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.