Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the idea of utopia...

I presented TF with a challenge that he has responded to both promptly and with some considerable thought. I do not propose to present my alternative as a criticism of what he has written. What must be appreciated is that we do, obviously, come from very different backgrounds; similar cultures with a partially shared history; but like the finches in the Galapagos we are the products of habitats which have evolved in very different ways to fit very different “ecological niches”.

So perhaps I can start by echoing his entrance; it is the universal desire of every parent that their family should live in happiness and security. That echo draws the very first contrast. Not only do I wish that for my family and for TF’s, I wish it too for every family on this earth irrespective of breed, and belief. Therein lies the first major challenge as well, for it is true that not every person is born equal on this planet. Not at present that is. Bear witness here that I am taking “equality” here in its broadest and most general sense; I have just eaten lunch. I have just eaten food valued by our system at NZD0.75, USD0.55. In many places on this earth that value would comprise a week’s food for one person, not because their food is cheaper you understand but because that is as much as they are able to buy. At that point I meet the first of the “impossibilities”; I can not increase the “happiness index” (for want of a better term) of those people without decreasing that of others. The ability of this planet to support the increasing demands of our societies is limited. That limitation is distorted to a great degree by the fact that a small fraction (of which I am a member as much as is TF) of our global population are able to obtain, control and consume the greatest part of those resources.

The second truth that TF included with that first was his right “to make a living without governmental bureaucrats mucking up the works or worrying about world affairs and political upheaval.” Again, I must – can only – agree. So too does every other person on this earth have that right. There is a subsidiary thread that starts at this point and which I will return to pick up toward the end. For the moment, there is any number of books that can and have been written on the topic. Which brand of solution you want to select will depend from the type of political outlook you have. It has to be accepted that “government bureaucrats” is one of those simplistic generic terms that are floated by people who really mean to include all who are involved in the process of government from elected representatives to the desk clerk and receptionist and refuse collector. Again that sentiment has to be included as a universal. My response to the line of argument which usually follows is that every society ends up with the government it deserves. The challenge here is to accept that fact and also to have the tolerance to accept those differences. That challenge is also as universal as the sentiment.

I am also in agreement with TF’s quotation from The Federalist. Again, I can not escape “the shades of difference” between us. Where TF sees Federalist as “…if everyone acted to the best of their ability…” I can not dispute that. I must however lay alongside that the thought “…all must be allowed to act to the best of their ability…”. In that subtle distinction lies all manner of challenges for those of us who live in advanced and rich communities. Again, I come to the subsidiary thread I referred to in the earlier para. Now is not yet the time to pick up that thread. Note too that I do not make “money” the problem here any more than does TF.

At this point in his piece TF and I really do part company. I have said many times that I respect his beliefs. That I do in the same way as I respect the beliefs of the Sikh lady in the desk behind me, the Presbyterian boss, the Catholic lady my wife plays tennis with or the Buddhist Chinese family over the road from us. Therein lies a very major difference in point of view, of world view, in the nature of our respective utopias.

Whatever a utopia might be, however a utopia might “work”, its very first fundamental must be of tolerance and acceptance of difference. To do otherwise must create the tensions and the distinctions that TF has striven to avoid. It is not just differences of religion. It is as basic as differences in personality, in ambition, and in capability. All of these barriers to utopia have been well discussed at many levels; from learned papers in universities to science fiction novels.

What those differences do however is to stir the contentious pot of supremacy. TF avoids this potential through the simple mechanisms of exclusion and close focus. His utopia depends (including "hangs from") on the thread of "one-ness" of culture and religion. There are no alternatives. Again we find that thread.

It is easy to argue that my utopia has the defect of the opposite; that variety and inclusion introduces the seeds of destruction. I have to agree. There would need to be agreed means of imposing rules; ensuring common justice; guaranteeing equitable and universal rights. Conflicts between cultures and ideas have always been at the heart of the development of our species. But the greatest barrier to my utopia is that of conversion and change. To reach my dream, I need to face that my standard of living will be lower; that others will benefit in far greater measure than I. Of even greater measure, I have to persuade the richest 20% of the world's population to join me in giving up what they have.

The differences between TF and I might be expressed as –

TF sees his utopia as existing only through the culture and society in which he lives. He excludes difference. I don’t imagine for a moment that it was intentional. I believe though that (in my family at least) the spoken word that reveals underlying and hidden truth is often referred to as a “Freudian slip”. For someone like TF to speak his present reality as the foundation of his utopia is no grounds for criticism. It must be accepted as his expression of his truth.

My reference at the beginning to “evolution” was intentional. It is one of the very many differences that TF and I have. He has certainly not tried to persuade me that his paradigm is “correct”, and I have respected that by not challenging his viewpoint when expressed (perhaps other than an occasional mild poke in the ribs).

The point I have reached is this. My comment, the one picked up by TF, was born from the feeling that the existence of any person’s utopia is very dependent upon the evolution of that person’s society, even their family. The other extreme from TF might be the utopia of a member of Taliban, or Ibo, or Inuit. The fundamentals might even be similar; peace, wealth, rights. It is the means of expressing, attaining and measuring those goals that will differ far more fundamentally.

This is where I must end before I write a book. It is also where I must pick up that secondary thread I have had trailing through this whole piece. It is not a right or wrong distinction; it is a fundamental difference in our personalities, our up-bringing, our societies, our environment.

For better or worse, I have been blessed by living in a society that is based on difference and acceptance of those differences. I have been blessed by the fact that I have grown to accept differences, perhaps to an even greater degree than my own brother. I do not believe I could live in TF’s utopia. It sounds to me as though it would be too homogeneous, too narrow, for the ol’ probligo to fit. I do not believe for a moment that TF will accept my version for similar reasons; too liberal by half, and it excludes God, specifically his God.

I am not able to codify or to even develop the fundamentals of my personal utopia beyond what I have written here. I have developed these ideas over many years without ever having thought to formally express them prior to this conversation.

I have not cried the support of learned people and religion. This is all my own work.

I stand by it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Open letter to Brian Edwards…

…if ever he should pass through my door here, where a virtual bottle of Old Dark and whatever he might like would be shared and enjoyed.

A couple weeks back Brian, you compared Granny Herald with The Australian; unfavourably and rather critically. I was a little upset at that comparison, I admit. Not because I disagreed, quite a ways from it!

It was a little mean-spirited though, to describe Herald as a tabloid rather than a broadsheet solely on the basis of the use of teasers on the masthead. It does make that front page appear more like one of my wife’s weekly magazines than it does a newspaper. Personally, I rather refer to ignore them.

I have had the great fortune (I think I can admit to that) to having spent the past four days in Wellington. One of the pleasures was getting close and personal for those few days with DomPost.

There are two points of difference which make the difference, at least during those four days.

First, and biggest, is the fact that DomPost still has a “World” section, as a separate section and containing (eyeball and wine-soaked measure) roughly twice the column space that Herald manages to squeeze between the Editorial and op-ed pages, advertisements and back page bearing in mind that is usually devoted entirely to photographs and a human interest interview.

Second, and for the past four days at least, was an almost total absence from the Dom’s pages ( only one mention as I recall) of Pammy Anderson.

I wish that I had kept a copy of the comments I made to Herald during the three years I was on their “survey panel”. I more or less gave that up as Herald seemed more intent on moving toward the things I was against, and abandoning the principles I felt should be their strengths.

What does make for even greater cringe in the probligo’s case is that the wider “news” media seems to be getting even worse. Given that our hotel’s idea of media access was controlled by an electronic system geared to selling personally selected movies (the movie selected will not be shown on your account) than easy access to old preferences including steam radio I have the strong impression that television news was full of fashion, fashion week, and Pammy Anderson in particular. A quick thought here to Geoff and Sean – I missed you guys a lot!

Where this has got me is a point I tried debating over the past few years. The “news” globally and not just in NZ (based upon the evidence of newspaper websites) is in a parlous state.

It is not a case of objective, analytical presentation of current events. That, as a principle of independent reportage, no longer exists. It is officially extinct.

Oh, you can find a few vestigial, though degenerate, evolutionary descendants provided that you are able to extract the few kernels of news from the surrounding sweet, pulpy, fleshy fruit of political patronage and loyalties.

The cause? Sadly, I think that reflects more upon the readership than the purveyors. Brian, let’s face it. We are dinosaurs from an age past.

Quick note...

As an after-note to the original review I did back in July, “Samson and Delilah” has won Camera d’Or at Cannes, and is now on release in some of the US film festivals.

Keep an eye open for it.

A must-see…

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Well laid plans of ...

For some years now (perhaps as many as 20!!) SWMBO and the ol' probligo have promised themselves the opportunity to attend the World of Wearable Arts originally when it was held in Nelson but the desire has remained to this day.

Now, with the stars aligned as close as we could get them to 12/69 comes the opportunity. We booked about 8 months back. No problems at that time with getting tickets to the event, nor accomodation; fly down, and we train back.

To explain.

My father was "mad on trains". The reason for the quotes will be a mystery to all except those who have read "Anthony and Antimaccasser" and The Potentate of Raspberry Jam. Anyhoos. We had everything booked and then we get a message from TranzRail saying that our train will arrive in Auckland an hour late. This is 7 months before the trip and they already know it will be an hour late? But then the explanation. There will be an extra two engine changes. The first in Feilding, to replace the enormous Diesel with a far more interesting steam 'J' (Pacific Class for the spotters) and then again at Taihape to remove said very interesting engine and replace it with a more mundane electric. So that single event was enough to transmogrify a pleasant jaunt to an event which I have looked forward to for years into a double-header of pleasure and memories.

In the meantime, good ol' BE is at the tail of Granny Herald once more with his analysis that it is not a broadsheet but far more tabloid in nature. He points out as evidence the teasers and whatnot at the top of Page 1. Brian, me old mate, shurely it is the content, the writing, that is of far greater import than whether Pamela Anderson is pictured on Page 3? If you had applied some effort to the critique of "mass media news" - which term I think covers the intent rather than the means of broadcast - as published by Herald, Dom Post and the others rather than the very simplistic "It looks like The Sun" your point would have been far better made.

As it stands, Herald along with a very large number of "reputable" news media has become lost in the cost-cutting editors room where news stories are judged by cost rather than worthiness or content. You can find the same stories for free, by-lined PA and Reuters, even MSN and Fox can feature, spread over a very wide range of publishers. To get anything different, the Independent sometimes puts its own people on a story, Guardian likewise, but one has really to go to the likes of Aljazheera to get anything like a "different perspective".

That said, the picture of Auntie Helen, and more recently Jonkey, holding a mobile press conference whilst in transit to the House is truly a neat caricature of the relationship between news media and politics in this country. I doubt that it differs in others. In fact we might even be lucky to have reporters in the House, instead of a daily meal of government political party announcements and pre-recorded releases.

Come to think of it, TV1 and TV3 do little more at present than provide a free service in place of what would otherwise be paid for by the government.

As for knowledgeable analysis of that "news"? I dispair.

Until I turn on Maori TV that is.

Who watched The Aunties last night? They ran through the services provided to a woman with breast cancer and gave her a bit of jolly-up at the same time. All told 30 minutes of excellent tv; informative, critical when necessary, go with the flow presentation, co-operative and not antagonistic. Great stuff!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On carnivores and man-eaters -

I think that it was in the comments to one of TF's pieces that the idea of "liberals" being eaten by carnivores came out of the woodwork.

One of the local tourist attractions, first out of the blocks at Auckland International Airport if you go straight ahead as you leave the international terminal instead of turning left, is Butterfly Creek.

There has been a fair bit of publicity over the past couple weeks as they have introduced a number of new "attractions".

Among them is a number of wetapunga -

Thanks to Easter Courier for the picture. That is NOT shopped. That is how big these beasties are.

Fortunately for visiting Americans, they are very rare and are found on one or two outlying islands in the Hauraki Gulf.

Like all wetas, they feed on fungus and leaf mould in preference to human flesh.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On meeting old friends and having words -

Sunday was Father's Day here in NZ.

Sunday also produced some of the best weather so far this year. It was warm, bluedome sky, light breeze; perfect for the flying of small model aircraft.

Many of the other members of the club thought so as well. As a result there were an unheard of 14 cars parked along the fence at the top of our modest flying field (many thanks to the Butcher family for persistently putting up with this rather odd group of aging men who enjoy doing strange things in the middle of a cow paddock.

Among those I met and talked with was Rubber-band Ron. He is a delightful chap. Has about seven years on me, and has not been in particularly good health for the past ten or so years. He was enjoying the sun and fresh air sitting with the car door open. I sat and nattered with him for about an hour, topics ranging from family history, WW2 aircraft, modelling, and words.

One of the drugs I take is a diuretic to stop me from retaining water in outlying regions of the probligo anatomy. That requires the occasional departure behind a bush watching out for electric fences, the short-drop at the far end of the field, in general terms the khazi. Ron flicked up at this and we spent some time swapping some of the more esoteric of kiwi slang and their likely etymology.

Many came back to NZ after the wars, and particularly the 2EF from Egypt. Ron felt that that might have been the origin of khazi, as had some of the others we went through like bint and wally. I looked up khazi in some of the on-line dictionaries and while there is no question about the meaning, some of the origins were distinctly off-beam. Like from Italian "casa" or "case". No, sorry, I don't think that likely.

Most likely was from Urdu. Which takes the word to England during the 19th century...

And so it goes.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The business of jargon -

Just occasionally, there is the small piece on radio that really grabs the old funny bone and gives it a good tweak.

Yesterday, as I was driving through a fantastically first-rate funday morning (on my way to throwing things at the sky) was just such an instance.

Mediawatch has been running an occasional about reporting standards (as distinct from the direct critique of current event reportage) and language. Yesterday morning was one – concentrating on the use of “going forward”. Now reporters are not the most guilty here. It is without doubt the “mot d’an” if not “mot du decade” in business and politic speak.

The term is totally meaningless. It has nothing whatever to do other than to fill a sentence with two more unnecessary words or to detract from the import of what is being said.

Listen to Mediawatch’s piece and I hope that they have included in the MP3 the Irish writer’s version and interpretation of “going forward”.

Listening to that at 100kph is NOT safe driving.

Friday, September 04, 2009

On television -

On Tuesday night, Maori Television here showed a documentary on Uighur leader Rebiya Khadeer, much to the consternation and distaste of the Chinese government. In the interests of "balance" Mtv followed the documentary with a Chinese government "press release" on the Xinjiang riots in July this year.

As a result, there has been considerable criticism of Mtv for showing "blatant Chinese government propaganda". That it certainly was, and in the ol probligo's mind that is exactly a very good reason why it should be shown. After showing some 15 minutes of street scene cctv of people beating up on others, breaking windows, and setting a couple of fires, police escorting some 25 "prisoners", and all of that without commentary, the film concluded that the riots had been orchestrated by the World Uighur Congress and Khadeer was the only individual named.

What many seem to miss is that showing this kind of government crap is so important simply because it is part of learning differences between factual (and there was fact in the CPR film; people were rioting) and the distribution of political cant based upon broken and missing logical conclusion. That the riots were Uighurs taking out their frustration on the Han is also factual. That is little different to the government here saying that Ngai Tuhoe live in the Urewera.

As I have posted to a couple or three fora -

"I also commend MaoriTV for showing the China Government film after the Uighur doco. NOT because I have any support or affiliation for the Chinese government; quite the opposite.

By showing the “press release” (about the most polite and desriptive appelation I can find) anyone watching it should be able to see through the propaganda to the underlying truths. If they can not, then that shows the importance of broadcasting this and similar propaganda releases.

Why? Simply so that we all can learn to recognise government propaganda when it appears on our screens. Whether it is government sponsored “analysis” of riots in China, or police action against Te Urewera in this country, we the general public must be able to recognise what we are being told for what it is.

Just because CPR says that the rioting was "orchestrated by the WUC" does not make it so, any more than the NZ government saying that there was a "terrorist training camp" at Ruatoria makes that so. I believe it is a technique that was sometimes termed "drawing a long bow".

While on the subject of television viewing, Brian Edwards (a broadcaster and man of many letters for whom I hold considerable regard) published a "Brickbats and Bouquets" list earlier in the week. One of his top bouquets was in praise of a locally produced soap "Outrageous Fortune". I have tried to watch this hour of agony a couple of times and given up on it. Totally. I expressed this opinion in support of another commenter who thought he might be the only person who does not like this particular "entertainment". BE took some exception to my opine that he would also enjoy Coro St. and Shortie St. and accused me of being somewhat "elitist".

Ah, the good old kiwi tall poppy syndrome again.