Government of Reckons

They reckon the governmental budget is like a household budget.

They reckon ‘tough love’ is the way to motivate beneficiaries.

They think boot camps are going to fix young offenders.

They reckon the clean car discount didn’t actually work.

They reckon world-leading smokefree legislation wasn’t going to work.

They reckon Three Waters co-governance was anti-democratic.

They reckon giving ACT the nod to undermine the constitutional basis of the country won’t actually matter because they’ll stop the bill eventually.

These are the reckons you produce when you don’t actually know what you’re on about. These are reckons that get embarrassed by the most basic research. These, of course, are reckons most loudly voiced by idiot racists and arrogant populists.

Either the new government are proudly sharing these genuine reckons because they are that stupid; or they are cynically sharing their pretend reckons because they are eager for the support of bigoted fools. (There is no shortage of reckon-happy voices in the media who will be happy to protect this government from the consequences of its failures.)

Either way, they must think it doesn’t matter whether or not they are wrong, and who will be hurt as a result. They don’t care about families doing it tough, or people on a benefit, or anyone hurt by youth offending, or meeting climate change targets, or reducing smoking in communities, or the nature of democratic participation, or the importance of the Treaty at the heart of this nation.

This is easily the most embarrassing and pathetic and inadequate and unserious government this country has endured in my lifetime. Probably for generations before that as well.

Bunch of eggs, the lot of them.

For f**k’s sake please vote in the local elections

(Asterisks included above for the sake of content filters on work computers. Is that still a thing? It used to be a thing.)

The sun is out, the buds are on the trees, and every main road is suddenly lined with signs showing unfamiliar faces saying VOTE FOR ME! You know what that means: it’s local election time!

Soon an envelope will arrive and you will put it on the stack of things you will definitely get to, and then SMASH CUT to like two months later and you find the envelope again and you never even opened it, and you have a little chuckle at yourself because, hey! It’s only local government, right?

Well I have something to say: NOT THIS YEAR, BUDDY-O! Heck no! This year you’re gonna open that envelope and vote! Because this year your local government elections are the front line of a crucial fight!

Your local elections vote has never had as much riding on it!

You will of course have noticed that things have gone a bit… weird in the last few years. Like, David Bowie died in January 2016 and it all kind of went wrong from there? Of course things were quietly going wrong a long time before that, but in 2016 the wrongness got hold of a vuvuzela and now it’s Blaring Loud Wrongness, Keeping You Up At Night.

And all that wrongness is going to smash right into your local government. Unless you stop it.

Here are two urgent, crucial problems that show why voting matters extra bigly this time.

Problem 1: The allies of fascism are infiltrating government

That description reads like hyperbole, the kind of overheated claims you’d find in the weird corners of Indymedia in 2001. It is honestly a bit hard to accept that this is where we are now.

But we are. If you haven’t already, take the time to review the Stuff Circuit investigation by Paula Penfold & colleagues, Fire and Fury: Disinformation in New Zealand. The hourlong documentary is an intense and sobering watch.

Image from Fire & Fury (Stuff)

A very active set of agitators are busy every day spreading disinformation, fomenting hatred, putting violence on the table. They are chewing on the table legs of our society.

Standing for local election was an idea that circulated widely through these networks, with the explicit aim of making the country ungovernable. As a result, many candidates aligned with conspiratorial views, or worse, have entered local election races. Most of these have kept their affiliations secret.

If elected, they will haul water for this country’s rising ring of fascist agitators. They will disrupt government and provide a platform for fascist recruitment and organising.

We have to vote to keep them out.

(Again, I can hardly believe that I am typing this as a fair description of what is taking place in this country, but that’s where we are. The long 2016 is a deeply weird time to be alive.)

Problem 2: Climate change is local now

Climate change has been a challenge for a long time (I’ve been writing about it on this blog since it was an email newsletter, way back when email newsletters were a thing, oh hey they are a thing again) but we are in a new phase now. Unprecedented weather disasters are finally dragging top-level political actors to the table – heck, even the USA has successfully passed a major climate action bill!

The new urgency is this: dealing with climate change at street level. All those slips around the Hutt and Wellington are a portent of things to come, unexpected trouble all over. We need to build resilience! Our councils need people who are prepared to be prepared.

Image from this Stuff article, Why are there so many slips in Wellington?

But that’s just a side issue compared to the real challenge ahead: massive community transformation!

We need to redesign our towns and cities into new forms. For example, we need a completely new approach to transport. Public transport and active transport have to become the easiest and best ways to get around our communities!

Local and regional government will be forced to make some very big calls, soon. (In fact they are already doing this!) Over the next five years, decisions made by your local body will decide the future shape of your community.

These will be some of the most consequential and far-reaching decisions ever made by local government! Your council needs people who are prepared to be brave.

We have to vote for them.

Heck yeah I’m gonna do the thing, except how??

You’re gonna do the thing! You’re going to vote! So… what now?

  • START A TEAM-UP! You probably have a few trusted friends who live in the same electoral area as you? Ask if they want to team up on figuring out who to vote for. Many hands make light the work, and more fun the work too. Small group action: this is the way.
  • IDENTIFY THE ROCKING GOOD CANDIDATES! You can’t downvote the infiltrators, so you have to help the super-sweet candidates to out-compete them! This election guide covering all candidates is essential: plug in your address and it tells you who is standing for what in your area.
  • TELL YOUR NETWORKS! Personal recommendations are THE most powerful thing in local body elections. People will generally pay attention to what they hear from friends and neighbours, much more than from any other source. So don’t do the hard work of figuring out who to vote for, only to keep it all to yourself! Instead, get the word out!

HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF TELLING YOUR NETWORKS

Karen ‘Kaz’ Yung – photo from the election guide website

Here’s who I am backing in the Hutt City Council elections: Karen Yung, a.k.a. Kaz.

Kaz is standing for council in the city-wide field, not tied to any specific ward. So she’s going to be on the ballot paper for everyone here, all across Hutt City.

I’m going to give her a tick because I am impressed by her commitment to ground-level community engagement, and because I like her focus on addressing the challenges of climate change.

I voted for her last elections too. She almost got into council then and I am confident her reputation has only increased since. I have followed her on Facebook over the last few years, while she has continued to be very active in the community and has served on the Petone Community Board. She’s just a really good candidate and will be an exciting new voice on council.

Check out Kaz’s entry in the election guide mentioned above.

And you can see what she’s up to and where to meet her on her Facebook campaign page.

If you’re in the Hutt, make sure you consider Karen Yung at voting time!

A few things I learned from getting COVID-tested.

Overnight Friday to Saturday my sleep was troubled by sore throat and post-nasal drip. Oh no! I only just got over a bad cold a few weeks ago! Again?? Again.

I admit I hesitated before calling it in. (Am I really sick?) Because once you engage in it, everything else has to stop. Our family’s plans for the weekend were instantly stalled. Just ordinary life stuff, but it has momentum, and you feel it as you pull the cord.

So that’s the first thing I want to highlight. That friction where we delay and sigh about it and try and rationalise to ourselves. We all do it! It’s how our brains work! And as a behaviour guy, masters degree in social psychology, I watched myself doing the same stuff.

Here’s the workaround. Two of them, in fact. First, make a plan, now. The plan isn’t complicated: if I get sick, I’ll call the healthline. Visualise it, even! I’ll look up the phone number, I’ll sit on my bed, I’ll get a pen and paper… The more details the better. That gives your brain a script to follow. Our brains love scripts, especially in the face of stressful situations. And being faced with taking an action that will upend the momentum of ordinary life? That is stressful! (Let alone the possibility you might have COVID!)

Second, make the plan with the people in your life. The people who will be affected when you pull that cord. Unless they are dicks, they will be all for taking action! Say it to each other – if one of us gets sick, we do the thing, even though it will be a nuisance.

So that’s the workaround for the hesitation, and the bad feeling and unease around slamming on the brakes over a wee sniffle (as your brain will rationalise it for you). Plan now, it helps then.

I called Healthline instead of the local Dr because it was weekend. They were great, very helpful and clear. MAD respect for all the people working those phones, I feel like they are nailing it, obviously working off a good combo of clear scripts and freedom to ask questions. They gave me the contact details for the local testing station, so i called them up and made an appointment. Smooth! They asked what kind of car I’d be driving up in, and my mind completely blanked, all i could say was “blue”. I had to go and check to remind myself!

While waiting for the test, i began self-isolating, as advised by healthline. there are some logistics involved, obviously! We can cancelled all the stuff we were lined up to do on the weekend, and my lovely partner began to figure out the details.

(Worth mentioning that i was sick, my brain was fuzzy, and the aforementioned stressful context hurts thinking – so having someone else do this kind of problem-solving is incredibly handy.)

Hopped in the car, went to get the test. it was quick and easy and the staff were so kind and clear. It didn’t hurt at all, but it did hit my gag reflex, definitely a bit unpleasant but over very quickly. Definitely not bad enough to be afraid of having one!

Then back home with some extra info about self-isolation. And so the next two days were spent with me sectioned off from my family! Daughter was horrified that she couldn’t hug me but pleased to have her mum doing a sleepover in her room.

Because we only have one bathroom, complete isolation was impossible. Solution was a pack of antibacterial wipes + masking. I wore a mask most of the time, to stop breathing particles on to surfaces, and when i went to the toilet I’d take a wipe to sanitise handles etc.

This is another piece of advice: get a pack of wipes NOW so you don’t need to think about it if and when you end up in household isolation.

The other tricky thing, oddly enough, is washing dishes. You can be delivered your meals by your loving family/flat mates/whoever, but then those plates and cutlery need attention after. We left the dishwasher open for me to load my dishes in directly, and also just let some dishes pile up in the corner of the bedroom in expectation of me getting the all-clear today.

…and i did! Text came through 46 hours after the test, and now i am free to breathe on whatever i like and hug my daughter again. Lovely.

So to recap my advice: mentally rehearse what you’ll do if you get symptoms. Do it with your family/flat mates/whoever, to create a bit of confidence and shared accountability. Get some disinfectant wipes now and put them aside.

We all need to be diligent about testing! There are still common colds and so on circulating, so there’s a good chance someone in your household will end up needing to do this, especially as level 2 is sticking around. A bit of mental prep now will make it much easier to give in to the process if and when that day comes.

I’m grateful to be part of the big NZ team. Be excellent to each other!

Chilcot

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Me in 2004: “But that’s what he deserves: to fall from grace, spectacularly, hugely, humiliatingly, with all his self-delusions laid bare.”

We knew all this years ago of course. Again, me in 2004:

how come no-one has pointed out the most damning fact to come to light in the whole Hutton inquiry, namely this: Downing Street sought to make the dossier as strong as possible in order to garner support for the war. The only conclusion one can reach from this is that they had already decided to go to war on grounds other than WMDs. If they already had enough evidence of WMDs to go to war, they would not have needed to strengthen the dossier.

My rage against Tony Blair burns white-hot as always and the Chilcot report gives me hope: not that he will answer to his crimes (oh how I wish) but that the way the world talks about Blair will finally change. Because despite everything, he has been treated with something like reverence by media and political elites ever since he stepped away from the role of PM.

Maybe this is what it takes, then, to convince the powerful and mighty and wise that they were obviously foolish all along: seven years of careful work producing millions of considered words. How long, one wonders, would the report need to be for the courtiers to accept the Emperor really did have no clothes?

Me, right after the Glasgow march against the war in February 2003:

The ball, I feel, is in Tony Blair’s court – and there is every sign he is unmoved by the display of doubt in the drive to war. This will have immense political consequences, and soon.

“soon”!

Remaking ANZAC Day

Every year on April 25, New Zealand (and Australia but I’m talking NZ here) marks ANZAC Day, which commemorates soldiers who fell in wars great and small. Particularly it remembers the horrific slaughter at Gallipoli in World War I, which is often seen as the moment where NZ became a nation.

It is always a contested event: the nationalism and militarism of the day are obvious, and there is a fundamental ambiguity over whether the solemn ceremonies deplore the violence, or strengthen the narrative that it was necessary. But each year, attempts to complicate the mythology of ANZAC day are met with furious resistance by a populace who simply want to remember their relatives from previous generations who died doing their best in a horrid distant war, and to pray that no such horror ever comes again. The talkback radio phones ring hot decrying the insensivity of protesters.

This year, two fresh threads in this critique have emerged that seem fruitful as ways to attack the nationalist and militarist mythmaking around the day but seem to have avoided this fierce backlash.

First, the idea of explicitly expanding ANZAC Day’s commemorations to include the wars within New Zealand (commonly known as the Māori Land Wars). The idea is covered beautifully by Toby Morris’s latest Pencilsword comic strip, “Lest We Forget“.

Second, a set of guerrilla sculptures erected around Wellington showing a soldier receiving Field Punishment Number 1, a brutal punishment meted out to pacifists who refused to fight. Public opinion is generally in agreement now that this is a blemish on our past. Protest group “Peace Action Wellington”, normally being tarred and feathered at this time of year for its protest actions, is this time being written about with something approaching admiration in the daily paper, and the comment section as I write is solidly in favour of the sculptures.

Great work on both accounts. I look forward to these threads being expanded further in years to come.

The problem with men

This has been an unpleasant week; by which I mean I have been reminded many times that for women, every week is an unpleasant week. All this came across my screen.

The dark side of Guardian comments
“New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.”

The women abandoned to their online abusers
On the internet, if I ever complain and say; ‘This has happened, I’m sick of it’, people say; ‘You’re on the internet, what do you expect?’
“There’s no support for women at all, from the police or anyone else.”

This horrifying and newly trendy online harasment tactic is ruining careers
“Both 8chan and Kotaku in Action regularly crowdsource research into the histories of private individuals who’ve done little more than post about feminism on social media.”

I will come forward
How a prominent New Zealand music identity conducted a troubling series of relationships with young women, including girls as young as 12.

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem
“I know that if I speak out against the abuses myself and my friends have suffered as a result of our participation in the “friendly gaming community” I can expect to be silenced with extreme prejudice.”

But at least there was also, in response to that last one:

For good men to see nothing
I have a list of things you can do.

Football Game & Eric Garner

Podcast confluence today. I listened to this:

You Are Not So Smart episode 41, which opens with a discussion of a divisive Ivy League football match in 1951, and the studies where students from the two schools watched tape of the match and simply couldn’t see their own side’s poor behaviour but were really quick to spot infractions from the other side.

Then I listened to this:

This American Life: Cops See It Differently, part 2, which opens with a TAL reporter watching the video of Eric Garner’s arrest with her friend the police officer, and her astonishment that they couldn’t agree on what they were seeing.

Transcript of the TAL episode is not up as I type but should appear at that link in a few days.

No transcript of the YANSS podcast, but mostly McRaney’s reading from his own book, and the relevant section is conveniently available in this excerpt from the publisher.)

Ruminator: Rape & NZ culture

I expanded the first chunk of that last post into a longer piece for the Ruminator: Rape is easy here.

It’s another example of how I’m using the existence of the Ruminator as a prompt and motivator for a different style of writing, with a different set of goals. (e.g. I write here often for myself, whereas there I often write to whatever audience I imagine.) I’m very pleased to be a contributor to the Ruminator and intend to keep sending them content.

The Ruminator is also fundraising. In theory “pay our writers” is part of the goal but I’ll just be happy if it covers the ongoing costs of hosting and registration. If you like what the Ruminator is doing, you might want to send a few virtual coins its way…