The Dim-Post

October 22, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:14 am

I have total Trump fatigue, especially Trump parody fatigue, but I thought this was funny enough to overcome it.

The Elves, they’re very sharp. I know them, I have negotiated with them, I understand them, they respect me, because I have worked with them and made deals with them. Isildur was not a negotiator. The great House of Gondor, not a negotiator, none of them. That’s why they wander like losers in the woods now. The Elves are negotiators. They make deals, and they take us to the cleaners because the Men are led by losers. The Elves do not respect losers. Look at what happened the last time. “Oh no,” Elrond said, “you take the Ring, Isildur.” And Isildur, he’s a dummy — the Gondorians are dummies, all of them, their wives all tell me that, beautiful women except their country is stupid — and he takes it. What does it get him? Face down in a ditch, a very low-class waterway, filled with arrows.

I’ve been too busy to pay much attention to political news recently. All the debate, which I’m usually so invested in and outraged by has been a very distant buzz. This must be what it’s like to be a normal person. It’s quite nice. It occurred to me that I’m usually like a person listening to music with the headphones on, but to most people politics is an iPod accidentally switched on and playing in the pocket of someone’s jacket somewhere on the far side of the room.

I’ve been reading a lot. I just finished The Time Machine, by H G Wells. He invented the time travel genre! And reading it, I wondered: are there loads of really great literary genres still out there, un-invented? How do you invent a genre?

I also liked The Emperor of all Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s history of cancer. It’s good science writing, and I couldn’t help but love a book in which biologists are the heroes.

There have been a few reviews of my book out recently. Landfall Online and Scoop, just to remind you all that actual people liked my book, and you might too. You can buy it here.


October 18, 2016

And we’re off

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 2:11 pm

Via the Herald:

Prime Minister John Key has effectively kicked off National’s 2017 election campaign, saying he is confident National could afford up to $3 billion in tax cuts after 2017 and he believes pressure for those tax cuts will grow.

It’ll be fun to see how many times Key and his Ministers can spend their $1.8 billion surplus. English will promise to pay down debt, Key will give us tax cuts, Joyce will presumably promise to spend more money on infrastructure through Gosplan MBIE, and we’ll probably get some more BILLION DOLLAR funds for schools and healthcare.

October 16, 2016

A question of etiquette

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:19 pm

This afternoon I was out walking and I saw a young guy at a bus stop reading a copy of The Fountainhead. I was with my daughter and one of her friends, so couldn’t stop, but if I could have, what – if anything – should I have said to him?

Update: I’ve been thinking about The Fountainhead a little more, and Rand is supposed to be the arch-propagandist of capitalism, which Atlas Shrugged definitely is, but maybe The Fountainhead is quite anti-capitalist?

Immigration and changing your mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:18 pm

Via NewsHub:

The Green Party believes shaving 5000 residency approvals off migration numbers doesn’t go far enough.

The Government’s target of between 85,000 and 90,000 a year for the next two years has been criticised as a token gesture.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw told TV3’s The Nation a sustainable policy should be based on about 1 percent of population growth.

“We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we’d do is set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population. That would be at about 1 percent of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown.”

Mr Shaw says the policy would even out peaks and troughs in annual migration numbers.

I don’t want this blog to be a place where I endorse various Green Party policies, but this one touches on a couple of things I’ve been thinking about for a while.

A few months ago I was discussing politics with a chemist who supported National. He liked the fact that John Key changed his mind about things. ‘Half of what I learned about science as an undergraduate has been proved wrong,’ he said. ‘I’ve had to change my mind and keep changing my mind my whole career. That’s what intelligent people do.’

I think Key’s tendency to blow with the wind has more to do with political expediency than intellectual honesty, and I said so. But I agree that the ability to change your mind is an important trait, and since then I’ve been trying to think of recent instances in which I’ve changed my mind on political issues, and I couldn’t really think of any, which worried me a bit.

But the whole Brexit debate did make me wonder why I supported a high level of immigration. The standard left-wing take on this is that immigration is a good thing, because it is, and anyone who disagrees is a racist and a xenophobe. Now, there are also economic arguments for immigration: it boosts GDP, it keeps the Labour market competitive, it is (possibly) an antidote to an ageing population with low birthrates and high superannuation liabilities. But none of them are very left-wing, or progressive, and some of them are notions the left should probably oppose. If there’s a coherent left-wing argument for high immigration – other than claiming that anyone opposing it is evil – then I haven’t heard it. It seems more coherent – to me – for an environmental party to argue for levels of immigration that are sustainable. And, if voters feel that high migration is causing problems – house prices, high demand on schools and infrastructure, etc – I feel like the left needs a more robust answer than ‘Shut up and stop being racist.’ If that’s all we’ve got then maybe we’re just wrong?

October 15, 2016

Allow me to ruin water for you

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:20 pm

So earlier today I was drinking a glass of water, as is my want, and it occurred to me what an unusual thing it is for an animal to drink clean water with no microorganisms in it. It’s not something any species of mammal would ever done on a regular basis. And we do it every day! I bet it’s giving us all cancer.

Trouble ahead

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:40 am

The thing that really scares me about Trump is not that he might win the US election – that never seemed likely to me at all – but that he’ll lose because of his personality flaws and transparent ineligibility for office: his ‘unpresidentialness’ – not his values, or racism or misogyny or ideology (such as it is), and that in four years time we’ll see the rise of a more politically astute, ‘credible’ version of Trump running on the same authoritarian – really, basically just fascistic – white identity politics platform. The death of neoliberalism looks a lot uglier and scarier than the left thought it would be.

October 14, 2016

Dylan’s Nobel Laureate

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:14 am

Via the NYT:

Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of the rock era, whose body of work has influenced generations of songwriters and been densely analyzed by fans, critics and academics, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.

It is the first time the honor has gone to a musician. In its citation, the Swedish Academy credited Mr. Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

There’s a great documentary about Dylan called Don’t Look Back, filmed in 1967 during Dylan’s first tour of the UK. He’s in his mid-twenties, and he’s a pretty awful person. One of the sub-plots is based on his rivalry with Donovan, a UK folk singer. The two musicians meet in a hotel room: Dylan is a rude jerk, Donovan plays a song, and it’s pretty good! (He wrote ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’!) And then Dylan picks up the guitar and plays ‘It’s all Over Now Baby Blue’, and you see the sickening realisation dawn on Donovan’s face that the person he’s been set up as a rival to is someone who might be bratty and rude but is also, crushingly, completely unfairly, Bob Dylan.

October 13, 2016

I love this Paris Review interview with William Gibson

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:20 am



For someone who so often writes about the future of technology, you seem to have a real romance for artifacts of earlier eras.


It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.

One of the books that’s really stuck with me in the last few years was Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, which functions almost like a science fiction novel set in the recent past.

Old data

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:38 am

I was thinking about this famous verse from a Baxter poem this morning:

On Calvary Street are trellises
Where bright as blood the roses bloom,
And gnomes like pagan fetishes
Hang their hats on an empty tomb
Where two old souls go slowly mad,
National Mum and Labour Dad.

And wondered: is there any historical data on demographics in NZ elections from the 1950s and 60s? Was National Mum and Labour Dad really a thing?

Update: Jackpot! From the comments, Swordfish linked to a post on this very subject written in July 2014;

Even before 1960, however, some enterprising university-based political scientists managed to carry out a small number of pre-Election polls in individual electorates. The first was in Wellington’s Mt Victoria seat in 1949. There were at least two more, one in 1957 (by R.S Milne in Wellington Central) and one in 1960. They tended to choose highly marginal seats on the basis that, given their limited resources, these could be considered a rough approximation of the Country as a whole. And their detailed data yielded some quite valuable insights. It had long been believed, for instance, that women were more socially and politically conservative than men and thus more likely to vote National.  (Hence, for instance, James K Baxter’s “National Mum and Labour Dad” in his Ballard of Calvary Street). Milne found that, although this common assumption was indeed true in Wellington Central, things were a little more complex than that. His poll suggested single people were at the extremes – single men far more likely than anyone else to vote Labour, single women far more likely than anyone else to vote National, withmarried couples much closer to each other in their political sympathies (albeit withmarried men still a little more Labour-leaning than married women).


October 12, 2016

It feels like we’re thinking

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:43 am

Regular readers might remember how troubled I was by the flag debate and what it seemed to reveal about partisan positioning and groupthink:

My original position was that I wanted change.

After the first referendum I decided I would vote to keep the current flag, simply because I didn’t really like the Lockwood design, and sticking with the status quo would make it easier to change to something better a bit further down the line.

Would that really happen though? Realistically probably not for a long time; possibly not in my lifetime. So I was basically just voting to keep the flag. Which seemed a bit weird, because getting the Union Jack off our flag seemed like a progressive, left-wing thing to do, albeit only symbolically.

Still, I really didn’t like the Lockwood flag. Why didn’t I, though? It was the most popular of the longlist when UMR polled on it. And, in the end, slightly less than half the country (43%) voted for it. Yet basically everyone in the online progressive left hated the Lockwood. ‘It hurts my eyes!’ ‘It’s a beachtowel!’ ‘It violates design principles!’ “We need a real conversation about identity!’ It seemed unlikely to me that all of these people – myself included – came to make an impartial aesthetic judgement that by chance, happened to oppose a politician we all disliked.

This worried me a bit. Was I about to do something that was actually contrary to my values and then deluding myself about my motivation? Was I secretly motivated by a simple desire to thwart John Key? Or by the fact that the rest of the left had collectively decided on a position, and I was just going along with it? Or did I just actually not like Lockwood’s flag very much? In the end I let my daughter vote.

This still troubles me though. How much of what I think and say about politics is based on my values, and how much of it is based on reactionary judgements and in-group behavior?

I’ve been reading the Achen and Bartels book about democracy and group behavior (George Monbiot has a review here) and it argues that pretty much all of it is in-group behavior.


The book does not discuss the role of social media in contemporary political debate, in which orthodoxy – ‘virtue signalling’ – is rewarded and dissent is punished in realtime. The great danger is that it leads to outcomes like the GOP in the US, Labour in the UK and, in 2014, the left in New Zealand, in which political in-groups solidify around candidates or groups or ‘conceptual frameworks’ that are unpalatable to the rest of the electorate.

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