Speaker by Various Artists

2

Mum

by Michael Appleton

Ten years ago this week, Mum died.

Her death wasn't surprising: my mother Alison had been living with a terminal breast cancer diagnosis for two and a half years.

But it was still shocking. One evening, she was sleeping in the living room of our family home in Karori, Wellington. The next morning, she was gone.

At her funeral, her four children described Mum in the following ways: she told the truth, even uncomfortable truth; she nurtured her family and her friends with empathy, patience and kindness; she was a control freak, trying to manage in great detail every situation or event she confronted; she was sociable, fun, forgiving and compassionate; and she placed a premium on dignity - on things being done properly. 

Mum lived for almost six decades, of which I was around for almost three. She's been gone for a decade - and it really is no easier that she's not here now than it was on the day she left.

The difficulty and discomfort and sadness that I feel at her absence hasn't faded or lessened; it's merely changed with the passage of time.

Some of the sadness relates to things she has missed: my marriage to Nayan, her only daughter becoming a mother, one of her sons becoming the Deputy Principal of our local primary school; and her two other sons being posted as New Zealand diplomats to the United States, India and China.

There were few things Mum liked more than radiating with pride at a family event or accomplishment, and she’s missed far too many of them. And many of the things she missed she predicted, before she died, that she would miss. 

Four of her grandchildren will never know her touch. My son, Samraj, is two and a half. He knows Mum’s face – and can pick her out from a photo at a considerable distance. When he sees her, he says, “Grandma Alison”, though he struggles with the middle syllable in her name. His life will be brightened by my memory of her, and by her example – but it will be much poorer for not having known her.

A decade on, it’s rare that a day goes by without me thinking at least once about what Mum would say about a situation before us.

2020 has been particularly confronting in this regard. Mum was a health professional: a nurse, a midwife, then a human resources manager for a primary health care organisation. I would give a lot of money to know what she would have made of COVID-19, and the Government’s response.

What were we getting right and what were we getting wrong? As someone whose whole life was about bringing people together, and managing competing interests, what would she have made of those conspiracy theorists who risked undermining our COVID response?

Her political views always fascinated me. She came from a small c conservative family, and had personally socially liberal views. While she kept her voting reasonably close to her chest, she revealed a lot once she was sick. She was in fact a classical swing voter: jumping between the major parties again and again.

So I wonder: what would she have made of it when John Key, who she admired, stepped down? Would she have embraced Jacinda Ardern – and if so when?

Mum’s experience with terminal illness made me a swing voter when it came to this month’s euthanasia referendum. As I approached my vote, I worried quite a bit about the dynamic between a terminally ill person and different family members. 

Would a doctor really be able to tell in every case if a terminally ill person had “chosen” euthanasia because of explicit or tacit pressure from family members? If not, what precisely was the safeguard in these situations? 

But Mum’s role in my life was also to try and ensure I kept things in perspective – especially when it came to sporting results. She would have been scathing and dismissive of my strongly emotional reaction, for example, to the Black Caps’ “loss” of last year’s Cricket World Cup final. She would have given me 24 hours of mourning and then told me to stop being silly and to get over it.

The end of our eulogy for Mum included this sentence: “We like to think that she realised she was leaving behind a creation of great toil and considerable love: a large, tightly-knit family which, though wounded by this grievous injury, shall only grow stronger, forever carrying her in its heart.”

As my family, including her three siblings, gathers to remember Mum in coming days, we will have made good on this sentiment. It says something profoundly positive about our childhoods that three of Mum’s four children live within 750 metres of the family home we grew up in. There have been setbacks and tribulations for our family in the decade that has passed without her, but we have met these trials together, as the family that she and Dad built. 

The coming year would have been a bittersweet one for Mum: my brother is being posted with his family to Japan, and I am going with mine to Sri Lanka. Via these two family movements, two of Mum’s four children and three of her seven grandchildren would have been out of New Zealand. And COVID-19 would have made it much trickier for her to go and visit them. But she, using her prodigious organisational skills, would have found a way – jumping through a window of opportunity the moment it opened. 

And as I prepared for my next overseas assignment, she would be saying a very predictable but very true thing: “Michael, remember that family is always the most important thing. Look after yourself, look after Nayan, look after Samraj. Everything else is secondary.”

Yes, Mum.

12

Rewarding competence

by Joshua Drummond

If you were listening to New Zealand’s punditocracy in the days since Labour won the general election with a record-setting outright majority, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Labour had actually lost.

Last time around pundits could barely deal with the fact that the National government had lost its majority, and this time, faced with a left-wing landslide, there’s been a retreat into full-blown fantasy. The sheer depth of the cognitive dissonance on display can be seen in these RNZ snippets from the last few days: 

Analysis - There's only crumbs for the Greens from Labour's table, National's caucus backs Judith Collins but there's anger in the ranks over what went wrong, and the huge swing to Labour indicates there could have been tactical voting on an unprecedented scale.

24 hours earlier, on the same website:

In this week's final Caucus podcast, the team agrees the red tide has flowed, in large part as a nationwide thank you to Ardern and the Labour-led government's handling of Covid-19.

 24 hours before that:

But with the wisdom of the crowd, centre-right voters have seen National's internal problems, looked around for a handbrake on a Labour-Greens transformative government and landed on a fascinating champion – Labour itself.

It’d be hilarious, if it wasn’t so earnest. They really believe that? Bless! 

The problem with these takes is not just that they can all be boiled down to “no matter the appearance of a sweeping left-wing victory, if I conduct a brave, take-no-prisoners interview with my keyboard, it turns out my own personal ideology won, yay!”

Nor is it merely the fundamentally broken pundit heuristic that the truth is probably found at the point of balance between two competing issues. The issue is that these takes ignore Occam’s Razor. The idea that voters are engaged in a complicated game of five-dimensional chess at the ballot box is way too complicated to hold water. 

I could go on, but Joe Nunweek, aka “that politics guy,” the standout Twitter commentator of the election campaign, already beat me to it. In this excellent piece, he advances the bold, controversial notion that people voted for Labour because they liked them. But if I was to write my own hot take, based entirely on the undeniable fact of a left-wing election landslide, post-hoc anecdote and my own keen understanding of “the vibe,” it would run like this: 

Labour won because they demonstrated competence. The end. 

But because hot-take think-pieces apparently have to be longer than 100 words, I should elaborate a bit. 

It’s important to note that a government demonstrating competence is an exception to the rule. Governments are not usually able to demonstrate competence, due to the fact that a.) competence makes for a boring story, and the only way we really find out about the stuff the Government does is through the news media, which does not like boring stories and b.) there’s always incompetence to find. This is true for governments of all political stripes. Very rarely does any government get a pat on the back for doing the right or even just the OK thing.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t expect competence of our government - we absolutely, obviously should - but the miracle of a system that manages to get public health, education, and democracy more or less right gets significantly less airtime than the far more entertaining spectre of some dingus of a Minister making a public tit of themself.  

(In fact, the public service is what does most of the job of actually running the country, and they generally do their job with enough competence that it’s boring and you never hear about it.) 

But Covid-19 upset the usual order of things, and instead of the standard, endless parade of incompetencies great and small (Kiwibuild! Tax reform! Anything to do with New Zealand First!) we were treated to a government that wasn’t fucking it all up. Instead, they were doing a obviously excellent job, visible over time through both our success compared to other countries and admiring write-ups in publications like The Lancet.

This demonstrable competence, and the comms strategy that piloted it (which, non-coincidentally, sidelined the Greens and New Zealand First, Labour’s partners in Government), turned into a great rumbling machine that destroyed anything stupid enough to get in the way. David Clark rode his mountain bike in front of it and got squashed. National Party leaders sniped and criticised and made half-baked suggestions about opening the borders that the electorate hated, and the machine ate two of them in quick succession before destroying the rest of the party at the ballot box. 

That Labour demonstrated competence in their Covid-19 response should really be beyond doubt at this point to all but the most hard-bitten cynics or ideological diehards. But I do think it worth mentioning what fuelled this machine: an evidence-based, big-spending, Big Government intervention into a systemic issue affecting all New Zealanders. 

The parallels with climate change are obvious, and with reports showing that New Zealand’s climate has already warmed remarkably, as well as an abundance of evidence that a large majority of the electorate now considers climate change an urgent concern, Labour – governing either alone or with the Greens – would be incredibly foolish to miss the memo.  

The time for decisive action on big issues like climate change (and attendant top-of-mind concerns like health, housing and transport) is, more than ever, now. That’s the actual mandate delivered by the election landslide - not the milquetoast, do-nothing, business-as-usual approach advocated by the nation’s optics-addled pundits, who are too blinded by the light of their own op-eds to see that the centre has comprehensively shifted. 

Even if they were somehow right, and it turns out the electorate voted tactically en masse to avoid the spectre of the same scary Greens who have been in government for the last three years, they need to learn that there’s no such thing as “lending” a vote, and that people who vote for an left-wing party with explicitly left-wing principles should be rewarded with left-wing policies. 

Voters delivered the Left their election victory based on their rediscovery of the power of government to aid society; and to stay in power, they’ll need to continue wielding it. It will be up to all of us to make sure they do it well. 

3

The cannabis referendum – a doctor's perspective

by Dr Graham Gulbransen

Cannabis is part of our culture: 80% of adults have tried it sometime. Intuition tells us that legalising cannabis will increase use – science suggests that is not likely. Our Dunedin and Christchurch studies show that cannabis use peaks in our 20s. Older people are less frequent users whether it is illegal or controlled. Those using cannabis now would be the same ones shopping at government regulated stores.

Legalising and controlling cannabis will make it safer for both medicinal and recreational users. Cannabis is widely used as a medicine. Medicinal substances are taken to heal. When I purchase paracetamol from a supermarket and take it for pain, it is medicinal use.

Medicines don’t always come from doctors. Most medicinal cannabis users rely on illegal cannabis rather than prescription cannabis from a doctor. Once it is legalised, many people will purchase cannabis for medicinal use just as they procure illegal cannabis for medicinal use now. Legalised cannabis will be safer because it will be tested, labelled and restricted to those 20 and over.

My interest as a GP and Cannabis Consultant comes from 40 years of questioning patients who tell me that illegal cannabis helps their pain, anxiety and insomnia. They use it medicinally. Cannabis has been used for more than 10,000 years as a healing herb, as noted in ancient texts. Medicinal benefits are confirmed scientifically. My own audit of over 1000 patients found that about 40% reported benefit when treated with prescription CBD, better than many standard medicines.

Of my last 200 prescription cannabis patients, 57 or 29% reported current use of illegal cannabis as medicine at first appointment. Recreational use when younger was reported by 104 or 52% of my patients. Surveys in this country have found that about 10% of adults have used cannabis (illegal) in the past year with 5% of adults stating their use was medicinal.

So why do people choose illegal cannabis when prescription cannabis has been available for five years? Cost and access are barriers. Prescription cannabis is imported as oils or sprays. Patients pay about $250 for a month’s supply of prescription CBD oil, close to $10 per day. There is no subsidy at the pharmacy. Winz provides very limited funding. About 20 Aotearoa NZ companies are licenced to grow and produce medicinal cannabis but the final products are still some time off. We are told they will be cheaper than imported medicinal cannabis. However, patients tell me that it is cheaper to purchase or grow their own for their medicinal purposes. 

Any doctor may prescribe CBD to any patient but most doctors lack knowledge and experience and wont prescribe. GPs are the specialists most likely to support our patients and prescribe. Others, like pain specialists, rheumatologists and psychiatrists, usually say no to patients.

While THC is the euphoriant that gets users high, blending it with CBD eliminates that intoxication. Street cannabis contains  very little CBD. Stronger prescription cannabis containing THC is cheaper and more effective for many conditions but is restricted to non-GP specialists. Specialist GPs like myself would be better placed to prescribe for their patients but this is blocked by the Ministry of Health. If patients cannot get these from GPs, some tell me they will continue to use illegal cannabis.

Patients have been waiting six months for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme at the Ministry of Health to assess and notify the availability of various blends of THC and CBD that any doctor may prescribe. Patients continue to use illegal cannabis while we all wait.

How does legalising cannabis make it safer?

Cannabis use has a long history and people will continue to use it. As with other consumables, testing for pesticides, heavy metals, fungi etc and standardising for strength and constituents is what we expect. This cannot happen under prohibition.

Prosecuting cannabis users is a failure because many will continue to use it. And they carry the additional stigma of prosecution with subsequent work and travel consequences. Especially for Māori. Most cannabis consumers do so for relaxation and enjoyment, without harm to themselves or others. Some of us chill with a beer or wine, while others safely vape or smoke cannabis – same deal really. As with alcohol, heavy use can be problematic. This is best managed by health services, not by arrest and prosecution. The $200 million spent each year in policing cannabis prohibition could better be spent on treating problem use. Taxes from legal sales would help.

Youth use of cannabis has been decreasing here and in countries where cannabis has been legalised. Do drug dealers check the customer’s age? Government controlled stores would be strictly R20. Mental health risks are greatest for those under 18 with genetic predisposition to psychosis. Those over 20 using cannabis for symptoms of mental illness would be better served at stores where labelling would allow them to choose CBD-dominant cannabis, not available under prohibition.

Cannabis has a long history of use medicinal and recreational use. Prohibition has not worked. It is time to treat cannabis as a health issue and stop pointless and damaging prosecutions.

Vote "No" if you prefer cannabis sales from dealers and gangs with no regard to quality, contamination or customer age. Vote "Yes" if you agree that prohibition is not working and that legalisation will allow control over cannabis sales, whether it be for medicinal or recreational use.

–––––––

In 2018 Dr Graham Gulbransen opened the first medical cannabis service in Aotearoa NZ. Cannabis Care Clinic is in Henderson, Auckland, providing specialist consultations for legal medicinal cannabis prescriptions. Problems addressed include chronic pain, cancer symptoms, anxiety, chronic insomnia and neurological conditions. Most patients have experienced little benefit or adverse effects from conventional treatment or have been told there are no further treatments. Many report that medicinal cannabis offers symptom relief, improved quality of life and most importantly, restores hope. He has prescribed CBD to 1400 patients with very good outcomes. An audit of his first 400 CBD patients showed benefit for chronic pain and/or emotional distress: British Journal of General Practice Open, 5/2/20.

His part time general practice experience dates from 1983. Much of this work involves assessing and managing addictions and/or chronic pain. He is a FRNZCGP.  Graham completed his Fellowship of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine (FAChAM) in 2008. As an Addiction Specialist he manages problems such as alcohol and drug withdrawal, opioid substitution treatment, medication for chronic pain and he writes addiction assessments.

3

Lockdown? Day? Whatever the fuck day it is …

by Penny Feltham

I live in Stockport, just outside Manchester. It's 10 minutes by train away, but I’m not sure if the trains are running – and in any case I’ve not actually been in my office in Central Manchester since February 20.

That got complex. I was in Iraq for work and came home in early March with a virus. Just not that virus but they wouldn’t test me because Iraq (you know, right next door to Iran) wasn’t on the WHO list.

So. Context. We live in a suburban semi-detatched house with a garden (big for Edgeley). There’s me. Matt the husband. Oscar the 13 year old kid, two dogs, five rats and a couple of fish. The husband is currently not in paid work. The kid is on Easter holidays. I am still working from home. We are lucky. We don’t live in a one-bedroom flat in a high rise. We have access to a green space. We still have an income. I might be furloughed at work from next week, but will be on full pay.

The main thing we have noticed is that our lives have slowed right down. Little is urgent. Schools are closed. The lack of commuting gives me more time to do the stuff I like doing – listening music, talking to friends. There isn’t that much road traffic and I am happier with the kid being out on his bike though I am having to re-explain to him why he can’t cycle to see his mates. I think he gets it, though the big numbers don’t seem to phase him very much.

As we live on one of the flight paths into Manchester airport, the lack of aircraft has been a definite thing. The boy dog is sad about this as he likes chasing them (I am not kidding). I am enjoying the huge increase in birdsong in our garden.

We’re still doing tabletop gaming via Zoom or Skype. It works, but just not the same. Many overseas Skype calls around games and yesterday Matt was at the usual monthly board game session – via software. No Live Action for a good long while. Maybe not until late August. The urgency to get new kit made for Oscar has fled the building. Life has slowed down …

The panic buying. It was a real thing. We went to the supermarket on the last day of school before home-schooling started. No toilet paper [cos obvs], kitchen roll or tissues. dried pulses, rice, pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, flour, fresh meat and fish. Apparent aggression in some places including Unicorn in Chorlton – normally a bastion of brown rice kindness and sensibilities. Huge queues to get into the supermarket that I usually shop in. And good-humoured, except when I glared at the guy who got too damn close in the queue.

There has been far more contact between people, either by phone or on social media. Folk checking up on each other generally or sharing dark meme number 9038. Lots of discussion and disgust at the behaviour of some of the Sheeple. My getting angry of the claim of ‘Blitz spirit’ when it never existed in the first place. Going out to clap for the front line workers at 8pm on a Thursday night whilst swearing about the Tories having torn the hellout of the NHS in the first place. Watching the Government swing the blame game onto the Sheeples. "It spread because you wouldn’t self isolate. Not because we fucked up our response for a month … "

Parts of communities really looking after each other. Shopping for house bound folk. Prepping extra meals to share. A great chat with my lovely neighbour from either end on our front path both stopping mid-conversation to admire various dogs on their walks. The guy who knocked on our door asking formoney last night. I refused him money but gave him food. Its all getting a bit medieval and we don’t have a stable or a straw barn to offer him. There is some shitty behaviour going on. The usual thefts, assaults and domestic violence – but that’s Blitz spirit for you.

Manchester is bizarrely quiet. There are few takeaways open in Stockport – many Manchester restaurants shifting to deliveries and collections, but 10 minutes out of Manchester is far too far away. No live venues, but lots of streaming of old gigs or various people producing stuff to be heard and danced to in the quiet of your kitchen.

Radio – which I rely on far more than TV – has also changed. Marc Reilly’s Show (my lifeline) on Radio 6 seems subdued with no live music. In fact, maybe subdued is the word for the past few weeks. My listening habits have got got really weird. Listening to American country music recommended to me by a new friend in Toronto. And I keep finding the Monkees cropping up.

Tomorrow, the schooling wars start anew. Moodle and Teams is being used to teach. Just gotta persuade the 13 year old to not skip off onto YouTube. Sigh. This is the new normal and Gods only knows what is to come.
Never have the media been more important.

Penny, Stockport, April 2020

4

Locked down in Jersey City

by Mark Anderson

I am a Kiwi living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Jersey City is the second-largest city in the state and is located directly across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan. Locals call it New York’s sixth borough. More than 350,000 New Jersey citizens, including myself, commute to New York daily for work. Like New York, we have been heavily hit by the coronavirus.

In Jersey City, a city the size of Hamilton, we currently have almost 1800 diagnosed cases and 50 deaths – the latest being a revered local councillor. Although the number of cases in New York seems to be plateauing, the number of confirmed cases in New Jersey is on the rise. While we don’t know anyone who has died from the virus, we do know people who have tested positive and we know people who have lost loved ones and work colleagues.

In New York and New Jersey, we are now into our fourth week of lockdown. It has been sobering to see the difference in how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled here in the US compared to back home in New Zealand.

One of the first things I observed upon arriving in the US was the division between federal and state government when it comes to things such as health, education, laws and taxes. This is evident in the conflicting measures most states have taken in dealing with this crisis compared to the seemingly hands-off approach of the federal government. The New Zealand response, with its four levels and precise guidelines, stands in stark contrast to the patchwork of US guidelines. As cases and deaths escalated in New York, we watched agog as spring break college students partied on the beaches of Florida. 

Some of the measures enacted in New Zealand and other countries simply do not wash in a country that values individual freedoms above collective societal responsibility. A case in point being those churches who continue to hold services despite advice from local and government leadership, who are also reluctant to intervene.

The quality of healthcare in the US is not poor – and at more than 14% of GDP spending on it is proportionately much higher than New Zealand’s – but what is poor is the ability of the poor to access. I never realised how much we take our healthcare system in New Zealand for granted, and how expensive it is to access healthcare in the US – even if you do have insurance.

My wife can work from home. I, however, have lost my job and have therefore applied for an unemployment benefit. The wait will be three weeks. Friends who work in the gig economy cannot access welfare at this stage. One friend with no income inquired of her landlord if she could delay paying rent; she was sent an email reply with a list of local homeless shelters. Capitalism rumbles on.

Still, I try to not get under my wife’s feet in our one-bedroom apartment as she works from our dining room table. We go out in masks and gloves and try and keep our social distance – not easy in apartment buildings with shared areas and neighbourhoods of high-density housing.

Amongst our local US friends are three other couples with whom we regularly chat with on Google Hangouts. This week we are having a bake-off. Cookies will be left on stoops and in letter boxes and judging (and drinks and dress up) will be online on Friday night. We’re baking Edmond’s Afghans …