The Dim-Post

September 8, 2015

And another

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:07 pm

National party activist Liam Hehir has a column on Stuff denouncing the evil left-wing conspiracy to undermine our Prime Minister by promoting the ‘Red Peak’ flag:

This all comes a bit late in the game. Until now, the principal position of the liberal punditry has been to ridicule, rather than engage in, the flag debate. Toby Manhire, the Left-wing columnist who started the belated campaign forRed Flag, justified his former apathy for the consultation procedure on the basis that it made him feel “… infantilised, herded into a nationwide social studies project”.

Manhire tends to mock all political parties in his column. But one of those is National, and to guys like Hehir any failure to meet Mike Hosking levels of sycophancy and obeisance to the government is proof of a radical left-wing agenda. But Manhire didn’t actually kick off the Red Peak campaign. That was Rowan Simpson, a software developer who worked at TradeMe and Xero, who might be a secret communist too, but realistically probably is not.

I’m not a huge Red Peak fan and neither were the members of the public who were surveyed by UMR. The reason people like it after the fact is, I think, because Simpson and the flag’s other advocates have successfully told the flag’s story. They’ve described how it works on a symbolic level. And many people seem to feel that’s important: the Union Jack symbolises the union of the United Kingdom, the US flag has thirteen stripes for the thirteen colonies and stars for the states, etc. Our current flag tells a story: the Union Jack and the Southern Cross. But none of the selected ones do. The Lockwood flags are a fern and the stars. But why? So what? I mean, there might be some deep symbolic reason behind the number of leaves on the fern and its relationship to the stars, but if there is no one’s ever explained it, and I’m pretty sure that’s because there ain’t.

I do actually agree that some of the Red Peak supporters are just making mischief for the government. But when you botch things really badly your opponents get to make mischief. That’s how politics works. Other Red Peak advocates like, say, David Seymour are probably not so diabolically motivated. And while some of the Red Peak activism is probably politically motivated, pretty much 100% of the anti Red Peak activism seems political and motivated by partisan dislike.

State of play

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:50 am

The Herald has a story about Key defending his response to the refugee crisis:

Prime Minister John Key has defended the scale and pace of his rescue package for Syrian refugees, saying if it was rushed it would jeopardise the success of resettlement and could mean refugees from other countries missed out.

Mr Key yesterday announced New Zealand would accept 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years, including 600 in an emergency intake above the usual annual quota of 750.

The cost of resettling the refugees is estimated at $49 million in addition to the current $58 million annual cost of resettlement programmes.

I wish we could do more. But I think this is better than last week’s response to the crisis, which was to do nothing. I also think Key is doing this against the wishes of the majority of his caucus. Print and most broadcast media have called for action on this issue but if you listen to even a few minutes of talkback radio, the sentiment there is overwhelmingly opposed to it. These aren’t refugees, the argument goes: they’re welfare bludging terrorists. And the dumbest, most awful people on talkback are a useful barometer of what National’s backbench MPs think on any given issue.

But this will be popular with the broader public and if Key is to maintain his status as our most popular Prime Minister ever he needs to do what’s popular, not what he or his party actually want. We’re less than a year into Key’s third term and this is now a very odd-looking National government. Of the main goals for the term, campaigned on during the election, RMA reform is dead; killed because the Nats ran a guy they knew was under police investigation as an electorate MP in Northland, then lost that electorate and their majority when that scandal exploded in their faces. Key’s dream of changing the flag to the silver fern on black is almost certainly dead, because he set up the process and committed the money before finding out that the copyright on that image isn’t available, and that the public prefers the current flag to the knock-off alternatives. They’re not going to make their surplus, or, if they do then they’re forecast to go straight back into deficit until at least 2018. 

But they are still making good on their other big election promise: free doctor’s visits for under-13s. In some ways the third-term Key National government has been one of the best left-wing governments we’ve ever had. They raised core welfare benefits for the first time in almost forty years, and now they’ve raised the refugee quota for the first time in thirty years.

What’s happening here, I think, is that all the energy that normal governments put into developing new policies and implementing agendas is going into maintaining Key’s popularity, the perpetuation of which has become a goal in itself, not a means to an end. National party policy is routinely botched – like Key’s mishandling of the flag change, very similar to Nick Smith’s decision to build houses on Auckland land that the government didn’t even own, or discuss the legal status of with local iwi – because the core role of this government is to generate events like the Parliamentary announcement of the All-Black line-up or source adorable puppies for the leader to take selfies with. These propaganda pieces are never botched because they’re core business. And government policy is now a subset of this public relations machine. Rather than justifying policy it determines it. Which is enormously empowering to the left, because it means we get to set government policy from opposition if we can just make it popular enough.

September 7, 2015

Into the River and Off the Cliff

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:22 pm

I’d like to read a lawyer’s explanation of what’s going on here:

The author of the first book to be banned in New Zealand for at least 22 years is asking: “Will I be burnt next?”

Ted Dawe, 64, the head of studies at Taylors College for international students in Auckland, is the unlikely subject of the first interim restriction order on a book under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.

His award-winning book for teenagers, Into The River, has been banned from sale or supply under the order issued by the president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Dr Don Mathieson, QC.

The order took effect when it was issued on September 3 and applies until the full board meets to decide on a permanent classification for the book. Dr Mathieson said that would be as soon as possible and “may very well be at the end of this month”.

Mr Dawe said he was “blindsided” by the ban, which was sought by lobby group Family First after deputy chief censor Nic McCully removed a previous R14 restriction on the book on August 14, making it totally unrestricted.

. .  because the law is all about due process and sometimes that has weird outcomes that have a deeper wisdom to them, or often, actually, don’t and just force officials to do absurd things because that’s the law. But outright banning an acclaimed prize-winning New Zealand novel just because a handful of activists asked them to seems like such a staggeringly disproportionate outcome that I think it calls the fitness of this board into question. If they can’t provide an astoundingly good reason for this then they need to be sacked immediately.

September 6, 2015

Notes on the Death of Grass

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:16 am

This is a novel by John Christopher. I reread his Tripods series recently. They’re some of the best Young Adult books I’ve read, and after learning from his biography that he got his start with adult literature I decided to try his first successful novel. The Death of Grass – 1956, published in the US as No Blade of Grass on the grounds that the original title sounded like something from a gardening magazine – is an apocalyptic novel in which a virus decimates global food crops leading to famine and the collapse of civilisation. It was a hit at the time but went out of print, until recently when it was listed as one of the best out-of-print novels published in the UK and subsequently republished.

It’s good. I can see why it was a hit. But it’s also really incredibly grim. Most post-apocalyptic novels and movies like to cleanly kill off most of the population via a third party – virus, zombies etc – so that the characters have a clean start. Those stories are a reaction against modernity and a fantasy about starting again in a simpler, quieter world. Death of Grass is an argument for modernity but also its fragility. As soon as civilisation is challenged it collapses and everyone starts murdering each other for food. Women instantly become chattels. Insufficiently brutal men are executed. It’s horrible.

I can see why the book went out of print. It might be more realistic than the rest of the genre but that only shows that realism isn’t a desirable quality when you’re writing about the apocalypse.

September 5, 2015

Another post on a subject I affect not to care about

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:23 pm


I’m not as smitten with ‘Red Peak’ as so many other people are, probably because I don’t care about flags. But the discussion around it and the fact that all of the flags selected by the Flag Consideration Panel have now shown up in prior incantations as logos for low budget consumer products serves to highlight the fact that none of the flags the panel selected actually look like flags. My prediction for the referendum outcome is that one of the Lockwood flags wins, and in the second referendum people overwhelmingly vote to stick with the current flag. Because our flag should probably be a flag and not a toilet paper logo.

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


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


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.
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