Monday, October 28, 2013

RIP Edna Krabappel (and Lou Reed)

News yesterday that one of our favourite Simpsons characters has died, specifically Edna Krabappel (or, more precisely, the voice of Mrs K, Marcia Wallace). Edna's search for love is an enduring theme in the Simpsons, as was her trademark, cynical Ha! 

Here's a few of her best lines (well, we think so).

From 'Special Edna' (Ep7, Season 14):
Oh, Lord, it's only Wednesday.
I hope one of those little hoods puts a tack on my chair just so I can feel something.

From 'The PTA Disbands' (Ep21, Season 6):
Mrs. Krabappel: Seymour, you have to think of the children's future.
Seymour: Oh, Edna. We all know that these children HAVE no future.  

From 'Bart the Lover' (Ep16, Season 3):
Elizabeth Hoover: I fail to see the educational value of this assembly.
Mrs. Krabappel: Ah, it will be one of their few pleasant memories when they're pumping gas for a living.

And here's a montage of the Ha! moments:

We'll miss you, Mrs K.

This morning came the news that rock 'n' roll animal Lou Reed has died. What to say except that I still have a copy of Berlin in my vinyl collection given to me by a flatmate who went on the become Quite Famous. For me, Berlin remains his masterpiece, and here's a tune from it:

And for the FM listeners among you, here's Sweet Jane with guitarist Steve Hunter:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Baby Blair

We're a bit late getting to this, but a report in Wednesday's Herald about the mother of an 8 week old baby having her benefit halved for failing her work-test obligations raised our eyebrows. This seems an extraordinarily heavy handed response from a government claiming to be concerned for vulnerable children: it's hard to imagine anyone more vulnerable than an 8 week-old child whose Mum can't find accommodation in a tough housing market. 

Let's get the parent blaming thing out of the way first, because we're all experts on bringing up other people's children, right? Ms Griffin - the mother in question - doesn't appear to have led a life on the straight and narrow. Fine, but that doesn't mean she's not a suitable parent, nor does it justify reducing resources available to the household in order to force behavioural changes, in this case finding a full-time job. Let's think about what that would mean for the child. I confess I don't know a bunch about babies but I know that if they do not form attachments as infants it literally stunts the growth of their brains and impairs their emotional development. Reason enough to support a mother in her role as a parent, one would have thought.

Working Mums providing cheap labour at the canning factory
But what raised our eyebrows is the legal basis for WINZ cutting this woman's benefit. The legislation passed in 2012 requires a parent who gives birth while on a benefit (and it appears this woman was on a benefit at the time) to be available for work when the newborn turns 1. Not 8 weeks. Do you see the difference? It's possible that the overly bureaucratic requirements of WINZ mean that Ms Griffin did need to produce a birth certificate to prove baby Blair was hers and that she hadn't borrowed him for a few hours, but not accepting the hospital discharge forms is simply negligent. The Minister of Social Development is ever at pains to point out the legislation has some flexibility, but here we have yet another example of her department being inflexible and dimwitted, and possibly behaving in a manner contrary to the legislation. If a parent is not obliged to work part or full time then there is no reason to cancel their benefit for not meeting their non-existent work obligations.

And this also begs the question of how the so-called investment approach to beneficiaries actually works. Here is a mum who needs housing assistance, who is transport-challenged and has a very young child, and her benefit has been cut? How is that an investment in improving this woman's life or that of her baby? It's not. Another F for Paula's department. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some sort of protection

We've refrained from commenting on the Great Auckland Mayoral Sex Scandal, mostly because it's been quite amusing watching nearly everyone involved dig themselves deeper into holes of their own making (as we all do from time to time). But the Mayor's load of self-serving twaddle to the effect that there needs to be "some ability for elected representatives to - for better or for worse - maintain their private lives while they're carrying out their public duties" is begging for a response.

Mr Mayor: You, Bill Clinton, Silvio Berlusconi and Anthony Weiner should all know that there is already protection in place should you choose to make use of it:

Yes, it's your zip fly. It's the best protection money can buy.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pit Bull Awareness Month

We're already halfway through it, but October is Pit Bull Awareness month. This post is really just a bit of a grab bag of meandering thoughts about dogs. Just because we like them.

There's not many real live, actual pitbulls in New Zealand. Most of what gets passed off as a pitbull are various terrier/boxer/bullmastiff mixes. Our new boy Junior would probably get described as a pitbull by the New Zealand Herald but since he was found in a carpark as a puppy, he probably isn't. In New Zealand one way we have dealt with the moral panics around dog bites is through breed-specific legislation: it is illegal to import an American Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Brazilian Fila, or Japanese Tosa. It's nonsense, of course. There's no such thing as a dangerous breed, there's just dickheads on the other end of the leash. We know this because what constitutes a 'dangerous breed' changes over time. My grandmother would never own a German Shepherd. Her last dog was a corgi, and a nastier, bitier little dog I have never met.

In his book The Genius of Dogs Brian Hare suggests what matters for doggie relationships with people and other dogs is being friendly. And it's true - dogs pick up your cues in their responses to people, and often it is aggressive people who own aggressive dogs and fearful people who own fearful dogs. (Naturally, our dogs are good-looking and charming.) Read those dog-bite stories the Herald loves and you'll often find that the dog in question was tied up for long periods of time and didn't get out much to socialise. Often when these dogs do finally escape the yard they are a menace to people and other dogs.

The problem with the dog stories that seem designed to whip up a frenzy is that it signals that it's OK to mistreat dogs because they're a danger to decent people. So we then get stories of dogs being mistreated and abused because some dipshit thinks that's OK. It's not, and the chances are someone who abuses a dog is also mistreating their spouses/children or bullying their peers. The absolute worst sort of abuse is dogfighting and the abuse it engenders. The economics of dogfighting means it's not going to go away in a hurry but that doesn't mean it's not appalling.

Our abuse of man's best friend also runs to puppy mills. A German Shepherd was recently handed over to the Southern Animal Shelter for being "too old". It transpires the dog, a 4 year old bitch, was also very underweight and had been used to breed by a puppy mill in South Auckland. When she was literally worn out they handed her over. (I'm happy to report she found a new home with some people who adore her.) Please - if you want a puppy, adopt.

But back to the pitbulls: here's a lengthy article outlining the Crimes Against Pitbulls by mainstream media outlets (some of this will be familiar to Herald readers). The article notes pitbulls used to have a reputation for being good with kids. And they an be good with other animals, as demonstrated by Pitbull Sharkey, one of our favourite internet dogs. And then there's rescued former fighting pitbull, Bulletproof Sam. Sam rocks and is a wonderful ambassador for maligned pitbulls everywhere. And then there's this (it's also on the Paw Justice FB page). Because every abused pitbull - or other dog - deserves a second chance. 

It can be saddening and enraging seeing what people do to animals, but wishing physical harm on them is not helpful. Two wrongs don't make a right. Education and fair reporting are far more effective. The point is to stop this shit, not escalate the war. In the meantime, enjoy what remains of Pitbull Awareness Month.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Co-ordinated and collaborative action goes THBBPTT

Our favourite government minister, Social Development's Paula Bennett, has been shameless about mining New Zealand's abused children for political capital since the release of the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children back in 2010. It's possible the Minister really does believe her own hype about wanting every New Zealand child to 'thrive, belong, achieve'. But as numerous submitters to the Green Paper pointed out, the GP was  really concerned about shuffling resources among already stretched social services whereas the key risk factor for childhood neglect and abuse is poverty and financial stress on households. Poverty is especially associated with child neglect, which can be every bit as damaging as physical abuse.

Risk factors for child abuse also include overcrowded housing (living with non-family adults), frequent shifting (lack of connections in the community can lead to bullying by other children), patchy access to healthcare (sickness that leads to time off school), poor nutrition and neighbourhood factors such as access to alcohol. The ensuing two-volume White Paper and Children's Action Plan ignored all of these but for a few passing mentions: the scale of these problems in some children's lives was not acknowledged, and no measures were set out to tackle them.

Fast forward to 2013 and the much-awaited Vulnerable Children Bill (VCB) pops up in our inbox. It's a bit of a damp squib but that's a tale for another day. One of the issues this Bill and in fact almost all the public discussion on vulnerable children to date has ignored is the role of violence in children's lives. There is a very strong link between domestic violence and violence towards children, whereas the new Bill is largely focused on stranger danger outside the home.

Throughout the GP/WP/VCB process there has been a great deal of emphasis in making agencies work together: as the explanatory note to the VCB puts it, "shared responsibility, and co-ordinated and collaborative action across the government..." That's great. New Zealand boasts a string of reports going back to the Dark Ages about different agencies failing to pick up hideous cases of child abuse even though the information was there.

But wait! It would appear this new co-ordination and collaboration doesn't apply to the government itself. About the same time the Bill was released Tariana Turia announced the establishment of a new Expert Advisory Group on Family Violence. This group appears to run parallel to the Ministry of Social Development's Taskforce for Action on Violence Within Families . The Taskforce itself includes the heads of a number of state agencies (like the cross-departmental agency proposed in the Vulnerable Children Bill but far broader and more representative).  According to a press release the EAG:
"is being formed to provide independent strategic advice to assist Government to determine key priority actions to address family violence in New Zealand.
A whole-of-government approach to family violence is vital and means we need to identify where there may be duplication of services or gaps in addressing family violence and ensure there are linkages with other strategic priorities."
More "whole of government" rhetoric from a Minister who has been talking about it since 2002. But a closer look suggests the key strategic priority is to shuffle money around existing services ("duplication", "gaps").

And it gets worse: on this long-standing and important issue, the new EAG has been tasked to report back by the end of 2013. As part of this they are conducting a survey of community agencies through the Family Violence Clearing House (see here). The post asking for feedback to the survey was submitted at 5.30pm on the 9th October. The survey closes at 5pm on the 11th of October (although it has just been reported that the deadline has been extended to Wednesday the 16th). Notably, the survey does not request feedback from the end users of services. The report linked here also confirms the focus on costs: "Mrs Turia said she asked the advisory group to report by the end of the year on how the money going into family violence could be better spent." On other words, like the Green Paper before it, it's really about shuffling inadequate funding between the needy and the even more needy while using the language of strategy and priority as a foil. 

So agencies have a week to respond to a survey (and then only under pressure), and a report on spending priorities for a problem New Zealand has been struggling with for years is due in mere weeks. This while the government is taking submissions on a Bill that completely ignores the role of violence in making children vulnerable to abuse. Is this our best response to children facing violence in the home? 

Collaborative action goes THBBPTT
Spider and I have a better idea: why not give the so-called EAG some time to go out and talk to people both providing and using family violence services, and establish what link, if any, exists between family violence and child abuse (that is, link these two strategic priorities)? Put the cynical Vulnerable Children Bill off to one side while this is being done then incorporate the findings of the EAG, at least one of whom is a genuine expert, into the Bill. That way the EAG, the Bill and the government's stated commitment to co-operation and collaboration between departments (and between the government and the community) might have some credibility. Or is protecting children from violence in the home merely an 'aspirational' goal subject to the ongoing politics of austerity?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Sometimes the best way to fix the hole left in your little family by the death of a dog is to get another one. Especially when the surviving dog doesn't seem to quite know what to do with himself. So after a trip to the SPCA in Mangere and a meet and greet to see if the two dogs would get along, we now have Junior (don't know if that will stick but it's something in the meantime). He was advertised as a staffy/mastiff mix but when you get a 6 week old puppy turn up, how does anyone know? We don't care because we think he's gorgeous and Spider thinks he's OK, too. (The photos aren't very good because it's hard to take a good photo of a puppy that never stops moving.)

Here, let me bite your leg.

Mmm, something stinky on the lawn.

Yep, that tongue is about a foot long. Fortunately puppy found the waterbowl eventually.