Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The left must not tolerate anti-semitism

Last week, Nathan Symington was charged with vandalising Jewish graves with swastikas.  His facebook page confirms that he is a nazi.  The police may be wrong, he may not have vandalised those graves, but there is enough material on his facebook page to condemn his political beliefs.  For the purpose of this post, what matters is that he is a nazi, and that there is a significant chance that he was involved in vadalising those graves.

Nathan Symington had his anti-semitism endorsed and reinforced at at least two left-wing forums.

Today I'm not talking about anti-semitism generally in NZ (which is something I've been writing a post on for ages and I think is super important), but about the way the NZ left tolerates and even reinforces the most vile extreme anti-semitism from unabashed nazis (I really don't want to be talking about that - because I don't want it to be true - but given that it is naming that is better than being silent).


Nathan Symington is facebook friends with Occupy Auckland (Still! Apparently Occupy Auckland isn't that discriminating).  Apparently he also attended some Occupy Auckland events.

That, in itself, is horrendous. 

What is worse is that his nazi beliefs were reinforced at Occupy, and by the Occupy Auckland facebook feed.  Anti-semitic conspiracy theories were repeated at both the Occupy Auckland and Occupy Wellington camps.  There was a serious push-back in Wellington (this post is part of that effort).  But people had to fight really hard to make clear that anti-semitic conspiracy theories weren't welcome, and they didn't necessarily win.


Nathan Symington also attended the Aotearoa is not for sale demonstration.  This is from his facebook page:

Skate board written in chalk 'John Key is the Devil' with a swastika next to it.  At a protest with an 'Aotearoa is not for sale' sign.
He commented "Nationalism is the key"

I think there is a bigger question here, about the way nationalism is used in anti-asset sales material.  Anti-privatisation organisation does not need nationalism.  The decision to extensively use nationalism is a conscious one that the people involved in the Aotearoa is not for sale campaign have made.  I think it was a mistake (and I hope to make a longer post about that one day - but I probably won't). 

I think people who promoted nationalism in the name of oppposing asset sales should think about how easily Nathan Symington fit into the demo.  The person who designed that poster probably never asked "what would a nazi think of this?" - but they probably should have.  If we're using propaganda that reassures nazis of their pre-existing beliefs, and they're happy to march along - then we're doing something wrong.

There were thousands of people in that march.  Which might explain why no-one did anything about the fact that one of them was carrying swastikas.  I've been on a march where we only realised at hte end that nazis had marched with us (they werne't carrying swastikas).  But not marching with nazis; the idea that we have nothing in common with nazis, should be the most basic, fundamental, universally held belief on the left.


Ever since I saw Nathan Symington's facebook I have felt totally disgusted and depressed about the New Zealand left.  That Symington could have felt any support, or reassurance, or validation from his experiences in the left, when (if) he vadalised hte graves - that should never happened.

But even now, even once he's been arrested, it doesn't stop.  Nathan Symington has marked himself as attending this street party against privatisation.  Someone brought this up on the Aotearoa is not for sale facebook page, and asked that he wasn't invited.  Rather than saying "yes not standing with nazis who probably destroyed graves is a priority for us" - those who were running the Aotearoa is not for sale facebook page deleted the thread who brought it up.  Apparently that's how incoherent parts of the left are on anti-semitism - it's a bigger problem to say 'hey lets do something abou the nazis' than for a nazi to attend.

Note: I've edited to clarify that when someone brought this issue up the people running the facebook page deleted it.  The people running the Aotearoa is Not For Sale facebook page (and this event) have consistently deleted posts that try and talk about this, and have not given a clear indication of their position. 

Monday, August 06, 2012

On atheism

On Saturday the 17th February 2001, I realised I had no faith in women's magazines or God. 

I was at the hospital - I wasn't sick - I was visiting my best friend (she'll be known as Betsy for the purposes of this post). I was in the waiting room, and was flicking through a Cosmopolitain with Cameron Diaz on the cover.* I don't think I had ever really believed in Cosmo - but I had got pleasure from reading it. But that day, when as I turned the pages I got angrier and angrier. It wasn't just that I was too young, too fat, too poor, too un-stylish, too un-cordinated, and too apathetic to have that life – none of it was real. There wasn't a word of truth in the scores of glossy pages. 

God was less sudden, maybe more cliched. The argument against God from the existence of evil was covered in my first year philosophy class. However, that day and the ones that followed I knew something I had never really bothered to think about before - that a sort of lazy agnosticism was not enough. I was opposed to the image of God that I knew, a good and powerful God, because a good and powerful God would not have let this happen. 


I think of myself as a relaxed atheist. A while back following Britain's lead, a group have put billboards up around Wellington "There's probably no God, so Relax and enjoy life." And I don't really understand them. Why bother? Is God that big a deal? Is the idea of God stopping people relaxing and enjoying life? I have never had any bad experiences with organised religion myself (and extremely limited experiences of organised religion at all). So this idea that religion is ruining people's life has little resonance for me. 

I also think it’s important to be careful about the politics of atheism, particularly when you live on colonised land. There are atheists who are perfectly happy with focusing their critical anti-spiritual energy on those with least social power.

And even leaving aside the politics, as a historian I think the ways people have understood and made meaning from the world is incredibly important. I read this article by Douglas Adams when I was quite young, and I have always remembered it.## I don't dismiss the role of religion in the world. Religious and spiritual practices can be a way of storing knowledge, and understanding of the world. I've also studied enough history to know that resistance movements have found strength and solace in organised religion. 

On the smaller scale, I can see that some religious practices can be a useful to some people. I can see the value of meeting with people every week, of marking seasons (albiet in a topsy turvey way down this part of the world), of doing whatever people do in their religious practices (OK I actually don't understand organised religion at all, but this means that I have no problem believing that some of it is useful). 

I can even believe that sometimes spiritual stuff (lack of knowledge again breeds vagueness) is a good survival strategy for people. My aunt is an alcoholic who has found spiritual practice useful for her. I can see that some spiritual rituals can create space that some people need. I also know that the mind is a powerful thing, and beliefs can give us strengths in all sorts of ways (Dr Ben Goldacre is great for that). 

Obviously, I'm aware of the harm that organised religion can do as well: the homophobia, the misogyny and the extortion just for starters. But I don't see any of those as necessary features of organised religions - just common ones. Most of what happens in the name of religion doesn't bother me because it happens in the name of religion - most of what happen in the name of religion happens with other justifications - and it bothers me just as much. 


Someone I used to know has turned towards faith of a sort, and wrote about it here in a zine called "Radicle". This was the passage I couldn’t forget: 

Fortunately, the world is not a generally shitty place. There are amazing people, and forces for good deeper than I can make sense of, that often reward our faith. I want to defend faith, define it and make it less threatening, but the whole point that it cannot be fully explained or logically justified. It requires a leap into the unknown 
I don't know if other readers will catch the bit I object to. The bit where I stop being a relaxed atheist and start being an angry materialist atheist. 

Betsy (now out of hopsital) ran into Tracey - someone we both went to school with. After that awkward chit-chat with someone you don't actually know, Betsy turned to leave. Tracey said "can I pray for you?" Betsy said "Uh sure" to facilitate the leaving process. 

Tracey grabbed Betsy, would not go, and shouted: "Jesus Christ, please show Betsy your love and strength so she can let you into her heart and you can heal her." 

Forces for good that reward our faith. 


In form, Tracey's statement about the non-material forces in the world couldn't be more different from the article in Radicle. It's in a zine that you don't have to read if you don't want to, it's generalised and it even contains a qualifier. Tracey’s statement of faith was a full on assault, directed at an individual that targeted the ways she was already marginalised. 

But in content the statements were disturbingly familiar. Each present a view in the world that contains spiritual forces with some kind of agency. There is a huge difference with "faith is often rewarding" (which I don't disagree with - I would say there is a prima facie case that anything that large numbers of people do on a regular basis is often rewarding in some sense of the world) and "forces for good often reward our faith". In the second, the forces for good are rewarding faith - therefore they're not rewarding not faith.** Like Tracey's God, these forces are selective about what they reward. 

But to me the most grotesque idea, in both formulations, is that a God, or spiritual forces, that are so selective in their rewards are good, or loving. The Greek and Roman Gods (as far as I'm familiar with them) with their limited powers, petty feuds, and complete lack of morality - I can actually see them mapping on to the way I understand the world. I can understand appeasing a God, or spiritual forces, that reward faith, but not believing they are good. 


Another friend of mine was thinking about sending her child to Catholic school (she's not Catholic). She was talking about why she didn't mind the religion part of Catholic school: "When I went to school there was Religious Education and it terrified me. The God I learned about there was an angry smiting God, and I was scared he was going to smite me. But this is different - they're all about how God loves you and looks after you." 

And what happens when God doesn't look after him? Horrible things happen, and a belief in a loving caring God in the face of the world we live in is as scary as a smiting one.


On the macro level there are reasons why things happen - why some people get cancer and others don't, and some live in poverty and others don't. As a historian, nothing interests me more than the reasons things happen. 

But on the micro level, that's not how the world works - there is no answer to why. We can talk about all the explanations that explain the prevalence of say meningitis - poverty, exchange of fluids, age-based vulnerability. But we will always reach the limit to our understanding. A point where the only answer is luck. And at that point we will be unable to answer Why me? Why not her? Why not me? Why him?***

At this point, the point of ignorance, and randomness, some people place an interventionist God or other spiritual power. A God who heals those who believe, or forces that reward faith. This allows them to control the uncontrollable and to give meaning to that which is meaningless. 

I understand that urge, and religion is certainly not the only way people in our society try and feel like they can control the uncontrollable. When Rod Donald died a friend said that he found it really scary if Rod Donald, cyclist, Greenie could of a disease that is so often associated with 'lifestyle' then anyone could die - which is, of course, the truth. 

But what I cannot understand is embracing a belief system that creates meaning from randomness by arguing that virtue is rewarded. We live in a bitterly unfair world, to claim that there are mysterious forces, or a God that produces your luck - I cannot understand how anyone who looks at the world with their eyes open can believe that. 


I was ranting about all this at a friend of mine, and she asked if it really mattered (beware I am probably caricaturing her beliefs to make a point of my own).  People say they believe in moral spiritual forces, but surely no-one actually believes that. Betsy’s chronic disease would be cured if she accepted Jesus into her heart. Why bother engaging with people who say things that imply that they do?

But Tracey was not the first person to harass my friend Betsy in that way, and has not been the last.  I’m not going to be harassed by people who believe that my body is a problem that God needs to solve.  I don’t have to deal with more polite people who aren’t rude enough to say that my body is a problem that God can solve, but obviously believe it.   The people who are most likely to suffer at the pointy end of belief – are people who are already facing massive amounts of unluck and calling bullshit is a way of standing in solidarity with them.

But I also think it’s more respectful to respond to people who say things that I believe are damaging and wrong with “I think that’s damaging and wrong” than with “I’m going to ignore that because I don’t believe you mean what you say.”  To me – the second response is patronising.

I don’t assume that religious people hold the sorts of spiritual beliefs I have criticised in this post.  I don’t assume that because someone has some sort of faith they give moral meaning to the luck and unluck that people experience.  But when people say things that imply that some sort of spiritual force could intervene to improve people’s lives if they behaved or believed in a certain way – I think there is a political value in challenging and unpacking the implications of those statements.


This is from a major news service’s**** coverage of the shootings in Aurora during the batman screenings:

[name redacted] told NBC television that when the carnage began she shouted at her friend: "We've got to get out of here." But when they started to move she saw people fall around her as the gunman began silently making his way up the aisle, shooting anyone who was trying to escape ahead of him.

"He shot people trying to go out the exits," she said.

At that moment, [name redacted] stared her own imminent death in the face. The shooter came towards her, saying nothing. The barrel of the gun was pointing directly at her face. "I was just a deer in headlights. I didn't know what to do."

A shot rang out, but it was aimed at the person sitting right behind her. "I have no idea why he didn't shoot me," [named redacted] said.

Later, when she was safe,  [named redacted]  told her mother: "Mom, God saved me. God still loves me."

Imagine if this were true.  Imagine if there was a God who had some power in that movie theatre, and he saved the lives of the people he loved. 

I was hesitant about commenting on this. The woman was speaking immediately after surviving horrific trauma. I have thought terrible things, under far less pressure.  This woman was dealing with her situation as best she could.  I don't want to draw attention to her as an individual who made those statements.

Religious beliefs that connect luck with morality are so normalised in our society that even their most horrific expressions stand without comment.


Turns out I am not a relaxed atheist, just a protected one. When people who win awards, reality shows, or sporting events thank God, I just find it amusing, because I don’t think winning awards, reality shows or sporting events really matters. And in my everyday life I very rarely run into people thanking God, or attributing their luck to any spiritual force that is rewarding their faith. But I don't think you can call yourself a relaxed athiest if you're OK as long as religion stays well away from spiritual explanations that involve virtue.

I am in fact, passionate about materialism,***** and think there's huge power and strength in understanding what we can about the world. I think it's even more important to accept the randomness of the universe; not to project meaning onto the unknown, but to acknowledge the role that luck and unluck play in our lives. 


I was taking a 10 year old for a walk with his dog. 

“Are you religious?” Later he would ask me who I voted for, he was obviously thinking about things a lot. 

“I’m an athiest.” 

“So’s Mum. Mum and Grandma had big argument over religion. Mum asked Grandma what she believed and Grandma said when she’d been little she had been really poor and had no school bag and everyone teased her. So she prayed for a new school bag. And then the next day someone from her church gave her one, so God listened to her prayers. And then Mum said that what about all the other children? why doesn’t God answer their prayers?” 

“Yeah, that’s what I would have said” 

Then we throw another stick for the dog. Apparently that’s all the questions for today. 


* There were two magazines with Cameron Diaz on the cover on the ward that month. Both had the same picture, but her top was a different colour. This was long before features exposing photoshop were common-place and seeing those two photos side by side with a different colour was disconcerting in a world that didn't feel particularly safe or stable. 

** I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, understanding the difference between the active and the passive voice is a fundamental prerequistite for useful political thinking.

*** Somewhere around here Schroedinger's Cat and Quantum Physics comes in. 

**** I have not included the name of the person being quoted, or the site the quote is from (although google will verify my sources).   As I said, my point is not about her, but that such views are seen as normal.

***** I can't read that sentence without hearing 'passionate about materialism' in David Mitchell's voice - but it is true.

## I had a quote from the article here.  I've removed it as someone pointed out (and I agree) that the I used it was racist in exactly the kind of way I was trying to problematise and avoid.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What can they do to you? Whatever they want*

Image of the four defendants in court.

You don't need to have been following the trial, or even have heard the verdict, to be able to guess which of the people in this picture were sentenced to two years six months in jail and which were sentenced to 9 months home detention.  Pakeha fears about Maori have been projected onto accused throughout the whole case. I've no reason to disbelieve that Andre, who commented on Public Address, is not who he says he is:
I was excluded from the jury for the trial along with two other jurors after being empanelled. I gave them all a rant prior to departing and am relieved they didn’t find them guilty on the main charge. They were overwhelmingly middle class white women that I left on the panel, some of whom had already told us that Tame Iti scared them etc. One of the jurors asked to be excluded because she was convinced he was guilty by how he looked. She was refused her request to leave and heard the case. Another guy asked to be excluded because he thought the whole exercise was a waste of taxpayer money and resources and he was excluded. How does that work? 


One way of communicating my range and anger over the sentences is to talk about how manifestly unjust they are on the court's own terms.  This man who beat and pretended to hang his children, received a sentence of two years 8 months.

As others have pointed out Rodney Hansen, the judge sentenced them as if the charge of being part of an organised criminal group (which the jury could not decide upon) had been proved.  He included the defendant's political views as aggravating factors stating: "Some of the participants held extreme anarchist views."  He blamed the defendants for the actions of the police - stating that they had done harm by creating divisions within Tuhoe.

The logic of the judge's sentencing was grotesque.  Justice was far from blind - it saw and was terrified of who these people were and sentenced them accordingly.


The sentence is unjust when understood inside the system of justice that colonisation brought.  But to focus on that is to ignore the larger injustice.

An art work - tuhoe never signed the fucking treaty is repeatedly scribbled in different colours on a map of New Zealand

Justice Hansen is not the first judge to exert his authority over Tuhoe people as a way of trying maintain the crown's sovereignty over Tuhoe land, unfortunately it's unlikely that he'll be the last.  He was very willing to describe the actions he'd decided people had undertaken as 'a frightening prospect undermining our democratic institutions and anathema to society'.  He talked of 'we' and 'our' and 'society' singular.  He ignored the many actions of the crown that had undermined Maori democratic institutions and that were an anathema to Maori societies.What right do Pakeha from Auckland have to talk of 'we' and 'our' when it comes to Tuhoe land?  They can't even claim the right of Kawanatanga.


Protests have been organised around the country over the next couple of days.  Come along if you can - thinking that this is wrong is meaningless without action.

PALMERSTON NORTHFriday, 25th May 2012, 1pm, Palmerston North District Court. Bring placards, banners, chants and friends.

Friday, 25th May 2012, 12pm, Wellington High Court. Bring placards, banners, chants and friends.

AUCKLAND Saturday, 26th May 2012, 2pm, Mt Eden Prison.

DUNEDIN Saturday 26th May 2012, 2pm, Dunedin District Court House.

CHRISTCHURCH Saturday 26th May 2012, 4pm, Christchurch Police Station.

* I found some comfort in Marge Piercy's The Low Road tonight - not for the first time.

** I've seen a lot of people express this idea in a way that implies that Rangi and Tame are more Maori than Emily. Sometimes this is because of lack of knowledge, but it is wrong.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Good Idea - Bad Idea

Good Idea

Yesterday, the Southern DHB announced that it was going to start providing an abortion service in Invercargill.  Previously people from Southland who needed an abortion have had to travel to Christchurch (pre-earthquake) and Dunedin (since February 2011) to get them.* (Here's ALRANZ's supportive press release.)

One of the many things that is wrong with our current abortion law is that it makes centralised services necessary - which means women who don't live in the main centres have to expend extra money and time in order to get an abortion.  It's great (but not enough) that things have got a little better for Southland women.

Bad Idea

Yesterday, LifeChoice Victoria, LifeChoice Canterbury and Pro-Life Auckland launched a Right to Know campaign (there are not enough sarcastic quote marks in the world to properly communicate just imagine two sets for pretty much every word).  They distributed leaflets that lied about abortion in all the major lectures theatres at at least two (and probably three universities).**  You can read the full text on their website.  Campus Feminist Collective in Auckland have started planning their response

My favourite quote demonstrates the hideous double-speak of incrementalism: "Women should be trusted with all of the available facts, and then allowed the freedom and space to make a properly informed decision."  By 'facts' they mean 'inaccurate bullshit we like' and by 'freedom and space to make a properly informed decision' they mean 'make all women wait longer than they need to get an abortion through a cooling off period.'

The reason that this double-speak has any chance of working (and I hope it doesn't work - the person I was sitting next to thought the leaflets were prochoice - because they hadn't read the leaflet only looked at hte headings) is because the politics of abortion aren't particularly clear in this country.  Even people who are reasonably pro-choice can buy into a discourse which portrays abortion as the ethically murky thing that we shouldn't talk about, if that's the only discourse abortion they ever hear.  We need to be the ones that champion the ability of pregnant people to make their own decisions - so that everyone will see this for the patronising claptrap that it is.

* Talking of which does anyone know what the current situation is for people who need abortions from the West Coast?  They used to have to travel to Christchurch, but that clinic was damaged in the earthquake - do they now have to travel to Dunedin or Nelson?

** They're well-funded - these were glossy properly printed leaflets that were three to an 3 page - and they would have had thousands of them to do all those lecture theatres.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Problem solved

As you have probably heard, and raged about , the government's current plan is to target young women who are on benefits (or whose parents are on benefits) for long-term contraception.

Colin Craig objects for the following reasons:
"Why should, say, a 70-year-old who's had one partner all their life be paying for a young woman to sleep around? "We are the country with the most promiscuous young women in the world. This does nothing to help us at all."

Meanwhile Right to Life is really concerned about women getting tubal ligations.  They're worried for the following reasons:

  • It undermines the nature and purpose of marriage and sexuality. It goes against the dignity of sexual relations as intended by our Creator. It prevents the total gift of self because it excludes the potential for fertility.
  • Tubal ligation is the mutilation of a woman’s body and a violation of her human rights. Women have a right to the protection of the State.
  • Tubal ligation is an assault on the integrity of a woman’s body.
  • It is bad medicine, pregnancy is not a disease. There is no disease for which ligation would be a treatment. It is a medical procedure which is intended to destroy healthy organs.
I have the perfect solution to this:

A cage fight.

We lock all the people who think that certain women should have contraception forced on them and those who think women can't consent to sterilization or don't really know what contraception is, but know they're against it.

While they're fighting it out with each other those of us who believe that all people should have control of their bodies, and be able to select whatever contraception, or non-contraception, best works for them, without any financial obstacles, can take over the world.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Aotearoa is not for Sale: Demo report

Photo of lots of people at the Hikoi

4,000 people marched in the hīkoi 'Aotearoa is not for sale'  Friday (this is some of them).

I joined from a feeder march from the university.  We were worried we weren't going to meet up properly.  The first thing I saw was flashing police lights - which said the hīkoi wasn't far away.  Then I saw people two blocks away turning into Willis St and there were just more and more of them - by the time we reached the    hīkoi the front was already in Lambton Quay.  There were just so many people.

I wanted to see how long it went back from there so I started walked backwards against the demo. I said hello to friends, my sister, acquaintances, more friends, people who I thought were overseas; I went past a brass band, many lots of chanting, and still people kept coming.  This was the biggest march I'd been on since the Foreshore and Seabed  Hīkoi in 2004.

I was on Wakefield St before I could see the end.  I hadn't been planning to count it, even though I'm a wee bit obsessed with counting demos - it was too big.  But having seen so many people I wanted to be able to put a number on it.  So cutting corners and walking fast, I got all the way to the front again (by this time the front was half-way down Lambton Quay.  I counted out a hundred in groups of ten, and got a good sense of what 100 people looked like - then I counted people in groups.  About 37 groups of 100 people walked past me - and by the time we got to parliament it was more - as some could only come for their lunch break.

Watching everyone walk past I realised just how huge a group of 4,000 people is.  The different bits of the demo had a very different feel.  The very front was singing, and chanting faded in and out as people passed.   There were groups behind different signs - focusing on issues in specific communities - the meatworkers were well represented.  There were also some very cute kids (with and without signs).

The hīkoi was led by Maori, and Tino Rangatiratanga flags made a really clear statement about the issues being fought for.  I've been on Maori led protests with only a smattering of tau iwi.  I've also been on plenty of protests that were organised and dominated by Pakeha and made no effort to acknowledge tangata whenua (including many, many that I've been part of organising).  This was something slightly different than either of those things.  Maori led the  hīkoi, and framed the issues around Tino Rangatiratanga, and tau iwi accepted that leadership and framing - because we believe that our interests are best represented by being part of that fight.


I spent much of the time once we'd actually got to parliament trying to find out was speaking.  This was quite a difficult mission.  The sound system they had didn't work and people were trying to speak to a crowd of 4,000 through a mega-phone.  Earlier on, at the Vic feeder march - you could barely hear the speeches that were given through a megaphone when there were 100 of us.  It's a fine experience for those giving the speeches, organising the speeches and the first few rows - but a rally without a proper sound system just breaks up the protest for everyone else.  It is no longer a collective experience.  Either acknowledge that your sound system isn't good enough and focus on a very few chants - or get a sound system that'll allow everyone to hear speakers.  Anything else is actually disrespectful to the vast majority of people who came - by not having a good sound system and still giving speeches you're telling them they don't matter (and I should say I've been part of organising protests that made this mistake on many occasions - and it is only the few times that we've got it right that I've realised how important it is)

In this particular case, it was probably good.  The list I managed to build up was:

Someone who had been part of organising the hīkoi
Grant Robertson (apparently David Shearer was giving a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce)
Russel Norman (obviously this filled me with joy)
Hone Harawira
Winston Peters (!!!!!!)
Someone from the Meatworkers Union (I was sad to miss this)
I heard one woman's voice, but I couldn't figure out who she was
Te Ururoa Flavell

I'll talk about the politics of this in a second, but at the time (no-one was giving two minute speeches - so the talking - which I couldn't hear - went on and on and on) I began to believe that the plan was to keep talking until everyone had left.


The political nature of the  hīkoi is a little harder to analyse.  Demonstrations are inherently incoherent events - and the larger a demo is the the larger standard deviation is.  On this demo one guy had two flags on his flag pool - the first was a tingo rangatiratanga flag.  The second was not a flag I'd seen before.  It was white and had the union jack in one corner, there were crossed shotguns on it, with a crown on top of it - and it had 'union power' written on.  I can't make those symbols make a coherent message - but it must have meant something to him.

There has already been quite a lot of radical political analysis of the hīkoi. Valerie Morse argued for the importance of anti-capitalist politics. Kim at He Hōaka responded with the importance.  And since Friday, Shomi Yoon has a post on ISO's blog has a demo report.

'Aotearoa is not for sale' (a name I hate incidentally - currently Aotearoa is for sale - saying something that is patently false has never seemed like a good strategy for me) is centred around resisting current attacks. It opposed: "privatisation of public services, sale of public assets to private investors (local AND overseas), casualisation of labour, privatisation and pillage of our country's resources."  I really appreciate the the posts I mentioned above each are focused on linking the current attacks with critical understandings of society.  In order to successfully fight - we need to understand how the world works and that means naming colonialism and capitalism.

I want to highlight a point of Shomi's "The xenophobia that’s represented by NZ First leader Winston Peters will be absolutely damaging to the campaign. It is a problem that an openly reactionary party like NZ First felt comfortable endorsing the hikoi." While the fact that no-one heard him takes a little of the sting out of the fact that he could talk .  Some of the campaigning material has been xenophobic - emphasising 'foreign ownership' as if that was particularly.   The false 'we' is a real danger -  supposedly left-wing people have suggested there's something progressive about a consortium led by Michael Fay buying farms.   The right have been emphasising the idea of "Mum and Dad" investors.  If those who oppose privation use xenophobia - then it is easy for the right to brush off those criticism with examples of New Zealand investors.  If we attack privatisation in its our totality our criticisms are much harder to refute.
My contribution is more prosaic. The protest was amazing - getting 4,000 people together is an amazing achievement.  However, it is not enough.  As John Key has already made clear - he can ignore it.  One massive protest isn't enough.  Organising is about growing and maintaining pressure.  If we want to effectively fight the current attacks - and push for a better world - we need more than one massive protest.


Last thought:

A statue of Richard Seddon with a Tino Rangatiratanga flag and a flag of the United Tribes

All the best protests enlist Seddon in their cause.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A likely feminist

I don't think Tulisa Contostavlos is a household name in New Zealand.  Certainly the only reason that I'd heard of her is because I spent last winter developing a my knowledge of British comedians, discovered the awesomeness that is Simon Amstell and watched a lot of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  For those who don't know she was part of a British group called N-Dubz, she judged British X-factor, and she's about to release a solo album.

And it turns out that she's awesome. Recently, a scum-bag ex-boyfriend of hers released a sex-tape.  Horrifically, this is an occupational hazard for women like Tulisa.  And if they have a scumbag ex-boyfriend prepared to release a sex-tape, young female celebrities are trapped in a web of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, judgement.  Women in her position have had their careers threatened, and been forced to offer ridiculous 'apologies' to keep their job.  It is very difficult for the young women caught in this web of judgement to respond to it without reinforcing some of the ideas they're being attacked with.

Tulisa didn't respond with a press statement forced by her management or employers, but with another video - where she is straight up, direct and refuses to be shamed by toxic ideas about women's sexuality:


Just go watch the whole thing.


My appreciation for this awesome video was slightly marred because I learned about it in this article from the guardian website.  Because the author is not content in celebrating Tulisa's response.  She also emphasises how 'unlikely' it is that Tulisa would provide a feminist response.

Tulisa  has talked really explicitly about being in an abusive relationship as a teenager and the effect that had on her well-being.  I'm just looking at interviews linked on wikipedia and she is very explicit about misogyny and the effect that it has had on her life.  And yet the article doesn't even feel the need to explain or justify why she thinks Tulisa is an 'unlikely' feminist.

Because when a commissioning editor at the Observer describes Tulisa as an 'unlikely' feminist - the subtext is pretty close to being text. It would be uncouth to be explicit about the class-differences which underly the author's supposed surprise.  After all this is Britain and you can hear Tulisa's voice - and on the guardian website no more explanation than that is needed.

I think it's really important to make the subterranean explicit.  That's the only way to recognise these off hand lines  as an effort to claim feminism as the exclusive property of middle-class women. This is both an assumption of what feminism is, an expression of what the author wants it to be, and act of maintaining those borders; for the author feminism is a movement that only recognises middle-class women's expression of their experiences, and allows people to be shocked when working-class women express themselves at all.

The best response of course, is to watch Tulisa's video again and say that there's nothing unlikely or surprising about it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Junk Science that supports 'Health at Every Size' is still Junk Science

A few months back, over at Big Fat Blog there was a report on this study.  The study was basically examining four 'healthy' habits (moderate drinking, not smoking, 'exercising' and eating 5 plus fruit and vegetables) and the BMI, and then doing an analysis of risk of death.  DeeLeigh from BFB summarised its findings like this:

Two things really jump out at me. First, the more healthy habits we have, the more our life expectancy matches the life expectancy of thin people with the same habits. When we've got all four, the gap is pretty much closed. Second, it's only the fat people with no healthy habits who have a dramatically reduced life expectancy in comparison to thinner people.

This is a strong confirmation of what HAES advocates have been saying for years
It's bullshit.  Of course it's bullshit.  This study has exactly the same errors as all the other studies which people on fat acceptance blogs have picked apart and chanted "Correlation does not prove causation" at.  The most glaring of which is (as always) that it does not control for class. You cannot say anything meaningful about people's bodies or lives if you don't take into account the way resources are distributed in society.

I've always felt slightly uncomfortable about the way scientific studies are used for the cause of fat acceptance. I've always felt it conceded too much ground - by spending lots of energy arguing that fat isn't necessarily unhealthy, we're conceding the conclusion that if fat was healthy fat hatred would be justified.   But I can see that given the amount of junk-fat-hating masquerading as science there is out there debunking is useful work.  But if debunking is going to work as a persuasive factor, or (more importantly in my opinion) a way of figuring out how the world works, then people engaging with scientific studies have to be absolutely disciplined and committed to engaging with the literature as it is.  Just reposting one article that agrees with your pre-conceived views without engaging with the critical thinking that you would if it disagreed undermines that project.


That blog post was the first thing that came to my mind when I read the post and skimmed the article. But then I read the article in more detail and I became outraged on a whole new level.  Because in the article itself they provide how they'd defined exercise:
Level of physical activity was determined according to the frequency of participation in leisure-time physical activities within the previous month.
 There is no justification for this definition in the article.*

I actually lose it at this point and can't form any coherent thoughts.  You can't measure a subset or something a pretend you've measured the whole thing.  You can't claim to do one thing, when you're actually doing something else.  You can't just wave away the word 'leisure-time' as if it doesn't exist.  Except apparently you can - in a peer-reviewed journal.

I want to know how wide-spread this is? How often in peer-reviewed articles, advice given to doctors, information passed on to us all have they told us that 'exercise' has a particular effect when they've measured 'leisure-time exercise'.

I was vaguely aware that workplace exercise did not quite fit the chirpy model put about in videos like this one.  Partly I just knew this from studying the history of work - work that requires exercise wears bodies out - it's nothing like the experience of exercise that people get from the gym (this article about working in a warehouse for internet shopping is an important reminder that there are now new forms of work that require body destroying exercise).

The most obvious point we come against is class (they also, surprise surprise didn't control for Socio-economic status in this article).  Are articles about leisure-time exercise actually measuring the effect leisure time that you can use for yourself?    The experience of physical activity as part of paid work is qualatatively different from leisure time physical activity - when you're in paid work that you're going to have to do day in day out, you have to conserve energy and conserve your body.  Also people who can do leisure-time physical activity probably aren't facing body-destroying physical labour in their jobs.  

this article has long fascinated me (warning Ben Goldacre is a fat-hating douche at the beginning).  It tells of a study of hotel cleaners, many of whom described themselves as doing no exercise (which shows how deeply the false equivalency of leisure-time exercise and exercise has worked into people's self-defintion).  In one hotel they told the workers specifically that the work cleaners were doing (which is after all hard physical labour) was exactly the sort of exercise that doctors recommend.  The group who were told that saw all sorts of health benefits over the next month.  But the question that I've always wondered is - why didn't they see themselves as doing exercise?

I was recently hanging round with a five-year old who is always running around like a young spider-monkey and she was talking to herself about 'exercise' and describing some of the things she was doing as 'exercise' - and it was clear that she'd just started school and been told about the importance of exercise and she was trying to figure out what 'exercise' was - what part of her constantly moving around counted.  Because 'exercise' is not quite synonymous with physical movement - and a five year old need to figure that out - even if peer-reviewed journals only tell us so in their methodology section.

* There may some justifications in the articles that are cited, but I couldn't access any of the cited articles in the relevant section.  I'd love to hear from people who can if there is a justification if you follow the references.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This ain't a court of justice son

Kim from He Hōaka has written an amazing post about justice and Operation 8.

In his keynote address to the Māori criminal justice colloquium in 2008, Moana Jackson described justice as a system which helps us deal with wrong by re-enforcing what is right, which helps us deal with hurt by dealing with those who are hurt, by helping us deal with injustice by re-defining what is injustice and what is just in our terms. Such a system is focused on avoiding and putting right social harm. It is a definition which makes sense to me. 

If we use this definition to look at what happened on and since October 15, 2007, it is clear that one party is responsible for social harm (eg, from the Herald). On October 15, police smashed their way into houses around the country, and attempted to terrify everyone they found—shouting, pointing guns, holding people captive. They blockaded an entire community, stopping and searching cars, photographing occupants, all at gun point. All of this was indiscriminate, children and adults were targeted. Around 20 people were taken and held for a month. Since then, police have harassed those who were arrested, through the courts with ridiculous bail restrictions, and also on the streets. Governments have allowed and defended this behaviour; for example, Helen Clark used the media to say those arrested were guilty before charges had even been laid ( PM: activists trained to use napalm), while John Key “says there is no need for an inquiry into how police and the Crown handled the Te Urewera raids case” (Te Urewera trial cost). As recently as three weeks ago, while the Operation 8 trial was in the news, the police were still harassing the people of Ruātoki (Residents terrorised after police raid wrong house), and were lucky not to seriously hurt anyone. 

Of all the evidence that was presented in the media and in court, culled from hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence collected, there is only one example of anyone other than the Crown causing harm to others (Apology followed shots). Four and a half years of harassment and vilification of those arrested, their whānau, the residents of Ruātoki, and Ngāi Tūhoe in general, does nothing to fix that harm. 
 Go read her whole post

I think I'm going to wait until it's really all over (probably sentencing on May the 24th) to say anything more.  I'm not sure if I even have anything more to say (I stole the title of this post from a friend's facebook post)- it's been a long four and a half years (and six days).

Friday, March 09, 2012

Now you've come to the hardest time

While the details of the Ports of Auckland dispute get a bit complicated - at its core it is incredibly simple. The union isn't making demands for better wages and conditions (and I'd support them if they did).  The Port, as the employer, demanded massive changes aimed at casualising the workforce.  The union refused to 

Casualisation is a serious threat to workers' income - not knowing how many hours you're going to work each week . As this video demonstrates it also has a huge impact on workers lives.  One of the conditions port workers are trying to hold onto is the right to have one weekend off in three.

But from the employers point of view it's also about power - the employer has far more power over a casualised work-force than they do with a permanent one.   

The actions of Ports of Auckland are not just a threat to port workers.  If Ports of Auckland win, then more employers will follow.  Secure hours are one of the most basic and important work conditions.

It's not over.  In shipping time is money (that's why those in charge of the Rena charted a quicker course).  There's six weeks until the redundancies can actually happen legally and all sorts of industrial action that can happen before then. And after that they'll still need people to work the port - and if they can't get scabs the containers.  

So support and solidarity are incredibly important, not just for the wharfies, but for all our jobs.  The union's campaign site is saveourport.com


Ports of Auckland are not the only major industrial action at the moment.  AFFCO (owned by the Talleys family) has locked out meatworkers across the country, they're also demanding casualisation and a roll back of wages and conditions.  Oceania rest home workers have been on  strike seeking a  pay increase (the companies offer is currently zero for the first year).

At CMP meatworkes union withstood the company's demands for lower wages and casualisation.  They received huge solidarity and support.  The employers may be on the rampage, but they can be resisted - together.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I lied - I have more to say

I thought the trial would drive me to silence. I've written a lot about the raids, and a bit about the court case, but I've never explicitly outlined the political grounds that I base my solidarity on.  As I mentioned in my last post, I have found this case incredibly difficult to write about for years now.  But as the trial has proceeded I have discovered that there are things I want to say, no matter how difficult it is to do so.

Ross Burns, who is the crown prosecutor, (unfortunately he looks nothing like Mr Burns, although the name is still amusing), summarised his understanding of : "It's pretty clear that Plan A was negotiation.  If negotiation didn't work he [Tame Iti] at least felt it was in the interest of Tuhoe people to further their self determination at the point of the gun."

I think he expects his audience (not just the jury, but people like me who hear him on the radio) to be shocked by this, to condemn it out of hand.

My solidarity is based on my support of Te Mana Moutuhake o Tuhoe and if self-determination means anything, it has to include self-determination in the nature of the struggle.  If you support self-determination, Mana Moutuhake, or Tino Rangatiratanga, you have to respect those who are seeking liberation the right to determine their own struggle.

I should stop here and say that just because I would support the defendants if they were doing what Ross Burns says they were doing - doesn't mean that I think Ross Burns is right.  And even if he is right in the broader sense of Tame Iti's strategy, that doesn't mean any crime was committed, or that anyone else shared his ideas.  As a defence lawyer asked: "Was there just a bunch of people, the membership of which changed from time to time, with a myriad of motivations, ideas thoughts and objects, and perhaps - with respect - for some no idea at all."

The public defence of those charged has been based around denying the crown's case.  It is difficult to vigorously deny something, without supporting the idea that the thing you are denying is wrong (think of why 'not that there's anything wrong with that' has become a cliche).  I think the denial can give the impression of giving great significance to the small details of the crown case.  There is no crime, after all, in wearing balaclavas or in wanting to overthrow the government.

And this denial of the crown case is not the basis of my solidarity.  I think it's really important that someone says 'So what?'  to Burns's scaremongering about Tuhoe independence.

Monday, February 13, 2012


The trial begins today. 4 years, 3 months, 4 weeks and one day since the October 15th raids.  Four people are still facing charges: Tame Iti, Rangi Kemara, Emily Bailey and Urs Signer.  I will not recount the history of the case, I will just offer my solidarity. I think it's important not just to offer solidarity to the defendants but stand in solidarity with the struggle for te Mana Motuhake o Tūhoe.

I know I will struggle to write any more about the case.  My personal experience and political analysis  are intertwined in a way that makes it very difficult to write for a general audience.  The only thing I have to offer, besides what I have already said, is this poem:

Text of the poem