Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On Chris Brown And His Upcoming New Zealand Tour

Alright. Be warned. This is probably going to be one of my more controversial articles to date.

It's ... if not a defence of Chris Brown, then at least a stern rebuke of some of the - predominantly political - miscreants attempting to savage his touring prospects right now through the media.

Now let's be clear about a few things: I am not a fan of Brown's music. I am not an admirer of his admittedly occasionally somewhat impressive choreography. Despite some rough similarities in the sandpapery abrasiveness with which we conduct ourselves in the (social) media, and my own empathy for the ways in which having a mental illness like bipolar can serve to cause one to say or do occasionally *seriously* dumb things in public or in private ... I find it hard to be pro-Chris Brown.

But in spite of all of that - if there's one thing I'm even *less* a fan of than all of the above ... it's petty political point-scoring at the expense of somebody's fractious, and hopefully repented for criminal past.

Because seriously. Call it what you will, but recent outpourings of umbrage from figures such as that noted moral and ethical compass (or, if you prefer, lodestone) Judith Collins ... are not motivated by a desire to protect women, or a sincere belief in attempting to prevent any former basher of women from entering the country.

They're grand-standing. Pure and simple.

How do I know this?

Well, consider the following:

Earlier this year, hard rock legends Motley Crue toured Auckland for the first (and, as was much of the hype, last) time.

Motley Crue features a gentleman by the name of Tommy Lee on drums.

Tommy Lee was sentenced to six months *in prison* for attacking his then-wife Pamela Anderson while she breast-fed their child. According to her, Lee had also engaged in a callous and drawn-out campaign of psychological as well as physical abuse against their children, to the point that she didn't feel safe allowing him to be around them.

New Zealand has considerable issues with both domestic violence - and, more especially, the heinous abuse of our children ... and yet nobody seemed to object when Tommy Lee was allowed into the country earlier this year to perform.

What is it that's different between Lee and Brown? Is it the colour of their skin? Is it that the severity of Lee's attack was serious enough to see him sentenced to a half-year's imprisonment term while Brown's offending was considered only odious enough to warrant community service? Is it that Lee also abused children as well as his partner?

Or is it that Motley Crue is a band far more popular with the baby boomer generation who actually go out and vote rather than us youngsters - Brown's target market - thus rendering Lee therefore somehow utterly immune to the same degree of harsh scrutiny which gets applied to younger, blacker artists by our political Establishment.

Seriously: the more I think about it, the more it seems inescapable that that's what the deal here is.

Consider Ozzy Osbourne. Apart from being somebody whose music I actually happen to enjoy, he was also well renowned for ... attempting to kill his wife. That's right - the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness once woke up in a jail cell being charged with the attempted murder of his wife.

And yet whom do I see gearing up to tour New Zealand next year? Why, it's Black Sabbath, of course!

Wonder if Judith Collins will *dare* offend her party's prime voterbase by writing Ozzy off as "just another wife-beater" while attempting to lobby to have him barred from the country. There'd be a national outcry!

But let's go further.

Another argument which has been advanced for barring Brown from our shores is that he's a rolemodel - that his conduct influences others (particularly our young people), and that quite apart from keeping a "wife-beater" out of the country, his exclusion is necessary in order to ensure the proper message of condemnation of his criminal conduct is transmitted to our impressionable youth.

Well that didn't stop Vince Neil (again, from Motley Crue) from being allowed in!

We have an epic and epidemic problem with drunk-driving here in New Zealand - yet a man who's caused at least one death and several severe, debilitating injuries through a string of drunk-driving offences (for which he's been sentenced to jail-time and at least $2.6 million dollars worth of restitution ... not that that seems to have deterred him from reoffending repeatedly) ... was once again allowed in without any problem.

So is it that we only care about domestic violence when it comes to preventing potentially negative role-models from entering our nation - and not child abuse or drunk driving? Or is it that Brown is a more obviously controversial figure - an easier villain to hate ... and therefore a more 'politically legitimate' target for a castigationary mob mentality.

Either way, the argument that we need to bar people with problematic pasts who're in the public eye from coming to New Zealand to perform ... doesn't seem to hold up. It just simply doesn't get applied in anything like a consistent manner.

More importantly, I've had a think about this whole "rolemodel influences behavior" theory as a justification for excluding artists from our shores - and especially to the 'youtube generation', it just doesn't stack up.

We're not going to stop consuming Brown's media and musical output simply because he's 'trapped' on the other side of the Pacific. This isn't the 1970s wherein you could, Muldoon-style, price young consumers out of encountering foreign media simply by putting a tax-hike on their records - or, for that matter, outright banning their importation.

The constraint of influence doesn't work like that.

We're not going to find ourselves driven to cease listening to somebody's music - or drive them from occupying a prominent place in our public consciousness (for such, Brown undeniably does) ... simply through a border-control decision.

To assume you can do so, as a politician, is *breathtakingly* naive.

Further, while it might seem *incredibly* controversial to suggest ... I do believe that there are better ways to use Brown and his past in a positive way as applies domestic violence - rather than just out-right banning him from the country and hoping that'll send the appropriate message.

Community activists including former Minister Dame Tariana Turia have already begun pointing out that where conventional approaches to getting the anti-domestic violence message out there into the public consciousness aren't overwhelmingly working ... Brown's presence and advocacy - drawing on his past - might be able to succeed in taking the message to places it can't ordinarily go.

I've also done a bit of quasi-investigative journalism on this myself and approached the people bringing Brown to New Zealand. They've assured me that if he's allowed into the country, Brown will be engaging in a variety of community and advocacy activities designed to help convey a strident anti-domestic violence message to our young people.

If that's what he actually does - and make no mistake, I'm not here to vouch for his credibility - then that's at least a start, and of arguable greater utility to the nation than simply barring him outright.

It's also interesting to note that the New Zealand Women's Refuge organization has taken a similar stance - making a posting to facebook emphasizing how they're "all about moving forward", and stating that they hope Brown makes an effort to publicly advocate against domestic violence while he's here.

In summary, the more I think about this situation ... the more things appear to be somewhat topsy-turvy.

We've got an internationally followed and highly influential personage who claims to want to bring us, among other things, a message of opposition to domestic violence ... yet we're barring him from the country because we're worried people will listen to him.

We've got a baying lobby for exerting stringent moral standards in whom we choose to let into New Zealand - which apparently chooses to overlook on a not infrequent basis the highly *highly* problematic pasts of other musicians ... just provided they're white and appealing to a certain more-likely-to-vote audience demographic.

And the apparent key ethical battle of the day here in our nation is being duked out between two former Minister of the Crown from the same Government ... in specia, the one who sold out her people for thirty pieces of Whanau Ora - and the woman whose moral and fiscal corruption forever changed the way we, as a nation, view the phrase "crying over spilled milk".

Meanwhile, any actual attention on the genuine and pressing issue of domestic violence is swept under the rug as we all tie ourselves up in knots debating the morality-or-otherwise of admitting we listen to the music of a man who committed a heinously violent act more than half a decade ago - and who's since repeatedly, profusely and publicly repented for same.

I'm not going to ask how long a black mark like this hangs over someone - because quite frankly, there's no sane, decent or logical answer. It varies according to individual perceptions and the nature of the crime - and the criminal - in question. However, the contribution an individual is able to make in undoing the harm they've wrought with their offending is absolutely key in helping to determine whether, when and if such a black mark should be expunged.

I'm happy to give Brown a chance to make a strong contribution to the fight against domestic violence here in Aotearoa as the 'ticket price' of his admission to our fine shores; and find myself in the exceptionally rare position of somewhat agreeing with Tariana Turia that there's some potential benefit to his performing here after all.

Up next: Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne telling kids not to do drugs.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On Tracey Martin's Recent A-Gender: "Death Is As Nothing Compared To Vindication"

Early on Sunday morning, I received a text from a friend and political comrade which simply read: "Tracey's had a melt-down".

It was not until I hit a little later on in the day that I worked out what he was on about.

Splashed across the top of the link was, variously, '1950s respect for women' and 'NZ First MP Tracey Martin accept she could be gone at the next election'; with a byline of 'Former NZ First Deputy Leader Tracey Martin is pushing back at her Party's disregard for women'.

Now that caused my hackles to rise - and not just for the immediately obvious reason that we don't, as a Party, have a "disregard for women".

This is not to say we haven't had some problems in recent years - but as you'll go on to see, in my view, these were far more *Tracey-related* than the result of any actual serious structural discrimination going on within New Zealand First.

But first-up, let's consider the facts.

Going in to the last Election, New Zealand First's Parliamentary Caucus was nearly 50% female. We had a female Deputy Leader, a female Whip, a female President, a female Director-General, a small legion of well-respected Kuia, and many more strong women in positions of power, influence, and authority besides.

Even though it was never likely to attract as much immediate attention as the gender-split co-leadership positions of entities like the Green Party (or, for that matter, the Maori Party) ... I feel fairly comfortable in stating that New Zealand First was an organization which recognized competence and promoted success without regard to gender or race.

Unfortunately, round about mid-way through last year, things started to slip.

Tracey was newly-minted as our Deputy Leader. (And let me put it this way: if we had such a problem with women, why would we promote her to the position over the demonstrably more-performing Andrew Williams)

She'd always been an avowed and ardent feminist - but whereas before, this ideological affectation was used positively to support and empower ideas and other women ... now it was used to shut down dissent and silence criticism in her direction.

I still vividly remember, at our 2014 Convention, Tracey taking exception to a Youth Wing-authored policy remit about Parliamentary Kawa protocol. The NZ First member and Convention delegate speaking to it was a girl of Maori extraction. Tracey had previously argued with myself and some others from the Wing about the topic (before defriending us all on principle), so must have therefore assumed the remit was my doing.

Because no sooner had my comrade finished speaking, than Tracey leaped to her feet and started shouting at the poor girl (who had to leave the room in tears) about how she was letting herself be used as a tool of the "white-man's colonialist agenda" - which was said while looking at me square in the eye.

If you *dared* to disagree with her, in other words, you were not a fellow woman voicing a legitimate opinion - you were a brainwashed and subversive agent of Patriarchy, and fit only to be brutally if not mercilessly beaten and opposed.

In that situation, at least, the only efforts at female-marginalization I saw coming from *anywhere* within the Party emitted directly from Tracey herself.

But it went further.

I've previously detailed in my piece for TDB about Tracey's Leadership aspirations, the way in which she sought to comprehensively marginalize new NZ First MP Ria Bond - with the explicit goal of attempting to keep Ria out of Parliament.

In addition to this, subsequent conversations with a variety of figures have confirmed that Tracey allegedly saw fit to spread some *pretty* scurrilous rumours about Ria in order to try and end or limit her political involvement and career. It wouldn't be fair to Ria to air these in public - but suffice to say I'm thoroughly unimpressed with what appears to have gone on here; and the depths Tracey appears to have been prepared to plumb in order to keep another (younger) woman from assuming her rightful place in Parliament.

So when Tracey talks about there being an entrenched culture against women in the highest echelons of NZ First - I have to respectfully disagree.

One person is not a "culture".

Even if it *did* seem at times that she was able to wield disproportionate influence over the rest of us.

In any case, a couple of months ago the situation changed once again - and hopefully for the better.

Tracey found herself replaced as Deputy Leader by Ron Mark. At the time, she made a number of moves which appeared to indicate that an outward image of graceful dignity in defeat was the order of the day. She gave public interviews in which she cited him as the more experienced option - indeed, the "right person [for the] job".

So it came as some surprise to find her, yesterday morning, claiming that her more recent explanation for why she no longer holds the Deputy Leadership is "I was probably born the wrong gender". Even if she herself points out that this is "unprovable".

However, from where I'm sitting (nowadays down here in the cheap seats) ... the *actual* explanation's pretty clear.

Tracey was right all along!

Ron Mark simply is the better MP for the job. As she herself pointed out, Ron has years more political and Parliamentary experience than Tracey does. He also - to my mind, at least - appears to be doing a far better job at *uniting* rather than fracturing and factionalizing the Party behind him. Importantly, as we look towards a post-Winston New Zealand First ... he without a doubt stands an undeniably better chance of winning Wairarapa than Tracey does Rodney. I mean - just look at their respective vote tallies in their home electorates back in 2014: 3951 after 3 successive elections building profile as a Parliamentary candidate and local MP ... versus 8630 following on from a virtually spur-of-the-moment and hastily planned campaign with almost zero buildup.

It ain't hard to see who's got the profile and the ability necessary to carry us forward on into the future. And that's particularly the case given Tracey's curiously phrased sentiment about refusing to "go out on a limb for any of [us]" - which, needless to say, is antithetical in spirit to the Army-style comradeship and mutual loyalty which Ron Mark brings to proceedings.

As for her comments on Winston ... well, she's entitled to her opinion. But I somehow doubt that Winston opposed underage forced marriages, or supported paid parental leave purely because of the political capital to be made from either cause. Rather, I'd like to think that he did so, in each case, because it was the *right* thing to do.

Although as applies "seeing politics in everything" ... this is also something I'd not infrequently found Tracey capable of. She is, for all her faults, often quite a sharp lady - and very, very much capable of forward-thinking, planning and the pursuit of long-term goals.

My first reaction upon reading this article based on an interview with her, was to quote Metternich referring to the death of Talleyrand - "I wonder what [she] meant by that?"

In this instance, it seems altogether *far* too simplistic an explanation to blithely assume that Tracey would be so careless as to inadvertently get off-side with her Leader (as well as a large chunk of the rest of the Party) by tacitly insulting him with comments about gender-bias and his social views allegedly being stuck in the 1950s.

It's possible that the stress of her job has been getting to her and perhaps impairing her judgement - a supposition arguably supported by her comments about considering leaving Parliament when Winston goes (assuming, of course, that her other prognostication about finding herself down around Number 30 on the List doesn't come to pass first). But that doesn't seem quite the case, either. You don't - unless you're particularly neurotic and/or deranged - go out of your way to seek interviews with the Sunday Star when you're feeling a bit tired and emotional.

Instead, what I think might have happened, is this: Tracey has decided she's seen the 'writing on the wall' about some future calamity to afflict her (potentially assuming Ron Mark is about to do to her what she did to her own Deputy Leadership rival, Andrew Williams) - and rather than let it consume her gracefully, has instead decided to commit an egregious combination of "suicide by cop" and "dramatic, self-referential exit".

She's already predicted a substantial List demotion. This way, if/when it happens ... she can turn around and say "I told you so" - and point towards her alleged running afoul of an entrenched hypothetical culture of misogyny as reasoning for it.

The narrative's already handily out there in the media and percolating about the traps for when it happens - and she won't have to risk it fading quickly into obscurity like Asenati's attempt of the same trick when the latter accused the NZ First Party Board of Directors of being racist.

Having said that, there seems to me to be a bit of a contradiction between running around the place accusing your Party Leader and Caucus colleagues of being closet misogynists with her also-stated objective of convincing "the people who are on the listing committee to believe that I'm worth bringing back to represent NZ First" - even if she does acknowledge that "this little push of [hers] could affect that".

Then again, as a great man once said: "Death is as nothing compared to Vindication".

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

On the 'Bae Of Pigs', the 'Minister For Porn', Len Brown, and 'The Ridicularity Threshold'

There exists, in politics, a 'Ridicularity Threshold', beyond which the buffeting barrage of electors and officialdom .. well .. laughing at you makes it impossible to continue to effectively hold office. At least in the short-to-medium term.

Local examples of this include Len Brown after certain (alleged) details of his sexual performance became aired on WhaleOil toward the start of his 2nd term; and arguably Shane Jones during the Minister For Porn scandal.

In the case of the former, it seemed nigh-on impossible for quite some months after his very public fall from grace to think of our Mayor without the phrases "Ngati Whatua Room" and "Less Duration Than A Pack Of Two Minute Noodles" marching with ill-deserved confidence and candor toward our mind's eye. Also accompanied by a somewhat ghastly visualization of the Mayor in flagrante delicto - or, given the contents of Chuang's affidavit, engaged in what I am charitably going to call a rather disconcerting if not disgusting use of the Mayoral office, desk, and telephone-lines.

It wasn't even the much-purported logic that Brown had run for office on "family values", only to repeatedly violate those values in quite literally exactly the same office he now occupied. That certainly would have broken his electoral base somewhat ... but I don't think this part of what happened was, by itself, insurmountable.

What actually seems to have broken him, therefore, had less to do with an image or appearance of hypocrisy (which, after all, is part and parcel of politics and national life in the public eye) - but instead the twin emotions of revulsion and ridicularity which from then on *had* to accompany every instance of his name being brought up in political or private discourse.

We simply couldn't talk about him without vaguely remembering the contents of that affidavit - often with a seemingly salacious glee at being able to tut-tuttingly admonish one of our leaders while also feeling a rush of ghoulish pleasure at being able to gossip about the intimate and disconcerting (alleged) details of someone's sex-life.

This is pretty much what it's going to be like for David Cameron - or, as Twitter has taken to calling him, #Hameron.

By now, we've pretty much all become aware and acquainted with the details of what his younger self allegedly got up to with that pig's head. If we're active on social media, we've no doubt seen (if not indulged in the creation of) the dozens of Miss Piggy, Piglet, and David Cameron Holding A Pig In That Photoshoot One Time memes presently in circulation about him.

And yet, there are some key and important differences between #BaeOfPigs and Bevan Chuang.

This is, for the moment, alleged to be a one-off incident during Cameron's youth. It is not therefore, in some senses of the term, a "live issue". (Particularly as it was a *dead* pig rather than a live lover)

There are no txts. There is no signed affidavit.

Barring a whole bushel of Cameron's former University party-brigade or Conservative Party comrades and colleagues coming out of the woodwork with fresh material, it seems likely that the hubbub will likely die down.

Cameron is also helped in this regard by benefiting from a seemingly pliant domestic media. On the same day this story aired, domestic tabloids had other things to do.

Indeed, without additional evidence coming forward for what presently seems to be a potentially somewhat defamatory allegation, it's very likely that the #PorkGate brouhaha turns into the UK equivalent of #DirtyPolitics. That is to say - something which the Opposition, left-leaning voters, and certain segments of the media care very much and very deeply about ... yet which ultimately, due to their over-enthusiasm for attempting to smear the PM/Government with it, switches off those all-important centrist and Conservative-core voters from taking the resulting allegations seriously.

The result is that a potentially explosive skyrocket up the arse of the government turns into a disappointing fizzer.

A dismal projection whose reality is, no doubt, rendered more likely by the tyranny of timing: this revelation has occurred a mere few months after the UK last went to the polls for a General Election, increasing the resultant likelihood that nobody of any importance will remember/publicly care about the #BaeOfPigs incident by the time of the next Election.

Additionally, even for some of the most ... outwardly reprehensible to the Electorate at that point in time affairs, in Politics there's almost always a way back - *if* you play it right.

Earlier in this piece, I cited the example of so-called "Minister for Porn" Shane Jones.

We all know what he was accused of, and what he admitted to doing (although to his credit, he paid back the illicit expenditure *well* before it became a headline - in contrast to other Labour MPs caught up in the release of records at the time like Chris(t) Carter).

And in common with Len Brown ... there was a sustained period in our national life wherein it was virtually impossible to think of Shane Jones - much less bring him up in either serious or work-room conversation - without the terrible thought of him *ahem* enjoying himself in a taxpayer-funded hotel room springing instantly to mind.

And yet the differences between how the Brown affair played out versus #PornGate may prove to be instructive - particularly for Cameron.

Two years after Len Brown's indiscretions became public knowledge, the Mayor is a lame duck - alleged to have given up all hope of an attempt at a third term by even his own campaign team abandoning him. It seems certain that, by this time next year, Brown will have all but disappeared from public political life entirely.

Three years after Shane Jones' misuse of a ministerial credit card became public, however, Jones was storming his way into the national news media as the surprisingly well-liked and electorally-popular "wildcard" candidate in Labour's internal leadership election. It was unlikely that he'd ever have managed to win it - but seemingly almost overnight, he managed to go from being the man dubbed "the Minister for Porn" (or, using his own terminology, a "red-blooded male") through to the Labour Party's "Great Brown Hope" at winning back the Working Class. Indeed, I feel virtually certain that Labour's dismal showing at the 2014 Election can be partially chalked up to his absence from their ranks.

These days, Jones is being talked up as the possible successor to Winston Peters as Leader of New Zealand First - a dramatic turnaround from public laughingstock to a figure even Winston seems to take seriously.

In short, the la
tter seems to have recovered with surprising grace and dexterity - deftly using the Labour leadership contest to transform himself in the public perception from a figure of ribald amusement ... into somebody a broad swathe of the electorate actually seems to have quite a bit of time for - possibly because when compared to the rest of the Labour Party, he seemed altogether less ridiculous. To *that* portion of the electorate, anyway.
Only time will tell whether the #BaeOfPigs
 imbroglio becomes a temporary blip of pork-barreling politics for Cameron amidst an otherwise reasonably distinguished Parliamentary and Prime Ministerial career ... or whether, even now, shadowy figures are amassing in a smoke-filled board-room somewhere near Westminster, about to summons Cameron into their midst to tell him of the impending bad news about his resignation from the frontbench of public and political life while his image goes into unmitigated freefall.
I don't rule out Cameron making a recovery - he's got some of the best spin in recent media/political history around him, and Corbyn doesn't seem to have the Winstonian flare for personal attack politics to try and make an issue out of it (although it would arguably only taint Corbyn's personal brand to do so anyway).

But it will be interesting to watch the continual flow of memes and social media jabs evolve into mainstream-media haranguing over the coming few days - and see whether, in consequence, this puts Cameron's own party and supporters off him. As well as the extent to which it harms his reputation with the three most important groups in any Westminster democracy: the shadowy financial backers (one of whom's already written a book :P); the party apparatchiks and civil servants without whom it's impossible to hold office or to govern; and somewhere down in distant third place ... the electorate itself - particularly those centrist or 'swing' voters whose depth or dearth of public opinion is vitally necessary to capture in order to maintain a government, election after election.

One thing's for certain, though. The burning of bacon in the pan that is Cameron has put an irreversible streak through the teflon that formerly coated him.

He will never appear quite the same, in our eyes, ever again.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Harden Up" and "Love the Cock" - A Shocking Day for Seymour

Every now and again when it comes to political commentary, I find myself inadvertently putting aside my personal biases and proclivities in order to actually engage with politicians as people.

Because ultimately, that's what they are.

And it's a perception no doubt hugely fostered by continually engaging with them as actual human beings, rather than, as Rudyard Kipling put it, "little tin gods on wheels" whom one only forms a dim and vague perception of through the distant medium of the media.

Unfortunately, one of the parts-and-parcel of being a mere human ... is a propensity for human error. (Or, as arguably applies ACT's economic policy - inhuman error writ large and Lovecraftian)

Seymour especially - as a first term MP and frighteningly young Minister - appears especially prone to it.

I've previously seen him bust out frankly bizarre comments in debate about things like importing immigrants into New Zealand for the sole purpose of giving Ron Mark a sponge bath, for instance.

And it's presumably in the spirit of this sort of blurting out of vague, half-formed points topped off with a memetic miasma of memorability that David Seymour came out with Tuesday's clanger about the French purported love of Coq.

No serious harm done there - except to my already swivel-eyed inability to look at him any way other than sideways. (I am, as is occasionally remarked upon, of proud Gallic ancestry inter alia)

But unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his recent comments to Victoria students about mental illness.

Now contrary to what you might believe about politicians and mental illness (i.e. the old mantra: "you don't have to be mad to work here ... but it helps - particularly if you're about to so something as abjectly insane as attempt to part-privatize the welfare system for the mentally ill"), most Members of Parliament don't have very much in the way of direct experience with mental illness. Although I've always privately wondered if the foibles, evils, perceptive-biases, and pathology of Neoliberalism are sufficiently such that its adherents could be similarly branded as suffering from some form of mentally afflicted malady.

In fact, the higher up you go in the realms of politics, the more likely it is you'll find comments or commentary about mental illness - and most importantly, the personal experience thereof (as opposed to an abstract number-line on a health ministry's budget sheet), to be shushed under the carpet rather than talked about openly or embraced.

Refreshingly, this is not always the case. Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, for instance, has appointed a Shadow-Minister for Mental Health to his Shadow-Cabinet. Former State Liberal Leader John Brogden's highly personal account of the circumstances surrounding his suicide attempt while in office just goes to show how very strongly a political life and mental illness can be inextricably - and causatively - intertwined.

But these are the minority of cases.

In the main and for the most part, mental health issues *scare* politicians.

There's any number of reasons as to why. In abstract, it's presumably because they're hard to control - the mental health issues, not the politicians.

But on a more personal level, I've always thought that the reason many actual career politicians seem so ... well ... afraid and reluctant to engage when it comes to living, breathing examples of mental illness standing right there in front of them, is for a different reason entirely.

They're worried that it could happen to them.

And in an "industry" (if you could call it that) riven with disappointment, legitimate institutionalized paranoia, demandingly long work hours, and frenetic if not frenzied anxieties - it's quite probably a semi-justified concern.

I could write a small book on my personal experiences and observations of the oft-daft ways in which politicians handle or respond to mental illness. (And in fact, sort-of am doing so)

But that's not what this is about.

Instead, Seymour's remarks represent yet another instance of a Government Minister attempting to apply a heavily ideological "solution" to a complex and intractable problem - specifically mental health.

We've already seen this from *exactly* the same Government (and in a move roundly supported by Mr Seymour) when it came to the rollout of Mental Health Bonds as part of that aforementioned part-privatization of the welfare and healthcare system.

Now while it's fair to state that an off-hand answer in a campus debate about mental health issues is not going to be *quite* so damaging to sufferers as the pernicious effects of Government policy surrounding health and social development - the problem is that Seymour's questionable views aren't simply his own and aired in a light-hearted semi-serious context.

They're a worrying perspective held by a relatively senior (somehow) public official - and one of the guiding voices in the corridors of power which help to determine the extent and ambit of government policy.

You can understand why people are thusly concerned.

To be fair to Seymour (gosh, I seem to be saying that a lot recently, don't I) ... there is an argument that the way we treat many mental illnesses and developmental disorders in this country is prone to legitimate concerns about "over-medication". Consider, for instance, periodic panics about the over-prescriptions of incredibly powerful neuro-stimulants (up to and including a substance that's quite literally the same as street-speed) to kids and young adults as a means for dealing with their purported (and potentially misdiagnosed) ADHD.

To be additionally fair to Seymour, there is also a core element of truth to his sentiment about how you "have to make a choice and choose to make the most of things."

A decision to seek counselling, engage in cognitive behavioral therapy, or even simply to go to your GP and turn your diagnosis into a prescription (where necessary - and hopefully to buttress the other two approaches, in concert with support networks) ... these are all "choices", and affirmations of a sufferer's aspiration to get better (if not well) - and restore as much functionality to one's life as is expeditiously possible.

But a prescription anti-depressant is not a 'concrete pill', and there is a woeful gulf of difference if not diffidence between choosing to recognize that one is not well then taking steps accordingly to get better ... versus attempting to "harden up" and ignore or minimize the nature and consequences of your illness.

That way - and all too often quite literally - madness lies.

Seymour, bless his heart, has presumably never had to grapple with mental illness personally - and therefore doesn't *quite* appreciate the fundamental distinction between "harden up" [because an external force of conformist-pressurizing society told you to do so] and "I choose to undertake my best efforts to manage my illness and get better". Or even that, for many sufferers of mental illness, plucking up the agency to attempt to "get better" is something beyond their reach at that point in time.

Also, and most importantly, there is a necessary causal linkage between "choosing" to seek wellness (whether it's actually fully attainable or not) - and having access to the tools with which to make that happen.

Counselling and medications for treatment, psychiatry for proper diagnosis, and all the other necessary accouterments for sorting your mental illness - they aren't cheap.

It almost goes without saying that in Seymour's arch-neoliberal user-pays more-market view of the world, they'd hardly be any cheaper.

Our public health system - particularly the mental health end of the spectrum of care - creaks and groans under the weight of a continually expanding sea of users. Consultations with *decent* mental health professionals seem to be fewer between and harder to find. Under the TPPA, the costs of our medications will very likely go up substantially thanks to Seymour and his ilk placing PHARMAC under serious threat.

So in short and in sum: Seymour's answer to a broad-ranging question about the pressures of student life (including a follow-up specifically focused on mental illness) apparently featured the words "harden up".

That's problematic - particularly given the ways such a declaration by a public figure can be used as a flow-on justification by others that mental illness is all, figuratively, in the sufferer's head.

He also suggested that over-medication was part of the problem, and that one had to "choose" to seek to improve one's condition.

These elements are *also* problematic - but for reasons explained above, arguably less so.

As a matter of fact, I happen to agree with him that making a conscious "choice" and effort to seek (relative) wellness is often an important part of starting to negotiate the long and fraught path towards some semblance of recovery (or functionality) for a person engaged in a punch-up with their own psyche.

But - and I really can't stress this enough - such a choice can't be made in isolation. It isn't simply a matter of "willing" yourself to get better, otherwise mental illness just simply wouldn't be a problem for many sufferers.

It's a question of how you go about that process - and how you actualize that choice you've made into your own immanent reality.

And that's *far* easier to do in a society with a compassionate, interventionist government ... rather than the neoliberal hellscape into which Seymour and his party comrades would undoubtedly wish to see us condemned.

If any good whatsoever can come out of this situation, I hope it's that Seymour can take a look at what he's said ... do some work getting to grips with the actual lived experience of mentally ill New Zealanders ... and then use what he's learned to help inform and change his perspective as to why an expansive, well-funded and protective state apparatus is *vitally necessary* in guaranteeing that choice and individual sovereignty upon which his libertarian creed is nominally based.

Anything less would be a Coq-up.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Great New Zealand Book Banning Experiment ... Wait, What?!

Oh dear.

I'm not going to start this piece with some sort of grandiloquent and vainglorious polemical point that transgresses Godwin's Law about whether those who burn books will sooner or later burn people as well - even if the author of the work we're talking about, New Zealand writer Ted Dawe, asked exactly that question in the NZ Herald yesterday morning.

Instead, I'm going to ask one very simple question:

When is it appropriate for the Christian president of the Film And Literature Review Board, Don Mathieson, to wade into a dispute and overrule the Board's own Chief Censor in order to get an outcome more in tune with his own, personal beliefs?

Because that's EXACTLY what's happened here.

Not long after its rise to prominence in 2013, "Into The River" was referred by Internal Affairs to the Office of the Censor and the Film and Literature Review Board. There was a protracted legal wrangle featuring Mathieson himself arguing for an R-18 restriction, before finally an R-14 classification was settled upon.

This decision was then reviewed and overturned by the proper authority last month, leaving the book ultimately unrestricted..

Which offended notorious God-botherer and general curmudgeonly nuisance-about-town Bob McCoskrie, who took issue with this exercise in due process and began working in concert with his co-religionist, Mathieson, to over-ride the decision of the chief censor.

It seems curious that Mathieson was able to lose the argument when debating the issue through the proper channels only to then turn around later and over-ride the outcome by "Presidential" decree.

That smacks of vindictive self-interest being prioritized over the sound workings of institutions and fair process.

We now have a situation wherein the book is banned. That's right - straight-up, and outright BANNED. With a fine of up to $10,000 apiece for making it available to the general public.

And these Christians-in-our-public-sphere, Mathieson and McCoskrie, running around backslapping each other through the media about setting a "semi-precedent" and hopefully "[exerting] a significant influence upon other decisions portraying teenage sex and drug taking".

Or, in other words, they think they've got all the rest of us on notice.

And Heaven help you if you happen to write something - with or without artistic and literary merit - which they happen not to like.

Speaking of "literary merit" ... this isn't some sort of 50 Shades of Grey for Kids, or Twilight or something. It won top prize at the NZ Post's Children's Book Awards in 2013.

I'm not going to deny that occasionally, hugely problematic works of fiction get disseminated out into the hands of our young people with nary a restriction nor a warning label upon the licentious and bloodthirsty content they might come into contact with.

Most school libraries, after all, possess at least one copy of the Old Testament - which is rife with the stuff. As well as incest, genocide and attempted child-sacrifice into the bargain.

But we don't choose to restrict that.

Hell, McCoskrie and Mathieson probably want to make it recommended if not outright REQUIRED reading for our young people!

So I'm going to cheerfully call "Hypocrisy" on this sad little imbroglio; while also suggesting that we've set an exceptionally dangerous "semi-precedent" (and really ... what IS that, anyway) in using this law - for the first time since its inception 22 years ago - to ban a relatively innocuous and outright award-winning piece of teenage fiction.

And also point out that we have now entered into a perilous situation wherein certain religious persons personally empowered by positions of prominence and influence appear to think it's A-OK to start inflicting their own individual moralities upon us via arguable abusage of their holding of office.

That's not OK.

That way, Texas lies.

What's 451 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

With Four Dud Options ... Time To Do As Winston Says And #KeepOurFlag

Well that was fantastically underwhelming, wasn't it. Yesterday, we saw the final four flag designs announced ... and hopefully, with any luck, the final four nails in the coffin of this insufferable exercise in Prime Ministerial arrogance.

Now I'm not naive. It's certainly possible that a reasonably large proportion of Kiwis were potentially open to a flag change, when this debate first got going. We'll never know precisely how many, because National decided in their inestimable wisdom to do this whole process back to front and ask us *if* we wanted the flag changed *after* getting us to choose which flag we wanted it changed to.

But through a combination of spirited advocacy by laudable organizations like the RSA, and a rising chorus of disquiet about both the $26 million dollar cost of the process as well as the somewhat lackluster results it's evidently produced ... public opinion appears to have swung in fairly decisively behind the "anti-change" camp.


For what it's worth, before the outset of this process I was not entirely unfavourably disposed toward one day changing the design of our flag. But it would have to be to the right one. And almost as importantly, done through the proper process.

None of these four designs are "the right one", as far as I'm concerned; and whatever you wish to call the way National has gone about attempting to ensure a flag-change, "proper process" sure isn't it.

And in any case, throughout the course of the flag-change debate ... I've actually discovered just how enamoured I really am with the one we've got at the moment, anyway.

I actually think I've come to really like it. Stirs the heart, fills it full of #Nationalist sentiment. Respects our history (well - part of it, anyway) ... and DOESN'T look like some sort of two-bit corporate logo.

Or, for that matter, an instrument of mass hypnosis.

It may not be perfect - but it beats out ALL the available competitors (all four of them) by a flag-pole furlough.

So as we careen toward the upcoming flag referendum with an ill-disguised sense of national nausea ... what are we to do.

Short of armed insurrection against the Government (settle down NZ Police - I'm not actually advocating that. Please don't drag Bomber down to Central Station again on my behalf), how are we to protect our flag from the forces of iniquity and inequality which apparently seek to despoil it?

After all, we can't vote to keep our flag in this initial referendum.

So what can we do?

Simple. Write "Keep Our Flag", or "KOF" on your ballot paper rather than ticking any of the lackluster options on offer.

This will "invalidate" or "spoil" your ballot.

The government doesn't really have to take notice of people who just simply don't vote.

But they DO have to record the numbers and make a note of it when you deface your ballot. (And yes, yes I am aware that given the four designs on the ballot paper, it's pretty much already fairly visually defaced as it is)

So what we're trying to do here is FORCE our Government to listen to the people, through an exercise of democracy. Radical idea, I know.

When enough Kiwis send back in spoiled ballots - rather than pliantly voting for the red-and-blue plastic plate logo, as we're expected to - it will become plainly apparent to the Government that this entire process has been not just an expensive farce, but a fizzer into the "bargain".

That's why Winston Peters is calling on New Zealand voters to send back defaced ballots, rather than taking part in this undignified exercise in highly expensive sack-cloth selection.

Because it's quite honestly the only option at this stage that makes sense - given we have no other real way to express our support for the present flag and the extant status quo.

In summary: when your ballot-paper turns up in the near future ... do the right thing and keep it Kiwi.

Don't bother voting for any of the seriously average designs on offer.

Just put "Keep Our Flag" or "KOF" on your ballot paper instead.

That'll ensure the Government gets the message!