Thursday, August 30, 2007

Teacher's On Strike*

I have very fond memories of teachers' pay negotiations. My sixth form maths teacher was a staunch unionist and also very distractable. We could get a good half hour off calculus with a well-timed question like "What's happening with the teachers pay negotiations?" Teachers didn't go on strike when I was in High school, but more recently they did, and students took some really awesome support action. A Secondary teachers' strike has a real potential to radicalise young workers.

So I'm really excited that the Secondary Teachers have voted to go on strike. I'll post details of how you can support them, particularly pickets and rallies to go to.

* Has anyone else ever seen a video called Mom's on Strike? It featured a young Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa). The basic plot-line is pretty self-explanatory. A woman left to do all the housework for her family goes on strike (with a picket line and everything). Then the father left all the work to the two daughters, and they joined the picket-line too. We watched it in a Social Ed class in high school - which led to a pretty cool discussion about girls' experiences with housework in their families (I went to an all girls school).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I've been reading Living at the Cutting Edge Women's Experiences of Protection Orders. I might have something to say about it in the next few days. But now all I can write about is the dedication.

The report is dedicated to the 212 women and children who have died in domestic violence homicides since the new law was passed in 1995.

The dedication has the names and ages (where known) of each of those 212 people.

As I read the list, and I read all the names, there were some names I recognised. There were some children, and fewer women, whose deaths had made the news. But there were far I'd never heard of, who were murdered and that was it.

Blood and Money

What I mind, of course, is that my time is getting short, that I won't see my youngest grandchild grow up -- those things that you're gonna miss. I remember my father feeling like that. I have a poem about it -- he knew he wasn't gonna see the end of the Vietnam War. He said: "Goddammit, I'll never know how they got out." There's a lot you won't know. And there's sadness because your friends are dying. And with the terrible things in the world, with the idea that you're gonna leave the world maybe worse than you found it -- I don't like that feeling at all.
Grace Paley died last week. She was 85, and had lived the sort of life anyone could be proud of. She was a writer and activist. That quote is from an interview she did with Salon 9 years ago.

If you want to know more about Grace Paley, I recommend Robin Morgan's fantastic tribute(link via Heart):
Grace was my neighbor, too, a decades-long Greenwich Village denizen. When I’d find her leafleting on 6th Avenue—for lesbian marriage, Palestinian rights, whatever—I’d stop to chat or join her. Passers-by rarely recognized the 4-foot-10-inches-tall, age-84 “little old lady in tennis shoes” as a titan of American literature. Once, while I skimmed a leaflet’s jargon, she whispered sadly, “I didn’t write it.” Obvious, but her wordsmith’s standards leaked, though she quickly added, “Lissen, so what, it says what’s needed.”
I don't know enough about Grace Paley to write a proper tribute. I just want to talk about one paragraph she wrote, a paragraph that has stayed with me. I haven't actually read any of her books, just her collection of non-fiction writing Just As I Thought.I loved this book so much. It's about women, writing and activism and I think you should go and read it right now. The paragraph I loved most went like this:
It is possible to write about anything in the world, but the slightest story ought to contain the facts of money and blood in order to be interesting to adults. That is, everybody continues on this earth by courtesy of certain economic arrangements; people are rich or poor, make a living or don't have to, are useful to systems or superfluous. And blood - the way people live as families or outside of families or in the creation of family, sisters, sons, fathers, the blood ties. Trivial work ignores these two FACTS and is never comic or tragic.
I've come to see that statement as the most important feature of good fiction. So much of what is untrue, or uninteresting comes from authors who ignore their characters' blood, or money.

Grace Paley fought for the things that matters, whether in her fiction, or in her life.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I know I'm a little bit behind the curve on this one...

Outrageous Fortune is absolutely fucking brilliant.

I haven't enjoyed a NZ TV show this much since Strangers (not only do I remember Strangers I could still do the sign language for ZanEmMoKel - I have such hidden talents).

I'd watched the first episode of Outrageous Fortune when it airedand thought 'this is OK', but I hadn't loved it enough to watch the second episode - which is a shame because the second episode would have gotten me addicted seeing as how it features a strike at the supermarket Cheryl was working at, and the supposed ditz swapped drinks with the man who was trying to drug rape her and tied him to a bed.

I've only watched five episodes so far, so consider this a provisional rave review - but I can't wait for more.

I already though Robyn Malcolm was awesome - but I clearly had no idea. Cheryl West owns the show, and Robyn Malcolm is incredible in the role - she fights for her family - and they fight for her back (and with her, as you'd expect - the family relationships are very well drawn). As I've said before I don't believe that individual characters can be feminist,** but the characters and the relationships between them make this a feminist show with Cheryl at the centre.

I keep coming back to the great politics of the show - but I don't want to distract readers from its excellent quality. It's very, very funny, with a humour that comes out of the characters. By episode five I was in hysterics just at the way Munter was looking at Van.**

I haven't even mentioned the way cops, prison guards, lawyers and other members of the establishment are portrayed - let's just say it makes me very happy.

I love art that makes ordinary people's lives epic. Outrageous Fortune does that in spades.

Does anyone have early season three episodes recorded? Or will I have to wait for the DVD?

I'm sure I'll have more crazy raves when I've watched some more episodes.

* Although if I did Cheryl West, may well join Kaylee on the list of characters who come closest.

** I know this blog post already has a ridiculous number of superlatives, but there are no words for how much I'm loving Van and Munter. Munter is hilarious, and Van is so very sweet (and also hilarious).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Miners can organise - emissions can't

A couple of posts that I've written have got some attention recently, so I'll try and write follow-ups. In The Consequences of support for Working Class Miners* George takes issue with my post Coal Not Dole:

Those who support the miners at the expense of aggressively confronting emmissions are advocating unmitigated climate change, and they must look the consequences in the eye, and say that they are prepared to accept them as a neccessary consequence of their support for the coal miners.
What I'm unclear about in George's post is who he thinks will be agressively confronting emissions. Is it the government? Is it small groups of activists? I don't think either of those is going to be particularly effective.

It's not that I believe that we should support miners, so I don't care about emissions.** I think the 'we' who aggressively confront emissions will not succeed without miners. Miners know better than most the damage of coal - the first thing it emits onto is miners lungs. Creating a better world is not something we can do to people.

If 'Coal not Dole' are the options, then I'm choosing coal. But if we're building a better world, with better options, then we should be able to do without either.

* Suddenly I'm curious, why the 'Working-class' modifier to miners? Are them some ruling class miners I'm not aware of?

** At this point I should say that I'm not a climate change activist. In fact if I think of climate change for more than 47 seconds I generally get to: "There is no hope, we're all doomed, I might as well just eat chocolate and watch Buffy while I still can."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Feminism and prisons

There's a really interesting post at Feministe on tensions between feminist attitudes towards violence against women and a radical (or liberal, or progressive) analysis of the prison system. It's certainly been a tension I've felt as I've cheered some men being locked-up (Brad Shipton and John Dewar) and despaired when others were let free (Clint Rickards). Bean quotes from Daniel Lazare's discussion of Marie Gottschalk's book:

Gottschalk’s assault on ’70s feminism is sure to raise the most eyebrows. She argues that the women’s movement helped facilitate the carceral state by promoting a punitive approach to sexual violence that was unmitigated by any larger political considerations. This single-minded focus led to what The Prison and the Gallows describes as unsavory coalitions with tough-on-crime types. In the State of Washington, women’s groups successfully marketed rape reform as a law-and-order issue so that, when the measure finally passed in 1975, it was “in part by riding on the coattails of a new death penalty statute.”
I don't think any coalition between anti-rape activism and law-and-order types is necessary, but I don't think it's the responsibility of anti-rape activists to make sure our work doesn't get co-opted.

I was listening to the radio today and heard that the supreme court had allowed the appeal of a man who had murdered his wife and one of the reasons was because the judge in the case had wrongly said that the defence of provocation isn't available if someone had decided to kill someone else. I said to myself "Jeez didn't the judge know that a defence of provocation is always available when a man kills his sexual partner?" (for full details the supreme court decision is available in pdf

The hate the provocation defence - I am sick of hearing 'the bitch asked for it'. But here's the thing - ultimately I don't want Laxman Rajamani to be in jail. I don't believe in jail. I don't think the threat of jail stops men being violent against women. I think violent men who go into jail almost all come out more violent. I don't think the protection that while in jail violent men are mostly only going to be violent to other men is enough for a system that churns out men more violent than they go in.

So when I argue that the provocation defence should be scrapped, or talk about the defences that should not be available to rapists, I'm not arguing that because I think these men should be in prison. I'm arguing against these defences because I think they do real damage to women, either individually as witnesses in trials, or collectively as rape myths and women-as-property is all throughout the court and media.

I think feminists need to continue standing up against our court system, and the way it values women's words and women's lives, but we need to do so from a stand-point that the current justice system offers abused women almost nothing.*

The article bean quoted seemed to run together non-state actions against rapists, with the war on crime:
In Berkeley, antirape activists picketed an accused rapist’s home. In East Lansing in 1973, they “reportedly scrawled Rapist on a suspect’s car, spray-painted the word across a front porch and made warning telephone calls late at night.”
To which I say "Awesome". I believe that the most powerful women have against rapists isn't prison or the state (which will not act in our interests), but naming.

* In my original version of this post I included this sentence: "As a friend joked, when I talked about this tension: "The correct political position is that they should let Brad Shipton out of jail so we can lynch him." One of the dangers of writing on the internet is that words can have very different historical and political meaning in different places. I know enough about American history that I shouldn't have included that sentence.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coal Not Dole

Happy Valley - you may have heard of it. Solid Energy want to build a mine there, various people don't want it built so they chain themselves to chain tracks and the like. I've had friends involved with it at various times; I've made fun of the snails and kibitzed in the way activists do when they have absolutely no interest in organising for a cause, but know they could do better.

Sometimes my kibitzing turns to anger, as it did when I saw the Save Happy Valley forum that was organised last week in Christchurch "A Future without Coal"

I don't object to the idea of the forum - there's going to be a future without coal, since one day the coal is going to run out. What I object to is whose opinion is considered relevant to that future. The speakers were:

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, renowned Antarctic and climate change scientist Professor Peter Barrett and a speaker on the local impacts of coal mining
The speaker on the local impacts of coal mining doesn't even get a name, unlike professors and political leaders. More importantly, how can you organise a forum about the future without coal without including coal miners front and centre? The first, the most important questions, when discussing a future without coal should be about miners and mining communities. Miners have struggled for generations to build what they have today.

Makes me want to make a badge like this to wear:

If only people would just die of the shame like they're supposed to

While I write a bit about bodies, fat and 'the obesity epidemic' I don't write that much about the health aspects of this. Mostly because I largely find them irrelevant. Other people can do very good jobs of proving that the causative relationship between having a high BMI and negative health outcomes remain unproven at best. I think that in many ways this gives too much ground. Even if, someone down the track, they managed to prove that there is a causative relationship between being fat and dying earlier, then my problems with the way people talk about 'the obesity epidemic' wouldn't change. Partly this is empirical - we have a couple of generations of women (particularly white middle-class women) who have been (and are being) told that their value as a human being was dependent on not taking up space, that hasn't made all middle-class white women skinny. But it's also part of my wider analysis: I don't believe that health issues are an individual problem (let alone an individual moral problem).

But sometimes I read something that makes me go 'How can anyone believe the shit that gets promulgated?"

In this case I was listening to National Radio (I can't find the interview on-line but it was a man I don't like, which probably makes it Brian Crump or Jim Mora) and they were talking about the death rate among Pakeha and Maori.* In this discussion the interview mentioned part of this was because the death rate from cardio-vascular disease has decreased hugely (over 50% for some ethnicities). This was partly because cadio-vascular disease is decreasing, and partly because people with cardio-vascular disease are living longer.

So where's this 'obesity epidemic' and how is it supposed to be killing people if death from cardio-vascular disease has halved?

* Apparently the gap has gotten smaller, which is great until you hear that the Maori death rate between the ages of 1-74 is still two to three times that of Euopean/Other. Also just because it can't be repeated enough health disparities were widening in the 80s and 90s:

It seems likely widening social gaps during the 80s and 90s, including income and unemployment differences between ethnic groups, were at least partly responsible for the widening health inequalities, Prof Blakely said.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What could be more challenging?

Project Runway has got everything you'd want in a reality show, interesting challenges, weird people and a look at a different world. But it sometimes takes . In this challenge they had to design for another contestant's mother or sister. There was a lot gross about the way things were done; the designers got to pick the relatives, which was a 'we want skinny people' version of picking teams at school. But the episode as a whole was fascinating, most of the designers were truly stumped by designing for people who weren't models, particularly fat people who weren't models.

I think it was Robert Best who said "I don't understand these proportions". His day job is to design for Barbie.

Jeffrey, who is a misogynist prick at the best of times, said "If I go then there's nothing I could have done - I couldn't have prepared for this challenge."

It makes me want to read about the history of fashion to figure out how we got here. Where there is a whole occupation, models, to make women to fit its clothes. We're so used to this ridiculous artifice that it's absurdity is only brought home when barbies proportions make sense to a designer, and a woman's, any woman's, proportions do not.

Monday, August 13, 2007


This Post Secret movie, is beautiful:

My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own.
Buffy - Earshot

I love Post Secret - and it does make me think about Buffy.* Each person who writes in a secret is reaching beyond themselves, trying to do something with their pain, trying to make a connection. People read the site and feel less alone. It's not much, it's not enough, everyone who writes in deserves so much more than to have their work read, to realise they're not alone, but it's a start.

*But then looking at linoleum sometimes makes me think about Buffy

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Not incubators

In 2004, a woman's heart condition worsened during pregnancy. Not only was this not picked up till she was 21 weeks pregnant, what followed was horrific

The woman's family complained after the 2004 deaths, saying she wanted a termination due to her heart condition but was advised the health risk of her pregnancy was small or that it was too late for a legal termination.
Our abortion law may not have much going for it, but it has no time limits for legal abortion. The criteria for an abortion at 28 weeks are exactly the same as the criteria at 8 weeks. The relevant critera in this case is section (1)(a) of the Crimes Act:
That the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger (not being danger normally attendant upon childbirth) to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the woman or girl

Since the woman died four hours after the baby was stillborn by c-section I think we can be fairly sure that the pregnancy did result in serious danger to her life.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Equal under the law...

We knew, we've known for a long time that there's a lot of evidence the jury wasn't given when they were asked to decide whether it was proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton, raped Louise Nicholas.

But it wasn't just other, similar, offences that the jury couldn't know about. The jury only got bits of Louise Nicholas's flatmate's testimony (the flatemate wouldn't come back from Australia). From Phil Kitchin:

When a witness refuses to come to court it is rare for their evidence to be used. But in a hearing before the trial of Mr Rickards, Shipton and Schollum defence lawyers argued that the jury should hear the flatmate's statements because they were crucial to the defence.

The Crown argued that if the statements were allowed, they should be read in their entirety. The defence won.

The judge did not allow part of the flatmate's last statement to police.

In it she said she didn't want the policemen coming around for sex but she felt she couldn't say no.
So not only was her statement read without the possibility of cross-examination, the defence got to choose which parts of her statement.

I'm glad the media is reporting this now, but I remember the headlines 18 months ago, about the flatmate's evidence, and how closely you had to read the articles to realise that the flatmate hadn't given evidence. If the media knew that part of the statement was omitted, then their reporting was even more flawed.

There is much, much more, in today's papers - I'll try and have some more tomorrow.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Chocolate and Toast

When I babysit the frog I get paid in toast and chocolate. I have sometimes babysat for money and I looked after those kids in the same way I look after the frog. I don't smoke, but if I did, and I was paid in cigarettes I'd do the same job I do for money, or for toast and chocolate.

There's been a lot to be angry about the way Nia Glassie's death has been reported. So many people refused to acknowledge that Nia Glassie's mother had a job, a job that paid really shit wages for really long hours, and so she was really short on childcare options.

But I can't get past how obsessed everyone seems to be that Lisa Kuka paid her boyfriend in cigarettes, even Jo* mentioned it.

I think there are some pretty nasty assumptions hiding in that statement.

It's not a crime to smoke; it's not a crime not to be able to pay the going rate for child-care, but they're both more common among people living on benefits or low wages than anyone else. To imply that the problem was with the cigerettes is trying to blame poor people, who are unwise enough to smoke and not have any money, as a group for the abuse.

It's part of a bigger project to blame people in poverty for making bad choices on an individual level, rather than seeing the structural issues which leave people so broken that they torture a three year-old. If we can tut-tut about the smoking, then we don't have to look at what capitalism does to people.

* I'm not saying that Jo intended any of these implications, I'm sure she didn't.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I would weave the bravery of women...

Maybe I lied, maybe I'm kind of out of words at this point (although I do want to know if John Dewar will get an extra ten years for being part of a group that carried out organised crime).

It's such a small victory - after all it's not the crime but the cover-up. But the jury believed Louise Nicholas. This is vindication and it reinforces that if John Dewar had investigated properly, then things might have happened differently.

The verdict isn't just about this case. Over the last 18 months I've heard the stories of many women who had been raped by the police. A friend rang me tonight and told me about a conversation she'd had with Janie, a woman she knew. Janie had been raped by a police officer at about the same time as Louise Nicholas. Janie said that this verdict felt like vindication for her.

More later...

How far we have to go...

Before I write anything else tonight (and believe me have some stuff to say - screams of joy are much better than silences of despair), I want to talk about Jacqueline Howat. She said that a police recruit (who has name suppression) raped her. He has just been found not guilty, after the judge told the jury to consider the credibility of the witnesses.

The subtext of the defence was, she did too much drugs, she had too much sex, she couldn't tell you who attacked and raped her.

The man is applying to re-enter police college - I'm not feeling any safer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A few links

If you're looking for an analysis of child abuse in New Zealand that rises above troglodyte racism, then I'd recommend both John Minto and Chris Trotter (thanks Bryce) I hadn't been following. But I'd also recommend a piece brownfemipower wrote, although she's writing about America, much of it is familiar:

I never lived in the projects, but I lived in the “bad” part of Flint for about seven years. I’ve also worked at a daycare that catered to low income and impoverished children and their families, and then later at a school with kids from working class poor neighborhoods. And I can tell you–every last person in these areas, even the gang members, know very well what’s wrong with their neighborhood and what they need to make it better.

Many people are even trying to organize–some stand as the lone person willing to risk their benefits and/or safety to make things better and some others are able to slowly but surely form small groups of people who, in spite of the fear and the very real risks they take, stand up together against the violence.

But the thing is, even as these groups or individuals organize–nobody listens. Community members dismiss them as idealists, politicians dismiss them as not their problem, universities dismiss them as uneducated, white folks dismiss them as “niggers,” rich folks dismiss them as lazy–nobody gives a damn about what any person from these communities is saying UNTIL something horrific happens.


When horrific crimes like these happen, suddenly the world is outraged. The world looks down its self-righteous nose and insists–I know things are “bad”–but what kind of *animal*, what kind of *slime* would do something like this? THEN, the world draws itself up in self-righteous indignation and insists–I don’t care HOW bad things are, there is no excuse, no REASON for such hate, such horror–*I* would never do anything like *that*. EVER. (want evidence? look at the overall reaction to the looters in Hurricane Katrina–shoot to kill? well, it’s justified, they’re LOOTING! and *I* would never do such a thing! Shoot them!)


In order to qualify for public housing, you must be poor. Poorer than you could ever imagine being and then multiply that by 5 times. The kind of poor you have to be requires that you be willing to make the decision between feeding your kids that week or keeping the heat and lights turned on for another month. It requires you to choose between your daughter being raped in her own home or raped out on the streets.

This kind of poverty makes people who aren’t as poor feel really good about themselves. They lord their own riches over you as a way to “motivate” you (You too can live the multi-millionaire Bill Cosby lifestyle, if only you shut your legs and yank those boot straps a little harder!), and then they beat you up for wanting what they have (Naughty naughty little boys and girls! Since you want an I-pod, Oprah’s taking her school and money to Africa where they’re so hopeless they expect *nothing* of the world!). This kind of poverty makes people smile when they donate cans of pickled beets to the food pantry, and then snarl and hiss with venom when recipients aren’t properly thankful. (They must not really be hungry then! REAL poor people do not have taste buds!!!)

Go read the whole thing.

Great ideas from politicians

Last week was a hard week to be against the prison-industrial complex. I was inclined to say things like: "I want prisons to be abolished, but Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Peter McNamara should be the last three allowed out." Which is a completely unprincipled, unsustainable position.

This week, it's much easier, since the government jerked its knees and announced that it would double the maximum penalty for belonging to a gang to ten years jail.

There are many, many different ways you could attack this idea. But I'm going to start with the most basic. Is there a single piece of evidence that making gangs illegal makes them less powerful? Or that prisons stop gangs?

How did I miss this?

I am considering making this blog a party-political free zone next year, election politics are so very tedious. The only thing that is stopping me is that occasionally, making fun of politicians, is worth the energy it takes to read about this one. Maurice Williamson weighs into the debate on the 'obesity epidemic':

If some people can't lose weight no matter what. how come there were not fat people in the Nazi concentration camps?
Concentration camps? Of course that's the solution to the 'obesity epidemic' why didn't anyone think of it sooner. That's the way to make my body socially acceptable.

Although rest assured Maurice Williamson doesn't actually want to put us in concentration camps:
When Sainsbury asked Mr Williamson on air if it was wise to use such an analogy, the MP replied: "Maybe it wasn't".

But he said it was a good example of people getting a very low level of nutrients and working hard.

"No one's saying put them in a concentration camp but it is important to know that if you are working hard burning calories and not taking them into your mouth you won't put on weight."
He does understand that people died from having a low level of nutrients and working hard doesn't he?

Guess what?

You know sometimes you find random bits of information that really excite you, but no-one else cares about? Like the fact that Arthur Ransome was married to Trotsky's secretary - and then you have to find someone who cares about left-wing politics and read Swallows and Amazons as a child so they can be excited about this fact with you.*

One of the advantages of having a blog is that you can pretend that people who share your interests exist just by posting.

So it is with great joy that I share with my many, fascinated, readers my new knowledge about Dobby. The first House Elf to demand wages is named after Dobby Walker a communist, unionist and radical lawyer. JK Rowling chose the name because Dobby Walker was the person who invited Jessica Mitford and her husband Bob Treuhaft to join the communist party. I'm not sure that Dobby would have been particularly pleased by the comparison - Dobby the person ran a tight union ship - and Dobby the house-elf bargains down wages 10 galleons a week to one galleon a week.

Isn't that exciting?

* Although finding a radical subtext in his books would be pretty impossible from memory.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Things I should be writing about.

There's a Strike in Fiji. Make sure you read the comments, because there's some interesting stuff going on.

There's also a lock-out at Gateway Hotel. As regular readers know I believe that employers are thieving, parasite, dogs, but this is a particularly nasty lot of thieving parasite dogs, who seem to believe that labour laws are for other people. If you live in Auckland go and support them on the picket line. I'll post updates if there's anything else people can do.

There's also a great Kathryn Ryan interview of Melanie Trevethick. Melanie Trevethick has MS, and is taking a human rights claim, because of the difference between what she has access to, and what she would have access to if her impairment was caused by an accident. The discrepancy between the level of state support between someone whose injury or impairment was caused by accident, and someone whose injury or impairment is not attributable to an accident is completely unjustifiable.

This is an important social justice issue, and a feminist issue. From memory, 75% of money from ACC is paid out to men. There are many reasons for this (men's higher earnings and ACC does not recognise unpaid labour), but one of them is that men are more likely to suffer impairment related to accidents, and women are more likely to suffer illnesses, or process injuries that may be work-related, but are more deniable from ACC's perspective.

A few more things on wikipedia

I've discovered that the talk pages of wikipedia are far more interesting than the articles themselves.

For instance from the Eric Hobsbawm talk page:

I removed stuff about him being a communist. You need to prove to the reader he is. This is a very sensitive legal issue. Please don't just revert go get the sources you need to "prove" he is. thanks!
Documenting that Eric Hobsbawm is a communist - that would requrie some dedicated research.

Making fun of wikipedia is one thing, but this does represent a larger problem. At wikipedia being a member of the communist party is treated as libel in a way the, to me, far more serious charges of being a member of the Labour party, Democratic party, or Republican party is not. I've read the talk pages of a few communists (people who were at one point members of a communist party and remained dedicated socialists throughout their life) right-wingers tend to want to put 'communist' every second sentence in an effort to discredit them (the discussion on Pete Seeger is particularly torturous in that respect), and supposedly well-meaning liberals remove the word 'communist'. Either side is treating 'communism' like it's a taint, and most of the biographies follow this line, by emphasising when and why people left the communist party, and why they didn't leave it sooner. That's not lacking a point of view, it's just sharing a generally accepted point of view.

Or lets look at Louise Nicholas's Wikipedia page. The edit which made the page read "Louise Nicholas is a New Zealand liar who alleged that..." was only up two hours and twenty six minutes (which is, of course, two and a half hours too long). Then the article was edited so it said "Louise Nicholas is a New Zealand woman who falsely alleged that she was raped..." That was up for almost a day. But it still says "Louise Nicholas is a New Zealand woman who made allegations..." I understand it's unlikely to say "Louise Nicholas was raped by Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum an Brad Shipton", although I think that's a serious fault of wikipedia. But can't she at least say she was raped, rather than 'alleging' it?

That's just the start of it. The article on rape has rape apologetics so ridiculous and stupid that I hadn't even heard them before. Comparing the biographies of radical women and radical men, you get the entirely expected result that people are more likely to have written about radical men, and their actions are given far more weight.

I understand that wikipedia can be useful, but it is not the way of the revolution. Free spaces will always reproduce the power structures of existing society, without concerted effort. There is no counter-balance within wikipedia, no effort to give extra weight to the powerless. Therefore, no matter how much useful information it contains, it will always support the status quo, more than it challenges it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

People not gifts

From John Dewar's trial:

Today the court heard evidence from police Inspector Alastair Williams who said Dewar had told him about receiving an "unusual gift" from either Shipton or Rickards in the form of group sex.
I think it's the casual way women's humanity is dismissed that disturbs me so much in this quote. There are so many men who talk and think of women like this. Brad Shipton and his mates can't exist without all the other men who normalise the idea that sex is something that happens to women, not with women.

Shut Up Sue Kedgley*

Sue Kedgley is again trying to introduce compulsory country of origin labelling on food.

I have no particular objection to country of origin labelling on food, although I really don't care one way or another.

But this is the party that repeatedly argued that 'alternative' medicine shouldn't be subject to regulation or labelling, because it's natural.

I am so looking forward to not-voting for these people.**

*I think this is the third post title I've used twice, the others were 'Days Like These' (because I'm a Billy Bragg fan and a hack) and Locked Out (because I was a little over stretched at the time). The reason I've used this post title twice should be immediately obvious.

** I know I only have myself to blame that I voted for them in the first place. Although I have very low standards for voting for people - and really only stop when I get active satisfaction from not voting for them (like I will next year).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Review: The Chain, Buffy Season 8 SPOILERS


This was what I was waiting for. This is a story of scope and shape that you couldn't tell on TV, and it's a story worth telling.

The Chain is the story of the slayer who is working as a Buffy decoy underground. We see her becoming, learning and doing and dying.

She tells her story in fragments, as she's dying. We get moments out of place, people we don't know asking her questions, and there are huge gaps in the story. She's trying to convey her experience and she doesn't have time to tell her life.

She's trying to convey one idea with her story - the importance of working collectively. She learns with the slayers, she learns what it means to work together, that it's actually amazing. Then she goes underground, and they build something together: her, the fairies, the slugs, the ravenclan and the thing that looks like a leaf-blower. We don't know the details, but we know that she forms relationships that matters. We see some of the joy that comes from working together.

Regular readers of my blog will understand that this would have been enough to make me absurdly happy and forgive the art.* But Joss gets to explore an idea that he could never explore with Buffy the character.

Because in reality it's not about individuals, even great leaders. It's not about Buffy, (or Che Guevara, Sylvia Pankhurst, Jock Barnes, Rosa Parks...) - "there's millions of people go into making a name. People facing things they couldn't imagine they would." It's the workers who go on strike, not the leaders whose work matters. In every movement the people who you've never heard of are as important as those whose faces get on T-shirts.

Then at the end, is the bit that made me cry:

The real questions run deeper. Can I fight? Did I help? Did I do for my sisters? My Comrades, Children, slimy slug-clan... There is a chain between each and every one of us. And like the man said, you either feel its tug or you ignore it. I tried to feel it. I tried to face the darkness like a woman and I don't need any more than that. You don't have to remember me
When I've been killed by an underground demon who is holding by body above his head (which I hope won't happen for many years yet) that's how I will judge my life.

* I loved the comic so much that my usual complaint about drawing is relegated to a footnote. Could we have one comic where a female character doesn't get naked for no reason? I also thought the slayers looked too generic, the one punk girl the exception which emphasises the similarities.

Then there was the line that this slayer needed her breasts padded to imitate Buffy. It was unnecessary, but also completely ridiculous. We can see the slayer's breasts right there in the panel, we know what comic book and SMG Buffy look like; she didn't need padding.

Beneficiary Bashing

You know what I've always found makes parents more likely to abuse their children? Giving them money. If only we made sure no parents had any money then I'm sure all our children would be safe.

Attacking the benefit system is a nonsensical response to child abuse - raising benefits would make much more sense. But regular as clock-work a child gets treated horrifically and people come up with stupid, unworkable, punitive suggestions for changing the benefit system. From Rotorua:

Rotorua's community leaders say it should be compulsory for all women on solo mother's benefits to have contact with welfare or community agencies.
Because being without a man, a job, or a fortune, is a sure fire sign that you're abusing your kids.


National is proposing Work for the Dole. They will start in South Auckland, and possibly Gisborne and Northland (which for the record has its lowest annual unemployment rate ever at the moment). I'm not sure they could have made their subtext any more texty without hiring a plane and sky-writing "WE ARE TARGETING BROWN PEOPLE".

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Point of View

Byron at proletblog has always been a fan of wikipedia, an enthusiasm I don't really share. I've written a bit about this before. But since he's started writing about wikipedia and history:

As of yesterday I'm back at university, had my first lecture of the new semester yesterday which includes all the basics, what text book to buy, what times the tutorials are, and of course, a stern warning on the evils of Wikipedia, according my history lecturer Wikipedia is not to be trusted, in fact she was adament that if any of us cite Wikipedia we would fail the course.
I have no objection to that policy - although partly for the mundane reason that once you get to university you shouldn't be citing any encyclopedia.

There's the common argument against Wikipedia, which is it's unreliability. In the article on the miner's strike:
Folk singer Billy Bragg wrote several songs dealing with the strike as a current event, namely "Which Side Are You On?"
That's not an error that anyone who had a background in unions, let alone labour history, could make. The error was pointed out on the talk page in 2006, and still hasn't been fixed. Obviously errors aren't limited to Wikipedia - everytime I read a general history of New Zealand I go looking for errors in my area of research - but that sort of error shows that the author(s) do not have any depth of knowledge, or context in the subject they're writing about.

But my objection to Wikipedia as a font of historical knowledge is much more fundamental than that. As the article Byron linked to said:
. Despite Wikipedia’s unconventionality in the production and distribution of knowledge, its epistemological approach—exemplified by the npov policy—is highly conventional, even old-fashioned.
I would go further, and say it was conservative, and privileged the knowledge and experiences of the powerful over the knowledge and experiences of those without power.

Here's an example from the Talk page about the miner's strike. Someone asks:
people who were not there who work for a news paper take credence over people who were there, but didnt work in the media? I can provide quotes to living people,NUM activists,strikers,miners for quotes, but this would not be allowed?
Someone else responded
No, this is precisely the sort of thing which will not do - please read the verifiability policy and the reliable sources guidelines. Reporting something which someone said to you is not good enough - that's original research, which is forbidden.
Radical historians have fought hard to expand historical record beyond what people have written down. You cannot do radical history when you privilege what's written in newspapers about a strike over the experiences of people who participate.

If we're looking at open source history we need to dream bigger than a better version of Microsoft's Encarta. Wikipedia's policies against original research, its priviledging of published sources, and its belief in objectivity, means that it will always be limited, and reflect the history of the powerful. We need to move beyond that, we need to do original research, write about people's experience, and most importantly, we need to have a point of view.

Does he have an All Black friend?

I'm trying to write a review of Half Nelson (sample in my mind "it's a movie of empathy", "It's a movie about dialectics", "it's a movie about alienation" - I'm going to have to get beyond 'it's awesome' if I'm going to write an actual review). But I was searching for information about the John Dewar trial,* and read about a Christchurch rape trial

The woman who was raped was working as a prostitute and had used drugs. So the defence is arguing that she was ‘confused’ and didn’t know how many men she’d had sex with that night. It’s a little more sophisticated version of ‘prostitutes can’t be raped’. Instead the defence is arguing ‘Prostitutes can be raped, but they have so much sex that they can’t remember who raped them’.

The man who raped her**, was only found when he was training for the police, and his fingerprints matched fingerprints found at the scene of the crime.

I'm too angry to do anything with that information. So I may have something more coherent tomorrow, but in the meantime go read my first post on Take Back the News.

* Can someone explain why the media keeps saying 'John Dewar allegedly gave inadmissible evidence that lead to a mistrial' - the mistrial and the evidence are both fact. Does the allegedly disease hit journalists everytime a court case has anything to do with rape?

** This blog is an 'allegedly' free zone