Archive for ‘This blog’ Category

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.

Who are the non-geriatric NZ Right thinkers?

datePosted on 15:01, January 27th, 2011 by Pablo

OK, you knew this was coming. In the interest of ideological balance, or better yet, just because I am curious, I would like to ask readers who the under-60 Right thinkers are. Given that the Left thinker thread spun off into tangents about age limits, outlets and who and what constitutes the “proper “Left (thereby confirming the view that Lefties would rather argue about ideological purity and how many Marxists can balance on the head of the pin than simply answer a straight-forward question), here the label “Right” includes anything that is not skinhead neo-Nazi holocaust denier (which means Ann Rand enthusiasts and those of religious inclinations are eligible). In order to avoid nomination of the fossilised architects of the neo-liberal destruction of NZ’s welfare state, I have placed an age limit of 60 so that we can see if there is new blood in the Right waters.

Please be nice. I was gratified to see that only one commentator on the Left Thinker thread engaged in trolling, and just once at that. Thus I ask that Lefties not engage in bad behaviour and either refrain from making nasty or derisive comments or be sincere in their choices. Of course the same applies for any Right-oriented readers. That means, among other things, that due to reason of probity Rick “I think that my argument is so powerful that it’s not necessary to talk about it” Giles is ineligible for nomination. Beyond that and within the guidelines mentioned above, the field is open.

Although the Left Thinker post elicited a spike in page reads and much commentary (still going), it only elicited a couple of consensus names and a few others, thereby falling short of the short list I had asked for (perhaps that was my mistake, as I figured that a short list would be somewhere between 5-10). Thus I wonder what the Right list will look like (should there be one) even if I have added 20 years to the upper age limit and made no negative editorial remarks about various Right factions in the post (except about skinheads, neo-Nazis and their ilk).

I yield the floor to you.

Beginning the end in the Little Red Dot.

datePosted on 13:33, January 8th, 2011 by Pablo

This weekend I return to SG for one more semester of teaching and research. It marks the beginning of the end of my stay in this interesting–some might say remarkable–SE Asian country, as I will return permanently to NZ in five months. While engaging in my academic responsibilities I will continue to build the nascent political risk consultancy I have established in NZ, chasing down some potential leads and developing the web site concept in order to reach a larger audience and client base. Come June I will be doing that full time.

It has been wonderful to have spent the last two months in NZ, and out on the Auckland west coast in particular. I made in down to the South Island for the holidays, but mostly enjoyed a remarkable run of weather as I reclaimed my home and restored my roots in the community in which it is located. In spite of its problems, I often feel that Kiwis do not fully appreciate how lucky they are and how (relatively) minor the majority of its social and political problems tend to be (some notable and unfortunate exceptions notwithstanding).  In the larger scheme of things it may not be exactly Godzone but it sure is a darn good place to live–and I say this having personally experienced the downside of NZ in the form of my direct exposure to unethical academic management and duplicitous politicians who say one thing then do another without regard to the costs imposed on innocents and the country’s international reputation. But even then, a few ethically bankrupt elites do not detract from the broader, more positive picture.

In any event I plan to compile a short “to-do” list of places in SE Asia to visit while back in SG (one mayor attraction of the country is that it is a transportation hub with many options when it comes to regional travel). Since I enjoy open water swimming and snorkeling, the top of my list is the Bornean East Coast, which I understand is unspoiled and non-touristy (which is why I have no interest in Bali or the tacky Thai resort destinations). I have been to Pulau Tiomen and Bintan, so want to go further afield in the search of reefs, surf and fish. If anyone has suggestions along those lines, I am all ears.

I will continue to post and attempt to contribute to NZ policy discussions while finishing up in SG, and look forward to what promises to be another interesting chapter in a life yet to be fully played out on either a personal or professional level.

Felizes Fiestas y Prospero Ano Nuevo a nuestros lectores.

datePosted on 11:59, December 24th, 2010 by Pablo

I am spending Xmas in Otago with my partner’s family and just wanted to wish our readers the best for the festive season and a very happy, healthy, prosperous and productive New Year. KP has built a faithful cadre of intelligent readers and commentators, and we continue to chug along nicely in our niche of the blogosphere. Much thanks for contributing to our modest success. And thanks to Lew and Anita for being such good collaborators even in the face of obstacles and other pressing business.

As for me, I have already received the best Xmas present I could possibly hope for: my partner has been offered a job at a NZ university so we are both coming back permanently in 2011. I may no longer be in academia but at least she is and I can work on the consultancy without fear of losing everything if it does not work out. Plus, once back in NZ we can write our collaborative and individual articles about the SE Asian country we have lived in the past 3 years without fear of deportation or defamation lawsuits. There is much material that needs to see the light of day, so I am looking forward to being able to put thoughts to paper on that score.

In any event, may your holidays be as happy as mine.

Unattributed paraphrasing as unspoken flattery?

datePosted on 12:47, October 10th, 2010 by Pablo

From time to time I read bloggers who complain that there work is stolen by MSM “repeaters” and repackaged under the repeaters’ by-line or in a story under their name. This form of plagarism is hard to prove conclusively because unless the repeater uses phrases word for word, s/he can claim that fortuitous intellectual coincidence rather than malice was involved.

Then I read Kerre Woodham’s column in today’s HoS. The tone is similar to the thrust of my post earlier in the week about the rise and fall of Paul Henry. That’s OK, as a number of people have taken the view that TVNZ management is as much if not more responsible than Mr. Henry for the debacle that his “insensitive remarks” has turned into.

But what are the chances that she and I would both use the phrase “bullet proof” in paragraphs specifically referring to the moment at the Qantas Media Awards when Henry decided he was invulnerable? Since her version appears five days after mine did, is it a wonderful coincidence and example of great minds thinking alike or an example of the type of repeating that other bloggers have complained about? In other words, is this Kerre’s “Noelle moment” or am I reading too much into it and being too possessive of a widely used argument and phraseology?. Readers can compare both essays and decide for themselves.

Either way, I guess I should be flattered–except that she gets paid to write things that I dole up for free.

Blog Link: Ending one chapter and starting another.

datePosted on 20:33, September 29th, 2010 by Pablo

Its the end of days for me in one sense, but perhaps the beginning of something new in a few months or so. More details on the latter prospect as it develops.

Over the past few months my partner has observed that KP has increasingly become a boys club. Part of that, she notes, is that I write about security things and boys like guns and war, so tend to dominate commentary on those themes. I have pointed out that I write about plenty of other things, and that Lew covers a range of subjects that are not exclusively “male” in orientation. And yet 95% of our commentators are male.  And, as my partner also observes, their comments tend to become the intellectual  equivalent of pissing matches or penis length arguments rather than reasonable exchange of views in which the worth of opposing perspectives is acknowledged. She includes me in the pissing match crowd. 

I attribute the apparent masculinisation of KP in large part to the fact that Anita’s long hiatus has deprived the blog of the gender balance it needs, in part because Anita writes from a feminist perspective and about gender issues from a wimin’s point of view. That of itself is interesting because when she does (and Anita does not write exclusively about gender-related themes), the comment threads show a disproportionate number of females in the mix. In effect, there appears to be a self-segregation going on: men read and comment about “boy” topics and wimin read and comment about “girl” themes. This can be seen on a larger scale in the topics covered by political blogs written by wimin versus those (the majority) written by men, which makes me think that the “problem” is not exclusive to KP.

This bothers me. I do like to think of myself as writing about exclusively “male” topics since I believe that subjects such as international relations, foreign policy, labour politics, democratisation and regime change, and security issues are (or should be) matters of universal interest. Likewise, I do not believe that topics such as rape, child-raising or workplace harassment are exclusively female concerns. But until Anita comes back, it appears that KP is becoming the political blog equivalent of a (somewhat polite) rugby clubhouse.

So I guess the question of the day is whether there is a self-segregation of wimin’s versus male topics, and if in fact this blog, for worse in my view, has become masculinised (sic) beyond repair.

Evaluating the KP debate experiment.

datePosted on 11:18, September 2nd, 2010 by Pablo

The results of the first attempt to host a debate between a right-focused blogger and left-focused blogger here at KP have been decidedly mixed. The idea was to show that reasonable people with opposing ideologies can have a civilised debate about matters of contemporary import in a common forum rather than slag each other across the blogosphere. Since I have good regard for Sagenz writing on strategic issues at New Minister in spite of the company he keeps over there (PM excepted and Gooner occasionally forgiven) and the fact that we disagree on 95% of everything political, I invited him to debate me here on the proposition that the Iraq invasion was a success. Kindly enough, he agreed, even while acknowledging that he was entering opposition turf in doing so.

I assumed that readers would focus on the merits of our arguments, using the ends-means/costs-benefits rationales that are the essence of strategic thought. I thought that the debate would centre on my short to medium negative appraisal versus Sage’s long term mixed success scenario, in which short term failures could lead to longer-term success from a US/Western standpoint. I assumed that people had read enough to look beyond the pretext for the invasion (WMDs), and that they were conversant in the ample literature directed to the topic.  I assume that people would leave their (anti-American and anti-Israeli, in particular) biases at home and concentrate on the merits of the argument as given. My assumptions were wrong.

Although there were a few good comments, what we mostly got was the usual partisan diatribes, several of which were clearly uninformed by a thorough read of what was written. Some were completely off-thread. Then there was the nitpicking troll from Japan who had little substantive to offer, another rant directed at me that actually was about something Sagenz wrote, capped off by the king of pompous armchair revolutionaries harping about me being vaingloriously mean to the troll. The bulk of the comments did not debate the merits of the arguments or even address the subject as specified. That was disappointing.

Even so, after expressing my unhappiness with Lew and Sagenz and hearing back from them, I would like to try the debate experiment again and invite people to submit topics and possible authors. I think that  because KP tries to keep things civilised, we can offer a good hosting platform for some worthwhile, stimulating and reasoned left versus right arguments. But ground rules for comments will be established so that if comments deviate from the subject matter as framed by the debate question, they will be deleted.

Surely this is a worthwhile venture and not to much to ask for people to stay within the margins of the debate as framed. If nothing else, doing so helps improve intellectual discipline because it forces both authors and readers to check their biases and assumptions at the door in the attempt to be concise and to the point.