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Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

New Zealand General Election: A Victory for… What?

In civics, ideology, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on September 23, 2014 at 1:07 am

There are some measurable reversals in the state of this nation. So, instead it is simpler to talk about —

A LIST OF DEFEATS:

* Democracy defeated: The winning party received 48.1% of the votes cast and has 100% of the power in what purports to be a proportional representation system. Under NZ’s one-house parliamentary system there are no checks and balances on the ruling party’s ideology, freed to pass legislation at will.

* Open and fair government defeated: The ruling party has over the past three elections bedded in two sleeping partners — single candidates in electorate seats — giving them strategic “accommodations”, which works to cement its place in untrammelled power though together the allies receive less than 1% of the vote nationally. One ally is regularly rewarded with a seat in Cabinet, his “mandate” from a total of 4,500 party votes nationwide (approximately one out of every 600 votes cast by electors).

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ's next election (by Spauldron)

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ’s next election (by Spauldron)

* Parliamentary government defeated: The election every three years has more and more become NZ’s presidential race, with media coverage of actual policies shrunk to almost zero this time. The question of who is the more photogenic candidate is at a premium. This might be fine if NZ had a president, which it now has in all but name — exercising power by casual consensus of his cronies. The issue of the challenger’s “double chin” is right up there in public debate with Joan Rivers’ enlightened comments on Obama’s ears. Though slightly the worst off in tv debates to his challenger, the encumbent undoubtedly won in the charm/smarm stakes.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren't.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren’t.

* People Power defeated: The Silent Majority rules in New Zealand. It is a truism that many Kiwis only under duress will admit to voting for the National Party — as in “I have a confession to make”, obviously realising they have something to feel ashamed about. It is a question how many individuals do vote for National openly and for motives other than perceived (though usually mistaken) naked self-interest. The vote of the Left Wing — usually held to be the conscience of a country — collapsed, the Labour Party receiving 24.7% of the vote, half that of their Right Wing rivals. Its mistake was apparently to put forward a cogent, well argued, academically rigorous platform of policies to address a number of increasingly urgent problems and inequities that are overripening, just begging for a backlash by the aggrieved. The “Trickle Down” theory — itself a cynical lie — continues unabated after thirty years in place so far. The Internet-Mana Party coalition, supposedly the vanguard of a legitimate left wing, was left to languish on 1.3%, irredeemably tainted by teaming up with an opportunistic internet criminal who bought it off to the tune of $3.5 million in campaign funding (only equalled by the personally wealthy Conservative Party leader), effectively ejecting a strong voice for young, poverty-stricken Maoridom out of Parliament. Ultimately symptomatic of an old British colony, it is extremely bad form to set yourself up as a judge in any field at all no matter how well informed (“experts” are absolutely taboo). So, high-profile activists such as tv actresses Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm protesting against dodgy environmental practices are likely to have contributed to a reaction against what was expected to be a record Green Party vote this election, resulting in an actual decline to 10%. (This is in marked contrast to the public fawning directed at fat-cat movie producer Peter Jackson, instrumental in capping pay and conditions for local performers and accruing massive tax concessions for himself — banking another couple hundred million for him and his screenwriter-wife after every new movie.)

* Idealism defeated: This is a debatable one, since the word idealism has been a dirty one in the ruling Kiwi mythology for generations now. The Kiwi worldview comes from a combination of white Anglo Saxon pioneering stock and hunter-warrior Maori ideology. Both founding cultures are pragmatic to the ultimate, with grand gestures to selflessness today seemingly reserved for sports heroes on the rugby field and netball court. The thought that if you don’t aim for an ideal in government then you’re not likely to come anywhere near it doesn’t even occur. Politicians are known to be untrustworthy, so it is best to pick the one that is most successful at pure politics; i.e. manoeuvring, manipulatiing, spinning, twisting, evading… the whole skill set for running a country. A few years ago a 50,000-strong Maori march on Wellington (equivalent to a million in New York City) was greeted with the rejoinder from the prime minister that the other four and a half million people in the country must be on his side: a cynical rationalisation trotted out regularly now, accepted by a bulk of the population — to the point of discouraging any initiative to protest at all.

* Resistance to unbridled capitalism defeated: Public opinion surveys have for many years rejected more sales of public assets, to the degree of a 90%-plus “No”. While the wider public knows very well it is being sold down the river to those cronies of a right-wing government who can afford to invest in shares, they will not vote accordingly — resulting in inevitable crowing from the government that opponents of wholesale private enterprise would have if they really cared, and encouraging them further in their hubris to sell more. The prime minister, probably the most popular man, woman or beast in the country, has become a role model across classes and age groups — especially for the effortless way he accumulated his fortune estimated at between $50 and $80 million (it’s just vulgar to count the zeroes once you get past a certain point): by using his position as a stock broker to trade internationally in currencies and share manipulations. He’s looking forward to hosting Obama and other world leaders in a nice round of golf here in NZ, and his supporters are thrilling to the status this will bring the country — confirming his people as slobbering, salivating lickspittle pawns in the globalism game waiting for crumbs from the table.

* Environmentalism and Public Transport defeated: While billions of dollars continue to be spent annually on expanding the motorway networks of Auckland and Wellington — two very minor cities by world standards — a relatively cheaper plan for public transport languishes at barely embryonic stage, underfunded and years behind schedule. (No sooner are these “improvements” completed than the roads are filled up and gridlocked again.) The majority of NZ rivers being polluted beyond public use by agricultural runoff, farmers have been left to regulate themselves in the time-honoured fashion of laissez faire private enterprise — an approach two or so centuries out of date.

* Objections to government corruption defeated: Undisguised and unrepentant favoritism for her own husband’s export business in China resulted in just a stand-down period for a senior Cabinet Minister until after the election. Transparent obfuscation on her behalf by her government colleagues was a cause celebre in the media for a while, but have been effectively silenced for the duration. Token scalps of government members of Parliament using public funds for personal purposes have been just that — underwhelming.

* Sane judgment defeated: Reelected with a record majority is a stand-alone government that has taken six years (two terms) to balance the budget, taking the books, just, into the black — and so temporarily as an election trick of the light; that in the face of this, a week before the election, proposed tax cuts after; rejected a capital gains tax on the wealthy, which virtually every other country has; has an ongoing 20% child poverty rate with permanently hungry children in a primary-produce exporting country (the government having pointedly refused to enter a coalition against child poverty); has produced no plan to diversify exports in an era of rapidly dropping produce prices overseas; that presides over an unemployment rate as high as the United States. The proposed budget of spending put forward for the Labour Party, independently costed and steadfast under queries from the incumbent government and media commentators, was a nonissue and seemingly disregarded by the public at large — who went with no costings and baseless assurances from the government. Indeed, the prime minister received a tangible sympathy vote, one supporter saying that he’d had a “tough run” with the Pike River coal mine disaster (four years later the government still has punished none of the negligent management, let alone investigated the miners’ remains) and the Christchurch earthquake(s) — four years later still with tens of thousands of insurance disputes over destroyed homes unresolved.

Intestinal Fortitude failed: It’s difficult to imagine a situation where Kiwis get worked up about anything at all these days, apart from international rugby, netball, the America’s Cup and other bread-and-circuses distractions with a quick payoff in adrenaline and pheromones. The younger generation — and I’m talking about teens here, who used to be full of youthful support for their peers — are far more likely to fantasise about and cheer on the legend of Kiwi “heroes” of Gallipoli a century ago than spare a thought for their fellow kids who go to school hungry every day. Once upon a time, Kiwis set out on great crusades supporting each other through the Great Depression, through World War II when world civilisation itself was threatened; in the Seventies when the anti-nuclear cause burned hot and NZ took the lead. I would relate the public outlook today as much closer to the era of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, when poor people — at least demonstrating solidarity in unions — were vilified to the point of not finding the guts to stand up for themselves, and anyone who supported or even sympathised with them (through newspapers or providing food) was penalised. Or the late Eighties and Nineties, when politicians in this country across the board — Labour and National — strove to create a chasm between rich and poor, and have succeeded to this day.

PEOPLE POWER?

In economics, ideology, morality, philosophy, politics on September 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I suppose my first recollection of the phrase “People Power” was around 1986 when ingoing President Corazon Aquino quoted it in raising a groundswell of support promising to free the people of The Philippines from the dynasty of the Marcos family. It seemed like a good idea, and probably still is when carried out by idealists with a real sense of selflessness and self-empowerment and in the cause of the greater good — as it was also in most cases of “The Arab Spring” of a couple of years ago, beginning in Tunisia, taking in Lybia, failing in Syria and Yemen, and culminating in Egypt — where it appeared to have succeeded according to the people’s wishes; that is, before the army took over.

Aye, and there’s the rub, said the inspired Robbie Burns. Closer to this part of the world, in Fiji, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka took over its Parliament “at the point of a gun” in 1987. And things have never been the same since. Even the most superficial onlookers — tourists — were put off for a few years after repeated coups, setting the Islands’ economy back a millennium. The first general election here in eight years, begun a couple of days ago at the pleasure of the incumbent Generalissimo, Commodore Bainimarama, is poised at a 57 percent “pro” vote for him halfway through the count; the nearest challenging party on a little over half that. Of course, since he instituted physical coercion of political opponents by his army and police force at first opportunity, and under ongoing enforced censorship of the press, it is difficult to tell whether this result is a resounding endorsement of the Bainimarama regime or just symptomatic of a people who have had the spirit kicked out of them.

Ah! What combination do we deserve and/or will we get this time?

Ah! What combination do we deserve and/or will we get this time?

Some eighteen hours ago news came through that the referendum on Scottish independence, open to all current residents of Scotland aged 16 and above, had come down on the side of staying within the United Kingdom, the vote 55% to 45%. Leader of the Scottish nationalists, veteran politician Alex Salmond, has resigned but not before gaining almost the bulk of what he was seeking in the beginning: what should be important concessions from London made on the eve of the election to swing the vote in favor of the 307-year-old partnership, which until recent years had seen Scotland become increasingly the junior partner. Whether these promises will be kept, and/or on whose timetable now there’s no urgent need, remains to be seen. Apart from national pride — apparently never quite as strong as that of Ireland, which won a hard-fought freedom from London a century ago — from this distance it’s difficult to say whether Scotland has more than the legitimate economic gripe that also pertains to the English North, the Midlands and the West Country: in fact anywhere that the 50 million majority of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is effectively outvoted by the 12 million of Swinging Greater London, which retains more loyalty to its status as a world stock market capital and centre of big business — like, hypothetically, the foreign policy of Mexico or Canada being ruled from Wall Street, New York City.

A little over an hour ago the polling booths opened all over New Zealand for its three-yearly general election. There is so little faith in politicians here that three years is deemed to be the ideal term of government: one year getting settled in (including allowing two months or so for negotiations with minor parties in accordance with the MMP proportional system), one year to undo the “worst” of what the previous government did and rush through its own legislative program with dead-of-night rubber-stamp votes in the unicameral Parliament, and one year effectively campaigning for the next election with tax bribes or other major tweaks that seem expedient. The hope for most people is that they will at least have a show of ousting them in relatively short order before they can do irretrievable damage: probably a forlorn hope given the way the country has gone in all-out capitalism without a working safety net over the past thirty years. The ruling conservative National Party is odds on to win a third consecutive term on the trot, leading with 45-47% in opinion polls and apparently only needing one minor party to side with it to rule again.

Seriously, should inability to recognise your own best economic interests in a simple face-to-face quiz be a disqualifier to voting, like intellectual incapacity or insanity in court? I personally know poor, poor people who are intent on voting conservative, as if the status quo hasn’t screwed them enough. Admittedly, they are in the mental health system and vote counter-intuitively — to put it politely — but that doesn’t account for the other close-to-two-million votes the right wing is set to receive. As one wise person said, “Democracy is a form of government where the people vote for want they want and the politicians give it to them good and hard.”

The Labour Party, in proposing instant action on the 285,000 NZ kids existing under the poverty line (a 20 percent rate nationally), an immediate hike in the minimum wage of two dollars per hour, concrete moves to lower the increasingly out-of-reach average price of new houses by some $100,000 to just under $400,000, introducing a moderate capital gains tax affecting rich people (no more than virtually every other country has) and a small lift in the highest income tax rate to 36% on any earnings over $150,000 p.a. — obviously also on the wealthiest earners — has apparently shrivelled the scrotes of a great many people you wouldn’t expect: maybe in moronic positive-thinking mode that “Anything Oprah can do I can do too.” Traditionally the left-wing alternative, the Labour Party has amassed an unimpressive 24-26% support according to the latest surveys, and will need at least two (and probably more) minor parties to side with it to even approach the required half of the electorate.

Labour’s only guaranteed allies are the Green Party (on 11-14% support), proposing up to a 40% tax maximum, and the Internet-Mana Party (steady on 2%), a queer mix of a poverty-driven Maori initiative funded by international copyright crim Kim Dotcom, wanted by the FBI and Interpol. The third most popular party, NZ First, invented some twenty years ago and still led by Scottish-Maori compassionate conservative Winston Peters (named after you-know-who), has 6-8%, and is, on principle, a wild card, always refusing to say who he will support until one-man-band Winston sees his main chance after the election. The new Conservative Party — speaking for the Tea Party fundamentalist christian element in ths country — out of the blue is now on a surveyed 4.9% (just that smidgeon below the 5% threshold that will qualify it for 6-7 members of Parliament), could conceivably be in a decision-making role after the election, maybe wrecking the country once and for all. Look for binding referendums on everything from smacking of kids — currently against the law but allowed by the police — to creative evolution. Compulsory smacking by parents — under pain of having kids otherwise removed by smacking social agencies — hasn’t been ruled in or out of policy.

In the end, all might depend on the weather — left wing supporters here being notoriously fragile on such things as rainy trips in the car to polling booths all of a few hundred yards away, with nothing between you and the threat of raindrops but a layer of cast iron. They can look mighty scary beating on the windshield — and then there’s the possibility of wind itself that I haven’t mentioned. To mitigate this comfort factor for this election a three-week lead-in period has been introduced, taking special votes at one’s convenience. Some 770,000 early votes were cast, so almost another two million voters (of 3,096,000 registered) will have to turn up today to make a high turnout of over 80% altogether — a tall order. With the weather forecast crummy today for most parts of the country for most of the time, things don’t look good — the truism being that only an abnormally big turnout swings against the status quo.

A friend of mine who is acting as a Labour Party volunteer today has been instructed to knock on random front doors and simply remind people to vote, however — the hope apparently being that most of those ruled by inertia will tend towards social equality, in rudimentary impulse if not in action. I guess there’s always hope. But when I was a canvasser for the left-wing Alliance twenty years ago, we had written lists of actual supporters and their addresses so we could arrange to have them transported to polling booths and vote in a good cause. Strange how times change. I have noticed elsewhere too this tendency from officialdom to encouarge random voting as if it’s a good thing to simply plunk one’s vote in a box and the extent of what can be expected from most people.

I’m afraid the overwhelming probability of my well-informed vote being cancelled out by someone in the booth next to me who has given it just a passing thought or no thought at all leaves me cold — if this is what the World Wars have come down to in winning and exercising the highest principles in a perfunctory democratic process.

Roll on 7pm, now just eight hours away. Stand by for a post script sometime in the next day or two.

SOAK THE RICH: BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS

In history, ideology, morality on August 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm

There follows a sequence of nonrandom musings and ramblings, added in time, which eventually might come together to form a point in the end, or at least pose a few questions.

Not so long ago people seemed to run the world and corporations bent over backwards to serve us — or at least made a point of seeming so. This was in living memory for some of us, and I’m in my fifties. I’ve just watched a documentary about the founding of the massive Selfridge’s department store in London in March 1909 — apparently the first high-toned “shopping cathedral” where idle people were not moved on by bouncers but actively encouraged to “browse”. In New Zealand through these years of the early 20th Century before much government welfare had been introduced, the biggest employers in the country had their own health, welfare and old-age schemes for employees and their families. In the US, Independent senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has just released details of a telling comparison between corporate responsibility in the good old days and irresponsibility in the rotten new days. In 1952, the last year of the Truman Democrats before the Eisenhower-Nixon administration took over, corporations paid 33% of the US tax bill; now, in an era of record corporate profits, 9%. Hearing of the depravities of Walmarts and their many, many cohorts around the world these days, inflicted on their employees it’s hard to believe we’re in the same universe. Maybe we’re not — dropped through some wormhole.

Next month, on September 20th 2014, comes the general election in New Zealand. This morning on a current affairs program the spokesmen of the Labour and Green parties were interviewed — two parties promised to ally to form a “left wing” government. In NZ the Greens are said by the media to be Far Left, and the Labour Party — no longer recognisably to the right of centre as they have been for most of the past 30 years — are said to be way to the left also. The main right wing, and ruling party, National, has up to now sided with the far-right libertarians called Act, yet the combination of the two of them have somehow produced what has always been called a centre-right government.

In the good old days things were so much simpler. Even the master of spin, Goebbels, was easy to see through if you didn’t have blinders on. Sometime between the two World Wars, income tax in that bastion of Free Enterprise, the United States, multiplied out of sight from virtually none in the 1920s to massive during the Roosevelt era when resources were poured into civil works, but even long afterwards. Through the Great Depression and World War II and beyond there was a general realisation by people that there was a great deal of luck involved in who got rich and who didn’t. In a concession to humility, the lucky who received money mostly saw it as their duty to spread it around and include people in their “good fortune”. In 1959, after seven years of Republican rule under Eisenhower, the tv and rock’n’roll star Ricky Nelson was questioned about his income, heading up towards half a million annually, and was matter-of-fact about it and the tax rate he was paying. He paid 78% tax on the first $150,000 every year, and 93% on everything over that. Britain, also still investing in its people and infrastructure in recovery from the war, was even in 1965 charging the Beatles a tax rate of 95% — and American promoters were paying them fortunes of millions of dollars in cash under the counter on every concert tour. (By the time the canny Rolling Stones reached the 1980s, with the celebrated financial acumen of Mick Jagger, without shame they had spread their tax “burden” across five different countries and ended up paying a total of less than 3% tax — just one pointer to how the world has changed.)

These days it seems to be enough for rich people to take one of two attitudes: either, like Oprah, tell everyone “Follow your passion and your inner child, think positive — If I’ve done it everyone can do it”; or to take the diva route with “Thank God I have this much talent (and God must know what he’s doing to have given it all to me. It would be questioning Him to say I don’t deserve it).” Those billionaires can be counted on one hand who have come out publicly worldwide to admit they haven’t done anything approaching deserving of their riches and they’re where they are based on vagaries of the world economy. In the Wall Street Crash of 1929 rich people went bust overnight and threw themselves out of high windows when they realised suddenly they were not God’s chosen ones,but just His moral guinea pigs. Rich people these days don’t seem to have got the same message after the so-called disaster of the 2008 share market downturn — because bailed out by the heavy taxpayers of the middle class.

The lower-income tax payers of New Zealand too, in just one instance, bailed out $1.8 billion worth of bad loans (the equivalent of more than $150 billion in the US economy) issued by a capialist mate of the government. Yet, this morning on the interview show the big question, according to the interviewer, was how the Labour Party could possibly reconcile its tax policy after the election with that of the Greens. Labour would charge an increased top tax rate of 36% on top earners on over $150,000 — whereas the Greens wanted a 40% top tax rate over roughly the same amount ($140,000). The Labour Party spokesman refused to be drawn, knowing that these days even the mention of 40% will produce a kneejerk reaction in most people these days and send them screaming from the room in horror. WHY? Why on earth is it taboo to tax rich people?

LITTLE DO WE KNOW…

In civics, economics, ideology, politics on August 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

I’m going to assume we are all adults here in this forum (as I grandly call it, though this post might only reach two readers over the next week) and there is a free flow of ideas to and fro — to whoever is at the other end of this conversation. You are now entering The Twilight Zone… Please just humor me while I allow my paranoia to run free a little while. It’s called brainstorming, or panic stations. Certain socio-political events and utterances impacting on New Zealand across the Pacific from North America and East Asia over recent years and days have prompted the following thoughts.

WHAT IF…

* Beyond hearing and surveillance of all satellites and electronic bugs, heads of much bigger countries have been discussing, even weighing up, how many medium to tiny nations and which ones “we have on our side, so how many do you count in your sphere of influence?” to carry any vote in the United Nations?

* Discarding civilized pleasantries about the UN and choosing up sides in the playground for the egg-and-spoon race, there used to be something in the era of the Cold War called “Realpolitik”, which meant “Let’s cut all the bullshit about nations’ sovereign rights and get down to the nitty-gritty about how big your balls are and how many intercontinental ballistic missiles you’ve got.”

* This is exactly the kind of thing North Korea has got itself into in recent years when they kidnap foreign civilians, attack and kill enemies by the hundreds with impunity as if to provoke something rather precipitous, that might have no end… To stretch a point for the sake of speculative argument, might they be doing this at the behest of, or to curry favor with, their one and only ally, a much larger military and economic power not very far away? In its game of brinksmanship this country has several times crossed over that line, what formerly would have been considered the brink beyond no return.

* A couple of years ago when the Australia and New Zealand governments threatened to get more assertive with the Japanese whaling fleet plying its sickening trade in the Great Southern Ocean, the Japanese government countered that it could send a few minor elements of its naval “defence force” down to these parts and all thoughts of grand gestures on behalf of wildlife disappeared from minds overnight in this part of the world, and Greenpeace and other independent thinkers suddenly became the enemy to be clamped down on by South Pacific governments.

* Come to that, what could New Zealand (even partnered with Australia and Singapore) really do to defend itself against big powers unless it was closely and unquestioningly aligned with the biggest power of all?

Joe the Fonterra Man driving his milk tanker: Little does he know he's a pawn in a much larger game

Joe the Fonterra Man driving his milk tanker: Little does he know he’s a pawn in a much larger game

* The head spokesperson of China has been in the media speaking rather bluntly to John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that this country’s image after the “Fonterra Incident” is not so much a “clean, green” one as “a festering sore”. In the old days them would’ve bin fahtin’ wards, especially coming from what is essentially a military dictatorship that treats three quarters of its population as a peasant labor resource and is seemingly dedicated to ridding the world of its last few remaining nonhuman threatened species. But in these times when NZ is merely a vassal state of the USA we can be used (and threatened) as a pawn. I just hope they find bigger fish to fry.

* And that, in turn, would explain why such secret subliminal messages, if not explicit and implicit ones, coming to the ears of New Zealand’s impotent leaders from huge foreign powers, have got John Key and the rest of the NZ government in such a tizz, gung ho for the GCIS Bill and any other surveillance legislation it can lay its hands on in a hurry. “Paranoia strikes deep,” as that Buffalo Springfield song from the psychedelic era said.

A few years ago I devised the outline of a novel about such powerplays across the Pacific and the vulnerability of such a remote country as New Zealand, even created a few characters and sample passages. But it ended up reading like a comedy, like the movie The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1965). Please tell me this is just a fanciful scenario, much closer to a novel or a comedy than for real.

Don’t be shy about leaving your thoughts in the Comments…

Long Live Prince George!

In morality, politics on July 27, 2013 at 7:51 am

After all, he’s entitled to live as long as anyone else, with the same chances in life — no more and no less.

I’ve just glimpsed the latest feature article in Wikipedia, that happens to be on Basava, a poet born into the privileged Brahmin caste in India in the 12th Century. He advocated the end of the caste system and wrote that all people should have equality of opportunity. What a novel idea! So out of left field that more than 800 years later seemingly the entire English-speaking world is enthralled, enraptured by the 37,893rd coming of a potential future English monarch — especially we ecstatic citizens of a happy band of so-called nations who still cling to the Queen of England as our Head of State.

I hope the best for him, but I wonder if he will have the guts of a Basava, looking down from on high to declare he, in essence and reality, is no better than anyone else — and renounce his semi-divine position. Somehow, I doubt it.

Prince George or not? -- Not even his mother can tell at this stage.

Prince George or not? — Not even his mother can tell at this stage.

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.

TV REVIEW — CELEBRITY COOKS: EGOS BEYOND ENDURING

In celebrity, morality, television on December 31, 2011 at 7:12 am

Since the invention of so-called “reality tv” — talk about The Big Lie — there have been thousands upon thousands of viewing hours under this category on screen that must be admitted are a total waste and actually destructive of the chance to do something useful for an hour. Who ever decided watching someone cook, never mind eat, is entertainment? (Here in New Zealand there are wall-to-wall cooking/dining series on almost every channel, through peak viewing hours and elsewhere.) Cooking shows didn’t start this way. They started in an attempt to make common and desirable dishes more palatable — not, as they revel in today, to explore every square inch of the globe, land and sea, earnestly attempting to turn increasingly rare species into food.

<p>Here in New Zealand there was one local celebrity chef in the early years of television, name of Graham Kerr (1962-66), who later found fame in the States as The Galloping Gourmet — after being unceremoniously dumped from the NZBC for being too fancy. He was replaced by a self-proclaimed cook, who carried on solo for many more years. One half hour a week seemed like plenty to devote to brightening up our home menus a little — Our priorities were focused elsewhere on important things. I’m sure Alison Holst’s, the humble cook’s, heart was in the right place, without ever once attempting to turn the testicles of the Yellow Finned Thailand Octopus into a delicacy the wealthiest among us can’t do without. In the end, eating is something we lucky ones do every day, simply to keep us alive. Anything more is a bonus. And the more superfluous lengths we go to in cookery the more rapacious we humans become — way out on our own as the only species intent on destroying our own and others’ environments, and at an accelerating rate despite all the p.c. hype about conservation. One yearns for someone to finally stand up and shout at the top of their lungs: “IT’S ONLY FOOD — IT GOES IN ONE END AND COMES OUT THE OTHER! IT’S SHIT IN INTERMEDIATE FORM!

<p>Yes, it’s nice if it tastes good, all the better if it’s nutritious and sustains us another day, but who the hell inflated searing animal flesh, garnishing it with aromatic additives to disguise its flavor, and arranging other bits and pieces around a plate into a high art? The program I avoided this evening starred Gordon Ramsay. He is just one of several British cooks on television here in New Zealand who cannot look at an animal without licking his lips and imagining what it would smell and taste like swimming in gravy and infused with an array of spices. To my mind this says it all about how limited they are as people.

Ramsay is travelling around by train to every corner of India to find out its real cuisine. Among the highlights, he is presented with a snake whose heart is still beating to eat. Now you know why I didn’t watch — However it turns out, it’s beyond disgusting to use such a thing as an attraction, no matter how authentic or otherwise it is as a cultural artefact. Don’t get me started on the God-given-rights-in-perpetuity of Japanese and Icelanders to eat whales to their little hearts’ content…

A_Cannibal_Feast_in_Fiji,_1869_(1898)<p>Gordon prides himself on going to the ends of the earth to find authentic dishes. I once witnessed him risking life and limb climbing down a remote cliff face in the Mediterranean to collect the eggs of a rare bird — Yum, yum — irresistible — into the pot is what they’re best for, eh? In the TV Guide article on his latest series he claims that, unlike other chefs he is famous on the back of his work, not the other way round. Come now, Gordon — You seriously believe you’re watched because you can cook something a little better than others, when we can’t taste it, even smell it from where we’re sitting? Please, just cut the celebrity self-delusion.

NEWSFLASH: [PHOTO] “The Shoe on the Other Foot” — Gordon and his crew caught by cannibals on their latest expedition for rare species to endanger.

How the Rich Get Richer

In civics, economics, ideology, sociology on May 23, 2008 at 11:30 pm

anna_nicole_weight300Just a short note — a few observations — because I notice my philosophical meanderings attract a lot fewer readers than postings that might mention Anna Nicole Smith’s boob size (it’s three handfuls, each, by the way — if you’re tuning in to this posting on that basis).

My observations will be based on my New Zealand experience but I have no doubt the same principles apply in the USA and most other countries — just on a much grander scale of larceny. The government’s budget here, just announced — and by a so-called “Labour” government — has just handed out its first TAX CUT, which seem to be all the rage. The average salary will be boosted by $16 a week — just enough for a 1kg block of cheese — for which this government has put the country into hock for $10.6 billion over the next three years (this country only has a population around about Arkansas’s). This is a criminal burden on this country’s services, which will have to be cut back everywhere in every sphere, when they are barely coping now. I know Bush’s tax cuts were deliberately aimed at the rich, but even using the conventional PERCENTAGE cut (or pay raise) the rich benefit far more, obviously. For example, the prime minister here is on $320,000 a year. If she gets a 5 percent increase she’s boosted by a cool $16,000. If someone on $20,000 gets a 5 percent increase they get a not so cool $1,000 a year. This is nothing more than keeping the rich in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed — dressed up as “fairness”. What is wrong with giving everyone the same dollar increase, so the rich don’t hog the gravy for themselves every time?

And this tax cut is being given in the face of galloping inflation — gasoline here is around $9 a gallon, cheese in a dairying country $15 a kilo (about $7 a pound) and milk almost $2 a quart. The health system and hospitals are government run and barely getting by — already slipped to at least 2nd World quality — and obviously any money taken from these in the form of tax cuts affects the poor hugely, unlike the rich who can afford private health care.

dollarloveCorporate salaries here are not what they are in the US — the top CEO (at Telecom) gets about $3 million a year in salary and bonuses. The thing is they get their bonuses, and huge severance bonus even if they’ve done a shitty job — like the CEO who departed last year with about a $2 million golden handshake.

But you listen to any economic commentators and they’re all saying “This is an extremely important position” — It has to be, by definition: they’re paid so much. Well this extremely important position was occupied by precisely NOBODY for eight months until the new CEO was “headhunted” — Is this amputation why they do such a rotten job running things? Any reasonable person would conclude that a company that runs ordinarily well for eight months without someone could do without that position being filled forever. But not the corporate world. They need an obscenely-highly paid figurehead position to aspire to — where they can name their own price, rubber-stamped by the board of directors, who are also invariably wealthy people maintaining their own fiefdoms.

In this country all these CEO and board positions are interchangeable — no experience necessary in the field, so that a person can be shoulder-tapped to sit on umpteen boards and a CEO go from heading a Telecom business to an airline business: It’s all the same to them.

This has been G. A. De Forest.

MEDICAL REVIEW — THE THERAPEUTIC EFFECT OF ARTISTIC ACTIVITY FOR PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVORS

In anthropology, art, literature, music, politics, psychology/psychiatry on March 21, 2008 at 2:41 am

By G. A. De Forest, presented 4th October 2007 at the ‘Planting the Seeds’ Conference, Wellington, New Zealand

Artistic endeavours are one of the few ways people enmeshed (and often emotionally entombed) in the mental health system feel free to express themselves on their own terms. That is, if the artistic effort is not closely monitored by an NGO [‘non-governmental organization’, in the form of a charirable trust, incorporated society or business that is deemed to be providing services for mental health ‘consumers’]. There are cases of NGOs appropriating the work of ‘their’ artists for promotional or other purposes without asking permission of the artist or even attributing the work to the artist. An attitude of such disrespect would not be tolerated towards artists in the commercial world outside the mental health system, where an artist’s intellectual property is definitely his or her own—created by the artist and owned by the artist, morally and legally.

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

The aloneness of the dedicated artist, especially an eccentric one, is emphasized in a society where the Pacific priorities of family and wider social hierarchy are highlighted and conformity and ‘team play’ are foremost. The lumping together of culture and heritage in the same government ministry has cemented tradition as a prime societal objective, when the genuine artist might have as his goal to change culture and damn heritage. Overtones everywhere of cultural-political correctness and the economic importance of the tourist trade make it plain that to be exhibited in Te Mana, our national showcase to the world, is to make it big in New Zealand’s contemporary art world.

Too frequently clients are fed a diet of conformity by providers in the guise of helping. A wounded psyche, already disinclined to complain for fear of some backlash from the system, is encouraged to ‘think positively’. Genuine and deeply held opinions may be brushed aside as symptoms of the person’s condition by staff—who may lack a great deal less insight about life, about the possibilities and potential of the mind, and about simple person-to-person ethics.

This problem has unfortunately not been eliminated by including more and more ‘highly functioning’ former clients among staff, who are often picked for well developed logical functioning and who perform administrative tasks competently and efficiently but might understand little of the artistic process. Moreover, for fear of being seen as ‘a little loopy’ themselves by health authorities, many tend to err on the side of conservatism. The phenomenon of the professionally distanced client advisor or peer supporter is a recognized problem. Just as there are cases of ‘supporting’ NGOs exploiting their artistic clients, so there is no shortage of former clients, now staff, who censor their own kind for fear of being thought of as a collaborationist in nonconformity. It can be seen, then, that artistically inclined clients are stuck in an environment where opinions and emotions unpopular in society at large might be better expressed through fictional works, visual imagery and music.

I have learnt from experience as a writer that an article telling the unvarnished truth—with first-hand facts and statistics to back it up—should probably not be circulated within the so-called ‘The Consumer Movement’ (which actually shows very little if any movement). The result can very easily be vilification, even victimisation. A ‘nonfiction’ writer wanting to be heard by other mental health clients should go into satire, where the names and specific situations are changed to protect the guilty; or preferably fantasy, where the creative spirit is allowed free rein and there is no real risk of a backlash rebounding on a sensitive individual with the anguish that can cause.

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

The therapeutic effects of a healthy fantasy life have long been recognised as far back as Freud and beyond. These fantasies, however frowned upon in polite conversation, are of course essential to the human condition. Most are safely tucked away in dreams, even daydreaming. It is the dedicated artist’s job to bring them up from the unconscious and expose them to daylight, where in art form they are allowed to be openly appreciated—though no matter how skilful and insightful, even inspirational, still the artist might be the butt of disparaging remarks from those who have no insight into their own human condition.

It is no wonder that music in whatever form is the most universal of all pastimes—either performing or listening. Its rhythms were first engendered in the womb from our mother’s heartbeat, and after birth our mother’s tone of voice—hopefully singsong baby talk—assures us that all is right with the world. A baby learns to sing—wordless tunes in pure music—long before it learns to talk. In times of stress through teenagerhood and full adulthood what better resource to turn to when the world around us seems to be spiralling into chaos? It is no wonder, either, that many of the most ground-breaking musicians and other artists have been victims of mental disturbances—and found that artistic activity was their one reliable outlet and friend in times of real crisis.

Too often thrown back on their own inner resources, the artistic client must maximize both the quantity and quality of his creative time. For visual artists and writers this will inevitably mean more solitary time—which could create problems of its own if taken to extremes. For performance artists it means more time socialising in their most rewarding activity, generating much-needed feelings of wellbeing. For all, the time spent engaged in their chosen field will usually bring a feeling of satisfaction, often at least moderate pleasure and sometimes elation, even ecstacy. Hence the well-known catchall term for the creative process: The Agony and the Ecstacy.

It is a paradox that onset of serious mental symptoms leaves a person less inclined to perform music, while driving oneself to vocalise or play his or her instrument could very well act to somewhat relieve a depressive mood. It is in this way that structured daily sessions provided in various arts and crafts by NGOs alleviates the need for a high level of motivation on the part of the participant. Once in the class the creative instinct takes over and the therapeutic value gained will be related to how much is put in.

The generally high and in some instances exceptional standard of art works seen regularly at exhibitions sponsored by Auckland NGOs can be matched by those who choose to remain totally independent of umbrella organisations or attend ‘brushing-up’ classes to hone their skills and share fellowship with other artists. The proportion of visually creative people (and other artists) making up mental health clients as a whole must surely exceed that of the general population. Many completed art school as young people only to suffer a serious breakdown interrupting their career. The slow and often painful return to art brings their life back on course to where it should have been, and the return of competence in their chosen field boosts confidence greatly.

The emergence of worthy singer-songwriters from the ranks of mental health clients, some gaining national attention and acclaim, has been perhaps the most impressive success in the arts. Among those less musically gifted, informal vocal and instrumental groups allow essential expression of primal emotions. It is obvious, from observing the dynamics of an informal musical group coordinated by myself, that simply expressing oneself musically is a freeing experience, enabling a quantum leap into a deeper mental and spiritual personal state than, say, polite conversation, even among friends. Someone who has been almost totally silent during a social gathering for two hours immediately previous, will burst forth with torrents of forceful communication. It is a painful paradox then, at least for performance artists, that they feel least like singing or playing when they are going through a bad patch. It is then that friends and supporters should guide them back into their art to reintroduce and sustain a habit of self-therapy.

For the visual artist, it can easily be imagined that the first stroke of paint on canvas brings forth creative possibilities. There is a fast rush of creation stimulated by the activity itself. On the second and third strokes more ideas suggest themselves and on the fourth and fifth maybe already a pattern is emerging. A direction steadily coelesces into a theme, or the work is finally abandoned. But either way the stimulation of higher mental processes has brought many hours of hopefully undistracted, undiluted spiritual pleasure for the artist. Any wider appreciation by friends, supporters, recognition by the mental health community, even general public, are bonuses which can boost general confidence but does not match the ultimate high: the very act of creation.

It has been said that the future of the world depends on its most creative, free-thinking individuals; certainly not those living by ‘the rules’ and striving for consensus. If this is true—and I believe it is, it is a shame that more research has not been done into the higher workings of the mind.

BEING AMERICAN: Letterman — “That’s why the world hates us!”

In ideology, politics, television on December 24, 2007 at 2:16 am

A few weeks before the current television writers’ strike I was watching ‘The Late Show’. David Letterman was presenting his own version of the new tv series ‘America Has Talent’. The first guy he brought on displayed his own spectacular talent — kicking himself in the head thirty times within thirty seconds. He completed the task well within the time limit and with all the aplomb that could be expected of this form of entertainment. Letterman congratulated the man but then after he left said, “That is why the world hates us.” The second guy he brought on had a similarly unique talent that he must have spent hours and hours ‘perfecting’. As the drummer from the CBS band played a suspense-heightening roll on his snare, the young man fired a dart from a blowgun to trip a catapult propelling a marshmallow back in his direction, catching it in his mouth. Such an exacting manoeuvre took three tries before he got it right, first missing the catapult, then failing to catch the marshmallow, but finally completing it to the satisfaction of Letterman and the audience. Letterman remarked, “No, I’m sorry. That is why the world hates us.” The third man seemed to impress even Letterman — by drinking a glass of beer through his nose, sucking it up sip by delicious sip and then down his throat. Though some in the audience were audibly disgusted, Letterman praised this technique for its practical use: enabling you to smoke literally at the same time as enjoying a leisurely drink at the bar. But in another sense, according to Letterman, this feat trumped the others: “I have to apologize to the other two gentlemen: This is why the world hates us.”

From this superficially hilarious satire the obvious implication by Letterman is that Americans are for the most part absorbed in such trivialities: maybe the adult equivalent of playing with your peepee. And he could have added baseball, a national pastime raised to a spiritual observance but a competition largely irrelevant since cheating has been allowed to run rife for the past decade and a half; (American) football, a gladiatorial sport, the physical qualifications for which allow a tiny fraction of one percent of males to ascend to a similar pedestal in society, its attendant violence calling for layers of padding in a sometimes forlorn attempt to escape death; basketball, involving probably even more exacting physical disqualifiers for the general population, and believed to be a meaningful career for abnormally tall young men; and ice hockey, for which the childhood pastime of skating is ‘elevated’ by the additive of unprovoked aggression and other gang behavior to a religious experience observed for several months either side of the winter solstice. Americans are absorbed in these distractions every bit as much as Roman citizens were in gladiatorial circuses, orgies and freak shows through the decline of their empire.

This is not to say that New Zealanders and other nationalities don’t have their own crippling choice of tunnel vision in whiling away their days. They do. But, America being all-powerful and easily the dominant cultural influence around the world, living here in New Zealand as I have since 1960 I am frequently called on in casual conversation to defend the priorities of my original homeland, the United States. This used to be simple, I thought. I was only fourteen when the Sixties ended and America had always been the Good Guy as far as I knew, despite how some Vietnam War protesters had it. From the time I started university at seventeen and under the influence of my elder sisters I became a liberal (and, of course, a feminist), by my mid-twenties highly sceptical of how America functioned as a political unit in the world — diverging so far from the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

Under virtually continuous Republican administrations during my adult life — increasingly right-wing ones — it has been easy for scepticism to settle into deep disillusionment. The Clinton administration seemed in comparison an oasis of enlightenment in foreign relations, claiming to actually care about what the rest of the world wanted. Whether this was largely PR I’m not sure, but when the president visited New Zealand he was greeted like the second coming of Mahatma Gandhi: with almost the same moral authority, a comparable charisma quotient, and a lot handsomer to boot. Since then New Zealand has been downgraded from an ally to a ‘friend’ of the United States, mainly because not following Bush automatically into Iraq as Australia did under its conservative leader John Howard, recently voted out in a landslide.

Of course, a lot depends on whether you argue on a moral or on a historical basis:

“Yes, it was illegal, even immoral, for the United States to launch an unprovoked invasion against Iraq and remain as an occupying power — as it did against Hawaii, the Philippines, tried to do against North Vietnam. But, historically, look at the Roman Empire. Examined objectively, given America’s investment in naked power and as the one superpower in the world it has to be ruthless to maintain its power, or otherwise go backwards, relatively speaking”

… and this broad, philosophical argument trails off into intellectual abstractions and rationalisations. Standing back, it is seen this perspective is not objective at all but obtuse self-justification. I get the feeling a lot of Americans wouldn’t be content to think of their country as a historical parallel of the Roman Empire, despite the two societies’ many similarities in lifestyle, political priorities and reliance on military might to get their way.

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