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.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

On Taiwan's Recent Covid-19 Cluster

Unfortunate to hear this news out of Taiwan this evening, with Taipei moving into lockdown. They really had been (and in many ways still are) a singular success story for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, reading this ... my thoughts turned to various things that our own domestic right wing / opposition had come out with over the past few months. Because everything that went wrong with Taiwan's response here (and it must be said - they've done very very well to get this far sans something like this eventuating), is something directly connectable to something somebody from National or ACT demanded we do. 

For a start - this cluster in Taiwan appears to have kicked off due in part to the opening of a tourism travel bubble with a Pacific nation. Something that people in National have been jumping up and demanding that we do poste haste, because who could believe that there'd be any risk in opening up to Fiji, right? 

For a second - the leap from quarantined air-crew to ordinary citizens appears to have taken place due to a privately owned hotel attempting to ... do something I don't quite understand around opening itself up for "air travel fans" who would like to sleep near an international airport so they can hear/see planes taking off. Not what one tends to be looking for in a hotel, but ok. 

Now, I viscerally remember some from National opining that we should open the border to international students - and have universities responsible for the quarantine/managed isolation requirement management in their own hostels. The idea was to shift some of the burden from the Government's MIF capacity on to private enterprise. Because of course, the profit motive means that there'll be a significant financial incentive for any private sector (or likes to think it's one in the case of the universities) operation not to screw up by doing something daft!

Which is not to say that we haven't had our share of "how on EARTH did that happen?!" from our Government-run border facilities, of course - only to suggest that "just because it's private, doesn't mean it's automagically more competent". 

For a third - we have heard a lot about Taiwan's world-beating contact-tracing systems. I have no doubt that they have performed seriously well to this point. Hence why David Seymour was suggesting that if only we moved to more fulsomely emulate Taiwan upon this score, we could significantly abandon our current Covid-management strategy. 

Except leaving aside the fact that ACT's libertarian support-base would probably be hugely opposed to what they'd term a "surveillance state" (unless it was run by private enterprise, presumably) - the issue is that with this current cluster in Taiwan, it sounds like they've had some problems with their contact-tracing processes, to the point that potentially infected persons who were in the same hotel buffet-queue with infected aircrew were finding out from the news rather than being called up or traced. 

Now this isn't about gloating about what's happening to Taiwan. Of course it isn't. They've done well, they'll likely continue to do well, and there's much which every nation may learn from their success. 

But it IS about pointing out that any system, any regimen CAN have gaps, shortfalls - and that the sorts of people back here in New Zealand who were attacking our own approach and claiming that if only we had emulated Taiwan (something we were and are, to be frank, not really in a position to do .. not completely, at any rate), we'd never have had a lockdown and could do all sorts of ramping-up-the-risk things like Pacific tourism bubbles or en-masse international student influxes ... 

Well, no, that's not how it works.

It's true to state, I suspect, that in various cases we've had where there were oversights with our own border management ... we've been significantly luckier than the Taiwanese were here. We have definitely benefitted from luck. But contra to what certain grumpy voices in the media have recently sought to suggest - we have never been solely dependent upon it for our (relative) success.

Where problems have happened, and where containment has been breached - we've moved to constrain the virus's spread and we have managed to do so with a thankfully limited human cost. Particularly following the end of the August outbreak. 

I am sure that the Taiwanese shall endeavour to do the same. 

All I can suggest is that we continue to improve our procedures and our processes - and remain vitally aware that caution, an abundance of caution as the Prime Minister put it back afore February's 'Valentines Day' lockdown cluster-response, remains our watchword. 

It is easy when one is successful to become complacent. And complacency leads to the unwarranted feeling that just because something hasn't happened thus far ... that axiomatically means that it isn't going to happen in the future, even and perhaps especially when some fundamental shifts are made in what one is doing that alter the risk-profile in question. Like opening up to other countries, for instance.

I look forward to the broader rollout of vaccination here meaning that we don't have to worry quite so much about individual border-control breaches. 

Yet it must also be remembered, upon that score, that until there is a more pervasive vaccination of much of the rest of the world - we're just buying time, effectively. 

Time we MUST use to build up our own defences - and yes, quite probably, seek to more actively emulate the Taiwanese' response-capacity in certain ways that are appropriate for us here. 

Our thoughts are with Taiwan at this time, just as mine - personally - are currently with India. 

Let us hope that they get back on top of things afore too long. 


Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Properties Of Tino Rangatiratanga - On Judith Collins' Convention Speech

I took a brief look through Judith Collins' speech to the New Zealand National Party's northern convention today and uh ...

"Article 2, Tino Rangatiratanga, confirms the property rights of all people. It establishes that all iwi, families and individuals have rights over their own land and property. Property rights are again a key democratic principle and core to National party values."

Now ... what I suspect has happened here is that Collins has not realized the problem.

That problem being that while, yeah, that's what Article Two broadly sets out in the English version - she's mixed it up a bit by terming this "Tino Rangatiratanga".

Which, again to be fair, is what is in the Te Reo Maori version of Article Two.

It's just that "Tino Rangatiratanga" very definitely does not (just) mean "Property Rights". And, if we are running on the Te Reo version of the text, I'm also very sure that the definition of 'taonga katoa' (i.e. what Maori thought they were maintaining rangatiratanga over) is quite a lot broader than "land and property".

I haven't actually checked the jurisprudence upon the matter in any great depth, but it does appear that for Treaty purposes, (Maori) Health does indeed constitute a Taonga [c.f the Wai 2575 Treaty claim]

Which, yes, we can have an open conversation about how to protect and uphold. Whether this is best done as part of a unitary state system ... with a specialized Maori component; or whether a patchwork of DHBs is the better answer, for example.

Or, to take things further - whether Iwi can themselves act, in a much closer manner to what the Te Reo Maori version of Article Two seems to have envisaged (intentionally or otherwise) as the active authorities themselves.

Previously, National hasn't had too much issue with this. It's an integral part of the settlement they were quite proud to negotiate with Tuhoe that the Iwi would be able to work in partnership with the Crown to deliver key services - including with relation to welfare and healthcare.

It's also something which somewhat underpinned the previous National-led government's very expansive welfare 'reform' project, Whanau Ora (which Collins talks up in her speech). Although that went far further in the degree to which it was open to non-Governmental components playing a role in Maori (but also Pasifika .. and in theory, other New Zealanders as well ... in theory) service delivery in that sphere.

Tariana Turia put it best, I feel -

"I'm a firm believer in the private or NGO sector carrying out a lot of functions of the state - that is what rangatiratanga is about."

Which probably explains why she got a standing ovation when she spoke to ACT's 2006 party convention.

And it's that kind of thinking which provides a potential 'Option Two' for the interpretation of the relevant portion of Collins' speech ... namely, that it's deliberate, and is part of a subtle culture-jamming 'privatization' of Maori political ethos. Although to be honest, I doubt the Nats of 2021 are clever (or long-term focused) for that.

Either way, the incipient 'redefinition' of a cornerstone of Maori political aspirations - whatever one may happen to think of various demands for 'Tino Rangatiratanga' and its various forms - into mere material attainment is something odious.

Although I suppose, upon closer inspection, that that's simply National all up - taking the supernal, the transcendental, the actively meaningful ... and saying "these are values, that means they're convertible into dollar-signs".

To bring things back to the specific Labour proposal which Collins is attempting to attack -

I must admit I haven't seen enough detail upon it to decide one way or the other whether I support it or not. I am not a fan of having separate this that and the other thing 'just because' - but also feel that this is not a case of 'just because' being the sum total of the justification for exploring the possibility of a Maori Health Authority.

Even leaving aside the direct claim that such a structure might be Treaty mandated (which I'm not sure that it would be, for reasons I'll soon address) - there is a practical dimension to the consideration. What we're doing at the moment for healthcare in general isn't succeeding optimally for many New Zealanders, and is failing quite dismally for a variety of reasons for many Maori over and above this as well.

If there is evidence to suggest that the Maori Health Authority proposal would meaningfully improve performance, then what is wrong with that? It would surely take a hard heart indeed to insist that a philosophical commitment to the same kind of 'egalitarianism' which holds things fair and equal as both the rich and the poor are legally prohibited from sleeping under bridges ... means that a useful health reform proposal cannot go ahead.

The way I've generally thought about the Treaty is that it has by necessity become a compromise between the two versions. In theory, the Te Reo Maori version has legal precedency - but it is quite plainly apparent that in reality, even its terms are not absolute. In the strictest literal sense of the words, 'Tino Rangatiratanga' remains held by the Crown - hence why some are still quite keen to protest for it.

The specific maintenance and performance of various Taonga related rights and duties have likewise been vested in the state. Hence why there was a wave of Treaty claims upon these when the state divested itself of these during the waves of privatization slash vandalism carried out in the 1980s and 1990s. Because if the State wasn't going to look after these things which had - somewhat involuntarily - become invested in it by Maori ... then Maori would quite understandably be rather keen to be having them back, thanks. [The various developments around radio broadcast frequency - for the support of Maori language and culture - are an interesting case-study, perhaps ... but more upon that some other time]

One of these Taonga, as we have noted above, is Health. Which, in terms of the exercise of rangatiratanga, would entail healthcare provision - something that is both a core Crown capability and responsibility (via the public healthcare system), and which also exists in the private sector sphere.

There is a quite legitimate perception that the Crown's provision and custodianship of this Taonga of Maori Health ... hasn't been an unqualified success - indeed, by comparison to much of the rest of the population, on equity grounds, it's been ... well, something else.

National started the week by claiming that a Maori-focused health unit would be "segregation". They've since changed tac, and claimed that while they're not opposed to the general principle of Maori-oriented service delivery vehicles ... this particular one is Iwi/Kiwi, replete with the multi-coloured billboards awaiting in the wings.

They have their reasons for that, of course - even if they might be different to the ones they started out the week professing to believe so ardently in.

Yet ultimately, it's all just so much politics. You read through the bullet-pointed list of "TWO SYSTEMS" exemplars Collins has singled out as purported Labour insidious social engineering ("by stealth") .. and the majority of these things are elements which actually got rolled out to a significant degree under National during its previous nine years of Government anyway.

Gosh, I guess it really WAS Labour working very much "by stealth" if they were so stealthy they had the National Party do it all for them whilst they were stuck in Opposition!

National's looking for a Shiver to send up the collective Spine of Middle New Zealand (via way of the Talkback belt), and the delicate double-speak Collins has to engage in in this speech of hers shows just how difficult it might be for her to turn the clock back on the John Key era to the Don Brash era - without bellyflopping herself all the way back to the Bill English error in the process.

She can't make succinct stands on nice, easy, white-shining Principle, because National's own record sells her out at almost every other turn. She can't do Pragmatism in lieu of principle, because the pragmatic approach may just turn out to be the principled one as well - on this issue, at any rate.

So she's left with the inchoate endeavour of redefining words as she dances upon the head of a pin, giving voice to the people who used to call in to MagicTalk Radio to tell us all how voiceless they now were, and seeking to (New)Con her way back to the lifelines of electoral relevancy.

As Matthew Hooton put it earlier this week in his own writeup of this ungainly display of the twilight hours of her political life -

"At least Don Brash had a sense of theatre." 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Why You're Being Told To Believe We've Just Sold Out To China

This whole thing about "JACINDA / LABOUR ARE CRASHING NEW ZEALAND OUT OF THE FIVE EYES BECAUSE THEY'RE SECRETLY IN LEAGUE WITH THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA - OR WISHING TO BE" meme is ridiculous.

Now, leaving aside the very legitimate points of hesitancy which New Zealand has over, you know, allowing the same five countries which majority-declared that Iraq ought be invaded for possessing "weapons of mass destruction", to decide via declaration aspects of our core foreign policy for us ...

... the stupid thing is that NONE of this is actually based on genuine concerns of a geopolitical nature. Helen Clark has already come out and shown some of the allegations about the previous Labour-led Government in relation to the Five Eyes to be simply untrue. The *current* Labour-led Government, in its previous term, pursued a fairly active *continuance* of rapproachment with the United States ... and I stress that it was a *continuance*, because it actually *began* during the previous Labour-led Government's 2005-2008 final term.

Meanwhile, as we saw not all that long ago - during the previous Parliamentary term in fact - all the outrage from certain corners of the commentariat was about how the Labour/NZF Government was actually seriously jeopardizing our relationship with the People's Republic of China. Mysterious "definitely not bans" on certain of our key exports to the PRC ensued as a result, a Chinese diplomat made pointed remarks about poking out eyes in our direction, the list goes on.

I suppose you can forgive the PRC for expecting New Zealand to be a pliable little not-quite-ally. After all, it had faced zero opposition getting a *literal PRC spy* elected into our Parliament, who had then proceeded to arrange direct face-to-face contact and photo-ops for prominent members of the Government with the PRC's head of secret police, etc.

Except ... hold the phone ! That didn't take place under Labour! That took place under National! The blue-coloured, (more-) neoliberal right-wing 'conservative' party. Those are the facts, well documented after they came out - and then supplemented by quite the cavalcade of additional supplementary evidence showing a web of influence and influence-peddling going on both under National's watch and pervasive throughout the National Party itself.

So why is it that we're only NOW hearing people in certain places jumping up and down about how New Zealand has purportedly - just recently - Sold Our Soul to the People's Republic of China?

(Which further can't be the case - if it were possible to do such a thing, the National Party would have (part-)privatized it and hocked it off overseas at the first possible opportunity along with the power-generation assets and the farmland, etc.)

Well, it's simple. Across the world, a lot of people want to be annoyed with New Zealand and our present Prime Minister in particular. It's right there in the obnoxious Telegraph piece which kicked off this whole kerfuffle once more - Jacinda is spoken of as "tiresomely woke", and the headline blares that she (rather personally, which is curious - we are not a Presidential democracy, after all, nor a monarchy ... except in exactly the same way the UK is) is the "West's woke weak link".

New Zealand has weathered - and continues to weather - the pandemic better than seemingly any other country in the Western world. From afar, we look (and I stress that it is just that - a look. Appearances *may* be bitterly deceiving) to have some sort of idyllic actually-sane-and-rational society all of a sudden (just don't mention the housing prices). Jacinda has become a domestic symbol in polities across the globe for , no doubt , the sort of people who were once multi-coloured-hair-dye University campus "communists" who these days go about "cancelling" people.

In other words ... in the (post-)Colonial Metropoles of yesteryear, they just can't have it, this business of a *Colony* outperforming the Mother Country or the would-be (still) World Hegemon. It's an embarrassment! And one doubled down upon when it comes to the sorts of people parading about with Her Graven Image in their own domestic contexts, to boot.

So how to attack Jacinda and our Labour-led Government? Why, it's quite simple. They're "Red". Literally, that's the party colour - and to a certain sort of (fifth) columnist, Red is quite simply a 'red rag' to a bull-scatology-artist. It's easy (and fun, too!) to portray Labour as being COMMUNISTS - a "pretty communist" as the protest sign in 2017 held aloft by an agrarian opponent of Labour's had it.

Except how can you POSSIBLY portray a fairly unremarkable in many respects middle-of-the-road modern neoliberal-consensus party as being THE DREADED RED MENACE these days ?

The obvious one would be via the Dancing Cossacks of the Modern Era - and I don't mean the Muldoon kind, but rather the Reds Under The Bed formenting chaos in one's domestic elections. The Russians, that is. Except that just wouldn't fly as applies New Zealand - not that it shall likely stop somebody from printing bizarre contusions about Jacinda the personalized puppet of one Vladimir Putin, the Wellington-based KGB agent once upon a time.

But instead, it's the PRC confection that's been chosen for this purpose. Because at least THERE, there might LOOK like some sort of contusion and/or collusion occurring - if you seriously massage the facts so as to outright obviate many of them (and I am thinking in particular of New Zealand's actual record of statements and engagements in the direction of the PRC over the past two years in this department).

Yet as I say - this is utterly un-about the actual situation of New Zealand under the current Labour administration. At least with regard to our relationship with the People's Republic of China.

If it WERE about our rather problematic entanglement with the PRC, then we should have heard all about it with reference to the previous shenanigans occurrent under the National Party.

Except we didn't - because the sorts of people who are these days up in arms about our Labour-led, indeed our Jacinda-led Government ... tend to quite *like* the National Party and the sorts of noises *it* makes, so wouldn't want to embarrass them and thus 'let the side down'.

So instead, the party which has actually moved us AWAY from our far-too-close and actually-worrisomely-penetrated strangulation-embrace with the PRC, is being castigated for somehow turning us into Airstrip One Of The South Pacific for the impending Sinification of just about everywhere. Never mind how much in the way of political and literal fiscal capital we may have poured into attempting to provide a viable alternative to PRC for the battleground states of the Pacific. Never mind the aforementioned trade consequences for our statements on the PRC's various 'controversial' actions in recent times in Hong Kong etc. Never mind the PRC's OWN quite vitriolic remarks against us, on everything from our decision to close the border to the PRC in the early weeks of Covid-19 through to our previous concordance with other Five Eyes nations upon PRC-relevant matters. Never mind our own decision to block Huawei from participating in our 5G rollout. Never mind our drawing cordially closer to the Americans, or any of the rest of it.

For it quite plainly Doesn't Fit The Narrative these chicken-hawk fish-and-chip paper-purveyors wish to broadcast about our country, our sovereignty, our aspirations, our vision, our future.

The contents of those headlines have been weaponized both at home and abroad by people who have just been LOOKING for something, anything, to have a go at what they think our Government represents. The lack of substance almost precisely becomes its enduring appeal - anything you like may be projected out thereupon.

You're a right-whinger who wants to live-action roleplay Cold War Mk.II Electric Boogaloo? Ok, so wail about how the GODLESS COMMUNISTS are running New Zealand as part of the Sixty Ninth Internationale in confederation with "Red China".

You're a more middle-of-the-road sounding Anglosphere sort who secretly yearns for the days of the Sun never setting upon a certain opium-dealing empire? Well then - talk up the notion that New Zealand has quite literally 'sold out' both Her own people, and also our traditional mates across the Tasman into the bargain (and scrupulously, conspicuously forget about just how uneven that relationship has been both recently and in the past).

You have some problem with the local SJW brigade wherever you may so happen to be in the world at large? Turn "Jacinda", the "Tiresomely Woke" "Weak Link" of the West, as the headline blares at you ... into the proxy target for your outrage at them kids down the road tone-policing John Cleese. Or whatever it is these days.

Politics, particularly of the popular-elective variety and especially as conveyed through the conventional or even unconventional news media - is effectively an exaltation of the Symbolic over the Real. That's all it comes down to, in the end. Symbolic choices, some of which may actually bear real consequences - provided the symbol is weighty enough that its bearers come to believe in it themselves.

And soon enough and sure enough - just as the Gulf War Did Not Take Place [to reference me some Baudrillard], or more especially as Iraq HAD Weapons of Mass Destruction ... Or At Least, Saddam Was A Nasty Enough Guy That We Were Totally Justified In Rolling Him Anyway -

The 'facts' fade away into distant, diffident obsolescence and thence obviation outright. To be replaced with the inestimably more enduring general feeling, general perception, which suborns all else beneath its subconsciously-resonating yoke.

A propaganda campaign, you may say - carried out by none other than those former-yet-future (post-)colonial would-be world masters.

Whether of the Media or the more overt Imperial centers of power. Wherever they may so happen to be. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

On Cultural Communication Amidst The Current Covid Cluster Management

 I have seen a few comments about the place concerning Case M etc. - asking if maybe the Government didn't do enough to communicate with the person (and family) in question in culturally relevant ways or a language he could understand. 


Now we shall leave aside whether a tertiary student at MIT might have difficulty with understanding English - and, for that matter, whether whomever was talking with him being of a different race may also have helped [not least because we don't actually know the guy's ethnicity, so it seems rather premature to presume that having, as one tweeter put it "any Māori or Pasifika or other poc health officials present" would have made all the difference ... and I am not convinced that these three categories of intermediary are functionally interchangeable].


The fact is that while yes, I agree that culturally relevant communications and communicators CAN be helpful for ensuring that the right information is both imparted and received ... this sadly doesn't eliminate the possibility for people to be duplicitous and/or reckless anyway.


People escaping Auckland  to downcountry baches, for instance - I would hazard a guess that the reason they're doing this isn't because of failures by the Government to communicate in a language they were familiar with, and featuring communication by persons of their relevant ethnic locus of identity. 


Or David Clark - often sobriquetted as "The Hapless" - and his own various excursions in violation of the regulations he was supposed to to be adhering to. The man was Minister of Health - he can hardly blame the Minister of Health for being ethnically nor linguistically distant from him in an attempt to explicate his behavior.


The unfortunate truth is that people are people, wherever you go. 


It's definitely beneficial for the Government to have facility - and to make active use of those facilities - to reach out as broadly as possible with its messaging and informational collection 


But at a certain point - the Government has done all it can on these fronts, and it's over to individuals and families to come to the party on these matters. 


Could the Government have done more in this particular case to get the needs of the collective across, and ensure that all information required was both transmitted and received? I don't know - I wasn't in the room. 


It's definitely the case, no matter how you choose to slice it, that a failure has occurred. 


But the more that we learn about these specific circumstances - the less that I am thinking it's a failure on the Government's behalf. 


Although everybody is human - and I suspect rather strongly that the person(s) at the center of the latest breach are probably becoming quite aware that they've made a few mistakes in recent days. I doubt their neighbours are particularly impressed, for example - and it shall surely be rather awkward for the chap when it comes time to renew his gym membership. 


Could we be doing more? In terms of financial support - I think there's a reasonable case that we could. We want to be empowering people to make the right call - and if there is a financial motivation, or downright imperative, to do the wrong thing (like going in to work - potentially under fear that if you don't, you may not possibly have a job at the other end of the isolation period) ... then that motivation must be countered, and counter-balanced rather than stabbingly cauterized. 


But - other than death - there is seemingly no curative for fundamental human nature. 


All we can do is hope that all humans involved - or viewingly proximate to the current contratemps - learn from the experience.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

On Damien Grant On Damien Grant On Covid-19, Hindsight, And Playing Russian Roulette With A Semi-Automatic Aimed At One's Own Foot

Like a diminishing quotient of New Zealanders, I have the occasional expectation of finding something enthusing and enlightening in my Sunday newspaper. I also expect there is Damien Grant. 

Sunday's Star Times was no exception, and his column therein makes for frankly bizarre reading. In it, he sets out at some length, and by his own admission, just how repeatedly wrong he was at seemingly every turn about Covid-19.  I give him credit for that, it's rarely an easy thing to do to admit to being even somewhat wrong. Let alone, as I say, about just about everything. 

Although what he THEN does, is spend the last few paragraphs attempting to justify how despite all that he had aforementioned ... he was not, in fact, wrong - but rather, everybody else (i.e. the no-doubt 'collectivist' Government of New Zealand and all in favour of Her) was instead. 

By this stage, I have basically come to the conclusion that Damien Grant is being a contrarian - particularly when he writes, although probably not just restricted to that sphere

I mean ... he's a libertarian, over the age of 15; who is working in an industry whose key characteristic is the ongoing failure of private individuals and capitalist enterprises. That is literally his bread and butter, and he somehow thinks "MORE OF THAT KIND OF THING!"

Oh wait, I think I just reasoned my way to why a liquidator might want MOAR CAPITALISM. Disregard that bit ..

Anyway, I can't fathom why on EARTH a man would write a column about "How I Was Consistently Wrong At Every Turn On Covid-19", specifically emphasize that he was opposing highly informed expert opinion that was correct , presumably partially because it was "collectivist" ...

And then conclude by saying that because of "fat tail risk" [effectively the risk of catastrophic negative consequences as the result of an (in)action], New Zealand shouldn't have done all the stuff that made us a success - 

i.e. should have acted as if Grant was right ... every single time ... particularly the times that contradicted the other times.

Now yes, sure, 'risk of really bad thing happening' is an acceptable thing to factor into calculations when it comes to what one intends to do facing a complex and changing situation.

Hence, one assumes, why those EXPERTS GRANT ACKNOWLEDGES WERE RIGHT WHEN HE WASN'T .. DID SO.

But straight-up ... why is it that his definition of 'risk of things going VERY badly' is restricted to "the economy might do rather poorly", rather than "THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE MAY DIE".

The very linchpin of Grant's analysis - that one should not do the thing that might lead to Really Bad Thing Happening - ALSO militates that one should not do ... a rather large array of things other than what New Zealand did. [i.e. exactly what Sweden, the UK, USA, etc. etc. etc. decided to do instead, largely in evidently futile bids to stave off economic slowdowns]

Because it'd be WORSE.

The evidence from overseas is pretty clear about this: those countries that DID NOT engage in a proper lockdown and/or other rather serious measures [open question as to whether you count Taiwan as having 'serious measures' - although I suspect Grant wouldn't be keen on theirs..] ... have wound up with BOTH a) a public health crisis AND b) an economic injury of notable proportions .

Why? Turns out that even when you DON'T lockdown .. people don't go out and spend money so much , wind up taking time off work , and other things that aren't great for economy

So, again, what's the real 'fat tail(ed) risk" here ? That we wind up with both a) what Grant's concerned might have happened thanks to our successful pandemic response [i.e. economic impairment] AND b) what Grant hasn't considered [i.e. significant health impairment]

From where I'm sitting, Grant can go on about playing Russian Roulette all he likes - but NOT adopting the stratagem New Zealand did is tantamount to playing with a gun with five bullets , not one.

In fact, it's worse than that.

Going down Grant's "we shouldn't have done [whatever it is at any given stage of the pandemic]" approach ... we'd have been playing Russian Roulette with a semi-automatic instead of a revolver.

New Zealand, by contrast - by doing, it would appear, the literal opposite of what Grant thought was a good call at every step of the process up to and including 'Hindsight'

... instead chose to remove the firing pin.