John Key and Middlemarch

What astonishes me is that John Key expects us to believe him, when even the nation’s leading newspapers are expressing scepticism about his honesty: one, two, three.

Watch this video of him answering questions about what he said to reporters and parliament about his contact with Cameron Slater: Key: I am not actively contacting Slater.

And now they’re starting to question his whole story around the black ops campaign his “office” ran. From this morning’s Dominion Post editorial:

This is an appeal to the professionalism of the spy agencies and the honour of Government politicians. Both have suffered terrible damage in the past few days. The report by intelligence watchdog Cheryl Gwyn destroyed the reputation of former SIS boss Warren Tucker. It showed that senior members of the prime minister’s office used grossly misleading information provided by Tucker to attack the credibility of then Opposition leader Phil Goff.

The report did not examine whether Key was involved in that smear campaign. Events now strongly suggest he was. He had to do a sudden U-turn in Parliament this week after denying any recent contact with Cameron Slater, the man who used the slanted SIS report to smear Goff. Key’s texts show a jokey relationship with Slater even though the blogger has caused his Government endless trouble. Who believes Key didn’t know about the SIS leak to Slater?

Mr Key is taking us for fools, thinking that we simply can’t detect his obfuscations and evasions.

It makes me think of a wonderful passsage in Middlemarch. A rich old man is dying, and his relatives are gathering, each determined to get the largest possible share of his estate. A young woman, Mary, is quietly caring for him, and watching the scene.

She sat tonight revolving, as she was wont, the scenes of the day, her lips often curling with amusement at the oddities to which her fancy added fresh drollery: people were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as if when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.

…thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything.

I do not understand why John Key thinks that we can’t see through his lies. Smile and wave and “I’m comfortable with that” is over.

On quotas, and diversity, and getting more women into Parliament

There’s been an FSM-almightly stoush in New Zealand over the last few days, about the use of quotas to achieve gender equity in Parliament. I’ve blogged about it over at my other place, and this morning, I have an opinion piece in the Dominion Post.

Quotas may be needed to boost female MPs

I’ve wrote another opinion piece for the Dom Post about a year ago, on the need for diversity in Parliament: Straight white men have lost power.

For a round-up of posts on the issue by feminists, check the Queen of Thorns: And a few more thoughts on quotas.

And for an MSM round-up of articles and blog posts on the issues, check Bryce Edward’s NZ Politics round-up in the NZ Herald.

Shutting down rape culture, one election at a time

The Republican Rape Philosophers lost. (H/T Feministe)

Incumbent Roger Rivard (R), lost his Congressional seat to Steven Smith (D). Rivard was the chap who told passed on his father’s wisdom that “some girls rape easy.”

Todd Akin (R) failed to take what should have been a winnable senate seat for the Republicans. Akin was the chap who told us that if a rape was “legitimate”, then a woman could not get pregnant because her body would shut conception down.

Tea Party backed candidate Richard Mourdock couldn’t win what should have been a wide open race, giving the Democrats one more seat in the Senate. Mourdock was the chap who told us that pregnancy resulting from rape was something that God intended.

But why should we care, here in New Zealand, an ocean away from the United States?

Here’s why. We should care because the anti-women rhetoric coming from conservatives in the US travels down here swiftly. Rape culture is alive and flourishing in New Zealand, and concepts like “legitimate rape” and “can’t get pregnant from rape” and “some girls rape easy” and “God meant for you to be raped” play into it, and sustain it.

I am so very glad that voters in the United States rejected these men who endorsed rape. It’s a push back, a small step towards dismantling the narrative of hatred and contempt for women.

Cross posted

Why private schools shouldn’t have their hands out for government help

… this argument shows that private schools don’t understand why the state provides education. It’s not just because economies of scale enable government to provide education more cheaply than private businesses. It’s because New Zealand’s educated population is a vital part of our social, political and economic infrastructure.

From an opinion piece of mine which was published in the Dom Post today.

The article isn’t on-line, but I’ve scanned it. If you click on the thumbnail, you will go through to a larger version which should be readable.

I have voted

In 2008, I voted in the New Zealand general election.

In 2009, I voted in the South Australian state election.

In 2010, I voted in the Australian Federal election.

Today, in 2011, I have voted in the New Zealand general election.

I have voted

(Description: Sticker, with “Yes I’ve voted”, and in small print, “Issued by the New Zealand Electoral Commission.”)

As is our family custom, the girls and I walked to our nearest polling place. Mr Bee is out of the country, so he voted earlier this week. I was greeted at the door of the polling place, and directed to the people looking after the roll for the Palmerston North seat. They found my name on the electoral roll, crossed me off, and handed my papers to me, and in the quiet of the polling booth, I made by choices. I had long ago worked out my choices with respect to the electorate vote and the referendum on the electoral system, but my party vote only firmed up about four weeks ago. And then I put my votes into the ballot boxes. At the door, the person who greeted me gave me my “Yes I’ve voted” sticker, which I am proud to wear.

It is so easy to vote in this country.

As we walked home, my girls quizzed me about my vote and my reasons. We’ll be sitting up and watching the results come in this evening, and thoroughly enjoying our triennial festival of democracy.

I’ve turned comment moderation on for this post, given the Electoral Commission rules about making political statements on polling day. Not that I expect that there will be a flood of comments, but thems the rules.

Citizenship and property

I have an opinion piece in the Dominion Post today.

Property divide creating second class citizens

…citizens are becoming less equal in New Zealand. In practice, unless you have property, or wealth, or a means of surviving without assistance from the state, the state feels that it is entitled to tell you how to live. It’s worth listening to the rhetoric from political parties, and seeing whose interests they want to protect, and who they think should be subject to state intervention. As it turns out, it is people without property who are told what they may spend their money on, how often they must see a doctor, and who must allow public servants to pry through their affairs. Because they have no resources, they are vulnerable to interference by the state.

On cathedrals, occupations and Machiavelli

Durham Cathedral


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Durham Cathedral is a huge grey building, set on a peninsula of land formed by a loop in the River Wear. The cathedral was built as a shrine to St Cuthbert, but due to the machinations of monks in pursuit of relics, it also houses the shrine of the Venerable Bede. I went there to pay my respects to this early historian, much as many years later, I visited Winchester Cathedral to bow my head in homage to Jane Austen.

Because it was the first medieval cathedral I ever visited, Durham Cathedral has remained in my mind. The building overwhelmed me. I was conscious not so much of any spirituality or religious community, as of the enormous concentration of wealth and power manifested in the building. It is in any case, “half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot”… a massively strong building. To me, the building asserted the power of the local bishops when it was built, and the dominance of the wealthy church.

Those huge churches were, and I think still are, an affront to Christianity. If there is a core to Christian ethics, it lies in the words of the Sermon on the Mount, where followers are enjoined to set aside wealth and power in this world, and the poor and gentle and powerless are described as “blessed”. The words of The Magnificant are even more explicit.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

I find it hard to believe that the people who controlled the wealth of Durham and other great cathedrals could read those words without cringing.

When the Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors set up their camp in the grounds of St Paul’s, I wonder if they had in mind the long established link between the great churches, and big business, where the positioning of churches and cathedrals within business districts gives tacit support to extreme capitalism. Perhaps not.. it may just have been the nearest convenient open space to set up a camp. Even so, the initial response of the clergy of St Paul’s was bizarre: they wanted to evict the humble and the poor from their grounds, and defend their wealth. Their actions were ironic at best, and I think rather more accurately described as hypocritical and unchristian and money grubbing. Evidently they were worried about the tourist trade. There is of course that part in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells his followers not to store up treasure on earth, and that they cannot serve both god and money…

But it seems there was at least one Christian among the clergy of St Paul’s. Giles Fraser chose to resign rather than allow the City of London and Metropolitan police to evict the protestors. His resignation is not merely a stunt: he and his wife have three teenage children to support, and they must now find a new home and new jobs.

He is to be admired, not just for holding true to his own beliefs, but also for speaking truth to power. Churches which hoard wealth, and take the side of property owners and established power against the poor and vulnerable have lost their way, and have turned from the teachings of the gospels.

Machiavelli talks of the need for reform. In Discorsi, he describes the processes by which republics are established and prosper, becoming free states, within which citizens may be free. But over time, he says, alas, republics start to falter, in an inevitable cycle of decay. What is needed then is a man of great integrity and strength, who will reform the republic, and re-establish virtue, and restore the republic to its greatness. (Source – scroll to the bottom of the page.)

The established churches are perhaps too strongly integrated with the centres of power and wealth in our society to be reformed by just one man. Nevertheless, Giles Fraser has just given a very sharp lesson to the clergy of St Paul’s, and to clerics world wide. If they are not on the side of people who are poor and dispossessed, then they are not Christians at all.

A final note: one still-employed cleric has described the events at St Paul’s as a PR disaster for the church. That seems to me to be one of the churches’ major problems. The problem is not the PR, but the hypocrisy and unchristian behaviour.

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This post is written for a friend who asked me what I thought about Giles Fraser, and the occupation of St Paul’s. It is sadly overdue, because of reasons, mostly to do with work commitments which have slowed down my blogging of late. However I am very grateful to my friend for prompting me to think and write about this.