Your House Is On Fire

All right, it isn’t. Probably. (Have you checked?)
But what if it was?

House on Fire Ruin III (4078894416)

When fire threatens, our first instinct is to save what is most precious to us – hence Sherlock Holmes’ deployment of a smoke bomb in A Scandal In Bohemia. That’s the theory, anyway. I have a horrible feeling that if suddenly confronted with the news that the house was on fire, I’d distinguish myself by saving a ratty old dressing gown, or a random piece of notepaper.

However, for the sake of the discussion, let us assume that theory and practice unite, and we do save those things which are dearest to us.
Let us also assume that all fellow residents and pets are able to get out without assistance, and therefore do not count as things to be saved.

As our hypothetical conflagration gets going, you have time to seize three things, providing you can carry all three at once – so what would they be? (No cheating and saying you would carry the fire out.)

The first thing that comes to my mind is my Sepik stool.

Tropenmuseum Royal Tropical Institute Objectnumber 1400-2 Houten bank voor kinderen, voorzien van

The Sepik is a river in Papua New Guinea, where stools are carved from a single block of wood, and used for pillows or for sitting on. I usually use mine as a footstool, but it started life as my first schoolroom seat. I’ve had it since I was four, and kept it through a myriad of moves between houses, cities and countries. It is one of the few constants in my life to date, and I am fond of it. It is practical, aesthetically pleasing, and says something about who I am – and what more can one ask of a humble piece of furniture?

The second thing I would save is a book. It isn’t the book which is most dear to me of all the books I own, but I’ve only ever come across the one copy of it, which makes it the hardest to replace. It was a very happy day when that one copy came into my possession, I can tell you. Hurray for library sales!

The book is Embroidery Mary by Priscilla M. Warner, a charming story about a girl learning embroidery from her aunt. It doesn’t contain a great deal of conflict or character arc, but it captures better than anything else I have read the excitement of beginning a new hobby. It’s also excellent reading for those times when life has left a nasty taste in your mouth and you want something to read that won’t spring dark surprises on you.

Lydia Stocker - Sampler - Google Art Project

The third thing is also a book – sort of. What I’d actually grab is the drawer in my desk which contains the manuscript of my Work In Progress. It’s in the form of several exercise books, which is why I would go for the whole drawer: it’s faster, and remember, the house is on fire. Time is of the essence. Never mind the computer, I have back-ups.

So that’s my saved-from-the-fire stash: a stool, a book and a ratty old dressing gown drawer of manuscript books. Each, in its own way, irreplaceable.

What about you? In the heat of the moment (hur hur) where would you turn?

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Nemo Est Supra Legis, and other Latinities we should not have forgotten

Who guards the guards themselves? No one is above the law.

There was a time when I myself was thinking about joining the police. After my barrister and landscape architect phases, if I recall correctly, and before the diplomat phase. Happily, the New Zealand Police do not discriminate by height, although they do still discriminate by fitness level. And then there was all that talking to people. Not really my thing.

Wellington Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) - Flickr - 111 Emergency (2)

In the end I decided not to go down that road – I could see the barriers from the main drag – but I retained a sort of amiable fellow-feeling for the police. To be sure, there are some rotten eggs in every assortment, but the percentage is low. It’s just that an exploding rotten egg is very – er, memorable. The NZ police force as a whole (although they don’t call themselves that any more – too aggressive) are Good Eggs.

Or so I thought. Then I read this article about the police spending ten hours going through the house of a man who was not accused of any crime, searching through his belongings, and confiscating a number of them.

Now, regardless of one’s political views, or whether one believes journalists should be allowed to protect their sources or not, this seems a bit Off. A distinct whiff of sulphuric egginess, to be precise. I have no problem with police obtaining warrants to search the homes or workplaces of those accused of crimes. That’s part of their job. Searching the home (and taking the property) of someone you admit has not broken the law, just because you hope to get at someone else through them? No.

Day 162 - Operation Intrusive - Birmingham (9013714545)

As a writer myself, I find this disturbing. As a person who enjoys not having complete strangers rifling through her underwear drawer, I find it very disturbing.

New Zealand is allegedly the Freest Country in the World. That doesn’t say much for – well, all the other countries.

The “land of the free” tied for seventh, and frankly, after seeing this tragically funny video on Civil Asset Forfeiture, I’m not surprised. Actually, I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t further down the list. Again, doesn’t say much for all those below it.

The idea of Civil Asset Forfeiture is that law enforcement are allowed to take your stuff (usually your cash) without having to prove that you or your stuff are involved in any crime. Guilty until proven innocent. A lolly scramble. A stick-up job. So much for your Fourth Amendment. Did I mention that the law enforcement agency generally gets to keep most or all of the takings? No conflict of interest there…

And then just a couple of days ago, the Prime Minister of New Zealand admitted that his government deliberately delays release of information under the Official Information Act if it deems such a course of action to be in its own best interests. Which is against the law.

Mr Key’s rationale, the best he could come up with, was that of a school-boy whose mother has found he is not handing in his homework on time: but Mummmm, everyone else is doing it.
Well, guess what, Prime Minister, you aren’t responsible for what everyone else does. You are responsible for what you do, and to a certain extent for what your colleagues do.

And in suggesting that such behaviour is only to be expected, you are doing the people of New Zealand (and the rest of the world) a signal disservice: you are telling them that they must expect elected officials to act in their own best interests, not in the interests of the people themselves. In short, that they cannot hope for any better, and that there is therefore nothing to be gained from agitating for change.

New Zealand Internet Blackout 723

Ignorance and apathy allow those in power to push boundaries further than they should be allowed to go.
Time to push back.