Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On politics and mental illness

Alright. Spurred by some posts, media pieces, and public figures commenting that I've seen about the place in the wake of the Charlotte Dawson suicide, I've been thinking ....

i) mental illnesses are, y'know, "illnesses". It's sort-of right there in the name. I don't doubt that a lot of factors go into both the manifestation of an illness and whatever the sufferer chooses to do about it; but in light of the Hill-Cone Herald column et al., I really must echo Hume's Daily Blog piece in suggesting the focus for an explanation ought to be on the illness itself, which can definitely be a terminal one.

ii) we seem to hold "public figures" to a rather higher standard of thick skinnedness and infallibility than we would otherwise demand of ourselves or our associates. What this means in practice is that if you're on TV or prominent in other media, then dealing with some occasionally quite horrendous sentiments and the cretins that go with them, is increasingly viewed as merely "par for the course", rather than something abominable in our public discourse. Yon video of TVNZ people reading out abuse they've received recently goes some ways to confirming this.

iii) I liked Annette Sykes' status pondering the vitriol often heaped in the direction of activists and others in the political sphere, even though I feel she may have gotten it *slightly* the wrong way round in putting the focus on politicians abusing activists, rather than activists (and everyone else) abusing politicians.

Which leads me to iv), where it occasionally gets somewhat personal.

We demand an arguably far higher standard of both sanity and sanctity from our politicians - both the elected ones, and the ones aspiring to become so. Don't believe me? Well, think about it this way. Put yourself in the shoes of a candidate campaigning for office. Persons such as myself already get written off as "crazy" in a semi-serious way for our choice of beliefs, solutions, or political party straight from the get go - but imagine for a moment the trepidation of having an identifiable mental illness and still putting yourself out there in front of voters. You spend a bit of time pondering how your fellow countrymen/electors would react were they to find out what's up. Optimistically, would some of them go "Yup, that's a valuable perspective to be able to draw upon when shaping the course of our Nation and its laws; I won't think any worse of them for it"? Or, more likely, would the average voter think "Gee, that BIPOLAR candidate [and you can bet it would be screamingly emphasized by some voters/partisans] .. Ain't going to vote for them! .. They might do something crazy and reckless in a manic phase or be a less effective legislator or official in their depressive phases. Much better/safer to entrust my vote with the obviously sane candidate with the financial trader background, a stable home life, and that ambitious glint in the eye who seems perfect and polished all the time."

That's a thought-chain that I know for a fact be running through the minds of some politicos, candidates and political public figures. And it makes acknowledging there's a problem, or seeking help for it THAT much harder and unpalatable. Particularly as there's such a pressure to be "presentable", and "aspirationally normal" on the national stage.

Matters are totally not helped by the fact that life in this most rough-and-tumble segment of the public arena is replete with all sorts of hazards and contributing factors taht are *definitely* not conducive to positive mental health. You might find yourself wracked with huge cognitive dissonance by having to speak against/vote against something you dearly believe in. You might hospitalize yourself through overwork and woefully insufficient sleep cycles. Otherwise rational people will attempt to construe you as a sort of avatar of incarnate evil for your beliefs (or, worse and more frequently, what they *think* your beliefs are, never mind what you're actually saying/doing) - and eventually, you may even start to believe it yourself.

You'll find yourself under constant attack from ALL sides - most especially, and most damagingly, from your OWN PEOPLE and those who're supposed to have your back. Eventually, you almost inexorably develop paranoid tendencies (and here I mean *literal*, actual paranoid tendencies) because your brain's been training itself for so long to see supposed allies (to say nothing of the adversaries) out to get you or manipulate you through insidious methods, plots and conspiratorial subterfuge (because they almost invariably actually *are*) ... that it hardwires itself to now see underhanded, guileful and malicious attempts to do you harm pretty much everywhere it looks, and in every interaction. (Sadly, because of proximity and the fact that you're constantly looking out for knives from your own side, this chiefly means habitually assuming the worst about those who would otherwise be amidst the nearest and dearest to you, which obviously makes finding help and support very, very difficult indeed)

This is the life of a politician, and this is how we live. It's what we signed up for, I suppose - to continually operate in an extraordinarily toxic environment, subject to constant (and often highly public) barbs, plots and attacks .. and fundamentally trepidacious about *ever* showing a moment's weakness, particularly if it's something intrinsic to you and which would look really bad for your prospects if it somehow managed to find its way onto, say, FailOil (and from thence, in twisted form, into the minds of the voter).

And the really sad thing is ... if you're outside politics - outside our side of the glass at the zooish aquarium enclosure, then you don't see much or all of this, unless you're watching House of Cards or something. This means that trying to open up to "normal" people about any or all of this - even the ones you "trust" - often doesn't help much either. I've found a very common refrain from non-political types about all this to be along the lines of "if it's that toxic and that damaging/harmful ... why are you still in the game? You should get out and go and become something less stressful like a teacher or something". Because they don't really get why you got in in the first place, or why you're still, addictedly, still there years on after having seen it for what it is. So you wind up spending late nights in the bar talking with your fellow politicos - enjoying the tangential empathy of your adversaries because they, at least, know how the game is and what it's like. But never revealing too much, lest it find its way to the wrong ears or eyes. You can't talk to your own Party high-ups about it, because then they'll think you're weak, unstable or unsuitable - and who knows what your enemies inside your own party would make of it or do with the information; you can't talk to people from other parties too candidly for obvious reasons ... so you wind up coping however you can, keeping things secret, and learning to inflict the misery on others for political gain.

That's our life. And that's why, while I (and I'm sure many, many other Kiwis) have immense and immeasurable sympathy/empathy for All Blacks or models or TV personalities or other public figures who wind up (one way or another) letting us in to their battles with mental illness and adversity ... I also think that we should often spare a thought, particularly in an election year (where things are going to get seriously vitriolic) for our politicians.

Because without getting into the Merchant of Venice monologue ... we're human, all too human, too. And far less able to publicly admit it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ernest Renan and Waitangi Day

A few thoughts on Kiwi Nationhood, inspired by the day.

A guy called Ernest Renan once wrote that the process of forging a Nation is as much (if not more so) about the people of that nation coming together to forget as it is about shared memory. He was writing about the French nationalistic experience, and given my Great Grandfather's country is comprised of an eclectic (and occasionally quite volatile) combination of previous conquering peoples, faiths and languages ... for them, he had a point. There would be no France if every Frenchman cleaved to his ancestral identity and *remembered* just which of his neighbour's ancestors had conquered the region and deposed his own. Why, you'd get Northern Ireland! [Or, incidentally, that period of Breton-Fascist co-operation, wherein my Breton co-ethnees won a brief quasi-independent state and the right to speak, teach, and live their own language ... by collaborating with the Nazis against the unitary French ideal]

For New Zealand, it is a bit different. The average New Zealand European has probably forgotten much of what his ancestors did to Maori - or even to other NZ Europeans; and probably thinks still less again to what was done to those other early migrant groups like the original NZ Chinese.

But for many Maori, and some Europeans, this is not so. We remember what happened (occasionally through interesting lenses) ... and if we do not remember, then we endeavour to learn.

This, to my mind, is where we differ as a people from Renan's Frenchmen.
We have not come together to forget ... particularly in recent decades.

Instead, we have done quite the contrary. We have come together ... to first remember, and then (and arguably more importantly), to Overlook.
(i.e. to hold the Memory, and yet quite pointedly focus on the positives of our relationship and its future; while only occasionally bringing up the negatives of the past - which, while present, are not allowed to become overwhelming, except when a point is being made)

Renan also wrote that the process of nationhood was something akin to a "daily referendum" - that is to say, a process by which the people of said nation continually affirm both their relationship with the nation, as well as its shared communal existence.

This pretty much seems to be the modern spirit of Waitangi. Shared overlooking (rather than forgetting) of some of our past; and (hopefully) shared rememberance of both the promise of our future.

And most importantly, a dual reminder of the knowledge that our nationhood is still very much a work in progress - which can only continue to be forged through conscientious and shared effort by *all* our peoples.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Post 4:20 Part 1: "We're on the Greenest Greens, Call us Vegetarian!"

Yesterday, a journalist decided to ambush Metiria Turei with a question about the Greens' cannabis policy ... during what was supposed to be a big unveiling of their education policy. Now, quite apart from noting that the correct response should have been "What's that got to do with encouraging low decile educational achievement?", I thought it would be interesting to peer behind the smokescreen and examine just what, if anything, cannabis decriminalization Greens style actually means in practice for the Land of the Long White Cloud. 

First up, let's take a look at their website.

The Greens' "Drug Law Reform" policy-set divides the actions they intend to take to alter how our society interacts with a particular Schedule C substance (and, assumedly, preparations that fall into Schedule B) from the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 into three flavours: "Immediate Steps", "Medium Term Steps", and "Long Term Steps".

Let's start with the "Immediate" ones. This is what we may assume Turei is talking about when she claims to be dedicated to "pushing" the issue should her party occupy the Treasury Benches with Labour come later this year, as it's what they've told us they want to do first. Her own previous Private Member's Bill on the subject is quite clearly geared up to facilitate the accomplishment of their "enable doctors to prescribe cannabis products for severely ill patients" policy point; which would suggest, given that it's the same proposer and the same policy being advanced, that Turei's bill represents a good guide to how The Greens will attempt to approach fairly swift medical decriminalization with a minimum of legal fuss.

Now Turei's bill is, obviously, a medicinal decriminalization proposal, which means it differs rather substantially and substantively in content and intent from Nandor Tanczoc's previous efforts in this area. (which, incidentally, was sufficiently concerned with societal acceptance to have originally included penalties if you were sparking up within 100m of a school or kindergarten)

Turei's bill sets out a new regulatory regime for cannabis, under which persons suffering from a range of disorders, impairments and illnesses enumerated in Schedule 1 of her bill are able to apply with support from their medical practitioner or specialist to the Medical Health Officer for a Medicinal Cannabis Identification Card under s9B of the draft legislation.

So far, so conventional. And nothing to seriously object to if you're somebody who believes medicinal cannabis is a worthwhile medicine.

However, the Devil is in the Distribution.

The first thing that jumps out at you when you read Turei's bill is the lack of dispensaries. Given the emphasis upon central approval for medicinal cannabis use via the Medical Health Officer, you'd assume that there would also be a substantial degree of central control over the sale and distribution of marijuana to persons needing it for medicinal use.

Not so, it would appear. Instead, Turei's bill puts the provision of medicines squarely in the hands of the end-user.

In her vision, the Card Holder gets given seeds and is expected to either be able to grow the plant themselves (s9A), or to be able to find somebody who's got the requisite horticultural (herbicultural?) skills to do so on their behalf as a Designated Agent (s9C).

So no Colorado-style or Californian-style Dispensaries under this scheme, and you'd better have a green thumb to go with your green lung and your green card. Or a mate with the requisite equip and expertise. I also can't wait to see how Card Holders will go about renumerating their Designated Agents for growing on their behalf.

However, the most amusing bit of Turei's bill is where the cannabis seedlings and other material *actually comes from in the first place* so as to supply the Card Holders and their Designated Agents.

Are you ready?

s11(1) of Turei's bill sets out that the New Zealand Police are the organ of state charged with dispensing cannabis material to Card Holders. s11(2) of said bill tells you where the Police get the material to hand out ... "supplied from stock seized during the course of law enforcement activities".

Effectively, this means Turei's entire medical decriminalization scheme relies upon an on-going crackdown on private and personal cannabis use to actually continue to be able to provide medicinal users with supply ... a situation that may be less charitably described as "robbing (and possibly incarcerting) Peter to supply Paul for his glaucoma".

A moment's consideration will reveal why the average stoner or hobbyist-cultivator will not find Turei's legislative solution all that compelling as a result.

Oh, also ... if you're looking to set up a Cafe, then the Greens are probably not your best destination for a Party Vote at the moment. Their enthusiasm for the 2003 Smokefree Environments Act amendment, which rendered all indoor workplaces 100% smokefree assumedly means that the same regulations which prohibit recreational smoking of cigarettes in cafes and bars ... will probably prevent smoking anything else inside a Cafe or Canna-Bar.

And, if you're a spliff smoker, the Greens' policy of stamping out tobacco use in Aotearoa by 2025 may also be highly relevant. Perhaps you should start "growing your own". It's certainly what they're advocating for the medicinal smokers :P  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

#Renationalize Your Vote

Alright. So over the last few days, I've seen a slew of "If you want x, then vote y" posts. Mostly along the lines of "If you want to change the government ..." or "If you want to change the government and believe our questionable commitment to doing something about deep sea oil drilling ..." 

Well, I can't promise anything about whether a vote for NZ First is a vote to change the government. But what I can promise is that a vote for NZ First represents a vote for a fundamental change in direction from either National OR Labour.

#Vote for NZ First is a vote to restore privatized assets to Kiwi state ownership. A vote for NZ First is a vote to ensure *our* generation gets to retire at 65, with a potent sovereign wealth fund a la Norway to ensure sustainability. And a vote for NZ First is a vote to ensure that *all* our people have their needs addressed, particularly as applies economic deprivation, through a universalist framework that renders assistance whatever sort of Kiwi you are.

So this year, think about your vote not just in terms of whether it changes the government or re-arranges the Ministerial deck-chairs ... think about it in terms of whether it changes what the government *does*. And how you can influence it to deliver the change *you* want.

Oh, and I can promise you one other thing. I'll be fighting mad hard to *ensure* those bottom lines get actioned.

#RenationalizeYourVote

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Sickness Beneficiary On The Roof, and managing Police Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Last night on 3News, a story was screened covering the recent discovery that a whole bunch of police officers over in New York had been apparently fraudulently claiming pensions and other financial assistance they weren't entitled to, after having comprehensively faked (or, depending upon whom you believe, exaggerated) serious mental disorders, chiefly as a result of (according to hte forms) PTSD brought about by 9/11. 

Now, clearly, I'm not going to sit here and type up something exculpating potentially crooked cops for claiming to be mentally ill; and especially not until we've got some rather more comprehensive facts. 

But what I am going to note, is that while, yes, there is an element of bathos inherent in accompanying a story about police officers who're claiming to have been too depressed to head outside, lead normal lives etc. with photos of said police officers outside, on jet-skis, going fishing etc. ... it does occur that people with mental issues *also* can enjoy outdoor recreational pursuits, potentially as a rare respite from one's condition, and that this is basically another example of the same sketch presentation of persons with different capacities as that contained in David Shearer's now-famous "Sickness Beneficiary On The Roof" story.

 
Now, some elucidation may be required as to what I meant by "and that this is basically another example of the same sketch presentation of persons with different capacities as that contained in David Shearer's now-famous "Sickness Beneficiary On The Ro
of" story."

Well, let me put it this way. Once upon a time, there was a Labour politician called David Shearer, who decided that the best possible thing he could do as leader of a nominally compassionate, left wing party that basically built large chunks of our modern wellfare state ... was to go soft-bene-bashing in a questionable bid to win over the mythical Middle New Zealand voter, who apparently cares mostly about tax-cuts and boat races. 

Mr Shearer therefore made a speech which made use of an example supposedly drawn from his own constituency - of an ordinary, salt-of-the-earth, gainfully employed Kiwi raising a complaint with the then-Leader of the Opposition about a situation of manifest injustice. Namely, that the State seemed powerless to help HIM (the able-bodied worker with a job), but could nevertheless afford to fork out a sickness benefit for a dude who was apparently visible up on the roof of his house, painting it. 

Now, we'll leave aside the bit about it later turning out said Sickness Beneficiary On The Roof (yah-dah-dah-dah-dah dada-dada-daaa da-dada-daa-da-daaaaaaaaaaa [that's supposed to be me humming Fiddler on the Roof, in case you can't tell]) didn't actually exist, and just focus on two things here:

First up, sickness benefits get allocated for an incredibly broad array of conditions, including mental health ones, specific impairments, non-visual impairments ... and, generally, a whole lot of conditions that, while they prevent the sufferer from actually holding down a regular 40-hour-a-week-job, may not actually prevent them from heading up on the roof of their house to carry out some essential maintenance. 

So, by implying that sickness beneficiaries had no place on roofs unless they were rorting the system, Mr Shearer very unfairly stigmatized an activity which may be quite vital to the upkeep and maintenance of a home - quite literally keeping a roof over one's head. I suppose it's possible to write it off as a mere rhetorical flourish ... but there was a very real sense that if you were a known sickness beneficiary who was carrying out repairs to his or her home, you might attract some level of opprobium for it. 

So ye. Labour wound up further demarcating the "acceptable" behaviors of sickness beneficiaries. 

Now, I feel that the analogy with "photos-of-cops-having-fun-in-the-outdoors" is pretty self-evident ... but just in case it isn't, I'm vibing that displaying pictures of people who are theoretically depressed etc. having outdoorsy fun and implying "THIS IS NOT TYPICAL, NOR NORMAL! SCAM AFOOT!" sorta again demarcates what is and isn't acceptable behavior for somebody experiencing that mental state.

Which, when your mind's imposing enough limits on you at the time, does not need additional help manufacturing manacles through the media.


Well, let me put it this way. Once upon a time, there was a Labour politician called David Shearer, who decided that the best possible thing he could do as leader of a nominally compassionate, left wing party that basically built large chunks of our modern wellfare state ... was to go soft-bene-bashing in a questionable bid to win over the mythical Middle New Zealand voter, who apparently cares mostly about tax-cuts and boat races. 


Mr Shearer therefore made a speech which made use of an example supposedly drawn from his own constituency - of an ordinary, salt-of-the-earth, gainfully employed Kiwi raising a complaint with the then-Leader of the Opposition about a situation of manifest injustice. Namely, that the State seemed powerless to help HIM (the able-bodied worker with a job), but could nevertheless afford to fork out a sickness benefit for a dude who was apparently visible up on the roof of his house, painting it. 


Now, we'll leave aside the bit about it later turning out said Sickness Beneficiary On The Roof (yah-dah-dah-dah-dah dada-dada-daaa da-dada-daa-da-daaaaaaaaaaa [that's supposed to be me humming Fiddler on the Roof, in case you can't tell]) didn't actually exist, and just focus on two things here:


First up, sickness benefits get allocated for an incredibly broad array of conditions, including mental health ones, specific impairments, non-visual impairments ... and, generally, a whole lot of conditions that, while they prevent the sufferer from actually holding down a regular 40-hour-a-week-job, may not actually prevent them from heading up on the roof of their house to carry out some essential maintenance. 


So, by implying that sickness beneficiaries had no place on roofs unless they were rorting the system, Mr Shearer very unfairly stigmatized an activity which may be quite vital to the upkeep and maintenance of a home - quite literally keeping a roof over one's head. I suppose it's possible to write it off as a mere rhetorical flourish ... but there was a very real sense that if you were a known sickness beneficiary who was carrying out repairs to his or her home, you might attract some level of opprobium for it. 


So ye. Labour wound up further demarcating the "acceptable" behaviors of sickness beneficiaries. 


Now, I feel that the analogy with "photos-of-cops-having-fun-in-the-outdoors" is pretty self-evident ... but just in case it isn't, I'm vibing that displaying pictures of people who are theoretically depressed etc. having outdoorsy fun and implying "THIS IS NOT TYPICAL, NOR NORMAL! SCAM AFOOT!" sorta again demarcates what is and isn't acceptable behavior for somebody experiencing that mental state.


Which, when your mind's imposing enough limits on you at the time, does not need additional help manufacturing manacles through the media.

[Elements of this post originally appeared on my fb on Thursday 9th January]


Mothers, don't let your kids grow up to be Politicians

"A career in Politics basicallly consists of a career in attempting to get other people fired. 

If you're an MP, then you are trying to get other MPs fired. If you are not an MP, but are a candidate, then you are trying to get MPs fired so that you may become one. If you're in Opposition, you want Ministers fired. If you're a Nat Minister, then you want your workforce fired. (c.f MFaT restructuring) If you're in ACT, you want most of the state sector AND your predecessor as Leader fired. 

And if you're in a political party (just about *any* political party), you will be spending considerable and capacious amounts of time attempting to get your own comrades, workmates, underlings and overlings fired. 

So, in sum ... Parents, if you want your offspring to grow up happy, healthy, of sound mind and secure prospects ... don't let them get into politics.

But if you want them to grow up to be bad wo/men, dangerous men , sad men, paranoid men, and vituperative, vindictive, and vexatious men ... men who are, in short, entirely unbothered by playing merry hell with the lives of others for points of personal, political, or principle ... then tell them to become Politicians. 

And proud." - Curwen.

[Ed.Note: this is resyndicated material from my Fb, and originally appeared on the 8th of January] 

"Back in Black"


"Back in Black - I hit the sack
I been too long, I'm glad to be back
Yes I'm let loose
From the noose
That's kept me hanging about..." 

There's been a bit of an interregnum in postings to this blog over the last few months; as truth be told, certain well-publicized (and less well publicized) official runctions and imbroglio have conspired to keep me well off publicly available social media and the blogosphere.

But noting i) the fact I'm still producing blog-length material of insight and observation elsewhere; and ii) that this is an Election Year (wherein news, views, and attitude is pretty prime within the arsenal of any political grouping), it seemed high time to reactivate this apparatus. Initially, with some resyndicated material that's not otherwise seen the non-blue light of day.

So, in the words of a pop-cultural icon rather more prominent than myself ...

"Hell, It's About Time."