Speaker by Various Artists

33

Banking on a relationship

by Colin Jackson

Dear Kiwibank,

It’s not you, it’s me. I guess I wanted more from our relationship, and I thought you were serious, but I see now that it could never have worked. My mistake, and I’m sorry. I hope we can both move on.

When my previous business credit card went off with someone else, I didn’t just go for the first one on the rebound. Maybe that was a mistake. Instead, I wooed you, and it was a lengthy chase, but anything worth catching is worth chasing, right? And I liked the idea that you are owned in New Zealand. In a way, you were mine already.

Of course there were problems as we got to know each other. My wife wasn’t at all happy that you put “Number 2” in the middle of her name on her copy of the card. But we gradually got comfortable with each other, despite the odd harsh word and awkward moment.

After a few months we had a nice thing going, or so I thought. I finally got my regular bills moved over to pay from your card, and I took your card with me as I travelled overseas to some of the unusual places I work in. It worked just fine.

Fast forward to March this year. We had got comfortable with each other. I went to Canada on a business trip, used your card to get from the airport just fine, then a few days later tried to check out of my hotel. Big problem – the card was declined, the hotel bill wasn’t paid, even though I had the money available. No matter, I knew you’d wouldn’t let me down – I’d call you to ask you to sort it out. You were asleep, then you went on holiday for Easter. My flight was the next day. What to do? I’m not used to having someone I trust abandon me among strangers.

You didn’t answer my email for days, but when you did you sounded reasonable. You didn’t quite say sorry, but you wanted me to see it from your point of view. Even though I’d travelled with your card before, you said you weren’t sure why I was away and you thought it safer to to wait until I called you. You said you’d tried to call me on a landline I haven’t had for years, no matter that I’d given you my up to date number and email when I asked you for the card. You told me that your Daddy doesn’t give you enough allowance to afford to support your cards all the time like the other banks. I sort of accepted that, even though I was still hurting from your rejection.

A week or so later I got a bill from Spark. It had a late payment fee on it – you had dishonoured my card when Spark was trying to get payment and Spark charged me for it. I asked you if you would at least cover the extra cost you’d put me to – never mind the anguish. You said no.

Other banks refund costs they cause people when they make errors. Obviously you aren’t prepared to do that. Perhaps that’s another aspect of the folksy New Zealand brand you like to show off, along with not providing out of hours support. From my point of view, it makes you not just someone with bad service, but an actual problem to be managed. I have enough of those already, I don’t need any more.

I’ve tried as much as I can in this relationship. I’ve bent over backward. But you don’t see that. I I realise now that you see me as someone to be dealt with from 9 to 5 after a long call centre wait, looked after in a haphazard fashion, and really not anyone worth troubling about at all.

That’s not enough for me, it really isn’t. After what we’ve been through, I want more. I expect you to care a bit. That’s obviously not happening.

So, this is it. I’m sorry it had to come to this, I really am. I’ll be looking for another card as soon as I get back. Like I say, it’s my fault – I probably expected too much.

Let’s try to stay friends.

18

Banning begging will be about as effective as banning breathing

by Six

Auckland mayoral candidate Mark Thomas has promised to introduce a new bylaw to prohibit begging in Auckland. Banning begging will be about as effective as banning breathing.

Not only is it the last bastion of the broken and bent, but human nature means most of us also want to help.

From my observation, Street People are as cunning as a Remuera rat and as wily as a Penthouse fox.

Not all are receiving a benefit or appropriate mental health care or addressing addictions. A lot of homeless people are not literate enough to read this rant, let alone comply with Work and Income paperwork.

Street characters are not generally on the streets because they are socially compliant.

Some Streeties are pathological, antisocial parasites.

Many others, however, are just disenfranchised, separated from their community and lack the support needed for any success. 

Most of these people are simply trying to pass time in the most profitable manner possible.

Sure, take away begging. No one wants to see or surrender to soliciting. 

But give the central city rough community a hub, a marae-style centre where anyone can go to learn artisan skills such as knitting, weaving, pottery and music.  Second, find a vacant warehouse and enlist some of our skilled graduates as mentors, tutors and admin.

Start by promoting existing free courses, and have people on the streets to talk to people and point them in the way of something more productive for the entire community.

Surely we would rather buy a handcrafted beanie or scarf, kit bag or candle than throw a coin into cup?

To remove begging and poverty you have to give people options.

Adjunct:

According to information released under the Local Government Official Information ACT, The Counci's The Long Term Plan (LTP) 2015-2025 allocated $360,000 for year one and two (2015/16 and 2016/17) and $110,000 for year three ($2017/18).

The funds are to support emergency housing and homelessness initiatives.

To date, the Council has given $25k to the Auckland City Mission, allocated a further $35k to be divided between The Salvation Army and consumed an operating budget of $58k.

Six has lived on the streets at various times and writes about that and other things at Tranzspotting.

37

Her outdoors

by Six

Other than it being night, I have no other reference to day, week or month.

It is either mid evening or mid week, autumn or spring, judging by the light or lack thereof, the scant activity on the avenue and a balmy breeze from the west. 

It could even be early dawn.

And by dawn I mean dusk.

Days melt into weeks, weeks to months, months to a lifetime. Day fades to night, night breaks into daylight and it all rolls over again and again. It is all the same, merely the players that change.

Base camp, outside Merge Cafe on Karangahape Rd, had to be abandoned due to wet weather. It leaks like an old man under the awning outside said stoop.

It is drier and better sheltered outside the dispensary further east. 

It is unfortunately a pedestrian highway which attracts anyone and everyone who wants to skulk, stagger or saunter.

Next door are two kebab stores, a bottle shop, a convenience store and twin nightclubs.

The whole area has more cameras than the Playboy Mansion.

It is a hotbed of hookers, drunks, deviants and the despicable.

Police patrols and private security guards secure the streets and give me some degree of safety.

My only real problem is privacy.

Because I'm sleeping in plain view, I can't discriminate.

Anyone and everyone joins me on the green nylon otherwise known as home. 

For better or worse, I buy most of my kit from the Army Surplus store. Ex-army gear is usually of a high quality, affordable and olive.

I've had a NZ flag sewn onto my bivvy bag, an outer weather-resistant nylon skin.

Hopefully this will stop drunks urinating on me.

Sometimes I think of myself as an urban commando.

I pack, repack, remove and refine.

All day, every day.

I'm wearing black Levi stovepipes, cherry red 18-hole Doc Martens and a light singlet.

It is a constant question: 'Do I need this?'

I weigh 80kg and 5kg of that is hair, pack weighs about 35kg (give or take) and guitar and amp tip the scales at around 18kg.

Anything not used daily is discarded.

I am constantly arguing with myself about the guitar. But I figure it is only a matter of time before it is stolen so I might as well enjoy it.

I'm a firm believer that music creates positive vibrations. 

Sometimes when you are homeless the hardest thing is to be positive. Music helps.

The only clothes I carry are the ones currently worn. Underwear is a luxury, and not part of the commando couture. It is a constant war against weight.

Being unable to secure personal belongings means you lose stuff.

You have to either stash your belongings and risk their removal, or carry your load like a turtle or snail.

The number of times I have seen grown men, and women in tears after losing their loot. Hard men and hardened wenches, men who've been working this rodeo some time, in complete despair.  Women who wield weight in the underworld, stripped of whatever comforts can be carried.

When you don't have a lot, it is easy to lose the lot.

Sometimes it is other street people raiding another's plot or Council contractors clearing out anything deemed undesirable. Opportunist thieves, scumbags, scags and slags scalping the bald. 

Why be homeless? 

Accommodation options for the Auckland discarded, disenfranchised and disheartened are limited and secure locker space prohibitively expensive, unavailable or untenable.  

Not many, if any, leaseholders want to take on an unemployed, dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable flatmate.

Numerous street people have mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions, poor literacy and a lack of basic social skills.

Many others don't.

Some streeties are postgraduate students, former professionals, academics, artists and idealists.

One K' Road character has more than half a million dollars in the bank. Yet living with terminal illness, he chooses to sleep rough so as not to waste money on rent, and experience as much as life has to offer, all day, everyday.

If homelessness is a choice, it is a choice of few options.  

According to the Lifewise and Auckland City Mission report on homelessness 2015, almost 400 people are sleeping rough within a five 5km radius of Sky City.  A higher density of doorway dwellers than New York or London.

The reality for many low and no income earners is a room the size of a hen house for up to 90 per cent of your benefit or daily hustle.

An accomplished panhandler can hustle more than $400 a day. Most probably make enough for a few drinks and poison of preference.

Most, if not all, fundraising will be spent on illicit activities and dodgy deals.

Personal experience, tales from the trenches and the tell-tale scabs of the regular suspects tell me the average central city hotel, hostel or boarding house will offer you the company of pedophiles, junkies and drunks, hookers, lice, bed bugs and all manner of objectionable activity. 

Once you have enjoyed the comforts of the average boarding home, hostel or hotel, the asphalt starts to appeal.

Great outdoor-outdoor flow. Free wifi (if you can convince the kebab store to give you the password), air conditioning, free sky . . .

The trick is to have an address to give to WINZ, so you can still get an accommodation allowance.

Sleeping rough does not preclude you from receiving a benefit.

A single person living hard is entitled to around $170 per week.

An accommodation allowance can bump that up to more than $300.

You need someone who is not on a benefit to say you are living with them. Otherwise cross referencing will result in a benefit adjustment for all parties concerned.

But sleeping in public view comes with pitfalls and problems.

You have no privacy and are unable to evict uninvited guests.

I've learned to simply snuggle in my sleeping sacks when company becomes cumbersome. I just pull the hood over my head and snooze, until the wearisome wander off. 

J is my latest fan.

And by fan I mean stalker.

She is clearly drunk, and more than likely on amphetamines.

“Why do you hate me, Six?” she whines.

“I don't hate you. I think of you as little more than a drug-fucked sex worker with nothing better to do than pester me. Some fellow street character I must endure to remain secure,” I mumble through the comfort of my comforter.

“What the fuck.”

“Fuck off J. I just wanna sleep,” I use my miffed tone.

“Fuck you,” says J, cuddling up next to me and borrowing my rain-poncho for shelter.

The warmth of her body is a welcome reprieve from the cold concrete. She smells nice. She finally stops chatting.

I like J when she crashes. She is much easier to ignore when she stops talking. I worry about her. The track marks on her arms paint an ugly picture. 

I wake with a jolt.

Someone is tapping me.

I open my cover and a drunk is waving a kebab in my face.

 “Cha bra, hunguss?” Or something.

 I think he is giving me a kebab and I accept with grace.

To decline an offer of kindness is to decline the giver the gift of giving.

I was once too proud to accept a stranger's charity. But then I realised I was being rude.

Some people are very sympathetic to the plight of fellow man, many are blind, and a minority despise you.

Some people offer cash, a fellow street swab usually swings by with drinks or narcotics, and a proportion of public are very generous.

Not everyone is happy to ignore or indulge and prefer to antagonise. 

“Get a job,” spits a young adult pedestrian.

“Thanks man. Great idea. I so wish I'd thought of that. Tell ya what, you tell me where they are handing out the jobs to middle-aged, over-qualified transgender women and I'll be first in line. When do the doors open?,” I ask with sincere interest. 

“You could be sweeping the footpath now,” volunteers Don Johnson look-a-like.”

“That is Roger's job. He works all through the night and drops me off all the drugs he finds on his route. Then I sell them to the school kids on their way to college in the morning,” I explain.

“Suck this faggot,” says 1980s pastel pink sportscoat with rolled-up sleeves pointing at his crutch.

“OK”, says I. “Drop ya daks. I told you I was looking for work.”

After an evening of insults, assaults and assailants, I wake up with the first of the commuter buses.

A passerby hands me a hot coffee.

“Thanks man. Have a great day,” I yell at his diminishing figure.

Roger the cleaner laughs when I ask him where my drugs are. He does however give me a few cigarettes to kickstart the day.

“I telled you”, says Roger. “What are drugs? What you want that for? I don't know. I don't think I ever seen anything like that.”

“Come for a coffee later,” I say.

“I will be there for lunch,” says Roger.

“Bring me any drugs you find. Or gold.

“Or anything shiny,” I offer as an afterthought. 

By 9am, I'm serving breakfast at Merge Cafe, a not-for-profit restaurant on Karangahape Rd providing breakfast from as little as $1 for porridge or cereal and toast, eggs with beans and snarler for not much more and hot lunches from $4.

Since failing to find work after graduating with a pg dip in comms studies, I offered my time to Lifewise. I thought maybe I could teach literacy skills.

A colleague from Fairfax, comes in to give me back my portfolio.

“Hey L. Eggs on toast?” I ask with a smile.

“No, not this morning Six. I just called by to return your portfolio. I'm sorry, Six. I really went to bat for you but the reality is it is just a very competitive industry. And I hate to say it but you don't fit the profile. You're not female, not under 25 and still living with your parents at home in Remuera. That's the truth of the industry unfortunately,” says L.

I am female.

–––

Six blogs periodically, and mostly truthfully, at Tranzspotting.

88

‘Kiwimeter’ is a methodological car crash and I still can’t look away

by Tze Ming Mok

On a survey methodological level, it just looks worse the more I find out. Nerd rage to follow, but briefly up front: Increasingly, I think my original disagreement with the Human Rights Commission is more semantic than substantive.

I still believe it’s very important to test responses to that specific bellwether statement about Maori receiving so-called ‘special treatment’ in surveys, even if the ‘agree/disagree’ answer options don’t work properly in this one. (I’ve noted elsewhere that a better scale would be ‘how acceptable or unacceptable do you find this statement?’)

But because the overall effect of ‘Kiwimeter’ is one of causing emotional distress and feelings of marginalisation for Maori, even if due to incompetence, then it’s ultimately a racist effect. And as we know from our Human Rights Act harassment definitions, intent doesn’t matter; effect does. I’d like to thank folks on Twitter for sharing their experiences with me on this. 

Marama Fox is also right: in terms of research ethics, there was an ethical requirement to assess whether the survey would do ‘harm’ to respondents. I think there is good evidence that it has caused emotional distress and harm (one Twitter commenter described seeing that question as a “punch to the puku”). Those responsible seemingly did NOT due their due diligence to assess whether there was a risk of this. The academics who were involved need have a close look at the part they played.

How do you assess that risk? You test the survey. Did they do this?  Not properly.  This is what I have figured out so far:

Some people have reported taking part in the original survey that developed the archetypes, and we now know it was not a representative random population sample survey. It was a weighted selection of the self-selective group of people who had previously filled out ‘Vote Compass’.  From appearances, Vox Labs seems sort of confident that their approach to non-random selection is basically awesome, as if it’s as good as a YouGov panel, and that upweighting or downweighting certain demographics to match their population proportions is, indeed, magic.

[SPOILER: WEIGHTING IS NOT MAGIC AND VOX LABS IS NOT YOUGOV].

So yes, absolutely no part of this survey even originated as a representative ‘probability sample’ survey. For the moment, let’s leave behind speculation about whether Vox Labs is as good at constructing a representative-ish online panel as YouGov, as we have nothing to go on other than my own mean instincts.

Instead, let’s look at the failure of the survey testing stage and questionnaire development.  These are very big nerd-problems.

Essentially, the original more carefully-but-not-randomly selected survey was the pilot for Kiwimeter. From folks like Stephen Judd and Stephanie Rogers who remember taking part in that pilot, the questions in the original survey weren’t substantially different from the current survey and the one that has attracted all the controversy was exactly the same.  So if they got negative feedback at that stage, they didn’t care enough to change it.

The Founder/Director of Vox Labs, Cliff Van Der Linden, has been tweeting somewhat piteously from Canada in defense of the methodology, including a couple of tweets to me so far. I asked him whether there had been cognitive testing carried out on the survey, as this would have prevented the main problems I wrote about earlier.

As you can see from the screen grab, his completely off-topic response about factor analysis (a data crunching method to be applied to results) seemed to indicate that he did not understand my question, possibly because he did not know what cognitive testing was.

NEEERRRRRDRRAAAAAAAGE

I thought I was pretty restrained though, right?

What is cognitive testing? It’s a kind of interviewing technique where people talk about what is going through their minds as they fill out a survey – it would have picked up the ‘this seems racist’ problem immediately.  It’s a standard step that credible survey research organisations build into the development phase. And it is not complicated or expensive shit to do.

Most data nerds, programmers and political scientists don’t need to know what cognitive testing is, and this seems to be Van Der Linden’s background. But any nerd who works in survey research damn well better. I look at the culture of an online ‘engagement’ outfit like Vox Labs, and I don’t see a depth of knowledge about traditional survey research and its implementation, which is a problem for credibility on a project whose credibility is already compromised because it’s being carried out by, well, TVNZ.

Also on his Twitter stream, Van Der Linden however pleads that Vox was not responsible for questionnaire development, only technical delivery and analysis. I have some sympathy.  He states that the questionnaire was developed by a panel of New Zealanders that included academics and Maori - why would Vox have doubted their expertise?  Fair enough! What happened here?  I have no freakin’ idea.

But not all academics are necessarily going to have a professional survey research background in the nuts and bolts of delivering a questionnaire that works, even if they are great at analysing psychological constructs from data.

If the New Zealand panel did any cognitive piloting, they obviously didn’t sample widely enough. It’s possible that they viewed ‘piloting’ as Vox’s area. But Vox was in Canada: How could it carry out decent qualitative research with New Zealanders?  The blame does not lie with the Canadians.  This is a very disappointing day for New Zealand academia. The comments so far from those involved have not been illuminating.

When the jobs have been portioned out like this - questions here, implementation there - a meaningful on-the-ground pilot to test whether the questions actually worked was lost. This whole project seems like a classic case of a failure of research expertise and oversight of the whole enterprise, from development to delivery, start to finish.  Instead of nose to tail dining, we’ve got something half-assed. 

I hope at least it was as cheap as it looks.

Tze Ming Mok apologises for an entire blog about survey methodology 

75

The real problem with the ‘Kiwimeter’

by Tze Ming Mok

The Human Rights Commission is wrong. It’s not racist for a survey to put up a statement that captures everything liberals and radicals hate about latent anti-Maori attitudes, and ask whether you agree or disagree with it.

It’s a perfectly reasonable way to measure how anti-Maori people are. I don’t know what the HRC expects here: for attitudinal survey questions to be so PC that they either allow people to hide how bigoted they are, or just not gather any information about people’s attitudes at all? I expect that they don’t expect anything in particular, as it’s not their job to conduct social research on people’s attitudes. But it would help if they understood what it is for.

People want research that can help society. But we can’t help society if we don’t know where the problems are. And we can’t see where the problems are unless we ask the hard questions about people’s sometimes shitty attitudes.

At the same time, the negative reactions I’ve seen to this survey within my own liberal bubble do highlight some real problems with how the ‘Kiwimeter’ has been executed by TVNZ. Essentially, it’s been carried out in a way that makes people suspect its motives, that makes people uncomfortable, and makes people think that there is a hidden agenda.

Surveyfail 1: The Kiwi-measuring contest

As I said, asking respondents whether or not they agree with offensive statements, is not inherently racist. It’s essentially asking people whether they have shitty, bigoted views, which is something really important to find out. The fact that the survey is called a ‘Kiwimeter’ though? Hmm, maybe a bit racist. Personally, I’m not comfortable with it, because the overwhelming suggestion is that it’s going to tell you how much of a ‘Kiwi’ you are, with the possibility that you will fail the Kiwi-ness test, and that you identify with the term ‘Kiwi’ anyway.

I’m not the only one that has been turned off by this; others have decided not to fill it out on these grounds. The name of the survey operates on an assumption that all New Zealanders have an uncomplicated response to this term as a national identity; which seems kind of an oversight for a survey about national identity. The people filling it are already more likely to be those who have opted in to a certain kind of national identity, so that undermines the whole enterprise… and sets the scene for all that follows.

Surveyfail 2: ‘What is this shit?’

From comments I’ve seen, people seemed very confused about what the survey was, and I have not fared much better myself.  A lot of people didn’t realise that there had been a large, scientific and more detailed survey conducted into social attitudes, that had generated the six ‘Kiwi archetypes’ to start with. The accompanying text intended to explain the online survey was brief, ambiguous and misleading.

You could not understand anything about the status of the data (am I the Kiwimeter survey? Is the other survey the Kiwimeter survey?) that you were about to deliver into TVNZ’s hot little hands, even if you read the FAQs and methodology section, which only nerds like me do. For people clicking through quickly, it seemed like their Buzzfeed-like answers themselves were forming the basis of something with about as much validity as a Herald online poll.

Surveyfail 3: ‘Oh, I see where this is going…’

Compounding all of this, was the lack of any warning or explainer about how to view or react to the questions. People saw statements that seemed personally offensive, leading and inflammatory - statements for many, cut to the very core of racial enmity and oppression in this country - and instead of thinking: “Aha, this is an attitude survey, I will click ‘strongly disagree’ and have a glass of water” they simply got really uncomfortable. One senior academic I know who specialises in national attitudes and identity research did not complete the survey for this reason. Guys, this is a baaaaad sign.

These three fails combined make it fully understandable why a lot of people might have thought this was some kind of racist survey.  And the way that the execution was fumbled like this makes me think that they almost deserve for people to think it’s a racist survey.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure it’s not a racist survey.

But I have questions.

The original large-scale survey of 10,000 people drawn from a properly representative sample (I still can’t tell whether this is also being referred to as the Kiwimeter) itself seems like it could be an invaluable research resource for academics and policymakers for years to come, since they keep touting it as the ‘largest ever’ (ah, but if you’re doing to get into dick-measuring, you’re going to have to go longitudinal, amirite NZAVS?). 

What are they doing with the microdata?  Is it going to be open access? What are TVNZ’s public responsibilities in the use, distribution and control of this information?  None, because it’s a commercial operation; or lots, because they are a state body? In which case, can I have it please?

As for the ‘Kiwimeter’ online data, which is forming the basis of a bunch of stories being pumped out now by TVNZ, the methodology section only describes how they carried out the first proper survey that generated the archetypes; it does not say whether they are doing any post-survey weighting with the online results in order to try to make it better than a Herald online poll.

I’m only assuming this is being done, otherwise, kill me now because otherwise the #nerdrage will destroy all before it. But even assuming this, there is a big big problem with the fact that the choice to select into and complete the online survey is not independent from attitudes about national identity. Because, as discussed above it’s called a fucking ‘Kiwimeter’.  So I don’t know why they don’t just publish the findings of the 10,000-strong scientific survey instead as it will be much more credible. 

My biggest worry though, is what TVNZ’s motives are in carrying out this kind of attitudinal research on national identity, and how responsible they are going to be with the findings. Are the academics doing the analysis worried about losing control of the results amid a ratings-driven frenzy?  Will the use of the findings and the data by TVNZ be driven by a need for enlightenment, or a need for controversy and profit? 

Can I tick all of the above?

Full disclosure: Tze Ming previously worked at the Human Rights Commission, and as a researcher at NatCen Social Research which conducts the British Social Attitudes Survey. Oh yeah, and blogged on Public Address.