Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Auction Site Experiment

I'm clearing out some surplus stuff (in honour of comedian George Carlin). We don't have the room in our apartment and most of it has been gathering dust offsite.

Listing on TradeMe, seeing if a little bit of presentation, writing and art direction will make a difference. Use the posts as social media content… my new hobby…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What value do you place on freedom of speech?

I'm all for freedom of speech and free expression. But I think we should take care to preserve that right and hold it with the care and respect it deserves. A child can blurt out 'shit' or some other infantile expression that, in other, less insipid times might have earned rebuke or the threat of having one's mouth 'washed out with soap and water'. Once we self-censored and there were cultural parameters we simply didn't cross out of self respect or the some communal sense of propriety.
I was reading Christopher Hitchens' memoir Hitch 22 when I happened across this reference to Rosa Luxemburg, the marxist activist who co-founded the anti-war Spartakusbund ("Spartacus League") which became the German Communist Party after WW1. It's no irony that the media motto Je Suis Charlie riffs on the famous 'I'm Spartacus' line from the movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas. Luxemberg was murdered by right wing thugs during a failed revolt in Berlin before the Nazis came to power (during the time when Germany was brutalised by the victorious allied countries by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). According to Hitchens Luxemberg schooled Lenin with the admonishment: "The right to free expression is meaningless - unless it is the right of the person who thinks differently."
I agree. The freedom to dimly chant populist slogans might be one aspect of the democratic right to speak but it isn't the true intention of the 'right' that has been enshrined in some countries - though New Zealand still, it seems, has blasphemy laws on our books. Its most sacred purpose - though I'm not very comfortable with that turn of phrase - is the right to dissent; not only to speak, but also to be heard in a respectful way in our community even when out our views differ from the majority. Especially if they differ from the majority. Ranting, raving, inciting and infantile provocation might well be permitted but they are not the intention of the idea, which is an important one in our culture. Self regulation is the best kind of regulation - not cowed in fear but out of self respect and respect for others.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is New Zealand heading up shit creek?

It's a slightly crude infographic (in may ways than one).

But it highlights one of New Zealands main issues - that 'spin' is more important than science.
We tout New Zealand as 100% Pure. I have publicly stated that I think it is past time for that positioning line be rethought. But slogans aside it is more important that we actually do something constructive about solving the problem.

The government needs to pull its head out of its backside and stop denying the problem. As Dr Mike Joy has said time and again - the science is real.

It's not a superficial issue - it is a core environmental problem that demonstrates New Zealand's medieval approach to science. If the prime minister's office canonises one point of view that conveniently coincides with the government agenda as the orthodox 'truth' to the exclusion of all others (which are deemed heresy) it invalidates all science funded by the government - one part per thousand of bullshit makes the claim of 100% pure pure nonsense.

Is New Zealand Heading up Shit Creek? Water Pollution in New Zealand – An infographic by the team at Is New Zealand Heading up Shit Creek?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Curtains for New Zealand's Death Flag Proposal?

Young Kiwis and Canadians have long enjoyed some magical passport status with their flags stitched to their packs when travelling overseas.

I have even heard that American travellers use the maple leaf to disguise their origins - vs the Yankee Go Home effect of the stars and stripes. It's not that they aren't patriotic, its more a matter of pragmatic backpacker realpolotik.

The prime minister has intimated a referendum about the future design of the New Zealand flag. The relevance of the inclusion of the Union Jack to New Zealand's national identity is questioned by many. Mr Key's preference, which he made clear from 2010 is for a silver fern on a black ground.
There are other flags that have been proposed including a widely accepted Maori motif that is in current use and other solutions to the problem of colonial symbolism representing bygone traditions and connections with the United Kingdom and ignoring New Zealand's contemporary socio-cultural composition and our aspirations for a distinctive identity (separate from Australia).

The fern idea is a bold statement but it has its detractors (there are no shortage of voices eager to be heard - which is hardly surprising, given all kiwis are stakeholders in the outcome). It asks the question of a flag's purpose in the modern era. It isn't an identifier for the battlefield - a place for troops to rally around. It doesn't represent a lineage or geneology, like a medeival heraldic standard - in fact in a digital era it barely serves any purpose. The 'ping' released by a ship or aircraft will identify it more exacltly than a piece of cloth.

The obvious answer is that the issue at stake is one of national branding. That topic in itself is fraught with its own issues as the change from Telecom to Spark made clear. Expensive and risky. Equally clear is that the new supra-states are the corporate brands of McDonalds and Coca-Cola whose simple, iconic brand identities are recognised the world over.

It is tempting to look at Canada and Switzerland's flags and argue that they are powerful, contemporary brand identities and to want something akin to their trademark simplicity. I agree with the argument - but I have qualms about a black flag. In our culture black is the colour symbolising death. It is the negative colour (if it is a colour at all). The suggestion that, because it is the colour adopted by many national sporting teams, it already applies may be valid to some extent, but there is (hopefully) more to New Zealand than sporting prowess.

The referendum about the flag seems to have hit a bump in the road. It may not be the done-deal that New Zealand adopts the black flag with silver fern. Because another black flag has stolen the march.
I for one won't be saluting the prospect of a national flag that reminds the world of ISIS, the islamic terrorist group. And I think when kiwi soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Syria they would need extra body armour if they were marching behind a black and white banner.

Things are never as black and white as they seem, are they?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Campbell Jive - In which a media star sees fit to set me straight.

I don't know John Campbell personally. But he rang the other day. He was in a thinly veiled fury that I had dared to suggest his post election interview coup with John Key was really a triumph of the party's will - cleverly stage managed. It seemed to me that National have their heads around managing the media spectacle (giving TV3 access, on their turf with an intimate inaugural address). To be fair, I did refer generally to Leni Reifenstahl and Goebels' mastery of staging a political event - and Brian Edwards wilfully misconstrued that as invoking Godwin's Law - which I wasn't. Mr Campbell also inferred I was conjuring up some 'conspiracy theory' (I wasn't - but hmmm…that trope sounds familiar…)

By comparison David Cunliffe had allowed himself to be lured into the lion's den to discuss his resignation and his interview in the full glare of the Campbell Live studio. I said I thought Cunliffe had mis-stepped.

The call was quite intense. Campbell told me how deeply offended he was that I had suggested any inference that the interview with the PM was anything other than a routine situation managed by his producer who had arranged the venue and lighting etc. He was also at pains to say that Cunliffe had asked to attend the studio for his interview*.

All well and good but it was simply my opinion, as a reasonable viewer like any other - it was not the Spanish Inquisition and my comments were contained to a niche site about media spin - it was Brian Edwards' site (he coached Helen Clark into being media friendly enough to be elected which quite an accomplishment).

What fascinates me is that a mainstream current affairs host would call me randomly to berate and school me. He told me I should have called him directly about issues I had with his material. That is ludicrous. Firstly it was a trivial, ad-hoc discussion on an obscure blog. Flattering though it might seem that I have a direct line to media influence it was a silly thing to suggest. In fact after the call I had a wee think -  I had some questions - I texted him to ask him to send an email address I could use to send those questions. That was Thursday. No reply - today is Saturday. To be fair, he is a busy man and his call was just before he went on the air.

I did ask John what he wanted me to do as a result of his call - what redress did he seek? He didn't have any response to that. I asked twice. Maybe he was just letting off steam? That's ok. We all lose our cool sometimes and if that is the case - well, I forgive him. If I was wrong, I'm sorry, but I can only go by what I see and if the producer chooses soft lighting and even softer questions, that is their choice - perhaps luring the PM back into the studio is a strategy for the next term of office - he and his ministers seem pretty slippery about fronting up; especially after Bridges was burned.

In our house we watch Campbell Live - in part because we watch 3News and it just follows partly because Seven Sharp has only gotten worse since its inception. The only time I want to hear what Mike Hoskins has to say is when it is uttered by Jeremy Wells.

News is never going to be the balanced, interesting, informed thing I would like to see. That realisation is a like coming of age - kind of like Ferris Beuller's Day Off without the laffs or Y Tu Mamá También without the sexy bits.

The news will continue to be less about news and more about rehashed spin, sport and weather. The 6.30 slot will be a weird mix of populist telethon-style campaigning, oddities and Fair Go Lite (if such a thing is possible). It's just the way of the world. I will just have to reconcile myself with The Guardian, The Atlantic and Last Week Tonight. 

We quite like John Campbell in our house - he seems a perfectly intelligent, affable chap, a man of the people. Just don't cross him people.

I don't think that I'll stop expressing my views about what I see in the media - it's there for our edification - not as a vehicle for presenters to be 'stars'. Unlike journalists, I have no obligation to be fair or balanced, though I try not to be ugly or unreasonable and I have no particular agenda. I always comment as myself for the purpose of discussion (it was easy for John to track me down - there was link to my phone number with my comments). I don't always agree and neither should you. Agreeing isn't thinking and I welcome debate.

*As a footnote to the Cunliffe episode - I don't think there was any obligation for 'balance' - the electoral campaign period was over; he had lost and had resigned as leader of the main opposition party. Campbell Live had no more obligation to equal time than they would if they were interviewing the mayor of Toronto about some antic or other. My comments were mainly about how much better National are at spinning their message to the media in general.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Slow, steady radicalisation of everyday life.

The other day I posted this image on Facebook. It's one of those things that does the rounds. It illustrates the absurd conundrums and entanglements of western involvement in the middle east.
It elicited a curious response. From the comments of people I know and their associates whom I don't necessarily know - because my Facebook profile is open (I don't share much that is private) I realised that there is a thin veneer of civility in the public square. I doesn't take much to rupture the veneer.

I should add that my commentary on the item also referred to the fact that I am concerned about fear mongering by politicians and media (for both of whom exaggeration makes a better story) is creating a conversational loop. I ventured that terrorists don't have to wear black and wield knives. When a government goes out of its way to alarm - let's just call it terrify - its citizens then that is an act of terrorism. Bear in mind that the threat of violence is a form of violence - that is why assault doesn't need bruising to be a crime.

The comments began reasonably enough. But by the time I deleted the post it had become absurd - calls for violence and vengeance. Radical stuff from otherwise sane, reasonable people with whom I interact quite normally on other matters. Other commenters called me anti American (blimey, Joe McCarthy would have been delighted) which I am not, a liberal - which I am (though interestingly enough liberality is a pivot point on both ends of the notional political spectrum - so I'm ok with that) and a Green Goose (which is a new one on me).

Having gone through a toxic election process here in New Zealand and having seen through the information in the book Dirty Politics that there is a real commitment to factionalisation of the population and an understanding that social media is a perfect covert tool for political parties to radiate spiteful memes I think we are at a dangerous pivot point.

There is little difference in my mind between a brown shirt mob in the streets of Berlin roaming freely under the 'moral' protection of being on the side of The Party' and hostile, declamatory, defamatory and menacing behaviour on social media platforms.

I removed the post because a) I found the remarks ugly b) effectively sponsoring their publication on my timeline allowed the message to radiate - I'm not a public service broadcaster and have no obligation to offer 'balance' - especially when the opinions expressed are unhinged and c) I felt that there was a looming tipping point where the comments would go from loud and obnoxious to threatening.

By deleting the post I bent to the pressure. That's how easy it is to intimidate and decry other points of view. In principle it is little different to shutting girls out of education because, if they attend school there might be violence. Menace people with a different point of view on social media and they wont express them. The mob begins to rule by degree - if not decree. Minorities and dissenters withdraw from the discourse. Or they become radicalised themselves. Every force in the universe has an equal and opposite one.

For the people who speak so vehemently and radically about the threat in New Zealand from terrorism I reiterate - there is little to be afraid of. You are statistically more likely to die from being tangled in your bedclothes. We  need to confront the shift to using more radical, extremist language in public. It doesn't help anyone and you ultimately become sucked into being the very thing you despise.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Where's the plan?

I can't say I have any sour grapes about the election result. It didn't matter to me which major party won. It was always going to be a triumph of the status quo and the continuation of the idea vacuum. 

New Zealand needs some kind of visionary leadership. Dairy and commodities are fine but they aren't sustainable and are entirely 'luck of the draw'.

We need a Callahan Solution.

After two terms and and right at the start of the third with enough support not to worry about pleasing any secondary political agenda there is a never to be repeated opportunity to take a step back and make some investment in a longer term vision.

It might seem odd but, instead of dancing on the grave of the Labour party in their defeat there should be some kind of cross party initiative to look, statesman-like, ahead and formulate some ideas (not cycleway pap and charter schools) for the future. National have nothing to lose except their hubris and Key has an opportunity to leave an enduring legacy instead of the memory of him as an infantile smear merchant. Great leaders from Alexander the Great (whom we know was great because it was his name) and Lincoln (because his memorial is life sized) knew that subjugating and humiliating the defeated only comes back to bite you on the arse later.

Do it now. For the good of all kiwis (if that's what you truly believe in - and you weren't just saying it to gull the gullible…with promises of a block of mild colby in 2017).

Update - since I wrote this Fran O'Sullivan columnist for the NZ Herald has published an op - ed piece advocating a similar stance - though not so cross party in her thinking as me. The risk is that another worthy, well meaning gab-fest occurs at the tax-payer's expense but with little tangible benefit in return. It is worth reading though. Where's the plan?