Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sideswipe

H is not the only problem. Spotted by local blog Whale Oil (www.whaleoil.co.nz)


From the London Review of Books personals, whereby writers use their over-developed and under-utilised creative talent to get laid.

1. "The uncomfortable mantle of guilt, the heavy cloak of ignominy, the coarse socks of denial, the iridescent trousers of doubt, the belligerent underpants of self-loathing. All worn by the haberdasher of shame (M, 34, Pembs.). Seeks woman in possession of the Easy-Up iron-on hem of redemption and some knowledge of workaday delicates. No loons."

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Moses is alive and well and living in Browns Bay: more hearing-impaired copy-takers from a North Shore community newspaper. This notice appeared on Friday. "Browns Bay ... Sat 11th. Huge garage sale, moving of seas. Something for everyone."

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It is a media column and Sky TV is media, but not the sort you'd expect from former National Business Review writer Deborah Hill Cone, who now freelances for several mags including the Listener. Hill Cone made a reference to Playhouse Disney's Stanley cartoon this week in her Listener column, calling Radio New Zealand's book of editorial principles The RNZ Great Big Book of Everything. Tis a song that the cartoon gang, including Stanley and Dennis the goldfish, sing: "The great big book of everything, with everything inside." Parenthood is treating her well, obviously.

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A reader writes: "Perhaps NZ Cricket should also be a bit more family-friendly with their choice of music. They've been playing the James Blunt song You're Beautiful, except they've been using the album version, not the censored radio version. Yesterday morning when New Zealand won they played it loudly, so booming all around Eden Park (and beyond) was the line "I was f-ing high" instead of "I was flying". Made a few people raise their eyebrows, especially those with little critters in tow (who, by the way, should have been at bloody school)".

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Auckland City Council responds to a moan about being charged $4.70 for a $2 per half-hour parking space using their text parking service. The council says: "Your reader would have only been charged $2.50. People taking advantage of the new text parking service in the CBD are charged a one-off 50c transaction fee each time they park. This goes directly to the mobile company and technology provider, rather than the council. It does not cost an additional 20c to send the text and it does not cost anything to read texts. It's really all about offering our customers more choice. If people don't want to pay an extra 50c for the convenience of text parking, they can continue using traditional coin payment."

Editorial: Halting text bullying at the source

We hope some good will be done by the courage of Deanne Teka who told the story of her daughter's death to the Weekend Herald. It was not perhaps an exceptional story, which makes it all the more important. The circumstances, if not the tragic result, may be familiar to many parents of children and teenagers today.

Mrs Teka's 12-year-old daughter, Alex, was bullied at school, but not in the way most of an older generation remember. Alex Teka was bullied by phone text. The cellphones that most people carry today are a potent form of communication, especially in the hands of the young who seem to live on them. Cellphones can be more than a convenience, they are a kind of social badge that interrupts face-to-face conversation anytime anywhere and can make the receiver feel very important or popular. Not many young people could resist answering a call or opening a text message, even when it may be hateful.

Text must be a particularly insidious weapon of cruelty. Messages are necessarily brief and blunt. They find the victim, wherever that person may be. There is no voice to try to reason with or to cut off. Stark print remains in the mind long after it is erased from the screen. Turning the phone off, as many have suggested, does not stop text messages arriving as soon as it is turned on again. And turning the phone off means missing calls that might be welcome.

Telephone companies, you would think, could solve this problem. Cellphones are among the wonders of the microchip that keep us constantly astounded with the range of services they are making possible. Surely they are capable of blocking calls from certain numbers. They already provide caller identification. A bar on further calls from a bully should be as easy as any other option the technology offers. It might not be in the interest of telephone companies to let receivers block calls but nor is it in their interest to be an instrument of harassment.

There seems no other practical solution. The suggestion that schools should ban cellphones is plainly unrealistic. The best that schools can do is try to keep them turned off in the classroom. Even if it was possible to banish them entirely from schools, that would not stop inveterate bullies from misusing them after-hours. Education Minister Steve Maharey has asked his officials to report on text bullying and what schools can do about it. But that is probably the extent of the action he can take.

The best response to text bullying is probably the same as to any other form. Childhood is a hard school in which children quickly learn that not everybody is naturally well-disposed to them. They need varying degrees of help to find the confidence to understand and ignore the personal deficiencies that turn some people into bullies. Once these deficiencies are understood by all children it is in fact the bullies who need most help.

They usually choose victims who stand out from the crowd in some way - physically, emotionally, intellectually - and may be vulnerable because they have not yet learned to draw strength from their individuality. The bully preys upon such people in a forlorn attempt to find self-worth and social approval. But it is easier to say this than it is for parents to convince a child that his or her tormentor deserves their pity and, if possible, an act of friendship.

Bullying, as the Teka case illustrates, is not always violent and by no means confined to males. Verbal and psychological cruelty probably does deeper and more lasting harm. When transmitted by text it is calculated and cold. If phone companies have the technology which can stop it, they must.

Rayna Fahey: Games a symbol of conquest

The 2006 Commonwealth Games is an opportunity for Australia to showcase its success and wealth to the rest of the former British Empire.

Such spectacles can only be held in economically secure locations and are only successful when a vibrant local culture is able to hold the festival up and make it shine.

The financial benefits for cities that host these extravaganza are huge. As Commonwealth Games Minister Justin Madden said, "It's the best thing we've ever done. We'll be displaying to the world what we're best at, in sport, in festivities, in celebration and unity".

Unfortunately for Minister Madden, the last point is under major debate.

For the indigenous people of Australia, the Games is a symbol of an undeclared war on their land and against their people.

The Aboriginal people have been persecuted by the policies of the Government and ultimately, the British monarch for over two centuries.

For a 40,000 plus year-old culture, it can hardly be surprising that lots of people would be more interested in having words with the Queen than getting excited about a bunch of sweaty, Lycra-clad athletes.

The Games are a symbolic demonstration of everything the Commonwealth and former empire stand for; physical conquest over others for glory and power. The only difference is, with the Games there are strict, yet fair, rules which are firmly enforced.

When Captain Cook reached Australia he disregarded the spiritual laws that had been governing this continent for millennia and set about beginning one of the worst free-for-all land grabs in the history of colonisation.

Unlike most Commonwealth countries, there was no legal treaty signed with any Aboriginal nation.

Ironically, the only known treaty to be drafted and signed in Australia happened in Melbourne, on initiative of one John Batman. However Batman had no sovereign authority and the Crown quickly nullified that document. No attempt to make a treaty has been made since.

Which brings the issue back to the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. Under international law, treaties for land must be signed between sovereign nations and until Australia becomes a republic, that sovereignty remains with the Queen.

No surprises then that the Victorian Traditional Land Owners gave unanimous support to a Sacred Fire Treaty Circle to be established in Melbourne during her visit.

And no surprises that people from all over Australia representing the Aboriginal nations intend travelling to Melbourne to see her.

Queen Elizabeth knows there are serious issues. In correspondence since her last visit she confirmed she was aware of the issues.

Since that time, the legal situation in Australia has dramatically changed, most significantly with the adoption of anti-genocide legislation.

The legal definition of genocide includes mass murder, the denial of basic-needs services and intentional attempts to assimilate members of one group into another.

Many people would like to deny the existence of criminal genocide in Australia, often using the justification that while it may have happened in history, the past is the past and we've moved on.

However late last year the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that if the Aboriginal people wanted to get anywhere in this world, they had no choice but to assimilate. This statement was an act of criminal genocide under definition of Australian law and no one blinked an eyelid.

This upcoming visit from the Queen is her first opportunity to step on Australian soil since these laws came into effect, and it is time she intervened.

She must give clear direction to John Howard to make serious steps towards reconciliation. An apology is needed now, and negotiations towards a treaty must begin between sovereign nations, before Australia can begin to move on, as most other Commonwealth nations have.

The Crown and the Government of Australia have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world they do understand the basic legal issues surrounding the unfinished business.

The question of whether this issue is of enough importance to the various visiting dignitaries will decide whether this is indeed a celebration of unity for Australia.

Let's hope it is.*

Rayna Fahey is a member of the Black GST (Genocide to end, Sovereignty acknowledged, Treaty to be made) campaign. She recently moved to Australia from New Zealand where she was involved in Treaty education and decolonisation activism.

Grant Taylor: Bullying brings shame on us all

The death of 12 year-old Alex Teka must be taken as a sign of the seriousness of bullying and social relationship issues for New Zealand children.

What's Up, a national helpline that answers 500 calls a day from children and young people all over New Zealand, has received calls from children as young as 7 expressing the wish to die because of the bullying they are suffering.

It is perhaps easy for adults to see bullying as a relatively trivial thing that all kids have to go through as a normal part of growing up - not good, but nothing too much to worry about. Alex is a reminder that such complacency is ill-considered.

While a large proportion of children experience bullying and some particularly resilient children seem not to be bothered by it, our impression at What's Up is that most are significantly troubled and some feel overwhelmed.

What's Up statistics suggest that most bullying occurs in late primary school or intermediate school. This has major implications for parents and educators of children aged between 9 and 13 years. Bullying affects both girls and boys but a significantly larger proportion of the calls are made by males than females.

The children who call What's Up regarding bullying identify a variety of reasons for their mistreatment. These reasons include ethnicity, resistance to pressure to behave in a certain way, physical differences, high achievement, being new, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, and religious beliefs. Individuals who have low self-esteem or personal power can also be targeted.

The nature and extent of bullying can vary from direct to indirect harassment, from minor irritants to assaults, and include illegal acts (sexual harassment, racial abuse, deprivation of human rights). It can include physical, verbal, written (text messages, emails, hand-written notes) and gesture bullying, extortion and exclusion. The most common form of bullying is verbal harassment.

Research on programmes to reduce bullying in schools shows that the consistency and commitment of the school staff to reducing bullying is one of the most important factors influencing success. Any suggestion implicit in the behaviour of the adults that bullying is tolerable seems to undermine the effectiveness of anti-bullying initiatives.

Perhaps it can be inferred from this that the attitudes of adults outside school also have an influence. If children observe bullying among the adults in their lives, are taught that intimidation of others is the path to success, or get the message that feeling hurt by bullies is a sign of personal weakness, a school's efforts to eliminate bullying are going to face a struggle.

While bullying is the second most common issue at What's Up, Peer Relationships - making, keeping and negotiating problems with friends - is the first. Although parents and family are crucial influences in children's lives, children live in a social environment that extends well beyond the home. Other children can have as big an influence as the family does and are the most common source of concern for children, as judged from the calls to What's Up.

A child's skills for dealing with other children - social skills - are an important part of resilience to bullying and are an important predictor of how well a child will do later in life.

Our experience at What's Up suggests that to prevent repetitions of the devastating experiences of Alex, her friends and family, we need to address the attitudes towards violence and aggression in New Zealand communities and take steps to build the social skills of our children, not just their academic and sporting skills.

Children (and their caregivers) must never be allowed to feel alone, inadequate or unsupported in the face of bullying and all adults in a position to prevent bullying must work consistently towards this end.

Bullying is not just a kids' problem, a school problem or a family problem but a shameful reflection on our communities' abilities to create safe and healthy environments for us all.

* Grant Taylor is executive director of The Kids Help Foundation Trust

* Anyone aged between 5 and 18 can speak free of charge to one of What's Up's professional counsellors between noon and midnight, seven days a week including holidays on 0800 WHATSUP (0800 9428787).

Liz MacIntyre: Making the desert - and lives - bloom

An aid worker travelling to projects must steel herself for tears - not open sobs but sometimes, quietly in the evening or in the shelter of a vehicle, it's necessary to have a weep over the cruelty of circumstances.

So I was prepared for India, for Dahod, in the western corner of Gujarat state, where the poorest tribes, the Bhil tribal people, eke out an existence in a hostile and arid desert.

Or at least it was, until World Vision began development work there some 16 years ago, which is the approximate life span of a development project. The initial two years, the "seed period", are to set up the project, build relationships with the people, analyse needs, prepare for child sponsorship and ensure the villagers in the area establish the necessary Village Development Committees which are vital to keep the programmes on track and accountable.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached Dahod, knowing the project would soon end, and wondering whether it was ready to stand on its collective feet?

New Zealanders have been totally funding this Area Development Programme (ADP) for some 16 years, through sponsoring 2400 children in the area. ADPs are large - Dahod has 120,000 people living in 42 villages.

Samy Satvedi, the ADP manager, was very chipper as he explained what we would see the next day. He even described the scenery as "beautiful". Sure enough, as we drove through the rolling-hill country of barren brown dunes, we could see swathes of green - the desert was blooming!

We stopped at village after village, where water had made a huge difference. Check dams (concrete dams to "check" water runoff), earth dams such as we often see on New Zealand farms, deep wells and diesel pumps to siphon the water up to the crops, have all made a huge difference in the lives of these formerly impoverished farmers.

Kanu Gohil, in the village of Divaniyavad, is now an agricultural entrepreneur, enthused at what he is able to do, and his dreams for the future.

He is planting bamboo and amla (gooseberry) and has thousands of saplings ready to be planted before the monsoon rains. His daughter, Manisha, 11, who is sponsored by a New Zealand family, has the task of watering them after school. If it wasn't for the project, Manisha wouldn't be in school, and Kanu and his family would be nomadic, migrating to the cities to find work. Before he just didn't have the water to irrigate the 8ha he farms with his five brothers.

In winter, they grow wheat and mustard and Kanu is experimenting with local wheat and American wheat, which has more grain and seems plumper. They use organic manure and wormcast, and have just started experimenting with roses, which had their first flowering in January. Floriculture is a smart industry to get into in India where flowers are such an important part of life. Kanu also has small mango and banana plantations.

"If the wheat shines in the sun, I am happy," he says, beaming. It's a sign of good moisture and plumpness, and sure enough, the hectares of wheat do shine in the sun. He is now getting four crops a year, where he used to get one.

As we ate freshly roasted chickpeas from the fire, chatting under the shade of the trees, I asked Kanu what the programme had meant to him and his extended family. "Not only my family but my brothers' families have come up in life. We have diversified a lot. It started with the well, lift irrigation, then we were able to establish the nursery, horticulture, floriculture. My income has grown by five times."

And what would Manisha's life be like, I ask him. "She would have to walk 2km to fetch water. She would be in the same state we were in five years ago. We would have to migrate to find work every year, and she wouldn't be in school. Our income would be poor, so she would work to help us survive."

The kind of work Manisha would be involved in is pretty grim for a girl, and a very vulnerable one. I saw them in Dahod city, clothed in saris and shalwar kameez, doing back-breaking work, carting rubble in big platters on their heads.

It's not something Manisha has to worry about as she lives in the comfort and security of her own village, attending school, playing with her friends and holding hopes of becoming a teacher when she grows up.

In the same village I met a group of women who belong to one of the Self Help Groups - there are three in the village. For most it's the first time they've ever handled money, dealt with banks or made any financial decisions on their own. They clutch books that detail their individual and group savings.

"Before the water came to the village we didn't have any savings," explains one of them. "Now that we have water we can grown vegetables and crops and sell them at the markets." Their pride in their progress is palpable.

The Village Development Committee has applied to the Indian Government as a charity, establishing themselves as a private trust, and they will now be able to access government funds. This positions them very well for the end of the project in three years' time.

The New Zealand Government has, for the past three years, been matching donations given from New Zealand on a two-to-one basis, specifically for soil and water conservation in 20 of the project villages in Dahod. This is important additional funding which allows extra check dams to be built, agricultural training workshops for farmers, and land development and soil conservation programmes in the villages.

In Paniya Village the milk is flowing freely - at the rate of 200 litres a day - and not from cows, but from buffalo. The local milk co-op part-funded 34 buffalo for the village - they contribute 50 per cent, the aid agency contributes 25 per cent and the villagers contribute 25 per cent.

The villagers explain that a milk tanker comes from the dairy factory 12km away, twice a day to pick up the milk - a familiar scene for any New Zealander brought up on a dairy farm. The butterfat content is measured and, as in New Zealand, the farmers are paid on the fat content of the milk, which is measured on pick up.

If it weren't for the well, dug 10 years ago, and the lift irrigation, this milk project would not be possible: no money to purchase buffalo, no food for the animals.

Sonal Damor, a serious 15-year-old and an elected Child Forum leader, says the milk project has made a big difference to their lives. "Change has come," she says. "The fields have improved."

Children take an active part in village activities under the child sponsorship programme, and Sonal takes her duties seriously, sitting in on village development meetings, and keeping an eye on other sponsored children.

She's about to sit her "Class 10s" in April - a very important exam for Indian schoolchildren and necessary for them to pass in order to proceed to senior high school.

She wants to be a teacher in a village when she qualifies.

In one village where vivid red roses grow among the fluffy cotton plants (crops never attempted before), the villagers told me that they used to be known as thieves and robbers - that was the only way they could survive in the drought.

Now they're hard-working citizens delighted with the aid they've been given to stand on their own feet. So, no tears for Dahod.

* Liz MacIntyre is communications manager for World Vision New Zealand.