Friday, December 31, 2010

Violent crime continues to fall in the US

Some good news.

We don't hear much about US crime here in NZ but I have tracked it in keeping with my interest in their welfare reforms. There is a strong connection between lifestyle welfare and crime primarily working through the disenfranchisement of young men, especially minority groups, the subsequent breakdown of the family unit and the reinforcement of dysfunctional living.

Opponents to the 1996 reforms warned that crime would increase. Some even resigned to demonstrate their deep concerns.

Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation. And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show.

The long-term trend is particularly striking in the nation's three largest cities:

* In New York, homicides have dropped 79 percent during the past two decades - from 2,245 in 1990 to 471 in 2009.
* Chicago is down 46 percent during that period, from 850 to 458.
* Los Angeles is down 68 percent, from 983 to 312.

On the downside however;

But the prospect of prolonged economic woes raise troubling questions about whether violent crime could rise again, and some recent trends that affect residents' quality of life have been unsettling:

* In New York, city crime reports though November of 2010 indicate that homicides have jumped 14.4 percent and rape is up 15.6 percent this year, compared with the same period last year. Those numbers don't compare to the 1990s, but are notable in a city that has been a model for reducing crime.
* In Chicago, Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city has struggled to break an unusual cycle of slaying involving child victims.
* In Los Angeles, authorities have tamped down persistent gang violence, but police acknowledge that the successes are fragile in a never-ending effort to maintain local public safety, even as gang membership has risen slightly, from 43,000 in 2008 to 45,000 this year.

When crime control relies heavily on intensive policing, public service cuts of the kind being made in the US will no doubt be having an impact.

As an afterthought what would it look like if NZ could return to 1973 levels of offending?

Best I can do quickly is these two graphs.

The first is from Statistics NZ and shows all recorded offending per 1,000 until 2000. I have added a rough line extending to 2010.

The next is the FBI Crime Index per 100,000 graph.

Two very different pictures.

Government intervention makes matters worse

Here is a vivid description of the law of unintended consequences. The Australian government is waging war against alcohol abuse amongst some Aboriginals but their interventions are only moving the problem elsewhere and worsening the conditions in which alcoholics are living. They have also become more dangerous to themselves, each other and the public (alcoholics and politicians).

A CRACKDOWN on ''rivers of grog'' in remote Aboriginal communities under the federal intervention has pushed drinkers into camps with no shelter, toilets, water, food or police patrols, the Northern Territory government has been told.

The territory's co-ordinator general for remote services, Bob Beadman, says at the isolated camps ''feuds are fuelled by alcohol, tribal resentments flare, the social order of kinship and avoidance is abandoned, and self-respect soaks into the soil with the blood and excrement of the vomit''.

He also says the declaration of dry prescribed areas under the multibillion-dollar intervention has pushed drinkers from remote communities into major towns where they have no shelter and are away from the care of their families.

One savvy observer notes;

Mr Beadman, a senior administrator of Aboriginal policy since 1973, said bush families were worried that ''not even the governments which make the laws that inadvertently create these places have any duty of care about the consequences of their actions''.

So what have the authorities learned and what will they do next?

The NT government recently announced plans to introduce laws in 2011 to give police unprecedented powers to ban people from buying and drinking takeaway alcohol for up to a year. Problem drinkers will be put on a register of banned drinkers and refused service.

From July, anyone buying takeaway liquor in the NT will have to produce identification.

This will only create more mayhem.

Back however to our more considered player;

But Mr Beadman recommended the government also talk with remote communities and indigenous support agencies about whether dry areas or licensed drinking premises would be enduring solutions, then develop alcohol management plans for specific areas.

It seems to me that there is a greater chance people will be 'redeemed' if there are at least drinking in a reasonably civilised setting and given help and care as needed. Minimise the harm because it will never be eradicated.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Disgraceful crowd behaviour at Alexandra Trotting Park

Newspapers from 100 years ago are more interesting than the present offerings.

The PM Joseph Ward explains how existing public debt will be repaid in 75 years. Very ambitious.

The Colonist patronisingly describes how Maori are "just like Pakeha" when it comes to keeping up with technology. And why wouldn't they be?

Then, in the Marlborough Express, a "frank discussion" with the Chinese Consul, Mr Hwang, about the question of Asiatics entering and working in NZ, and the indignity of "finger printing" labourers because authorities could not tell them apart by looks alone. Thank God most have moved on from this sort of racial prejudice, although I see NZ First is still polling well above other minor parties.

In the Ashburton Guardian, the Secretary of the Howard Association writes about prison reform in England and how they hope to cut next year's prison population by 40,000 through deferring incarceration. Not sure how that improves ultimate numbers.

And finally, the Wanganui Chronicle reports on the disgraceful crowd behaviour at Alexandra Trotting Park causing the postponement of racing. Sergeant Dale was forced to close the bar and post mounted guards over it. I wonder if there was a Alexandra Trotting Park residents association falling over themselves to remonstrate at the lack of police action in the surrounding environs?

If you just feel like a laugh this morning read the last one. Genuinely funny, even if not necessarily intended to be so.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Next year's census

The Ashburton Guardian, December 28, 1910

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Real art

This painting had me hovering for ages yesterday at the European Masters exhibition currently showing at Te Papa. The chance to see an original Renoir and NOT under glass was quite special. This reproduction sadly does nothing for it. But the reason why students need to copy the masters on-the-spot was brought home to me forcibly. Without seeing the relief, the brushwork, the actual colours (allowing for fading over time of course) one hasn't a hope in hell of understanding or emulating his techniques, of which there were very many. Possibly too many over his prodigious career.

The elements of the painting - the glassware and china teacups - are so beautifully crafted with bright colours that aren't apparent in this photo. The luminous nature of fabrics is hard to believe when so much white is used. The building up of the highlights is utterly precise. But the whooshing of background washes, and the feathering of hard edges creates an atmosphere hard to describe and I would imagine, almost impossible to imitate.

His paintings are truly inspirational for me. They provide new ideas about colour. For instance since getting more immersed in pastel I have been using violet or purple increasingly. It's a very useful colour for expressing dark or shadow because it isn't cold and brown/black is sometimes quite unpleasant - at least to my eye. So I was fascinated to see, in the only other Renoir in the exhibition, the beginnings were seemingly a warm purple grounding or wash. That is the entire canvas is pre-coated in that shade or variations of it.

Seeing this first-hand I was able to discern or guess that the blouse was initially painted over a already depicted form. The stripes would have been laid down quite carefully. But then, while the paint is still wet, a feathering brush dragged very lightly and rhythmically over the area to create the mistiness that reads so well. Like putting a soft focus on a photographic subject. Whether I am right doesn't matter. It's the idea that matters. I had forgotten how useful a skill it can be, especially with flower and landscapes.

Then there was the inevitable dross which I will not even describe. Wouldn't even look at. Yes I am narrow-minded when it comes to art. Why give pretentious daubs any attention at all?

Even Renoir's paintings, I think, declined as he aged (generalising). Boredom seeps in. There is a parallel in composing too. Often the greatest work of composers - of all genres - is created within a certain time frame. The discovery period. Probably the same happens in personal relationships too. That's why they need work. But art shouldn't be work.

It can take a certain amount of rationalisation or compromise but the more it requires, the less it is by definition 'art'.

Interestingly Renoir had a number of mistresses so his romances obviously grew stale. He would gift a portrait to them on parting. His portraits of his lovers were, shall we say, somewhat generous. Larger breasts, softer eyes, taller statures. But he was never a tortured soul. There was no great angst, no tragedy, no twisted psyche. He painted beauty. Or, perhaps more correctly, he created beauty. Which is what art should be in my book. There is enough ugliness in the world. I don't need art to remind me of it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Readership increases by a factor of ten thousand

To my surprise the NZ Herald published my latest submission. Not that they never publish me, but it was fairly hard-hitting. The comments facility will no doubt produce some stern detraction.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why child abuse continues

Here is the problem - or part of it. These are the words of the former Children's Commissioner, Ian Hassall, on the subject of abused children;

A mantra I learnt as a young doctor from older colleagues was, "There but for the grace of God go I". It was a reminder when faced with something shocking or upsetting to be aware of my own shortcomings and try to place myself in the shoes of the people who came my way and not condemn them. From such a position we hope to be able to consider carefully the injured children who come to our attention and offer them and their families the best service we can, whatever that might entail.

Ideally this 'Christian' approach should offer the best results.

However, when it is widely adopted beyond the sphere of the medical profession, it does not.

When social workers, court staff, lawyers, teachers, clergy, and various other volunteers don the self-satisfying cloak of non-judgmentalism those being mentored to, the abusers, actually start believing that their actions are justifiable, understandable and even admissible. They start believing in themselves as the victims of circumstances beyond their control - for instance their own upbringing, or in the case of Maori, their cultural oppression.

While it is true that these factors have bearing on what transpires - acts of domestic violence - they are not excuses.

But the perpetrators are probably quite shocked when they go too far and end up convicted and imprisoned. Quite a rare response from society in the scheme of things.

What is lacking is the broad stigmatisation of child abuse. It is strange that cigarette smoking has been transformed into a detestable, filthy habit by the Health Ministry, other paid zealots and politicians, yet influential people like Ian Hassall are still making excuses and preaching tolerance for child abusers.