Thursday, December 2, 2021

On Claims Of Christianity Being "Singled Out" Via Probing Of Luxon

 There is currently some conversation around whether Luxon is being 'singled out' for his Christian faith. Or, rather, whether Christianity is being singled out - and is an 'acceptable target'.

It's an issue, sure - a religion is, implicitly, a set of values and adherence is resculpting the world around one to be in some measure more in accordance with same. Whether that's just in our own personal life, or out more broadly in the lives of others and society, the nation, as a whole. 

However, here's the thing. The rhetorical question posed by at least one Nat is whether we think Luxon would be getting the same critical probing if he were Muslim. The implicit claim, as I say, is that it's 'acceptable' to 'pick on' Christianity - and would not be so to similarly scrutinize a 'minority' religion.

Which leaves aside, for a start, that the particular rather evangelical flavouring of Christianity that Luxon's previously been affiliated with is, itself, a minority religion on our shores. 

And second, the very strong probability that *were* Luxon somehow a Muslim, the overarching level of potentially harsh scrutiny would, if anything, likely be worse. If, perhaps, 'worse' significantly because of those other quarters it would now be coming from at greater heat.

As somebody pointed out, though, the prospects of the National Party acquiring a Muslim leader in the near or even intermediate term future are ... not exactly high - and in no small part because the cultural values of National (and a reasonable swathe of the rest of the country) are much more comfortable with a Christian leader than one of any other proclivity of faith. 

Nevertheless, there's some perhaps precedency value in the experiences of persons of other religions in other Anglosphere polities around the globe. 

Close observation of certain of these means that I can genuinely state that if either major party had a prominently Hindu leader, I believe they'd get a pretty heavy grilling over it. It'd start out with "So, do you support Hindutva Fascism And Modi" and work out to "you oppose eating cows. Surely, for a beef exporting nation such as New Zealand, this is unpatriotic due to farming?"

It would be accompanied by commentary in some quarters about how we shouldn't have "Demon-Worshipping" figures leading our nation. If you think I'm joking about this - it literally happened to Tulsi Gabbard during her electoral campaign efforts to represent Hawaii (a reasonably tolerant state) in Congress. Editorial cartoons would be making Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom references. 

Meanwhile, closer to home - about a year ago, then-newly minted NZ Labour MP Gaurav Sharma was attacked by a journalist who claimed he was giving voice to Hindu "fascism" ... by speaking Sanskrit in our nation's Parliament. 

So as I say - if we wound up with an overtly Hindu MP leading one of our major political parties, I feel pretty confident in asserting that they'd get at least as much of a 'going over' as Luxon is about his particular shade of Christianity. 

Something which, again, probably isn't much to do with Luxon being Christian in general terms - as the specific sort of Christianity which he's previously been associated with. 

To be clear about this - I think it's perfectly reasonable for the electorate to want to 'get to know' the values and beliefs of somebody they might consider voting to support in the future. There's ample room for probing questions about a whole host of viewpoints. 

The issue arises when instead of 'probing questions' that seek to give us out here in the Cheap Seats an opportunity to understand what the elected representative may or may not do if given (further) power ... we're instead treated to a televised turkey-shoot wherein 'questions' are merely veils for invective and jeering. 

In that circumstance - nobody really learns anything, and it just encourages a lack of transparency all around.

With somebody like Jami-Lee Ross being probed on his and his party's Covid-19 attitude, it's arguably a different story - there, it was reasonably plain that a grift was on, and in that rather prominent post-Election interview, Tova O'Brien's ditching of the usual journalistic standards / approach effectively came across as expressing much of a nation's boiled-over frustration with the man and his sidekick. 

But that's a door hitting a man on the way out. Something which, to be sure, with National's 'revolving door' leadership scheme of late, may be a somewhat relevant concept for some of its lineup. 

Luxon's on his way in - as National Party Leader, at any rate. Enquiring about something that's obviously very significant to him and which may have some bearing upon his political behavior in that role isn't 'singling out' and victimizing a man for his faith ... or, for that matter, engaging in a witch-hunt of anybody of avowed Christian proclivity in our nation's politics. 

Having said that, it's certainly possible to do this in better and/or worse ways - but the evident claim that this is 'just' a Christian thing ... and that no other person of faith would find themselves facing some (potentially rather severe) level of scrutiny simply doesn't hold up.

Luxon's Christianity is being probed not because it's Christianity - nor, to a point, because it's a smaller and more forthright branching thereof. Rather, it's because it's Luxon's. If it were Luxon's Islam, or Luxon's Scientology, or other expressions of faith he'd lived ardently by - it'd be the same. 

But, of course, it's very convenient to claim there's an Inquisition going on to unfairly single out Christians for drumming out of public life with as a pre-emptive distraction just in case some ... unpalatable responses come up to the aforementioned probing of Luxon's beliefs in question. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

On A Critical Comment Towards The Beatification Of Colin Powell


Look, I don't like Trump. There are quite a long list of reasons why. But this kind of thing is a large part of why he won significant support in various places. Because he isn't fettered by a Consensus like everybody he was up against. And sure, that manifests often as crass if not outright offensive stuff. And "offensive" here also means up to and including the laws of physics and reality itself, upon occasion.

Yet you see this sort of thing happen fairly frequently in American politics and the trickle-down therefrom which we get out here in the rest of the Anglosphere and thence World at large.

Somebody who ... did some fairly dramatically wrong things (and it's not just about Iraq - take a look at Powell's "investigation" of Mai Lai, for instance) - and in death, all of that is insta-washed away. A beatification occurs.

It's a process we all see happen - and, rightly or wrongly, any criticism of as it's happening usually gets shut down by the perhaps understandable dictum that we do not speak ill of the dead.

Some take that further, of course, and you get Ireland issuing an official telegram of condolence when a certain German leader died, but that is another matter for another time.

Now I'm not saying that it's right to suddenly start cheering and celebrating when a man in his eighties dies of Covid-19 related complications and a compromised immune system. It isn't. Any harm he could have inflicted was, by this point, seriously limited - it'd already occurred a long time aforehand.

And the legacy of that kind of conduct he'd lent his legitimacy to - well, that lives on long after its mortal standard-bearer no longer does. If and when that dies, there'll certainly be cause for quite some jubilation.

Yet I do suggest that given epitaphs and eulogies appear to 'set the consensus' for how history is going to treat somebody for the near- or even medium-term future ... well, some 'critical appraisal' of that element, and the 'hagiographizing' which post-mortem seemingly inevitably takes place these days ... is not necessarily incorrect to explore.

Which doesn't mean I agree with Trump - generally or otherwise.

But I do think that here, even jeeringly phrased, the guy's got a point. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

On Jacinda Being "Missing In Action" Apparently


It occurs that Judith Collins' attack on Jacinda for being "missing in action" yesterday due to not being inside the Beehive Theatrette at 13:00 ... could use some punctuation. Specifically, a comma. Should read "Missing, In Action" - or perhaps even a dash: "Missing - In Action".

Because instead of dropping everything to front a press conference several hundred KM away, the PM was continuing her sustained effort at bolstering vaccination rates on the East Coast. In areas that have been underserved by previous health investment, and which have been worrisomely under-covered by the vaccine rollout thus far.

Some might suggest it's a PR move. And to that I can only say an enthusiastic "Yes." It is literally a PR move. Public Relations. Going out there and engaging with a swathe of the public, in a bid to facilitate their engagement with a particular policy. That being the public health policy which is absolutely vital for them and us.

If it's a "PR move" then it is the best kind of PR move - one which is actually done for the public, in public, and both for and in the public interest rather than being purely theater (Beehive -erette variety, or otherwise).

I have been - I feel rather understandably - critical of the Government's communications this past week, and some of their apparent decision-making as well.

Yet as an exercise in comms, and something which is seemingly irreducibly Kiwi - having the actual Prime Minister turn up to personally do the Government Communication, in your street, neighbourhood, and community ... well, the only time I could see Judith Collins even attempting to do something like this and actually being 'on-theme' would be on October 31st after dark at your doorstep. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

On Brian Tamaki As Charismatic Frontman For The Commentariat's Anti-Covid Control Agenda

Yesterday, everybody's favourite opportunity for a Monty Python title-drop, Brian Tamaki, held a jamboree in Auckland's Domain. On one level, it was an anti-Covid-19 control measure protest, clearly inspired by efforts in Melbourne over the past few months. On another level, it was another opportunity for those more broadly disdainful for our Government to get together and have a bit of a tractor-in-lieu-of-traction fest. Replete with an actual tractor and a trailer-load of the agricultural output that was apparently somehow under threat. I assume from something other than Covid, and probably not potato-blight. 

Now, don't get me wrong - on one level, the whole thing's pretty impressive. Tamaki's political fortunes have never been especially potent ... he's always managed to take a potentially salient starting-point and then over-egg himself in the face to the point that the outreach into broader New Zealand seemingly-inevitably comes to naught. That might sound silly on my part - but cast your mind back to mid-2019, when you had any number of people coming out and saying that they couldn't believe they were saying this but they agreed with Brian Tamaki on x hate-speech or other gesture going a bit far. Up until, of course, Tamaki himself took things too far ... and that potential support-vector evaporated handily. 

A large part of the reason why Tamaki (and, to be fair, Mrs Tamaki) comes unstuck is because what he says runs into the fact that most of New Zealand either isn't listening - or, more to the point, is actually listening and is frankly unimpressed through to outright aghast at what they may so happen to hear. 

What he needs, in short, is an 'interpretation service' in much the same manner that various American right-wingers often seem to benefit from in certain sectors of their domestic media over there. A commentariat ready, willing, and fable to stand between him and the actual body politik, filtering out the more extreme stuff and presenting an 'acceptable' version of events ... which also, at the same time, does him the handy additional PR service of turning things like "he got several hundred of his ultra-loyal Church members to turn out somewhere on a Saturday for a stunt, just as he has done on numerous previous occasions in the past" into "Tamaki managed to motivate thousands of Aucklanders to brave rain and threat of arrest to come together and declare they wanted [whatever it is this time] ". 

Now, hitherto this hasn't tended to happen, for a few reasons. One of which being that bolstering Brian hasn't really aligned too terribly well with what various politically motivated media mouthpieces wish to do. Usually, that's because any talking up of Tamaki in such terms means that whatever cause he's associated with ... becomes that much more of just exactly that - a "cause he's associated with" - running the risk of toxifying it for other parties looking to capitalize upon it for anti-government momentum, and simultaneously diverting support from said other parties into whichever incarnation of Destiny's ill-fated political ambitions is running this time. Or, at the very least, softly away from the side lining up with him on the same side of whatever issue. 

Except this time, it's different. National (even with ACT) are in a situation which can't really be termed a 'death-spiral', because that would imply the moment of mortality had yet to occur. They're not so much pushing up daisies as slowly realizing that Judith Collins' tenure has put the 'psychotic' back into 'metempsychotic' for them. There's fairly little to lose by making much out of a Tamaki stunt - it might actually manage to do what National was seeking to stab at in the weeks prior to this current outbreak via its 'Groundswell' initiative ... that is to say, give the impression (Potemkin or otherwise) of there being a popular anti-Government wave of sentiment out there amongst the electorate. 

And handily, Tamaki had the ... 'enthusiasm' to do what most of the more regular political actors couldn't bring themselves to. Judith Collins might talk a big game in enthused tones about how she thinks Aucklanders will 'take back control' and move themselves (ourselves) down to Level 2 regardless of the public health consequences ... Tamaki's actually gone ahead and directly contravened the law.

Collins can 'jaw-jaw' about how the country outside of Auckland being under Level 2 is some sort of fear campaign (and even though I should perhaps defer to her superior expertise in the subject of psychological terror-tactics ... I disagree - as did Tauranga's wastewater this week) and how Auckland remaining at Level 3 is some kind of "political" conspiracy. Tamaki actually goes out and puts on the performative show of pledging resistance and 'rallying the partisans' to invite the 'heavy hand of the state' to ostensibly reveal itself. 

Collins going out to make herself look popular by just so happening to run into people who support her ... has all the depth of a two-dimensional painted backdrop, or the Hapsburg gene-pool. Tamaki, by contrast, at least manages to get a larger crowd together - and one that's quite overtly and obviously not significantly comprised of suit-wearing National apparatchiks. Indeed, a lot more 'normal' looking in various regards, an actual facing which - had it not driven up in convoy through Drury - could perhaps be regarded as looking like a spontaneous gathering of 'Waitakere Man'. The quintessential 'Ordinary New Zealander'. 

In other words, he's everything she's not. Except in charge of a major political party and constrained by the law and public health notices. 

It's telling that various of the media mouthpieces pushing for an Elimination to our previously successful and broadly popular Elimination strategy have moved from championing Collins to enthusiastically pointing to, as the Lord High Executioner put it - seemingly "All centuries but this / and every country but his own".

Mike Hosking, for example, has spoken enthusiastically about Sweden (some time before Sweden wound up ratcheting up its domestic restrictions), about New South Wales (about a week or two before its current Delta nightmare began in earnest), about how Jacinda Ardern should be more like NSW now-former Premier Gladys Berejiklian (we assume he didn't mean "forced out of office for corruption" - although he'd no doubt now suggest that that's exactly the sense that is relevant with a hopeful tone), and most recently about Singapore (immediately prior to Singapore having to roll back its re-opening under escalating pressure to its health system from burgeoning Covid-19 cases, in a situation exacerbated by its domestic economic inequality).

One could say he has predictive form in this area - but that is not my point in raising this seeming cavalcade of catastrophe. Instead, it's to merely observe that the lackluster state of Collins' leadership has left those who want to roll this government and overthrow our Elimination strategy by hook or by crook ... with few domestic figures they can utilize in support of their craven cause (with the apparent exception of evidently current National Party leader John Key). Even the 'Plan B' guys have largely had to go to ground following the escalating bizarreness of some of their claims. 

And that's why Tamaki is now useful. 

Because he turned up, possibly hoping to inspire a direct confrontation with the Police, and actually did the thing which many of these mouthpieces wouldn't dare to. Providing a bunch of photos of hundreds of people gathered together in direct challenge to the Government and to the vocally expressed will of much of the rest of the country. 

It's a 'useful' enough spectacle that you can viably expect a lot of his more usual 'eccentricities' to be consciously 'toned down' by media all-too-eager to act as that aforementioned 'translation' service - perhaps we ought suggest a 'transmogrification' service. 

So with all of that in mind ... 

Here's what's going to happen.

A protest event which had "hundreds" at it, is going to be reported (indeed, is already being reported) as having "thousands" in attendance.

The fact that Destiny Church is actually really good at corralling large numbers of people to come together for Church campaign events ... is likewise going to be studiously erased, to again make it seem like a broad and spontaneous explosion of popular discontent.

The fact that the Police - rather sensibly - didn't attempt to re-enact Melbourne a few weeks ago by actively trying to confront and arrest a rather larger number of attendees than they have easy holding capacity ... will be turned into "well if the Police aren't going to enforce the law by charging several hundred people right there on the spot, we may as well just abandon Covid-19 elimination measures entirely!"

The Government ... will be blamed for allowing the whole thing to go ahead, by virtue of not cracking down on it like the authoritarian state the people who'll blame the Government for allowing it to go ahead, have been breathlessly proclaiming the Government to be this entire time.

This will all be channeled into escalating shrill shouty by certain commentators in the media in advance of next week's Alert Level decision.

The whole event will be deliberately spun into some sort of would-be Cause Celebre, wherein an American-style televangelist without the broadcast rights, preaching to an audience of his nationwide congregation gathered on the steps of the Museum rather than throwing money toward him in a converted warehouse somewhere, will be presented as a Voice of Reason speaking for most of the city, and a protector of something something liberal freedom against the heavy hand of the no-doubt pseudo-Stalinist state. 

You can just see the columnist-inches start to assemble right now !

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Media Proclaiming 'Elimination Of Elimination' Are Attempting To Ignore / Rewrite Reality

 Mid-way through the week, Chris Hipkins [i.e. the Covid-19 Response Minister] said this:

"We are still doing this ... we are still pursuing elimination, it is still the right thing for New Zealand.

We are of course looking forward to the future - it won't always be this way. So, my request of people is just hold your nerve, hold on."

Hold your nerve. Still pursuing Elimination. Still the right thing for New Zealand.

All pretty straight-forward stuff. And stated quite directly, some days aforehand. So why do I find this comment-worthy?

Because even after Hipkins had directly said we were still engaged in Elimination - we had voices in the media proclaiming the exact opposite. In the case of Mike Hosking, actively attempting to celebrate an alleged 'end' to Elimination and seemingly suggesting that there'd been some manner of official Government 'admittance' of 'defeat'.

So what's happening here? Evidently, the same thing that has repeatedly manifested in certain other democracies over the past few years - a moment wherein the media (or at least, certain portions of same) are in their own little 'bubble' and have effectively wound up talking right past both the facts and much of their own actual audience.

Some of these guys out there in the commentariat have decided that Elimination's got to go - and that, in fact, Elimination has somehow already gone. Even despite vocal and repeated statements to the contrary from the Government, and widespread (indeed, I'd suggest actively overwhelming) support for Elimination in the vast majority of the New Zealand public.

So instead of reporting on reality, they've chosen to endeavour to quite literally 'rewrite' it - proclaiming an Elimination of Elimination as an effort at brow-beating all the rest of us into seeing the premature end to the policy as something of an already-decided-upon fait accompli.

Now I mentioned occurrences in other democracies earlier, because that's somewhat what this reminds me of. Snooty journalists or self-anointed 'opinion-shapers' declaring that there was no way Brexit could win or Hillary Clinton lose - because it didn't fit into their own personal preferences and as it turned out (mis)perceptions as to reality. They were so used to their incipient words being reality that it came as quite a shock to find out that neither the facts nor the people they proclaimed they spoke for actually shared their view.

To be fair and sure, I have little doubt that it's not simply a matter of journalists or 'commentators' interviewing their own keyboards. There's a definite enthusiasm out there in certain portions of the business community in particular for Elimination to be itself Suppressed - and a general weakening of our Covid-19 response overall.

There's also a small but shouty sector of political and talkback opinion (and looking at the current leadership of the National Party, it's increasingly difficult to meaningfully distinguish the two in practice) which seemingly demands likewise. And never mind what the science (or, for that matter - indeed, especially for that matter - what the Government) says.

Yet I am struggling to think, offhand, of a previous occurrence in our politics and media wherein there's so much abject and outright 'denialism' of clearly visible and easily checkable reality - namely, the insistence that, against all appearances and substances to the contrary, the Government is to have 'abandoned' Elimination.

Then again, and with perhaps deference to a compulsion associated with a seeming personality trait of a few of these voices ... even a mirror shall not show you your own face if you are determined not to see it.

Friday, September 24, 2021

A Point On Public Health Measures In A Crisis - Whether Meth Addiction Or Covid Response

At present, it seems that the virus has moved into the Underworld - with several gangs reporting cases in the past week or so.

This is a different kind of challenge from a public health point of view - because it's a different kind of environment, with people who are more effectively reached with different approaches than the conventional.

Hence why as soon as that Mongrel Mob gang pad out South turned out to be a Covid-19 hot-spot, the Ministry of Health didn't just go "oh, well we'll pick them up with the testing facility elsewhere in the community and regular contact tracing".

Rather, as I recall, a pop-up testing facility was deployed near their front gate, and specialist liaison-work was undertaken with the gang to actually do contact-tracing for the movements of the Mobsters concerned.

I'm given to understand that some elements of this approach are also being employed with the more recent Black Power and Hells Angels situations.

Now why is this rather useful to note? Because it demonstrates that when you're in an epidemic - a public health emergency - you can get hung up about who the Government "shouldn't" be working with ... or you can observe that working with some groups and individuals, whatever their reputation, may actually be rather important for the public health outcome's success.

The Government wound up with a lot of malaise a few months ago when it turned out that it had approved Proceeds of Crime money to fund a certain meth-rehab programme. The purported degree of connection to the Mongrel Mob was, of course, breathlessly shouted by voices keen to pre-emptively declare the whole thing a fiasco - because, even leaving aside how limited it actually was, the core message from the opposition appeared to be "you can't involve gangs in public health provision - even where the people who actually need to be reached for the public health provision are gang-members".

Would those who decried thus apply similar logic to the Ministry of Health taking a purpose-based and bespoke approach to Covid-19 control measures outside that gang-pad eight days ago?

Or do we recognize that rolling out intervention-strategies designed to protect all of us can occasionally mean working with some of us in particular ways as best befits their circumstances and all of our collective needs.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Why I'm OK With NZ Not Being In New Anglo Alliance

Look, I'm no fan of the PRC - but I can't help but recall how NZ's previous entanglement in ANZUS worked out.

That is to say - we got pressured into fighting in Vietnam, and then left high and dry over the Rainbow Warrior attack because "France is more important than you".

I'm not necessarily opposed to a good working relationship with the Americans (or the UK, or the Australians) - in fact, quite the contrary, I'm very much in favour of diversifying both our trade and diplomatic links precisely to avoid the consequences of National's over-egging of the Chinese-held basket.

It's also definitely the case that we have good history together with all three powers in both multilateral and bilateral terms.

But at the same time, we've seen some pretty unimpressive behavior from all three over the past few decades - and I remain to be convinced that being part of a military alliance with them would avoid being tangled up with more of the same.

I'm not even talking about Australia's attitude toward sending us 501 and/or ISIS-linked Australians unannounced. I was more thinking about things like the Americans, circa 2003, attempting to put the economic screws on us in order to compel us to join the so-called 'Coalition of the Willing' that was to undertake their illegal invasion of Iraq.

We've also seen, just this past year, how even through the relatively loose intelligence sharing network that is the Five Eyes, considerable pressure can seemingly be put upon New Zealand to march in absolute lock-step with these other countries .. even where our policy, preferences, and principles don't exactly agree.

It wasn't enough for New Zealand to issue separate declamations of purported PRC conduct - we had to sign up to the 'collective' statement or risk the wroth of foreigners up in arms about us being "New Xi-land". And who knows what was waved about behind the scenes.

New Zealand's foreign policy independence has been a hard-won thing. Both in terms of external factors - yet also, importantly, in terms of convincing our own population that it's actually a worthwhile thing to have. Once upon a time, after all, "Where She Goes, We Go" was the watchword. And even after we were betrayed by Britain some two decades later, people here still didn't quite get the message that really ... we're on our own.

It took, as I say, the tangible and irrefutable demonstration of these things over several decades to really get most New Zealanders on board with the notion that NZ foreign policy being run in New Zealand's interests rather than Washington's or London's or even Canberra's ... was the ideal way for us to go.

It's great that we've got improving relations with the US and UK - and I'm vaguely hopeful that maybe, just maybe, those long-dangled trade-deals with each of those spheres might finally start to eventuate ... eventually ...

But I do resolutely believe that it's possible for us to continue to strengthen our friendships with them without tying ourselves to their ankles as the proverbial third (or in this case, fourth) wheel in a three-legged race which occasionally seems to lurch cliffward with reckless aplomb.

As for the Australians, as we so often like to say on both sides of the Tasman - "we're family". Even if it occasionally feels like they reckon us to be rather more distant cousins than close-relations. 

Having a positive and co-operative regard for each others' interests does not mean we have to be bound into approving of every single thing they might so happen to do.

In terms of our foreign policy - I genuinely believe that we're far better served by pursuing just exactly that: our foreign policy, not someone else's.

We recognize that some certain states are both something to be wary of - and an opportunity for useful engagement. As, funnily enough, do the Australians when they are being honest (seriously - check out the sheer size of their trade with China if you don't believe me).

And we also recognize that merely because one is powerful does not necessarily make one right or wise - as proven, again, via the Americans' (and UK's and Australians') previous enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq.

By remaining outside the formal 'tent' of AUKUS (a name which, I noted earlier, is apparently phonetically equivalent to 'Orcus' - perhaps ominously for a figure of Oaths, Pacts, and the Nether Regions) we do not lose the ability to co-operate and engage productively with those who are inside said tent where it would clearly be both principled and of use to do so.

We don't stop being friends (and/or family) with various of these polities simply because we've not chosen to join the group-marriage.

It simply means - we don't give up our freedom to do the right thing as we perceive it, when we perceive it to be so.

A situation and scenario wherein, both in our own terms and in broader terms than ours, I do suspect that New Zealand's critical judgement has proven rather more reliable than certain other powers of far greater heft from time to time.