Friday, July 15, 2022

Whoops, not that one

You know you're in America when you google the Dominion Post and it brings up the Dominion Post in Morgantown,  West Virginia....

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Hasta la vista

This blog is going into recess until early August - that is, unless unforeseen events compel an unscheduled rousing from hibernation. In the meantime, please feel free to talk among yourselves.

Monday, July 11, 2022

The intriguing circumstances in which Joanna Kidman was appointed to show us the way against hatred and extremism

There’s an intriguing piece in today’s Herald (paywalled) concerning a government about-face over the appointment of University of Otago professor Richard Jackson as director of the spectacularly pompous-sounding National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

David Fisher’s story indicates Jackson, who’s listed on the Otago University website as a professor of peace studies, thought he had the job in the bag. Then the Otago Daily Times ran a story about an internal review which described the university’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, of which Jackson was director, as having a “toxic” and “divisive” culture, with “deeply entrenched conflicts”. Whoops; not a good look, as they say.

Jackson was supposed to start in his new job at the NCREPCVE (don’t those initials trip lightly off the tongue?) on March 1, which happened to be the very day the ODT published its damning story. According to the Herald, that unfortunate confluence of events resulted in Jackson being “quietly let go”. Oh, dear.

But this is where it gets really interesting. One of the members of the panel charged with selecting an appointee was Victoria University sociology professor Joanna Kidman. Yes, that Joanna Kidman – the same one who ended up being appointed to the job herself, as a co-director alongside Professor Paul Spoonley. Fancy that!

Kidman’s appointment was announced on June 3, triggering a wave of astonishment and disbelief from people familiar with her inflammatory, derogatory and abusive postings on Twitter.

How did that happen? You might well ask. The way the Herald tells it, Jackson was originally chosen by the panel from a short list of six and interviewed twice. Then a decision was made to appoint two co-directors, and Kidman clearly decided she was eminently qualified for one of the roles herself (“Pick me! Pick me!”), at which point she withdrew from the selection panel and took no further part in any decisions. (Well, she could hardly do otherwise without making an even bigger mockery of what already looked like a grandiose display of government virtue-signalling.)

A new panel was formed, and – hey presto! They chose Kidman. But we’re assured her appointment was subject to the same rigorous assessment as other applicants. (Of course it was; who could be so mean-spirited as to suspect otherwise?)

But instead of Kidman being appointed alongside Jackson, the latter was told he “wasn’t suitable”. That’s apparently when “Distinguished Professor” Spoonley (yep, that’s his official title) was called in to serve as the second co-director.

There are two striking aspects to this. The first is Kidman's obvious self-regard, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her egotistical posturing on social media. The other is the unavoidable suspicion that she had the inside running because of her earlier involvement in the selection process - an inside job, in other words. It all looks just a bit too cosy for comfort.

Why the rethink about Jackson? The Herald hints that it was because the commitment to biculturalism at Otago Uni’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies under Jackson was found wanting. In the internal review leaked to the ODT, the centre was criticised for making only a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism and having a “poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols”.

That’s kiss-of-death stuff, especially when the appointment guide for the NCREPCVE “placed significant weight”, to quote the Herald, “on incorporating a Maori world view.” There’s your explanation: Jackson, for all his woke credentials, failed to clear the biculturalism hurdle.

There’ll be no such doubts about Kidman, given her outbursts on Twitter. If commitment to biculturalism is measured by the vehement denigration of people she disagrees with (the more so if they happen to have pale skin), Kidman has impeccable credentials. She’s a bully, a bigot and a blowhard – but that’s okay, because she directs her bullying and her bigotry at people who are white and privileged and therefore undoubtedly deserve it. (Kidman claims affiliation with Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Raukawa, although both her surname and her photo suggest there might also be just a tiny bit of Pakeha in her bloodlines. Are we permitted to mention that?)

A few examples of Kidman’s “shoot first and never mind the consequences” style:

■ She labelled the seven eminent academics who opposed equating matauranga Maori with science as “shuffling zombies” and wondered if someone had put something in their water.

■ She accused fashion designer Trelise Cooper of “perpetrating colonial violence in floral polyester” by supposedly naming a dress design after the infamous Trail of Tears – the exile of native American tribes from their homelands in the 19th century – when there was no evidence to suggest Cooper (whose design was called Trail of Tiers) was even aware of the event Kidman was referring to. “Accounts of Native women being raped by settlers and soldiers on the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk of the Navajo don't translate well into a fashion statement ... but hey, Trelise Cooper, guess you're making a living, right?”, Kidman fulminated. (Cooper of course apologised, not that it would have counted for anything. It never does.)

■ She made a direct personal attack on a Herald reporter, asking her if she was “still drunk” – this in response to a column that Kidman evidently disagreed with. (She should be careful; the late Warwick Roger’s Metro magazine once paid out $100,000 in defamation for suggesting a newspaper columnist was “perpetually pssst”.)

■ In another attack on her fellow academics, she tweeted about a statue of Sir George Grey: “nice example of historian-as-bigoted-dickhead to add to the pile of sixty-twelve million reasons why 99 percent of university historians should have a curfew and an ankle tracker.” That some of her posts are so choleric as to be virtually incoherent doesn’t seem to occur to her.

What’s yet to be explained is how the appointment of someone as splenetic and demonstrably out of control as Kidman could possibly be conducive to making New Zealand safer and more inclusive, which is supposedly the purpose of the new centre. An incredulous Martyn Bradbury reacted to the news of her appointment with the headline: “Ummm, isn’t Professor Joanne [sic] Kidman the worst person to appoint to an extremism taskforce?”

Her appointment makes the creation of the NCREPCVE far worse than the mere empty gesture it might otherwise have been. David Seymour got it right when he said “the problem with government appointing cultural enforcers is that the solution can be nastier than the problem”. (Christopher Luxon made no comment. Now there’s a surprise.)

Because Kidman appears to go out of her way to be aggressive and polarising and is therefore the very antithesis of what the centre purportedly stands for, the project has zero credibility and is doomed to fail in its stated purpose – not that this matters to a government set on a course of wilful self-destruction and apparently indifferent to the harm being done to social cohesion in the meantime. Moreover the process by which Kidman was appointed will reinforce the already overwhelming perception that a powerful and entrenched cohort of radical ideologues, acting with the government’s blessing, is moving the country in directions that no voters anticipated – still less approved – when they went to the polls two short years ago.




Thursday, July 7, 2022

Abortion in New Zealand: the statistics

Contrary to what I wrote in a recent blog post about Roe v Wade, recent statistics about abortions in New Zealand are still available. They are published by the Ministry of Health and replace those that were previously compiled by Statistics New Zealand for the now-defunct Abortion Supervisory Committee. (I was under the impression that with the disestablishment of the ASC, statistics would no longer be collected. I was wrong and have added a footnote to that effect to my blog post.)

The statistics for 2020 reveal, among other things, a slight increase in the number of abortions compared with 2019 – from 12,857 to 13,246. That equates to 13 abortions per 1000 women aged between 15 and 44. There is a suggestion in the notes accompanying the statistics that this increase may be linked to reduced access to contraception during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Longer term, the overall trend has been downwards. Abortion numbers peaked at more than 18,000 per year in 2003, 2004 and 2007 and were consistently above 15,000 from 1997 till 2011.

The percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion in 2020 was up slightly on the previous year, from 17.7 per cent to 18.6 per cent. The mean age of women having an abortion was 28.

Two striking figures not mentioned in the ministry’s summary of “Key Facts” were that 64.8 per cent of patients were not using contraception when they became pregnant and 3000 women had had at least one previous abortion. Forty-four women had had six or more abortions and 549 had had three or more.

Other significant statistics:

■The vast majority of abortions (12,237) took place during the first 12 weeks of gestation, but 102 were performed at 21 weeks or more. Twenty-two weeks is generally held to be the gestational age at which babies can survive outside the womb, but the statistics don’t reveal at what stage in the baby’s development those 102 late abortions were performed. The figures show that the proportion of abortions carried out in the first eight weeks of pregnancy has risen markedly, presumably as a result of more women having early medical abortions (see below).

■Women aged 25 to 29 had the most abortions (26.3 per cent) followed closely by women aged 20-24 (24.2 per cent). Twenty-six abortions were performed on girls aged between 11 and 14 – a depressing statistic, but less so than the 68 carried out on the same age group in 2011. Seventy abortions were performed on women aged 45-plus.

■21.7 per cent of abortions were for women who identified as Maori and 8 per cent for women who identified as Pasifika. Women of Asian ethnicity accounted for roughly the same number of abortions as those who identified as Maori. 

■The proportion of early medical abortions, in which a miscarriage is induced by drugs (the so-called abortion pill), increased from 22 to 36 per cent. In pregnancies of less than nine weeks, these “medical” abortions outnumbered surgical procedures. Overall, however, abortions in which the foetus was surgically removed still made up the majority of procedures (59 per cent), although that figure was lower than in 2019.

■Auckland’s Epsom Day Unit had the dubious distinction of performing by far the greatest number of abortions: 3855 in 2020. That's nearly 15 a day for every working day of the year. Measured by DHB region, Counties-Manukau ranked highest for the number of abortions.  

■5445 women who had abortions, or 41 per cent, had not previously given birth.  5776 had had one or two babies (described as “live births”), 71 had had six babies and 43 had had seven or more.

■8645 of the 13,246 women who had abortions were not using contraception at the time of conception. Another 2495, or 18.7 per cent, relied on condoms. Figures for women using oral contraception, IUCDs or depo provera were far lower. The level of non-contraceptive use was remarkably uniform across all age groups, though marginally highest among those under 20.

You can read the ministry's abortion summary here. A peculiar aspect of the report is that it refers to pregnant "persons" and "people" rather than "women", but disappointingly it doesn't disclose the number of men who became pregnant.




Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The hypocrisy of would-be censors

 Dane Giraud of the Free Speech Union sent the following out to members this morning and I think it deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I encourage followers of this blog to consider joining the union, whose website is here.)

The diversity around the Free Speech Union Council table isn’t a hollow talking point for us - it really is a key part of what enables us to stand up for the free speech of all Kiwis. 

Pro-choice, just not that choice

I’m a member of a liberal Jewish community. I grew up in South Auckland and have always sat on the Left - so my appreciation of Karl Marx is unlikely to be shared by National MP Simon O’Connor or Family First director Bob McCoskrie. But I am nevertheless seriously concerned about the censorship we have recently seen of their views. 

When Christopher Luxon said, ‘One way or another, that post was coming down,' in reference to the above post made by Simon O’Connor in the wake of the Roe v. Wade ruling, I got worried. Not because I agree with O’Connor. I don’t. But on account of the small but vocal minority of New Zealanders who refuse to tolerate any disagreement.  

What’s so ironic is the people O’Connor was allegedly ‘distressing’ refer to themselves as pro-choice. And yet the backlash – including immense pressure on Luxon - suggests this choice doesn’t extend to the views people can hold on the topic.

It is worth remembering that plenty of New Zealanders would have shared O’Connor’s sentiments that day even though I (and maybe you) don’t. But they’ve now been told that their representatives will no longer be allowed to give voice to their concerns and that their own voices are considered beyond the pale. We often hear 'thought leaders' talk of a need to include more people in the democratic process. But the censorship we’re seeing risks alienating people from this very process which could have terrible consequences for us as a nation downstream. Obviously, Christopher Luxon can run his party any way he sees fit. I just hope his eyes are open to the potential costs to our 'cohesion', to use a popular term. 

The silencing of O’Connor was almost a repeat of what we saw a few weeks ago when activists refused to accept that Bethlehem College could define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Solution? Shut down their speech. Even though thousands upon thousands of Kiwis have signed our public letter to support their right to speak, many still want to make it impossible for a more traditionalist perspective of marriage to be expressed.

I fully understand the offense archaic views can cause. But the contract we all enter into living together in a liberal and democratic society is that we will often disagree – profoundly – on moral and other issues. This shouldn't be news to anybody. We still have to be able to live together peacefully. Free speech makes this possible. 

Interfaith gathering  

If you are going to go after foundational Christian positions, why not just be done with it and call for the banning of the bible? I am not always a fan of the representations of Jews in Christian theology, but my solution is to explain why and offer a counterview. Why? Because I want to bring people along with me not to throw up walls and supercharge resentment and more polarisation by silencing others (In fact, we created interfaith groups expressly to foster better understanding). Put simply: I understand the concept of tolerance. I think you probably do too, but it's a message many are missing in our country. 

Advocacy considered unbalanced if they're ideas we don't like 

This theme continues: I was also concerned about the Supreme Court’s ruling against conservative values advocacy group ‘Family First’ – which feels like a politically motivated decision. One of the opinions was that their research lacked the balance required to further an educative purpose”. Does the NZ Drug Foundation balance its views by promoting all the counterarguments? This strikes me as a ruling that demands closer attention. 

The silencing of traditional perspectives points to an irony in contemporary censorship. Our government wants to include religion as a protected characteristic in their proposed new hate speech laws yet the censorship we’ve seen against religious MPs and schools has been unashamedly discriminatory. But of course, censorship itself is a form of discrimination. It quite literally is a process in which the powerful decide who can and can’t have full participatory rights in society. 

Defending free speech has nothing to do with agreeing with the speech 

Our haters will say that this email proves that I must surely sympathize with both O’Connor and McCoskrie. But that shows an embarrassing ignorance of the principle of free speech. And we all know if these same haters saw their views suppressed, they would be the first to cry crisis. We all have subtle differences on the Council as to what is the core motivation for our advocacy so let me share with you mine: It is in my interest as a member of a minority group that we have better cohesion. But we do not aid cohesion by silencing groups we disagree with. If anything, this is the recipe for polarisation, cynicism towards power and potential unrest. A degree of maturity is needed here by leaders and New Zealanders alike. We must return and hold fast to a culture of tolerance. 

Remember that when you defend any voice – even the voices of those you may be bitterly opposed to - you are defending your own. We support free speech because any opinion that is silenced sets a precedent that may eventually endanger the expression of our views. Our values. 

Censoring a symbol is not victory you think it is

Another example of counter-productive activism this week comes from a new outfit named Humanity Matters NZ which is running a petition to ban displaying swastikas in NZ. This petition is clearly inspired by a similar ban in the state of Victoria. And appears just as nonsensical.

Free speech quote

As you’d probably imagine, my being a Jew and all, the image of the swastika hardly gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. And you certainly don’t have to be Jewish to be made uncomfortable by the symbol. Many Kiwis have relatives who bravely died defeating the scourge of the Third Reich. But the idea that a ban on this symbol will benefit society in any material way is just dim-witted.

Define display? Is the intent here to dismantle our war memorials and museums or will we make an exception in that case? Will history books that feature the symbol now need to be purged? What about films with actors playing Nazis? Will Hindu's be prevented from using it in their ancient practices? Shielding society from this symbol would be impossible without numerous carve-outs, which would in turn make a mockery of any ban. And we have seen how far-Right groups quickly adapt to censorious laws with the Quinelle, for example: playing whack-a-mole with symbolism does nothing to counter the underlying hate. It only gives publicity for the haters. 

On the petition’s website Humanity Matters NZ write “By banning this symbol, we send a clear message that symbols like the swastika have no place in our society.” But it does have a place in our society - as a historic symbol that represented a very real existential threat to us. According to the Humanity Matters NZ website the groups mission is to “provide curriculum-based materials for educators and students on human rights and case studies on genocides around the world.” But this group is proving they are completely happy to bury history while potentially creating a new allure to the symbol for dissenting groups in the process. 

This petition is so ill-conceived it’s almost laughable. Almost. Steps like this are actually very serious. 

Humanity Matters NZ

This pro-censorship group has already had the endorsement of Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon. That’s right - the same Meng Foon who is prohibited (by Human Rights Commission’s Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt) from meeting with the Free Speech Union to discuss his media release and positions. The message here is clear – if your group is pro-censorship and happy to endorse the undermining of New Zealander's fundamental human rights, we will happily meet with you and will gift you our public stamp of approval. 

Groups like the HRC think they can make support for a central progressive value such as free speech go away by stacking the deck with compliant groups and pretending the Free Speech Union doesn’t exist. We have news for them – we are here, we are clocking up wins and we have a passionate supporter base many comparable organisations can only dream of.

Be assured that we will continue to stand against groups promoting censorship and will always call out those in power cynically trying to legitimise our would-be oppressors. In the meantime, let's embody the change we want to see- are we tolerating those we disagree with and standing for their free speech, or do we only like free speech when it agrees with us? 

Dialogue and debate have a funny way of revealing truth and error- if we will only let them.  

Dane Giraud

Dane Giraud
Free Speech Union