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.


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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

On National's Unsafe Attitude Towards Drug Testing

Earlier this week, the Government announced that it was going to pick up one of the loose threads from the previous Parliamentary term - and pass measures to allow the testing of drugs at music festivals and the like, so as to reduce the risk of ... well, serious harm occurring. 

It's a robust, evidence-supported policy that's utterly uncontroversial in other parts of the world (although not Australia) - and therefore, it's perhaps no surprise that the National Party remains bitterly opposed thereto. Because they assert that it "sends the wrong message". 

Which leads me to ponder whether the "right message" is young people dying or being injured in order to "scare the others straight". 

Last Term, it wasn't alone in this. New Zealand First also blocked the bill that'd been put forward - and so it was defeated. But with the makeup of the House having changed considerably since then, it's been brought back for another go. Where it shall pass.  

And predictably, the Nats are somewhat aggrieved about that. 

Partially, it's because the legislation has been brought forward under Urgency - with noted afficionado of Things Young People Like, Simeon Brown, taking issue with the Government's apparent "priorities" as a result. Which, on paper, might sound like a semi-reasonable objection ... up until you consider that it's already early December with the House rising for Summer very shortly, during which time no legislation is passed - and that most of the drug-taking at music festivals etc. tends to take place, likewise, over the Summer. 

Or, phrased another way - it actually makes sense to ensure that legislation that will be most relevant over the summer is in place before the summer. 

However, leaving aside the Parliamentary process side to things (and I'm sure we could find any number of .. curious things the Nats had used Urgency to pass, previously) - it's Simon Bridges who makes the most concise case for why the National Party remain resolutely opposed to seeing sense upon this matter.

Quoth Bridges: "National isn’t supporting the pill testing bill because it sends the wrong message on hard drugs to our young & it gives them a false sense of security. This law may result in more illicit drug use & more harm."

These claims are, substantively, incorrect. Evidence from overseas does NOT show a greater use of drugs as the result of pill testing. 

Indeed, it's not hard to see how the converse is often more likely to be true: after all, what's going to be more effective at getting somebody NOT to consume a pill they've bought. The 'just say no' message that's already evidently failed? Or pointing out that the pill in question tested positive for rat poison - or the delightfully sobriqueted "Dr Death" [less commonly, but more accurately known as 'para-Methoxyamphetamine']. 

Meanwhile, the "false sense of security" is that which recreational drug-users currently may enjoy - by telling themselves that whatever they've bought is, in fact, what they've been told it is. Pill testing can actually help to re-inject not a "false sense of security" ... but a "real sense of danger" - especially when, as is the case in some overseas jurisdictions, drug-harm information for various substances is also given out with the test results. 

Bridges' claim rests upon the reasoning that drug-testing may lead to an increase in drug-harm. It is difficult to see how such a claim can be supported, in light of the fact that drug-testing does not appear to lead to an increase in drug-taking - and also, as its actively intended purpose, keeps the more- and most-harmful drugs OUT of people's bodies in the first place. 

It's simple - if we genuinely want fewer people taking harmful drugs ... we should be making clear which ones the (more) harmful ones are. 

I do appreciate the argument that allowing drug-testing to go ahead may seem like it's providing some sort of moral stamp of validation to the otherwise-illicit conduct in question - but I don't really see it that way; certainly not much more than seat-belts in cars provide a moral stamp of validation for driving fast or drunk and getting into automobile accidents [and I was ... very surprised to find that these sorts of arguments were actually being made against seatbelts becoming mandatory, half a century ago].

The simple truth is that whatever one feels about the morality or the legitimacy of young people (and older people, for that matter), taking drugs at a festival - I don't think many would be prepared to agree that this is a crime that ought carry a potential death sentence to it. 

Even if some, apparently, do implicitly believe this to be the case. I can only presume that they don't say so openly and overtly out of a fear that it would "send the wrong message" to the electorate about their values in practice. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Why An Iranian Nuclear Scientist Was Really Just Assassinated

By now, news of the assassination of the project-head of Iran's nuclear weapons effort, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has gone around the world. What is less clear, however, is the identity of the perpetrators - and why they would undertake such a move.

On the surface, both elements seem obvious - the Israelis have a clear motivation for wishing to stab at Iran's nuclear effort and some form for doing so in the past via targeted killings. Something that had also been done to other nations as and when convenient (including their rather inspired choice of hiring none other than Otto Skorzeny in return for a faked 'pardon' for his Nazi service, to get at German scientists working for Egypt in the 1960s).

And I do not disagree that Israel is the most likely suspect. Although their actual reasoning for a strike would be somewhat different than the intuitive suggestion that this is merely about attempting to frustrate Iran's nuclear capability development. And, further, that they are unlikely to be the sole conspirator (a contradiction in terms).

As ever, the timing of events is crucial. We are in the dying days of the Trump Administration. The Netanyahu-dominated government of Israel knows this - and knows that its much free-er hand in the Middle East thanks to a pliant and pliable President in Washington, is similarly likely to be facing impending restraint from the incoming Biden regime. After all, it was the Obama Administration in which Biden served who took the radically logical step to actually endeavour to negotiate (and successfully, it must be added) with Tehran rather than continuing to treat them fruitlessly as international pariahs.

Said Administration - the Obama one, I mean - had also pointedly opposed Israel's efforts at destabilizing the situation via ongoing covert escapades and assassinations. And while it could therefore be fairly suggested that the Israelis might have chosen to 'get while the getting was good', I think that there is something else going on here. Something that has both had a longer-term buildup to it; and which may very well have taken place in some form regardless of recent US political events.

We have recently seen Israel act with the Trump Administration and also off its own bat to shore up the 'Saudi-Israeliya' axis of allies amidst certain Arab states; moves and maneuvers that have enabled an 'above-ground' rapproachment between governments that had long been working together 'under the table', and opened the door to the greater provision of American military hardware to same. This was evidently a long-term project which had been designed to make the region (south of Iraq and Syria, at least) more 'resilient' against perceived Iranian influence - and hopefully help to prevent another Syria or another Yemen (where the Sunni-Saudi-Israeli alignment has either been stymied or is getting a severely bloody nose and looking bad whilst doing it, respectively).

We have also recently seen Trump bluster about starting a war with Iran - not only via his reckless attitude towards the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani towards the start of this year (which triggered a symbolically necessary Iranian reprisal strike), but also following the Election. And it is that last element which is key here.

Little more than a week after it became apparent that he had not (immediately) won, Trump conjured together his Vice President, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defence Secretary, with a view towards exploring strike options against Iran. At the time, it seemed like a curious maneuver - one which might have presented a convenient sideshow spectacle as post-electoral shenanigans were engaged in back home, perhaps.

However, read in light of the above, this recent targeted killing of an Iranian nuclear official may suggest that instead of an overt and blustery 'symbolic' blow in the manner of the cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase in 2017, the Trump Administration may have given the go-ahead to something different. And much more cunning.

You see, the net impact of this most recent assassination isn't really going to be much of a dent in the Iranian nuclear project. That's not what it was designed to do. Rather, it is all about the optics of the thing - it is a 'showy move' of a different, and a far more 'slow-burning' kind. It is about making it far more difficult for the incoming Biden Administration to actually resume nuclear rapprochement with Tehran. Both due to the lingering perception that the Americans may have been implicitly involved in giving the Israelis a green light for the killing, as well as the plausible retaliatory action that Iran may now engage in against whomever it is that they officially declare to have been responsible. The Trump Administration will likely double down upon the action - if not claiming credit for it, then claiming that it was a moral and just action to have occurred and offering their support to whomever it was that pulled the metaphorical trigger.

A much more tense situation between Iran and the West, between the countries on either side of the Persian Gulf, is exactly what the Israeli government dearly wishes. They have been quite dismayed at the manner in which the Trump Administration's singularly inept blustery-shouting-that-it-is-diplomacy have managed to push European Union countries to engage more positively with Iran. Provoking Iran into what can be sold as their 'lashing out' and bellicose shows of attempted strength that make for good propaganda for those endeavouring to cast the Iranians as frothing-at-the-mouth scary fundamentalist extremists, would be useful to them. And would also help to support the development of acceptance amidst various Arab populations for their governments' already-decided rapprochement with Israel. 'The Enemy Of My Enemy', and all that.

So, whether this was an Israeli operation or one that the Americans nudged into occurrence (perhaps this is a part of why Pompeo was in Jerusalem last week), I think that the outgoing Trump Administration will have some small cause for celebration this week. They have managed to secure something they have dearly desired - a likely frustration and hamstringing for the incoming Biden Administration's presumed intent to re-engage with Iran. And therefore, perhaps, Trump won't have to see if he can start an overt and conventional war with Iran between now and January in order to have a lasting 'strike from the grave' at his soon-to-be replacement's ambitions and Presidency.

As I say - this is cunning. It is slow burning. The only serious question is - just how much of the Middle East may yet burn as a result of it. Hopefully, the wisdom and restraint demonstrated by the Iranians when dealing with the deliberate provocations of the Americans shall once again come to the fore. During the January retaliation for the murder of Major General Soleimanei, it was noted that the missile-strike was very much a symbolic one - it satisfied in some limited sense, the visual requirement for Iranian retribution to be 'seen to be done', without actually causing sufficient damage nor casualties to the Americans to then militate a subsequent escalation from that quarter (no doubt to the great disappointment of some).

Perhaps there is room for some similarly line-walking careful placement of foot so as to avoid both accelerator and landmine over the next two months as we all collectively wait for the clock to run down on the Trump Administration. Careful, cautious, and perspicacious consideration from Iran, I mean. I don't think anybody else involved is nearly so keen to avoid dragging  the Americans into a pointless quagmire, including various of the (outgoing) Americans themselves. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

In Riposte To A Journalist's Outrage At Sanskrit Being Uttered In Our Nation's Parliament


Late yesterday evening, I noticed something strange on Twitter. 'Sanskrit' was trending - in New Zealand. Finding this rather unexpected, yet pretty positive, I went to check out why. It turned out that one of Labour's newly minted MPs - Dr Gaurav Sharma - had taken his Oath of Allegiance in Sanskrit, and also in Te Reo Maori. 

I thought this was a nice development. An MP making tasteful nods to both his own heritage, and also to the Maori sphere that is an indigenous, endogenous fundament to New Zealand. A language that came here, and a language that's of here. Treaty partnership and all that. 

Unfortunately, that wasn't quite why 'Sanskrit' was being so avidly discussed here in New Zealand on Twitter. 

Rather, a Kiwi journalist by the name of Michael Field, whom I've never previously heard of ... had taken to the platform to express his outrage that this had occurred. And, in the process, kicked off a bit of an international contratemps as a result. 

What did he say? Why did he object to Sharma's making use of his ancestral tongue to swear the Oath required of a Parliamentarian? 

Because, in Field's own words ... Sanskrit is apparently "a language of religious oppression & caste superiority", and "[a] mark of Hindutva - mark of fundamentalism." He also apparently felt that this may have called into question "Labour's working class values" and posed a question of his own - whether Sharma was, in fact, "a token?" 

Field appeared to be having a pretty bad day, because in his haste he then managed to tag in  the wrong Gaurav whilst demanding an explanation from Gaurav Sharma - so there's a completely unrelated Gaurav in New Delhi at the moment with only a few hundred followers presumably wondering just what on earth is going on in Kiwiland that's got anything to do with him right now. 

But to return to Field's statements, before we explain what's really going on here .. his own explanation for being outraged by Sharma's Sanskrit oath goes like this:

In reply to a twitter account called 'Indians In New Zealand', Field said this:

"This is nothing to do with multiculturalism - this is Modi's caste politics straight and simple. Sadly NZ Labour seems to have forgotten their roots; caste has no place in NZ."

And in reply to another Kiwi who asked him if he was feeling alright given the outlandishness of his initial sentiments, he added:

"Having been frequently in area of India where Sanskrit & Brahmin politics are vivid & result in riots over being forced to speak another language, I was surprised to see a Labour MP heading down that route. And I am feeling fine"

So in essence, Field saw Sharma's invocation of Sanskrit as being the imposition of "a language of religious oppression & caste superiority", incipient religious "fundamentalism", the introduction of "caste" (somehow), and basically a beachhead for "Modi's [...] politics" in Aotearoa.

Which is rather odd, because to start from the back ... it implies that he thinks Sharma is attempting to act as a vector for a foreign political leader and party by swearing allegiance to the Queen of New Zealand

Now, to my mind there are two closely interrelated considerations here when it comes to unpacking what's happened in Field's head. A really complicated situation, no doubt. 

The first, is that he's effectively posited that Sharma acknowledging and making active use of his own heritage, somehow renders Sharma not only irreducibly Indian (or, in Field's own words, a "token") - but also an alien and incompatible element with New Zealand and our broader ethos as a result of that. He's suggested that it's "Labour's working class values" that Sharma is purportedly at odds with - which is further peculiar, because Labour stopped really being an overweeningly 'working class' party several decades ago. I must have missed Field taking issue with the vast majority of Labour's current Caucus on a similar basis. 

Perhaps he wasn't so worried about those other MPs because they spoke in English - which, as we all know, has not been a "language of [...] oppression" for some years now, unless spoken with an American accent. 

But the second element which must be considered is how Field has construed Hinduism and Indian cultural (in this case specifically linguistic) heritage. As something apparently intrinsically and irreducibly "oppressive", bound up with "fundamentalism" and a "superiority" agenda. 

In the wake of the Christchurch Mosque shootings last year, we had a prayer performed in our Parliament in Arabic. Was Field similarly aghast, declaring that Arabic and the Muslim faith which it is strongly associated with, to be a tongue and ethos of "oppression", "fundamentalism", and "superiority" ? I'd certainly hope not. 

So why us? [And I say 'us', because as both a devout Hindu, and internationally published authority in the field, I make literally daily use of Sanskrit for both religious purposes and in my work]

Well, I'd hazard that Mr Field has basically gleaned the vast sum of his views on our religion from a comparatively limited perspective. I'm not going to be so uncharitable as to suggest it's all from some shrill ultra-liberal 'awoken' types, as he does state that he's visited India at some point (although curiously, refused to say when repeatedly asked just where in India it was that he'd been  to where there were "riots" occurring in reaction to some purported enforcement of Sanskrit); but wherever he's gotten his (mis)information from, it's like some sort of bad fun-house mirror - everything's not only distorted, but actively the wrong way around. 

It may perhaps surprise Field to learn this, but Sanskrit is not some sort of "Modi" invention come up with in a bid to propel "caste politics" back in India (something that, if it were actually occurring, Modi would have to be spectacularly bad at - his own party's successful candidate for President of India, the currently serving Ram Nath Kovind is a Dalit, an Untouchable; whilst Modi himself is a Vaishya - a merchant. So much for Brahmin supremacy ... ).

Instead, Sanskrit is arguably the oldest continuously spoken language of mankind - still having more than ten thousand 'native' speakers today in India and finding active use across the world by Hindus for a liturgical language in a manner perhaps comparable to the use of Latin for the Catholics pre-Vatican II. 

Its roots run incredibly deeply, with the oldest attested  texts in this language dating back to roughly three and a half thousand years ago; and the leaves and branches of its tree spanning incredibly broadly - most of India, as well as large swathes of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and places even further afield speak languages that are ultimately descended from Sanskrit. Almost a billion people in the world today have this language as a rather integral part of their cultural an civilizational heritage even before the religious dimension is taken into consideration. 

That was a large part of why Sharma chose to make use of Sanskrit for his Oath - precisely because it was a way of acknowledging the broad (north) Indian spectrum of community. Not because Sanskrit is somehow exclusive to Brahmins (it isn't - as Sharma pointed out, when he'd gone to school it was a compulsory language for all students; presumably in much the same manner that Latin used to be at various secondary schools in the Anglosphere, including, as it happens, the one I went to even in the 21st century - one wonders whether taking the Oath in Latin (or, for that matter, any of the Latinate legal terms still made active use of therein) would trigger Field into a fit of apoplexy about the Government somehow becoming an apologist for the atrocities of the Roman Empire)

So how is it that we wound up with an incredibly ancient and broadly pervasive language being pidgeonholed into evidently near-exclusive (mis-)association with a relatively recent political phenomenon in contemporary India? 

To put it bluntly, I suspect that it is because for Field and others like him - all actual Hinduism, all actual Indian cultural heritage is hidden 'Hindutva' extremism. It's rather like how, in the 1950s in America, being cautiously in favour of a worker getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work made one a dyed-(red-)in-the-wool "Communist" in the eyes of some people. Or how, for an ongoing period following 9/11, looking like you might be an Arab, a Muslim, on an international aircraft might lead to some irascible American having a panic about how you must be a terrorist.

Any number of Sikhs were physically attacked for exactly this reason over the same period by ordinary Americans who'd completely misunderstood something that was not theirs, was somewhat obscure to them, and which seemed like it might be a threat just going off what they'd seen on the news. 

People often work themselves up into a lather of a moral 'crusade' about perceived injustices meted out overseas, and then attempt to replicate the alleged 'restorative' action they think should have happened over there, in the comfort of their own back yard at home. Maybe it helps them to feel useful; maybe it's a cover for other impulses. 

Whatever it is, it's evidently lead Field to feel that the simple act of speaking Sanskrit is an incredibly 'problematic' war-cry for something that he profoundly disagrees with. 

And therein lies the trouble. Because for Field, I think that if we really drilled down into it, there are no overt expressions of Hinduism that he would think are not somehow "oppressive". He has not said this, of course, and perhaps he has not even given it much thought.

But if we are not allowed to speak nor otherwise make use of our ancient liturgical language because he is afraid of its connotation ... what exactly constitutes 'allowable' expressions of Hinduism for him? Shall he be banning my Mandir from having the fine Swastika-carved doors to the shrines, too, because of Nazi use of the symbol? When my research institute makes use of 'Arya' in its title and its motto ['Arya Akasha', and 'Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam', respectively] - is Field going to likewise declare that these are 'oppressive' due to a certain 20th century political phenomenon which was quite big on "Aryan" as a term? 

Ultimately, the question is quite a simple one. If he genuinely feels that even things which have no necessary connection to nor connotation of the very specific politics he claims to abhor, are somehow symbols and weaponized tools of same ... then does he actually have any mental distinction between 'Hindutva' and 'Hindu'. Or is every single one of the more than one hundred and twenty thousands of us here,  representing New Zealand's largest non-Christian community of faith, some sort of blatantly obvious Hindu extremist - to be hounded from public life and perhaps the country as well. 

I would dearly hope that Field was not in earnest with the clear and unctuous implications of his claims on Twitter yesterday. And that instead, it was the product of that accursed scourge of the Modern Age, ignorance combined with an over-enthusiastic desire to rush in and oppose some alleged social injustice one has read about occurring elsewhere in the world via social media. 

Except there are plenty of actual injustices occurring out there in the world - elsewhere in the world I mean - for Mr Field to concern himself with, without having to attempt to transplant and invent one right here to his own (political) back yard in our nation's Parliament. 

So, to recap: 

Gaurav Sharma MP taking his Oath of Affirmation in Sanskrit (and also Te Reo Maori) ... was not intended to signify what Michael Field thought it did. 

Indeed, it COULD not really signify what Field thought it did, for the many reasons (and more) aforementioned. (Including that Sanskrit is not and has not been for some time, the exclusive preserve of Brahmins - and is learned by many in India as part of standard school education; and that both the language and the religion are quite some orders of magnitude older and broader than one political current in present-day Indian politics; with the BJP (Modi's party), whatever one thinks of them, also not really being 'Brahmin supremacists'; meanwhile, Ambedkar, the incredibly prominent Independence era Indian politician who forsook his native Hinduism to become a Buddhist precisely because of his feelings about the caste system ... actually himself championed a push for Sanskrit as a national language for India)

There are no "riots" occurring in India due to an "oppressive" imposition of Sanskrit. (Although there ARE occasional flare-ups of animosity in the Dravidian-language dominated South about the perceived imposition of Hindi - which is ironic, because Field actually suggested Sharma should have used Hindi instead; notwithstanding that this is not actually Sharma's own native language, Pahari)

And whilst one could perhaps suggest that, as a doctor of medicine, Gaurav Sharma is not exactly 'working class' .. I'm not sure how Dr Sharma's inclusion in Labour's 2020 Caucus is a vitiation of that party's "roots", "working class" or otherwise. A phrase that I most certainly home Field was not using as a cover for "White/Anglo/Pakeha". 

Sanskrit is a truly beautiful language, and I say that as somebody who's spent much of the past half decade working with it near-daily. I truly do feel that our Parliament - The People's House, the House of Speech - has been enriched for its having been made active use of for this small-but-important ceremony occurrant therein. 

I also, as a Hindu New Zealander (although not an Indian), feel myself and my community somewhat more represented as the result of this, as well. It is a small thing, it is a symbolic thing - but in politics, that symbolism can mean everything. One that shows that Heritage, "roots", matters! And is valued by us as a nation. One that shows that, contra to what Field and his ilk may desire, we too have a place here. And that we are not going to be "oppressed" out or marginalized by somebody who would seemingly wish a restatement of Macaulayism (so named for its instigator - a British Lord who wanted to 'de-Sanskritize' India and replace this with English, in part as a way of striking against what he viewed as the "hideous, and grotesque, and ignoble" 'Brahminical religion', as he termed it).

On the plus side, this is the first time I think I've seen a New Zealand MP make reference to Proto-Indo-European - so there's that.

Although if one is eagerly anticipating Proto-Indo-European actually making an appearance in Parliament's debating chamber, for instance as part of an Oath of Affirmation ... you may be waiting some time. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

On Rational Economic Decision-Making In The Age Of Covid-19 Following Our Latest Community Transmission

Earlier this week, we had ourselves some chilling news. A new case of Covid-19 community transmission - without a clear link to a quarantine or isolation facility. Worse, it turned out that the worker in question had gone to work whilst infectious. 

Now, the natural impulse for much of humanity in such circumstances is to cast about to find somebody to blame. This is psychologically helpful (for us, at least) - as it means we feel like we're actively doing something. "We're Helping", indeed. Even if the tangible form that "help" may take looks occasionally like some form of online not-quite-lynch-mob. 

However, while there was some chagrin about the worker and their situation - that was as nothing compared to what's been unfolding in the direction of her employer. And perhaps understandably, again, so. 

After all, initial reports had said employer stating they were aware the worker was pending a Covid-19 test, the inference being they'd told them to come in anyway; with the most recent line that, and I quote: "Chen said Chinese people were very cautious and said she never expected a small cold would turn into Covid-19", not sounding too terribly much better. 

Yet while "blame" is psychologically cathartic - it's another word that is actually rather more useful (and even occasionally coterminous): "Explain". 

The thing we need to do now is to work out what went wrong, where, and how we prevent there from being yet another repeat in a week or a month or in the next crisis at some indeterminate point in the future. 

This isn't about the situation wherein the virus presumably breached quarantine or isolation to reach the worker. Other people are handling that. Top men

But rather - it's about the bit wherein a person, already infected, massively increases the ongoing community transmission risk ... by going to work, and interacting with other people, whilst awaiting a Covid-19 rest and result. 

Is that on them? I don't know how much agency they had in the situation. It is easy from an armchair to insist that somebody who feels even a bit sick (sick enough to go in for a Covid-19 test, definitely) to 'stay home, save lives'. It's a no-brainer in fact. Except in that actual situation itself ... things can suddenly start to look a bit murky. You may feel it's 'not that bad', or that it's unlikely you've got it (which, as I say, doesn't appear to be what's gone on here - it was serious enough to voluntarily opt for a test off her own initiative). More concerningly - while you might think you're in a risky situation, your employer may disagree. Occasionally rather strenuously. Potentially putting some pressure, perhaps even pseudo-legal pressure upon you to come in and fulfil your contractual obligations. 

That shouldn't happen. And "shouldn't happen" - especially come 2020 - appears to mean "does happen", with some depressing degree of frequency. 

Could the state do more to compel employers (and, for that matter, workers) to make good 'decisions' and stay home where there's even a semi-plausible likelihood of infection? Probably. Although as this case demonstrates - that's all hindsight (which is, as we all know, generally of far greater clarity and perspicacity than as the vantage-point things are happening). 'Support' rather than 'compel' is nicer language - and presumably more likely to be more sustainable in the long term (hence why our own Covid-19 relative success story has been based around 'taking the people with you' from the Government ... and the UK and much of the US and Europe are flailing due to population fatigue with being carried along in endless evidently iffily ineffectual measures). It would therefore be tempting to investigate whether subsidies for sudden Covid-19 related sick-days were sufficiently available/publicized in this case - although that doesn't actually help an employer immediately access a substitute worker to fill in for the one that's now housebound pending their test. 

However, one of the simplest things we can do, which is also one of the most dramatically efficacious interventions - is changing the way people think. Which does not necessarily require the expenditure of money in subsidies or law-changes so as to 'alter the playing-field' and condition what is plausible, let alone viable to do. 

Effectively, you're changing what it is that's 'rational' to do - either by changing the direct incentives (via economic or legal impetus), or by changing the perceptions of things (increasing knowledge, understanding). Both of these elements - 'rationality' and 'knowledge' - are cornerstones of how an idealized 'capitalism' is supposed to function. 

The current Covid-19 retail outlet controversy demonstrates that many of the actors in question do not possess this rationality; at least partially due to imperfect information and differing, questionable perceptions. 

Consider this: on the surface, from the employer's perspective, evidently it seems pretty rational to insist that a retail worker comes into work, even if they're sick, right?

Except we're in the midst of a global pandemic, there's been two community transmission cases in the past week happening literally just down the road, and if it does turn out that your retail worker whom you're requesting to come in has the virus ... you're quite likely to wind up "Mt Roskill Evangelical Church"'d or "Coldstore'd", and have a cluster named after your business.

Now, with rationality in mind ... that's something which most business-owners would probably prefer to avoid. Not all publicity, as they say, is good publicity.

But evidently, either these considerations weren't front-and-center for the management who requested the worker come in regardless of illness ... or they rationally decided that the risk of the illness actually being Covid-19 was sufficiently remote to just have her back in anyway rather than finding a replacement staffer for the day or closing up shop.  

Either way - it looks a bit irrational in retrospect. But, then, things viewed in hindsight almost invariably often do. Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear, however, so it's an act likely to have consequences going forward for everybody involved.

We can do various things to try and 'tip the scales' a bit - and make it more viable for an employer to make what is now, in retrospect, the right call: not calling in a worker awaiting a Covid-19 test, potentially closing up for the day if they can't run the shop without a single retail worker. These include those aforementioned subsidies - acting on the presumption that by eliminating the economic hit for making the 'virtuous' call, you encourage it to actually happen. It's an unfortunate side-point that some employers don't actually make their decisions based on such things (either the economics or 'virtue') and instead prefer to prioritize fixed and rigid projections of what employees 'should' behave like ... but more upon that some other time (it's partially why uneconomical self-service checkouts keep being rolled out to replace human staff at supermarkets even though they cost more and facilitate vastly greater losses through shoplifting - because for these sorts of employers, it's about power, not economics). 

But in the mean-time, and alongside all of that ... I think it's probably a great time to be reminding everybody - both employers and employees alike - that actions have consequences, even the unintended ones; that seemingly minor impositions can have major 'ripple effects' that splash-back. And that like it or not, we really are all in this together. 

In the Age of Covid-19 - We are ALL our Brother's Keeper, now. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Trump's Pinochet Moment ?

 Something which occurred to me in light of the American Presidential electoral results ... is that Trump is having a Pinochet moment. Now I *don't* mean that he's having dissidents thrown out of helicopters (much, I am sure, to the chagrin of some of his supporters at present). But rather - that what has happened this past week or so has been akin to the 1988 Chilean vote that was quite literally a referendum on Pinochet.

Now, that vote is interesting - because it seems that Pinochet thought he would win, fairly handily; and so did not take the ordinary steps afore its occurrence to suppress, marginalize, and otherwise constrain his opponents - nor to overtly 'rig' the vote so that he would win by default.

Instead, he basically allowed both sides (his own, and the 'No' campaign) to have something which, while it was not exactly a 'level' playing field for various reasons (including the rather ingenious use of 'false front' organizations to draw votes from the 'No' side into effective 'protest-vote' third options .. Shades of Kanye, perhaps?), was nevertheless the most 'open' arena which Chile had witnessed for his entire reign.

And was promptly surprised when a) the 'No' campaign turned out to be better at actually campaigning and producing decent campaign material than his own side ; b) that even after "all he had done for them", a majority of Chileans voted to reject him regardless.

Now, the parallels with Trump ought be obvious at this point. Insofar as Trump did not really 'rig' the election (it is an open question whether he actually could have; standard voter suppression etc. of course excepted) - but rather was genuinely surprised to find that a) his opponents actually *were* reasonably competent at campaigning and outreach (rather than 'Sleepy', one supposes); b) a majority of Americans actually weren't that keen on letting him have another four years in office despite "all he had done for them". [the fact that it's "all he had done *to* them" from the view of the Biden vote is, perhaps, not something he'd considered]

This is also - for now - why Trump has not been actively deserving of many of the tropes around playing 14th dimensional underwater strip billiards backgammon .. er .. chess, in pursuit of a clandestinely secured conspiratorial victory which ends democracy in America.

Because it's simply not true. If it WERE, he wouldn't have lost last week's election - likely either in popular vote terms or in tentative electoral college projections.

Instead, he was a man who had bought into his own self-proclaimed narrative - and took at face value (rather than mask value) what his own senses and ego were telling him when he found himself amidst stadia and airports filled with his own cheering supporters (ignoring the obvious 'selection bias' inherent in the fact these people had been bussed to the venue by his campaign after opting-in by already being well-disposed towards him). Namely, that this was America, and what America *overwhelmingly* wanted was more of him for another four years; not another guy in his 70s and a simultaneously ultra-hard-line police state but somehow California ultra-liberal former prosecutor.

Now, buying into your own narrative is a pretty dangerous thing to do in perilous circumstances - as it opens up the possibility that you basically stop engaging seriously with competing perspectives and perceived-unfavourable incoming data-streams. Which appears to be what Trump then did.

And to be fair, he may have had a bit of a point: the differential between Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump on Election Night has not been anywhere near as dire as some polling earlier appeared to predict.

However, none of this changes the fact that the result hasn't gone Trump's way - and he's now left scrambling to try and either make a dignified exit, or dig in for Home Alone: White House Edition.

Which, as far as he's concerned, may well prove to be an *entirely* false notion of choice.

I don't know if I place full credence in the material alleged in a recent Vanity Fair article, that Trump has reportedly declared he'll literally have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. But in a metaphorical sense - this seems somewhat apt. Various Republicans have, after all, recently started openly urging for states to intervene with their Electoral College delegations so as to provide Trump with the votes he needs there that he could not come up with on the ground; and the Court challenges against those votes in key battleground states are also gearing up apace.

The recent - as in, over the past 36 or so hours - spate of firings of civilian leadership and oversight personnel from the Department of Defence, Pentagon, and intelligence services in order to have them replaced by Trump loyalists, is also interesting for obvious reasons.

However, in the hopefully unlikely event that Trump *does* endeavour to more seriously pursue the Pinochet course of action in 1988 - that is to say, calls in various Generals and other such power-havers and asks for, in effect, the powers to ignore the election result ...

... the fate which befell Pinochet then may prove to be instructive: the Generals, even in a military junta, balked at the request and told Pinochet bluntly that his time was up.

Although this is 2020; and even though it would be intriguing to think that American spooks and soldiers had some sort of unflinching loyalty to constitutional governance and democratic norms ... well ... we'll just have to see what happens, won't we.