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.