Monday, April 30, 2018

On A Potential Future For The Commonwealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

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

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

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

Quite the opposite, most likely.

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

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

And a sorry business it is, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

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

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

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

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

Good riddance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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