Sunday, 30 March 2008

Mobile phones WILL kill us

According to a top neurosurgeon, as reported in The Independent (1).

Most jaw-dropping statement in the article:
It draws on growing evidence ... that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long. (2)
Surely, someone had thought about this before? It's so obvious I had to read it twice to make sure I had got it right the first time. Previous safety assurances neglected to account for the fact that it takes a while for cancer to develop.

Omitting something that obvious can't - surely - be accidental. Because if studies of safety routinely miss REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF like that, then how can we trust any of them? Like the assurances given about Prozac, GE crops, nuclear power, and everything else that might have devastating effects on our health, but has the potential to make someone else very rich.

But if it isn't accidental, it is just as bad, for then the assurances are obviously corrupt and unreliable. So we're screwed either way. Funny, that.

(n.b. It should be pointed out that the study advancing this claim has not gone though a peer review process at this stage. It is, however, being prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed journal).
1 - 'Mobile phones 'more dangerous than smoking',' by Geoffry Lean in The Independent, 30th of March 2008. (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-wellbeing/health-news/mobile-phones-more-dangerous-than-smoking-802602.html)

What do Chris Trotter and John Key have in common?

The answer is that neither will look back on March 2008 and say, with understandable pride, "Yes, I was on top of my game then. I was never better, more astute, or more profoundly in touch with what was going on around me." Both made themselves look foolish this past month, and damaged their credentials as, respectively, an intelligent and honest leftwing columnist, and an intelligent and honest rightwing politician and leader-in-waiting.

Trotter first. Pompous Chris has been in ebullient form, spewing out columns exhorting the Labour Party to dump Helen Clark and embrace Phil Goff (here and here (1)). In doing so, he threw caution to the wind, as well as sense and good english. Labour and Clark's small bump in recent opinion polls (here (2) and here (3)), while National suffered a minor reversal, should give the moustachioed one something to think about, if anything is capable of penetrating the almost-tangible miasma of self-importance that hangs about him.

Slippery John has also made himself look silly, with several gaffes (2). These have ranged fromt he trivial to the marginally important but, taken together, have left him looking a deal less competent and self-possessed than before. The voters, it seems, are starting to see what us cynical lefties have assumed from the start - Key's a slickly packaged lightweight, with poor grasp of policy detail. While National still look comfortable, with just a whisker under 50% of the vote, the dip from the giddy hieghts of mid-fifties, coupled with Labour's bump up to near 40%, suggests that National's lead is very, very soft indeed.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/pompous-chris-seeking-sucessional.html and http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/03/trotter-struts-frets.html.
2 - Colmar Brunton opinion polls for 2008 (http://www.colmarbrunton.co.nz/index.php?pageLoad=44).
3 - 'Labour's revival slashes poll gap,' by Audrey Young in The New Zealand Herald, 29th of March, 2008. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10500861)
4 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/03/sporting-national-make-match-of-it.html.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Fiji defends Chinese crackdown

Fiji, long regarded as a sort of Sweden in the pacific, for its domestic harmony, respect for democracy and the rule of law, has given its seal of approval (1) to the justified and righteous efforts of the benevolent government of China to maintain order in the Absolutely and Unalienably Chinese territory of Tibet. The Chinese government - itself a model of respect for human rights and blessed with a form of democracy that even the Swiss can only dream of emulating - has been under attack for some time by groups of guerrilla monks, armed with orange robes and highly dangerous chanting. The response by the Chinese authorities has been a masterclass in dignity, restrain and reason.

The fact that Fiji has just received a loan (2) of $F170 million is, of course, immaterial. After all, no one could suggest that a man as profoundly democratic and judicious as Commodore Frank Bainimarama - shortly to appoint himself King of Scotland and award himself the V.C. (3) (Rumours that he was behind the liberation of medals from colonial opression at Waioru can not be confirmed) - would be swayed by something as worldly as mammon. Between reading Schopenhauer and Locke, with a dash of Franz Fanon thrown in to liven things up, Mr Bainimarama dispenses his august wisdom with an unconcern for such worldly things as laws, democracy, freedom of the press or association, habeas corpus and the like; one can safely assume then, than something as dirty and commonplace as mere money would have no influence of this paragon of virtue.

The Pacific is blessed with not one, but two such leaders, however. The people of New Zealand need not gaze enviously in the direction of Fiji. There own leader, Helen Clark, has demonstrated qualities (4) almost as wondrous as those of Mr Bainimarama (Rumours that the Chinese are seeking to install him as the real and official - perhaps even Absolute and Inalienable - Dalai Lama, once the current terrrorist incumbent (5) has been dealt with (judciously, humanely and reasonably, of course - as one would expect of the wise and gracious government of China) can not be confirmed at this time). It is entirely possible that a less judicious person would have been swayed by the imminent signing of a world first free trade deal with the just and humane regime in Beijing, that enjoys a level of popularity not seen since the hGolden Age of Democracy in the middle east under Sadat and Hussein (6).

How lucky we are to have a leader whose eyes never waver from the distant desired goal, who is guiding New Zealand with purpose and unfaltering certainty, ever closer to the level of international respect and moral rectitude of countries such as Fiji!

1 - 'Fiji to China: We support crackdown,' unattributed Reuters article, 25th of March, 2008. reproduced on TVNZ
website: (
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/536641/1656068)
2 - ibid.
3 - 'Idi Amin Dada, VC, CBE .. RIP,' by Peter Baumont in The Observer, 17th of August, 2003. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/aug/17/peterbeaumont.theobserver)
4 - 'Pressure on PM over China,' unattributed One News article, 17th of March, 2008. Reproduced on TVNZ website: (http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/1642012)
5 - 'China accuses Dalai Lama of being a terrorist,' by Jane Macartney in The Times, 24th of March, 2008. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article3607668.ece)
6 - 'In Middle Eastern elections, no one bats an eyelid when the leader gets 110 per cent of the vote,' by Robert Fisk in The Independent, 30th of April, 2008. Reproduced on selvesandothersrs.org: (http://www.selvesandothers.org/article9488.html). The details are reproduced (word for word) from The Great War for Civilisation, page 1038 (!) of the paperback edition, published by 4th Estate in 2005. One can forgive Fisk for being a little bit lazy as the tome runs to almost 1300 pages. Without pictures.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Bitter pills for ACT

I suppose ACT can try and argue that it isn't their fault that a couple of girls got wrecked on party pills and dumped on the roadside (1) before ending up in hospital in critical condition, and it is of course just bad timing that hit happened the day the story about ACT on Campus doling out party pills to students during 'O week' (2) was all over the news. After all, silly young things are getting trashed on all sorts of substances every day of the week.

Just bad luck, really. But this 'bad luck' highlights how ACT on Campus's stupid and irresponsible stunt may have helped people get into a similar miserable condition. And, because it was stupid and irresponsible, ACT on Campus, and grow-up ACT, fully deserve any blowback from the coincidence.

It is even worse timing that this all happens at the same time as ACT announce cabinet ambitions for Roger Douglas (3). Maybe the unfortunate coincidence of ACT on Campus's attention-grab and the misfortune of the as yet unamed girls can serve as deeper parallel, however. It was, after all, the Douglasite reforms of the 1980s and 90s that lead to the surge of drugs use, crime, gambling and violence in New Zealand.

ACT want more of these reforms and -hey - ACT on Campus (a youth group that is seperate and distinct from ACT, but which supports ACT (4)) are pushing the drugs! Is that freemarket efficiency we hear so much about?

1 - 'Two girls dumped on North Shore roadside after drug overdose,' unattributed article on TV3 website, 21st of March, 2008. (http://www.tv3.co.nz/News/NationalNews/TwogirlsdumpedonNorthShoreroadsideafterdrugoverdose/tabid/423/articleID/50090/cat/65/Default.aspx)
2 - 'Act youth tempt with party pills,' unattributed article on TVNZ website, 20th of March, 2008. (
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411368/1649956)
3 - 'Pills overshadow Douglas promption,' unattributed article on TVNZ website, 20th of March, 2008. (
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/425825/1650515)
4 - I thank Mikee for bring this crucial distinction to my attention.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

They said it would be "Over by Christmas."

Okay, they didn't say that about the Iraq war, but the virtually did. The Independent marks the fifth anniversary of the invasion with a slew of good, angry articles from hevyweight commentators like Patrick Cockburn (1), Robert Fisk (2) and (from a few days ago) Raymond Whitaker and Steven Foley (3). Add to that an angry editorial (4) and - excellent stuff - more Cockburn (5).
1 - 'This is the war that started with lies, and continues with lie after lie after lie,' by Patrick Cocokburn in The Independent, 19th of March, 2008. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-this-is-the-war-that-started-with-lies-and-continues-with-lie-after-lie-after-lie-797788.html)
2 - 'The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn' by Robert Fisk in The Independent, 19th of March, 2008. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-the-only-lesson-we-ever-learn-is-that-we-never-learn-797816.html)
3 - 'Iraq: Who won the war?,' by Raymond Whitaker and Stephen Foley in The Independent, 16th of March, 2008. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-who-won-the-war-796612.html)
4 - 'Five years after the invasion, the totality of our failure is clear,' leading article in The Independent, 19th of March,
2008. (
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-five-years-after-the-invasion-the-totality-of-our-failure-is-clear-797759.html)
5 - 'A gross failure that ignored history and ended with a humiliating retreat' by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, 17th of March, 2008.(http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/partick-cockburn-a-gross-failure-that-ignored-history-and-ended-with-a-humiliating-retreat-796775.html)

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Eh, What? NuLabour's citizenshit proposals

Lord Goldsmith has unleashed his recommendations for improving citizenship in Britain (1). They include:
  • Establishing a new national public holiday,
  • Council tax discounts for volunteer work,
  • Changes to current categories of citizenship,
  • Language loans for new immigrants to learn English,
  • A type of community service to enhance "citizen education",
  • Special ceremonies for school-leavers. (2)

Look, its really easy to be cynical about these things. Government initiatives intended to increase 'cohesiveness' and 'community' are always limp-wristed, namby-pambly, silly and slightly embarrassing. ut criticism should be tempered with acknowledgement that there is a problem. Simply saying, "stuff that for a bunch of PC codswallop, I'm alrigh Jack," isn't a viable response.

That said, these proposals are terrible, ball-achingly bad. So I'm going to lay into them without any pretence of having better ideas to put forward.

Can you imagine what a new public holiday, lets call it Britannia Day, would be like? Can you envisage how horribly naff it would be? The whole idea just screams 'Millenium Dome.'

The problem with public displays of national chauvinism is that they always celebrate the wrong stuff. Britons are good at many things. Self-deprecation is one of them. But you can't celebrate self-deprecation. Anyway, it would only be an valid celebration of all things British if it could be held on when it guaranteed to rain, heavily. If it could be scheduled to coincide with a significant sporting defeat, even better. Then it might work. But the suggestion that it coincide with the queen's diamond jubilee provokes thoughts of Wat Tyler in me.

Council tax discounts for volunteer work sounds like a good idea, but as soon as you do that, it isn't volunteer work any more. Why work it through the convoluted tax system? Just send them a cheque as a reward for services rendered. Thoguh I suspect that the likes of the BNP and religious crackpots of all stripes will immediately define all their activities as volunteer work deserving of rebates. Only evil minded ass holes would put themselves forward for it. So another silly idea.

I have no idea what "changes to current categories of citizenship" means, but it sounds very sinister. It reminds me of the (deeply under-rated) film Starship Troopers, where human society was divided into 'civilians' and 'citizens' - the latter being the superior creatures who took it upon themselves to ensure the fascist regime ruling Earth was strengthened and replicated. So another bad idea.

Not looking to good, is it?

There's nothing wrong with "language loans for new immigrants to learn English," but the fact that its being proposed here shows what a shoddy, shambollic state the british immigration system is. This should have been addressed years ago. And the 'indigenous' population needs help with talking and writing as well.

As for community service to enhance "citizen education," this again sounds Orwellian. It suggests the 're-education' camps in the PRC, where political dissidents are forced to work as slaves for western multi-nationals, to teach them the error of their way (4).

And speaking as a teacher, I would shoot myself if I had to sit through "special ceremonies for school-leavers." Seriously. And I thought the emphasise was on keeping kids in education, not tempting them to leave with the promise of a Certificate of Adulthood and a '$5 off' voucher for the local brothel.

So a big thumbs down for Goldsmith's idiotic proposals. WHich isn't to say that there isn't a problem. But I think the sreal solution is far simpler - redistribution. Societies where the gap between the top and the bottom is narrow tend to be better places, and have a stronger sense of their identity, than other places. Now, you might argue that the USA - where the disapirty between top and bottom is extreme - has a strong sense of identity. But it is also a miserable, crime ridden, divided and fractious place. You can't argue that a country with 1% of its population in prison is a happy country (5). And it is big on the sort of cant that Goldsmith is proposing. Which shows that they just don't work.

1 - 'Goldsmith unveils proposals to strengthen citizenship,' byRosalind Ryan and agencies, 11th of March, 2008, in The Guardian. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/11/britishidentity). The actual report can be read here: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Politics/documents/2008/03/11/citizenship-report-full.pdf
2 - ibid.
3 - 'Wat Tyler,' Wikipedia article summaring the career of the Britain's Mao Tse-Tung, viewed on 13th of March, 2008.
(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Tyler)
4 - 'NZ pushes free trade with China forward,' by Sarah Matheson in the Epoch Times, 17th of September, 2007. (http://en.epochtimes.com/news/7-9-17/59871.html). It should be noted the source of this statistic is a member of Falun gong, and I have not been able to verify it. On the otherhand, given the size of the PRC, the vileness of the chinese government, a reverse burden of proof applies. It sounds so much like something they would do, that they need to demonstrate that they aren't.

5 - 'New High In U.S. Prison Numbers,' by N.C. Aizenman in The Washington Post, 29th of February, 2008. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/02/28/ST2008022803016.html)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Racist Tory dog-whistling

I won't waste time going into the details of how right I was about the background to this story (1). Needless to say, the Daily Mail's suggestion that the British police was awash with Al Queada moles was wrong, just as I said it was (2).

At the end of the story, though, there is a comment from a Conservative MP which is jaw-dropping, eithre in its stupidity (the kind interpretation) or its deliberate racial provokation:

MP Patrick Mercer, Tory terrorism advisor, told us last night: "This discovery by MI5 comes as no surprise to me.

"Recruiting ethnic people into key public sector organisations— in place to protect us—is a risk.

"Our vetting procedures have to be toughened before it's too late." (3)

Someone should tell Mr Mercer that everyone has an ethnic background. You can't recruit people who don't have an ethnic background - which he seems to want - because there are no such people.

And his strange idea that white Britons - I assume he thinks have no ethnic background - no ganga, curry or funny hats - are somehow blameless and sin free and carry no risk, is just weird and wrong. Everyone is potentially dodgy, dishonest or wicked. Suggesting brown people are more so than anyone else is dog whistling.

This just after I'd decided David Cameron probably hadn't been doing some whistling of his own over theLabour's Auschwitz 'gimmick' (4). All of which shows that that if Cameron isn't a vicious little racist, or an ammoral power hungry toad, his party is still full of them.
1 - 'Terror moles at the Met,' by Ryan Sabey in The News of the World, undated article. (http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/0903_alqaeda.shtml)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/daily-mail-mid-brow-tabloid-with.html
3 - As per #1, above.
4 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/tory-dog-whistling-on-holocaust.html and http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/dog-whistling-dave-ii.html.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Trotter struts, frets

Another week, another column (1) from Chris Trotter calling for Labour to dump Clark in favour of Goff.

Perhaps Trotter is adopting a Churchillian strategy, saying the same thing over and over until eventually circumstances happen to match it. Even a stoped clock tells the right time twice a day. Or maybe he thinks if he keeps on going on about it long enough, Labour will hand Helen the black spot, just to shut him up.

As I said before, Tortter is wasting his privileged position as a commentator by pursuing this rabbit down the hole. As Peter Wilson pointed out, rolling your leader a few months out from an election doesn't often work:
Bill English lost in 2002 after ousting Jenny Shipley. He didn't last long after that and was replaced by Don Brash.

And Labour has its own bad memories of leadership changes. It panicked in 1990 when, with a few weeks to go, it replaced Geoffrey Palmer with Mike Moore. He lost, and soon after the election he was replaced by Helen Clark as Leader of the opposition. (2)
In his new column, Trotter decides not to borther with reason and instead constructs a phoney argument in support of his case.

His argument is that we should have Goff because there isn't an alternative, and Clark is now dragging her party down with her. He claims that "what the polls are telling me, in no uncertain terms, is that the electorate'sstopped listening to Helen Clark" (3) - though this is based on a spurious interpretation of poll data, where Trotter reasons that because Clark's rating is lower than Labours, she must be dead weight. This is nonsense.

In the February (4) poll, Key's rating (36%) is lower than National's (53%). Applying Trotter's logic, National should ditch Key, at which point their share of the vote will rise to about 80%. It is arguable that Clark's popularity (27%) is sufferring because of her association with Labour (34%). After all, it wasn't Clark that socked Tau Henare, sacked Madeleine Satchell, fluffed a simple explanation of party funding, or was David Benson-Pope.

Beyond that, Trotter ponders alternatives means Labour could use to regain popularity - drawing on discussion topics put up by the Socialist Worker's unityaotearoa blog (5). Bear in mind, the goals listed aren't actually a manifesto, or even a wish list for the SWP - just topics put up to provoke discussion. But having constructed his straw man, Trotter spends the rest of the column jousting with him, before declaring that since the radical niave socialism of the SWP won't work, we need to have Goff, pronto. Even though he's already ruled himself out.

This is outlandish. The Socialist Worker is not New Zealand's Labour Party. Conflating the two is laughable, and suggesting that the only alternative is between Goff and the programme of the SWP is pathetic. It does not follow that because Labour aren't pursuing the SWP programme (far less some half-ideas put up on a blog for debate) they need to invest Phil Goff.

There is an another option, inspite of Trotter's contention. Don't change the leader. Stop cocking up. Announce some sensible policies. Use Cullen. Attack National policies. Use Cullen. Wait for the leadership debates, where Clark will probably outgun Key. I'm sure National would be delighted to learn that Key would be facing Goff instead of Clark.

This is, in fact, what I expect Labour to do. They might still lose the election, but that is about as likely to happen under Clark as it is under Goff. Everyone seems to grasp this except Trotter. He might argue that he's trying to provoke debate, but I think he's just trying to establish himself as a Cassandra figure (I'm sure he looks lovely in a dress) in case of defeat, and also build his reputation as an iconoclaust not afraid to think the unthinkable. How calling for nice-but-vacuous Phil Goff to be crowned makes him that, I do not know, but on evidence of this week's column, it would be asking too much of Trotter to be able to explain it, logically.
1 - 'Got any better ideas, Labour?' by Chris Trotter, in the Dominion Post, on the 7th of March. Reproduced on unityaotearoa
blog. (
http://unityaotearoa.blogspot.com/2008/03/chris-trotter-on-unityblogs-electoral.html)
2 - 'Leadership change would be fatal for Labour,' by Peter Wilson for NZPA, 3rd of March, 2008. Reproduced on Stuff.co.nz. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4423769a1861.html)
3 - Trotter, op. cit.
4 - 'ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll: Feb 2008,' unnattributed summary of the poll data for TVNZ, on 17th of February, 2008. (http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/410965/1586212)
5 - 'Election Year- the Centre cannot hold,' posted by UNITYblog on, um, unityaotearoa blog, on the 3rd of March, 2008.
(
http://unityaotearoa.blogspot.com/2008/03/election-year.html)

Friday, 7 March 2008

Sporting National make a match of it

I'm beginning to wonder if National are really the ruthless, winner-takes-all carpet-baggers that I have characterised them as. They are enjoying an almost unassailable poll lead and Key is easing ahead of Clark in the preferred PM stakes. The last thing I'd have expected of them was a manifestation of sporting spirit. It seems they've decided that this isn't cricket and that they need to apply a handicap to even things up.

First up, John Key decided to tarnish his own image, since no-one else seemed to be doing it for him. Though the "We'd love to see wages drop" comment (1) is a dead-end - he undoubtedly said it, but it was also undoubtedly a blunder, not an unwitting revelation of the malevolent wolf lurking under Key's sheepish exterior - it did serve to make Key look a bit foolish, especially as he tried to wriggle about. The 'slippery John' (2) label may stick, and not because of Labour's childish antics, but because people have seen him writhing like a pinned snake.

Then, a more substantial main course, with John Key's dicky memory failing him yet again, as he forgot (3) that he'd committed (4) his party to the goal of settling treaty claims by 2014. This is much more serious, because Key's directly contradicting something he said in February 2007 (it's on the National Party website, for Heaven's sake, attributed to the man himself). Forgetting minutae is one thing, but misremembering your parties policy - YOUR policy - on a issue as important and divisive as Treaty policy and the lifespan of the Maori electorates - suggests either grave uselessness or a weasely aspect found in salesmen. Slippery John, again.

It also precipated a damaging clash with the Maori Party - Inclusive John suddenly didn't look as popular and beloved. This was foretold on lefthandpalm a month ago (5). I can't help it if I'm so far ahead of the pack I'm almost lapping them.

And now, just when people were starting to wonder if maybe Mr English might have been the better choice after all, Bruiser Bill decided it was time to even things up, announcing (6) that if Labour have the wherewithal to do something that might be a very good idea, and will undoubtedly be popular with the electorate, National will try oto undo it at the first opportunity:
National's finance spokesman, Bill English, said the last thing New Zealand wanted was the Government to own the rail company.

"We certainly wouldn't be buying Toll ... We need to look after the taxpayers' interests and the network and the best way to do that is to have a competent operator."

If the purchase was completed under Labour then a National government would get out of the business as quickly as possible, he said. (7)
Never mind that railways will become very, very important in the future, as we have to shift more freight and (hopefully) passengers to the rail, and nevermind that it's almost impossible to run a railway in a small country at a profit - so public ownershoip makes jaw-droppingly good sense - it'll be junked in exchange for a quick cash injection, which will probably be used to invest in health, education, socially progressive policies and protecting the environment a tax cut benefitting National's rich mates.

All credit to Labour. They haven't made a cataclysmic bollux all week, and they've finally let Cullen - a living, breathing strategic asset - take centre stage. There might, just might, be hope forLabour.
1 - 'Key “would love to see wages drop”,' press release by the New Zealand government, 21st of February, 2008. Reproduuced on scoop.co.nz (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0802/S00304.htm)
2 - 'Key called 'Slippery John' after he falters on policy,' by Colin Espiner in The Press, 6th of March, 2008. Reproduced on
stuff.co.nz (
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4426772a6160.html)
3 - ibid.
4 - 'National confirms position on Maori seats,' press release by the National party, 1st of February, 2007. (http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?articleId=9245).
5 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/maori-partys-dilemna.html
6 - 'Rail sale back on track,' unattributed article in The Dominion Post, 7th of March, 2008. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz.
(
http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominionpost/4428648a6000.html)
7 - ibid.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The shocking crapness of Britain - top to bottom crapness that shocks!

Two unrelated happening for some reason seem to have linked themselves in my mind. On the one hand, a particualrly gruelling example of politcal snivel from the British culture minister Margaret Hodge, berating the Proms as being too exclusive (1). On the other hand, well liked British newsreader Carol Barnes has suffered a life-threatening stroke (2).

As I said, there is nothing to link these two stories and only a mind derranged by hatred of New Labour's pitful squandering of its historic opportunity and still sickened by the hideous outpouring of faux greif post Diana would perceive one. I possess such a mind, sadly.

Hodge delivered a speech (3) to an entity glorying in the name of the "IPPR think tank on Britishness, Heritage and the Arts," in which she criticsised the Proms as being too exclusive, complaining that "audiences for some of many of our greatest cultural events - I'm thinking particularly of the Proms - is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this," and that "this is not about making every audience completely representative, but if we claim great things for our sectors in terms of their power to bring people together, then we have a right to expect they will do that wherever they can."

Though Downing Street denied that she meant to actually criticise the Proms in anyway, because that isn't what New Labour does - the Proms, a spokesbeast assured us, were a "wonderful, democratic and a quintessentially British institution." So much for Hodges claim that she wanted to "challenge our sectors square on."

This sort of waffle is bad enough, but Hodge also explained what was good and why. Good things included the Angel of the North (4), Coronation Street and The Archers. Public holidays were good as well. These things, apparently, were "icons of a common culture that everybody can feel a part of," and "enhance a sense of shared identity," though why a lump of mis-shapen metal on a hillock outside Gateshead would make anyone feel part of anything, or inspire me to hug some random weirdo on Princess Street in Edinburgh at 3am, is lost to me.

Perhaps I am too cynical to understand. Maybe it works like this:

"The Angel, man! Have you seen it?"

"God! Yes! It's so beautiful. I realise, brother, we are all British together, we have a wondrous common heritage. Ambridge is the spiritual home for both of us. Let me take my knife from your stomach, brother, and kiss your wound in a spirit of inclusive Britishiness." (5)
Homing in on her purpose, she explained that this sense of cultural togetherness was important, especially to new migrants, who - perhhaps - might not get the all inclusiveness of The Archers. To deal with this problem, Hodge suggested surreal citizenship ceremonies for new-minted Britons, so they would appreciate the wondrous - and inclusive - culture that they were now part of:

She also suggested that British citizenship ceremonies be held in historic British buildings like castles, theatres and museums to help people "associate their new citizenship with key cultural icons"
Right. So telling Hamid that he's now a British citizen, swatting him on the asre with an arse-swatter made from athistle, rose, leek and shamrock, while standing at Marble Arch (a cultural icon if ever there was one) will make him British, and privy to the secrets of Coro and the Archers. Sorry, but I've been British for more years than I can remember, and I still don't get Coro.

Meanwhile, Carol Barnes was suffering a massive, life threatening stroke. This is, of course, at tragedy for her, but lots of people have strokes. Not many of them get into newspapers. Her tragedy is only important to her, her family and friends. I donm;t think it will stay private, however. While it won't get to the revolting demonstrations faux emotion we say post-Diana, there wll be a lot of expressions of grief over this. And by expressions, I mean that I don't think that it is real grief, but manufactured, phoney grief of people who feel they are somehow involved in Barnes's tragedy - or feel they ought to be. We should butt out and let family and friends get on with coping with it as best they can. But rubber-necking and gawping at the misery of others is the new (inter)national past time.

If Hodge wanted a "wonderful, democratic and a quintessentially British institution" then she should look at the new (inter)national past time of rubbernecking, gawping at the misery of others and feeling somehow involved with one of the "icons of a common culture" and her personal disaster becomes something "that everybody can feel a part of," giving us "shared sense of common cultural identity"?

Perhaps citizenship ceremonies could be held at Barnes's hospital bed, so the newly Britishified Brits will immidiately be able to take part in the national pastime of taking too much interest in the misfortune of others, and evermore "associate their new citizenship with key cultural icons."

I don't know what makes me more angry - the wafflely cant of politicians wittering about something as irrelevant as the Proms and holding up Coronation street as an exemplar of culture, or the sinister emotional incontinence increasingly demonstrated by the real British public. Hodge, I suppose, has made a prize fool of herself and probably a Pavlovian reaction in somepeople, who will now reach for their revolver if they ever hear the word culture again (though perhaps to shoot themselves to escape Hodge's belthering), where as the creeping emotionalism is a symptom of something dangerous developing in Britain.

(Credit where credits due: Omni, Lard, minge VHW and the rest on News)
1 - 'Proms not inclusive, says Hodge,' unattributed BBC stroy, 4th of March, 2008. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7276684.stm)
2 - 'Newsreader Carol Barnes 'close to death' - 4 years after daughter died in skydiving tragedy,' by Paul Revoir, Daniel Bates and Liz Hazelton in the Daily Mail, 5th of March, 2008)(
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=525589&in_page_id=1770&ct=5)
3 - unless otherwise indicated, or onbviously fictional dialogue produced through the actions of my own sick mind, everything hereafter contained within quote marks is sourced from the BBC article identified in #1, above. Apart from the identification of the think tank, and some reported speech, it is all direct quotation culled from the report.
4 - The Angel, in all its dubious glory, can be seen at this web adress:
http://www.gateshead.gov.uk/Leisure%20and%20Culture/multimedia/virtualtours/angel_java.aspx as of the 5th of March, 2008.
5 - This is the fictional dialogue produced through the actions of my own sick mind that I mentioned.

Gary Gygax fails his saving throw ...

There are, according to me, two sorts of peopel in the English speaking world - those who have read the Lord of the Rings, and those who have lived it. Gary Gygax, the man credited with inventing roleplaying, has died, aged 69 (1).

I was never a D&D or AD&D player. They were my brother's prefered systems. Runequest and, later, GURPS and Cyberpunk, were my games. But repsect is still due to the man who started the polyhedral dice rolling, even if he foisted heinous concepts like 'levels' and 'character classes' on the roleplaying world.

Young people nowadays, eh, they do it all on computer. It isn't the same. If it doesn't involve copious amounts of paper, with a spilled cup of coke having consequences on a par with a death in the family ("Look at this! Zurd's character sheet is ruined! I can't see if he has a whetstone or not, nor how many feet of silk rope! Fool!"), and frantic searches for a d12 ("I can't help it if my sword uses the most pointless die in the set!"), then it isn't roleplaying. Gygax agreed, commenting about computer games:
“There is no intimacy; it’s not live ... It’s being translated through a computer, and your imagination is not there the same way it is when you’re actually together with a group of people. It reminds me of one time where I saw some children talking about whether they liked radio or television, and I asked one little boy why he preferred radio, and he said, ‘Because the pictures are so much better.’” (2)
A LOT of my teenage years were spent imagining that I was all manner of curious things, and (every true roleplayer tries this) inventing my own 'perfect systems' that never got beyond a handful of stats and an arcane combat system. Perhaps I should have been out smoking, getting wasted, being involved in car crashes and exposing myself to venereal disease. With hindsight, I probably made the right choice. And I don't mean playing Runequest over AD&D. I mean roleplaying, and for that I thank GG.
1 - 'Gary Gygax, Game Pioneer, Dies at 69,' by Seth Schiesel in the New York Times, 5th of March, 2008. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/arts/05gygax.html?ref=arts)

More Marxist musings on history

The Netherlands, by all accounts, is a tolerant place - if you is so inclined, you can get stoned and indulge in a little bit of commercial sex without having to go through the messy business of breaking the law. Historically, given its position between mostly-protestant Germany and mostly-Catholic-but-with-Potestant-bits France, and the country's own historical, ethnic and religious bifircation, it has been a tolerant place.

Even in times of repression, it has been less interested persecution than in finding ways that everyone can live together. In the sixteenth century, Holland experienced one of its occasional fits of religious prejudice and proscribed Catholicism. The ban was only a fa├žade and adherents of the Roman faith could worship in private, as long as they did not make any public advertisement of the fact. The most significant of these semi-clandestine chapels is now the museum called the Amstelkring (1), also known as ‘Ons Lieve Heer Op Solder’ which translates literally as ‘Our Dear Lord in the Attic’ which is situated on Oudezijds Voorburgwal.

Here Catholics could meet discretely to worship. The similarities with the story of Anne Frank, and her family’s doomed attempt to elude the Nazi butchers are immediately striking, a grim parallel with the older tale. Here, Marx's observation that history reoccurs first as tragedy, then as farce seems inverted: farce is reworked as tragedy. The token proscription of Catholicism was farcical, but the story of the Jews of Amsterdam, represented by the annihilation of the Frank family, was tragic.

But Marx's commentary is more subtle than that. The element of farce derives from bourgeois society seeking to clothe itself in the old rags left over from previous revolutions and present itself in the guise of the past:

Once the new social formation was established, the antediluvian colossi disappeared and with them also the resurrected Romanism – the Brutuses, the Gracchi, the publicolas, the tribunes, the senators, and Caesar himself. Bourgeois society in its sober reality bred its own true interpreters and spokesmen in the Says, Cousins, Royer-Collards, Benjamin Constants, and Guizots; its real military leaders sat behind the office desk and the hog-headed Louis XVIII was its political chief. Entirely absorbed in the production of wealth and in peaceful competitive struggle, it no longer remembered that the ghosts of the Roman period had watched over its cradle.

But unheroic though bourgeois society is, it nevertheless needed heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war, and national wars to bring it into being. And in the austere classical traditions of the Roman Republic the bourgeois gladiators found the ideals and the art forms, the self-deceptions, that they needed to conceal from themselves the bourgeois-limited content of their struggles and to keep their passion on the high plane of great historic tragedy. (2)

The Dutch, blessed or cursed with a situation that made merchantilism a virtual necessity, were bourgeouis long before the rest of the world. The proscription of Catholics in the 17th century - at a time when Catholics in Britain might expect execution - was a farcical, "bourgeois-limited" imitation of what was going on around them in Europe. It was the farce that followed the tragedy. Then, in May, 1940, the tragedy followed farce, when the German Army swarmed over Holland, conquering the country in six days. From 1942 onwards, Jews and various other . By 1946, about 30,000 Jews (3) - 20 per cent of the pre-war population - remained.

What happened in the 1940s was not a tragic re-enectment of the farcical religious bigotry of 300 years before, but a grim recrudescence of the chauvanistic nationalism that Willaim Golding identified, "ugly nationalism raising its Gorgon head." (4):
it is a dead thing handed on,, but dead though it is, it will not lie down. It is a monstrous creature descending to us from our ancestors, producing nothing but disunity, chaos. Disorder and war prolong in it the ghastly and ironic semblance of life. All the marching and counter marching, the flags, the heroism and cruelty, are mere galvanic twitches induced in its slaves and subjects by that hideous parody thing. (5)
The second world war and the Holocaust were such galvanic twitches, an outpouring of vicious bigotry resulting from the struggle in Germany between the rising bourgeois and the old feudal-imperialists. Given modern means of inflicting misery on a much wider scale than before, it was inevitable that all those around would suffer as Germany's internal tensions manifested themselves in the reactionary forms of cultural nostalgia, militarsm, anti-Semitism, paranoia and wilful ignorance in the face of evil.
1 - The Amstelkring Museum website can be visited at http://www.museumamstelkring.nl/onslieveheeropsolder/eng/home.php, as at the 5th of March, 2008.
2 - From the first chapter of 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,'by Karl Marx, 1852. Reproduced on marxists.org (
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)\
3 - 'The Virtual Jewish History Tour - Netherlands,' by David Shyovitz, published on the Jewish Virtual Library website. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/netherlands.html#modern)
4 - Golding, discussing Lord of The Flies, in an essay called 'Fable,' contained in the collection The Hot Gates.
5 - ibid.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Marx's lesson from history

As I've remarked elsewhere (1), one of my favourite quotes from Marx is the opening line of his characteristically bracing eviseration of the regime of Louis Napoleon, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (2):
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire. (3)
That first line catches the whole idea, but the paragraph that follows it builds upon it:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. (4)
This is great stuff. It pinpoints the failure of communist revolutions of the 20th century, where Stalin conjured up the shades of Tsarism and Mao recreated Imperial China with himself as emperor. It captures the essence of the (non-revolutionary) 20th century left's obssessions with situationism and post-modernism in one paragraph. Would that all who followed have been so succinct! But Marx had a practical purpose, and wasn't at all interested in the squishy world of post-modern discourse.

(Discourse is one of these words that makes me want to pick up a heavy object and hurl it at the utterer. Whenever I use it, I'm being spitefully ironic. One reason I chave never been able to read Chomsky is his incessant use of phrases like "The racist discourse of American imperialism.")

The view of history he sketched can be deomnstrated as true by brief reflection on our own times. When the Twin Towers fell, Geroge Bush could find no words of his own, so mumbled some stuff Rooseveld wrote about Pearl Harbour. Now the hysterical cant about the evil meance of the reds, the Nazis, then the reds again, is regurgitated and called Islam, this time round. In place of a Cold War, we get a War on Terror. Anyone who doubted the wisdom of bombarding Afghanistan in pursuit of terrorists (who weren't near the areas we were bombarding, generally) was decried as the sort of peacenik fools who would have surrendered to Hitler in 1939. A few months later, faced with Saddam Hussein's pathetic little thug regime, we were assured he was akin to Hitler. Colin Powell delivered a powerpoint presentation to the U.N., in what was described as an Adlai Stevenson moment. Only he was being disingenuous and deceitful. Now the wail goes up again, this time directed at Tehran.

Meanwhile, the same people - or at least, their comic recrudescences - are issuing the same warnings and demanding the same sacrifices. A little bit of liberty here, a whole stack of young lives ("But not ours or our children's, only yours and your children's, citizen.") and a mountain of anonymous (to us) people who, we are assured, are "The enemy." And this, of course, is the biggest lie of all, perpetrated by all leaders on all sides, and which has reoccurred so many times that even a mind as remarkable as Marx's would have struggled to trace t back to its original manifestation. Cain and Abel, perhaps?

History doesn't so much repeat, as regurgitate, spewing up half digested fragments for our consideration and - though it isn't half as nice the second tiem around - or consumption.
1 - as described previosuly on lefthandpalm. (http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/10/dick-scott-on-urewera.html)
2 - 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,' by Karl Marx,
1852. Reporoduced on marxists.org (
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/index.htm)
3 From the first chapter of 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,'
by Karl Marx, 1852. Reproduced on marxists.org (
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)
4 - ibid.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

U.S.S. New York

From the BBC:

Thousands of people have gathered in Louisiana for the christening of a US warship built partly from steel salvaged from the World Trade Center. (1)
A warship. Brilliant idea. Just what we need, and what a nice way to commemerate the dead of September the 11th, 2001, and the shattered families mourning the dead - something intended to create more dead people and leave more shattered families mourning. How bloody stupid. Couldn't they have made a ... a Peacemangel or something out of it, not a bloody war machine?

Idiots.
1 - 'US christens '9/11 steel' warship,' unattributed BBC article, 2nd of March, 2008. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7273407.stm)

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Pompous Chris seeking successional strife

Chris Trotter has devoted another column to speculating about a Goffite coup in the Labour party, before the election (1). This is the third time in a month (others here and here (2)) that he's used his column to suggest Clark's day's are numbered, and the numbers of the days are much smaller than people think.

He points out that Clark's personal polling is lower than the Labour party's - quite a feat since the Labour Party is resting on bedrock:
According to the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll, Labour is now more popular than its leader. That suggests the Government's catastrophic numbers are being driven by Miss Clark's unpopularity not the party's.

This marks an important shift in the electorate's response. For most of the past eight years the prime minister has consistently outperformed her party in popularity. She was Labour's greatest asset, the wind beneath its wings. She has now become the lump of lead on its back. (2)

As an aside, could I point out that Trotter's style - supposedly erudite, "infused with poetic imagery" (3). In reality it's almost indigestible a combination of BIG WORDS alternated with poor mmetaphors. Do we reall need to be told that Clark is both "Labour's greatest asset" and "The wind beneath its wings?" One cliche would have done, Chris. And on top of that, she is then rendered as "the lump of lead on its back." Too much, Chris. Metaphors are dangerous things, and should be used cautiously. Dumping three on the unsuspecting reader, in the space of two short sentences, is what precocious secondary students do.

The BIG WORDS serve a similar purpose. Using words like 'Zeitgeist' is a clever version of writing in a big font and using a eye-aching colour. It's drawing the attention to the messenger, not the message. Look at me, I use words like 'Zeitgeist,' with aplomb. So what. The word, I recall, enjoyed some currency in NME in the 1990s, dutring the Blur-Oasis feud. Indeed, Trotter writes like a stale music hack still dreaming of one day getting shoulder tapped for the Guardian.
All of which is cruel, only half true and beside the point. But it needed to be said.

As for the message, that Clark should go, it is Trotter at his most facile. First, he's basing his thesis on one poll. Second, even if the polls continue to put Labour ahead of Clark, that doesn't mean much. National came within a shady deal with the Exclusive Brethern of winning in 2005 - even though Brash langished well behind Clark in the preferred prime minister states.

Trotter would argue, perhaps, that this proves his point - that if Brash had been more effective and charismatic, Labour would have been buried in 2005. Maybe. But, none-the-less, it still stands that Clark has enjoyed years of popularity. Knifing her because of one bad poll would be somewhat premature.

Clark - and Labour - will rally. I'm still conident that they have a strategy, and are waiting for the right moment to launch their fightback. My biggst concern is that they don't sem able to stem the steady flow of bad stories, and don't seem to have anticipated how gleefully the media would turning on them. But Goff can't do much about that, even if he were to take over.

Ditching Clark would be messy - she would be unlikely to go quietly, arguing (rightly) that replacing her this close to the election might be worse than going into it with her in charge. If there is a fight, it will be vicious, and damage the party. And the election will come this year, regardless. Goff would be going into the campaign at the head of a bitter party more interested in pursuing a civil war than uniting against the enemy. Even if he is capable of winning back the fustrated leftwing and rebuilding the centre (which I doubt he is), he wouldn't have time.

I am sure Phil Goff will have read The Hollow Men (4), and will have noticed how John Key almost came unstuck after the election defeat of 2005, when he contemplated a coup against Don Brash. He'll wait, because he's got nothing to lose by doing so. What will come, will come. Clark will either win the election (or, more accurately, win the scramble for coalition partners), or she will lose. It will be seen as her victory, or loss. If she wins, Goff will still be the most likely successor, and can look forward to inheriting without having to split the party. If she loses, then, again, he is the most likely successor.

Trotter must know this. So I am at a loss to understand why he's used three columns, at least, to suggest that a coup is imminent. Perhaps he thinks he is so revered by the left and so omnipotent that he can will one into happening. Or perhaps he's looking forward to the installation of Goff, post election defeat, so he can point back to his columns and say "Look! I told you so!" Though of Goff following Clark isn't exactly an astonishing idea. In either case, he's letting ego and arrogance get the better of him, wanting to promote the Chris Trotter brand, rather than using his privileged position as a columnist to tell useful truth.

1 - 'Helen's zeitgeist goes missing,' by Chris Torotter in The Dominion Post, 29th of February, 2008. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz, (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4420569a1861.html)
2 - Here are the details of the previous columns: 'Taking sides on global power,' by Chris Trotter, in The Dominion ost, 22nd of february, 2008. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz(
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4411052a1861.html). 'Helen of destroy loses faithful,' by Chris Trotter in The Sunday Star Times, 3rd of February, 2008. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/sundaystartimes/4384974a25945.html)
3 - As per the blurb of No Left Turn, by Chris Trotter, publised in 2007 by Random House New Zealand.
4 - The Hollow Men, by Nicky Hager, published in 2006 by Crag Potton Publishing. The aborted coup is decribed on pages 276-7.

Hopey-changey stuff

First of all, people are talking about a 'vote for change' based on the combination of Labour, Greens and New Zealand First. ‘Chan...