The Dim-Post

November 6, 2015

What is the strategic response to strategic racism?

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:19 am

Via RNZ:

During a political debate on Easter trading hours this week, Ron Mark objected to comments Ms Lee made and said, “I want to go on to the other comments of Melissa Lee… from Korea, as Wikipedia says.”

“And Melissa Lee told the House in her rather condescending manner, which she’s becoming renowned for, that we need to grow up in New Zealand – well, I’ve got a short message: if you don’t like New Zealand, go back to Korea.

I’ve talked about the comms strategy behind this before. Political operatives call it ‘closing the circuit’ and we see it all the time in New Zealand politics. You say something contentious – usually bigoted – that you know a group of voters you’re appealing too will like; the targets of your comment or their political allies object, the media covers the story because of the conflict and the ‘debate’ about whether the comments were offensive or racist or whatever, and the bigot gets coverage and (they hope) a boost in the polls.

The backdrop to all of this is that New Zealand First seems to have picked up as many soft Labour voters as they’re going to get, they’ve picked up a lot of the Conservative Party voters and now they’re targeting older white provincial National voters. So drawing attention to the fact that National has a Korean migrant as an MP is a very astute political tactic for Ron Mark, because this is a demographic of people that are often hostile to Asian migrants.

National has backed their MP and condemned Mark’s comments, but that’s exactly what he wanted them to do. It would be nice to think there’s a way to condemn racist attacks in a way that doesn’t play into the racist’s hands and give them exactly what they want.

November 3, 2015

US ship vists

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:52 am

Vernon Small writes:

The New Zealand navy has issued an invitation to the United States to join in the navy’s 75th birthday celebrations next year, potentially ending the 30-year freeze on military ship visits here.

However, sources said while an invitation had been issued, it was not yet clear that a ship would visit. It could be some other “asset” from the US Navy.

New Zealand’s nuclear free policy, enacted in 1985, bans nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships from entering ports here. The law change saw New Zealand suspended from membership of the three-power Anzus alliance with the US and Australia.

While the law requires the prime minister to confirm, to his satisfaction, that any ships are not nuclear armed or powered, it has in practice always required the US to drop their “neither confirm nor deny policy”.

The US has made it clear surface vessels are not nuclear armed, and it will be easy to ascertain from public records whether it is nuclear powered.

I don’t know how this will play out. I do know that our diplomatic and military elites will be ecstatic about the prospect of US naval visits. They have an obsession with rebuilding our strategic alliance with the US so we can join them on their various military adventures that borders on the pathological.

Which is weird, to me, because when you think of US military policy over the last half century it is mostly a series of catastrophic blunders. The propensity to make terrible mistakes which kill countless people and have dire long-term geopolitical consequences is pretty much the last quality you want in an ally. But that doesn’t seem to trouble the great minds at our defence or foreign ministries.

November 2, 2015

The stupid twitterati thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:40 am

New Zealand Twitter was a pretty toxic place over the weekend. There was a sustained confrontation between a well-known print journalist and a bunch of left-wing online activists. I don’t really know the journalist and I’ve met and liked a bunch of the activists just fine, but my sympathies were with the journalist. And the longer it went on and the more I thought about what was happening the more uncomfortable I felt about it all. Because when a large group of people mock and harass an individual over a sustained period of time it isn’t really a confrontation, or a debate, and it certainly isn’t activism. And when the target got upset, and the activists began to gloat about him unravelling and losing it, and doubled-down on their attacks, it made it pretty clear that what was happening was simple old-fashioned bullying.

‘It isn’t bullying’, the activists would reply. ‘What’s happening is that twitter is a place where marginalised people: trans people, people of colour, the working class, finally have a voice. This journalist – and YOU, Danyl, are straight white middle-class men and you can’t handle the fact that you don’t control the narrative any more. So you’re attempting to silence these marginalised voices by accusing them of bullying and smearing them with names like ‘The Twitterati.’

I’m not indifferent to that argument. I get the idea that my gender and ethnicity give me privilege, and that it can be confronting when this is challenged. But, like I said, I know or know of many of these people and exactly none of them are transexuals or people of colour or working class. They’re heterosexual middle-class white folk and they’ve expropriated the struggle and language of identity politics to give themselves a status of victimhood that they don’t deserve, so they can justify behaviour they’d be horrified by if they saw it in their children.

‘But,’ the activists will probably say next, ‘Women and trans-women and people of colour [etc] are subject to far worse harassment. Why don’t you condemn that and not this?’ Well, (1) I have, and I challenge and/or block people I see engaging in that kind of behavior online, (2) most of the instigators of the Twitterati – or whatever you want to call them are straight white men, so – again – they don’t get to expropriate the persecution of women or other minorities, and (3) the abhorrent behavior of racists or misogynists doesn’t justify progressive activists imitating them.

I’m a massive hypocrite, of course – I’ve been guilty of exactly this type of online bullying, although I like to flatter myself that I’ve never taken part in anything quite this nasty. Maybe that’s the reason I’m offended – it’s a shock to see something ugly and recognise yourself in it. So this was a wake-up for me. I’ve blocked most of the so-called ‘Twitterati’ – they’ve been at this sort of thing for ages, and they’re having too much fun to change just because I write something critical about them. But mostly I’m going to try and change my own behaviour online. No more punching down, or sideways; engage with ideas instead of attacking individuals; don’t participate in pile-ons.

When you’re online its all-too-easy to get wrapped up in the righteousness of your convictions and use it to justify acting like an asshole. And progressives should challenge the narrative, and confront the privileged, like journalists (or me). And they should speak out against things that offend them (although twitter is now in such a constant state of outrage, often about trivial nonsense I feel that this is a very low value form of activism). But if you’re attacking an individual, not their ideas, and you’re doing so en-masse, repeatedly, and they’re clearly distressed about it you’ve left activism way behind, and you’re an ordinary nasty old bully.

October 28, 2015

Adventures in political iconography

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:09 am


I’ve been looking at the photographs of Key with the All-Blacks that’ve been all over social and mainstream media and wondering if any other ‘iconic’ New Zealanders have ever been co-opted for a political party’s propaganda to the degree that Richie McCaw has? There were strong links between Peter Jackson and the Labour government during the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Jackson won fairly staggering commercial gains out of that relationship. Did Edmund Hilary get turned into a political commodity back in the 1950s and 60s?

October 27, 2015

Maori TV and the mediapocalypse

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:22 am

QuoteUnquote has an overview of the latest Wintec Press Club’s (notorious) luncheon featuring  Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee as guest speakers:

Forbes and Lee’s main topic was the series of programmes they made about the finances of the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board, starting with A Question of Trust (September 2013).
That turned out to be “a release valve for frustration”, with many viewers asking for investigation into all sorts of Maori organisations.
Both women send their children to kohanga reo, so know the organisation at ground level. Lee described it as “endless working bees and fundraisers” in contrast with what happens at the top.
After the next story, Feathering the Nest (October 2013), they received threats, Native Affairs was banned from Turangawaewae, people booked to come on the show “unbooked” themselves. “How dare these girls challenge their rangatira?” was the reaction from the usual male suspects: Derek Fox, Willie Jackson, John Tamihere, Dale Husband. “We’re female, we’re younger than them.” Fancy that, old blokes being sexist.
Both said how much they appreciated the support they’d had from the mainstream media, singling out the Herald’s David Fisher and especially TV3’s Tova O’Brien who would ask questions on their behalf when the kohanga reo people wouldn’t let them in to a press conference.
Forbes said that Maori Television wouldn’t show the final programme: “Yeah, and that’s basically why I quit.”
At the end, Steve Braunias said, “The elephant in the room is Maori TV. Man up and tell us – what the fuck happened?”
Forbes replied that after Julian Wilcox was replaced by Paora Maxwell, “I didn’t want to be there any more. I hated it.”
What happened at Maori TV is one of the most clear-cut cases of establishment censorship imaginable. Journalists started asking uncomfortable questions; the establishment got angry and imposed a new leader on the organisation who shut everything down. There’s a hell of a book in there. (The lack of public outrage is, presumably because mainstream New Zealand doesn’t really care what happens in Maori institutions).
It’s also a reminder to progressives – who advocate for more public-funded media in response to the collapse of the commercial media model – that state-funded media has its own problems.

October 21, 2015

He’s back!

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:47 am

Veitchy is in the news again (this time complaining on his Facebook page, not staging a disappearance by driving off in his car and then calling every media outlet to tell them how much pain he’s in). It amazes me how this guy has contrived to put himself at the nexus of almost every contentious issue in modern New Zealand. His story touches on:

  • celebrity culture
  • sports culture and misogyny
  • the normalisation of domestic violence
  • the two tier justice system
  • the toxic intersection of media and the PR industry

For people who take issue with some or all of those things, Veitchy is a weirdly perfect symbol that lets them say everything critical they want to say about these subjects. Being a symbol of many things that lots of people hate seems to conflict with Veitch’s desire to be a universally beloved celebrity and that seems to frustrate him. As a media figure he’s inclined to make his frustration public, which is great from a progressive politics point of view. These are all serious problems in New Zealand and the more attention Veitchy inadvertently draws to them with his tantrums the better.

October 19, 2015

The opportunity cost of free trade myopia

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:20 am

Via the Herald:

The ink is barely dry on the TPP and New Zealand has the prospect of another giant free trade deal in the offing with the European Union taking the first steps towards an FTA with New Zealand.

It was announced early this morning that the EU Commission will seek to negotiate separate FTAs with both New Zealand and Australia as part of its trade strategy for the next four years.

The caveat is that talks will take in account “EU agricultural sensitivities.”

The announcement is the culmination of years of effort on the part of New Zealand to improve trade conditions in what is a market of 500 million consumers.

One thing we should have learned from the TPP is that we’re entering a period of diminishing returns from free trade deals. But there’s also an opportunity cost here. While all of our diplomats are trying to negotiate lower dairy tariffs to grow our economy they’re not doing anything about climate change, which is a major economic challenge that requires a diplomatic solution.

Droughts and extreme weather events are expensive things. The 2008 drought cost the country about $2.8 billion in one year (the TPPA is supposed to bring in $2 billion over ten years). To avoid entering a period of catastrophic droughts and storms we have to agree on a global reduction of carbon emissions. So that’s something need to be negotiated between states. Y’know – diplomatically. It is so, so stupid that we have all of these diplomats running around trying to eke out trivial gains from trade agreements while ignoring this massive looming crisis that is going to devastate our economy.

October 18, 2015

Notes on John Armstrong’s final column

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:20 am

It is here and includes the sad news that he is stepping down because of ill health.

  • Armstrong practised a kind of opinion writing that media theorists call ‘access journalism’ in which powerful people give journalists (actually mostly senior columnists) time, attention and ‘background information – ie gossip – and in exchange the columnist writes nice things about them. Armstrong enjoyed very privileged access to our senior politicians and their advisers for many years, and this gave him great prestige among other media and political elites.
  • His columns generally defended powerful establishment figures and attacked and mocked their critics, and because he’s a fine writer and deftly articulated elite conventional wisdom this made him very respected in those same establishment circles. It’s not a form of journalism I admire. I think it’s the opposite of everything journalists should aspire to.
  • But there seem to be guys like him in every political media environment the world over. We could have done worse than Armstrong. He did occasionally rebuke Clark and Key when their contempt for democracy and law and process became too egregious. And everyone I know who worked with him liked and respected him deeply.
  • Armstrong does not seem to have been very interested in politics as it relates to government or policy or law or economics or anything that most political actors are interested in. His columns were almost exclusively about the theatre of politics, especially Question Time. Who performed well? Who had the best lines? How artfully did the Prime Minister avoid saying anything? Most journalists have some curiosity about objective truth. ‘What really happened?’ Not Armstrong. In his final column he articulates his belief that politics is a game and he enjoys seeing how it is played, which is a fair summary of his approach to the subject. Facts never had a place in his work. His view of politics is one in which substance is nothing and style is everything. The real-life consequences of ‘the game’ are irrelevant.
  • This indifference to truth and enthusiastic celebration of spin and distortion is also, I think, the opposite of everything political commentary is supposed to be about. Governments have enormous resources to spin and obfuscate. Under Key this is mainly what the government does. If the press gallery isn’t there to debunk all of the propaganda and spin then it has no purpose.
  • There’s no obvious replacement for Armstrong’s role in the political media ecosystem. Key prefers to communicate directly with voters through soft media outlets where his messaging is even less challenged than in Armstrong’s columns. This propaganda model is so effective his heirs will all do the same. Lying to a large number of voters more effectively is the kind of ‘playing the game’ that Armstrong has always celebrated, so I think he’d have to admire this change.

October 17, 2015

Relationships and diplomacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 4:14 pm

Whenever Key gets on well with another head of state – David Cameron, Barak Obama, and most recently Malcolm Turnbill who name-checked our PM in one of his first speeches – our punditocracy gets very excited and explains that these relationships are very valuable at the international level.

But they seem to be totally worthless. Key’s close relationship with Obama didn’t get us anything in the TPP negotiations, and now Turnbill’s admiration for Key does not extend to policy flexibility on imprisoning New Zealanders in detention centres. These supposedly valuable relationships look more like liabilities: because they’re perceived as very valuable we have to make commitments to maintain them (like sending soldiers to Iraq) and we never want to devalue them by taking a tough stand when it comes to disagreements. It’s like having a rich friend who you’re constantly buying dinner for to try and impress, but never dare ask them to reciprocate in case it looks gauche.

October 16, 2015

Three unsatisfying novels

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:34 am

High Rise by J G Ballard. Published in 1975. For a novel about a huge luxury apartment building descending into violent anarchy, High Rise is a surprisingly dull book. The entire plot is in the premise. There’s a huge luxury apartment building and it descends into violent anarchy. The end. You don’t read Ballard for the story though, or the characters (they are all residents of the apartment building, and they all become violent anarchists). You read his work for the prescience. The unique insight into society and the human condition. How does that stand up forty years after publication?

Ballard did what literary novelists are supposed to do – he looked at an important social trend: the unrest and rise of violent crime in the 1970s and he decided it was linked to modernity: increased urbanism and the intrusion of technology into our lives. As these things increase so will the savagery, High Rise predicts. Fortunately Ballard was completely wrong. Violent crime peaked in the 1970s and has been trending down ever since, even as technology becomes more ubiquitous and all that modernity Ballard feared became all-encompassing. There’s nothing quite as obsolete as a book that gambles everything on being ‘prescient’ and loses the bet.

Also, I like this Zadie Smith column about Ballard.

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. A Chinese science fiction novel – first in a trilogy – that won the Nebula prize this year. I think this is the first novel I’ve ever read by a Chinese author, which is a bit embarrassing. I thought (a) that the modern history of China makes it an awesome setting for paranoid sci-fi novels, (b) I struggled with the Chinese names, and found it impossible to distinguish between three primary characters called Yang, Ding and Wang. (c) The writing is very poor. Not sure if that’s a problem with the translation or the original text, but it was so shoddy I abandoned the book half way through, which is very rare for me.

Submission by Michel Houellebecq: Gained notoriety when Houellebecq featured on the cover of Charlie Hebdo the day the magazine staff were murdered by Islamic terrorists. The premise is that a mainstream Muslim political party wins power in France in the early 2020s and the country converts to Sharia law. The spectre of an Islamic France haunts that nation’s politics, particularly on the far right, but Houellebecq’s joke is that the conversion process is actually a painless, pleasant experience for the country in general and France’s intellectual elite especially. Mostly they are all delighted at the prospect of having polygamous marriages with multiple submissive teenage wives. (There is a funny book to be written about a polygymous marriage in which the participants are all as selfish and hateful as Houellebecq characters, but it would require strong female characters so Houellebecq is not the person to write it.)

But the book is only about this in a very peripheral way. Mostly it’s about a middle-aged academic having a mid-life crisis. The academic specialises in Huysmans, a 19th century French novelist I’ve never read, and know nothing about (except that his masterpiece A Rebours is supposedly the unnamed scandalous novel in Dorian Gray). That book obviously means a lot to Houellebecq – his very first publication was a study of Lovecraft called ‘Against the world’. Much of Submission is about Huysmans and A Rebours, and assumes knowledge of and a pre-existing interest in him, and the rest of it is the usual Houellebecq misanthropy: rants against feminism and capitalism and socialism and ‘the suicide of the west.’ I’m not sure if this is the worst Houellebecq novel I’ve read, or that I’ve read too many of them and I’m basically just tired of his bullshit?

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