marsden_online: (write)
These evening I posted a lengthy comment on a opinion piece titled Andy Towers: New Zealand doesn't have a culture of youth drinking, my words stewing overnight and this morning after the first wave of commenters apparently failed to read and comprehend even the first two paragraphs. I'm happy to say some more intelligent voices had arisen in the meantime.

Quoting substantial chunks of the piece because I don't expect the above link to last forever...
I'm tired of headlines in recent years declaring New Zealand has a "youth drinking culture".

I'm tired because this claim is a lie. Not the part about youth drinking; that definitely happens. The lie is that we have a youth drinking culture. Drinking is not a 'youth culture' issue; it's a New Zealand culture issue.

A potted history of New Zealand shows we've always had an alcohol problem...
In 2012 we had an opportunity to change. The Law Commission had reviewed our history of drinking and it recommended substantial law changes to reduce alcohol-related harm. These recommendations were wholeheartedly supported by much of the general public, many community groups, and almost all health professionals and the police.

What happened? The politicians we voted for decided against change. All of the evidence-based recommendations for change were ignored, including those that would reduce harmful outcomes in youth.

At no time have any of today's youth voted on legislation that has given rise to our current binge drinking culture...
Is there any light at the end of this tunnel? Yes. Recent statistics show youth appear to be changing our country's drinking culture by themselves. Ministry of Health statistics show the proportion of past year drinkers among those aged 15-24 dropped from 84 per cent in 2006 to 76 per cent last year, with the most substantial drop among those aged 15-17 (from 75 per cent down to 57 per cent).
Youth drinking culture should not be something we complain about anymore. We should instead complain about New Zealand's drinking culture. We are responsible for the drinking culture that our youth are navigating but they at least appear to be contemplating change.

Should current trends continue, youth in the 2020s might well be correct to complain about the appalling drinking culture of middle-aged and older New Zealanders.

My comment:

No one denies we have a problem with young people unable or unwilling to match their drinking to their limits, and the strain this puts on our health services and communities. But to blame them for following in the footsteps of older relatives, to somehow "know better" despite their constant exposure to this being the way things are done when you reach a certain age is to deny our own responsibility. It is to pass it off with a genial, perhaps nostalgia tinted "well that what I was like at that age" instead of standing up responsibly and saying to the next generations "I did these things and they were /stupid/ things, please be better."

To draw parallels with another article* I read very recently (on another site) it is like blaming tenants for the state of the countries cold, damp housing stock when it is ...
- landlords and
- a succession of governments who put the least-well-off in our society last, backed up by
- a cultural belief that living in an icy or mould-infested flat is a rite of passage that happens to everyone when they go out on their own so people just need to harden up
... which keep it in that state.

[* link was not included in original comment to improve the chances of making it through moderation but I will put it here The Spinoff: The other housing crisis]

Preloading has been mentioned ... this is known to have increased alongside tighter regulation about who can be served and the growing expense of bar drinks compared to buying from the supermarkets or bottle stores. Without addressing the /reason/ people are drinking (I suggest because it is one of the few socially accepted/sanctioned ways to be seen to rebel) making it harder for them to drink in what should be safe spaces simply moves the activity elsewhere. Much like passing a law forbidding the homeless to take shelter in a particular area does nothing to address the actual social ills which have left them not even looked after by our so-called social welfare system, simply lets people feel that something has been done. The problem still exists, it has just been moved "out of sight, out of mind".

Until we (and that umbrella is going to be pretty much include everyone reading this article) stop implicitly or explicitly allowing intoxication to be used as a social get-out-of-jail-free card to excuse abusive (self or other) behaviour, *whatever the age group* young people are going to continue going through their growing years immersed in the idea that it's OK to drink heavily and do stupid shit once you hit a certain age, and the problem is not going to go away.

Fortunately as the author of the piece notes the generations coming through now may be on the way to changing that culture for their kids, who may be our grandkids ang great-grandkids. Will you help or hinder them?
marsden_online: (loved)
It is ANZAC day here in New Zealand, the annual public "holiday" to commemorate and honor those who died fighting in "our" name in military service. In practice this means primarily World Wars I and II with in recent years the occasional nod creeping in to Vietnam or more recent actions in the Middle East.

There are links I have shared on FB over the past few years that this year I am going to round up here before putting down more of my thoughts


Cliffs of Gallipoli [Sabaton]
"There is no enemy, there is no victory
Only boys who lost their lives in the sand
Young men were sacrificed their name are carved in stone and kept alive
And forever we will honour the memory of them""

19 things you need to know about ANZAC Day (that we should not be proud of)

The Pencilsword remembers the Maori Land Wars - arguably more important to NZs history and identity but often forgotten

The Making of Gallipoli into a Marketable Memory

I was only 19 [Redgum]
"And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And night time's just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me - I was only nineteen"

"Lest we forget" means different things to different people. For some it is about the family who went to war whether by choice or otherwise and didn't come back. For some it is about the need to be prepared to go to war "for the right reasons" (these reasons vary).

For me it means
a. Being aware that
-- wars past and present are not times of glory and righteousness as presented by the media and spin doctors, but of horror and death

-- that the amounts spent on military adventurism by western economies would go a long way to giving the oft-struggling citizens of those countries(arguably the losers and casualties of a form of civil /economic/ warfare which has taken place of the intervening decades) a decent standard of living. Food, healthcare, accommodation, the freedom to be productive rather than just trying to survive.

b. Saying #notinmyname when my government continues to choose to hire out our military "defence forces" especially in a time when modern military conflict often seems to mean
-- a technologically superior force operating on behalf of interests who are posed no significant threat by the other side
-- sowing death with machines which doe not need to have human compassion or judgement drilled out of them, dissociation of their operators enabled by a safe distance
-- inflicting civilian casualties and recording them as "enemy combatants" for simply being present

c. That the best way to not become involved in a war against a nation with a "morally bankrupt" government is for people to stand up, be critical and questioning, and prevent their government from becoming that sort of institution.

Every. Day.

War (What is it good for?) [Edwin Starr]
marsden_online: (write)
Today I added my body to a Women's March here in Christchurch, a sister and supporting event to one focused on Washington, DC. Because,
- as their manifesto says, Women's Rights are Human Rights and I support that. Both in the specific and in the general sense that improving women's rights will by extension improve the lot of (at least) every other marginalised group containing women
- and I feel it is important for progress that men are seen to be supporting that, because sadly many men are still more likely to listen only to other men
- but also on another level because I feel it's also important for the well-being of men that women are seen and treated as equal.

Here I just want to pull together a few threads from around the internet on why I think there is still a long way to go in western, particularly New Zealand society.

1. From an early age boys have been told to "don't be a girl", teased for being "girly" or put down for "hitting like a girl" in response to failure, asking for help, or expressing any "negative" emotion except anger. As well as indoctrinating the idea that women are somehow less than men in both boys and girls from an early age this negative approach to dealing with emotions also contributes to New Zealand having one of the highest rates of youth suicide (especially among young men) in the developed world.

Things are getting better on this front (I believe) but there are generations of us still alive who need to challenge those ideas within ourselves and strive to do and teach better.

2. If a little boy pulls a little girl's hair "it means he likes you". Not only is the reverse not held to be true, this normalises attack (physical or emotional) as a form of showing affection. Follow the chain and you get coercion seen as a valid form of obtaining affection in the form of sex, women criticised for not responding positively to catcalls or unwanted advances, and "he only hits me because he cares".

Again, NZ has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the developed world.

3. There's this thing about queer/gay being used as a slur. Why is it that being romantically/sexually attracted to men is percieved as a bad thing by other men?. I'm theorising here, but coming back to my first point could it be that being attracted to men is something women do, so it is another accusation of girliness? Or could it be, as beautifully laid out here that a lot of men are afraid that a man attracted to them will subject them to the same form of unwanted attention they know they give the "objects" (women) of their affection (or even passing interest)?

I believe that in our hearts we men (most of us anyway) know that this behaviour is wrong because we become uneasy at the idea of it being turned on us. Knowing that it is our responsibility to try and
- firstly face up to the discomfort and accept when we are called out on it, then try and do better.
- secondly publicly represent and model for that better behaviour
- the hardest of all (and I fail at this often myself; pick your battles): call our friends and family out on it and support others - whatever their gender, orientation or colour - when they call others out on it in our presence.

If men can step up and do this instead of passively supporting the status quo, then fairness for women (and intermediate/null genders) will come a lot faster than if they have to keep wading through us every step of the way.

With all that off my chest, here is the gallery from todays march.

Victoria Square to Cathedral Square
The leading banner
marsden_online: (write)
I communicate with the pollsters by e-survey, especially since auto-dialers put me offering my phone completely. One particular company often starts with the question "What do you see as the biggest issue facing NZ today.", or something similar. This week it was beefed up a bit and led to an extended series of thoughts which I posted on FB (as being the most convenient format at the time) but am repeating here as a less ephemeral record.

The question:
What are the main social problems in New Zealand that the Government and community as a whole need to address?
My initial answer:
Inequity and poverty:
With our GDP per capita there should be no excuse for not being able to provide everyone with the basics of a warm, dry, private space to call their own and sufficient to eat; as a matter of right with no need to jump through any hoops to prove they are entitled to it.
Address this issue and a great number of other issues which stem from or are exacerbated by it will also recede.

Half an hour or so later I also wrote the following (edited a bit for clarity):
Ongoing thought about why our current social welfare system doesn't work very well wrt eg housing and food.

It consists of (reluctantly) giving people money and then leaving them to be able to procure the required services from "the market". But they're not dealing with /one/ market they are dealing with /many/ markets - accommodation, food, electricity ... - /each of which/
- has the goal of acquiring as much of that money as possible /without concern/ for the balance of the customers' needs
- and prices accordingly.

The result of course is that there is not and probably will never be "enough" money - see also for example how private rent increases have tracked the accommodation supplement.

The supply industries also benefit in their pricing strategy from individuals being given the money to spend rather than the services being purchased in bulk by a central authority with the clout to negotiate and keep the prices down.

For this reason I'm not opposed to government purchasing services from private providers; I /am/ opposed to the private providers being selected on the basis of lowest cost or metrics such as how fast they can get people off their books (churn). The correct metric has to be based on standard of care.

That would unfortunately require the government to care about the well-being of it's /entire/ constituency, not just those who voted for the "ruling" party or contributed to its coffers. :/

Back to now and a couple of other thoughts

Dealing with poverty is not a problem which can be solved by a single approach.
- Giving people money (or some form of equivalent discretionary resource) directly so they can target their own needs in their own situation is one part of the solution and has been shown to work well for getting people back on their feet. But as a sole or primary approach it risks capture as described above; where funds meant to help people into a position to better their lives end up straight in the (mostly metaphorical these days) pockets of "service" providers.
- /But/ poverty is relative and targeting the affordability of common - even "basic" goods and services is another piece of the puzzle. Not in an ad-hoc manner (eg taxes on/off fresh/processed foods - this has been a regulatory nightmare wherever it has been tried, save it for genuine luxury goods) but in a whole-of-market approach like Pharmac.
Bulk demand can shift the costs down but this is not something those already struggling with their living situation are in a position to organise. In a democratic/capitalist welfare society this should be a function of government.

One government department I think could make more of an impact here (if they were permitted) is Housing New Zealand; right now they are limited by having to use their own housing stock (which they have been forced to run down and sell down over the past decade); but if they were also able to function as a not-for-profit property management company effectively handling maintenance and property standards for those who for example
- have an investment property "retirement plan" but find the details of renting it out more effort than it is worth
- have a social conscience
- will accept a low-end-of-the-market-rent-range return

they might well be able to
- apply downward pressure on rental prices
- fill up some of those homes we hear about sitting empty
- reduce their waiting lists
- provide security for a lot of people who currently have found they can't ever trust they will still have a place to live after the next review
- upgrade some of NZ's abysmal housing stock
- and potentially be in a position to acquire some of those properties to replenish their own stocks when the bubble bursts

Yes the deal would have to be structured so as to appeal to the property owners opening it up to the criticism of being a government handout to that class; but I am reasonably certain it could be made to work for no more than is currently being handed to them indirectly via the accommodation supplement and putting beneficiaries up in motels for a week while simultaneously lumbering them with a paper debt which will, realistically, never be recovered.
marsden_online: (write)
Submissions to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) close tomorrow (March 11) barely two months after the treaty was signed and text made available. About 3am on Monday morning my brain decided it was time to write something, but Ithen got distracted by actually reading MFATs National Interest Analysis (NIA) (the better to make an informed submission. It of course paints a far rosier picture of the expected outcomes.

This post has three parts:
1. Useful links
2. The text of my submission (done through the online form)
3. Other rant triggered by reading the NIA (this was going to be rants but I have run out of time :( )

Online submission form (very limited life expectancy) (you will need to complete the verification at the bottom of the page and then click the "Make an online submission" button below to actually get to the form)
The NIA (pdf)
MFAT TPPA subsite

I felt it best to make a measured submission just highlighting a few points of concern.
As a member of the public who has been following the no TPPA actions but has also found the time to read the NIA (but not the earlier published fact sheets) I would still like to express some some concerns about the process and implementation of this treaty.

1. I understand that there is always an element of confidentiality required in trade negotiations but the secrecy surrounding this one - and indeed continuing for years after ratification seems to have be unprecedented. Combined with the very short amount of time allowed for public, expert, and opposition party representative examination of the text and consultation I find it difficult to have confidence in the benefit to New Zealand of any legislative changes which may be required.

2. Speaking of benefits it is not at all clear from the NIA /how/ the people of NZ generally benefit from the signing of this treaty. "Economic growth" and a forecast boost to GDP are presented as as self-explanatory benefits without justification; but this would only be the case if the wealth generated flows to those who are less-well off.

As it stands this treaty would appear to deliver the most benefit to
- those who are /already/ established enough to partake in international trade and
- a small minority of future SMEs producing exportable goods/services who manage to become established against the now-increased competition from our trading partners.

In short this treaty seems to offer no great benefit for the majority of NZ citizens and business while exposing them to economic attack by better-resourced established competitors from abroad.

3. Following on from that if the NIA is accurate the ISDS clauses have been well ring-fenced to protect "public-good" issues but it still seems to be a risk that if a local company were to come up with a disruptive technology or process which could challenge established players but would require tweaks to our - or our treaty partners - legislation to implement effectively (a recent examples from the news might be the taxi service Uber) the established players would be able to use the ISDS or the threat thereof to hinder implementation in an anti-competitive fashion.

I am hopeful that the government of the day would have the fortitude to support our business and accept the costs required to set an example which would prevent this happening a second time; if nothing else this would quantify "the actual costs of responding are unknown" (NIA p55)

Nevertheless as it seems that the implementation of the legislative changes required is a foregone conclusion I

- would strongly support a clause which only brings the changes into /effect/ at the point the treaty comes into force in a form substantively like it's current form, rather than incurring the front-loaded costs and "giving away the farm" the having nothing to negotiate with should other parties decide /not/ to pass it through their respective legislatory procedures in it's current form.

- look forward to the strengthening of NZ's environmental protection, labour protection and transparency legislations to bring them in line with the treaty obligations as explained in the NIA.

Rant time.

The NIA is very bullish about the amount of consultation carried out

9.2 Public consultation process
The consultation process for TPP has been among the most extensive a New Zealand Government has undertaken for any trade negotiation. Throughout the negotiation process the MFAT, together with other government agencies, has been active in engaging with a wide spectrum of stakeholders on TPP.
Throughout the negotiation there were two public calls for submissions. MFAT invited initial public
submissions in October 2008 on entering into negotiations with the US to expand the P4 agreement.
A second invitation for public comment was made in 2011 following the expressions of interest from other countries to join the TPP negotiations (Canada, Japan and Mexico) to better understand the views and interests of New Zealanders with regards to these three economies.
MFAT received 65 responses to the initial invitation for submissions, which expressed a diverse
range of views on the TPP
Following the second invitation for public comment in 2011, MFAT received fifteen responses. Thirteen were from business (including business councils) and industry organisations. Two were from other governments - Canada and Mexico.
Extensive public outreach and consultation took place throughout the negotiation of TPP, using printed, emailed and website information, supported by extensive briefings, discussions and correspondence with key stakeholders on New Zealand’s negotiating objectives and process.

A primary portal of information on the negotiations was the MFAT website, and dedicated internet column, “TPP Talk”. TPP Talk was regularly updated with the status of negotiations. Both the website and column
encouraged feedback on TPP from the public. In seeking views on TPP, the Government sought to encourage debate on the issues, including links to groups holding a range of views on the MFAT website.
Hundreds of meetings took place, including with business groups, iwi, local councils, health sector
representatives, unions, NGOs, Members of Parliament and individuals to seek input on the TPP and
to help ensure a high quality outcome that reflects stakeholders’ interests.
In a new initiative that reflected the level of public interest in TPP, MFAT also made provision for
stakeholder engagement with regard to the two TPP negotiating rounds held in New Zealand. With
regard to the round of negotiations held in Auckland in December 2012, the Ministry organised a
stakeholder programme attended by 72 New Zealand participants as well as other stakeholders from overseas.

... and so on.

Strangely I do not recall /any/ of the relevant ministers or officials saying in response to the noTPPA movement and media coverage "Hey, here is where you can go to get more information and to have your say." Apparently the broader public of New Zealand (or other parties) are not considered "stakeholders" in our international treaties.

We know who other treaty partners considered stakeholders from the mega-companies and lobbyists who got to peek at the proceedings and drafts. I wonder who in NZ our government actually considered important enough to be a stakeholder?

I'm going to be generous and assume whoever produced this analysis is so blinkered that they actually believe this number of submissions is a reasonable outcome rather than a failure to communicate.

Moreover I believe that an organisation believing in or proactive about public consultation would have opened another round more recently than five years ago, given the increased public profile of opposition to the matter under consideration.
marsden_online: (write)
Many years ago someone defined me as "an information junkie". There is a particular type of information that draws me in more than any other though and that is details of other peoples lived experiences. This is the drive that sees me abandoning an evening into the small hours reading the comments on a post like [potential trigger warnings on all these]
- Scalzi's classics on being poor (the first I remember)
- more recently a metafilter thread on emotional labour
- a reddit thread about moments which led people to change the way they think
- a strong article on why women smile at men who harass them [short version: it's a proven survival tactic for continuing to maintain some control in a dangerous situation]

Articles on what it is like to be struggling with poverty or mental health or generaaly being someone other than a middle-aged comfortably well off white male make up a significant amount of the links I share through my FB feed, which I am well aware is mostly read by other people much like me.

Why do I feel this is so important? In short, "There but for the grace of ghod, go I". In a word awareness, but lets dig onto it a little deeper.

Fairness )
Compassion and courtesy )
Preparedness )
Understanding )
marsden_online: (write)
After all I am one of the lucky ones; not only did I not lose anyone directly in the quakes I even benefited materially from the "repairs" to my home*. My life and work were mostly unaffected and since have continued on a generally upwards trajectory.

*( Like many the assessment was questionable, the workmanship left something to be desired in places and the scope was "tightened" several times between assessment and implementation meaning some things which probably should have been done rather than others were not. But my claim was acted on (un)fairly quickly and my home was still in better condition when they finished than before the quakes.)

If I only paid attention to my own situation or that of people like myself that might leave me content. But my social circles contain many who were not so fortunate. Their homes, lives, families, studies, health ... have been massively disrupted and I do not choose to disregard their experiences and those I read of from further afield. For so many people the past five years have been one battle after another; not all quake related but certainly quake-exacerbated, and so much of it seems to have been unnecessary.

In some ways the February 14th aftershock this year was beneficial. Some people might have been in danger of believing the platitudes which will have been spouted today about how well we are all doing; how well the rebuild is progressing. Instead as PTSD kicked in and "old" responses rose sharply to the surface there was an up-swell of awareness that no, everything is not all right; yes, we still need help.

In the last five years we have seen proof (if there had been any doubt) that the insurance industry is more interested in holding on to its money than in meeting it's contracted obligations. We've seen the one locally owned insurance company which was by nature overexposed to the risk "bailed out" by the government then promptly chopped up; the "good" bit sold off to one of the same overseas re/insurance companies which fights determinedly to not return the money they have taken from other insurees in premiums over the years (IAG) and the "bad" bit put into limbo (Southern Response, which can only progress so far without the goverment actually stumping up some money to cover the work that needs doing).

We have seen that we have a government who are more interested in bottom lines and doing deals with those same insurance companies than in standing up for the rights of the people they purport to represent. More interested in a magical accounting "surplus" than in the wellbeing not only of Christchurch but of the entire country. Only interested frankly, to all intents and purposes to improve the lot of "people like them" no matter the cost to anyone else. Quick to promise financial relief but very slow to spend any money which would not already have been spent.

We have learnt that our EQC disaster recovery fund had already been plundered by the government (through simply directing it to put the money into government-issued bonds), and there is no indication this government has any plan to rebuild it against future need.

We have seen control of "Christchurch's Recovery" taken away from Christchurch from the word "help". Hijacked by people who are more interested in vanity projects (which they then turn around and demand the people of Christchurch make ourselves responsible for paying for) than in the places people live. More interested in cutting costs and corners than in the human cost or actual repair. More interested in being "in charge" than in delivering what a broken city needs.

Today, the 22nd, is a day for reflecting on what we have lost in and around Christchurch. Not just people and buildings but well-being, dignity and agency. So much of which has not been taken by the quakes themselves but by the deliberate actions and inactions of those who claimed the people of Christchurch would be "looked after".

For those outside Christchurch it might be worth thinking about, "if a major disaster struck where you are, what would you lose?"

Emma summed up neatly why in her earthquake anniversary post so I am going to borrow her words to finish. "Because this isn’t about the past, five years on. Things are still happening."
marsden_online: (write)
Backgrounder: I engaged in the comments on this article about student debt at Stuff. Unfortunately comments closed partway through quite a long entry so I'm putting those thoughts here.

Preceding conversation
Matt N texas
Will Matthews, please explain to me why your or any persons student loan is any different, to my business loans ?...I have taken out loans for equipment, equal to or exceeding an "average student debt"...I have assumed all the risk and reward that comes with starting and running a one is proposing to "wipe my loans"......why do you think that a person who borrows to fund higher education, with the intention of earning a higher income, should be subsidized by the taxpayer, as apposed to a business operator, who is also using borrowings to access a higher income ?.........thank you in advance for advocating that I receive the same treatment as a student (sic)

Absolutely, the difference is in that taking out a business loan you are (presumably) in a position to immediately begin repaying down that debt and have done the numbers to indicate that the equipment will increase your immediate earning capacity immediately.

In taking out a student loan you are probably looking at at least 3 years before it has any effect on you earnings (in fact as laid out in the article you are looking at a very restricted income and probably taking on higher priority debt in the interim as well) before you can begin repayment, and that is /if/ you can find a position in a field where your degree adds a significant premium to your earnings. It is a massive gamble on an unpredictable future job market, but for many of the students I know (including many who already have previously "sought after" qualifications) the hope and a prayer is simply a better option than continuing to be stuck on the unemployment "benefit" (even with existing qualifications) in the current hostile job market.

Additionally as I someone has noted in a more recent comment you would have been able to depreciate the value of that equipment on your books, thus offsetting some of your taxable income. Not possible with education, although perhaps is business owners could do that they would be more encouraged to invest in helping their employees gain relevant qualifications.

Matt N texas
Not really can take years to get a return on a business investment, and despite a business owners best intentions or efforts, there is no guarantee of success..or an "immediate " return as you seem to income can be as unpredictable as any addition equipment can offen require ongoing costs,repairs etc...purchasing an existing business does mean an instant income stream, as apposed to starting a business from scratch, however business loans have to be paid back starting with the first month after inception regardless of cash generated.
As for depreciation...some depreciation is as low as 2.5% per year. For 30-40 years...hardly a boon to a budding business, and if you're luckily enough to have made a profit, tax will be contrast students have a great system, they can borrow without having to repay until they start achieving an income...and then it is painlessly repaid via a paycheck deduction to the IRD...simple.
Now the last part of your comments, are impractical, as a general rule businesses are not really required to educate a business owner if I offer to fund an employees study there is NO guarantee that they will investment is effectively is preferable to have the employee fund and achieve their own education, and if those qualifications are what I need or desire to operate my business, then I shall offer a salary or wages as negotiated.
It is plain to see you have not operated or owned a business

Marsden comment unposted

Once upon a time businesses were required to educate their employees, else they would have had no skilled staff at all.

This unwillingness to invest in training your own staff which has become endemic; probably dating back to the first days of public education when employers first decided that since the government was going to pay for training their potential employees it was a cost they no longer had to care about. And since the government has stopped paying all, rather than step back up to address the need themselves they now claim exactly as you do that it is up to the employee to shoulder the cost of the training; knowing that they will be able to use the threat of giving the job to someone who will work for less (read "is more desperate") to "negotiate" the wage or salary lower than the skills are fairly worth to the business.

This expectation that the government will pay for training; this determination to only employ people who are already educated - and often who are already experienced - is the reason despite our high unemployment rate and a glut of educated un-and-under-employed so many businesses are are crying out for skilled staff (as often mentioned in this publication and others). By requiring the prospective employees to take the gamble on what qualification might get them a well-enough-paying position after a year or more of study you guarantee that either
- there will be a glut of graduates with the skills you need (good for you because it forces the amount you have to pay for those skills down - but at the same time you constantly risk your employees leaving for a better paying position and having to pay the cost of replacing them)
- OR a shortage either because the public education is not actually providing the specific skills you are looking for or because few decide acquiring those skills are worth the risk of not having a job at the end of it, in which case your business suffers through having to pay highly for those skills or simply finding them unobtainable.

> .as a business owner if I offer to fund an employees study there is NO guarantee that they will investment is effectively lost.

Not really - you get the benefit of that employee's increasing skill level throughout the period where they are both working for you and gaining their qualification; you get to leverage those skills directly into the specifics your business without the need for any sort of settling in or induction period; even if they do move on you hopefully have the opportunity to have them find a similarly skilled replacement from the cohort they have gone through the qualification with (and who will be able to tap them socially for institutional knowledge about your business again cutting down the amount of time spent coming up to speed).

As returns on investment go up-skilling your employees is almost always going to pay off. Even though as you said at the beginning of your comment:

> it can take years to get a return on a business investment, and despite a business owners best intentions or efforts, there is no guarantee of success

Snark didn't make it into the final draft about what it says about his experience running a business with the attitude that he can't trust his employees not to leave. Snark didn't even reach the draft about the "painlessness" of losing 12% of your paycheck each month especially if your degree is not earning you a 12% premium on wages.
marsden_online: (write)
Environment Canterbury is currently seeking submissions on their Long Term Plan for 2015 - 2025. Locals may have found a print version in their mailbox over the past week or two. You can download the document and make submissions online at the Ecan Website

This is my first time being motivated enough to make such a submission. It may be a little wordy but I felt it important to convey a little of my personal perspective and background rather than a relatively context-less set of bullet points (which I couldn't have arrive at without writing all this out anyway).

long )


Mar. 9th, 2015 09:19 pm
marsden_online: (write)
This past Saturday I attended the local portion of an ongoing series of protest marches against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). While the current NZ government has done many things I consider #notinmyname this is the one that should it go ahead, as I fear it will for I have no faith the the major Opposition party will not equally roll over for it, is the one I feel that will do the most lasting damage to New Zealand. This is because it impacts not only on our economy and international trade but directly on our sovereignty and right to make our own laws as a country.

Now it is the way of properly negotiated international treaties that one or more signatories generally accepts some limits on what they as a sovereign state may do, by way of passing laws and such, in exchange for some perceived benefit. There are two things about the TPPA which I consider to be particularly dangerous; far outweighing any possible benefits.

The first is the near-total secrecy under which it is no only being negotiated but will apparently be brought before our "house of representatives" - with even those worthies (and I use the term loosely) except for a few privileged members of the ruling party being forbidden knowledge of the terms of the treaty. Let me spell that out a bit more - our representatives, whom we rely on to protect our interests, our democracy, will be being told (if this current government retains a majority) to accept this treaty with no opportunity to actually debate its worth to the country, no idea of what we may be giving away or getting in return, and no opportunity to bring it to us, the people and ask what we would have them do.

This turn of events would make an absolute mockery of what it is supposed to mean to live in a democracy. It is the first and most blatant attack on our sovereignty represented by the TPPA.

The second danger is the proliferation of clauses (leaked) enabling international corporations - not even Governments, corporations with no mandate to represent anything but their profit margin - to challenge laws passed by our government in international courts. Now for countries like Australia and NZ that might simply tie up public money which would be much better spent elsewhere, but smaller nations could be forced into "toeing the line" of their/our new corporate masters by the simple likelihood of bankruptcy if faced by these sort of proceedings*.

I don't personally have a great issue with NZ officially becoming a "client state", be it of America as we are currently or some international conglomerate. But that is a decision that should absolutely be discussed and reached publicly, not reached behind closed doors and presented as a coup accompli.

* For an example of this sort of thing already happening see Philip Morris Vs Uruguay and vs Australia, which reportedly (linked article) already has caused our NZ government to about-face on plain packaging for cigarettes. The closest I can find within NZ is this 2013 release from the Ministry of Health which contains the money quote
“To manage this, Cabinet has decided that the Government will wait and see what happens with Australia’s legal cases, making it a possibility that if necessary, enactment of New Zealand legislation and/or regulations could be delayed pending those outcomes.

“The Ministry of Health will now begin developing the detailed policy which will include the size and content of health warnings. I intend to introduce the legislation to Parliament before the end of this year.

The legislation was in fact introduced and judging from this late 2014 release is due for it's second reading. Promising quote
“A key finding from the committee came from their visit to Australia as part of an exchange programme. The data highlighted that daily smoking rates amongst those aged 14 and older have declined from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2013, the lowest rate recorded to date. This is very impressive evidence received since the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.”

I do support this governments passage of this legislation, both the bill itself and the due process it appears to have followed.

My photos from the march
Attacks basic freedoms
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
Normally the news that a company like energy efficiency and insulation business Right House has gone into liquidation would pass through my radar with just a moment to pause in sadness for those whom have just lost their livelihoods. However this time there is an indirect personal connection - it was a telemarketing call from Right House house and the following obligation-free quote which made me decide that then was the time to start the ball rolling on actually getting grid connected solar installed here.

The first step of course was googling up solar installers in NZ and sending off for more quotes. when it came down to it though two I already had bookmarked gave the best results. A shout out here to CPS Solar (Canterbury based) who provided a lot of useful information and food-for-thought in our conversation. Definitely consider them.

My choice though has gone to Solar City despite the fact they they were the tardiest in replying to my enquiry. I'd like to write a bit about why.

First off is their innovative Solar Care offering. For $0 or $1000 down they will install panels on your house and sell you the electricity generated for a fixed monthly cost for the next 20 years. (You then use or sell excess power into the grid.) This effectively locks in the cost to you of that much power for the next 20 years, and the contract is set so that the cost-per-unit is probably lower than you are being charged now.

Personally I think projects like this are what the major generators should be doing, to conserve hydro and fossil-fuel (ugh) generation for night time and winter use. But of course they don't make money by providing people with cheap power :-/

I was almost sold on this, it works out very well for both the homeowner (who gets rapid access to solar without massive expenditure or worries about insurance, monitoring etc of the panels) and for the company who get regular cashflow (instead of constantly having to chase new installations) and to depreciate the value of the solar panels on their books :). Had I investment properties I would be having Solar Care systems installed ASAP. Any of my home-owning/paying-off friends I strongly recommend taking a look.

However the desire and years of expecting to outright own the installation asserted itself and I was unable to bring myself to deviate that far from the plan. What actually sold me on a fixed install from Solar City installation was not the price but the opportunity to become involved with / contribute to a new initiative they are setting up with the University of Otago to (quoting the flyer)
Conduct a comprehensive study into household and commercial solar energy use, to better inform and guide the nation towards a 100% renewable energy future.

(As a bonus, "Customers will have the opportunity to beta test new technologies in the energy efficiency and solar space." Eh-heh-heh ...)

This will involve a period of monitoring before the installation which is fine because for me "starting the ball rolling" on a project like this means I have a 12-18 month horizon in view for actually affording and completing it. This is something I make clear of my requests for quotes but find a lot of companies have difficulty with - and their pressure (and oft-times effectively bribes) to commit sooner is something which I find distinctly off-putting.

Companies, I am (charitably) sure that you are genuinely interested in making sure your customers get good value for money but if you want my custom please do me the courtesy of understanding that I know and understand my own values, finances and finance options and that I am not undertaking such a large project on the spur of the moment. If I am not the typical customer in this, well that is simply a sad observation on today's society.

Another issue where I have struggled to reach common ground with all the companies I have talked to is my desire to install more generation capacity than is "economically efficient" for me. (The generators don't pay a terrific amount for home-solar production fed into the grid and these tariffs have only been dropping.) The concept that I might have broader, non-economic goals like future-proofing the amount of generation on my roof (nominally economic), or happily working towards overall lower power prices for everyone else by feeding cheap power into the grid and setting an example for wider home generation is completely foreign.

(I've had to temporarily throw in the towel on that one, but the system I am getting is eminently extensible at a later date by the addition of more panels and micro-inverters.)

Speaking of finance options this entire post / mini-rant was actually triggered by a quote from the Right House article.
But the business had not had the demand for their services, from home insulation to energy advice, that it had hoped for, Fisk said.
"I think that has been influenced by whether people are getting offer subsidies to insulate their houses," Fisk said.
The company failure may seem "counter-intuitive" when there is a housing boom especially in Christchurch and Auckland, he said.
Asked if the government cuts to home insulation subsidies in 2013 had affected Right House, Fisk said he believed it had "some effect".

Now this is a Stuff article so don't assume that quote from the liquidator (probably not yet familiar with the company finances) is entirely in context. It's obviously being played a bit by the reporter and as such I believe it reflects a wider feeling that the only reason people might be interested in getting into solar (and more broadly other technologies) is the money. That's a meme I'd really like to squish out of society's group consciousness because there are so many wider possibilities once you broaden your view from what is purely best for the individual.

[tangent]For example Christchurch (City Council) is currently looking at painful rates rises and having to privatise some of it's utility assets to afford the costs of the earthquake rebuild foisted on us by the national government. But we could build a new asset as a (somewhat seasonal) electricity generator right alongside the rebuild to offset some of that cost if only by generating some of the power required. I think most households and businesses would be happy to have some council-owned panels on their roof in exchange for the promise of lower rates increases (or the offset in lower electricity costs).[/tangent]

It is true that for the majority of homeowners (unlike well-privileged, mortgage-free, no-dependants self) the availability of subsidies will probably have a significant impact on the affordability calculations. (And part of the genius of Solar Care is how it simplifies that calculation.) It is good business for eg. an installer to point out the available options which may make what they are selling more affordable.

[aside]If you have a mortgage with Kiwibank also check out their Sustainable Energy Loan (link not guaranteed to be current).[/aside]

But I don't believe it is broadly good that our consumerist, buy now (worry about paying later) culture tries to rush people into accelerating financial plans that should be taken time over and focuses on the monetary payback value of long-term purchases to the detriment of other values. And just like if your business relies on the government topping up your employees wages because you don't pay them enough to live; if your business relies on pressuring people into making financial decisions for cashflow perhaps you should take a hard look at how sustainable it / its growth path really is. When I look at who I give significant amounts of my actually-earned money to, you better believe I'm taking that into account. Often it is through [your business'] salespeople that I have the most direct experience of that.

[aside]No I'm not a fan of commission sales, why do you ask?[/aside]

Disclaimer: this has not been any sort of solicited promotion and I have no connection (yet) to any of the mentioned companies except as outlined above. (Haven't even signed and returned the quote.) :p
marsden_online: (Default)
A friend is researching fr a blog post and asked...
I'm particularly interested in people's input on the difficulties of trying to hold down a job while maintaining your illness. And the frustrations of not being able to work not so much because you CAN'T but because you cannot reliably stick to a set schedule. Also what things do you do to keep busy if you are not able to work? Are the hobbies you pick up able to be translated into a potential source of income? Would you be willing to work if there was something that could be worked around your illness? If there was a business that understood that some days you can't do anything and there will more often than not be no warning for those days. You know the stuff - you're not totally broken but sometimes it feels like you might as well be because so many things are stacked up in a way that just doesn't work for us.
Have you ever thought about what you would like to do if the illness was the ONLY thing in your way? You're stuck with it, but if all the other variables were stacked favourably - what would you want to do, what COULD you do?

I feel like a bit of an imposter answering this because my limitations are trivial compared to those of so many people I know. OTOH I just had a day spent largely in bed where just deciding to do something about dinner was almost too much effort; let alone deciding what to have when it turned out I didn't have the ingredients for plan a.

As I said I know many people who while very intelligent, very full of potential, often very skilled and productive in their own ways are prevented from either making the contributions they would like to society or (and this is the greater shame) being seen to be of value and included as such simply because their illnesses or their ways of thinking or both mean they cannot cannot reliably stick to a set schedule - at least not the schedule society demands of us.

I am fortunate to have a job which works around my illness (slowly recovering from depressions/burnout); employers who accept (even if they may not understand) that I can't drag myself out of bed to be there at a certain time each morning and that if I am there early chances are my brain is gong to shut off equally early, and who consider my skills bring sufficient value to the company to pay me a generous amount for the time I do spend there.

Being nowhere near as certain of this as they are, I often find myself pondering what life might be like should they decide I could be better replaced. I have no answer for that question. If in that situation I could find (or start) another business with a similar mindset I would certainly work. My hobbies such as they are alas don't really translate into a potential income stream (I've thought long on that) although coding could from some angles certainly be considered a "hobby" for me.

On the silver lining side going through this has given me reason to consider society's current expectations about how a life should be lived and what makes a person a "valuable contributing member of society" and come tot he conclusion that they are a chamberpot full of shit (chamberpot: rendered obsolete by modern technology in most situations and shit: stinks).

So for me / in my case the frustration lies not so much in not being able to hold down a job but in that holding down that job (which even part time takes most of my available energy, and suffers when circumstances lead to prioritising eg the Hall higher for a bit) leaves me not being able to do the other things in life which take similar energies - like housekeeping, like using those skills on my own projects (I rarely code for my own purposes any more), like reading for pleasure, like the game prep my players deserve, like (much needed frankly) exercise.

As my recovery (which I have gradually come to accept may never be "complete") continues; if more things can be stacked favourably; those are the things I want to bring back into my life.
marsden_online: (write)
Over the weekend I was asked (paraphrasing) what I thought the point of a party leader was, if not to make elections all about them and take a fall when the party doesn't do well.

The answer is not simple. Fundamentally I don't believe "leaders" as the term is generally used are necessary in a properly functioning representative democracy. If all our votes are supposed to carry the same weight, all our representatives functionally have to be equal and work together as equals.

That said sometimes you need someone to be a casting vote, and once you have sorted out the division of labour (portfolios) you need someone who is responsible for the overview, for the task of speaking for the whole and being able to explain how it is all working together so others are not needlessly distracted from their tasks. A representative of representatives, a minister of ministers, maybe a first-among-equals. You could call this person a "Leader" but that is something of a misnomer. It is not actually their job to "lead" as such.

I have written before quite strongly about my feelings that our representatives are elected to serve not to rule.

The other way I see you might legitimately have a leader in politics or in the broader case is when someone stands up and says "this is what I stand for and this is what I am trying to achieve" and a group of other people stand up and say "we agree with this person and we are going to follow him and support him (wrt these issues)". I see no problem with similarly-minded representatives forming "blocks" like this and electing someone to convey their vision.

In this case if what the leader is trying to achieve ultimately proves unpopular, then clearly they will lose that position. And practically the group should then fragment into groups (including individuals- groups of size 1) which are clear on the differences but also on the similarities.

Unfortunately this sort of leadership only works on a relatively small scale over fairly well defined issues, because after a certain point some people who support the leader in principle will actually have a sufficiently different vision that friction and fractures will start to occur and then other people will start trying to pressure people to "toe the party line" and it's all downhill from there. This is how we end up with entire parties of representatives who do not personally actually represent us but at the end of the day vote the way they are told to by a powerful few.

In New Zealand, and particularly in the Labour Party at present, we traditionally have neither of these. In fact the opposite. We have had a series of leaders unpopular with some significant number of their supposed supporters, who manipulate and scheme to have them them replaced and in doing so have them take the fall for those "supporters" own inadequacies and cock-ups. There is no common purpose for these leaders to espouse because the party is not, can not work together to common purpose. That is why I don't believe Cunliffe should be forced to resign for Labour "losing" the election because that will not resolve the issues. It is simply not his fault that the party is so fucked up internally and making it "his fault" will not solve anything. Any replacement is simply going to be another talking head being set up to be cut off.

The same sort of fractures simmer beneath the surface of National as well but National is currently led, by a small group who have a very clear idea of what they want and how they are going to get it and sufficient force of ... personality ... to keep their underlings in line and on message. And New Zealanders love a strong leader (bully), especially if they personally are not the ones being told what to do. We're all for someone who "gets on and does things" and who brandishes the traditional kiwi measures of success - nice car, box seat at the footy, bach, ability to jaunt of overseas for a holiday ... without looking too closely at how they got there or how they are staying there.

We're so shallow.

If a real leader is to emerge within Labour it will be someone who leads their followers away from Labour. Maybe what is left will be able to sort themselves out and find someone they can agree to stand behind. Then when the dust settles after National has its next bloodletting maybe we will have a spectrum of minor parties who can all work together and NZ as a whole might see that there is nothing to fear from a government consisting of multiple parties none of which is a clear "winner". And if we can make that shift as a society we'll be the better for it.
marsden_online: (write)
I have realised there is an important point I only touched on indirectly in my previous post on Consent and KAOS, and that is to do with personal responsibility.
This post is a follow-up to address that point.

Rules and Disclaimers

Same as before:
1. Mild trigger and hot-button warnings for conversation around sexual assault, non/consent and KAOS party behaviour.
2. I've tried to keep this as gender neutral as possible - I know we're socially conditioned to automatically cast thse events in a M-on-F light but F-on-M, F-on-F and M-on-M events are equally problematic, and often more difficult to speak up about.
3. Conversation seems to have started at Livejournal for the original post anyway, so if you are reading this on Dreamwidth please go to LJ to comment on this post as well. Anon comments will be screened automatically.
4. These are my opinions; opinions do not exist in a vacumn. I'm happy to engage further in conversation/debate; I'm happy for people to share their experiences if they feel like doing so; I will not tolerate personal attacks, criticism of peoples actions/reactions in an event or well-intended advice in response.
5. At points in these posts I've straight out borrowed from a few other people who have already said the things I would like to say, often better, with permission for the big chunks. I haven't attributed these because I want people to be able to choose if or how they enter the conversation. If you recognise someone's voice or comment from elsewhere please respect that. If you see your words in here, thank you.
Personal responsibility )
What do you do? )
Advanced suggestions )
Conclusion )
marsden_online: (write)
So this weekend the periodically re-occuring discussion on behaviour and consent at KAOS parties fired up again. And it feels like there is a new vibe to it this time, a more positive one than I have experienced in my going-on-20 years of seeing it repeated.

This post collects a lot of my thoughts and opinions on the subject into one place. Because FB discussions are hard to reference later and verbal discussions even more so, and heck some of these are just jotted down in my notes for my contribution to an somewhat improvised speaking at the 48-Hour party just been.

Rules and Disclaimers

1. Mild trigger and hot-button warnings for conversation around sexual assault, non/consent and KAOS party behaviour.
2. I've tried to keep this as gender neutral as possible - I know we're socially conditioned to automatically cast thse events in a M-on-F light but F-on-M, F-on-F and M-on-M events are equally problematic, and often more difficult to speak up about.
3. Comments on this post to be directed at the Dreamwidth version please. Anon comments will be screened automatically.
Update: conversation seems to have started at the Livejournal post anyway, so comment there.
4. These are my opinions; opinions do not exist in a vacumn. I'm happy to engage further in conversation/debate; I'm happy for people to share their experiences if they feel like doing so; I will not tolerate personal attacks, criticism of peoples actions/reactions in an event or well-intended advice in response.
5. At points in this post I've straight out borrowed from a few other people who have already said the things I would like to say, often better, with permission for the big chunks. I haven't attributed these because I want people to be able to choose if or how they enter the conversation. If you recognise someone's voice or comment from elsewhere please respect that. If you see your words in here, thank you.

A matter of scale )
Surfacing the experiences )
Framing the problem )
Partial solutions )
Missing stairs )
Calling people out )
Your responsibilities when you bring a friend to KAOS )
Modelling consent )
marsden_online: (write)
A fragment of overheard conversation earlier in the week got my brain whirring, and it won't shut up. I've googled and not come across anything similar, so here are a few ideas for a points based, flexible casting magic system to swap into D&D 3.x while retaining the spells as written as at least a useful reference.

This system does require re-imagining some of the classes and would bring a very different "feel" to the magic side of a campaign.

snip )

Whew. More later.
marsden_online: (write)
Back in my post on a Universal Base Income I briefly mentioned transactional tax. The more I think about it the more I like the idea of replacing large chunks of our current tax system with a comprehensive transactional tax or set of taxes.

Many of our current taxes can already be framed as transactional taxes with little effort. Our consumption tax GST is effectively a tax on certain transactions. So is income tax especially as it is currently implemented with PAYE. A transactional tax would also capture those capital gains (although would be considered hard on those taking capital losses).

Transactional taxes are usually considered to be a flat (to regressive) tax, but there's no reason one couldn't be implemented progressively based on the value of the transaction. Some people would doubtless find it worthwhile to "game" this - regardless of where the bands were set but they would also still be paying the lower tier (times n) regardless. It is likely that the bands could be set to minimise this.

Collecting transactional taxes in our electronic economy should prove little more difficult (technically) than accounting for that pesky withholding tax (also a transactional tax as it is deducted when interest is paid). Financial institutions will doubtless balk at being put in the position of tax collector but they are the ones who have the transaction records (and they also have the computing power) and the ability to deduct the taxes in the same way as they would deduct an account fee.

(With modern computing I'd expect the tax-accrued to an account to be able to be displayed with every balance request.)

Who pays the tax is another important question to answer: the person sending the money or the person receiving it. I toyed with the idea of halving the rate and having it apply equally to ingoing and outgoing transactions but viewed one the scale of income tax and the ease of PAYE it became obvious that this was not feasible. Having the recipient responsible for paying the tax in that case is a recipe for those with poor financial planning skills to end up with terrible outstanding tax bills and would be a step backwards. Additionally having to somehow tag every transaction into or out of an account as tax-paid / tax-incurring would be additional unwanted complications for every account holder. So it seems to me that such a tax must be implemented as the transaction is *outgoing*.

Some allowance would need to be made for the cash economy - I think this is simply handled by applying the tax to "cash" deposits (it would already apply to withdrawals) and not worrying too much about the intervening time except for transfers above a certain level which should be required to be declared.

Even a comprehensive transactional tax will need exceptions or claim-backs as with GST to prevent it all being loaded on to the consumer. And every-so-often waiving accrued amounts not worth collecting seems reasonable. Although given that a comprehensive transactional tax rate would be much lower than GST (we are hopefully talking fractions of a cent on the dollar) and overall everyone should have more to spend the accruing increases may not make sufficient difference to be worth it in many cases.

Why so low? We are, if you're a cynic, double dipping or taking many nibbles of the cherry.
- get paid? Taxed (paid by your employer).
- withdraw or deposit cash? Taxed (accrued to the account and deducted monthly / at a certain value by the bank - unless they are offering some sort of sweetener whereby they are paying on the account for you).
- purchase something with cash? Taxed (accrued to the merchant's account when they deposit the money).
- purchase something with EFTPOS, Credit Card or paying a bill by internet banking? Taxed (accrued to your account).
- paying off the credit card or otherwise moving funds between your accounts? Taxed (accrued to the originating account).
- sending money to a friend? Sorry, taxed to you.

I don't see an implementation of this sort of tax being sufficient to bankroll the country, not immediately anyway and Robin Hood tax effects notwithstanding, particularly if we're funding a progressive social welfare system. We would still need a (lower) income tax and we would still certainly want health-related excise taxes - tobacco, alcohol, carbon .... but it could simplify a few things and even if the effect on an individual were fiscally neutral I think the lower income and (preferably abolished) GST would be welcomed.
marsden_online: (write)
"Mind your own business". How many genuine expressions of concern have been rebuked with those four words? How many internally-voiced concerns have not been acted on because of fear of being met with them. How many when met with them have given up and walked away (the socially correct response) instead of pressing on and risking a scene?

[rambles a bit before getting to the point]
Not-particularly-hypothetical-situation: suppose I'm at a party and I see someone drinking heavily - too heavily in my estimation. Someone I haven't seen/interacted with at a party before; someone whose alcohol tolerances I don't know. Someone whom if it were a friend I would check in with and suggest they slow down, but I don't even know any of their friends well enough to feel comfortable giving them a nudge in that direction.

If they are new to the social group they probably don't know me from a bar of soap .. or a creeper. Segue - what if someone I know to be a missing stair seems to be chatting them up (intoxicated or not) and they seem fine/consensual with the attention so far.

How do you approach someone you don't know and say "hey, I think what you are doing right now is a bad idea?" and expect to be taken seriously?

Too often we "mind our own business" until there is a clear problem, until it's too late and there are pieces to pick up, because then there is a clear justification for presenting concern and (hopefully) we become one of a group of others doing the same thing.

In my own social environments I probably have the mana if not necessarily the confidence to approach anyone I've been even casually introduced to or raise a concern with someone better placed than I to deal with it; yet I do not. One part of that is that watching out for people - especially people you don't have a personal bond to - takes precious energy; energy I'd be better spending trying to enjoy myself. No-one wants to spend their time at a party riding herd or playing policeman. And I've learnt the hard way that sometimes you have to let people make their own mistakes.

So you hope that there are enough people just sort-of keeping an eye on things that someone else will pick up on anything that needs picked up on that you don't feel up to dealing with, and try to convince yourself that your worries are unfounded, push them out of your head and mind your own business.
[Pushing them out of my head never actually works.]

But I do notice things. Lots of things. And as an "elder of the tribe" along with that mana comes responsibility to look out for others; responsibility I do take seriously. I do try to keep some sort of tabs on what is going on and with whom for reasons beyond being a gossip-hound by nature. So I've turned this problem over in my mind a lot; inconclusively to date. Recent events have bought it back to the fore.

The one conclusion I have come to is that the currently socially-mandated definition of what is ones "own" business is harmfully narrow for society as a whole. It leads to individual disengagement, it hinders the development of support networks and it further hinders those networks functioning effectively.

This does not go unobserved elsewhere - for instance I've seen a number of webcomic strips over the past while (couple of years I suppose), none of which I can be bothered hunting down to link but which share the theme that perhaps the person next to you in the elevator or sitting across from you in the train shares your "crazy" dreams or interests. But you'd never know because we're taught to mind our own business, don't talk to strangers etc etc.
[For those of us who are naturally shy this is particularly reinforcing.]

"Not my business / somebody else's problem" leads to some tragedies and *force multiplies* others. People who step in to help a stranger being assaulted or the victim of a car accident or challenge an armed robber in a dairy (to name a few of the things I've seen on the news) are written up as heroes; a lot of people do a lot of other good things daily which don't make the news but that doesn't change the fact that they are portrayed as exceptions when they should be the expectation.

In the smaller scale of peoples day-to-day lives - individually we may never be on the scene of any of the above but on a regular basis we all let lesser ills go unchallenged or untreated. And that is understandable, as I said above it takes precious energy to risk getting involved andw e must all choose our battles. Just ... let's be honest about why. Maybe we *didn't* notice the signs, maybe we weighed it up and made the decision that what we were doing *was* more important, maybe we didn't want to take the *risk*. But let's not claim we were "minding our own business", because the well-being of those around us is *everybody's* business.
marsden_online: (loved)
A little while ago a friend wrote to me "I just want to be thin so I am worth something as a person". And it broke my heart, because I know them as an intelligent and caring person with a multitude of strengths, including the one to get out of bed in the morning.

I admit to finding myself at a rare loss for words then and I am still grasping for a meaningful response now. This is something I cannot fix, and those are always hard to process.

But, dear friend and anyone else who struggle with this issue, here are things that make you worth something in my world. INPO

- an arch sense of humour
- intelligent conversation
- mind-numbing conversation aka killing time online
- hugs
- facebook sticker wars
- the way you really give a damn for your friends
- but don;t suffer fools gladly
- company for movies and games
- persistence at crappy jobs as an indicator of how you would shine in a non-crappy job
- determination in pursuit of your goals
- kitty love
- picking yourself up over again and still taking on the world
- creativity and crafts
- little gifts

Barely a day goes by that my life, and the lives of our mutual friends, are not brightened by knowing you. Please, let this letter lighten yours as well.
marsden_online: (write)
During my years hanging around university clubs I have noted a pattern to do with group/event management which like many things at University is a condensed* version of something that happens a lot in the "real" world.
* condensed by virtue of University being a relatively short period in most people's lives where certain social chains of events are are by nature compressed.

It goes a bit like this:
(wherever I mention "year" below you may substitute a suitable periodic interval for whatever happening you are thinking of.)
- One or a handful of people will have an idea for an event (or club), and the idea will catch on
- some or many people will put in a lot of hard work (the good kind) making the event (or club with great events) happen; this will not feel like work because all involved are having fun
- everyone has a great time and says let's do this again (anywhere from next month to next year. For simplicity I am going to use "year" from here on.)

- Next year some of the original team have gone but with the benefit of the previous year's experience and a bit of new blood the original core puts on something even better.
- it still doesn't feel like work (because things are often easier the second time around) and from the outside it looks polished and easy.
- Usually it is the next actual calendar year where things hit a snag.

- By the third year most of the original core have moved on to other things, and surprisingly so has some of the new blood from the previous year.
- The remaining originals are starting to feel that it is time to move on to other things as well and looking for people to properly take over the event. However all the new-new blood looks to them to tell them what to do, and it is easy to get frustrated at the questions, and the time it takes inexperienced people to do things, and especially at the new (and old) people who -don't- deliver on what they say they will.
- Running the event starts to feel like *work* (the bad kind) for the old hands *and* for the new hands who based on what they saw as attendees the previous year(s) expected it to be much less time/effort than is actually required.
- Additionally some old hands fall into the overconfidence trap and under-remember / underestimate how much time and effort they will need to put in, leading to last-minute rushing and relatively superficial preparations on their part, which for a big event often flows into frustration for those who want to get on with Y, but need X done first.

- This 3rd time may be the peak (because the remaining old hands will still pour more-than-they-really-have into making it happen), or it may be the start of the decline.

- because the old hands are in frustration still taking on many of the tasks themselves when the new hands fall (or for lack of new hands) there are limited opportunities for new people to come in and succeed in their own right, or own their failures and experience the consequences on the event.

- Fourth year - most of the remaining old hands from the first couple of years (and there are usually only 1-3 remaining) are burnt out but reluctant to let go of their "baby" because "other people nearly caused the event to flop last time". The previous year's new blood are disillusioned about the amount of time and effort they had to put in *and* the abilities of the old hands; or feel that they weren't given a proper chance to show what they could do the previous year and are at best ambivalent about the odds of being given any better chance this time.
- the event runs mostly on the momentum of the successes of previous years, but everyone can feel the change in atmosphere ....

From here the event/club will either limp along for a few years until a new group with a great idea and fresh enthusiasm come along and reinvigorate it (and the cycle repeats), or will eventually wither and die, maybe to be resurrected again by a completely new group.

Such is life, but rarely with the clean delineations produced by the university year.

My experience (I've been at all points in the cycle; some repeatedly) doesn't actually leave me with much useful advice. But thoughts:

Regardless of where you are at it is *actual work* to open those opportunities for new people to succeed or fail; to stand back and not step in to fix things (damage control around the edges sure). By year 3 the absolutely best thing you can do if you are still involved is *mentor* rather than lead or manage or run. Mentoring is not the easiest skillset in the world to pick up.

It is never easy to walk away from something you have poured so much passion into but if you want it to grow into something more I seriously recommend doing that after the second year; before *you* rather than the *event* become the institution. Make this clear early on and stick to it. It may mean the event falters a bit in the third year but it's far more likely to then catch its step and grow again in the 4th and 5th year (expect another dip in the 6th).
- Maybe the idea was only ever going to be a shooting star; maybe it will take on a life of it's own; either way this is the point where you really need to think seriously "am I willing to commit a significant portion of my life my life to this as I would to my child?".

If you are coming in as a new hand and you are really passionate about the event by all means push your way to the top level of organisation. Don't feel you have to defer to the old hands just because they are old hands. Don't disregard their advice either - but understand how they may be a little jaded. You have something to prove and the energy to prove it, and these are important. (The next year you will be n old hand and the shoe will be on the other foot so to speak - don't lose sight of that either.)

One more note - people often talk about writing a reference document about how to run an event. My experience is that these rarely get written (*hard* work for most of us) and then rarely get referenced. An easier but also one of the most useful things you can do though is if your part of the event involves contact with outside groups keep a good record of who those contacts are that you can pass on to your eventual successor. This perhaps more than anything else can help establish a public perception of continuity to the event and save starting from scratch again every single (or second) year.

Final note - established, successful clubs and events follow a slightly different pattern. With a little care yours will mature to that stage too.

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