Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas eve in Otahuhu

OK, so we might not believe in Santa, but this lot playing 'Jingle Bells' should be all the Xmas spirit you need.

Kilisimasi Fiefia

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Seasons greetings from Spider and me

Sunrise over Mangere Bridge

Snapped at 6.29am, 20th December. I'm not often up at this time but this almost made it worth it.
Coffee and a buttery pastry at Elske in Newmarket definitely made it worth it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yay!! Baby chickens

Today we replenished our stock of chooks. This lot came from Precious Poultry, the supplier of the previous lot seeming to have vanished off the face of the earth. 
Of the last lot (see here) the two Austrolorps have done well but the two Wyandottes, to cite the literature, failed to thrive (actually, they died).
Black Austrolorp. This chicken has her own gravitational pull.
Our grey girl: still limping but doing well.

Included in the new batch are two Sicilian Buttercups. Honestly, how could you not love something called a Sicilian Buttercup? We also got a black Wyandotte-cross, and another black Austrolorp. Here they are showing off their stuff.
One of the two black chickens. They look pretty much the same.

White-headed Sicilian Buttercup

Black-headed Sicilian Buttercup. Also an escape artist.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Argy bargy over the CBD rail loop

The political football that is Auckland's Central Rail Loop continues to be kicked back and forth between the Auckland Council and central government. The funding background is that up until the 2009 Government Policy Statement on land transport funding (the that gave us the Roads of National Significance),* metro rail projects were paid for through the national land transport fund. In the interests of freeing up more money for roads, this funding option was removed so that projects such as the CBD rail loop must now be funded either locally (most likely though rates) or by central government.

Aucklanders from both ends of the political spectrum, not unreasonably, think the government should stump up for the central rail loop. Auckland's ratepayers are mystified as to why they should cough up when they pay into the land transport fund. The government, for its part, remains deeply in the financial pooh from its own economic mismanagement, so is crying poor. Accordingly, they have gone to great lengths to justify not paying, of which this example of weaselification from the Ministry of Transport is but one instance. 
Dreaming...of Auckland public transport
As part of the tedious, unnecessary delay the Auckland Council and the government agreed to commission an independent report on the necessity or otherwise of the rail loop. This was released yesterday (here), and argues that the the rail extension "delivers the highest number of people, involves the smallest land take and has the most beneficial impact on car commuters and freight. It is the only headline option with any capacity after 2041." (p7) Got that, central government petrolheads? It will deliver benefits to car communters and freight.

Not surprisingly, the Minister of Transport, or Stephen Joyce (whichever is in charge), has dismissed the report, saying it "falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast tracking of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL)."

The best response to this nonsense (in our view) has come from Heart of City's Alex Swney. Admittedly, there's some self-interest at work since the central city will benefit from the addition of new stations and additional residents. In an interview with Radio NZ this morning Mr Swney let fly. Here's the transcript:
It's very very hard to talk to someone who won't listen. I don't want to be too harsh on Gerry  - perhaps he's just got his mind focused too much on Christchurch and Christchurch's problems. Auckland has some huge challenges. We're going to add the population of Christchurch to Auckland over the next 30 years. That comes with a huge range of challenges for us and they aren't going to be delivered by more tarmac and more cars. This [the CRL] is a modern solution for a modern city with huge growing pains. Auckland is getting highly brassed off when Wellington continues to say "talk to the hand". It's patronising to call this project a valiant [attempt], and it's a waste of taxpayers money when you will go and put huge taxpayer's resources and ratepayers resources together to deliver this report and seemingly dismiss it off hand like that. It's just - dare I say it? - it's immature.
We are bemoaning the fact that a generation ago we didn't begin this project when Dove Meyer Robinson first mooted it, and here we are stuck. We've still got Wellington and Auckland scrapping between themselves. Auckland has reached way over the half way mark, way over the Bombay Hills towards Wellington to come up with a collective response and I must say it's getting galling for Aucklanders to get the push back still, a generation later.
A modern solution for a modern city
Bravo, Heart of the City.
This might unsettle the stomachs of Auckland's normally Tory-voting middle classes, but transport funding needs to be an election issue. Metro rail funding needs to be put back into the national land transport fund from which it was removed in 2009, and  the roads of no significance need to be pushed back to, oh, about 3000.

*Please bear with us, gentle reader. New Zealand's land transport funding system is Byzantine and highly politicised.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Desk of Power

We all have symbols of our own power relevant to us in our world. Some seats of power are more visible and just plain powerful than others, for example actual thrones, the Speakers chair, or a seat on the Security Council. Others are more symbolic, say being Prime Minister of New Zealand, when everyone knows the real power lies elsewhere.
For us lesser mortals, our symbols are far more modest and personal, but still they exist, eg possession  of the TV remote control.
Animals, too, have symbols of power: the ability to pee on someone else's lampost, poop in someone's flowerbed; the plum spot in the sun, or perhaps just something to give a bit of height.
Thus, we present the Desk of Power. One creatures rubbish is another's path to earthly glory.

Milk in schools: saving the government's butt

News today that Fonterra is extending its milk in schools programme to all schools, with the lucky recipients getting 180ml per day of low-fat milk. This is very kind of Fonterra - sort of - but really throws into sharp relief the government's own lacklustre performance in dealing with hungry children. That is, they haven't.
The Herald's article contains this snippet:

Education Minister Hekia Parata congratulated Fonterra for the initiative. "As a Government we continue to encourage business communities and other agencies to work together with our school communities to grow the momentum of raising achievement for five out of five kids,' she said. "This is a great way to add value to our children's lives as they spend their hours getting a great education," she said.

Ms Parata's full press release is here.
We think this is what she meant to say:
Education Minister Hekia Parata welcomes Fonterra’s nationwide ‘Milk for Schools’ rollout to all New Zealand primary schools today.

“I congratulate Fonterra and its Federated Farmers owners for this great initiative. As a Government effectively operating as a subsidiary of Fed Farmers we are relieved they are helping us to work together with our school communities to grow the momentum of raising achievement for five out of five kids. This helps distract from our own inaction,” says Ms Parata.

“It is exciting to see the Fonterra pilot programme at Northland primary schools has had huge success, and at so little cost to central government. This is a great way to add value to our children’s lives and to Fonterra's future marketing and brand recognition strategy. Well done Fonterra.”

The programme will operate on an ‘opt-in’ basis for interested primary schools. Schools opting in will receive a daily serving of 180ml of low-fat milk for each participating child each day. Fonterra will also provide fridges to keep it cool and an associated recycling programme.

In addition, the Government provides a fruit in schools scheme, even though it desperately tried to terminate it a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, officials pointed out it was the only fruit many children were getting, and culling this programme would have been a Really Bad Look. Even for a National government. All decile one and two primary and intermediate schools are able to opt into Fruit in Schools, and we are comfortable with the fact it does not in any way shape or form compete with Fonterra's product or market sector. Around 480 Decile 1 and 2 schools currently participate, seeing around 96,806 children receiving one piece of fruit per day. Make the most of it, you kids, you won't be getting anything else any time soon.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett also applauds Fonterra.

"As we move to make receipt of the one piece of fruit per day conditional on the child's parents or parent working full-time, we hope the Fonterra programme will fill an already huge gap. Thank you for saving our butts, Fonterra. Who said philanthropy doesn't work?"

Adios, Fatboy, the cat with 999 lives

We got Fatboy and his sister in February 2000 from the free-to-a-good home box when he was about 6 weeks old. His sister died shortly after, and in time it transpired that what had probably killed her was a feline AIDS virus, which Fatty also had in his system. The virus was the defining feature of his life as it made him susceptible to illness and infection, especially in his earlier years.
Fatty and his best girlfriend ever

He liked to scrap with us as a kitten, and unfortunately for the Dearly Beloved in particular, this led to a habit of randomly slashing passers by, which he did for some years. Less so with me, as I was the one who let him under the blankets on cold winter nights.
When he was about a year old, he went missing. He was found down the back of the section a couple of days later with his tail broken. We kept him inside and although we shut the cat door so he couldn't push it out, he figured out how to put his claw under the flap and pull it then sneak out through the gap. He was gone for about six days, during which time we gave up and got Winkle:

Winkle's another story...but the day Winkle turned up we heard this almighty howl at the front door and there was Fatty. 
He needed surgery on his tail:

Over time the hate he seemed to have against the world didn't diminish. Here's what happens when Pets Go Bad:


Next, he got a lung infection. The vet took x-rays and had this very sympathetic look on her face when she showed me the x-ray, saying usually if you can see the second tier of airways it means they're full of water and the whatever-it-is is probably on the way out. You could see Fatty's entire lung system. When they went to investigate further, he jumped off he vet's table. I recall the vet saying 'usually when they do that we don't worry because they can't go anywhere. He took off out the door and we had to chase to get him back.' 
Somehow, he lived.
And not too badly, at that:

Chicken kebab? Why, yes.

Then there was the several operations to fix his eye. The feline AIDS had been instrumental in him developing an ulcer in one of his eyes. We tried several times to fix it but all that happened was I made a massive contribution to the vet's DNA replication's college fund. Fatty spent the rest of his life with no tail and a runny eye, and still got the girls:


Then came the fish bone incident. We knew something was up because he stopped eating and was having difficulty breathing. The initial examination didn't pick anything up but watching him shortly after I realised he had something in his throat and took him to the vet. They had to anaesthetise him to take the x-ray and while he was under they pulled out a massive piece of fish vertebra that had got lodged in his throat. It was about 8mm across and because it had been there for some days his throat had got infected and ulcerated. This required that he be hospitalised. When we went to see him there was a sign on the cage saying that he was only to be handled with a vet present. On the way out I mentioned to the receptionist that we had been to see him and she said "Fatty? He's a charmer". (Not).
In short, we could have painted the house or put another room on with what was spent in vets bills.
He was a major contributor to ridding the neighbourhood of rats. Incidents such as this were not uncommon:



 Finally, there were several years of peace and quiet and good health. There was a moment earlier this year when he got an infection that meant he needed to go back into hospital for a couple of days but somehow he stared down death yet again and bounced back. It was during this later period he terrorised Spider into treating cats with some respect. Fatty understood in a visceral way that the best defence is offence, and attacked Spider within minutes of him coming into the house for the first time.
But the latest brush was to be the last. Somehow, he injured his back left leg, and the subsequent nerve damage left him much restricted in his movement. An x-ray showed two lower vertebra had fused, and that this was also making movement difficult, plus the inflammation was causing him some pain. We had trouble medicating him because if he thought he was going to get medicine he would take off for a couple of days at a time, which he did. 
After a week of losing mobility in his hindquarters and not eating, we made the painful decision to put him to sleep. The hate was undiluted till the end: the day before, barely able to move and weak from lack of food, he sat on the inside of the catdoor and spat and hissed at the dog who was on the other side. This photo was taken a couple of hours before we took him to the vet, and he still looks like he's rip your liver out and eat it if he wanted. But he was still handsome :


Adios, Fatty, early morning philosopher, neighbourhood tyrant, and late night under-the-covers snuggler. We will miss you, my friend.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Suitable employment

Recent changes to the Social Security Act require that sole parents on a benefit must now accept any offer of 'suitable employment' (15 hours per week when the youngest child turns 6 or 30 hours per week when the youngest turns 14) or have their benefit cut off because, you know, work is good for people in every way, and the job market is - ahem - bouncy
Cropped cover of Steely Dan's 1972 classic "Can't buy a thrill"
It's been a concern for some time that some Work and Income staff seem to think 'suitable employment' includes massage parlour/escort agency work for women. More telling is the fact that dealing with WINZ has proven so onerous some mothers have gone into parlours - or worse, just out onto the street - of their own accord. Prostitution has probably always included mothers among the profession's ranks, but as a trend this seems like a zero-sum game from a societal point of view - a bit like shoving people off benefits to only have them turn up panhandling on Queen Street the next day. Parlour/agency/street hours aren't exactly child-friendly and the work is potentially dangerous and damaging to ones physical and mental health. Still, any job's a good job, right?
Facing a different set of obstacles, a young tradesman friend with a teenage daughter has recently been found 'suitable work' by the nice folk at WINZ. Except that:
  • it's not an actual waged job. The tradesman is a subcontractor and submits an invoice at the end of two weeks. No room for disputes there, then. Oh, and the pay comes at the end of the following fortnite, in other words there is no income for four weeks;
  • the pay is low and out of this comes tax, ACC and an allowance for holidays and sick days;
  • because the tradesman is a subbie there is no holiday or sick days: if you don't work you don't get paid, hence the need for pay to cover these costs. Which it doesn't;
  • this assumes people will pay their taxes and have an accountant, or can do the paperwork themselves. What was that about a tax shortfall in the last fiscal update?
  • there is no guarantee of 40 hours a week work. This extends to tradespeople the idea widely used in the junk food industry that workers must be on site but are not guaranteed any work. The so-called employee just has to wear any shortfall;
  • if our young friend comes off a benefit he will be eligible for Working for Families tax credits but if it all goes pear-shaped he will find it very difficult to get back on a benefit. Opportunities for fathers are somewhat limited in Auckland's massage parlours and escort agencies so we could think of this as a double disadvantage.
How is anyone supposed to budget under these conditions? How is the stress of not knowing whether there will be enough income to pay the rent good for anyone? How does this gel with the government's stated concern for vulnerable children?
This is not the bright, shiny, prosperous economy we have been promised for 30 years. This is a sharecropper society, and like the sharecropper society of the South the only constants are insecure income and debt. Not the flash debt of white-collar criminals, but the petty, grinding debt of overdue rent, overdue power bills, and money borrowed to keep the car on the road. 'Suitable employment' should mean people can live with some measure of dignity. Pity about how that seems to be increasingly reserved for the rich in New Zealand.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Memo to John, Bill and Paula

Hi guys and Bouncy Lady

I know you've tried hard to ignore the issue of child poverty while pretending to care about vulnerable children. It's possible you'd get some kudos for that if you hadn't used vulnerable children (something you have never managed to define) as an excuse to introduce all sorts of measuring and monitoring of the underclass. In case you're not sure what I'm talking about, perhaps Paula could spell out some of the nasty punitive provisions that have been snuck into her changes to the Social Security Act. In fact, the term social security is probably a misnomer - the governent is really focused on social insecurity, a stance that will come back to haunt you. To be fair, I know you've set up a ministerial committee on poverty but you should assume that's been discredited before it even gets off the ground because no one actually thinks you give a rat's arse. I'm not well connected to the business community but it is clear even some of your natural supporters in this group are getting a bit antsy. Here's why they should be - and perhaps you should be, too.
The problem is that poverty is not going to go away. On the contrary, deepening unemployment means that those who were behind when the effects of the global financial crisis first made themselves felt in 2008 are now in deeper poverty, and are likely to remain there for longer. This is happening under a government that witters on about vulnerable children, even to the extent of executing one of the more expensive public relations exercises ever seen in this country through its sham consultations on the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children. No one is denying New Zealand's appalling child abuse rates, but to attempt to disconnect it from the inequality and poverty experienced by many families is simply dishonest.
Poverty seems a lot more personal when it is under your nose at the local school or in the supermarket. While standing at the checkout several days ago there was a small girl in front of me. I don't have kids so have no concept of children's age but she came up to about my elbow (and I'm duck's diseased). It is not unusual for parents/grandparents in our 'hood to send kids in to do the shopping, especially if cash is short. Which in this instance, it was. The girl had a loaf of not-great-quality bread and a packet of pre-grated cheese (mild). The total was about $9, and when she opened her hand all she had was a small collection of silver coins. Of course the checkout operator cancelled the transaction and sent her packing. But looking at the girl and the extremely modest purchase, it occurred to me that this was a family's dinner.  Here's a vulnerable child, and every aspect of current economic and social policy seems designed to further victimise her and her family. Talk about storing up trouble for the future. And in case you're wondering, yes I paid for the purchase so they'd at least have something in their tummies when they went to bed.
So why are we not interested in children who are vulnerable to hunger? Or the ones living in squalid accommodation and cars? Why does the government think it's acceptable that children's dinner be dependent on the random generosity of total strangers in the  supermarket? Here's the memo clueless Tories: it's not. If you think you can buy us off with the White Paper you're very much mistaken. This is not about flat screen TVs, benefit dependency or irrigation schemes for Canterbury farmers. Get your heads out of the clouds and start dealing with it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Woodturning course

Having failed to come to grips with woodturning by turning up every few weeks and annoying people for help I decided to do the intensive weekend course (run by the South Auckland Woodturners Guild for those of you who are interested in turning your life around...sorry).
Well worth the effort, not least to see that even pros can make mistakes.
The first item to make was a honey dipper. Here's what a nice honey dipper looks like:
Mine didn't look like this.

 Next, another egg cup. Can't have too many, I thought, especially with those chickens laying different sized eggs just to confuse matters. This is much improved on the previous model:

And last, a bowl. It was supposed to be a noodle bowl but a moments inattention with a long sharp turning chisel saw a big chunk of the top gauged out. The subsequent correction meant my bowl more resembled a platter. But it came out alright (thanks to the tutors and their steadier hands). Despite only being a crappy piece of macrocarpa (firewood) it is a nice piece of wood and turned well. All up a good result for the day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Another necklace

It does look like I'm on a roll but experience suggests it will come to a screeching halt probably quite soon. In the meantime, here's something to admire.
Some time ago we acquired a carved greenstone pendant from someone's reject bin. It's very dark, almost black, greenstone in the shape of a fish tail. This week we finally decided to do something with it.
First we needed to plait a strand. We used a four-stranded plait again (easy to follow instructions here if you want to try) but this time made from brown linen thread. Finding a bead to match proved slightly difficult and required a trip to the bead shop. It needed to be small, not naff, match the greenstone and have a sufficiently large hole to get two plaited strands through. Finally, we used a coconut button we've put aside for years for the clasp. This button was on a previous necklace and has never been thrown out because I don't think you can buy them any more, and it harks back to a time when we actually made stuff in this country. So it's been recycled here.
Here's the full necklace. Length 54cm. If you ever wonder why necklaces with hand-plaited strand is expensive, it's because plaiting enough strand to make a 50cm necklace is time consuming. Not hard, just time-consuming.

Here's a close-up of the pendant. It's a bit dark to see much but here it is anyway.

Huge thanks to Uncle Ronnie for the thread and the pendant.

Dotcom (briefly)

We're reluctant to add anything to the flood of articles pertaining to Kim Dotcom and his Invisible Government Destrocto-Rays. Bryce Edwards' latest post has listed most of what's worth reading, and Chris Barton's article is good for a chuckle. Barton concludes by making the serious point that the Dotcom affair revolves around the (mis)use of copyright law to trump legal processes designed to protect citizens from the arbitrary actions of the state.
Avoiding such serious stuff, this is a small post mulls the similarity between the great and the good, and characters from popular culture. The Keystone cops reference has been widely used, but we think that's misplaced. Let me explain.
The Prime Minister's stating he had no idea about the GCSB spying on Mr Dotcom coming so soon after his other recent bouts of professed and deliberate ignorance brought to mind Sergeant Schulz from Hogan's Heroes: "I see nothing, I read nothing, I hear nothing, I did not even get up this morning..." How the hell did Key make his millions? Find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?
The other aspect of this debacle that seems to mystify most normal people is the fact that our ace spy agency couldn't quite get its shit together to find out if Mr Dotcom was a New Zealand citizen. They are the SPY AGENCY ferchrissake. They might not be allowed to spy on NZ citizens but it is inconceivable they were unaware of Mr Dotcom's status. But apparently there was a knowledge gap within the agency. So they asked...the police! It's got to the stage I'd be unlikely to ask the local bobby for the time, but our spies were too lazy to do what surely is their basic work. This isn't Keystone cops (too lazy, not even slapstick), this is the Springfield Police Department.
Chief Wiggum:   It's Kim Dotcom. Take him down, boys.
Lou:   But Chief, shouldn't we check if he is a New Zealand citizen first?
Chief Wiggum:   What is it with you Lou? Where on my badge does it say anything about protecting New Zealand citizens?
Lou:   Second word, Chief
In the end, either someone is,er, mis-stating the truth, or the lunatics really have taken over. Welcome to Springfield.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday necklaces

Sometimes one has to take a break from being serious, walking the dogs and housework, and make stuff. It doesn't much matter what but the creative process is good for the soul. Well. we think so in our household. Today's foray into minor league creativity (I'm not actually creative, I just steal other people's ideas) involved going somewhere warm, in this case the Bead Hold on Pt Chev Rd.
First up: finding something to go with some large, heavy coral beads that we've had for years. So long, it hadn't even occurred to anyone at the time that mining coral reefs for beads was a major contributor to their demise. Whoops. I've had a couple of goes threading them but haven't quite got around the weight. But today, Bingo! A thread of cultured fresh water pearls. OK, they're not exactly these but Schoeffel's pearls don't come in at a modest $24 a string, either. The pearls spiritually align with the coral, too.
Coral, dyed freshwater pearls and glass beads. Copper clasp. Length 55cm


Next a pendant. Originally the thought was for something multi-stranded and black but the financial resources weren't quite up to the job. But there were these cute large glass heart-shaped beads. A simple pendant seemed in order. This is more complex than it looks, with the blue chain having to be cut into short lengths to connect the different beads, and all needing to be threaded onto small jump rings, and then connected to the silver wire going through the beads. But it all went remarkably smoothly.
Glass and crystal beads, aluminium chain and silver threaders and jump rings. Length 75cm plus beads.


None of this is hard (I can do it). So next time you're bored make yourself a necklace, or a brooch, or a pair of earrings. People won't ask you if it's Cartier but it will be unique, and you made it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welfare reform: what do we mean by dependence?

This is the first of what we are hoping will be a series on the government's welfare reforms. There needs to be discussion about some of what underlies the reforms and the blatant misinformation justifying them, and almost none of that discussion is occurring in the mainstream media. While the reforms have the appearance of 'dog-whistle politics', and the steady drip feed of announcements suggests they are being used for exactly that purpose, in fact they constitute a broad political project that ultimately seeks to undermine the social assistance available for ordinary New Zealanders. The desired end point of the project is a bit unclear, being delivered as it is by the most dim government in generation, but there can be no doubt the aim is to take the 'security' out of social security.
This week the government introduced legislation for its second round of welfare reforms. Underlying the reforms to date - right back to the Terms of Reference for the Welfare Working Group (see here, page 1) - has been the use of the term 'dependence'. Dependence is bad - people who are dependent are unable to (as Mitt Romney so inelegantly put it earlier this week) 'take personal responsibility and care for their lives'. This is pretty shocking: we should all be able to take responsibility for ourselves, right? And what about those who won't? They need a not-so-gentle nudge from a caring state in the person of Ms Bennett, a former sole parent now kicking the ladder out from underneath her as fast as she possibly can. Independence, on the other hand, is virtuous and helps us lead happy, noble lives working whatever crap occupation it is that most of us do.
But what does 'dependent' actually mean? Applied to those receiving assistance from the state, it suggests moral decay, that 'dependents' do not share 'our' societal values and norms, and learned helplessness, as people shamelessly cadge money from honest taxpayers. But in a globalised market economy, we are all increasingly dependent on one another, and often on people we will never meet or even see. As consumers most of us are utterly dependent on the ability of global supply chains to bring safe, palatable food to our supermarkets; we are likewise dependent on others to provide clean water, energy, and spooky masks at Halloween. Companies depend on their suppliers, their workers, the financial health of their customers and (believe it or not) a functional, non-corrupt state to maintain a level playing field and provide public goods such as roads. So dependence is not inherently a Bad Thing. It is only bad, it seems, when applied to certain segments of the population.
The main recipients of social assistance - the dependent ones - are unemployed, sick or invalid, or are sole parents. What we often forget, but quickly becomes evident when you talk to people down on their luck, is that one or the other of these can happen to any of us. One day you're at work, the next day your factory is closing. As an unemployed person, are you dependent on the state for income? You betcha. THAT IS WHY WE HAVE A BENEFIT SYSTEM: so Mr or Ms Dependent doesn't have to starve or sell their firstborn into slavery. Does it necessarily mean they are lazy, witless moochers who are incapable of finding another job? Of course not. And as has been stated over and over again, the benefit statistics show that when jobs are available people move off welfare and into work. Even sole parents. That's because being on a benefit is horrible and the pay is really bad.
'Dependence' as a pejorative term is a mainstay of welfare reform rhetoric. It's function is to present neoliberal economic policies (the shredding of the safety net) in the guise of a moral issue. National has long used 'dependence' to present the moral case for its welfare reforms, with the then Department of Social Welfare running the 'Beyond Dependency' conference back in 1997. The moral case is made primarily through scapegoating sole mothers: accordingly economic measures are often coupled with policies that attempt to change the behaviour of women. They include policies that penalise teen mothers (New Zealand has recently implemented policies that place greater restrictions on teen mothers), policies that attempt to reward women who repartner (Bridefare) and policies that punish women who have further children while receiving government assistance (see s39 of this). This merging of financial support with the regulation of behaviour barely conceals the fact that there is no theoretical or empirical basis for the term 'dependency' as applied to welfare recipients. Being in receipt of a benefit provides no reliable information on a person's levels of personal motivation, their ability to care for themselves or their children, their ability to budget, run a household or grow vegetables, or their drug-taking proclivities. All it tells us is that they are on a benefit for reasons we (mostly) don't know. Of course it's true some on benefits are inadequate parents, drink to excess (as we all might in their situation), and try to game the system. But this is also true of some company directors.
As a rhetorical tool, 'dependence' has worked well to help push through reforms that punish the most vulnerable and label people in a way that would be entirely unacceptable in any other context. It also has the advantage that it sets the reformer on the moral high ground, allowing them the claim that they are helping the indigent for their own good. It allows us to blame the unemployed, the sick and the widowed and separated for their own plight, even in an economy that is shedding jobs. It also muddies the function of welfare reform: it is not to improve the lives of recipients or their children (that much is propaganda) but to reduce the state's role in supporting individuals in an economy dependent on cheap, desperate labour.
The focus on reforming welfare rather than creating jobs is a shitty way to run an economy, but (Mitt Romney again), National appears to think its job 'is not to worry about those people'.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Strange sightings in South Auckland

While out and about, Spider came across these wee comments on the state of politics in the nation. As far as protests go this is about as small as you can get, but the message is very clear. They're tiny photos of pollies stuck on toothpicks or similar and deposited in dog deposits on the grass. It's been done before, notably in Italy, but not, as far as we are aware, in New Zealand. We think there might be more to come on this.
Here hiding (unusually) in the long grass under a hedge, ACT leader John Banks takes a break from being harassed by the parliamentary press.

Snapped outside the local WINZ office, someone says exactly how they feel about National's benefit reforms.

No, this isn't on a golf course on Planet Key. This is outside (gasp!) Housing New Zealand flats, probably occupied by the minimum wage earners who would normally clean the golf club toilets on Planet Key. Except that apparently the alien life form that inhabits this paradise doesn't need such facilities so now they're unemployed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Measure twice, knit once

Having completed Julie's scarf in such a timely manner (guffaw), the second half of the hank was for a its twin. Because I had written down on a piece of paper somewhere that Julie's scarf was 40 stitches wide I duly cast on said 40 stitches. OF COURSE I was too lazy to check with the actual scarf which was. in fact, 50 stitches wide. Eventually I realised the twin was looking a bit skinny but really couldn't be bothered unpicking it and starting again.
To cover this flaw, I used the old dressmakers trick of making your stuff up look like a design feature: run out of jacket fabric? Make the lapels in a contrasting fabric. Cut that shirt too short? That buttoned on lower section is meant to be there. In this case, a buttonhole and large button will hopefully disguise that fact this scarf is rather narrow. Just as well, it transpires: I was left with literally a foot of yarn left when I'd finished.
The scarf also has beads knitted in. They're a bit hard to see, but are in rows at each end. So now that I have knitted two scarves, I'm an expert and am looking forward to knitting one of those complex jackets with bobbles and lots of different colours. Watch this space.

Feeding hungry kids in New Zealand

Yay for Labour! They have finally had the spine to move on from the housepainting sickness beneficiary and announced they will introduce a programme to provide food for children in decile 1-3 schools. This follows closely on the heels of the Mana Party's private member's Bill providing food in decile one and two primary and secondary schools. It is a policy supported by the Greens, and is one of the recommendations of the Children's Commissioner's Expert Advisory Group's solutions to child poverty. We particularly like Mana's Bill because it includes provisions for monitoring and evaluation of programmes, something notably missing from any current government social policy initiatives.
The research basis for the food in schools policy has largely been provided by Child Poverty Action Group's 2011 report which included interviews with principals from schools that run breakfast programmes. (Disclaimer: I was involved in this research.) The usual facile and ill-informed objections to the policy are already appearing in blogs and newspaper comments so here's some actual facts to provide some balance.
  • New Zealand is an outlier as regards providing food in schools. The whatsforschoollunch blog lists countries that provide lunches to kids. They are from all around the world and include countries much poorer than New Zealand. All these other countries seem to have moved past nonsense about 'dependency' and just gotten with the job of feeding their children.
  • This is not about beneficiaries making bad choices. This is largely about parents who simply do not have sufficient disposable income to provide breakfast. These are not necessarily beneficiaries - many are working parents in low-paid insecure jobs with irregular hours. Working parents with inflexible hours may also have to leave kids to fend for themselves in the morning. Surely it is better that they can go to school where they can be fed properly and are safe?
  •  Over the years I've talked to parents who have kept children at home because they are too ashamed to send them to school with no lunch, or not having had breakfast. This places an awful burden on parents. Wouldn't it just be better to provide something for the kids in a stigma-free environment and have them at least attend school? This might even start to deal with the so-called long tail of underachievement we as a nation seem to be constantly beating ourselves up about.
  • Given the benefits, this is a cost-effective investment in our future. Any country that can invest billions in roads that do not even meet the most basic benefit-cost requirements cannot plausibly argue a few million to help kids learn is too much to bear.
  • We seem to be quite obsessed with the idea that providing food directly to children will create 'dependency' and merely encourage parents to behave badly. Here's some news for you, people: parents who are smoking dope at 7.30 in the morning and not feeding their children breakfast are not going to change their behaviour just because a right-wing blogger thinks they should be punished by forcing their children to go hungry. Forget those roof painting, dope-smoking deadbeats and try to break the cycle by giving their kids a positive experience at school. Who knows? They may end up being well educated, questioning, critical citizens. On the other hand, maybe that's not what governments in the 21st century really want after all.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I could be on I'm such a jerk

We went for a walk down Highbrook this afternoon. The park at Highbrook is on the southern edge of the Tamaki estuary, being the northern border of Highbrook lite-industrial estate. It's about 10 metres above the estuary so the park has densely wooded/weeded cliffs on the edge.

Today I (Spider) went down the cliff even though I'm not allowed, and splashed around in the stinky mangrove mud. Mum thinks I was chasing a rat or maybe a bird. I'm not telling, but I didn't come when I was called. I just splashed around in the mud and along the estuary edge through the thick weeds and dead gorse. Mum and Geno could hear me and occasionally they would see my smiley face bounce up above the long grass.
Eventually I came because I was quite tired plus Mum has water in the car plus I didn't want to go without dinner. Was I sorry? Only that I had to leave.
Here's what I looked like:

It's a shame computers haven't got scratch-n-smell yet because I'd been in the stinky mud and and I smelt TERRIBLE. So I got to stink the car out and cover everything with mud, plus get mud and blood on the outside of the car. Then, just so everyone would think Mum was carrying around a dog who had been in a fight, I sat in the back window so all the other drivers behind us could see me. How cool am I? Mum says I'm a jerk. I don't know what that means but I think it's like 'good boy, Spider'.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Auckland transport funding - a tale of competing visions

Earlier this year the Auckland Council put out a consultation document - amusingly called Getting Auckland Moving - on funding Auckland's assorted transport projects. It was a rather thin document and somewhat wet ("Auckland's roading system is congested"). Coming as it did in the middle of or shortly after submissions for the Auckland Plan, the Long Term Plan, the doggy policy consultation and the waste management plan, this important issue garnered a total of 161 submissions. Sadly, the Council's rush to push all this through has left it vulnerable to accusations of not adequately consulting relevant stakeholders, ie the region's residents.
The outcome of the consultation was (figures from the Herald) that 57% of submitters favoured tolls on new roads to pay for further projects, 48% preferred a regional fuel tax, and 43% a congestion charge on busy, existing roads.
In the meantime, to take some heat out of this perennially vexed issue the mayor has set up a Consensus Building Group (CBG) to try to agree on how to fill the funding gap. (The Council agenda item detailing the group and its rationale is here; Brian Rudman's comment is here.) Rudman is of the view that if a consensus can be found among the various competing interest then this will help persuade the government to support any options that require legislative change (we'll get back to you about this...). But experience from overseas suggests it's also a ruse to take the political heat off the mayor for any final decisions about how to milk ratepayers for more money. Heck, if the cyclists and AA can agree on something then it must be OK, right?
The CBG comprises representatives from the motoring lobby, the property lobby, the roadbuilding business lobby, tangata whenua and the non-motorised transport lobbies including Walk Auckland and Cycle Action Auckland. Also included is a representative from Child Poverty Action Group to attend to the interests of those likely to be least able to avoid additional charges, for instance low-paid workers living in areas with crud public transport and non-flexible work hours.
At one level this is certainly about plugging a multi-billion dollar funding gap, and perhaps part of the discussion should be what exactly we're funding and why. Cycling and walking projects still get peanuts relatively speaking, and if the Auckland Council takes its stated commitment to sustainability and tackling climate change seriously, it seems reasonable to suggest that roading projects should be shunted down the list after public and active transport projects.
The prioritisation of different transport modes has not really been addressed and there remains the mystery of how the east-west link between State Highway 20 Onehunga and State Highway 1 got polevaulted to number two on the transport list in the Auckland Plan. In essence, there needs to be a discussion about competing visions: this (Los Angeles):

Or this (rush hour in Copenhagen):

But there is a more subtle battle being waged here, one that is largely passing under the radar of most ratepayers, and that is the battle over who gets to finance and build roads and infrastructure, and who subsequently lays claim to the cash flow arising from charges and tolls. These projects are the public-private partnerships being promoted by the National government, and are already being used to fund prisons and schools. PPPs are really taxpayer-backed cash cows for the private sector - the classic example of privatisation of profit and socialisation of risk. Auckland's business lobby - the one that represents big capital - has long urged councils to allow private funding of transport, particularly roading, projects. The  New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development while ostensibly about all things infrastructure is primarily about using public infrastructure as a private investment opportunity. In this, they have an ally in the National government which, for all its seeming lack of direction, is highly focused on privatising as much of the existing public sector as possible. (The neo-con tendencies of the Key government are the subject of another post.) 
So reaching a consensus is not just going to be about bikes vs cars, but about the very nature of transport project funding. Footpaths and cycleways don't make the private sector money. Tolled roads do.
A hint of this can be seen in the government's stubborn refusal to endorse any of the Council's preferred funding mechanisms. Rejection of the preferred options suggests the government would very much prefer to force the Auckland Council into bringing private investors on board for finance. Local Government Minister David Carter is on record as saying councils should make greater use of PPPs.
Meanwhile the media continues to ask vested interests for comment. In a Checkpoint interview Deloitte's infrastructure guru was asked about a regional fuel tax. Now the thing about outfits like Deloittes is that they aren't neutral commentators. They represent quite specific interests, namely companies seeking arbitrage investment opportunities. As might be expected, Deloittes are also a member of NZCID. So when asked about the merits of a fuel tax, the Deloittes chappie made some noise about it being conceptually simple but, nah a bit hard in practice. Nonsense. It would be like GST, which is easy to add on and collect. There might be border issues if a few people living in Drury go to Ramarama to get their petrol but most of us will just cough up or use less petrol. The point about firms like Deloittes is that they don't want big transport projects funded by ratepayers. They want to put up the finance and lay claim to the income stream to cover their investment many times over. You'd think they'd be a bit wary after some of the more disastrous Australian projects but apparently not.
There's a lot to go on this yet. In the meantime the CBG has its work cut out if it's to even agree on even basic principles.