Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Pegasus Proclivity - On Recent Revelations Of Israeli International Espionage

By now, news of the Pegasus spying scandal has made its way across the world. And I think that, rather than the Western-oriented outcry which is currently also sweeping the media-sphere, taking a look at India's situation is quite instructive here in order to garner a more true picture of what's actually been going on.

In Indian politics at the moment, there is a bit of a scandal because it appears that the government used Pegasus to spy upon the lead Opposition leader.

That's .. well, that's understandable to cause outrage in a democracy (we had some degree of experience with this here in New Zealand - although then it was domestic intelligence rather than a foreign actor which was employed).

Except then it turned out that also under surveillance via Pegasus .. was the Indian Government's own IT Minister.

Now, I do not think - although I shall have to check - that it was his own government spying upon him.

It has also emerged that among Pegasus' list of users are ... quite an array of states, including Pakistan. Is Pakistan using the same service to spy upon the Indian Government as the Indian Government is using to spy on the Indian Opposition?

About the only thing we can say for sure is that the Israeli company which runs Pegasus - and which, contra to their assertions, appears to have had full access to all material collated through its service - has been working with quite an array of regimes, including regimes that are against other regimes it is also working with ... and is effectively spying upon everybody, and being paid to do so by those who are also, it would seem, its targets.

A truly masterful setup!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

On The Manufactured Outrage Against The Government's Covid-19 Communications Budget

I must confess myself slightly perplexed at the "outrage" that the Government put $250,000 into working out how to do comms for its Covid-19 strategy. I mean, think about what was involved at every step - what New Zealanders were being asked to do.

You're asking 5 million people to lockdown, then social distance/mask up/scan/vaccinate .. all new behaviors at a national level and requiring outreach to quite a range of communities across the country. It's not just communicating what to do but why it's necessary.

And hopefully actually encouraging the vast majority of New Zealanders, regardless of political preference, to buy into that response and actively help carry it out.

I'm sure somebody out there is muttering about how "could have just stuck Jacinda in front of a camera to say any old thing and people'd have bought it" - but that's simply not the case.

I'm also not sure how far people think $250,000 really goes as far as political communication and education is concerned.

The referendums staged last year cost more than ten times that in terms of comms - and that was for something as simple as two ticks in boxes on one day.

The National Party alone spent more than $250k on just its party facebook advertising for the last Election (i.e. not including individual candidates buying ads on the platform, or anything else, anywhere else).

The inference opponents of the Government seem to have drawn on this issue is that spending money is held to be necessary in order to secure some form of unfair advantage in communication - because, of course, it's "unfair" if we co-ordinate a successful public health strategy...

They - still - feel 'crowded out' by the Government's ability to put out crisis messaging during a crisis which, quelle horror, actually gets listened to and acted upon by a reasonable swathe of the population (even people who don't then go on to vote for said govt in election).

Seymour has a slightly different tac on it, of course - that being the general opposition to taxpayer expenditure , but also loudly proclaiming that this 'proves' that the Government's Covid-19 response hasn't been based on science but rather on sentiment.

Now that's doubly curious - because first and foremost, interviews with leading scientists in the relevant fields in the Herald today had said scientists supporting using public money to craft and hone a decent public communication effort.

It's literally listening to science.

Yet second, Seymour has set up an implicit duality between "following the science" and "listening to New Zealanders". He is opposed, in a democracy, to the democratic will of the people guiding Governance. I'm not sure how else to put it.

Now, we're going to hear a LOT more of that kind of thing going forward, for the simple expedient that various portions of our right-wing commentariat have realized that what THEY want to do ("learn to live with it", "open the border", "roll the Government", "kill an orca", etc.) ...

... is pretty heavily unpopular with much of the electorate and won't fly democratically. Most of it won't fly scientifically, either; meaning that a comms strategy which listens to the electorate and is scientifically valid MUST be attacked as somehow neither of these things.

Instead, we get what's tantamount to declamations of the World's Most Cost-Efficient Brainwashing Campaign. A mere $250,000 to hoodwink (indeed, to congeal) the Team of Five Million - twenty cents per person in and of this fair land to establish the JacindaRaj.

Although what REALLY sticks in their collective craw is the deep and abiding knowledge that even were they to spend ten times that amount themselves, they'd be unable to beat the Government and its tangible track-record of both communicative and Covid-related success.

Hence - what we have here is an attempt to generate well more than a quarter million dollars in outrage ... for free - fact-free and otherwise. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

"There Is No Mental Health Funding In New Zealand"

Over the past few weeks we've seen a heightened level of scrutiny for the seeming non-spending of public money on an escalating public health crisis. Or, if you're the National Party, public health money instead being spent on financing the phantasms of organized crime rather than Mike King's Gumboot Friday initiative. Now, leaving aside the ins and outs of that escalating series of brouhahas (wherein it doesn't appear that anything untoward has happened with $2.75 million dollars going toward methamphetamine rehab, and Mike King doesn't appear to have applied for Ministry of Health funding for his project) ... we're nevertheless left with a pretty important question.

Namely, if everybody seemingly agrees that mental health in New Zealand is at a bit of a crisis point - why isn't the Government 'Doing Something' about it?

Does Mike King have a point when he proclaims to all and sundry that the Government is one of inaction here?

Part of the trouble is that what he's protesting about ... isn't really addressable via funding increases. They certainly help and are vitally necessary - but we're finding out right now that the Government can literally make available tens of millions of dollars in additional mental health funding ...

... yet only expand total capacity by a few beds across the entire country. This is something  that recently happened and they've been castigated for it.

Except that's ... the problem.

There's an old English saying "if you want a good longbowman, start with his grandfather". It's not quite so dire with this sector, but basically to get more mental health workers, it takes several years for people to go through training and qualify as such - particularly if they're becoming highly skilled and more specialized, which is what's needed for the high-needs stuff.

It also obviously takes awhile to build facilities that are fit for purpose; and while in the old days, the Before Times prior to 2020, the skilled labour input issue could be semi solved via importing people with the relevant qualifications and experience

... that's uh ... that's not really much of an option right now. In part because - and this is a broader medical sector problem - we're apparently not able to offer hugely competitive wages relative to cost of living for people who might want to come here (and also because, you know, the border's mostly closed to non-citizens/residents), and we're also losing workers to Australia etc.

The trouble is that the whole "we can't offer hugely competitive wages relative to cost of living" thing is that people only hear the former, and - justifiably - think the Government should pay nurses and mental health workers more. I agree.

Except unless cost of living across the board is somehow addressed, it doesn't actually make that much difference. It's simply much cheaper to live in many other countries, regardless of wages, so you're still further ahead.

Additionally ... private sector mental health support is basically either unaffordable / inaccessible for a lot of people to meaningfully engage with (seriously, counselling's like $80 an hour-long session and goes up from there, and I'm not sure how many people with pretty intractable problems manage to sort what ails them inside only a few of those; for actual more specialized psychology it's .. hundreds of dollars for even a half-hour) - so it's a bit difficult to pay them more, unless I suppose, we start rolling out broader subsidies so that many more Kiwis can basically go through the private system rather than the public one, part-paying themselves and part-paid-for by the taxpayer.

Which isn't a bad idea at all.

Except for the slight issue that it's already rather difficult to get expeditious appointments a lot of places precisely due to demand relative to supply, which leads us back to point number one.

All up, we're seeing the net impacts of a rather massive under-investment and under-support of the health sector in general , and mental health specifically , for ... many many years now; and because Labour indicated they were keen to doing something about it, they've come under a lot of pressure for not having sorted the entire thing out inside a single Parliamentary term.

It's totally understandable - and even, I'd argue, justifiable - to feel frustrated with the pace things have been going at.

However, I'm not entirely sure how much faster or more efficient things could actually really be - in the short term, anyway.

The simple, lamentable truth is that there is no Golden Bullet in this situation. If there were, I'd like to imagine that the Government would have fired it already.

Unfortunately, delays in this sphere can quite literally be lethal. However, I'd also have to question whether making a politicized hot-button issue out of an impossibility - that is to say, hammering the Government for something they don't necessarily have a huge degree of control over - is really the best use of anybody's time or mental-psychoemotive bandwidth.

I leave it for other, more informed minds to let us know what could be feasibly done in the short or even medium term to change this situation for the better. Whether there's some easy institutional fixes to expand accession and capacity, make it more affordable for people to get into what's already out there perhaps.

The point is - it's not such a black-and-white situation as people either want to believe, or have been lead to believe. We don't really do very well with communicating complex, nuanced issues through either our adversarial politics or our often 'gotcha-' oriented commentariat/media. And that can lead to - as in this case - a misimpression that the Government is being callous (rather than cautious, or constrained by circumstance). A perception most definitely fostered by those either genuinely passionate about attempting to prod and/or bull-whip them into doing more, more quickly (i.e. King), or some certain other voices who are basically just looking for any excuse to attempt to dent our Government. Potentially so that they can then have themselves a go of presiding over non-action instead.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"They Are Not Us" - On The True Meaning Of An Impending Filmic Catastrophe

By now, many of will have seen the latest tranche of revelations from the leaked script for 'They Are Us'. They give new meaning to Marx's famous aphorism that history occurs the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. 

I shall not say that it gets worse following the opening massacre. But the escalating tide of malfeasance certainly becomes more perplexing in its scope and ambit. We can understand intellectually - even as we disagree with - the logic of putting a reconstruction of the tragedy onto celluloid. It is supposed to be a film about the response to that atrocity, after all. Although that does not make it compassionate or in good taste to include said scene - and nor does it justify the 'liberties' taken with the dying moments of cherished loved ones for tawdry dramatic impact. 

Yet it is these subsequent scenes of which we have heard today which serve to illustrate the true purpose of this film's production. 

In it, we hear Simon Bridges - or, rather, an actor playing a character called Simon Bridges, who appears to be but loosely based upon the real man - making statements like, and I quote "Come for our guns, you might get bullets." Or, in case you hadn't quite got the undercurrent - "If one of those worshippers had one of these they could have stopped this tragedy in seconds."

Now, these are not lines the real Simon Bridges - dare I say "our" Simon Bridges - has ever, to my knowledge, uttered. Quite the contrary in fact. National, despite some criticism from some of its more traditional support base, supported the changes in firearms legislation brought in following the massacre. One could fairly suggest, as journalist Henry Cooke did, that Bridges might almost have a case for defamation in terms of how inaccurately he is portrayed here. It's so bad that the lefty-liberal sector of Kiwi twitter is up in arms defending Simon Bridges

And nor is this calumny confined exclusively to the then-Leader of the Opposition. 

David Seymour appears to have been transmogrified into a Christian evangelical up in arms about Ardern on a religious basis. Now I don't deny that Seymour can come across as something of a fundamentalist - but he is a free market fundamentalist, not a Christian one. And nothing like the figure they're put in his place - who is so sufficiently divergent that at least the writers chose to rename him as 'Solomon Marsh'. 

Winston, meanwhile, has ... an array of appearances within the leaked material, including uttering a Maori proverb in Te Reo during the course of a crisis meeting. And while I absolutely don't disagree that Winston could certainly intone something resonant during a big event, having seen him do it with my own eyes ... it's always been European 'high culture' (or, in one case, admittedly, Star Wars) or something from the Old Testament. Presumably the writers felt that an older Maori politician in a key supporting role would make for an admirable opening for some sort of "Magical Native American" / "Noble Savage" style trope. 

Although that's partially because I'm not sure an American audience would know what to make of, nor how to handle Winston. He isn't Trump. He can occasionally sound like Trump. But he's the wrong colour (neither orange nor white) to actually be Trump in their own domestic political narrative even before we get to both his role in the story and his actual politics in years previous. 

But you see, that's the key to what's going on here - indeed, why this film has somehow been green-lit in the first place.

It's been billed as based on (recent) history - a retelling, perhaps, or an exploration. In truth, it is neither.

What it's actually based on is American politics. What it actually seeks to explore is their own domestic situation - or, rather, how some over there would assumedly quite like their domestic situation to perhaps (one day) be. 

We have become, collectively, a dramatic device. We, in this film at least, from the greatest to the least of us - We Are Not Us. We are just window-dressing, staging-props, a veneer of Kiwiness to be draped over more audience-familiar American set-pieces congealed and carved out precisely for that decidedly foreign (to us, to these events, at any rate) 'domestic' market. 

It is an appropriation and an exploitation wherein anywhere and everywhere and anything becomes nowt but a tawdry bowdlerized morality-play setting for the Americans' own domestic circumstances.

The only story they are interested in telling is their own one, endlessly re-garbed as from somewhere else.

Hence why we have Simon Bridges, who in real life supported the government's firearms law change, being reduced to a mouthpiece for NRA style memetic talking-points. Because there has to be a 'villain' - and instead of the actual criminal of March 15 in such a role, we have a pantomime political pastiche.

In truth, this is not a novel experience in some ways. Authors and dramatists have done this sort of thing for centuries. Shakespeare wrote plays notionally set in Ancient Rome yet treating issues much more immediately relevant to Elizabethan England - and featuring his actors anachronistically garbed in pantaloons and hearing clocktowers chime, to boot. Although I do not seek to compare those works to "They Are Us". The former are, unquestionably, works of great literature whatever their inaccuracies. The latter, shall only prove memorable precisely due to the egregiousness of its inaccuracies and outright foundational insensitivity to various of its notional subjects.

Effects which can have us all legitimately up in arms about how our country, our people, and our politics are being downright vandalized in their disfigurement for entertainment-educative purpose. Because the "Us" of "They Are Us", as we can quite clearly demonstrate, are not in fact "Us" at all.

Now this should not be read, of course, as an attempt to impute that the various political figures "portrayed" in this script are the most salient victims in all of this. They have unquestionably been unfairly mis-represented, in some cases to quite ludicrous extent. Yet that pales in scope to what the victims of March 15 have found themselves in for as the result of this clumsy co-option of their story in order for the Americans to tell themselves something about themselves with the availment of popcorn and a cinematic score. 

Should this film somehow still manage to go ahead, it shall prove to be not only a 'farce' but also a tragedy and a travesty into the bargain.  

Thursday, June 24, 2021

On Responsibility For This Most Recent Covid Cross-Border Contretemps

Late Tuesday night, it was confirmed that a traveler from NSW with Covid-19 had boarded a flight to New Zealand and spent a weekend in Wellington. This is, obviously, not great - although a study of the causation of this occurrence is, perhaps, revealing.

Because even though the problem is here, and is our problem now - I am not sure that we really caused it. Well .. most of us, anyway.

It would be nice if persons who'd been shrilly advocating for a bubble with Australia would exercise personal responsibility.

However, there's no political points in that, so no doubt they'll blame Jacinda.

For something that's NSW's fault and we gave up control over.

This is the issue with The Bubble. We gave up our ability to exercise control over the situation - instead parceling out responsibility and reliance to several other governments we felt we could trust as collaborative partners in this sphere.

Some Australian states, like Victoria, don't appear to have been too bad at this - when they have an outbreak, they do something about it; and our biggest risk comes from people attempting to avoid the "Doing Something" who then jump on planes from elsewhere in Oz.

However, it's been clear for some time now that New South Wales has a rather .. different modus operandi - and prefer to avoid heavier intervention control measures for as long as possible.

Which is quite different to how we do things - or how we want (them) to do things.

It has been said that a true team is only as strong as its weakest member. We're now no longer the 'team of five million' . We're the 'team of two countries, and eight state/territory governments'.

And one of these, frankly, has dropped the ball.

As has been pointed out, with less than two dozen attested cases out there in NSW, in amidst a population of more than eight million (and far fewer mid-late last week when this person began to travel here) ... it's either phenomenally bad luck that a Covid-positive person managed to get on a flight to New Zealand from there ...

... or the true level of Covid prevalency in NSW is rather higher than has been assayed via official testing, and that state government is notably less in control of their situation than they've lead us (and perhaps even lead themselves) to actually believe.

Now it can be argued, I think, that our Government did not "go hard, go early" as applies cutting off travel from New South Wales as soon as it became apparent that there was community spread there.

Although they'd have been pilloried had they done so for "unfairness" and "overreaction" [although what else is new], as there were literally only a handful of cases attested in NSW in the 2-3 days before the covid-positive person got on a plane to NZ.

We took NSW at its word that it had its outbreak contained - and that there would therefore be no unreasonable levy of risk for us to continue operating our bubble at that time.

We then made our own call yesterday - potentially before it was confirmed that a Covid-19 positive passenger had already travelled here (the announcement came literally a few minutes out from when Australia reportedly notified New Zealand about the case that'd been here) - to suspend the travel bubble for three days as an interim pause due to NSW's evident escalating circumstances.

That has unquestionably been the right decision to make - and it is just unfortunate that it was not made earlier.

Although, as I say - due to the numbers involved in NSW's outbreak, it would have been very difficult indeed to actually have set out the case for suspending the bubble early on enough in proceedings for it to actually have made a difference here.

If one were to actually attempt proactive prevention of this kind to its actually-efficacious extent, then one might as well just auto-suspend travel with any Australian state or territory as soon as they report a single community case. Or even before then, since by the time community transmission is picked up, there can already have been any number of persons infected with the virus and potentially carrying it on further into their local communities of operation or destination-locale.

And at that point, you begin to wonder what the point of even having a 'travel bubble' in the first place was supposed to be.

Which might be no bad thing, considering only a minority of Kiwis were actually that keen on the idea to begin with when the tourism industry and Opposition were attempting to prod our Government into premature action in enacting one, many months ago now.

After all, I am not entirely sure it'll prove to have been 'worth it' to get some few Australian tourists coming over here for a weekend away and visiting Te Papa (now closed as a 'location of interest') if the cost to our nation proves to be a city-wide lockdown of Wellington, etc.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

On Recent Claims Of Western Academia Being More "Nuts" Than North Korea Due To "Woke"

Recently, I had seen via several channels some remarks from a prominent North Korean defector declaring boldly that American universities (and presumably, by extension, much of the West's intellectual culture) were more laden with indoctrination and psychological conditioning than her own native DPRK.

There are a few things to be said about this, although let me first acknowledge that one of those channels which ran the story - the New Zealand Herald - is not technically a mono-cultic perspective, because at least it tends to allow other contributors to demonstrate via comparison when Mike Hosking is just blatantly making things up (as we saw this week as applies his remarks on the Government's economic performance).

Now, as it happens, I do agree with the sentiment that Western universities contain within them quite potent processes and institutes designed to condition their subjects (and here I mean both students and subject-matter they are there engaged with), with a view to limiting free-thought. It is just that, for the most part, these are probably NOT the ones which either Park, the DPRK defector in question (and more on her in a moment), or Fox News (the original source for the interview in question) tend to be concerned with.

When I did papers in macroeconomics and political economy at Auckland University, it was quite plain that 'indoctrination' and a certain level of cultish thinking prevailed within the discipline. Asset sales were the political hot-topic of the day (which shows how long ago this was - a decade ... not the uh, 1980s or 90s rounds of these, although I suppose that that, too, shows that things keep going around and around again), and we literally had a senior lecturer enjoin us to believe that they were almost an unqualified good, that opposition to them was just "wrong", and that we should go out and remonstrate with opponents to the maneuver to see the error of their ways, armed with a few paragraphs from an introductory macroeconomics textbook. Of course, some counterbalance was provided from the political economy department - which has made, as a discipline, quite a speciality out of pointing out exactly these sorts of fallacious and damn near religious perspectives for what they are, and showing how the 'accepted truths' of modern, neoliberal economics really don't work very well in the actual, real world.

But, as I say - I doubt most strongly whether that kind of 'indoctrination' and cult-like thinking is what Park or Fox would be concerned by. After all, it is a set of norms which, however questionable, are foundationally congruent with their preferred world-views. Which is precisely what universities, when functioning at their best, are supposed to challenge. Not necessarily overturn, mind you (although it would be very nice if, as applies the aforementioned neoliberal economics sphere, that was managed) - but at least get us to be thinking critically.

The second thing to be raised, I suspect, is that the notion of a mono-myopic perspective being inculcated within the academic world is hardly a novel one. Solzhenitsyn, the famous Soviet defector, called out just such a tendency half a century ago upon arriving in and experiencing America. The author of the Gulag Archipelago, it was anticipated by his Western audiences that he would get up and deliver stinging rebukes of Stalinism and socialism more generally in favour of the sorts of freedom he most readily beheld in his new country of domiciling. As applies his Commencement Address to Harvard University in 1978, however, he did almost the exact opposite.

Instead of getting up to biliously congratulate the West for ... basically not being Soviet Russia, he instead took the stage and the lecturn to castigate the West for failing to live up to various vitally necessary dimensions in human existence. Indeed, he directly made the comparison between the West and the Soviet East, stating that in terms of the former's effective abjuration of these elements, it had increasingly come to resemble the latter.

Yet whereas Park, formerly of the DPRK, criticizes her own Ivy League institution for "anti-Western", "anti-American" and anti-Jane Austen propaganda provision ... Solzhenitsyn took the decidedly opposite point of view: showing how Western (and more specifically, although definitely not exclusively, American) Triumphalism had blinded these spheres and their institutions to their own ongoing decline. He put especial attention upon the 'spiritual' decline which he saw as having occurred due to a suppressive 'crowding out' of this dimension of human experience and necessity from the Academe's enthusiasm. I do not think that he was wrong to do so.

Fox, of course, would probably claim to agree with the latter element - although I say "claim to agree", rather than actually agree, because they are most certainly emblematic and expressive of the very same hyper-materialist and anti-critical conniption which Solzhenitsyn was seeking to call out at the time. These are, after all, the same people who appear to think that Donald Trump was an admirable vector for Christian values. And they would likewise, perhaps agree with the remarks Solzhenitsyn had made in that same speech concerning 'stupifying' American television and an intrusive media ... except as applies themselves, naturally. I shall quote some relevant sections of his speech later.

But the major reason for raising the specter of Solzhenitsyn here is precisely because Park is his 'mirror image'. And by 'mirror image', I mean where 'everything is the wrong way around'.

Like Park, Solzhenitsyn was a defector from a non-Western sphere regarded as being an autocratic, totalitarian regime. Yet Solzhenitsyn, in his remarks, proved that he was not merely there to tell a comforting morality tale in which his new home was irreducibly superior in every way to any possible rival. Quite the contrary. He saw his role as being one predicated upon being able to tell the Americans things about themselves - their true selves - which only a foreigner, an outsider, could have perceived .. and which, only a true friend would dare to voice in their presence. One, perhaps, who had already faced the Stalinist gulag system and therefore felt it less likely that anything, any 'unpersoning' by intelligentsia or popular-press, could be quite so threatening.

Park, meanwhile, has come amongst us - or, rather, amongst (the) US - in order to comfortably reaffirm what her audience already wishes to be true. Namely, that America, were it freed from some shadowy and parasitic 'alien' force, could be(come) Great Again; and that a critical view upon American culture or geopolitical saliency is tantamount to treason. That there is nothing joining an academic elite to the ordinary person in her intended audience except the flow of contempt in at least one direction of this dyad. Perhaps, in some cases, she is right; yet I suspect that the active driving of a wedge between institutions of academic endeavour and 'ordinary people', is the sort of grift run by people who want to be the sole gate-keepers of what is 'acceptable' intelligent thinking ... and often because they are seeking to actively undermine what might be 'intelligent' about much of that thinking. This is my perception based around exactly this tendency seeming to exist when it comes to macroeconomics - wherein the great and lively internal debates to the field are all effectively silenced by a few people whose immense funding by well-endowed think-tanks and other such institutes, control and condition so much of the "acceptable" discourse.

Now, it may seem rather unfair for me to characterize Park in these terms - what do I know of her or of her motivations? Perhaps she really DID experience somebody telling her off for an enthusiasm for Jane Austen during her orientation at her university. Stranger things have most assuredly happened. (Although I do feel it of interest to point out that the academic study of Jane Austen is, quite literally, something steeped in colonialism - it was congealed during the Macaulayist era of the British Raj's education policy, because they felt it was an ideal corpus to attempt to render more 'English' the Indians then going through the Raj's reworked (I would say 'vandalized') Indian tertiary education system. There had been little need for Austen to be taught as literature prior to this - as it wasn't really thought of as being an enduring and worthy portion of the Western Canon, or even the specifically English one .. but I digress).

But having looked a bit into Park and her backstory - or, rather, her backstories - I would suggest that she strikes me as a figure who has been quite adroit at telling her impressionable audience what they want to hear. She claims that her perceptions of the DPRK were formulated as the result of witnessing her best friend's mother publicly executed ... for watching a James Bond film (on other occasions, unspecified South Korean DVDs); and by having to endure literal grass-eating starvation in the early 2000s following separation from her parents. The former claim has been challenged by both other DPRK defectors and academic experts upon the DPRK, who note that while yes consuming such media would not be consequence free ... it would almost certainly not lead to an execution, and that the circumstances of the execution as presented by Park are similarly not credible. The latter claim has elements which have been contradicted by Park herself in other interviews (seriously - talking to the BBC, she stated she'd been under the care of her aunt, with her sister ; talking two days later to the Irish Independent, the story changed to there having explicitly been no adults involved requiring her to provide for herself and her younger sister, who were now together in the past apparently), as well as by her mother - who has emphatically denied any such starvation situation occurred, as well as noting that Park's perspective appears to have been considerably shaped and informed by what other DPRK defectors were saying when appearing on a South Korean tv show. In other appearances, Park had instead characterized her situation at the time as having only been able to afford two meals a day and pitying those who were actually starving when seen in the street.

Similarly, Park's actual escape from the DPRK has undergone some "evolutions" in the telling - going from being a journey undertaken by herself, her mother and her father, through to one featuring just herself and her mother and sexual violence endured en-route. A number of mountains have also been added to the story, which as others have observed is rather curious given the distinct lack of mountainous topography in the riverine border-zone between where she escaped from in the DPRK and where she fled to in the People's Republic of China. The story also now features a several-day crossing of the Gobi Desert carried out in decidedly sub-zero temperatures.

I am not in any great position to assay the relative truth or merits of Park's various claims about her past and her struggles to get to where she is today. Others have done that for me. I am reliant upon their work and their words. Yet while there are a few potential explanations for their multifariousness, inconsistency, and questionable content - including that all of these things were happening to a young girl in her early teens, and would have been heavily traumatic; and that there's a noted psychological pressure on DPRK defectors to possess such stories and thence to share them - it is difficult to avoid the perception that a large part of Park's success has been precisely facilitated by her 'celebrity defector' status. A status heavily predicated upon "giving the people what they want" in these regards.

It is therefore not too hard to make the cognitive leap from there, through to "even North Korea was not this nuts!" being a catchy tagline for deploying bankable criticism of her own Ivy League education, regardless of what "nuts" she may or may not actually have encountered (or which may or may not actually exist) anywhere in sight at same.

For what it's worth, considering some of the things which seem to go on in some Humanities disciplines these days, there's probably some truth to some of the sentiments banded up with hers. It's in a similar manner to how even despite the significant doubts about Park's description of her life in and then escape from the DPRK ... there's definite truth to the notion of there being a less-than-ideal food situation in the DPRK at the relevant time. What it misses out, of course, is just how much foreign sanctions contributed to that.

And that's entirely the issue here - "why" and "how" something has happened, the extent to which it has actually occurred, and where it might be going from there ... these are not things that can or should be reduced down to sensationalized headlines. For to do so is to miss any semblance of actual, informative and useful meaning nor explication. In favour of a quick emotive 'hit' of exactly the kind Solzhenitsyn was endeavouring to warn Americans that their press had increasingly geared itself up to act as the pusher-purveyor thereof.

I said that I would quote a few excerpts of his speech, and to these we shall now turn. I do not (necessarily) agree with all of it, and it is worth considering that he was speaking of and dealing in, a time that is some decades distant and a very different (in some ways) cultural context to our own. Yet that's the thing about universities - they're there to expose us also to such things, not merely reinforce the 'cult of the now' as it pertains to us most pressingly in the present. When they're functioning properly, at any rate.

"The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history -- or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may -- One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none -- and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers' memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press -- The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters  pertaining to one's nation's defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: "Everyone is entitled to know everything." But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it's a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary. And one would then like to ask: By what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the communist East a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the East, where the press is rigorously unified. One gradually discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment; there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership because newspaper[s] mostly develop stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to flock together and shut off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events."

I quote those passages because, of course, by amplifying this kind of perspective of Park's, and various other things which Fox News and its ilk have engaged in over the years - they are engaging in exactly this kind of 'cancellation' via 'cone- (or 'conspiracy'-) of silence' that Solzhenitsyn here warned against. 

Friday, June 4, 2021

On Recent Investigations Into The Lab-Leak Covid-19 Origins Theory

 Probably the most interesting part of the recent investigation into the possibility of a "lab-leak" origin for Covid-19 ... has nothing to do with the origins of Covid-19:

Apparently, efforts by the American NSC to actually seriously investigate said possibility kept being hampered by other American institutions and experts *urging them not to look too heavily into* gain-of-function research, because it might inadvertently shine a light on America's own developments in this area.

Now, I've previously said that this entire phase of operations reminds me a little *too* much of the climate circa 2002 - when American intelligence agencies had claims about 'proof' that Saddam Hussein was running a serious Weapons of Mass Destruction programme (and it's interesting that the NSC branch charged with investigating 'lab-leak' is from the WMD directorate) ... only for it to turn out that the *only* material of that kind to be found in Iraq were the leftovers of what the Americans and their allies had sold Saddam several decades prior.

I personally think that the People's Republic of China has done itself a significant disservice by running what looks rather like a "deny everything and make wild counteraccusations" stance - as their lack of transparency around particular areas pertaining to the virus' potential origins has only provided space for conspiratorial thinking to fill in the gaps.

However, it is rather ... bemusing that their shouted claims about American origins for Covid-19 - while almost certainly untrue - do parallel the evident advanced state of gain-of-function research in the US at the time.

All up, the scrabbling over "who to blame" for the Covid-19 outbreak is - just as it was this time a year ago - an empty sport being played for psychopolitical gain.

If somebody *else* is responsible for the ultimate origins of the pandemic, then somebody *else* is responsible for all the destruction and loss of life which it has caused, goes the emotional timbre of  this approach.

Which ignores the fact that *however* the virus got its start - most of its active consequences have been the result of very human, and occasionally very deliberate decisions undertaken many thousands of kilometers from Wuhan: in the capitals of countries which have had to deal with it since.

It's certainly possible - indeed, I would say that it is quite appropriate - to be quite negative about the PRC's initial handling of the situation, which facilitated the virus' international spread. Although credit where credit's due, the PRC's subsequent internal management was a significant improvement - and their 'vaccine diplomacy' is actually having a tangibly beneficial impact in some countries even as we speak.

However, even though the PRC may have played host to the virus in its early days, and even though the PRC may have initially protested when we suspended travel from China ... in most of the world, the PRC was not responsible for various countries bungling their own local Covid-19 responses.

The Hunt For Covid-19's Origins, while it *does* have legitimate scientific and especially epidemiological necessity to it - is also, as I have said, a psychopolitical sport.

Because if the PRC can be fingered as the dastardly mad scientist (or, at least, careless overseer of same) in this story, then somebody *else* - somebody *other* than lackadaisical or callous home-grown government personnel - is "responsible".

It wasn't the fault of some political factotum who declared they wanted to prioritize keeping 'the economy' breathing easy and open at the tangible expense of human wellbeing - it was the fault of some shadowy lab administrator half a world away in China that there was even a virus to speak of to begin with.

I expect that this is going to become ever more of a thought-terminating cliche as the smoke clears in various polities and serious, searching questions around crisis-response and disaster-readiness begin to be asked therein.

Every time there is a strenuous probing interrogative, the answer shall come to rhetorically bat it away - "why are you trying to take the focus off of the *true* culprits here, in Wuhan??"

As I think I have said before, elsewhere -

When it comes to this virus' origins, just as with a great many other things ... I do not trust the PRC's government.

However I *also* do not tend to trust US intelligence agencies or American politicians, either.