Thursday, 30 December 2010

caught up in wikileaks

another thing i've been doing over the holidays is a course on basic arabic. it's a difficult language to grasp, particularly because of its complicated grammar. not that we have much of a grounding in grammar here in nz. most of the grammar i did learn was because i learnt french in high school. but even most of that is hazy now. i've forgotten simple stuff like the difference between the subject of a sentence and the object (yeah, caught up on that now). but i'm really struggling with the nominative, accusative & genitive cases. and there is no way i can remember what a passive participle is.

still, despite the grammatical shortcomings, some progress is being made. i'm getting through some of the vocab, not so difficult because some of the words are quite similar to urdu, and because i recognise other words from reading the Qur'an. i'm also starting to grasp basic sentences, even though the grammar is difficult. but what floors me is the different forms for nouns. not only is there a singular and plural as in english, but also a dual version of the word. then you have the 3 cases, and two genders. so this leads to 18 different words to learn for a noun. aaagh! and i used to think conjugating verbs in french was painful.

i've been wondering over the last couple of days whether or not to mention this, but what the heck. it turns out that i have been named in a wikileaks cable (para 5) & included by codename in another cable (para 13). these are the only two i'm aware of that include me, though it's possible there may be others considering the contacts i've had with embassy staff over the years. actually, this sentence from my post of two years ago strikes me when i read back on it today:

since then, i've tried to keep a distant but friendly relationship with the embassy. i'm wary of getting too involved, cos i'm still suspicious of ulterior motives.

it seems i was right to be suspicious. the first cable is pretty harmless - it just mentions that i spoke at an interfaith function. it's the second that bothers me more, being the reporting of conversations at a private dinner. i suppose i should have expected it, that having someone from the diplomatic staff in attendance means that everything anyone says is on record.

but still, it's not particularly nice, especially when they were the ones who contacted me and wanted me to help them develop a relationship with the muslim community. relationships are based on trust, and i hate the fact that i may have exposed people i know to this kind of scrutiny & reporting. if i had been more aware, or probably just less naive, then i probably wouldn't have introduced staff to anyone in the community.

i'm not sure what to do with this. there's no point in complaining to their staff locally, because i'm sure they were doing (and are no doubt continuing to do) exactly what they are employed to do. it's more a matter of being much more guarded in my own interactions, and more careful about who i introduce people to. i'm not yet sufficiently annoyed to cut off all contact, given that i still believe what i believed when these people first asked to meet with me:

if you really believe in peace, then you have to be prepared to dialogue with people who you fundamentally disagree with. and you have to be prepared to not only raise the difficult issues, but to discuss them in some kind of sane and rational manner. it's the only way.

i'm not impressed with the quality of the cables eg "The imam wore traditional Arabic garb, sometimes indicative of Wahhabi leanings". o rly? news to me, as i haven't yet met an imam who doesn't wear that kind of clothing quite often, regardless of country of origin. in fact, many muslim men will wear "traditional Arabic garb" on eid or other functions, even ones from my own family. it isn't indicative of anything. and the whole wahhabi thing is also nonsensical in that it's not indicative of anything other a conservative interpretation of religion, largely popular in saudi. last i heard, the united states of american was not at war with the kingdom of saudi arabia. au contraire, they appear to be best of friends.

it seems like staff were stretching to provide news from a country where there is very little news to be had. possibly they were trying to justify their salaries. in any case, there's nothing startling in the cables. not even the breathless headline from the herald announcing that nz mosques were "spied on" is really news. the staff member who went to the mosque was an afghani muslim by the name of kaweem koshaan*, posted to dubai after his 2 year stint here, and he would have been happily welcomed to any mosque in the country.

i actually have given a lot of thought before outing myself regarding the second cable. although i think people who know me well would have worked it out anyway. but i decided to do so because i think people should be aware of how things work (if they aren't already). no doubt interactions with staff from any embassy or high commission will have the same result ie anything you say can and will be taken down and relayed to head office in the home country. also, i needed an outlet to express my displeasure and this is it!

just for the record (since i have chosen to out myself), the people at my workplace have been absolutely wonderful and supportive of me & my decision to wear hijab, after the first week. initially, i think they were taken aback and weren't sure how to respond. but once they got use to the fact that this was how i was going to be, they've been great. i wish that had been added that to the cable, because i'm sure i would have said it.

so. i'm caught up in this wikileaks thing in a way i never expected. and i'm really hoping that there aren't more cables with more detailed information about me or anything i've said - not because i have anything to be ashamed of, but because it's nobody's damn business what private events i attend nor what i say there. but there's really nothing i can do about it if there are.

*since ali ikram has already named him publicly in the herald, i have no qualms in doing the same here.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

holiday update

i'm slowly getting through the list of things i hope to achieve during the holidays. but very slowly! i managed to get some spring-cleaning done, as well as do the round of the boxing day sales. the latter was rather painful, i hate shopping at the best of times & this certainly wasn't the best of times. the crowds, the heat, the parking issues, ugh. still, i got a couple of bargains so it wasn't all a loss.

today we went for a day trip to the prawn farm near taupo. we managed to catch one prawn between 7 people, and i think the whole place knew when we caught it, what with all the squealing & screaming. it was a pretty big one, and none of us wanted to touch the thing.

it was a lovely day out though, and the waikato river was looking absolutely beautiful near its source. it was a gorgeous aquamarine colour, and crystal clear when you get close. the tragedy is that the thing is such a disgusting murky brown by the time it reaches hamilton, and totally unsafe for swimming. there is something seriously wrong with a world where we do this to our natural resources, with very little complaint.

on another note, i did finally manage to finish captain correlli's mandolin a couple of weeks ago. i can't say that i enjoyed the book, nor that i'll ever read it again. and i'm not exactly recommending it, except that it is a book people should read. much as i think people should be made to watch films like fast food nation and blood diamond. they aren't pleasant experiences but important for us to be aware of the realities of the world we live in.

i'm now trying to read margaret atwood's cat's eye, but find i'm really struggling with that as well. maybe i've just gotten used to novel's with much more pace & plot, which this doesn't seem to have much of even though i'm a quarter of the way through. or maybe it's just the psychological effect of reading a book that i think i should read rather than one i actually want to read. time for a visit to the second hand bookshop, methinks.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

the forgotten people

my campaign of becoming queen of nz and getting taxpayers to fund a lavish lifestyle for my family and i, well it's not going so well. i haven't yet convinced the kids to join me in this very worthwhile cause, which means my persuasive skills aren't so hot!

in other news, i'm eagerly looking forward to the last day of work, which will be thursday for me. my volunteer work has been taking up a substantial amount of time of late & i feel that i'm working 3 jobs but getting paid for only 1. but then there will be a whole chunk of the world who actually does live that way, so yes, i'm still happy to be me and happy to be doing what i'm doing.

this is the first holiday break in many years where i'm not headed off overseas nor am i having overseas visitors. and i'm not travelling around the country either, other than a short trip away. i plan to stay at home and rest, clean, catch up & generally try to live a stress-free life. that's what holidays are for, after all.

this means that i may have energy to blog a bit more than i have over previous holiday periods, but i don't guarantee it. once i get out of the routine of writing, it's hard to get back.

in the meantime, there's been a lot of news in hamilton regarding the cost of the v8 races. expected to cost just over $7 million when the city decided to take them on, and ended up costing 27 million. with something like 4 more years to go. our new mayor, julie hardaker, has done a wonderful job in opening up the books and letting people see the actual figures. no excuses of "commercial sensitivity" to hide information from the public. let's hope she carries on in this vein when it comes to decisions made under her leadership.

but it's hardly surprising that mr redman got out while he could. he's threatening to sue anyone who dares to suggest that he might have withheld information, and councillors are starting to back down from that claim. but as far as i'm concerned, he is ultimately responsible for this mess, along with bob simcock who replaced him as mayor. unfortunately it's likely that both of them will escape any kind of accountability - unless you count the fact that mr simcock very unexpectedly lost the last election, which was really the voters holding him accountable for this & other decisions.

and finally, a thought for the 30 asylum-seekers who died at the christmas islands. it must have been someone on facebook who said that had these 30 had been "australian", it would have filled the front-pages of the papers for weeks, there would have been national mourning, and not so quickly forgotten. but these were the forgotten people, the unimportant fleeing from the incomprehensible. irfan yusuf puts it so much better than i could, here:

To secure our borders, we go to faraway places and take part in wars against enemies, many of whom have never heard of us. What we don't seem to realise is that when we take part in wars, we have obligations. We have an obligation that is triggered as soon as hostilities cease and our leaders feel triumphant enough to declare ''mission accomplished''. It's an obligation in international law to restore and maintain basic law and order for the lucky citizens not ripped to pieces by our weapons.

Now let's look at the record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Basically it can be summarised like this: we came, we saw, we conquered, we unconquered and we lost control. Any MP or pundit who thinks Iraq and Afghanistan are bastions of stability should spend Christmas with their family in a "holiday house" in Kandahar or Basra.

Many Iraqis don't celebrate Christmas. One of the most important religious festivals in Iraq is Ashura. It isn't easy celebrating when suicide bombers are out to blow themselves, you and your family to pieces on a holy day.

And if you do happen to celebrate Christmas, things aren't much better. A siege of the Our Lady of Deliverance church on October 31 left 52 worshippers dead. In such an environment, is it any wonder so many Iraqis and Afghans are fleeing?

Monday, 13 December 2010

the spirit of competition

whew, i didn't mean to have such a long break between posts, but i've been hectic with other things. and just taking a break too.

we had the visit with farrah pandith on thursday night, which was interesting. she reports directly to hilary clinton & visits muslim communities around the world. her main goal seems to be to consult with communities, with a particular focus on youth, to find out what their main issues are. she then goes back to her bureau to debrief & to report to the secretary of state.

there was some lively discussions at her meeting here in hamilton. the question is, what happens next? to which the answer is that we will wait & see. if nothing else, i hope that she has gone back with a positive impression of the muslim community here.

friday night i had to attend an AGM, which was supposed to take 1 hour but ended up taking 3. not the most fun way to spend a friday night, but there you go. at least the weekend was a lot more quiet, which i really needed. the next two weeks before the holidays are going to be incredibly hectic, so it's nice to have a break going in to it.

as i've written about before, i'm a fan of master chef so i'm looking forward to the final of the australian series tomorrow night. they aren't the 2 finalists i supported (i really wanted to see marion get through), but still should be fun. i'm hoping adam will win - and australian readers, please no comments until after 10.30pm tomorrow night (nz time)!

the thing i love most about the australian series is the diversity on the show. both last year & this year, they made an effort to ensure a wide range of ethnicities as well as other aspects of diversity. not only that, but they treat everyone as a fair-dinkum aussie, regardless of accent or whatever. i think it's such a nice change to see the definition of what is australian being expanded in this way, on a popular tv show.

not only that, but i also like the way the competitors behave towards one another. they are competitive without being nasty either in their tactics or in their behaviour towards each other. i love how they seem to genuinely wish other competitors well, even though each person desperately wants to win. i know that some other shows probably do this as well, and i think it's great.

the behaviour of the judges is pretty good - they have moments when they are a little harsh (especially george losing it several times, the night they were cooking at his restaurant), but generally they are never nasty. and on the whole, they tend to be quite supportive. the australian judges are way better than the nz judges in that regard, as are the UK judges. at the very least, they are never abusive or petty. as i've said before, it just illustrates that programmes like this can be extremely successful without the "simon cowell" factor.

or the "gordon ramsay" factor. which is why i can't bear to watch the US version of the show. i did try, but one episode of mr ramsay screaming at a contestant, centimetres away from his face, was quite enough for me. i should have known better than to watch it at all really, given that i generally can't stand mr ramsay's style, but i thought that this particular franchise might have had him toning down. no such luck. really, jamie oliver would have been a much better fit for this show, but no doubt he was busy with his various other projects.

so yes, i'll be busy tomorrow night :)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

alternative report on welfare

i spent some time putting up a few posts at the hand mirror yesterday, one about a human rights facilitator's course i'm doing next year with the human rights commission; another linking to a post at kiwipolitico on the way men are represented in advertising; and a third about a conviction of a man filming his wife without her consent.

i've been reading some interesting stuff here & there. this long article about foster parenting is well worth a read, and really looks at some of those privilege issues i've been arguing about at the hand mirror (hat tip to blue milk, and a strong trigger warning for the article). for all the ugliness there is in the world, it is the work of this woman in doing the best she can to give back to society that continues to be an inspiration. i wish i had the kind of ability that she does.

there's also lots of good stuff on the wikileaks/julain assange stuff. i've not been keeping up with it as much as i would have liked, but here is a pretty good piece by giovanni (hat tip to the wonderful helen keviom). i may have some more to say about this another day.

i'm going to have a pretty hectic day tomorrow. the american special representative to muslim communities is in the country & she will be visiting hamilton. she reports directly to hilary clinton, so is in an important position. the current american ambassador has a post about her here. it'll be interesting to hear what she has to say, & to discuss some local issues with her.

also looking forward to the launch of the alternative welfare group's report on welfare issues. after the nastiness of the government group's report, it will be good to see some decent policy recommendations. it's due to be released at the catholic cathedral in wellington, at 12.30pm.

the one thing i don't get about the government's position is the lack of respect for parenting. either you believe that parenting is a vitally important task & support parents to be there for their kids, or you throw the future of both parent & child(ren) away by forcing parents on the DPB into work. we all know the jobs aren't there, that any jobs available aren't usually limted to or during school hours (and what if the kids aren't even school age?), and that if someone has to be paid to mind the kids while the DPB parent is in work, then we should rather be paying the parent to be with their own children. it just makes no sense. so yes, i'm hoping for some much better solutions from the alternative group.

and i'm still waiting for the party that will campaign on raising benefit levels so that people who have ended up in difficult circumstances at least have a decent income. it's unfortunately not a populist policy, not one that will win votes. which says something quite sad about our country really, that this is a policy that the majority wouldn't support and that political parties are not even willing to try to sell. sigh.

Monday, 6 December 2010

domestic what??

i had a busy weekend, starting with the community radio hamilton end of year function on friday night, then a fundraiser for another organisation.

saturday, i ended up doing a couple of unexpected things, one of which was an in-depth digipoll survey for the hamilton city council. took over 20 minutes & they asked all sorts of questions about what i thought of council services, staff & councillors. i was pretty happy with most things, except for the exceptional amount of money being spent on big projects like the stadium at claudlands, upgrades in hood st, and of course the v8s. the staff i've generally found quite helpful & willing to listen. the basic services around water supply, rubbish collection, and parks & gardens are also very good. the city roundabouts are really looking lovely at this time of the year, & i especially love the one outside clarence st pak'n'save, with its bright marigolds.

saturday night was our end of year work dinner, and our boss hired a bus & took us all up to spookers in auckland. it was really a lot of fun, & some quite scary bits. a good night out. my secret santa present was a pair of these:
whoever it was also bought a big pink ring and put it on one finger. obviously someone is having fun with the fact that i have a total aversion to housework, and i love them. i wore them most of the evening.

sunday was busy from morning to evening, and yet again, i feel like i go to work to have a break from my weekends! still, i have a resful one coming up (i hope) & the chance to catch up on the things i was supposed to get done this weekend.

for a more serious post, i've put up some suggestions on policy priorities for the new minister of women's affairs, over at the hand mirror.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

raising taxes

i had a busy evening last night. i attended a meeting on the campaign to retain MMP, which i've written about here at the hand mirror. i think the vote next year on MMP will have a very negative impact on our democracy if it goes the wrong way.

after that meeting, i went to a celebration held by shama which was very well attended. it was great to see families there, supporting the organisation & one of it's many successful programmes: the parenting classes. there was a wide range of ethnicities present, as well as different religious groups. great to see a bunch of muslim women attending, enjoying the performances & other activities. my favourite was the henna, and the back of my hand is now very nicely decorated.

i've been watching the mass protests across europe with interest - and sadness. as the recession & credit crisis hits hard & governments try to make massive cuts to social expenditure, the public is doing their best to resist. go them. it's a nonsense to say that these cuts are necessary. they totally aren't. there is another solution to raising the money necessary to ensure decent education for all, and a minimum level of financial security in old age.

the answer is to raise taxes, particularly for high-income earners & for corporates - especially large corporates. i'd put massive taxes on anyone whose salary is more than $1 million per year, something akin to the 66% that was nz's top tax rate in the 70s. of course, these people will threaten flight, taking large amounts of capital with them, but realistically, europe is a huge market & large corporates need to have a presence there. it would be nice if the tax rises could be co-ordinated not just across europe, but across the world.

i just don't see why those at the bottom should have to pay the price for the actions of the financial sector. i don't see why there is money for corporate bailouts but not for social expenditure. but mostly, i don't see why tax rises are so off the agenda that they are barely being raised as an option.

i guess the most silly thing is that the populations who are protesting are themselves the ones who voted in conservative leaders - particularly in france & england. it's not like they didn't know what they were getting. even so, i hope that the fightback is successful.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


i've not been having as much internet time of late. some of it is because i've been doing some other fun stuff, but also because i've had a couple of things thrown at me out of left field which have taken up time. i'm also supposed to be writing up my speech from the women's association conference, but not tonight.

while there are a lot of serious things to write about, i'm not in the mood tonight. so i thought i'd consider the list of 100 books that i've seen around the place over the last week. generally, i think people who put up the list just want to show off how well-read they are. but hey, i'm just as much a show-off as the next person! so the list is below, i've put the ones i've read in a different font & the ones i've read partially in italics. i've put a star next to the ones on my bookshelves.

i'm currently trying to get through captain corelli's mandolin, which is a bit of coincidence. i'm finding it heavy going, and it has a few icky bits. this is something i find happens more with male writers - i'm thinking "snow falling on cedars", "the world according to garp" & a couple of others, which just have random gross stuff that doesn't actually add to the story line. it's not that i have problem with portrayals of reality, that can be graphic and horrific, but this stuff seems just seems unnecessary in the scheme of things. or maybe it's just me.

as others have mentioned, the list is a bit wierd. eg it has the chronicles of narnia, then the lion, the witch & the wardrobe, which is a double up (& the former is 7 books, not one). i haven't read all shakespeare's plays, but have read mcbeth & romeo & juliet. there are some notable omissions, rudyard kipling & oscar wilde come immediately to mind, but i'm sure there are others. i can't believe they've left off steinbeck's "east of eden" but included others, and that dickens gets so many on the list. also i've italicised the bible because you can't avoid seeing bits of it here & there, and i've read a few passages. i've read heaps of enid blyton books in my childhood, but can't remember if i've read the particular one they've listed so haven't marked it as read.

anyway, here goes:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen*
2 The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien*
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte*
4 Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling*
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee*
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte*
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell*
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy*
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller*
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien*
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger*
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot*
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell*
22 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy*
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams*
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll*
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis*
34 Emma -Jane Austen*
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen*
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis*
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown*
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery*
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen*
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas*
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens*
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker*
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray*
80 Possession - A.S. Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo*

so there you go. 40 books read, 8 partly read. a few i'll definitely get around to reading.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

removing royalty

well, we didn't end up with a good result. i'm still feeling pretty sad about the tragic deaths of the miners over on the west coast, and wrote some thoughts about that at the hand mirror yesterday.

instead of anything heavy, i thought i'd write something about royalty. i guess it's prompted by the news of prince william's engagement, amongst other things. as you'd expect, i'm a complete anti-royalist. i can't possibly agree with the notion that people deserve any kind of position or honour simply by virtue of their birth into a particular family. which means that i also disagree with inherited titles.

any formal recognition a person receives should be as a result of their own efforts and actions. and it would be nice if the efforts and actions of the less well-off were equally recognised & rewarded as are the achievements of business people, sports stars & famous actors. i know there are a whole range awards given for various achievements - literary, scientific etc. but even many these are based on privilege, they often depend on having access to significant funding to carry out research for example, or having strong language skills that can only come with those who have had the privilege of a good education. still, at least these latter awards are based on some effort and talent shown by the recipient.

but royalty requires no talent that i can see. all that's required is the need to not make such a total ass of yourself that you are forced to abdicate your position. most everyone born to such a position manages that minimum requirement, primarily because they don't want to lose their privileged position.

what i can't understand though, is the support the general population gives to royalty that allows it to exist. there can be no king or queen, after all, without public support & without public funding. how is it that a family can convince the majority of a nation to publicly fund this position of privilege, especially in this day & age when very few royal positions carry any power (even the king of tonga is losing his)? is it some kind of cultural value deeply embedded from childhood, which people are unable to overthrow? if i asked for support from the public purse to live a lavish lifestyle, without any particularly valid reason, i'd be laughed out of the room. yet royal families all over the world manage to do this over generations. i can't understand it.

i've heard the argument that royalty provides stability by acting as the head of state. in which case, why can't someone by appointed every few years, like we appoint our governor-general? even the g-g's are selected on the basis of some kind of merit, some history of public service. that's a thousand times better than royalty.

i especially hate to see royalty in muslim countries, especially because it goes against every basic islamic value. leadership is not a birthright, human beings are as equal in the sight of God as the teeth of a comb except on the basis of their piety. leadership is to be chosen on the basis of knowledge & experience, and removed if the leader fails to fulfil the rights of the people. given all of that, i'm at a loss to understand how the royal families of saudi arabia & jordan justify their existence, nor the sultans of brunei and oman. malaysia also has some kind of figurehead royalty position, though i have no idea what role this person is supposed to fill.

if i ruled the world (yeah, i know, scary prospect!), one of the first things i'd do is dismantle every structure & institution related to royalty. all the money that would be saved & gained from sale of property, i'd reinvest in programmes to reduce poverty.

Monday, 22 November 2010

hoping for a good result

i've had a very hectic weekend, and am still pretty exhausted. i was at the women's studies association conference on friday night & saturday. i gave my speech saturday morning, & got to meet sue bradford & catherine delahunty, both lovely women. there were so many wonderful women speakers, and i tried to get some of the things they said down on paper, but a lot of it was quite academic so that was difficult to do. also, i think i'm out of practice - it's been a long while since i had to take notes at a lecture!

sunday was the 6km walk around the bridges (yup, still a bit store), and i was quite busy after that as well. i managed the race about 3 minutes under last year's time, but then i didn't end up doing much preparation in the last few days - just too busy. oh well, maybe i better start training for next year!

so, not in the mood to write anything very meaningful this evening. also, the mining accident at the pike river mine has me on edge. i'm hating the news coverage - makes me want to throw things at the tv. especially the news ads - the fact that they are using this to advertise future news bulletins grates terribly. radio nz is a lot better, in that there are no commercials & the coverage is not so obviously trying to capture the tears & suffering to increase ratings.

i just can't get out of my mind how horrible this must be for the families down there, how much more difficult for the ones stuck in the mines. i know the rescue workers are doing their absolute best, and yet the waiting without knowing is a very heavy feeling. and i don't even know anyone involved in this personally. here's hoping for better things tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

eid mubarak, again

just a quick note tonight to wish everyone eid mubarak for eid-ul adha tomorrow (well starting from tonight, to be accurate). this is our festival that is part of the hajj, for those who can make it to saudi arabia. a quick look through the archives shows that i've not written in-depth of my experiences of hajj, which i performed in 2006. maybe if i have energy over the coming days, i'll put some of it down.

in the meantime, for a more substantial post, i've put up this one at the hand mirror about how exclusionary alcohol can be.

Monday, 15 November 2010

the performing snake

unfortunately i've been neglecting posting here, as i've been busy at the hand mirror. here's a quick list of posts over the last few days:

- a wonderful malaysian woman who
won a thesis competition in hamilton
- a
speech i'll be doing on saturday at the women's studies association conference
- a
headline failure by the waikato times
- an excellent video clip about education
- a farewell to hon pansy wong
- a meeting of wise women held in nz last week
- and finally, an excellent judgement by judge andrew becroft

so not much left to say just now. other than the fact that the broadcaster who will not be named continues to be a clueless moron, who can't understand that he wasn't exercising free speech, he was excercising paid speech subject to a code of standards. which standards he well and truly breached. on the plus side, he recognises that he is a snake, and i do agree that his former employers were just as much to blame for his on-screen antics.

that he would have been paid for an interview in a women's mag is also quite sad. and such a whinging interview, which if given by anyone else, would have had his supporters telling the person to "harden up & get over it". still, slagging off his former employers is a good sign that he won't be rehired any time soon. let's hope another channel isn't going to give him a platform he doesn't deserve.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


i had an interesting experience today. i went up to auckland to attend a "blessing" for a gorgeous little baby, at a church in auckland. i have attended church services before, but not many. actually, i even gave a talk at a service at a church in auckland some years back. that was definitely an interesting experience.

the only other times i've been at a service is for a christening and a funeral. what struck me today was how different the christian mode of worship is, in comparison to what we do. as a summary, it was a lot of getting up to sing, then sitting down to hear verses of the bible or to read prayers. music is not at all a part of our form of worship, though expert qur'an recitation is quite beautiful and melodious (to our ears anyway). i know that hindus also use music as a significant of their worship, while other faiths use chanting.

so the singing felt alien to me. muslim worship seems to be a lot more about the individual connection to God, even though we pray in congregation quite a bit. but even though an imam will lead the prayer, each person is still making their own individual connection. so there isn't that same kind of response from the congregation that you get with the christian service. it didn't seem as contemplative to me, as an outsider observing what was going on, but who am i to say what individuals were feeling at the time. i certainly couldn't see into their minds!

the most poignant part was the middle of the service, where people got up, moved around and greeted each other. and the words used for the greeting, by every single person, were "peace be with you". which is a literal translation of the muslim greeting "assalamo alaikum". it felt quite surreal to be greeted with such familiar words in an unfamiliar context. and yet it brought home our common humanity, the similarities between our aspirations for ourselves and others. i'm sure it was quite symbolic of many things that i can't quite put into words.

it was nice to catch up with some familiar faces, as well as to meet 2 bloggers i'd only known electronically until today. i love putting faces to names, & the process of words on a computer turning into real people.

all in all, a lovely day.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

round the bridges

i had 24 hours offline yesterday, which i need to do every now and then. wasn't feeling too well, which means i missed my (so-called) training for the round the bridges walk in a couple of weeks. when i say "training", i mean a walk on the treadmill, and i'm still terribly unfit. i walked 2.23 km in half an hour today, still nowhere near the 6km i have to walk in about 10 days. sigh. let's hope it's a sunny day, and i guess i'll have to take my time. i'll be part of the muslim women's team, there were about 10 of us last year. one of our team did the walk in her niqab (full face covering) last yet. i'm actually looking forward to this - i had a nice sense of achievement from managing to finish it last year.

Monday, 8 November 2010

nice to be back home

it's been a few days since i posted. i've been putting up some posts at the hand mirror, one a follow-up on the clueless employer who discriminates against women, another about some nastiness by stephen fry towards one of our local bloggers, and one on a moving piece written by the father of nayan woods, the young boy killed by a teenage driver. tonight, i've put up a post on the census of women's participation - well, not so much a post by me as it is a cut & paste job.

i've been busy over the weekend, with a trip to palmerston north & dunedin. it was the next stage of the programme we took to christchurch & dunedin last month. there will be at least another trip before the end of the year, and i now don't have a weekend free until christmas! i'm sure everyone is feeling the end of year rush, just to make sure really appreciate our holidays when they finally arrive.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


no post last night, for a couple of reasons. one was that i'd had another one of those sleepless nights the previous night, where i tossed & turned til about 4am. so not in the mood for using my brain. the other reason was that i'd been leant a dvd copy of "boy", which i had to return today.

i have to say that i really loved the movie. i was getting a little bored at about two-thirds of the way through, but it really picked up at the end. i loved the subtlety of the messages, the authenticity, well everything about it really. if we're going to be spending millions of dollars supporting and building local talent, then this is the kind of project we should be putting public money into.

here's the clip for poi e, still one of my favourite songs:

from the original clip of this song, i still remember the close-up of the young maori kid who looks so happy (a little bit of that is included in the new version above). i used to look at it in a sad kind of way, thinking about how very few spaces there were at the time for maori kids to feel proud of their heritage & culture, to just feel completely comfortable with who they were. even now, the level of hostility that will come bursting out when something like the te papa issue is raised, it's scary & pretty difficult to live with, especially for kids at that age.

on a possibly related note, i've got a post up at the hand mirror about a strange stance taken by the office of ethnic affairs. i also wrote on monday about a clueless employer in the waikato who thinks it's ok to discriminate against women.

Monday, 1 November 2010

a rally with a purpose

so this rally to restore sanity happened over the weekend. i didn't watch it live, cos i was busy doing other things, but i've been catching up with some of the coverage today. not everyone is happy about it.

there's the issue with the
name of the rally, and i have to say that i'm quite sympathetic to this argument:

That the politics in this country have become extreme, absurd, and increasingly dangerous is not a result of mental illness; it's the result of ignorance and bigotry...

These people aren't nutty outliers; they are knowingly and deliberately and rationally complicit in a campaign to undermine both the credibility of the democratic process and the efficacy of the US government....

Because we live in a culture where people with mental illness are to be dismissed out of hand as the hopeless lunatics they are, your disablist frame is actively counterproductive.

so yes, in a world where mental illness is already stigmatised, the restoration of sanity is not a particularly nice message to be getting across. there's a huge underlying implication that insanity is bad, there those with mental illnesses are bad. not helpful dude. perhaps a "rally to restore rationality" or something similar might have been better.

the bigger criticism is about the ethos of the rally itself.
the standard links to a post by mark ames (with a disablist title & plenty of disablist language). his main point boils down to this:

That’s what makes this rally so depressing and grotesque: It’s an anti-rally, a kind of mass concession speech without the speech–some kind of sick funeral party for Liberalism, in which Liberals are led, at last, by a clown. Not a figurative clown, but by a clown–and Liberals are sure that this somehow makes them smarter ... because they are not taking themselves too seriously, which is something they’re very, very proud of. All great political struggles and ideological advances, all great human rights achievements were won by clown-led crowds of people who don’t take themselves too seriously, duh! That’s why they’re following a clown like Stewart, whose entire political program comes down to this: not being stupid, the way the other guys are stupid–or when being stupid, only stupid in a self-consciously stupid way, which is to say, not stupid. That’s it, that’s all this is about: Not to protest wars or oligarchical theft or declining health care or crushing debt or a corrupt political system or imperial decay—nope, the only thing that motivates Liberals to gather in the their thousands is the chance to celebrate their own lack of stupidity! Woo-hoo!

i've seen similar sentiments elsewhere, and i think people who express them are totally missing the point. there is absolutely no doubt that this rally was called in response to the one held by glenn beck & others, in conjunction with the tea party movement. if this rally was making a statement about anything, the statement was that people are sick of the hate, the bigotry & ignorance that symbolises a lot of the rhetoric coming out of fox news & the tea party movement.

to me, it was about a bunch of people getting together to say "can't we please have these discussions and political debates without the extremism, the name-calling, the scapegoating of minorities" and so on. at the time the rally was called, there was a huge wave of anti-muslim sentiment in the country being flamed by the likes of sarah palin in regards an islamic centre in new york. as well as some really nasty anti-immigrant stuff as a result of tough laws in arizona, piled onto plenty of other layers of bigotry & hate.

it was an absolutely valid and i believe necessary response to all of that stuff. that it wasn't a peace rally, or a rally for work rights, or for any of the other causes that mr ames holds dear doesn't make the cause of this rally any less important or less valuable. in a world that is becoming increasingly torn apart & polarised, it is absolutely necessary for someone (or thousands of someones) to stand up and say "there has to be a better way of talking about this; there has to be a better way for us to come up with workable solutions that will benefit the majority". mr obama was supposed to be that person, but as yet he hasn't been able to deliver too much. some of this is his (and his administration's) fault, some of it is because of other factors.

it's a pity that mr ames didn't stick around for the "
moment of sincerity" bit at the end. because jon stewart said it better than i ever could:

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart - Moment of Sincerity
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or FearThe Daily ShowThe Colbert Report

i have to say that i'm not always a fan of jon stewart (no-one's perfect after all), but most of the time i am. and when he gets it right, he really gets it so right that there aren't many who can match him. this is one of those times where he gets it right. here's a bit of a transcript of the clip:

"So what exactly was this? I can't control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism; or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument; or to suggest that times are not difficult, and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two, broke. The country's 24 hour politico-pundit-perpetual-panic-conflictinator did not cause our problems. But it's existence makes solving them that much harder.... If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."

and of course, how could i blog about the rally without mentioning my favourite man of the moment who finds himself once again in the middle of it all, right where he belongs:

After grieving a little recently for the disappearance of those reverberating ‘peace waves’ of music and bulldozing optimism of the 60’s (The Never Ending Rainbow), the message came: why not join us at the Rally on the 30th of October? Oh my God! What a good idea. That’s all there was to it....

This event may not change the world, or the destiny of the elections, but it was great reminder of the peaceful hopes of many, to rise up and re-state their ardent wish for more sanity and less fear. Glad I was there.

here are yusuf & ozzy osbourne at the rally, singing about trains:

Sunday, 31 October 2010

goodbye michael redman

i've had a nice, relaxed weekend. just what i needed before an extremely busy week. i've put up a couple of posts at the hand mirror, one about strong women role-models on tv, and another linking to an article about the impact of feminist discourse on migrant women.

the waikato times has a big write up in saturday's paper about our departing city CEO & former mayor, michael redman. as i've said before, i can't say that i'm the slightest bit sorry to see him go. not only was the whole transition from mayor to CEO dodgy (i'd actually have to agree with margaret evans who says he should have resigned as mayor before applying for the job), but there is the huge level of debt he has left behind. now that his whole family is shifting up to auckland, he's not even going to help pay it off via his rates. it's a burden he's left for those of us who stay behind.

also stupid was his decision to kill tourism waikato, the council funded organisation that used to promote tourism in the region. this had a negative impact for many businesses in the city:

The loss of its [regional tourism organisation] in 2006 was linked to 30,000 fewer people staying in commercial accommodation in the former Tourism Waikato territory for the year ended July 2008.

At the time it was the only region in the country to see a decline.

he's leaving hamilton to be the head of the auckland CCO for tourism, events & economic development. i just hope that there is better control of his activities by the council there.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

festival of lights

i've had a very stressful day today, but at least it ended well. i was invited to a diwali celebration at wintec, which included a fabulous meal. the highlight of the evening was a lovely indian woman singing the song below. she did it so well that she was asked to come back after the interval & sing it again. it's one of those old classics that everyone from the indian subcontinent knows (well, everyone of a certain age does!)

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

consultation on race relations

i've used up all my writing energy today on a post at the hand mirror about the human rights commission consultation on race relations. if i had a little more, i might do a little rant on angela merkel deciding that multiculturism hasn't worked. luckily, the ever-brilliant tapu misa has done one for me, where she basically tells us that they (ie the germans) haven't even given it a serious try. as usual, avoid the comments if you want to stay sane!

Monday, 25 October 2010

labour day

for the last couple of nights, i've been meaning to do a labour day post, but just haven't found the energy - and was distracted by other things. today, i spent part of the day at work. i know, it was such beautiful weather & i should have been outside, but with the change of GST rate on 1 october, all september GST returns are taking longer to get through. it's annoying work, and all our clients are going to be paying extra to get their returns done properly. i wonder where that cost goes, when they do all the calculations claiming that the 1 october tax changes are revenue neutral.

still, back to labour day & the celebration of workplace rights. except there never is one. every other stat day seems to have a significance that is widely recognised in popular culture and through events or celebrations. except queen's birthday weekend, and being anti all monarchies in whatever shape or form, i'm not in a hurry to do anything but ignore the significance of queen's birthday. in fact, i'd much rather we swapped the holiday for matariki & started actually recognising that celebration in a more formal way.

but labour day does need much more recognition than it gets. may day in the northern hemisphere seems to get a lot of activity, but somehow nz'ers seem happy to be ignorant of the hard-won rights that generations gone by have fought for. being ignorant of those things means that there is so much less resistance as those rights are eroded.

it's been a good and bad week for unions, what with the very successful rallies on wednesday, then the sh*tstorm that has been the hobbit dispute. or lack of dispute really, since the matter was formally settled before the latest foray into the media by peter jackson. i've really lost respect for this man, and am certain i won't be paying any money to see the film. as others have said elsewhere, i'll just wait for the free-to-air screening on tv.

regardless of the rights & wrongs of it all, there is no doubt that we need stronger & better funded unions in this country. it's the only way for workers to fight big money as the latter works to further erode rights in this country with the help of a compliant government.

if nothing else, this all just shows how important it is to have more than just a day off on labour day. we need a real commemoration and retelling of the history of the struggle for workplace rights.

some muslim news

so i've been having a nice relaxing weekend. yesterday we managed a trip to raglan, to splash around at the beach. it was lovely, but quite windy & the water still a little cold. but well worth the trip. today, i spent the afternoon shopping, which is something i usually avoid because i generally hate shopping. but i really went on a splurge today, and bought stuff just because i could rather than because i particularly needed it. haven't done that in a long while.

i've bought music cd's for the first time in i don't know how many years. i used to buy a lot of them when i was in my teens & twenties, but had pretty much given up on music in the last decade. but after attending the concert earlier this year, i was inspired enough to buy yusuf's roadsinger and an other cup. i'm loving both of them, but the second one a little more. the next thing i want to own is the "we shall overcome" cd that someone lent me earlier in the year.

in other muslim-related news, interesting to hear that lauren blair (sister-in-law of tony blair) has decided to become a muslim, after some kind of spiritual experience she had in iran. i guess this is of interest not so much because of her connections, but more that it has happened in spite of the pretty negative coverage that islam & muslims have been getting quite consistently over the last decade. it appears that she has been an activist for some time, particularly for palestinian rights, and this has brought her into contact with muslims.

also i was sent this link to an interview with canada's first muslim mayor. i haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, and i have no idea about his politics. but well done him for his success.

and finally, i was emailed news of the firing of juan williams from american national public radio, for some bigotted remarks he made on fox news. predictably, fox has ensured that it's audience directs its vitriol towards NPR, whose staff have been facing a barrage of nastiness. all the old "freedom of speech" arguments have been dredged up, just like with the broadcaster who won't be named, here in nz. i've gone over those many times before and can't be bothered to do it again tonight.

but let's just remember the consequences of this type of speech for muslims living in america. a jar of nails was thrown in the driveway of a new york mosque in the last week. two muslim women were subject to a physical and verbal attack while filling petrol at a seattle station. a muslim woman and her child were attacked in a hate crime, a muslim student was harrassed and bullied for months, an islamic centre in carolina was defaced with pork. there's so much more, a constant and unrelenting series of hate crimes and vandalism that has been escalating over the last few months.

and no, i'm not saying juan williams is personally responsible for any one of these, but when he participates in the sort of discussions that are happening at fox, and when he adds to the open bigotry that network practices, then he becomes part of the problem. it's nice that his main employer has recognised this fact and refused to give him any further airtime.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

rallying for workplace rights

i've written at the hand mirror today, about the "fairness at work" rally i mentioned yesterday & attended in hamilton today. i don't belong to any union, as there isn't one for accountants, and i bet i was the only accountant in that crowd! also, i'm really lucky to have excellent employers. so my being there was more to support workplace rights for everyone.

also at the hand mirror is a post i put up a few days ago on the religious & cultural restrictions around menstruation.

i was looking for this on youtube the other day, for no particular reason other than it's great & i was remembering how much i loved star trek. enjoy.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

week of prayer for world peace

i've been to an event organised by the waikato interfaith council today, to commemorate the week of prayer for world peace. it's an annual event, and this year, the week is from 17th to 24th october.

we keep it pretty simple here in hamilton, with people offering prayers from their own faith traditions. there's some really beautiful stuff that comes from that, and it's nice just to have time to reflect. i chose the following verses from the qur'an (2:153-157), more because i love them than because they were particularly relevant at that moment:

Oh you who believe, seek Allah's help through patience (in adversity) and prayer. Verily Allah is with those who are patient (in adversity).

And say not of those who have been killed in the way of Allah that they are dead; nay! they are living but you perceive it not.

And We will test you with something of fear and hunger, and with the loss of wealth, lives or the fruits (of your labour). But give glad tidings to those who are patient (in adversity).

Those who, when afflicted with adversity, say "We belong to Allah, and to Him we will return".

These are the ones upon whom are the blessings of their Lord, and mercy; they are the ones who are receive guidance.

although i must say these verses sound much sweeter in arabic than they do in english. there were also hindu, jewish, catholic, methodist & baha'i readings this evening.

the week of prayer for world peace has been going since 1974. and yes, i know people will say that our prayers can't have been too successful since we can hardly say we live in a world at peace. for me, the act of coming together for prayer is a chance to commit to peace in an active way, and to work for peace. we may not be able to solve the problems of the world, but we can work individually and collectively in our own communities to make a difference.

also, the act of coming together and praying together is a pretty strong statement of peace, especially given that various faith groups are involved in conflict around the world. that we are able, not to put aside differences, but to acknowledge and respect them is an important step. i particularly like these paragraphs from here:

Thirdly, we recognise that inter faith partnership does not itself imply agreement. The things we agree on are many, and precious. The things we disagree on are precious too. When we stand with a follower of another faith who is praying, whenever we can agree with the prayer, we give it our interior assent. Where we cannot agree, we withhold our interior assent. It is still good to stand with that person as a friend and as a partner for peace.

that's why i think events such as this are worth my time, even if i don't see an immediate or direct result.

on the basis that one of the cornerstones of peace is justice, i strongly recommend that you take part in the day of action for work rights tomorrow (ie 20 oct). the standard has a list of events across the country, and i hope there is one you can get to.

Monday, 18 October 2010

a call for arms

i have a lot of things in my head at the moment, too many to think coherently just now! it has been an interesting weekend, with the labour party conference going well and a significant change in economic direction signalled by phil goff.

i didn't go to the conference this year, the first one i've missed after 6 years of punctual attendance. it felt a bit strange not to be there, but i've needed time out from a few things this year. after feeling overloaded and lost at the end of last year, i've been focusing on reducing my commitments and getting my sanity back. i don't know that i've been particularly successful at either of those: when you pull out of some things, it's funny how other things expand to fill up the space. and as for my sanity, well yes, it's there somewhere, i know it is. i'm sure it will wander back when it's ready.

one thing i was annoyed about at the end of last week was the push by police to have more access to firearms. this was on the basis that 9 officers have died in the course of duty over the last two years. of course one death is a death too many, but neither the police association nor the minister have shown how access to more firearms in a police car would have prevented any of those deaths. one of those shot would have been in napier iirc, when a sniper was shooting randomly from a house. another was a botched operation relating to drugs (again, sorry to be sketchy on details). from what i remember of those 2, i don't think more guns in cars would have helped.

but what really bothers me is that no comparison is being made to the number of people being killed by police. this year alone, 17 people have been killed in car chases. this is a much more serious problem (if measured by number of deaths) yet doesn't seem to be getting the same level of attention by the police. let us remember that there is no offence in nz that is punishable by death. therefore, i can't see how a chase resulting in death can in any way be justified. not to mention the chase puts passengers and innocent bystanders at risk.

frankly, if the police aren't going to be serious about reducing the number of people being killed by them (or if they are being serious about it, be more public in letting us know how this number is going to come down significantly), i certainly don't feel comfortable with them having more killing power. it is not better to replace the number of police officers dying with members of the public dying because they were shot by an armed officer. remember, there is no crime in nz that is punishable by death. and i'm not prepared to make a judgement that one life is worth more than another one. i don't think anyone could fairly make such a judgement.

i don't doubt that the job of a police officer is a difficult one. i accept that officers have the right to be safe when at work. but my objections are simply these: there is no guarantee that the proposed policy will increase safety, and there is a risk that overll more lives will be lost than are saved.