Club Politique by Che Tibby


If there's one interweb thing that really grinds my gears it's idiots with too much time on their hands. I say this because I just had my first day attending a course on e-Government. It's pretty interesting overall, and has already dramatically expanded my understanding of how, why and when 'the gubbermint' has been working in the e-space to improve both its own services and the use of the information superhighway nationally.

I think if you're interested in how this stuff is developing you'll want to click on over to the two main places for checking things out, The Digital Strategy, and e-Government. There's a wealth of information and knowledge in there that will doubtless take up loads of your time.

But beware, if you're outside of government this is something for people with too much time on their hands (or a direct interest in the interweb). The course itself hasn't actually talked yet about what I'm about to go into, but I thought I'd vent it a little before I end up berating a bunch of perfectly nice people because I haven't talked the issues through in my head...

I find the issue of e-governance interesting because it seems to be a common misunderstanding that the interweb will somehow bring governance closer to 'the people'. It bugs me because there's this myth that just because 'the people' decide something that it must necessarily be 'good'. But this is simply not the case.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of democracy. Yay democracy! What I struggle with though is the limitations on democracy too much participation can give. And the interweb is one of those places where too much participation is easily evident.

I know you've all heard this one before. The great, and awful, thing about the interweb is that it allows access to information on a scale unparalleled in human history. You can find out all kinds of crap about all kinds of things at the simple click of a button. Never before has so much stuff been floating around free to everyone. And because of that the old doyens of knowledge, they old guardians of 'the truth' have become redundant in many instances. Simple example, wikipedia versus encyclopaedia. No competition.

But, some information on wikipedia is simply rubbish. And who vets that information? Who controls what becomes 'the truth'? Obviously, we do. But the recent kerfuffle around Helen Clark's wiki shows that sometimes this open system can let us all down. And why? Because people naturally disagree when you introduce politics.

If there had been a gatekeeper of some sort, a gatekeeper that kept away hearsay and/or opinion, then the Clark wiki would have simply represented current facts. But then that runs counter to the spirit of wikipedia. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this particular Catch-22.

So how does all this tie to the issue of governance? Not everyone has the time or inclination to fully participate in government. You can open government up and welcome contributions from all and sundry, but someone still has to sift all those opinions into coherent order and make decisions about how and when things happen. If you didn't you would end up with anarchy. And sure, anarchy is preferable for some people. But... sometimes order is a good thing.

In a way, experts and gatekeepers play a really important role in democracy. They prevent competing issues from becoming too unwieldy, and give shape and purpose to governance. Without them you run the risk of government losing focus.

What I think I'm trying to say is that hive minds like the interweb are all good and well, but there has to be at least a little control over the information and opinion that hive mind produces. Not total control, and not restrictive control, but 'centres' for the information to form around. Without that, you end up with information for information's sake.

Another issue is the sheer quantity of the information available. Who has time to voluntarily sit around and sift through the mountains of crap we can access these days? More often than not I find myself turning to a few trusted sources of information. Ones that can take all that 'stuff' out there and represent it in a useful form. In other words, gatekeepers.

And why I rely on trusted sources? Because as the comment functions on blogs both left and right show, there are a whole lot of unreasonable nutters out there willing to go ballistic on every subject under the sun. Sure, I would welcome their contributions to governance, but the very, very last thing I want to do is give these people any kind of power over decisions that effect me. Thing is, it's these people who would have the time on their hands to get involved in some fictional e-participatory democracy, while the rest of us just get on with the job of making money to pay the bills (and watching total shit like NZ Idol. Guys, give it up. Bad performances, lame stars. And then there's the singers...)

Ahhhh.... I feel better. Always glad to get these things off one's chest.


It's one of the strange things about being a Kiwi, that feeling that there's something desirable hiding just beyond the horizon. If you're like me you probably moved around a fair bit when you were a child, even if it's only within the the same town or city, and it imparts something to a child that you never really appreciate if your parents were more sedentary.

I've sometimes thought of it as a restlessness, but I think the word doesn't really do justice to the feeling that any one place can never afford you all the things you need. I always think of restlessness as that feeling you get waiting for the ads to finish. What I'm thinking of runs deeper than that though. It's almost like an anxiety bridging where you are, and where you think you should be, or where you should belong. Maybe the Germans have a word for it.

Anyway, the feeling is something that drove me for many years, as I'm sure it does others.

Waitaminute, could I just pause this blog for a sec to say that Tapes and Tapes, 'The Loon' might be the best new album I've heard in ages? I've been playing it all week and can't stop listening to it. I'm kind of addicted to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but this...

OK, carry on.

The kind of restlessness I'm talking about is almost like a hunger. A hunger for change, one that spurns continuity and fosters feelings of boredom when the lustre of something, anything begins to fade.

In my own case I know that I began to experience ennui (is that the right word?) in my teens. I was too big for the Mount and I knew it. I had travelled with my parents when I was young, and the bigness of the world was only reinforced by reading and TV. I committed myself to never being the one who settles and breeds immediately after school.

Maybe the word is ennui, but without any undertone of sadness? Rather with undertone of curiosity? Or ambition? Whatever. The fact is I know that a great many Kiwi's feel the same thing. Why else would we constantly pack up and roam the world?

It drove me to hitch across much of New Zealand, even when it meant I had to sleep in ditches, under trees, in flax bushes. It drew me to deep deserts and exotic beaches. And truth be told, were my circumstance a little different I'd still wander. Or maybe it's just the gradually ripening age talking. There comes a time when sleeping in bed-bug ridden dives just gets a little too much. That and the bald fact that there is nothing sadder than an old dude still hanging out with and trying to pull backpacking 21 year olds.

While the fever had me though, there was little ball of energy within me that could only be satisfied by what I can now call with only the slightest hint of cheesiness, 'the open road'. I never fancied myself a Kerouac, but the guy kind of had the right idea with that 'pack up and piss off' attitude. It's a feverish momentum of sorts. You become driven by the satisfaction of finding yourself in new places and among new people. Obsessed with wandering across open spaces, the world unfolding itself beneath your feet. All the time driven by that little engine of energy.

Sure it's never easy. Sometimes you find yourself sleeping on a couch for weeks at a time eating only microwave burritos while you look for work. Sometimes you end up working as a gardener or dishwasher. Sometimes you don't work at all and have to stow away on the Overlander, moving every half hour to avoid some grumpy conductor who doesn't like pesky hippies smoking pot on his train and not stopping some bogan stealing clothes out of people luggage. Not that I ever did that though.

It's a beautiful thing though that restlessness. You can end up 35 with virtually no flashy assets but not give a shit. And why? Because there's all those things in you that sit atop that ball of energy and soothe it daily. They drape themselves about it and muffle it's demands. They provide you with endless bullshit stories to share with workmates, family and strangers.

So I salute you all you restless bastards. Let's hear it for all those Kiwi's out there dragging there sorry carcasses into every watering hole from here to Aberdeen. All those Kiwi's making brash statements to brash people and wry jokes about dickheads.

So to you, "Wicked".

Clod Stompers

I saw that Graham was trying to sell his car recently. I dunno how he went with that, but I'm thinking that for anyone wanting to sell in future that you should adopt my approach. I recently sold a clapped out old Honda Civic for $250, and couldn't believe that some guy of 'Middle-Eastern Appearance' wanted to pay for it. Note to self, always advertise car as an 'old bomb'.

[ drops......]

Hey, look, if you can't make racist jokes in the age of terrorism, the bastards have already won.

On a more serious note though, I have been thinking a bit about why people are placing so much emphasis on this epic cultural divide between 'Islam' and everyone else. The obvious source of the difference is the misperception of how Islam differs from Christianity, or Judaism for that matter, and the rapidly accumulating assumption that this difference is somehow divinely manifest. You know, 'we have to fight them because it's what God wants'.

There's a bunch of books out there on this subject already, and I'm not sure I can add anything in 800-odd words of blog, except to say that there's more to this than just a mythic 'clash of civilisations'. In car terms, blaming current events on this clash is equal to having a mechanic tell you, "she's stuffed mate". At which point your question should always be a 'please explain', because the devil is in the detail, and you'll be paying out the nose.

A favourite justification for why we can't get along with Islam is the tag line, "medieval culture". Usually it goes, "they'll never really embrace democracy or understand how we're trying to help them because of their medieval culture". And there's an exact point to issue that please explain.

I've discovered that what that usually means is, "I've seen some Araby looking guys on TV, and they were living in mud huts somewhere and yelling a lot so they must be backwards and shit in buckets or something". That or, "I've heard they cut the hands of people for stealing, I saw that on some Tony Curtis movie about Ali Baba from the 1950s and their women all wear turbans and aren't allowed to drive cars. Except for that one I saw on the news driving a car. That must have been a Westernised one. Yeah. Westernised."

I wish that I knew enough about the Kingitanga to fully explain to you the significance of what we have seen opening up to us over the last week. I wish that because these are the exact same people declared to be 'rebels' by settlers envying the most important resource of the day, land. The exact same people labelled 'stone age' by detractors, and treated brutally with that epithet as a justification. The exact same people who thought public executions and floggings were the act of savages. My how times have changed.

Muslims are undergoing the exact same type of demonisation. The deriding of their nations based on extremely superficial, TV-based perceptions. Except we didn't have TV in the 1860s. But you get the idea.

The rights of women or the persecution of minorities like gay men are another example. Commentators in 'the West' make a brief comparison between any Western city and the entire Muslim world and conclude that "we're better because of [insert irrelevant variable here]". This is then used as a justification for some tragedy. It is an old, old pattern.

To highlight why this is such a travesty I'd like to use the example of 'material' and 'social' technology. What material technology is should be be obvious. Phones, modern cars, any number of objects. They're easy to adapt to any culture. They're portable, and a commodity. Material technology also carries cultural components, but generally it's modular in the sense that it can fit just about any language, race, religion.

'Social' technology differs though. It's the kind of stuff that you have to buy into to accept. I think you could also call them 'social norms', in the sense that they're an agreed way of doing or acting in a society. Traffic lights. Who says you have to stop at traffic lights? You stop at lights because there is an agreement that you do so (and it's backed up in a law somewhere). There is no other reason to stop at lights.

But some social technology is so new that not everyone in our society agrees with it yet. Gay rights for example. Highly contentious. The place of women in our society is still being debated. I'm starting to get sick of dragging this one out every few months, but only 30 years ago it was largely socially acceptable to slap the missus around. Our society has moved on though and while it happens, no one with any credibly thinks it's OK to do that any more.

So if these social technologies are so new to our society, why are we assuming that every Muslim nation in the world should automatically adopt them? That's a bit rich isn't it? Demonising entire peoples with thousand-year histories, the people who built street lighting and discussed the Greek philosophers while Westerners shit in the street in villages like London, just because we need to justify our own assumed superiority? To justify our own strategic objectives?

Soothing [Gin and] Tonic

This blog was always going to go one of two ways. I could either talk about the recent hoopla in England, or talk about the dangers of hitch-hiking. The first plan was to toss a coin and see how I'd go, but then I thought I wasn't going to let some pesky random chance like the rolling of a dice decide my fate for me. We get to make choices in democracies, and damn it, I'm exercising my right to say, "No!".

Good ol' Angry Islam. You just can't shake those buggers can you? Doubtless the powers that be will be denying any link between British Middle-East policies and these angry young men, but hey, a scratched record is just a lazy man's communications plan. At first I was suspicious the whole she-bang amounted to a marketing plan by Coke, you know, to force people to have to drink only their products on planes, but then realised that was just a random and paranoid delusion.

In the end I just settled on being satisfied in labelling 'munters' all the chickhawk types running around with the waving of the arms. What the weekend has established again is that we in fact have less to fear these days that we did in the time before 911. Why? Because back then no-one listened to the spooks. It's well-established that 911 occurred because the threat was not taken seriously. These days though? You can guarantee that any angry young man who decides to strike a blow against the people demolishing Iraq and Lebanon will be arrested and likely locked up.

The upshot? Less fear, more trust in the security guys. You know, the guys paid to be paranoid.

Meanwhile, we get interesting little stories in the papers like this one, which claims that Bush gave the green light to the Israelis several months ago. Why? As a practice round for knocking out Iran's nukes. Ever think that we should maybe have someone watching this guy as well? Previous reports have Bush giving the go-ahead only after the IDF was already in action. I think there's likely more to this story than you'd expect.

Closer to home and with our own concerns, I know that right-wingers and chickenhawks like to take the piss out of 'lefties' and 'socialists' because of the preoccupation with 'root causes', and to be honest that one kinds of pisses me off too. Not as much as the constant carping about 'socialists', mind you. Guys, no-one has taken socialism seriously for decades... And 'root causes' tends to overlook that much conflict is very much rooted in the here and now.

There is no root cause for a pissed off youngster who sees an injustice occurring and has no way to express their anger. Injustice such as the levelling of Falluja under the cover of the Olympic Games. These people just see that their voices are ignored and they become increasingly disenfranchised. Of course, this leaves open the question of why they chose violence, but that's another matter. Most of of the hundreds of thousands ignored before the great search for WMDs in Iraq haven't taken up weapons. Maybe there's more to it then. Maybe being called a 'Paki' and disparaged by every white-trash cock in England could be a reason for it?

Who knows. Whatever the reason, they shouldn't be resorting to finding extremely inventive ways of blowing people up.

It does make me wonder though. Is there a terrorist think-tank somewhere?

Abdullah: We need a new angle... You know, something that just says.. "wow, those terrorist guys really mean business!"

Saddam: Yeah, I'd like to be able to show the boss something that'll really turn some heads you know, but... I'm just not feeling inspired.

Abdullah: [Sigh...] Yeah... When I signed up to this Jihad thing, I thought there would be more travel, you know? And more chicks.

Saddam: What about that trip to the fatherland in August?

Abdullah: Oh, too hot you know, I get thirsty just thinking about it. Pass me that water-bottle will you?

Saddam: Waitaminute....

It's a good thing we don't have to worry about these guys. Big on ideas, poor on execution. Well, that was a bad pun, but you get the idea. Pity to have to screw travel up for years to come though. Which kinda makes me think they're onto a win-win situation for them. Plot works, big drama. Plot foiled, big drama.

Might be time to get the 'root cause' to finally make peace with it's neighbours.

PS. I am humbled in my piss-taking abilities. Hat tip to Grabthar's Hammer

Meditation on Freedom

This blog started out as a little rant about the events unfolding in the Middle East, but then I figured that life's too short to get wound up about things over which you have no control. As short as the life of a civilian in Lebanon that is. Ah well.

What really gets my goat is the faint air of threat surrounding this issue. A faint air that suggests it may widen into an actual inter-state conflict, instead of just a case of Israel pounding crap out of a neighbour. A neighbour apparently powerless to control a guerilla army on its territory. What we should all consider therefore is whether New Zealand should become involved in any such war.

The "hawks" among us, usually fat bastards who'd have trouble lifting a deep-fried Moro in anger, would doubtless have us enter such a fray on the side of the Americans and Israel. As I indicated way back in 2004, the enemy in this scenario is likely to be "Iran". In turn, our local peaceniks would likely oppose such a war and refuse to participate in what could be characterised as yet another war of aggression against "Islam".

Despite my ever-accreting belly and love for sitting on my ass pontificating, I'll not be siding with the Chickenhawks on this one (surprise surprise). But neither would I support the opposition. Frankly, and as I may well have stated before, all these overseas lunatics are as bad as each other.

Angry Islam has without doubt been picking fights with stupid Americans for a number of years, as you all well know, and kind of deserve to be given the wake-up slap. But on the other hand, these same stupid Americans have been doing their utmost, via a kind of ignorant, hypocritical arrogance we've come to know and love so well, to get themselves into grief with the kinds of people you just don't pick fights with.

Neither of these stereotyped groups deserves my support. Or yours for that matter.

Not that this stops the Chickenhawks. Good old Chickenhawks. Happy to see other people's people go get killed in a foreign war, unwilling to put their own expansive behinds on the line.

OK, enough condescension. Why do I think New Zealand should support neither side in this assumed future war? Because it will not be our fight. I know that there are voices claiming the 'War on Terror' to be a battle for 'freedom', and the protection of 'Our Way of Life', but this is simply bullshit.

Lebanon is not a battle to protect our way of life. If anything, the Lebanese demonstrated that they wanted our lifestyle. They wanted personal and political freedoms. They wanted to participate in democracy. Were the bombing and rockets to stop today, we have to assume that these desires would remain.

Naturally there are those that state that conflict in the Middle East effects us indirectly, via the price of crude oil for example. But why should we play that type of game? Look at recent advances in Brazil. They clearly show that petroleum is a necessity, it is not an absolute necessity. If anything, every Middle East crisis reminds us that this strategic competition is something we should seriously consider opting out of. I rather like the idea of guiltlessly driving a 4.1 litre V8.

And, if a Middle Eastern crisis widens into a war for control of the world's oil reserves, then I say we should not be part of that particular inhumanity. Any war to control oil is an unjust war. You want or need oil, then buy it. Too expensive? Find an alternative.

What it all boils down to is the simple decision whether to participate in someone else's war, or whether to tell both sides to duke it out without spilling the blood of New Zealand youths. Frankly, I think that the latter choice is the more rational, and the former a particular type of insanity only realised in the truly mentally impaired.

New Zealand has the freedom to make the choice not to participate in these conflicts. Not to spend our money and our children in a fight for a resource or ideal we can live without. I could not countenance sending someone else's children to die in a desert for nothing more than the desire to make friends with bullies and lunatics. I left Australia to escape that exact ignorance, and will not tolerate my nation making the same mistake.

We all need to seriously consider whether we are free to opt out of participation in unjust wars. We need to be prepared to oppose any voice within our nation that would have us spend lives fighting another people's fight. Think on it, and hope you never have to fight against the pressure to fight.