The politics of muck raking: Changing my allegiances [Part 1]

When I saw the release of Nicky Hagar’s email regarding dirty politics it reminded me very much of a couple of things when I was down in Christchurch running for ACT. The first one was an attempt to create a parody video of Helen Clarke by a neighbouring electorate candidate and personally I found the whole idea of creating the parody video as pretty damn immature and distracting from what should have been getting discussed. I wouldn’t put that on the same scale as Nicky’s book ‘Dirty Politics’ but it did give me an insight into how immature those involved with politics can be particularly when there are things of greater concern that should be getting discussed and way in which time is spent quite frankly was time wasting given that it should have been spent on pounding the pavements handing out leaflets (I did that around my own area – every house until I ran out of leaflets). The second one was the attempt to put information out there that, quite frankly, was incorrect – the claim by one National candidate that there had been no new schools in Christchurch have been opened whilst Labour were in power and if it weren’t for me pointing out the inaccuracy (given that I worked at the very non-existent new school that, according to him, was never built) it is almost an assurance it would have been left unchallenged and the public would have assumed what he said was correct.

I was never particularly into ACT in terms of the hardcore right but me joining was born more out of it ‘not being National’ (lack of thinkers in the party – there is a reason why the originators of ACT came out of Labour with only 1-2 of the first members being from National) rather than it being a situation of being boots and all into ACT policies (I ran as a candidate for ACT in the seat of Wigram in the 2008 election) such as mass privatisation of assets, flat taxes, education vouchers etc. and at the time I was a university student Sue Bradford was still heavily involved with the Green Party which made my skin crawl given her past behaviour. I didn’t join Labour because, well, I was an angry short sighted student pissed off that I wasn’t getting a tax cut whilst I ignored the fact that as a student I benefited from a student allowance and interest free student loan.

I felt like a fish out of water but what other choices did I have? I tried to reconcile my socially liberal views with an otherwise moderate economic outlook but found myself increasingly isolated as three factions having seemed to develop in ACT before its eventual implosion. The first faction was the ex-National Party members angry that John Key was too much of a watered down Labour Party light. The second group are the libertarians always end up coming off as the spoilt child who protest ‘I do what ever I want!’ and fail to see the dependency we have on each other as a society (having a strange ‘them and us’ view of the relationship between the citizenship and the government) and that working together towards a common good shouldn’t be seen as something ‘evil’. Then there is the third group, the John Birch society types as parodied in the movie ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ believing that fluoride in the water is a giant communist conspiracy theory to steal their precious bodily fluids (not to mention the conspiracy that public healthcare is apparently a giant ruse to introduce eugenics). So when you combine the disgruntled, the immature and the paranoid it creates a grand unified coalition of  ‘since the government isn’t serving my interests then it shouldn’t serve anyones interests’. Before ACT pretty much self imploded with Roger Douglas and Heather Roy soon leaving the party – something I don’t blame them because they were the last two sane voices left in the party.

I look back once again at my time in ACT and it never made any sense given that someone like me advocated a universal student allowance, more government involvement in promoting apprenticeships as well as free education for nurses and doctors who sign up to a bonded programme (work for the public system for 5 years). I guess in my older age I started to question much of the simplistic understanding of the economy and how people work especially in light of the global economic financial meltdown and how even 6 years after it happened that much of what caused it is still left unresolved such as high rates of personal debt, the rising income disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom and then there is the issue of imbalances in the economy that is skewed towards high commodity prices and debt fuelled consumer spending. In other words here we are almost two terms after John Key talked about the need to rebalancing the economy and no such thing has taken place – we’re as dependent upon high commodity prices as we were before, the personal debt still hasn’t dropped sufficiently enough nor has there been a change in how the average NZ’der manages their money not to mention the money that has been sucked out of public transport and rail in favour of bending over and servicing the trucking industry.

Oh well, more will come with Part 2 of my thoughts.

Freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Just got home and now in bed with my heater going – warming up my otherwise chilly room (well, it is warmer than being outside) so I’m comfortable here in bed keeping warm; I’ll be back to do it all over again tonight when I go into work to start my shift at 7pm (or there a bouts – I’m not going to push shit up a hill to meet the exact 7pm because to be perfectly frank I cannot be screwed – I treasure my sleep in a comfortable bed as one of lives luxuries I’m unwilling to give up). At work the usual rag-tag of mouth breathers come through but occasionally you’ll get a really nice person who will make ones night; they don’t have to do something special other than have a smile, polite, placing their order without any drama – in other words, the epitome of normality when compared to the sea of sewage that seems to come through the drive thru.

The saga of Nicky Hager’s recently released book has been interesting to watch – many people seemly happy to give their view on the matter even though it seems that not a single one of them have actually read the book but hell, lets comment on television and slam the author because there is some space that needs filling so why not fill it with some bullshit. I’ll go into greater detail regarding my political views but lets just say that his book didn’t influence my original reason to change – it just re-enforced why I wasn’t voting for National. To be honest I think National have greater things to be worried about such as where are they going to get a coalition partner from with ACT and Conservative not even there to crack the 5% threshold and have seats in parliament. I’d say that those two parties might end up siphoning the right wing vote in much the same way that Ralph Nadar split the left wing vote in the United States.

More renovations and fun

To keep things interesting today I finally pulled out the old stove in the kitchen – turned off the power, took off the power power switch and then cut the cable. One half of the fable went to the stove and that was pulled out and the other half was cleanly cut off and caps put at the end of each of the cables. I disabled the power supply going to that cable at the power board by pulling out the fuse. Long term I’m looking at getting rid of the divider as well as the set of shelves above it which come out from the wall. The breakfast bar will have to go due to the way that it depends on the divide to hold up the other end of the bench – unfortunately it might end up damaging the lino a bit but long term I really need look at replacing it with something more hard wearing like tiles on the ground instead. In the place of the divider and the bench I’ll put this:

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Which can be bought via TradeMe – I’m looking at the 1200mm length one although on the advertisement they can make custom build of the butchers block so I’ll need to get a quote for something that is at least 1600mm long (1800mm might be a better length) with a 600mm width which is ideal although I wonder whether 900mm is high enough because I really think another 100mm might be needed to at least make it ever so slightly higher than the fixed bench. With the length of 1600mm to 1800mm I am able to put my microwave, bench top oven and George Foreman grill. When I eventually replace the kitchen bench I’m looking at something similar to the styling my television cabinet is like which is a basic classic design:

TelevisionCabinet

So I’ve got a lot of things in my plate over the next year or so and that doesn’t even touch on the stuff I want to get done when it comes to insulation, double glazing of windows, the building of a small covering so that I can put my clothes on the back porch on an overcast day and able to dry it without too many problems. As for the back yard I’ve got to clean it up – get some giant clay pots and maybe get some seating – just imaging myself on a day off during summer with my laptop enjoying the fresh air and peaceful surroundings.

A change in direction: Possibly a new job?

Just cleaned up my CV and cover letter tonight and decided to put some applications out there for jobs and hopefully I’ll get some positive feedback to my applications. I’ve applied at Spark (formally known as Telecom), KFC, Pak ’n Save, New World and Mitre 10 Mega – I’ve got the qualifications but I guess it all comes down to how I’ve presented myself in the curriculum vitae and whether they received more qualified candidates. I’ll see how that goes and if I do get a new job I’ll relish the massive payout from my holidays not to mention that if that Spark one comes through I’d be closer to where I live – no more long travels out to Johnsonville.

Being given a boot up the ass

Well, once again the government has decided to change things with the licensing scheme in the belief that it’ll magically improve the quality of drivers on the road and thus the requirement from 1 December 2014 will be that you must graduate from a learners to a full licence within 5 years or else you have to re-sit the learners licence again. In the case of me since I’ve already got my learners licence the law is not retroactive which means those with existing learners licences will not have to worry about the law given that their licences will still remain valid until the expiry date as noted on the licence itself. Due to those changes I’m looking at getting a motorcycle licence – I’ll sit the exam before 1 December so then I still get the ‘good old’ 10 years licence but I’ll need to get things sorted out for the practical side of the equation given that a learners requires a practical module plus a theory side. As for restricted and full licence, I’m going to go through the certificate programme rather than sitting the test primarily because I’d sooner get the one on one practical skills being taught to me the correct way rather than muddling through for 6-12 months then hoping that I have everything correct when it comes to test time.

Work is going well so far but I’m getting tired of the long nights, the average pay and pretty much in the same situation almost 4 years after starting. I’m having a look through Seek and TradeMe Jobs to see what is on offer but I’ll need to get my curriculum vitae all tidied up so that is representable to a potential employer. I’m happy to go into retail again but a change in venue even if it has a slight hit in terms of pay would at least make the situation a little more enjoyable than it currently is. Amazing how many qualifications I have particularly useful ones such as the Red Cross First Aid certificate which is quite sort after in the hospitality sector especially when one considers the cost of getting it initially vs. the cost of merely maintaining it with the refresher course.

When I came back from work last night I had a check of my back tire and I have to admit I’m going to have eventually replace the back tire before my next check up because I think eventually it’ll eventually stop holding air but until then I’d sooner save the cash and use it to pay down debt and then when that time comes I’ll have some more room to manoeuvre. I am looking at killing off the Sky TV account once my contract is up but given that the cancellation fee is so close to what I’m paying right now each month I might as well stick with them till the contract runs out – just not worth the drama but then again something might compel me to stay after the time is up. With that being said I need to get out of bed soon to do some banking – I’ll keep a few extra dollars in my pocket this time ‘just in case’.

Still deciding whether I should go to my parents house for dinner or whether I should just hold it off till tomorrow – I know I should go and see the folks but with usual family drama I’m wondering whether it is worth elevating my blood pressure just to keep up appearances. If I don’t end up going to my parents I’ll make sure that I go to the supermarket at or before 6:00pm this time as to avoid missing out on cooked roast chicken like I did last week (and ended up with the consolation prize of pasta). A nice roast chicken dinner with salad would really hit the spot tonight for dinner.

Chilling out before work: Renovations to my home

Got to bed last night at a reasonable time (11pm) and it is weird getting up with lots of time to spare before work – being able to chill out, go for a walk around the block, put the de-humidifier to remove the dampness out of the house (it is cold outside, I’m drying clothes inside and thus you get moisture). My dad had a check out of the handy work I did last week when I got rid of the panel heaters, night store and bar heater in the bathroom. No damage was done to the wall other than the usual drama of having two tones; the clean original painting behind the heater and the aged one which has been exposed to ‘the elements’ of day to day living. As for what I’ll be doing now – I’m tempted to strip off the wall paper in the lounge room because underneath it is another layer of wallpaper which is smooth and I’m sure once that is exposed I’ll have a good surface to paint the living room a more subtle colour that is similar to what my sister has painted her interior. Hopefully that’ll be a project I can look forward to during the summer time. With that renovation I’m looking at sorting out my kitchen where the first thing I’ll be doing is getting rid of the oven (which is older than me) and replace the current kitchen layout with something more open planned which isn’t as enclosing when one considers the wall that divides off the ‘kitchen’ from the ‘breakfast bar’ (well, not really a bar given that it is at a standard height for a sitting chair).

When it comes to the kitchen there is a divide which I’d like to get rid of along with the stove; the stove quite frankly is older than I and probably just as inefficient as me running up a hill so rather than it being kept as a glorified bench space I’ll pull it out and reclaim the space. As for the bench top itself – I’m tempted to replacing the bench top with something in the same style as my television cabinet which is a basic style which will be hard wearing in the kitchen along with that I’m tempted to maybe replace the lino in the kitchen with tiles. As for my kitchen, that is another adventure I’m looking at where I remove the bath/shower combination and replace all the lino with a tiled floor and a drainage hole in the floor so that any excess water can go down the drain. As for the shower itself, replacing it with a glass cubical with a floor that allows me to walk from my shower out to the bathroom so it is a single tiered tiled floor rather than the usual situation of there being a divide between the shower floor and the rest of the bathroom floor.

As for the rest of the house, since I’ve got rid of all the permanent heating I’m tempted to look at getting a heat pump and insulation installed in the exterior walls but I won’t start doing that until I’ve stripped back the wall paper, allow the installers to put the insulation holes in the wall and then after they fill up those holes (no bigger than the old 50cent coin). Basic argument I have for the insulation is this – if you’re going to spend a couple of grand getting a nice new heat pump installed then it makes little sense to do so if in the process that the money spent running the heat pump results in the heat escaping out the walls of the house thus heating half of the neighbourhood. Another little investigation so that I can get some pricing done up for that. Then there are the window and possibility looking at getting double glazing windows which should also help. A lot of these are involve a high amount of cash up front but I think in the long term with the electricity saved along with fewer visits to to the doctor (as the result of being sick – cold damp house being the cause) it should end up paying for itself in the long run – it should also help the resale value as well when people see that it is a well built house with all the niceties that make a home that little bit more comfortable.

‘Putin’ the screws on freedom of speech

I was reading through the following article on Arstechnica ( link ) and it is amazing when I hear people talk about ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ whilst completely ignoring the historical context of why Putin keeps being elected and why he has such widespread support – contrary to the mythology he actually does have genuine support because what most Russians crave is stability and predictability – quoting a few middle to upper class elites with a thorn in their ass doesn’t reflect the average person on the street any more than using Bill Maher as the litmus test of where the United States voting population stands on the political spectrum. One has to remember back to the collapse of the Soviet Union where the decay occurred when Mikhail Gorbachev undertook a two pronged approach to reforming the ‘Soviet System’, the first was called Perestroika which involved the restructuring of the political and economic system where as glasnost was about openness and the citizens being given the full information on what the situation actually is rather than the propaganda that everything is going swimmingly well. The problem was with glasnost is that it was a pandoras box of bullshit that was released upon society – all the bullshit the average Russian was fed over the last 50 years all turned out to be a load of crap; Stalin was an asshole, the famines were caused by chronic mismanagement rather than just an act of god, the Soviet leadership was living in plush housing and access to hard currency all the whilst proclaiming that ‘we’re all equal’ and patting each other on the back calling each other ‘comrade’. Then followed was Yeltsin and the fire-sale of state owned assets to cronies of those in power – in many cases the privatisation process was dodgy then add on top of that mess the economic and social collapse that also came about along with ‘western advisers’ given their five cents on how to magically turn Russia into a beacon of free-market economics. Fast forward 10 years of chaos and Putin arrives on the scene provides what appears to the general public as stability – give up some freedoms (that most people don’t care about) and you’ll get stability, security and predictability. Fast forward and Putin has delivered exactly that for the average person; a growing economy, low unemployment, improving wages, living conditions, investments into infrastructure, an emerging middle class and what appears to be a sense of confidence of Russian presence on the world stage. For the average person Putin more or less saved Russia from going into a tail spin.

The other side of the coin are the oligarchs and their relationship with Putin. The cold hard reality is that Putin knows that many of these oligarchs obtained their wealth through ill-gotten gains and the oligarchs know that too but Putin offered them an unwritten deal; you mind your own business, run your empires and keep your nose out of politics and I’ll (Putin) will treat your past indiscretions as ‘water under the bridge’. That compact worked great until someone like Mikhail Khodorkovsky raised his head and wanted to become Mr Democracy – Mikhail Khodorkovsky knew very well what he was in for when he opened his mouth and started to rebel against the very system that agreed to look the other way at past indiscretions asm so long as he kept out of politics – he broke that compact and now he is paying the price. So lets not try to delude ourselves that Mikhail Khodorkovsky or others like him are talking about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ out of the goodness of their own heart – they want power and Putin stands in their way. The problem is the compact is failing, it is failing because the political is starting to impact upon the businesses of the oligarchs – sanctions, travel restrictions and so forth so it’ll be interesting to see what happens and whether Putin can keep the oligarchs inline with the game plan that has worked for over a decade.

Going back to the ‘average Russian’ as I alluded to in the first paragraph, part of being ‘strong leader’ isn’t just about making sure your opponents know who is in charge but to also throw the population some populist policy or spending once and a while – make the situation good enough as to remove the incentive to over throwing or voting out oneself. Russia has always been a social backwards country with a soft spot for ‘strong men’; sure, there were Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, the early Russia revolutionaries who decriminalised homosexuality and prostitution but they were the exception rather than the norm. The reality is that the norm in Russia has been a history of strong men, social regression and a willingness to sacrifice the individual for the sake of the collective – just hear the stories about the ‘great Stalin’ and the ‘achievements’ whilst almost simultaneously brushing aside the millions who died in the process of making it all available thus in the process implying that the modern day human sacrifice for the sake of ‘progress’ was worth it. Then add on top of that the re-writing of history to making Stalin appear to be “a man who cared for his people but had to make tough decisions for the sake of the nation” (all whilst whining about Ukraine and extreme right wing factions worshipping Stepan Bandera) which feeds into the nostalgia that many have for better days of the past – when Russia was a strong power on the world stage. What Putin does is feed into that nostalgia and that is how he holds onto power and why he is popular; he gives what the masses want even if it is a giant illusion it is an illusion that makes people feel better about the situation than what reality actually does.