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Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

US HEGEMONY vs SATELLITE PEONY

In anthropology, politics on June 25, 2013 at 7:52 am

Granted that Americans have a right to worry whether their own government is spying on them. Hence the whole Snowden ‘whistle-blower’ controversy. Now consider the case of New Zealand, a US satellite that more and more, under a right wing government, seems intent on making peons of its own people. The ruling minority government, with an effective majority of one in the House of Representatives, is about to pass legislation that will allow its US ally (and presumably other ‘friendly’ powers) to spy on New Zealanders via their own spy station situated outside Christchurch. The government, dominated by the National Party, is of course eagerly whipping up a state of paranoia among chronically paranoiac and anxious citizens by warning of imminent acts of internal terrorism. By the end of the week it will be too late to think about which terror is worse: that of the state over its own people that is going to happen, or you might say, freelance internal terrorism that might never happen. New Zealand long ago discounted the remote possibility of aggressive influences coming from outside to this far end of the world. After all, why else would it have let its so-called armed forces be depleted over the past half-century to one SAS company and various peace-keeping units deployed overseas that could not contribute to defending the country?

The tendency of this country to infantilism in the face of Mother Britain for a century and a half and the United States in the past half century has, as some feared, bred a country of sheep only too willing to be led to a slaughter of the spirit by a sequence of cowardly judas goats in charge. Such easy efforts to appease bigger partners internationally come at the real cost of New Zealand taking committed action and assertive measures over its own realistic concerns, of which there are many. To name one, huge systemic gaps and numerous lapses in civil construction and inspection standards responsible for killing and maiming hundreds of people, and irreparably damaging the mental wellbeing of countless thousands of others in just the past two years. Responsible for extending the effects of specific tragedies out to years is the lack of accountability and ducking for cover of government departments, insurance companies and other private corporations and local authorities. The disasters in question are the explosion in the Pike River coalmine that killed 29; the Christchurch earthquake(s) killing hundreds; and the negligent grounding of a cargo ship in the Bay of Plenty that jettisoned oil and hundreds of polluting containers into the sea, left to drift and sink in the absence of any aggressive recovery plan.

The Christchurch earthquake, and after thousands of after shocks there are still tens of thousands homeless and without sufficient means to start again

The Christchurch earthquake, and after thousands of after shocks there are still tens of thousands homeless and without sufficient means to start again

The Pike River Coal Mine explosion in November 2010 killed 29 miners. At least it was assumed from the first that they were killed. As anxious relatives waited on hopes day after day though expecting the worst, willing volunteer rescuers were prevented from even entering the mine by the police. This is just one instance of the enculturated Kiwi habit of officials hanging back and waiting. Still after two and a half years only robotic surveillance has been allowed, the results suggesting all the victims were not killed outright. In the initial enquiry the company was found guilty of nine “health & safety” violations. But in July 2013 it was revealed that of $90 million in insurance coverage a total of $156,000 has filtered down to be distributed to victims’ families in ‘compensation’. You do the arithmetic. Two weeks later police announced there would be no prosecution of mine owners and management because there was no direct causal link established: New Zealand has no such charge as “corporate manslaughter”.

The basis of the fault lies with New Zealanders’ self-vaunted “No.8 wire spirit”, so-called for the gauge of fencing wire used for all purposes originally by farmers for everything from extracting ear wax to holding a car engine together. This myth involving inherent love of amateurism in all spheres is deeply ingrained in Kiwi culture — admiration of the ad hoc over careful preparation, which is seen derisively as prissy or over-intellectualized. In the Pike River (Westland province) and Christchurch cases numerous instances of unheeded warnings over many years, shoddy design, construction and inspection regimes, and overarching laissez faire management philosophies creating “disasters waiting to happen”, were looked upon with disbelief and downright disgust by Australian and US experts called on to testify to best practices well established overseas for generations if not centuries.

This has been the pattern of civil expectations in New Zealand life for the past thirty years, since the turnaround of the 1984 so-called Labour government to right-wing economics, and growing more emphatic in quantum leaps every time there is National Party government insisting on thousands more job cuts in what are increasingly recognized as essential services. I accuse this government of wantonly risking more lives in the cause of easing their own. This further indenturing of its own citizens to outside interests will strip away any vestige or pretence of independence this country might still cling on to.

PROGRESSING PAST VOCABULARY: The Three Essential Adjectives in Modern English

In anthropology, art, generational/fashion, Humor, literature, satire on June 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm
A little scholar of tomorrow, aspiring to fill her head with at least a dozen words for all occasions.

littlescholarIn days of yore, say back as far as the 1960s, there were massive tomes called dictionaries. Though it was known that the average person might have a vocabulary of some four thousand words or less, even “simplified” dictionaries would have as many as 65,000 to 75,000 words — so at least 60,000 too many for even the most talkative people. Those compiled by ancient, outdated educational institutions like Oxford and Cambridge Universities dating back to medieval times might include double that number in their more than comprehensive, overgrown volumes that contained the origin of the word, umpteen different meanings and senses, and examples of how these nuanced usages might be utilized in sentences by show-offs.

The language built up steadily, out of hand for over two thousand years, expanding to something with virtually infinite turns and twists. It came to be admired by so-called brainy people throughout the world just for its exquisitely descriptive value, unparalleled logical definition and finnicky grammar that qualified shades of meaning. All this was appreciated by just a few thousand elite around the world out of seven billion. If it had been confined to just one person’s head, like the maths in Archimedes’ this surplus knowledge could have been easily nipped in the bud as his was by his timely assassination by that Roman stud, cut and buff in his form-fitting battle dress making him look so hot.

But those dudes with their jive-ass — sorry — runaway egos painstakingly designed what they grandly called works of art based on this language, using imaginary imagery and tricky devices conjuring poetic beauty from a blank page — that went over the heads of everyone but a few of their own. When everyone knows that a work of art is something you can see in front of you like an awesome multicolored tattoo, mass produced so tried and true, with heaps of symbolic meaning, by a proper tattoo artist, or a nice mosaic coffee table with pretty colors, or hear, like a vocal on American Idol that can spread one syllable across eight notes. It all snowballed and got “stink”, to use a well chosen descriptive catchall in common New Zealand usage. So I say — All the more credit to recent generations who have simplified the language and made it accessible to a great many more people who are now able to be admired for their fluent speech, even their gift of the gab.

Those best at the art of simplification have invented an abbreviated written language too for text messaging, now coming into more general use and far more concise than the spoken word — an outmoded form of communication just begging to be clipped down to manageability. Soon we will all be speaking in grunts and moans, sighs and snorts, hand gesticulations and facial contortions that served our primate forebears so very well. Human communication is said to be 93% nonverbal anyway, so why not take this important lesson from our ancestors?

The biggest corporates, teachers and other cultural leaders are not doing too badly though. If we look at just one part of speech, the descriptive adjective, the necessary vocabulary for anyone speaking English can be boiled down to three words: “awesome”, “not okay” and “inappropriate”. The word awesome is not the awesome that used to be, that is, inspiring awe — a word that has no useful meaning whatever — but more like the “fab” or “groovy” of yesteryear. It is therefore an ideally leveling word that exalts all achievements and accidents of birth alike. Where we might say a man who has developed the ability to smoke a cigarette with his lips and drink an alcoholic beverage through his nose on the same breath is truly awesome, we could also courteously apply the term — though we don’t really mean it — to a steady, admittedly boring researcher with nerdy hornrim glasses (actually a geek to be honest), progressing by inches towards a cancer cure, in order to make him feel good about himself for a moment and caringly bolster his self-esteem with a white lie.

Inappropriate is hardly at all like the inappropriate of before, meaning unsuitable. Inveterate diners used to say, “It is inappropriate to drink red wine with fish, and white wine with red meat.” But to dance a rhumba to a chacha rhythm is no longer inappropriate but creative, original and maybe freaky to those with an extraordinary vocabulary expanded to take in impressive technical jargon according to their specialization on tv shows, cooking, music or dancing. Today inappropriate should be applied only in those situations where a cover-all adjective is needed for “anything I don’t like.” In this way “inappropriate” is a useful conversation stopper and final judgment that precludes all debate on or enquiry about a particular subject that is probably unnecessary in the first place, maybe involving abstract concepts which don’t even exist anymore in everyday life; only in the minds of over-intellectualized dweebs.

“Not okay” is perhaps the most versatile compound adjective, handy for almost every occasion. A bereaved family member interviewed this week about the searing effects on the loved ones of his 15-year-old nephew being punched and kicked to death by two rugby team mates at practice was able to summon up composure enough in his grief at the funeral to say straight from the heart, “Violence is not okay.” The same well-spoken, obviously well-educated Kiwi, probably in a high-flying occupation, in a different circumstance might rightly apply this adjective to a gauchely misapplied dessert sauce on a television cooking show, thoughtlessly dolloped on the plate instead of tastefully and aesthetically drizzled.

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