Thursday, July 2, 2015
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sadly, we don’t expect politicians to acknowledge discomforting truths. Especially truths that weaken their argument. It’s probably a condition we are all guilty of from time to time, including columnists from the right and left of the political spectrum. Which makes it difficult to assess the merits of things like the government’s Welfare Working Group report.
According to Chris Trotter’s article in the Otago Daily Times 13 Aug, the Welfare Working Group deliberations conjure images of Scrooge, workhouses and prisons for the poor. He also raises the revered Michael Joseph Savage from the dead to cast a disapproving eye on the proceeding. Trotter worries about the report targeting long-term beneficiaries, “overwhelmingly those on sickness, invalids and domestic purposes benefits; people who can’t work; people whose physical or mental disability makes ordinary paid work impossible; and people engaged in the raising of babies and small children.” He is also concerned by a society that defines sickness, invalidism and sole parenthood as self inflicted conditions.
Which is all well and good but his appeal to our humanity would be more convincing if it acknowledged the following discomforting truths:
Despite drug and alcohol addiction being a patently self-inflicted condition, successive governments have treated it as a sickness worthy of an endless benefit. Incomprehensible as it is to most people who work for a living, these ‘sickness’ beneficiaries are not expected to earn their own keep. I doubt very much that the socialists of Michael Joseph Savage’s day would countenance such muddled thinking. I imagine their compassion would run to ensuring that drug and alcohol treatment was available for anyone who wanted it, with the provision that an adult with a debilitating addiction should be in a rehabilitation programme or working for a living.
Savage would probably approve of current benefit rates for widows. I imagine he would be in favour of and domestic purposes benefits for deserted solo parents, and parents who, because of illness for instance, cannot earn sufficient money to raise a child. But what would he say about young girls and women who make a lifestyle choice to have babies that must be supported by strangers (tax-payers) who work for a living?
Many of these girls and young women (and the tom-cat young men who impregnate them and forget them) would be astonished, resentful and possibly hurt to be labelled selfish and irresponsible. And with some justification. They have been brought up by governments, officials and parents to believe that if they want it and it’s not against the law to have it, then it is their right to have a baby. A detail like providing for the child is irrelevant.
One can almost see the puzzled expression on the pregnant young woman’s face when confronted by someone who does not understand this normal and acceptable behaviour. And again with some justification. For normal and acceptable is what it has become. The necessity of working for one’s keep, an adage once universally understood and accepted, is a foreign concept to people conditioned to believe they have a right to be exempt.
Why do some people assume that uttering this discomforting truth is beneficiary-bashing?
Arguments about beneficiary-bashing are tiresome and time-wasting. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a re-run of debates about racial and sexual equality. What we should be talking about is how to generate work, personal responsibility, self-reliance and social cohesion.
I believe in cradle to grave social welfare. But unless it is tied to an individual’s responsibility to work it is nonsense. There is a necessary condition of course, full employment, by whatever means is available. If that is established there is no argument: Unless one chooses to drop out and provide for oneself, working for a living is not a matter of personal choice. It seems ridiculous that everyone is entitled to an old-age pension, including drug abusers who have not worked for twenty years, but no one has a similar entitlement to work for a living.
I am watching the government with considerable suspicion because full employment as a democratic given is anathema to them. However, the Welfare Working Group at least gives us an opportunity to explore alternatives to welfare dependency. For that I am grateful.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
The subject of imprisonment has few equals for highlighting partisanship. Chris Trotter writing on ‘Prison Smoking Ban Out to Hurt,’ Otago Daily Times 2nd July, made some good points about the comfort value of smoking but went on to suggest that a cigarette has the power to calm “pain, anger and confusion tearing your guts to shreds.” I doubt that even Phillip Morris in the good old days would have gone that far.
Chris Trotter went on to suggest that we forget for a moment the indisputable evidence of cigarette smoking’s fatal effects and acknowledge the “smoker’ heroic status.” This was merely a precursor to the point of the article:
According to Trotter, the ban on cigarettes in prison has nothing to do with health and everything to do with giving us, the law-abiding majority, the opportunity to really hurt prisoners by taking away their last shred of autonomy. In other words, it’s all about spite. There is some truth in this. Spite is one of the common emotional responses to criminal acts, and, I would suggest, a natural one. But a moment or two of thought would suggest that spite is merely a by-product of the no-smoking-in-prison legislation.
As an ex smoker I have sympathy for prisoners who are going to be deprived of their fags. They are more vulnerable than the rest of us. When the urge is upon them they cannot divert it by going for a run or having a coffee with a square of chocolate. But I have even more sympathy for the inmates of psychiatric institutions who are going to experience a ban on smoking not next year but today.
Yet, given the evidence that smoking destroys health, it is hard to reasonably argue against a ban on smoking in hospitals. Hospitals make for an interesting comparison with prisons because we pause when we think of ‘innocent’ inmates of an institution being deprived of the fag that calms their nerves. Cannabis also calms the nerves. This train of thought could be interesting but for the moment I’ll restrict myself to practicality. The ideal solution; separating psychiatric and prison inmates and staff into smoking and non smoking buildings, is not practicable and never will be.
So, we have this new law, which in my view is a pragmatic response, more to do with the fear of litigation than concern about health. We live in an age of litigant’s suing residential institutions and Governments for neglect or abuses perpetrated generations ago. Who would have a better case than a non-smoking prison inmate forced to share a cell with a smoker for years?
Talking of hate, imagine a bitter ex prisoner lying in a hospital bed right now dying of lung cancer. Never smoked in his life but shared a cell with smokers for years. Would he, I wonder, conclude that we forced him to share a cell with smokers because we hated him.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I slept soundly through the war, in my cot unaware
Of blasted buildings, despair and life-long grief,
People burning or blown apart, the stray bomb
That crashed through the school-hall roof.
My mother’s father boasted of killing the Boer.
My father’s father was killed on the Somme.
A generation later, though they’d seen it all before,
Few said no to the second world war.
I don’t know what slaughter my great granddad saw
But he probably fought in someone’s war, he and
Generations that went before. Men who followed
The call to battle and left their blood to feed the grass
For a stranger’s grazing cattle.
In the year two thousand and sixty five,
In Guatemala, the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur,
I hope this year’s babies can look back and say,
I slept soundly through the war.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I always turn to the sports pages of my newspaper first. Perhaps I delay reading about politics, money-making and violent crimes until I have been uplifted by the purity of athletic endeavour. Which just goes to show how I cling to naivety. Because, more and more, the sports pages are more about money than sport.
I’m soft on nostalgia too. The excitement and colour of the Commonwealth Games. All those wonderful athletes marching around the track, eyes shining with the pride of representing their country. For, no matter what the competition may hold in store, this is the hour of glory they have dreamed of.
So much for nostalgia. Probably since the 1974 Games in Christchurch, (which I loved) the Commonwealth Games began losing its lustre. Commerce had come to stay. Glory was all very well but it didn’t have the allure of money in the bank.
Last Sunday Morning when I took out the sports section of the Sunday Star Times, I read about Kimberly Smith, a high performance marathon runner and a serious medal prospect. Alas, unlikely to compete in the games because her agent advised against Deli’s pollution and security.
Agent! Pollution! How pathetic that the world’s fittest physical specimens are being advised to use this as an excuse for spurning an invitation to the best that India has to offer. Safety is something else. No one in their right mind would encourage athletes to take a chance on terrorists. If only that were the primary reason for turning down the invitation.
Smith is quoted as saying, “It’s just really bad timing with the Commonwealth Games being in October when all the marathons start.” The article went on to say Smith would like to run a marathon in New York, Chicago or Berlin. Unlike Deli, which offers only glory, these are lucrative events for top athletes.
For all I know Kimberly Smith is wonderfully unselfish and wildly patriotic, and I look forward to following her progress. However, because she is a child of the professional sports era, she would be dumfounded by my disappointment at her reaction. Our generational attitudes to sport cannot be reconciled.
Yet my reaction to Carl Hayman, the ex All Black, taking the money from a French club rather than returning to represent New Zealand, was quite different. Perhaps my understanding of professionalism in Rugby is more developed. Players get knocked about then realise they’d better sell their services to the highest bidder before they get laid up. Fair enough. But in the dream time of my youth I never saw rugby players parading on a Commonwealth Games athletic track.
So, I need to get up with the play. Carl Hayman and Kimberly Smith represent modern sport. So does renowned kayaker Ben Fouhy, who baulked at competing in national trials with lesser mortals because it didn’t suit his programme. It seems he may now be funded by Sport & Recreation New Zealand to run his own programme. This is where everyone else needs to get up with the play.
If athletes want to be treated as professionals they should not expect taxpayers to fund their lifestyle. They should pay their own way. Perhaps then the 70 million dollars that Sport & Recreation New Zealand spends could be devoted entirely to genuinely amateur sport.