Towards the Trump at End of the World

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It seems that the American Republican Party has become its own cult.  Like some nativistic Ghost Dance or cargo cult it believes that if it gets enough votes then the ancestors will return and herald in the renewed age of the world.  Only true believers need apply.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

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I don’t follow the news much any more.  It seems that much of it is based around telling the viewer or reader that they are powerless to change their world, and I can’t be bothered engaging with current affairs in that sentiment.

I understand that there have been a spate of attacks in Israel by Israeli Arabs on Jewish Israelis.  This is upsetting, and the attackers are portrayed as terrorists, as wicked as any other Islamists in the Middle East.  The fact that this is a consequence of fifty year old policies pursued by the Israeli state to restrict the Palestinian population on freedom of movement and property ownership, for starters, notwithstanding.  From outside the Palestinian population look like prisoners in their own land.

I’m a citizen of New Zealand, I can trace from genealogy back to the first European settlers to disembark off the tall ships in Dunedin over one hundred and fifty years ago.  My national identity is here.  I am also not indigenous, and I never will be.  I’m Pakeha (European-descended New Zealander), and not Maori in genealogy, tauiwi, literally foreigner.  The contract by which I exist and live in New Zealand is based around the Treaty of Waitangi, the nation’s founding document.  We forgot about it for a hundred years.  It is an important document to have as part of our constitutional law.  I love it when the Treaty is invoked in New Zealand law, and Maori leaders are its advocates.  More often I hear it being used for the benefit of both partner peoples in New Zealand.

Maybe I read too much into Tolkien’s Silmarillion, where the Elves are the Quendi, the first speaking race, and the Eldar, the star-people; and humans are the Atani, the second people.  I discover there in a fantasy text that has been life-long reading the same relationship between peoples.

Once I use these paradigms as my foundation for identity then what is happening in the Middle East becomes problematic.  One group is intentionally displacing and disenfranchising another group, an earlier people, for the intent of being dominant.  The disenfranchised are suffering with no outlet for recompense.  To cause hurt is their only retaliation.  Institutional injustice is enforced by the eschatological endgames for religious groups.  It is not surprising to be reminded that the biblical accounts of colonisation of the holy land is the favorite theological justification of settling societies in history, the wheel turns one notch.

Displacement of the Palestinians becomes more frightening when considering that what is happening in Syria is only the beginning of the water wars of this century.  Syria is the first state to collapse under the limits of water supply for its economy.  The Middle East threatens to become an unhappy place.  Israeli society will come under more pressure.  This may be the beginning of an unhappy time.

The Flag Referendum II, and books

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In a week the flag referendum changes, the stalemate is broken by the Green Party pushing through an amendment supported by the National Party to add Red Peak to the first referendum.  The flag referendum has become a wheelbarrow issue, that is, every one is pushing it in the direction that they want it to go.  The reptiles in charge of the country have decided to re-brand us in an exercise that I don’t find is nation-building.  The prime minister wants this to be his legacy when he leaves office.  That he remade us in his image.

When I get my papers for the first referendum I will make my choices.  I will be voting Red Peak and the Koru flag.  If Red Peak makes it through to the second referendum I will be voting to support it.  If it doesn’t I will vote for status quo.

I’ve finished some books from the library and returned them.  I think London Falling by Paul Cornell suffered for being his first book.  His training for writing has been scripting for television and comics.  The books I have read by people coming out of those fields have been okay, if the characters felt flat and unrounded.  The characters did not come alive, instruments of the plot.  No later books on the shelves but I will continue with the series when I see them.

The Water Knife by Paul Bacigalupi was a grimmer book, a near future dystopia where the ancient aquifers of North America have run dry and the continent is turning to desert.  One by one the individual states of America are failing.  They are closing their borders.  Texas has fallen, Arizona is failing, and Nevada and California are in a hot/cold struggle to claim the last of the spoils.  Bacigalupi pushes his characters to the edge, every effort to survive just leads to greater disaster.  It’s grim reading because his science is feasible.  This is where the trends are taking us.

I added one book to my reading.  After the reading the suggestion that Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are writing about civilisations that could become the early days of what would become Iain Bank’s the Culture, I sent a librarian on a search of the stacks to bring back Hard to be a God, the first title of their works that the library holds.

The flag referendum

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I often sat in the old Intercity Bus Terminal in Dunedin.  I would be waiting for a bus to come in from Invercargill, or waiting for the bus that would take me there.  I don’t travel much otherwise.  Sitting on the benches I would gaze on the bunting that had not been taken down since the last Rugby World Cup.  It was a diversion to run through the flags on display in the bunting and identify them.  I couldn’t tell you the order now.  I figured out most countries.  Either they were obvious by their flag, or if I could deduce the identity of the flag by remember what rugby-playing nations were participating.

What intrigued me was that New Zealand was represented by both the New Zealand flag and by the New Zealand Rugby Union Silver Fern flag.  I speculated on the All Blacks being a different team to New Zealand, perhaps they come from Alblacia (near Albania perhaps?), or All-Blackistan (a former Soviet republic).  The Irish also played under a composite flag which I guessed included players from the four counties of their rugby union, rather than play under the competing flags of their politically divided island, the Irish Republican Tricoleur and the Union Jack.  They were the only team not represented by a national flag.

If All Black Land is a different country to New Zealand then I view the flag referendum with more ambivalence.  The whole thing looks like a hatchet job.  The prime minister’s office has decided to re-brand us with a new flag that scrubs off the Union Jack, another step on the process of our new corporate nation.  The prime minister favours a silver fern flag.  We still want a flag that looks like the old one.  There is the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee and the options in the flag referendum fit that description.  The first referendum will be ‘which option do you like?’ and the second referendum ‘do you favour the new flag or the old one?’  My opinion is not to vote in the first referendum, and vote ‘keep the old flag’ in the second.

I confess I think the koru flag, popularly called the Hypnoflag is a solid, identifiable flag, and of the four I favour it.  It’s trailing fourth in popularity and I think it is not a goer.  It will unfurl over New Zealand when R’lyeh rises from the ocean depths to cast its shadow over the country.

I would drag myself out to vote for Red Peak.  It’s a simple design, four colours, three triangles of black, red and blue separated by a white division.  It has immediate symbolism, The black is the night, the world of potential, Te Po in Maori, the blue is the day sky, the world of realisation, the world of light, the created universe (Te Ao Marama?), the red the dawn light, the white forms the gateway, Te Maihi.  It’s simple, it works.  Left out of the four front runners, it’s the underdog.

The petition to include it shows support.  However the Prime Minister has said that he wants cross-party support to include it, and the leading opposition party which not endorse that support unless the second referendum, the yes/no question, comes first.  I admire the prime minister’s political sense in how he has played his hand in giving his opposition a Hobson’s choice, even if I don’t approve.  It’s very canny.  He has given his critics the options of backing down or paralysing an option with popular support.  Well played, sir; very underhand of him.

If the fifth flag is left out then it remains a curiosity of what could have been, a rallying flag for dissent.


Jane Kelsey and Josh Freeman at Burns Hall

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This takes priority over other stuff to write: a report on a conversation about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement held in Dunedin at the Burns Hall of the First Church of Otago.  The talk was presented by Pr Jane Kelsey and Dr Josh Freeman.  Jane Kelsey is a leading voice among TPPA watchers.  There is a good chance I won’t get to the March against the TPPA this weekend and I’m posting this report.

Imagine the big corporations making a wish list.  Their agenda is how to make government work for them. Imagine they are given the right to make the rules to suit themselves, to impose disciplines on government.

There are few barriers in the trade of commodities in New Zealand.  We export resources, most of our manufacture has moved offshore.  The big players are interested in our domestic policies that hinder the movement of data, money, ideas and people.  They want to remove those barriers, to have a say in what kind of rules and policies a government can make, on social issues, job creation, environment, business, to know who gets a say, who gets to ask the questions, and what questions.

Twelve countries are involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, an arc of countries around the Pacific Rim: Canada, United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan.

America’s involvement  in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is two-fold. It wants to maintain its military presence in the Pacific Rim, especially to contain China, one of New Zealand’s biggest trading partners; and America wants to maintain its economic interests.

New Zealand is interested in cementing relations in the strategic alliance.  It wants to be seen as a good player.

Outside the negotiations no one has seen the background documents to these talks.  What’s more all background documents will remain secret until four years after the agreement has been signed, cementing a done deal and nobody’s political career gets hurt.  They have their pensions to think about.  What looks to be in place is that:

  1. Banks remain on steroids
  2. Intervention in government procurement (creating local jobs)
  3. Restriction on state-owned enterprises in public functions other than commercial
  4. Intervention in copyright and medicine policy
  5. Protection for foreign investors: ‘fair and equitable treatment’ so government will not change rules on foreign investors

Indigenous rights, such as the Treaty of Waitangi, will not be applied in relation to these issues.  Free trade arguments take priority.

Trade issues will affect our health.  Drug companies do not like Pharmac where it is being effective in making available medicines to New Zealanders at low cost, and would be quite happy to undermime its authority.  They would be happy with inequalities in health, that medicines would be costed out of the reach of some patients, and other medicines would be rationed.  Nor is it convenient that governments can legislate in relation to smoking, sugary foods, or the environment in relation to health.  Already governments move cautiously in response to the litigation of corporations.  This is enough to make New Zealand doctors unhappy.  When Dr Freeman put the hat around for funding for an advertisement against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on health his fellow doctors trumped up the cost within five days.

Time is against this agreement.  The Obama administration would like to pass it before June 2015, before the American political system girds its loins to enter the electoral phase of its cycle.  After that period it could fall off the table like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment before it.  We don’t need to give more power to citizens of big states, like the United States and the European Union, to sue us.


What is social class?

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17939338I have been reading Social Class in Applied Linguistics by David Block. Some interesting thoughts from it.

Young working class males create a culture of resistance to corporate identity. They see it as emasculating. Their idea is to enter adult life as quickly as possible. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll are attributes of adult life.  Their culture is egalitarian and horizontal. No one will be better than they are. Conformity will be enforced if necessary.

Young middle class males recognise the limits of rebellion. It’s a weekend activity. During the week the corporate hierarchy will be respected because there is an opportunity to level up and improve one’s status, paradise postponed.  The alternative between achievers and non-achievers makes the jock a middle-class achiever.

Freedom from restriction; to travel, and the choice of consumption, to be intellectually worldly and experienced, becomes characteristics of the middle class.  When we move into situations where those characteristics are de-valued or out-classed our status is disempowered.  We become de-classed.

Perhaps this is obvious.  I haven’t seen the literature where this is so clearly written out and explained before.  I will have to play around with these ideas and think about them.


Changing Perceptions of the Treaty 1840-2040

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February the Sixth is Waitangi Day, a national holiday for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  I never know what to do with this day off work.  Fortunately this year Lachy Paterson from the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture was doing a presentation at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  I was glad to support him and go along and listen.  What looked like to be a small audience soon filled up with perhaps a couple of hundred people in attendance.

The Treaty of Waitangi is a dangerous topic for a lecture.  It is always in the news.  There are usually politicians involved, and protests.  It’s the document that marks the birth of the New Zealand nation.  Everyone has an opinion on it.  And, the lecturer forgot his reading glasses!

The Treaty claims are a result of the existence of the Treaty.  The Waitangi Tribunal hears the claims on the grounds Has a breach of Treaty principles occured or not.  It exists now as a legal document, the interpretation of experts on law.

Originally it was a political tool to gain sovereignty, a gray document rather than a black and white document.  The first settlers were bicultural out of necessity.  There were more of the Maori than there were of the settlers.  The settler government wanted the Maori to surrender their sovereignty at the expense of rangatiratanga (chieftainship).  They wanted to acculturate Maori into Pakeha society.

Maori may not have understood what they were signing on to.  Some opted in, part of a new world order, the coalition of the willing.  Others accepted the gift of a blanket when they signed on.

After the signing of the Treaty Pakeha settlers flooded into the country in great numbers.  The Crown enforced Common Sense laws.  (It made common sense to them!)  The Crown understood that Maori had signed away their systems of government to British sovereignty.  The settler parliament was less involved with Treaty issues than the Governor’s office.  As the numbers game changed Maori became economically marginalised.  The Treaty became superfluous in assimilating Maori into the new state.  Famously Judge Prendergast declares it non-constitutional in 1877.  The colonial imperative was overwhelming.

Then Lord and Lady Bledisloe came to Waitangi.  In 1934 the first commemoration of Waitangi day was held.  They gifted the site to the nation.  With the government uninterested in the Treaty Maori picked it up.  The Maori Seat MPs, from the Ratana movement, lobbied the Labour Government to establish the Waitangi Day Act in 1960.  Matiu Rata under the fourth Labour Government pushed through the Treaty of Waitangi Act in 1985 to establish the Waitangi Tribunal and look at land claims going back to the 1840s.  When Maori youth took up the cause they moved quickly from the slogan The Treaty is a Fraud to Honour the Treaty.  The Treaty is a polical document.

A document for the future? If it continues to be relevant.  There are more Maori in Parliament under MMP, and more tribal organisations.  The Treaty is less a focus for Maori protest.  It has become part of our political and social understanding.  Sometimes when I hear a government making policy I wonder if the policy is unpopular enough that it can be challenged under the Treaty of Waitangi.  More often are the times when Maori partners with the Crown raise their voices in protest.  The Treaty does not disappoint me.  Long live kaitiakitanga!

The future?  Waitangi Day is entrenched in our calendar.  The Treaty will remain the founding document of the nation into the republic era when it comes.  Wishful thinking says that historic claims will be settled in the next five years (yeah, right!)  We are not yet in the post-Treaty age.  It continues to have meaning.


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