From the census data:
According to the Herald’s editorial today:
There will always be a constituency for the Act Party’s founding principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, small government and lower taxes.
And again in the conclusion:
At the last election, Act secured just 1.07 per cent of the vote. There is absolutely nothing to suggest it would do better next year. For some time, starting over with an alternative neo-liberal party under younger leadership has appeared to be the only viable response to Act’s many woes. The departure of Mr Banks underlines this.
It may take time for a new party to get off the ground. But there will be a constituency for its core philosophy and territory in the political spectrum for it to occupy, all because both of these substantial pluses were squandered by Act.
In the New Zealand Electoral Survey they ask people about their political beliefs. In question B7 of the 2011 survey they ask:
Generally, do you think it should be or should not be the government’s responsibility to provide or ensure:a) A job for everyone who wants oneb) Decent living standards for all old peoplec) Decent living standards for the unemployedd) Decent housing for those who can’t afford ite) Free health care for everyonef) Free education from pre – school through to tertiary and university
Another triumph for the moochers and looters! 3.5% of the survey want an ACT-style night-watchman state – less than the 5% threshold. (Actually fewer than this since this includes all the people who just wrote ‘Don’t know’ or simply didn’t answer this question. If you limit it to people who wrote ‘Shouldn’t’ or ‘Definitely shouldn’t’ you’re down to 1.4% of the sample).
Intriguingly, more of the 0/6 respondents voted for Labour than ACT (the vast majority voted National). Depressingly, many of the people in 1/6 and 2/6 columns are near or above retirement age and don’t think the government should do anything except fund superannuation and/or free health care.
Anyway, my point here is that even if you ‘rebrand’ ACT or build a new party and somehow get all the people who identify with its values to vote, and to vote for you, there’s still not enough support to get into Parliament without doing an electorate seat deal.
As far as the right is concerned John Minto is just about the worst person in the country. He’s down there in the frozen lake of National Party hell being chewed on by Satan along with Hone Harawira and Sue Bradford. Minto is a Marxist who got the shit beat out of him during the Springbok tour and damn well deserved it!
So this whole ‘Death of Mandala’ thing is really problematic. Right-wing politicians know that they have to be nice about Mandela and praise him as a hero. But it’s awkward to be reminded that Minto was actually getting beaten up because he was protesting to try and get Mandela released and to get our country to break ties with apartheid South Africa, a regime that right-wing governments here and around the world enthusiastically supported. If Key takes John Minto to Mandela’s funeral it means swallowing the gigantic rat that Minto – who they regard as the epitome of left-wing idiocy – was completely right, and the National Party was completely wrong. So no trip for Minto.
From yesterday afternoon, via RadioLive Political Editor’s Twitter feed:
Overheard: “the media are all here asking MPs if they believe in the moon landings. Try and get our lot to say something funny”
My theory/guess is that National jumped the gun with Colin Craig. Key endorsed him about a month ago and indicated that National would give Craig a seat. But this was back when everyone thought the Electoral Commission would create a new safe blue seat in the North Shore where Craig would enjoy strong support. Instead the new seat is a marginal electorate, and Craig has spent the entire month making nutty statements about chem-trails and the moon-landing instead of talking about policy. I’m guessing that National’s polling is telling them that Craig could cost them too many swing-votes votes in the center to justify a deal. The Nats want to go into the election warning voters about the unpredictable nuttiness of a Labour-Greens government, not spending every day commenting on whatever lunatic conspiracy theory Colin Craig floats next.
Rob Hosking had a column up in the NBR the other day (subscription only) insisting that National won’t give Craig a seat. His theory is that National is talking up Craig’s chances because it wants him to take enough votes off Winston Peters to drop Peters under the 5% threshold, and if the Conservatives also fall under 5% then that will inflate National’s share of the vote and get them into government. I think this is one of the least plausible electoral strategies I’ve ever heard – are you really gonna bet the outcome of the election on Colin Craig’s ability to beat Winston Peters? – and that no one in the National Party actually believes this is viable, but that it reflects a general mood in National to distance itself from Key’s previous warmth towards the Conservatives.
Also, ACT! I heard Don Brash on RNZ this morning explaining that this party needs to exist to keep National honest, steer them to the right etc. How can ACT keep National honest, steer them the right-way and so on when ACT only exists through the grace of National granting them a seat? ACT doesn’t exist because it has a constituency anymore. It exists because there are several crackpot libertarian multi-millionaires willing to fund it and staffers willing to take their money, and because it’s useful for National to be able to pass far-right legislation by ‘making a deal’ with the ACT Party.
A couple of years ago I did a couple of posts on Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. The idea was that I’d read it over the summer of 2011, and people who read the blog would read it along with me. This didn’t work out: I made it about 300 pages into the book and then gave up, and I was always kind of embarrassed about that. And now every time I blog about a book someone jumps into the comments thread and demands to know: ‘What happened with Infinite Jest?’
Short answer: I stopped reading it. Slightly longer answer: I found it entertaining at first, but increasingly boring and unrewarding.
A bit longer still: basically I didn’t have any confidence in the author. I wrote at the time:
When I’m reading this book I always have DFW’s suicide, and the subsequent revelation that he struggled with depression for most of his life lurking in the back of my mind. So when I come across pages of technical minutiae that hardly anyone reading the book can understand I wonder: is this a clever literary technique, or witty joke, or did he write this stuff because he was, basically, a mad genius and its presence in this book defies a sane explanation?
And that lack of confidence got worse the more I read. A twenty page unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness section about a character who has nothing to do with the rest of the book? Followed by a dozen pages describing the air-conditioning beneath a tennis academy? At some point I just decided the author was wasting my time. But, paradoxically, I always thought I’d go back and finish it off at some stage, because it’s an important book, and it must be ultimately rewarding, right?
Then earlier this year I read D T Max’s biography of David Foster-Wallace. The point of Inifinite Jest, it explained, is that DFW thought that the problem with contemporary western society is that we’re addicted to entertainment. We’re ‘amusing ourselves to death.’ His solution to that problem was Infinite Jest which he described as ‘anti-entertainment’. Hence thousands of footnotes so you have to keep flipping back and forth through the book to read it. Hence unpunctuated stream-of-conciousness; hence the lack of a narrative, and so on.
And I have two questions here: is DFW’s ‘addicted to entertainment’ thesis even remotely valid? Is that really the big problem confronting post-industrial capitalist democracies in the late 20th, early 21st century? And even if it is, even if you give him that, is a very long, deliberately unreadable book the solution to that problem?
I like a lot of DFW’s journalism, and his short stories (although I can’t read or listen to ‘This is Water’ and take it seriously.) Maybe Infinite Jest seemed more relevant during the long boom of the 1990s? I don’t know. I do know I don’t intend to revisit it.
I just finished reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I thought it was great! But I also think this one star review on Amazon is pretty great:
I don’t want to read a boring book about a miserable, bored couple. Already living that life.
- Hope, a reader from San Diego, California.
Sorry to hear that, Hope.
The book cover and the introduction both promised me that Revolutionary Road was about the perils of conformity and the evils of suburban middle-class existence, and the introduction included quotes from the author to substantiate that thesis. But the book isn’t about those things at all! The main characters hate the suburbs and middle-class life, sure, but the main characters are miserable, vain, hopelessly confused people. What the book is really about – I think – is performance. How we play roles to impress people, and get them to like us, and those roles can end up trapping us; forcing us to become people we aren’t, and live lives we don’t even want. And it’s about vanity: so often we convince ourselves that we’re special; better than everyone else, so surely we must do something extraordinary with our lives! But what? The characters in Revolutionary Road don’t know. There’s a bitter comic thread running all the way through: people keep suggesting to the self-loathing, drifting main character that since he doesn’t know what to do with his life he should become a writer.
Bonus Richard Yates trivia: Larry David dated Yates’ daughter and went out to dinner with the great man who he described as utterly terrifying. He based an episode of Seinfeld on the experience.
There’s a film adaptation of Revolutionary Road that I have no desire to see: but I did like this description of Leonardo DiCaprio’s method acting chops:
DiCaprio prepared for the role by watching several documentaries about the 1950s and the origin of suburbs
Next up on the reading list: Justine by Lawrence Durrell.
Update: One other point about Revolutionary Road: it was obviously a huge, huge influence on Jonathan Franzen. Like, Franzen’s books are basically contemporary Richard Yates novels, only not as well written. I had a similar experience earlier this year when I read T H White’s The Once and Future King series and realised that a lot of what I liked from Lev Grossman’s Magician books and Harry Potter were flat-out copied out of White’s novels. There should be a neologism for that: when you read an older, less well-known text and discover that it’s been looted by a celebrated contemporary writer.
Stuff summarises the end-of-year political rankings by right-wing newsletter Trans-Tasman. Bill English is their politician of the year:
He is restoring the Crown Accounts to surplus, getting the economy “set to fly” and he does more than his fair share of the heavy lifting on policy.
Most of the heavy lifting performed by English involves lifting up huge armfuls of taxpayer cash and giving it to the private sector. Still, I guess he is only partly responsible for the debacle of the asset sales policy, and the house-price bubble building up under his watch hasn’t blown up and crippled our economy, yet, but merely forced an intervention from the central bank locking first time buyers out of the market and reducing the number of new houses being built. So great job!
But what really jumped out at me was this:
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce: If it’s too hard for anyone else, give it to Joyce and he’ll fix it. 7.5/10
That’s certainly the way Joyce is sold to us, and its obviously set in the concrete-like conventional wisdom of the press gallery. But what, exactly, has Joyce ‘fixed’ over the last two years? The Sky City convention center? His dysfunctional new super-Ministry? Chorus and the UFB roll-out? The rapidly dying screen-sector? Shouldn’t this read, ‘Give it to Joyce and it’ll become a hugely damaging endless fiasco?’
I got to experience the joy of being a political insider this week: for the first time I knew what the real story was behind a breaking political story – the great Green Party leadership challenge of 2013.
It kicked off on Wednesday: former Green Party candidate David Hay announced his intention to challenge Russel Norman for the Green co-leadership. It became a news story, presumably because it was all so weird and unexpected. Rachel Smalley declared that Hay ‘had the numbers’. Patrick Gower declared that Hay was trying to raise his profile and boost his list position, and that this was proof that the Greens were ‘greedy’, and also ‘crazy’. Chris Trotter decided that David Hay was a ‘philosopher king’ and that Hay was a stalking horse for a more serious unnamed challenger along with some other conclusions that I struggle to comprehend. Others talked about a grassroots revolution against the Parliamentary wing of the Green Party. Martyn Bradbury announced that change was needed because the Greens performed poorly in Auckland, only beating their nation-wide average in four Auckland electorates (a statistic that actually indicates the Greens performed strongly in Auckland.)
The real story, I learned from an anonymous senior Green Party staffer when she came home from work in a bemused mood, was that Hay had been a problematic candidate in the last election so the Greens were about to block him from standing as a candidate in the next election. Hay was unhappy about this so he announced his leadership bid as a last-ditch attempt to prevent the decision: if they went ahead with blocking his candidacy just after he’d announced his leadership bid wouldn’t it look undemocratic?
(They blocked him yesterday; Hay announced that this was an act of ‘self-mutilation’ and called for both leaders to stand down, behavior which helps explain why he was dumped as a candidate in the first place.)
So that’s pretty straightforward but it wasn’t something you could really guess based on the available facts, so all of the analysis was wrong. Which makes me wonder: is almost everything I’ve written and read about politics a series of sensible guesses that were wrong because they were reasoned out based on incomplete information? Is this what 90% of political stories look like to government insiders?
I’ve been reading Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, a history of Scientology:
Every church or mission maintains an office for the day Hubbard returns. A pen and a yellow legal pad await him at each of his desks. His personal bathrooms have toothbrushes and identical sets of Thom McAn sandals beside the shower. On Gold Base, his modest original house was razed and replaced with a $10 million mansion. A full-time staff attends the empty residence, regularly laundering the founder’s clothes and keeping the house ready for his white-glove inspection. His vehicles are still in the garage, gassed up, with the keys in the ignition. On his nightstand is a Louis L’Amour novel, with a bookmark placed midway through. The dining table is set for one.
Meanwhile, in Wellington, the VUW library has an impressive collection of Hubbard’s books, all hardback with high quality paper and glossy full-color prints. I assume they were donated by the Church of Scientology. Each book has many small cards tucked inside it in between the pages urging the reader to contact the Church directly. I’m guessing a member of the Church pops in from time to time to replace them.