Boots Theory’s top 5 posts for December

It’s always a quiet month with the Christmas break and all, but you know us Gen Ys, attached to the internet at the hip. No surprises, December was pretty round-up/stocktake-of-the-year in focus.

NZ’s top quotes of 2015

It just seems a bit far-fetched that in 2015, there wasn’t a single good, inspirational, eloquent, zeitgeisty quote from a woman in New Zealand considered worthy of sitting alongside a reality TV star talking about someone else’s fart or Mike Hutcheson’s hilarious originality in comparing a selection of terrible flag designs to people with dwarfism.

My top 5 politicians of the year

Picked entirely on the basis of merit. Honest.

The flag and democracy

If we change flags now, we probably won’t have another chance in my lifetime. If we keep the current flag, for now, there’s an opportunity for a different government to run a proper discussion about our identity as a nation – not one orchestrated by a Prime Minister desperate for ~a legacy~ in cahoots with a panel stacked with stuffy old white men, ~business gurus~ and reality TV producers.

Cranium’s Christmas sign: why is mainstream Kiwi culture so unfunny?

I just don’t get it. What do people like Phillip Garratt think they’ll achieve by pretending that they weren’t making the only joke they could possibly have been making? The same kind of joke (obnoxious, unoriginal) people have been making since the moment they heard the name “Caitlyn Jenner”?

Women of #nzpol: on the #nzflag challenger

That blue Lockwood. Sigh.

I think that’s a “no” from the admittedly selective group of women on my #nzpol list, then.

The flag and democracy

The results of the first flag referendum has really thrown up some bizarre perspectives on democracy in New Zealand.

Like the person I jostled with on a mutual friend’s Facebook page who said he “feared” people voting to keep the current flag because they didn’t like the blue Lockwood design. Apparently this would be ignoring the wishes of the majority who had voted for it.

Or this – somewhat joking, I guess? – editorial on Stuff which argues that it’s just time for a change therefore you must support change because the only reason you could possibly vote to keep our current flag is because you’re childish (or an old RSA fogey, or Winston Peters, which I suppose are kind of the same thing.)

Now, I’m not particularly thrilled by our current flag. I absolutely agree that it’s time to move past the symbols of our colonial masters, as part of a serious process of acknowledging that that colonial past is still very much with us.

But it’s a bit bloody cheeky for this government, who actively reintroduced archaic rubbish like knighthoods (and gave one to Peter Talley) to wax lyrical about our need to rebrand as a modern global nation by scrapping the union jack. It’s a bit cheeky for anyone who isn’t actively advocating republicanism to say “getting rid of the Union Jack is the most important thing” when the Queen will still be on our currency, the Governor-General will still rubber-stamp all our laws in her name, and probably most importantly, we’ll still be pointlessly sending our soldiers into overseas conflicts because the UK told us it was a family event and it wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t dying there too.

I think the blue Lockwood flag is ugly. I think it looks horribly corporate, horribly 90s, and just boringly obvious. It’s not a surprise it won this referendum because it’s comfortably bland. Even if Helen Clark had overseen this process, I would not vote for this flag.

Because we only get one shot at this. If we change flags now, we probably won’t have another chance in my lifetime. If we keep the current flag, for now, there’s an opportunity for a different government to run a proper discussion about our identity as a nation – not one orchestrated by a Prime Minister desperate for ~a legacy~ in cahoots with a panel stacked with stuffy old white men, ~business gurus~ and reality TV producers.

New Zealand could easily become a republic in the next 10, 20 years. I can wait.

And here’s the ultimate irony. There’s a strong meme going around that Red Peak fans are being bitter and nasty and childish about their #1 pick not being the winner. But the only nastiness I’m seeing is from people who like the blue Lockwood (or like the idea of John Key getting that legacy), sneering that we must accept the ~wishes of the majority~ … by not exercising our votes in the second referendum – not in a way they don’t want.

Democracy, chaps. It works both ways.

Victory for Family Planning, but we still need abortion law reform

Family Planning have won again:

Family Planning has maintained its licence to operate an early medical abortion service at its Tauranga clinic.

…However, Ms Edmond commented on how lucky Family Planning was. The decision could easily have gone the other way and women may not have continued to have the choice of having an early medical abortion in their home town. What this latest legal challenge highlights is the need for abortion law reform.

“As a provider of abortion services, Family Planning is keenly aware of the fragility of the current law. We know that groups, like Right to Life, will continue to try to poke holes in our failing and antiquated laws. What happens if next time they are successful?” says Ms Edmond.

The issue is this: Family Planning in Tauranga offers early medical abortion, where the pregnant person takes two pills to induce a miscarriage. It’s safer and far less invasive that a surgical abortion.

But when our abortion law was passed in the 70s, medical abortion didn’t exist. So when regulating the facilities where abortions are done, it was assumed that surgery is involved. Right to Life’s argument was that the law should thus be interpreted so that only clinics with surgical facilities can perform abortions – even when the abortion itself involves no surgery.

They literally want medical practice in 2015 to be dictated by what politicians in 1977 assumed was the way to do things.

If there’s clearer evidence that the anti-abortion lobby are solely motivated by controlling pregnant people’s bodies, I don’t know what it is. They aren’t interested in safety and best medical practice – early medical abortion is safer and does reflect best medical practice. They just want to create delay. Force pregnant people to travel further to access medical care. Tell them to jump through bureaucratic hoops to undergo a safe medical procedure. Make them wait until there aren’t any choices left.

This is why we need abortion law reform. I can’t think of another issue which is literally stuck in the 70s, with a law that’s almost totally irrelevant in the context of 2015, yet constantly met with cries of “Ew, no, don’t bring that up!”

There is nothing radical about saying “this law was passed in 1977, and it didn’t even reflect best practice then. It creates pointless red tape and costs time and taxpayer dollars. Medical science has advanced. Let’s update our law so it’s practical, cost-effective, and fair.”

mean girls duh

The opposition is an extremist, powerless minority. They couldn’t stop prostitution law reform, they couldn’t stop civil unions, they couldn’t stop the repeal of section 59, they couldn’t stop marriage equality. Their greatest recent victory was a temporary injunction against a book which helped it score an international publishing deal.

But politicians are afraid to take a stand. Even though there are many people who would actively campaign for abortion law reform. Right to Life always likes to sneer about the size of organisations like ALRANZ, but there’s also the Greens, whose policy is to decriminalise abortion, and Young Labour who have consistently campaigned for and spoken out on abortion issues.

We do a pretty good rally, too.

This is a winnable argument. Most people are shocked to learn abortion is still in the Crimes Act. They don’t realise some DHBs don’t offer abortion services, or that people still fly to Australia for terminations. We can get that message out there – but the people with the big public platforms to do it need to stop flinching and saying “oh no, we can’t mention the A-word!” first.

We’re leaving the field open for the extremists, to take vexatious cases against Family Planning, to drum up baseless anxiety about parental notifications, to keep telling us that pregnant people can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies. And that’s not okay.

And now, an unintentionally pro-choice ditty from Twisted Sister.

Improve your lexicon: -tard

I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my vocabulary – both by expanding it, and by getting rid of some of the more objectionable, oppressive language which we all use without thinking.

But change can be difficult. The best solution I’ve found is to brainstorm alternative words in advance and think good and hard about them. Hence, these weekly posts – as much a tool for me as for anyone else!

I’m not perfect. Sometimes we can easily see why one word is objectionable, but the alternatives which immediately spring to mind may also have bad connotations which we’re not aware of. I may screw up during this process, but I’ll do my best to fix it when I do. All any of us can do is keep trying and keep learning.

This is another one where I cede the floor to FWD/Forward, who looked specifically at the word “retarded” back in 2009:

This medical definition [of “mental retardation] is certainly not what’s intended in contemporary uses of the word. If I say “I saw Zombieland and it was totally retarded,” I am not saying that I think the movie had a low IQ and I observed significant limitations in adaptive functioning. (That doesn’t even make sense.) I am saying that I thought the movie was bad, uninteresting, boring, nonsensical, repetitive, and a waste of my time and money. But for me to mean any of those things by using the word “retarded,” I and the person to whom I’m speaking have to share the assumption that being retarded is bad and that people who have mental retardation are stupid, uninteresting, and a waste of my time.

Note: “mental retardation” was renamed “intellectual disability” in the DSM-5, updated 2013. But that just goes to show that the argument “oh, but words change over time so it doesn’t mean that any more” is often really inaccurate.

In the charming way NZ English has, -tard has become a suffix in its own right. It still means the same thing, and the whole point is to reference the word “retard”, so it’s part and parcel of the same problem. People with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be used as shorthand for “bad”.

Alternatives to “retard”, “retarded” and all their variations:

adjective: archaic, pointless, awful, illogical

noun: prat, clown, fool, embarrassment

other: eyeroll, headdesk, no shit

Winston takes Northland

winston peters grinning

I was planning on posting this in the morning … but it seems pointless to wait!

Well. The only word to describe that is “a pasting”.

Winston was hugely ahead from the moment the first results dropped on the Electoral Commission’s wonderfully sturdy website, and it only got better and better for him from there.

This cracks a few of the golden tropes of by-elections and MMP. It’s the first time in the MMP environment that a by-election has seen a total change of hands, with neither the former MP nor their party winning back the seat. It showed that even a once-safe seat – a seat National had held for fifty years – can change hands, and change hands decisively. It showed that voters do bloody well understand how to vote tactically when they want to. And it showed that, despite the protestations of many of my comrades on the left, Labour does know how to act for the benefit of the wider opposition – even in really complex circumstances.

Willow-Jean Prime is a fantastic candidate, and if she doesn’t get a very winnable list position in 2017 I’ll be shocked. But unfortunately Winston didn’t tell anyone about his plans to run until very late in the game – a luxury of being a one-man band who doesn’t have pesky party-democratic processes to deal with.

So Labour, and Andrew Little, were given a difficult choice: how to acknowledge that Winston was going to win – even give their blessing to staunch Labour voters to hold their noses and elect a former National Cabinet Minister – without opening themselves to cries of corruption and dirty deal-making.

Pulling a good candidate entirely, as some suggested, was simply not going to wash. It left Little with a delicate balancing act: not backing down on the fact Prime is awesome, not uttering the words “Vote for Winston” no matter how much Tova O’Brien and Patrick Gower tried to make him, but also sending the message that there was really only one way to defeat the Government.

And he managed it. Insert my usual statement of gross bias here, but the fact is I cannot see any of the recent leaders of the Labour Party – not Cunliffe, who I also like personally, not Shearer, not Goff – pulling it off. This was Helen Clark-level political pragmatism, and political message management.

The real loser in this isn’t Mark Osborne. It’s National. They threw everything they had at this by-election: huge commitments of time by senior ministers, tens of millions of dollars in bridge bribes, and they got owned. The John Key magic couldn’t carry him through, and you can decide for yourself whether that’s because the shine has rubbed off, or because he’s getting bored with the job, or because the stink of whatever reasons Mark Sabin had for resigning four months after a general election was just too strong.

Things are not going to go up for National from here.

Now we just have to hope that Winston doesn’t bite the hand that tactically fed him …