Thoughts about synthetic cannabis

I left this comment at this post on The Standard. The original Herald article which I refer to is here.

This doesn’t cover every aspect of the synthetic cannabis issue, but I think the particular issue I touched on is an important one, especially thinking about how we discuss social issues: whose voices are heard, and what assumptions are made.

I must admit to being a bit concerned at the paternalistic tone of some of the reporting on synthetic highs, specifically around people who have serious mental health issues like schizophrenia. I would prefer to hear from those people themselves. I appreciate it can be difficult for people whose relatives have issues like this, but I think there are a lot of risks involved: as you’ve said in your post, Shane, you appreciated Una Macnaughton’s bravery in telling ‘her personal story’.

To be honest, it isn’t her personal story. It’s her son’s (and he’s 21, not ‘a boy’.) He’s clearly going through an incredibly tough time. Maybe synthetic cannabis is the one thing which helps him control his symptoms. Maybe natural cannabis would be even better. But in the kind of summary we get from that Herald article, there’s no nuance, just a basic ‘bought Kronic, got schizophrenia, is crazy and dangerous, ergo ban synthetic cannabis’ narrative.

There’s certainly no statement from a qualified psychiatrist to establish that the Kronic gave himschizophrenia (and there are studies which show no link between cannabis causing schizophrenia). But that’s the obvious implication, and I don’t think this issue needs scaremongering. Untested substances with damaging side effects should be regulated. It’s common sense.

I also think there have to be other factors in play which explain why people are ‘queuing’ up to get synthetic cannabis. There aren’t jobs, there aren’t opportunities to get ahead, our government is grinding people down to benefit the wealthy and eroding our ideas of community and solidarity. Making synthetic cannabis the focus of our outrage is a lot easier than addressing those things – but it won’t address the underlying issues, and people will just find other risky ways to escape.

Domestic violence is a work issue

We can now put a dollar figure – a conservative, probably-underestimated figure – on the cost of domestic violence to New Zealand business.

That’s due to a report commissed by the Public Service Association, released yesterday in conjunction with a Member’s Bill from Green MP Jan Logie which will change our law to protect victims of domestic violence at work, and support their employers to help them out.

And incidentally, it could save businesses $368 million per year.

It’s often hard to explain to people why they should care about ‘other people’s problems’. Even on the left, issues like domestic violence or marriage equality can get filed away under ‘women’s issues’ or ‘gay issues’. In a political discussion dominated by right-wing ideas about individuals and ‘bad choices’, it’s even easier for horrific issues like domestic violence to get swept aside.

Even though one in three women will experience domestic violence, we treat it as a private personal issue. It’s about the woman – or man – who’s being victimized. Their circumstances, their ‘choices’, their individual struggle to get out of a terrible situation.

So as clinical as it may seem, it’s important to have this kind of hard evidence to show people. If for no other reason, you should care about addressing intimate partner violence because it does affect you. It affects our communities and our workplaces. It has a provable, financial cost to business – and at the same time, the workplace can be one of the best supports a person has to get out of an abusive situation.

We know this kind of intervention and support works. We can see it working in Australia, where although they don’t have legislation, the union movement have fought hard to get domestic violence clauses into collective agreements covering over 700,000 workers.

The great thing is that Jan Logie’s bill is a win for everyone. It’s a win for victims of domestic violence who get support and security in a tough time. It’s a win for businesses who get healthier, happier, more productive workers (and the warm fuzzy feelings of having done something good and noble in the world). And it’s a win for all of us. Because we get to say we live in a country which does the right thing for people in awful situations. And we get to remember that no person is an island. We all stand together, and we’re so much better for it than if we stand apart.

Who is the Internet Party’s secret MP?

Maybe this is one of those open political secrets – if you’re in the know, you already know, and it seems obvious. If you’re not, it’s a total mystery.

Just who is the MP Kim Dotcom has ready and waiting to jump waka in 2014?

I’ve got no idea, but I approach these things like logic puzzles. Surely there are some basic assumptions which can narrow down the likely options.

First, the MP should be a current electorate MP. It’s only sensible. They’ve already got profile and support. Interestingly, this instantly rules out all of the Greens or NZ First, who (respectively) have the tech savvy and wilful randomness to be plausible options.

Further, we know (at least) 13 electorate MPs aren’t running in 2014: Auchinvole, Banks, Hayes, Heatley, Hutchison, C King, R Robertson, Roy, Ryall, Sharples, Tremain, Turia, Wilkinson. And Bill English is only running on the list.

Maurice Williamson and Clare Curran have both ruled out being the one.

So that’s 54 left. I rule out Hone Harawira, because it would be silly to be talking about some kind of alliance with the IP if there were also a secret plan to switch parties in the works. I can’t see Flavell or Dunne doing it either.

So we’re down to 51, all from Labour or National. Do we rule out all Cabinet Ministers, or people high on the Labour list? Party leaders and deputies, certainly. Then I think we have to get down to basics: who has sufficient personal cred to make it on their own.

So take out anyone whose electorate party vote was higher than or within 10% of their personal vote. We can see where their voters’ loyalties lie.

That eliminates everyone from National except for Nick Smith (the party vote in Nelson is 87% of his personal vote, so … close enough, really) and Paula Bennett, who barely scraped past Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni and is expected to contest the new Upper Harbour seat – unless the polls get so bad National have no other choice than to offer it to Colin Craig.

So that leaves us with Labour MPs. Specifically:

Nanaia Mahuta (party vote 84% of personal vote); Phil Twyford (party vote 75%); Trevor Mallard (party vote 74%); Chris Hipkins (party vote 66%); Phil Goff (party vote 78%); Annette King (party vote 69%); Damien O’Connor (party vote 58%); David Clark (party vote 78%); Ruth Dyson (party vote 58%); Kris Faafoi (party vote 79%); Iain Lees-Galloway (party vote 68%); Megan Woods (party vote 70%).

That does tell a story. But it’s not a story about Kim Dotcom, or even any of those MPs specifically: it’s a story about the 2011 election, which was abysmal for the Labour Party. Eight of those electorates went to National in the party vote.

I can’t see National-leaning voters going to the Internet Party in huge numbers (more than I think others expect, but not that much.) So we’re down to:

  • Nanaia Mahuta
  • Phil Goff
  • Annette King
  • David Clark

Nanaia, Phil and Annette all have stonkingly big majorities and a huge amount of personal mana, it’s true. But do we see the Internet Party going into Parliament through a Māori seat? Do we see either of the most senior, longest-serving Labour veterans making such a radical move?

winston445

The idea of Paula Bennett defecting to the Internet Party sounds positively credible in comparison. At least she could use the Coatesville mansion as a campaign base.

The disappointing conclusion to this thought experiment is that if Kim Dotcom does have a current MP lined up to front his campaign, it’s someone with a vastly inflated sense of their own political popularity or the wisdom of such a move.

It’s fitting, but it just reinforces the idea that the Internet Party is a sideshow. And after six years of National shredding our country to bits, we deserve a better election year debate than that.

30th anniversary of the Trades Hall bombing

ernie abbottOn this day in 1984 a suitcase bomb was left in the Wellington Trades Hall. At 5:19 it detonated, killing Ernie Abbott, the caretaker.

The bomber has never been caught, despite a massive police investigation and a reward of $50,000 offered for information. We don’t even really know why the Trades Hall was targeted – though anti-union extremism seems an obvious motive.

Thirty years on, it’s likely the bomber has taken his identity to the grave.

At 5:19 pm, let’s take a minute’s silence in memory of Ernie.

Assuming justice and creating justice

I’ve been thinking about politics, assumptions, and justice.

I sat in on a recording of The Egonomist on Friday – thanks for having me there, guys! – and we discussed some of the issues and reactions to Sarah Wilson‘s articles on WINZ, specifically the backlash from people who insist that Sarah must be a liar, a bludger, or a lying bludger, because if you can blog, or go out with friends, you must be able to work.

Then I read this post by Chris Miller on the assumptions we tend to make about businessmen being good political leaders. Chris makes excellent points about why that’s clearly a silly assumption, but the post also brought together a lot of scattered thoughts I was having about our political narratives.

The technical term for it is a “just-world hypothesis“. It’s the idea that our universe is basically just. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. If good things have happened to you, it must be because you’re a good person, and so on and so forth.

You can probably connect the dots yourself. People have attacked Sarah because the idea that she’s a good, hardworking person who’s been randomly struck by illness and then wilfully mistreated by our welfare system contradicts their assumption that the universe is just. And wealthy businesspeople must be good leaders, because they’ve managed to accrue a lot of material goods and influence, and that wouldn’t happen if they didn’t deserve it.

The idea extends to many area of our lives – the myth that ‘nice girls’ don’t get assaulted, or innocent people never get wrongfully executed – and every time, the just-world fallacy supports the status quo. It supports the mistreatment of beneficiaries, the influence of the wealthy, the patriarchy, and institutional racism. It supports the worldview of the right-wing and socially conservative.

We on the left know the world isn’t a just place. The people on the bottom aren’t worthless, and the people at the top aren’t inherently admirable. We don’t assume there’s justice: we want to create justice.

So let’s challenge this kind of thinking. Let’s say that workers deserve a living wage, and beneficiaries deserve to be treated with dignity, and kids who don’t do well at school deserve support, and families deserve a fair go to buy a home, or rent one that’s actually habitable.

These assumptions only survive because they’re repeated by our political leaders, in our media, at the pub, across the family dinner table. They’re accepted as common sense. But if we all stand up and say ‘no, that’s not right’ then slowly but surely we can turn that thinking around.

There’s definitely more practical things we need to do as well! But to create a lasting change in New Zealand society, we need to overturn the assumptions that support the status quo too.