I don’t have words.

On last week’s episode of The News Quiz Extra, Jeremy Hardy, one of the comedians on the show, was commenting on the fact that people’s stories about their holidays are boring if the said people had a good time.  He indicated that being taken hostage or involved in a terrorist situation is much more likely to engage your audience because good holiday stories are boring.  I paraphrase.  You can listen here.  It’s a comment that has more poignancy now.

Please do not think for one moment that I am “having a go” at Jeremy Hardy.  His was a comment made at a time before the events occurred in Paris but after numerous other incidences in which holiday makers have been caught up in terrorist attacks – the one they are discussing on the show being the Russia airliner seemingly brought down by a terrorist bomb.  It’s just that listening to him speak actually began to give me the framework upon which to hang these words.  Up until listening to him talk I had nothing.  Before the events in Paris I had a few things I wanted to talk about.  They all seem secondary at the moment.  They are all matters of import to me: John Key’s continued arseness, The idiocy of people watching Jeremy Corbyn during the Armistice Parade.  The upcoming tour of music venues by Prince and a piano.  The fury evident in much of New Zealand’s grassroots music scene.  They all weigh heavily with me but they all appeared to be … formless … in the wake of events in Paris.

In 2001 I was in HMV when a chap received a text on his mobile phone and he turned to the man at his side and said, “A plane’s flown into a building in America.”  That was all.  This Saturday, I was driving a minibus back from cricket and the radio said “social media has gone into meltdown over events in Paris.  We’ll keep you up to date with news as we receive it…” and then it went back to music.  It was only once I had got back home and switched on talk-radio that I learned of what was occurring.  I had no words.  My mate said his daughter had asked him why these men were doing this.  He said he had replied, “I don’t know.”  He asked what else he could say.  Exactly.  What could he say?

When you think back over the major terrorist attacks that have struck The West – and I stress that strongly – since 2001 you have…?  Madrid and London – attacks on commerce (the commute), Paris – Charlie Hebdo; and, the murder or attempted murder of film makers/journalists in The Netherlands and in Denmark  – attack on free speech; The shootings at a Jewish school in Southern France – religion, and the murder of Lee Rigby, in London – the killing of a soldier.  These all appear to have a purpose…if my daughter was to ask me why these attacks happened, I would be able to say “well…”  Do you know what I mean?  (And please excuse me if my sloppy brain and research has omitted any other attack)

Against this, of course, you have the countless, countless (and largely unreported/unrecognised) attacks across the Middle East, Africa and Asia (except when it involves holiday destinations like Bali/Egypt and there are Western casualties) which are arbitrary/barbaric/callous/specific/thoughtful/random and hateful which fall into this second category the West is now realising.  The attack in Tunisia against a holiday resort, these attacks in Paris against sport, dining and music.  They are without meaning.  They cannot be explained in any rational way.  They are arbitrary/callous/specific/thoughtful/random and hateful.  They leave one feeling without words.

You want to rail against the subject.  You want to scream defiance.  You want to look this in the eye and demand “why?” – and expect a response.  One of the victims of the Paris attacks wrote that the killer didn’t speak, that their eyes said everything.  I would want to compel them to explain their eyes.  I would want them to explain the killing of a concert crowd, of a sports’ fan, of a family out dining….or of a father and child out at a market.  I would like to hear the words they use.  I would like to hear the rhetoric and the argument.  I don’t think for a moment that I would be able to reason with them.  I don’t believe I would be able to convince them of their folly.  I don’t think that with reasoned argument and witty repartee I would be able to undo the indoctrination.  I would just like to actually hear the words come out of the mouth of the 20 year old, the 30 year old, the 40 year old who believes this is an act of goodness. … Not that anything good would come if it.

Stephen Fry wrote about the three most powerful words in language.  Three words.  It’s from one of the articles in his Paperweight book.  He writes about an episode of Star Trek and the three words are not “I love you”, as you may imagine but are in fact, “please, help me.”  It’s about hope, you see.  If things are hopeless, well … and today, for much of today, things have felt hopeless.  I’m wondering whether Jeremy Hardy’s words will help to … ‘heal’ isn’t the right word … that his words will help me cope with what’s happened in Paris.  Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.  I still come to the evening with a sense of despondency hanging over me.

Perhaps for all this 999-odd of them, I’m still without words.

*

do have these words:

Before there is a backlash, do take the time to remember every religious atrocity committed in the name of the god you are most familiar with/attend a church for/most identify with and then shut the fuck up and sit back down.

*

Oh, and:

Donald Trump is a prime fuckfest.  And he wants to be President of the USA.  And other people want him to be too.  Fuckfest.

Not Even A Politician’s Apology

He is good.  He continues to be good.  Labour look a little amateurish at the moment but, above all else, Key looks good.  A great strategist, you see.  Yesterday, I got so carried away I forgot to say why he was such a smooth operator…he must have Sade looking coyly at him all night!

John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is now framing this “stoush” – what a word – with him as victim.  Beautiful.  With the aid of the media, the Prime Minister of New Zealand is able to get away with labelling his opposition as supporters of rapists, child molesters and murderers.  For a while, I couldn’t quite get my head around what was occurring.  It seemed a simple matter of fact that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, had behaved atrociously in parliament; had spoken in a way to offend not only reasoned debate but in an ad hominem manner we school our junior debaters not to do, and should apologise.  He needn’t apologise for feeling angry regarding the position the opposition were taking, but he should apologise for the undignified and malignant way he labelled those who disagreed with him and were challenging him on this issue.  Malignant?  Yes, because it sticks you see.  This soundbite will come back again and again, courtesy of the media, to pummel and traduce the Labour Party and its supporters.  That’s how the game is played.  That’s how smart John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is.  Smart?  All right; manipulative, dishonest, conniving, Machiavellian.

Meanwhile, Labour are treading water.  Andrew Little spoke eloquently in parliament today about the manner of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key.  There was fire in the belly.  For moments he sounded like a Left-Wing Firebrand… for moments.  That was until, of course, you realised a couple of things.  He had been out-manoeuvred by the Right.  This argument, this speech should have come 24 hours earlier.  It would have sounded more authentic as the Members of Parliament walked out or were asked to leave by the Speaker – shame on you still for “not hearing”, shame – and would have been a rallying point for those appalled at the government’s actions and policies regarding the detainees awaiting deportation.  It was not to be.  Today, Andrew Little played out his speech to an empty chamber.  It was not empty because of moral or ethical standpoint or action.  It was empty because the National Members, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, included, had not bothered to attend debate.  Andrew Little blew his wind and crack’d his cheeks and no one was there.

There has been a fair bit of morose staring at the carpet during the typing of this blog.  It pains me to write in this way about the Labour Party.  Today, Andrew Little looked a leader – and no one saw him.  If you go to the stuff.co.nz website, you cannot find his speech.  There is nothing of his attack on National to be seen; rather there is an editorial stating that he is not the man to lead Labour out of the wilderness.  He might very well be the man to get Labour back in government but we don’t know.  Why don’t we know?  In my opinion, there are three reasons:

  1. The media in New Zealand are enjoying the free-market and so they are not going to overly favour a Labour government.
  2. Enjoying the freedom of the press, the National Party set an agenda that allows fair and balanced coverage on matters that are, ultimately, without worth, nominally giving the appearance of a democracy, and;
  3. Labour keep getting sucked into playing the game.

Right now (about 10pm 12th Nov), Stuff.co.nz has John Key being the victim and not apologising on it’s lead news page and it’s political page.  The Labour editorial, mentioned above, is scathing and hidden at the bottom of the scroll.  NZHerald.co.nz has little mention of politics on its front page other than a story: “‘Abuse hurled at PM'” – (oh and a story about Novopay having to send out debt collectors to teachers to reclaim over-payment…nice (greedy, nasty teachers…greedy, holiday-hogging, nasty, greedy, pay-wanting teachers…who had their pay screwed up for them by the Government and Novopay but who are now the criminals here..nasty, greedy, leeching teachers with all their holidays!)).  No – you have to scroll down to the politics section to see Andrew Little described as ‘limp-wristed”in an editorial that has now – as I come to proofread this piece this editorial been dropped from the front page of the Herald website.  Fair and Balanced.  Thank god for the Dominion Post – curiously, hosted by Stuff.co.nz.  Their website has as its first political story, as of the now – John Key (Prime Minister of New Zealand) should not defend the Australian policy toward the NZ detainees, he should fight it.  Go The DP!  It is, of course, down a scroll or two…but it is there.  Fair and Balanced.  Thankfully, the balance is there… a further editorial on the Post’s website states that Andrew Little cannot excite the electorate.  So there we are… a rude poll, but one that indicates a 6:1 bias in favour of the National Party.  Labour are being screwed at the press.

Knowing the press won’t go after him, the Prime Minister of New Zealand – John Key – can lead policies he knows will go unchallenged and unchecked.  He knows he is going to get all the positive coverage he likes, whether that’s jokey pictures of his changing room antics with the All Blacks or fun and frolics with a breakfast radio show.  John Key, the PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND, is operating in a manner of a man with some sort of sinecure cum privileged position usually associated only with the public school proliferation of PMs and Cabinet Ministers in Britain.  This hasn’t gone unnoticed.  The political discourse in New Zealand has been skewed by a lazily centre-right media.  John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister, is routinely given an easy ride.  I now hear the Hoskyns and the Henrys scoff, but they know they scoff up their sleeves.  If John Key was Prime Minister of New Zealand, there would not be a housing crisis; there would not be the handing over of assets to business; there would not be the undermining of workers’ rights through free-trade agreements with much larger and aggressive economies; there would not be the undermining of much of the public sector through a mismatching of inflation and rates of pay.  If he was Prime Minister…but he isn’t.  John Key is CEO of NZ Inc.  That’s how he sees it.

And Labour allow it to be the status quo.  They should learn to disrupt the status quo.  Andrew Little should refuse to speak with the media.  He should not play their game.  He has at his disposal the means to reach the public and the means to make the public manage the media for him.  Andrew Little should speak to the policies that would redress the balance and make New Zealand the country it should be.  This country has at its heart the can-do attitude – many mistake that for being a conservative attitude.  They are wrong.  This can-do attitude is one of community.  It is an attitude that ensures that “she’ll be right”…right for everyone.  New Zealanders are neighbours, are friends and are a country of four million that looks out for their mates.  I have been lucky enough to live here for ten years.  I am still astonished each day at the communal attitude and the union of this country’s people.  Labour need to realise that the groundswell is there.  We know we deserve better than this National government.  Stop playing their game, start speaking with us as a nation.  Give New Zealand a government again, instead of the Board of Directors and CEO we have as of the now.

Sex offender cheerleaders!

John Key.  Brilliant.  What a strategist.

New Zealand is a funny country.  To all intents and purposes it appears to be a first world kind of place, but now and then the cracks show and we see the long white cloud for all it really is.  New Year’s Eve – a case in point – come midnight, the phone lines are overwhelmed.  Public transport – a country founded at the height of Victorian innovation and invention has no train service.  Double glazing…I could go on.  I shan’t.  What I did think New Zealand had was a handle on was how parliaments should work.  Sadly, that may not be the case.

For all the trumpeting of being the first country to give women the vote, yesterday, at the Beehive, saw women revolt at the words of the Prime Minister of this country.

Yesterday, John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, accused his opposition of siding with rapists, child molesters and murderers.  Yesterday, the Prime Minister of New Zealand stated that his opposition were more interested in the rights of rapists, child molesters and murderers than they were in protecting the population of the country who currently reside on the shores of the long white cloud.  Yesterday, John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand so horribly misled the public in what he said and has not apologised for the manner in which he has manipulated a subject for immediate and medium-term political gain, whilst he actually begins to comprehend the situation his government is actually in.

Stuff.co.nz revealed the figures of New Zealanders being held by Australia for deportation thus.  There are, indeed, a number of New Zealanders accused of/on record for heinous crimes, rape and violence included.  There are, of course, a number of New Zealanders on this list who are not.  Irrespective of the stats, they are New Zealanders, they are being held by a foreign country in conditions that are unspeakable and New Zealand should be taking responsibility for them.  If they are guilty of a crime let them serve their sentence here.  If they are not guilty of a crime then shame on Australia for treating them this way and shame on John Key and his government for doing nothing to support citizens of this country as they sit, abandoned and rotting, bereft of hope and assistance from home.

Beyond this, of course, is the casual, caustic, callous manner in which John Key is happy to play politics with these peoples’ lives.  Forget the piffling ideas above – the phone line thing is an irritation; the train service, I understand the infrastructure is there but not the demand…small population, long lines…fair enough. But what about the housing?  What about the state of the council housing in this country?  Why should the most impoverished of the nation live in such conditions?  Why has this nation state not made it its priority to have working families living in working homes?  Further, the news today that the EPA is now going to run by government appointees is further sign that the thin edge of the wedge is very much in vogue.

Lobbyists are celebrating the fact that the government will now appoint those to oversee the way in which New Zealand looks after its environment.  I wonder if those lobbyists were those from environmental organisations or those from business?  You know what, I’m not even going to bother looking that up.  EDUCANZ – let’s take the teachers out of teaching.  Again, government appointees to a council that will oversee a profession…no need for which is a history in or experience of teaching a prerequisite.  Careful nurses…police…they’re coming for you next.  Now we have the arrival of Quantas/Amercian Airlines in Auckland.  Yes, finally a cheap flight, but at what cost?  To make Air New Zealand a viable asset again perhaps we need to ensure it becomes not a national one?  Perhaps sell it off?  Like other national assets are being sold off too.  The TPP will further see rights and conditions of employment undermined in the name of industry.  John Key doesn’t see this as a premiership.  He sees this as a business opportunity.

Finally we are seeing through the long white cloud he uses to shroud his practice.  it isn’t a cloud; it’s smoke – smoke and mirrors.  He has the appearance of the Prime Minister but is actual fact a businessman.  His toadying to the All Blacks a shameless and shameful manifestation of the real side of John Key.  Remember how quickly he wanted to lay hands on Richie the first time they won it?  This time he even managed to get into the dressing room a few times before the final just in case.  Had to be first to be seen.

The stand made by members of parliament today is to be applauded.  At this time, New Zealand is being run along the lines of Milton Friedman and his University of Chicago theories.  Key’s laissez-faire liberalism relies on the trickle down effect – one that we know doesn’t work.  He has to realise that eventually people will realise the cloud is smoke, and where there’s smoke there’s fire.  Every year Kiwis drive past signposts that indicate just how flammable the countryside is.  John Key would do well to pay attention to these signs.  His term in office may soon be over, this country’s term has yet to be served.  It would be nice of him to not leave it aflame as he departs.

*

Oh – an afterthought – shame on the speaker for “not hearing” the Prime Minister of New Zealand state that his opposition were supporters of rapists, child molesters and murderers.  Shame on you.

Remember remember…

Masks. Funny things. The Million Mask March – organised by Anonymous – brought to light something of the confusion I feel regarding protest and conflict. Given the nature of Police surveillance and the ensuing prosecution that may occur, the use of a mask appears to be a sensible thing during a protest these days. Again, the proliferation of smartphones and media outlets means that your boss may see your face on one of these marches and you may be asked to moderate your actions around your political stance. The irony of the fat-cat banks and the hoi-polloi who work for them has been raised before, no more so during the daring huzzah of Russell Brand and the storming of the RBS headquarters. So attending a protest about the political leaning of the country could land you in hot water come Monday morning’s staff briefing. A mask seems appropriate.

And, what a mask!? Guy Fawkes. As Jihadi John conducts his acts of barbarity, the mask he wears is the one we have come to associate with terrorists the world over. The balaclava style head covering, though in this instance with the necessary religious twist, eyes revealed – though for once revealing nothing about the soul (other than perhaps that it is empty) – pulled tight to highlight the skull-roundedness of the head. The person becomes featureless. The face is absent and with that any sense of empathy or connection with the person hiding behind it. The Guy Fawkes mask is different and the same, as the V for Vendetta association has warped this effigy.

Remember, remember Guy Fawkes was a religious terrorist. Remember, remember that he wanted to commit murder in the name of a Catholic God and impose religious change on his country. Remember, remember the massive collateral damage that his terrorist act would have created…a 5/11 indeed. This has been whitewashed, like the gleaming forehead and cheekbones of the mask itself. All we see now is the agent for change. Anonymous have taken the name and identity of Guy Fawkes and eradicated any tarnished reputation to make him a wholesome figure of demonstration. I find myself in a peculiar place. The hideous acts of the Islamic terror group occupying large parts of Iraq and Syria have forebears in the terror acts of the Catholic Church of the Middle and Medieval ages. Torture, execution, indoctrination, recantation of beliefs were all part and parcel of the Catholic Church’s modus operandi at this time… as were those of a Protestant inclination and as were those of many religions before them – and after them. The repulsion we feel at the slaughter and displacement caused by the current religiously inspired acts of terror does demonstrate perhaps just how far we have come as a species. After all, in the name of no imaginary figurehead should anyone be held accountable.

Then along comes Alan Moore.

The mask now means a fight against corruption, against the excesses of capitalism, against the few who exploit the many. The mask is now a means of opposing oppression. The mask is anarchy – although organised anarchy…we do have to arrange via Facebook when to protest, naturally. The mask is a voice against the freedom-to-protest-so-long-as-you-protest-when-and-where-we-want-you-to form filling in revolution the Authorities would rather have. The mask should inspire a feeling of terror in those being protested against. Not the terror caused by threat of physical harm but rather one caused by the focus on their business practice and the moral and ethical choices they make. In the absence of divine judgement, judgement should come from the people. Except, of course, it doesn’t work like that. Those that are being protested against are faceless themselves or out of reach. They will not engage with the population protesting and the majority are rendered powerless. In fact, the majority are made criminal. Perhaps, then, the wearing of a criminal’s face is apposite.

(OFF ON A TANGENT ALERT!)

The wearing of masks by religious terrorists does seem absurd. They know their face is known by god. They know they have nothing to fear from man. They know their only judge is god and that he approves of their actions. So why wear a mask? Is it because they know that man disapproves and so may act against them if they know whom they are? Should that matter? Their god knows they will be acted against. If god allows them to be caught and incarcerated or killed then that is god’s will, is it not? In fact, by wearing the mask are they could be circumventing the ineffable plan and buggering up what god intends? If only there was a god for us to find out…

Sorry…not sure where that came from.

Anyway.

There does appear to be a growing fury at the manner of the overlords. The attacks on the low-income families of the UK by Osborne and his cuts to Family Credit: the inaction of the NZ government to get a handle on the property boom in Auckland: the stranglehold the GOP have on the discourse around redistribution of wealth and welfare in the USA. These are all placing strain on the working and middle classes. To this add the hateful swing to the right which is becoming more apparent in reaction to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and we have a maelstrom of dissatisfaction and NIMBYism which turns the stomach. Well, the stomachs’ of the many. And the few? The few are happily gorging and their stomachs are just fine.

People have to have a banner, a symbol around which to rally. The Guy Fawkes mask is serving this purpose and should, to that end, be embraced. It allows people to understand they are not alone; it allows the anonymity required to freely express your distaste of the rule of law in public and it carries with it the message of overthrow. Sadly, it also reeks of religious murderous intent and the imposition of one set of nasty rules over the other…it’s that paradox that leaves me feeling peculiar on this 5th of November.

It’s ok. He’s one of ours…

It’s always about perspective.  Two headline stories over the last weekend, both involving high profile Muslim men; two very different perspectives.

In the aftermath of the Rugby World Cup Final, Sonny Bill Williams handed his winners’ medal over to a young fan who had run on to the field to celebrate with the All Blacks and had been tackled to the ground by a security officer.  The pictures that quickly circulated on the internet showed the young boy getting brought down as he ran towards the New Zealand rugby team during their lap of honour.  Sonny Bill is the first to react, lifting the young boy off the ground, placating the security guard and ensuring the boy is alright.  Nehe Milner-Skudder also approaches the scene, calms the security guard and walks away.  As the security guard backs away, cameras swarm around Williams, the boy and Steve Hansen, who has also joined the scene to see whether the boy is ok.  Williams walks the boy back to his friends and family and then hangs his medal around the boy’s neck.  The gesture is spontaneous, gracious and heartfelt.  The boy is amazed.  When asked about his actions, Williams said:

“He’s just a young fella obviously caught up in the moment.”

Asked about the medal gesture, he said: “Why not try and make a young fella’s night? Hopefully, he’ll remember it for a while. I know he will appreciate it, and when he gets older he will be telling kids. That is more special than it just hanging on a wall.”

Williams’ words speak immensely to this man’s character.  Later he received a replacement medal and in subsequent interviews has spoken about himself and the national team he plays in.

“I just don’t want to fail, to be honest. I don’t want to let my family down, I don’t want to let myself down. That’s probably the biggest thing I fear.”

Of his teammates, current and future:

“We’ll never have those players, they’re legends in their own right. But the talent in New Zealand is crazy. There’s going to be players who step up without a doubt. We just have to wait and see who those names are but I can tell you those guys are going to be special as well.”

Insightful, compassionate and forthright.  Beautiful words that demonstrate the maturing mind of this incredibly talented sportsman.

*

Shaker Aamer has been held in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years.  He was released this weekend.  He is returning to his family a man in turmoil.  The words of his doctor and of hostage captives ring in the ears.  He is mistrustful, he is damaged both physically and psychologically and he will be returning to a situation that has now become alien to him: a family and a child of thirteen who he has never met.  He will have the scars of torture imprinted on him but he will be expected to reintegrate and go about his business.  A minor casualty in a major war.

The press reporting this man’s release have spoken about the changed nature of the country he is returning to.  The subject of trust has been raised and it is a subject difficult to comprehend how it will play out.  Clive Stafford Smith raises some interesting points in his article from The Guardian.  He foretells further horrors for Shaker Aamer – of being spun against by the very people now releasing him without charge.  Already the Spectator is framing the discourse on the subject. The notion of being innocent but guilty shrieks of Orwell.  Aamer will forever walk with the word “suspect” hanging around his neck.  The men who tortured him, who force-fed him, who held him captive without charge for fourteen years will never have to wear a sign.  They will never have their role in the “War on Terror” feature so prominently about them.  They won’t have to face the questioning face of their thirteen old child and have their integrity doubted.  And what of this boy?

What happens when this boy hears of his father’s incarceration and starts to rail against the machine that put him their?  Will he be lauded and championed like those who fought and challenged authorities for mis-imprisonment in the past – in my lifetime I’m thinking of those who protested against false-imprisonment of IRA “Terrorists” – now we celebrate the fact that these mistrials were brought to justice.  Will Shaker Aamer’s son ever receive this satisfaction should he challenge the state who put his father in prison for so long?  Rather, will he face opprobrium and be snarled at for raising his voice?  Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Independent article highlights the society Aamer is returning to; one in which his son’s teachers are expected to report “troubling behaviour”.  The spiral of conflict is one that is difficult to pull out of.

So.  Another weekend dominated by stories about Muslim men.  The perspectives, however, could not be more different.  Interestingly, The Guardian’s story about Sonny Bill handed over his medal to the youngster included a short description of his conversion to Islam –

It was the sort of unlikely gesture All Blacks fans might expect of Williams, who began his career in rugby league in New Zealand before controversially leaving the Canterbury Bulldogs mid-season in 2008 for French rugby union side Toulon. It was in France that Williams converted to Islam, telling CNN in 2013 that he had been touched by the contentment of a Tunisian family he got to know who lived in a one-bedroom flat with their five children.

(A more detailed version can be found here: NZ Herald – Sonny Bill Embraces Islam.)

It may sound trite but, in the face of constant abuse and vilification and hatred and distrust and prejudice and misinformation – to read such inspiring words about a religion disabused around the world is heartening.  It gives one hope – something we all crave.