Author Archives: Jafapete

Waitangi 2009. Do we need a national identity anyway?

Today’s the day that we tend to reflect on New Zealand/Aotearoa as a nation: its foundations, its continuing tensions, and the possibilities and threats that lie in its future.

So I was interested in the “Waitangi Eve” discussion at the War Memorial Museum last night, featuring Sir Paul Reeves, Moana Maniapoto and others as part of a must-attend series featuring music and debate.

Because, you see, I’m not entirely convinced that we need a “national identity”, except maybe to inspire creative endeavours. After all, don’t we live in a globalised world? Arguably, the concept of the nation state dates from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and now it seems so twentieth century. And just look at all the trouble nationalism has caused. Wouldn’t we be better off without it? (Who wants to be like the hyper-nationalistic Aussies, anyway?)

I should admit that for many years I was ambivalent about my “New Zealandness.” Hardly surprising, since I was born in London, and my Waikato farming cousins gave me a hard time as I was growing up in the 1970s for being a “whinging Pom.”

Never mind that our mutual ancestors had mostly arrived here in the 19th century, as far back as 1842. Never mind that, having no memories of Merrie Olde England, I could hardly make any comparisons with NZ. Who’d want to belong to such a dull, narrow-minded, backwater?

But it shaped me, too. When I eventually got to London, I discovered that I am a stranger in the city of my birth. Like so many in this century, I am not entirely at home anywhere. But I am most at home at the bottom of the South Pacific. I have come to think of myself as an “Anglo-Kiwi.”

Back to the museum. Sir Paul noted, I think, how apt was the location of the discussion: in the magnificent Maori Hall, encased as it is in the Grecian-Roman colonial monstrosity that is the Museum. Moana Maniapoto provided one of the real insights of the evening. This quest for national identity, she said, is a Pakeha thing. True, how true.

For the past decade, the quest has been led by Helen Clark, who made it a very personal quest, with pilgrimages to Gallipoli and so on. The linkages with creative endeavours are clear, especially to those in the arts community. And a shared national identity may help us to find a way to get along as “one nation, many peoples.” The putative linkages with economic progress I’m less than convinced about.

I’m more concerned that national identity is often used to conceal the very real differences between the haves and the have nots in society. Look at the U.S.A. And gives way to mindless patriotism, all too easily exploited, especially by the right. Look at the Patriot Act.

If we are going to forge a national identity, let it be considered and thoughtful, not like some others. And let it be based on that traditional value that marked our shared (Pakeha, at least) value of the past that deserves to be reprised: a concern for other New Zealanders.

Kiwipolitico’s January

Kiwipolitico readers and commenters will know that this blog has quickly established itself as a platform for considered debate about issues of concern to informed kiwis. This is what it’s all about, and it has been very gratifying for those of us posting to see the generally very positive response and constructive tone of discussion.

For a more precise picture, we have some stats. The wordpress blog stats tell us that we had 23,502 views in January. It took jafapete’s weblog months to reach that level of traffic, when it got into the Tumeke top 20.
We didn’t have a proper stat counter operating until 16 January, and can report that over the period 16—31 January unique visits averaged 293. According to the wordpress stat counter, the number of views in the second half of January was about the same as the second half, so the figure is close to what we would have seen for the month as a whole.
Calculating Tumeke’s score most probably places us in the top 20 for January!

290 + 19 + 14.5 + 80 = 403.5
Average daily unique visits = 290
Technorati “Authority” = 19
Average posts per week: 58 ÷ 4 = 14.5
Average comments of top 4 commented posts (96 + 84 + 75 + 66) = 80

The Moment

Today, the United States of America showed the world—and, more importantly, itself—a glimpse of its promise. History, hope and a sense of unity filled the land. It was difficult, even on the other side of this vast country, not to feel caught up in “The Moment”.

It’s forty years since Richard Nixon and the Republicans began their campaign to divide and conquer this country, feeding off and fueling feelings of envy (the “silent majority”), suspicion and ignorance (the “southern strategy”). The divisions are a long way from healing. Not surprisingly—maybe because they know nothing else now—the G.O.P. remain wedded to the negative.

But one thing that I’ve observed talking to many Americans over the past few months is that there is a desire to come together as a nation. Perhaps that doesn’t extend too far into the more backward, rural areas, but it is palpable in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

There is a great deal of hardship and adversity here right now, much more so than most kiwis could comprehend, inured as we are to a benign, helping society. A friend who worked on the L.A. Times as a journalist has had to take on a second job to meet a “budget gap” that arose through illness. She’s seventy. The daily roll call of jobs lost is frightening.

Obama’s speech today was a masterful mix of hard-edged realism and inspiring rhetoric. (Text here) It wasn’t his most eloquent in my view, but it was effective.

Obama began by dwelling at length with the crisis with which the USA finds itself confronted, going further by alluding to “sapping of confidence across our land” and the need to “restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Opponents of his efforts to save the country from economic catastrophe were put on notice in no uncertain terms…

“We come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things… …What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them—that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

The simple reliance on the market to set things right was rejected…

“Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

On international affairs, there is promise of a new, smarter approach, informed by an understanding that bullying is not the only, or even always the best, way to achieve the US’s goals. There’s an understanding of the interconnectedness of the various elements of the intractable “problem” that the Middle East presents, that you cannot have peace without a measure of prosperity for all.

The statement that, in the international arena the USA is “ready to lead once more” was not the only repudiation of Bush 43’s policies. Obama presaged a return to action consistent with US Constitution (and, one hopes, international conventions):

“Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

Gone was the over-blown rhetoric about bringing US-style democracy to the rest of the world that saturated Bush 43’s speech four years ago.

Obama certainly has his work cut out for him. But with so much goodwill, so much talent, and such determination, he is the one who can meet the challenge. One thing is very clear. The United States has turned a corner. And for that we should be grateful.

Update: over at the Standard, Eddie posts on what Obama means for kiwis.

Freedom?

The right-wing fringe think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, has scored NZ slightly higher on its yearly Index of Economic Freedom. NZ comes in at number 5. Rankings here.

This despite a Labour-led government being in charge at the time the data were collected.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the increase–from 80.6% to 82%–was due to improvements in trade, investment and property rights. The Herald notes that, “Freedom from corruption declined but remained high at 94 per cent, and labour freedom fell but was also high at 89.65 per cent”, but doesn’t tell us that the “labour freedom” score declines with higher minimum wages, protections against arbitrary dismissals, etc. It doesn’t mean freedom for workers. Still, with December’s stripping of low-end workers’ protections against arbitrary dismissal (barring provable discrimination), NZ should score even higher on this “freedom” next year.

Interestingly, NZ came in just behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Ireland, and just ahead of the United States and Canada. What do all these countries have in common? A clue… Britain came in at number 10. Yep, the English-speaking, common law countries–all ruled by Britain at some point– share a predilection for light regulation of business. (This is borne out in the rankings of the right-wing Fraser Institute as well.)

It will be interesting to see how the Anglo-American economies and their Asian cousins fare compared to the rest of the world over the next couple of years.

Pita Bread & Circuses?

“I want the flag up there,” Dr Sharples said. “I think it’s a symbol of the new direction this Government is taking by inviting the Maori Party to be part of it.”

Seems the big issue weighing on the mind of Minister of Maori Affairs and MP for Tamaki Makaurau Pita Sharples is the urgent need for the Tino Rangatiratanga/Maori flag to be flown above the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day. I’ve no problems with that. It would be a symbolic gesture of recognition of the special place the Tangata Whenua have in New Zealand/Aotearoa.

But, “New direction”? You’ve got to be kidding, Pita!

I guess we should expect this from the man who voted to abolish Labour’s legislated tax-cuts for the lower paid in favour of tax cuts for the rich, to reduce protections against arbitrary employer actions at work for (disproportionately Maori) highly mobile workers in small workplaces, etc. I just can’t see how flying the Maori flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge captures this “new direction.” Or why he’d even want to talk about it.

At the movies in San Francisco

For a crusty old lefty, there’s no place better than San Francisco to spend some time. SF’s inclusive, emancipating social values, oddly out of place in hyper-capitalist, dog-eat-dog U.S.A., warm the heart. Where better to see Milk, the biopic about the martyred gay activist and SF city politician?

Inevitably, the taxi ride to the cinema merged into the experience. Driving through the Tenderloin in the half-light of early evening, we passed the soup kitchen on Ellis St. For more than a block, the poor and homeless queued silently, two or three deep, abject and despairing. In jarring contrast with this grim spectacle, we pulled up to the cinema in a former Cadillac dealership on Van Ness, resplendent with its restored opulence. Plus ca change?

Milk is deeply moving, not least because of its authenticity. Sean Penn’s almost too-perfect mimicry of Milk’s mannerisms is reinforced by a supporting cast that includes members of the original group of associates. It’s a really well-made movie, and Penn’s and Josh Brolin’s performances are the stuff of Oscars. I’ve never seen raw archival footage integrated into a non-doco so seamlessly. The ending, operatic and defiant, is a paean not just to Harvey Milk, but to the movement that he inspired. In the wake of Prop 8, the movie is eerily apposite, but provides a timely reminder that the forces of reaction can be overcome, though not without set-backs.

By chance, the walk down to the Van Ness MUNI Station afterwards took us right past City Hall. A group of Sherriff’s deputies came swaggering out, brimming with the confidence of authority and the lethal firepower attached to their belts. Plus ca change indeed.