Friday, February 29, 2008

The "lump of lead"

Chris Trotter so has the knives out for Helen Clark it is almost enough to make you feel some sympathy for her. Almost. But I don't see Helen as a figure who would appreciate my sympathy so I'd best save it for a more deserving cause.

Trotter writes in today's Dominion Post;

"....the government's catastrophic [poll] numbers are being driven by Ms Clark's unpopularity not the party's....she was Labour's greatest asset, the wind beneath its wings. She has now become the lump of lead on its back.....Miss Clark is no Bill Clinton: she cannot look her supporters in the eye and say,'I feel your pain.' At heart, the prime minister is a diligent and rather uninspiring policy wonk, who has never really understood that politics is not about the head, but the heart....Labour's caucus needs to get its head around this - and soon. Because the longer it delays replacing Ms Clark as leader, the more time it is allowing voters to convince themselves (if they have not already done so) that Mr Key is the prime minister they are looking for."

Are Trotter's assertions honest or are they merely part of some ploy to save the Left? It could be a bob each way. If voters really do vote with their emotions to the fore, then his constant kicking of Clark turns her into an underdog and don't Kiwis love an underdog. Alternatively if he spooks Labour MPs enough he might succeed in causing a change of leadership. There is a third scenario too. That nobody gives a rat's arse for what Trotter has to say on the matter.

Around the blogosphere you would have to be blind not to notice that many commentors religiously loathe Clark. They seem to be mostly men. Their obsession with her personal life and looks is very unpleasant to behold. I have never understood this viciousness. What Clark stands for - socialism - is well worthy of stout and sustained attack but getting in a lather over what Clark looks like, or sounds like for that matter, is a waste of energy.

My husband doubts Clark can come back now because that's just not what typically happens. Politically he has more nous than I. But I am wondering how useful history or precedent is, for this reason. Clark is a woman. She is a feminist. The first elected female Prime Minister. The last three decades of NZ politics has been so influenced by women that I can't ignore what their reaction to Clark's sudden unpopularity will be. Simply, I wouldn't discount the women's vote swinging in behind Helen (or the Greens, to shore her up.)

I won't vote for Clark, but I couldn't disrespect someone who does so based on her experience, intelligence and ability to hold her nerve. Unlike Trotter she won't be prematurely....panicking.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

We wanna hold your hand

Work and Income are offering financial assistance to people affected by the drought. No doubt it will be strictly means-tested. If the drought results in people having no work then I guess the assistance is similar to the dole. Leaving aside any comment about what might be an improvement on our mandatory taxpayer-funded unemployment insurance scheme, I don't have much problem with genuinely warranted financial assistance.

BUT stress counselling???

Market research

For the next two weeks I will be having a painting sale at 25 Rimu St, Eastbourne. I was faced with the problem of what to do while captured in a shop all day, apart from meeting and talking to people. Working with oils and turps is too smelly and potentially messy in a confined space that does not belong to me. So I decided to bone up on my pastel drawing and offer pet portraits from photos. If necessary I can photograph the pet on the spot and download it to my laptop. I've produced these examples drawn from photos. Question:

How much to do you think is a reasonable price for one of these portraits given they take from 2 - 3 hours to complete? You can see the figure I have suggested but I tend to forget about tax etc (I am not registered for gst.)

Psychologists making sense

Now Deborah Morris asks us to give the anti-smacking law a chance in the NZ Herald. Notice like all of this law's advocates she insists on using the word 'hit' instead of 'smack'. I have never hit either of my children but I did, very occasionally, smack them or threaten to. I am prepared to concede there may have been alternatives but I am also sure that my children feel loved and secure. Which brings me to a piece which appears in the Dominion Post today but isn't on line. It reviews child psychologist Glen Stenhouse's book, You Don't Need To Smack.

The pleasant surprise is that Mr Stenhouse does not see anti-smacking legislation as an answer.

"Good parents object to the Government telling them how to parent and telling them what they can and can't do with their children in an area where they feel they're not doing anything to harm their children."

He believes that legislation isn't going to make any difference to the very small percentage of people who physically abuse their children.

Interestingly he talks about how parents have become so child-focussed they have created a situation where children are more assertive and challenging. Reading between the lines I think he believes children are over-parented.

"Parenting is not complicated. As long as kids have structure, and love and security and predictability in their lives, they will go with the flow."

Exactly. That's the problem for too many NZ children. They lack each or all of these things.

And speaking of sensible psychologists, the programmme with Nigel Latta about Taffy Hotene screened on TV last night was riveting.

Hotene's upbringing was appalling. The youngest of thirteen he was by all accounts horribly and frequently physically abused by parents and older siblings. He took to sleeping under the house to avoid the beatings.

But Nigel Latta doesn't just follow the psychological development of Hotene. He puts it into a moral context. He says (from memory) "We are right to feel sorry for that small child. But the little boy who went under the house never came out. I have dealt with people who have experienced similar in their lives and they never turned into selfish, calculating predators. There were people who were kind to Hotene along the way. He consciously and deliberately chose to murder Kylie Jones."

Thank goodness for some acknowledgement of self-determination for a change. There were too many people who thought they could change Hotene along the way. Marie Dyberg, for instance, thought that at a certain age there is always hope. A military style training course operator felt he was turning Hotene around until the police intervened. Latta thinks that they were being duped. Hotene could show a maverick and vulnerable side. He could also use that persona to lure victims.

Sadly giving physical expression to that 'hope' ultimately cost the life of a girl who, as Latta put it, was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was always on the cards that Hotene's history of violence would escalate to murder.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Minimal sanctions imposed

In 2003 the Labour government introduced Personal Development and Employment Plans for DPB beneficiaries in place of work-testing. To increase the effectiveness of these plans case managers can use sanctions for non-compliance eg the beneficiary loses a percentage of their payment (although they are later recompensed the equivalent amount if they do comply). This table shows how many sanctions have been imposed.

The overall picture suggests to me that like any new regime, its administration progressively tapers off.

Last year there were only 32 sanctions imposed for a total of 98,000 beneficiaries. And in Auckland, where a third of beneficiaries live, there were zero. Auckland, coincidentally, is the worst performer in reducing benefit numbers. Nearly half of the Auckland region Work and Income Centres experienced a rise in DPB numbers during 2007. Clearly most people will by now have cottoned on that their PDE plans aren't worth the paper they are written on in terms of how diligently Work and Income will pursue them. No wonder a report written about their implementation found beneficiaries were binning them on the way out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Unfinished business

TV3 reports Sir Roger Douglas is returning to ACT. Why?

Because Labour and National are too alike.

That's a pretty good reason.

Cradle to grave....

In 2007 Work and Income provided 5,075 funeral grants.

The same year there were 28,520 deaths.

Therefore 18 percent (or near to one in five) funerals are paid for by the taxpayer.

That's a sizeable subsidy.

And it probably rises significantly in certain areas.


I imagine there are some very high profile deaths in amongst the subsidised funerals.

Vacuous comments

Vacuous comments that caught my eye in today's Dominion Post. I thought of ranking them but can't decide which is worse:

Translate as , "I can't wait to be a Minister again."

The police liquor licensing officer commenting on how Easter trading laws will shut down city bars and the impact on the two-day Easter rock concert coming up at the stadium.

And finally Business NZ CE, Phil O'Reilly at the end of a lengthy opinion piece entitled, "All bound up in creeping red tape." Nobody has been thinking harder about the burden of regulation than Rodney Hide. Yet in seven or eight hundred words, Phil O'Reilly manages to completely overlook ACT's Regulatory Responsibility Bill.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The juvenile cat

The Xmas kitten is now a young cat. From these photos you wouldn't suspect that, when awake, she is a lethal killing machine. But she is less efficient than our older cat and occasionally, in the process, loses her prey to inaccessible places. We do not discover this until our noses tell us. Accusations of unwashed feet and breaking wind have been unkindly levelled. Eventually some rather unpleasant discoveries have been made. As you can imagine the heat hasn't helped. She also has a rather peculiar habit. Like young humans who take comfort in sucking on a dummy, Daisy likes to suck the end of her tail. None of this has put off her faithful friend - the dog.

The real debate

Smacking debate has moved on

Today's NZ Herald editorial invites a number of responses. I have only focussed on one aspect of it.

Dear Editor

If you are right and New Zealanders have "moved on" from the anti-smacking debate then that is a real shame. Because the debate is about far more than whether or not a smack is an acceptable way to discipline a child. That should be a matter for private individuals to decide. Not agents of the state who wish to impose their thinking by force.

The increasing intrusion by those who would harness political power to alter morality has gone on for too long now. The 'rights' movement - from women's to human to children's - hasn't been a raging success. Governments have not been able to engineer a kinder, more caring society. In most cases they have swapped one problem for another, usually worse one. It is not the role of the governments to run our social lives. Their job is to maintain law and order and fulfil a very few economic functions that individuals alone can not. It is only relatively recently (in historic terms) that they have charged themselves with the task of telling people how to think and behave.

If New Zealanders have moved on from that debate then we truly are easy meat.