The Dim-Post

August 27, 2015

Hang on a second

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:55 pm

So. The demeaning comments about Jacinda Ardern:

Rugby league legend Graham Lowe alarmed Jacinda Ardern after he described her as “a pretty little thing” when asked if she would make a good Prime Minister.

National Council of Women New Zealand chief executive Sue McCabe said the description of MP Jacinda Ardern as “a pretty little thing” was dismissive and condescending.

“Within the context, a woman’s appearance is irrelevant; rather the focus should be on her abilities as a politician and potential Prime Minister.

“By focusing on her appearance and describing a grown woman as ‘little’, the panellist showed a lack of respect for Jacinda.

“This comment is sexist. Often when people highlight sexism, the concern is dismissed. More often than not, it’s seen as a one-off comment and the person apologises.

“However, these comments are symbolic of the sexism that is entrenched in our culture.

“We call on New Zealanders to think about the language they use and make sure it reflects the equality of genders.”

But the context around Ardern’s surge in popularity complicates all of this a bit, I think. She isn’t popular because she’s an effective campaigner, or because she’s been breaking big stories or landing hits on the government in the House. She’s popular because she’s gotten glowing coverage in the women’s magazines over the last few months, appearing on the cover of Next magazine and being profiled in the Woman’s Weekly. I assume this is all being facilitated by Labour’s new comms director who is a former Woman’s Weekly editor and it is a level and type of coverage that any politician – even the Prime Minister – would envy.

Ardern’s popularity subsequent to that coverage tells us something very interesting about the power of that type of media, which is something that political nerds like me are usually oblivious to. But it’s also something that’s happening because she’s really pretty. And there’s something problematic about insisting politicians shouldn’t be judged on their looks when they do appear to be succeeding specifically because of their appearance.

Update: Accusations of sexism in the comments which were inevitable and may, I guess, be true. What I’d genuinely like to hear is a feminist perspective on politicians elevating themselves through the celebrity/gossip media instead of traditional media platforms. People like Clark and Key have appeared in these magazines, obviously – but after they’ve risen to prominence. Ardern’s use of them to achieve prominence is a new phenomenon in New Zealand politics, I think, and worth talking about. So it’d be a shame if it was just me pontificating away while everyone else declared it a taboo subject.

Another update: Hooton argues that Ardern’s popularity comes from an imitation of John Key’s mastery of soft media:

Much more important to Ms Ardern’s rise, as for Mr Key’s, are her regular appearances in the likes of the Women’s Weekly and Next and on Back Benches and Breakfast. She has well over 35,000 Twitter followers while Mr Little has yet to break 8000, and an army on Facebook and Instgram. We know her first cat was called Norm.

It was this activity – not her endorsement by chief executives or any portfolio work – that saw her enter DigiPoll’s preferred prime minister list, even if only at 4%.

August 25, 2015

Market crash

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:03 am

Lots of left-wingers in my twitter feed are semi-gloating over the share market meltdown, seeing it as a continuation of the global financial crisis or another ‘crisis of capitalism’. Maybe it will be, I don’t know – but gigantic panic-driven market crashes are just a routine feature of capitalism. They happen fairly frequently.

What this might show us here in New Zealand is the extent to which the Auckland housing market is (a) a bubble and (b) fuelled by foreign Chinese investors. The Shanghai bubble was driven by bank debt, and if thousand of Chinese investors all suddenly simultaneously decide to sell their properties in Sydney and Vancouver and Auckland to pay back their banks then there could be a very sharp correction in the market.

August 23, 2015

The Scarlet Garner

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:42 am

The New Zealand based coverage of the Ashley Madison dumps has focused almost exclusively on the email addresses of public servants and teachers showing up in the data. It’s what Duncan Garner focused on on his radio show, and on Story where they rang up various teachers to tell them they were in the dump, and in his Dom Post column yesterday (Garner now being the much smarter, slightly less narcissistic homologue to Mike Hosking, not quite as conservative and equally ubiquitous across rival media platforms). And ‘Teachers exposed!’ is the lead in the HoS today.

But I downloaded the dump files and took a look at the breakdown of top level addresses. It seems a little unfair that teachers account for about 0.2% of the addresses but close to 100% of the breathless coverage.

am

Many of the .co addresses are just private email addresses (xtra.co.nz, yahoo.co.nz) so you could claim that the focus is on teachers and public servants because they were stupid enough to use work addresses. But there are also literally thousands of work addresses included in that .co category including, amusingly enough, many from the media companies running these stories about dirty teachers and public servants. If these journos want to know why someone would sign up to one of these sites they should go ask their executives. Why are the teachers ‘exposed’ and not everyone else?

‘Don’t give your details to cheating sites’, is Garner’s big insight from the Ashley Madison dump. I think the implications are bigger than that. Relatively few people sign up to cheating sites but almost everyone who uses the internet relies on its privacy and anonymity in some way. Lots of people look at porn. Lots of people gossip or say things on their private messaging that they wouldn’t want everyone else to know. And any of it could be made public by self-righteous jerks like the Ashley Madison hackers. The sense of privacy could be an illusion that leads us all to exposure.

August 21, 2015

HPL

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:59 am

It’s H P Lovecraft’s 125th birthday! He is, I think, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He’s also in many ways a genuinely terrible writer. (I have an ongoing intermittent debate with Elizabeth Knox over whether he is the worst great writer or the greatest worst writer).

Unusually he’s influenced both pulp writers (too many to name) and literary writers (Borges, Cormac McCarthy, Houellebecq, Emmanuel Carrere). The pulp writers tend to borrow the trappings of his stories: the monsters, the cults, the forbidden books, but use them in conventional ways. What makes Lovecraft’s ‘cosmic horror’ effective is the existentialism; the cosmic insignificance of humanity, and that comes across in the literary influences. The Road and Blood Meridian are deeply Lovecraftian.

If you haven’t read any of his short stories then I recommend starting with The Call of Cthulhu. 

August 20, 2015

Variations on the same old theme

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:03 pm

Rob Salmond has a post up about the UK Labour leadership election and the political centre, and how Jeremy Corbyn’s abandonment of same which will doom the Labour Party to in-electability. Which, maybe it will, I don’t know. I’ve given up trying to forecast political outcomes. But this piece about the leadership race in the New Statesmen jumped out at me. It describes the Corbyn campaigns phenomenal registration drive then expands:

Yet Corbyn’s success owes less to entryism than thought. There are Labour voters who departed under Blair and now feel liberated to return; left-wing members who joined under Ed Miliband (and regard Corbyn as his successor); and young voters who are losing their political virginity. On the party’s right, there is self-reproach at their failure to sign up moderate supporters to counter the radicals. “We were hideously complacent,” one MP said.

Others attribute Corbyn’s rise to the ­unattractiveness of his opponents. “Andy, Yvette and Liz have a lot to answer for,” a senior MP told me. “If you can’t beat Jeremy Corbyn, how you can beat George Osborne, Boris Johnson or Theresa May?” Some of the other three’s own backers are stunned by how few new ideas they have offered.

This pattern of left-wing centrists adopting ‘strategic values’ because ‘that’s what voters want’, and then getting annihilated because of total political ineptitude is becoming a depressingly familiar trend. There’s a cargo-cult mentality to it, I think. ‘Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were centrists’, the reasoning goes, ‘They moved left-wing parties to the right and they won. So to win you simply need to move to the right.’ So they move to the right and just sit and wait for the voters to fly in. But they never come.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were very astute politicians and they figured out at the beginning of their careers, all those decades ago now, that at that moment in history the best way to win was to move their parties to the right. But what if that moment in history has passed on now, and the best way to win is . . . something else? If they were starting their careers would they repeat the same strategy even though it isn’t working? Or would they look for something new?

I think they’d look for something new. And I don’t think it would be movement along the values spectrum. It would look, probably, like the data-driven grass-roots campaigning of Obama. But the closest we have to that in New Zealand is the National Party.

Update, also, too: it strikes me that if Corbyn really is an existential threat to his party, the sensible thing for the centrists to do is unite behind a single candidate instead of diluting their votes three ways. It’s almost as if they’re losing because they’re terrible at politics.

August 18, 2015

The trouble with Mike

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:02 am

I think the opposition have confused this issue a bit. The problem with Mike Hosking isn’t that he’s biased, or prolific, if he wants to praise National on his talkback show and in Herald columns then that’s just fine. The trouble with Hosking is that TVNZ is the state broadcaster and they’ve created a current affairs show in which the head presenter gives a little speech every night praising the government, with no balance, and that is a deeply weird and sinister thing to happen in a democratic society.

Happy days.

August 17, 2015

Sense and ostensibility

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:15 am

Andrea Vance’s latest column starts with the Greens’ Rugby World Cup licensing fiasco:

Consoling beersies for the Greens, who spent much of the week as party poopers after initially opposing Seymour’s bill. They ended it as flakes, flip-flopping on their principles.

The whole episode points to a wider identity crisis in politics. In a blind taste test could you differentiate between parties?

Seymour stayed true to ACT’s roots as a voice for business. That does mark a departure from recent predecessor who put National’s interests ahead of all else, including their base support. With his bill, Seymour called out deficiencies in the Government’s alcohol reforms.

For some time, the Greens have positioned themselves as Parliament’s social conscience. Like death’s head at the feast, they made all kinds of rational objections to Seymour’s proposal.  But you couldn’t really hear them over the howls of “buzz kill.”

Perhaps tiring of their perennial Cassandra predicament, the Greens recognised this stance made them deeply unpopular. Quicker than you could say “Seymour is a populist” – they surrendered their principles.

I don’t think the Greens were acting ‘out of principle’. I’m sure they thought they were because they like to think everything they do is principled but I tried hard to figure out what, exactly, their principle was behind their opposition. They didn’t want ‘boozed up’ people spilling out onto the streets when schools were opening – which, c’mon, really? – only now they’re supporting a modified bill that allows exactly that, and congratulating themselves that the last week of toxic news coverage was a ‘win’ because Seymour might modify his bill.

The real reason for opposing the bill was that ACT was doing something populist, and ACT is the enemy and it’s generally a good idea to prevent your enemy from becoming more popular. But you can’t just say that out loud so you have to have an ostensible reason that the media and public will believe. The Greens didn’t so their opponents got to project their own motivations onto the decision. ‘The Greens are killjoys. They hate beer and rugby etc.’ Instead of blocking ACT’s popularity they enhanced it and made themselves deeply unpopular for no gain.

A core problem we have on the left, I think, is that very few of our MPs actually understand politics. Of course it depends on how you define the term – if you expand it to include policy and ideology and political history and hating neoliberalism then yes, sure, they know about that stuff. But on the actual core challenge of influencing the public to achieve power they are mostly demonstrably clueless. Worse, they’re blind to their cluelessness. ‘Bad at politics?’ They would snort. ‘Aren’t they MPs? Haven’t they risen to that height through their own political genius? Doesn’t that, by definition, make them awesome at politics?’

Are New Zealand First backbenchers ‘awesome at politics’? They are not. The leader of their party is and he needs people to fill out the rest of his caucus and his backbenchers are really just a bunch of nobodies who’ve lucked into that slot. And an awful lot of Labour and Green MPs have done pretty much the same thing. They’ve used parties founded by or led by people with political acumen as vehicles for entry into Parliament, stayed there, some of them for decades, while evidently learning nothing. How many left-wing MPs have won a seat off National recently? How many have taken down a Minister? Won cross-party support for a bill? How many have even increased the party vote in their own electorate?

Very few. National expects success from their MPs. If they don’t perform they ditch them. But both of our left-wing parties have contrived to build MMP parties that protect mediocrity and fail to incentivise electoral success. It’s a huge problem. We desperately need party structures that discourage MPs from making ridiculous unforced errors. MPs should be worried about what the 50,000 voters in their electorate will think of their decisions, not their friends in whatever faction empowers them, or the couple dozen activists who engage with them on twitter and support whatever they do.

The most successful opposition MP at the moment is Kelvin Davis. He’s also one of the newest MPs and his background is teaching. And he got in by winning a tough electoral race. That’s telling us something, I think, about the value of all those honors degrees in political science or backgrounds as political staffers or decades of parliamentary experience that his fellow, ineffectual opposition safe-seat or list MPs possess.

August 14, 2015

Cynical thoughts on the flag referendum

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:41 pm

Not a lot of people like our flag. And loads of people still like our Prime Minister – so the lack of enthusiasm for his flag referendum is a little odd. What’s going on there?

The consensus on left-wing twitter is that the flag referendum is just a ‘distraction’ from whatever scandal is dogging the government that news-cycle. I don’t think that’s true. I think Key really wants to change the flag. Partly because he wants a legacy but also, mostly – I think – because, as Key said on the radio the other day, he genuinely believes it will be ‘worth billions’ of dollars over time.

The billions comment was widely mocked but I think it points us to where the drive for a flag referendum comes from. Key has been pitched this idea by someone (my prime suspect is former Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts) that a new distinctive flag will ‘enhance our brand’ and ‘add value’ to New Zealand as a product. The taxpayers have probably even paid for a report on it, or at least a power-point presentation in which pictures of Canadian flag-branded maple syrup and estimates of billions of dollars in added brand value were flashed in front of the PM’s face.

The current Saatchi CEO has a spot on the flag panel – along with standard National Party stalwarts like Rod Drury and Julie Christie- but there aren’t any designers on the panel, and, as many people pointed out when the flag long-list was released, not many of the contenders really look like flags. Flags are supposed to work on a symbolic level – they speak to our history and our identity as a nation, but none of that is even part of the debate. There isn’t any debate, unless its about whether the flag will be worth ‘billions’ or not. People don’t care.

And the reason, I think, is that Key and his panel aren’t choosing a flag. They’re choosing a logo. The replacement flag isn’t supposed to speak to our identity, it’s supposed to look snappy on our export products and help consumers in foreign markets distinguish our milk powder or kiwifruit from those of our competitors. Key’s clear preference is the silver fern, not because it symbolises New Zealand but because the flag is supposed to be a form of native advertising: whenever our athletes perform the fern will be ’embedded content’ adding value to our brand.

And Key – and whoever sold him on this idea – might be right about all of that. Maybe it’s worth loads. I don’t know.  I don’t really like the current flag, and I don’t have strong ideas about what the new one should be. And if we did have a big debate about ‘national identity’ it would probably be a horrible trainwreck. I’m just ruminating on why Key is doing this and why no one else really cares. People sense that the reason for the change is venal so they aren’t engaging.

August 10, 2015

Various

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:04 am

I’ve just finished reading Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin. Very short summary: le Guin writes a reality-bending Phillip K Dick novel – but this isn’t as great as it sounds which is why you probably haven’t heard of this book. Phil Dick wrote about reality and asked ‘what is the real?’, because as a mentally ill drug addicted creative genius who had regular religious visions he genuinely did not know what was real and what wasn’t. Le Guin is much more grounded. She doesn’t have the same stakes in the subject as Dick so her book on the ‘nature of reality’ becomes a vector for her interest in Daoism and other eastern faiths. It’s not terrible but its no VALIS.

But what really struck me while reading this book was the bibliography at the beginning. In the space of a handful of years Le Guin wrote:

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
  • The Farthest Shore (1972)
  • The Dispossessed (1974)

That’s an amazing streak. Two canonical sci-fi novels and three canonical fantasy novels in six years.


Also, I’ve been watching Deutschland 83, which is an excellent show in its own right, but also has a fine 1980s soundtrack. The second episode featured ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ which reminded me that I never ever listened to The Cure or New Order or any of that music until I was in my mid-to-late teens because I had heard – and genuinely believed – that listening to ‘gothic music’ made you commit suicide. This wasn’t an unusual thing to think in the early eighties, for a ten year old or even an adult. There was a lot of moral panic around youth sub-cultures. Serious media outlets wondered if Dungeons and Dragons taught children to worship the devil. The question of whether ‘gothic music’ somehow programmed people to kill themselves was an ongoing media obsession.

I remember wondering what this deadly music sounded like while also being terribly afraid that I would hear it, accidentally and then robotically kill myself. These were valid fears. Although I did also wonder how such music could be released and distributed without killing everyone involved. Ironically, despite the obsession with transgressive youth subcultures, mainstream pop culture was far more transgressive then than it is today.


Matt Nippert interviewed TV3 boss Mark Weldon. It is hilarious. My highlights: Judith Collins was considered as a Campbell Live co-host to rescue the show. Weldon explains that he was thinking ‘outside the building’. He’s supposed to be one of the most visionary geniuses of our business elite, and he’s also an Auckland National Party insider so I find it amusing that when he’s really using his brilliance to synergise and break paradigms his vision only runs as far as the nearest Auckland National MP. Also amusing: yes, ratings are down since Weldon took over. Way, way, way down – but, Weldon explains:

The strategy is a lot broader than pure ratings,” he says.

Weldon says other metrics, such as engagement and on-demand streaming, are also important, as are synergies with the company’s radio assets. Simon Barnett, a breakfast host at MediaWorks, won Dancing with the Stars, and Weldon says: “It’s been a great boost to MoreFM, a key brand for us.”

Story debuts tonight. I hope its good. These shows like to open with big stories and make a name for themselves – 3rd Degree broke some huge stories but never quite recovered from the humiliating ignominy of opening the show with a piece about a wheel clamper and following it up with an interview with Anna Guy, who was also a reporter for the show, somehow. Their ongoing challenge will be to break big stories in the climate of a network that is both desperate to arrest a ratings slide but is run by National Party hacks who shut the last show down because it was embarrassing the government. That’s gonna be a tricky tightrope to walk.

August 6, 2015

Notes on today’s John Armstrong column

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 6:30 am

The column is here.

The press gallery used to ‘hunt as a pack’, all chasing the same stories at the same time, and political staffers used to moan about this especially if their Minister or MP was the one being chased. That doesn’t happen so much no more unless the story is really huge. What the gallery does now is arguably worse: media outlets tend to minimise stories they don’t break themselves presumably to punish whatever comms or PR person fed the story to their rivals.

So in the absence of any exclusives the Herald’s line on the Saudi sheep deal has always been that it’s no big deal. Just good old Murray McCully being Muzza. It was a silly stand to take and it looks even sillier in the face of Andrea Vance’s story yesterday based on OIA’d Treasury advice about the deal which shows officials raising strong doubts about the legality and the benefits of building an agrihub in the middle of the desert, and strongly advising against the whole thing.

John Key’s response to this is the same as it was after the Inspector of Intelligence caught his office collaborating with WhaleOil – deny the whole thing by ‘talking past’ the media, negating the uncomfortable facts of the story and simply repeating to the public over-and-over again that everything is the Labour Party’s fault. It’s an effective tactic, or at least is has been in the past, but it is so weird for a gallery columnist – even the Herald’s – to lavish praise on Key for misleading the public so awesomely.

Armstrong’s previous column was about New Zealand First and how its ‘dying’ because its voters are aging. This drew outraged responses from people like Duncan Garner and Chris Trotter who sternly warned Armstrong never to count Winston out, which is true, I guess – but surely the substantive critique of  Armstrong’s thesis is that it just obviously isn’t true. Peters won an increased majority in the election and he just won an electorate off the National Party.

‘New Zealand First’s voters are dying’ is a common fantasy in the National Party, who hate and fear Peters for obvious reasons. (It’s cognate to the ‘John Key doesn’t really want to be Prime Minister so he’ll step down any day now and just go away’ fantasy that circulates around Labour.) And that’s always been my problem with John Armstrong. He sees it as his job to perpetuate the spin and disinformation and fantasies and outright lies of the major parties – the government-of-the-day especially – when the point, surely, is to do the exact opposite?

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