- Hilary Mantel’s novel about the French Revolution. It was published in 1992 and is the template for her books about Thomas Cromwell: character and research-based novelisation of pivotal yet complex historic events
- I think it’s better than Wolf Hall. Actually, I think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Oddly I didn’t think this when I first read it which was about ten years ago. It’s a long, dense book: maybe I needed to read it twice? But, also, the reviews were quite cool when it was first published. Perhaps it was before its time and the success of the Cromwell books has retrospectively canonised it, somehow?
- Or, because the technique is modern but the literary approach is 19th century? The book isn’t about a cryptic fragmented post-modern hypothesis, as was rather fashionable in the 90s; instead it’s about what it is about: the experience of being one of the central conspirators in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
- Mantel doesn’t have a grand theory of history she’s trying to sell. In the book Robspierre anticipates Marx and argues to his friend Camille Desmoulins that the revolution would have happened without them, and their co-conspirator Danton. Economic and class forces do play a role. But so do whims, geopolitics, friendships, rivalries, romances and random chance. Individuals rise to power and are poised to take the revolution in one direction, but then they’re struck down by their enemies, or ill health, and someone else takes over and history veers off in another direction entirely. History, according to Mantel, is chaos.
- I don’t know that much about the French Revolution. There isn’t a good English language history of it (so far as I know). I was struck by how many of the incidental characters are still famous ~225 years later. Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette, of course. Laclos, the author of Dangerous Liasons, is a calculating royalist agent. John-Paul Marat appears periodically to present sound logical reasons for the Revolution to murder all its enemies. The painter David apotheosises him after he is killed in his bath. Citizen de Sade (formerly a Marquis) makes an appearance. A heroic young artillery officer called Buonaparte is mentioned towards the end. Heady times.
- It is one of the best books about politics. Mantel is very interested in the figures behind the development of the modern nation state and the immense power – for good and evil – of bureaucratic government. She is an expert on conspiracies, the power of journalism, demagoguery and transactional politics.
- The title is a (a) a reference to the murderous ‘Committee for Public Safety’ which is my favourite sinister euphemism for a dictatorship ever, and (b) an ironic comment by Camille Desmoulins: the brutal reality of revolutionary and post-revolutionary politics forces the central characters to accept that to ensure their own personal safety they have to murder their enemies. And since almost everyone else with any power is a potential enemy, to keep themselves safe they’re forced into an endless cycle of paranoia, denunciations and liquidations. Trying to reach ‘a place of greater safety’ dooms them all.
- Happy days
September 29, 2015
September 28, 2015
This government would never actually carry out the daunting legal and policy work required to implement mandatory contraception for beneficiaries, but they sure do like floating the idea whenever there’s a dip in the polls, to outraged cries from liberal pundits and roars of approval from the talkback radio moronocracy. This is the third or fourth time the Nats have said we ‘have to have this conversation’ about beneficiaries and eugenics. But according to the Stuff article:
Dysfunctional families who have multiple children taken into state care are the least likely to receive contraceptive advice, says the chief executive of the country’s social workers association.
Threatening to force women to be sterilised is far better for the Minister’s media monitoring statistics than the actual pedestrian work of delivering the option of contraception to women who might desperately need it. As always with these buffoons, generating headlines is the core role of government.
September 24, 2015
One of the defining moments in John Key’s rise to popularity as opposition leader was when he made a deal with Helen Clark to support the Bradford smacking amendment. Key ‘rescued’ Clark, much to the outrage of National Party partisans, but he also transformed himself from an opposition leader to a potential Prime Minister. The public isn’t really interested in politicians yelling nonsense at each other. They like people who can get things done, and Key did something.
I’ve been a bit mystified as to why Andrew Little didn’t exploit Key’s weakness over the flag referendum to emulate his old trick. And now the Greens have done it. People are saying that they’ve played into Key’s hands, and so on, just as some in National said of Key’s deal with Clark. But if Key was such a ten-dimensional chess grand-master he wouldn’t have botched his precious legacy project so badly it needed the Greens to save it. The Greens ‘did’ something, which is hard to do in opposition and some persuadable voters will give them points for it.
September 23, 2015
I keep seeing all these think-pieces about Trump and Corbyn and what’s happening in 21st Century western democratic politics, and what it might mean to New Zealand, so I thought I’d toss my opinions on the stack.
- We’re transitioning into a post-ideological democracy. No one seriously thinks we’re going to be either a socialist or free-market economy. And no one believes that when the economy grows the benefits of that growth will be shared equally. Politics is about which groups will be privileged by policy settings and wealth distribution.
- Which is another way of saying that most politics is now identity politics. Groups that aren’t privileged by the status quo want both cultural and economic change. These groups generally break down across racial and gender lines. People who don’t want change – because it will come at an economic or social cost to them – dismiss this kind of politics as ‘identity politics’. But, of course, the fight to preserve the high status of (mostly) white males is also a form of identity politics.
- Although they affect to oppose it, mostly white men are the most ferocious practitioners of identity politics. That’s where Donald Trump comes in. Trump holds many views that are anathema to Republican elites. He’s in favor of socialised healthcare and higher taxes for the rich. Rank-and-file members don’t care about his policy positions though. They care that he’s a misogynist who hates Mexicans and Muslims and claims that Obama is a Kenyan. He’s signalling that he will champion his tribe of mostly white men against rival tribes. He will protect their privilege, which they feel is under threat.
- Corbyn is different, and he shows us that identity politics can be more fluid than ethnic or gender divides. Identity can be defined in a negative sense. The entire British establishment went ballistic when it saw Corbyn out-campaigning pro-status quo rivals for the Labour leadership, and this saw a surge of support from people who feel disenfranchised by that establishment. I think it was Karl Rove who said that to succeed in politics you need to make thirty percent of the country hate you. Corbyn did that, and people who feel antagonistic towards his enemies decided that Corbyn was their friend.
- In New Zealand terms, National has staked out a large privileged group which could be described as ‘predominantly white property-owners on middle and high incomes’. ‘Mainstream New Zealand’. Almost everything they do advances the economic and cultural interests of this group. National’s policy agenda makes no sense from an ideological point of view, but once you grasp that it’s not about serving an ideology, but rather a large, fairly homogeneous group of voters, generally at the cost of heterogeneous groups who are mostly less likely to vote then everything is perfectly logical.
- Winston Peters understands this political model. He’s been practising it for a while. He’s shifting his identity slightly, from someone who champions the elderly to a hero of provincial New Zealanders. I think Labour and the Greens are cheerfully oblivious to all of this.
September 21, 2015
Peter has updated his poll aggregation script to show us blocs of parties:
All of the pundit commentary around the one year election anniversary has been around National’s stability in the polls. But there actually seems to have been quite a lot of turmoil. National is losing voters to Labour. But the Conservative Party collapsed this year, and National seems to have picked up all of their votes.
September 17, 2015
On Monday night I dislocated and broke two fingers in my right hand in two places (my three year old daughter jumped off a bank, and I caught her but the ground gave under me and I held out my free hand to break our fall). My right arm is now in a cast, as shown below. Also, I cut my foot and it’s infected. All this means I won’t be blogging much, if at all, for the next four-to-six weeks.
September 14, 2015
My glib take on the Corbyn victory is here, along with thousands of other glib takes. Subsequent to writing that someone on twitter linked to this, a UK Labour member (a sociologist, natch) who voted for one of Corbyn’s rivals but is withering about the incompetence of their leadership campaigns, especially compared to Corbyn’s, about which he had this to say:
Putting aside Corbynmania, putting aside the tens of thousands who’ve listened to him speak at almost 100 rallies, and putting aside his utter dominance of both the leadership contest and the media, his campaign’s been fine and dandy. No, in fact, his campaign has been brilliant. Considering that his opponents arrogate to themselves the title of election-winning specialists, Jeremy’s leadership campaign has been the best organised I’ve ever seen. When you think about it, what it has accomplished is something of a miracle. The pitch has been very policy heavy and, actually, quite technocratic. There is a lot to like here, and what it did was give the anti-austerity message some proper substance and heft. Married to this was a hopeful message and a vision of a better life that activated large numbers of people outside the purview of established politics.
Organisationally, the Corbyn campaign was spot on. Jon Lansman and Simon Fletcher have taken a machine that didn’t exist four months ago and broke the mould of British politics. Everything was properly gridded. Jeremy got his main policy statements out near the beginning of the campaign, and has not been pushed into any panicky announcements to try and match the changing mood. The organisation of the volunteer base, facilitated by supportive trade unions, has been professional – none of the slapdash nonsense usually characteristic of the Labour left. Team Jez were, after all, the only ones who put the link to sign up three quid supporters on their website. And there were even proper scripts and prompts as the campaign wore on.
Being good at politics counts for a lot in politics. Eventually. Left-wing political parties have transformed themselves into institutions in which it is possible to rise, through patronage and factional scheming into an MP and eventually a senior member of caucus without ever displaying any aptitude for democratic politics, even though campaigning and winning votes for the party is supposed to be a core function of an MP. This relentlessly internal focus is why it didn’t seem to occur to Corbyn’s opponents to recruit new members to vote for them, or, even if they attempted this, what they could say to actual members of the public to try and win their votes. New Zealand’s left-wing parties have the same flaw.
September 13, 2015
So this happened last week. Via Stuff:
Parents of pre-term babies will now be entitled to a maximum of 27 weeks paid parental leave, the Government has announced.
From April 2016, the standard parental leave payments would be 18 weeks.
But if a baby was born early, its parents would receive additional weekly payments for each week prior to 37 weeks gestation, which was considered full term, Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse said.
“For example, a mother who gives birth at 28 weeks would receive nine additional weekly payments, making it a total of 27 weeks of payment,” he said.
The move comes as part of an agreement to work with ACT leader David Seymour to review the support provided to parents of multiple births, babies with disabilities, and pre-term births.
Seymour previously voted against Labour MP Sue Moroney’s bill to extended paid parental leave to 26 weeks for all parents, saying it was too broad and would cost the taxpayer too much.
But he pledged to lobby the Government after Moroney identified gaps in the Government’s policy, including the lack of special assistance for parents of premature babies.
For about thirty years New Zealand politics was dominated by a radical form of free market capitalism best summed up by Ronald Reagan. ‘Government isn’t the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.’ If you removed the dead hand of the state from its interference in the economy and people’s lives, liberating them from their slave-like dependence on welfare then freedom and prosperity would follow, went the argument. It was the philosophy behind the Labour government of the 1980s and the National government of the 90s. The ACT Party was formed when Labour rejected the doctrine and it flourished for a while, only to wither when Don Brash, a high priest of the cult became leader of National.
Brash failed, and Key turned his party into a different kind of cult devoted to his own personality (maybe personality is the wrong word?). Brash went to ACT for a while, and failed there too. And now David Seymour, the last man standing, has used his ACT party vote to extend the power of the welfare state.
I would have preferred Sue Moroney’s bill. But Seymour’s compromise is better than the status quo. And it’s an expansion of the state welfare system, the destruction of which was, for many years, the ostensible reason for ACT’s existence. At one point in the not-very-distant past all of the parties in our Parliament believed in the perfect efficiency of the free market. Now none of them do.
(What I’m not clear about now is what ACT thinks it is for, other than a taxpayer-funded vehicle for National to exploit a loophole in the electoral laws.)
September 10, 2015
Back in the distant remote past of one week ago when National definitely wasn’t going to increase the refugee quota, independent free-thinking broadcaster Mike Hosking stood up for the government’s position for the ~2500th day in a row, demanding to know where the money was going to come from to pay for more refugees. What would we give up to take these people in? ‘Because it has to come from somewhere.’ Who is getting cut? The health system? Christchurch? Hosking is very passionate about this. ‘Reality has a real bill,’ he explains.
Firstly, we never seem to have these sensible, realistic conversations about money when National wants to spend tens of millions of dollars funding the Americas Cup. Or flag referendums. Or just writing checks to multinational corporations like Rio Tinto. The money is always just there. And, a couple of days later when National reversed its position again and Key committed $50 million towards that cost we didn’t actually have that big conversation about sacrifice and cutting the health system that Hosking insisted was so necessary and realistic. Where is the money coming from? The government’s discretionary budget? Beats me. It’s just there, somehow.
September 9, 2015
When I want to send someone a private message I use a couple of different formats:
- SMS Text
- Google Hangouts
- Twitter DM
- Facebook message
I already have two-step verification activated for everything (except SMS). So which is these is the most secure? I don’t need, like, a secure OS booted from a USB or anything. I’m mostly just chatting and gossiping with friends. It’d be nice to know if one of these is safer or way less safe. Or, is semi-randomly using a bunch of different medium safer?