Friday, December 31, 2021

Ask Arthur 2021, Part 4: NZ seriousness, me, and fun

This is the final post in this year’s “Ask Arthur” series, and it’s quite varied. It starts out serious, then ends on a lighter note.

Today’s questions are all from Roger Green, and the first of the more serious ones is:

Knowing that New Zealand is far from perfect: What can the US learn in terms of dealing with Native people from how New Zealand has tried to do right by the Maori? Roger also asked a related question: How do we solve the race problems in the US and New Zealand?

I don’t know how much of New Zealand’s efforts/experiences are translatable to other countries and their specific issues, but I think the basic answer lies in the phrase Good Faith. What I mean by that is that both sides of the divide—because the existence of a divide is why racial problems persist—need to approach efforts to settle differences and problems in good faith: With honesty, integrity, and mutual respect. Humans being humans, sometimes there will be failures on any or all of those things. When that happens, it’s necessary to simply try again.

In practice, this includes some very fundamental things. For example, if a racial or ethnic minority describes their experience and vision of how things are, they must be heard and understood, not dismissed out of hand. The two sides (and for simplicity’s sake I’ll say two “sides”, but there can be many) may have mutually exclusive visions of reality because precisely their experiences are different. That doesn’t automatically make either side right or wrong, but it does mean that neither should dismiss the other side out of hand—even if what they say makes you want to throttle them. Listen first, learn where they’re coming from and why they feel as they do, and then the search for common ground can begin. I feel very strongly from what I’ve seen in both the USA and New Zealand that no real or permanent change is possible without good faith discussions, nor if both sides aren’t brought along: Leaving one side behind will ultimately cause the whole process to fail.

New Zealand’s attempt to reconcile with its past treatment of Māori has been fraught. It took a long time for the government to accept it needed to do anything, but in 1975 The Labour Government under Prime Minister Norman Kirk set up the Waitangi Tribunal to hear claims of actions and omissions by the NZ government since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Historic claims were ended in 2008, but contemporary claims can still be filed. The Tribunal’s rulings are advisory, however, and the government of the day can—and have—ignored the rulings.

At the same time, there's also been periodic backlash to the Tribunal from Pākeha (people of European ancestry), and also in other areas, such as, objections to the use of Te Reo Māori in everyday life by government and the media—even though it’s one of New Zealand’s official languages (an interesting side note is that it’s often said that NZ has three official languages: Te Reo, NZ Sign Language, and English, however, English has never actually been declared an official language, and is thought of as “official” because of tradition and common usage).

New Zealand’s experience with trying to recognise and compensate for historic wrongs is important, but it’s no magic solution. The settlement process hasn’t erased poverty among Māori people, nor has it alone helped health outcomes, etc. Most importantly, it hasn’t ended racism, casual or systemic. Māori (and Pacific peoples, too) are often treated worse by the criminal justice system (from police through to courts and prisons) than are white people. On the other hand, and not to put too fine a point on it, but, NZ police aren’t routinely armed, so it’s rare for a brown offender to be killed or wounded by police (it’s more often the other way around).

Like the USA, NZ’s issue isn’t merely how (in NZ’s case) brown people are treated now, it’s also about generations of poor treatment or neglect by government and the effect that’s had on minority populations. Both countries don’t spend enough on health and education for minority children specifically in order to try and break the cycles that lead ultimately to poverty, poorer social and health outcomes, and, of course, crime. At the same time, the USA definitely doesn’t do enough to teach and train police on issues of race and culture, nor in de-escalation of incidents and use of other non-lethal methods. The USA also has highly militarised police forces, which New Zealand doesn’t have.

In my opinion, the main thing the USA can learn from New Zealand is to—to put it bluntly—chill the fuck out. Americans—white Americans in particular—need to stop being so angry at other races when they don’t see things the same way, they need to actually listen to what the other side is saying, and they have to try to find a way to move forward together. That, in a nutshell, it what New Zealand tries to do, though far from perfectly. Racism is a human problem, but it can’t be cured by ignoring it or actively pretending it doesn’t exist. Both NZ and the USA have people who actively ignore or deny racism, however, the USA has a far higher percentage of people who do so.

I also feel strongly that it’s up to white people to do what they’re able to do to practice inclusion as a part of daily life. That’s why I added a few phrases in Te Reo to my podcast, and why I always attempt to pronounce Māori words and placenames correctly—to the extent that if I hear a fellow Pākeha say it wrong, I’ll often immediately use the same word or placename in a sentence, but pronounced as correctly as I can. I also stand up to Pākeha who try to blame Māori for whatever it is they don’t like. Those sorts of individual actions don’t require government policies or actions, just a commitment to doing what’s right. But you can’t even start doing that without good faith.

Next up, Roger asked “What do you think about the efficacy of this legislation?”. The proposed legislation is intended to gradually outlaw smoking by raising the minimum age for buy tobacco and products. In practice is means that anyone who is 14 when the law takes effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco. The idea’s certainly unique, but will it actually work? That’s where it gets more interesting.

Smoking rates in general have been falling for decades, although the rate among Māori people is roughly double that of other people. Young people generally seem to prefer vaping, which isn’t covered by the legislation. The obvious questions are, if youth are already moving away from tobacco, will this actually have much effect? Will making it harder to legally obtain tobacco actually stop enough people from smoking, or will it just add another illegal revenue stream for gangs? No one, regardless of what they think of the legislation, knows, and anything they say is merely speculation and opinion.

My own opinion is that I’m not convinced that it’ll work as well as claimed, but also that it won’t be as dire as some predict. In general, I favour drugs (including tobacco and alcohol, of course) being legal, and use being handled as a health issue, not a criminal one (distribution, especially outside of legal channels, and, far worse, to minors, is another issue entirely, and, in my opinion, should always remain criminal matters). Smoking and tobacco use serves no true societal function and carries enormous health risks (and so, costs), but so does alcohol use, and even caffeine, if abused. The health implications of all those things can add to our healthcare costs. Is the benefit of the legislation enough to outweigh the potential drawbacks? Obviously, I have no idea, but I’m a bit sceptical that it’ll be a magic solution.

Next up, a very different sort of question:

This is a tough AAA question, because you may not even know. But what are some of the words you've incorporated into your language since you've come to New Zealand? I imagine one is fiddly. I've never used it but I knew the definition immediately.

I recently used the word “fiddly” a few times to describe the recipes in the meal kit experiment, and it’s one I use fairly often. Most of the other words I’ve picked up are similar to that one: Often used in other Commonwealth countries, especially the UK. Others have come from NZ slang, such as, I used to say “heaps” to mean “a whole lot” (sometimes I still do). However, I no longer describe a good thing as being “choice” (unless I’m being silly), because it’s largely fallen out of fashion. Nowadays, a good thing might be called “mean”, which I don’t use. Beyond that, adding “as” to word adds emphasis, so something really good might be “mean as”, those meal kits were (supposedly…) “easy as”, and so on. I sometimes add “as”.

I also adopted “gidday” or “g’day” (from “good day”, meaning “hello”). To say hello, I also might say “Kia Ora” (Māori), or “Talofa” or “Talofa lava” (Samoan), all of which I learned in New Zealand. Beyond that, it’d probably be specific names for things, like “chilly bin” instead of “cooler” (USA) or “esky” (Australia). In other words, most of the words and phrases I’ve adopted are about everyday things and situations.

Interestingly (to me), some years back I noticed that some words or phrases I learned here started turning up in the USA, too. I’ve heard Americans use the phrase “at the end of the day”, which originated in New Zealand rugby commentary. I’ve also heard Americans use “no worries” in the way they once said “no problem”; “no worries” is fairly common in New Zealand and possibly still in Australia, too (we’ve been cut off from Australia because of Covid for so long that I really have no idea how they speak now).

There is, however, one word I have deliberately avoided using: Mate, because it just sounds flat out weird in what’s my still mostly American accent. I can’t imagine ever using that word without using an exaggerated fake Australian accent (I'm not actually joking about that last part).

Related to words and language, Roger next asks:

Have you ever learned a word, or a different definition of a word, in your adulthood in which: 1) you REALLY like the word AND 2) you know PRECISELY how you learned it? (mine include ersatz and penultimate).

Also, what words did you see in print and didn't realize how it was pronounced, but you had used the word in conversation and just didn't know THAT'S how it was spelled? (mine include facetious; I know there are others)
To the first part, sometimes 1 (and penultimate is actually one of those), but I can’t think of any for number 2, let alone both together. This is mostly because of poor memory.

For the second part, the only word I can think of that’s even close is the NZ colloquial word “pisstake”, which is actually a phrase “piss take” which comes from the phrase “taking the piss” which basically means joking around. Pisstake, then, is basically a joke, obvious or more subtle (and perhaps devious), or it might be used to claim someone is playing you for a fool: “That’s just a big pisstake.” The reason this is relevant is that I used to read one of New Zealand’s “general” magazines, and writers would use “pisstake”, however, up I’d never seen it in print, so I read it as a Japanese-sounding “piss-TAH-kay”. It was a real-life “doh!” moment—quite some time later—when I finally realised what “pisstake” in print actually was/meant. Now, to remember that for this answer, I used the word in a recent post, and it worked. Obviously. And that’s no pisstake, I can assure you.

And finally, Roger asks:

What board games or arcade games did you play as a kid? Which ones were you particularly good at and/or enjoy? Do you play games on your phone and/or your computer? Which ones?

This is probably my most pathetic/pitiable answer to a question in any AAA series, however, as a kid I was often alone, and so, I often “played” board games by myself: I remember “Mousetrap” and “Candyland” in particular. The first “Monopoly” set I bought was in German, so I was in high school by then. Before that, I played “Risk”. None of those were particularly engaging to me for very long, though I played ordinary “Monopoly” a bit in my 20s (mostly), and for a time I really liked backgammon—does that count? I wouldn’t say I was very “good” at any of them—although when I “played” the board games alone, I did always win…

When I think of “arcade games” I think of things like “Pac Man” or whatever, and I was in my 20s before I saw one—and I wasn’t all that interested. Maybe it was all the hype? However, in my early 30s I got a Nintendo system and played “Super Mario Brothers 3” (and went and bought 1 and 2 as well) a lot (and “Tetris”). Once in New Zealand, we bought a PlayStation (now called a PS One), and I played “Duke Nukem”, a FPS game that was also the first video game (as they used to be called) that I actually completed—and I won. I also played Crash Bandicoot (who recently left retirement and returned to the gaming world), Grand Tourismo, and others.

On my Mac, I had a few games, including some pinball games I really liked (I later bought the PC versions of two pinball games after I switched to PC for awhile). My favourite Mac game was called “Marathon” and involved aggressive alien taking over one’s spaceship and having to eliminate them. That game (and its sequel, “Durandal”) was later ported to the iPad (and available for free!), but I found it difficult to play without an actual keyboard or some sort of game controller, so I gave up. I also played "Castle Wolfenstein", which was the first game I ever actually finished, and successfully so. For awhile I was obsessed with SimCity, and even bought an add-on game, “Streets of SimCity”, that let me “drive” on the streets of the city I’d built. That was slow and kinda buggy sometimes, but to this day I still think it’s one of the coolest things ever. I never really got into the spin-off series, “The Sims”.

We later got a Nintendo portable thingee (not a Gameboy, but compact—I forget it was called and I don’t know where it is at the moment). I played Super Mario Brothers and Nigel played Donkey Kong—though I had to stop because using the little machine made me very anxious for some reason. Next, we bought a Nintendo Wii, and I played Mario Kart, among other games. I still have the PS and Wii, and I intend to hook them up again at some stage—because I can

The only game I play nowadays is on my iPad (and sometimes phone): “Words With Friends”, which is a social Scrabble-like game. I’ve been playing that since 2010 (with a few lapses). I used to play “Simpsons: Tapped Out” on my iPad, and I loved that they used some very subversive humour. I started playing that, I think, before Words, and I’d play both twice a day: In the morning and in the evening. I also sometimes played other games, like “Candy Crush” (til I got fed up with it), but none of them “stuck”. However, I stopped playing all my games when Nigel died, and didn’t resume Words for many months; I still haven’t gotten back into the Simpsons game. There are few others I play every once in a great while, but none of them are often enough to mention.

Thanks to Roger for all his questions, and to Enzo and Sherry for theirs. I wasn't sure I'd do an "Ask Arthur" series this year, but I'm glad I managed it. More or less. Same time next year?

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


Yes, ask again – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 1: To blog, or not to blog
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 2: Grief, coping, and living
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 3: Biblical endings and me


Roger Owen Green said...

I had four games on my old phone: pinochle, hearts, spades, and backgammon. I just saw an online ad that said that playing backgammon thirty minutes per day will increase one's cognitive functions. For all I know, it may be true.

Arthur Schenck said...

Not sure I understand all that—I probably should've kept playing backgammon?

Actually, now that you mention it, I used to play solitaire on my phone and/or computer quite a lot at one time—I may have been a wee bit obsessed for awhile, actually. NOw, I almost never play it. I guess I'm just fickle.