The supposed war on (largely) “old white men”

The recent speech by Minister of Womens Affairs, Julie Anne Genter, seems to have touched a raw nerve in some perhaps not so surprising areas. Whether it is on talk back radio with Chris Lynch, Mike Hosking or in the print media with Kate Hawkesby, some touchy characters have come out of the woodwork complaining about a supposed war on “old white men” (and old white women?). Is the war really on, or just a figment of conservative imaginations gone mad?

But before we start, I want to single out two particularly awesome people in my life. My parents John and Sue Glennie are, along with my brother Craig, the primary reasons I am who I am. The general knowledge, technical aptitude and social outlook they have instilled in me has made people remark in respect of my knowledge and at the same time marvel that I am a car groomer by profession.

She is a lady of incredible generosity, support and compassion. She was at home when I collapsed in the hallway with high blood pressure in 1989. She has been at my side through all of my medical trials, good and bad. She has made sure I get my medicine. Her time in Papua New Guinea as a charge nurse in Wewak gave her vital experience in the medical system. She has taught me much about social compassion and understanding the mechanics behind the scenes about why people behave as they do and how their circumstances influence them.

He is a man of immense integrity, fairness, and kindness. He has raised two very capable sons and now has an equally capable daughter-in-law. John Glennie taught me much of what I know today about environmental planning and sustainability, its impacts on society, the socio-economic arguments for and against proposed activities. He taught me to think critically and championed the sciences to me – my marks at school in science were mediocre, but my new found respect for the substances of the Periodic Table of the Elements is at least in part. Over many an evening meal – sometimes with relatives, and sometimes just with myself and/or my brother – many an informed conversation was had on subjects ranging from politics, to science, to arts to our own lives and outlooks. And all the better for it.

So much of my vision of New Zealand and the world today is formed by critical conversations I have with my parents and my brother, but also the many and varied people I have met – Colombians, Peruvians, Aussies, Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, Britons, Japanese, Filipinos. And so much of this was made possible because my parents and brother – like me – do not see these nationalities as any lesser, even though we are the white people who know some of those Ms Genter was referring to. And the people of these nationalities have become great mates as a result.

Mr Glennie married a lady six years his senior. They are now in their 44th year of union. They are retired and living life as well as they can – art, gardening, fishing, among other pursuits, fill their time. Are they rich? I wouldn’t say that, but I can say that their earnings are the result of rock solid work ethics, a desire to learn and grow with their employment roles. But at the same time there is no denying she went to nursing school and he to university before market economics had a significant impact in New Zealand. They purchased the property they have before the market lost the plot. Their generation might be the ones under Ms Genters critical eye, but it is a fair demonstration that not all are bad.

So, pardon me if I look a bit surprised at people who say that there is a supposed war going on against old white men. When Ms Genter made that speech she was pointing out an elephant in the room.

If one looks at where the wealth and the socio-economic influence radiates from geographically, it is largely not from Africa or South/Latin America through no fault of their own. For very little in return, the outflow of considerable economic and social wealth, these two continents, along with south and central Asia, the southwest Pacific (barring Australia and New Zealand) It is largely from nations that are predominantly European-Caucasian in ethnic make up, and which have at one time or another been colonial powers whose combined control would have covered much of the world’s surface. If one looks across the corporate boardrooms of the major companies around the world – be it Facebook or British Petroleum, the cold fact of the matter is they are largely middle aged and white.

Since World War 2, a number of Asian nations, notably Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore have become significant economic power houses in their own right. Rebuilt rapidly to counter the perceived (and real)threat of Communism, they developed trade ties, built up their industries based on education and science and developed what are today well known brands and product lines. Most of the workforce was male and thus “old boy” clubs were allowed to develop, which still exist today in an attempt to defend what were golden times for their founding members. These companies exist across the westernized world.¬†Toyota, whilst largely – and understandably Japanese – in composition, is like the others almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men. Similarly, China’s C.N.O.O.C. is almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men.

With such similarity in the composition of these boards, despite Рand perhaps because of Рthe small scattering of females (two on the Toyota board; three on the B.P. board; two on the Facebook board; 0 (zero) on the C.N.O.O.C. board), the truth is that Ms Genter is correct in her assessment. The lack of diversity potentially means a lesser interest in the social impacts on their staff, on their customers, on society and on the environment. A great example of this is Tokyo Electricity Corporation, who operated the defunct Fukushima nuclear power station before Dai-ichi, Dai-nii  and Dai-san reactors melted down after being hit by the tsunami following the earthquake of 11 March 2011. Their social disconnect with Japan at a time when they needed to be left right and centre on the meltdown emergency was thunderous Рthat no one has been formally charged with criminal negligence and endangering the lives of so many people is mind blowing.

But whatever you think or say because of this, remember that not all “old white men” are bad. I know a number of such men in my life other than my father who are absolute gentlemen, a pleasure to be around, with considerable knowledge that they are happy to impart and willing to acknowledge not all like them have been so well grounded.

Lowering speed limit might not save lives

Yesterday, the Government acknowledged it was looking at lowering the speed limit to 70km/h on some roads. Whilst delighting road safety campaigners, the usual critics have sprung up. Some of their points are valid, but some are simply attacking a Government with an apparently bold plan for N.Z. transport.

There are a range of reasons why lowering the speed limit will not save lives:

  1. A lot of crashes happen as a result of bad decisions – such as turning in front of an on coming car; failing to give way; running red lights
  2. Crashes also happen because people too often do not drive to the conditions and ignore the rules set down in the road code – a person is supposed to be 2 seconds driving time behind the person in front, which becomes 4 seconds in foggy or wet conditions; fail to use lights appropriately in dark, or otherwise poor visibility
  3. Still too many people electing to drive drunk despite common public awareness of the problem and the strong negative reaction to anyone being caught drunk – how many of you have had to stop a person from driving drunk?
  4. Driver attitudes are a major concern – a failure to wear seatbelts; drivers running from cops; letting minors or unlicenced people behind the wheel – and need to change

As a mate at the pub said awhile back, “you cannot fix stupid, Rob”. It was not a reference to the road toll, but people have to accept responsibility for a significant portion of the crashes that happen. Some, such as an elderly driver perhaps backing into someones fence will be purely accidental – they would not have meant to do it and might well have confused the gears or hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

Where in the preceding four reasons did I mention the word “speed”, or the phrases “driving too fast” and “speed limit”?

I deliberately do no mention speed in the reasons, because although it is definitely an issue and one that contributes its share to the road toll, it is a well publicized one. Regular campaigns by the Police aimed at slowing people down feature graphic ads. Speed cameras catch a lot of people, but it is meaningless unless the payment of the fines is better enforced than it currently is.

But do they actually save lives or are they a revenue making gimmick for an underfunded Police force? I believe there is a bit of both. I also believe though that if the Police have a crack down, it should not be announced – it defeats the purpose and the offenders that they want to catch in the act, behave well for the duration and then go back to their normal routines as soon as it is over.

Perhaps there is merit in reducing speed limits on semi rural road, but this will only work if the limit is rigorously enforced. It will only work if human attitudes change. Whilst attitudes remain what they are, a lower death toll will remain being something to dream about.

Labour Government releases transport spending priorities

Yesterday marked a significant step forward for New Zealand’s economy and transport. After years being campaigned for by the Greens, Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter announced that the Government was ready to release a draft Government Policy Statement on transport.

The key highlights of this major announcement are:

  • $11.7 billion for public transport
  • $1.1 billion for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure
  • $6.1 billion for regional and local roads

This is a great start to addressing the waylaid priorities of New Zealand’s transport needs. I look forward to the opportunity in the next few weeks to lay down more formal thoughts in a submission to the draft Government Policy Statement that has been released by Ms Genter, and her New Zealand and Labour colleagues Shane Jones and Phil Twyford.

For years I have been pushing for a much bigger investment in railways, the merchant marine and to a bit lesser extent, public transport. Many of the points on which I campaigned look like they will be addressed in this.

There is however one significant question. For all the great announcements that come out of this draft Government Policy Statement release, I have one niggling question:

What sort of investment is going to happen around merchant marine? We are a maritime nation. It is saying something that one of the major modes of transport is not being given the due investment that is needed to reduece congestion on our roads and help take some of the pressure off the easter South Island where quake damage is still being fixed.

No one should be surprised that there is a fuel tax coming. Especially seeing as the Government did not make specific tax announcements at the election, where people were expecting something to happen. Not surprisingly, the right are out in force talking about how no one can afford the proposed petrol tax. This is the same right that spent $12 billion of N.Z. taxpayer money funding “Roads of National Significance”, which were in several cases completely meaningless¬† and more about appeasing the trucking and private users lobby.


How to deter people from fleeing the Police

Mike Yardley, a columnist for The Press wrote a column that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper. In it he questioned whether people stopped by the cops would run from armed Police. Mr Yardley’s article was provocative. It got me thinking about how to reduce the number of car chases involving the Police, the number of fatalities that occur as a result of these chases.

One thing is clear. Mr Yardley’s suggestion that cops be armed when they check people is flagrant alarmism. New Zealand Police are largely not armed for very good reasons. There is no reason on Earth why we should arm them in a knee jerk fashion without stopping to consider how an already dodgy equation when it comes to being stopped, now suddenly becomes potentially very volatile.

In saying this, I think Mr Yardley might have had another intention in mind. That intention would be to get people thinking about the folly of fleeing the Police, and merely used armed officers as a suggestion because he knew it would get a reaction.

When a Police officer signals for a person to pull over, obviously they should. Most will do so without any problems and co-operate when the officer approaches the car. But there will be a few whose “fight or flight” instincts kick in, and they choose to flee. It could be for any reason or reasons – narcotics, or laundered money might be in the car; the car might be stolen; the car might be sought in relation to another offence; the driver might have someone in it that the Police are looking to arrest.

I have my own solution to the problem. Like Mr Yardley, I was disgusted by the incident that took Mrs Yanko’s life. How to fix the problem? A deterrent needs to be strong enough to make one think twice before engaging in such a silly act. In the end my solution is quite simple. If a person flees from the Police when they are signalled to stop, then – assuming no previous crimes have been committed:

  • Overnight in a cell for a first time offender with a previously clean record and a warning that the next such offence will be a week, plus $1,000 fine
  • For second time offenders a week in the cells plus the $1,000 fine, payable the day they are released
  • For third time offenders, a month in prison plus either $1,000 or 100 hours community service

I should stress – and I do not think I can do this strongly enough – that this is merely dealing with those who flee from the Police. It is not dealing with any other offences outstanding, or which they might be charged for on the day. The punishment for other offences come in on top of this.

It does not matter what sort of stop they were trying to flee from – alcohol/drug check point; search for a criminal or contraband; dangerous driving or otherwise. I wonder how many people would be seriously tempted to flee the Police if they knew that their criminal record – which might, up to that point not exist at all – will get an instant blotch by their name. I wonder how many might have thought of the consequences for their future plans, such as overseas trips and applying for certain types of jobs before they flee the Police

But I think we can agree on one thing now: Running from the Police is a really daft idea that simply is not worth the costs.

The folly of running from the cops

Yesterday a tragedy occurred in Nelson that was completely avoidable. A person in a stolen car made and his companion made the mistake of trying to flee the Police. Unfortunately in doing so, they crossed the centre line at speed in the vehicle and crashed into an oncoming car, killing the innocent driver of the other vehicle as well.

Every year people make the mistake of fleeing from the Police. Sometimes they get away. Sometimes they get caught and sometimes it all ends in tragedy either because the Police continued a chase they later admitted should have been abandoned, or more often, it has been abandoned, but the fleeing vehicle crashes anyway.

So, now, we have three funerals in the early stages of being planned, because one person fled from the Police.

Common sense as well as Police orders require anyone signalled by the Police to stop, to do so. Police admitted last year that about 300 fleeing driver incidents happened a month or about 10 a day; 3650 a year.

I believe that a few potential causes for such behaviour exist and that they need to be acted on:

  • Under funding the traffic cops to monitor peoples behaviour on the roads. The division of the Police dedicated to the roads was wound up under the National led Government of Prime Minister Jim Bolger.
  • The absence of an effective deterrent may make people think that all they will be given is the equivalent of a wet bus ticket slapped on their wrist with no consequences
  • Parental responsibility needs more legal emphasis on it – parents need to make sure their youngsters understand that running from the cops is just going to make it worse for them when they get caught

There are steps that can be taken. Every person undertaking driving instruction should at some point be made to attend a defensive driving course and as a part of that, sit a test that demonstrates knowledge of defensive driving. As part of that course, a Police officer should talk to the participants and explain to them their legal responsibilities and what will happen if they are not upheld.

Another step is radically tightening the deterrent. I suggest automatic loss of their driver licence for a year or one month in jail. Given the gravity with which society views people who have done jail time and/or lost their licence for traffic offences, the decline of their social status, this will – if made clear to all New Zealanders – make the vast majority think twice before committing such a daft act. Those that don’t are the ones the proverbial book should be thrown at.