The Dim-Post

September 3, 2015

On the much lighter side: the flag debate cont

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:47 am

The Herald reports:

All Black captain Richie McCaw may be keen on using the silver fern in a new national flag – but New Zealand Rugby warned the design committee not to use its trademarked silver fern logo.

Officials were told permission to use the fern on a new flag was unlikely to be granted. If NZ Rugby had allowed its fern to be used on a flag and it made the final four, it would have had to assign all rights in it to the Crown at no cost. Other fern symbols can still be used and feature in three of the final four designs.

This is funny to me for a couple of reasons: firstly, Key has been pretty clear about his motives for changing the flag. It’s about having brand synergy with our internationally recognised sports teams who all wear the silver fern. He’s always wanted the silver fern as our flag, only now we learn he didn’t actually bother to talk to the people who own the trademark on that image to see if they were keen.

Secondly, rugby and patriotism are deeply linked in New Zealand. It’s supposed to be part of our identity. Good New Zealanders support the All Blacks. But the patriotism only goes one way: when you ask the Rugby Union to surrender their intellectual property to support New Zealand they tell you to fuck right off. Nice.

Nothing will come of nothing

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:41 am

syria

The nightmare of the Syrian refugee crisis intensified again overnight. The above image of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach in Turkey has been published across most European news media. The rhetoric in the UK has gotten uglier with David Cameron refusing to admit more refugees, describing the families fleeing the civil war between ISIS and the Asad dictatorship as a ‘swarm’ trying to break into the UK for their private economic advantage.

John Key has, as usual in international policy, adopted Cameron’s position although his rhetoric is softer. Key refuses to take in more refugees as a response to the crisis because ‘it won’t solve the problem’. Well, it won’t stop the civil war in Syria – that’s true. But if we can reduce, even by a fraction the number of children suffocating to death in delivery trucks or washing ashore as corpses then that would be a great thing.

We’re not doing that – yet – because migrants present both upfront costs and political risk. Key’s mother was a refugee from the Nazis though, and you’d think that if any politician could see the virtue of giving these families a new chance on the other side of the world and to sell that to the public it’d be him. But Key didn’t get to where he is today by empathising with and helping helpless people, even though he’s ultimately only here because someone else did that for his family. His instincts are to help those who can help him and then extract maximal benefits from the exchange. And this mentality works for him personally, obviously, but it points to the nihilism in the dark heart of the transactional politics Key is such a master of: impoverished refugees have nothing to offer him, so they get nothing.

September 2, 2015

Flag logic

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:53 am

I don’t much like the current flag. But I don’t really like any of the alternatives, as amusing as the Hypoflag might be. If we pick a new flag we’ll be stuck with it for a long time because it will be ‘the new flag’. So I’ll be voting to keep the current flag on the assumption that we’ll be able to replace it with something better a little down the line, probably as part of our transition towards a republic.

September 1, 2015

Confidence

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:05 am

A month ago when the TPP negotiations in Hawaii failed John Key assured the press gallery that things would get back on track very quickly. The logic was that Obama wanted to sign the deal at APEC in November, and he needed to notify Congress 90 days before that could happen, so mid-to-late August was the absolute deadline for the Trade Ministers. It was a deadline Key was confident would be reached, so much so that veteran press gallery insider insider Richard Harman speculated that Key ‘knows something the rest of the rest of the world does not’.

Well, here we are in September and the Ministers have not agreed to reconvene, let alone met, let alone reached an agreement. Key didn’t ‘know’ anything. Or, rather, what Key knows is that in the increasingly rare instances in which he’s forced to break character and talk about governing the country – instead of gushing about puppies or the All Blacks – nothing he says needs to be true, or even plausible. Rather everything Key says is situationaly convenient. Whatever works in the super-short term because there never seem to be any consequences for being totally wrong.

August 31, 2015

Lost in the forest of Ardern

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:50 am

There were a few more Jacinda Ardern columns over the weekend. Pearl Going wrote a piece in defense of her in the NBR. Grant Robertson stood up for her on Facebook. And there was much debate in the comments of the previous post.

  • Ardern seems likely to be a significant presence in NZ politics. This is good news for her and also for National, I think, because Ardern’s positive qualities are mostly qualities that Andrew Little does not have.
  • There will be a lot of ugly gendered attacks against her
  • There will be an ongoing debate about her rise to prominence using soft media and a confused debate about whether this debate is an ugly gendered attack.
  • Ardern’s defenders insist that she is very intelligent and hard-working, but do not point to examples of these qualities manifesting themselves. (Grant Robertson cites her policy work).
  • One of the few ways MPs can distinguish themselves in opposition is through private members bills. You can wedge the government on a popular issue (like Sue Moroney with paid parental leave) or work to get your bill passed and make real change (like Louisa Wall). Ardern’s 2013 Care of Children Bill did neither. It was widely mocked across the political spectrum and seen as a disaster for cross-Parliamentary reform on adoption. It’s one of the major reasons she is, or at least was regarded as a style-over-substance lightweight among political circles.
  • So I remain an Ardern skeptic but I am ever mindful that I thought David Cunliffe would work out brilliantly, so I am open to persuasion. If Ardern is as talented as her defenders claim Labour will be looking for opportunities to display this and I’m curious to see what they come up with.

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.

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