The time I woke up surrounded by cows

When I was about eighteen, and living in the South Island, for some reason I’d hitch hiked to Takaka, at the top of the South Island.

It my first time there. People told me that there’s a bridge just outside of town, that was a good camp spot.

But the thing is, turns out there’s a bridge on either end of town. I hadn’t gone through the other end of town, so I didn’t know about that one, so I assumed it was the one that I’d gone over when I first came in.

So I go back to that tent, and there’s a paddock. The weather’s fine and it’s summer, so I just sleep out under the stars.

That night I had a dream that a cow bit me.

I wake up in the morning, and open my eyes, and there’s all these cows standing around me staring at me.

I’d slept in a cow paddock.

It looked a bit like this:

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Remove marital status testing from welfare entitlements.

In New Zealand, your marital status affects your entitlement to welfare. People who are in a relationship are given a smaller benefit than those who are single.

The rationale for this policy seems straightforward enough –  people in a relationship can share costs and so arguably don’t require as much money.

My mother is a nurse, and she constantly has a problem with her patients giving fake addresses. This makes it much harder for her to get in touch with her patients. This typcially happens when the patient is living with their partner, but can’t be upfront about it for risk of losing some of benefit, or worse being charged with fraud and being made to pay the money back.

I think the policy unfairly punishes people for being in a relationship. All it really does is incentivise people to lie to their welfare officer, and creates a ‘us and them’ division between the welfare office and the people it is meant to be serving.

Sure, being in a relationship probably has financial benefits. But people shouldn’t be punished for having that advantage. I think that would be similar to giving people a smaller benefit because they cycle to work instead of catching the bus, or because they they’re good at making savings at the supermarket.

This is a low hanging fruit for reforming New Zealand’s welfare policy that would simplify the system, and remove a lot of the dishonesty.

An outline for drug law reform

The essence of the my drug law reform policy is a kind of licensing system, similar to a driver’s license, whereby users are allowed to purchase and consume drugs once they’ve passed a test.

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Outlaw alcohol advertising

Alcohol clearly causes a lot of harm in New Zealand, from violence, to sexual assault, to addiction.

I think it would be heavy handed to try outright stop people from drinking.

However, a low hanging fruit for improving New Zealand’s drinking culture, would be to outlaw alcohol advertising – which serves to normalise our drinking culture.

A drugs license

A new form of ID, like a driver’s license would be created.

Purchasing drugs, including tobacco and alcohol and cannabis, would each require a separate endorsement on the license. The license would be required to be presented when purchasing the drug.

Acquiring endorsements

Acquiring an endorsement would require sitting a test that demonstrates that the user is aware of the risks and potential harms of the drug they are seeking endorsement for.

The risks that awareness is being tested for would be fact based.

The test might be administered by a doctor.

For example, the tobacco endorsement test might involve test that the user is aware that:

  • Tobacco has a high addiction potential
  • The yearly cost of a regular cigarette habit
  • The causal relationship between cigarette smoking and illness

The test for for alcohol endorsement might involve testing that the user is aware that:

Tests for cannabis are in my impression a little hard to find risks to tests for. Unlike alcohol and tobacco and alcohol, the risks of cannabis aren’t as pronounced as the relationship between cigarettes and cancer, or alcohol and car crashes.

As mentioned before – the risks awareness is being tested for, would need to be science and fact based. The New Zealand Drug Foundation provides a helpful, though not comprehensive summary of some health effects. 

You could test for awareness of things like:

  • Cannabis can cause anxiety
  • There’s the potential that cannabis exasperate symptoms for people already susceptible to mental illness.
  • The risk of psychological addiction.

Three categories of drugs

I would put drugs in three categories:

  • Recreational consumer drugs. eg. tobacco, alcohol, cannabis

    These drugs would be free for commercial sale to anyone who has the endorsement.

    The cannabis industry would like resemble the beer industry. You would have some large commercial operations, as well as craft operations.

  • Higher risk psychedelic drugs eg. MDMA (ecstacy), LSD

    These drugs would, as well as require the user to pass a test, would be prescription only. ie. everytime a user wanted to consume these drugs, they would need to ask their doctor for a prescription. This would prevent people from taking these drugs recklessly.

    An option to consider here is that psychedelics could only be administered by an authorised medical professional. What could happen is that drugs could be administered in a controlled, research manner, even if the situation was at a festival.

  • Addictive hard drugs. eg. methamphetamine, heroin

    These drugs should be treated as too dangerous to be administered freely.

    However, for people who are already addicted, their addiction should be treated as a health condition.

    Government run distribution centers that give administer the drugs, and track how much a user is using. At least that way addicts aren’t beholden to drug dealers, and the health system has a good deal of monitoring of peoples habits.

 

Pre-kiwiburn anxiety

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Friday 27th January, 1:30pm: I’m still in the office though I’m now off the clock. Going to write this as quickly as possible because if I’m going to make it to Kiwiburn before it gets dark, I really need to get moving. As an experiment I want to write and publish this post now, before I leave, and then compare it to how I feel when I get back.

I haven’t been to a festival in years. Like six years. I haven’t taken any psychedelics in the that time either. What’s commonly happened when I’ve been on psychedelics is that I’ve been all ‘This is really beautiful, but I’d be enjoying this so much more if I had my life sorted out’.

Since six years ago – its fair to say that I’ve gone through something of a positive transformation – albeit not without some major bumps on the road.

Where I was six years ago, was that I had just finished a year’s intensive supervision through the justice system, for my apparently incorrigible graffiti habits (I also received a second jail warning), and I was committed to not getting in trouble with the law again. New Zealand has clean slate legislation which means that your convictions will be wiped if you don’t offend for 7 years (providing you haven’t committed some serious offences, haven’t been to prison, and the clean slate applies in New Zealand only).

My convictions have been clean slated. I’m now employed in IT and am on a positive career trajectory. I have other projects I’m working on. My spending habits are for the most part under control. I have fairly healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ve since been diagnosed with ADHD and am generally better at impulse control.

I quit drinking six months ago – and the effects are mostly positive. I’m more energetic, my mood is better,  I save money (though I spend more on pinball now) and I’m losing weight. The downside, is that I’m easily agitated and quite impatient.

I’m starting to feel bored. 

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So, taking psychedelics kind of sounds like a good idea. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve got my shit sorted (though of course I can always trim away my internet addiction, be a more pleasant person, and generally be more productive), so let’s have an inspiring psychedelic experience?

The context I like to take psychedelics in is at good music festivals. There’s good trippy music, other trippy people, and if that’s too much you can go hang out in nature.

I want to be clear – you don’t need to have drugs to enjoy a festival – but if you want to take drugs – I think a festival is a good place to take them.

Here’s the rub. I live in New Zealand and the police and customs are way too effective at their jobs. New Zealand, being a small country on the corner of the globe makes it easy to police contraband. In recent years there’s been growing discontent about the lack of cannabis at this time of year. Time magazine even wrote an article about it. 

Kiwiburn, the New Zealand equivalent of Burning Man had been on my radar since around November last year. But a combination of misreading the dates, not wanting to go if I didn’t have a big sack of weed to go with, and not having much leave accrued at work meant that I ultimately decided to pass this year.

Until last weekend – when I went to a small outdoor music gathering, enjoyed the music, and really wanting to have a holiday decided to go.

So my decision to go to Kiwiburn is decidedly last minute. I found a ticket, booked and my leave, and now (actually right now as I’m writing this, I feel ok) last night, I’m feeling quite anxious about going. Primarily, I’m concerned that I’m going to go to this festival, and be stuck there, not enjoying myself.

Specifically the concerns I have are:

  • I don’t have a tent. I thought I did, but apparently I’ve lost it. If it rains I’ll be screwed. I can hope/ask for shelter when I get there – but generally I don’t think it’s a good philosophy to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’m a capitalist like that.
  • No drugs. Am I going to be bored/uncomfortable being completely sober in a paddock somewhere?
  • FOMO – Relating to the drugs thing. Feeling like everyone around me is having a good time, and I’m not.
  • Fear of rejection – Because I’m in a situation where I need the help of strangers – I feel like if I’m refused that help that will be confirmation of my unlikableness.
  • I have to hitchhike. Fear of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

A lot of this comes down to my unpreparedness. Given that I only made the decision to go this week, a lot of these concerns would have been alleviated if I’d made the decision to go months ago – I would have had time to find a crew to go with etc.

And this comes back to impulsiveness – I feel like I may be making myself a victim of my own impulsiveness/second guessing myself. There’s comforting and respectable about being deliberate in your actions.

So that’s where I’m at now. Writing this has served to make me feel a bit more anxious, and I’m otherwise trying every mental trick I can to feel a bit better. At the moment I feel a mix of reasonable concern (‘is it going to rain?, where am I going to sleep?’), and nervous excitement. I guess that’s a good way to be.

See you in three days! 🙂

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Ironies of American democracy – The Greatest Democracy and the Most Freedom

Meta note:

This post has almost no research at all. I did read the wikipedia pages about separation of church in state in the US and in New Zealand
It’s more an intuitive impresion. Is that an acceptable thing in this post-truth society?
It would be good to do some research and put a bit more detail into my claims.

A lot of Americans have the idea that America has the greatest democracy in the world, the most freedom, and that other countries are jealous of this freedom.

Let’s be fair to Americans and acknowledge that at some point, this might have been true. The American democracy is one of the worlds oldest democracies after all.

Democracy

There are glaring issues in American democracy:

  • Rampant gerrymandering.
  • It’s a first past the post system. Proportional representation is common throughout the rest of the world.
  • There appears to political dynasties: eg. The Kennedys, The Bushes, The Clintons.

Freedom

The US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Religious freedom

The separation of church and state is often touted tenant of American democracy, and makes up a part of its constitution – in the first amendment.

New Zealand by contrast, doesn’t have a so explicitly defined separation of church and state; and parliament starts with a Christian prayer.

However, religion isn’t a particularly big factor in New Zealand politics. By contrast, in the US almost all representatives profess to be Christian or Jewish, presumably because there is a considerable political cost if they don’t.

Religion also appears to play a large part in public policy – for example you see the debate about whether creationism should be taught in schools, and abstinence only education.

Law

In New Zealand, abortions aren’t technically legal. They’re not legal except in the case where the mother’s health will suffer. This loophole allows any woman to get an abortion, almost all doctors happy to say that a woman having a baby that she doesn’t want, regardless of reason, would be a detriment to her health.

In the US on the otherhand Roe v Wade establishes the legal right for women to have abortions, but then you see states putting up all sorts of barriers that make it far harder to get an abortion in the certain parts of the US, than it is in New Zealand.

The stolen bike sting operation.

Background

I’d recently found a new a job, and I’d moved out of the flat I’d been head tenant of, and moved into long term budget accommodation, a your-own-room-but-shared-facilities deal.

The accommodation is shared with some odd characters, but I was pleasantly surprised that kitchen was tidy, and for the most part it was quiet; it was better than I’d anticipated.

Between jobs, I had one week holiday, which I spent relaxing with my family.

The Heist

I came back with a few days spare to sort things out before starting the new job, buying clothes etc.

When I went to get my bike to start a shopping mission – the bike was gone.

I text my landlord to ask if he’d perhaps moved it or knew what happened to it, but his phone was off.

I figured it had probably been stolen, and I got on with my day, including visiting the police station to file a report.

The Investigation

I started looking on the Facebook buy/sell groups – knowing that they’re a common place for dodgy activity, including fencing stolen goods.

At 6:30pm, I was on my way home, when my request to join one of the groups was approved – and there it was – my bike is a distinct orange – and here was a seller selling an orange bike of the same make.

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I added a comment indicated I was interested in buying the bike. I also wanted him to post pictures, so I could confirm it was my bike.

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Here’s the photo that he referenced:

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He’s posted a stock store photo taken from the internet. Apparently he doesn’t have camera. This is suspicious – who doesn’t have a camera these days?

(The blanked out profile is a third, uninvolved person).

Also – lets note the seller’s profile – it’s pretty empty – no profile picture, no activity.

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I private message him to arrange purchase of the bike.

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We arrange to meet at 9:30pm, outside a shop in the middle of town. This suits me, as it’s close the central police station – and it isn’t too isolated. The meet is to take place in two hours.

I contact the police at the police station – explain what’s happening and they ask me to come into the police station with my phone to show them the conversation.

The Plan

I catch the bus in, this takes about thirty minutes.

At the police station, we go over what’s happened again. The woman cop I’m talking to explains that they need to first be sure that I own the bike, and this bike is infact mine.

She takes photos of the conversations and Facebook threads.

She asks if I have any photos of the bike. As it is – the only photo of the bike I’ve taken is this one from my instagram – when I’d broken it.

Fml 😦

A post shared by Messes I make. (@messes.i.make) on

I look through my Facebook photos, perhaps I took a photo when I bought the bike, but there’s none there.

I do find emails in my email account from the Trade Me transaction buying the bike, and a couple of service jobs.

The cop seems satisfied that I do own an orange Avanti bike.

At this point, it’s about 9:30, the time I’m meant to be meeting this guy.

The cop tells me to go meet the guy, they’ll park around the corner, and I’m to text them to confirm it’s mine.

I message the guy to say I’m running late, and I’m bit nervous that he’s going to be spooked and leave before I meet him.

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As I walk to the meeting place, about ten minutes away, I think about how I’m going to lead him to the police. What if he’s parked around the corner in a dodgy car park? What if he insists on me handing over cash before I see the bike? My plan is tell him I need to go to an ATM for cash, and lead him to the police that way – but that’s not going to work if he’s insisting on cash up front.

The Sting

I get there, and two guys are sitting in a car and they signal me.

The guy in the passenger seat gets out. It’s a small, young guy, who seems a little familiar, I might have met him before at the accommodation I live at. My fears that I might be beaten up by some hard gangsters are alleviated.

He opens the boot, and sure enough, it’s my bike.

I tell him, ‘I just gotta text my friend’, and text the cop that it’s my bike.

We get it out, and I examine. I ask to ride the bike for a bit, and he’s a little nervous that I’m going to ride off with it, but lets me.

I ride the bike for a bit, and express excitement about getting a sweet bike.

I tell him that I gotta get money from an ATM, and does he want to walk with me there.

I pause to text the cop the license plate of the car. I’m worried that it looks suspicious, especially as I have to turn to look at the number plate twice. And is he looking at my phone to see what I’m texting?

Evidently not – he walks with me, me walking the bike toward the ATM.

I don’t even see the cops until they’re right in front us, and they want to chat to him about the sale of this bike.

He quickly confesses to them – that he used to live at the accommodation it was stolen from, (without any prompting from the cops about where it was stolen from), that it was his friend who cut the chain with bolt cutters and loaded in to this guy’s car.

After a bit, the cops ask me if I want to make a complaint (I do) and tell me to walk the bike back to police station, where I make a statement.

When the statement is complete, I ride the bike, without helmet or lights or a lock (they’re missing) back home – I have my bike back. At this time it’s about 11pm, about four and a half hours after first seeing the Facebook post.

Aftermath

I’ll write a separate aftermath post later as more details come out.

When I was at the station – the police asked me if instead of sending him formally through the court system – I was ok with an alternative community justice/mediation. I said yes – as I am of the belief that the formal criminal justice system isn’t particularly effective at rehabilitation – which also seemed to be the sentiment of the police.

But also – I do get a kind of jaded feeling with this experience- where it feels like the police aren’t that interested in comprehensively following up crimes. This is a post for another time.

The police didn’t catch up with the guy who remained in the car that night.

The guy was likely a guy who’d been kicked out of the accommodation, a couple of weeks earlier for breaking a window.

I received an email today from the police saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with the case – but I’m wondering if that’s a form letter to do with the initial theft report – and not arrest that was made – we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

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Lessons Learned

  • It is possible to get your items back if you act quickly. This guy clearly wanted to make a quick sale – and had I dawdled about it – a sale would have been made to someone else the item would have been gone.
  • In New Zealand you can contact *555 to reach a police operator – even for non-traffic items.
  • Even without police support – it would have been possible to get the item back. In this case I could have just ridden off with it and I doubt they could have or would have done anything about it. It’s up to you to assess whether that would be a safe option.
  • Don’t delete your emails. A week early, as part of ‘being organised’ I emptied my inbox – sent a lot of emails to the trash – including the Trade Me and bike servicing receipts. Luckily the trash hadn’t been cleared – and the emails were recoverable – because they served to be important in proving that the bike was mine.

The responses of New Zealand politicians to the recent NZ Drug Foundation cannabis survey are frustrating.

The survey commissioned by the NZ Drug Foundation, suggests that the majority of New Zealanders support some form of liberalisation of cannabis laws, though the majority still oppose allow growing for friends, or selling from stores.

poll

The response from the two major party leaders has been head-in-the-sand dogmatic.

Prime Minister John Key said: “My longstanding view, whether you like it or not has been that I think it sends the wrong message to youngsters.”

“I think there are potentially health implications from sustained use,”

 

Labour Leader Andrew Little’s response was similarly lukewarm – suggesting that it’s not a priority for Labour.

 

What’s frustrating is how dismissive the politicians are about the issue. It’s not like either hold strong opinions about the issue, like for example Labour did with asset sales, or the combined, though with some disent, enthusiasm both parties had legalising gay marriage.

 

Instead, because both parties are not deviating from the status quo, there’s no need to take a strong stance. Each party gives a luke warm dismissal of the subject, and there’s no need for a more robust response, because the opposition party is not challenging them on the issue.

 

It’s particularly frustrating that Labour, who see themselves as representing the common man are taking this stance. I wouldn’t suggest that Labour’s demographic* are any more likely to be cannabis smokers than Nationals, but I’m sure that Labour’s demographic are much more likely to be negatively affected by cannabis prohibition than National’s.

To me, refusal to budge on the cannabis issue is another symptom of Labour being out of touch with their voter base – not realising just how important the cannabis issue is to voters, or how dramatically it affects them. The impression I get about Labour’s attitude is that ‘the status of cannabis’s legality has little effect on the lives of people in low socio-economic groups. The real issues are child poverty, access to education, etc’.

Without suggesting that these other issues are not important, I think it’s important to recognise just what effect the illegality of cannabis has on people. One of the main concerns I have, is that causes otherwise law abiding citizens to have a distrust of police and ‘the system’. I think it’s likely that many families won’t report certain crimes, such as domestic violence, for fear of the being busted for the wafts of cannabis coming from the house.

Liberalisation of cannabis laws has been occurring around the world. In the US, according to this resource, four states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado) have some form of legalisation for recreational use, almost half the states have legal medical marijuana.

In Australia cannabis is legal nationwide for medical use. In ACT and Western Australia cannabis is decriminalised for personal use/possession, and in other states though still a criminal offence, policy determines a non-criminal penalty.

The legalisation of cannabis in Colorado is generally seen as a success – or at least, the doomsday scenarios have not materialised yet. This article comprehensively covers to impacts of cannabis legalisation in Colorado.

Perhaps this is really what’s going on with the cannabis issue in New Zealand, New Zealand politicians are waiting to see how liberalisation plays out in other countries, before enacting it here.

This is of course, very conservative, and flies in the face of New Zealand’s identity as  an independent pioneer of progressive rights -being the first country in the world to give women the vote for example.

To me, announcing a policy to legalise seems like an obvious political boon for the Labour party – all of a sudden drawing in the non-voting New Zealand public, who now have a reason to get out and vote.

But perhaps this is where I’m naïve. Perhaps the Labour party, being more informed and experienced that me, have calculated that they’ll lose more of the voting elderly, than they’ll gain of the usually non-voting young and uneducated.

Perhaps the best way to make the cannabis issue and election issue, is with a citizens initiated referendum, requiring signatures of 10% of the population.

There are been two such referendums in recent history -the awfully worded one organised by the religious right in opposition to the anti-smacking bill (“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”), and the another in opposition to the assets sales proposed by National.

With so many people directly having a vested interest in cannabis law reform (ie. users, growers, and family members of those), and overall sentiment supporting law reform, it seems that getting willing signatories would be trivial.

Or is there some truth to the ‘useless stoner’ stereotype, reflecting a lack of ability to come together as a cohesive political force?


*Note I’m careful not to reference voters here. I would argue that Labour especially represents a group of people beyond those who vote. With one third of the eligible voting population not voting, it seems likely that these people’s (the uneducated) interests are more likely represented by Labour than National.