Monday, December 16, 2019

Is Winston's Sudden Enthusiasm For Foreign-Owned Media A Case Of Enlightened Self Interest?

What if the New Zealand First sudden out-of-the-blue announcement of support for journalism and 'traditional media' in general, as well as two significant media companies that're looking to merge in particular ...

... was because the man apparently responsible for hand-crafting the statement in question - Chief of Staff and former Victoria politics lecturer, Dr Jon Johansson (or, for that matter, another NZF strategic mind) - had a sudden attack of disquiet/insight following recent events, and realized that probably the easiest way to try and get NZ's political press somewhat close to "on-side" going into an Election Year ... was what happened Thursday.

Now to be sure, I'm not suggesting that this was the only motivation; nor that our conglomerated political-reporting press is so incredibly cheaply wooed as the above statement might otherwise seem to suggest.

But it is difficult to avoid the thought that rolling out the Deputy Prime Minister to put on a feel-good positive-vibes press-conference *about the media*, with sufficient thickness of enthusiasm (and surprise/shock-value) that said assembled media's rendered "speechless" by the speech; in concert with his stating support for a profitable progression to the long-stymied corporate maneuverings of two of New Zealand's largest newspaper and radio companies ... is hardly likely to do NZ First any harm.

Especially as the nature of NZF's offer of support to (some) media operating here is not exactly of the 'fire and forget' one-off nature - but rather points toward a longer-term commitment and engagement. And, if it turns out that the Government has to push through legislation to bypass the Commerce Commission's previous blockage of the merger, the drawn-out expenditure of political capital "going in to bat" for the companies in question.

It's not hard to see why NZF would be seriously keen on doing something unexpected, even unprecedented, to attempt to build a positive 'understanding' with media going into 2020.

Despite the Party's polling not being *too* hair-raising for this point in the electoral cycle [it's been fairly consistently in the low four percent range for the past six months], NZF's strategist(s) will  be acutely aware of just what sort of damage a year-long run of scandals, mini-scandals, Shane Jones in general, imbroglios, innuendo, and the appearance of impropriety [whether it's actually there or not] , can do.

After all, that's pretty much exactly what put paid to NZF's time in Parliament toward the conclusion of their previous period in Government in 2008. Something which has been repeatedly pointed out over the past few weeks following the ignition of a still-as-yet-unresolved donations controversy which seems eerily similar in some of its manifest particulars to that Albatross-styled necktie of more than a decade before.

With any net tonnage of potential unfavourable headlines waiting to explode out about the Provincial Growth Fund, this Donations/Trust situation, and various other areas besides, having an array of the nation's news outlets all of a sudden *not* keen to tear shreds off you when they're not utterly ignoring you, becomes understandably strongly desirable.

Whether that's the overt intent of NZF's sudden enthusiasm for protecting the jobs of journalists and supporting foreign-owned corporate bottom lines, or not. [And really, a simple compare/contrast wtih Winston's arguably vindictive stance on MediaWorks' impending doom a mere two months before, is all that it takes to see just how seismic the shift has seemingly been here]

Also, don't get me wrong - I can see some definite upsides to an array of what's been put forward. And was quite intrigued by one of the elements in Winston's statement that *didn't* get read out loud (yet remained in the print version) around a wariness about People's Republic of China propelled content.

Although balanced against this are a few points of prickly disquiet - including my wariness about the prizing of the two sets of  'traditional media' outlets in question over "Facebook and Google". Indeed, the overt, outright hostility directed toward these more modern vectors for information which seemed to come across in Winston's words.

Which doesn't mean he's entirely wrong there, either. They've certainly been prime platforms for 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' in recent years ... it's just that I am of the rather avowed opinion that various 'traditional media' outlets are no better. In fact, in some cases, appear to be somewhat *worse* due to the respectability of their ancient mastheads.

A cynic might suggest that those internet/new media platforms are far less needing of Governmental assistance, and therefore less amenable to influence here, anyway.

In any case, while I don't know that I'd go anywhere near as far as Winston's comment that local/regional news outlets are apparently as vital as a hospital or a school in a given area, I do think that there's a quite a reasonable case to be made for the state to support and assist domestic media so that they remain domestic media. Rather than mere resyndication websites for the splinters-under-fingernails scroungings of various American and UK tabloids in a futile bid for advertising revenue.

The way this has unfolded, and the precise nature of the NZME/Stuff merger proposal is not how I would have approached the problem, but then that almost goes without saying, doesn't it.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to outright state that what we have here - a situation of, for the interim period, anyway, not The State offering to support struggling local media ... but rather, of a particular political party offering to support struggling corporate media which happens to employ some local people while owning some long-standing brand-name trade-marks ('product identities', I suppose you'd call them - and that presumably encompasses some of the more prominently known and highly profiled journalists, also) - is unacceptably "problematic".

In part because the simple nature of New Zealand, New Zealand politics and New Zealand media, has *always* meant that degrees of influence, propinquity, and cheek-to-jowl that'd be frankly abominable in other countries are de rigeur here. The main difference is that this gambit of Winston's is going on *above the table* rather than under it - and is also, not to put too fine a point upon the venerable old pinstripe-suited elephant in the room, a situation of it being NZ First standing to benefit from positive media relationships, rather than being the whipping-boy of both media companies and other political parties or politicians who more *usually* have such 'cozy' rapports going, as has almost invariably more usually been the case.

I also do not mean to unfairly impugn the credibility nor impartiality of an array of this country's political (and other) journalistic fraternity. Or even, perhaps, the *editorial* cabals which sit above them like gargoyles.

But reporting upon events has never been an entirely objective pursuit; whether it's limited by the simple realities of a human viewer's vantage-point or competencies to understand what it is that is unfolding in front of them, we *always* wind up bringing some form of subjectivity to the recounting and the dissecting (er .. vivisecting) of newsworthy happenings, trends, and trend-setters.

If somebody's done you a good turn, said he understands how hard your situation's been, and pledged to *actually do something about it* and to keep you in employment and mastheads for the next foreseeable future, it's only human nature to be rather more fair towards him than, say, another *almost exactly equivalent* figure who seems to spend an appreciable quotient of your literal *every encounter* with him coming up with ever more creative ways to call you stupid, is pretty jubilant about the mass redundancy of dozens of your co-workers elsewhere in the industry, and otherwise attempts to make your daily labours as challenging as possible. And note I said "fair" rather than "favourable".

Anyway, I think I've made my point (and then some).

I'm not saying NZ First deliberately engineered this whole thing exclusively due to rampant paranoia about a re-run of 2008's year-long barrage of negative media attention leading to their snatching defeat from the jaws of victory ... I just think that however genuine Winston's intentions were in supporting regional newspapers or opposing PRC puppeteering of some portion of our press or any of the rest of it ... there's no getting around the possibility that this *won't hurt* NZF amidst a scandal-sodden beaten track as we slouch towards the next Election.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Labouring Under A False Narrative - On The UK's 2019 Election Outcome And What It Means For 'Left' Parties Elsewhere

In many ways, this should have been UK Labour's election to lose. Or, at least, do a helluvalot better on with the Cons on the back, flat, bear-trapped-and-mangled foot.

Despite key campaign issues of Brexit, out-of-touch if not downright unrepresentative political elites, and an incumbent government suffering dang near Italian levels of instability [seriously, how else to describe a situation of it being on its third leader and third election inside what would otherwise have been a single Parliamentary term, alongside a state of literal brother-against-brother civil war inside its main Caucus] ...

... Labour managed to lose while fielding one of the longest-running Euroskeptic MPs as its nominal Leader, and facing off against the literal second coming of Tory-Etonian born-to-rule privilege [the first coming being David Cameron ... inside a pig] spouting Ancient Greek.

Now, the 'received wisdom' going into the Campaign, was that while the British voting public might be 'sick' of ongoing Brexit shenaniganry ... this was in fact a soft-cover for much of the electorate actually being opposed to the whole thing going (any further) ahead.

And therefore, that by singular 'virtue' of not being a pro-Brexit party, UK Labour would stand to do well (particularly when buttressed with a whole lot of policy on just about everything else under the Sun).

Clearly, this didn't happen.

The "new" 'received wisdom' is going to be to turn the whole thing into an anti-Corbyn finger-pointing jamboree . As in ... "it wasn't UK Labour taking a soft-Brexit-Skeptic stance which lost votes ... it was Corbyn muddying the waters by refusing to allow Labour to take an overt anti-Brexit stance that's to blame! That and him being actually left-wing!"

Except the size of the Conservative victory, and the somewhat unexpected places in which it was bourne out seat-by-seat ... show that this is a completely untenable interpretation of events. (It also completely glosses over Corbyn's actual electoral record as leader - the 40% of the popular vote Labour attained under him in 2017, for instance; and the fact that even the 32.1% of the popular vote Labour got this week, is somewhat larger than the 29% under Gordon Brown in 2010 or the 30.4% under Ed Miliband in 2015. If you are attempting to make Corbyn look like the problem, preferably in order to scream "I TOLD YOU SO" in favour of some return-to-business-as-usual neoliberal as having been the better option for leader, or the logical 'choice' to take over now that Corbyn's exited the position ... then it does not do too well to cogitate upon just how much better he performed as compared to his two overtly 'orthodox' predecessors. Would rather defeat the narrative, that.)

It shall be persisted with, however, precisely because the sorts of people pushing this line are reflexively incapable of self-criticism or conceding that they've gotten things wrong. It's their preferred metanarrative up against the world, and if there's some dissonance or disagreement between the two ... then it is clearly the world which is in error. Besides, nobody likes to wear the crown of blame, and it's much easier - more fun, too - to shift it elsewhere onto somebody who represents various sorts of antitheses to what you despise, anyway.

The real horror for those of us out here in the rest of the Anglosphere, is that a whole swathe of notionally-"left" parties which might have serious shots at gaining or maintaining power ... will take rather similar "lessons" from UK Labour's defeat. They'll brand it "Corbyn's Defeat". They'll shout that "SOCIALIST ECONOMICS CAN'T FLY!" They'll claim that allowing anybody even *somewhat* on the side of the people in a 'populist' issue liek Brexit *anywhere near power and leadership* is an automatic recipe for disaster.

I sometimes think that these sorts basically think the future both is and should be Liberal Democratic [ha] Technocracy Forever. And they're professionally engaged in the card-house-construction of ever less tenuous headcanonry 'explanations' for why this *doesn't* appear to actually resonate with much of anybody who isn't already either a LibDem or a Technocrat.

In short .. the *actual* lessons quite simply aren't going to be *allowed* to be learned. Because to do so doesn't just risk 'empowering' "the wrong ideas" and forces, it entails undermining core components of their incipient world view. And that kind of cog-dis is exceedingly painful for any has-be-would-been ideologue to have to endure.

Partially, this has probably been downright deliberate. In much the same manner as the Democratic Party in the USA moving to clamp down on its 'insurgents' lest they actually prove to be electable next year ... the idea is simply to 'wait out' both the incumbents in office/government, and the insurgents in their own party even though it's plainly an election-losing strategy.

Indeed, as the saying goes, that isn't a bug - it's deliberately designed that way.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

What To Make Of National MP Parmjeet Parmar's Gandhi Statue Proposition

Backbench Opposition MPs are occasionally curious creatures, as are social media advert-targeting algorithms. Due, no doubt, to an ongoing quirk of the latter, I found myself presented with a sponsored post from National's List MP based on Mt Roskill, Parmjeet Parmar, calling for the enshrinement of a Gandhi statue here in Auckland to coincide with the latter figure's 150th birthday and asking me to sign a petition in support of same.

Now, the comments left in response to this post were pretty interesting in and of themselves. If you were expecting some sort of groundswell-outpouring-of-support from the local Indian community as National presumably were when they authorized the effort [and more on that in a moment], then you would perhaps be left hanging.

Many comments therefrom appeared to be in one (or both) of two camps - those who were suggesting that while such a statue might be appropriate for/in India, it didn't necessarily follow that it'd be a good idea to have one *here* ... and those who were pretty anti Gandhi for various reasons. There were also a few other sorts of response, including an array of potential alternatives if we really were in need of an additional effigy [I put in my two cents in favour of one of NetaJI, on grounds of ... another story for another time], and at least one pointing out that there's already a Gandhi statue located in Wellington by the central railway station. Virtually all of these comments (as in, all but a literal handful out of the more than one hundred responses in that thread) were from members of the Indian community.

Now that matters, not so much because of what it tells us about the perceptions and the psychology of said community's membership - which is pretty interesting in and of itself - but rather because of just *why* the National Party apparently thought this idea would be a good issue to start campaigning on immediately on the cusp of an Election Year.

And that's quite simple.

The Indian community has generally been one of the more diverse in New Zealand when it comes to electoral behavior. Many vote for Labour. Many also vote for National. Up until relatively recently, many also supported New Zealand First. Even ACT managed to find itself an Indian candidate in its top four at the last Election.

So the Indian portions of the electorate - and I should not perhaps monolithicize it by saying it is a 'community' singular - is a battleground, as multifaceted and militantly fought over as any bellweather physical seat. And, with more than two hundred and twenty thousand Indians living here (a figure which will, admittedly, likely include quite a few who are unable to vote in the next year's upcoming General Election), a potentially rather lucrative source of political support in what's likely to be an incredibly tight contest in 2020. 

But while in previous years, the outcomes from the "Indian vote" here have been broadly consistent - Labour doing reasonably out of it, National slowly improving its vote-share, and New Zealand First also being in there as well - various events of the past year and a quarter have thrown much of that up in the air, disrupting those comfortable certainties.

That's created both a 'risk' factor for National, in terms of the potential diminishing of its own vote coming from this general quarter; as well as an 'opportunity', derived from going after the votes that've been lost by the Coalition.

The former - the problem - resulted from the Jami-Lee Ross's airing of a conversation with the current leader of the National Party in which the party's stance toward Indian New Zealanders appeared to be that they were a) cash-cows and seat-warmers when National sought to consider them at all ... and b) that they were worth perhaps only half a Chinese person even on *that* lowly score.

It doesn't take Crosby-Textor to tell you how and why *that* will have burned some bridges.

The latter, and much more recent event - the opportunity - was crafted via Shane Jones' attention-grab before last. It's an open question as to whether Jones' rhetorical enfilading of the Coalition's Indian constituency will lose them more votes than NZF might shore up or gain from other quarters for such displays; but while it might be tempting to regard the whole thing as an "NZF Problem", even despite Iain Lees-Galloway (the actual relevant Minister in the situation) expressing his opposition to Jones' comments, the fact that Jones is a Coalition Minister, whose antics are - broadly speaking - tolerated by his Coalition Partner, suggests that the fallout from that episode is unlikely to be exclusively NZF's to bear.

So, like I say - it's a situation of 'risk' and 'opportunity' for National going into 2020's tight contest as applies potentially tens upon tens of thousands of votes.

It's therefore understandable that they'd be rather keen to attempt a re-run of the 'Ethnic Strategy' which was a fairly prominent portion of both their national- and local-level electoral outreach efforts from about 2014-2016. I won't go into any great detail about it here, not least because it's probably not that interesting to most ... but suffice to say it featured National attempting to take votes off Labour by putting forward 'ethnic' candidates and occasionally downright peculiar stabs at "appealing" to their relevant communities/constituencies. And, perhaps not at all coincidentally, had its arguable not-all-that-high-water-mark just over three years ago *also* in Parmar's electorate, during her ill-starred contest against Labour's Michael Wood for Mt Roskill in the 2016 By-Election.

Here's the writeup I produced at the time, which also runs through some of them aformentioned prior examples/manifestations/missteps.

Anyway, to bring all of this back to both the present and the immediate subject at hand ... it seems pretty straightforward why various minds at National apparently thought it'd be a great idea to approve Parmjeet Parmar MP putting out a release calling for "Auckland Council to provide a statue to honour Mahatma Gandhi in one of Auckland’s public spaces [...] such as Aotea Square or the Auckland Domain".

And then thought they'd double down by bringing the whole thing back two months after it was first announced [which was in early October, to coincide with the anniversary of Gandhi's birth] through a fresh influxion of advertising cash. (Which has, incidentally, given it a far higher response-rate and interactivity, if we compare the few dozen reacts etc. each of her postings about it on the 2nd and 6th of October got to the nearly three hundred on the 9th of December one that's been 'sponsored')

Part of it's the same reason just about any party or politically inclined organization does these sorts of 'petitions' in the first place. It's a contact-info gathering exercise that'll in theory enable the Nats to more easily connect with various portions of the electorate. By self-identifying as interested in one of their pushes, and giving them your name, email, and potentially mobile phone number (especially with the "Send me text message updates" box still auto-ticked), you're saving them the trouble of having to ferret you out or chance across you on the hustings or door-knocking, and giving them many more months to attempt to forge/build upon a connection with you through periodic emailed/txtd bluster. It's not "spam", because you asked for it. It's not "junk mail", because it's not in a post-box. It's not nearly as advanced nor useful as some of the much more data-driven analytic and outreach tools being deployed in the US these days ... but, then, we've always been [often thankfully] a few years or even decades behind them when it comes to campaigning.

And anyway, that candidate/party to individual person contact-harvesting effort is only a secondary purpose compared to what this Gandhi statue push is *actually* for. Which is a much more 'general' sense of connectivity.

As I said some paragraphs ago, the National Party likely feel they are in a situation of both 'risk' and 'opportunity' as applies the Indian swathe of the electorate. On the one hand, they are painfully aware that they have to fend against a perception that they basically see the Indian communities of this country as little more than cash-cows and window-dressing pseudo-"diversity" ... pursuits in which said party would apparently really much rather be dealing with the Chinese, thanks, anyway. That's the 'risk'.

But on the *other* hand, they're also cognizant of the fact that they're up against a Coalition which much more recently had one of its allegedly senior Ministers go on what seemed to be a sustained foray against various Indian customs, culture, community organizations, and Voice and Viewpoint(s) generally.

So therefore, what National's chosen to do is attempt to put forward something designed to show their targets that they're ... pretty much the opposite of all of that - both of their own prior 'shortcomings', and of their opponents' more contemporary tin-eared conflagrationism. A 'symbol', if you will.

What of? That National values the community in question, its cultural touchstones, its heritage, and its voice [as illustrated by having one of its Indian MPs use *her* voice to put the proposal forward]; and is 'in touch', listening to and engaging with all of the above; prepared to offer literal pride of place ... or, as the press release puts it, "prime public spaces", to same.

Except here's the problem with that. Gandhi's actually, to put it mildly, a rather divisive figure in India and the broader diaspora. I won't go into why here, but suffice to say there's *quite a number of potential reasons* from just about all possible viewpoints upon the matter. He *is* resoundingly popular with a certain sort of Anglosphere liberal, however, because of his reputation *external* to India ... and if the reaction on Parmar's recent post was anything to go by when last I'd checked it,  there's probably rather more support in *that* demographic for a Gandhi statue out there in Aotea Square than there is in much of the local Indian community.

So straightaway, it doesn't look so much like "listening" to Indian New Zealanders, as an attempt to appeal to what National thinks they *should* like (both in terms of Gandhi, and in terms of a statue of Gandhi *here*), based on some rather lazy [lack of] thinking.

There's also a bit of an irony in the actual form and capabilities of this 'Symbol', as well. For it is a rather curious maneuver, if you are facing an embedded perception that your attitude to the Indian community is that they are there to be seen and not heard except when being deployed for political/vote-garnering purposes ...

... to then attempt to solve the problem by installing as a political stunt a statue nobody seems to have asked for in a highly public place - where it, by definition, can *only* be seen and not heard.

Statues, rather like some Opposition Backbench MPs, with the occasional exception of 'Res Ipsa Loquitur', are only rarely able to speak for themselves.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why Elon Musk's "Victory" In Recent Defamation Suit Was A Joke

I am pretty appalled at the outcome of the recent defamation suit launched against Elon Musk in retaliation to his statements that the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth, was a "pedo".

Now if you've just joined us down here in the peanut-gallery of this *particular* Musk-incepted three ring circus, a little background material is probably going to be helpful.

As you may remember, mid-way through 2018, a soccer team of Thai youths and their coach went missing amidst rising waters in a labyrinthine cave-complex, sparking a massive international rescue effort that raced against the clock to try to get them out alive. Unsworth was one of the key figures in this campaign, having significant local knowledge (including of the cave-system, which he'd been working to map) as well as diving experience. Indeed, so salient was his importance to the successful outcome of the operation, that he's been personally honoured by both the Thai and English monarchs for it (the latter with an MBE).

In the aftermath of the rescue, he made a statement in the course of an interview about a submarine which Elon Musk had sent to the site in order to assist, noting that it was rather ill-fit for purpose and seemed to be more of a "PR stunt" than a serious effort to help. And also suggesting a perhaps superior location for it to have its maiden spelunking voyage.

Musk, it seems, did not respond well to such criticism - and took to Twitter to call Unsworth a "pedo guy" and "sus[picous]".

Now, this is a pretty grave thing to say, I think many would agree. It did not take the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein a little over a year later to make people a lot more sensitive to the possibility that accusations of paedophilia made by the famous might just have something to them. The behavior in question (the sexual crime, I mean, not twitter-flapping insults) is quite rightly regarded as one of the more heinous possible crimes; and regardless of a lack of evidence, the mud thus flung almost invariably appears to stick. It is therefore entirely and eminently understandable that Unsworth felt Musk's public assertion toward him meant he'd been"effectively given a life sentence without parole.”

So you'd think, therefore, that the resultant defamation action would be one of the more simple open-and-shut cases of reputational protection, most anywhere in the world. But, of course, this being America, you'd be wrong.

One of the defences to a defamation action, in most circumstances, is Truth. It's not a total defence, but it's probably one of the best possible ones to have access to. [The most amusing, for my money, is "No Good Name To Blacken", when it comes to the plaintiff, but despite Musk's ongoing antics, I digress] The insinuation if one *does not* choose to sue for defamation when such a lurid allegation is made against you, is that it's because the accuser has just such a defence handy. Or, in other words, as Unsworth's lawyer put it - “The challenge that was thrown down by Elon Musk was that if you don’t sue it’s true,”

But the Americans really do rather like their free speech. And as I have often observed, free speech over there seems to almost inexorably carry with it the freedom to be downright obnoxious with it. Musk therefore launched a defence built around the idea that he wasn't actually seriously accusing Unsworth of being a paedophile, he just meant to seriously insult the guy - and that therefore, rather than being defamatory, his tweet was in fact constitutionally *protected* verbiage.

Now, you may or may not think that this is, on the face of it, absolute balderdash. I certainly find it difficult to agree that prohibitions upon the state restricting freedom of speech (which are not, and never have been absolute - even in EagleLand ... "shouting fire in a crowded theater" being a canonical US Supreme Court example of *non-protected* speech, for instance) should mean that it's all of a sudden complete and total open slather to say or to print the most abhorrent of apparently-not-slander about another private citizen. It seems to mean, per this recent decision 'vindicating' Musk, that there is and can be no actual restitution and no real shield against blatantly false accusations being made as any malefic malcontent may damn well please - provided that it's meant as an insult, rather than as a supported statement of supposed fact.

But on the provisio that it was an "insult", instead of an "accusation", and apparently somewhat regardless of how just about anybody else might have potentially taken the remark (either as indicating something about Unsworth, or as indicating something about what Musk *believed he knew* about Unsworth) ... it's protected speech, and that's that. It really is a most curious phenomenon, saying something you *know* to be false, declaring that that's why you said it, and having that be the defence against the charge of having made a false and injurious statement. But this is, perhaps, why I only have half a law degree, rather than a fool one.

Except here's the thing: I'm not convinced that Musk's proffered explanation, that it was just some sort of off-the-cuff rejoinder, and that he just meant "creepy old man" [as the word apparently means colloquially in South Africa, or so Musk claimed], not "paedophile", actually holds up to any sort of scrutiny at all. Other than a jury, apparently, and they really can be rather difficult-to-predict agglomerations.

You see, Musk didn't just put out a tweet stating Unsworth to be a "sus[picious]" "pedo". His response when queried about his allegation - again, on twitter - was to "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true."

He then doubled, and then some, down upon his accusation - hiring a private investigator to produce the evidence to support his claim [which never did actually appear - Musk asserts that this was in part due to the investigator he hired being a "professional conman" ... which rather means I cannot interject "takes one to know one" at this point, as Musk apparently didn't] ; and informing a reporter that Unsworth was a "child rapist", who had relocated to  Thailand in pursuit of "a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time."

He also declared to the same reporter his rather ardent wish that Unsworth "sues me" over the remark; which would to most people surely suggest a supreme confidence in the *truth* of what one had said, rather than some kind of deep and abiding desire to put to the test just how far the US's legal principles protecting freedom of fact-free speech were prepared to extend.

All in all, it seems pretty darn difficult to genuinely believe that Musk did not mean what everybody else *heard* he meant via his application of the word "pedo". Either in terms of "pedo" apparently not meaning "paedophile", or that this was just some kind of clearly non-factual insult just casually bandied about between regular men and not at all intended to be taken seriously by anybody except as a rough barometer of how annoyed Musk was about having his ego pricked.

Musk's subsequent conduct suggests rather strongly that by "pedo", he did in fact mean "child rapist" [that's his words], and that he certainly intended for it to be taken as more than a minor and insubstantial barb. You don't hire private investigators ['conman' or otherwise] to make insubstantial barbs with - you do so to further substantiate them. You also generally don't invite legal challenge immediately after having rather directly and repeatedly made statements of some increasing level of detail which repeat the allegation ... if you are just talking out of the place wherein the submarine was suggested to be lodged.

Or maybe you do. If you're as rich as Musk is, what's a little back-of-the-couch millions to put into batting away a defamation suit (or, as it happens, paying off the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in the aftermath of *another* demonstrably false Musk tweet that actually *was* ruled to have been illegal - money and investment, it seems, gets a far more generous shake of the sauce-bottle of justice than does 'people' under the US system).

It is to Musk's (limited) credit that he has apologized for the tweet. Although I am not entirely sure how seriously one can take an apology that comes couched in a rider of it being his absolute right to have said what, and as he did. That smacks of a certain lack of sincerity - after all, *genuine* remorse often tends to mean at least an implicit commitment to make right the harm done, and to at least attempt to avoid doing the same malefic action again.

But even despite this, and even despite the legal grounds upon which Musk won his case effectively heavily inferring that there is no truth whatsoever to his claim that Unsworth was a "pedo" ... there is little doubt in my mind that the stench of the spurious allegation's smeary label shall follow Unsworth about like a noose for the rest of his life. This is not just because such accusations tend to have an enhanced adhesion even over and above other such vicious rumours and gossipmongery ; but because if you google Unsworth's name, even in connection with the Thai rescue-effort he so heroically contributed to, the first ... dozens of hits are almost uniformly but simple headlines stating that Musk won against him in the defamation suit over his being called a paedophile. It is not hard to see how *that* can be easily misread as a vindication of the *claim*, not of its baselessness in the first instance!

Musk's effective defence was that he could do no (legal) wrong here, as nobody could take him seriously. Unfortunately, even outside this matter, many did and presumably still do.

As this sad, sorry court-verdict shows - just because it's difficult to take something seriously, does *not* mean it lacks for tangible and detrimental impact.

I feel genuinely sympathetic for Unsworth.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Simon Bridges' Cannabis Comments A Smokescreen For What National REALLY Believes

Simon Bridges' statement that legalized cannabis opens the door to "effectively incentivising cannabis over other legal drugs at the moment - like tobacco and drink" dependent upon the excise tax levied ... is a bit of an odd objection to make.

I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that tobacco and/or alcohol are *less* harmful to the consumer, or to society than cannabis. I am aware of a rather considerable *mountain* of evidence that cigarettes and alcohol are much *more* harmful to both country and citizenry than cannabis ...

... so if, in addition to raising excise taxation revenue, the legalization of cannabis leads to a relative disincentivization of the consumption of tobacco and alcohol, what's the problem?

Other than for the alcohol and tobacco industries which have long been closely linked to the National Party.

You know, it is curious how timings work out. Yesterday was four years since the funeral of a good man from NZF. Barry. He was of the vintage where temperance and teetotalism for an individual of quiet Christian faith was a virtue, not a vice. Something I'm not sure the modern National Party would be altogether too keen on.
But I recall him at this late hour, because he would from time to time bring up at NZF electorate meetings out in Pakuranga something he had noticed - that in 1998 or thereabouts, he'd read a headline reading something like "Beer Baron Weeps Into His Beer" , about hte declining profits of Lion Nathan. And then, not long after that, National suddenly announcing its push for the reform of the drinking age down to eighteen .. which, of course, notably improved and underscored the alcohol industry's profit margins and facilitated the ensnaring of the *next* generations in our worrying drinking culture.
Personally, I am not actually too bothered about the alcohol age of purchase being 18. But Barry's words have stuck with me.
And when we see this kind of display from the Nats here in 2019, I cannot help but recall them with greater wistfulness; for the man who had departed us those years ago, I mean. And for an older generation of voters who were ... not so easily fooled as some are today by the conduct of our political classes when it comes to 'moneyed interests' demanding a return upon their 'investment'.

Something else which struck me about Simon Bridges' recent statements against the cannabis legalization referendum ... is that by suggesting "this has the risk of being New Zealand's Brexit", he is not actually suggesting that it's going to lead to a protracted period of political intransigence and the potential derailment of governing and governments for a three year period.

I mean, he allegedly *is*, but I really really really don't think it's in any way shape or form plausible that setting an excise tax level upon legally bought and sold cannabis is anything like as complex as unraveling a half a century's worth of legal, constitutional, and foreign policy entanglement with a continent and a market of almost half a billion people.

So if that's not what he's saying ... then what is he *really* getting at by comparing the cannabis legalization #reeferendum to #Brexit?

Well, it's quite simple, really. He's telling you that he, and an array of other Technocrat style pseudo-political "leaders", the managerialists of our epoch, who've tried time and time again to stymie the "uncouth" Will Of The People, from Ruthanasia onwards ... that these sorts, who think that "democracy" means carefully stage-managing a back-room negotiation process's pre-determined outcomes being brought into the light as a faux-inevitability - they're *opposed* to Legalization winning.

And - more than that, much more - they're *worried*, they're *frightened* even, that they might actually *lose* this vote.

Which is where the Brexit analogy comes into its own. The reason why Brexit hasn't been indefinitely shelved thus far, is in large measure because even though the majority of the UK's political class don't want it - they know darn well that to just put a *stop* to it , would be to downright *show* the ordinary people of Britain *just how little regard* they actually have for what voters think and feel and believe.

And so they're paralyzed and forced into attempting to at least *look like* they're going through wit hit ... little by little and inch by inch, pending somebody producing enough polling showing that a vast majority of Biritons may have turned against actually going through with it. Or something. I'm not sure even *they* know anymore.

The point is - the Nats *know* that they would be hard-pressed to try something similar here. So they're making out like the cannabis legalization proposal - rather than the whole Democracy Thing - is what's fiddly, unworkable, and likely to all end in tears should they be forced to go through with it.

A bit odd, also, that they'd choose Brexit as a point of comparison, considering that a reasonable swathe of National's traditional voter-base are probably in favour of it - from a distance, admittedly; and also that New Zealand stands to benefit significantly from Brexit in economic terms.

The latter of which, at least, is something which rather *directly* maps on to the results of cannabis legalization here.

Now I don't mean to imply that anything which terrifies Simon Bridgs and his ilk is axiomatically a Good Idea ... but it certainly doesn't automatically mean it's a bad one.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Testimony To US Impeachment Hearings Suggests Democracy Is The Weakness In American Democracy

The Impeachment hearings have, in the main, delivered to us little that we do not already know. But some of those things which we already know, are interesting - if only due to the blatancy with which they have been communicated herein.

Consider the testimony of one Fiona Hill, up until recently the Russia analyst on the US's National Security Council:

"The Russians, you know, can't basically exploit cleavages if there are not cleavages [...] The Russians can't exploit corruption if there's not corruption. They can't exploit alternative narratives if those alternative narratives are not out there and getting credence. What the Russians do is they exploit things that already exist."

Now, on one level, it is rather refreshing for somebody to *actually* state, even if only implicitly, that Russia did not singlehandedly 'break' American society nor democracy. That the Americans themselves were *more than capable* of breaking it ... themselves, to the net potential benefit of other people(s).

But that is not why I quote this here. Instead, it is because entailed within former analyst Hill's remarks is something rather more disconcerting, once you look at it for more than the cursory half-a-second you're supposed to, in order to see "RUSSIAN" plastered repeatedly next to "EXPLOIT" and draw the obvious, instinctive [and somewhat erroneous] conclusions.

What she is in fact stating, quite bluntly and blatantly, is that a 'divided' society is a weak and a vulnerable society. That the narrative space which allows, or even encourages, multiple competing perspectives - is a vulnerability.

What she is saying - is that it is democracy itself, and the startling lack of complete success for some kind of totalitarianizing impulse within American nation and polity ... that makes the Americans allegedly able to be "hacked" and subverted.

[I would contend, often 'hacked' and 'subverted' by themselves ... but, then, were the Hills of this world to bother themselves with the after-midnight type-tappings of an Antipodean observer such as myself - they'd probably just suggest that I'm demonstrably proving their point for them by subverting their eth(n)os through pushing an "alternative narrative". Can't have that, now, can we]

In a way, she has a sort of a point. It is rather difficult indeed for democracy to produce the "wrong outcomes" ... if there is no democracy in the first place, after all. And it is hardly a novel thought that the possibilities of greater, or even genuine choice within a society may lead inexorably to 'subversion' - after all, that's exactly how the US and others have historically justified clamping down on far-left political sentiment both at home and abroad, right throughout the Cold War era, prior and beyond.

Yet the question must be asked: if we are now once again at the point wherein 'killing democracy to save it' is being semi-overtly contemplated ... just what is it, exactly, that is being preserved there. What does "winning" look like? And what is it that makes such a "win" worth actually having - and for whom.

Certainly, it is not a 'win' for anybody whose perspective, whose lived experience, whose truth , is an "alternative narrative" relative to that of the mainstream elite.

And that's probably partially the exact point.

Moments of crisis - real or imagined or even (especially) downright fabricated - are often seized upon in order to make sweeping changes to the system which they occur within.

The aghast horror with which the prospect of 'democracy' producing "wrong" outcomes, or allowing for the debates to take place which question comfortably acceptable [to the elites] 'truths' ... is already being mobilized towards this inexorable purpose.

And in that situation, wherein the mechanisms via which those holding power can be challenged, called or even held to account , are to be rolled up and stowed away in perpetuity ... that does not benefit anybody except those *already* among the elite.

It may be done, in theory, to "protect" from the challenging (or, if you like, "subversion") of the American system from without ... but in reality, it is the dissenting voices from *within* who shall be most harshly repressed. And, indeed, already historically have been.

Terry Pratchett put it best:

"Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions."

When the official statements made amongst the highest heads in the land start to insist that permitting differences of perception, of opinion, of preferred course of action [those "cleavages", and "alternative narratives" aforementioned] is tantamount to scurrilous subversion if not outright treason ...

... then it is 'pull together under the lash, or be rushed', rather than 'freedom' which is dominant.

And "democracy" exists only as an embalmed, desiccated cadaver upon public display in the polis, rather than a living, breathing, yet-vital entity in either sense of that last adjective.

Totalitarianism really *will* have won - American totalitarianism, against America. No foreign "subversion" really required!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Ok Damien"

Damien Grant, 17/11/19, in a newspaper piece attempting to excoriate the "OK BOOMER" meme, particularly following its recent Parliamentary outing:

"Let's be clear, defining people by generation is as stupid as a vegan burger"

Damien Grant, 14/07/19, in a newspaper piece attempting to excoriate businesses who're trying to be more environmentally conscious, because that might get in the way of profitability occasionally:

"Commerce is hard. Most millennials don't seem to appreciate this, believing that they should be paid according to the intensity of their feelings rather than any contribution provided."

Damien Grant, 20/01/19, in a newspaper piece attempting to excoriate "thought-leaders", "influencers", and "idiots giving me their insights on a vast variety of complex business issues that they evidently do not understand":

"Sadly, this affliction isn't limited to millennials, who have been raised on a diet of Facebook and Instagram and whose narcissism has been fuelled by decades of helicopter parenting. Balding and badly dressed boomers can be seen hustling their wares in this dignity destroying farce."

Damien Grant, 13/01/19, in a newspaper piece attempting to excoriate ... I'm not actually sure. Young people doing much the same thing he does in media, apparently, except with a socioeconomic perspective that's from anywhere to the left of ACT:

"Frankly, it is pathetic the way our titans of industry refuse to confront the manufactured hysteria of 25-year-old journalism majors."

Damien Grant, 25/11/18, in a newspaper piece attempting to excoriate "barbarians" poised to bring about the end of civilization as we know it, including "Beijing, Delhi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez", and with an implicit emphasis upon the generation coming after his :

"If it all comes to and end it won't matter whose fault it was and as I am closer to a long dirt-nap than most I care less than younger readers might."

Now, these are only a few examples; and some of them are less direct than others. But I think that a cursory examination of Damien Grant's column-calumny output suggests that he had abjectly no problem pushing generational stereotypes in order to propel strawman pseudo-political invective ... right up until the point at which "millennials" started pushing *back*.

Funny, that.

I mention all of this not because there's some especial merit in suggesting that Grant is something of a hypocrite-on-stilts; but rather, because it handily illustrates a core component of just *why* "OK Boomer" has taken off in the way that it has in the first place.

Namely, that it's the natural response and reaction to being incessantly jabbered at by a cliche-spouting near-caricature of a 1980s-going-1890s out-of-touch rich uncle.

Anything he doesn't like is, seemingly, LITERALLY "Barbarism", "Socialism", "Young People Having Opinions-ism", etc.; and so there's no real point attempting to engage in meaningful dialogue - because there's literally no space for a two-way conversation with someone whose world apparently extends to an end only a mere inch beyond the tip of their own nose.

So if people like Grant - and, to be sure, they come in *all* age-groups; with many Boomers [the generation Grant identifies as] and Gen-Xers [the  generation he's actually from] being rather *unlike* this - insist on keeping on with their Faux News schtick regardless of what externally obvious reality may happen to have to say about a situation ... then why bother to point-by-point refute in depth nor detail.

In some ways, this reminds me of the old political proverbs around the questionable wisdom of endeavouring to mud-wrestle a pig ... or play chess against a pidgeon.

Yet what's actually going on here is somewhat different. It's the evolved riposte of a generation whose significant formative interpersonal experiences as (young) adults and outside of a social or educational setting ... have overwhelmingly been amidst customer service or retail.

There, it is rather quickly learned that with a certain sort of customer, there is simply no point arguing. That regardless of their total lack of merit nor claim of right in a given scenario, the simplest and most straightforward way to actually get on with the job is to faux-placate them, and hopefully get them out of the shop before they indulge in a .. dare I say "childish" temper-tantrum; or, failing that, to at least corral them so that the rest of us can *work around* the now human-sized obstruction.

What does this sound like, upon the shop floor? A slightly repressed audible eye-roll, accompanied with a somewhat drawnout "Ok, sir/ma'am" in lieu of heated counter-argument. Because sometimes, it's just not worth it. It's as simple as that.

And that, in essence, is what "Ok Boomer" is - a tacit recognition that the level of energy and effort required to explain a problem to somebody who's absolutely willfully impervious to the notion of there being a problem in the first place (often due to the level of cognitive dissonance it'd cause given the fundaments of their world-view) ... is far *far* beyond any plausible positive outcome that may result from so doing .... and therefore is much better spent on actually doing something (productive) about the issue in question instead.

It's a faux-polite disengagement.

And *that's* why it's riled up Grant the way it has.

Because also, contained therein within it ... is the implicit suggestion that he and his views, are not relevant.

That they can be abjured against with a simple two-word rejoinder of a handful of syllables; thus affording the otherwise captive audience who utter it the chance to just get on with their march towards an incipient future.

And nothing  - *nothing* - causes consternation for a loudmouth like Grant, like the idea that he's not being listened to nor taken seriously. [which, admittedly, I am slightly undercutting by briefly penning a response at 04:30 in the morning]

So therefore it's the Kids' fault that we're saying we're politely but firmly not interested in what he's peddling. How *dare* we. How very dare, indeed.

Instead, we should be downright *thankful* for the privilege of being repetitively dismissed in print media by somebody who identifies as having survived "actual nuclear war", simply for our [rapidly fading] youth.

"Ok Damien".

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When Shane Jones Doesn't Go Far Enough ... There's Always Hannah Tamaki

It is often said that when a politician or other public figure says something disparaging about a particular group, that the weight and impact of their words is not only in what they've said ... but also what further statements, what further actions it tacitly allows, invites, and encourages.

Yesterday's press release from Vision NZ, and accompanying remarks from Hannah Tamaki, are a case in point. Coming hot on the heels of Jones' own headline-chasing invective toward the Indian community, we have these guys putting out comments about prohibiting the construction of any new Mandirs, Mosques, etc. and insisting that there's only "room in our society" for one faith, culture, and set of customs here in New Zealand.

Where does that leave you if you're not part of (or, at least, not only part of) our now apparently unitary "[culture], faith [and] customs"? I'm not entirely sure. Vision NZ don't seem to be too clear as to what they want done with anybody who *doesn't* want to "integrate" - and, assumedly, convert, given the rather pointed highlighting of "faith" as something we're not going to be allowed more than one of in this country.

Now to be sure, however personally annoyed I might be about it, what Tamaki/Vision NZ have done here is arguably at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of its actual, tangible impact. A press release and a poor interview are not a brick through the window of a religious building; and with Vision NZ unlikely to get any closer to the actual levers of political power in 2020 than a really, really far away thing ... it is also a rather remote possibility that what's been said by said party will ever *itself* turn into anything more substantive than just that. Words.

Which is rather ironic, as that's exactly what Hannah Tamaki was castigating Shane Jones for in her press release and accompanying verbiage - that all his comments amounted to were words were little prospect of actual follow-through and serious action behind them.

But that is not the point. Well, except insofar as these surely ETS-regulated for methane content outbursts tell us something about the nature, the character, the values, of these greasy-pole dancers jostling for our psephological attentions through the media.

What is, is observing the way in which Jones' initial volleys and ensuing escalation, have set the tone and helped to prepare the ground for Tamaki's more recent and markedly less subtle "contribution". [It is an open question as to whether the ensuing lack of subtlety in Tamaki's remix of Jones' careful leitmotif here, says more about the utterer, or merely its intended recipients]

Jones Spake, and what Jones had implied, or communicated subliminally ... others have now picked up upon, amplified, and projected out damn near superliminally. Because that's how politics, as with most areas of interpersonal affairs in large-scale networks, tends to occur - a smaller, but more forceful move at one end, generates ripples or waves which soon turn into larger, yet less finesseful currents. Occasionally, as Goethe observed, burning *well* out of any control or scope of intended design of their first initiator. 

Thanks, in part, to several prominent media outlets running headline pieces on Tamaki's 'proposal', this pattern of 'broadening' of the sentiment in question is likely to continue for awhile yet - both about our politics, and beyond. Although what this probably means in practice is more on the order of an uptick in Talkback callers and Letters To The Editor picking up and advocating the concepts in question.

Were this America, I would perhaps be a little concerned about what's known as the 'Overton Window' [the general envelope of 'acceptable' opinion within a mainstream political sphere] shifting out in this proffered direction as a rather directly attributable result; perhaps bringing Australian-style "One Nation" antics [that's Pauline Hanson, not Benjamin Disraeli] to our shores. [Or, for that matter, enabling something like the ongoing situation of one of the candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination - Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard - who seems to face recurrent attacks on the basis of her (Hindu) religion every time she runs, including attempts to have her declared ineligible for office due to spurious something something Hinduism incompatible with the Constitution of the United States and its values something something. Charges not entirely dissimilar to those once levied at John F. Kennedy for his Catholicism, as it happens]

But despite Jones' flirtations with wearing a deliberately Trump-style "Put New Zealand First Again" cap during the past Electoral season, and the Tamakis' own demonstrable enthusiasm for a quite literally American brand of Christianity with occasional GoP characteristics ... we are not there.

Which means that I have the considerable luxury, in a way, of simply being infuriated by what's contained within Tamaki's remarks, rather than seriously apprehensive that I might find my local Mandir's been vandalized or a Pandit beaten up in the street, deported for being .. well ..  a Priest, etc.

Now, it is at this point that I should perhaps take a moment to overtly address my own biases in all of this. Which is something I somewhat doubt Tamaki has actually done, even to herself, upon this matter.

I am one of this country's more than one hundred and twenty thousand Hindus. And, while I like to think that I do a rather better job of putting the "fun" back in "religious fundamentalist" than Tamaki does, I'm nevertheless capable of recognizing that the degree to which this decree has a personal saliency for me, means that I've responded to it rather differently than if it were a more ... abstract issue, from my immediate perspective.

Which doesn't mean that I wouldn't be distinctly unimpressed about what 'Vision NZ' have put forward here, if it were 'just' about Mosques & Muslims, Gurudwaras & Sikhs, or even, for that matter, Synagogues & Jews [oddly, they seem to have skipped a mention in Tamaki's list of Forbidden Architecture]. Hell, I'd probably even be annoyed if some pair of coverage-coveting politicians had sought to suggest banning Destiny Church - whether from constructing new facilities, or just all up and altogether, for the foreseeable future - as a pathway towards the cheap fifteen minutes of "most read story" status, and maybe a few votes down the line into the bargain.

Because, in no small part, even though most of the rest of the ninety seven odd percent of the country's religious (or irreligious, for that matter, for almost half) values are not mine, that doesn't mean I now start thinking of everybody else, all of these, as being "foreign" and having no "place" in our country nor society. You may as well start going around banning various political parties you're not totally in agreement with, because they, too, are in some ways extraneous and 'alien' to your own, personal, 'reality'-tunnel world view. It's not how a healthy, stable, functional society tends to work - and does rather irrepressible harm to the actual fabric thereof through the manner of its enforcement.

I doubt Hannah Tamaki is thinking of having a localized version of the Spanish Inquisition (or, perhaps more darkly, its Portuguese equivalent in Goa) in order to enforce the "integrations" of "faith" she's calling for - not least because I doubt she's thinking much at all. In terms of the actual detail of policy, I mean [although last month's press release from Tamaki demanding that Jacinda Ardern attempt to *ban* gay conversion therapy ... I am not making this up ... somewhat suggests that it's not only the realms of actual policy-detail and practical application wherein "Vision NZ thinking" is a bit oxymoronic] .

But straight-up. My insta-reaction to reading Tamaki's statements upon this matter, was to basically feel that they were almost tantamount to a declaration of war. Or, at least, would be, if anybody much were likely to take them too terribly seriously - or, perhaps flowing directly from that, if Tamaki was actually likely to be in a position to put them into tangible effect a little further down the line.

It certainly went rather beyond Jones' comments which effectively kicked the whole thing off, at any rate.

Now, once we situate Tamaki's offensive as what it is - both an echoing and a direct continuation, amplification, of Jones' campaign ... the serious question becomes whether the whole thing's begun to fizzle out, or whether it'll continue to spread and lose yet further 'nuance' in the process. I'd already observed a shift in the framing even before yesterday's occurrence, from people writing and speaking about "Arranged Marriage" to "Indian Marriage", for instance - and it is not too terribly far from there to the implication, as Tamaki appears to have picked up upon, that it is not the "arranged" part of that concept which is the issue, but rather some generalized concept of "Indian".

It's tempting to simply close off by tapping out that despite all of that, this is New Zealand. And that therefore, beyond the perhaps predictable uptick in "s/he's just saying what we're all thinking!" attempted-letters to the editor and calls in to talkback radio from people with nothing better to do than try garbing themselves in the voluminous folds of the cloak of false moral majority ... nothing much shall happen. Not in the broad sense, anyway. Maybe a few people get hassled in person by sorts who'd quite likely be favourably disposed towards doing so anyway, regardless of what some Government Minister, or er .. minister's wife attempting to Government ... had to say about an issue.

But without intending to be overdramatic about it, following certain events earlier in the year, I'm not entirely sure that that state of affairs is as 'guaranteed' here as it seemingly once was. It is not inconceivable that somebody out there, in whichever sphere, may seek to make some mileage out of picking up and pushing further, the ball which first Jones and then Tamaki have sought to set into (political) motion.

One thing I think I can state with greater confidence, however, is that while it is something of an open question as to whether one or even both of those two figures aforementioned shall still be percolating about our nation's political punch-bowl by this time a few years' hence ...  there are almost certain to still be Mandir Shikharas rising above various sites here. Whatever Talkback or Tamaki might have to say about it.

Because political opponents come and go.

We Endure.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Shane Jones And Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'

When somebody says or does something a bit gauche in politics and then seemingly doubles down upon it, there are two general explanations. Either it's a genuine error which, out of pride or lack of comprehension of the nature of the sin, they're refusing to extricate themselves from.

Or, it's an intentional move designed to elicit a particular response and project a certain image. In other words, it's not a "mistake", much less an "accident".

Now, as applies Jones, there is a school of thought which states that much of what comes out of his mouth is him sounding clever (arguably because he is), and then over-egging the pudding to the point that some of it winds up upon his face. Getting carried away and spraying around eminently soundbitable quips that become the story and obscurate what he's actually trying to say.

The slightly less charitable perspective is that Jones' runaway verbiage doesn't so much occlude, as more bluntly convey whatever it is he was getting at in the first place.

And the less charitable perspective again, is that it does this largely if not entirely because that's *exactly what it was designed to do*.

Now, I've earlier made the case that Jones' previous remarks in relation to the NZ Indian community - viz. the time he declared that the results of NZ immigration policy were "synonymous with butter chicken - rancid" - were pretty much that.

Deliberate exercises in concentrating verbal fire at particular targets, in order to communicate to other parts of the NZ electorate who the speaker is and what he stands for. And designed to imitate how a certain other politician has made successful use of 'Chinese' as a bit of a political pincushion over the last few decades of *his* career (albeit with a bit more linguistic finesse than "two Wongs don't make a white").

As Jones himself puts it - "I'm giving a voice to the anxieties of hundreds of thousands of Kiwis". Allegedly over population growth, at least partially in relation to immigration, but in a manner which suggests that the "anxieties" in question are perhaps concentrated in other areas. [Because seriously - just how much do we actually think a few arranged marriages are contributing to net population growth here in New Zealand; or what "butter chicken", or "Bollywood" (to reference Jones' latest quip) actually has to do with these either]

That's not to say that issues around immigration and population-growth don't exist. Just that Jones' approach seems to be far less interested in actually having a meaningful discussion around population policy (perhaps, to be sure,  because we all saw how that went down when James Shaw tried this a few years ago), and far more in deploying bait and thence escalating a war of words with various parts of the Indian community.

To an older generation, probably of Spaniards, we'd call this "Bull-Fighting".

In my generation's terms, this would be "Trolling".

As my editor, Bomber, pointed out in a piece published on Tuesday, it's a strategy which parlays the conflict and outrage from various portions of the polis into solid electoral gains elsewhere.

Jones has crab-walked into an ongoing 'live' issue via a side-wind, signaled immediately to the sorts of people who aren't too keen on immigration bringing in various cultural practices they don't like the look or sound of that he's Their Man.

Cunning chap that he is, he's added a dash of "Maori" and "Entitled" in the same sentence; declaring that just as Maori "adapted with the arrival of the Pākehā", it's correct for pretty much every other demographic in the country to "adapt" to better accommodate the Anglo population of New Zealand.

Because if they don't - apparently regardless of how long they've been here (and referencing his own remarks about a thousand years of ancestry here in his personal case) - they've got an "elevated sense of entitlement".

It's like playing political scrabble. He lines up his tiles, he hits the triple-word score.

Of course, part of the point isn't really anything specific to do with the Indian community, or Indian cultural nor culinary practices. I don't doubt that Jones has various reasons why he's singled these out - and these connect with his previous record of engagement with the Chinese, especially in and about the Pacific during his prior career as a pseudoambassador.

But in the main, it's about presenting Jones as Defender of Kiwiland and (certain of) its inhabitants. About portraying that there are certain "Kiwi Values", and anybody not abiding immediately and conveniently and *congruently* with these being at best "entitled', if not outright something of a problem.

And then, when this approach is fairly inevitably attacked, responding with a bit of a "who me?" which alleges that any hint of being more than "just saying what everybody's thinking", is some sort of PC-Liberalism/SJW-ism/Cultural Marxism/Precious Snowflakeism gone mad.

With the implicit impact that people who might perhaps count themselves amidst the "everybody" doing the "thinking", also *themselves* feel attacked, and find newly enhanced reason to rally behind their self-appointed champion.

Personally, I think it's a bit rich for Jones to demand that Indians "tame down your rhetoric", immediately between telling those who don't like his approach that their 'home' is elsewhere and they should be heading for it, and declaring that further unimpressed responses are "Bollywood overreaction".

But I'm sure a certain swathe of the electorate views it quite differently - as Jones being the 'reasonable man', and everyone *else* just going around looking to find an excuse to keep the ordinary Kiwi battler down. Especially given pretty much every other party in Parliament - including the Nats, who've probably remembered the reception they got for deciding the approximate value of an Indian to be half that of a Chinese backer - turning out to distance themselves from him. "It's a conspiracy!" "It's a consensus!" "The entire political class has come together to try and stifle your dissent!" "Gosh, if only there were SOMEONE unafraid to take on the vested interests, and speak YOUR truth to power!" "Who's the man to be the martyr for your viewpoint? Why, where's that chap being shot at apparently from *every* side simultaneously!" "The only honest one amidst the lot of 'em!"

With that in mind, the more outrage Jones generates - provided it's kept contained to a relatively small portion of the population doing the outraging - the more he gets the chance to present himself as the victim. In this age of hashtag self-labeling for our experiences, he could probably coin #WhoMe? in reference to his energetic expressions of innocence at pretty much *every* juncture that something like this has come up. Whether it's airlines, forestry companies, people who think that 'what happens/is legal in Thailand ..." isn't the world's greatest defence, etc. etc. etc. - the idea is to transmogrify via bamboozlement somebody who's pretty much Exhibit A for an 'insider', a man so extraordinarily well-connected and well-positioned across just about *everything* in our politisphere that he's the modem to the Matrix ... into an "outsider", an "anti-establishment" renegade. Who takes *on* said Establishment, in this particular instance, by beating down against a grouping of 'little people' who're so far outside "Establishment" that they're often not even allowed into the country.

Now, again - this is NOT to say that there are NO issues whatsoever when it comes to population-growth in NZ in general, or the way we do immigration, specifically.

It's just that if Jones were actually looking to accomplish something in these areas, this would be almost *exactly* the wrong way to go about it. After all, the resultant anguish has effectively propelled the rest of the Government which Jones is allegedly part of (despite how ... nobody else seems to be prepared to back/'take responsibility' for him every time he hits the headlines for sketch conduct), to commit to fixing the situation in a manner which'll make it easier for those in arranged marriages to bring their spouses here.

But Jones won't mind that. Not a bit. Except in public. Because the more it looks like everybody else in the 'establishment' politisphere is doing the opposite - the more he seems "necessary" to those he's keen to have as supporters.

In this way, it is not at all something we can describe via the words of Macbeth - a tale full of sound and fury, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Rather, it is the mystery of chessboxing. Something which *looks* like a simple pugilistic spectacle, brazen, bloody blows rained down with punch-drunk enthusiasm in lieu of finesse or insight or intentional skill. And yet which *actually* entails a much more carefully calculated and deliberate - even deliberative - approach that's methodically forward-planned several moves or even matches in advance, pattern-resonant, designed to elicit the loudest roars of approval from the punters down the peanut gallery, keep 'em coming back and the brawler in bar-tabs and commission for another week.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Why It's Difficult To Take Seriously Shane Jones' Attempted Indian Burn On Immigration

There's a few things to be said around Shane Jones' recent skirmishing with part of the Indian community over immigration changes.

I mean, it should almost go without saying at this point, but the idea that if somebody dislikes a government policy - that instead of being able to engage with their allegedly democratically empowered representatives to get some movement on it, they should instead either shut up ... or, in the words of Jones "catch the next flight home", is downright pernicious.

Not least because for many Indians, and in particular those born here - they're *already* home.

But Jones himself has long seemingly had the Indian community in his rhetorical sights. You may recall his previous rather pointed remarks about another area of NZ immigration policy being "synonymous with butter chicken - rancid", for example.

My personal theory as to why is due to a combination of his wanting to carve out a "similar but different" reputation to Winston's and therefore finding a different target to Chinese migration, and Jones' own cosier relationship with Chinese interests.

And it's those 'cosier relationships' which really make a mockery out of the Minister's "if you don't like it, [...] catch the next flight home" rhetoric.

Because when Jones, serving then as Associate Immigration Minister under the previous Labour-led government, heard about a chap by the name of Bill Liu who disagreed with Immigration New Zealand's decisions and policy ... Jones didn't tell Liu to get on a plane an leave - rather, he took up the guy's case, against reams of official advice and an Interpol alert, and overturned all of the above precisely to let Liu remain here.

It is now a matter of public record some of the 'inducements' which Liu may have made to men both Red and Blue in order to secure his chosen outcome. Which was precisely to *avoid* having to "catch the next flight home".

Or, in other words, it is difficult to take Jones seriously upon this matter given his own record in this area. Not just when it comes to the 'never mind democracy - disagreement means auto-deportation' line of spurious reasoning. But also, his demands in response to the alleged "levels of verbiage that the Indian communal leadership have thrown at the party" that Indian New Zealanders speaking up against his comments "tame down your rhetoric".

He should, perhaps, stick to shooting things other than his mouth off, in Thailand.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Blaming TVNZ For Mediaworks' Woes A Case Of Ideological Shiver Looking For Spine To Shoot Up

Here's a few unfortunate patterns. Mediaworks is once again in dire financial straits; and once again, some are attempting to assert that this is because private enterprise just can't compete with a Government owned ... company that also works like private enterprise [i.e. TVNZ].

Now, I say it's a "pattern" because this is hardly the first time that MediaWorks has found itself in a state of implosion. One of the previous occasions saw the National-led Government bail it out to the tune of $43 million.

I say it's a "few" patterns, because then as now, some people were insistent that private enterprise doing badly *had* to be the result of publicly-owned private enterprise somehow magically making an "unfair playing-field", upon which the former just could not meaningfully compete. Which is just simply untrue, as like I say - TVNZ is run as a business, and has generally been returning a dividend to the Government as its majority shareholder, rather than drawing tens of millions of dollars in bailout money like its private-sector owned competitor.

It's almost like people will say whatever they were going to say anyway, *regardless* of the circumstances; because any crisis is an ideal launch-point for the pursuit of an ideological "solution" in search of a problem.

The plain fact of the matter, is that MediaWorks has been run rather badly for some time now. It's tried a few things to get back in the game, many of which appear to have simply dug it deeper into the hole. It pushed "MORE REALITY TV *ALL* OF THE TIME" as some sort of golden bullet [not realizing that the downward trajectory which this entailed meant said bullet was aimed squarely at its own foot] - not just converting over C4 to pretty much, but then opening at least one additional channel to do more of the same.

Which it did at the same time as it was busily gutting one of its few *actual* competitive elements, in the form of its news and current affairs arm.

As an aside, I personally don't think it at all coincidental that 3/MediaWorks got rid of John Campbell during a period of prolonged warm relations with the then-National-led Government (and interestingly, Fran O'Sullivan - yes, *that* Fran O'Sullivan - seems to agree, per her remarks in print at the time in 2015) ... which, given Campbell's extraordinary popularity and ratings-magnet saliency, just goes to show how questionable business decisions made for dumb reasons seem to have come to characterize MediaWorks during its turbulent last few years.

To be fair, Mediaworks *has* found itself operating in an escalatingly difficult environment for many a traditional broadcast/media company. There's no getting around that.

But it seems to me that they consistently appear to have a worse set of outcomes, a worse set of results, than others who might be facing similar general tribulations of environment.

It's easy for those with pseudo-ideological agendas - that basically come down to "the government shouldn't own anything, even at an arm's length!" - to try and take aim at the current situation, as if that somehow *definitively proves* their point.

It does nothing of the sort.

All that it *does* do, is show that private enterprise is capable of acting stupidly, repeatedly stupidly, and making seriously flawed decisions over a protracted period of time, that are against both its own, and ultimately, the national/public interest.

And then somehow managing to keep stuttering on thanks to periodic infusions of capital from big foreign hedgefunds and 'friends in high places'.

You know - the *opposite* of what the pernicious ideology du jour of its most ribald and rambunctious defenders insists is "supposed" to happen.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On Bridges On Jacinda On Trade Talks With Trump

I gotta say - it's rather odd seeing Simon Bridges attempt to attack Jacinda Ardern for not attempting to press Donald J. Trump on climate change, at their meeting earlier this week.

A few weeks back, New Zealand National Party people were attacking Ardern for allegedly - I stress the *allegedly* - refusing to be open to meeting with Trump. Because, amongst other things, TRADE RELATIONS. So, you know, "she's SELLING OUT our PRIMARY PRODUCERS by refusing to meet - because she wants to politically posture", or something.

Now, this was obviously not factual; and this week's meeting shows that those assertions were basically baseless.

So instead, now that an engagement on trade *has* happened - and one that appears to have been pretty successful [oddly enough, Trump's ... "personal" approach to international relations may actually serve NZ better in this narrow regard than his predecessors' more systemic or otherwise agenda'd facings] - we instead have the leader of the National Party claiming that the Prime Minister should have pushed Trump on climate change.

You know, an issue that Trump is well known to be pretty uninterested and/or actively hostile about.

Rather than making good gains talking trade.

A situation that becomes even more curious when we consider that the National Party here in New Zealand has more usually *itself* been pretty lukewarm on climate change related matters, with a preference for trade and agriculture instead.

So what's going on here?

National, apparently annoyed that something appears to be *working* under the Government, is criticizing the Government for not doing something *badly*; for not doing the STRAWMAN thing that their imaginary rhetorical bete-noir 'might' have done.

If the positions were reversed, and Simon Bridges was somehow Prime Minister ... do we *really* believe that he'd have gone into a meeting with Trump, to push climate change action?

Of course he wouldn't. He'd be gently mentioning trade, and then internally pondering which of the Peoples' Republic of China or the United States he should attempt to sell out the national interest to, first, or endeavour to set up some form of bidding war over between the two.

There are - to my mind at least - legitimate areas to criticize this Government over. Ways to set out a principled and alternative vision, even, that provides voters and the country with a genuine sense of choice going forward. But it often seems that the National Party are less interested in doing that, than they are in simply throwing anything and everything at the proverbial Wall [no, not that one .. not the MP, either] in the vague hopes that *something*, *anything* sticks, no matter if it's *exactly* the sort of stuff they'd vitriolically oppose, were Labour/NZF/(Greens) *actually doing* the thing National now claims it would want done.

The National Party has effectively said to the electorate "These are my principles! If you don't like them ... I've got others"

They have no "vision" - except of themselves in power.

And they shall say and/or do [mostly just "say"] anything and everything under the sun, in order to attempt to get there.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

On Winston On Bridges On China On Freedom

I see New Zealand First has put out a press statement which seeks to condemn Simon Bridges for his recent positive interview with Chinese media, doubling down on recent criticism aired in Parliament by Winston. To quote NZF's release:

""I have never heard such obsequious, subservient grovelling, kowtowing, palm-kissing nonsense," said Mr Peters.

Mr Bridges praised the Communist Party of China (CCP) for taking the country from mass poverty to economic prosperity in the state media interview, calling it an "amazing story".

Mr Peters said the interview was "staggering" because he "belongs to a country that for all these decades and down through the years... has been a democracy". "

Now, it's not that I disagree with Winston Peters on this issue. Quite the contrary!

It's just that I kinda feel that Winston might have been better to apply the same sort of sentiment to his own remarks afore making them back in 2017, when he made his first major speech as Foreign Affairs Minister, to the PRC-backed Confucius Institute at Victoria University:

""We should also remember this when we are making judgements about China - about freedom and their laws: that when you have hundreds of millions of people to be re-employed and relocated with the change of your economic structure, you have some massive, huge problems.

"Sometimes the West and commentators in the West should have a little more regard to that and the economic outcome for those people, rather than constantly harping on about the romance of 'freedom', or as famous singer Janis Joplin once sang in her song: 'freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose'.

"In some ways the Chinese have a lot to teach us about uplifting everyone's economic futures in their plans.""

Now, to be fair and to be sure, Winston's 2017 speech *did* also include the following - "New Zealand and China do not always see eye-to-eye on every issue ... but where we do have a different perspective we raise this in a way that is cordial, constructive, and hopefully clear." And, again to his credit, he at the very least was speaking about the PRC and"the Chinese" rather than the Chinese Communist Party - which may be something of a fig-leaf when speaking about a one-party state, but it's a fig-leaf that *does* at least somewhat matter.

It's also the case that Bridges was in a foreign country as a guest, and apparently reckons that his interview was edited to remove anything *less* than glowingly positive from the record. Which is not exactly an excuse, but does provide some measure of contextual explanation for how and why he spoke - or seemed to speak - as he did.

Whereas Winston was speaking in his own country (which, to be sure, while it may give one additional license, does not mean one suddenly chooses to insult guests) and chose to add the overtly pro-PRC (and anti- too-much concern about human rights or freedom) segment I've quoted above to the officially prepared text of his speech for additional emphasis.

But having looked at the remarks Winston is - again, quite rightly - castigating from Bridges, and comparing these against his own speech (plus the off-the-cuff additions such as the longer section of excerpt I've quoted above, which wasn't in the original text he was to deliver) ... I would perhaps suggest that it is somewhat "Orwellian" for Winston to get *too* enthusiastic in his condemnation of Brides - at least without *first* issuing some form of clarification about how his, and therefore New Zealand's position on the PRC has presumably now changed, evolved, and grown since that time. Assuming that it has.

And by "Orwellian", I do not mean in the more usual sense nor literary associations of the term - to 1984 and the forcible historical amnesia of rewriting the past for political purposes.

I instead mean the rather memorable line from Animal Farm:
"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Why Simon Bridges' Enthusiasm For The Chinese Communist Party Is Utterly Unsurprising

So in the wake of a recent Newshub piece that quotes National's Simon Bridges enthusiastically talking up the Chinese Communist Party - not, you know, the People's Republic of China, but the Communist Party *itself*, various portions of my newsfeed have understandably been understandably just a little surprised and more than a little bemused that Blue is apparently The New Red. Not the right-wing, National-voting sorts, obviously - the perplexity and somewhat faux-bewilderment has basically been exclusive to those to the proverbial left of Genghis Khan

Yet to be honest, I'm entirely unsurprised that Simon Bridges would speak positively about the Chinese Communist Party, even at a time like this with regard to Hong Kong. The fact is, that regardless of however many National supporters might have earnestly believed in that sign at the last election, that Jacinda Ardern is somehow a "PRETTY COMMUNIST", and then kept up much the same red-baiting rhetoric in letters to the editor and upon talkback radio for much of the just under two years since ...

... the National Party has long had a much more complex relationship with "Communist" China. Even at the height of the Cold War,in 1976 - while Chairman Mao was still alive and still nominally in control, some years before the 'transition' to a 'market economy' had begun - the Nats were quite happy to have their then-leader pay an official visit to Beijing.

The PRC  then arguably returned the favour, by sending an apparent envoy in the form of Dr Jian Yang to meet with the last *several* National leaders, over a period of the last eight years, through the highly transparent forum of the National Party's Parliamentary Caucus, of which he is an elected (list) member.

Something which the Nats were evidently quite keen to keep going, as it appeared that while in government they'd placed pressure on our security intelligence services *not* to unduly scrutinize Dr Yang, and particularly not over his hushed-up background with the PRC's military intelligence apparatus.

This ongoing bilateral politician exchange programme appears to have taken on elements of shuttlecock diplomacy - with former National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley amidst a lengthening list of luminaries who've since re-emerged into public life tethered to the local arms of PRC economic organs.

As applies Shipley in particular, there is a perhaps interesting comparison with what has happened with Simon. Bridges, at the very least, whomever may have written the words for him, *did* utter them himself. Unlike Shipley's surprise at finding she'd somehow written an OpEd for the CCP's People's Daily without actually realizing it nor intending to do so.

More recently, at seemingly every step, the National Party have been like a small yappy thing with a bone in criticizing the Labour/NZF/Greens government for apparently undermining/imperiling/vandalizing New Zealand's relationship with the PRC.

I suppose, in particular, that it is understandable that the Nats are now basically unconcerned about the signposted risks to national security of letting Huawei handle our 5G network upgrade. After all, with the PRC already having been in possession of a "man on the inside" [and not just of National - of the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Parliamentary Select Committee, inter alia] for some years now, the National Party just wants the rest of the country to be subject to the same privilege.

I would have said that was "generous" and "egalitarian" of them - but as we all know, National under Simon Bridges considers "two Chinese" to be "better than two Indians", per their own words on the subject. No word on what the rough conversion rate is for other ethnicities, but I hear that when National's loyalty to this country was up for grabs, it fetched only a mere thirty pieces of silver.

In any case, even leaving aside all of teh above, it is absolutely unsurprising that Simon Bridges would speak positively of the modern-day Chinese Communist Party.

And for one simple reason.

Once you strip away all the mid-20th century political rhetoric and symbolism (including, oddly enough, a lot of banging on about representing farmers .. by which I mean peasants, once upon a time), the CCP are basically more-market repressive authoritarians, who never lose an election, never have to apologize, build roads everywhere, and whose leader is mandatorily popular with the people.

You know - *exactly* what National and Simon Bridges *wish* they could be.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

On John Roughan's Curious Distaste For Journalistic Privilege

Colonel Nasser of Egypt once pithily observed that "The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something."

Now, I hesitate in the extreme to term The Herald's John Roughan a "genius". Yet every time I read one of his more "ideological" columns, that sort of sentiment seems to spring to mind. A sort of more-cynical/paranoid version of the famed 'Hanlon's Razor' - "never attribute to malice, that which can adequately be explained by stupidity".

Because so frequently, when I cast my eyes over his output, I see all these wild blurrings and obfuscations of facts - and I am never quite sure how much of this is *deliberate* propagandizing, versus Roughan simply lacking due diligence or apt memory of the events and details and occurrences in question.

The most recent offender is his recent piece basically opposing the legal protection of journalistic privilege being upheld in the case of Nicky Hager in relation to an illegal search-warrant executed upon him by the NZ Police.

It's phrased also in general terms as Roughan rallying against this occurrence - due to its being some sort of mid-step marching-stride towards an "unfree press". This is because, in Roughan's view, the inexorable result of *all* journalists having the protection enshrined in statute which Hager has benefited from ... is all of our 'official' news media turning into Pravda, apparently.

Which is downright peculiar by itself. I mean, surely the legal protection of the journalist-source relationship ought to *increase* the relative freedom of our press, by increasing the facility with which they are able to garner information to report?

'Not so', says Roughan; and he invokes the spuriously slippery slope specter of Aotearoa marching towards an era of Journalism being a fully-licensed and accredited profession a la Doctors, Lawyers, and Clinical Psychologists. The implicit idea being that the State shall get to decide who is able to effectively call themselves a Journalist, and benefit from the resultant protection - thus limiting the freedom of the press to speak truth to power, in consequence.

Except ... that hasn't exactly happened, has it. The law which Roughan has taken issue, has been in force now for some thirteen years. It's true that the Press Council is a thing, and that in order to gain institutional access through the Parliamentary Press Gallery, one must be properly accredited .... but these are not recent innovations here. They've been in place for decades. Something Roughan presumably knows, given his stint on the latter from the early 1980s onwards, for a start.

In fact, taking a look at the relevant section of the Evidence Act, I'm not sure at all what Roughan thinks he's getting at.

Here it is:

"journalist means a person who in the normal course of that person’s work may be given information by an informant in the expectation that the information may be published in a news medium" [s68 (5) Evidence Act 2006]

No requirement for state licensing mandated there, and I further note that it's not an absolute privilege, either - with s68 (2) allowing a High Court Judge to overrule the privilege anyway in situations of significant public interest.

As a further point of interest, s58 of the same legislation enables a Minister of Religion to claim a not entirely dissimilar legal privilege to that of a journalist, in the course of his or her duties. Now, Roughan is clearly aware of this - he makes brief mention of the protection in his piece. Except when it comes to his scaremongering about the "slippery slope" we are apparently setting up by enabling Nicky Hager to have the proper privilege protection due to him as a journalist ... Roughan curiously stops mentioning "Minister of Religion" - we go from "Only lawyers, doctors, priests and clinical psychologists have the same rights of confidentiality in legislation" through to "properly qualified and licensed like lawyers, doctors and the rest." Spot the difference.

The reason why he's suddenly started getting 'blurry' here, is because the State of New Zealand *does not* actually license nor assess the qualification or otherwise of "Ministers of Religion". It *especially* does not, when we are dealing with s58 of the Evidence Act, which defines a Minister of Religion as follows:

"A person is a minister of religion for the purposes of this section if the person has a status within a church or other religious or spiritual community that requires or calls for that person—
(a) to receive confidential communications of the kind described in subsection (1); and
(b) to respond with religious or spiritual advice, benefit, or comfort."

Now, personally I think that's a rather broad legal standard, and it would no doubt be both interesting and well beyond the scope of this piece to take a look at how the Courts have interpreted the law in these matters, when it comes to establishing just how widely the principle of recognition extends here.

But the point is - whether we are dealing with Ministers of Religion, or with Journalists, what Roughan is claiming is the likely-inevitable result of having state-mandated (conditional) protection for these occupations ... is simply not a thing under current legislation.

Which is not to say that, in some Reductio-Ad-Orwellium hypothetical future, Parliament might not, for some otherwise inexplicable reason, vote to grant *enhanced* protections and privileges to journalists ... although that perhaps makes about as much sense as the proverbial Turkeys voting for an ever-larger set of test-knives afore Christmas. And besides, with deference to the only *other* instance cited by Roughan of a man having his legal status as a "journalist" subjected to judicial scrutiny - that of Cameron Slater - the Government of the day demonstrated that it was perfectly capable of providing him with *all manner* of assistance and empowerment without creating a more broad and legally above board 'protected class' of offically Parliamentary-sanctioned PR-chaperoned propagandtastic mouthpieces.

And while we are speaking of Slater, it seems most curious to me that Roughan takes such issue with the people who had sought to have Slater's "journalistic" status revoked. He does so at least partially on the basis of WhaleOil's exposure of Len Brown's extramarital affair - claiming that this was "one of the strongest pieces of journalism I have seen in this country."

And certainly, I am not going to disagree that it was one of the most "spectacular". Not least when the fireworks started going off prematurely and *inside the tent* of the political would-be operatives attempting to besmirch the just-elected Mayor by cajoling a story out of an arguable victim in false pretenses. We shall leave aside the fact that WhaleOil did what he did there for a political purpose, and that Slater's most prominent role in the drama was as publisher rather than gumshoe. I do understand and accept that you could feasibly term what happened there as "Journalism".

But, you see, Roughan is rather ribaldly misrepresenting reality here. Slater did not lose his "journalist" status in the course of the Blomfield defamation case due to anything he might have 'reported on' with regard to then-Mayor Brown. Rather, he lost it *for that specific case*, because the High Court Judge in question quite sensibly ruled that carrying out a "private feud", and attempting "extreme and vindictive" weaponized disclosures of patently unsupported or even potentially outright falsified information with the purpose of prosecuting "extended character assassination" against an otherwise private citizen ... wasn't "news", nor was it "responsible" conduct.

Roughan omits to mention, as well, that Slater nevertheless *did* find himself acknowledged *as* a "news medium" more generally by the same Court that was stripping him of the protection of journalistic privilege, in the course of the very same case ... because I presume that that doesn't fit the narrative which he wants to portray.

Which appears to be of Hager as some sort of semi-illegitimate interloper into the journalistic sphere; as Roughan puts it: "Nor would I blame them if "journalist" wasn't a designation of Hager that sprang automatically to their minds. Many see him as primarily a political activist, especially when he pumps out polemics such as Seeds of Distrust and Dirty Politics during election campaigns." Although, to his credit, Roughan does then briefly add "But he is a journalist."

So, on the one hand, we have Slater, and his "2013 exposure of Auckland mayor Len Brown's office affair [as] one of the strongest pieces of journalism I have seen in this country" ... and on the other, we have Hager, and his books taking on both Labour- and National- led Governments, being regarded "primarily as a political activist". What's the difference? Well, I suppose, for a start, Slater tended to only far more rarely attack the figure (and administration) that Roughan wrote a biography of a few years back.

But I digress.

Roughan writes in his piece, that he'd "been a journalist for 45 years and I didn't know we had [journalistic privileges]" under law. And you know what? I somewhat potentially believe him. For you see, Roughan writes these days mostly in the "Opinion" pages of the Herald. And most of his actual output, that I'm aware of, has been a sort of comfortable-accommodation-with-the-ruling-classes-and-accepted/acceptable-lines style stuff that would be singularly unlikely to land him in court or subject to police officers bashing down his door in possession of a search warrant.

To be fair and sure, he does occasionally write good and useful stuff; and I highlighted his recent piece on Ihumatao in part because it was exactly that. At least, in terms of whom it was presumably reaching out to, and what it was seeking to say.

But all-up and overall, I suspect that the reason why Roughan had no knowledge of the legal protections available to a journalist in the course of his or her duties, is because he had never had much, if any, cause to avail himself of them.

Unlike Hager.

So when it comes to Roughan attempting to luridly sketch out the Road to State-Sanctioned Serfdom which the NZ Journalistic fraternity and profession are presumably diving headlong down upon for *daring* to make use of their legally extended protections, in cases of controversial crusading activities ... part of it's probably because he's considering the whole thing as an abstract.

He does, after all, talk up his view that "News media have long claimed a right to protect anonymous informants in court" [which .. somewhat contradicts the assertions made elsewhere in the piece, but anyway], and that in consequence, "Judges have been well aware reporters and editors would go to jail rather than betray a source."

And yes, there is something pretty nobly romantic in the idea of a reporter who so adamantly believes in the truth of what they are doing, the truth that they are *reporting*, that they're prepared to put themselves in the potentially serious harm's way of a prison term (with all its accompanying fecundities) for this.

But underneath this, is something else. Namely, the reflexive role which Roughan plays as a sort of telepathic mouthpiece for the older and more right-wing/conservative type of New Zealander that has hitherto had such a monopoly on power [c.f his eulogistic remarks a few weeks ago around the era of benevolent "Remuera Patricians" running Auckland].

Which is what it is. And in this instance, it's a semi-conscious feeling that somehow Hager has "gamed the system". That instead of the onus being upon the NZ Police to know the law if they are going to choose to enforce it, especially in incredibly high-profile and high-stakes politically-resonant cases ... that the onus is upon journalists not to "upend the applecart", or at least, not rock the boat *too* much or in too potentially insalubrious company ["the trouble with being on the side of right...", as other Winston used to say, being "all the insalubrious company"].

That, to quote the old adage, "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear".

That "the law" is a single, unified and level playing field, which is unutterably undermined when we start creating 'special' differences within it for persons and clades of people whose intersection with the law is, by their very nature, going to be different and have different requirements of it.

And, in this particular case, that a legal protection rolled out for *all* journalists, incredibly broadly defined with reference only to their regularly being "given information" which is then "published in a news medium" in the course of their "work" ... that the fact that one single journalist *actually successfully making use of this* protection in a court of law, somehow creates both an 'exceptional situation', and irrevocably undermines the freedom of our nation's press.

Because what kind of "free press" has freedom from undue scrutiny of its informational sources, right?

This is not the "banality of evil" that we are witnessing before us. This is the "freedom of banality" that Roughan apparently seeks to defend.

The freedom to do as you like, write and publish as you wish ... but only provided that it isn't incendiary, isn't explosive enough to actually be viewed as a "problem" by the Powers-That-Be, and their blue-uniformed enforcement arm [whom, it should be clear, I generally am rather positive about - the latter, I mean, not so much the former]. Unless you, yourself, are prepared to put yourself in the firing-line to be criminalized for it.

For all his bluster about how we are apparently "on the slippery slope towards an authorised press" [and how nice when he namechecks the fallacy he is using, even as he invokes it] "which is not a free press", Roughan appears not to have thought seriously about the local implications of running the removal of journalistic privilege, to similar extremes as he has hyperventilated about its maintenance. 

There is an old Soviet joke:

"First, do not to think.
If you think - do not speak;
If you speak - do not write;
If you write - then don't publish,
If you publish ... don't be surprised."

We might adapt this to Roughan's take on Hager's situation:

"First, do not receive potentially inflammatory information.
If you receive it, do not read it.
If you read it, do not write about it.
If you write about it, do not publish it - especially during an Election Year!
If you write about it (especially during an Election Year, thus implicitly attacking the Government when it is most at risk) ... then do not be surprised, when the constabulary execute a search warrant upon you."

Now how's *that* for a slippery slope away from the concept of a "free press".