Monday, August 27, 2012


A little to my own amazement I find I have published exactly 500 blog posts over the past four and a half years. The question that will rise immediately to the lips of anyone apprised of this striking fact will naturally be: why? The simplest, straightest answer is that like every other blogger I blog because I like the sound of my own voice and want others to like it too. You scratch your mark on the cave wall and some time later—a few thousand years later, perhaps—someone else sees it and finds something of interest or value in it. You hope. There's a hell of a lot of cave walls around, and no one's going to miss your scratchings if they're not there. It's a funny old business, though, trying to accurately depict bison hunting at the same time as commenting on port disputes and partial asset sales. Sometimes I'm so bereft of inspiration that weeks go by without a post, other times I'm bubbling with it to the point of overkill. How other bloggers maintain regularity—and quality—is a source of wonder to me. I think of two in particular, at almost opposite ends of the spectrum: Giovanni Tiso, whose Bat, Bean, Beam blog is an elegant weekly fusion of culture, politics, history, technology, personal memory and private life; and the guy behind No Right Turn, whose fierce, polemical posts, always based on close reading and research, are hammered into the nation's door virtually every day like Luther's theses. If a regional blogosphere can have pillars, then these are two of New Zealand's.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't think, Bryce, it's all right

I am currently on research and study leave, and am soon to depart for four months in Berlin. I am keen to continue producing NZ Politics Daily, but will now do so on a more occasional basis—about two or three times a week. The normal service will return at the start of 2013.
Two or three times a week? Is he mad? I hope so. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has come to bless the name of Bryce Edwards and praise his extraordinary assiduity in pumping out NZ Politics Daily, well, daily. The fact that he could even contemplate doing it 'two or three times a week' from Berlin, of all places (why not Tuakau?), suggests a mind diseased with patriotic responsibility and political conscience. I met him for coffee in Wellington the other day and my good friend Norman Smith, who was there too, suggested that once a week might be enough. Instantly I sensed that such a commitment would not be suffering enough for Edwards, who almost singlehandedly has built an online marae for political korero in New Zealand. I told him then, and I repeat it now, that quite apart from providing a whole bunch of us with an instant daily link to the whole range of political debate in New Zealand, he has in effect validated the NZ political blogosphere and kept it relevant. In another country NZPD would already have the support and funding to make it a sort of Kiwi Huffington Post; and maybe it will yet morph into such a thing. I hope so. NZPD fills a need; maybe the very need that Bernard Hickey has just identified. We should all crowd-source it. Just ask us, Bryce. Don't think twice.

Epic Veil

I am at a loss to understand why the Veils are not universally hailed as New Zealand's greatest band and its driving force, Finn Andrews, as one of our best singer/songwriters. Maybe it's because they don't seem to spend a lot of time in the country. Maybe they don't hang out with the right crowd. Maybe Andrews seriously pissed someone off, I don't know. But they are New Zealand through and through: listen to 'Advice for Young Mothers To Be' or 'Grey Lynn Park' (the only song I know of with the word 'pohutukawa' in it). 'The Leavers' Dance' is quite simply a masterpiece. And, though I have no idea what it means, 'The Wild Son' is a beautiful, passionate, powerful song. Andrews has a great singing voice. That's it. I'm all out of rave for the moment.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate? Ryan, the ultra-fiscal conservative who was weaned on Ayn Rand? That Ryan? I'm betting they're down on their knees right now in the White House giving thanks to the Lord for ensuring Obama's re-election in November. It was going to happen anyway, I think—just—but of all the vice-presidential candidates Romney could have chosen to lose the election with (bar, say, Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh), Ryan's the one who seals the Republicans' fate. Obama must have been going to bed at night praying please, please, please don't let Romney choose someone like Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman. The Tea Party has just claimed a major scalp, and it's not Barack Obama.

Got to give

It is difficult at times not to draw the conclusion that some political parties in New Zealand are occupying the place that should rightly be held by parties far more adventurous and dynamic. As I more or less blogged the other day, by virtue of little more than happening to have been there for about 100 years the Labour Party continues to sprawl untidily over the centre-left ground like a half-abandoned factory site, some of the plant still working but not actually turning out anything seriously productive. The Green Party has begun to colonize some of this territory but inevitably, as they gravitate towards the centre, the Greens themselves are becoming less radical and unsettling. One might have had hopes for the Mana Party, which, slight as it is, is the nearest thing we have to a mainstream working-class party; but despite attracting people of real stature (Minto, Sykes) it looks too much like Hone Harawira's creation and vehicle, just as the Alliance was Jim Anderton's—and look what happened to that. It's still perfectly possible to project scenarios in which National, Labour and the Greens dominate New Zealand politics for the next 20 to 30 years but I am haunted by the thought that/am prone to wishful thinking that (choose either of the above) political movements and parties of which none of us now can even conceive will emerge sooner rather than later—especially given the volatile nature of the world economy. This is happening elsewhere; why shouldn't it happen here? Look at Syriza in Greece, the Pirate parties in Sweden and Germany. The Italian city of Parma has just elected (by a convincing margin) a representative of the Five Star Movement as its mayor. Five Star was founded by comedian/blogger Beppe Grillo in the first place as a protest against Italy's endemic corruption, but according to a report in the Economist, recent polls have suggested it could take as much as 17% of the national vote. Some of these movements may not last, of course; I guess we are in the zone to which Gramsci's famous dictum applies: 'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.' But some will; and I rather think they are being born as we speak. Cosy National/Labour, Labour/National with a side salad of Greens on and on into infinity? I don't think so. Not in these times. Something's got to give.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tarnished gold

Now that the Olympics are over, and New Zealand has won all the medals it's going to win, it's time to face some hard truths about the performance of our athletes. No amount of anthem-singing and flag-waving can hide the grim truth that four of our five gold medals were won by people sitting down, and the other one by two women virtually lying down half the time. Gone, the glory days of Kiwis winning gold by running, throwing or at least remaining upright. Do we need further confirmation that this country has slipped into slothful couch-potato ways? No wonder obesity is soaring. The NZ Olympic Committee has work to do if we are to stand tall–actually, to stand at all—at the next Olympics.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Right decision

I hope John Key won't cop any silly flak for saying that he won't attend a service for the two soldiers just killed in Afghanistan because he has a prior commitment to watch his son play baseball. Put like that, it seems harsh; but he has done the right thing. Max Key is in the New Zealand under-17 team scheduled to play in an American tournament, and what parent wouldn't want to be there for their kid? It's no insult to the men who died. Prime ministers are supposed to lend their status to all sorts of state occasions and fair enough, but they are fathers and mothers too. Key puts it well when he says 'It's a very, very difficult decision. I have got to let somebody down. But my son makes huge sacrifices for me and my job and in the final analysis I thought it was the right thing to do to go and support him.' It is. But it's a commentary on what we expect of our politicians that he even had to say this.

Trade me

'A new music centre and auditoriums for the performing arts will ensure the city's cultural needs are catered for.' This apparently innocuous sentence, published as part of a news report 10 days ago, embodies the worldview that has come to dominate our age. It is a worldview that sees virtually all aspects of society in terms of economic equations; a worldview that shunts everything—not just business transactions but healthcare, education, art, private life, even emotions—into compartmentalized boxes that can then be treated as somehow tradeable with each other. The world, in short, of The Market. Thus the vast complexity and contingency of a country's or city's culture can be reduced to the life-killing formula of 'cultural needs.' It's easy, once you get the hang of it. If you can identify something as a 'need,' then you can argue that that need can or should be met. Box two fits into box one; or rather, supplier meets buyer, enabling a trade or transaction to take place. This may be fine where soap powder or sugar are concerned, but it reduces culture to a form of consumerism. It takes what's organic and constantly changing, constantly defying precise definition, and reifies or commodifies it for the sake of a dehumanizing simplism. Let's see now: I have a 'cultural need,' so I will go out and fill that need: problem solved! Or should I say, 'catered for.' Transaction completed. Deal done. May I raise a small voice and suggest, heretically, that life isn't like that. Of course it isn't: we know that, we feel it. But public and political discourse, increasingly, denies what we know and feel and positions us all as consumers and buyers not in society (an outmoded concept) or even in the world (too mushy) but in the marketplace.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cultural needs

What is wrong with this sentence, published by Stuff on 30 July? 'A new music centre and auditoriums for the performing arts will ensure the city's cultural needs are catered for.'

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Get set

Am I the only one to get a little moist-eyed at the announcement today that the referee's scrum routine for the upcoming provincial rugby championship is being changed to 'Crouch, touch, set'? This appears to signify that the immortal phrase 'Crouch, touch, pause, engage'—first used, I believe, in a Tennyson ode, and later popularized by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra—is on the way out? A whole generation has grown up with these incantatory words ringing in its ears. I am not sure, in fact, that New Zealand would have won the Rugby World Cup without them. Right up to the final the ABs probably had little recording devices under their pillows, like the ones for the children in the nurseries of Brave New World, whispering this lyrical litany into their sleeping brains, imprinting it on the hard drive, ensuring that when the day came and the scrum went down they would crouch, touch, pause and engage. In that order. Unquestioningly. Tell me I have a dirty mind (please) but I always had the feeling there was something sexual, well, sensual anyway, about these intensely physical instructions; and maybe that's why they have sunk so deep in the nation's psyche. Touching and engaging, after all, is what keeps the human race going, with or without the pausing. As was memorably said by E M Forster, who played first-five for Cambridge University, 'Only connect.' Farewell, then, familiar words; at the going down of the scrum, we will remember them. 'Crouch, touch, set' doesn't have quite the same ring but no doubt we'll get used to it in time.