Embezzled — but doing fine, thanks.

When my major depressive disorder kicks in, which it does with monstrous and monotonous regularity as well as a growing severity, my only instinct over the past 12 years is to take flight. The other half of the human impulse twofer – that to fight –  seems to have eluded me. I've tried every imaginable therapy, traditional and less so, and yet still contend with depressive symptoms serious enough to prevent me from holding down full-time employment or building a stable life for myself. 

So it was in the wake — actually in the vice-like grip — of one such episode that I packed my bags and fled to Colombia. The city of Medellin appeales to me mostly because it was so far from everything and everyone I know. But it is also cheap, temperate and pleasant. There are far worse hiding places.

Soon after my arrival in Medellin, I became close friends with a guy from Venezuela who, as a refugee, was unable to secure adequately paid employment. An educated guy with a background in the trainee priesthood, I liked and trusted him a great deal. We were never romantically involved, but enjoyed a warm and affectionate friendship. To ward off loneliness — the Mount Everest of depression triggers — I invited him to live with me for free room and board. Because he speaks English, I also paid him a stipend so he could help me navigate banks, bureaucracy and commerce in a city where my woeful Spanish tends to result in a lot of blank faces. I relished his presence in the apartment.,  As I lay isolated in my bedroom, watching Modern Family on an endless loop, knowing he was pottering around elsewhere in the house gave  me no small comfort.

Four days ago, my Venezuelan roommate told me that his father died at age 50. He asked for enough money to purchase a MacBook, as well as to fund his trip back home for a funeral he claimed to be attending. I duly complied. What else could I do in the face a what I believed to be a grieving son. 

As it transpired, his father did not die.He did not return to Venezuela. There was no funeral.

What happened was that my trusted friend to whom I had unwisely given signing authority at the local bank, withdrew all but $400 of my life savings and escaped to Chile. This was easily established through Instagram photos posted at of at the time he claimed to be in Venezuela with his family. The near emptiness of my bank account also left no doubt as to what had occurred.

Now, when I say “life savings”, best keep your hat on. Largely because of my recurrent depression, I have not accumulated much in the way of financial wealth. To put it mildly. In fact, that is a large part of the reason I have chosen to stay in Medellin where I have a work visa and the cost of living is roughly one third of New Zealand or Australia.

By any measure, this is an unhappy state of affairs. In the immediate term, the financial stress is enormous.

However, these events and my reaction to them have been revealing in unexpected ways. While my mood has been persistently  low since January, the embezzlement has not resulted in a more severe depressive episode or an outbreak of the kind of panicked anxiety that leads me to make poor life choices. instead, that long–dormant fight instinct appears to have  come crawling, if not exactly roaring,  back. For whatever reason, my usually fragile self has been rediscovered some long–lost mongrel.

By “mongrel”, I do not mean I intend to go all late-career Liam Neeson on his ass. There is no fatwa of prolonged legal action or extradition proceedings in the offing.

My younger self displayed a knack for utu, especially in the context of election campaigns, but I am a different person today. For all the visceral satisfaction I may gain by pursuing this once-friend, now-thief, to the ends of the earth, it will not bring relief. It will just produce more anxiety and resentment and regret; qualities that exist in abundance already.

His actions were undeniably criminal and ethically without justification. But Venezuela is in a terrible state, and the money he stole from me will offer more to him and his family than 10 times that amount would to me. He’ll, one thousand times. My only hope is that the money reaches them, and isn’t blown on a lavish Chilean getaway.

As evidenced by my decision not to name this guy, I have chosen to move on. Sure, I will protect my finances far less stupidly in future. Maybe I will be less eager to into into trusting friendships, or to believe promises people make to me. But I will not not let this overwhelm my mood any further or undermine my capacity to recover and build, once and for all, the well populated and congenial life that is all I have ever wanted.

Fair’s fair: The Standard is Attacking my Liveliood

This is a matter I very much wanted resolve in private.

Some time ago, the Standard, a left wing NZ blog, published a post attacking me. This was not the first time, although it was the only occasion I bothered to read one. The only reason I did so was because I had received four messages from potential clients from whom I was seeking minor writing gigs. Each of these clients is based in North America. They alerted me to the post for one reason: it accuses me of misogyny. Other claims in the post, including that I an Australian, that I never worked on Labour campaigns, that I am a dog whistler for the National Party, and that I deliberately place Lego pieces under the bare feet of my toddlers, are grist to the mill. (Only the last point was in jest). 

I am not, and have never been, concerned about the attacks on me from the Standard or any other left or right-wing blog that takes issue with my political views or the admittedly forceful way by which I tend to express them. I can throw a punch, but I can certainly take one.

The four US clients were concerned enough about the misogyny accusation that they concluded it was better to hire somebody else that the work, despite me having produced a high quality of output for them in the past. In the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, enlisting a contracter subject to accusations of misogyny is a reputational risk these companies justifiably choose not to take. I understand and support their decision to protect their reputations.

It irks me beyond words that I even need to make the following point, but here it is.

I am as far from a misogynist as you could find in a Caucasian male of my age. I am gay and, like many gay men, most, if not all, of my closest and dearest friends are women. The smartest and best colleagues and supervisors during my career have been women, all of whom I managed a congenial and warm relationship. This even includes Heather Simpson, who was an avowed factional enemy of mine in the late 1990s, fired me once and vetoed me twice for jobs.  I would guarantee she should laugh if you asked if she thought me a hater of women. 

I have never written a word that can be characterised as misogynistic in any way. Nor have I made a public statement of that kind, and in private my relationships with women are respectful and warm. The writers at the Standard, if they were interested in making verified claims instead of baseless slurs, are welcome to search high and low for a woman with whom I have had any interaction who would agree even one iota with their claim. 

Because the Standard post has gradually risen in the Google algorithm, it often appears in the first handful of results when prospective employers conduct due diligence. None of them read the blog per se, but the term misogyny features in the Google summary line. As you can imagine, this is an egregious and baseless insult that is having a severe detrimental impact on my to earn a paltry income as well as damaging my reputation on baseless grounds.

I have reached out to Greg Presland, whom is the only blog-linked person I know, to spell out the above. I explained to Greg that I was happy for that post, as well as well as other hatchet jobs directed at me, to stay unedited on the site. I have no worries about such political attacks and most of the personal insults that come with it. Politics is not tiddlywinks after all.

The extent of my request to Greg was that he remove the term misogynist with reference to me. It is a false and the falsifiable claim with real world harmful financial consequences. Unless it is removed, the nature of the Internet as such that it is likely to continue to have a detrimental effect on me both personally and professionally for the indefinite future.

I say to the Standard this: by all means, if you can identify a single woman whom I have met who agrees with they website’s characterisation of me, leave the post as it is. I make this offer in full confidence that a nationwide search would fail to uncover one such woman.

Greg Priestland has ignored my requests and has now blocked me from sending him direct messages on Twitter. The very fact I chose DM as the medium was to reflect my desire to keep this discussion cordial and private. But his unwillingness to engage with my respectful and reasonable request has forced me to publicise this  conduct in the hope it changes their mind.

But mine is a forlorn hope. By their actions, they demonstrate no compunction about conducting vicious attacks grounded in no basis of fact even if the consequences to the target of their hatred suffers grave personal and professional consequences. This, I am afraid, is all we need to know about these people and their website. 

It also raises to me serious questions about how reckless bloggers can willfully defame others only to see their dishonesty rewarded by the Google algorithm. The long term reputational consequences of this state of affairs strikes me as severe.  

For what it’s worth, I am in fact a misandrist, which makes the Standard’s claims not just wrong but the polar opposite of the truth.

In any event, my hope is that Presland can reconsider and correct the record, if the modus operandi at the Standard even permits such reasonableness.  

The White House #TrumpRussia statement annotated



WH: Earlier today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, which began in 2014 before the President declared his candidacy.

PQ: There are a number of actual facts in this sentence. They almost get all the way to the end without any lying, spin or obfuscation — but, alas, their habitual mendacity rears its head. The fact the covert ops began in 2014, they clearly imply, means they cannot have been designed to help Trump.

This represents a wilful misinterpretation of what this timeline shows. For one thing, the troll farms cranked into operation after Trump hosted Miss Universe in Moscow, when he rubbed shoulders with a rogue’s gallery of oligarchs and Putin loyalists. At the time, it was widely known Trump was angling for a White House run.

More importantly, consider this: as laid out in the charges announced today, the Kremlin strategy was to sow discord in the US political system. It naturally morphed into a pro Trump effort given that his victory would achieve just that.

Simply put, sowing discord was the strategy; backing Trump was a tactic the service of that strategy. This proves nothing and exonerates no-one.

WH: President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed...

PQ: Hold on: given he has the attention span and command of detail of an easily distracted toddler, Trump is incapable of being “fully briefed” on any subject other than “Mr Trump’s Awesomeness”.

WH: ...in this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates — that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.

PQ: This is flagrant dishonesty. The indictments are silent on the broader question of collusion, and whether or not the election result was affected is not a subject for Mueller to concern himself with. Let the political scientists work that one out. Not being named in a single indictment (of many to come) exonerates nobody. In fact, they don’t even touch on the DNC hack, a far more impactful event than social media trolling, and it’s the Wikileaks nexus where the Trump mob have always been most vulnerable. This indictment narrowly focuses on the Kremlin’s psyops/info warfare strategy, quite seperate from the hack of Clinton’s emails and the DNC. That is to come. Oh, and don’t forget obstruction (it’s in plain sight) and money laundering (it’s Trump, after all). . 

The most relevant thing is that Russia tried to throw the election to Trump, and, ever since it came to light, Trump spent every waking minute calling it “fake news”, a “witch hunt” and a “hoax”. Instead of, say, accepting the unanimous assessment of in the intel agencies — who HAVE been vindicated in full by this set of charges — and defending US democracy against Russia’s hostile incursion.

WH: President Trump says, “it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories...

PQ: Are you kidding me? Trump only knows how to “sow confusion, discord, and rancor”; his entire playbook is “outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories,” Think birtherism, Central Park Five, attacks on black athletes, Hispanic judges, the African American widow of a fallen soldier, and his tacit endorsement of neo-Nazis as “very fine people”. The brazen audacity of whoever wrote these words takes my breath away.

WH: ...which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”

PQ: Why do Americans have to unite to do this? Protecting the integrity of elections is, you know, his job. In any event, every move he’s made with respect to voting rights has been designed to further Putin’s aims to divide and conquer by suppressing minority turnout in particular. Don’t make me laugh.

Are all fishes orange?


A breakaway group of marine biology enthusiasts known as ‘Orangists” has emerged to take on the scientific establishment in the latest high profile scrap over the essential arbitrariness of objects.

Orangists insist that, despite all evidence to the contrary and in the face of withering disdain from actual experts in the field alongside anyone who’s ever been scuba diving, only bright orange fish exist in the ocean. The vast diversity of ocean life is “fake news“  to what some have come to call ¨the Tea Party of the ocean sciences¨; to others, who wouldn’t be named for fear of reprisals, “deranged, deluded, dangerous and daft”.

Orangists see their campaign as the latest battleground over “scientism’, an ideology that posits that things actually exist.

Peter Lind, the founder of the Orangist movement, is a marine biology professor at Gideon Pillow College in landlocked Iowa. Lind contends the dismissive reaction of “the globalist scientist cabal” conceals a deeply held fear their ‘hegemonic command of arbitrary constructs they misrepresent as facts” is on borrowed time. He then murmured something vaguely but unmistakably anti-Semitic.

From the moment Lind’s published his first Reddit post on the subject — “All Fish are Bright Orange and Only Neoliberalism Stops You From Seeing It” — dozens around the world have begun to question the very notion of biodiversity.

Sharryn Silver, who runs a the Facebook Page “Nemo-Liberalism”, says Lind has unleashed a “tsunami of critical thinking far beyond merely fish species, but around the very notion of notionness,” Silver told me over lunch near her tiny home in rural Vermont.  (When I asked her if tsunamis exist, she faked an incoming phone call).

The mainstream media hasn’t shied away from the controversy, most notably in the form of a weekend feature in the Washington Post last month followed by a CNN panel featuring 78 experts (or the extended Brady family; it was hard to tell).  “Is biodiversity real?”, the Post story, set off a flurry of interest in Orangist ideas, even as the Post’s features editor confessed to me that “Orangism is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”.  Pressed as to why the newspaper nonetheless ran the story, elevating the profiles and views of Lind, Silver and as many as seven others, the editor threw up his hands. “Hey, we’re not scientists but we can count.  This shit flies out the fucking door,” he said.

Meanwhile, the marine biology ‘establishment’— broadly defined as those who cling to the view that fish come in more colours than simply bright orange — are exasperated.

“Lind goes on air and we’re forced to respond and say things like “no, look at this one; it’s yellow” or something, a leading international biologist told us on the condition we negotiate on his behalf with the FBI for a spot on the Witness Protection Program. “It’s just embarrassing”.

After President Trump in July tweeted a link to the Lind Reddit post, Gallup now records that 115% of registered Republicans believe the world’s oceans and waterways host only orange fish.

Meanwhile, the Organ Players of North America (OPONA) has been forced to issue a statement distancing itself from the scientific showdown.

“Due to spellcheck, we have been far more involved in this Orangist cause than we ever hoped or imagined,” OPONA spokesorganist Imogen Bottle emailed The Weekly Howler in response to misdirected queries.

PayPal are arseholes

I just spent three infuriating hours that I will never get back on the phone with PayPal support. They had blocked access to my account for reasons I still do not grasp.  

I notoriously hate arbitrariness in corporate rules, particularly airlines — but PayPal gives them a run for their money.  

The company, which earned $3 billion last year, blocked my acccount, I was told, because it is registered in New Zealand and I live in Colombia.  Except I have lived in Colombia for a year and use PayPal constantly.  Also, aware of these risks, I called PayPal along with my bank to warn them I would be overseas for the foreseeable — or forever if I can swing it. 

So that was bullshit.  

Next thing was they were concerned my account might have been compromised.  If that’s the case, I asked them, why did they continue to extract fees and send direct debits from what might have been a hacked account?  

If there is any suspicion an account has been compromised, PayPal closes down your access but keeps paying everyone else with your money, talking their cut in the process.  They also provide no notification as to what they have done, or why. 

This goes to show one should never support a company whose founder spent his entire youth reading Ayn Rand without laughing.  Nobody to blame but myself. 

On opining

I’m giving opining a rest.

A few years’ back, it got into my head that I could make enough money, at least to make ends meet in the developing world, as a writer. I have had a fair share of stuff published since that time, on a mixture of NZ and US politics and, in one recent instance, in the question of Rwanda.

I have struggled from the outset the “who the fuck do you think you are” problem inherent in opinion writing. I am not an expert on many things, and I often find myself ditching drafts mid-para when it dawns on me that I don’t possess the requisite expertise to express myself usefully on the subject at hand. To give you an example, I used to write extensively about the Trump Russia probe. But while I follow the story with almost monomaniacal obsession, and know more useless details about US politics than anyone should be weighted down by, I decided against adding my voice any further. Why? Because I concluded that, for all my amateurish enthusiasm and decades long hobby-like interest in the broader subject matter, I do not bring any value to the discourse. When it comes to pontificating about elections and electoral politics, I won’t hold back — I know that shit — but there are simply countless people better positioned, with the right professional backgrounds and access to sources, to help explicate this complex and consequential story of a Trump and Russia. Unless I can add something to the discussion of substance and consequence — and not just reheated versions of arguments mounted better elsewhere — I’m just a letters to the editor windbag, a social media loudmouth. (That said, I will opine on these matters as the mood strikes on social media, purely as a news consumer).

The 700-800 word oped is a deeply entrenched form that allows controversial arguments to be made succinctly in newspapers and their electronic versions. For issues well understood by the readership, the oped form can be quite useful. For the writer, it provides the discipline required to make a brief but persuasive case to that audience.

But the oped form is hopelessly inadequate when it comes to dense and complex subject matter about which the readership concerned, through no fault of their own, don’t grasp an iota of  essential  context. Such opeds reliably miss their mark, creating yet more unhelpful noise.

I’m afraid I’m guilty on this front.

You will never persuade me the ICTR defence weren’t a collection of ratbags who used the Tribunal as a means to relitigate the politics and culpability of the genocide. This is an opinion I share with almost everyone I know who knows anything about the ICTR — and that is literally hundreds of people who, without exception, know heaps more about it than the randos on Kiwi Twitter who couldn’t care less about Rwanda or international justice but wanted to attack me. Even the people who really wanted to agree with me were flailing about with insufficient knowledge.

It was my fault. I should have known the arguments were way too complex to convey in two rushed opeds (in both cases, written at the request of editors and not pitched by me). If I wanted to do justice to the issue, I should have breathed through my nose and penned a lengthy detailed feature piece. Or I should have shut my fat face. All I achieved by trying to fit a round peg of an argument — that Golriz was phenomenally unwise to partake in the ICTR, something I will believe with all my heart to my dying day — into a square peg of an oped format is to increase net ignorance around the subject, and give partisan hacks the chance to play silly games and engage in dishonest name calling. It debases the discourse, dishonours the real life suffering of many — and, rather than uplifting our collective understanding of a terrible period of history, it turned it into just another political shitfight to give partisans the visceral pleasure of dehumanizing, misrepresenting and flagrantly lying about anyone with which we disagree.

Never say never and all that, but I will keep my opinions to myself from now on unless I feel my contribution is sufficiently well informed to make a useful contribution, and won’t simply trigger another unhelpful round of substance-free nastiness. I will still tweet, mind you. Any idiot can do that. If the urge to write in a longer form strikes, I’ll read a book by someone I disagree with instead.

The plane crash theory was always bogus

Andrew Geddis has a history of deploying his lawyerly arts to defend his mates and misrepresent my views in bad faith. It’s why I quit writing for Pundit. But I’m not interested in a feud with him or anyone else.

As a matter of fact, his rebuttal in Stuff on the Golriz affair was nowhere near as egregious as his previous efforts (he also wrote something in Pundit that I have no intention of reading). But one point he makes is just wrong and requires correction. I don’t think it was especially malicious or even intended to deceive, but his claims relating to the plane crash are false and ahistorical. He asserts that Golriz and co-author could only have known that the conspiracy theory that blames Tutsis for starting the genocide was bullshit after 2012, whereas the paper they wrote was from 2008. Superficially clever but bonkers. The “blame the victim” strategy based around the alleged shooting down of them President Habyarimana’s plane was central to efforts to deny and distort the historical record from LITERALLY DAY ONE of the genocide. It was always a slur designed to exonerate the perpetrators. It has only ever been propagated by genocide deniers and allies of the complicit regime of Mitterrand.

Andrew is wrong that the 2012 ballistic evidence secured  by French terrorism magistrates Poux and Trevidic was the first time the plane crash theory was known to be a sham. It was known as such from day one.

I even wrote about it prior to the Trevidic findings into which Geddis puts way too much store in The East African prior to commencing work in Rwanda. Here is the article.

Andrew was defending a mate from embarrassing charges. He made some factual errors, such as not seeming to know that the ICTR wasn’t in Rwanda, but I’m gonna let it slide. Compared to some of the shit hurled at me by Greens trolls, it was a veritable spectacle of intellectual honesty.

Is Trump really heading for re-election?

 The Electoral College based on states where Trump's disapproval exceeds 50 percent (SourceL MorningConsult) 

The Electoral College based on states where Trump's disapproval exceeds 50 percent (SourceL MorningConsult) 

Somebody was bound to write the contrarian take on Donald Trump's political prospects, and Democratic political consultant Doug Sosnik stepped up to the plate in the Washington Post over the weekend:

...despite dismal poll numbers, Trump enters the contest with a job approval rating that is certainly at least marginally better than what the current national polls would suggest. Throughout the 2016 election, most analysts tracked the national polling, which failed to capture Trump’s strength in key battleground states. Current surveys continue to understate his support. Many national polls survey all eligible voters, rather than registered or likely voters, which can underestimate Trump, and some voters may be reluctant to admit that they are pro-Trump at all. Add to that the fact that Trump effectively demonstrated during the 2016 campaign that he is capable of expanding his support by effectively demonizing his opponents.
— https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-on-track-to-win-reelection/2017/10/06/91cd2af0-aa15-11e7-850e-2bdd1236be5d_story.html?utm_term=.7257d36fe074

Admittedly, if the excerpt above underwhelms, you're not alone. When I was alerted to Sosnik's column, I was briefly excited by the idea that there's an argument to be made, despite all appearances, that Trump not only knows what he's doing, but that it's succeeding.  Nothing better than an astute, unexpected and counterintuitive take that forces the reader to question his or her assumptions and view issues from a different perspective.  Better still, it's by a Democrat from whom one might expect the opposite argument.  This column, despite the promise, was not that. 

Which is not to say I am certain Trump will not be reelected in 2020 -- given my errant prognostications of late, it would border on criminally stupid to assert as much.  Who knows what 9/11 style exigency awaits us?  Who knows the extent to which Bernie Sanders and his supporters are willing to sacrifice electability for their revolution? To paraphrase Rummy, unknown unknowns abound.  

But there are ways to look at Trump's political health at this particular juncture that led me to wonder whether Sosnik and others aren't being a little coy, if not disingenuous.  Sure, Sosnik's point about 2016 smashing political norms, but he doesn't persuade me that Trump has upended basic arithmetic in the process.  

The pollster Morning Consult has released the findings of a presidential approval survey drawn from interview with 472,032 registered voters across each state and Washington, D.C., from Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration to Sept. 26. That's one helluva dataset.  

What does it show?  

While Trump's approval has declined in each of the fifty states, the MC survey allows us to track how Trump is doing in the traditional swing states that flipped the election, as well as purple states where Democrats are trawling for upsets.  Across both categories, the news isn't good for the White House.  

To give you the most conservative interpretation of the data, I have identified only those states where Trump's disapproval exceeds 50 percent.  A more traditional metric would be to look at states where he is underwater, i.e. disapproval exceeds approval, which would take in North Carolina and Ohio (both Obama states in 2008) netting 33 additional electoral votes.  In addition, Trump is only a fraction of a decimal point above water in two other states -- Florida and Georgia -- with 45 more.  

Important context.  

According to Gallup, Obama did not win a single state where his disapproval rating exceeded 50 percent in 2012. The highest negative number in a state Obama went on to win was 47.3 percent in New Hampshire.  Aside from NH, Virginia was the only "underwater" state carried by the Democrats in 2012, although both Pennsylvania and Ohio were line-ball.  

Sosnik may be right. Trump may romp home in 2020.  So much water, so many bridges.  But let's not bamboozle ourselves into believing Trump's apparent unpopularity is a clever ruse.  If an election were held today -- and that's all polls can help us with -- he would lose in a popular vote and electoral college landslide of such a scale people will be forced to wonder whether the party he has hijacked can even survive him.  

Moral hypocrisy on ‘roids: the curse of confirmation bias


Peter Wehner, a Republican Never Trumper, has written an essential oped in the New York Times in which he excavates and examines his own confirmation bias with respect to the Administration.  I think we should all take a leaf from his column.

Wehner worked in the George W. Bush administration, and the section on the Iraq War is especially revealing, not to mention refreshingly honest. 

 I believed before the war began that it was justified — that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that he was a particularly malevolent and destabilizing figure, and that it was a military conflict that would liberate an enslaved people.

In ways I had not fully understood at the time, I had been filtering out information that ran counter to the narrative I believed.

Take another look at that last sentence.  Wehner gets confirmation bias in a nutshell — a cognitive trick that blinds us to unhelpful realities — and, boy oh boy, is it hard one to crack.  (Should go without saying I’m as guilty as the next person, except perhaps alcoholism taught me the inherent value of fronting up to problems).  

In its more egregious form, confirmation bias manifests as wanton hypocrisy and rank double standards. There are two yarns in my orbit currently that exemplify the problem. 

First, the hard-to-fathom sight of Trump and his enablers attempting to claim the moral high ground over Harvey Weinstein’s gross sexual misconduct, not to mention efforts to entangle Hillary Clinton in the whole mess.  Maybe the Germans have a word to describe a president who claims fame is a license to grab pussy getting all holier-than-thou over similar conduct by a fellow deviant, but the English language falls short. Mere “hypocrisy” doesn’t cut it.  

Trump diehards are willfully oblivious, of course. Their hatred of Hillary and Hollywood liberals like Weinstein is more than enough to erase any cognitive dissonance associated with Trump’s absurd posturing.  

Another current example of mass confirmation bias leading to selective reasoning and flagrant double standards is the kerfuffle over Duncan Garner’s recent column in the NZ media about Asian immigration.  

Full disclosure, without exaggerating matters, I know and like Duncan — and, since I am far from immune from confirmation bias, this no doubt affects my assessment of the issue.  That said, I think Garner may one day regret deciding to pen a column based on that particular trip to K-Mart, and conclude he could have mounted the same argument in a less inflammatory fashion.  At the very least, intentional or not, the snake analogy was a mistake, and not a trivial one. 

But fair’s fair.  Duncan Garner is a columnist and broadcast journalist. It’s his job to provoke debate, express his views, keep the discourse humming along.  He is not a straight news reporter from whom we might expect “neutrality”.  This of course means listeners and readers are well within their rights to object to his view — indeed, that’s the whole point.  In the end, he is a purveyor of opinion, not facts. And certainly not public policy.  

Which brings me back to the selective moral reasoning problem Wehner alerts us to in his column. 

If you have spent the past few days wailing and gnashing your teeth over the Garner column, and yet sat silent and acquiescent while Phil Twyford vilified Asian homeowners, your confirmation bias has got the better of you.  

There is no comparison between a misjudged (and, in my view, substantively wrong) newspaper column and a political party taking the deliberate step to engage in explicit racial targeting for electoral gain. (Far be it for me to speak for others, but I’m almost certain most Kiwis of Asian origin would much rather keep racial animus contained to the opinion pages, and out of the Beehive). 

If you saw fit to condemn the former but not the latter, ask yourself why.  Go on. It won’t hurt. 

Mike Hosking's presence on the stage helps Jacinda, but his dimissive treatment of voting rights should disqualify him from hosting debate

Mea culpa, at least a bit. 

i said lefty efforts to oust Mike Hosking were dumb and counterproductive. They are.

i said you couldn't conjure in a lab an adversary as perfectly suited as Hosking to highlighting Ardern's strengths in a television debates. You could not.  

But, while I continue to believe Hosking's presence on the stage amounts to advantage Labour, more recent events have persuaded me that Mike Hosking is unsuited to the hosting role.   

On  Seven Sharp, Hosking made some utterances that sounded for all China's tea  as though only voters enrolled on the Maori roll can cast a vote for the Maori Party.  This is obviously untrue, as I can attest, having voted for them in the last election on the General Roll.

in the wake of his screw up, Hosking had one job: to set the record straight. As a political journalist, whatever his leanings, he should consider it anathema to allow false claims as they pertain to voting rights to stand uncorrected in the plainest possible terms. Surely, hosts, journalists and pundits are abrogating some basic democratic obligation  by failing to communicate accurate information about rules around voting.

When Mike Hosking could have chosen such a path by correcting the record in clear, unambiguous terms, he opted instead for petulance, denial and yet more obfuscation.

That shows Hosking is more interested in protecting and projecting his ego than  conveying  accurate informatiom about our most fudamental democratic rights.'

That alone should persuade TVNZ to start searching for a new moderator.'

Mike Hosking Must Moderate!




The higher echelons of Labour don’t keep me abreast of their latest strategic thinking, and nor should they. But I will give the team around Jacinda Ardern the benefit of the doubt and assume they are not party to the wrongheaded efforts to jostle Mike Hosking from his moderating spot in a coming leader’s debate. Given Ardern has made more shrewd calls over a couple of weeks than her predecessors made in close to a decade, there's every reason to expect Jacinda herself isn't about to fall prey to this misguided campaign.

Among New Zealanders without a hearing impairment, I doubt you could find anyone who has heard Mike Hosking’s voice less than I have. This is not especially personal — since leaving NZ for Melbourne in 1998, I have lived overseas for all but a few months here and there. And I'm not a radio or breakfast telly kinda guy; in fact, the only time I ever encounter commercial radio is when I'm being interviewed on one. Please don't mistake this for snobbish elitism. I don't listen to Radio NZ, either, unless insomnia demands it — the dulcet tones of an exquisitely trained public broadcaster never fails. 

I'm aware Hosking is loathed on the Left for his conservative views and belligerent manner — in fact, even my resolutely moderate Mum detests him with an unusual ferocity. Perhaps due to this lack of exposure, I hold no personal animosity towards Mike Hosking, who I have always seen as a fairly unremarkable archetype: a talkback blowhard with a knack for outrage. You can find a Hosking equivalent in any given media market — or ten thousand of them if you get satellite radio in the US or download a podcast app.

But whatever you (or me or my Mum) think of Mike Hosking, this much I know: his presence on the debate stage is far more likely to help Ardern than English. Here's why.

Leader’s debates are not really debates in the traditional sense at all, but performance art. You don't win them merely by mounting the strongest argument or scoring rebuttal points off your opponent. Success for any leader is how they perform relative to expectations going in.

Go back and watch Obama’s notoriously disastrous first debate in 2012. Viewed from today, Obama was stylistically and substantively miles better than most politicians could dream of. But he performed so much worse than expected that nobody in their right mind could conclude other than that it was a defeat for the President and a triumph for Mitt Romney.

A more recent, and perhaps more pertinent example: Donald Trump was catastrophically bad in all three debates, but it barely left a scratch. Why? Two reasons: one, nobody expected him to be any good to begin with (as opposed to Clinton, whose assured performances merely conformed to expectations); and, two, his riled-up base quickly blamed the liberal mainstream media elite moderators for rigging the entire exercise. In the end, Trump’s ignorant, rambling, stalking, wildly incoherent debate showings hurt him where it didn't count, and helped him where it did. For the exquisitely prepared and super confident Clinton, the needle didn't budge — in fact, the insistence by members of the liberal, coastal, possibly homosexual, almost certainly Jewish elite that she crushed Trump worked against her. 

Let's game this out in the context of Hosking v Ardern.

He goes hard on Ardern. She holds her nerve. That's the story. Labour wins.

He bullies her. Labour wins.

He goes soft on Ardern in an effort to quell criticism, keeping the Rottweiler in the cage. Labour wins.

He goes soft on English. That's the story. Labour wins.

In other words, Labour benefits whether Hosking plays naughty or nice. Pitching his questions in such a way as to hurt Jacinda without inadvertently helping her carries an exceedingly high degree of difficulty.

Now, as long as the bleating about Hosking doesn't force him off the stage, I'm happy for them to keep it up. It will just heighten the buzz around the Great Hosking-Ardern Showdown. If that is the prevailing dynamic (not the perfect word, but streets ahead of 'narrative', 'framing, or 'narrative framing), Jacinda can't lose.

Finally, for the Hosking critics, a genuine question on bias — something they seem to equate to a war crime: you realize you have it too? That it is a ineradicable feature of  human thought. You get that, right? (Sometimes I worry you don't). 

The MoU was a catastrophic and avoidable mistake. Those responsible should own up.

 Annette King, Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw at the signing of the MoU.  

Annette King, Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw at the signing of the MoU.  

To paraphrase Jack Kennedy, if success in politics has many fathers, the Labour-Greens Memorandum of Understanding will enter the history books an orphan — in the annals of Labour at least.

By striking contrast, the Greens, the deal’s only and overwhelming beneficiary, should be mounting the signed original like the Dead Sea Scrolls, demanding members commence branch meetings with selected incantations from therein. 

That the MoU has been a monumental blunder for Labour, and a boon for the Greens, surprises none of us who opposed the idea from the outset. We knew it would license the Greens to raid Labour's vote while neutering the party's capacity to fight back and thereby alleviate concerns about a ramshackle centre-left coalition. If anyone ever doubted this risk: see Turei's protracted middle finger to middle NZ and the depressing effect on Labour's vote in the One News-Colmar Brunton poll. This is playing out exactly as we feared. 

The deal’s proponents, meanwhile, exist either in denial about the monstrosity they wrought, or are desperately scrambling to evade culpability for it. They justifiably surmise that the people behind similarly daft ideas— Internet Mana, anyone? — have not just evaded consequences for their strategic idiocy; it has been rewarded with promotions and patronage. In many cases, they have been rewarded for failed ideas themselves. Why should this be any different?

Sadly, it probably won't be.

In the wake of Labour’s coming — and fourth consecutive —  defeat, the central role of the MoU in kneecapping whatever chance Labour had to reemerge as a credible governing party will be obvious to all but the small handful of apparatchiks. These are the people who conceived of the agreement, and whose reputations hinge on pretending, against any and all available evidence, that it was a resounding triumph. Sadly, this is the same clique who will shape the post-election narrative, much as they did in the aftermath of the Cunliffe Calamity when they hired as co-obfuscators Bryan Gould and Margaret Wilson, authors of the toothless and pathetic ”post-mortem”.

Have no doubt that the geniuses within Labour responsible for every misstep of the past ten years remain as powerful today as they ever were. Do not expect any contrition or admission of failure. Whoever is to blame for the failure of Labour’s strategy, look anywhere but in the direction of Labour strategists. They are, let's face it, far better at making excuses than making headway against the Nats.

I've heard tell there's a “narrative” in the works that, surprise surprise, it is the Labour Right’s subterranean shenanigans to blame for Labour’s woes. The attacks on the so-called Anyone But Cunliffe conspiracy were so successful last time, they’re aiming for a reprise. It's a tough argument given how the Labour caucus rallied behind a leader all but two of them voted against, and to whom they have remained fiercely loyal throughout.  But convincing oneself of something that serves our purposes to believe makes falling off a log seem like hard work. (Of course the argument also wobbles upon recognition that the Labour Right does not exist, but why quibble?). 

The people in charge of Labour have guided the party through a period of strategic ineptitude, policy torpor, financial ruin and organizational decay. They are just not very good at politics.

Until the party reckons with this, root and branch, their only other idea — changing leaders periodically  in the hope that doing so will transform the party’s fortunes — is merely window dressing to distract from the shambles within.

Tame Questions Enrage Little


I don't want to unduly pile on Andrew Little. In fact, during a phone call with a Kiwi journo last week, I couldn't have stressed often enough how the current malaise facing Labour is not this particular leader's fault. Instead, it arises from the misguided abandonment of broad church values that can be traced back at least three elections. As I have said often, Labour's appeal is structurally insufficient; and that the quaint notion that the natural ebb and flow of politics will eventually land Labour in the shores of government neglects this point.

Labour's share of the party vote has declined precipitously since losing office. They are six points adrift of where they were in 1996, the first MMP election, after Labour had all but torn itself limb from factional limb. Those two facts alone should give pause to anyone still clinging to the notion that all Labour needs to get from zero to hero is the passage of time. 

Yes, appendectomies give Andrew Little a run for his money in the popularity stakes, but it is wrong to imagine any other prospective leader would have done better. In all likelihood, Robertson, Parker or whomever would have done just as badly, albeit in different ways. As finance spokesperson, Robertson has not displayed any greater capacity than Little for policy innovation — even if the Future of Work commission asked the right questions, the answers contained in the final report were a heady blend of inaccessible jargon, motherhood statements and empty promises. Oh, and lengthy passages ripped whole from The Economist. As for Parker, he's not trusted in the same way Shearer wasn't, and would have been dispatched in similar terms — although even more brutally in light of his irascible, idiosyncratic manner. 

So don't blame Little for more then his share of a mess a decade in the making. Nobody expected Little to radically transform the party in new and unexpected ways. He was never going to reveal hitherto concealed reserves of charisma or intellectual originality. He was party president, and boss of the biggest affiliated union, circulating in Wellington Labour circles, creating few ripples of admiration, for decades. Little is the leader he was always going to be. He's a journeyman: a middle order batsman who rarely sizzles but never skips training. A political Chris Kuggelijn, if you will. If Labour were in better shape, he'd hit the winning runs — but expecting him to blast the Nats out of the park from this far behind flies in the face everything we know about his range of shots. 

Let Little be Little, in other words. If he plays outside his comfort zone, the risks are far greater than in a plodding performance in line with his meagre gifts. This kind of thing happens: 

Jack Tame is no Kim Hill, and the question he asked about the GDP impacts of Labour's immigration policy wasn't just perfectly fair, it was the most obvious first question imaginable. That Little hadn't been prepared with a succinct and credible response is baffling, and suggests there are severe shortcomings in his office. Whenever you prep politicians for media interviews, especially those coinciding with major election announcements, the fiscal questions should be at the top of the list. This is especially true for Labour, who must be careful to project seriousness and restraint when it comes to economic management.  

Labour's bandwagon jumping on immigration is craven enough without their leader, a would be Prime Minister no less, describing as "silly" a question about the downstream economic effects of his plan. 

It strongly indicates Little's office isn't smart enough to furnish him with answers to basic questions; and, worse, that Little isn't curious enough to demand them. 

Speak English!

The Winston Peters playbook must have earned some fairly tatty dogears over the 65 consecutive elections where the NZ First leader has deployed it.

Yet again, Peters has eased himself to the deadset centre of the maelstrom at precisely the right moment. Partly this comes about simply because of NZ First's likely kingmaker status — it clearly raises the stakes — but Winston's strategy of keeping his powder dry for long stretches during off-years, effectively relaunching his brand every third winter, keeps his image fresher, and his schtick far more impactful, than it ought to be.

Competing with Peters in full swing for a share of the spotlight is an unenviable task at thie best of times. For Labour in particular, this deprivation of media oxygen, coming at worst possible time, could be fatal. Even his biggest defender would concede Little has far from closed the deal with voters. As polls make wince-inducingly clear, Kiwis are yet to be persuaded he has what it takes to be Prime Minister. They prefer Bill, Winston and Jacinda to Andrew — and no doubt plenty of others too if given the option. 

So what can Labour do?  

Bluntly, they have a rubbish hand. 

The rollout of their impressive family tax policy package shows how tough it is. 

Within days, each in their way, ACT and the Greens leapt on the issue in far more colourful ways — ACT went Ban Poor Babies, while the Greens' co-leader confessed to benefit fraud. Meanwhile, Peters promised a gold card for people with disabilities, an adroit positioning between ACT's cold, and the Greens' bleeding, hearts.

As this shows, even in the rare case when Labour sets the agenda, it is criminally easy for minor parties to hijack it within hours. This is not all Labour's fault: as a major party with aspirations to govern, they don't have the luxury of engaging in the kind of sabre-rattling, base-rousing and hyperbole that comes so naturally to smaller parties. They are also far less flexible when it comes to making policy on the hoof.

So, while I don't envy them the task Labour faces in a campaign that risks getting away from them, there are some simple things they could fix today. 

Here's one. Hire some writers. 

At some point over the past couple of decades, the malignancy of corporate-speak began to infect the language of politics and public policy, metastasising horribly, and in full public view, ever since. And for some reason, while politicians of all sides are guilty of speaking in this empty, polysyllabic jargon, those of the left seem to be more susceptible. To illustrate this point, I looked no further than the first link that caught my eye in their website: a statement from frontbencher David Clark on hospital funding in Christchurch — at least that's what I think it was about.  Here's the excerpt from Clark's statement featured on Labour's homepage, presumably because it was the catchiest line:

“To claim that the DHB was using tactics to leverage more public funds ignores the reality of the on-going fallout from the Canterbury earthquakes and the lack of funding to support their population! ”
— http://www.labour.org.nz/canterbury_hatchet_job_a_disgrace

I challenge you.

Go on, make that sentence worse. 

People just don't talk like that. Or think like it. It's the language used by consultants and bureaucrats, petrified anyone might infer clear meaning from anything they write. 

Pick any statement on the Labour site, and you'll find the party is committed to ensuring that accountability and transparency, supported by diverse stakeholder engagement, underpin their core values. Or something. 

So, yeah, stop doing that. 

ACT coulda been a contender


I knew a few Rogernomes who bolted to ACT back in the nineties. They were the sort of brash young bullshit  artists who treat politics, especially factional politics, like a series of no-holds-barred cage fights. Between them, they could barely come up with a political idea that wasn't some tatty facsimile of an already tired one. Anyone who gets involved in politics at a young age is lying if they tell you they don't get a rush from the combat, the backroom scuttlebutt, the shifting tallies of who’s up, who's down, who's next.

What set the fleeing ACT crowd apart, however,  was that a lust for biffo was the sum total of their rationale for getting involved at all. Most of us brought to the endeavour some driving political passions, however half-baked. But these blokes were ideological grifters. If they'd stumbled on The Fountainhead at school, they might never have bothered flirting with Labour at all.

That said, the emergence of ACT in the MMP era didn't seem altogether like a bad thing. However impractical, libertarian ideas are nothing if not interesting. In fact, like cultural constructivism and Marxism, I find it necessary to wrestle with libertarian perspectives all the time. Also like cultural constructivism and Marxism, libertarian ideology is way more influential in the world of ideas than that of electoral politics. We shouldn't ignore their worldview — and we might even learn something from it.

In the NZ context,  I thought it would redound to our democratic advantage if we had a handful of ACT MPs holding Labour and National alike to account when both parties, as they are wont to do, overextend their executive reach. NZ’s system of government has always struck me as short on checks and balances, and its political culture is at best staid; at worst, catatonic. In an ideal world (which, after all, is where libertarians live), ACT could have been a bulwark against the excesses of nanny-statism (which I oppose from the left, mind you), and a powerful voice for individual liberty in a parliament populated by various breeds of weknowbesters. With a small but principled ACT caucus in place over the past few election cycles, draconian drug laws and incarceration practices should be a thing of the past. They were bystanders on gay marriage.

But of course, this is not a principled ACT party. And its only achievement of late has been providing a living for slightly odd white men.

But it's worse of course.

Yesterday, ACT went the full Newt Gingrich, playing the babies-making-babies card. Poor people, they say, should stop having kids — as if Labour's modest boost to family payments will fill maternity suites with the undeserving.

Well, fuck off.

For one thing, ACT, if you're listening, your party wouldn't exist were it not for antipathy towards the perceived nanny state, and yet you adopt what is literally the most nannying of all policy ideas — attempting to control the fertility of poor people.

In a room with 100 voters, you get one of them. What on god’s great green earth gives you the idea you have the right to tell the rest of us how frequently to procreate?

This is beneficiary bashing, of course, but it reeks of bargain basement eugenics, easily the political Right’s most distasteful fetish. But, for economic rationalists like ACT pretend to be, the idea that effectively sterilizing the poor will create new prosperity is bonkers. The link between poverty and fertility rates is one of the most well-canvassed areas of research in development economics, and the data is not difficult to understand. Creating the conditions to allow household to lift themselves out of poverty is singularly the best way to reduce the number of kids in poor households. And it's a hell of a lot cheaper in the long run to reduce fertility rates through expanding the economic net than coercive or punitive efforts.

If you want to punish poor people for making choices with which you disagree, nothing I can say will stop you. But don't pretend it's in the service of NZ’s economic future. It isn't. It's just more other-blaming from politicians who are too lazy and unoriginal to create meaningful policies, and supporters too dim-witted to know better. Making poor people poorer for having more than the approved number of kids or for any other reason, it's not just mean-spirited; it's fucking stupid.

So in the end, ACT is exactly the party those bovver boys of yore were looking for (I can't recall a female defector): morally bankrupt, cravenly opportunistic, and utterly shameless.