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Paul Maunder's blog

Heroes and thieves

A nasty cartoon-poster appeared in a local shop window attacking Metiria Turei: ‘When the left needed a hero they got a thief’ read the slogan and I suddenly realized this whole episode has revealed the sub- fascist side of things that can appear as an underbelly of NZ political culture, with beneficiaries a hated marginal minority supposedly ripping off the system and needing to be punished – not too distant from Aryans jeering at Jews forced to scrub footpaths.

beggar

photo: radio nz

The persecutor-victim-rescuer dynamic has been at the heart of this story: Metiria set herself up as spokesperson and example of the beneficiary victim, thus inviting persecution. She got that alright and then needed rescuing by the left. But meanwhile, family members felt they’d been, in turn, made victim and therefore needed to persecute in order to rescue themselves. The newly energized Labour Party also felt persecuted by the whole episode and needed to rescue themselves. On it goes. The Greens should of course be familiar with the dynamic: after all, the planet is victim and needs rescuing – that’s core business.

It’s actually a terrible pattern, for it keeps on spiraling down – ending up in ethnic cleansing and death camps.

In human interactions the solution is simple: adult negotiates with adult and in this instance the adult position is clear: Every civilized society has a benefit system to ensure subsistence to those who cannot gain satisfactory paid work: the unemployed, the disabled, the solo parent, and the aged. If there is no system or if the amount is insufficient, these people are stressed, leading to dysfunctional family situations, hunger, violence, crime, kids unable to learn, prostitution etc. The facts are there. The only question is, having known for thirty years or more that the present regime provides insufficient benefit levels, why, as a society, we haven’t taken steps to alleviate the stress? When research shows clearly that we should do something, we don’t do it. Why do we persecute these people?

Metiria tried to dramatise this situation and failed, perhaps not failed, but it wasn’t a good outcome, as a sort pf martyrdom followed. Is there an adult on the other end of this negotiation? Unfortunately, no. And that’s the real problem. The persecutor remains adamant. It will probably take the Universal Basic Income to disappear this persecutor, to put in place an equable regime of subsistence, rather than rags to riches stories, crime stories, celebrity stories, the usual lies that people are fed.

When it comes to the planet as victim, the dynamic is complex, for the planet doesn’t care, even if it became a barren rock flying through space. Caring requires consciousness, so this is actually a people to people issue. Are we prepared to make the sacrifices, the adjustments required to stop further warming or are we going to create millions of victims, who will then persecute us by becoming refugees, boat people, terrorists, beggars? And who we then, in turn, persecute.

We know this, yet we do nothing much, for behind these dilemmas is an economic and political system based on the persecutor-victim-rescuer dynamic and the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra. When we need heroes we get thieves.

Back to the drawing board.

A week in politics

Andrew Little resigns. Must be tough to, in a sense, fail so publicly, for no real reason. He’s done a good job, stopped the infighting, been plausible, developed good policy… but failed to shift the polls. Lacked charisma, no star quality, no scandals, no media noise. How much do those polled know of policy? Probably not a lot. Teachers and nurses will know, farmers and business people likewise, but Jo Blog – not a lot.

The TV performance is then, everything. Those in government have an advantage; they’re seen opening schools and bridges, tending to disasters and meeting important people, whereas the opposition is mostly seen complaining. Andrew has the wrong shaped face for telly, is going bald, not quite at home in his body. As a director of actors I would suggest a tense jaw, which controls emotion and means a dull speech pattern. The stress of the constant public performance must be awful for a quiet sort of bloke.

Not only were the polls not moving, but suddenly the Greens hit a spot – both of scandal and of virtue, with Metiria’s announcing of a twenty percent increase for beneficiaries and of her own ‘cheating’ while on a benefit. A great Madonna/whore combination. For a moment, that tapped into the energy that lies in the electorate, the sub-neoliberal-conscious energy which can erupt, as Sanders and Corbyn found out. Everyone knows the neoliberal system has failed, but its controls are tight and the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra has penetrated deeply. To fight it is risking both irrelevance and the unleashing of a hatred from the power structure. Yet to take it on can energise some of the vast majority who it treats either indifferently or unjustly. A sort of hysterical energy occurs; ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…’ And then the forces of reaction move in: the media, the political party systems, the investors, the conservative controllers, who attack viciously. But at that point, you at least know you’re fighting for something

Instead, Labour and the Greens signed up to the system, promising to be responsible, apart from some technical tinkering (and good tinkering), but it was not an energising stance. The Greens broke the contract and left Little in the lurch.

And Metiria’s ‘cheating’? What a joke. Everyone does the cash job. Everyone avoids taxes. The GFC was caused by con men who were bailed out and are still running the financial system, we’ve got the Trump family in power, the Russian mafia… The non declaration of a flatmate? Yet the boffin’s pontificate. It’s Alice in Wonderland.

Did Andrew do the right thing? It seems so, and for him, yes. You must say to yourself, Why bother with this shit. Why the sacrifice? Let me go to the beach and watch the waves come in. Let me turn off the phone and the twitter account and the email. Let me live again.

Into the breach walks Jacinda; a new performance: young, beautiful, of a generation for whom performance is second nature, a good name, welcomed by the media, for whom the election has been, so far, a dull event.

All this is taking place within the framework of ‘society as theatre’, first suggested by the German sociologist, Erving Goffman. It’s reasonably obvious: we play roles, we make our entrances and exits, wear our costumes, there are sets, scripts, scenes etc. Jacinda made her entry and delivered her first speech. The costume was carefully chosen. It was almost a ritual. The audience was watching, ready to be swayed one way or another. The media play a role which has been called that of SpectActor- both spectator and actor – as they ask questions and immediately take to the streets and interview people who also become SpectActors. In fact the SpectActor role, with social media, becomes almost universally available.

At the same time as being obviously true, this framework, as a theatre person, continues to bother me – in its banality. In the theatre situation, we rehearse, at great length, in the safety of the rehearsal room. We start with doubt, with nothingness; freely admitted. We are not playing ourselves, but another – and therein lies the creative truth; the I-I. In the theatre situation the self obsessed person (the drama queen) is a pain; the group is all; the ability to give and take is all. The content and the cast generate the form, over time. And then the silent dialogue with an audience, which alters the performance in a manner which is almost magical. And the beauty of there being no record afterward, except in the mind.

It seems to me, that if we could work toward a political system that was closer to this, rather than the current need for the most vulgar of melodrama, we would be getting somewhere.

Team Sports

I finally got to see The Ground We Won, a slice of life documentary on a rural rugby team, the players mainly dairy farmers from Reporoa. The film, shot in black and white, was a year in the making and follows the team through a season, focusing in particular on three team members, so there is something of work and home life. As well as the matches, we see the training sessions, the after match functions and the heavy drinking culture. By concentrating on the maleness of it all (women are deliberately marginal figures), the film portrays a modern patriarchal culture. Add the dairying – an industrial and environmentally problematic part of our economy – and the film moves into the realm of describing a latter day settler culture. Hence the title.

There was much resonance for me. I was brought up in a provincial town where team sports were the major recreation. I wasn’t much good at rugby and got tired of the weekly nursing of injuries received on the Saturday, but was good at cricket and went close to professional involvement, until it seemed silly to devote my life to the fortunes of a ball. Thereafter I played at club level and then socially.

Team games are an alternative to tribal warfare. The values are the same: loyalty to the team (which can represent a place or ethnic group), the desire to win by overcoming the opposition, experiencing the triumphs and disappointments, telling the stories, the team culture which involves immersion and the stopping of aberrant behaviour, plus the skills of combat involved. It was always a way, for me, to interact with blokes outside my sphere of life. So, in Wellington, the cricket team blended arty types, tradesmen, bureaucrats, business men, labourers… It took up most of Saturday and there was a training session once a week. It could therefore interfere with family life. But it gave blokes a break from an ever more controlled and regulated society. It provided a moment of existential freedom, a moment where there’s just you and an opponent. .A moment to experience the warrior.

Cricket’s a dainty sport compared to rugby or league. There’s no direct body contact. I would suspect that rugby players drink more and the drinking culture in Reporoa did seem over the top. I wouldn’t cope with it. There lay the worry, for young blokes joining the team had to learn to cope. That was the initiation and given the adverse effect of alcohol on domestic relations, it’s not admirable. The team talks, the chants of togetherness, the building of hatred can also seem silly. I could never go along with it. I tried to play cricket down here on the Coast but there was too much of that sort of thing. It was a bit like being an infantry man in the war, and having to obey the ridiculous.

The irony I suspect, is that the professional player is much more astute, a more individual performer, the systems conceived, the risks calculated – they are professionals in every sense. Some of them can still get drunk afterward, but that’s frowned upon. Even end of year hoolies lead to trouble in the media. So, the old culture is preserved in the sticks: the stripper called in, the youngsters filled with grog and feeling diverted. I’ve noticed down here, grief is not felt. Instead, the bottle is at hand to drown the sorrows. But drowning is to die, so the sorrows, rather then felt and processed, are killed. This in turn leads to family violence, self pity and a high suicide rate.

So, ultimately, what we saw in the film was not a healthy culture, not one that should be passed on generation to generation. The filmmakers were recorders, not intervening in terms of a questioning consciousness. The main intervention was to edit out the women of the community and some beautiful capturing of misty, dawn paddocks, rain swept training grounds at night, an aestheticising of what was taking place; placing it, as it were, on a Greek vase. Should questions have been raised with the blokes? Should the women have been included? Should a dialogue have taken place?

Cultural reaction from the city seems to have been simplistic: beautiful photography, real country blokes sort of thing, a voyeurism, a popping into the country pub while on holiday.

Nevertheless, a resonant piece of filmmaking.

 

Community development?

We are facing interesting dilemmas in Blackball at the moment as the Paparoa Great Walk begins to be built; dilemmas which come under the general heading: community development and what the concept means and how it takes place, for Blackball will be one gateway to the track.

Realising this, the Council and Government via its agencies have become busy wooing us, for we are suddenly visible to them and our performance becomes part of the tourist dollar. Tourist infrastructure is the buzz concept, which translates most often into toileting and parking facilities which enable tourists to walk the walk in comfort. For Government and Council, it is all part of the GDP, bringing in the tourist dollar and so on. It requires a tidying up of the town and a new direction.

But the building of the infrastructure is ideologically driven. The Council have applied to the government for funding for a toilet and a carpark. Here are the figures:
Toilet
Foundations-prep and construction        10000
Foundations- engineered                            5500
Toilet unit                                                   134000
Electrical power connection                     10000
Services- water, sewer, stormwater         5000
Paving footpaths                                         10000
TOTAL (without fees):                              174500

But there are Fees (consents and engineering for toilets and carpark)
totalling 31,891 and Preliminaries and General (establishment and
disestablishment and traffic control)  23804.
So, divide in half the Fees and General that’s another 27847; so cost of
toilet is 202347.

The carpark will cost 154090 (plus 27847) = 181937.
The council are applying to the government for 399,286 minus their 100000 seeding money.

At the museum we are used to doing things cheaply and were astonished that a toilet should be worth twice as much as the average Blackball house. We had already costed out a toilet based on a single men’s hut design. Cost: $16000.  What is going on here?

Well, it’s how you think about things and how you do things. The council will drop the toilet and the carpark ‘from the sky’, impose them over the top of the existing community, an act of colonisation. They call this community development, but it is much closer to the work of missionaries with 19th century Maori. And local leaders, like local leaders back then, are being enticed into ‘partnership’.

Community development without having control of the budget is a mystification. What could we really do with $400,000? How could it be spent on community infrastructure required to service the track? Well, we could build two new toilets and refurbish existing toilets for 60000; use 100000 to establish a café run by a community co-operative; use 200000 to buy a house and establish a visitor centre and small camping ground, also run by a co-operative?

Instead of a fenced car park with security lights etc, people with the space could offer a park in their backyard, charging ten dollars a night, bringing in a little extra cash to the household budget. This would also lead to offering a cup of tea, having a conversation and so on. The visitor begins to be offered manaakitanga and healthy relations form. rather than ones of alienation.

This would be real community development, rather than the parody currently taking place. And behind the parody is an ideological purging of the collectivist, socialist tradition of the village, to be replaced by the small business opportunism that is at the heart of the tourist industry.

Peering into the future

A  day transporting my peer group from hospital to hospital: brain tumour, heart issues, stroke… The transport vehicle was a state of the art Mercedes, suspension like a dream, turbo charged, computerised, fuel efficient… There were cell phones galore, a central communication device, GPS, radio, defib, suction unit, water bottles, pain relief – all under control. Except the nurse had lost her car key – a new car, it would have to be put onto the back of a truck and transported to the dealer, the ignition renewed, insurance doesn’t cover it, it was going to cost thousands of dollars. In between moments of panic, pet dogs and their ways were discussed. They sounded pampered creatures. The tumour was miserable and angry at her body turning on her, one of the hearts was vulnerable (inflammation of the pericardium, obviously painful and scary), the other okay except needs to give up the smokes. The stroke hadn’t affected speech but swallowing and legs. One heart was garrulous, perhaps a little demented. On the radio there were endless songs about love – mainly unrequited, boom, boom, beat, beat. In between, manic ads and occasionally the news as scandal or a sporting event of national import. In A&E the wounded lay on beds awaiting processing, dumb struck by fate. Why me? Why today? Sometimes a worried partner sat beside them.

Eventually the key was found – great relief.

And then the lines of commuters driving home.

I was being paid, so this was work. I could be doing it every day, using the money to subsist and acquire some private capital. This could be my life, driving endless miles, ferrying people between medical facilities, hearing of private dramas and listening to songs of unrequited love and consumer possibilities. A waste of time? A waste of a life? Useful? Is the questioning a ridiculous arrogance?

I certainly got the feeling of human beings with a lot of high tech stuff which sometimes turns on them. Robots turning on people? If we haven’t quite reached that situation we’re heading there fast. Meanwhile, like pampered aristocrats, we become stupid.

Mission accomplished I had to fill up the vehicle… can I remember the password? It’s been months… Rejected. Try something else. Accepted. Relief. One to go. Filling in the timesheet. Password? I wrote it down somewhere. Where? Not this notebook. Guess. Whew. The robot accepted my answer. I drove home, cross eyed.

In the morning there were lots of birds dancing on the lawn.

At that moment, I preferred dinosaurs.

A modern day prophet

Bruce Stewart died last week. He’d been crook for a while. He built Tapu Te Ranga Marae, by himself, which is a little ridiculous, like a one man community centre. How did this come about? As Bruce told the story, he was brought up in a Pakeha/Maori family, living a mainly Pakeha lifestyle. As a young bloke, Bruce got into trouble and a bit of fraud landed him in jail. While inside, he began to study Maori culture, reading an article or two, perhaps something by John Rangihau, and decided that if you were Maori, you should live communally, practise manaakitanga, aroha etc. Better do it then, he decided. It’s always trouble when people take things literally – Riverside Community was created by young Methodists who decided to put Christ’s teachings into practice.

Anyway, Bruce got some land with an old house on it in Island Bay, founded a work scheme which took on young gang members, got a source of car cases from Todd Motors, accessed demolition timber and built his first whare. Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon became an ally – Muldoon had an empathy with the gangs. Bruce and the boys built a second house, and kept building. He forgot to get permits but was an amazing builder. He didn’t need a plan, just an idea in his head. These whare remain extraordinary structures and have become heritage listed buildings.Radio NZ2

Photo: Radio NZ

All this was taking place in a suburban street and when he started a landfill project as well, to bring in some money, he became ‘a problem neighbour’, as trucks loaded with clean fill climbed the narrow and steep street. Bruce’s energy was astonishing and now he had a story to tell, illustrated by these buildings. People came and went (he wore them out) and children arrived. Hui started to be held at the marae, which was still an aberration – this one man outfit – but there was an energy impossible to ignore. Neighbours started to complain and the council noted the lack of permits and threatened to close it down. Mayor Michael Fowler became an ally and it survived.

Another house was built and another, the last one a women’s house (another innovation) painted by Robyn Kahukiwa. It’s the most beautiful whare of all. Strays and waifs turned up and received shelter, a kohanga reo was established, he wrote some stories and some plays and the Maori Writers and Artists held hui there. The Greenies got interested in his gardens and became allies. The stories grew and the story telling. He got on the wrong side of the bureaucrats occasionally and there would be talk of dodgy accounting, but he always survived. He lost land and then the Sisters of Compassion donated some.

The marae was well used by now, a convenient place for corporations and government departments to fulfil their treaty obligations. It was in the city and freer of protocol demands. Schoolkids loved the place and he enjoyed telling his stories to children and to people from overseas.

He played the Te Whiti character for me in Ngati Pakeha, performing on stage rather than in real life and we rehearsed at the marae. His Waikato whanau were involved and a little uncomfortable – it was, after all, a strange place culturally for the traditional person. At one stage, Bruce called together a marae committee, but we never got any information at meetings. Bruce was a one man band, a patriarch of the old sort, guided by his personal vision.

Bruce - stuff

Photo- stuff.co.nz

Eventually this became a flaw. As his body began to seize up from the hard physical labour, he was still incapable of handing over any control. The last time I was there, ten years ago, when I was doing the Rachel Corrie play at BATS, I stayed at Tapu Te Ranga and we rehearsed in the women’s whare. By then the marae was feeling a little empty and Bruce seemed a bit lonely and isolated. As I wandered around the grounds I could imagine a housing co-operative on the land down below; young Maori families wanting a house in an increasingly expensive city creating an eco village, a papakainga, with the marae as its centre; communal gardens – it could be amazing.

I wonder what will happen. At the moment the marae is closed because of earthquake and fire regulations. Meanwhile there is the story of the man who had a vision and built a marae of great beauty, overcoming all odds. His final struggle – getting the bureaucrats to let his whanau bury him on the marae. I hear today that he’s won that battle.

Rest in peace, brother.

Matariki

On the whole it’s been a good week. I ran a hangi for the first time – for the school – using a multi kai cooker. A hangi is quite an event. The farmers were particularly generous with food donations; then a group of very efficient women plus the senior students did the food prep in the Working Men’s Club. I loaded the baskets and took them to the school, stacked them into the cooker and tended it for the seven hours required – the appalling thought in the back of my mind of it not cooking properly and facing 150 disappointed people. Late in the afternoon we placed a plaque for Vicky’s tree in a simple service, before returning and nervously lifting the hangi. Luckily it was cooked through – delicious in fact. Beforehand, adults and children had played ball or sat around chatting. A community had formed around the event. The occasion was Matariki, another cultural gift from the tangatawhenua that Pakeha are beginning to appreciate.

Then onto reroofing the house. Mike, his dad, Dave, Eden the apprentice, Darryn the plasterer but adept at all trades, arrived – as well as myself. It was a bit like a Medieval guild at work, a mix of expertise and labourers, chains of command organically forming as the 100 year old roof was levered off and a much thinner, new one installed in its place. The old iron was thick and coated with coal tar, but obviously wood was in short supply when the house was built, for the purloins were an assortment of scraps. No building paper, but it had lasted 100 years and seen out a major earthquake.

As the process unfolded, I realised again how immensely skilled these blokes are. Mike solves with ease the insoluble problems often posed by these jerry built cottages. It reminded me of Sartre’s description of the working class: their freedom is based on their ability to change the physical world; their oppression lies in the fact that they don’t own the physical world. Not so in this case, which was a beautiful mix of skill and comradeship.

In the midst of this, the local reporter rang. She’d discovered a Coast Job Vacancy posted by the Ministry of Social Development. The position involved running the front of house (including the cleaning), for a motel. The applicant was required to have a degree in hospitality, at least two years experience and the ability to speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Wage? $16.20 an hour. We were both gob-smacked. And tourism is supposedly the answer for the Coast economy?

Finally there was a band at the Hilton on Saturday night. I took down a Cuban cigar, a gift from the ambassador and we passed it around like a joint, sharing puffs of solidarity.

Winter

Matariki approaches. Often dawn will be mellow but then the mist rolls in. The sun is not powerful enough to dissolve the moisture and dankness prevails. The chatter of the world seems remote. The exotic trees lose their leaves, the hens have stopped laying and the cat seems to be hibernating. One of the elderly men of the village died on Friday night. But the kereru remain, perched watchfully on the power lines. This is unusual.

At this time of the year it is best to imitate the animals and the birds. The dogs continue their routines, even swimming in the pond. Two hares on the bottom field scamper across the grass. It being the shooting season, a large contingent of Paradise Ducks have taken up residence. Amazing how they know. Whenever we arrive they circle noisily. I begin to detect different patterns in their honking. Perhaps they have speech. Flight or fight?

I tried to talk to a troubled lad. What do you want to do job wise? Shrug. No idea? Shrug. A boy without boundaries, the world bleeding in, a boy bleeding into the world. What’s power? I ask him. Money. Have you got any? Shrug. How will you get some? Shrug. Where do you belong? I don’t belong anywhere. How’s that feel? Shrug. He’s waiting for a uniform and a strong leader.

Whereas nature is certain. The seed tries to grow, no matter what soil it lands on. If it takes root it seeks the light. The hares will eat and reproduce and run from danger. The ducks will circulate to warn of invaders. The natural world doesn’t shrug.

Caroline has acquired a new knee – the tips of the bones replaced with Titanium. Extraordinarily clever. Once she would have had to be left behind. That’s the upside of modernity.

Last night we gathered around a bonfire. Once we would have had to carry the flame from place to place, with someone’s role to be the guardian of the fire. If he failed he would’ve been severely punished, even killed. For the clan would have to wait for lightning to strike.

Another leaf falls. The remaining apples have rotted on the branch. The soil rests, closed. An absolute stillness prevails.

Another few days and the cycle of regeneration begins. A hangi is planned and we will place a plaque in front of Vicky’s tree.

P1060286

A new ritual for the village will have been established.

The coming election – the real issue

NZEI meeting

Kate Fulton (Green Party), Michelle Lomax and Damien O’Connor (Labour) – photo Rory Paterson.

I attended the first candidates’ meeting, called by the local branch of the NZEI – the primary and preschool teachers and support staff union. The candidates were asked to present their relevant policy, followed by discussion. Only Labour and Greens were able or willing to attend, which made for a focused event.

Both parties have been listening to NZEI and they both promise a funding boost, are both against charter schools, are both keen to see support staff properly recompensed, are wary of the Community of Learning model (COLS), which could turn into managerial rather than board of trustee governance at the local level and were suspicious of COOLS (Communities Of Online Learning) as being a way of undermining the teaching profession. I would be paranoid about a Ministry that comes up with such dumb acronyms. Damien O’Connor, sharing that paranoia, saw National as being determined to break down the solidarity of the teachers union.

In the discussion, the teachers yearned for greater autonomy for schools to deal with the issues they are facing, rather than having to jump through the myriad hoops held up by agencies supposedly there to help. Often these agencies will simply restate what is obvious to the teachers, offer no solutions and instead make for further form filling for already hard-pressed teachers. They wanted smaller class sizes for obvious reasons. There were reports of having to deal with ever increasing numbers of special needs children and families in crisis – caused by increasing identification of special needs but also caused by poverty. Homelessness is not an issue on the Coast, but the meeting had to consider how a teacher deals with a student who has spent the night in a car.

As the discussion continued, I realised that what educators are faced with, and what we are more generally faced with, are the results of the ideology of managerialism (the organisational model of neo-liberalism) being applied to the education system. It has been similarly applied to health and social services, including housing.

Managerialism was first practised by Nissan Car Manufacturing (it is sometimes called the Nissan Method) and involves stressing the production line (in car assembling that involves speeding up the line – that way you get greater output) until it breaks down. When it does so, you apply some further resources at that spot. It also involves just in time resourcing rather than having to warehouse raw materials. The focus is on outputs (that’s where you get your money and earn your profits) rather than inputs. In manufacturing it increases efficiency and therefore profit. Workers are stressed but expendable. The whole system runs on anxiety and greed.

When applied to education, health and social services, it sets up intolerable tensions. In the past, these systems have focused on inputs: What do you give a student? What does a family require? What makes for health? But suddenly it is about the numbers achieving a national standard, the number of operations, social housing as a precise output, number of social work cases processed…

In education, teachers and parents have resisted the methodology, but nevertheless, the attempts to impose it continue and produce stresses which can overwhelm – someone told me that at the moment, two principals resign every week. National Standards (measurable outputs), Charter Schools (let education become a market), under resourcing, imposing a managerial model, performance pay, bulk funding have all been imposed or attempted to be imposed by National. Mangerialism has now penetrated all areas of society as an ideology, including government departments. It has become the only game in town.

Of course, some technical adjustments within managerialism are useful, but the real issue is to get rid of the ideology and that now requires a revolution. Only when that revolution is proposed do people become energised electorally.

So far, that’s not happening and the election, while still important, is promising to be a relatively dull affair.

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