Sheep, goats, angry men in coats.

One of the most troubling elements of recent political life is that some of my fondest theories and literatures are being recast in a new light, and it’s not flattering. The Frankfurt School, comprised of a twitchy bunch of middle-European men, thick in both coat and brow, produced much of the most prescient works on the cultural aspects of consumerist culture.

Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse angrily penned blistering critiques of low culture – films, books, T.V and drew direct lines between consuming this shit and quietly by-standing the Holocaust. More than fifty years on, all of their works are still troublingly apposite, but perhaps what’s become most alarming to me is that their ideas and language have been co-opted by what we might charitably call, ‘the far right’.

Consider this quote from Herbert Marcuse (1964),

Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the Individuals through the way in which it is organised.

Every day some version of this statement will turn up on my Instagram account, usually in the service of those who champion, ‘freedom’. The anti-vax movement didn’t initiate this movement but it networked, refined and mobilised those with nascent views about their ‘freedom’. You know the people I’m talking about – the sovereign citizens, terrain theorists, bio hackers, survivalists etc.,. People I don’t normally think of myself as naturally gravitating towards. Although these people are generally characterised as being racist (something I can’t judge really as I have the privilege of not paying enough attention) what I am absolutely sure they are united by is a sneaky whiff of anti-semitism. The Frankfurt School would be sizzling.

The irony of bleating about the insidious and nefarious social and political manipulation rolled out through instagram is not lost on me. And yet claims about how the mainstream media depoliticises and poisons us, frames junk choices, broadly, controls us, continue apace. Here’s Adorno (1974), not even remotely writing about Instagram,

The phrase, the world wants to be deceived, has become truer than had ever been intended.

The resonance with today’s current bunch of wellness warriors is acute.

So what to make of this? For me, it’s like discovering that your high minded, moral, well-meaning religion (critical theory) has been adopted by Hillsong. Extremism is the hallmark of ‘not really understanding what the Frankfurt School was on about’. The creation of binary narratives – sheep/goats, blind/seeing, redpilled/bluepilled etc.,. are simplistic meta-narratives that mirror the ones that ‘freedom warriors’ claim to be so keen to resist.

The people who really get on the wagon with the ‘freedom’ talk are doing exactly the same thing as the people who run their lives according to the mainstream consumerism presented to them via the same channels. The sheep and the goats are equally serviceable in a curry. They are all making and producing and reproducing themselves and their identities through the medium of images presented and controlled through social media.

Herbert Marcuse claimed that ultimately, the main aim of the culture industries was to make profit, and I think that’s the right place to start thinking about this. Because although people who are extreme about what we might loosely call ‘the freedom movement’ mediated through social media, it is the social media platforms that make money out of them. They are, to repeat the phrase, the product.

Often, these social media personalities complain about being silenced or moderated or edited by the platform because of their unpopular views (for instance, people having their anti-vax posts removed) but in fact, the posts that get removed are the ones that don’t make the platform enough money. Engagement plus advertisement makes profit.

Perhaps these ‘influencers’, bravely baring their unshaved clackers to the world to give a defiant finger to ‘transhumanism’ are aware that the platform still makes money out of their content, but think it’s an acceptable price to pay for the ability to get the message out.

A vast majority of the content about ‘freedom’ exists in the health sphere, and was consolidated and weaponised by the anti-vax issue. Suddenly, a big part of the ‘wellness’ sphere transmogrified into a tight coalition of ‘paleo-bros’ and ‘bio hackers’ – a very male dominated eco system of tightly wound, mostly white guys who are succesful in part because you can’t smell ketosis through the screen. These people, like many, many others (including me) are convinced that the modern food industries are designed for profit rather than human health. It’s very hard to argue with that. But their criticisms of the corporate structures that engender the ‘food’ economy are refracted through their own bodies, identities and relationships. They use much of the language of the men’s rights movement – that men should be strong, protective, muscle bound, virile etc.,. and that the modern food industry has feminised men and contributed to the breakdown of the modern family.

In other words, the ‘anti authoritarians’ question and reject the meta narratives of science, government, risk and control and replace them with another set of equally controlling hyper individualistic notions of personal sovereignty, that amount to little more than outing themselves as advanced hyper-consumers who are seeking to reproduce much older traditional ideas about the family and masculinity. The main difference between the meta narratives of science, governmentality and risk is the focus on humans as a group whereas the ‘anti-authoritarians’ are extreme individualists. These people are the ultimate consumers – they are performatively made and remade through their relationship to the products they consume.

To be clear – BOTH groups are pretty bad. On the one hand, there’s the mainstream, slavish adherence to ideas about how to be a controlled body – eat mass produced food and consume the ‘mental health’ bullshit that renders you governable. Many of the strategies of government and public health exist to address the obscene rates of illness that are a direct result of corporate negligence in the service of profit.

BUT, the extreme ‘anti-authoritarians’ are doing more or less the same thing – finding their tribe, allowing themselves to be completely preoccupied with their narcissistic individuality, completely obviating the possibility of political engagement in the current omnishambles. They are noisily ‘opting out’ and thinking this will solve everything.

What to make of all this? How to retain my love affair with critical theory as liberation? For me, it’s with the help of two ideas – governmentality and anti semitism.

The idea of an extreme freedom midwived through extreme narcissism and cultivation of the performative individual is little more than the most modern iteration of identity-based, late capitalist consumerism. The appeal of simplistic, formulaic ideas of control (government bad and evil versus plucky heroic freedom warriors) simply reproduces some very well worn patriarchal tropes. It’s Star Wars in yoga pants.

And anti-semitism? Well, the idea that the extreme left and right are connected by anti-semitism isn’t new. The left think that major media corporations are Jewish controlled, and as such, governments dance to their tune. The right are anti-semitic for more tribal reasons. Both frame Judaism as a powerful, controlling force with a ready supply of sleeper foot-soldiers. The Frankfurt School was developed precisely because its founding members were understandably horrified by the way in which the Holocaust could be countenanced by regular, ordinary working people – their friends, neighbours, colleagues and associates. I’m always stunned when I see people at protests holding signs that say, ‘Always wondered who let the Jews be taken away? Now you know’ etc.,. These are always the same people who ascribe to ideas about the global order that aren’t much different to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And with that, it’s time for me to go and make a potentiated almond goat’s uterus smoothie.

Thatcher, Reagan and a little country in the Pacific

I’ve been watching The Crown. I was enjoying it for all the reasons I should – the opulence, the soap opera melodramas, the depictions of the politics of Britain in the post war period. Thatcher’s Britain came as a kick in the guts.

I think this Scottish woman’s eulogy for Mrs Thatcher sums it up nicely;

I am a child of the 80s. My first memories are of thin leather jackets, bad perms and cigarettes. Thatcher’s Britain was not too far removed, in terms of ‘look’ from New Zealand at the time – lots of shambling poverty, cups of tea and unemployment. Thatcher renovated the British economy from top to bottom (as she put it). Basically, as Britain’s colonial power declined, and with it, the money extracted from milking ‘real’ resources in its overseas territories, the country was increasingly ‘domesticated’. That is, reliant on making things within Britain. This wouldn’t be such a problem, if Britain had kept up its technological dominance, but it hadn’t, lulled, as many before it, into a false sense of security provided by a healthy stream of income from its resources obtained overseas.

Thatcher knew this. Britain was becoming less competitive and was suffering economically for it. Thatcher’s Britain aimed to shift the very structure of the economy to emphasise the one thing in which Britain still retained supremacy – a hub for financial trading. The City (of London) drew in enormous wealth for Britain. Thatcher decided to hitch the country’s fortunes to this horse, and, at the same time, embark on a radical monetarist inspired restructure of the welfare state. This was what we now refer to as neoliberalism. ‘The Washington Consensus’ and Britain’s structural adjustment signalled an enormous shift in the basis of the economy. I’m not going to summarise the details here, as many have done a far better job of that than I. However, what I think The Crown gets right is the cultural oeuvre of neoliberalism, Thatcher’s words piped into the existence of its downtrodden, penurious protagonists as they stand in line waiting to be ritually humiliated at the dole office, or in their shabby council flats.

Neoliberalism presented an economic idea as a cultural one – the idea that the economy and society were one thing, and that the individual was a discrete, atomised actor, completely in control of his or her own destiny, regardless of one’s circumstances. Success or failure was based purely on personal, individual gumption and hard work. Society, according to Thatcher, ‘did not exist’. It’s worth noting that all this individualism did not extend to taxes, which were still collected by the state.

Citizens were endlessly re-educated into this new way of thinking, the language of individualism. It was a mean-spirited thing that viewed all the workings of society – housing, healthcare, education – as economic products rather than social goods. There was no longer any ‘social’. Everything was privatised, speculated on, governed by the ‘invisible hand’ of economic rationalism.

The impact, of course, was to reduce transfer payments from the top of the economy to the bottom, thus concentrating wealth upwards. The rich got a lot richer.

New Zealand, with its dour, pinch-faced Scottish Protestant-Calvinist tut-tutted Thatcher for her gentle touch. In 1984, faced with a similar ‘traditional’ economy in decline, New Zealand embarked on a massive neoliberal experiment, known today, in the fine Kiwi tradition of austerity in naming, as The New Zealand Experiment. This was an extreme version of neoliberalism, carried out even more radically than in Britain. The country floated the dollar and embarked on a massive overhaul of the public sector. Unemployment shot up, poverty flourished, homelessness and social alienation became entrenched by the early 90s.

The results, of course, were devastating for ordinary people.

I think what’s most striking to me, having mostly grown up during this period, is that this represented a new way of thinking about ourselves as political, social and economic beings. It seeped into the way we thought about ourselves. For instance, in the 90s in NZ there was an incredibly strong stigma attached to being ‘unproductive’. Neoliberalism had unleashed an extant cruelty that fostered hatred amongst friends and neighbours. Using terms like ‘working class’ or, ‘benefit’ was openly sneered at. Working full time was the only way to be fully human, and in my opinion, this element of neoliberalism remains. For women, having a child was judged harshly and women should ‘get back out there’ as quickly as possible. Unsurprisingly, the economic arrangements of the day had the harshest judgements for women. My mother, for instance, was a ‘solo mother’ *gasp* after her husband left her. She struggled to get work and eventually, through friends, got a full time position as a telephonist (yes, in one of those phone offices with the long cord and plug thingos). Her relief was enormous as it meant she could pay a mortgage on the small house she’d managed to buy (after being refused several times by the ANZ bank because she didn’t have a husband on the paperwork.

The problem, of course, was that she had two children, which was somewhat incompatible with working full time, in the age of zero childcare. We attended every single day of school, no matter our condition. She simply had no choice otherwise. Mum had 5 days of sick leave per year, and the fact that I remember this from the age of 5 is testament to how it dominated our lives. Mum had an illness that eventually required an operation and she rationed out those sick days like gold.

In the afternoons I went to a Barnardos home and my brother went to a neighbour who had other children his age. We collected food boxes (in another woman’s car) from what Mum called ‘the vege co-op’ but I now realise was a food bank. I remember sitting cross legged in the back of an HQ stationwagon with several other kids, all of us woozy with the petrol fumes, with next to boxes of food as the car made its way around the neighbourhood. The irony is, of course, that we weren’t even considered particularly poor. I remember my Dad picking us up for a visit and discovering that Mum hadn’t packed us any clothes and he took us into Wellington city, at night, and bought us new clothes. I got a pair of jeans and a jumper. Until that point all my clothes came from my cousin Glen, who was the only cousin bigger than me. I wore boys’ clothes for my entire childhood, including Y front undies. Shoes were optional.

Unless you lived in a household with a full time employed husband, you were fucked. There were plenty of people in our situation.

New Zealand prior to 1984 wasn’t exactly rolling in cash either – there was a strict division between rural and urban kiwis, and money was almost hermetically sealed amongst those in the farming sector. Liberalisation and the removal of tariffs knocked that on the head.

I think what’s interesting to me is that Neoliberalism, for many New Zealanders under the age of 40, is just a given. It was presented as an incontrovertible set of natural laws that would govern the fortunes of the country and enable success. It tapped into New Zealanders’ Calvinist leanings, their inherent distrust of their neighbours as bludgers and leaners, their cruel racism.

There was no ‘citizenry’, no longer any sense of social contract or licence. All there was was the cut and thrust of economic primacy and success. The idea that government should support, foster, regulate, ameliorate, prime or undergird economic activity was an anathema. The government should not ‘pick winners’. Of course, this was because the winners were picking themselves. No one laughed longer than I did when New Zealanders chose John Key as their Prime Minister, a man who had colluded in the fevered currency speculation following the floating of the NZ dollar that almost bankrupted the entire country, overnight.

From https://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/249633/Who-is-John-Key

So suppose what I want to flag is something hopeful. Neoliberalism has, as predicted, has not guaranteed the stable economic success it promised. It was brought increased inequality and poverty. But, and this is a big but, I am now old enough to recognise changes. People are increasingly seeing it for what it was and is. They’re aware now, especially in the wake of massive social spending following the GFC and more lately, the pandemic, the role of strong governments that are integrated into the economy in a more traditional Keynesian, interventionist way. There are arguments about what this means economically, but what’s changed is an awareness of the separation of the economy and society, and that one must serve the other. As I live in Australia I increasingly witness the political consensus coalesce on what we might recognise as something like ordo-liberalism, rather than neoliberalism. It’s clear that there’s no point in simply working very hard to tip money into the top end of a FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate).

I’m just dribbling on now, but part of my 2021 resolution was to write more, and reflect more through writing, and so now I’m doing just that.

(I’ve written about The NZ Experiment before – here)

The Noble Victim, a cartography of absolutism.

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Ah, the ABC this morning.

Click bait, aimed at provoking transphobic hatred from all corners. Whoever made the decision to choose this story has a lot to answer for.

Here’s the intro:

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That’s right, Mara was locked up for 23 hours a day because she’s transgender.

We’re told that Mara is terrified, alone and scared in prison.

One week in, another inmate calls her a ‘faggot’. She punches him and is placed in ‘unit one’ (solitary).

Now we are told something different, that Mara was placed in solitary because she punched another inmate, not “because she is trans”. This would have happened in a women’s prison too. Likewise, the fear, confusion, terror, alienation, sadness and drug withdrawal. This article is not exactly an exercise in balance.

Obviously this story violates the ABC’s editorial policies that require it to accurately report facts. ‘Mara is placed in solitary because she is trans gender’ is not true. The editorial policy makes a clear distinction between reporting or editorialising and crusading. Clearly, this is the former.

However, I am not interested in the explicit misrepresentations in this story. What I am interested in how these stories come to be made in the first place. What causes a journalist to write such tabloid crap? Year 11 creative writing at Cremorne St Patricias College for Ladies has a lot to answer for.

Mara is positioned throughout this story as a victim. Her background is described. It is harrowing (assuming it’s true). Her prison experience is detailed as something extreme, which of course makes you realise that the authors aren’t aware that being strip searched and called names is a bog standard part of the prison experience, no matter which one you go into.

Mara is described as wholly innocent, without culpability, a complete victim of her circumstances. It reminds me of the simple binary moralising of the ‘Noble Savage’ discourse that occasionally pops up – describing people whose very existence is noble and unblemished, spiritually superior, higher-than-human.

The noble savage idea is a dangerous one – it positions some groups of people as so different they’re not really human, reinforcing the idea that some people are irreconcilably different. It has extremely serious consequences for indigenous people and groups who try to forge claims for compensation or recognition, because it delineates which claims are legitimate and which are ‘outside the frame’.

Mara’s victimhood operates on a similar, simple set of binaries. Her past experiences render her unable to be responsible for any of her negative actions. Her bad behaviour isn’t her fault. Consider the language in the article:

Mara’s relationship was turbulent. She was convicted for assaulting her partner.

All in the passive voice, as if she was just standing there in the self check out at Woolies minding her own business and then got convicted for assault.

The article deviates from the details of her incarceration in ‘unit one’ at the critical moment: when we would otherwise hear why she’s actually in there. There is no discussion of Mara’s victims, simply the ‘turbulent’ relationship.

Mara’s victimhood status denotes her as having a childlike innocence. She is absolved of wrongdoing. It’s a form of holiness. The parallels with Christian puritanism are overwhelming.

An accurate representation of Mara’s situation would do her better service. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that being a trans woman in a men’s prison is not a good scenario. Australia was actually one of the first countries in the world to recognise this and make some arrangements accordingly, but of course, it’s not a perfect solution. Mara would struggle in a men’s prison, and would be considered too dangerous to be placed in a women’s prison. It’s a simple logic – the justice system has privileged the rights of female inmates (in a women’s prison) over Mara’s individual rights. Mara gets the raw end of the deal. There should be improvement in the arrangements for trans gender people in the justice system, and we should all advocate for that. This article doesn’t do that, it simply states that Mara should not be in a men’s prison.

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the ABC will sensationally lie in the opening paragraphs of an article in order to create their blameless, Disney child-victim, to obviate and sabotage any real chance of sensibly discussing a real problem?

Social media increasingly polarises people. True story. As a consequence, there is now an entire generation of young adults who’ve grown up with the idea that culture can be neatly ascribed along very simple, binary lines. It’s the Disney-fication of morality. You see it all the time in the debates around BLM, feminism or trans politics – anything that is nominally cast as an ‘identity’ issue (when, in my view, is mostly likely a structural class issue, but that’s for another day).

Of course there are real children who actually are real victims of their circumstances (child soldiers blowing each other away with fully automatic machine guns, teenaged girls being abducted into fundamentalist military groups to produce babies).  We see these victims when they turn up in Australia, battered, emotionally ruined, unable to speak English. They are widely pilloried.

To be clear, childlike, innocent victimhood is for some and not others.

So who makes these decisions? Who trivialises stories and agendas like Mara’s, with such sycophantic, polarised, misrepresentative, sensationalist rubbish?

No doubt the authors/producers of Mara’s story felt like they were doing her a favour. They’ve been had, in the truest sense of the term.

What’s most clear of course, is that the ABC chooses to publish this ‘content’ at the zenith of funding crisis, when hundreds of staff are losing their jobs. This expensively produced feature article appeared on the main ABC news page, demonstrating to even the most left of ABC audiences that if this is the calibre of one-eyed, crusading, hysterico-drama the broadcaster is cobbling together it could probably do with a bit a trim, if we’re honest.

So who made the editorial decision to run this and why now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the next thing….

FACEBOOK TV

Yes, it’s a thing. A thing where Facebook makes videos about science and posts them on Facebook. Yay! Science! By Facebook! It’ll be great!

Today’s vid told me that memories are inherited in your DNA because your parents DNA changes in response to different environmental stimuli. There was even a mouse experiment that proved it! OMG this totally explains why I get, like, really panicky in the presence of, like, books. Because my Mum was once given a series of electric shocks every time she opened a book!

I don’t even need to do any research at all to spot the first problem; – epigenetic transmission of behaviours is about methylation. It does not change the DNA. If it did I’d be a fucking legend cricket player who could successfully load a dishwasher.

Actually, the mouse experiment is kind of interesting. There have been many experiments and much research into methylation and epigenetics, but that mouse experiment stands out because of one thing; the results were completely unlikely. This article pulls the experiments apart in a reasonably straightforward way that I’d probably understand in its entirety if I wasn’t such a fabulous cricketer;

An article reporting statistical evidence for epigenetic transfer of learned behavior has important implications, if true. With random sampling, real effects do not always result in rejection of the null hypothesis, but the reported experiments were uniformly successful. Such an outcome is expected to occur with a probability of 0.004.

0.004. That’s pretty small odds. The article basically takes a series of guesses as to how the reported results were so amazingly coincidentally completely in line with the researchers’ hypothesis, but what it makes clear is how research design is often quite shonky. Obviously drug companies edit out their failures but I was a bit surprised to read this article detailing all the ways in which people bugger it up in other fields too,

How could the findings of Dias and Ressler (2014) have been so positive with such low odds of success? Perhaps there were unreported experiments that did not agree with the theoretical claims; perhaps the experiments were run in a way that improperly inflated the success and type I error rates, which would render the statistical inferences invalid. Researchers can unintentionally introduce these problems with seemingly minor choices in data collection, data analysis, and result interpretation. Regardless of the reasons, too much success undermines reader confidence that the experimental results represent reality. Even if some of the effects prove to be real, the findings reported in Dias and Ressler (2014) likely overestimate the effect magnitudes because unreported unsuccessful outcomes usually indicate a smaller effect than reported successful outcomes.

Next stop; chaos theory, closed loop control systems and my fucking car.

 

Here we go….

I’ve spent the better part of a couple of weeks developing a rudimentary knowledge of turbo diesels into a fine grained, forensic understanding of every fucking system that could ever shit itself. Don’t get me started….

Aside from turbo diesels, a few other ridiculous ideas have caught my way; one of which is the furore over old Pakehas receiving an small payment to help them with their winter power bill.

 See where the bulges sit above? European New Zealanders are older and thus far more likely to own their own homes (and, increasingly, the homes of others as property investors). Europeans far outpace all other ethnic groups when it comes to home ownership, being around twice as likely to own their home as Māori, and more again than Pasifika.

It’s fine to suggest that rich people shouldn’t really receive more money. This isn’t what the article is saying. It says; Pakeha New Zealanders are asset rich and live on pensions (which I think is about 20 grand per annum). Apparently these baby boomers should take out reverse mortgages in order to supplement their pensions. This seems wrong to me somehow. Yes, these people are cash-poor. Yes, they struggle to pay the power bill. Yes, they own their own homes. All that would happen is that their children would have less capital passed on to them when they die. Or, not mentioned in the article, that money might get spent on medical treatment and retirement homes….Unless and until someone addresses the complete fucking rort that is the retirement industry in NZ it will remain hard to make an argument that kids are going to inherit much at all. But let’s leave that aside for a moment.

Say those kids DO inherit something. What will they spend this largesse upon? Paying their enormous fucking student loans and outrageous mortgages. They might go to the dentist.

It’s all very well to portray Baby Boomers as living high on the hog but you have to look at a broader range of implications when you talk about making pensioners get reverse mortgages. It’s not just a simple case of taking one thing (reverse mortgages for asset rich/cash poor) and discussing it in terms of one implication (inheritance and intergenerational wealth). There are simply too many other factors in play. This is called ‘modelling’. It’s the kind of thing that dog whistling journos don’t do much of.

They prefer to make arguments on the basis of simpler concepts. Concepts everyone can understand. Like racism. Apparently Pakeha people are all home owners and that’s not fair. No-one else is a home owner! There’s even a nice piccy in the article to show you how baby boomers are all pakeha

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Of course, the more observant amongst you will notice that it is age, rather than ethnicity, that is the variable of interest here. Young people don’t buy houses. And young New Zealanders aren’t Pakeha. Is the cure for racist housing inequality to be older?

So that’s one thing……

 

Is 2018 The Year of the Mandal?

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It’s holidays, and we’re in the midst of the annual migration of well-laundered baby boomer men. They’re at The Beach, enjoying Leisure with their Family.

At a certain age, men wriggle out of the last vestiges of their adult form and return to a pre-pubescent larval stage. They begin to wear children’s velcro sandals.

Initially scientists assumed this was due to the Mandal’s superior level of comfort and versatility, however this theory was quickly disproved. Unlike children’s velcro sandals that roughly follow the child’s footprint, Mandals extend at least three centimetres beyond the toes, providing a large footbed that frequently trips the wearer, compounding the their lack of proprioception due to chronically swollen feet. Congestive heart failure is a tricksy beast.

Initially it was assumed the wearer had simply purchased a sandal that was too large – exhibiting the boomer’s deep and unremitting fear of any level of discomfort, no matter how minor, in everyday life. However, closer inspection reveals that the Mandal is in fact designed to extend out the front of the foot. The sizing is correct.

Perhaps the explanation is cultural; the large, frontal extension resembles the suburban verandah? Or maybe it serves to maximise one’s footprint, a literal expression of the baby boomers moral purpose? Perhaps it is a boomer expression of ethnic identity, referencing a nostalgic time when Australia was cleanly divided into skippies and wogs. Australians of southern European extraction would not be seen dead in velcro fucking sandals.

The only threat to the Mandal is the burgeoning trend of NormCore, where hipsters are busily inverting the inherent ugliness of 90s Boomer-Dad-fashion. If you can’t buy their houses, gently mock their footwear.  Take that!

500 words – morons in the wheelhouse

I’m constantly baffled by why some people continue to be completely driven by ego. It is always to their detriment. Always.

Imagine, for example, if every scientist responded to legitimate criticism of their work with;

‘I’m familiar with all the work in this field. So, you’re wrong. I’m right’.

Oh, right then. Well, you’re probably on the money. Because that’s the kind of attitude that suggests a life-long dedication to learning. No, no, don’t get up, I’ll see myself out. After all, I’ve been around doors my whole life, so I know how they work. Surely this maxim will put me in good stead when I encounter every possible facet of existence on this planet and beyond. Surely.

Most people know they don’t know everything. Smart people have some inkling of exactly what they don’t know. Total fucking grasping idiots assume they know everything and their knowledge is exhaustive.

 

 

Politically, egregiously, disastrously wrong

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Meet Mong Bear.

At the tender age of three, my daughter designed this bear. I’m unsure of how Mong-Bear got her remarkable moniker, but let’s go with the excuse de jour; The Russians made us do it*.

I’m sharing Mong Bear with you all because I was recently asked how to encourage creativity in young children. I don’t think Mong Bear is quite what the nice woman in the hand-shibori skirt had in mind when she asked. And yet, here we are.

Mong Bear is a girl. All my daughter’s teddies are girls, including Bruce, the chain-smoking camel from Tennant Creek. Bruce went through a bit of a rough patch during in the plastic-sheet floods of 2012 but he perked up a bit with a touch of lippy. Bruce, however, is a ‘normal’ teddy – he came from a shop. As you can see, it’s going to take more than a smear of Cinnamon Blush to set Mong Bear to rights.

But here’s the thing; Mong Bear is  actually perfect. Like the squid that swims backwards or Gina Reinhart in a pair of safety goggles (think: shrink-wrapped polyp with windows), Mong Bear is the pinnacle of her species.

I know this because teddies, all teddies, are designed to make little people happy. And, four years on, Mong Bear has delighted, captivated and comforted my daughter in ways that a normal teddy could never do.

Mong Bear’s perfection lies in her design; she was made to the exacting specifications of a three year old. Armed with a pen and huge piece of paper, my kid and I thrashed out the blueprint for the World’s Most Loveable Ted. It went something like this;

Small ears.

Roundy eyes.

A head shaped like this.

No, no, more like this.

A biiiiig tummy.

A long thin body.

Arms, not too long. Shorter. No shorter. NO MUM! Shorter! Yes, short legs too. Very short.

Kids are acute observers of humans. Good teddies must be teddy-ish but also human-ish. That is, wobbly, myopic orange nerds that are at once too thin and too fat and evoke the suspicion that Teddy’s mum got stuck into the mint julep at a critical juncture. Mong Bear is eminently patient and cuddly, but also, clearly, requires thick glasses and endless operations. Perfect.

Mong Bear has provided my daughter with years of love and fun. But she’s also taught me an important lesson: Big People have no business designing teddies. Big People have troubling pre-conceptions about Cute and/or Fluffy and discernible limbs. Indeed, Mong Bear made me realise that, aside from the ones that look like animals, most store-bought teddies resemble Kevin Rudd. They are small eyed and biscuity, with wobbly heads and a penchant for being smarmy in Mandarin.

Three year olds do not design Kevin Rudd. (Maybe they should).

All children should design at least one teddy. They will, of course, need your help.

Now I realise that a lot of adults have trouble being creative in this way. So I’ve devised two simple guidelines;

  1. Your teddy should be completely unique – see above.
  2. the end result should look like it could win a heart-wrenching class action suit against the Federal government at some point in the future.

Now, get stuck in!

 

*Sometimes it’s way dodgier to explain why the name that sounds ‘good’ isn’t actually good at all, than to just cough loudly and say ‘Oh, yes she’s named after our daughter’s favourite bean sprout’.

Again

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 12.36.16 PM.png

No no, don’t get up.

It’s hovering around 40c again. I’ve got something to say about America, but I can’t make it come out, so this more of a stream of consciousness. If only it was enough to keep my zucchinis alive. But they’re foreign too, so it’s curtains for them!

What? She’s gone mad. It’s the heat.

I’m reading Paul Theroux, specifically, the Patagonian Express. Published in 1979 it’s a bloody interesting insight into the American expansionism of the era. Take, for instance, Theroux’s visit to Panama. The Panama canal zone, in case you didn’t know, was more or less a US colony. The deal was; we Americans will run the canal, the ex-Columbians and Panamanians can just kind of hang out and NOT BE COMMUNISTS.

But you see in the face of rapacious extraction and the looming control of international predatory lenders, South Americans in general started to get the feeling that they were being generally destabilised in order for the US to continue its interests. They also had quaint ideas about running their own countries. Sovereignty means not everyone gets a crack at doing a shit job.

What’s particularly interesting is that Theroux gives an everyday account of Panama, including discussions about Panama’s leader, Omar Torrijos. He wasn’t a communist, he was more like what we would today recognise as a centrist – he believed in social welfare and education. Most importantly, however, he represented the majority of people in Panama, instead of the small cabal of American interests.

Theroux left Panama, and I wondered how the transition panned out. So I looked it up. Torrijos died in a plane crash. And Noriega took over. You see I remember Noriega (child of the 80s) but not Torrijos. So that was interesting to me.

Now, coming back to 2017….because I live in a left wing bubble, I’m perpetually surrounded by earnest social media posts that sound something like this;

I’m compelled to speak up with love and respect about the harms that this blah blah has done and this is not the America I know and love, the place that welcomes everyone and we love everyone and this is a time for strength not division etc., etc.,

It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the America that many non-Americans know. They know a posturing, illiberal super-power, one that is admired and feared, exploited for its economy and reviled for the interventionism that feeds it. In short, there are a lot of people in the world who have a mixed view of the US. It’s not the one that pops up underneath an artfully composed flat-lay on instagram.

Theroux talked frankly about Americans lack of awareness of their place in the world and the shenanigans carried out by their government. I think this is perhaps more true now than it was in 1979. The political sphere seems entirely domestic. Americans are protesting about American women’s rights, American muslim’s rights, American LGBT rights, African American rights, American workers rights. And well they should. I’m just surprised at the domestic focus I suppose…

Maybe I’m must engaging in that thing where I claim to be more righteous than everyone else, because I’ve got some interest in global history. But I don’t think this is it. I think politics is a cultural thing, and I generally think most people want to do what they think is the right thing to do. It’s the juxtaposition between the ‘soft’ domestic politics and the ‘hard’ bundling people into diplomatic bags politics that intrigues me.

See, I told you this wouldn’t make a lot of sense. See what you can do in 40 degree heat.

 

Opportunity Knocks

 Prominent ears and moustaches

A selection of headlines and bylines from the NZ mainstream media, regarding Gareth Morgan’s new political group, The Opportunities Party (with some artistic licence provided for clarity)….

Morgan Compares Self to Trump! (stuff.co.nz)

When asked who he most resembled, Donald Trump, Ghengis Kahn or that sidekick chicky from Zena with the fringe, Morgan compared himself to Trump, saying he was not really like him.

Gareth Morgan; good for ‘local colour’ (nzherald.co.nz)

John Key’s opinion of Morgan, who has consistently provided informed criticism of his National Government, is that he’s cashed up and good for a laugh. Don’t pay any attention to him.

Gareth Morgan Only Relevant to Cats! (thespinoff)

A searching treatise on Gareth Morgan’s new political party, completely comprised of cat-puns! It’s hilarious! Forget Morgan’s long-time, studied engagement in some of the most pressing issues of economic management and social justice, THE MAN DOESN’T LIKE CATS! Stand-by for Morgan’s position on leaf-blowers and microwaving vegetables with the Glad Wrap still on.

Morgan Too Arrogant For Parliament* (stuff.co.nz)

Gareth Morgan thinks he is Socrates. And he thinks he’s so clever he can solve all New Zealand’s problems single-handedly. He thinks politicians won’t solve New Zealand’s problems because they don’t want to ‘disturb the voters’.  Also, his son is rich, not him. Also, he’ll never make it. Also, he’s not very good at political spin, which, as a journalist dealing in political spin, clearly makes him an idiot.

*yes, really!

Sure, it’s easy to pass off all this negativity as normal New Zealand treatment of anyone who has,

A) given some thought to something,

and,

B) decided to do put some skin in the game.

Belting the shit out of their own is what kiwis do best.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is subject to such an immediate (clumsy and feeble) attempt at marginalisation by the media is obviously a very real threat to the status quo.

I know bugger all about Morgan (except his economic thinking, of which I know almost bugger all) but his appeal is evident from space. Morgan appears to be continuing an informed, intellectual interest in some pretty important social issues that the government keeps telling New Zealanders they don’t really care about.

Watch this space.