Friday, May 11, 2018

"If This Is Marxism Then I Am Not A Marxist" - What Would Karl Think Of The PRC Claiming His 200th Birthday?



It kinda amuses me, kinda infuriates me how much of a big deal the People's Republic of China's been making in relation to Marx's birthday over the weekend.

I mean, even leaving aside Marx's own thoughts about how the "Asiatic Mode of Production" didn't really fit into his model of historical-economic-political progression ... and therefore was *extra* inapplicable for dialectical materialism leading to communism therein ....

the plain fact of the matter is that the PRC *consciously and deliberately* jettisoned Marxist dogma and Marx's own thought at a number of points in its relatively short history.

I forget the precise date, but at some point in the iirc mid-1950s, Marxism [admitedy in Soviet-esque inflection for official purposes] was pointedly replaced by "Mao-Thought" ... which, some might argue, bore about as much resemblance to the Marxist theory it claimed to be derived from as Nu Metal does to Black Sabbath.

The reasons for this movement are multifaceted, and do include "political" considerations related to the escalating Sino-Soviet Split ... but at their core, boil down to a combination of it being blatantly obvious just how inapplicable Marx's own thinking was to the ongoing "progress" of the Maoist "revolution" and presumably a certain helping of Mao's own overblown ego-ism.

Some decades later, it happened again as a part of the Deng-ist shift towards the entirely oxymoronical "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" - which, while it might very well have been Chinese, had and has precious little to do with "Socialism" .. and even *less* to do with Marx.

This all results in a modern state of affairs wherein the Chinese state somewhat breathlessly claiming in gifts of statuary etc. to be Marx's ideological heirs ... is instead operating its system as pretty much the *opposite* of what Marx would have approved of - a paradigm of pretty seriously repressive capitalism buttressed by constant outbursts of jingoism and militant imperialism that keeps inexorably arching towards #FullNeoliberalism #InOurTime.

I mean seriously. If you want to do the intellectual contortionisms required to try and say that the modern PRC is Marxist ... then you're basically left concluding that anything which intentionally presides over economic growth and development is "Marxist".

And, to be fair, that's kinda how *some* of the thinking behind the Great Leap Forward supposedly went. When it wasn't a shoddy-steel dick-measuring contest with Great Britain or carrying out mass-purges of Mao's despised natural enemy .. the sparrow.

But the trouble is that while you *can* argue that advancing economic conditions from feudalism through to capitalism [or, if we're disregarding the whole "Asiatic Mode of Production" thing ... from whatever to Capitalism], and from thence to *higher* capitalism, according to Marx's own schema *might* make the "inevitable" revolution more plausible coz advancing internal contradictions and suchlike driving the whole thing to breaking point ...

... the slight issue here is that if the authority [I hesitate to call it a "revolutionary body"] propelling the economic shifts is *also* brutally repressing any actual attempt to turn the popular harm and discontent of these economic "advancements" into an actual political movement to overturn them and seize the means of production etc. (which are handily now often in a number of wealthy groups and individuals' hands rather than being even "nationalized" much less "socialized" over there), then it is pretty difficult ot meaningfully claim that what you're doing is somehow "Marxist" rather than "Get-Rich-Quick-Ist" - or simply "Capitalism with Marxist MSG-ing" or something.

This is particularly the case given a) the huge over-emphasis upon Cults of Personality (and one in particular) that have characterized the Chinese political experience for a pretty big swathe of the past century; b) the aforementioned uber-strong emphasis upon regime security and political repression - things anathema to Marx's own life, as it happens, even notwithstanding the vital necessity of either an open space for dissension or an escalating ineffectiveness of repression for a Revolution to actually forment and occur; and c) the fact that the overarching 'outcome' of all of this appears very much to *not* be a universal uprising of Proletariat - but instead, a resurrection of the old Confucian concept of the "Mandate of Heaven", and the gradual expansion of this sphere (possibly a "co-prosperity" one) to encompass a pretty broad swathe of the globe under either direct Chinese suzerainty (c.f their territorial claims on India, for instance), or indirect economic neo-colonialism (c.f their relations with a number of less-well-off and less-independent countries including to a certain extent our own New Zealand). Something that is part and parcel bound up with d) a strenuous effort to manufacture what an older generation of Marxists would have rightfully termed "false class consciousness" in order to stave *off* any deposing of the capitalist-coercive regime in power in Beijing or elsewhere; which is e) itself not a "dictatorship of the proletariat", still less even a Lenninist "Vanguard Party" - but rather an establishment network of technocratic managerialist damn well mandarins ... that represent the *actual* salient force and engine in Chinese politics and political economy rather than the vague and impersonal "class struggle" - and that's without even getting into how f) the "class" dimension has moved from "let's build an industrial proletariat or something" through to "let's get a middle class and some seriously well off people happening" instead [there's another discursion somewhere about Marx's failure to properly predict "The Middle Class" as a thing .. but THAT IS ANOTHER STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME]

Now don't get me wrong - there's much to look at in China's last few decades of history and self-authored economic development which is ... pretty impressive. Particularly if you don't really care about any human costs that might have been borne in the process.

And from a certain perspective, it would be perhaps difficult to fault the PRC from acting in its own self-interest and managing to take China from the decaying post-Qing quasi-colonized ruins of the early half of the 20th century ... through to an emergent Great Power fully capable of carrying out many of the same antics which the (predominantly) European metropoles wrought upon the world at large (and China in particular, funnily enough) over the previous three hundred years or so.

Ironic, arguably, but that's the nature of history and international relations. A bitter joke from the perspective of the less-powerful and a richly rewarding punch-line for the Ascendent among the assembled chorus of states.

But whatever its relative merits or shortcomings as a system and a project, I do not believe that it is in any meaningful way "Marxist" - so much as almost the opposite, a "mirror image" say (hence why everything is *exactly the wrong way round* while still possessing similar shape to the passive observer).

In fact, it seems rather hard to escape the supposition that we know very well how Marx himself would have reacted and responded to the PRC attempting to claim his legacy as their own.

In 1883, not long before his death, Karl Marx penned a missive to two French socialists who claimed to be acting in his ideology's name ... first calling them out for "revolutionary phrase-mongering" in lieu of actual, meaningful pro-Worker activity (a charge which seems peculiarly relevant to the People's Republic of China whenever it chooses to LARP as a "revolutionary front" or whatever - although this aptness of a phrase is perhaps somewhat ironic given what Marx was actually critiquing Guesde and Lafargue on at the time was their opposition to "reformism" within a capitalist context), and then bluntly stating that if what these guys were doing was Marxism, then "what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist".

Good thing, too.

Because i'm *pretty sure* that being a dissident journalist slash philosopher publishing frequent and passionate exhortations to building a better and more just society ... is the sort of thing that gets you placed under indefinite house-arrest or in several peoples' bodies one organ at a time over in the PRC these days.

And it would be *quite* a shame to lose him!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Juchee Vs McWorld - On The Perhaps Surprising Twilight Of The Idols Commencing In North Korea



So North Korea might be getting a McDonalds. Gosh, the bonanza of boons as a result of this nuclear climb-down just keep proliferating!


But then I thought .. what if this is actually a shrewd move by Kim Jong-Un to take advantage of the "law" of liberal international relations - the so-called "Golden Arches Peace Theory" - whereby apparently, if you've got a McDonalds in your country, another nation with a McDonalds isn't supposed to attack you (like, normatively speaking, obviously).

[Depressingly [DPRK-ingly?], this is a more recent outgrowth of what's known as "democratic peace theory" - the idea that democracies apparently don't or shouldn't (theoretically speaking) go to war with one another; although as it turns out, this older formulation is arguably less reliable than the thing with the french fries ... make of that what you will]

The slight issue with the "theory", though, is that it's fairly blatantly not true. A rather common critique, to be sure, of much of Thomas Friedman's output.

You see - only a year or so after Friedman first propounded it, cresting the wave of the '90s "HOPE" "NEOLIBERALISM" "END OF HISTORY" zeitgeist-vibe ... NATO started bombing Serbia. A country which at the time had a few McDonalds outlets to its name.

I say "had". Shortly after the bombing started, Belgradians took it upon themselves to demolish them. (They were eventually rebuilt once NATO ceased combat operations - which, somewhat perplexingly, Friedman appeared to take as a vindication of his theory's practical value).

And there have, of course, been a few other rather prominent counter-examples since such as the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, or the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. All of which had McDonalds in operation within their borders at the time.

Although as some pundits noted with amusement, Russia appeared to be shutting down a number of prominent McDonalds restaurants in 2014, about the same time that the Donetsk seceded from Ukraine with Russian support.

Still, despite the obvious unreality of its core tenet - that it's engagement with the globalized capitalist economic system, rather than, say, cautious and careful diplomacy based upon mutual respect and understanding (insofar as such things are possible between states (operating) within a realist context/set of assumptions) which leads to enduring peace - it's worth revisiting Golden Arches Peace Theory in the present day.

Not least because I have absolutely no doubt that somewhere in Washington, policy-wonks and think-tankers will be gleefully propounding the idea that the setting up of fast-food chains and other 'soft power' proponderances of the "American Way Of Life" in the DPRK will first infiltrate and then assimilate North Korea into the Atlanticist-authored vision for geopolitical order under a certain unipolar hegemon.

And yeah, sure, in the *short term*, it's certainly possible to postulate that the 'novelty value' of being able to eat questionably nutritious food of an entirely different nature and all the other things that go alongside Amerika setting up (literal) shop in your neighbourhood *may* actually have an impact on some people.

I just don't see this offering any lasting nor serious guarantee of peace.

If the USA decides to make good on John Bolton's proffered proposal of doing to the DPRK what the Obama Administration did to Libya (i.e. suddenly turning on a dime and effectively ousting said country's leader whom they'd previously been getting on relatively reasonably with in a pointlessly destructive "intervention") - I really do somehow doubt whether the presence of a single 'underutilized' McDonalds in PyongYang is seriously going to stop them.

Meanwhile, there's also no guarantee that simply putting up some Golden Arches in a country in a manner not entirely unakin to a lower-key flag of conquest for a socio-economic system ... will actually lead to the "host" population in question all uniformly and unanimously electing to just casually become slightly-cosmetically-different Americans [or, i suppose, South Koreans] overnight.

In fact, there's - once again - quite some evidence and theoretical spade work to suggest that, if anything, the *opposite* can very readily be true.

This is detailed in another article (and subsequent book) which came out a few years before the publication of Friedman's original piece on the rather surprising alleged connection between having Hamburglar active in your nation's capital and being at peace - Benjamin Barber's "Jihad vs McWorld".

As you can probably guess from the title, it details the notion that "globalization" - and particularly the cultural elements of same - do not simply occur in a vacuum, imposed upon passive mannequins rather than men. But instead, invite skepticism, scrutiny, and somewhat more often than pro-Globalism forces care to admit .. outright opposition or even surprisingly successful push-back.

In its place, an exaltation of 'older' ways of doing things - traditional values and understandings - may grow up; militantly or gently-but-firmly re-asserting themselves against the mono-cultural and rather tacky .. flaccid, even? .. 'universalizing' paradigm of 'McWorld'.

At which point, no doubt, we'll get to see just how genuinely committed the various Atlanticist-consensus countries which presently exist 'neath the "Golden Arches" are to *not* attempting to impose their world-view by force upon the North Korean - or any other - population.

In some ways, it's interesting to directly compare and contrast the mindsets that went into both the Golden Arches Peace Theory and Jihad Vs Mcworld.

The latter was a the product of an 'age of uncertainty' - a period in between dominant zeitgeists if you like, wherein many reasonable people were refreshingly reluctant to take for granted the possibility of teleology or Eschaton-Immanentization in geopolitics. Where it wasn't just blithely assumed that because the Cold War was seemingly ending, that this meant the Nation-State pretty much would be (in its post-Westphalian nature and significance/salience, at any rate) too.

In short, where *actual thinking* was taking place about what might transpire in the future and how best to navigate continuously evolving circumstances in such a way as to *avoid* the potential fall-back into strife-riven paradigms of the past (whichever past and whenever we might be referring to with that).

The former, meanwhile, is huffed up on its own triumphalism - confident (even, going by later reprints and new editions, following subsequent events which ought surely to have disproven its core ethos) well beyond the point of arrogance that the End of History hadn't just come ... but that the author's views were both riding the wave of causality and powering it.

Even though Friedman didn't mean it in that sense, I always found it telling that he attempted to pooh-pooh his critics on the concept by referring to them as "realists" :P

Sitting here in the closing years of the 2010s, I feel it pretty uncontentious to state that we, too, are very much in "uncharted waters". We've witnessed the decay and if not outright collapse of a number of epochs and their accompanying meta-narratives over the span of the last quarter century or so. And out with them have, by necessity rather than choice (for a depressingly large number of foreign policy actors, at least), gone many of the comfortable assumptions-into-assertions which have governed what "should" happen in politics - whether local-/national- or of the "geo-" variety.

But as we seemingly see every time John Bolton, Nikki Haley, Hillary Clinton, Theresa May etc. etc. etc. open their mouths .. old habits die hard.

It's worth critically evaluating things like "Golden Arches Peace Theory" in the context of what's looking set to happen in North Korea over the next few years [the opening up to Western economic operations, I mean - not so much the "Libya-fication" .. hopefully] precisely because of that fact.

As otherwise ... who wants to be left stranded high and dry - "beached as, bro" - when the much-vaunted "tide of history" actually turns out to have been going the other way this whole time, regardless of what the "model" "thinks".

Monday, April 30, 2018

On A Potential Future For The Commonwealth



Slightly odd thought (which requires further development): The Commonwealth is at something of a crossroads at present, and understandably so. After all, it's never truly made a 'proper' transition from a sort of vestigial "ashes of empire" into a properly multi-national bloc on any but a talking-shop level.

Something which is going to be rather interesting, though, is how the Commonwealth chooses to re-organize itself in light of the changed geopolitical realities of the 21st century - and in particular, which member-states [present .. or even, perhaps, future] are likely to emerge as both leaders *within* the Commonwealth sphere, as well as the incipient 'axials' around which the future structure and impetus of the Commonwealth are likely to gestate or gel.

For the time-being at least, British dominance of the whole thing seems an arguable fait accompli. This is particularly the case as a result of #Brexitplacing far more emphasis upon the imperative vitality of non-European foreign relations for the UK (something which, as I have capaciously argued previously, renders that particular development quite the win for us down here in New Zealand!).

Yet for an array of reasons, it seems very plausible to prophesy that this state of affairs will be unlikely to continue indefinitely.

Obviously, the 'future shape' of the Commonwealth, and the relative apportions or agglomerations of 'power' therein, will be significantly impacted by which principles and objectives the Commonwealth structure winds up prioritizing.

If it reconvens as a 'trade-bloc', then nations with considerable economic cloud will become more prominent, for instance. While if it (instead - it is always a bit iffy attempting to do this in harmony with economic motives) chooses to emphasize the nebulous notions of 'shared values', democracy, and Anglospheric conceptions of 'human rights' .. then the virtue-signalling states will undoubtedly have the most to say - whether or not anyone's actually listening.

But while certain polities such as Canada and Australia look set to loom large in the Commonwealth's future constellation of aspirations almost regardless of which direction it chooses to go, due to their reasonably sized populations and markets and the relative influence of their political systems ... I found myself pondering an altogether different angle.

Namely whether, as what will undoubtedly be the single most significant state within the Commonwealth in almost any term one chooses to mention given sufficient time, whether we might actually see a most intriguing development of the Commonwealth pertaining to India.

It would, to be sure, be an ironic state of affairs to see the vestigial remnants of the empire which so iniquitously subjugated the Subcontinent in centuries previous ... eventually evolve into a community of influence built around the emergent Great Power grown up in its wake. Although as Mark Twain (iirc) once allegedly observed - history doesn't "repeat" so much as it "rhymes".

Still, it would be a most interesting historical and geopolitical development; as while India has done stirling work at shoring up diplomatic ties in various parts of the world in recent years, its perceived 'pivot' away from Russia and accompanying improvement in relations with the Americans, has not necessarily significantly improved its relative power position given the increasing competitiveness the Chinese have displayed in both India's own neighbourhood/friend-circles as well as the potential areas for Indian diplomatic expansion.

With all of this in mind, the Commonwealth represents as a potential natural 'longer term' avenue for drawing together a worthwhile array of economic and political partners for India, who also in many cases have pre-existing reasons to share important elements of the Indian geopolitical vision RE Her northern neighbour.

There are some putative 'sticking points', of course. For one thing, Pakistan retains its Commonwealth membership. For another, following this month's CHOGM meeting, Prince Charles looks set to continue the Royalist tradition of an unelected (sort-of) English sovereign presiding over the organization.

Yet who knows how things may differ in twenty to thirty years.

Indeed, about the only thing that can be said with any certainty at this point (other than India's increasing salience for matters geopolitical), is that if properly managed, the Commonwealth's ongoing post-War transition looks set to provide a bountiful opportunity for member-states in the years to come.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Nothing Sensible Nor To Trust In Garth McVicar's Sentence On Shooting

One of the big problems with Garth McVicar's idiotic statement on the police shooting which took place Saturday is that it helps to colour perceptions around the actions and habitual demeanour of *Police* with regard to firearms and shootings.

I *seriously* doubt whether any of the officers involved in the incident would have thought anything even vaguely reminiscent of "one less to clog the prisons" when attempting to remonstrate with the machete-wielding man, or for that matter when sighting him up or pulling the trigger.

Quite the opposite, most likely.


And yet, by shooting his mouth off in the way he has, McVicar has inadvertently provided a soundbite, a talking point for anybody who wishes to subjunctively tarr our Police as basically being the Americans, due to the impression that his views might have some currency amidst people generally concerned about law and order - including, most especially, its chartered upholders, the Police.


If McVicar's a genuine enthusiast for summary executions in lieu of judicial process [and I'm *not* sayiing that that's what yesterday's occurrence was, by any stretch of the imagination - simply that that appears to be the logical next step to McVicar's public advocacy], then that's his business.


And a sorry business it is, too.


But by attempting to connect this to the New Zealand Police - and by stating that his "thoughts are with the officer" - he can only be seen to be using this unfortunate incidence to attempt to push a pre-determined political agenda.

And worse ... far worse ... one which he seemingly wants the Police to take on board.

The Police don't need "advocacy" like this; and in many cases, I would respectfully suggest .. neither do the victims of crime.

We are lucky to live in a (for the most part) reasonably sane and often humane society, wherein our law enforcement neither goes into every potential encounter armed - nor undertake decisions about when and how to use those parts of their equipment lightly.

Our judicial system is most definitely not perfect; and for all his asinine bluster, even McVicar's comment on this issue appears to implicitly acknowledge that our groaning and wildly over-full prisons are a key part of the problem rather than the solution when it comes to reducing offending.

But the conversation around ameliorating the size of New Zealand's population behind bars is NOT one which ought to include the advocacy for death as an 'easy' means to 'thin the herd'.

And especially not in the absence of proper due process (the provision of which, as we can see from any number of American states, actually leads to various inmates languishing in prison for *longer* as they exhaust their appeals process).

Instead, an ideal place to start would be the reversal of National's [and more specifically, Judith Collins'] alterations to our nation's bail- and remand- laws; which presently see up to three thousand New Zealanders, who haven't (yet) been convicted of any crime, forced into the same brutalizing environment as actual hardened criminals.

Even Bill English, while still Prime Minister (and in addition to his "moral and fiscal failure" comments about our incarceration system some years earlier while Deputy), agreed that the then-National Government's law-changes in this area had resulted in unintended consequences due to their harshness.

Yet for Garth McVicar, the only answer - in EVERY single offender's case (other than, apparently, David Garrett - the one offender I think I can ever recall McVicar going into bat for and arguing that he'd been rehabilitated etc.) - is to get more harsh, more punitive, more 'knee-jerk' in terms of sanction.

McVicar knows that this is not a sustainable option - to wheel out an incipient return to England's "Bloody Code" at each and every possible opportunity.

People get tired of it. Start to see through it. The tides of public opinion go out somewhat on the dual vipers of "throw away the key" and the anti-biblical demands for a pound of flesh or an eye in recompense for an eye.

The self-styled baying voices in the wilderness who somehow simultaneously conceive of themselves as speaking somewhat-bidden upon the behalves of a "silent majority" ... suddenly find, to their horror, that they actually *are* now enfolded and enfiladed by relative obscurity for their person and occasionally even their agenda (assuming that younger, brighter sparks haven't turned up to claim the standard for same).

These remarks apply capaciously to just about any political cause - and more especially for the attempted-populist ones and the Conservative Moral Panic types of salient.

In the case of criminal justice, such a shift has become clearly visible over a reasonable period of time - a significant proof of which being the softly emergent moral consensus comprised of everybody from 'compassionate conservatives' [think Bill English's comments in a previous life] on outward, who've begun to openly ponder if there might not be a "better way" than just continually tightening the thumb-screws upon an ever-expanding prison population in the hope that something miraculously changes other than the proportion of the tax-bill which goes thence.

Whether and how "smart on crime" might begin to supplant "tough on crime" as the magic metre for law-and-order policy debate.

In fact, as applies McVicar, I dare say that the relatively diminishing media and public attention he's been getting over the past few years is at least partially symptomatic of that. Possibly mixed with the fallout-radius tarnishment of having cast aside his veneer of "political neutrality" to stand for the CCCP [Colin Craig's Conservative Party - to distinguish it from the subsequent, and in matters of sentencing policy, occasionally perhaps surprisingly more enlightened Leighton Baker iteration]; and probably infused with the customary de-emphasis upon one which accompanies an ever advancing age and crank-sounding "advocacy".

However it's happened, it seems like a fairly safe bet to conclude that in the manner of a petulant toddler who's hell-bent upon not being ignored as a response to his previous antics, that McVicar's gone for Shock Value in lieu of substance or sense.

Shouting loudly and offensively because it's vaguely guaranteed to get a headline and a spot on the 6 o'clock news.

Deliberately saying something inflammatory and highly insensitive to pretty much everyone actually involved; on grounds that it's "easier" than actually coming up with a statement worthwhile to utter. And fully cognisant that, in any case, his own ongoing marginalization makes it inordinately likely that nothing else he'd say would plausibly smoulder brightly enough to draw a watchful media eye.

Oh well.

That's the thing about these kinds of "inflammatory remarks". Sooner or later, you find yourself with so much pitch on your hands, and be-laden by self-set sparks, that the straw-men one sought to tarry with have instead trapped you in your very own Wicker Man.

At which point the choice effectively becomes one of whether you wish to bow out 'gracefully' from public life [insofar as such a thing might be possible for one such as he]; or whether you take a leaf from Aristophanes' book [The Wasps, to be precise - funnily enough, a play with *much* rather direct relevance to what's going on here, now that I think about it ...], and "learn from Theramenes, that shrewd politician - to move with the times, and improve your position!'

The chances of a semi-ambulatory briar patch like McVicar actually taking heed of this, and electing to soften his stance and moderate or modulate his views in light of changing conditions out here in the Court of Public Opinion as applies acceptable conduct for a self-appointed Prosecutor from the viewing gallery ... are perhaps only adequately expressible as a mathematical function of the sort used to assess the outputs of alternate universe theory

Which leaves the final option ... burn yourself and any credibility you might once have had out, upon a self-constructed pyre.

A few more of these such outbursts, particularly in light of his former Deputy, Ruth Money choosing to go public in castigation of him on Newshub last night (what did I say earlier about the standard being claimed by others of a newer vintage?); and there may prove to be little left of McVicar but a guttering candle, suffocated - metaphorically, of course - upon the auto-generated smoke produced in lieu of any *actual* illumination.

Good riddance.

For what it's worth, my thoughts are also (albeit not exclusively) with the officers involved in the weekend's incident. It cannot have been an easy thing to make the determination to pull the trigger; and I have no doubt whatsoever that the officer responsible will also be mulling events over in his mind, particularly given the several inquiries into the matter that are now presently underway - in addition to the inevitable trial-by-media that always seems to grow up following these things even in the apparent absence of half the facts.

But they are also with the family of the chap who lost his life this Easter Weekend just gone. And, for that matter, with the dead man himself. We don't know, at this stage, what combination of demeanour, drink, drugs, debilitating mental illness, or other factors entirely might have lead to his regrettable decision to come at police whilst wielding a machete.

But whatever it was, it seems hard not to think of him, too, as a person. Not least because that's presumably how those near and dear to him will be conceptualizing him at present.

That's something that all too often seems to fall by the wayside for these "tough on crime" 'advocacy' types. The fact that everyone involved in the situation - whether offender or policeman or victim - is actually a human being.

Rather than a mere political prop to be wheeled out and drawn upon and puppeteered via press-release til they are no longer useful for that *particular* day's attempted headline-grab.

In any case, good on the policeman who took McVicar to task over this latest outburst.

Police don't usually advertise their vocation on social media, and with good reason. To do so can invite unwelcome interactions from the public such as torrid torrents of unwarranted and unasked for abuse.

Yet the trouble with silence (the official position of the NZ Police on McVicar's utterance - presumably to avoid dignifying it with a response) is that it can leave such reprehensibilities to fester unchallenged.

It is presumably a mark of just how significantly McVicar's stunt has 'crossed the line' [in this case, the thin, blue one] that it resulted in an officer choosing to front up and voice a broadly felt condemnation of same.

Who knows - it might even potentially dissuade McVicar from continuing into the future with his own ballistics-related habitual pastime ... that of frequent and potent discharges (of his mouth) into his own foot.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

For NZ First De Nile Is A River That Runs Through Warkworth



Two brief thoughts on this imbroglio presently embroiling New Zealand First up in Rodney.

The first is that Simon Bridges is engaging in a fulsome rewrite of reality when he claims that MPs (and potentially Ministers of the Crown) threatening to withhold funding for projects for political gain is "not the way we do things", particularly in the New Zealand National Party.

After all, it was only a few months ago that National's then-Associate Housing Minister, Alfred Ngaro, was publicly stating through the media that National would deny funding to organizations which criticized it - in particular, singling out Willie Jackson and the Manukau Urban Maori Authority as targets for losing funding and a charter school application thanks to their trenchant criticism of the then-Government over housing policy and other areas.

Ngaro also directly claimed that he'd paid Jackson a personal visit to outline this rather brusque diktat that "bagging" National for alleged political gain or otherwise would lead to funding and approval for programmes championed by the critical figures and foundations in question being "off the table"; although Jackson disputes this.

I mention those last details because they sound eerily familiar to what is alleged to have occurred up at the Orewa Surf Club over the weekend between newly minted NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft and former National Defence Minister slash present local Rodney Electorate MP Mark Mitchell.

In specia, Marcroft is supposed to have asked for a meeting with Mitchell, turned up, and bluntly laid out that Mitchell was to cease his support for a particular river restoration project if he wanted it to see funding from the Government.

She reportedly stated she was there at the instruction of an unnamed Minister of the Crown.

This is allegedly supposed to have occurred due to Mitchell's previous attacks on current Defence Minister (and present NZ First MP) Ron Mark. However, while that might be what Marcroft *claimed* was the underlying causation for her somewhat dubious actions, for various reasons partially related to internal NZ First politics [e.g. what Marcroft's patron appeared to say about that incident when it turned up in the media], I'm not buying it.

An obvious line of suspicion would be to ponder the role of Shane Jones in all of this. After all, the Provincial Growth Fund falls squarely under his Ministerial Portfolios, and Marcroft is supposed to have directly sought an assurance from Mitchell that Jones would not be questioned in Parliament about any decision to award cash to the Mahurangi River project, particularly by National's Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith [and given Goldsmith's record in other areas, I would have been stunningly surprised if he could even locate the Mahurangi River on a map, let alone single it out in Parliamentary Question Time unbidden].

However, Jones has stated that he is not the Minister being referred to by Marcroft - and for what it's worth, even though I have previously levelled quite some criticisms against him, I actually do believe him on this score.

Besides which, for all his faults, Jones tends to possess a certain degree of political cunning and a much more subtle selection of political underlings ['tools'] with which to execute his will. I doubt he would have been stupid enough to engineer something as crystal-china-sledgehammer-operated-without-safety-goggles as all of this.

Instead, I cannot help but suspect that the age-old question - Cui Bono? ['Who Benefits?'] - proposes a rather immediate answer here as to precisely *which* Minister of the Crown may be overtly responsible for what appears to have occurred.

The Mahurangi River lies in Rodney, and more specifically, runs directly through the town of Warkworth.

There is a particular MP, recently elevated to the ranks of Cabinet as a Minister, who lives in Warkworth and who has previously unsuccessfully contested the Rodney Electorate on quite a number of occasions.

This particular Minister has also had a bit of a history of using Marcroft as a mouthpiece - including, in an instance in which I was personally involved in (as the target), when it comes to perhaps morally dubious undertakings.

It is understandable why Marcroft would be employed in such a manner by this Minister - according to my information, they went to school together way back when.

It is also understandable why said Minister would wish to claw back any advantage possible from incumbent MP Mark Mitchell over the next two and a half years before they contest the Rodney Electorate again.

And that apparently includes endeavouring to deny Mitchell the ability to positively associate himself with a river restoration project.

Although personally, considering it has taken now some nine long years to get *any* National Party MP to even *acknowledge* there's a problem with at least one of our more significant rivers, I probably would just have let him get on with it instead were I in the relevant decision-making position.

Still, all of this brought to mind a quotation occasionally attributed to Sun Tzu [although also cited by Umberto Eco as being of Indian origin]:

"If you wait by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy floating by".

Unlikely, perhaps, in this case (as the river in question appears to be in need of some restoration work); but nevertheless, my penchant for purviewing political pop-corn aside, it might be good if the Minister in question would just get on with the job they're nominally there for - rather than attempting to re-enact select scenes from House of Cards every two to six months with an approximately 50-50 win rate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On The Greens' Transition From Voice In The Wilderness To Ventriloquism Through Handing Their Questions To National

Unquestionably the biggest news in politics of the past week - despite several somewhat sensationalized stories that've been in circulation recently - was the Green Party announcing a bold move to give the National Party their Primary Questions in Parliament on occasions when the former are not using them.

Now, this might seem like a triflingly arcane thing to get all worked up about - mere minutiae of Parliamentary procedure in lieu of actual substantial action.

And yes, that's pretty much how Parliamentary Questions seem to have been treated by Governments and their allies since time immemorial; as little more than a cursory formality wherein 'patsie' questions designed to provide positive PR for the parties in power jostled with occasional Oppositional lancing in an effective contest of questionable "questioning" and ever-starved-for-space interrogation from those presently deprived of power.

Which is precisely why the Green Party sought to inject added relevancy to them by giving the Opposition a greater go at holding the Government to account through them by giving them additional questions when they're not themselves using them - rather than simply proffering 'patsies' off their own bat to questionable discernible effect.

The obvious question from the skeptical (or, indeed, outright - and perhaps justifiably - cynical) perspectives of politicos across the spectrum and country, is if the Greens are so hell-bent on keeping their Labour Party and New Zealand First associates "honest" ... why not just simply ask better and more probing questions of them themselves, instead of 'farming out' this sacred responsibility to the Nats.

And it is a fair line of inquiry.

Yet when one considers the overall 'optics' of 'tough questioning' in the House, an answer almost immediately reveals itself.

Namely, that were the Greens to *actually* put serious heat and/or screws upon the Labour-NZF Government they nominally support, then either the Media would start blowing it out of all proportion into some sort of over-hyped "collapse of the Government imminent" campaign [i.e. they'd quite likely start working over-time to attempt to make such a thing ensue], replete with any array of quoting from the sad annals of Parliamentary History viz. the Alliance Party's often-rocky relationship with its Labour Party partners, to try and prove their point.

Meanwhile, it would seem very plausible indeed that Labour and its apparatchiks would seek behind closed doors [as well as with more measured spite & venom in public] to castigate the Greens in no uncertain terms for their temerity in DARING to ask actual, probing questions of the Government instead of simply propping up the more usual and customary "window dressing".

It would, in short, provoke yet another bout of "THE GREENS ARE TOO IMMATURE/'PRINCIPLED' TO BE ALLOWED NEAR GOVERNMENT" from all the usual voices. Despite the fact that actually getting to the heart of matters and being straight-up about concerns is arguably one of the most mature things one can do - whether in or out of politics.

And while one might be forgiven for presuming that the "Agree to DIsagree"  provisions in the agreements Labour signed with its support partners late last year *should* mean that the latter are more easily able to vent their displeasure with the decisions and undertakings of the former (or, for that matter, with each other for the two support partners) - as we have perhaps seen when it came to New Zealand First backtracking on the TPPA earlier this year, these appear to provide no sure guarantee of outcomes nor 'safe space' for discourse in public when the chips are down on important issues.

But with this particular chartered course the Greens are undertaking - wherein it's National rather than the Greens who'll do many of the hard-attack interrogatives .. as is the constitutional role of Her Majesty's *Loyal* Opposition in the first place - they really do seem to get the best of multiple worlds.

On the one hand, the Government gets held to account more and more frequently than would otherwise be the case; whilst simultaneously enabling a greater 'easing' of relations between the Labour and Greens parties than would likely be possible in a clime of actual and overt Parliamentary back-and-forth between the two.

The Green's proposal also may manage to avoid the sort of Constitutional not-crises that accompanied New Zealand First in 2005-2008 seeking to ask searching questions of or even actively oppose the Government on certain matters, despite Winston holding a Ministerial Warrant with them at the time.

And, not to put too fine a point on it (although it's doubtless been the single loudest refrain yet issued on this whole matter), the deal with National *also* allows the Greens to put vital distance between themselves and Labour in the run-up to the 2020 General Election - although I do think that much of the sentiment attempting to treat this as a pre-Coalition Engagement Party with the Nats is rather alarmist and overblown.

For the moment, at any rate.

(Also, if you're wondering why it's so vitally necessary for the Greens to manage to distinguish themselves, even *detach* themselves somewhat from Labour, while still managing to represent their values, you can consult some of the rather detailed analyses I wrote up on the arguable necessity of NZ First doing much the same thing, last year. Or, to phrase it more bluntly & succinctly: Government, and Near-Government are places where small parties go to Die. With the sole exception of the Green Party in each of 2002 and 2008, I cannot think of ANY 'small' party in MMP History here in New Zealand that has actually managed to increase its share of the Vote following its supporting a Government, of either stripe and whether on Confidence & Supply or outright Coalition. Instead, it invariably goes the other way - with eventual slipping below the 5% threshold or command of an electorate seat seeming inevitable as the 'gravitational forces' around such a concentration of power and media attention inexorably pull the smaller vessel apart.)

In any case, it has been interesting to take in the broad spectrum of responses to this announcement from the various sorts of people who take some measure of interest in the ongoing churnings of our political firmament.

For example - I am presently rather amused by some New Zealand First people who were OK with said party siding with the Nats a few months ago being rather visibly annoyed at the vaguest appearance of the Greens co-operating with same.

I am also rather amused by the sorts of people who spent the last eight or so years telling me that a vote for NZF was a vote for National, either having to defend/justify this deal or turn a most distinct shade of purple in the face with quiet infuriation at the situation.

And, eminently predictably, almost everybody involved is somehow attempting to blame James Shaw for the whole scenario at hand (because three years on from his elevation to the Co-Leadership, the "JAMES SHAW IS A RIGHT-WINGER WHO QUOTED MARGARET THATCHER IN PARLIAMENT" meme steadfastly refuses to die).

But you know what? Even leaving aside my technical arguments above, I actually happen to think that the Greens, and Shaw in particular, are on to something with this unfolding course of action.

There's three ways to play politics, in my [oft-ineluctable] experience.

There's the "MY PARTY RIGHT OR WRONG" way; the "my party right or wrong - when right to be kept right, and when wrong to be *set* right" approach; and somewhere out on a limb reserved for extremists and the rare diamonds of genuinity ... the "principles uber alles" kind.

Attempting to insist that a party that is *not* party to Cabinet, and whose relationship with the present Government is one of the provision of Confidence & Supply with a few [again, extra-Cabinet] Ministerials ought to be one of slavish adherence rather than reasoned criticism is very much in that *first* camp instead of the second one.

Meanwhile, putting greater scrutiny on the Government of the day, even (indeed - especially) if it's one which you in principle support, is definitely in the second grouping. It may even veer into the third, from time to time.

Now don't get me wrong.

I understand why some people are feeling hurt, shocked, betrayed, and viscerally annoyed about all of this.

In some cases, it is because the notion of assisting an Opposition is seen as giving an inch of ground to "The Enemy".

In others, it is because they long ago decided that being in politics to *achieve* something is a very much *secondary* priority to the sort of loyalty expected of a "team player".

In yet still more, it is perhaps they don't like the idea of their own 'tribe' being held to account by perceived 'lessers'; and for a different sort again, the ongoing concern about whether all of this might help contribute to this Labour-NZF-[Greens] Government being merely a one-term one.

There are valid concerns and kernels of truth in each of these perspectives.

Yet casting my mind back over the past few decades of New Zealand Politics [something that yes, does tend to entail remembering events from some years or even decades before my own birth], I can think of no greater 'door' for the infiltration of untrammelled Evil into our Parliament and thus our public life than that most pernicious of foes - uncritical support for one's own side "just because".

I will not sully this post with the implicit specter of the Nuremberg Defence.

But if we consider what happened in 1984-7, and again from 1990 through to 1996 [dis-honourable mention, arguably, for 1996-1999, and most assuredly for mid-'97 to 99] ... we find that notionally otherwise 'principled' people in each of those Governments, who'd signed up to support and advance *one* set of things [and yes, there is much commonality between, say, Labour in its pre-Rogernomics days of advocating for the working man and National's 1990 'rollback' manifesto - hence also NZ First six years later, as a 'union' of both forces] found themselves press-ganged in repugnant service of almost the complete opposite.

And how did it happen? Well, simple.

They decided to just "do what we're told" [with, to be fair and sure, oft-explicit threats of Expulsion if you should happen to (externally) object or try and put a stop to the whole thing].

They decided that shutting up and just blithely supporting the people 'above' them was the supremest virtue to which they could affix some modicum of their political action & capital.

They, in short, made their seemingly-inevitable "peace" with adhering to group-think and what we would perhaps today refer to as "tribalism" [a word, in this sense and context, that diminishes & demeans *actual* tribes as a system of human organization, but I digress].

And you know where "they" are now?

Almost to a man, cast upon the ash-heap of history. Forgotten about, running far-from-the-headlines quisling efforts with foreign banks or attempting to potter away in other private sector roles.

Emerging every so often to reflect upon what they did and why - and, if Jim Bolger's statements in recent years are anything to go by, sadly concluding that they got it wrong and helped to play their part in (further) unleashing terrible forces upon our Nation.

All made possible by this most INSIDIOUS "conspiracy of silence" with regard to (externally visible - and from thence, even *internal* "if you know what's good for you") criticism of "their own side".

So if something good comes from Shaw's stance of disavowing such slavish adulation of his nominal partners in next-to-Government, that will more than likely be it.

I am *not* saying that Labour circa 2018 is *actually* going to be Labour circa 1984 all over again.

But as we've seen with the #CPTPP or whatever the #TPPA is being called these days, as an example, there remains a clear and present reason for certain parties and other political actors to take upon themselves the mantle akin to that of Old Testament Prophets - "voices in the wilderness" who abjectly warn "IF THIS GOES ON..." and maybe perhaps eventually find themselves leading angry armies of the politically dispossessed to the 'clearing and cleaning of house' should events take a turn for the irrecoverably decrepit & depraved.

Once upon a time, I would have pointed a finger in a particular direction with that above paragraph, if you get my drift.

But I now realize that the responsibility - nay, the right - of holding Government (and, indeed, the entire present socio-politico-economic paradigm we labour under and within) to account is far broader than that deserving of a mere 'partisan' champion.

So kudos to the Green party for this move.

Let us hope it functions as intended.

[My thanks to my former NZ Politics lecturer, Patrick Hine, for his insightful comments around the projected rationale for the Greens' decision - which played a strong role in helping to clarify my thoughts on this matter between 07 a.m yesterday morning and the present time of setting finger to keyboard in explication.] 

Friday, March 16, 2018

National's Anti-Aircraft Fire At Ron Mark Proves To Be Blanks



Good grief. The National Party's attempted attack on Ron Mark would be farcical if it weren't so downright facile. They're claiming Defence Force aircraft were illegitimately used to transport Ron to official commitments in his capacity as Defence Minister from "Mark's hometown, Masterton".

That's ridiculous for a start. I thought *everybody* knew that Ron hails from Carterton (where he was the incredibly popular local mayor before his re-entry into national politics). Although given that National only seems to discover the Regions - and the Wairarapa in particular - once they're relegated to Opposition, we can perhaps forgive them for confusing two different towns in their breathless rush to seem relevant due to a lack of familiarity.

But leaving aside the Member for Rodney's evident difficulty with toponyms, political history, and basic New Zealand geography ... as soon as we take a look at the facts of the allegation against Ron Mark, it quite rapidly becomes apparent that Ron doesn't appear to have done anything wrong.

The list of flights at-issue which appeared in the NZ Herald's coverage of this tawdry not-scandal confirms this (as does an official statement indicating it's cheaper for the Minister to travel by air rather than car for the sorts of events which have been cited).

I mean, seriously. It is bizarre in the extreme to take issue with a Defence Minister being on board a regularly scheduled flight to Antarctica which departed from and then returned to Christchurch (unless, perhaps, Mitchell's understanding of New Zealand cartography is so ill-fitting that he thinks that too is somewhere near Carterton and Masterton .. on account of its rather famous inhabitant, "Anderton"). And with deference to Mitchell's repeated commentary about how Ron ought apparently to have used Crown cars instead of helicopters - I can only ponder whether Mitchell knows something I don't about the amphibious capacity of the former.

After all, how else to attempt to explain Mark Mitchell seemingly prescribing them as a means to get from the South Island to the HMNZS Canterbury - and thence, yes, to Masterton. Or, for that matter, to and from the Chatham Islands in the company of a number of other Ministers, Media, and Defence Force personnel for a Maori Battalion funeral. Are these Crown cars actually airlift-capable extra-capacity busses or something?
Meanwhile, I do not seem to recall Mr Mitchell raising issue with John Key using a Defence Force Iroquois helicopter to transport himself from a V8 car-racing event to a golf club dinner; or to be ferried from Blenheim to Kaikoura to launch a whale-watching boat, or any of the rest of it.
In fact, I'd perhaps go so far as to speculate that one of the reasons why Defence Force transport aircraft seemed to be breaking down so frequently during the tenure of the previous National-led Government ... was precisely because John Key seemed to be using them curiously often, rather than going with commercial airlines.

Although one of the most peculiar uses of a helicopter here in recent times is unquestionably former National Party President Michelle Boag having the Westpac Rescue Helicopter make a rather expensive trip to Waiheke Island to pick up her passport so she could make an international flight after she left it behind.

But hey ... clearly a Defence Minister flying to Defence Force events using a Defence Force aircraft at the
 Defence Force's recommendationand in the accompaniment of Defence Force personnel is TOTALLY out of bounds!

I rather suspect that Mark Mitchell is still smarting over his failure to win the National Party's leadership contest, and is therefore seeking to take out his ire at Mark in lieu of doing something useful.

In any case, as this is apparently such an extraordinarily pressing issue for Ron's predecessor as Defence Minister, Mark Mitchell, I look forward to the results of Ron's upcoming audit of previous use of Defence Force aircraft by prior Defence Ministers. It will be interesting indeed to see in greater detail how the National Party's highly placed functionaries have been making use of military assets during the past nine years.

Perhaps we shall find out that Mitchell's absurd accusations against Ron are merely what psychiatrists would term "an exercise in projection". 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Get A Grip: Forcing A Handshake Is Not Right

Late last week we were treated to one of those regrettable instances of "THE COMMENTS SECTION HAS INCARNATED IN HUMAN FORM AND NOW APPEARS TO BE AMBLING ABOUT THE PLACE" ... attempting to forcibly shake the hands of people, inter alia, apparently.

I'm not quite sure what was going through the head of the academic at the University of Auckland who sought to coerce a Muslim student into grasping hands with him, although for him to then go to the subsequent effort of attempting to run the poor girl through the University's official complaints process for alleged sexual discrimination presumably suggests that it was quite some level of (faux) outrage.

And were it just a case of a university staffer attempting to mount a soap-box on 'civilizational values' or whatever ...  but instead finding himself shipped off in a packing crate, then hardly more would need to be said.

But I noted with some considerable dismay any number of people leaping to the guy's defence. Not merely quibbling over whether dismissal is the appropriate outcome for somebody making a seriously questionable use of an internal disciplinary process in order to try and push a cultural agenda. Actually taking some considerable offence of the "if you don't like it, deportation!" kind [and, to be fair, various more gradated responses along the general spectrum of same], and engaging in that habitual ritual of greeting so beloved of the talkback radio-caller demographic that is the Jumping Up And Down and the Wild Gesticulations about the much-mythologized "PC GONE MAD" that's allegedly responsible.

Even otherwise reasonable people not of the aforementioned societal grouping seemed pretty clear in their views that not necessarily wanting to press the flesh with your fellow man was some sort of grave infringement of the common decency of the nation which ought be responded to accordingly.

So let's get one thing straight.

If you are trying to force somebody to have physical contact with you, then in all probability ... you are being at least a bit of a dick. In fact, viewed from out of context, one could even go so far as to say that an older male going to such lengths to attempt to *force* a younger female student to touch him (particularly when it appears he's aware she's not down with it), looks a bit creepy.

But having said all that, and assuming it really *was* just about handshakes and such rather than some sort of incipient "WESTERN VALUES UBER ALLES" microaggression ... [and leaving aside the slightly older custom/cultural more that you're not supposed to be grabbing a lady's hand, and instead waiting for her to offer it if she is of the handshaking variety] .. I really don't see why somebody shouldn't be able to turn down a handshake.

One of the things I really like about Hindu culture is that handshaking isn't quite so much a thing. Instead, clasping *your own* hands together as an acknowledgement, or dependent upon relationship and your own station, the deployment of mudra postures, is perfectly satisfactory as a greeting. I'd say it's *downright more meaningful* than replicating the ol "let's shake him by the hand and see if any weapons fall out of his sleeves lest he try any funny business!" that forms the basis for the modern Western handshake ... but then, I'm biased.

Now, part of my reasoning for having a preference in that direction is I'm not wild about touching other people's hands. They tend to be greasy, oily, and according to quite the array of scientific studies, often covered in various bacteria, faecal matter, etc. etc. etc.

So something as simple, yet obviously intentional and direct as what you think of when one says "Namaste", is pretty legit as an alternative.

Yet I've noticed that when I defer on a proffered handshake to instead do the above (with non-Hindus), as is my own preference, the reaction i get tends to be pretty nonplussed. Even a little offended.

For somebody who looks rather more different to the average, ordinary New Zealander than I do, such as the Muslim student in question, no doubt this would have felt magnified.

And apparently we've moved on from 'merely' Frantz Fanon's dictum about the act of speaking being to "uphold the weight of a civilization" through to a "clash of civilizations" mindset being encapsulated in a dispute about a handshake.

But to turn the situation around a bit - one custom of the indigenous people of this fine land of ours is the Hongi. Which in terms of its symbolism goes rather further and deeper towards bringing people together than the humble handshake.

Yet I somewhat suspect that despite the fact it's a gesture which, thanks to its provenance, is about as intrinsically Kiwi as it's possible to get without foraging for insects in the undergrowth using one's nose at night time - that many of the same people so outraged about somebody daring to turn down a handshake would nevertheless kick up a huge degree of fuss if somebody Hongi'd them without permission.

Perhaps, for some of them, offence would be taken even if they were ASKED first.

And this is without getting into the speculation as to whether these umbrageous types would be quite so keen to extend their "WHEN IN ROME" dictums to encompass, say, men kissing each other as a customary form of greeting in much of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

In any case, some of the defenders of the iron grip of the handshake custom upon us in EVERY conceivable meeting situation, have sought to make this all an issue about "Values".

Claiming, as yon academic presumably had in mind at the time, that Western Values and/or Western Civilization At Large are somehow imperilled, marginalized, and eroded via somebody choosing not to reciprocate with one frankly quite incidental custom drawn from same.

I cannot help but ponder just how weak a civilization or an ethos must be if something as incredibly minor and passe as the lack of a handshake can apparently seriously imperil it, but I digress.

Among the general corpus of "Western Values" are customarily included things like a certain degree of individual sovereignty [often part and parcel with particular understandings around the idea of 'personal space' , a 'private sphere', and 'liberty']; as well as, these days at least, a general acceptance that women aren't property, objects, or otherwise the mere chattels of the nearest manfolk in a position of authority.

An attempt to *force* a woman to violate *her own* chosen and ascribed to value-set [in this case, religious ones of a particular flavouring], suborn her will to that of hte local man with a title, and meticulously brow-beat her via quasi-legalistic bureaucratic processes when she STILL refuses to submit to him... well ... you CAN argue those're some Western Values in practice.

It's just that you'd be about a century or two out of date.

Monday, February 26, 2018

On Trudeau's Indian Posturing



A brief word on this whole Trudeau thing. The recent one, I mean.

Now, I suppose the conventional wisdom of Western politics in this age is that to engage upon the surface in some modicum of the religious mores of another culture, another community of faith represents "tolerance", acceptance, and understanding.

Perhaps it does. And certainly, it is a positive thing for our elected leaders and other representatives to be more broadly 'culturally literate' than their forebears, with an ability to engage with people of different backgrounds and theologies especially relevant considering the much less homogenous or monolithic nature of our contemporary societies.

But I must confess myself somewhat uneasy to see someone 'going through the motions' [literally, in terms of the hand-gestures and donning of certain garmentry, as it happens] of an expression of faith that is not their own, either as part of a general "do as those around me are doing" [and subject to changing dependent upon who's "around" at the time], or part and parcel of a specific "outreach" programmme.

It is something oft-forgotten these days, that Religion is not simply a bunch of disparate 'funny traditions' of half-understood and much-misremembered vague and quasi-import attached to some Cool Stories from the relevant Mythology [Mythos, but I digress].

Instead, it represents - to both the individual and the community - some of the most deeply held and important beliefs (presuming you choose to subscribe to it, of course, rather than having some secular creed(s) in its place) about values, the world, and our place both within and in relation to both.

It is, in a word, quite literally "Sacred".

So the idea that one can, without breaking a sweat or pausing for consideration, simply don and discard the outward forms of religious adherence in a manner akin to a corsage at a dance or something, is arguably anathema to it. In fact, at the more extreme end, the "a-word" for it would be "apostasy". Although I'm not seeking to levie that particular charge in Trudeau's direction, as it would require actual religious adherence in the first instance which is then abandoned to do so.

To be clear about this - there is nothing wrong with Trudeau seeking greater engagement with Canada's various Indian communities. [Although the potential risk of providing some tacit support for Khalistan movement is something that must be taken into consideration here, given some of the vectors chosen]

But I am not so wild about religious mores being trotted out for photoshoots by those who do not earnestly believe in them; and I am still less eager when it comes to picking and choosing just *which* religious tropes one is keen to display from one corpus or another on a day-to-day basis in-line with the changing vicissitudes of the polls or whatever.

I can understand - and, indeed, in point of fact, empathize rather strongly - with the notion of taking an active interest in 'comparative theology', comparative mythology, and all the rest of it. It's something I do myself, and it is a point of genuine pleasure and value to be able to discuss these things with a certain degree of aptitude and competency with, say, the Rev. Rolinson with some degree of fluency. [We're *slowly* working on upskilling him with *our* theology, at the same time]

Yet I do not 'trust' a politician, or a celebrity [insofar as the two are distinguishable today] or anyone else for that matter who appears to flit between the barest reaches of 'Traditions', on a day to day basis.

To me, it does not seem to show someone who is "more engaged" with more people.

It simply shows someone who appears keen to display 'quick and easy' attempts at LOOKING "engaged" without necessarily seeking to put in the actual work to either integrate into a community or demonstrate genuine solidarity/empathy from without.

Now perhaps I have been too swift to judge in Mr Trudeau's case, and upon further reading it shall turn out that he's actually an avid student of the Dharmic religions who's long had a grasp of India and Indian cultures.

If this is the case, and I have unfairly lumped him in with a number of other Anglosphere politicians who *don't* have these sorts of things ... then I truly and unreservedly apologize to him.

But even if it does not apply to Trudeau specifically, I still feel my point stands.

Religion is not a costume (although dependent upon your confessional sympathies, it may well feature one).

They are deeply held, essence-ial elements of who and what we are. Not to be taken lightly or insincerely in pursuit of temporal advantages in the psephological or corporate realms.

And from my perspective at least, it is difficult indeed to find myself more "trusting" of an individual who would appear to display otherwise via their conduct - treating those deep and oft-eternal elements as light and fleeting photographical fancies.

It is one thing to show respect.

It is quite another to pantomime.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On English's Billexit And Why This Means National Is In Trouble For 2020

I'm frankly a bit puzzled when it comes to yesterday's shock political news, and for one simple reason:

Contrary to what a number of people are saying (particularly the "SECOND ELECTION LOST IN A ROW" style of comments) - Bill English leaving the National Party Leadership and Parliament may not actually help contribute to a National-led government in 2020.

Why?

First up, it's hard to see National actually improving its performance from Election Night. Their failures in the weeks after were those of negotiation [and, arguably, the fruit of 'dirty tricks' played *during* the campaign - the architects of which are all still around] rather than vote-garnering [they actually *increased* their number of votes over 2014].

As applies 2020, this therefore illuminates two prospective pathways to victory. The first of which, being somehow managing to lure one or the other of Labour's C&S partners away through honeyed words and Ministerial portfolios, thus denying Labour the numbers to form a Government - because National's doing so instead.

And already, we have a bit of an issue here. Insofar as it is difficult to see who National would be able to elevate from its Caucus to the top job who would be better equipped to negotiate with New Zealand First than English. Although a potential counter-argument would be if National somehow managed to find both a figure and sufficient motivation for attempting to negotiate with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand instead. Which is, for any number of reasons, pretty seriously unlikely - but given English himself was prepared to extend the relative olive-branch of not smashing the Greens in the face with a stick after Election Night 2017 by leaving the door open to a call from James Shaw ... perhaps in two and a half years' time things might be different on one or both sides.

The second pathway is built around National increasing its share of the vote to the point at which a Labour-led Government becomes non-viable - either through something like NZF exiting Parliament altogether, and/or through National gaining votes, and/or through National somehow winding up in the same position they were in on Election Night 2014 [i.e. before the Specials and such came in] of being able to govern alone if they so chose.

This is, if anything, an arguably *more* difficult scenario now that Bill's gone.

Because while English definitely seemed to lack a bit of lustre during his head-on engagements with Jacinda on the campaign trail last year, there is no denying that he quite successfully reached out to a reasonably broad portion of New Zealand. Not as a "charismatic" frontman [as people for some inexplicable reason seem to brand his predecessor, Key]; but as a "safe pair of hands" to the older demographics of potential swing-voters who've got mortgages and are anemic about the notion of financial shocks to their (credit) system.

National can either seek to find someone to replace that kind of cred - which will likely be something of an exercise in futility, as nobody else in their Caucus can actually front up and point to a record [however fudged and airbrushed and PR, SPIN, and DISTORT-ed] as Finance Minister that seemingly screams "steady as she goes" in the way that English could - or they can attempt to do something different.

Which quite likely means attempting to find an "Anti-Jacinda" to try and hew into Labour's recently bolstered vote. Which is ... not likely to be their most successful plan, if indeed they do attempt it. Many of Labour's 'new' votes at the last Election came from people who didn't vote in 2014. These people [and I don't mean people who were under 18 at the time] are rather unlikely to wind up supporting National, for any number of obvious reasons. And many more of those aforementioned 'new' voters were either Greens or NZF supporters at previous Elections who'd decided to back Labour this time instead - so once again, a very tough prospect to drag over to the Right.

Meanwhile, for those 'swing voters' who DID previously support National, yet went over to Labour this time around - much of their decision-making appears to have been predicated upon the idea that National over the previous 9 years had become stale and wrongheaded in its governance. I'm not sure how a mere 3 years on, with a substantively similar Caucus and Front Bench, National will be able to meaningfully dispel that impression and convince people that putting them *back* in won't ultimately result in a slightly rebranded "more of the same".

But hey, maybe somebody'll decide that Nikki Kaye vs Jacinda Ardern had one outcome [repeatedly] in Auckland Central over elections previous and hope against hope that it'll work out similarly on the national stage.

It's also worth noting that English's elevation to Leader of National may very well have been responsible for some of New Zealand First's flagging fortunes - "conservatives" suddenly having a reason to go back to the darker shade of Blue with a Capital C Catholic on a lot of social policy at the helm of the party and nation. English in Exile may therefore give New Zealand First a bit of a boost and help ensure it makes it over the 5%  threshold as the "only" "conservative" voice left in Parliament [notwithstanding an older generation of National MPs who may see their own spate of retirements later in the Term]; thus further frustrating any National plans of denying Labour a support-partner or attempting to govern alone [something that will be much easier with the redistribution of seats that would take place if NZF had a large 'wasted vote'].

In any case, with the singular exception of the New Zealand Labour Party in the past year ... voters don't like the appearance of instability generated by changing leaders in swift succession. The National Party isn't *quite* at Labour-from-2008-2018 [more especially, 2011-2014] territory *just* yet, but it is worth noting that they'll have had three leaders within the relatively short space of a year and a half.

If they get the *right* leader, that's one thing. but I would be entirely unsurprised if infighting occurred and started leaching out into the public domain regardless. Particularly once Shadow-Cabinet appointments and suchlike are underway and people start "missing out".

With an additional possibility that we may see something akin to what happened with Labour under Cunliffe - wherein a whole lot of Nats decide to put their focus on self-preservation rather than the previous and arguably quite remarkable interior discipline that National has managed to maintain for much of the last 9 years; motivated in no small part by scorn for the "wrong" figure in their individual eyes now being In Charge.

There's also an interesting rhetorical calculation as to which 'message' would be better for National against the incumbent first-term Labour-NZF-(Greens) Government.

That of "things were better under the previous Government - hence why you voted for us"; or "things WILL be better under our NEXT Government".

Obviously, National's next choice of leader will have a considerable influence on how all of this plays out. I mean, the existence of an #ABC faction as applies Judith Collins means that despite her demonstrable ability at channelling and playing upon "the fears & prejudices of the aspirational lower middle class", if she somehow manages to win the position, there's a very real chance of her tenure not leading back into the Beehive.

Meanwhile, several of the other 'clear contenders' so to speak either run the risk of being perceived as too close to potentially less than optimal parts of the previous Government [Nick Smith on housing and the environment, for instance; or Paua Bennett on welfare [as in, as Minister, not her previous source of income] and 'dirty tricks'], or as questionably relatable to the broader New Zealand electorate - especially in comparison to Ardern [e.g. Simon Bridges, who gives off a compelling impression that he's finding his human suit to be a bit itchy form time to time].

In any case, the arguable strength, discipline, and cohesiveness with which the previous leadership transition from Key to English was carried out, was impressive.

I will be inordinately surprised if National manages to accomplish the same feat for a second time running.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

On National's Recent Leadership Rumblings

I was thinking about the recent rumblings in the National Party towards their 'leadership team', and something didn't quite add up.

The main reasons why you'll see challenges mounted towards a Party's Leader and Deputy is pretty simple - the Party either did poorly at the last Election ... or looks set to do poorly at the next one. There's a subsidiary reason-set concerned with the personalities occupying those positions facing immediate and seemingly insurmountable scandals (perhaps one might say this is what happened to Don Brash during the 2005-2008 Term) - but those tend to tie themselves right back to that second reason.

In National's case, it's doubtful whether either reason is the case.

It's true to state that they did not "win" the 2017 General Election - insofar as they are not, presently, the bedrock of a Governing Coalition.

But the plain fact is that they did not exactly "lose" support themselves last year, except in purely percentage terms. In actuality, their number of votes went *up* on 2014, and only shrank as a proportion of the overall vote due to increased turnout.

So while ordinarily, there would arguably be a prima facie case for a defeated National Party to be looking around for a head to fall upon the chopping-block following an unsuccessful Election campaign ... I'm not quite sure that a reasonable observer would agree that it needs to be the case here. After all, Bill English did *well* better than many people expected; and the "loss", in practical terms took place at the Coalition Negotiation stage rather than at the ballot-box or on Election Night proper.

Certainly, a *certain former Minister* who was doing a lot of campaign managing for National over the last few years, *does* look like a potentially viable target for National internal scorn right now - but he is neither Bill English nor Paula Bennett, and therefore a leadership challenge would not directly put paid to him.

Now this leads me on to the *second* frequent-potential-reason-for-an-attempted Coup - namely, worried MPs freaking out that they're not in a viable position to win the next Election.

And for various reasons, I genuinely don't think that many Nats are in *that* basket either.

The main reason we can tell this, I think, is that if they *were* we'd probably have started to see a few List MPs either resign or begin making noises about doing so. Either because they think there's something better they can be doing now and they want to go out before National slides any further ... or because they don't think that waiting around for three years will actually get them their old jobs and perks back.

Or, from a less 'voluntary'/'altruistic' perspective .. because they've been low-key *forced out* in order to make way for "rejuvenation" by bringing in new Backbenchers and promoting upwards on the List into Shadow Cabinet and the like from the extant crop.

The fact that we *haven't* seen this indicates - to me at least - that there's a fairly high level of confidence in the National Party that they won't do significantly *worse* in 2020 than they did in 2017, and with other changes in the psephological terrain ... may even find themselves back in Pole Position once more.

National's polling in the most recent Reid Research remaining steady [in fact, going *up* by 0.1%] despite Labour's climb would further serve to underpin this.

Although against this, I suppose, you have Bill English [never the most charismatic of operators] sliding back into the mid-twenties for Preferred Prime Minister - but again, this was never a particular strength of his, and would *always* have happened against Ardern.

Anyway, that brings me to the crux of the matter.

The problem for whichever Nats are attempting to spread rumours of discontent about English/Bennett ... is NOT likely to be as retribution for a poor electoral performance last year - because there wasn't one. It's ALSO not likely to be a pre-emptive strike and 'clearing of house' to set up for frantic efforts to improve the party's prospects in 2020 - because that arguably isn't necessary. Bill English connects with the right National voter demographics, and will probably connect with even more if NZF's brief run at the "Center-Right" bloc of support continues to unravel with its present speed.

This leaves the somewhat rare potential reasoning for a coup of personal animosity between one or more of the leadership team and one or more of the factions within National itself.

And here, I think, we have struck paydirt.

I doubt it will be Bill English, either - particularly after some of the stuff that has apparently come out about Paula Bennett [c.f her demand for 'skits' in Caucus meetings etc.]

If Bill is being threatened as well, despite his positive results [relatively speaking] a few months ago, then it suggests that somebody's had a quiet word to him about escalating discontentment about Bennett, and he's made the decision to stand by his Deputy even despite the criticism.

Thus implicitly creating a scenario wherein National is effectively presented with the choice of supporting Bill and therefore *also* Bennett ... or potentially seeing how they feel about getting rid of both simultaneously.

Compromise options in the middle are, as ever, a potential medium-grade possibility (you don't get far in National without at least a *certain* facility at going back on previously held positions in pursuit of personal advancement or the maintenance of one's loftily-held position, after all).

But with the possibility of *making things worse* for National both internally and at the next Election by getting rid of English/Bennett no doubt *also* weighing upon the average Nat MP's mind ... perhaps no serious moves will be undertaken just yet, pending any marked scandal or poll deterioration over the coming Term.

And further complicating the issue will be the paucity of potential replacements for Bill that National can conceivably unite around - with Judith Collins predictably having her own iteration of the #ABC political phenomenon, for a start; Simon Bridges perhaps being too unctuous as well as arguably too young [I somehow doubt whether National likes the optics on attempting to get a relatively young leader in as much as Labour did], and Nikki Kaye arguably likewise [and, for that matter, a metropolitan Aucklander].

Still, I have no doubt that Bennett will have gotten both a shock and a sudden rage-spike at what's happened here. Somebody on one of my threads referred to her as a "sociopathic kindergarten teacher"; and I've previously seen memery to the effect of a Dolores Umbridge kinda characterization.

She'll presumably become ever-more-insufferable as a result of somebody attempting a nuking-by-media against her; which may yet further inflame internal tensions within National, and might hopefully contribute more towards her eventual ouster.

As they say ... couldn't have happened to a nastier person.

---

Also, as a side-note/addendum about this business of Bennett wanting "skits" performed at National Party Caucus meetings ...
I did wonder whether the logical takeaway about this was ...

... that she's actually acutely aware that the average Nat Minister isn't sharp enough to actually *get* anything you present to them, unless it's in a suitably over-dramatic, live-acted-out-in-front-of-you form.

Why do we have a housing crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress them up as bricks-and-mortar and/or overseas investors or something, and demonstrate how "affordability" works with camp dialogue in front of Nick Smith.

Why do we have a river-is-full-of-effluent crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress 'em up as a river, and then uh ... well, I'm sure imaginations would have been deployed to demonstrate (again, for Nick Smith) the next part.

Part of me, when I first read about this, was rather aghast that my mental characterization of Paula Bennett as the sort of overbearing INFANTILIZER OF ALL SHE SURVEYS actually *did* seem to be entirely, 100% accurate

But like I say. I'm now wondering whether she was just simply aware of the best method to get results out of some of her even *more* lackluster colleagues.