian. I believe that before we can talk about the role, or importance, of the treaty today we have to examine the particular historical circumstances under which it was signed (and then broken). To state something slightly obvious, the aim of the crown was to colonise New Zealand, therefore the purpose of the Treaty of Waitangi from the Crown's point of view, was to help colonise New Zealand (yes I know there's some serious simplifying going on there - feel free to complicate things up in the comments). The Treaty was initiated and written by the Crown, and so its purpose, from the beginning, was to facilitate the aims of the Crown, including colonisation.

But I wouldn't be a left-wing historian if I didn't start getting concerned about agency at this point. Because Maori did not just sit around waiting to be colonised; we cannot analyse the Treaty at the actions of the Crown. Particularly as the Maori version of the Treaty is somewhat different from the English version. Maori did sign the Treaty, and it promised, among other things, Tino Rangatiratanga.

Well we all know what happened next, lots of ignoring, lots of breaking, lots of land stealing. Because the Treaty didn't do quite as good a job of colonisation as guns could.

To me, there are two important points to my analysis of the Treaty:

1. That it has been broken on a regular basis for the last 166 years.
2. That it was part of a plan to colonise New Zealand.

I think that anti-colonial analysis of the treaty tends to focus on the 1st and ignore the second. The historical (and not so historical) breaches of the Treaty by the Crown, must be addressed (and all the new ones fought tooth and nail), but that doesn't mean if the Treaty had been followed for the last 150 years, everything would have been OK.

The Treaty should be the minimum Pakeha demand from the crown, not the ultimate goal for our society. I don't think we should accept a document written 166 years ago to help colonise New Zealand as a blue print of how to organise our society. Just the fact that various governments have been prepared to refer to 'the principles of the Treaty' is a sign that those principles aren't good enough.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Free Speech

So The Dominion is back on form. They published the Danish cartoons that caused all the controversy and accompanied the article with the worst explanation for publishing anything ever:

Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst said the publication was a test of Islamic tolerance.
So do they fail if they crticise the paper? Because they're being intolerant. Or do they pass, because criticising what someone says is actually freedom of speech. What's the standard by which they become real boys? Should they start a Tuskagee institute, would that help?

Of course my fundamental objection to those cartoons is that they're all really bad.

Or you could just go and read Tze Ming, who says anything I'm thinking, but angrier and better:
Why be so determined to publish low-quality cartoons only, and specifically only because they will upset a vast amount of people who never did anything to you, but who, rather, have had to put up with this crap in escalating doses since September 2001? The right to 'take the mickey' is truly satisfying when the powerful are being mocked. What kind of satisfaction are these newspapers taking from putting the boot into people who are already floored? I mean, what is the point?

What I hate the most about these 'freedom-of-speech' moments, is that when the desired outrage is elicited from some cheap shot (eg, a newpaper gets called a pack of cunts, people stop buying Danish cheese) then those reactions are deemed attacks on freedom of speech. Well, they're not. They're further expressions of freedom of speech. Sow, reap, eat.

What about block mounting? Does that work for you?

Amanda at Pandagon and Jill at Feministe have both written really good responses to this discussion about framing abortion. The man is arguing that the pro-choice movement should get behind the idea that abortion is 'icky' to promote contraception. Katha Pollit :

You ask what my own view of abortion is. I think the meaning of abortion is what the woman says it is: For a woman who wants a child but can't have this one it can be sad; for a woman who doesn't want a baby, it can feel like a huge relief, like having your whole life given back to you.
That's exactly how I feel. There are people who call themselves pro-choice, but talk about every abortion being a tragedy (I'm looking at you Sue Kedgley), bullshit. I'd wish they'd shut up, keep their moralism off other women's experiences.

But what I wanted to talk about, was whether time spent figuring out how to 'frame' abortion so that it appeals to the maximum number of people is actually a worthwhile project. Again Katha Pollit brings up this point: "I don't think the issue of unwanted pregnancy can be solved by crafting a message from polls."

I say no, for both principled and practical reasons.

Katha Pollit summed up my attitude to abortion exactly. Often 'framing' abortion is code for ensuring there's lots of public hand ringing. There's no way I'm going to lie about the way I feel about abortion, particularly when that'd mean projecting a single experience of abortion on all women.

But even if I was prepared to, it wouldn't help. The majority of Americans already support Roe vs. Wade, it's not helping the pro-choice movement that much. Because what matters is not public opinion, but public action. The anti-abortionists are successful because they mobilise people, and you don't do that by pandering to the middle.

Your Honour if she hadn't wanted to be raped she should have avoided being born a woman

A couple of days ago National Radio had a short piece about a rape trial. Ranui Biddle had made a $50 bet with a friend that he could have sex with the friend's flatmate within six months. She twice allowed him to stay the night in his bed. The second time he raped her, while she said no.

During the trial: "defence counsel Michael Knowles pointed to what he called mixed messages from her that could have encouraged Biddle to think she might have been keen for a relationship."

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The judge approved:

"What the judge thinks doesn't matter a damn," said Judge Erber after the verdict had been delivered. "But I think in the circumstances it would have been very unsafe for any other verdict to be returned."
Unsafe? Unsafe! Well yes it may have been unsafe for men who wanted to force women to have sex with them. Then 'mixed messages means yes' is quite a good standard. But for women who do occasionally want to interact with men, without accidentally cosenting to sex, it's a pretty unsafe verdict.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What's up with the Dominion Post?

Yesterday they criticised American foreign policy in the middle east. Today they have an editorial calling for a $12 an hour minimum wage now, and an end to youth rates:

The current minimum wage of $9.50 an hour for those over 18 delivers $380 a week. For 16 and 17-year-olds, the rate is $7.60 an hour. That is not enough to live on. According to the most recent Statistics New Zealand household economic survey, the average household spent $888 a week. The CTU says that leaves a one-income minimum wage household $508 a week less than the average household to survive on.
Does anyone have an explanation for the Dominion Post talking sense?

Follow-up of sorts

I have been meaning to write about The Size Six Harem for some time now. It's an incredible article by Fatima Mernissi, a Morroccan Feminist. I wanted to comment about it, but anything I said seemed to be inserting my oar into someone else's experience. So I'll just post a extract and then you can go and read the whole thing:

It was during my unsuccessful attempt to buy a cotton skirt in an American department store that I was told my hips were too large to fit into a size 6. That distressing experience made me realize how the image of beauty in the West can hurt and humiliate a woman as much as the veil does when enforced by the state police in extremist nations such as Iran, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia. Yes, that day I stumbled onto one of the keys to the enigma of passive beauty in Western harem fantasies. The elegant saleslady in the American store looked at me without moving from her desk and said that she had no skirt my size. "In this whole big store, there is no skirt for me?" I said. "You are joking." I felt very suspicious and thought that she just might be too tired to help me. I could understand that. But then the saleswoman added a condescending judgment, which sounded to me like Imam fatwa. It left no room for discussion:

"You are too big!" she said.

"I am too big compared to what?" I asked, looking at her intently, because I realized that I was facing a critical cultural gap here.

"Compared to a size 6," came the saleslady's reply.

Her voice had a clear-cut edge to it that is typical of those who enforce religious laws. "Size 4 and 6 are the norm," she went on, encouraged by my bewildered look. "Deviant sizes such as the one you need can be bought in special stores."
Her words sounded so simple, but the threat they implied was so cruel that I realized for the first time that maybe "size 6" is a more violent restriction imposed on women than is the Muslim veil. Quickly I said goodbye so as not to make any more demands on the saleslady's time or involve her in any more unwelcome, confidential exchanges about age-discriminatory salary cuts. A surveillance camera was probably watching us both.

Yes, I thought as I wandered off, I have finally found the answer to my harem enigma. Unlike the Muslim man, who uses space to establish male domination by excluding women from the public arena, the Western man manipulates time and light. He declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look fourteen years old. If she dares to look fifty, or worse, sixty, she is beyond the pale. By putting the spotlight on the female child and framing her as the ideal of beauty, he condemns the mature woman to invisibility. In fact, the modern Western man enforces Immanuel Kant's nineteenth-century theories: To be beautiful, women have to appear childish and brainless. When a woman looks mature and self-assertive, or allows her hips to expand, she is condemned as ugly. Thus, the walls of the European harem separate youthful beauty from ugly maturity.

These Western attitudes, I thought, are even more dangerous and cunning than the Muslim ones because the weapon used against women is time. Time is less visible, more fluid than space. The Western man uses images and spotlights to freeze female beauty within an idealized childhood, and forces women to perceive aging—that normal unfolding of years—as a shameful devaluation. "Here I am, transformed into a dinosaur," I caught myself saying aloud as I went up and down the rows of skirt in the store, hoping to prove the saleslady wrong—to no avail. This Western time-defined veil is even crazier than the space-defined one enforced by the Ayatollahs.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Being Purple

DISCLAIMER: I think I over-generalise in this post, but it's because I'm trying to explain something that I'm only just understanding. The more I talk to other women, the more universal my experience seems, so I have been universalising it. I know it's more complicated than that and I invite women with different experiences to talk about it in the comments

I'm going to use a post that Ampersand wrote and take it in a completely tangential direction, because it gives me an opportunity to try and articulate something that I've been grasping at since I was writing this post. Ampersand was comparing the experience of being fat with the experience of being transexual:

Traditionally, untreated transsexuality has been described as feeling as if your body is wrong; that your true self doesn't match your body. (I say "traditionally" because it's unclear how often that's been a genuine description of some transsexuals' experience, and how often that's been what doctors have pressured transsexuals to say). That's what being fat feels like, to me. I'm supposed to be thin, aren't I? Not thin-thin, you know, just - normal-thin. But I don't feel normal. I feel constantly abnormal.

I feel like someone who, somehow, wound up in the wrong body.
I know the feeling that your body is wrong, I've felt it, I hear it every day and I've tried to talk about in small, scary, steps. But I don't think it's a result of being fat, I think it's a result of being female.

Ampersand's blog was the first political blog I read with any regularity. He has lots of great posts on fat-issues, and really helped me get to grips with the 'health' angle on obesity. He also has a great collection of links (you should go and check them out); I started reading bigfatblog occasionally, and got a view of some size acceptance groups.

But something felt wrong about their analysis. I'd keep reading it and thinking - 'yes, but...' and not being quite sure what the 'but' was supposed to be. It was Ampersand - whose analysis I agreed with more often - whose writing led me to understanding what the problem was.

I don't think the experience of being fat is worse for women; I think the experience of being fat is qualitatively different for women.

Maybe that's not even what I mean - maybe I mean: the experience of being fat is part of being a woman in the society I live in - whatever size you are.

I'm not dismissing the important work ending bigotry and discrimination. When I first tried to articulate this idea on Ampersand's blog he, rightly, pointed out a senator in Hawaii who is calling for all public school teachers to be weighed six monthly and for action to be taken against teachers who don't meet the standard (nope not a joke). But I find the analysis that accompanies this sort of action is often shallow. Yes it'd be great if we could end size-prejudice, but I don't think we'll be able to, and the reason I don't think we'll be able to because I think it plays a vital role in maintaining patriarchy (I don't like the word, but it'll have to do, because I don't have a better one). Now I have reasons and an explanation for this theory, but they'll have to wait for another post.

By and large fat activism puts a lot of energy into refuting the idea that there is much of a link between your size and food. I can see why, it's certainly annoying when Julia Roberts dons a fat suit and starts eating in every scene, but again I think this is a shallow analysis which is gender blind only because it ignores women's experiences. When my friends and I try and talk about our bodies we can't seperate this from talking about food. We grew up the daughters of women who were preparing our food (while hating their bodies), knowing that one day we should do the same for others. We tried to become women in our mother's footsteps; food is about being nutured and nuturing, and it's dangerous.

Of course fat is about more than that: it's about having your body change to a woman's body when you're a teenager, it's about accepting and rejecting society's standards for women, it's about your sexuality, it's about punishing and rewarding, it's about taking up space, it's about being invisible. But it is about being women.

I don't think there's that much connection, for me or the women I know, between our size and our experience of our bodies as 'fat'. I recently went to a wedding and complimented a woman I sort of knew on her dress, and she talked to me about how it was good for women (like us) who had something to hide, and pointed out its features to me. Now I'm no good at estimating this sort of thing, but she was considerably smaller than me, I'd only ever thought of her as tiny. I've just begun to try and talk about some of these issues with a small group of female friends (it's really hard), and they're all smaller than me, but I recognise everything they say.

Now I guess I'm more likely to suffer discrimination than these other women. I find it harder to shop for clothes, I'm more likely to have someone yell something idiotic out a car window, it probably affects my earning potential and my sexual attractiveness to most people. But I don't really care, I just want to stop hating my body.