S59: Right bill, wrong time

31 03 2007

If you’re a Kiwi, then you’ll have heard about s59. My feelings on this have been mixed from the very beginning, and can’t be taken as a good gauge of the mainstream. Also, I simply haven’t been paying that much attention to the matter. I know the rightie blogs have been all over this, but then this definitely plays to the “family values” crowd. I’m naturally of the opinion that family matters should be kept private, but I know there are times when the government definitely has to “butt in” and investigate allegations of child abuse. If there’s anything Once Were Warriors taught us, it’s that.

Now, as I understand it, the bill doesn’t criminalise smacking any more than the law already does; it simply removes the legal defence that prosecuted parents have of claiming “reasonable force”. I believe there have been a few cases where parents have done so and actually got off, despite having whipped their kids with riding crops. But like I said, I’m not a parent and haven’t been paying that much attention.

But Christ Trotter has, and he writes in today’s Dominion Post that the government should pack it in:

Withdraw your failed bill, Sue

We have failed. The opinion polls released this week confirm that fact with crushing finality. It is now indisputable that four-fifths of the electorate is opposed to Sue Bradford’s “Anti-Smacking Bill”. No one’s really surprised. The poll results were just another couple of stalks in the veritable blizzard of straws in the wind that has been blowing for weeks on this issue. The Left already knew the voters weren’t convinced. Why? Because it simply hasn’t bothered to convince them.

Consider the last great successful battle against against ingrained public prejudice: the legal emancipation of gay and lesbian New Zealanders. How was that achieved? By a private member’s bill, yes, but was that all? No. The fight for gay and lesbian rights had been going on for years before Fran Wilde introduced her Homosexual Law Reform Bill to Parliament in 1985.

The struggle against homophobia had gone on in students’ associations, unions, government departments, private business, and on the streets. There were journals and newspapers devoted to the cause. And, in the mainstream new media, a constant barrage of letters, feature articles and documentaries steadily chipped away at public ignorance.

The gay rights movement had its own icons, its own heroes, and even its own “Gay Pride” week on the nation’s university campuses. Fran Wilde’s bill came at the end of a multi-faceted political campaign for change – not at the beginning.

Nothing on this scale has preceded the campaign to end violence against children. Certainly, there are lobby groups devoted to advancing the rights of the child, but their efforts have almost exclusively been devoted to securing the backing of decision-makers especially MPs. No one, to my knowledge, has set out to secure the backing of the public in the way that gays and lesbians did.

And now that failure to win over at least a substantial minority of the public, before proceeding to the legislative phase of the reform process, is generating a backlash of extraordinary power.

In a way that few, if any, of the bill’s supporters anticipated, the notion of criminalising the “correction” of children has awakened fears and resentments from the very deepest recesses of the New Zealand psyche.

It’s more than the New Zealand public can deal with right now: those conflicted emotions toward parents and siblings; those painful childhood memories of sudden and inexplicable violence; those overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame. All the unacknowledged pathologies of family life which Sue Bradford’s bill requires New Zealanders to recognise and address – it’s too much. They want the bill out of their faces NOW!

And, in a curious way, they’re right. Because the sequencing, when you think about it, is all wrong.

How can we ask people battling to keep a roof over their heads; people holding down two minimum wage jobs to put food on the table; people struggling to pay mortgages, rates, power bills and school fees; people so tired they forget to talk to their kids, make love to their partners, or keep in touch with their family and friends, to do what Sue is demanding? To somehow locate the calm centre of their beings; that strong and secure sense of self which is the key to constructing loving and non-violent relationships?

Is it really fair, in a society which never stops doing violence to them, to suddenly demand that parents stop doing violence to their children?

This legislation needs to be withdrawn, immediately. And its supporters (among whom I include myself) need to acknowledge their failure. Not just their failure to build a mass movement against the violence done to children, but their failure to sustain the movement which their parents and grandparents built to end the economic and social violence daily inflicted upon working families.

You cannot help the kids if you will not help their mums and dads.

By refusing to recognise the sheer magnitude of the opposition to this bill, the Left has forfeited the electorate’s trust. Sadly, withdrawing the legislation is now a necessary precondition to rebuilding public confidence in progressive politics.

Because, mark my words, if we do not acknowledge our failure and set about reclaiming the trust we have lost, it will be given to others.

Passing this legislation now, over the objections of four-fifths of the electorate, will not settle the matter. The people will punish the Left and themselves by voting the far Right into power.

And how will that help the children of New Zealand?

[Text from NZ Conservative]

When you’ve lost Chris Trotter, you’ve lost the final rubber.

Like Chris, I support the bill. I also think there’s been an awful amount of demagoguing on the subject, and (it pains me to admit it) from both sides. Saying that it will cut down child abuse seems a stretch (although I haven’t read the studies that bolster this, I’ve had them described to me as borderline inconclusive; and they are also few in number). Still, this is nowhere as objectionable as claims that the bill will lead to the mass criminalisation of all parents across the country.

However, my main objection to the bill has always been: why this bill? And why now? If the Greens want to rack up a substantive legislative success, why this piece of social engineering? Not that there’s anything with social engineering (it depends on the policy), but I voted Green because of the party’s sane and sensible energy policy.

Over and above this, Chris’ point about the utter failure to educate the public about this law is spot on. The lack of a parallel message / framing campaign is scandalous, especially when you consider how quickly the right latched onto its simplistic memes and then hammered away at them for all it was worth.

I’ve bemoaned this in other arenas, but where are the left’s spin-meisters? Are we so averse to the dark arts of PR that we don’t have the slightest clue how to get the message out?

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Cute overdose

28 03 2007

Well, that’s my quota of sugar for the week. (h/t David Roberts at Gristmill.)

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Eye candy for rightwing nuts

28 03 2007

Eve’s Bite hurts, bitch!

Ian Wishart has a new book coming which takes aim at a range of liberal “sacred cows”. In it, you’ll see him have a merry time “demolishing Richard Dawkins, sideswiping the anti-smacking lobbyists, skewering the social engineers and exposing the elites who want your taxes and your children while they laugh all the way to the bank like perverse Pied Pipers.”

He’s making advance review copies available to bloggers. No, I won’t snapping up that offer. All you need to know about this guy is that he’s an Intelligent Design advocate — (cough) creationist (cough) — and is probably going to attack Richard Dawkins’ Book The God Delusion through selective misquoting and a judicious heaping of side-of-the-mouth insults.

Sorry, I’ve got better things to do with my time.

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27 03 2007

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Why fighting the denialists matters

24 03 2007

It matters because of the kids. This science class in Colorado, asked students to put global warming on trial. Guess who won?

LONGMONT — Humans don’t cause global warming, a jury of sixth graders at Trail Ridge Middle School concluded Thursday after hearing opposing arguments from their peers.

“They’re pretty young for this kind of thinking. They did great,” paleontology teacher Ken Poppe said after the 40-minute “trial” in his classroom.

With Earth’s warming accepted as a tenet, pre-teen “lawyers” and “scientists” debated whether humans have caused it.

The students found all their arguments and “science” on the Internet (actually the article says “the school’s computer lab”, so I assume they were searching the Web. The alternative is even more appalling). There are sites that cater to climate warners and climate sceptics — but they apparently have not been taught the skills to evaluate the trustworthiness of these sites.

“The earth has warmed and cooled over many years. If it’s caused by CO2, why haven’t the charts shot up?” Poppe’s son and lead prosecutor Caleb argued during a rebuttal.

In a climax that sent half the class to its feet and forced the judge to call for order, opponent Monique Nem slapped a contradictory graph onto the prosecution’s table.

“We’ve proven you wrong! The CO2 levels have shot up,” she said.

In the end, it seems that the winning side did so purely on their superior debating skills.

Seven of 11 jurors decided humans are not to blame, but everyone agreed classroom debates make for fun learning.

“It was a hard decision, because both sides made good points,” said student Samantha Roberts.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong per se with students learning in this fashion. One thing that is sure is that motivation levels would have been very high among the class. However, that there was no effort on the part of the teacher to vet the information for scientific validity, that he did not point out that the consensus was overwhelmingly towards an acceptance that global warming is driven by human activity — that is unconscionable.

Makes you wonder about where the teacher stands, doesn’t it?

Ken Poppe said he let students choose which side of the debate to argue. Poppe personally believes global warming is cyclical and not affected by humans, while his Colorado State University student aide David Richards believes the opposite. Both, however, said they presented both sides equally to the students leading up to Thursday’s debate.

“What I think is not the issue. It’s what the students dig up and how they present the case,” Poppe said.

Only one parent questioned Poppe’s decision to hold a global warming debate. That mother expected him to present Al Gore’s global warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth” as indisputable facts, Poppe said. After he explained his neutrality in the classroom, the mom allowed her child to participate in the debate, he said.

“You don’t understand someone’s position until you can argue it to their satisfaction,” Poppe said, quoting a famous physicist. “I don’t believe in Darwinism either, but I can argue it as well as any Darwinist.”

That’s right. As well as denying anthropogenic global warming, he denies evolution.

May this cancer never reach New Zealand.

More from PZ Myers, a teacher who actually teaches well.

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Democracy back in the fight

24 03 2007

With the passing of a bill in the US House that would set a date for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, amazing things are beginning to happen in US democracy. It’s going to be a long fight for progressivism, but for the first time in a long time, there’s reason to be optimistic.





Inhofe Gore’d

22 03 2007

Gore testifies

As my thesis is on climate change matters, I keep a weather eye (Hah! Get it?) on Al Gore, the highest profile spokesperson for the cause. Today, he gave testimony before Congress on matters related to climate change. According to David Roberts, he got off to a shaky start in his prepared opening statement, but perked up when he smelt fresh meat in the form of long-time climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-AK). Gore speared him.

Then — the hacktacular coup de grace — [Inhofe] asked Gore to sign a pledge to reduce his personal home energy use to that of an average American. As gimmicks go, this one would embarrass a high school student, but Inhofe’s band of knuckle-draggers seems quite pleased with themselves. I’m sure there were frat boy back slaps all around.

When Gore tried to respond that he’s purchasing green energy and offsets and trying to put solar panels on his house, Inhofe just rode right over him.

Ponder for a moment: What could any of that conceivably have to do with the business of the U.S. Senate? Even if you think Gore’s wrong, is trying to catch him in a clumsy gotcha the way to advance your case? What a small, sad man.

ThinkProgress has the video. More videos here.

I was interested in how marginalised people like Inhofe now have become, despite overt efforts on the part of Republicans to stack the committee with anti-Gore members on their side. This is a positive sign that deniers are slowly but surely becoming objects of derision.

This is by no means to say that the fight is over, especially when the “paper of note” can still produce front-page misleading broadsides against Gore like this one. And here in New Zealand, the main problem is a government that, hemmed in on all sides politically, seems afraid to take bold steps in addressing climate change. The Greens also appear to be the subject of a lot of hysteria from free-marketeer types. (These statements are provisional on my part at this point, as I have yet to really study the matter in-depth as I would like to.)

Anyway, though the fight is a long one — and I definitely need to take stock of my thoughts and make some wide-ranging strategic statements later on in the year — the day belongs to Al Gore. With the last word, Tom Watson draws a link between Inhofe’s humiliation at the Senate hearing with the wider slow-motion implosion of the Republican Party:

Inhofe’s staff tried one of those old-school “when did you stop beating your wife” tricks, attempting to trap Gore into admitting his own energy usage at his Nashville home. Swing, miss. But not to disgraced former law professor Glenn Instapundit:

A gimmick? Yes. A stunt? Yes. But it’s one that Gore has opened himself up to. That’s the problem with moralistic, messianic crusading — people expect you to live up to it.

Hee hee, that’s insta-panic right there – panic that Al Gore is bathing in incredible national and even worldwide popularity – that he accomplished more by losing the Presidency than George Bush did by winning it. Panic that Gore is about to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

And there was Al Gore, sitting in testimony as the grand winner of our political times – even as Republicans refused to testify under oath about their roles in the scandal over the political dumping of U.S. Attorneys. The great national nightmare for the shrinking right is just beginning.