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.

Congratulations, Theo Spierings


We read the statistics regarding child poverty: 1 in 4, 300,000, that sort of thing, but what does it mean – even for those who aren’t going to school hungry or living in cars? What does it mean to be seriously under-resourced and stressed and how does it happen?

A relationship doesn’t work out. Immediately the formulas kick in: one for the DPB, another for the accommodation supplement, another for child care, another for child support – this one ensuring a toxic relationship continues into bitterness and often a desire for revenge. When circumstances change, the formulas have to be renegotiated and there is always a time lag. With the increase in precarious work this becomes a constant, daily battle. This is compounded if there is a major expense or a normal life crisis: a rotten tooth,  the death of a family member or something wrong with the car. There’s pressure to work, but will that work coincide with school hours and school holidays or does after school care need to be found?

These are still young people who need some social life. If families are not there or unsupportive, baby sitters have to be found, and paid. Otherwise, there is no respite from the 24/7 of providing for the needs of children. And children get sick and children get careless. It is reasonable to occasionally wish they had never happened and regret that the best portion of an adult life is lived in relative misery. Of course, love wins out, but occasionally the resentment must be felt, plus the accompanying guilt. Meanwhile, the battle with the bureaucracies continues. With the increasing ease of ‘dobbing in’ the Ministry for Vulnerable Children might start sniffing around – the Ministry is largely a surveillance agency based on hypocrisy: how can a state that creates vulnerable children rescue them? A job opportunity which might provide some satisfaction means you’re not home at 3pm. The child care occasionally breaks down and the kids are left alone. Meanwhile, in the talk back ear, you’re a bludger, a burden on the taxpayer and in need of micro managing by the state.

It’s a situation where having children is damaging to all involved. Of course, that’s what they want. In the old days, the mother had to adopt. Nowadays you suffer differently, but the intent of the suffering is the same: Take that, you slut. And when people are under-resourced and subject to social revenge, there are under-resourced children who don’t cope with the stresses of adolescence. Living in poverty means the random wash of the digital world is attractive and addictive. The cycle begins again.

And meanwhile the CEO for Fonterra, Theo Spierings, gets $8 million annually. It is not questioned. There is no surveillance involved.

In the wider view, this is about the working class being reproduced as cheaply as possible. And in this case it is providing the bulk of the disposable workers for the precarious occupations. Of course it’s not as bad as the Filipino women leaving their children at home to serve the wealthy matrons in Dubai or London or Rome or New York, but it is the same pattern.

Unfortunately, a change of neo-liberal management, even a resolutely positive one, is not going to fix this issue. It requires a revolution.

In another  space, this is interesting:

Green dilemmas

The Greens have the aim of becoming more than a minor party stuck at around 10% of the party vote. In order to do so they have to become more of a broad church, covering a number of tendencies. Occasionally they have the dream of supplanting the Labour Party which, as the working class becomes fragmented consumers or clusters of identities (women, Maori, PI, Gay, Lesbian…), can seem nostalgic. For the Greens encompass social justice issues –  have workplace and social policy that is progressive – as well as being focused on the environmental issues that resonate with younger generations. They also see the possibility of growing their Maori vote, their role seamlessly linking  with the concept of kaitiakitanga.

Yet growing the vote proves a stubbornly difficult task. What are the problems? The first is a cultural one. Typically, Green party members will be middle class pakeha (with more than a smattering of Europeans, Brits and Americans), politically correct, healthy out door recreationalists, well-travelled, vegetarian, versed in conflict resolution, smile a lot and have a PhD. There’s nothing wrong with any of the above, and perhaps everyone should be like that, but somehow there are a lot of people who aren’t. They didn’t get their PhD, they work with their hands, they can have strange beliefs, they eat meat, go in for chemical abuse, get angry and sad and sometimes obese, stuff up, have arguments, blow the budget, watch crap on television, scowl and curse, drive diggers and dump trucks and deliver the junk mail, and find transgender a difficult concept. It’s not easy to get them to the Green church because they’re not going to feel comfortable. And like any church community, the Greens are capable of closing ranks and intuitively promoting their own kind.

The second issue is the default position of most Greens and the public perception that results. Green = environmentalist = jumping up and down over proposals for development, whether it be buildings or mines or factories. A miner once said to me, You can’t do anything without digging a hole. The perception becomes that whenever anyone wants to dig a hole, or build a building, the Greens will start jumping up and down. This widens to forestry, farming and fishing – there’s always an environmental impact. Of course this perception of the Greens as anti everything that provides a living is not true, for what they are advocating Is sustainable production. But with that concept, the issues are even more difficult (and the PhD starts to become useful). Will a sustainable economy produce enough food for the present level of population? Will the same number of jobs be available? At what rate of pay? Who funds the transition? Is this transition possible under a capitalist regime?

Probably a revolution is required, rather than a reform of the system. Yet the Greens want a broad appeal. The result is the mystification that religion produces: a wished for world which can only be achieved in the after life. Meanwhile, in the real world, the congregation continue to worship the ideal and do some good works. This position is not easily shared, requiring moments of revelation to energise it.

The third issue stems from playing the modern parliamentary political games: of branding, identification of voters as consumers- of politics as marketing, which doesn’t sit well with the Greens. It doesn’t sit well with Labour either. It’s politics as commodity rather than process or praxis, but the only game in town. It produces the false smile and leads to disenchantment. The people at the bottom know about disenchantment and they don’t want any more.

At the same time, disenchantment of gigantic proportions looms in the form of climate change and species loss. We are burning up, flooding up, freezing up, cycloning up at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is still working, or being rapidly repaired, so the same old shit continues. 21st century capitalism seems to be able to cope with extraordinary stresses – so far. And the Greens oscillate between trying to resolve conflict with a smile and playing a Cassandra role by issuing dire warnings. The prophetic role has the energy, yet is a marginal one.

Are there any solutions to the above problems? It is essential to attract a broader range of the community and to adjust the culture accordingly. And then what? What do party members do? Any political party has an inevitable hierarchy and a sado- masochism that accompanies this: the leaders pleading for money and voluntary labour (pleasure and pain) and the members giving money and voluntary labour (pleasure and pain) – the goal the orgasm of power (and often a melancholic aftermath). This is not a comfortable fit either, even though the Greens pride themselves on their democratic processes (processes which generate a reasonably dense bureaucracy).

It’s possible that a healthy parliamentary party is actually impossible. Yet the current mess in the US points to the need to maintain something resembling functional representation.

Saturday in Blackball

I had to go to Reefton in the morning for St Johns training – always a bit of a boor, but necessary. It was still raining, with lightning and thunder – odd how we usually put it the other way around. On the way there, Denise talked about her deaf son.  With cochlea implants, the deaf are disappearing, but her boy prefers to be deaf – to the world. When they switched on his implant he ripped it out.

The biscuits at Reefton were sweet, with one pack of those savoury nibbles that reek of chemicals. Over an early breakfast I had watched via democracynow an interview with Shailene Woodley. She’s a young Hollywood actress turned Sanders’ activist. She had two interesting concepts: one was the existence of ‘food deserts’ in the city – low income areas with no access to good food; the other a new sort of escapist art – those works that ‘escape’ into hope. It is good to learn from the young.

In the evening the Working Men’s Club held its annual murder mystery pot luck dinner. I talked to Gary, brought up in Blackball, now a successful Wellingtonian. Fifty years ago, when the mine closed, he was transferred from Blackball Post Office to Upper Hutt. He caught the bus to Stillwater, the railcar to Christchurch, the DC3 plane to Wellington and finally, the train to Upper Hutt. This November he’s going to do the trip again, as a commemorative journey.

Before we ate, Jeremy said grace, a new thing for the Club; Tina had decided I suspect. She’s going to a whanau reunion in October. The table of kids was a lovely image – faces still intense with possibility. The murder mystery was as silly as ever, but it’s good to laugh with people who have become family, one having slowly earned the unconditional acceptance that family offers.

From there to the Hilton where a singer was featuring, one of those people wandering the country playing gigs for food and bed, like medieval troubadours. He didn’t have a great sound system so I couldn’t really hear, but it didn’t matter, singing was taking place and that created an atmosphere.  Some of the Greymouth and Coast Road ‘hippies’ had come, to make for a bohemian sort of crowd.

Mike the builder in his Lenin cap talked about how he and Tiger the scaffolder want to mount a GST strike. Why should we collect money for the government? From people who can’t afford it? I suggested he link the protest to a demand for a financial transaction tax. Sarah passed by and I wondered if she would stand for council, but the thought of trying to do business with those men made her nauseous. Somehow we began to talk of feminism and capitalism.  I put forward the view that women politicians and executives seemed to exhibit the very same behaviour as men in those positions. For Sarah that was because capitalism had been created by men. ‘But it is not necessarily, as a system, patriarchal or homophobic or racist,’ I said. ‘Because it has been created by men, women imitate men when they get into power,’ she replied. I started to talk about the gender-lost boys teachers are coming across at primary school. ‘They’re in transition,’ Sarah maintained. ‘Women can wear trousers without feeling confused. Can boys wear skirts?’

But is that the real point? I’d recently been through a round of peer reviewing of an article I had written for an American theatre magazine and had to ponder anew Jerzy Grotowski’s notion of ‘the collective complexes of society, the core of the collective subconscious or perhaps super-conscious (it doesn’t matter what we call it), the myths which are not an invention of the mind, but are, so to speak, inherited through one’s blood, religion, culture and climate.’  According to Grotowski, these ‘representations collectives’ may be religious myths, biological myths or national myths which are difficult to break down into formulas but which ‘we feel in our blood’ when we read certain works. The task is to confront them with the modern experience.

What are these representations collectives for us males? Have we forgotten them? Have they been turned into video games?

Yesterday I had e-mailed support for Fiona in her fight to get a kid’s house for Stand in a Paraparaumu subdivision. Not in our backyard, some of the residents were saying in court, hiding their classism and racism behind the excuse that it constituted a commercial use. Healing kids is a commercial activity?

It had stopped raining so I wandered home to watch the end of the rugby.  A group of teenagers passed, on a mission of some sort and we muttered hello. What I like about village life is the rhythm; there are still gaps between things. You can still see events unfolding, for they haven’t been prepared to the nth degree. Someone will eventually appear in the empty street. Who are they? What are they doing? Not a paranoid response, but an inquisitive one.  And as they get closer the answer appears in the form of a brief dialogue.

The shadow hovering over the day had been the dreadful event in Nice, the level of alienation that lay behind it, and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to healing that alienation.

Perhaps, as Shailene Woodley said, ‘It is necessary to escape into hope.’

Becoming Teflon John

They say about John Key that nothing sticks, and he looks set to become a long serving prime minister, with the opposition unable to damage his standing, or find the wedge that splits open the political middle ground.

The biography on Key produced before the last election was an informative read. We know the basic story: single Mum working at nights, state house, mediocre school student with the ambition to be prime minister, wanting to study economics but Mum saying accountancy was a better option career-wise; and the young graduate, who can’t remember noticing that great ethical battleground, the 1981 Springbok Tour, then seeing a TV documentary on currency trading and saying to himself, That’s what I want to do.

So, what does a currency trader do? The Foreign Exchange market (FX for short) exists ‘to facilitate the exchange of one currency for another’. [1] It’s necessary for multinational companies ‘who need to pay wages in different countries, buy and sell between countries and for mergers and acquisitions.’ It also means we can go on holidays in different climes and change our money at the airport. But this practical use is only 20% of the market volume. The other 80% of trading is speculative, to put it bluntly, gambling by large financial institutions and wealthy individuals, ‘who want to express an opinion on the economic and geopolitical events of the day.’ Right now, they might want to hasten the downfall of Venezuela for instance, or influence the UK referendum on whether to belong or not to the European Union.

All currency trades exist simply as computer entries. Trading involves betting one currency against another. If I think the NZ dollar will increase in value against the Aussie dollar I buy NZ dollars with Aussie dollars and after 24 hours, during which I hope the rate will have increased, I buy Aussie dollars with my NZ dollars. If the rate has increased by 1 cent in the dollar and I have risked 1 million dollars I’ve made 10,000 in a day. You can also put a forward date on the transaction, say a month’s time. If in the meantime, an election is occurring, or a budget, that would up the stakes.

Currency traders play middle men, buying the million kiwi dollars at a rate acceptable to the seller and then, in turn, buying the Aussie dollars. If there’s a differential of .2 cents, they’ve still made a couple of thousand. They’ll win some and lose some, but over a week, they’ll be wanting to make a profit. Of course, there’s research to help: past movements of the currencies and ‘fundamentals’ to take note of, namely ‘the likely effect of economic, social and political events on currency prices’.  It’s a risky business but huge gains are possible. George Soros reputedly made a billion dollars in one day. There are no rules or regulations and it is the largest financial market on earth, 3.2 trillion dollars being exchanged daily. It’s a global poker game for the wealthy.

John was good at it. Like a poker player you’d have to have confidence, an ability to read the opponent and ways of coping with stress.  Some dealers, in order to relax, opt for the high life: sniffing cocaine and taking a call girl to Acapulco for the weekend; but John married his childhood sweetheart, had a couple of kids and saved his money until he had a nest egg which would see him through.

Now for his boyhood ambition, to be PM. He’d been at the heart of the beast, accepted that that’s how the world works (a poker game for the rich) – of course, there’s other stuff going on, droughts, plagues, wars, Springbok Tours, poverty, but they’re not really important, other than their effect on currencies. I mean, don’t sweat them. When you get to be PM, watch out for the fundamentals and past movements. There’ll be colleagues who get tempted by the high life, just rein them in or get rid of them. It’s sort of fun being with celebs and being one. The opposition’s stuck in some time warp worrying about injustice and beggars and people sleeping in cars and stuff, but it’s not actually relevant – the FX is where it’s happening and people know that. Life’s a poker game, a celeb game, everyone wants to be wealthy enough to not have to worry. And they’re all waiting for the chance, waiting for the button to push. Apartheid went away didn’t it? Making a song and dance didn’t do much. The exchange rate did them in. The wealthy said, Whoa boys, it’s not working any longer. So stop the ethical sweating. It’s a waste of energy.

Of course, as PM you have to take notice of what people are thinking. For that, you’ve got the polling. If they’re really against something, got some bee in their bonnet, well, don’t do it. Doesn’t matter. Win some, lose some. Don’t get into a sweat at the occasional loss. Just keep on eye on the fundamentals. And know that incremental change is worthwhile – the FX operates to the fourth decimal point.

And everyone agrees, really. Is Labour against the FX? Nah. The Greens? Nah. So what are they on about? Trying to sweat the little stuff – workplace laws, environment – stuff like that. Of course, as you move around you do see some shit that makes you think. Syria, ISIS, people who’ve lost the plot, gone sort of primitive, dog eat dog, blood and guts. What war must have been like. Before drones. But the FX’ll sort it out. I mean, it’s dog eat dog, but doesn’t involve fists or rocket launchers. It’s civilised. The only problem is if someone starts attacking that. This Sanders bloke is a bit of a worry, but he’ll go away. Thank God we haven’t got anyone like him in this country.

Right, got to get on the plane again. My daughter’s got a graduation in Paris. Better head off for the weekend. You know, if you’re really smart, you can create a bit of a dynasty. Not bad for a kid from a state house.


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