Friday, October 26, 2018

On National's Yet-Unsinking Poll Numbers

Thinking about the National Party's recent woes - there's a funny sort of ... I guess you'd say "symmetry" to a lot of happenings politics; and not simply in the sense that they occur "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce".

Up until last week, their biggest problem - and the single most important thing that was likely to lose them the 2020 Election - was the fact they didn't have any viable coalition partners. And would therefore spend the next two years either hoping against hope to somehow *increase* their share of the vote to pretty much unprecedented above-50% levels on Election Night, or that ACT would inexplicably undergo an act of meiosis in its Caucus.

Neither were especially likely, for any number of reasons.

Yet as of Monday a week ago, an implosion-process began which could very easily have stood up alongside ACT from ~2009-2011, the Conservative Party in 2015, or United Future at a number of occasions broadly commensurate with "times post-2002 when it's had more than one MP".

Yet this has not - thus far, anyway ... it's still relatively early days - seemingly eventuated.

And while it might seem *entirely* premature to suspect so, a mere thirteen days after the first sign of an actual explosion ... in a curious manner perhaps not unakin to a fire being unable to properly ignite and engulf due to an altogether too densely packed bundle of kindling, the very fact that National is so presently bereft of 'friends', may mean that no large-scale double-digits tumbling in the polls will yet eventuate.

Much of the reason for this, is because there is simply nobody else on the (centre) right of NZ politics whom the average Nat supporter will yet consider switching over to. It's always possible (even perhaps likely) that "swing voters" in the middle will continue bleeding away from Blue to Red, to Labour's net advantage; and perhaps some modest few (with much, likely in their property portfolios, to be modest about) will attempt to re-invigorate ACT.

It is, of course, vaguely possible that should the sparks from last week's incipient explosion manage to migrate into the ship's magazine, that the ensuing larger-scale and ongoing detonations may somewhat 'force' the issue, and render it unavoidable that an array of more numerically significant Nat support gets "blown away" and/or attempts to strike out upon their very own Raft of the Medusa (so-named, not just due to the rather famous painting, but also due to the probability of one Judith Collins - either in person or merely in spirit - being upon its black-tinged sails (that's another classical metaphor - in this case, in the direction of Theseus)).

But barring a sudden endeavour in political necromancy vis a vis the Conservative Party, or the much-talked about (perhaps with a sense of yearning) putative possibility of somebody managing to 'poach'/'re-direct' a few sitting Nat MPs to set up a 'right of centre' party (naming perhaps not coincidental given the previous effort to bear it ..) to assist in 'gaming' MMP ... there is literally nowhere else for anybody who wants to vote against a Labour-led Government to go.

Therefore, as I said - in a curious way, National's circumstances are "symmetrical". Or perhaps we might say that they are a "mirror image", now (hence why things are now the other way around).

The very same insurmountable problem that had them almost certainly consigned to Opposition for the foreseeable future as of up to two weeks ago .. has now, somewhat paradoxically, become the main thing keeping them even *vaguely* in contention for Government (by polling figures alone), for much of the last two weeks.

That is not, of course, to say that I view the former set of circumstances as "tragedy".

But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what we are witnessing now is, nevertheless, "farce".

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On TVNZ Thinking It Was "Diwali" Last Weekend

So over the weekend, I happened to see ads wishing a "Happy Diwali" on two TVNZ channels. Now, before anything else is said - I do wish to acknowledge that this is pretty cool, and that it's a mark of how far things've come for a Hindu festival (and religious observance) to be marked by the New Zealand state broadcaster. So thanks for that.

BUT - here's the problem. Diwali isn't for another two weeks (November 7 this year). The weekend just gone was basically the days after Dussehra, so to label it Diwali is ... odd.

Now, to be sure - this *was* about the time Diwali was last year (I know this, because Diwali was also the date that NZF announced it was going with Labour rather than National - so I made the predictable political observation about "victory for light over evil"); however, I don't think that the difficulties inherent in affixing Lunar timekeeping to the regular old Gregorian calendar is what's lead to what's happened here.

Instead, I suspect there's another culprit.

Namely, Auckland Council's decision to hold its "Diwali" festival last weekend.

Which, to be sure, I have *some* positive feelings about. After all, it puts Indian culture and the Indian community quite literally front stage here in Auckland. And can be thought of as helping to 'build bridges' (while also, this year, assisting in 'burning Bridges' due to his having to use the event to apologize for National's sentiments about the Indian community) with the rest of the city.

But to hold Diwali immediately after Dussehra is ... odd, to say the least. It would be akin to holding Christmas in early November immediately after Halloween. Or, if memory serves, in that case in previous years wherein the Council attempted to hold Diwali *right in the middle* of NavRatri, where it was compared to attempting to put Easter Monday before Good Friday (see? We *can* make lunar calendars work for secular event planning here in NZ!) .

Now, I am given to understand the position put forward by the Council is that it makes it a great deal easier getting performance troupes and suchlike if they hold Diwali as and when they do - i.e. not when *we* do, so to speak.

And to a certain point, I have some sympathy for that argument.

But the trouble with this is that by continuing to refer to the resultant festivity as "Diwali", it (mis-)leads to people presuming that it actually *is* Diwali.

So you get somebody at TVNZ endeavouring to engage in a nice gesture (which, again, I *do* think is a pretty cool intent here - and should be lauded, up to a point), on grounds that they've heard that Auckland City Council is holding a "Diwali" event, and therefore without doing the proper research, they just kinda assume ... and 'get onboard' by wishing us all a "Happy Diwali" two weeks early across multiple channels.

Once again - I am not writing this to be ungrateful. *At all*.

It's excellent that TVNZ has chosen to broadcast "Happy Diwali" ads on a number of its channels.

I just feel it prudent to, along with the thanks, make motion of a gentle correction about the date.

After all. "Acknowledgement" is great.

But "Authenticity" - that is important, too.

On Jamie-Lee Ross' Present Arcing Trajectory Over The Bridges' Nest

There are several things that need to be said on the most recent development with everybody's favourite Botanical bete-noir.

First up, despite what various people have said on twitter etc - it is rather unlikely that the Police have taken Jami-Lee Ross in to a mental health facility off their own bat.

The Police *don't* have the arbitrary ability to just abduct/detain people under the Mental Health Act.

What they *do* have is i) the ability to take you in for an assessment under s109 if you look like you're mentally disordered in a public place (i.e. if you're walking around naked in a supermarket with no memory of how you got there or something *then* they can act on the own initiative);

And, ii) under s41, the ability to assist a DAO (who's supposed to be a mental health professional per s93) who's acting under s38, in getting somebody who's reasonably suspected of being unwell in for an assessment etc.

The second situation is more likely what's happened here.

Particularly given the National Party statement that, and I quote : "Over the past several weeks the National Party has taken seriously the mental health concerns raised by Mr Ross and the medical professionals he has been involved with. That has included seeking advice from medical professionals and involving Police wherever necessary to ensure support is made available to Mr Ross."

We'll leave aside my incredible lack of shock (given the overt proximity of both Paula Bennett and Judith Collins to the tip of the spear on this one) that the National Party appears to be flagrantly violating Ross's privacy in order to achieve a short-term political pantomime-victory. 

Under s38(1), *anybody* can contact a DAO about somebody they think is experiencing mental disorder to get the ball rolling. Although like I say - that just *initiates* the process by which the DAO attempts to work out if they need to take things further, and whether they might need police assistance getting you (urgently) assessed by another professional (this tends to involve a proper psych), either where you are or at a hospital, etc.

So, am I saying that some "concerned citizen" in the National Party Caucus called up the local DAO and managed to convince them to get Ross brought into a facility for an assessment, with the ostensible goal of gagging him for the next wee-while while the party re-organizes itself in the resultant breathing room thus created?

Not necessarily - although that would certainly explain why National's own statement pointedly (dare I say it - perhaps 'gloatingly') notes they've enlisted "medical professionals" and "involv[ed] Police wherever necessary to ensure support is made available to Mr Ross."

It's also possible that a concerned "friend" (or even friend, sans scare-quotes) or family member might have pulled the pin on it; or even a general member of the public.

Although it does have to be said - what counts as "mentally disordered", even in the realms of professional psychiatry and such (and *especially* in the context of politics, which is frequently Alice in Wonderland in terms of its overall sensibility as an environment and conditioning influence upon its dramatis personae), is often a pretty subjective standard.

And while I *can* see how somebody might try to label Ross's conduct over the past few days as clear signs of mental disorder (indeed, Paula Bennett has done exactly this - admittedly, from a non-specialist perspective, and with a rather obvious less-than-pure motivation to do so); I can also very much see how it is behavior that fits well within the confines of 'erratic', but understandable (and, importantly - not "irrational") responses to finding yourself in a *pretty tight spot* politically.

There is a very serious risk inherent in attempting to 'pathologize' political dissent - as anybody who's read a bit about Soviet psychiatry knows. And I suppose it could be argued that the protection in s4(a) against being designated 'mentally disordered' on the basis of one's "political, religious, or cultural beliefs [...] only" may perhaps not extend far enough if it does not also implicitly protect "standing in the public sphere, metaphorically dousing yourself and your boss in the gasoline of scandal, before casually lighting a match" as an effective act of political conviction.

(I must also confess, that one of my secondary thoughts upon reading National's statement - specifically the bit about their "involving Police wherever necessary to ensure support is made available to Mr Ross" - was that I, and no doubt a number of others, should presumably be very, very glad that no other NZ MPs or political parties had previously thought to weaponize 'police-assisted "hospitalization for (alleged) mental disorder"' as an effective tool to silence internal-gone-external dissent. Particularly over the last, say, four and a half years or so that I've been writing here for TDB)

Yet there is potentially a lot we don't know about what's happened with Mr Ross's situation over the past 24 hours, and it would be perhaps unwise to speculate as to whether there might be other, less 'overtly' political flashpoints which may not even (directly) involve the National Party which could have instead lead to this unfortunate situation.

Not least because, if there actually *is* a genuine medical reason for his finding himself sans phone and in hospital, then he deserves appropriate privacy with which to begin to recuperate and rebuild.

It can be a scary as hell thing to find yourself under the tender ministrations of a hospital psych (a situation I have some .. empathy for - long story), regardless of whether one is or is not "mentally disordered" at the time.

I therefore wish him all the best. Not because he has done more damage to National inside three days than the entire Opposition managed throughout a full three Parliamentary terms ... but because right now - he's either unnecessarily hospitalized, and therefore the victim of a grave injustice indeed (even to type this possibility underscores the surreal feeling of events!); or because he may actually be grappling with demons far more profound than anything he might have encountered in the depths of the Beehive.

Friday, October 19, 2018

One Indian Worth More Than Bridges' & Ross' Brainpower Combined

"Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians" - The National Party.

Now while, to be sure, it is possible that this may have been meant as a direct comment on how National's two Indian MPs are seen within the party as individuals ... I think given the surrounding context of the conversation that it is quite clear the National Party does not see the Indian communities within New Zealand in a particularly positive light.

At best, they seem to look upon representation as a 'bidding war' between different demographics - who can contribute how much cash to the campaign war-chest; rather than who'd make the best Representatives in the House (not, of course, that National MPs appear to be allowed to do much thinking for themselves, so maybe individual quality is a moot value for them) - or, for that matter, how to bring a broader swathe of New Zealand's voices into their Caucus tent.

From my observations over the years, the Indian 'community' (and it is fundamentally fallacious to monolithicize it into a single unit) has always been livelily split in any number of different directions when it comes to NZ politics. I've seen - and often known personally - Indian candidates for every party presently in our Parliament. And witnessed the significant community backing and support that many of them have attracted.

I therefore think it entirely uncontroversial to assert that NZ's Indian communities are probably some of the most politically active and politically diverse of any of the predominantly migrant demographics here.

Now, I am not so well acquainted with the Chinese community here. And at the risk of running from arms-length or camera-lense pre-conceptions, it has generally seemed to me that - with some outliers - they've mostly clustered around National, ACT, and with some support for Labour.

I mention this not to disparage the Chinese community. We are all, after all, entitled to our own democratic choices - and in any case, as I have said, it would be entirely unfair upon those persons in said community who *don't* vote for National or ACT to tarnish them with the same brush applied to those who do.

But rather - as a matter of political strategy, it seems most curious for National's er .. "brains trust", to effectively be prioritizing a community they *already* have significant investiture in (and, it appears, literal investment *from*), over another which is very much a 'battleground' between a number of political parties and most especially with Labour.

That is, presuming that National's outright priority of Chinese candidacies and outreach over those toward the Indian communities of New Zealand, has much to do with votes ... and not some other motivations entirely.

I wouldn't know about that, though. Perhaps we'll be hearing about it in next week's tape...

Monday, October 8, 2018

Should There Be A Statute Of Limitations In Politics?

It is a curious thing. By the end of last week, a pretty appreciable portion of my newsfeed were discussing Clayton Mitchell's "NZ Values" proposal. Or, at least, that's what they *thought* they were doing.

In reality, discussion had become dominated by a Stuff hit-piece - also at least nominally pertaining to Clayton's NZ Values concept - which set out an array of legal circumstances faced by Clayton in the 1990s. 

Needless to say, pretty much all the resultant commentary was decidedly non-positive. 

But let's back the truck up here. 

Without taking a position one way or the other on Clayton's proposed bill, it seems rather peculiar that people should be attempting to object to draft legislation based not on the merits or shortfalls of same - but rather, on decontextualized material about something else entirely. 

Because let's be clear about this. 

The contents of that article do not constitute a serious critique of the policy. 

They are, arguably, not even an attack upon the MP who's put forward the proposal.

Instead, they are - for the most part - a broadside aimed at a man in his twenties, who would one day "grow up" in multiple senses of the word, to be an MP. 

Now, as it happens, I probably have more reason than most to be pretty keen on the idea of *not* holding against somebody in both perpetuity and in politics the various misdeeds they may have committed as a younger man. I freely admit my 'bias' in this regard. 

It's also probably worth mentioning, if all cards are to be laid upon the table, that my previous interactions with Clayton have likely influenced me somewhat in my thinking about what's happened here. Over a span of perhaps two to three years, I've generally observed him to be the sort of man who'll give you a fair go and judge you on your merits rather than simply going off the stench of a bad reputation; and who tends to believe in 'second chances' and the worthwhile capacity for human growth. 

I guess you could say I'm giving him the same courtesy back in return. 

Yet even leaving aside these factors, I'd be very likely taking exactly the same critical stance about attempting to de-legitimate (or, for that matter, to support) a proposed piece of legislation based around somebody's questionably relevant personal history. 

Even the worst men can have some pretty good ideas, from time to time. And amongst the 'best men' who have lead morally virtuous lives, there are any number of stupid suggestions for ways in which we might 'better' conduct our politics, our economics, our legal system and commercial activities. 

I also found myself pondering - as is invariably the case in matters such as these - an episode drawn from New Zealand's own political history which seems of rather direct comparative relevancy here. 

As long-suffering readers of mine will no doubt by now know, I am quite a fan of John A. Lee. Even leaving aside the rather amusing frequency and depth with which I've been compared with the honourable gentleman, his tangible record during the First Labour Government as a Parliamentary Undersecretary - a man singlehandedly [no pun intended] responsible for the construction of more social housing in the first six months of his tenure than the National Party managed in nine years. Not, of course, that this is a hugely impressive comparative standard; however the considerable outpacing of modern-day Labour MP Phil Twyford's proposed two thousand state homes in twelve months by Lee's 3,220 in half the time may perhaps provide better contextualization for the achievement. Especially considering both the far more 'uphill' nature of Lee's struggles and macroeconomic circumstances by comparison, and the accompanying far greater 'daring' he brought to the table through his (somewhat successful) advocacy for 'radical' approaches to ensuring the feasibility of construction like 1% interest development loans from the Reserve Bank. 

Now, it is inarguable from my perspective that New Zealand at large benefited significantly from John A. Lee being in Parliament. Although, of course, given some of his more 'irascible' actions toward the latter portion of his Parliamentary carer and subsequent post-Parliamentary journalistic/polemical endeavours (which entailed attacking both Savage and Labour more broadly for being hopelessly over-cautious when it came to Lee's proposals for more genuine and meaningful economic reform, as well as his railing against the party's lack of internal democracy - actions which, according to some, eventually lead to Savage's early death) ... I have no doubt that a reasonable array of Labourites may choose on balance to disagree. 

Yet, especially considering the evident success and easily graspable soundness of Lee's policy, it would seem most peculiar if anybody seriously and strenuously objected to its implementation on grounds that Lee had previously done time in Mt Eden Prison for alcohol-related offending as well as breaking and entering, or had accrued at least two theft convictions to his name as a younger man. This doesn't mean that such 'ad hominem' attacks did *not* ensue, of course (despite what some may think, I haven't made a habit of scouring the broadsheets and HANSARD of nearly eighty years ago on a recreational basis, so cannot state one way or 'tuther on such a matter), not least because for quite an array of self-declared right-wingers, attacking a proud and prominent capital S Socialist for a history of "stealing" would be not so much "low hanging fruit" as "finest truffles already upon the ground" - i.e. both irresistible and eminently accessible to them. 

But rather, that it seems fair to presume that many of those who'd be resisting Lee's vision would be either those who'd attack such an implementation almost *regardless* of who was doing it - or, more especially, those who'd attack Lee and his actions almost regardless of what they were. 

Now, this latter thing - the exaltation in our perspective of personality over policy when determining what actions we will or will not support - is a regrettably familiar pattern in our politics; and something even more endemic elsewhere in the Anglosphere. Consider, for instance, the rather rapid volte-face of a number of nominally liberal or 'left-wing' people to suddenly start supporting the TPPA or US military adventurism, following Trump's statements against these things. 

It can and should be vigorously opposed, not least on grounds that it leads to *seriously* bad policy-making and psephological decision-making as a result. 

As it effectively turns politics ever further from something at least vaguely supposed to be a 'contest of ideas' , into an effective race to see who can find the least offensive/most engaging spokesperson to sell whatever party's poison to the electorate with the greatest alacrity and aplomb. 

To restate again, because I am sure that somebody is going to perhaps wilfully misinterpret me on this score: I am *not* seeking to take a position one way or the other on the actual proposal put forward by Clayton with this article. This may seem rather inconsistent, given that I opened this piece with an annoyed observation about people spending all their political attention-span talking about personality in lieu of actually discussing policy ... but as it is my belief that certain people and certain forces out there in our politisphere have quite the ongoing interest in redirecting political discussion in such a manner so as to further their own goals (hence why it's happened to Clayton at least twice now over the span of his Parliamentary career, with a bit of a pattern to it that helps to suggest the culprit), this will perhaps be forgiven.

Leaving aside the perhaps 'conspiratorial' note in the above, one of the lead institutions pushing this reprehensible trend is our nation's "news" media - and for obvious reason. Scandal sells, people relate better to personalities than they do policy .. and will be more likely to purchase or otherwise consume stories about that which they relate better to. 

Further, given how politicians are generally regarded in our society, a cavalcaded chant of "THE EMPEROR HAS FEET OF CLAY" (to mix metaphors) that implicitly panders to our innate prejudices against our political class is *always* going to be something of a winner. Especially when it can be somewhat tenuously tied to some enduring touchstone of the popular memory (in this case - the Louise Nicholls rape trial, via the personage of Brad Shipton, who'd given two references for Clayton in the late 1990s as well as having a three year commercial relationship with him that was terminated once the allegations against Shipton came to light). Preferably with the insinuation or subconscious suggestion that this seemingly innocuous connection makes the target malevolent or otherwise morally grubby (and really, given there is no direct assertion in the Stuff piece that Mr Mitchell knew of Shipton's conduct in the 1980s - a period wherein he would have been a teenager - prior to the allegations surfacing almost two decades later in the 2000s, it seems difficult to conclude that the length of the article given over to Shipton is there for much of a reason beyond the stoking of sensationalism and the stench of 'dodgy by association'). 

But to bring it back to "NZ Values" for a moment, and only a moment - perhaps I am naive or irrationally good natured, but I genuinely like to think that amongst the august pantheon of our national virtues are to be found marked quotients of 'tolerance', 'understanding', 'compassion', and 'forgiveness'. Not in all instances, of course, and not for all men. I am not, after all, here to write something favourable nor exculpatory about that certain former member of the Tauranga police fraternity. 

Yet if you simply MUST cast judgement, and the stones of social media castigation for an MP's past misdeeds when nominally discussing a recent policy proposal they're responsible for ... at the very least, situate them in their proper context. Which is to say, in this instance twenty or more years ago, and of little discernible relevancy to what Clayton's put forward. 

To do otherwise is tantamount to an insistence that a man can and should be barred from admittance into the apparatus of our state on the basis of rather arbitrary and highly subjective assessments of his character and values.

I guess what I'm trying to say, phrased in terms of 'Kiwi values', is something along the lines of "play the ball, not the man."

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Didn't Like 'The Last Jedi'? You Might Be An Unpatriotic Russian Troll Undermining American Democracy ... Apparently

There is an anecdote about how, in Stalin era USSR, everything would somehow be blamed on Trotsky. Soviet economy didn't meet 5 year plan output targets? Trotsky's fault. Collectivization of agriculture has unintended effects on food supply? Trotsky's fault. Building collapses? Trotsky's fault. Factory machinery stops working? Trotsky's fault. Fall down the stairs? Trotsky's fault. Etc.

Now, as applies developments in the USA, it may be said that a similar pattern appears in evidence.

You didn't like the latest Star Wars films? Russian hacker's fault.

Criticizing The Last Jedi online is, it would seem, an unpatriotic act. You *dare* to feel that the plot's a bit wtf perhaps due to the studio having other priorities - and worse, to express these views on social media? YOU ARE UNDERMINING THE VERY FABRIC OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, CITIZEN.

I'm not even kidding. This is *actually* what is being said.

To be sure, it is not exactly a new thing in the 'popular culture' and 'creative' industries - when an audience doesn't respond positively (or, perhaps, as ebulliently positively as some might like) to a work, to declare that it is because they "don't get it". That they are, perhaps, "unworthy" of what has been placed in front of them, and lacking in whatever critical faculty of discernment is apparently required to see the masterpiece fo what it "truly" is.

Although I cannot help but note that that is *also* how the "new clothes" are sold to a certain Emperor in the old children's story. [replete with, as almost invariably gets left out, the corresponding 'aesop' at the end, where the child who dares to disrespect royalty by pointing out he's buffoonishly naked in public, is imprisoned for that most turgid crime of speaking the truth - and especially where others may perhaps dare to hear it and respond accordingly].

Yet this is not even at the level of that famed maxim of Bertolt Brecht - the one about how, if 'the People' have lost the Confidence of their Government ... it would perhaps be simpler to simply dissolve 'the People' and elect another than to get the government in question to change course.

For this is not a case of a great artist losing confidence in his audience, for being lacking in quality and taste.

But rather, a fairly explicit statement that if you don't just meekly go along both in thought and in word and 'declaratory' deed with the Company Line (whether this 'company' is Disney or the Democrats) ... that you are a subversive! That you are a traitor! And worse than that - that you are either *directly* in league, in cahoots with the dastardly '"post"-Communist' ideological enemy across the sea ... or you are *actually* an unperson. Simply some sock account or automated troll-bot, whose genuine opinion can be safely ignored or actively weaponized against what you support. That most supreme of 'de-legitimations' - being reduced from 'personhood' to some ungainly combination of 'marionette' and 'clockwork'.

And all of this, over a cash-in film trilogy intended to appeal to children and aging nerds with a surplus of disposable income for the TIE-in marketing.

The next step, of course, will be the targeting and identification of these "subversives" - those who have already *dared* to implicitly sabotage a Hillary Clinton 2020 Presidential Run by expressing unfavourable opinion about a forgettable movie three years before.

After all - if it is easier to believe that the problem lies with the intended audience rather than the 'product' [whether a film or an extensively/excessively choreographed and staged political candidacy], then considering the significant numbers involved, it is far easier again to believe that the 'problem' more pointedly lies with entities not even really *part* of the 'intended audience' - yet who nevertheless exert a most malefic and difficult to counter psychic influence over those you covet in support.

With the insidiously broad scope and spectrum of who is liable to be subpoenaed and hauled in for questioning in the context of Congressional and FBI probes into alleged "Russian interference" in the *last* Presidential election ... it would perhaps be sensible to suggest to ordinary Americans on social media that they consider adopting, for their own safety, the advisory maxim indigenous to Stalinist Russia:

"First, do not think. If you think, do not speak. If you speak, do not write. If you write - do not publish. If you publish, do not, whatever you do, sign/do so under your own name.

And if you *do* publish under your own name ...

... don't be surprised."