The government’s plan to build a cycle way the length of New Zealand encapsulates two key themes of this National administration.
Of the two it’s the first that bothers me most (the second is just business as usual for National), building cycle ways to get people to work or study would make a real difference in our real lives. Whether you’re planning for peak oil, a recession, an ETS or carbon tax, or reducing obesity making it safe for people to cycle commute would have been a huge step forward.
Instead we’re green washing the exhaust fumes to look good to the rest of the world.
Juan Linz wrote that political time was like cloud time—it moved at a different pace than chronological time, yet had a discernable rhythm of its own. I would like to reverse the metaphor to note that when it comes to political and economic cycles in liberal democracies, it is political time that is more chronological, whereas economic time is more akin to cloud time.
Under conditions of liberal democracy, political time is codified, demarcated and predictable. Elections are held at regular intervals, parliaments sit for a given amount of days in a calendar year; government departments issue annual reports and respond to inquiries in prescribed (if not timely) fashion, bills are introduced in specified ways within specific timeframes, etc. Even political debates take on a predictable rhythm, with arguments over finances occurring around the time of government budget announcements (in New Zealand that is usually in May), and partisan and personal attacks occurring during periods of relative policy stability. Come summer, most things political more or less stop for the holidays, then resume in the Fall.
Economic time, however, is another matter. Capitalist economies are obviously cyclical, but the cycles are twofold and not coincident with political time. First, there is the “boom and bust” cycle in which markets expand and contract in pursuit of (re) equilibrated growth. This is the cumulus cloud time of economic cycles. That is, the short cycle dimension of capitalist economics, marked by sudden shifts in direction driven by the warming or cooling of market preferences. In parallel, there is a long cycle in which capitalist economies shift between market-driven or state-managed forms. This is the cirrus cloud dimension of economic time. The sclerosis, stagnation or failure of one economic form, such as the market failures now evident, leads to the shift to the other. Thus, the Great Depression spelled the end of laissez faire market economics and the advent of welfare statism, which after the resolution of World War 2 led to nearly forty years of prosperity in the liberal democratic world. In turn, by the 1980s the era of state-centered economics had come to an end, saddled as it was by rent-seeking behaviours, clientalism and systemic inefficiencies produced by bureaucratic distortions of the productive process. What emerged in response was neoliberal market economics. This era was driven by deregulation, trade opening and monetarist macroeconomic prescriptions that were premised on the belief—subsequently proven to be unfounded—that finance capital would be the most accurate determiner of global productive investment.
Two decades later, the era of neoliberal economics has concluded in ignoble fashion. Note that this market-oriented cycle lasted half as long as the previous state-centered cycle, which in turn was shorter than the original period of laissez faire. This shortened lifespan is due to the combination of market-driven globalization of production coupled with exponential advances in telecommunications and transportation. Phrased differently, it would seem that the economic cirrus clouds have sped up at a time when the negative cumulus layer has deepened, all while political time remains constant. Therein lies the rub.
It is generally held that market failures lead political shifts to the Left so as to facilitate the move to state-centered macroeconomic policy. Conversely, state-centered failures are said to lead to shifts to the political Right so as to facilitate the adoption of market-oriented strategies. In the 1930s and 1980s this rule generally held true for advanced democracies. But since economic and political time are not coincident, it is by no means a universal truth that such will occur at every moment of cyclical transition. The current moment is a case in point.
In the US the rule seems to have been upheld, as is true for several European countries. But in France, New Zealand, Japan and Italy, among others, Right-oriented governments are confronted with market failure and the need to provide political space for an economic transition. The political cycle in these countries does not allow for their immediate replacement with Left-oriented governments. There is a lack of synchronicity between political clock and economic cloud time in these countries. This places the ideological beliefs and policy prescriptions of such Right governments under pressure, since in principle they are averse to increasing the role of the state in macroeconomic affairs. Yet the magnitude of the current market failure is such that the role of the State, at least as a macroeconomic regulator, needs to be considered. This consideration needs to happen quickly, since the temporal horizons on finding solutions is near immediate given the speed at which the global recessionary pressure wave is advancing. Put another way, the cumulus and cirrus aspects of economic time have come together in a perfect storm of economic necessity that Right governments find particularly difficult to address, much less resolve without betraying their foundational principles. To do so is to tacitly admit that there are inherent flaws in market logics that require State intervention in order to be overcome (in the reverse of the betrayal of foundational principles and tacit admission of State-capitalist failures by so-called “Third Way” Labour parties).
Thus the dilemma for Mr. Key’s government: how to reconcile clock and cloud time in a small island democracy at the outer edge of an economic storm front? From what has been seen so far, it appears that he has opted to shift to the Left, but as of yet without categorically stating that he is doing so. With ACT in the government coalition, that makes for interesting theater in the months ahead. Or to conclude with yet more metaphor abuse: could there also be internal storm clouds on NACTIONAL’s horizon?
Hard on the heels of my article about giving the overworked minions of the Corporate News Machine ready fodder to work with, The Dominion Post this morning proves my case by running ready-made racist propaganda soundbites from the fisheries industry.
The linked article makes it quite explicit that the fee levied by Ngāi Tahu is nothing to do with them being Māori and the fishermen being Pākehā – it’s to do with them being the owners of a resource which they (as owners) consider to be in need of investment. Their business model is to extract a rent from that resource, and they have decided to raise that rent by constraining commercial access to those who are prepared to support continued investment in the resource by paying a commercial use levy. This is no different in principle than the Transit Agency increasing road-user charges to increase investment in roads, or from a landowner charging higher fees for Fonterra producer-shareholders to graze his property because he wants to adhere to the Clean Streams Accord (and that costs money), or from a resort owner increasing his fees in order to improve the quality of the accommodation.
The fisherfolk and their lobby group the Seafood Industry Council are not trying to play on the economic issues, because they know they have no case. So they’re playing this on symbolic issues – the (coincidental) facts that the product of the lake (tuna) is a Ngāi Tahu tāonga, and the fact that Ngāi Tahu are Māori, they (the commercial fishermen) are (I assume) Pākehā, and the ownership of the lakebed is the result of a Treaty settlement. None of these facts are actually relevant to the case in point – there’s no evidence that there is any discrimination, and it doesn’t matter by what legitimate means the owners acquired control of the resource. Just because it’s the result of a Treaty settlement doesn’t mean they somehow have less right to extract rents from it. So Ngāi Tahu’s case seems invulnerable on material grounds, but it is vulnerable on symbolic grounds. The commercial interests here are cynically trying to leverage the undercurrent of anti-Māori-development racism, pushing the Iwi/Kiwi button in service of their legally invalid cause.
It’s not an `iwi tax’ – it’s a `conservation levy’, and only payable by commercial users. They can’t come out and declare themselves anti-conservation, but it seems that in NZ it’s just fine for them to come out and declare themselves anti-iwi.
DPF’s post mentioning MediaCom, which allows you to get/send press releases via NZPA feed, reminded me of this, which I’ve been meaning to post for awhile. The reason PR companies need to spam people with press releases is because at a basic level they’re so easy to write that almost any idiot can hack one out in half an hour, and so people do. If you’re someone who relies on them, by the time you’ve read the title and the first three paragraphs in order to figure out whether the press release has anything relevant for you, its writer has already won.
Not to say that writing good press releases is easy – far from it, writing genuinely good press releases is extremely hard; so hard that very few people actually can, and even for those people it can seem futile because nobody knows whether your press release is any better than all the rest of the guff which is clogging their intertubes until they’ve read the title and the first three paragraphs. If you’re a CommsTart,* this is a very important skill, however, because by writing good press releases you give the overworked, underpaid minions of the Corporate News Machine a labour-saving device, and if you can consistently write to spec they will gladly shortlist your releases for pre-publication, sight unseen, because they don’t have time to read the title and the first three paragraphs because … well …
That stuff in them there press releases ends up in your media. I don’t have it to hand (Kate, can I have it back?), but I seem to recall that very thorough Cardiff University research commissioned by Nick Davies’ for his excellent book Flat Earth News found that no more than 12% of articles published in major British papers were entirely free from material published by someone’s PR department or agency. In my work as a media analyst, if I actually want to find out about a major issue I go to Scoop and try to triangulate the facts from everyone’s press releases before I bother with the actual end-user media outlets. It’s rare they can tell me something the stakeholders’ CommsTarts haven’t already.
These facts – it’s easy to do badly, hard to do well, indispensable and ubiquitous – are not lost upon the wags of the media world, who have taken delight in lampooning this most cherished aspect of their craft. There are lots of press release generators out there. Most are good for a black bit of fun – this by one of our few remaining satirists Lyndon Hood only deals with the the one topic of child abuse, but it has good bones.
For the 80th birthday of AdNews, the Sydney office of Clemenger BBDO made this handy visual self-congratulatory press release generator:
If you want industrial-strength, this one is made of much sterner stuff. Written by a computer programmer back in the Nineties and endlessly hacked on since, it and its variations will generate a dense blob of impressive verbiage – Bush-speak, web jargon, whatever you want. If fed the right source material, it would probably generate a halfway-competent press release.
It goes the other way, too – David Slack, in homage to George Orwell and Christopher Ketcham, created a DuckSpeak Translator which, if fed media-ready prose, would deliver you a lot of QUACKs and perhaps (if you were very fortunate or the author was very clever) a few actual words and even an idea. The DuckSpeak Translator is sadly no more, brought to its knees by the fact that David allowed any old idiot to add phrases to its vocabulary, so that by the time I got to using it sometime in 2006 it was so thoroughly clogged that you could put anything in and get nothing back but quacks – which may have been the intention after all. I think the project should be revived with a clean database, and phrases only admitted to its vocabulary if they have been taken cleanly from some rich source of such matter – such as the Hansard, or press releases. That’d be something worth quacking about.
* I use the term in gender-neutral reference to anyone whose work is tarting up their client’s self-interest so it can be mistaken for news.
Edit: Heh, the `or three’ on the end of the title was an afterthought added without reference to the previous post, which also contains it :)
Posted on 18:31, March 5th, 2009 by Anita
Earlier this week the restrictions on blood donors changed, and some people who previously couldn’t give blood are now allowed to donate. This includes some men who have had sex with men and some people who have worked as prostitutes.
So, if you have wanted to give blood but been on the restricted list, check again because you might be ok to donate now.
If you’ve thought about giving blood but never quite got around to it, get in touch with the Blood Service and donate!
If you’ve donated in the past but haven’t donated in the last 3 months, get in touch with the Blood Service and donate!
I don’t know about the rest of the country, but Wellington’s really short on donors right now (so short they rang me today, the first possible day I could donate) so I’m sure the blood service would love to hear from all of you
P.S. They have not changed the restrictions on residence in the UK, France and Ireland.
Tomorrow is the day – so get your fax template ready to go, or your email or letter written!
Over the next few years we’re going to watch National trying to give more to the most wealthy by taking away from the poorest – this is a chance to tell them they’re wrong.
The government has appointed three very eminent and well-respected persons to the panel which will review the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, has granted them broad terms of reference, and has imposed a short deadline of 30 June by which they must report back to the Attorney-General. The press release, FAQ and linked ToR document is here.
This seems very positive. The three appointees – Justice Eddie Durie, Professor Richard Boast and Hana O’Regan – are highly-regarded, and none are enemies of tino rangatiratanga or friends of blanket expropriation. The terms of reference give this panel the authority to cover a wide scope of issues, including the prejudicial nature of the FSA (which scotched due process via the courts), to take new submissions, to hold hui and meetings on the matter, and to reconsider historical submissions to the FSA, and `other public documents’ which must surely include the report of UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Dr Rodolfo Stavenhagen, which the Clark government dismissed with scorn.
I have two reservations: first, the short deadline, and second, the lack of commitment to following through on the recommendations of the panel. The short deadline is both a blessing and a curse – it will mean the issue doesn’t drag on, but this could be at the expense of full consultation. The second issue is more serious – there seems to be no indication that the government is under obligation to act on the recommendations, and that means we must take them on their word. The government response to the panel’s report will be a defining issue in NZ political history.
An article in the Herald gives a clue in favour of what I suspected: that there might be more to the assault by an Avondale College student on teacher David Warren than meets the eye. A few bullet-points below:
None of this is to excuse the student’s attack, of course. But it doesn’t look like a random bit o’ violence to me.
Update: The attacker has been named, and a bunch of the details seem to be disputed, see here. I’ve amended the post to remove details which seem to be incorrect.
Disclaimer: Can I be completely explicit for people who are too suspicious to believe or too stupid to read the statement above (which I almost didn’t put in because I thought it was bleeding obvious): I am not trying to blame Warren or defend Chung – I am trying to consider the dynamic in play here. If you attempt to call this into question or engage in any such behaviour yourself, expect to be soundly ridiculed. You might note I’ve tagged this post hate crimes.
Tony Ryall has, once again, taken the moral low road and is refusing to ban cigarette displays in shops despite evidence that cigarette displays increase teenage smoking. This in a week that a similar ban was announced in Northern Ireland, joining bans in Ireland, Canada, England, Wales, much of Australia… oh shall I just call it “most of the developed world”?
Why does this matter? (Other than caring about the lives and health of New Zealanders)
In case you don’t have a copy of The Hollow Men to hand, I offer you some highlights:
Sweet eh, politicians and industry working hand-in-hand – that must be the “pragmatism” John Key talks about.
As a dedicated media geek, I wake up each morning to New Zealand’s broadcast news of record – the masterful Geoff Robinson, the muscular Sean Plunket, and the metronomically-consistent Nicola Wright on Radio NZ National’s Morning Report. These three I consider to be among the top talent in the NZ media industry, and we are fortunate to have them.
I also have a lot of time for Checkpoint‘s Mary Wilson – not quite so obdurate as Sean Plunket, but with as little patience for prevarication. It seems the producer who put together the advertising frob for Checkpoint which aired between the sport and weather segments of yesterday’s 0600 bulletin also has a good ear. You can listen to it here, but I’ve transcribed the good bits:
(Mary Wilson introduces Checkpoint)
Now, neither of the speakers either side of Wilson is identified. That’s an important point – the first speaker is immediately recognisable as John Key, and his words are clearly to do with the recession and economically troubled times ahead (in fact, from his opening speech at the Job Summit); a bold bit of chin-up-what-what jingoism. Even if you don’t know who the second speaker was or what he’s talking about, his statement is so strongly worded and his tone so far removed from Key’s that they jar in relation to one another; and although the statements are topically different, their contrast and proximity to one another implies a relationship. Although they’re not obviously linked, a listener (in principle) goes away associating John Key’s upbeat jingoism with one’s own army as the firing squad – a hugely disturbing mental picture if you care to think about it. This is an example of the semiotic technique of associative montage, perfected by Soviet filmmakers, where parts of a text are contextualised and given affective weight by their relationship to other parts of the text (in this case, audio; in the classical case, still or moving images on film).
Because I failed to listen to Checkpoint last week when the story about the Army raincoats was in the news, it took a bit of research to find out it was Davey Hughes of Swazi who said the second bit. And it turns out that there is a link between the statements – but not the link you might expect; a real army but a metaphorical firing squad, and nothing to do with John Key. As a matter of reality, the government isn’t in a position to force the NZDF to choose one supplier over another mid-term, and to do so would set a dangerous precedent and open the government up to well-justified allegations of protectionism.*
Not that this makes any difference to the message as received by a naïve listener to this piece. Montage, like other semiotic grammars but perhaps to a greater extent because we’re unused to it, transmits its meaning subconsciously. Actual rational reality doesn’t necessarily get a look in. Now, I’m not arguing that there’s a wily frob-producer at NatRad who’s employing Soviet montage techniques to propagandise John Key in the minds of loyal public-service broadcasting listeners, though I suppose if you were especially paranoid you could argue that airing it at wake o’clock in the morning makes it easier to prey upon the weakened rationality of the half-asleep.
This is the stuff of which peoples’ impressions are made – people have a feeling about a leader, they can’t quite put a finger on it and haven’t necessarily given it any serious thought, but nevertheless it’s their opinion and they cling to it. Despite Labour’s technically excellent but somewhat nasty `Mary’ ads in the dying days before the election, there seem to be very few such impressions of John Key. But he’s a leader going into a long term of economic downturn, and he can look forward to more such as this.
* You could argue that the NZDF should choose NZ-made gear – and the All Blacks should use Canterbury rather than adidas – but the fact is that Key can’t simply make it so.