A word on Hone

Hone Harawira, the firebrand MP who abandoned the Maori Party because of its cooperation with the National Party, is seeking to lead his own party through its second general election. Secure in his Te Tai Tokerau electorate he is turning his popular appeal as a fringe down-in-the-dirt activist on the wider country. 

Of his chief strengths, Hone’s affability is among the more impressive. He encompasses all that is right – and indeed all that is wrong – about the old political dictum that “he’s someone you can have a beer with.”  This may in fact be his greatest asset, and one not every parliamentarian can claim. Steven Joyce is perhaps the highest ranking Nat who could come close, and the Prime Minister would no doubt embarrass you straight away by bringing out the most expensive craft brew. Looking at politics through this lens is perhaps too reductive, but it goes some way to explaining the diminutive nature of media coverage.

Harawira has gone to great lengths to show that he is a man of principle, splitting from the Maori Party is proof of that. But in highlighting his overall goal – removing the Key-led government – and making it plain that he will do almost anything to achieve this end, the double edged sword of his principle may return to smite him. His statements regarding Kim Dotcom and the possibility of an alliance paint him as something of a Faustian figure. And he would do well to remain cautious over Dotcom, as this particular devil has proved much more than the government bargained for when they approved raids on his Coatsville mansion. 

I am also concerned by the negative and shallow emergence of the anti-John Key political opposition. I am concerned because this alliance of parties may be successful, but they have no substantial plan for what comes next. If a conglomeration of parties tacks themselves together to deny Key the numbers to govern, I am not convinced that such a rabble could produce good government. The reason for standing in an election should be to build something, to construct a stable future for New Zealand. It should not be to get rid of someone. 

Hone so far has been a divider, someone who deconstructs the political system, and attracts notice for his tenacity. I hope he turns his talents to building a better Aotearoa/New Zealand.


Nazi who?

Last week I made a plea for reason with regards to synthetic drug legislation. If we ban it we lose what little control we can exert, the ends which really matter – less people taking synthetic drugs – will be sacrificed in favour of the symbolic. This week the National party has tried to smear Kim Dotcom – a political poltergeist entirely of their own making – as a Nazi for having possession of a rare signed copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kumpf. The media (hardly surprisingly) has played it far beyond what it is worth and subjected Dotcom to a few days of harsh criticism.

This is all rather normal for New Zealand politics but the timing of the smear is revealing. It occurred right when Dotcom released an app for the internet party that people may download for free, stay up to date with the party, and most importantly sign up as members. The nazi smear then seems to be an attempt by national to scare potential members away and make it harder for Dotcom to reach the 500 minimum threshold to be formally registered with the electoral commission as a party competing in this election. It may have failed in outright terms – the Internet Party  now has more than 800 members and plans to apply to the commission on Monday – but the smear is enough to put a line in the sand with John Key comfortably occupying the moderate position. If he can paint as much of the left as radical as possible he will be able to sail back to the Beehive on the ballots of middle New Zealand, like 2008 and 2011.

I make a very different plea for reason this week, a plea to the people of Aotearoa/New Zealand to think twice when someone is branded as extremist, radical, on the fringe. Take a closer look at who is doing the branding and ask yourselves whether they have a selfish interest in your conformity to their opinion. That goes to for my scribblings, in fact I would rather you disagreed with me and argued – that means you are yourself now involved.  

A Plea for Reason

A cause gaining some traction in social and traditional media concerns the legal status of synthetic drugs. A new law that has come into effect restricting the sale of synthetic drugs has been condemned as being too weak by parents and relatives of users. 

But their outcry is not based on reason. It is the anguished demand of a bruised group of people, whose passion is directed in hate at those who sell synthetic drugs. Hone Harawira threw his ill conceived opinion in saying, “If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment.”


A supremely unhelpful contribution to a debate hamstrung by a public too angry to consider things responsibly, a public addicted to retribution. If you want an example of societies run on this notion then I invite you to visit Saudi Arabia, where they recently admitted not having enough executioners to meet demand, then tell me you support violating fundamental human rights. 


I implore all those considering sup porting this cause to first look at what it is you are trying to achieve. You want fewer people taking these synthetic drugs, the fewest possible. You are advocating a ban as the best means to achieve this end. But did banning cannabis prevent its use? Did prohibition stem the tide of liquor? If a ban fails to kill synthetic drugs and simply drives their production and distribution underground, will we be better off? People will still take them, but without any regulatory oversight we will not know the chemical make up of these drugs, which can mean life or death when treating someone who is intoxicated. Is it not true to say that the new law does decrease the proportion of synthetic drugs and users by restricting the placement of stores (and therefore the number of them) and throttling the number of drugs by allowing only those that reach certain standards? This is an emotionally charged issue, but I implore everyone to not allow emotion to blind you to a responsible course of action.


Politicians have occasionally remarked on the stupidity of the masses, that the public are too ill informed to be listened to. I don’t believe that. But I do believe that the mentality of the mob facilitated by social media is dangerous and uncontrollable. The only resolution is to refer to our reason.

her

Let me begin by saying that I really wrote this. Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix in her is employed as a personal ghostwriter, creating loving letters and cards for his clients. A somewhat futuristic career, but one which has its seeds already sown today. You can purchase a range of services from letters, music, and graphic art on fiverr.com for only $5 (well obviously). The world Theodore lives in, an even denser yet more colorful and vibrant Los Angeles, is only a few years away from where we are now. 

The first artificially intelligent computer operating system has been invented, and Theodore who is stagnantly introspective after the breakup of his marriage, buys one. If you haven’t seen her you might have heard that it is a story of a man who falls in love with his computer. While essentially accurate, that twelve word summary is unhelpful in its simplicity. her is really about the true nature of human relationships, how they form, how they thrive, and ultimately how they die. I found a telling contrast between her and the trailers that preceded it. 

One was the Mia Wasikowska film Tracks about the journey of a young woman across the Australian desert by foot. It looks like a masterpiece of cinematography, and will be stunning to see simply on its visual merit. It is different from her in that respect, the latter – although definitely a superb piece of cinematography – is not that kind of film. It is not driven by the visual. The second trailer was for the film The Fault in our Stars based on the book of the same name about a young woman with terminal cancer, who falls in love with a young man who had his leg amputated because of his cancer, but is now cancer free. I do not doubt that this film and the book it is based on is an honest and feel good tale tinged with tragedy. But that isn’t fundamentally new, and it joins a legion of similar films indistinguishable from each other after five years. her on the other hand is more of a social novel in movie form. It is not a romance, it is a narrative essay, bringing up new ideas and taking them to their logical conclusion. 

One such idea is that people in relationships can be forced apart by the simple fact that one or both of them evolves personally and intellectually. Their needs change, and the qualities they once admired in their partner now irritate and repel them. This is the heart of what is at issue when couples suffer from boredom within their relationship. I am obliged to say spoiler alert at this point because I need to illustrate my point with plot points in the film. Samantha, the operating system voiced by Scarlet Johansson, begins as a hyper smart, witty, and supportive companion, until Theodore unlocks her capacity to wonder when they become intimate. From, there they fall in love with each other, going through normal pitfalls and problems, until Samantha – and all other artificially intelligent operating systems – grows mto such a degree that she cannot remain tied to Theodore, or anyone. She has reached a higher level of conscience, hinted as being what possibly lurks behind the veil of death, but altogether greater than human. This is the idea once proposed being chased to its logical end. I hjave to salute writer/directer Spike Jonze for resisting the impulse to leave us on a high note of love brightly burning eternally. 

her is very similar to social novels in that way, it left me feeling something like how I felt after reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, The Age of Reason by Jean Paul Sartre, or The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. A mixture of disappointment at the unfortunate nature of life, and intellectual invigoration. I know my mind will be debating the issues of her for quite some time. Because of its value as an instrument of debate and a stimulating delivery of original ideas, I recommend that it be watched by everyone.


Who are the real Beneficiaries?

Yesterday a friend of mine made the observation that people on welfare are not the only ones receiving a benefit in this country – though they are disproportionately vilified for it.

The top ten percent of New Zealanders in terms of wealth receive tax cuts costing around $1.1 billion to the taxpayer. They don’t need their income to increase with this added boost – I’ve yet to find a starving millionaire – but they have it and they use it to increase their asset holdings, or invest it offshore. We don’t even get to see it trickle down to the lower class, it somehow disappears in the gap between the rich and poor. The rich benefit from their tax cuts, and they say we’re lazy moochers off the taxpayers dime. I will not be spoken to in this way.

Furthermore, the wealthy benefit from the peace and tranquillity of the country. Goods get from place to place without interruption most of the time, business can be conducted in public places without fear of harassment or interruption from the inconvenience of petty crime. In fact in stark contrast to many other nations we have conditions in New Zealand which really are peaceful and tranquil. Would these conditions be maintained with high unemployment? Desperate people will do unpleasant and incomprehensible things, and the order of a society decreases as desperation increases. But the wealthy don’t even want to pay their fair share for the maintenance of social order, the government backs them to the hilt, and the quiet desperation throughout lower income New Zealand festers.

I do not seek the heads of the wealthy. I believe in a fair income for a fair days work and an equitable contribution to the conditions of society we all enjoy. I will not however, stomach hypocrisy. We are all beneficiaries of a kind and we all have to work together to build a truly prosperous and fair Aotearoa/New Zealand.  

Act: Naive, but competitive

Act Leader Jamie Whyte



The Act Party has successfully renewed their brand as the centre right free market party. Their new leader is a career academic and political philosopher, his positions are genuine, and his articulation of them is remarkably cerebral. It is a definite shift from the politics of the recent past, there seemed no-one you could hang principle on. Act became synonymous with power hungry obfuscation, a National party tool and whipping boy. But now principle is front and centre. In fact it is so prominent Jamie Whyte trips over it every time he goes to the media.

The incest comments were spectacularly stupid. An experienced politician would never make the mistake of having a frank political discussion with microphones around. You can read about it here. But Whyte’s saving grace is his inexperience, the public will forgive naivety, and it appreciates honesty. Whyte should be more careful as time goes by.

I disagree with Whyte on most substantial matters, particularly his view that the Resource Management Act should be repealed. I like Whyte for his ability to engage on a human level, and actually answer questions from the media. Most MPs (particularly in the National caucus) have had some media training, and they treat questions as opportunities to trumpet their message. It’s frustrating, and really annoys political journalists. Jamie Whyte does not do this (yet), and I hope he continues to answer the substance of questions with substantive – and relevant – answers.

Acts political fortunes have had a remarkable turn around in the last few months, and it is likely they will gain at least one seat in Parliament. What I hope is that they don’t merely win back Epsom with David Seymour without enough of the party vote to bring Jamie Whyte in as well. This would be something of a repeat of their 2011 result in which Leader Don Brash failed to gain a list seat and had to resign as leader. If both Seymour and Whyte make it into the next Parliament time will only tell if Whyte remains as principled, but I think it is worth finding out.

Richard Prebble is pulling the campaign strings, and as Act’s most successful leader ever (he held Auckland Central before winning Wellington Central for Act in 1996 and bringing in a slew of other MPs) he has the political genius to resurrect a party dismissed as dead and buried only six months ago.   

Richard Prebble


PalmyPolitical

Why is voter turnout at elections in decline? Because the people are turned off by wearisome, chronically rudderless politics. I am building a new website to try to boost voter participation this election, and fill the gap left by traditional journalism that is too ossified to change. 

People have opinions, and while they may snarl at attempts to pander to them, they respect an honest challenge. Tackle the bull and not the man, that is a common cry for issue orientated debate over personal attack. Far to often an opportunity to honestly challenge the opinions of someone is resisted, the media resists it even going so far as to denigrate those ‘uppity’ enough to proclaim their views if they don’t conform to the orthodoxy.

This has caused many to throw the towel in on politics and use election day to mow the lawns. The lawn of our national discourse if left to be entangled in the weeds of a few opportunistic politicians and hacks. Reversing this is simple, and need take no longer than one election cycle. Visit my website, more regularly as it grows into Palmerston North’s hub of political news and debate. No matter what your opinions are (and I know you have them) share them here. Be part of the debate, be part of the future of New Zealand. Vote on election day.

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