A crushing defeat, three weeks out.

So Crusher Collins has had her ministerial career squished just days before the polls first open. The media has gone a bit mad over the last 24 hours, no doubt some bearing bruises and half healed scars — trophies which make the schadenfreude a little more sweet.
Her ministerial warrant has been surrendered, and now Judith Collins is simply the MP for Papakura. She was placed at number 6 on the National Party list until this weekend, and a glance at the website (here) shows she has been erased from the list. To be clear she is still on the ballot in Papakura (at least right now), but should she fail to be elected there will be no safety net of the party vote to bring her back into Parliament. Her career would then be well and truly over.
In the papers today it was revealed that the blogger known as Cactus Kate (Cathy Odgers) had searched through her emails after she learned that Fairfax is investigating the hacked material used in Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics. Several of the emails in Odgers possession seemed to implicate Judith Collins in a smear campaign against the Serious Fraud Office and its (then) CEO Adam Feeley in May 2011.
Although those particular emails had not been available to Fairfax, it would appear (I could certainly be wrong on this point) that Odgers panicked and let a staffer at the Beehive know. In any case one particular email from Cameron Slater — the boorish toady known as Whale Oil — made its way to Wayne Eagleson (John Key’s Chief of Staff) who showed it to the Prime Minister on Friday night. You can view (or not as it is rather poor quality) that email here
That email then was the basis of the conversation on Saturday morning between Key and Collins in which she offered to resign from cabinet and he accepted her resignation. TVNZ’s Political Editor Corin Dann has said repeatedly over the last few days that National’s election campaign has gone off the rails, and that Collins exit has compounded that. He may well be right. But you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t want my view so here it is: The stage looks set for a comeback.
In finally dealing with Collins on a Saturday morning, Key is giving the story a good chance to be dead and buried by mid-week. The dedicated politics shows like Q and A, and TV3’s The Nation, would have given the story a thorough airing regardless of when it broke, so getting that out of the way asap is a good move. Furthermore, an SIS hearing into the matter has been announced for September 11 (a fraction ominous), I quote Stuff;

“Fairfax understands those ordered to appear on September 11 include blogger Cameron Slater, Key, and members of his office including chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, Official Information Act guru Sara Boyle and former staffer Jason Ede, now based at National Party head quarters.”

Laying the affair at the feet of an official, nay, a ‘proper inquiry’, to use Key’s words, comfortably seals it away from himself, and his current ministry. This deprives David Cunliffe of a handy weapon for the Stuff/Press Leaders debate on Tuesday. In that debate it should be more clear whether ‘dirty politics’ will continue to upset the Prime Minister’s flow, and define this election in the crucial weeks ahead.

The spewing forth of information on the various money men and far-right wring schemers trying to destabilise moderate politicians and replace them with hollow-headed (and hearted) hacks like Mark Mitchell, will take a long time. It is true when people say that the left — indeed all sides and parties have their share of ‘dirty politics’, and it is reprehensible wherever it lies. We have found it again in the corridors of power, like a good gardeners we the people need to pull it out by the root.
On a lighter note, I haven’t yet seen the suffix ‘gate’, in reference to any of this. A little surprising perhaps all things considered. I guess it simply doesn’t fit grammatically (since when has poor grammar ever stopped the media!)

Live by the hydraulic press…

Could this be the turning point? NZ Politics

For the past six years (seven if you count from 2007 when National under Key first overtook Labour in the polls) John Key has managed to rule during difficult times with astonishingly robust support.
He has done so by keeping his finger on the pulse of the nation and his hands off the corrosive controls of government as much as possible. The ongoing matter of whether he was briefed by the head of the SIS (of which he is the responsible minister) or whether his staff was, and whether he means his office when he refers to himself.
This brings to mind the observable pattern in political leadership, that time in office changes and alters everything, often imperceptibly. The result is that eventually the qualities that brought a leader to the summit of power now brings them down to the deep valley. Margaret Thatcher is a good example of this, so is Helen Clark, and so is Tony Blair — although cool-headedness has yet to spread amongst would be biographers, and he is much more immediately polarising than other political leaders.
This pattern is not observable for shorter term leaders (I’d say less than five years), because one needs wider scope for analysis. But John Key has been Prime Minister of New Zealand since November 2008, and I think either he falls at this election, or we’ll see a clear difference in his leadership over the next term. There is a word that sums up what I am suggesting, that word (which I believe to be justified) is terminal.  
The Happy projection may have already gone.

Robin Williams Emmy Tribute: Racist? Of Course Not!

Racist? Check again, I see humour.

The Robin Williams video that aired at the Emmy’s after Billy Cristal delivered a tribute to the late-comedian has drawn some fire from knee-jerk dimwits on social media. The offending clip was a snippet from Williams appearance on James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio in which he was free-associating using a pink scarf from a woman in the front row. 

The clip showed two of the jokes Williams made with the scarf (only a tiny part of the hysterically funny show, which you can find in full here), and only one of those jokes have raised the permanently skyward brows of a few twitter trolls. 

The first joke (the apparently innocuous one) involved him putting the scarf over his head and impersonating an Indian; “I came to Bombay last year…” Perhaps he was actually doing Mother Theresa, whatever, the audience laughed and the tweeters ignored it. 

Then he pulled part of the scarf over his mouth and nose, giving the clear impression of a burka, saying; “I would like to welcome you to Iran… Help me!”

Yes that was the ‘offending’ bit. The NZ Herald’s article on it showed the following tweets:

And my personal favourite:

How is it racist to make a joke (which is not being serious by definition) out of the dress and state of women in Iran? Particularly (though I don’t think it is relevant to the main point) when that joke is pre 9-11. Ricky Gervais once said that there is nothing you can’t joke about, no topic is ever taboo, it depends what the joke is. 

Looking at the machinery behind the humour, the ability to use irony correctly in order to make something funny requires an understanding of the thing itself. And the joy of laughing is all the better when you feel there is some reason you shouldn’t laugh. For example I had no end of fun making my friend laugh in class, and vice versa, because we knew we weren’t allowed to laugh. 

Thus the best humour is controversial. In the hurry to distance ourselves from Islamophobia, some of us are falling prey to over-sensitivity, and humourlessness. Dare to give in to laughing at things you feel unsure about and the result is a loosening up, the ability to take life less seriously, and the extra delight that comes with being a little bit naughty.

That is what Robin Williams did so well, and @marathonpacks that is what people who have never heard of him are more likely to find.  

Analysis too Expensive?

Today Andrea Vance wrote an opinion piece on Stuff.co.nz headlined: 

         The slick and the dead calm

She compared the campaigns led by John Key, and David Cunliffe. Where the former is ‘polished and slick’ (her words), the latter is rather more disorganised and (her words again) ‘inexplicably flat’.

But the words themselves are open to wide interpretation, especially since one tends to (I certainly do) second guess the words used in relation to politicians, and resist the temptation to take them at face value.

Not very long ago David Cunliffe was being harshly criticised for being ‘fake’, or otherwise attempting to be someone he is not.Given that the preening world of Politics rewards the construction of façades and ‘brands’, this very criticism seemed more than a little disingenuous. If Cunliffe was being too fake then in a world full of fakes, then I submit the fault lies with us as onlookers not yet willing to suspend disbelief.

Verisimilitude (a word that often makes me giggle), meaning the appearance of being real relies very much on the beholder to be willing to play along. Likewise the campaign of John Key being ‘slick’ depends on the beholder. Someone else could easily find it ‘artificial’, too much of a practised routine of the PM moving swiftly past, having a quick selfie and a handshake, then moving on. John Key could be on autopilot:

“Key is merciless in keeping the exchanges swift – a grin for the camera phone, and an exchange of pleasantries and he’s on to the next voter.”

 That sentence reads however you want it to, perhaps that’s a testament to journalistic impartiality. Or just political writing meant to give the impression of a salient point being made while delivering a judgement that’s as movable as the tide.

Contrast this with Vance on Cunliffe:

“The day started with a selfie – and there were plenty – but to be blunt, [Tamati] Coffey was the bigger drawcard. 

A stop-off at a local primary school excited pupils, especially when told a Labour government would give them each a tablet. But with only a handful of eligible voters in the room, reporters wondered how effective the visit was. 

A scheduled town centre walkabout was delayed by 35 minutes as Cunliffe, Coffey and activists stopped for a curry. “An army marches on its stomach,” Cunliffe said later. On the stroll he talked with eight people, two of whom were in town from overseas.”

The first sentence and the final sentences in the two paragraph’s are unquestionably negative. Cunliffe is less popular than his colleagues, Labour talking to youngsters far from voting age is a waste of time, Cunliffe spending time with people of whom a few are tourists (thus not voters). The impression here is not movable, and it is that David Cunliffe is wasting his time and resources, and lacks the honed skill of John Key.

But since when is spending time with the young people you are trying to help constitute a waste of time just because they can’t yet vote? Might not the fact that David Cunliffe is taking time with people regardless of whether they’re voters or not be evidence of humility, rather than stupidity?

Parliament exists to serve the people, not just the voters. And I don’t think I’m worth more as a voter than I am as a New Zealander.

Andrea Vance finished with the following:

“Cunliffe versus Key is a popularity contest not being fought on a level playing field. The Labour leader has been in the job barely a year, and has struggled against character assassinations from both inside and outside his party. But yesterday his campaign should have been buoyed by Coffey’s star power. Instead, it was inexplicably flat.”

I would have been really interested in reading an opinion piece on why it may be that the Cunliffe’s outing in Rotorua felt so off-key (yes the minor pun was intentional), instead hitting the inexplicable dead end. Perhaps a bit of critical analysis is asking too much of our dear journalists.

This Years NZ International Film Festival

The NZIFF comes to Palmerston North on September 4, and runs until September 21 (for the dates of other places see here, Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin have been and gone).

Yes the Palmy period coincides with the election, but I have decided to see at least 20 of the films on offer, and to post reviews immediately after. This is rather ambitious (and I confess I am slightly apprehensive, not least for the fact that 20 films within three weeks will cost around $230 in total) but it is a challenge well worth taking on.

And you, dear readers, will benefit. I have decided against starting a fresh blog just for this because film reviews are already a part of My Word is my Boon, and my blogging so far has been somewhat sporadic. It will do the blog good to get some regularity going! I am sure too that my political scribbling only appeals to a few, variety is therefore to be desired! I’m not giving up the political blogging though, and as election day draws ever closer you can expect to see some more.

It is my hope that these reviews will also be of interest to my international readers; where politics is divided by borders and oceans, film is boundless.

Was Politics Always This Dirty?

I refer of course to the recent book by Nicky Hager that has wrong-footed John Key and further obscured the release of various policies from Labour to National over the past two weeks. The question I ask is inspired by the shrugging cynicism about not only the matters raised in the book, but the entire fabric of politics. Some people I have recently crossed swords with have assured me that this is nothing new, that politics has always been this way, and that I am naive to consider that there is anything to be gained by close inspection. I resent the implication, and I resent the patronising dismissal of my point of view. 

While I can accept (although grudgingly) a counterargument based on reason, it is quite beyond my tolerance to accept a blatant dismissal based simply on aged authority. The interlocutors I refer to are speaking from what they believe to be experience (which I lack and am grateful to receive if it is actually genuine), but they mistake their weight in years for intellectual currency — they lazily expect to buy acceptance with it. While wisdom is the by-product of experience, weary presumption coupled with crows feet and wrinkles stands as pretender in its stead. It is bullshit, and it is a terrible thing to bullshit the young. 

So I won’t swallow that kind of manure (that isn’t the only reason why I won’t) and will probably continue to alienate and engage people in equal measure with my argumentativeness. But the point of this exercise is to look at the degree of grubbiness in politics — whether that has changed. Here the naysayers convict themselves of a chronic bitterness. To look at politics and conclude that there is no need to investigate the connection between bloggers and Government ministers because we’ve always known it was dirty is the ultimate expression of tired cynicism. It is a pervasive feeling, and valid to an extent. But it is not an argument. 

To be honest it is downright arrogance to presume such omniscience. A call to provide evidence makes sense here, but it’s hampered by the fact that negativity tends to stick in the mind better than its counterpart. Muldoon was a bully who drove some officials to tears, he accused a Labour MP of homosexuality and the MP subsequently resigned (Colin Moyle, his departure after one of the most disgraceful events in Parliaments’ history led to the irony of Muldoon’s future successor David Lange winning the by-election in Mangare). Those events stick overwhelmingly in the mind to the point where Sir Robert Muldoon’s achievements languish in obscurity. A false picture of Politics emerges.

But that is not to say that examination of the theory and practise of Muldoon/Key/Collins should be abandoned. Uncovering of the methods they use to throw mud helps ensure those methods will have to change. Will the mud stop flying? No, of course not. But the process enables us to partially reclaim politics from the mire — if only for a time. The attempt to make things fairer and more positive is worth it for its own sake. This is particularly valid where it concerns such appalling public shits as Cameron Slater. (Please pardon my language, Slater has a knack for bringing out the worst in people).

We decide first as individuals, then as a greater community what we value in this world. Politics is trapped in an existential struggle to reach the unobtainable ideals we set to guide it, just as we are to some extent in our own lives. ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ is a fine phrase, and a lesson that the journey is of more importance than the destination. Politics often falls so miserably short that a cynical state of mind is not an unreasonable side effect. But so long as the yearning to be better than ones nature survives intact the journey will continue, and occasionally there will be instances where politics really is all it promises to be. As John-Paul Sartre observed: 

‘Life has no meaning a priori [from the earlier]. Life itself is nothing until it is lived, it is we who give it meaning, and value is nothing more than the meaning we give it.’ 

In the same way Politics has no more meaning and value than what we give it. That’s why Hager’s book matters. To glance behind Oz’s curtain and see the geezer tugging at leavers and seeing which ones he’s using. Instead of drawing bitterness from that, how much better it would be if we draw strength, and a resolve to improve politics a bit. It’s only an extension of ourselves — as good, bad, and ugly as we are.

It is a smear, against promiscuous smearers.

Cunliffe’s Mixed Messages on Mana, hurts Kelvin Davis (CARTOON)

Months ago I compared Labour list MP and candidate for the Te Tai Tokerau to a flea. I meant that he was annoyingly nipping at Labour’s chances at the election by going all out to take Hone Harawira’s seat. Mr Davis believes the Maori of the North are being taken advantage of — being cynically used. This is frankly true. I argued that this was simply the way of politics; an argument which in isolation I stand by, but can no longer accept in this case. An opposition does not have to be the polar opposite of the government, but in an election they do need to provide a positive alternative. To a degree Labour is a genuine alternative government on policy, but I don’t think they show it in their behaviour.

Officially Labour is in favour of amending the rules of MMP to remove the coat-tailing ability. This is a stand of principle. But it is muddied by the shiftiness with which the Party is dealing with Internet-Mana. Labour will need them if in the position to put together a government, but at the same time wants to keep them as distant as possible. In this fit of wanting-it-both-ways, David Cunliffe is trying to chart a middle course by strongly declaring that Internet-Mana would not be part of his government, while Party Secretary Tim Barnett smooths ruffled feathers their in Te Tai Tokerau. Kelvin Davis is part of the ABC (Anyone But Cunliffe) faction of Labour, and keeping him weak is in Cunliffe’s interests. It is politics, not principle. The current government is shameless with electorate deals for it’s support parties. Labour is trying to do the same thing — while attempting to look like they aren’t. Perhaps their slogan vote positive, actually means vote blind…