Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009: Bonus weekend edition

"Donations": As we all know, education in New Zealand is free until the age of 19. But as we all also know, it isn't - and as the Herald informs us today, schools are starting to act a little less like professional educators and more like well-read mafiosi. Schools may not be allowed to charge 'fees', but they are allowed to solicit what are rather euphemistically called 'donations' from parents. I remember when I was starting at an unnamed Auckland secondary school - one had to present one's donation in the form of a cheque when one went in to accept one's place. I'm not sure what happened if you didn't have the correct donation. Perhaps the school lost the place - oops. Or perhaps members of the First XV roughed you up a little. Either way, it was clear you were paying a supposedly illegal school fee.
Now, I'm not denying that schools need the money, and I'm also not denying that a lot of parents have trouble paying these fees. Surely whatever fault is here lies with the Ministry of Education, and successive governments who have allowed things to get to this position. They obviously know that schools can't afford to run without parents directly paying fees, but they also maintain that education is free - so every now and then they put on a serious face and give a school a "blasting" for overstepping the invisible line between 'donations' and 'fees'. Whatever the ethics of hounding parents for money they may not have, and - worse - punishing students directly for not paying up, Owairoa Primary School principal Alan McIntyre is surely right when he says "free education is a fallacy". The government and the ministry seem to think that the current 'don't ask, don't tell' system is working. I'm going to disagree.

Why democracy doesn't work - toll road edition: The Northern Gateway toll road - it's been in the news a lot. Maybe you've actually driven down it. Perhaps you have even stood in a queue for ten minutes waiting to deposit your $2 in a machine. The Herald article, which is hilariously entitled "Road takes toll on motorists' humour" but could easily be called "Article takes toll on blogger's faith in humanity", describes how Transport NZ's best efforts to speed up traffic are being thwarted by sheer stupidity. There are almost too many different ways to pay: set up an account on the internet; pay via freephone; use your credit card with one of the actual '"ambassadors" at the booth; sacrifice a goat during a full moon; fill your ute with trillions of Zimbabwean dollars, et cetera ad nauseam. But it seems that the preferred payment option is this: getting out of your car, standing in a queue, putting the massive $2 toll in a machine, banging your head against the machine, getting in your car, and driving back to Auckland. Raewyn Lum of Auckland decided to queue because she found the other options "too hard". I don't know what to say. Anaru Te Maro of Auckland "wondered why people had only three days to pay, because other businesses gave clients 30 days." Well, it might be because it costs $2. When was the last time you spent $2 at a business and got 30 days to pay? Honestly, this has actually made me feel sorry for bureaucrats.

More whaling news: Subsequent to my previous report on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and their anti-whaling activities in Antarctic waters, they have engaged in the most serious clashes yet with the Nisshin Maru, according to today's Herald. More interesting, however, are the calls from one Glen Inwood for New Zealand and Australia to refuse to refuel the Steve Irwin - the rather inauspiciously named Sea Shepherd ship - because "people [rather than whales] could be killed." Glen Inwood is the New Zealand representative of the rather euphemistically named Institute for Cetacean Research, the body which carries out all the vital scientific research being done on whales in Japan. On an unrelated topic, it also controls the sale of the whale meat - after all the fancy scientific testing, of course!
Apparently, the JARPA I program, having 'sampled' 6800 whales over 18 years, produced a grand total of 55 peer-reviewed papers, four of which required lethal 'sampling'. One of those papers was entitled Fertilizability of ovine, bovine, and minke whales spermatazoa intracytoplasmically injected into bovine oocytes.* It's never too soon to find out whether or not whales can mate with cows, but surely they could have obtained their sample non-lethally (for the whales, anyway) by sending a team of trained divers to get a whale off. Anyway, I hope Glen Inwood is happy with the life choices he has made. Normally I don't like to get all 'bleeding heart' about things like this, and I did say a few days ago that I thought the Sea Shepherds were probably wasting their time, but hopefully in 20 years or so we will lump the Glen Inwoods of the world in the same icky category as Big Tobacco lawyers and Dover Samuels.

*All my 'research' carried out on Wikipedia.

Nanny State gone mad: No one likes fat kids - that's one thing I learned at primary school. So who could object with the government forcing schools to serve healthy food in tuckshops and vending machines? The new Government, that's who. Apparently, telling tuckshops what to sell smacks of the 'Nanny State', so schools will be free to sell whatever they like. Now, I am no fan of being told what to do by some middle-aged teetotalitarian - if grown men and women want to get drunk, eat cholesterol burgers, smoke cigarettes or P or whatever, go nuts. But I'm not sure that mandating healthy food for school kids is the same issue. Here's the point - isn't a nanny precisely who you get to look after your children? I would dispute that any children have some UN-mandated human right to eat a sausage roll for lunch, and the case that parents have a right to feed their kids whatever shit they like is even more laughable. For god's sake - let kids have healthy food when they grow up, then they can make sensible decisions about what to eat as an adult. Why the government seems to be advocating the opposite solution is beyond me.

Just in case you were wondering: Say what you like about Bill Gates, but the man knows how to do theatre. At an "elite" technology conference in California, Gates was giving a talk about the dangers of malaria (why? Because he can) when he released several hundred mosquitoes to drive home the message to the assorted fat cats and Monopoly Guys. This was somewhat interesting, but it's not the reason I am reporting it. No, I mention this because the Herald (via the Daily Telegraph) felt it necessary to mention that the mosquitoes "were not carrying the disease [malaria]." Thanks for clearing that up, then - Newsflash! Microsoft Mogul DOES NOT INFECT gathering with DEADLY DISEASE! Anyway, the scheme worked, because everyone went home with "food for thought", and possibly some mosquito bites.

Oh, the shame: It must be awful to be millionaire celebrity icon; all you have to do is make a vaguely 'racist' gesture or take a hit from a bong at a party and you're in damage control. As much as I dislike the rich and the successfully athletic, I can't help but feel sorry for Miley 'Ray' Cyrus and Michael Phelps for the predicaments they have found themselves in this week. First Phelps found himself the centre of a storm of controversy when a photograph emerged of him smoking a bong at a party - a bong that may or may not have contained the famously performance-enhancing drug MARIJUANA. Apparently he has disappointed his fans and his family and blah blah blah and so there was the huge show of public contrition, which admittedly is an improvement over shows of public flagellation. It turns out that weed is only banned for sportspeople during competition, although surely winning sporting contests while stoned ought to be recognised as an even greater achievement. But I digress. Everyone was shocked and disappointed when a 23-year-old guy smoked cannabis at a college party. It turns out he is very sorry but not, of course, for doing it; he is sorry for getting caught. As he should be.
Miley Cyrus's case is even more farcical. She, with a group of friends, was 'caught' in photos on the internet making "slanty-eyed" (as Prince Phillip would say) gestures - I'm sure you'll have no trouble googling them if that's what floats your boat. You know what I mean - the sort of thing we all thought was hilarious when we were 13. Of course, Cyrus is a mature 16, so the issue is much much more serious. The fact that there are probably millions of photos on the internet of teenagers making "slanty-eyes" is of no importance. Nor is the fact that sitting right next to her is an Asian dude - or, as George Wu of the Organisation of Chinese American [sic] put it, "an Asian Pacific American" - who is happily smiling away, blissfully unaware of the rampant repression going on all around him. Anyway, maybe Miley Cyrus is a (formerly) closeted Asian-hater, or maybe she's a slightly dim teenager with more dollars than sense. Either way, it's not like she conspired to sell contaminated milk to Chinese - sorry, Asian Pacific Chinese - babies.

A sad end to a sad case: So on Wednesday night Antonie Ronnie Dixon killed himself in Paremoremo maximum-security prison. Dixon was possibly New Zealand's best known criminal, famous for both the crime he committed - having shot his (alleged) drug dealer and attacking two people with a samurai sword, he was rather flippantly referred to in the Herald as a 'murderer and samurai swordsman' - as well as for his attempt to plead insanity in the courtroom. The latter antics made his trial one of the most notorious in New Zealand history. He cut his hair like a mushroom, made "crazy eyes" (not to be confused with "slanty-eyes") at the jury and media, and would randomly scream things out in a courtroom. The jury eventually found him 'sane', and therefore guilty.
Now, I'm no psychiatrist, and I don't know whether he was faking being New Zealand's maddest man in court (although I, like most people, suspect he was) but there is no way in hell that Antonie Dixon wasn't mad - mad enough to allegedly (and this is total hearsay, as far as I know) kill himself in prison by bashing his head repeatedly against the wall. Of course, almost every violent criminal has their tale of woe: abuse as a child; unemployment and poverty; mental illness; drug addiction; and, of course, the sheer experience of prison itself. Call me a big softie but, however little we may have wanted to meet Antonie Dixon on the street, someone with his background deserved better from us than to be locked up in the huge insane asylum that is Paremoremo. I realise that the rather thin conception of mental illness used in courts is unlikely to change, and the consequences would be huge and perhps unwelcome if it did, but I don't see any reason why, in cases like this, we can't have compassion for both the victim and the culprit.


  1. Anyway I look at it, this sentence is poorly written: "For god's sake - let kids have healthy food when they grow up, then they can make sensible decisions about what to eat as an adult."

    It should either read: "For god's sake - let kids have healthy food as they grow up, then they can make sensible decisions about what to eat as an adult." (as instead of when)

    or: "For god's sake - let kids have healthy food, then, when they grow up, they can make sensible decisions about what to eat as an adult." (comma, followed by then and another comma after food, and get rid of then before they).

    As for the issue of tuck shops selling - or as the case may be, not selling - unhealthy foods, one must wonder as to why schools insist on having tuck shops in the first place. It seems to me that this is just another money-generating scheme that, as a by-product, facilitates development of consumerist behaviour in children, as well as encouraging poor planning behaviour in parents.

    If schools/government/whomever really cared about the nutrition of school children, then they would either provide nutritionally balanced meals at schools (and invite Jamie Oliver for a guest appearance) or stop providing any food what-so-ever and police the food taken into the school grounds (as per the media hype of some 2 years ago, or so).

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