Friday, February 25, 2011

The Student Army

Get the title of "The Student Army" in your ears and what does it conjure? In my mind flickers of Tim Shadbolt, Helen Clark, the many many others at Auckland U in the early 1970's demonstarting (usually at the drop of a hat), drinking to excess (well, nothing has changed there), capping parades...

Here is a totally different picture for you...

From Grany Herald -
First, the power of nature. Now the power of Facebook.

Students are using their social networking skills to pull together a volunteer army of more than 1300 to help out the shaken Christchurch community.

An entrepreneurial Canterbury University student created a Facebook event page that brought 300 students, carrying shovels and wearing gumboots, on to the streets of Halswell and Hoon Hay ready to help affected residents yesterday.

The event page, Student Volunteer Base for Earthquake Clean Up, has 1356 people willing to help and the number is climbing rapidly as 5000 invitations are awaiting students to reply.

University student Sam Johnson created the Facebook page to gather the support of students during their extra week of holidays.

"We have a spare week to do some good for the community. It's the perfect opportunity to come out and do something decent," he said.

The event page reads: "Basically what needs to be done is door-knocking in teams and offering to help clear properties. Wheelbarrows, shovels, gumboots, yardbrooms ... hunt them out!"

Mr Johnson, 21, said he got the idea from other Facebook events created after the quake.

Hoon Hay resident Ellen Cooper said what the students were doing for the community was heartening.

"If anyone has never had faith in young people, well, now they should."

She said the students knocked on her door and asked if they could "do any hard labour".

Christchurch City Council gave the students a priority list of the most damaged areas.

TV news last night showed a group of about 30 digging silt from a major road and clearing the channelling on each side. From the wide views it looked like they had cleared some 200m of 4 lane street, judging by the piles of silt along the roadside. Now that is considerable effort seeing they are using shovels and wheelbarrows.

Another group (different area?) was digging out private driveways and access.

More power to their arms.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oh, Canterbury...

Pick any of the major news outlets - TVNZ, TV3, nzherald, even or just google "christchurch"

I have tears in my eyes, an ache in my heart.

Canterbury, what can we do?

In all of the raruraru about Egypt...

This is THE best article I have seen on the people behind the popular uprising that led to Mubarack resigning.
Early in 2008, workers at a government-owned textile factory in the Egyptian mill town of El-Mahalla el-Kubra announced that they were going on strike on the first Sunday in April to protest high food prices and low wages. They caught the attention of a group of tech-savvy young people an hour's drive to the south in the capital city of Cairo, who started a Facebook group to organize protests and strikes on April 6 throughout Egypt in solidarity with the mill workers. To their shock, the page quickly acquired some 70,000 followers.

But what worked so smoothly online proved much more difficult on the street. Police occupied the factory in Mahalla and headed off the strike. The demonstrations there turned violent: Protesters set fire to buildings, and police started shooting, killing at least two people. The solidarity protests around Egypt, meanwhile, fizzled out, in most places blocked by police. The Facebook organizers had never agreed on tactics, whether Egyptians should stay home or fill the streets in protest. People knew they wanted to do something. But no one had a clear idea of what that something was.

The botched April 6 protests, the leaders realized in their aftermath, had been an object lesson in the limits of social networking as a tool of democratic revolution. Facebook could bring together tens of thousands of sympathizers online, but it couldn't organize them once they logged off. It was a useful communication tool to call people to -- well, to what? The April 6 leaders did not know the answer to this question. So they decided to learn from others who did. In the summer of 2009, Mohamed Adel, a 20-year-old blogger and April 6 activist, went to Belgrade, Serbia.

(I bolded that bit as a teaser.)

I will not c&p the rest of it - as strong as the temptation might be. It is a detailed piece of power writing.

And, I suspect, it highlights why the orthodox "great powers" have come to grief in their attempts to introduce democracy to...[name the country of your choice].

Read it, think about it. It is one of the best I have read in a very long time.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A quick visit to the past...

Isn't it curious to revisit blog posts like this one, five years after the event?

The news this week - best summary I have found comes from the Guardian...
The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

"Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right," he said. "They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

I remember the news video of that speech well. I recall posting that I had the strong impression Powell was speaking with at least one of his minders (Cheyney? Rumsfeld?) "holding a gun" to his side.

Be that as it may, I hope that Mr Janabi has been able to comfort his conscience with the 20 talents of silver... sorry, German citizenship and Mercedes Benz car that he was given for his story.

More important, take the time to go back and re-read the commentary from the link I gave at the beginning. That was the beginning of the legacy he created.

Well, I guess that it had to happen...

There have been a few strange stats coming through in the past year or so. I have just found out why!

I don't know if this is a case of sincere flattery or not, but there y'go! There are now two probligos.

I hope that he/she is not expecting to feed traffic off of the probligo name. 'Twill be very sadly disappointed if he/she is...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The angel of...

In the header to an online Herald article (link in title) is this photo -



Saturday, February 05, 2011

On liberalism (with a small "l")

Today's Herald caught my eye with an article about an Inuit woman - Tagaq - who is appearing at the WOMAD in New Plymouth this year. Because the article described her singing style as "deep throat" as well as "throat singing" it grabbed my interest so the old dial-up was despatched to pull in a track of her music.

It transpired - some 45 minutes later - that what Tagaq does is not throat singing as I understand it (look to Tuva and Mongolia for the most accessible illustrations). Her singing is rather similar to "mouth music" - think Bobby McFerrin as a primary example of that. Quite a let-down really.

But what has this to do with liberalism - small "l" or not.

While I was waiting the 40-odd minutes for my dial-up to complete its mission I sat and read the John Roughan op-ed on this topic. I have to say that it was not easy going. Unlike his usual prose it is difficult reading, making for the ol'probligo to go back and re-read several portions to get the sense of what he is trying to say...
How much self-rule is needed for Maori culture to be secure and its perpetuation assured? People who dismiss the Business Roundtable as another group of suits deny themselves a great deal of mental stimulation. It is a one-man think-tank, Roger Kerr, who is a classic liberal on the economy and most other subjects of public interest.

Classic liberals, as distinct from mild socialists who call themselves liberal, regard the individual, not society, as the base measure of what is good, wise and valid in government. They believe, with much support in recent history, that a default setting of individual opportunity rather than enforced equality produces a better society anyway.

But to my mind they have a blind spot. They don't believe in ethnicity. They can't, or don't want to, see that an ethnic identity is part of every individual's range of interests and rights.

Well, yt has been called a "liberal" (and in the same breath "socialist") by more people than I could shake several sticks at. His second para is right to the mark. His third para there is way out left of third base in my world at least.

He picks up on an address given by Noel Pearson (an Aborigine leader and reformist of some note in Australia) to "The Round Table"; this year's memorial address for Sir Ron Trotter.
Pearson believes the improvement of Aboriginal communities lies in more classic liberalism and less social welfare, more personal and family responsibility and less state dependence.


Mindful perhaps that his hosts are much more interested in the first subject than the second, he devoted the bulk of his speech to the better incentives he has built into his people's welfare system and made only a closing reference to the importance of their culture.


Economic liberalism and social democracy's gifts of health and education were both necessary for survival but not sufficient, he said. "Self interest is the engine that starts to drive the vehicle of social and economic progress. But tradition drives the human will to exist."

He said, "Too many Australian conservatives don't understand this crucial point. They believe Aboriginal Australians will be content to survive physically and become prosperous and culturally assimilate into the great global English speaking tradition. We will not."

Roughan then makes the point that the same argument can be applied to NZ - and makes the obvious point that Pearson connected the two intentionally.

The distinction is between "equality" on the basis of homogeneity and the recognition of "ethnic identity". Roughan rightly points out that this is something that should be forefront in our minds this weekend, tomorrow being our equivalent of Independence Day in the US. Oh, there are some, on both sides of the fence, who disagree with that but that is the current law and I as a liberal am happy with the situation. One day is as much like any other.

I can go as far as agreeing that the two major political parties "don't get it". That (for this ol codger) is an unquestionable and uncomfortable truth. The last MP and Minister who I think "got it" was Sir Douglas Graham, a centre rightie of very considerable understanding.
Both sides deeply fear "divisive" aspirations they hear from Maori today. How much self-determination is needed for an indigenous minority to be confident its identity is secure and its perpetuation assured?

National doesn't know, Labour doesn't know, probably the Maori Party doesn't know. But all three know, or accept, that assured Maori representation in places of power is a minimum.

The classic liberal party in Parliament, Act, resists even that. Rodney Hide's strict adherence to individual electoral equality has deprived Maori of two seats on the new Auckland Council for the time being.

That last para was one of the triggers for the ol' brain to back-track and re-read. ACT is a "liberal party"?

The Rhinohide would be very upset to hear that!

For my part I confess that I in truth probably have no more "understanding" than the normal, average pakeha in the street. That despite having spent the greater part of my childhood in closer contact with the Maori community than most middle-class pakeha city dwellers. That is not going to stop me from having a minor carp or two at Roughan's thoughts.

The "don't know" problem is far deeper than Roughan has stated. I assume the credit is due for him having realised that there are many aspects other than those of cultural identity, and political representation that fall out of the prospect of "self-determination" for and by Maori.

The first is one Roughan mentions far too briefly and passes over - the shadow of "separateness"; apartheidt as it was termed in South Africa. The very big difficulty with the idea in South Africa was that apartheidt was imposed by a politically powerful cultural minority on a weakened and weaker majority. The "separateness", rangatiratanga, sought by some Maori is seen as a step back to their cultural roots and to a time when they were the dominant culture in NZ. That was the foundation of both the 1835 and 1840 treaties; the Maori were at that time stronger than the colonists both culturally and militarily.

I can not separate the thought of motives (on both sides) that may drive the positions taken by participants in the raruraru.

On the pakeha side, the accusations of racism against Maori can be "excused" as "a natural cultural and personal conservatism". Yes, it may well be and in that form is exactly the same as the "cultural and personal conservatism" of Maori as was stated by Pearson and quoted by Roughan.

Then I turn to this morning's SST, the "rag" that du Fresne among many others likes to denigrate as a "socialist", the universal epithet for "liberal" when the right whinge is losing a debate.

Front page is one person who very definitely does "get it".
Key said the focus of attention had to change, and while National was pressing on with Treaty settlements and foreshore legislation, they were "grievance-based, backward looking issues" and he wanted to look forward.

"This week 60,000 five-year-olds turned up for school and 12,000 of them will leave unable to read and write, and the bulk of them will be of Maori and Pacific ethnicity. Ultimately, if people are locked into an underclass, that's a bad recipe for all New Zealanders," he said.

Key admitted his words were directed at Harawira, who has spent weeks at odds with his Maori Party colleagues after a column he wrote for the Sunday Star-Times. "Hone can stay in opposition or as a radical if he wants, but he won't actually create things."

Harawira fired back, saying when Key put up, he would shut up. "We want all young Maori children to be able to read, write and count well. So I would say to Key, give us the resources and authority to make that happen and I will shut my mouth for the next three years."

The question is the obvious "How?". The jonkey is talking from his cultural background, Harawira from his own. You can tree from there into all manner of other fields that are related.

Get away from the front page, right down to page A12. No, you won't find it by googling the Stuff website. A "Waitangi Day" article, Richard Habersham recording his visit to a Maori gang retreat in Hawke Bay last weekend, the Otatara Awakening. He used the election of Obama as President as the foundation for his speech.
...Once it became clear that Obama truly was elected by mostly whites, however, gang members immediately questioned Obama's racial authenticity. Their tone switched from admiration to deep suspicion. Many theorised that Obama was merely a puppet elected by crafty whites to push an essentially anti-black agenda


The more important conversation I wanted to have was ... that Maori, like some American blacks, can't continue to stereotype all whites as racist. Maori... should be more aware that many...pakeha...are dedicated to racial equality.... Most crucially many New Zealand citizens have varying degrees of Maori blood.


Perhaps [some] Maori should ask themselves, if Pakeha are so intrinsically racist, how are there so many inter-racial marriages?

It may be helpful for both American blacks and Maori to acknowledge that although our history of oppression is an important aspect of our history, neither race can flourish when their primary political agenda is getting more pakeha concessions.

Why does it take an outsider to draw the line under the blindingly obvious?