Archive for ‘This blog’ Category

Overzealous spamtrap

datePosted on 10:46, March 26th, 2010 by Lew

spam
Hi folks, for the last few days Akismet has been eating legitimate comments, and since it’s usually so reliable I’ve not bothered to check. So I’ve just released them all. Thanks to Neil for letting me know. If a comment doesn’t show up, you can email lew@kiwipolitico.com and I’ll make sure it gets published.

Sorry about that. As you were. I’ll try to find time to reply, but it probably won’t be today.

L

Week off

datePosted on 10:16, February 15th, 2010 by Lew

Dear KP readers,

After a flurry of activity over the past few days, I’ll be a bit scarce for the coming week. Pablo is also travelling and will likely not be posting. In the mean time, here’s a forum for you to bring up and discuss things you think are interesting. The usual standards apply.

Also, if anyone wants to submit a more formal guest post for consideration, email me — lew@kiwipolitico.com.

Cheers,
L

Resuming transmission, slowly.

datePosted on 15:29, January 14th, 2010 by Pablo

Feeling a bit like Rip Van Wrinkle after a good holiday spent in mostly wild areas without full access to news, I am slowly regaining my  “urbane” senses. But I have mixed feelings about my return to the Asian city in which I live. The best part of the trip was breathing real, clean air, feeling the breeze and listening to the night-time silence and bird singing at dawn, swimming in unpolluted open water, seeing wildlife in their natural settings rather than in cages, talking with people wedded to the earth or at least without pretense, and forgetting what day of the week it was. Nothing my wife and I took in the way of pictures can accurately capture the fullness, nuance, and complexities of the trip, which is why the return to the noise, smell and rush of the city is underwhelming.

While away I was struck by how, in virtually all of the places we stayed, other than local stories the majority of what passed for available global news were truncated newswire or US/European newspaper bylines and (mostly) celebrity-focused nonsense. I return to much of the same here, as is the case with the on-line versions of NZ news outlets. So, in a sense, I really did not miss anything by being away (save an aborted terrorist attack on a US-bound  airplane and, much more importantly, a successful suicide bombing attack on a CIA post in Khost, the sequels to which will be very far-reaching). In fact, it was perversely delightful to not have to be up to date on anything other than the tides and  wind, to wake up with the light, and to utterly depend on local knowlege rather than familiarity with world events to make the days interesting and enjoyable.

For their part, while I was away NZ political bloggers who continued to post regularly (unlike us more relaxed folk at KP, who actually have lives and priorities other than blogging) appear to have been obsessed with themselves and their self-importance, led by one particularly sociopathic character with a serious martydom complex (which in turn is a reflection of a deeply narcissistic personality gone into disorder). Some things never do change.

What has changed is my approach to the second year of blogging at KP. I want to be more judicious in my posts, and to sparse them out more evenly relative to my editorial and scholarly work. Last year I found that I was at times blogging just for the sake of it rather than to make a point or critical observation about something of substance. Some of that is due to having too much time on my hands, but some of it is due to getting sucked into what I see as a blogging syndrome: an addiction to the immediate call and response effect of posting, which for someone who likes to argue and debate, is the purest opiate of all. In that sense, blogging is the opposite of “real” scholarship in that the latter is done a solitary pursuit in which feedback, in the form of peer review and critiques, comes infrequently and in highly formalised format (such as via referee manuscript evaluations and comments on conference papers). In fact, original research publication is very much a lonely, lengthy, painful affair in which devastating core critique, rejection and self-doubt are all part of the process for all but the most brilliant of minds. None of that happens on a blog, in which the poster/author is also the censor (should s/he care to be), and in which the commentariat often is unversed (or less informed) on the subject relative to the author. Editorial writing is somewhere in between, in that it is light on original research but retains an element of editorial scrutiny and critical feedback in the form of editorial responses or letters to the editor, some of which can be quite arbitrary and politicised ( for example, I have yet to figure out what the NZ Herald editorial policy is, and on what grounds it publishes op eds).

All of which is to say that I am going to refocus my energies this year on scholarship rather than blogging, which means a diminished output for the latter and hopefully an increase in the former. That certainly does not mean abandonment of blogging altogether–I still expect to post regularly–but simply posting at a slower, more measured rate. I also need to reflect more on my choice of subjects for this particular forum, as I do not want to get trapped into repeatedly posting on subjects that, although of high interest to me, do not necessarily occupy the attention of my colleagues in the KP collective or the readers (who are the audience which I hope to engage). That more narrow focus can be left for the scholarly audiences to which I seek to appeal, with blogging focused on more contemporary and variegated, although no less important subjects. I shall continue, as before, to offer episodic links to the Word From Afar column at Scoop.

Happy Holidays and a year end summary.

datePosted on 19:34, December 23rd, 2009 by Pablo

I am taking off for 3 weeks to do some R&R overseas, and will not be on line for most of that time if at all. I just wanted to wish readers and KP colleagues alike the best for the holidays and upcoming year. It has been an interesting first year at KP, and for me personally. Until I was invited here I was a regular reader of various blogs, but now have a better understanding of the time and effort put into them. I learned a a lot in the process, mainly that reasoned debate is a precious commodity and there is way too much nastiness posing as “argument” on NZ political blogs. However, here we fought the good fight to keep things (more or less) civil and to filter out vulgarity and ad hominen attacks, and that stance appears to be working. I must thank the regular commentators not only for their input but also for their decorum.

For the record, we have had just over 180,000 page views of 360 posts with 5736 comments since we opened shop in early January 2009. I have done around 75 posts. Most have been serious reflections, a few have been deliberately polemical, and a couple were done just for fun. 

Much thanks has to go to Anita for keeping the site updated and ongoing while contributing her own valuable insights, to Lew for adding high quality argument to the KP collective, to our guest posters for expanding the scope of our debates, and to jafapete for helping originate the idea of this blog even if he has been sparse with his posts. To all of you, your efforts are appreciated on this end.

Not sure what 2010 is going to bring for me but the good news is that I will be spending a month in NZ as of mid-Feb doing a mix of research and personal business. Now THAT is something to look forward to!

What’s on your mind?

datePosted on 12:33, October 10th, 2009 by Lew

Dear Kiwipolitico readers,

As you may have noticed, posts have been somewhat infrequent over the past month or so. We all have busy lives, and other responsibilities are preventing us from maintaining our customary blogging pace.

So, here’s an opportunity for you to hold forth on a topic of your choosing in a guest post. What’s eating you? Something you’ve been aching to talk about, but haven’t done so for fear of running off-topic; or a critique or comment which didn’t seem appropriate; or a matter of burning importance which hasn’t received adequate treatment.

Send us an abstract (in comments or by email to lew@kiwipolitico.com), and if we like your pitch we’ll give you a chance to post it — under your own name, a pseudonym or anonymously. As usual, the standard of a post’s content and reasoning is what matters, not its ideological alignment; although it would be advisable to read the comments policy before beginning.

So, what’s on your mind?

Cheers,
L

Another post on blog moderation.

datePosted on 14:14, August 27th, 2009 by Pablo

When Anita and Jafapete invited me to join this blog collective, I agreed on condition that we assiduously avoid descending into the flame wars and rant fests so prevalent in the blogosphere, and that we be non-partisan (as I do not want to be seen as a Labour party toadie).  It turns out that we are unanimous in our opinion on both conditions. Even so, in the first few months of operation I took much flack because of my attempts to impose a “zero tolerance” approach to vulgarity and ad hominem attacks (and yes, some of my early attempts at moderation were quite crude). This included, not surprisingly, personal attacks on me (complete with the usual cheap shots about my well known employment dispute) on other blogs. But proof of the worthiness of that stance is now evident.

On the one hand, many well-known blogs–be they right or left–that do not practice moderation of posts and comments have descended into what colloquially are known as “troll farms:” places where the unhinged, cowardly and blindly zealous (as well as purposeful stirrers and trouble makers) trade insults and threats behind pseudonyms working from the safety of their keyboards. This has taken a toll particularly on the right side of the spectrum, where absent Helen Clark (“Klark,” in the right wing lexicon) and Labour in government, the more rabid commentators have taken to fighting amongst themselves over who is most pure to conservative principles and espousing a variety of conspiracy theories borrowed from US nutters and their media facilitators. Several right-wing blogs have simply shut down or splintered. The overall effect is to damage the brand of those that remain. This is particularly the case with DPF’s showcase, in which his reluctance to censor the hateful and vitriolic has seen many of his reasoned commentators decamp entirely, leaving a number of the threads to fester in their nastiness.

The Left side of the spectrum has its own version of this decline. Besides the overtly and blindly partisan scribbling of party mouthpieces, some of the major “independent” Left blogs allow their own version of flaming, to say nothing of serving as conduits for anti-Semitic rants posing as critiques of Zionism and Israel, blanket hatred of the US and hyperbolic attacks on National and its policies (which, if I oppose them in general, are not quite the “fascist”  measures that some of the Left blogs claim them to be).

Which is why I feel quite vindicated in holding the hard line on comments. Over the short life of this blog the commentary and debates have been notable for their (general) civility and intelligence. In fact, the level of discourse is such that the comment threads are often more insightful than the original posts. A regular cadre of highly informed commentators contribute to the discussion, and in the case of Pascal’s Bookie, joined the collective. Meanwhile the ranters (both Left and Right), after initially trying to inject their venom into our arguments, and given up and moved back to their (respective) caves. Even so, we continue to have to moderate the commentary, now mostly for vulgarity (as it is a NZ cultural feature, it seems, to be reflexively profane). But the larger point has been proven: if one wants to have reasoned commentary and debate on political and social issues in a blog format, then moderation is absolutely necessary so as to ward off the inevitable intrusion of trolls (be they ideological or by nature). Over time the need for moderation subsides as the commentariat becomes self-enforcing in its expression (as has been the case here), but it remains as the default principle for newcomers and established commentators alike.

There may be a place for flaming and trolling on other types of blog, but when it comes to political, economic and social matters, reason and grace in expression are the standard by which we live.

Get off my lawn, you damn kids

datePosted on 08:15, August 26th, 2009 by Lew

exurbiaI will be scarce around these parts for the next few weeks because I am trading my beloved south coast for the one to the north-west, having bought a house in the ‘burbs. Three bedrooms and a garage, a character doer-upper with good bones which we got for a good price, our own half-gallon quarter-acre pavlova paradise. On Friday I suppose I will officially be middle-class, as if I wasn’t already. Before I know it I’ll be caring about things like whipper-snappers tagging my fence and rates and tree-pruning restrictions. Before then, I have to figure out how to move house with an increasingly mobile and ingenious nine-month-old.

This will require some significant changes, including acclimatising to what in NZ terms is a very long commute (by train, although I might consider carpooling since I’ve heard good things about the GWRC scheme). I will likely have much less time to write here, and elsewhere. But I will still be around.

L

I happened to be looking at our logs (weird malformed URLs which 404 *shrug*) and noticed our search terms listing, odd as usual, so here are some of my favourites from the last week:

  • objectivism and harry potter
  • should women only use provacation as a defence
  • werewolf ian wishert – 5 hits, really!
  • who is matthew hooton
  • why is new zealand racist sexist and homophobic
  • Latin America progressive forces on the decline
  • tumeke bro
  • herald mental illness 2009
  • mutual exploitation model of the media
  • social movement unionism
  • what will happen if there’s no intellectual property
  • taliban negotiating table afghanistan mission territories

and finally, the ever present reminder of this post:

  • pink

Looking at the search terms always makes me marvel at the eclectic readership we must have, but today I’m concerned that we’re not meeting your expectations. So, in the spirit of BLiP, can anyone answer in 25 words any of the implicit questions? After all, what is the connection between objectivism and Harry Potter? Why is New Zealand racist, sexist and homophobic? and who really is Matthew Hooton?

Although I have enjoyed participating in this weblog collective, I was unprepared to deal with the inability of many commentators to construct a proper argument in the debates about posts. By “inability to construct a proper argument” I do not mean those that  resort to ad hominems and vulgarity (whom we have thankfully excised via moderation). Nor do I refer to those who substitute opinion for fact and make statements or claims on subjects that they clearly know little about.  Instead, I am referring to those otherwise thoughtful commentators who misuse concepts and terms when making their arguments. I refer not to those who deliberately do so to be polemical or provocative, but to those who inadvertently do so. The main problem for the latter is the inability to distinguish between conceptual transfer and conceptual stretching.

Conceptual transfer refers to the process by which a concept or term is taken from its original context and applied to a new situation without appreciable loss of definition or meaning. Conceptual stretching refers to  the distortion of the original concept in order to apply it to a different situation or context. The first is a legitimate argumentative exercise; the second is intellectually dishonest or (most often) lazy.

Let me offer some examples. “Socialism” is a 19th century concept that refers to an economy in which the direct producers of wealth in a society appropriate the common surplus generated by their labours and distribute it according to egalitarian principles rooted in commonly accepted notions of need. Decisions on distribution take into account the need to reproduce the economic form via savings and reinvestment, so current individual allocations are balanced against the common interest in future allocations. This concept can be taken out of its 19th century context and applied, without loss of definition, to 1970s Israeli Kibbutzim, Spanish agricultural cooperatives in the 1990s or post 2002 Argentine worker-owned factories. In all of these instances, the concept was transfered to the new situation without distorting its initial meaning; in each instance workers make democratic allocation decisions about the surpluses they generate. On the other hand, calling the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus package or progressive tax policy “socialist,” or referring to Labour’s macreconomic policies as “socialism,” betrays either profound ignorance of the concept or bad intent on the part of those who make such claims. In the latter cases, the concept has been so badly stretched so has to render it meaningless other than as some type of pejorative.

Take another example: “fascism.” Fascism was a particular inter-war political phenomena. It emerged in response to the Great Depression among the so-called “weak links” of the imperialist chain, former great powers or empires that were being eclipsed by emerging powers. Fascism was characterised by an industrial state capitalist economic project directed by a one party mobilizational authoritarian regime dominated by a charismatic leadership that used inclusionary state corporatist vehicles for mass participation in grand nationalist projects that included the military reassertion of empire. In all cases fascism was a “passive revolution” in that it sought to stave off perceived Marxist-Leninist advances in the countries in which it emerged. European fascism had three variants: Austro-Germanic, in which the core constituency of the national socialist regimes was the lower bourgeoisie; the Italian version, in which the core constituency was the urban working class (Mussolini’s black shirts); and the Spanish version, which grouped monarchists, the agrarian oligarchy and rural peasantry against the urban middle and working classes. In the first two variants, efforts to re-assert their imperial status ended in military defeat. In the Spanish version, the self-recognized inability to re-assert imperial dominance allowed the Franco regime to survive until 1972. As for the Japanese, their version of fascism was an amalgam that had the most cross-class bases of support for monarchism, militarism and imperialism, but without the party mobilizational apparatus used by the European variants.

The point of this extended discussion of the concept of “fascism” is that it was a political form specific to a particular historical moment in the early 20th century, one that can not be replicated simply because the material and political conditions of existence are no longer those that gave it life. The closest parallel to fascism–Latin American populism of the 1940s and 1950s–emulated some but not all of the political features of European fascism and did not have the same economic base. All other recent forms of authoritarianism evidence differences far to great to even remotely call them “fascist.” And yet people do, repeatedly. General Pincohet’s regime in Chile was and is still said to be “fascist” even though his political project was demobilizational and his economic project neoliberal. Commodore Frank Bainarama is called a fascist because he led a coup and rules by fiat in Fiji. Mugabe is a fascist because, well, he is.  What is true is that all of these individuals were and are authoritarians, as are many others, civilian and military alike. But that does not make them “fascist.” To label them as such is to undercut any argument for their removal.

In extending the term “fascist” to other forms of authoritarianism that do not share its structural or political features, the term has been stretched to the point of insignificance. It is now just an insult without intellectual justification. It is, in other words, argumentatively useless.

There are plenty of other concepts that come to mind when the issue of conceptual stretching arises. “Hegemony” and “imperialist” are oft-abused, stretched and distorted concepts. “Nazi” (as in German national socialist) is another popularly distorted term. The list is long, and it appears all to often in the writing/commentary on this blog. I would simply ask that people do their conceptual stretching elsewhere–DPF’s blog is a good start.

Even astute writers can fall prey to conceptual stretching. In his otherwise insightful post on Agenda Setting below, my colleague Lew refers to the likelihood of “a more militaristic, less community-based approaching to policing–in international relations terms, a more strongly realist law enforcement posture” in the aftermath of the Napier shootings and siege. The trouble with his invocation of realism is two-fold: as an international relations theory, realism maintains that the international environment is a Hobbesian state of nature in which anarchy abounds. Absent a Leviathan such as those that exist within nation-states, international actors seek to accumulate and use power in order to a) achieve security and b) pursue national interests. Power in such a view is not simply military might, but includes economic resources, diplomatic influence, moral or ethical leadership–the particular mix of what goes into the notion of “power” is complex and variable, as well as contingent on the objectives being pursued or defended. Power is not exclusively “militaristic” nor is it necessarily anti-community–the formation of alliances and use of supranational organisations for conflict resolution is part and parcel of the realist approach.

Lew’s use of realism to describe a likely police response is doubly flawed because it has been stretched to describe a particularly military approach to law enforcement within a liberal democracy. In other words, both the context and the approach are completely different to those in which realism is applied to international relations.

This is not meant to cast aspersions on Lew. To the contrary, I admire his work and appreciate his insights. Instead, this post is an attempt to point out this very common argumentative flaw among otherwise thoughtful readers and commentators, so that we can avoid repeating them in future debates. In the mean time I shall ponder whether to write about another pet peeve: the inability of people to establish a “chain of causality” between independent, intervening and dependent variables when making their case.

Trotter: more on the h

datePosted on 00:03, April 7th, 2009 by Lew

This blog is almost becoming Kiwipoliticoh, since given my limited time at present I’m having to pick my battles.

I’m pleased Chris Trotter has come to terms with his inner racist. His characteristically torrid column is basically a rehash of the bogus arguments I discredited here, which Chris has apparently not bothered to read, much less answer the questions I pose in it. His latest column makes explicit what I wrote in the first post on the matter and discussed in more general terms in another post – that people pick an ideological side on matters like this and employ whatever post-hoc rationalisations they need to convince themselves of that position. I freely admit I’ve done the same in this h debate – to me, as to most, it just seems obvious which side is in the right, and that’s a sure sign of ideological knee-jerk. The difference is that my position has some weight of philosophical and legal precedent and linguistic and geographic fact behind it, not just settler ideology.

The column is not pure rehash, though – it’s got some new hash thrown in for good measure, and none of it any more useful than the first lot. It is the canard that by changing a European name back to a Māori name the former is somehow “obliterated” or “expunged” from history. The very examples Chris gives to support this absurd contention disproves it, and moreover it shows the naked settler racism of the position.

Names are important, and to his credit Chris does not succumb to the smug `haven’t those maaris got more important things to worry about’ rhetoric, hoever he over-eggs his pudding a bit here. If, on its own, changing a name genuinely did obliterate and expunge it from history and this was a necessarily bad thing, then Chris ought for consistency’s sake to form a club to protect Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie Roads, in danger of being so obliterated and expunged by the nefarious newcomer Bowalley Road. The fact is that those names have not been lost – they have faded from common usage but remain a part of the fabric of local culture, to be remembered and celebrated, as they are. If the change goes ahead, nobody except the fearmongers such as Trotter and Laws are suggesting that all historical references to Wanganui be struck from the records, or that a great terminology purge be conducted. The name and the fact of its usage for a century and a half will stand in the documentary record, as it ought to. The generations currently living here will mostly go on using Wanganui, and even many businesses will not bother to change their stationery, out of a dogged loyalty to the identity or out of simple inertia.*

Instead of mourning the loss of Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie, Chris lionises the upstart Bowalley Road in the very name of his blog. This reveals that Chris accepts that some names have more intrinsic value than others, and on this point I agree with him. Where we disagree is on the basis by which we determine which of an exclusive pair of names should take precedence over the other, a simple matter of logic which I covered in the first post.

Now for the racism: having accepted that some names have more value than others, and having chosen to privilege the colonial name over the traditional name, Chris and others like him essentially say “the settler tradition is more valuable and important than the Māori tradition”. If the case were a marginal one, or if there were two equal competing claims, this would be fair enough – I’m not suggesting that all or even most names ought to be Māori names by right – but in a case where there is a clearly and obviously correct name which isn’t being used in preference to a clearly and obviously incorrect name, the implied statement changes from “the settler tradition is more important than the Māori tradition” to become “settler mistakes are more important than the Māori tradition”, which is much more pejorative. It essentially says “our ignorance is worth more than your identity”, and that, right there, is colonialism in a nutshell.

The battle will be an fierce one, and the troops are massing. The NZGB has signalled that numerical advantage – `preponderance of community views’ – isn’t enough to prevent the change, but it also grants significant weight to those views. In a bald attempt to strengthen their crude majoritarian argument before the NZGB, the Wanganui District Council (which, oddly, will not have to change its name even if the city name changes) has decided to seek a legal opinion on the NZGB’s decision, and to hold another referendum on the spelling of the name. As if there is such a thing, they plan to “conduct a neutral information campaign” on the matter beforehand, though it isn’t clear how they plan on ensuring even a fig-leaf of neutrality – will the council (who voted against the change) argue the sans-h case while Te Runanga o Tupoho (who brought the petition to the NZGB) argues the h case? Will the council pretend it can be neutral on this matter? And what is the purpose of an information campaign anyway, when they, better than anyone else, know that this isn’t a matter of logical, dispassionate assessment of facts and history – it’s a matter of picking sides. I watch the carrion birds circling with interest.

L

* Incidentally, the Wanganui Chronicle had a good laugh at itself and its readership on April 1 with a front-page story announcing that the name would be changed to the Whanganui Chronicle. Good on them! A few days later the editorial apologised to all those who had been taken in, saying that they’d thought the story too absurd to be believable.

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