Thursday, July 30, 2009

On entitlement mentality...

I started writing last Saturday in response to a recent post by TF, in which he used (in the usual derogatory context) the tag-term “entitlement mentality”. I got myself horrendously bogged down with the balance between my line of thought and the kind of connotations the term has and to which I was objecting.

Then, last night was one of those few tv programmes that I really enjoy. A child psychologist, Nigel Latta, is in the middle of a series of programmes on the subject of “child-rearing” or parenting.

OK, ok I can hearing the scoffing already. No, the probligo has not lost his tree. It is a very interesting take on children, parenting and how best to achieve kids with the right attitudes. It is also, at the very least in terms of the debate at hand very a propos.

A brief wander through the chatboards and “reviews” that google brings to the surface in response to “latta parenting” will show everything from the “liberal” pain and outrage (at topics like poo in the bath or breastpumps) to the outright and unreserved approval of mums of real kids.

The tv series is based on a “stage” presentation that Latta started back in 2007 and it has been doing the rounds since then.

The clue to all of this has to be in the name – “The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show”.

This taken from a Listener interview back in 2007 –

It’s time to poke a stick at our child-centred world, says Dunedin-based clinical psychologist, author and father of two boys Nigel Latta. And he does so, unashamedly, in a performance he calls the Politically Incorrect Parenting Show.

What is politically incorrect parenting? It came about because I think we’ve got incredibly precious about children and we stress and worry more than any other generation of parents. We worry about them walking to school, climbing trees, if we read them enough bedtime stories, if we read out all the plaques at the museum … none of it makes a difference.

Isn’t that just the natural order of things for a parent – to worry? If you’re constantly stressed and worried about whether you are doing a good job, you’re not going to do a good job. You’re far better off enjoying your kids, and then when you stop enjoying them, tell them to go away and play. Like our parents did. Our parents raised us on some pretty straightforward guidelines: we’re adults; you’re children. We play with adults; you play with children. Self-esteem hadn’t been invented when we were children. Our parents could just get on with being parents.

Are parents these days too busy trying to be their kid’s best pal? It’s okay to not be their little mate and it’s okay if they hate you. We got a letter last night posted under our door from our seven-year-old, saying how much he hated us.

How creative of him. Did you give him a prize? Why did he hate you? He was sent to bed early for being rude. He’s still learning that sometimes in life it’s best to zip one’s mouth rather than keep arguing for a position that’s already lost.

Are you New Zealand’s answer to Supernanny? If anyone described me as Supernanny, I’d shoot myself in the head. She’s possibly the most annoying woman in the world. I really like the British series Little Angels because it shows parents fixing things.

On one hand you say there’s this enormous anxiety about positive parenting and that we are very child-centred. But on the other, New Zealand has one of the worst records for child abuse in the OECD. The people who get anxious about positive parenting generally are concerned, and the people who beat their kids don’t engage in things like the debate around Section 59 and they often come from generations of crap parenting. They actually don’t care about hurting their children. So, this idea that we can appeal to them is ridiculous.

Not even through television ad campaigns – “Violence is not okay”? It’s just absolute bollocks. It’s lunacy. There are lots of things we could do in this country to reduce the number of kids who die or are hurt, but the problem is that the country is run by politicians and people who are good at advocating to politicians. The good clinicians, the people who can solve the problem, are crap at working the system and they never have very much money.

People say parenting’s the hardest job in the world, even for those least marginalised. Absolutely. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I had fantastic parents and grew up in a stable home and yet there are still times when I feel like chucking my boys out the window. I’d walk into the fire for them, but some days my fingers itch for the want to throw them out the nearest window.

Have you ever hit your kids? Hit, smack – absolutely. In fact, I’m the only person in New Zealand who started smacking because of Sue Bradford.

But aren’t the big people supposed to be in control and not hit or bellow? It’s not the fact that you bellow at your kids, it’s your lifetime average. Everybody bellows when they lose the plot and the reason you yell is that it makes you feel better. But as a long-term strategy, it’s not the best. I think that a lot of people, if they give their kid a smack on the bum, or yell, think, “Oh, I’m a terrible person.” Well, not necessarily.

If you give a shit about your kids and you love them, they know that.

Yes, his language is as direct as that :).

It goes further. He promotes concepts which, while I did not appreciate their importance as a child, I certainly agree with now. Concepts such as “risk”, “consequence”, “self reliance”, independence”, “respect”, “authority” and “effort” come to the fore.

But, how does this tie with TF’s “entitlement mentality”? Well that comes out of the programme last night. Latta was running through the idea of “self”, “self-image” and such-like concepts from the modern school of parenting.

He made the point using birthday parties as a f’rinstance. “When we were kids…”; the person having the birthday got the presents, got the first piece of cake. These days, everyone else gets the presents, everyone has their own personal cake that they can have the first piece of… Parents compete for “the bestest birthday party in the neighbourhood”, aided in their endeavours by advertising usually aimed at the kids if not actively promoted by them. You know the kind of thing, “But muumm, Daisy down the road had…”. The current one on tv promotes the “popularity steaks” with everyone wanting to be your friend because your parents are taking you and all of those “friends” to the local burger house (think here of arches).

The point Latta made was that Generation Y is being – has been – raised with that entitlement mentality to the fore. “I am GOOD. I WANT. I GET!” is the mantra for the selfish moderns. I work with a young fella who has this attitude in spades, and who has a passion for technology. In the past year he has owned, tried, displayed with pride, probably three different and increasingly expensive cellphones; sorry – what would be the generic term for a “Blackberry” or “iPod”? There is total pride in his purchase. There is pride in how much it cost!! On the other hand I have a basic cellphone, solely for communication, and only because SWMBO gave it me as a birthday present five years ago. It cost perhaps $100. It has no camera. It has no internet connection. It is a telephone. I have to use it every six months or so or the service provider will cancel the connection and I will lose the prepaid value on the phone.

The entitlement mentality is reinforced by the advertising industry. “THIS is what you want!! GO GET IT!!” It gets worse. You don’t even need the money. “Hey! Something you want? HERE is the money!” Don’t worry about paying it back. That is not the point. The point is “You want; you get!”

So, when people like TF start to complain (I resist the temptation to use “right whinge”) about “entitlement mentality” I start to get hot. I know what they mean, and I understand all of the connotations that their political beliefs impose on the term.

However, so many people completely miss the truth. What he is complaining of is not something that is restricted to the poor, or to those on welfare, alone. It is endemic in our society. It is the basis, the fundamental, the foundation of the consumer economy. It is a state of mind that requires a person have not this or that, but this and that. It totally pervades our society. It is the attitude that makes us see four wheels with motive power and safety equipment not as a simple mode of transport but as a symbol of our personality. How many people go out and buy a “replacement” for a perfectly good, still serviceable appliance simply because there is a new one advertised on the tv which has a different colour, a new motor, or which is merely more in keeping with the current fashion?

Returning to the thoughts TF proposes on entitlement mentality, there is a question that has to be asked.

How many of those who by the implications he puts on the term, those on welfare, the dodgers, the bludgers, the lazy and the unproductive are in fact responsible for the credit squeeze and the bad loans and all of the other ills of the financial and banking systems? I would suggest very few indeed.

The far greatest part of the bad debt is probably owed by teenage children who are entitled to credit cards paid by their forty-something parents; by twenty-somethings who are entitled to add a new car, an expensive home theatre system and their OE to their student loan; by thirty somethings who marry and are entitled to spend far more than necessary on their wedding because they must make the social statement “I am rich!”; by forty-somethings who are entitled to the expensive house, the two cars, the RV, the sports car, and the boat…

Not just the people who fall into the right wing paradigm…

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Material(istic) difference...

This little tale comes from a friend of my wife; a lady whose opinions and outlook I respect as much as I do her husband’s.

The conversation was about parties, barbeques of the summer variety, and some of the people that you meet.

This lady invited some friends over for a barbeque (the story is second hand from my wife); friends whom the hosts knew had guests in from San Francisco. The husband of the lady telling the story was a keen angler and had had a good catch the day prior and was happy to share some of our freshest and finest seafood.

After the meal had been downed, accompanied by some very good wine I do not doubt, the hostess was in the kitchen clearing up and was stacking the plastic plates used for the barbeque in the dishwasher.

The female half of the San Franciscan couple came in to assist and was quite astonished that the plastic “throw-aways” would be re-used. “Oh! We haven’t washed dishes in years! Everything is delivered in disposables, and we use disposables at the table!”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thoughts of Murder

Over the past three weeks or so we have seen the conclusion of two, both quite bizarre in their way, and quite different, murder trials.

In the first (in chronological order) a man faced charges of murdering a man in his sixties with a banjo. Memory says that it was “forced down the victims neck”, a somewhat terrifying picture to imagine. The defence was based on “provocation” as the victim had (it was testified by the accused) made sexual advances to the accused.

The second, which concluded yesterday also used “provocation” as a defence. The victim, a very good looking young lady and intelligent economics graduate, was stabbed 120 times by her ex, an economics lecturer who had been teaching the victim over the previous several years. His defence was unsuccessful (he was found guilty of murder rather than manslaughter), and there is a considerable uproar about his use of it.

Which raises the very interesting aside that it is OK to be provoked by unwanted sexual advances from a homosexual male, but it is not OK to be provoked by a beautiful young lady.

Alright, that does misrepresent the truth somewhat. The second instance involved taking a fairly large knife with him when he went to return “unwanted gifts”, a man who is “severely narcissistic”, and a considerable element of premeditation. It is that latter factor that did not come out in the first case, and which might (I believe “could”) be a significant factor in the application of provocation as a defence. It needs to be said that in the past ten years there have been several cases (I recollect three) instances where a likely murder charge has been reduced to manslaughter because of the actions of the victim and all were the killing of homosexuals.

In 2007 the Law Commission (a NGO body comprising selected jurists) recommended the repeal of the statutory defence of provocation. That call was never acted upon by the previous government in good part because it was always in the potential for use as a defence in cases already before the Courts and gaining a just cutoff was going to be difficult.

There are several levels to this debate on murder, the legal distinction to manslaughter, and the various “defences” against murder charges (other than fact and evidence naturally). I do not know (and I suspect not) that NZ law has any provision for “justifiable homicide” – the kind of situation where a person kills another to protect a third party for example; not self-defence but one step removed. There is the question of provocation as outlined. There is the insanity defence; “not of sound mind” which has become mired in debate about the difference between personality defect (which the accused in the second instance above certainly had in bushels), mental illness such as depression, paranoia, or schizophrenia, and true insanity as the imperfect mind unable to relate to society or to morality. (I recall one expert describing an accused as “effectively unable to consciously decide to kill”, with a consequential insanity verdict and the Judge ordering indefinite detention in a secure psychiatric facility.)

There has been a similar, though not parallel, debate involving the law and charges that result from killing another with a motor vehicle. There is a progression from “careless use causing death” through to “reckless” before manslaughter can be considered. I don’t know of any instances where a vehicle has been found to be the instrument of murder; doubtless it is possible.

So, how does the law in NZ stand on the matter of killing? As I see it; confused, confusing and far too complex. It is too easily misunderstood. It is too easily misapplied. The rules are not clear. A Judge can spend hours instructing the jury on the boundaries between murder, manslaughter, the level of proof required, the application of “reasonable doubt”. I have to say that the definition of all of those elements comes from many years of precedent. Each decision that gets close to the line makes the definition just that little bit more difficult to see. It must also be said that codifying the definition in statute would be a horrendously complex undertaking without perpetuating the legal niceties of “the reasonable man”, and hence not really providing a solution to the present confusion.

There is an interesting twist in the tale at this point.

The law that governs manslaughter and resulting sentencing is sufficiently flexible that a life sentence could well result, the same penalty as is compulsory for murder. When you add to that the application of non-parole detention (the longest of which to date is 30 years) and there is little difference between the two crimes.

I think that is a good thing.

But, to the beginning...

Is the defence of provocation defendable, or should it be removed from the statute books?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Samson and Delilah

This is not the traditional Biblical tale. Samson and Delilah are two Aborigine teenagers, and the film is their story.

The film is funded by a number of Australian organisations, including Central Australia Aborigine Media Association (CAAMA).

To say that I enjoyed this would not be true. It is very definitely not entertainment.

The film opens at dawn in an aborigine village. Samson wakes, cuddles his small tin of petrol, gets out of bed, walks outside and plays (very non-musically) with his brother’s electric guitar, gets hit by his brother… The same scene is repeated perhaps ten or fifteen times. Delilah wakes, takes medicine to her grandmother, feeds her, takes her to the health clinic, sits with her as she paints… The same scene is repeated several times. The repetition is modified slightly, the communal phone rings and no one answers it. The art gallery agent arrives to collect the grandmother’s latest painting, pays her bill of $25 at the store in return. Samson’s brothers wake, start playing drums and guitars; the same tune every day, the same tune endlessly.

As an introduction to the story it could not be bettered. It creates exactly the sense of boredom and hopelessness of life in a very remote Aborigine community. And that, really, is the film. It presents a portrait of Aborigine life, as it really is.

The prevalence and impact of illiteracy, petrol sniffing addiction, teenage pregnancy, rejection by “white” Australian society, unemployment, homelessness, crime – real, cultural, and imaginary – and rejection by the family is all there.

The painting collected by the agent is seen in an art gallery window priced at $22,000.

No, not enjoyable. It is a film that the likes of MK should have as compulsory viewing.

I give it a 9; most of all for not shirking the truth.

Monday, July 13, 2009

State (of) Health

I have been through this debate before, many times, and it has nothing to do with justifying the “nanny state” criticism of state welfare or public health services.

I live in a “collective” society, that is if you accept the epithetic nomenclature of the far right. NZ used to describe it as “cradle to grave” welfare and one (very brave Christian) Prime Minister called it “Applied Christianity”, but that came to a grinding and bankrupt halt in the 1970’s. We still have extensive welfare and health systems and I for one am fairly glad that we do.

I have health insurance, have had for some 25 years.

When I took out that insurance, one of the conditions that I had to sign on the application gave the insurer the right to access to my (existing) health records. Those records confirmed (because I had disclosed them on the application) that I had a (fairly serious) heart murmur and varicose veins. I was given a choice. Normal insurance at $1500 annually and the heart and varicose excluded from cover, or $2,100 and a $1,000 excess on all surgery. About 22 years later, the State provided me with free surgery and a good job well done to replace the mitral valve.

Now into my 60’s, I am very fortunate that for the moment my health insurance is provided by my employer. The annual cost is now $2500 annually. It will increase to close to $3,000 by the time I retire and at that point I will need to make some serious decisions.

But that is only part of the story.

Recent news in this country has a dispute of some considerable heat developing between all of the health insurance providers (there are 2 major and 4 minor) and most specifically the largest, and their customers.

The dispute has arisen over what the insurance provides, and what it does not. It is important to emphasise right from the beginning that there is no governmental intervention in the services provided by the insurers, or the cover that is provided.

Central to the argument is a new drug from the US (not herceptin this time) for the treatment of some cancers. It has been approved for use in this country but the government health bureaucracy has not yet purchased the drug for use in the state health system, primarily on the grounds of cost. This means that your doctor can prescribe it, you can get it readily from the pharmacist, provided that you pay the full price for it. There is no government subsidy.

So, buy the drug. Use it. Claim the cost from your insurer. Simple!


Turns out that the insurer has the contractual right to exclude (no reason required) any treatment not “approved”. Their general rule apparently starts with “not subsidised by the government”.

So, I have to ask, why am I paying for insurance?


This clip is pertinent, or so I am informed. If it is not, then I apologise. I have not looked because I spend enough time on the dial-up as it is without dragging in video. Broadband? Waddat?

Friday, July 10, 2009


This appeared in the Herald about a week ago. Brett Phibbs took this amazing shot.

The "flying fish" is an eagle ray, one which did not become lunch!

The little black triangle is not a shark. It is an orca. They like rays. Interestingly they are sufficiently skilled that they can catch the ray and extract the liver, leaving the rest...


Sunday, July 05, 2009


This year was the second Atamira - the first was two years ago, the next will be 2011 to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. It is a "cultural presentation" of urban Maori and is funded by Auckland City and Manukau City. Confused yet?

Admission is free - how "collective" is that!! But then, I refuse, point blank, to pay to attend similar "shows" where 90% of the content is commercial and advertorial.

Anyhoos, it was most enjoyable. There was plenty of people, but not the crammed-in-shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of the Easter Show of past years (the commercial and advertorial referred to, and which cost $25 per head last time we went 30 years back).

I enjoy faces - and I hate formal and posed photography. So, what is set out below are all hand-held, natural light, shutterspeed as slow as 1/4s.

This lady is stripping flax to remove the "plant" from the fibres. Traditionally a pipi (like a cockle) shell is used. The strips she is working on will end up as "lilys" like those in the foreground.

It is a long time since last saw this being done. The panel is tukutuku, thin wood laths bound over raupo (you can see that in the gaps as light fawn vertical bits). The panels were used as lining in important houses and there are many traditional patterns used as decoration. This panel was about 4m long and 1.5m high - large! The binding is done in pairs, one each side of the panel, and when there are three or four "teams" singing as they work it is great to sit and watch (if you are allowed).

Also performing (two 20 minute stints) was Whirimako Black.

The "theatre" is no more than 8m across, and about 3m from stage front to back. Truly, "intimate" theatre!

It was good to hear her sing, in person, and with no "backing" other than Kevin Kereama doing the percussion and bone flute bits reasonably well.

Oh, one last thing. The woman pictured above, peeking out from behind the white and blue needs explanation. The white and blue is the back and head (hoodie and balaclava) of her son(?) who is a quadraplegic and is a mouth-painter. I thought her face was quite dramatic and wore the cares of looking after her (30ish) son.

A good "boil-up" for lunch, $10 per head. Mutton, kumera, potato, watercress boiled (hence the name) for quite some time. The hangi was $15, but I haven't had a decent boil-up since I was a kid so there was no contest. We were there for a good 5 hours.

Time well spent on a wet and cold winter Saturday.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Essentially, what Watts (what? Only three wots? That’s not very bright!) should be arguing is that the global financial system got to the point where:

• It is self-sustaining and self-replicating.
• Self-referential and circular functions had become undetectable and unmeasurable.
• Responses of the system to external stimuli were becoming increasingly chaotic as a result.

Then it is not a case of individual companies being “too big to fail”. That is a political crock, reasoned to justify governmental intervention of a particular kind and for equally political purposes. At the political level, that kind of intervention can be justified provided that the rationale is honest – it is for political reasons that A is too big to fail. The cause of the failure might well be unforeseen circumstances arising from the global financial system. That is accepted. That is not the reason for the intervention; that is political, whoever does it.

Intervention, at its best, can do no more than try to hold the system in its current form of “equilibrium” whatever that might be. Any action that might disturb that equilibrium runs the risk of the global system going haywire or imploding. No one can point at any part of the global financial system as say “There is the initial cause – the tree that fell on the powerline”, as Watts has pointed out. However, his attempt at divining the cause to Lehmans’ door is as correct and effective as blaming the Pharoahs.

What must be considered here is that if the US government allowed Lehmans (or any of the other “too big to fail” financial companies) to fail (and similarly in Britain, in Japan, in Europe) then the consequential catastrophic failure of the global financial system would have been laid squarely (and fairly) at the respective government’s doorstep. To not recognise that as a primary political motive is shortsighted and just plain wrong. If the catastrophic failure had occurred (as it may still) the outcome for the likes of the US and other western nations would be bleak indeed. The main beneficiaries would be those economies with little to lose and the resources to take charge – led by China and India, perhaps Russia and South Africa if they could get their political houses in order.

The second consideration is that China currently owns some USD4 trillion of the US in the form of US Government Bonds. Add to that the likely indirect investment in the US private sector (by investment in banks that have on-lent the funds) and a very large part of the US is “owned” by (mortgaged to) China. And it must be said that the current Administration would be responsible for only a small part of that debt. The best part of it has gone up in smoke (literally) “in defence of freedom and the American Way” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, to all those who want to criticise their governments for their actions and reactions to prevent the potential collapse of the global financial system I want to propose the following –

1. If the present system is allowed to collapse, then there has to be some way of rebuilding it with the safeguards that are missing from the present system. As there has been very little in the way of commentary on what form it may take, it is useless to try and impose this or that political outlook on the future.
2. If the present system is allowed to collapse, the “owners” of the new system are likely to be those who have the resources – natural and/or economic – that will give them the power to control the system. As I have said, that could well lead to the present “masters” being overturned with totally unpredictable results.
3. The difficulty with the present system stems from size, rather than individual elements. I have posted on that aspect previously, and it requires no repeating here. It is the comprehension of the size that is the problem.

In the first episode I compared the global financial system with a Persian Carpet.
We can see the pattern, the inter-relationships, made by the thousands of individual tufts. We can even estimate the total number of tufts that there might be in the whole carpet.

But what happens if we examine one tuft. Enlarge it many many times – holy Mandelbrot!! It looks almost like the original carpet! This time around though, instead of looking at the whole carpet we have a small group – perhaps a nation, a city, perhaps a commodity market, perhaps an international company. It interacts with neighbouring tufts, with the “tufts” from which it is made, and via the carpet backing with other more distant tufts.

Now, repeat the same exercise. This time instead of organisations as the basis, consider the idea of information. The Persian carpet is the “summary” of the global financial markets. Think of it as a financial report. The individual tuft is the financial report set of an individual organisation. It presents information that is based upon a large number of individual transactions. Each of the threads within that tuft could be a category of income or expense, or transactions with another tuft. One has to know the rules for the tuft (how it works, what it contains) before it makes sense. In the context of the total carpet that tuft means very little. Removal of the tuft does change the carpet, it diminishes it.

Now, if you want to chage the pattern of that carpet, where do you start? Which tuft is the first to be moved, or removed? If you come across a tuft that is particularly worn, how do you go about replacing it so that the pattern is maintained, the integrity of the carpet remains?