A lonely Jew on christmas

November 26, 2004

Those of you in the know will, of course, recognise the title from an episode of South Park.

So, it’s christmas time again. Or, for me, and the 7,500 other Jews in NZ, Hannukah time (December 8th – 15th to be exact).

But I’m not here to talk about the festival of lights. Rather, I’m here to pass judgement on the festival of consumerism.

Cal posted over at Musical on a similar note, and I have to quote a quick passage which I fully agree with.

lately I’ve been really questioning the way my family (and many other families) spends Christmas. We spend so much money on thing we don’t really need, we wrap them up in copious amounts of wrapping and packaging. We spend hours in sterile shopping malls, standing in queues, stressing about how much we still have to do

There are better ways to spend Christmas.

move towards a ‘give to people who need it more than we do’ Christmas. There are heaps of ways to do this, like:

Using the Oxfam site to buy goats and chickens etc for people who need stuff way more than we do. And it’s useful stuff too.

Pick a family member each and choose a charity that you think they’d support. Make a donation to it in their name.

Put all your money together that you would have spent on Christmas presents and sponsor a child (or 2, or 3) for the year.

Give the money to a local charity that works with families in poverty

Send the money to someone you know someone working overseas in a developing country.

The important thing is that this is not a way to be a cheapskate. The idea is that you donate as much as you would have spent on Christmas presents

Personally, I’ve never celebrated christmas. Sure, I enjoy presents as much as anyone, but I would much rather get a letter from a friend than a bland, meaningless music voucher. I would much rather get breakfast in bed than some new socks. Christmas has always struck me as just another way to keep people in or on the verge of debt, to surround people with crap they don’t need and never knew they even wanted.

So, take this suggestion. This christmas, tell someone you love them. Tell a friend how much you value your connection. Make breakfast in bed for your parents. And, if you do feel an urge to spend some money, or if you have some spare and aren’t already in debt, then please, give it to a worthy cause.

Conscience voting continued…

November 22, 2004

This is an interesting question, raised initially by me here then followed by Matt and span.

Now, some further thoughts from me on the matter.

Matt states

however I feel that they are necessary in that they free MPs from party discipline.

We might see ambiguous keywords such as ‘Christian’ or ‘ex-business owner’ from an MP’s profile and draw our conclusions, but ultimately, we have little knowledge for how they will act on conscience matters.

and Jules commented

I agree with you for minor parties which have a more cohesive focus than some of the bigger ones. From my experience within the Labour Party I feel that concience voting is necciciary as it is the only way of putting forward all the veiws of the membership on contravercial, especialy social, issues.

To that, I replied that all Labour list MP’s, and the majority of electorate ones, were voted in because they were Labour, not because of their personal political beliefs. I agree with Matt when he says that ultimately, we cannot predict where someone will sit on any given conscience vote, and that gives an even bigger reason to scrap them.

If I was to give my vote to Labour (and I won’t, but lets play the hypothetical), I would expect the list MP’s (who I had directly helped to get in to parliament) to vote for the CUB, in accordance with Labour’s self-proclaimed status as a left-of-centre socially aware party. As it happened, out of the 7 Labour list MPs, only Dr Ashraf Choudhary abstained, and all others voted for, but when the bill is as close as it has been (and I believe it will only get closer), every vote counts immensely. If Dr Choudhary’s abstention ends up being the deciding vote in the final count, I, as a hypothetical Labour voter, would have every right to feel aggrieved. Of course, had the vote gone along party lines, Labour’s 52, the Greens 9 and Progressive Coalition’s 2 would have been enough to do the business.

Span provides an insiders perspective on the Alliance’s policy:

In the Alliance the situation that was being advocated back in 2000 was for MPs to be allowed a free vote on issues determined conscience issues by the House when there was no party policy, or party policy was unclear.

If there are going to continue to be conscience votes, this is in my view the only satisfactory way to go about it – you follow party policy where it exists, and only vote on personal or electorate (where relevant) beliefs where party policy does not exist.

Conscience voting – distorting the political system?

November 19, 2004

This morning in the Dominion Post, there was a letter from former Governer-General Sir Michael Hardie Boys (who also happens to be an old boy of my former school, Wellington College) which got me thinking about something that had never crossed my mind previously. As Stuff does not post it’s letters online, I’ll type it up here:

Though much is said about the moral issues raised by the Civil Union Bill, there’s been little discussion about MPs’ responsibilities in exercising a conscience vote.
Our conscience usually reflects our individual philosophy. That, in turn, might have been formulated by our own inclinations and desires. Because MPs were, for the most part, elected for their politicial views, not their personal philosophies, we need to ask if, on a conscience issue, we should expect them to vote according to those philosophies or according to their perception of community attitudes and the wider public interest, for example.

The rest of the letter goes on to talk about requiring a special majority (Sir Michael suggests 60%) for moral conscience issues and is not overly relevant.

The very question of conscience voting is, in my view, an important issue which needs to be looked at.

As an example, if I was to vote for the Greens with my party vote, I would except that whatever list candidate I helped to elect would be in line with Green party policy. With a conscience vote, an environmentally green but socially conservative Green MP could easily vote against something like the Civil Union bill, when he had realistically been elected with the expectation of being socially on the left side of the spectrum.

I fail to see any particular benefit to conscience voting – as Sir Michael said, MPs are elected for their political views, not personal philosophies.

Murder of an aid worker

November 17, 2004

So, as you probably will have heard, Margaret Hassan is dead.

I am incredibly saddened by this – by all accounts, she did some incredible work helping the Iraqi people to overcome years of oppression, war and sanctions. Violence against civilians by anyone can never be condoned or tolerated under any circumstances by anyone with a moral bone in their body.

We must seek to continue Margaret’s work, fighting for peace and justice for all, not just a rich and priveliged minority.

It is hard to see a solution to the conflict in Iraq. I feel for it’s citizens, moving from one oppressive regime (Saddam’s) to another (the USA’s) and another (the interim “government”). I hope that it does not end up in a similar mess to Afghanistan, where the newly reelected US stooge Karzai barely has any control outside Kabul, the capital, and where the warlords have more power than almost ever, and the opium trade ruins the country.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and neither did Margaret Hassan. In her memory however, I’m going to keep asking the questions.

The future of the Palestinian Authority

November 12, 2004

Sorry about the lack of posting lately – I’ve been ridiculously busy, and I just moved into a new flat, where the net access isn’t quite so plentiful. I’ll try to post a minimum of twice a week from now on.

So, Arafat is dead, and his body is in Cairo, where his funeral will be attended by presidents and dictators, foreign ministers and cabinet secretaries. Then it’s off to Ramallah, where he’ll be buried in his headquarters. I’ve already posted my thoughts on Arafat, so we won’t go over them again.

Now, the question is what happens next. As it stands, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia appear to have split the powers between themselves, which is a positive start as far as peaceful negotiations go. Their man issue however, is a perceived lack of popular support on the Palestinian street. For that, they need 2 things. The first is to link in with the factions of security strongmen in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For this, people like Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub would be ideal, and sidelining the unpopular but powerful Moussa Arafat would be an important task for Dahlan in Gaza. Without the support of his uncle (Yasser Arafat), Moussa’s power will weaken. With full control of the diplomatic (Abbas and Qureia) and security (Dahlan and Rajoub) angles, the last move needed is popular support from the everyday Palestinian, more important in terms of countering Hamas (which is bound to demand an increased say in what goes on) and Islamic Jihad than in dealing with Israel. For this, however, Israel needs to step in and help.

How? By releasing Marwan Barghouti from prison.

Barghouti was the effective leader of the Fatah Tanzim (military brigades) in the West Bank until he was arrested and jailed for 5 consecutive life sentances for multiple counts of murder (which I don’t doubt he was guilty of). As much as he has blood on his hands, however, he has also frequently displayed a pragmatic streak which leads many in the Israeli intelligence establishment to believe that he would be an effective partner for peace.

I believe that a 5 man leadership unit of Abbas (leadership outside the territories), Qureia (leadership inside the territories), Barghouti (overall security), Rajoub (West Bank security) and Dahlan (Gaza security) would fulfill all the criteria needed to provide effective leadership to the Palestinian nation – street appeal, security power, international respect, and, fingers crossed, respect from Israel.

A lot will depend, of course, on Ariel Sharon. He is being challenged by Bibi Netanyahu for the leadership of Likud, and his government is beginning to fall apart. Realistically, at the moment, Avodah is showing no signs of being an effective opposition party, which means, chances are, Likud will remain in power. This is a huge worry for those who aspire for a just and fair peace.

Perhaps, if all comes to fruition, it will be the Israeli government declared as “not a partner for peace” and shunned by the international community. With Ariel or Bibi at the helm, nothing would surprise me.


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