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My posts on the demise of the political Left in NZ have elicited a fair bit of debate, which is good. However, there are two main areas of misunderstanding in the debate that need to be corrected. The first is that that by repeating my oft-stated claim here and elsewhere that socio-economic class, and particularly the working classes, need to be the central focus of Left praxis, I am ignoring the productive and cultural changes of the post-industrial, post-modern era. The second is that I dismiss the entire Left as ineffectual losers.

Let me address the latter first. When I write about the “political” Left I am speaking strictly about those parts of the Left that directly involve themselves in politics, either institutionalized or not. In this category I do not include the cultural or activist Left that engage in direct action in non-political realms such as poverty alleviation, human rights protection, diversity promotion, etc. These type of Left indirectly address political questions and therefore have political import but are not immediately involved with or primarily focused on political matters (say, by acting as parties or running campaigns, among many other things). Some of their members may be, but the Left agencies involved are, first and foremost, non-political in nature.

In a way, these non-political Left entities act much like non-Left charities: they provide direct assistance to the disadvantaged or vulnerable, have clear political content in what they do, but are not political agencies per se.

Thus I recognize the good works of the non-political Left and even see them as providing potential foundation stones for effective Left political activism. But as things currently stand the interface between the non-political and political Left is largely skewed towards diluting the socialist content and neutering the working class orientation inherent in many forms of grassroots Left activism. And where the interface is direct (say, Socialist Aotearoa), the message is too vulgar and the agents too shrill to make their points effectively.

This may sound harsh but that is the reality. The larger point is that I am not dismissing the entire Left as “dead” or moribund. I am confining my diagnosis to the contemporary political Left, narrowly defined, and it is not defeatist to point out what I would have thought was glaringly obvious.

With regard to the second accusation, this has been the subject of much debate here at KP. Lew and Anita have both eloquently written on identity as a primary focus. I accept their arguments but also think that class matters when it comes to a Left praxis. To that end, let me reprise a statement I made in response to a comment made by reader Chris Waugh on the previous post.

Some people mistakenly believe that because I believe that a Left praxis has to be rooted in class consciousness I “dismiss” or neglect superstructural issues like gender, ethnic identity, environmental concerns and sexual preference.

I do not. However, I do not give these superstructural factors primacy in my thought because all of those forms of identification or orientation are non-universal, whereas insertion in a capitalist class system rooted in the exploitation of wage labor is a universal constant. Hence I see modern Left praxis as rooted in a working class consciousness, broadly defined to include all forms of non-managerial wage labor and all ethnicities, genders and preferences.

Put it this way: consider a situation where there is a female hourly worker and a female CEO of a major firm. What identification comes first when they meet each other in the social division of labor? Will identifying as female be so strong that it will bridge the class gap between them? Or will their class determine their relationship in the first instance?

Perhaps gender solidarity will prevail, as could be the case with being gay, Indian, bisexual etc. But I am simply unsure that these identifications universally supersede the class element and therefore should replace it as a focus of Left praxis.

So there you have it. Not all of the Left is ineffectual but the political Left certainly is. A working class orientation is necessary and central to any Left praxis but not sufficient to encompass the myriad of non-class progressive causes that make up the post-industrial Left. Resolving these issues and reconciling the dilemmas inherent in them are what must be done for the Left to regain a significant place in the NZ political arena.

Yearly Summary.

datePosted on 14:51, December 29th, 2013 by Pablo

As 2013 draws to a close I thought I’d summarize how it went on KP.

It was a quiet year, with only 53 posts. The blog has increasingly become a one trick pony show, as Lew and Anita have greatly diminished their presence on it. Lew wrote nine posts during the year, most before June, and Anita contributed one. Work and family commitments clearly play a part in that, and I could well follow the diminished presence trend should the consultancy and my infant son demand more time than I can currently afford. Lew maintains an active presence on Twitter (LewSOS), so his impact on the NZ commentariat continues albeit in pithy form.

We are very much a niche blog, averaging 100-200 views per day (less on weekends), or around 500-600 per week. Most are returning readers. Since I do not post about things that I do not know about, the bulk of the posts have been about international relations, espionage and intelligence, military-strategic affairs and NZ foreign policy, interspersed with some personal observations about more immediate things. That leaves big gaps in the areas in which Anita and Lew have expertise (which is broad and much more NZ focused), hence the lesser number of views compared to previous years when they were more active.

The search terms leading to KP are varied, although “Auckland haka incident” and “Wendy Petrie breasts” are among the most frequent.

There is a stable core of readers and commentators. Most of our links come from other NZ blogs, search engines, Twitter and Facebook. One person, Paul Scott (aka “peterquixote” or “lolitasbrother”) was briefly banned for abusive comments but later reinstated. Another, Hugh, chose to stop commenting because of my irritated responses to remarks of his that I found to be off the subject or obviously uninformed, thread-jacks or useless nitpicking. His decision followed a private email exchange in which we could not resolve our differences.

I was called out on my more pointed remarks to Hugh by others, and have taken on board the need to return to civility even when dealing with trolls (which I accept Hugh is not). Having said that, most of the regular commentators are thoughtful, insightful and knowledgable about what they are writing about, so the task of being civil is easy most of the time.

On a more positive note, KP has avoided involvement in the internecine quarreling and back-biting amongst the NZ Left blogging community, and is treated with a modicum of respect by all but the most rabid blogging Right.

In general, KP is percolating along at a subdued but steady rate.

Not much else to report. I enjoy the fact that I can use the blog to write shorter, more informal and/or ideological essays in a non-academic style yet on subjects that are within or related to my professional and personal interests. It allows me to ruminate on those non-professional concerns as well as link to various media appearances and some of the analyses offered at the consultancy. It is a bit indulgent, to be sure, but I guess that the very nature of blogging is conducive to that.

In any event I would like to wish all readers the best of New Year’s and my hopes that it turns out to be happy and productive for all. I look forward to continuing my second fatherhood (I have two adult children in the US) and to watching my Kiwi son develop during his first year. I very much hope that we will see more of Anita and Lew in 2014 (and perhaps even the reclusive jafapete!), and that whatever happens we manage to continue to satisfactorily fill that small niche that we occupy in the blogging world.

Prospero Ano Nuevo a todos!

End of Year Review.

datePosted on 16:42, December 28th, 2012 by Pablo

Since it is the season to take stock and make predictions, I will join the self-absorbed blogging hordes in summarizing KP’s year (as opposed to pontificating about the 2012 universe or what will happen next year).

This was a year of slow retrenchment, which is a nice way of saying that we wrote many fewer posts and as a result have lost readers. We now average 200 or so a day (about 615,000 total unique views), with episodic upsurges when things get topical. For various very justified reasons my two blogging colleagues could not keep the pace of previous years (we are now approaching our fourth year anniversary). That left the bulk of posting to me, which given my interests and press of other business greatly reduced the scope of topics covered. As a result, we did not cover gender, Maori or NZ domestic political issues in the measure that we have before, so I presume that is where we lost the readership. My most fervent desire when it comes to blogging is that Anita and Lew will rejoin the fray. Their combined talents are too precious to remain unheard, although I completely understand why they need to tend to other things.

On the bright side we appear to have a dedicated cadre of serious and smart (and seriously smart) readers that keep us on our toes.

We banned one individual with very clear, uh, “issues” (and no, it is not redbaiter) for continually abusive trolling, and there is another person on final warning for what can be called nuisance trolling–the act of making a comment just to be snarky, flippant, or to wind people up. That is not helpful and violates the comments policy, so the person has been given a final warning before being banned.

Otherwise it was a year without highs or lows. There were no serious slanging matches like on the infamous Mutu thread last year, but other than Lew’s GC post, there were no major breakthroughs in the MSM or linked to other blogs (although mention should be made of Bryce Edwards’ occasional reference to this blog in his MSM “link-and-comment” articles as well as at his own blog, Liberation). We still get most of our traffic from NZ, with OZ and the US following. Our major referrers are Bowaley Road (thanks Chris), No Right Turn (thanks Malcom), Kiwiblog (thanks David), The Standard (thanks Lynn), Lew’s twitter feed, Facebook and the NZ Herald when Bryce mentions us. We get a fair bit of links from right-oriented blogs, so I take that as a sign that we may be small but are worth the opposition’s attention.

I could tell you a lot about the search terms that lead to us, but let’s just say that “Wendy Petrie’s breasts,” “your ass in jail” and “pink and blue things” are a constant. Go figure, but I am gonna blame Lew for that.

There is plenty of other data to mine but that would be overly self-indulgent.  So let me first wish my co-bloggers the best of the New Year in all aspects of their lives. Let me wish the readers just as much but without the personal interest. And let’s hope that KP can rebound and reinvigorate the political debates in Aotearoa in the lead-up to the 2014 elections.

Saudades pra o ano novo!

 

Something to read: Rise of the neo-crusaders

datePosted on 19:58, July 25th, 2012 by Lew

I have been very scarce, again, and I will continue to be for at least a couple of weeks. In addition to cyclical work commitments that take up all my thinking and writing energy, my daughters have recently had some serious and complicated medical issues. We’re all fine, but it’s been enough to shunt this blog well down my priorities. Thanks again to Pablo for keeping things ticking over.

The anniversary of the Norway massacre has passed, and I wanted to write something about it; particularly about how the trial has shaped discourses of nationalism and extremism there and elsewhere.

I haven’t, but DeepRed has probably done better than I could on his own blog, Kumara Republic. I highly recommend you read it here: Rise of the neo-crusaders. His post covers some of the ways the extreme right has reconfigured itself in recent decades, and some of the ways in which its members attempt to distance themselves from, while not really distancing themselves from, Anders Behring Breivik and his actions. A good read.

L

Blog envy or blog petty? Corrected Version.

datePosted on 17:18, February 15th, 2012 by Pablo

A fellow named Andrew Geddis posted on another NZ blog a post about electoral reform in which he takes a swipe at KP for not having “dirt under its fingernails.” I do not know this fellow, and he certainly does not know me. Nor does he seem to know that KP is a collective, not an individual effort.

I take it that he believes that KP (whether singular or plural) does not practice what it preaches, as if KP was some sort of effete armchair intellectual circle jerk that is not grounded in real life praxis or any experience with real politics. In a word, he appears to think that KP is all bluster and no substance.

I cannot speak for the other KP members but I know them and can say with some confidence that we, collectively and individually have, are and/or will continue to engage in real politics as well as in political discussion and debate. My experience was mainly in US government service of one sort or another as well as academia (teaching aspects of politics), and after I came to NZ, in voluntarilly helping in the defense of Ahmed Zaoui  and the Urewera 18 against scurrilous charges of terrorism, among other things academic and not.

I am therefore somewhat perplexed by Mr. Geddis’s negative mention of KP. Does he have a beef with one of us? Is there some history I am unaware of? Otherwise I am at a loss to explain what in any event appears to be an unprovoked jibe that has no basis in fact.

Can anyone illuminate me as to what might be going on?

Update:  As several readers including Andrew himself have pointed out, the remark that I found untoward was in fact a joke. As I said in the comments, that pretty much confirms that I am humorless, or at least thin-skinned where KP’s integrity and “grounding” is concerned. I apologise to Andrew for misconstruing his words. What is interesting, once again, is that in contrast to more thoughtful posts, this post on a trivial matter enjoyed a strong upward spike in page views. I guess even reasoned people like to read about unreasonable silliness.

Sleepytime.

datePosted on 10:52, December 29th, 2011 by Pablo

When I moved to NZ in 1997, one happy aspect that I had not considered prior to arrival was that I was headed back to the Southern Hemisphere. That meant that Xmas and New Year’s are summer events (well, most of the time), and my childhood memories are littered with snippets of summers gone by spent in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Although I also spent many years in the Northern Hemisphere and came to embrace, within limits, the winter version of the holiday season, the prolonged interlude that is the Southern Hemisphere festive season has always been my preference.

In the winter version the return to work and school routines is quick, with no more than 2 weeks of down time usually taken between Xmas and New Years. The further North one goes the less incentive there is to holiday: the days are short, wet and very cold, when not frozen. In the South the turn of the year is a turn to warmth and light so the incentive is to maximize exposure to them as well as take respite from work and other daily routines. Annual and sick leaves are extended and mixed in order to maximize the statutory holidays. Commodified life cuts back to idle so that personal and inter-personal issues can be addressed and renewed at some length.

How one spends one’s time depends on the nature and proximity of those relationships. I have spent several years of solitude, North and South, over the year end hiatus, which gave plenty of room to reflect on my condition while otherwise occupying time. I have had an equal if not greater number of holidays spent with family and friends, to include family in New Zealand. What strikes me in either instance is that the summertime makes the experience better: there is more to physically do outdoors, there is less corporate incentive to rush back to work,  the nature of social events is more open, and things just get silly.

In a way, the Southern Hemisphere year end holidays are a turn inwards as well as renewal. The point of reflection and the pause to refresh are simply longer in summer. It may give the appearance to some (in the North) of a sleepy third world village approach to life. To  me it simply represents a better way to spend a holiday.

Better than marching like lemmings to shopping malls and fighting grid-locked traffic in the search for a better bargain (which pretty much sums of the notions of commodity fetishism and false consciousness). The consumerist lemming movement appears to have taken root in NZ and the vehicular exodus to choice destination spots is often akin to driving across Manhattan at rush hour. Even so, in NZ as in other Southern Hemisphere locations, the summer holiday experience is preferable to that in the Northern Hemisphere. The global North may have the doldrums of July and August to disport in (and my exposure to Southern Europe in summer suggests that pretty much everything is put on hold for the duration), but they do not have the holidays to enjoy at the same time. The global middle–those from 20 degrees North to 20 degrees South–take their holidays more leisurely, given the distribution of pre-modern, modern, colonial, imperial and post-modern identifications.

Which is to say that I hope that NZ and other Southern Hemisphere readers are taking full advantage of their down time. As our first full summer back in NZ after 3 years away, my partner and I have spent the holidays quietly, mostly devoted to garden and landscape work, dog training, some small varmint hunting and the inevitable bbqs (although mine are done Argentine-style), with a little bit of reading and writing thrown in. Whatever suits your fancy and wherever you are, I hope that yours has been as restful as ours and wish you all the best for a productive and happy New Year, Southern Hemisphere style.

 

Another KP milestone.

datePosted on 10:00, December 8th, 2011 by Pablo

Around 9PM last night KP reached 500,000 unique page visits. That comes a little under two years after we started up (Jan 2009).  It is not much in the grand scheme of things but as a niche soft-lefty intellectual type of forum based in a small country, it represents decent growth. We average over 500 visits per day and between 7-8000 visits per month, with the largest number of page views directed at posts on domestic topics.  We get a fair bit of traffic from other NZ political blogs, but search engines, Facebook and twitter are starting to dominate our feeds. Most of our readers are from NZ but we are getting a steady flow of foreign readers as well. Not surprisingly, if the comments thread gets acerbic the number of page reads increases. Even so, and barring some notable transgressions (to which I unhappily have contributed), the overall tone of the discussions on the threads has conformed to the civility guidelines outlined in the comments policy. Of particular interest to me is the tendency of threads to go off-subject even when people are not trolling, and how some of these tangents then take on a life of their own that many times are informative and/or expands my comprehension of tangental subjects. In any case, I believe that KP has been largely been able to show that a political blog can be civil as well as provocative, with just three people banned for malicious trolling (and no, one of them is NOT Russell the anti-communist).

The blog saw readership drop while Anita and Lew were not posting regularly (our lowest total was in October 2011 when both were absent), but has been on the upswing in recent weeks now that both are back on-line, if only sporadically in Anita’s case (the more we see of her posts the better we are). Lew’s posts never fail to generate serious interest and seem to get the most referrals. Weekdays see the most reads (Mondays in particular), with a fair drop off during the weekends. This suggests to me that, although there is a fair bit of evening reading people tend to read KP at work and have better things to do on the weekends.

There is more to the KP demographics but this is just a brief recognition of our progress rather than a dissection of it. I am grateful to have Lew and Anita as partners in this venture and hope that we can continue to contribute to public debate in the months and years to come. In the meantime we shall think about revamping the site and perhaps look for another writing partner whose interests are a bit different than and complementary of ours.

Question of the Day.

datePosted on 12:45, October 18th, 2011 by Pablo

Is the global “Occupy” movement a genuine grassroots mobilisation with revolutionary potential or is it bound to fizzle out, be coopted, voluntarily moderate its demands or splinter into myriad fringe groups without promoting substantive change in the socio-economic status quo?

Interested readers are invited to share their views.

The countdown (to the return) begins.

datePosted on 20:34, May 14th, 2011 by Pablo

As an antidote to some of the heavy discussion occasioned by Lew’s recent posts, I figured that I would interject with a mention that two weeks from today my partner and I return to NZ. The definitive return was delayed six months by an offer of a teaching position in Singapore, but that has now finished. All of the marking has been done, and other than a videoconference lecture by me, a brief holiday in Bintan and packing, we are done in Singapore. Although it has not always been the most pleasant experience, it has been interesting in many ways and we have learned from our stay. I expect that either individually or together we will write at least one scholarly essay about the place, simply because analyses of things like the gross exploitation of foreign low-skilled labor and domestic workers needs to be more widely exposed. We also have in a mind a comparative project using Singapore and Cuba as case studies–two one party authoritarian island states whose regimes were born of traumatic circumstances that were originally led by charismatic leaders, now in a slow process of political liberalisation in which the original leadership cadres are being replaced by a third generation of less battle-hardened and dogmatic cadres, and in which the attitudes of the younger generation of citizens are not shaped by the origins of the regimes in question.

There is more to the comparison–the state-centric nature of the economies is a structural likeness that defies the clear differences in macro-economic approaches–so it will be interesting to delve into the subject in greater analytic depth. I also have an interest in studying the role of the third generation Singaporean Armed Forces in the process of regime liberalisation, as its role as regime defender is being challenged from within and without the SAF by a new generation of “professional” officers more interested in meritocratic and technocratic advancement than cultivating political ties to the PAP, and who find echo in young professional in the civilian bureaucracy who are not as interested in joining the PAP patronage networks that underpin the supposedly “meritocratic” criteria for promotion to senior ranks.

I think I have a fair grasp on these subjects. My post on the Singaporean elections, along with the version on Scoop, got a lot of play in Singapore, most of it favourable. This a good sign because (especially Chinese) Singaporeans have a good deal of anti-foreign sentiment and reject being told, in spite of what economic growth and government propaganda lead them to believe, about the flaws in their system of governance and culture (for example, the endemic racism against Malays, Indians, Filipinos and Tamils by the dominant group that is codified in not-to-subtle legal jargon, as well as the simmering resentment of Anglo-Saxons in spite of the fact that the country can not operate successfully without them). The fact that I was not pilloried in the coverage of my essay indicates that, written in the appropriate manner, some of what I/we propose to research could provide a contribution to debates within Singapore about the future of the country. We shall see.

In the meantime we are looking forward to wearing sweaters and jeans, enjoying cool weather, breathing clean air and resuming the existence on the western slopes of the Waitakeres from whence we came. That, and contributing in our own ways to political and social debates in the land of the long white cloud.

NB: In light of Phil’s remark I have amended the title less readers think that I have developed some pop idol fixation.

Two year review.

datePosted on 17:31, January 29th, 2011 by Pablo

A little over two years ago KP was launched. It started as the brainchild of Anita and Jafapete, who then invited me to join. The idea was to have a non-partisan, avowedly “intellectual” moderate Left outlet (I use the word “intellectual” carefully these days in light of recent debates about that term). Jafa subsequently had to leave due to other concerns, but we got lucky and Lew came on board. There have been others briefly attached to the blog and Anita has had to take a long hiatus, but KP keeps rolling along in its small niche in the blogosphere. Lew and I do the posting these days, and we are always on the lookout for someone to join us in the event that Anita cannot return (or even if she does).  We remain committed to civilised debate, which is why swear words are censored and trolling and personal attacks largely deleted. Only one person has been blacklisted, and that was because I accidentally hit the “blacklist” rather than “delete” button when dealing with a personal attack comment from an otherwise passionate but sane regular reader (his comments now go directly to the spam filter where we fish them out).  And no, the individual in question is not that rabid anti-communist ranter Russell. In general, other than some quarrels with commentators and my occasional bouts of grumpiness or frustration, I think that we have kept the discourse pretty civil.

The stats show a decent progression. We have made 568 posts and received 8,676 comments. We have had over 336,500 unique page views. Most of our linkages come from other New Zealand political blogs, although Facebook and Twitter referrals are increasing. We have elicited some interesting responses, both in public and in private, from members of the NZ policy community.

I do not have access to our demographic profile but judging from regular commentator’s profiles reckon that the readers are largely NZ resident male Pakeha with university degrees and Left inclinations. I hope that there is a significant number of women and Maori readers, but am concerned that with Anita absent the female readership may have dropped (hence our interest in soliciting the participation of someone whose primary interests involve gender, environmental, health and welfare politics). There seems to be fair bit of RSS feeds to the KP site, and our overseas readership shows signs of growth. All in all, we are small but comfortable given what we are in terms of content and where we are in terms of the ideological spectrum represented in the blogosphere.

I cannot speak for Anita or Lew by I find that blogging offers me an outlet that complements my editorial and scholarly writing. In particular it allows me to address current events as they happen, and provides a daily dose of mental exercise in the form of the commentary and debate. Although I have been told in this forum that I am a conservative security and international affairs commentator, a check of my posts will reveal that there is more to my interests than guns, war and power politics. Among other things I have posted, with a Left focus, on comparative labour politics, done a 5 part series on democracy (focusing on NZ), covered regime characteristic and cultural dynamics in a variety of places, thrown in some game-theoretic and rational choice-inspired essays, and even made a few attempts at humor or NZ focused social commentary. That range is much harder to cover in scholarly publications, and editorial writing tends to be more episodic and medium- to long-term in its focus. Thus I am thankful for the opportunity to use KP as an outlet for expressing views on a number of issues of contemporary import (at least to me).

I look forward to more writing and more readership growth in 2011, as well as to my return to NZ after a few years abroad. It will be interesting to see if that shift effects my choice of subjects, but whatever the case it will be good to be physically closer to my KP colleagues (who I know personally and have high regard for) as well as any new contributor(s) who may volunteer for the project of keeping another informed NZ-based non-partisan Left perspective alive and well on the internet. And, of course, much thanks to you readers for coming back and sharing your thoughts with us. We may not agree on most things but it is comforting and invigorating to have you as interlocutors with whom to hash out ideas and opinions.

A voces, muito obrigado.

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