The Dim-Post

February 4, 2016

Brief TPPA note

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:27 pm

I don’t have much to say about today that others haven’t said. But this jumped out at me from the Herald’s overview of the signing ceremony:

Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry, Mustapa Mohamed, said that the debate in his country has produced no shortage of critics with studies and projections downplaying the economic gains.

But you either listened to those who produced studies based on models and assumptions, he said. Or you listened to those on the ground doing business.

“For us in Malaysia we’ve been talking to people in industry and businesses and we know they are looking forward to it.”

A crucial thing to grasp here is that the critical economic models and the optimistic businesses can both be right. The TPPA could be a genuinely terrible deal for the people and economy of any given signatory but a fantastic deal for the various corporations who are close to that government and able to influence its negotiating position.

Since negotiations involve concessions and tradeoffs, and corporations and lobbyists could access all of the parties involved and influence the talks, and everyone else was totally locked out, this was always the most likely outcome of the process.

The Stonebreakers

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:52 am

Gustave_Courbet_018

I dreamed about this painting last night, which I guess I learned about back when I studied art history in high school over twenty years ago. I haven’t thought about it since so I’m not sure why it made an appearance. The heat?

Someone in the dream asserted that this painting is ‘the foundation for all Marxist art.’ I have no idea if this is true or not. The dream also informed me that the painting was destroyed in the first World War which, according to Wikipedia was inaccurate – it was burned when the allies bombed Dresden in WWII. Towards the end of the dream someone claimed it still existed and was in Russia somewhere, which would be a good plot for a middle-brow literary novel.

January 31, 2016

Notes on Labour’s free tertiary education policy

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:35 pm

The details are here.

  • Political parties love to launch education policies at this time of year: just around the time parents are sending their kids back to school, presumably because they think its an optimum time to play on their anxieties about their children’s futures. (Last year at this time National announced their ‘super-teacher/super-principal’ program.)
  • I’ve always thought free tertiary education makes economic sense. Workers with better skills/qualifications earn more, thus pay more in tax, usually far more so than the cost of their tertiary education. And they’re adding more value for their employers, who also pay tax. No doubt someone in the comments will explain to me why this isn’t so.
  • People are calling it a bribe. But it doesn’t kick in until 2019 (if Labour are elected) and it doesn’t take full effect until 2025! Most of the recipients of the free three years will be school leavers, so Labour is ‘bribing’ a cohort of New Zealanders currently aged 5-10.
  • I guess they could be seen to be ‘bribing’ their hard working kiwi mums and dads? A lot of people on twitter seem to feel that this policy will be popular with parents worried about their kids getting into debt. And sure, maybe – after all this time I’m not going to pretend I have any idea what large groups of swing voters think/feel. But ‘parents’ as an aggregate group didn’t vote for this policy when it was introduced by the Greens, or Internet/Mana, and don’t seem to care particularly about ‘their kids’ being shut out of the housing market in perpetuity.
  • I find the strategy here a bit surprising. I would have thought that one of the big negative impressions/barriers to voting that people have about the Labour Party is profligacy. ‘Borrow and spend’. All that core National messaging stuff. So launching a big ticket billion dollar policy right at the start of the years seems risky to me.
  • It will be wildly, insanely popular with the activist left though. Most of them were involved in student politics and student unions (like Andrew Little) and protested against the fees and loan policies in the 1990s (or subsequently) and for them free tertiary education is a defining political issue.

January 26, 2016

Field Notes on Australia Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:33 pm

Every year in New Zealand as Waitangi Day draws near, various conservative/right-wing columnists throw tantrums about the protests and ‘grievance industry’ and lack of jingoism surrounding our national day and, inevitably, compare it unfavourably with Australia Day. This year I happened to be in Australia for Australia Day. And:

  • Australia Day has protests! Sometimes they ‘flare up’ or become ‘fiery’ or result in ‘clashes’ and become major media events. Just like Waitangi Day!
  • The papers over here are filled with think pieces about national identity and rants decrying historical grievances and wondering whether Australia Day is truly the national holiday and should Australia become a republic? Some refer to it as ‘Invasion Day’. One columnist in the Melbourne Age – I swear this is true – actually suggested Australia Day could be more like Waitangi Day, although it was only one in a list of more desirable national days (Bastille Day, etc).
  • Most Australians seem indifferent to all of this and see it as an extra day off work, and spend the day shopping, or at the beach, or have a barbecue. Again, this strikes me as identical to how most NZers experience Waitangi Day.
  • It is more festive! Some people fly the Aussie flag on their cars. Some shops put Australian flags in their windows. The government hands out honours. Some councils organise events with bands, bouncy castles, face-painting, etc. The ice cream stand at the beach town we’re staying at sold special Vegemite flavoured ice cream. People bought it and ate it! Because they love Australia! There’s no reason shops, councils etc in NZ can’t do the same, but the tantrums by Mike Hosking et al don’t seem to be winning them over.
  • The major difference between the days – to me – is that Australia Day explicitly celebrates European colonialism (it is the anniversary of the arrival of the ‘first fleet’ in 1788), while Waitangi Day is about the partnership between peoples. Which is not to minimise racial injustice in New Zealand via the comparison, just to say that I feel like we got our national day right in that respect, rather than the Australians.

So just to recap . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:32 pm

The Greens proposed an independent body to properly cost political party policies, and Key vetoed it because he reckoned it would cost more than the Greens reckoned it would cost but couldn’t actually say how much it would cost.

January 24, 2016

Notes on ‘Hack Attack’ by Nick Davies

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:36 pm

This is a non-fiction account of the UK tabloid phone-hacking scandal by the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who broke most of the major stories:

  • I was staggered by the industrial scale of the ‘hacking’ (accessing phone messages was only part of the violation of privacy; tabloids also routinely paid police and other government officials for information and accesed tax records, medical records, the police database, email accounts, phone accounts and almost every kind of private information imaginable). They did this to celebrities, and also families of celebrities, murder victims, families of murder victims, police, politicians, lawyers, other journalists – basically everyone vaguely newsworthy.
  • With that kind of access they could have dug up some amazing stories – they could find out pretty much anything about anyone – but almost every story was about sex or crime: which soap star’s girlfriend had an abortion, which Labour MP was having an affair, which murder victim’s family members were having marital problems, etc. Some of this was driven by commercial factors but I think they were constrained by the fact that most big stories damage the establishment, and News International are the establishment. Close to both Labour and Conservative governments, senior police, the financial sector etc. Their scope to break stories that wouldn’t compromise their political and commercial interests was incredibly limited.
  • Most of the law-breaking was carried out by private detectives, hundreds of whom are mentioned in the book, mostly former police-officers. The industry seems to function as a nexus between the criminal justice system, the criminal underworld and corporate clients.
  • Davies is obviously an incredible investigative journalist. He’s also pretty much the opposite of what professional journalists are supposed to look like. He’s biased, vengeful, ideological. He collaborates against his enemies at New Corp with lawyers, MPs, journalists at rival outlets: anyone. He leaks, briefs, dissembles, lies. Because if he’d stuck to the tenets of ethical journalism – balance, fairness – he never would have gotten close to breaking the story. That model of reporting has been destroyed by the public relations industry.
  • I kept thinking of other British scandals – the Cambridge spy-ring, Profumo, Saville, The Westminster paedophile ring – and wondering: what is wrong with Britain? These things don’t keep happening in other developed democracies (with the arguable exception of Italy). There is something deeply corrupt in the culture.
  • Also, while the hacking scandal is shocking, it takes place across a backdrop of corporate lobbying and PR manipulation and political patronage that is just as shocking but also completely legal and very similar, I suspect, to what goes on in New Zealand politics. We just never get to see it.

January 13, 2016

Inevitable Bowie post

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:42 am

I never imagined I would be this upset by Bowie’s death. Unlike a lot of mourners I didn’t connect with his music as a teenager. By the late eighties/early nineties he was too big and too commercial to be useful to my friends and I as we set about the teen ritual of trying to define ourselves through musical taste. I thought of him in the same category as Elton John or Billy Joel: perennial mainstream global superstars who my parents liked.

His music only became meaningful to me as an adult. They’re great songs, musically – but there are lots of great songs out there. They’re interesting intellectually (mostly). And that voice evokes a powerful emotional response even in songs I’ve heard literally thousands of times.

But other singers do that too. What sets Bowie apart – for me – is the way all of those elements combine to produce a unique, very intense interior state that is impossible for me to describe except by saying ‘That is the way I feel when I listen to Heroes.’ Or any of the other great songs.

Oscar Wilde claimed that no one noticed the beauty of the sunsets of the Industrial Revolution until Turner painted them. Bowie did something similar with the way people thought and felt in late modernity. He understood, somehow, that we had access to new intellectual and emotional states that we didn’t even know about, and his music made them available to us. And there are dozens of different, unique states conjured up by the different periods and personae he adopted. There’s something mythological about the way he revealed our real but hidden selves to us by hiding behind different guises and masks.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to posses that kind of genius – it’s like trying to imagine life as a bat and seeing in sonar. It seems so wrong and unfair that someone so special could just die, like everyone else, and that he was sick and in pain for so long.  I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like having the saddest song ever stuck in my head.

January 8, 2016

On the other hand: why twitter is great

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:03 am

Yesterday I was being snarky about a new Game Of Thrones adult coloring book (color in the rape and torture scenes to improve your mindfulness) and someone alerted me to this: the coloring and activity books released with David Lynch’s Dune. 

More images at the link above.

January 7, 2016

The flaw in Jamie Whyte’s logic

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:22 pm

The former ACT leader writes:

There is no poverty in New Zealand. Misery, depravity, hopelessness, yes; but no poverty.

The poorest in New Zealand are the unemployed. They receive free medical care, free education for their children and enough cash to pay for basic food, clothing and (subsidised) housing. Most have televisions, refrigerators and ovens. Many even own cars. That isn’t poverty.

Why then do we keep hearing that more than 20 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty? Those who tell us this do not mean by “poverty” what most people do. They have a statistical definition: you live in poverty if your household’s income is less than 50 per cent of the national median (after tax and housing costs, and adjusted for the number of adults and children in the household).

It is a relative rather than absolute measure of poverty. Being an American pauper means having half the income of the average American. Being an Indonesian pauper means having half the income of the average Indonesian. Never mind that an American “pauper” may be richer than the average Indonesian.

David Farrar also talks about this all the time. ‘Why is poverty relative? Why not have an absolute measure of poverty?’ Well, the reason is that poverty is an intrinsically relative measure. It’s like ‘warmth’ or ‘tallness’. Yeah, you can say that if you compare New Zealand poverty to Indonesian poverty, say, then there is no poverty in New Zealand. But you could also just as validly compare us to the residents of Mayfair or the Île Saint-Louis or East Hampton, compared to whom pretty much all of us live in abject poverty. Because those are both stupid things to do we don’t actually do that and there’s an official measure of poverty which has broad political consensus.

If these guys can get that consensus changed so that only people whose living standards are comparable with homeless people living in the slums of Jakarta then yeah, great, there will be no ‘poverty’ in New Zealand any more. But there will be a big group of people who used to be classified as living in poverty, who have poor health and poor educational outcomes and higher rates of crime and unemployment and plenty of other metrics that strongly correlate with our current definition of poverty.

January 6, 2016

A note on pile-ons

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:01 pm

Second day back at work and NZ Twitter is already the site of pointless feuds, the latest one causing one of the best journalists in the country to delete her account so she doesn’t have to engage with progressive activists any more.

Something I think most people don’t get about social-media pile-ons is that being the subject of one is disproportionately upsetting and aggravating in a way that’s hard to comprehend unless you’ve been there. I’ve been having debates and arguments and fights on social media for years, and gotten all sorts of weird abuse and threats for things I’ve written, and none of it really affects me. But having your timeline flood with insults and call-outs and criticism and snark from dozens of people all at once is really genuinely upsetting. I’m not sure why. But it is. Even if someone has a really good point to make it generally gets lost in all the noise and just contributes to the sense of being unfairly ganged-up on, usually over something trivial.

So maybe don’t pile into a debate and call someone out unless you have really, really good reason. Especially if you can see that lots of other people are already making the exact same point you want to. Especially if you’re a guy and you’re about to explain feminism to a women (The advent of packs of aggrieved progressive white dudes angrily lamenting white male privilege without a shred of self-awareness/irony and turning mostly civil discussions into toxic shit-fights is, I think, not the best thing that’s happened to identity politics.)

Especially if the thing that’s offended you is not really in the grand scheme of things, particularly offensive. I know, I know, in identity politics everything is political, everything ties to patriarchy and privilege, everything is important. But this just seemed like a really trivial thing to lose the ability to engage with a first-class journalist over.

Online progressive activists tend to have a high regard for what they do: they’re educating people, speaking truth to power, changing the world, etc. But mostly the result of this education and challenging via social media pile-ons and call-outs seems to result in the subjects hating progressive activists and identity politics and/or deleting their social media accounts. These don’t seem like big wins for the cause. It often feels to me like the real goal here is to have fun shitting all over people while feeling sanctimonious about it.

Update: response to this in the comments here.

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