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PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog

‘Tis a pity

The coalition government’s proving to be something of a schizoid enigma. There’s money there, so why not give the nurses, the teachers, the midwives, the ambos, the correction staff etc. what they are reasonably asking for? Why not secure the infrastructure? After all, these are the people who voted for them and would continue to do so. As well, these are the jobs that will continue into a precarious age, not replaceable by digital programmes or robots.

Instead, on one hand they’re running around genuflecting to business confidence or lack of it, that highly subjective and not particularly rational category of feeling. On the other hand they’re spraying money around the regions in a display of pork barrel politics. It will benefit some iwi and hapu, and plant some trees, but it ends up being largely handouts to some local (and international) capitalists. It will provide a temporary boost for this and that before the global market mediates once more. In some cases it will be harmful, for example the creating of freedom camping sites without research and undermining the local camping grounds. Regional Economic Development needs to be a grass roots affair.

Meanwhile, on the Coast,75% of orthopedic referrals are rejected. I see the issue first hand. My partner needs a hip replacement. Days and nights are spent in pain. Back follows hip because of necessarily poor posture, pain killers leave the head dozy, fatigue strikes from living with pain. But not bad enough for an op, which while expensive, costs thirty days of Michael Cullen’s fee.

In the next breath, school principals reveal the nonsense of ‘safety’ – kids shouldn’t go to the climate strike because the Risk Assessment Management hasn’t been done. These same regulations mean you can’t take a class for a walk around the block. Meanwhile, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires occur ever more frequently. Regulations exist without context.

We will continue to be seduced, perhaps for another term, by the less sadistic approach to the underclass, to the coalition being less willing to sell our education and health systems, to them being a little more union friendly, and to Jacinda’s nice moments on the international scene, but the swirl of opinion that has replaced the news will eventually toss them into the next wash, so that a new set of faces, and scandals, can occupy the cover of the Women’s Weekly and fill the Q & A seats. Some vague dents in the body politic will have been fixed, some even undercoated, a couple even having received a top coat, but the machine of neo liberal capitalism will still be speeding along, approaching the cliff of planetary chaos.

It’s always a disappointment and a reinforcing of cynicism. A pity for I felt we were ready for a moment of praxis.

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A real book

Kathleen Gallagher’s recently published book, Inangahua Gold is not really a novel, that is, a story of psychologically complex individuals, but rather a romance in the medieval sense of the genre, so that there are heroes and villains, lovers and magic, gatekeepers and heralds, and good eventually overcomes evil.

There are two parallel stories; a party made up of a Maori woman guide, an Irishman also playing a guide role and a Pommy coloniser on his way to the gold fields across the alps and a second story, twenty years later, centred on a West Coast publican family caring for a Chinese gold miner brought in wounded by a young Maori. The Irishman and the Maori guide are attracted to each other as are the young Maori and one of the publican’s daughters, but arranged marriages in the Maori world are the stumbling block in both cases. It turns out however, that the publican is the Irishman from the first story and the Maori boy’s mother the Maori guide. Their wives and husbands have died so love wins out. That’s the plot with its romance characters and happy ending.

But there’s more to the book than that, for throughout, the natural world of Te Wai Pounamu is a poetic presence. This is in many ways a beautifully told story of flora and fauna. And the tale is also suffused by whakapapa (genealogy) as a totalising agency. Maori, Irish, English, Chinese, German intertwine to form a chain of belonging. It is then a Pakeha inhabiting a Maori social landscape and pulling it off.

The book is simply produced, with a brown card cover which picks up stains; it immediately begins to belong. And this sense of belonging is fused in an innocence characteristic of the author as a person. Yet there is a great knowledge as well. I am reminded of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

It can feel like a film script at times, the people stock characters at others, but the humanity and the aroha shine through. In a literary market increasingly populated by novels written by creative writing course graduates where the first twenty pages can be excellent then the whole things disintegrates because the author doesn’t actually know anything of the world and is not a committed person in any shape or form, Inangahua Gold is a precious reminder of the role of literature

Means and Ends

“Capitalism establishes rational means of production, but the ends are irrational.” Frederik Jameson.

We can make the larger reading of the above statement: the rationalising of all production via technology since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the consequent destruction of all traditional ways of doing things leading to us standing on the edge of environmental chaos; or we can focus on something smaller.

Let me, for a moment, look at dentistry, as a means and as an end. The technological means have vastly improved. When I was a kid people got all their teeth out at twenty one and bought a set of dentures, because it saved all that trouble and a lot of money. Today, dentists can drill root canals, fix most things and if not, implant new teeth. You floss and have fluoride to toughen the enamel and can generally keep enough teeth to be functional until you die. No longer the sight of the one fanged grimace or the sunken cheeks of the crone. Marvellous. Also of course, expensive. You can judge a person’s earnings by their shoes and the state of their teeth. The middle portion is irrelevant. Perhaps one day the state will be sensible enough to offer free, or at least subsidised oral health care.

Instead, dentistry is being taken over by corporations who then operate via a franchise system (a 40:60 split it seems). As usual, marketing and supplies arrive via the corporate office. The workforce is becoming globalised, with many Asians arriving. No problem so far, except for the disappearance of the community-based local dentist and the fact that the corporations, like the Aussie banks, adopt a hard-sell approach. You go to a franchise dentist with a broken filling and they find a great deal wrong with you – at my age a litany of scrapes and groans and chips and fissures. There are teeth whitening crazes, Jacinda-like smiles on all the advertising, and a multitude of hygiene possibilities. The nice Indian dentist has an expert’s demeanour and I feel like a peasant. He assumes a pattern of necessary treatment if I am to keep my teeth. If I were peasant obedient, I’d be in for years of treatment and most of my discretionary money would be committed. And they pursue you via mail and email, scheduling appointments.

As in most things, the means are rational, the end chaos. The question remains: why do we put up with it?

Ooops, is that John in this picture?

dentistThat’s enough of this Winston-like rave.

Subjectivity

Gael Anderson, an original member of Amamus Theatre Group, passes. Three out of seven. I hadn’t seen Gael for years, but with a theatre group, the sense of mutuality remains, born from a group of young people creating together, learning about themselves and their society, moving beyond their determinations.

I remember Gael for one particular moment. We’d just finished filming what was affectionately known as the maddies film, a two part drama for television about a woman who had a psychotic breakdown, is institutionalised but then recovers. It was both intense subject matter and a difficult technical task, setting up a mental hospital in a school and employing a large cast with a crew of five people. I was exhausted when we came together to begin rehearsals for our first ‘poor theatre’ piece. The instruction was simple: go behind the mask.  There were a few hesitant attempts then Gael improvised this spine tingling scene with an astonished Sam Neill as her protagonist. In one sweep she moved our work into the new space and the tiredness vanished.

Which, as society becomes more and more instrumental with its systems,  brings me to the whole notion of subjectivity. The philosopher Fredric Jameson writes of the factory system invading storytelling to create the mass produced novel and the production line of character, plot and emotion, the moving belt on which a literary commodity is made. The story teller sits in the midst of his listeners. In contrast, the published novel goes every which way, the writer knowing nothing of his serial reader, the reader knowing little of the creator. The market forms the relationship. To try and compensate, the novelist created the subjective point of view, the internal monologue characteristic of modernism. But that in turn has lost its potency as people are increasingly ‘produced’, often to a high standard. Athletes are coached in an instrumental fashion to the nth degree. They train to carefully worked out schedules and patterns. Their fitness and skill levels are often fantastic. They have rituals of motivation worked out by psychologists. The performances are captured on television and we cheer them on. For writers there are endless courses, classes, ‘how to’ manuals, mentors and competitions.

But it is a mask, which perhaps explains the escalating level of mental illness experienced by those who fall off the production line, who refuse to be Taylorised, to fit the patterns of instrumentality, those who go behind the mask and feel for the rest of society.

So Gael, I remember your grasping of fate, like giving birth, there in the scout hall in the Botanical Gardens above the harbour one winter evening in 1973.

P1030745

Entering the ‘real’ world

After four weeks of grandchildren – interesting being immersed once more in the child’s world of opportunism and insistent need – I’ve been making the transition to the ‘adult’ world.

As part of the transition I went to a concert by  the Canadian singer, Jane Silberry, at the Barrytown Hall. Canadians are often interesting, living so close to the madness of the States, separate and saner, but close to the centre.

Jane was a skilled vocalist and guitarist and a competent wordsmith. The performance was fascinating in its portrayal of post modernism. I felt the dense and competitive musical culture that must exist in her part of the world. There will be a multitude of performances taking place at any one time, all at a skilled level. Everyone has to be original. The performance must be subtle yet able to respond to the interjector or the drunk, and needs a gag or two. You have to be gender savvy, environment savvy, psychologically savvy, new age savvy, masked yet unmasked, sardonic yet open to wonder, skilled yet not showy, cool not adversarial. And life is difficult: hard to find an acceptable and sustainable romantic partner; having to conquer depression or neurosis as the planet goes down the tube and cyclones and hurricanes rage; having to deal with aging parents; there are refugees and terrorists; to not get swallowed by urban busyness and at the end of the day, the need to sleep.

What it produces is a performance which in some ways is old fashioned, with something of the spinster, a sadness yet a need for hope, a desire for the certitude of religion, for Blake’s angels. There’s the knowledge it’s all been said before, done before, action is impossible.  We simply follow little trails of difference. Small children and heavy rain overwhelm. And when we die it will be inconsequential, like euthanasia, another tidying of the world where all is regulated for the best, rumble strips and median barriers on the highways, scaffolding around every height, human rights for all, our heart monitored twenty four hours a day, and no such thing as evil. Politics has died for there is no adversary, no possibility of the imaginary, all is regulated, and our teeth report cavities directly to the dentist.

In this world self pity is sardonic. All you can do is counsel yourself and others that things will work out and you don’t need the medication, just the occasional revelation from the natural world which becomes a secure but volatile partner. Plus a dog which barks at strangers and provides company in the dark hours of the siren-sounding night.

Poison and Purity

With its call to ban 1080, the SPCA have literally put the cat amongst the pigeons. Their  kaupapa is to prevent cruelty to animals by human beings. 1080 is a poison which takes roughly 12 hours to kill by denying oxygen to organs. Vomiting, fits and internal bleeding occur, so it is, one imagines, an unpleasant death. Cruelty is ‘being indifferent to or delighting in another’s pain’ (OED). The SPCA argues therefore that DOC and OSPRI (formally TB FREE NZ) are being cruel when they administer 1080.

Historically, the SPCA, established here in 1882, has been an effective lobby group: cattle are no longer badly treated, horses are no longer flogged, dogs beaten, kittens drowned and so on. The state imposes fines, even imprisonment, for those found guilty of cruelty. It has become generally agreed that we should look after our fellow creatures humanely and if we do have to kill them we should do it with the minimum of suffering. The society has also drawn the link between child abuse and animal abuse, both being caused by a lack of empathy. In a 2007 survey, the SPCA was the second most trusted charity in NZ, so it has some mana.

Forest and Bird have reacted with some vehemence. Usually the anti 1080 lobby can be portrayed as being made up of obsessive ferals, but the SPCA does not fit this mould and the complexity and the problematic of the environmentalist’s kaupapa in regard to 1080 is revealed. Generally they prefer to turn a blind eye, but if pointed out, they argue that the cruelty attached to 1080 use is a necessary evil in order to preserve our indigenous flora and fauna. For OSPRI the dairy industry, one of our main earners, is under threat. We have to be cruel in order to be kind and the end justifies the means. War imagery is used, e.g. Battle for the Birds and collateral damage is acceptable.

There are of course worrying connotations to this reasoning if we transfer it to human society, because similar arguments are used to justify ethnic cleansing: foreigners have crept into the midst of a ‘pure people’ who lived happily in a past golden age. The foreigner must be demonised: stoats, rats etc aren’t just living their instinctual life, they are ‘cruel murderers’ according to Forest and Bird. DOC websites will always picture snarling possums. For OSPRI possums are economic saboteurs. Suddenly these predators have been given consciousness and ethical judgement, which is stretching logic. The same state that will fine someone for drowning a kitten is itself, through one of its departments, poisoning thousands of animals who by living their natural lives threaten native species who evolved in a land cut off from the rest of the world. The native species natural habitat (wilderness) becomes carefully constructed and policed areas where the indigenous are encouraged to breed and the foreigners fecundity is an absolute threat, with an Armageddon of species loss just around the corner. The whole paradigm becomes infected with nationalism, the indigenous becoming central to national character and pride. At the same time the Anthropocene is upon us, that affecting of the planet by human beings at a geological level, with another great extinction on the cards.

These are perplexing and difficult issues and for this reason will not go away, no matter how often the anti 1080 brigade are portrayed as ‘nutcases’, who now include the SPCA. Do we try to return to a mammal-free Aotearoa? But what about humans, cows, horses, sheep, goats, deer, pigs, Tahr… When we move past the mammals to possums eating out our native forest, it is somehow ethically simpler. But then there is lupin, gorse, wilding pine plus the over populated dairy industry (perhaps as villainous as possums when we add polluted waterways and disappearing wetlands). None of it’s easy to resolve and purity can become absurd: DOC have been known to suggest that pohutakawa trees be removed from South Island national parks because they are not native. Certain weka have somehow become genetically impure. And therefore when someone like the SPCA steps in with their simple ethical argument: Don’t be cruel to our fellow creatures (a little like an organisation in Hitler’s Germany suggesting we should be kind to one another no matter what our ethnicity, politics, sexuality or religion), environmentalists become very grumpy indeed. At the same time, these environmentalists will generally be believers in diversity amongst human beings and pro refugee.

I don’t have the solution. When we did a play on the subject a decade ago we could see every side, and the only sensible suggestion we could make was for every community to be given the research, and after rigorous debate, to decide for itself.

And we are left it seems with some research questions: while 1080 has been proven to break down quickly in water, there seems to be little research as to the extent of the suffering involved in a 1080 death; there do seem to be issues with regard to how long it lasts in the food chain and there do seem to be issues relating to mutation caused by sub lethal doses. But yes, it is relatively cheap and effective and the introduction of predatory mammals was a disaster, caused once again by the worst predator of all, the human species.

A Christmas greeting

As the level of surveillance increases. I do find it an increasingly medieval world. Not only facebook etc,  but insurance companies and government departments use spies and another US state passes a law which means you lose your job or contract if you participate in the Boycott and Divest movement against Israel, even in the gentlest way – for example by not buying a humus made in Israel. And Congress is about to pass a law making it a criminal offence to boycott Israel, which now becomes a new Holy Land, to be taken from the infidel.

Meanwhile, children are endlessly monitored in their learning, no longer the occasional exam to gauge progress but weekly results reported to the MOE. The 3 Rs have been analysed to the nth degree in terms of stages. The use of metaphor is no longer a discovery, no longer something organic, but taught like a military drill. Thou shalt use metaphor on Wednesday, simile on Friday.

Cargo cults form. Suddenly sports teams take ice baths after games. Very unpleasant it seems, with no evidence of benefit, but it becomes a bonding ritual, this experiencing of pain together. There are often insufficient baths so wheelie bins are commandeered. The mind boggles at the image of the nation’s sports people sitting in wheelie bins packed with ice on a Saturday afternoon. What’s the figure of speech?

In the midst of chaos, Joan of Arc appears in the form of fifteen year old Greta Thumberg, labelled as Aspergic (if that’s a word) because she studied the climate change issue and became depressed that such a crisis could be wilfully ignored. She started to go to parliament and sit on the steps with a placard rather than go to school.  She’s become something of a phenomenon because she tells the truth.

‘…we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

‘But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.’

Perhaps it will simply mean that Greta has her ten minutes of fame. I hope not. Perhaps all the children of the world will opt out of surveillance and data collection and ice baths and simply overthrow the system in a truly symbolic moment that will not fit the achievement model held by the MOE.

Meanwhile, there are some lovely anticipations of a future world happening, for example, kids going to school on a bike bus. Bike buses might become a universal means of transport. Mary, Joseph and little Jesus, the three wise men and the shepherds all pedalling toward Jerusalem to burn down the US embassy. And the Australian; and the Saudi Arabian, plus the settlements…

france-bike-bus-main-1506732822

Take care.

All the c’s

P1060886

Convolvulus is an extraordinarily aggressive weed at this time of year. The chicken coop is under attack. I tear at it but also know that every piece left lying around will produce a new tendril. It seems you have to burn it. I haven’t the time or patience for total eradication and at least it dies off in winter.  But as Christmas approaches it becomes a useful metaphor.

For convolvulus reminds me of commercialisation, of commodification, of. let’s name it, capitalism – all the c words. Entering the Warehouse or Mitre 10, or simply walking through the shopping centre, the banal Christmas jingles assault the ear, while the eye is bemused by the multiplicity of invitations to buy some junk. I had to compose a quick poster for the carol service at the Working Men’s Club so googled Christmas images. There were pages of bad design of the worst kind.

Yet Christmas is a complex cultural ritual: the birth of the prophet Christ as a man-god, the charitable work of fourth century Saint Nicholas, the tribal god Woden with his horse, the change of the earth’s orbit. This rich pot pourri has been historically vandalised by magazines, department stores and Coca Cola to see the concept of ‘gift’ reduced to the mass production and consumption of baubles and beads which together with the Boxing Day sales, ‘adds to the GDP’. It is a banal culture we live in and one which deserves to be washed away.

Still, there are a few signs of hope: the range of protestors in Katowice as the emperors fiddle (a new term- macho-fascist); the economist who has calculated the value of breast milk to the GDP, Marilyn Waring reinstating the value of unpaid work to the economy…

Today is a heavy, cloudy day, the wind chime faintly stirs and soon it will rain. The convolvulus will continue to grow. The dog quietly snuffles under my desk. For the moment, all is quiet.

Take care.

The 1980s

Last weekend I attended the 30th anniversary of the Waimapihi Housing Co-operative which I helped set up in Holloway Road, Wellington, in 1988. We had successfully fought for a government designation to be lifted (they were going to bulldoze the gully and turn it into playing fields) and then the task was to enable the tenants to have first right to buy,

Even then, some tenants would never be able to raise a mortgage, or like me, didn’t believe in private ownership of housing, and we were able to borrow money from the Housing Corporation and buy seven houses plus a renovation fund. As we recorded an oral history, David McGill, who was our resident architect for the renovations pointed out that the co-op was able to take advantage of a six month window of opportunity. The government had been researching the usefulness of co-operatives as a means to provide housing and had set up a fund, which was then quickly gutted by the Roger Douglas faction. But we had been ready and able to take advantage of that brief moment.

But the reunion also brought back vivid memories of the eighties. It began of course with the mass mobilisations of the anti apartheid movement and the intense debates within the movement – between communists, Maori, feminists, lesbians, churchgoers… Meetings and protests were extraordinary performative affairs. For me the era was one of community involvement for the first time, of fathoming the practice of the progressive communist, and of being faced with feminism and the Maori struggle. We did a series of plays based on first contact: Thomas Kendall, Parihaka, Te Puea.  We toured marae with one of the plays which took me to the heartland of Maoridom. I tried to fathom the reality of oppression at the personal level, for example the victim of sexual abuse, as opposed to the ideology of oppression and the spokespeople for the ideology. They were intensely difficult issues without easy solution.

During the reunion I wrote a poem within a simple framework I use for primary school creative writing students. First line, one word, second line two words etc.

Waimapihi

Mickey Savage

George Maureen Pop

The protests of ’81

Old working class, new lefties

Blend in born agains, hippy craftspeople

A common enemy,  the corporate capitalist state

A diverse whanau searching for new social relations

Clearing the gorse. for some a time of healing

Changing property relations, dancing revolution, as Rogernomics entered stage right

dissolving the commons, speeding up production, investing in investment, privatising pain

But a co-op preserved something of the dream, as consumerism claimed centre stage

P1110858 Waimapihi Housing Co-op 2018

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