Teenage Turtle Dreams

I didn’t care much for music (still don’t) and owned very few albums or CDs as a youngster. One of the handful I purchased was Sting’s turgid and pretentious Dream of Blue Turtles, released in 1985 as I turned fifteen.  It was the year Mikhail Gorbachev took the helm in Moscow, the beginning of the end of the Cold War – but it didn’t seem like that at the time. It felt as though the world was teetering on the brink of annihilation.   

One of the singles from Turtles was Russians – a minor hit, if I’m not mistaken. This is a sample lyric:

We share the same biology

Regardless of ideology

What might save us, me, and you

Is if the Russians love their children too


Since I enjoyed politics considerably more than music, and since I had gone out of my way to purchase the album, I really wanted to love Russians. But I didn’t. I hated it – and here’s why. 

It seemed self-evident to me – glaringly so – that of course Russians love their children.  I was aware some extreme Cold War partisans might contend otherwise, but surely anyone who clung to the view that Soviet citizens hated their own kids must be an ill-educated buffoon. 

So what was Sting doing, warbling this twee little truism at us? Wasn’t he revealing contempt for his audience– me included – who, he seemed to think, might continue, without the benefit of his song, to believe that Russia’s Mums and Dads hold their offspring in contempt? 

The song seemed misguided to me in another way: what if one of those mindless patriots who thought Russians loathe their children were to encounter the song? Would it change their mind – “that former Police frontman really made me interrogate my assumptions about Soviet parent-child relations!” – or would they simply conclude Sting is another soft-on-communism peacenik who thinks he knows best?  (The latter, obvs). 

So my objection to the song was twofold: it treats the vast majority of us as idiots who need persuading that Russians love their children when it would never have occurred to us otherwise; and that any actual idiots who need convincing will find it utterly unpersuasive.  In fact, my intuition at the time was that Russians would most likely lead such people to adopt an even more strident anti-Sting, anti-Soviet posture. 

It turns out that bloody-minded doubling down in the face of contradictory arguments is an actual thing. In 2000, a University of Illinois study concluded “not only that most people will resist correcting their…beliefs, but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”  The study’s author, James Kuklinski, calls this phenomenon the “I know I’m right” syndrome; it’s also sometimes called the “backfire effect”.  A famous study, conducted in 2005, found that self-identified conservatives presented with facts about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were not only unpersuaded; they were more convinced than ever that WMDs were present. While this tendency appears stronger among conservatives, researchers from the University of Michigan found that all “ideological subgroups failed to update their beliefs when presented with corrective information that runs counter to their predispositions…we find that corrections actually strengthened misperceptions among the most strongly committed subjects”.

I was reminded about all this in the immediate aftermath of the ISIS terror attacks in Paris when my Facebook and other social media feeds were swamped with declarations of compassion for Syrian refugees and outrage at those who conflated their plight with ISIS terrorists. 

Because the attacks coincide with a key juncture in the GOP presidential primary, conservatives in the U.S.  have been furiously – and despicably – exploiting the refugee question for political gain. The dynamic is especially toxic because the issue arose at the precise moment in the political calendar where candidates are most eager to burnish their right-wing credentials – and, with Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson dominating the race, the rhetoric has been redder and hotter than usual. Far-right parties throughout Europe are similarly milking the issue for all it’s worth, as are a small group of neo-Nazi wannabes in Australia who have jumped atop the bandwagon under the absurd Reclaim Australia banner.

Whenever I’m chastised to the effect that Syrian refugees are innocents and we should stop punishing them for the crimes of the very people from whom they are fleeing, I am reminded of Sting and Russians.  Most people don’t need the lecture in the first place – I, for one, don’t believe refugee vetting is fail-safe, but nor do I think we should curtail asylum programs as the result of terror attacks –  and it will backfire among those who do. 

But, anyway, are those protesting on behalf of Syrian refugees actually interested in changing minds?  Or is their primary motivation the ostentatious display of superior moral virtue?  As with Russians, I strongly suspect the latter – and, if I’m right, it’s not only that they don’t care whether Trump supporters or Reclaim Australia’s dolts change their minds; it’s in their interests that they don’t. Even keyboard warriors, whose heroism exists purely in their own imagination, need a suitable cast of villains.  

Left's moral and intellectual incoherence on terror is a bonanza for the far right

Credit: Salon.com

Credit: Salon.com

Credit: @SoMuchGuardian  

Credit: @SoMuchGuardian  

I get that we live in a hyperkinetic media age, but the speed with which terrorist atrocities are refashioned as vessels for self-righteous umbrage is staggering. It’s as if 132 actual human beings with lives and loved ones weren’t murdered en masse, and in cold blood, in Paris last Friday, but that the true victims were those dainty souls forced to endure Rupert Murdoch’s tweets on the subject.  

Literally within minutes of the Paris attack, my social media feeds were inundated with a battery of stern admonitions. Lest we are considered racist — a crime greater than terrorism, it seems— we are told not to blame Syrian refugees for the attacks, a thought that may never have crossed my mind otherwise. We are reminded of France's colonizing past; its deprived suburbs; its contribution to the air war inside Syria; its complicity in the West's ongoing humiliation of the Muslim world. We are warned against overreacting to the events because doing so will play into the terrorists’ hands – and because, presumably, letting them get away with mass murder will not.  Meanwhile, telepathic scolds chastise us for failing to pay enough attention to atrocities in less fashionable corners of the world like Beirut or Burundi.  Others rally to reassure us, albeit oxymoronically, that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam but that acting against them will nonetheless inflame the Muslim world.  Somebody even posted something from John Pilger, Australia's feeble answer to Noam Chomsky, who I thought had long since disappeared into a sinkhole of self-parody. But apparently he is still taken seriously by some (not least himself), especially when he gets to revive his Algeria talking points as another way to avoid staring global jihad in the face.  

The most confounding aspect about Pilger and co, aptly coined by novelist Salman Rushdie the "but brigade", is that, even as they offer excuse after excuse for jihadists, they remain resolutely unwilling to listen to a word terrorists actually say. ISIS is neither shy nor ambiguous about its agenda and motivations, and none of it bears the vaguest resemblance to the Marxian interpretation insisted upon by its Western enablers. ISIS are not victims of Western imperialism as much as they are themselves imperialists – the first of countless clues to that effect was the declaration of a caliphate in 2014, starting with a stretch of land across Syria and Iraq roughly the size of Great Britain. 

By refusing to take ISIS at its word, superimposing an oppressor-victim paradigm more amenable to their favoured ideology, the ‘but brigade’ engages in what British anti-extremism activist Maajid Nawaz calls ‘soft racism’ – emanating mainly, in his words, “from privately schooled, Oxbridge-educated Guardian journalists”. Deprived of agency, Islamist extremists are treated like brutalised adolescents: incapable of tempering their rage, they latch on to their twisted interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith, if only because they’ve yet to discover Chomsky and Pilger.  Nobody defends per se the shootings and the bomb blasts, the enslavement, the rape, the beheadings – but, perfunctory expressions of outrage and sympathy aside, the details are soon glossed over, relegated to mere symptoms of a disease whose origins lie in Western malevolence.   

None of this is to deny that France has an indefensible record of colonial brutality and reckless military interventionism.  In sub-Saharan Africa alone, French forces engaged on no fewer than nineteen occasions between the end of colonial rule in the 1960s and 1994 when the regime they sponsored in Rwanda carried out the worst genocide since the Holocaust.  Yes, we can stipulate that France has more than its share of blood on its hands, but we can do so without using it as an excuse to diminish the crimes of ISIS who, after all, opted not to target French political or military leaders but concert-goers and football fans.  (And, in January, another group of Islamists opted to direct their homicidal rage at Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, among the harshest critics of France’s foreign policy).  

I’m sick and tired of being lectured about how to respond inoffensively to acts of terror, and exhausted by the whataboutism that pollutes so much of the discourse. Of course the vast, vast majority of Muslims reject the tactics and beliefs of ISIS and other extremist groups. Of course it is wrong to blame Syrian refugees for what happened in Paris. And of course Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson are vile, opportunistic racists. But none of this should blind us to the reality of the threat: a virulent strain of extremism is flourishing in the world; one that instructs its followers to subjugate and enslave women and girls, behead infidels, hurl gay men off buildings, and send suicide bombers into crowded theatres and football stadiums. Those on the so-called left who stand by and tolerate this, bleating about U.S. foreign policy or muttering non-sequiturs about the socioeconomic hardship of France’s Muslims, will have a lot to answer for when Marine Le Pen and her ilk sweep to power across Europe. If liberals and progressives won't stand up for the civilization we helped build, voters will seek out someone who will.

Fracking Agnostic

A few nights ago, over dinner, the discussion turned to fracking.  A friend looked in my direction in the understandable expectation I would have an opinion on the matter –  possibly a ferocious one.  I do not, I informed her. “How can you not even have an opinion?”, she asked. Here’s how.

Like my dinner companions, reports of flaming tap-water and swarms of earthquakes make me wonder whether this whole business isn’t just the latest example of our reckless, selfish, craven species plundering the earth to within an inch of its life. It is also tempting to conclude that governments and regulators must be complicit, turning a blind to the environmental consequences of fracking in return for the revenue windfall.

If that was the extent of my inklings on the subject, I would straightforwardly oppose fracking as a hazard, and damning proof of capitalism’s insatiable, destructive appetites. Point me to the barricades.

But I have a whole other set of contradictory intuitions. For one thing, the media reports we have seen and read invariably skew to extreme cases of fracking-gone-wrong – so I temper my intuitions accordingly.

For another, at least some fracking opponents are likely to be conspiratorial hysterics who should not be trusted on this or any other subject.

And, most importantly, because the institutional opponents of fracking – the environmental lobby, in other words – are likely to oppose any conceivable form of oil and gas extraction, and because their insistence that fracking destroys the planet could withstand any weight of evidence to the contrary, their persuasive power is greatly diminished.

Greenies oppose fracking because doing so falls squarely within their ideological and political remit. They will, and do, cherry pick evidence accordingly. For this reason, I am as likely to take their word on these matters as I am Liz Cheney’s on the subject of Dick Cheney.    

Anti-frackers will dispute this, insisting it is industry “bad guys”, lobbyists and the politicians in their pockets who engage in rhetorical trickery and manipulate evidence. They, the “good guys”, wouldn’t dream of such things; having, as they do, science, evidence, and the purest of motives, on their side.

This I cannot accept. In fact, this peculiar strain of self-righteousness – claims to moral superiority coupled with an overabundance of certainty – leaves me deeply suspicious and not a little irked.  This is not to deny that forces for good and evil exist in the world – they most certainly do – it is just that, on the subject of who falls into which category, I have learned to trust the most vociferously opinionated the least.   

This latter set of intuitions – those that make me second-guess my own thoughts about the merits of fracking – can stir inside me a certain bloody-minded contrarianism.  I resist, not always successfully, the urge to embrace positions in perverse overreaction to the smug self-certainty of people on the other side of a given subject.  (Here’s an example, awkward to confess: I am far less enraged than I ought to be about the mass surveillance practices of the U.S. government out of a visceral loathing of the viscerally loathsome Glenn Greenwald. I am not proud of this). 

Faced with countervailing intuitions, the upshot is I have no view worth sharing on the subject of fracking. If I had the time and inclination to delve into a sufficiently wide and diverse range of sources, I could possibly overcome this ambivalence. But geology is not a strong suit – and fracking is hardly a ditch short of willing corpses.

The dinner proceeded quite peaceably without me saying any of this.   

Easy arguments

I've been thinking a lot about the state of the public discourse, specifically the depressingly self-gratifying but dysfunctional ways we have come to argue with one another. It's an infuriating state of affairs, worthy of a book-length treatment by someone with a better attention span than me..

On Twitter this morning, I raised one example that happened to be on the touchy subject of domestic violence, and got some blowback from someone I respect.  Hence this post. 

What caught my eye was this opinion piece on domestic violence, in particular the following lede: 

Perhaps ill-advisedly given the sensitive subject matter, and given my gender, but my reaction came in the form of this tweet:

My feeling was that the view that women are equal culprits with respect to domestic violence is not commonly held among people who ought to be taken seriously. I have heard from women that it is commonly espoused, so perhaps I am sheltered; in any event, it strikes me as the kind of lunacy a jittery Men's Rights activist with a sideline in 9/11 trutherism might believe.  

It is easy, and extremely tempting, to mount an argument by taking on the absurdist fringe of your adversary. But it is ineffective, for two reasons:

  1. The fringe-dwellers you are citing will never be persuaded;
  2. The people who might otherwise be open to persuasion, and whom you aim to persuade, won't recognise themselves in the caricature you have painted. 

If you want to shift the needle on an issue, it is more effective in my view to present your opponent's arguments in terms that even they couldn't dispute.  That is the basis for dialogue.  Attributing to them outlandish or unconscionable views, you will certainly win plaudits from people who already agree with you – but you won't reach the persuadable middle.   


The New York Times’ latest Hillary bashing is more baseless than usual 

The New York Times is currently leading with a story about how the Clinton Foundation funds a number of health programs in Rwanda.  It acknowledges repeatedly that these are excellent programs that have enjoyed considerable success in terms of improving health conditions, extending life expectancy and saving lives.  Of course, successful, non-corrupt aid programs don’t make page one of the Times – it only made the grade because it contains a hint of…actually, I can’t put my finger on it.  It's an attempted attack on Hillary thwarted by the facts,

What exactly is the wrongdoing alleged here?  

Is it that Bill Clinton’s Foundation ran a range of successful health programs while Hillary was Secretary of State?  Or is it that the government of Rwanda has its critics, and Foundations like Clinton’s should steer clear of any country unless it has the unqualified support of every diplomat, politician and NGO on planet earth? If they are contending the latter, then no foundation would invest in any programs, anywhere. 

Have they uncovered any corruption, or even pedestrian examples of ineffective aid?  Nope.

Have they presented a scintilla of evidence that the Clinton Foundation unethically lobbied the State Department? Nope. 

Have they shown that the Clinton Foundation’s role in these programs improperly influenced U.S. policy vis a vis Rwanda? Nope.

In fact, I’m struggling to frame a question to which the answer might be “yes”, unless it is this: will the New York Times run any half-baked bullshit if it has the potential to damage Hillary?  

One glaring problem with the story.  Belgian academic, Filip Reyntjens, is many things but he is not "an authority on post-genocide Rwanda”. Reyntjens is the go-to guy for any journalist looking for a nasty quote about Paul Kagame and his government. There is a reason for this: he is actually an expert on the subject of pre-genocide Rwanda, and he hasn’t set foot in the country since 1994.  Reyntjens is an advocate of Burundi-style ethnicity-based politics – hasn’t that worked out well? – and acted as an adviser to the Hutu Power regime of Juvenal Habyarimana. The fact news outlets still use Reyntjens as an expert on Rwanda – let alone on “post-genocide Rwanda” in particular – is a sick joke.  

You'd never guess who's accused me of making stuff up

Of all people, it was Dunedin South MP Clare Curran who took to social media to attack as “fiction" my latest NZ Herald column on the party’s disastrous TPP policy. For good measure, she added  I am “very bitter”.  

Is it possible to overdose on irony?

Some weeks back, I revealed that Labour had ripped large chunks from magazine articles (mainly the Economist) and presented them as original work in a Future of Work discussion paper.  A few hours later, Curran confessed and apologised.  

Avoiding intemperate language like “liar” or “thief” or “she should resign from Parliament”, I wrote instead:

I feel a bit sorry for Clare Curran over this. The Future of Work Commission is Grant Robertson’s baby but clearly he has decided to palm it off to lesser colleagues whenever it soils its nappies.  Hardly a profile in courage, but I can see that Robertson’s reputation, as Finance Spokesperson, is worth preserving.

So you can see why I might feel a tad hurt by Curran’s digs, since I went out of my way during the plagiarism episode to avoid disparaging her. (Curran also honed in on the Josie Pagani for retweeting my article: “Josie,” she snarled, "why are you so anti-Labour?”). 

In my plagiarism posts, I presented several examples of Curran lifting entire sections from magazine articles and inserting them without attribution in a Labour Party policy paper. Neither Curran nor anyone else in Labour disputed my account. By contrast, when calling my column “fiction” and me “very bitter", Curran failed to produce a scintilla of evidence to support either claim.  Just another baseless ad hominem attack. Ho hum..   

This happens every time without fail.  Some outlet or other publishes something from me that contains criticism of the Labour Party because I am genuinely exasperated by its unrelenting incompetence, and fearful that New Zealand is on the cusp of becoming a one-party state.  The response from Labour is never to dispute the facts as I lay them out, or even to question my interpretation. I am simply attacked for being “bitter”.

For those who don’t know the provenance of this line of attack, it is this: I was shunned from Labour after my role in a doomed coup attempt against Helen Clark in 1996, and I’ve apparently yet to recover from the resulting sense of emotional and professional injury.  In this account, I have spent the past 20 years in a state of broiling resentment at no longer having a job in the Labour Research Unit.  

It’s hard to know where to begin, or whether even to bother. 

Since 1996, the following has happened:

  • In 1997, I came out as gay and left my then wife, ratcheting up by several notches my already-stupendous drinking habit.  
  • Six months later, I left New Zealand for Australia where I worked as an advisor to several ALP politicians, including: former Foreign Minister and deputy leader, Gareth Evans; former Defence Minister and factional supremo, Robert Ray; and Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks.
  • In 2001, I left politics for a lacklustre stint as a PR and public affairs consultant – mainly as a means to fund my booze habit.
  • On October 2nd, 2006, I gave up drinking.  I wrote about it recently here. 
  • Since getting sober, I have often been severely, even debilitatingly, depressed. I wrote about that here.
  • In 2009, I left for New York City where I lived on and off for four years.  
  • In 2011, I took a three year contract to train and supervise an emerging generation of communications professionals in the Rwandan public service. An extraordinary experience. 

So yeah. My life’s been something of a shambles, punctuated by some interesting stuff and plenty of missed opportunities. If there’s one thing I want to take to my grave, it’s the dogged insistence that my life is what I made of it. No scapegoats, no excuses.   

While I readily concede that calling me “bitter” every time I open my mouth is as good an insult as any, it doesn’t have the added benefit of being even remotely true.  Given everything that's happened since, how can anyone seriously believe I have the reserves of cognitive or emotional energy to conjure feelings of bitterness – or any feelings at all, come to think of it – from events two decades ago?  

So why do people choose the ad hominem attack over engaging on the substance of arguments to which they object?  After all, I cop a fraction of what others with unfashionable views endure on a daily basis.  Sadly, personal vilification in lieu of argument is a ubiquitous feature of the modern discourse. 

On that point, I recently listened to a podcast discussion between noted atheist and philosopher, Sam Harris, and Yale Psychology professor, Paul Bloom. It’s a wide-ranging chat focussing on the ethical components of several high profile recent controversies.  It’s worth listening to in full (below). 

Sam Harris, who is subjected to unrelenting torrents of abuse for his views on radical Islamism in particular, expressed bemusement at the degree to which his critics go after him personally but resolutely refuse to engage with the substance of his arguments.  Bloom, the thrust of whose academic work is that humans behave more rationally than usually acknowledged, has an interesting take. He asks Harris to consider how he would approach a hypothetical interaction with a Holocaust denier. Would we take time to weigh their views in good faith, or would we instantly conclude that possessing such views make this a bad person?  Harris agreed, as I do, that the latter is far more likely.  In this case, denying the truth of the Holocaust is such a reprehensible and offensive act that it is perfectly rational for us to want to deprive the person of legitimacy – not only rational, but the right thing to do.  

Bloom then asks: what if, to his critics, Sam Harris' views on Islam and religion are no less offensive than Holocaust denial is to us?  To Islamists and their allies, Harris is nothing short of a moral monster – and isn't it rational, when confronted with a monster, to hunt it down and destroy it?  

It's a compelling insight.  When I hear reports of ISIS throwing gay men off tall buildings, my instinct is not to engage in a back and forth about the scriptural justification for murdering homosexuals (for which there is plenty); it is to want to see ISIS destroyed.  

To Bloom, the desire to vilify or discredit people of opposing views can be rational, even justified in some instances. 

Circling back to the original point of this post, however, the problem for Labour is that they call in the attack dogs each and every time. All dissent amounts to apostasy.  Every critic must be acting in bad faith: they are embittered over a factional stoush twenty years ago; they harbour ulterior motives; they're on someone's payroll.  The impact on people like me who cop the abuse is neither here nor there; what should worry Labour supporters is that an ethos that delegitimises dissent makes reform impossible – and that, without reform, the party's future looks very bleak indeed.   

Internationalist by nature?

This answer popped out at me during Andrew Little's outwardly polished, albeit content-problematic, appearance on TVNZ's Q+A yesterday. 

He was asked to respond to Helen Clark's comments in favour of New Zealand taking part in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

If Helen Clark supports TPP because she is an internationalist, what does it say about Labour under Andrew Little that they appear set on abandoning the party's historical mission to expand export markets and maximise engagement with our region and the world?  

Last drinks

My Last Ever Drink, a long anticipated and much scoffed at affair, took place on the stroke of midnight, October 2nd, 2006 — nine years ago today. Later that morning, I finally took the bed in the much sought-after Melbourne detox facility I had reserved several wildly booze-soaked months earlier. Tremors of withdrawal and craving made it impossible to scrawl my signature on the admission forms, but the kindly male nurse — Canadian, from memory — told me, with the knowing smile of a seasoned pro, we could wait until the 20 milligrams of Valium he had just administered took effect.

By the end of my decade and a half long bender, the DTs had become so severe I couldn't get the first couple of drinks from receptacle to mouth without spilling it everywhere. The trick was to make a quick diversion home en route from work to the pub, improvise a sling from a bath-towel or t-shirt to hold one arm steadily in place, and wrestle to my lips a sufficient quantity to quell the shakes: precisely two cans of beer. 

Newly settled, steady as a surgeon, I would arrive minutes later at my favourite watering hole – the Rising Sun in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond turned out to be the last in a series of locals – whereupon I would consume twenty or thirty pots of Carlton Draught. That’s between fifteen and eighteen pints –  or roughly eight litres of beer.  One day in twenty, perhaps having pushed my luck at work to the nth degree, I might convince myself to take it easy; this meant staying clear of the pub and keeping my intake to a dozen or so cans – or until I was drunk enough to sleep.  

A futile but insistent habit of my so-called recovery is to sort endlessly through the debris of what came before, rearranging shards of memory like stray jigsaw pieces, scarce and scattered across fifteen mostly unremembered years. Little reveals itself, unless you count a stubborn ambivalence: drinking, and ceasing to drink, are totemic events in my adult life, but the familiar narrative arc, with its crescendo of recovery and redemption, eludes me. Instead, the question that burns most, and shames me to put into words, is not why I chose to drink myself to an early grave – the reasons for doing so are abundant and obvious – but why instead I stopped. 

Before booze, in my late teens and early twenties, I was outwardly ambitious and supremely self-assured; enough to irritate myself considerably in retrospect. Active in politics and elected to my local city council at nineteen, the future brimmed with promise. And yet I was paralyzed in mute turmoil over my homosexuality — a source of deep foreboding I refused to confront until I was twenty-seven, after three years of marriage.  Even with the superhuman equanimity of my former wife, and the love and acceptance of friends and family, coming out was a profound trauma. I hated being gay – everything about it – and had convinced myself, to unreachable depths, that it ended any prospect of a congenial or purposeful life.  

And so, escaping my hometown of Wellington for Melbourne, I gave alcohol my undivided embrace; days into weeks into months into years, drinking through and over and underneath everything. As consumption escalated, health, finances, career and relationships duly suffered – but nothing before or since has matched booze's knack for coaxing me into believing all is right with the world.  I was a good drunk, insofar as there is such a thing — never weepy or obstreperous; until I blacked out (every night, without fail), I was generous and sociable and reliably euphoric. In that mission, booze never once let me down.   

The view that alcoholism is a disease for which abstinence is the only cure has congealed into accepted wisdom over the past century, not least among many "recovering addicts" themselves.  The disease theory,  propagated most aggressively by Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoots, works much better, in my opinion, as a metaphor than as scientific or medical truth. I’ve long been troubled by many of AA’s foundational ideas: that they grant quasi-mystical powers to the abused substance – alcohol in my case – while downplaying the psychological factors that compel the addict to abuse;  the insistence that the sufferer engages in irrational and self-destructive acts for reasons beyond their control; and, most egregiously for a devout secularist like me, subservience to a “higher power” which, for all their dogged denials, really means the Protestant conception of God.   

AA has doubtless saved many lives by offering addicts respite, positive reinforcement and camaraderie, but its core assertions strike me as all wrong. Alcohol has the power only to sit, inert, in bottles and glasses until free agents pour it down willing throats.  I did not drink in spite of its mind-scrambling effects, but because of them – consciously seeking out the haze. Yes, drinking in such reckless quantities was killing me, but such a death was far less troubling than the prospect of a dreary sober existence in all its pitiless clarity.  Inebriation makes perfect sense to a distraught mind. 

Unlike cigarettes, which I surrendered around the same time, I do not miss drinking. Even as bouts of depression have grown in frequency and duration, I’ve barely endured a single craving. Don’t ask me why. For all that I reject the claims of AA, Ifollowed their prescribed abstinence path – in part because I haven’t been tempted otherwise, but mostly because“moderate drinking” alternatives carry no appeal whatsoever.    

A few years sober, I moved from Melbourne to New York City, taking an apartment on the Upper West Side and a job in Greenwich Village. Later, I picked up some consulting work in Central Africa, moving back and forth between Rwanda and New York. It was, on paper, living the dream. Hitting the gym with the monomaniacal focus only a recovering addict can summon, I lost 20kg, grew a fleeting six-pack.  I even managed a semi-serious relationship until his patience ran out.  

Appearances deceive. For all the surface accomplishments, the past nine years have been mostly unhappy ones, often desperately so. It often feels as if I've merely traveled full circle, back to the point at which I first deemed drinking myself into a daily stupor preferable to not doing so. Except, today, I am a fraction wiser. I imagined recovery from alcoholism would transform my life, inject it with meaning and purpose. A necessary delusion. But, these days, I have learned to lower my sights. Being sober keeps me alive, gives me a chance to salvage something from the wreckage. It’s not much — but it's something. The rest is up to me. 


Latest Business Spectator Column on our False Socialist Dawn

Here I write about Corbyn, Sanders and the "frenzied delusions" of the far-left – misplaced adulation for "conviction politics":

Like Tony Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are described as 'conviction politicians', a term meant as praise. We're meant to admire politicians who cling doggedly to a fixed ideology amid whatever else, including the emergence of contradictory evidence, is happening around them. This is why Corbynistas assert Labour can win elections not by appeals to the electoral centre, but by inspiring with 'conviction' and 'authenticity' hordes of non voters. Like anti-vaxxer conspiracies, the 'missing millions' thesis refuses to die despite being shot down in flames, study after study, election after election.


Lay off the insanity offence

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In light of the John Brogden story in the Sydney Morning Herald today, I had a minor Twitter rant about the use of mental illness as a weapon of political combat. When I worked in politics in NZ in the nineties, it was commonplace to accuse enemies of instability; spread rumours of supposed breakdowns; characterise the alleged use of medications as evidence of frailty. In one instance, there were even persistent whispers that past treatments for cancer had triggered insanity. Not least because of my own struggles in subsequent years, I've come to regret whatever part I played in this. There are plenty of other, better ways to demean your opponents – like, I dunno, going after their bad ideas?

(Forgive me my self-righteousness – it's the quality I loathe most of all in others).


Bertrand Russell's "The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed"

Because of essays like this, I'd like to think I could have been a Bertrand Russell scholar if my life had worked out differently (and my meagre brain was up to it).

The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed
Bertrand Russell

ONE of the persistent delusions of mankind is that some sections of the human race are morally better or worse than others. This belief has many different forms, none of which has any rational basis. It is natural to think well of ourselves, and thence, if our mental processes are simple, of our sex, our class, our nation, and our age. But among writers, especially moralists, a less direct expression of self-esteem is common. They tend to think ill of their neighbors and acquaintances, and therefore to think well of the Sections of mankind to "which they themselves do not belong, Lao-tse admired the "pure men of old," who lived before the advent of Confucian sophistication. Tacitus and Madame de Stael admired the Germans because they had no emperor. Locke thought well of the "intelligent American" because he was not led astray by Cartesian sophistries. 

A rather curious form of this admiration for groups to which the admirer does not belong is the belief in the superior virtue of the oppressed: subject nations, the poor, women, and children. The eighteenth century, while conquering America from the Indians, reducing the peasantry to the condition of pauper laborers, and introducing the cruelties of early industrialism, loved to sentimentalize about the "noble savage" and the "simple annals of the poor." Virtue, it was said, was not to be found in courts: but court ladies could almost secure it by masquerading as shepherdesses. And as for the male sex: 

Happy the man whose wish and care
A lew paternal acres bound.

Nevertheless, for himself Pope preferred London and his villa at Twickenham. 

At the French Revolution the superior virtue of the poor became a party question, and has remained so ever since. To reactionaries they became the "rabble" or the "mob." The rich discovered, with surprise, that some people were so poor as not to own even "a few paternal acres." Liberals, however, still continued to idealize the rural poor, while intellectual Socialists and Communists did the same for the urban proletariat - a fashion to which, since it only became important in the twentieth century, I shall return later. 

Nationalism introduced, in the nineteenth century, a substitute for the noble savage the patriot of an oppressed nation. The Greeks until they had achieved liberation from the Turks, the Hungarians until the Ausgleich of 1867, the Italians until 1870, and the Poles until after the 1914-18 war were regarded romantically as gifted poetic races, too idealistic to succeed in this wicked world. The Irish were regarded by the English as possessed of a special charm and mystical insight until 1921, when it was found that the expense of continuing to oppress them would be prohibitive. One by one these various nations rose to independence, and were found to be just like everybody else; but the experience of those already liberated did nothing to destroy the illusion as regards those who were still struggling. English old ladies still sentimentalize about the "wisdom of the East" and American intellectuals about the "earth consciousness" of the Negro. 

Women, being the objects of the strongest emotions, have been viewed even more irrationally than the poor or the subject nations. I am thinking not of what poets have to say but of the sober opinions of men who imagine themselves rational. The church had two opposite attitudes: on the one hand, woman was the Temptress, who led monks and others into sin; on the other hand, she was capable of saintliness to an almost greater degree than man. Theologically, the two types were represented by Eve and the Virgin. In the nineteenth century the temptress fell into the background; there were, of course, "bad" women, but Victorian worthies, unlike St. Augustine and his successors, would not admit that such sinners could tempt them, and did not like to acknowledge their existence. A kind of combination of the Madonna and the lady of chivalry was created as the ideal of the ordinary married woman. She was delicate and dainty, she had a bloom which would be rubbed off by contact with the rough world, she had ideals which might be dimmed by contact with wickedness; like the Celts and the Slavs and the noble savage, but to an even greater degree, she enjoyed a spiritual nature, which made her the superior of man but unfitted her for business or politics or the control of her own fortune. This point of view is still not entirely extinct. Not long ago, in reply to a speech I had made in favor of equal pay for equal work, an English schoolmaster sent me a pamphlet published by a schoolmasters' association, setting forth the opposite opinion, which it supports with curious arguments. It says of woman: "We gladly place her first as a spiritual force; we acknowledge and reverence her as the 'angelic part of humanity'; we give her superiority in all the graces and refinements we are capable of as human beings; we wish her to retain all her winsome womanly ways." "This appeal" that women should be content with lower rates of pay "goes forth from us to them," so we are assured, "in no selfish spirit, but out of respect and devotion to our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. . . . Our purpose is a sacred one, a real spiritual crusade.

Fifty or sixty years ago such language would have roused no comment except on the part of a handful of feminists; now, since women have acquired the vote, it has come to seem an anachronism. The belief in their "spiritual" superiority was part and parcel of the determination to keep them inferior economically and politically. When men were worsted in this battle, they had to respect women, and therefore gave up offering them "reverence" as a consolation for inferiority. 

A somewhat similar development has taken place in the adult view of children. Children, like women, were theologically wicked, especially among evangelicals. They were limbs of Satan, they were unregenerate; as Dr. Watts so admirably put it: 

One stroke of His almighty rod
Can send young sinners quick to Hell.

It was necessary that they should be "saved." At Wesley's school "a general conversion was once effected, . . one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged. . . ." But during the nineteenth century, when parental authority, like that of kings and priests and husbands, felt itself threatened, subtler methods of quelling insubordination came into vogue. Children were "innocent"; like good women they had a "bloom"; they must be protected from knowledge of evil lest their bloom should be lost. Moreover, they had a special kind of wisdom. Wordsworth made this view popular among English-speaking people. He first made it fashionable to credit children with

High instincts before which our mortal nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

No one in the eighteenth century would have said to his little daughter, unless she were dead:

Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year
And worships't at the temple's inner shrine.

But in the nineteenth century this view became quite common; and respectable members of the Episcopal church or even of the Catholic church shamelessly ignored Original Sin to dally with the fashionable heresy that

. . . trailing clouds of glory do we cone

From God who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy. 

This led to the usual development. It began to seem hardly right to spank a creature that was lying in Abraham's bosom, or to use the rod rather than a high instincts "to make it "tremble like a guilty thing surprised/' And so parents and schoolmasters found that the pleasures they had derived from inflicting chastisement were being curtailed and a theory of education grew up which made it necessary to consider the child's welfare, and not only the adult's convenience and sense of power. The only consolation the adults could allow themselves was the invention of a new child psychology. Children, after being limbs of Satan in traditional theology and mystically illuminated angels in the minds of educational reformers, have reverted to being little devils not theological demons inspired by the Evil One, but scientific Freudian abominations inspired by the Unconscious. They are, it must be said, far more wicked than they were in the diatribes of the monks; they display, in modern textbooks, an ingenuity and persistence in sinful imaginings to which in the past there was nothing comparable except St. Anthony. Is all this the objective truth at last? Or is it merely an adult imaginative compensation for being no longer allowed to wallop the little pests? Let the Freudians answer, each for the others. 

As appears from the various instances that we have considered, the stage in which superior virtue Is attributed to the oppressed is transient and unstable. It begins only when the oppressors come to have a bad conscience, and this only happens when their power is no longer secure. The idealizing of the victim is useful for a time: if virtue is the greatest of goods, and if subjection makes people virtuous, it is kind to refuse them power, since it would destroy their virtue. If it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is a noble act on his part to keep his wealth and so imperil his eternal bliss for the benefit of his poorer brethren. It was a fine self-sacrifice on the part of men to relieve women of the dirty work of politics. And so on. But sooner or later the oppressed class will argue that its superior virtue is a reason in favor of its having power, and the oppressors will find their own weapons turned against them. When at last power has been equalized, it becomes apparent to everybody that all the talk about superior virtue was nonsense, and that it was quite unnecessary as a basis for the claim to equality. 

In regard to the Italians, the Hungarians, women, and children, we have ran through the whole cycle. But we are still in the middle of it in the case which is of the most importance at the present time namely, that of the proletariat. Admiration of the proletariat is very modern. The eighteenth century, when it praised "the poor," thought always of the rural poor. Jefferson's democracy stopped short at the urban mob; he wished America to remain a country of agriculturists. Admiration of the proletariat, like that of dams, power stations, and airplanes, is part of the ideology of the machine age. Considered in human terms, it has as little in its favor as belief in Celtic magic, the Slav soul, women's intuition, and children's innocence. If it were indeed the case that bad nourishment, little education, lack of air and sunshine, unhealthy housing conditions, and overwork produce better people than are produced by good nourishment, open air, adequate education and housing, and a reasonable amount of leisure, the whole case for economic reconstruction would collapse, and we could rejoice that such a large percentage of the population enjoys the conditions that make for virtue. But obvious as this argument is, many Socialist and Communist intellectuals consider it de rigueur to pretend to find the proletariat more amiable than other people, while professing a desire to abolish the conditions which, according to them, alone produce good human beings. Children were idealized by Wordsworth and un-idealized by Freud. Marx was the Wordsworth of the proletariat; its Freud is still to come.

The meaning of Trump, and then what?

Today in the Business Spectator, I wrote about the state of the GOP race, focussing on the extraordinary rise of Donald Trump – and what happens when he inevitably falls. 

Trump’s persona – the stratospheric self-regard, that confounding hairpiece – is too outlandish for fiction, except maybe as an Austin Powers villain. In the end, that’s why he won't win the GOP nomination. In fact, he probably won’t make it as far as the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Whether it’s picking an unwinnable fight with Megyn Kelly, the popular Fox News anchor, or some other hubristic overstep, 'The Donald' cannot withstand the unyielding pressures of a serious presidential bid. Until he flames out, though, he's milking the publicity for all it’s worth. In his Federal Election Commission filings, Trump claimed his name alone is worth $3 billion – and he’s counting every day of this media circus as a boon to his bottom line.

Rubio wins, Kasich shines, Bush flatlines, Trump lives on: my take on the GOP debate for Business Spectator

I wrote a quick scorecard of the first GOP Debate that was held on Thursday night in Cleveland and hosted on Fox News.  For me, Rubio was the winner, pipping Kasich at the post.  Jeb Bush did nothing beyond confirm that he lacks mojo.  Trump didn't entirely self destruct. 

Marco Rubio: He won the debate. Fluent in delivery, specific on issues, and a compelling personal story. The junior senator from Florida will also benefit from Bush’s poor night. One quibble: on banning abortion, Rubio denied supporting exemptions for victims of incest and rape. This pandering to GOP voters could hurt him in the general election if he makes it either as presidential candidate or as VP. No surprise that Bill Clinton apparently sees Rubio as the greatest threat to Hillary. 


Opinion: What plagiarism says about the state of Labour


Last week, a friend sent me a discussion paper Labour has written about the role of technology in the future of work. An interesting and important subject.  I was struck immediately by how well written parts of it were — a far cry from the jargon-infested torrents of drivel that typically pass for political prose in New Zealand. 

It made me curious. Either Labour had hired a gifted wordsmith to draft every second or third sentence, or something more nefarious was at work. Thirty minutes of Googling later, it became apparent Labour had lifted several  passages, mainly from news articles, and plonked them, without citation or attribution, into their text. In one section, "On-Demand Economy", just under half of the copy (47 percent by my tally) was ripped directly from other sources. The best bits, too. Keep in mind I am not talking about inartful paraphrasing here — where an author covers their tracks by changing the order of sentences or tactically swapping out synonyms — but verbatim plagiarism. 

Hoping to minimise things, Labour called it a referencing error and promptly added footnotes in the four cases where I had uncovered sentence theft.  They should have retracted the document for two reasons: the presence of footnotes doesn’t excuse the pasting in whole passages of other people's work without quotation marks or in-text attribution; and because, as I made clear in my blog post on the subject, my quick examination was far from exhaustive. Other examples were bound to pop up — and have. Labour claimed to have fixed the problem by hastily appending footnotes but did so before checking for themselves whether there were other, as yet undetected, examples. They quickly emerged. A reader emailed me a few hours after the initial revelations with another glaring case, this time involving a NZ Herald article from January this year. My own research uncovered another instance of copy and paste from the Economist. There are probably more. The pattern is clear.  

This is no earth-shattering scandal, but I reject the idea propagated by some on social media that plagiarism in politics is unimportant. Why focus on this, I was asked, when the TPPA is set to rob New Zealand of its sovereignty? Or when poor kids are going to school hungry? This is a version of the old Soviet propaganda trick of whataboutism: "why are we talking about Labour's plagiarism when National are tearing our country apart?". It's a clever technique aimed at stifling dissent and casting dissenters, whose criticisms are said to deflect attention from the "real enemy", as traitors to the cause.  

The plagiarism revelations are important because they raise questions about Labour’s competence, ethics and readiness to govern. And since the party has placed great store in the Future of Work Commission as an engine room of the original thinking and new ideas that will propel it into office, it seems worth noting its first major document is rife with plagiarism. The irony alone makes it hard to dismiss. 

It shouldn’t be acceptable for any political party,  let alone one presenting itself as an alternative government, to engage in demonstrably unethical conduct. If a first year Uni student handed in an essay with half the content ripped from other sources, they would be failed, reprimanded, and possibly suspended. A journalist or academic would be looking for another job. Shouldn't we hold our elected politicians at least to the same standard?  

Weak oppositions produce bad governments. National is complacent, slow-moving, prone to own goals, and way too pleased with itself. But they thrive in part because Labour lacks the basic political skills necessary to hold them properly to account. With the notable exception of Kelvin Davis’ ongoing prosecution of the Serco prisons fiasco, Labour rarely, and barely, lays a glove on John Key or his Ministers. Their failure to gain traction through the dreary, painstaking but essential work of opposition leads Labour to resort to 'Hail Mary' stunts like racially profiling homebuyers with Chinese surnames (the issue over which I resigned from the party last month).  

Many in Labour think the electoral tides make their victory in 2017 inevitable. They have been busy leaking internal polls that reinforce that conviction. Maybe they're right, and the unwritten 'three term rule' is an unstoppable force, impervious to the respective talents and shortcomings of the people and parties involved. If that's true, the question becomes: if it really is Labour's 'turn', what kind of a government will they be? The kind of ethical misconduct and incompetence we witness from Labour in opposition will seem far from trivial when it coincides with actual power. 

Labour didn't remedy the plagiarism. Not even close.

Soon after I posted four examples (here and here) of how Labour plagiarised news articles in its Future of Work discussion document, the party reacted in three steps:

  1. They pushed Clare Curran under a bus;
  2. They copped to plagiarism while dismissing it as a case of omitted footnotes;
  3. They appended footnotes to address the four instances I had highlighted. 

This was a profoundly inadequate response in many respects, but it worked wonders as an exercise in media management. Credit where it's due. To be honest, it probably helped Labour that it was me who revealed the plagiarism since I am easily dismissed as embittered and angry – over the Chinese surnames affair that led to my resignation, but also the more general perception in sections of the political Twittersphere that I am a full-time malcontent. While I would dispute those characterisations, I can't deny they diluted the impact of the revelations.  It may also be that plagiarism is just not that big a deal in New Zealand. Fair enough, I guess. 

Anyway, in Labour's haste to cover tracks, they failed to do the most obvious imaginable thing: rule out the presence of more examples of plagiarism.

First, I discovered another pilfer from the same edition of the Economist cited in an earlier post. 

Labour wrote:

Consumers may be winners, as can workers who value flexibility over security such as younger workers, those with portable skills in demand who attract higher wages, or those who don’t want to work fulltime.

But those who value security over flexibility, have families or have mortgages are all threatened. In addition, there are inequities for those who work in the on-demand economy but do not qualify for superannuation and other benefits.  

In Workers on Tap, Economist, Jan 2, 2015:

Consumers are clear winners; so are Western workers who value flexibility over security...

But workers who value security over flexibility, including a lot of middle-aged lawyers, doctors and taxi drivers, feel justifiably threatened. And the on-demand economy certainly produces unfairnesses: taxpayers will also end up supporting many contract workers who have never built up pensions.

Labour failed to append a footnote in this instance. It's time to test the proposition that this is a footnoting problem.

Let's examine one section in the Future of Work paper: 

It speaks for itself.  It is laughable to explain this away as a referencing error. It is the wholesale cutting and pasting of the large tracts of text presented as original work. Clearcut plagiarism of the most rampant, unambiguous kind. 

Aside from this new example, a reader emailed me with an instance where Labour has ripped words and ideas from a NZ Herald article in January:

In 2.2 Work and Workers,  Labour wrote:

Workers of all generations want flexible working conditions and a flexible working environment. Younger workers rate flexible conditions twice as important as other work factors.

Yet organisational practices are lagging behind technological change. Employers are often concerned about the costs flexible work can create and the additional management skills needed. There are also negatives to remote working such as loss of career and training opportunities and social isolation which need to be tackled.

In article entitled Flexibility High on Wishlist, (NZ Herald, 24 January 2015), Raewyn Court wrote:

...employees of all generations overwhelmingly want flexible working conditions and a flexible working environment, with millennials even rating flexible work conditions twice as effective as any other engagement strategy.

...organisational practices are lagging behind technology-mediated changes... Employers say [...] flexible working puts a greater burden on managers and supervisors, who need new skills to manage remote employees.

Dallimore says there are negatives to remote working in that employees can be "out of sight, out of mind" in terms of promotions, career and training opportunities, and can suffer social isolation.





The New York Times' alarming complicity in Burundi's "Blame the Tutsis" strategy

Here is the New York Times piece I refer to: 


Rarely will you read a more scurrilous piece of journalism than this prominently featured New York Times story on Burundi and Rwanda. 

The story reports that top Burundian officials are accusing Rwanda of interference in their messed up political affairs. There is no evidence – not one shred – to support these potentially explosive claims. The article concedes as much, relying entirely on the self-serving claims of Burundian regime officials. The article's very existence can only serve to fuel tension in the region, directing suspicion and animosity at Kigali. 

To be clear, it is not surprising that Burundian officials are making such claims about Rwanda. It is a run of the mill political tactic in that region.To deflect attention from its own dysfunction, corruption and failure, of course the Burundian regime will resort to blaming the Tutsis in Rwanda. It is directly analogous to Tehran ramping up anti-Israel rhetoric in reaction to domestic strife.  

What is shocking is that the New York Times has allowed itself to be you used as the mouthpiece of the Burundian regime, and therefore complicit in fomenting the dangerous Tutsi-bashing instincts that have long plagued the region.  

Read this section as a case study in disingenuous reporting:

As Mr. Nkurunziza struggles to retain control, his top officials accuse Rwanda of tacitly aiding his enemies.

Then on Sunday, a top general close to the president was assassinated, threatening to further inflame a volatile situation.

The general, Adolphe Nshimirimana, had an outsize personality. He was feared for his brutal tactics and a linchpin in the president’s control of his security forces. He played a major role in crushing protests in the spring, leaving scores of people dead, and was credited with helping foil the coup. No one has yet claimed responsibility for his death.

There is no suggestion that Rwanda had any hand in it. But top Burundian officials say that Rwanda played a part in the failed coup.

“We know that some of the coup leaders now live in Rwanda, at least three of them,” said the foreign minister, Alain Nyamitwe, in an interview on July 22, the day after the presidential election.

While the Times has no proof – because no proof exists – that Rwanda is involved in the attempted coup in Burundi, let alone the assassination of Nshimirimana, words are expertly juxtaposed to allow the accusations to hang in the air.  

"His top aides accuse Rwanda...then a top general was assassinated". 


The entire case against Rwanda in this article is made by apparatchiks from the Burundian regime and a member of a virulently anti-Rwanda militia group. Oh, and a disgraced Belgian academic, obsessed with imposing a form of ethnic apartheid between Hutu and Tutsi, who advised Rwanda's genocidal regime, and who has spent the 21 years since the genocide attacking the people who stopped it.  

Quick Notes on a Minor Scandal

The likelihood of plagiarism struck me when several of the sentences in Labour’s Future of Work paper stood out for being curiously well written, especially in contrast to the empty jargon, the “noise shaped air”, that surrounds them (Veep, HBO, Season 4, Episode 1).  

For example, consider the following two sentences:

Exhibit A 

The role of government becomes essential with important challenges around the redistribution of incomes and ensuring the state maintains a share of the intellectual property it protects in order to address rising inequalities. 

Exhibit B 

Complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world. 

No prizes for guessing which was produced by an actual writer as opposed to the random blah-blah generator responsible for most political prose in NZ.  

Exhibit B, as we now know, came from January 3rd print edition of The Economist. Even now, Labour does not place the pilfered quote in quotation marks. Nor do they cite the source, except as a hastily appended footnote.  An ethical way of citing The Economist’s insights would be to put it like this:

As The Economist reported in January, “complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world”. 

By simply cutting and pasting the quote as if it is the original work of Labour’s drafters – with or without a footnote credit – is plagiarism of the most straightforward kind. 

I feel a bit sorry for Clare Curran over this. The Future of Work Commission is Grant Robertson’s baby but clearly he has decided to palm it off to lesser colleagues whenever it soils its nappies.  Hardly a profile in courage, but I can see that Robertson’s reputation, as Finance Spokesperson, is worth preserving.  

Sadder still is Curran spinning the plagiarism as “referencing errors” or accidentally omitted footnotes. A bit like Nigel Haworth insisting his email reproaching members over Twitter use was actually an offer of free training, this is another example of Labour seeming to believe that people are morons.  

To be clear, there are at least four examples of whole passages lifted from news articles and presented as original work. No effort was made to distinguish the plagiarised material from the non-plagiarised; it was blended together and presented as a cohesive whole.  There were no quotation marks or mentions of sources until after the plagiarism had been uncovered.  A “referencing error” would be using a quote from the Economist without correct citation, or paraphrasing inaccurately. This is not the case here. Words (and the ideas attached to them) were stolen, pure and simple. 

A further example of plagiarism in Labour's Future of Work discussion paper

UPDATE: Labour has now added citations as footnotes which is inadequate since they continue to use material lifted directly from elsewhere without appropriate attribution and no quotation marks.  Please note, however, the addition of footnotes occurred only after the plagiarism was revealed on this blog and elsewhere in the media. 


 While I have yet to apply a fine-tooth comb to the document, a further example of outright plagiarism has come to light:

In the SECOND SENTENCE of the Introduction, Labour writes:

Work done in entirely new technology businesses, the huge range of knowledge and media endeavours, the factory floor, and even family businesses have been reshaped by new pathways to information and new ways of selling goods and services. For most office workers now, life on the job means life online.

On December 30, 2014, Kirsten Purcell and Lee Rainie at the Pew Research Center released a paper entitled "Technology's Impact on Workers" in which they wrote:

Work done in the most sophisticated scientific enterprises, entirely new technology businesses, the extensive array of knowledge and media endeavors, the places where crops are grown, the factory floor, and even mom-and-pop stores has been reshaped by new pathways to information and new avenues of selling goods and services. For most office workers now, life on the job means life online.

Plagiarism is never acceptable...but really?  You're going to copy and paste someone else's work without attribution in the second sentence of the Introduction?  

Judging by their discussion paper, Labour's future of work involves a lot of cutting and pasting

UPDATE: Labour has now added citations as footnotes which is inadequate since they continue to use material lifted directly from elsewhere without appropriate attribution and no quotation marks. Please note, however, the addition of footnotes occurred after the plagiarism was revealed on this blog and elsewhere in the media.


I have reviewed one small section of Labour's Future of Work discussion paper, and uncovered three clear cases of plagiarism. I can only imagine other such instances are rife throughout the document.  

The section in question is titled "Emerging Challenges and Opportunities".  In total, the section comprises just over 1,200 words.  Among them, a straightforward Google search uncovered three occasions where the drafters of the report directly lifted whole sentences and paragraphs from articles in the Economist and Business Insider.  None of them were attributed, but presented in the body of the text as if it were the drafter's original work. Straightforward plagiarism, in other words. 

Labour wrote:

Complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world.  

On January 5th this year, in an article titled "Workers on Tap", the Economist reported:

Complex tasks, such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief, can now be divided into their component parts—and subcontracted to specialists around the world.

Labour went on to write:

Fast-moving tech companies competing in this arena have developed new models – such as Uber, Handy and AirB&B – that are transforming industries which have been historically slow to innovate. Transportation, grocery, restaurant and personal service industries are seeing hyper-growth in the on-demand world.

On July 13, 2014, an article in Business Insider titled "The 'On-Demand Economy' Is Revolutionizing Consumer Behavior — Here's How", Mike Jaconi wrote:

The fast-moving technology companies competing in this arena have developed new models that are transforming industries which have historically been slow to innovate. The ground transportation, grocery, and restaurant industries are prime examples of hyper-growth categories in the on-demand world.

Labour also wrote:

The “on-demand economy” is the result of pairing that workforce with smartphones and other devices, which now provide far more computing power than the desktop computers which reshaped companies in the 1990s, and reach far more people.

Also in the January 5th 2015 edition, in an article titled "There's an App for That", the Economist wrote:

The on-demand economy is the result of pairing that workforce with the smartphone, which now provides far more computing power than the desktop computers which reshaped companies in the 1990s, and to far more people.