The Dim-Post

January 31, 2011

Alliance redux

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:19 am

Stuff reports:

Talk of a new Left-wing party is gathering steam, with veteran activist Sue Bradford confirming behind-the-scenes discussions and revealing she would consider leading it if asked.

Expectations are growing in Left-wing circles that renegade Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira could be the lightning rod for a new movement if the rift between him and the Maori Party hierarchy ends in divorce.

I kind of doubt this will happen. It’s a natural reaction to the collapse of Labour as a functioning political party, but that’s a temporary situation that will start to resolve itself with Goff’s resignation in November and a subsequent purge of the front bench.

The nightmare scenario here (for the left) is that this might split the Green Party vote and they could end up with just under 5%, swinging the distribution of seats in Parliament far to the right.

Update: Just to make a couple more points: 1. Bradford and Harawira are such polarising figures that both of the main parties would probably have to rule them out as coalition partners, and 2. My gut feeling here is that there are a lot of activists around who want to see a far left party coalesce, but not that many voters.

January 30, 2011

Quote of the day

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:15 pm

The true test of an economy is not the rise or fall of GDP. The true test of our economy is the wellbeing of our land, our water and our people. – Russel Norman, State of the Planet 2011.

I’m dubious about the intellectual rigour of green economics’, but the balance of the speech is very strong. There is no new policy but no one really pays attention to the Green Party’s policies anyway, so sticking to values and attacking the government is the smart approach. It’s easily the best of the three pre-election speeches this week.

Deep thought

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:48 am

I don’t think you need to be a feminist to feel there’s something naff about the Prime Minister going on a radio show hosted by Tony Veitch and talking about which Hollywood celebrities he wants to fuck.

January 29, 2011

I have a theory . . .

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:00 pm

Phil Goff understands that to win this year he just needs a few more points in the polls and for New Zealand First to make it over the 5% threshold. Then he’ll be able to form a coalition and run the government alongside Winston Peters and the Green Party. So he’s decided to throw the election.

January 28, 2011

The battle of ideas

Filed under: economics,Politics — danylmc @ 1:38 pm

I’m not ideologically opposed to asset sales and privatisation. I don’t think the state should own the means of production, or, for that matter, a classical music radio station, the public utility of which is a mystery to me. I do have a very strong gut opposition to infrastructure asset sales for historic reasons: the fire sales in the 80s and 90s were arguably the worst policy decisions in our post-war history, and there was just as much corruption in the mix as there was ideology and incompetence.

So I’m somewhat open to argument. But thus far the battle of ideas seems pretty one-sided. Opponents to asset sales are recommending everyone read this column by Keith Ng, and this piece by Selwyn Pellet, and this by Gordon Campbell and this by Bernard Hickey and this by Brian Fallow. They all make very strong arguments and I haven’t seen much in response. Near’s I can tell the pro asset sales argument goes like this:

All our private companies are rubbish, so investors should be able to own equity in profitable, well-run government companies, which will improve their performance because the government is rubbish and private businesses are profitable and well run.

Obviously they never phrase it quite like that, but this is the basic argument Key, Weldon et al are selling us.

Up until this week my prediction for the election was that National would win > 49% of the vote and be able to govern alone. I no longer think that’s a possibility. Even with Stephen Joyce running their campaign and Phil Goff running Labours you’ll never get an outright majority with a pro-asset sales platform, especially not one this unconvincing.

Quote of the day, department of hmmmmm edition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 5:13 am

The Government is facing a $1.5 billion bill to fix leaky school buildings – and Education Minister Anne Tolley says the soaring cost is keeping her awake at night.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘God, what am I going to do, we can’t pay for it,”‘ she said yesterday.

Estimates have put the bill at a minimum of $1.5b.

“There just isn’t the money to go out and borrow one-and-a-half-billion dollars and start repairing schools,” Mrs Tolley said.

Huge leaky schools bill. Dominion Post, Friday 28th January 2011

If only there were some other way to raise the money, a way that only monsters who want children to suffer and get sick inside damp, mouldy buildings would oppose.

January 27, 2011

Gouge away

Filed under: economics,Politics,Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:00 am

I love this excerpt from Vernon Small’s story about the Goff vs Key fiscal debate:

Goff had signalled Labour would look at ring-fencing losses on investment property so they could not be offset against other income tax.

Key said National had considered and rejected it. At most it would raise $260m a year, but once sophisticated investors restructured their financial affairs ”you might raise $130m if you are lucky”.

He said the Government was borrowing $300m a week.

If Labour borrowed the full $1.1 billion that could rise to about $320m a week.

”Exactly which little pixie is going to deliver that? The answer is a foreign pixie that we have to borrow from.”

Labour countered today, saying Key was planning to ”sell the family silver to foreign pixies”.

Emphasis mine. See, Key is being wise and prudent and fiscally conservative by only borrowing $300 million dollars a week, while crazy, irresponsible Phil Goff might increase that amount by almost 8%! Pixies! Elves! Crazy time!

That point made, while I think the income free threshold is good policy I think it’s a daft idea politically and a textbook case of a general trying to fight the last war. Tax cuts played a crucial role in the 2008 election, when we had nine years of budget surplus without a single tax cut and voters were salivating at Key’s promise that he’d give them an extra $50 dollars a week. Fifty bucks a week! John Key! John Key! John Key!

Three years and three rounds of tax cuts later I think people are jaded about the magical powers of tax relief: each cut has been swallowed up by inflation, GST and various mandatory fee increases, they’ve failed to bring the economic stimulus we were promised and they’ve left the government with a terrifying deficit. I don’t think this idea will be a winner, and I suspect Labour now regrets their GST free fruit gimmick, which didn’t win them any points in the polls but means they’ve got to scavenge up an extra $250 million dollars a year to try and fund it.

These policies preclude Goff from attacking Key on one of his most vulnerable points: the deficit. Key is using the government’s debt as an excuse for the partial privatisation of state assets (of course, if we weren’t in debt he’d introduce the same policy on the pretext of growing the economy). But Key and English are the reason we have this gigantic deficit. John Key’s perceived strength during the election was that his financial genius would transform the national economy, and English was supposed to be this shrewd, wise guardian of the government’s books. In reality they’re proving to be a pair of colossally irresponsible, incompetent fuck-ups – but Goff can’t attack them for their irresponsibility if he’s just going to piss away even more money.

Imagine if Goff had promised to raise taxes on high income earners, crack down on tax evaders and use the money to restore payments into the Super fund and pay down the Key-English deficit. Sure, all the feather-weights in our political class would still be gushing about the color of his hair but I think the wider electorate would respond well to a demonstration of basic competence when it comes to the economy.

January 26, 2011

Let us not march

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 12:09 pm

Word clouds for the Goff and Key speeches.

Phil Goff. 'Growing an economy that works for you.'

John Key. 'Our economic challenge.'

The dye is cast

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 9:13 am

On the front page of the Dom-Post, above the fold:

Note that it required the combined powers of the Fairfax political editor and one of their senior journalists to piece together all the elements of this complex and fast moving story. Also contributing: Massey University academic Claire Robinson brings some detached, intellectual analysis to the topic:

It’s not his hair colour that’s the problem. It’s the way he comes across. He tenses up when he’s being interviewed. He comes across as being really angry, and Key comes across as being relaxed and casual and everybody loves him.

January 25, 2011

On the cultural significance of Jersey Shore

Filed under: tv — danylmc @ 1:38 pm

‘One minute you got three girls in the Jacuzzi, the next minute someone’s in jail and you gotta bail them out.’ – Mike ‘The Situation’ Sarrentino.

I watched the first season of MTV’s hit reality TV show Jersey Shore this weekend, digesting all nine episodes – each clocking in at about forty minutes – over about twelve hours.  I was repulsed but fascinated, and I’ve spent a lot of time since trying to understand why a show in which drunken, orange skinned imbeciles repeatedly mate and/or fight with one another is such compelling viewing.

A lot of critics feel that Jersey Shore is the most horrible TV show of all time, and they have a strong case. But it’s also wildly popular, and as this column in the Wall Street Journal shows, many cultural commentators think there might be a deeper significance beneath the fake tans and endless tequila shots.

And there is, there really is. After some thought I’ve decided that Jersey Shore addresses the same theme as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (I really do think this). Both works convey the message that humans are social animals reliant on each other for one another’s happiness, and the current cultural fixation on individual freedom as an unqualified good leads to general misery and alienation.

I was gonna try to uppercut her, but at that point I had too many bouncers wrapped around me. I just wish for like three more seconds. I woulda done justice. – J-WOWW

The premise of Jersey Shore is that eight young, attractive (by the seriously warped standards of the show) people get to live in a house together at a wild beach resort and party all night every night. They’re free to do whatever they want, and for the show’s target audience this scenario represents heaven – but just as Franzen shows in Freedom, when everyone in a society is focused purely on indulging their own pleasures the results are not happiness, but rather frustration and anger and emotional breakdown, all of which is the norm on the Jersey Shore. It helps that the cast are so selfish and stupid and perpetually drunk they’re incapable of showing anyone else even the slightest courtesy. There’s never any room for debate or compromise – even the most minor disagreement instantly explodes into verbal or physical violence – and whenever they attack each other they’re inevitably screaming ‘I’m just trying to have fun.’

The ‘breakout’ stars of the show, who’ve gone on to achieve super-celebrity status are: Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino, Nicole, ‘Snooki’ Polizzi and Paul ‘DJ Pauly D’ DelVecchio. The Situation and DJ Pauly D provide much of the comic relief. Every night they go out looking for babes to lure back to their hot tub – a rooftop jacuzzi teeming with venereal disease – to engage in some casual, consequence free-sex. Every night they meet some girls and bring them home, and every night things go horribly wrong, because even the skanks that would sleep with Pauly and the Sitch are people with their own lives and agendas, instead of the disposable sex objects the guys are looking for. So when Pauly D makes out with an Israeli girl she falls in love with him and stalks him for the rest of the season, ruining most of his subsequent dates. The Situation brings a girl back to his bed but he’s woken up by her friend banging on the front door, screaming that the girl’s family are frantically searching for her because she’s been missing for hours. For a show about alcohol fuelled orgies and casual sex, Jersey Shore is surprisingly conservative in tone, always showing the dire consequences of every thoughtless, drunken impulse.

Then there’s Snooki, a tiny woman with huge eyes, enormous breasts, a chocolate colored tan and a penchant for wearing lingerie in public. Snooki is desperate to meet the right guy and settle down, and the best way to find Mr Right, she reasons, is to spend every night drunkenly making out with random, heavily tattooed muscle-bound gorillas (she calls this technique ‘snooking for love’). This is not a successful approach to finding true romance and Snooki is genuinely heartbroken whenever it fails, which is every single night.

‘If I was just gonna get sloppy, I should have just pounded out what’s her name on Friday night.’ – Ronnie

A relationship forms between two cast members (Ronnie and Sammy) and they appear to have genuine feelings for each other. But since their lives are all about instant self-gratification, the second they’re apart they instantly start hitting on the nearest strangers (in one episode this happened literally one second after Ronnie went to the bathroom at a club. The show’s editors thoughtfully pause the footage so we can see that Ronnie was still in frame when Sammi gave her phone number to an off-duty cop). Since they actually care about each other this breaks the other person’s heart, and they always end every evening back home yelling at each other and crying, only to go and do the exact same thing the next night.

Instead of being a laid back libertine’s paradise the Jersey Shore house is an unhappy, tense environment prone to savage conflicts and sudden outbursts of  violence. By the eighth episode the show needs to hire security guards to protect the cast members from one another.

‘I regret that I got caught. I don’t regret that I hit the kid, because he had it coming.’ – Ronnie.

The easiest way to defend Jersey Shore is to argue that it holds a mirror up to America. Consider how all of the cast members regard themselves as the most awesome people on the planet, the guys especially, on account of how deeply tanned and muscular they are. They treat everyone they meet with utter contempt but if anyone shows them the slightest disrespect they fly into a psychotic rage. The girls hurl fat jokes at almost every female to enter the house, but when someone teases Snooki about her weight she’s plunged into a suicidal depression. ‘There’s some things you never say to a girl,’ she sobs, even though she herself has said the same thing or worse many many times. There’s your rogue super-power writ very small.

The treatment of religion – while subtle – is also revealing. All of them are superficially Catholic – they wear crosses, they say grace before dinner. But they’re all creatures of base, carnal appetites without a flicker of morality. When DJ Pauly D’s Israeli stalker tells him they have to get married before they can have sex his expression is one of stupefied disgust, even though this is a central tenet of his faith and he has a gigantic crucifix tattooed on his back. For Pauly D Christianity is just another form of tribal identity; it has nothing to do with the way you treat others or live your life, and if that isn’t a metaphor for religion in contemporary America then what is?

‘Like when I left Karma, I didn’t even know what was going on in my head, like I’m gonna fucking knock a bitch up.’ – Sammi.

There’s yet another level to Jersey Shore, best approached by describing the basic format of the show. Every day is the same: the cast wake up with hangovers, confront one another with the monstrous crimes they committed during the night and then scream and cry for a while. They devote the rest of the daylight hours to ‘GTL’. Gym. Tanning. Laundry. Night falls, they hit the cocktails and once they’re all blind drunk they stumble off to the clubs to hook up. Their favourite hangout is a place called Karma where they drunkenly grope strangers, get their phone numbers and make out with them, but just as frequently they storm out of the club in a rage, or they get thrown out, or they get into a fist-fight. The people they lure back to their house for sex are just as likely to attack one of the other cast members, or throw up everywhere and pass out as they are to engage in intercourse.

The parallels with Buddhist theology are obvious. The cast of Jersey Shore are bound to the wheel of suffering and rebirth by their base physical desires. Each day Snooki, The Situation, DJ Pauly D and the rest of the cast chase the fleeting pleasures of the material world, and at the end of it they are punished and rewarded by Karma but no matter the outcome they are doomed to endlessly repeat the same mistakes. In his famous Fire Sermon the Buddha likens our lives in the physical universe to a vast and terrible bonfire being consumed by the flames of time; Jersey Shore makes the same point by showing us poor, lonely Snooki drunkenly cart wheeling around nightclubs while wearing a short skirt and no underwear. The medium is different but the eternal message is the same.

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