Poll Dancer by Keith Ng

Pocabprescon Debrief

Helen went to some lengths to stonewall all the Cullen speculation at the Post-Cabinet Press Conference today, responding to every question with "ask him". She says that he's served her well and that she wants to keep him on for as long as possible - adding that she has every intention of fighting the next election - but Cullen stepping down would depend on Cullen, and she hasn't asked him about it.

I guess between "how's your weekend" and "did you see the rugby", the topic just never came up...

It did come up for everyone else in the Labour caucus - Helen and Cullen interviewed them all about their plans after the election. Hence the problem - all that remains to be speculated about are Helen and Cullen!

The guest spot this week went to our soon-to-be head-of-state Anand Satyanand. Lawyer, judge and ombudsman, he expressed concerns about having such a public role. He is also Indian, and talked briefly about how nice it was for NZ to pick someone from an ethnic minority to be its representative. He promised to use his sovereign powers to lord over Her Majesty's domain with an iron fist.

He is stepping down as the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament to take over as Governor-General. Hmmm... hardworking watchdog for MPs gets cushy appointment which takes him away from watchdogging? There's probably an Investigate story in there.

The big news of the week is Chinese Premier (equivalent of PM) Wen Jiabao's visit this week. Official talks will take place on Thursday, and Helen promises that human rights will be on the agenda. Literally "on the agenda", that is. When asked how such issues usually gets raised, whether it was usually raised as a question ("so, how're those political prisoners doing then?") or as a statement, Helen said that there's usually an allocated period of time for these formal talks, and they each have an agenda to go through; for Helen, human rights is always "on the agenda".

Teenage Rebel

I actually have a great personal fondness for schoolyard rebellion.

The year, as they say, was 1999. It was the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and it was during this time that I discovered a passion for ideas and politics. As a 7th former at Wellington College, I was skipping school to volunteer for Amnesty International, organising candidate debates and trying to start a human rights group. This, I admit, was pretty damn geeky, but a very different form of geeky than programming in the computer room, which was what I did pre-1999.

It just so happened that Michael Hardie-Boys - an old boy of Wellington College - was the Governor-General at the time, and when Chinese President Jiang Zemin toured New Zealand after APEC, Hardie-Boys invited the whole of Wellington College (which is adjacent to Government House) to perform a haka for Jiang.

It was a big deal for the school, and in particular for our Headmaster Roger Moses. It was a chance to do a favour for an Old Boy (in the most traditional, loaded sense of the word), it was a chance for the school to shine in the media spotlight, and it was a chance to reach potential students from China who would be watching their President tour NZ. Product endorsement from the Chinese President? Ch-ching!

But given my view of the Chinese government at the time, I wasn't so keen. Like many others who protested at the time (including those down in Christchurch who were walled off with buses so that Jiang wouldn't have to see them), I saw APEC as an opportunity to bring human rights to the fore, rather than the opposite.

I had a lot of support from the Powers-that-Be when I was getting Wellington College in the paper by organising a debate between then-Wellington candidates Richard Prebble, Marian Hobbs and Philida Bunkle. But the possibility of "embarrassing the school" in the national/international spotlight proved to be something else entirely.

We got warned off it at various stages, and I got called in to the Headmaster's office quite a few times, but one conversation really stuck with me.

One of my co-conspirators and I were called into the Deputy Headmaster's office in the middle of class (economics, I think) one afternoon, where he and the 7th form dean had a good cop/bad cop routine going. We told them, when asked, that we were going to protest Jiang's arrival at Government House. We were told that we couldn't just go and protest, because it was a school-day. Not that there was much schooling to be done, since the day was going to be spent entertaining Jiang. But ah, the difference was that one was a "school activity" and therefore "school", while the other wasn't and therefore "skipping school".

We got offered a conscious objector option - we could stay supervised in a classroom while the rest of the school did their thing. Being a polite young man, I said "no" as politely as I could.

Then the dean (the bad cop) came up with this gem: "If you don't report to school on [the day], we'll take it as a sign that you're not attending this school, and we'll take your name off the roll accordingly."

Hmmm - public school threatening effective expulsion for political activity? It was the dumbest thing he could have done, but to be fair, he was a PE teacher.

The Deputy Headmaster didn't back him up (probably because he wasn't retarded). I thought I could see a wince flash through his face.

Being the teenage boys that we were, we didn't take kindly to threats, but being the greenhorns that we were, we didn't realise just how much shit we could have gotten them in if we took those threats to higher authorities.

Roger Moses made some attempts to bring us into the establishment. One lunchtime he invited us into his office telling us we're future leaders and showing us a photo of his mother and Muldoon in primary school together. A photo that he curiously kept in his bottom drawer. Smooth.

In the end it was rather anti-climatic. Of all their demands, we agreed only to not wearing our uniforms while protesting, and of all their threats, the only thing that eventuated was that I got put on detention for skipping school.

The Deputy Headmaster looked surprised when he saw me actually turn up for detention. He chuckled, then sent me home. I think we developed a mutual respect after that.

Apparently we got blacklisted at the door as well, as they had received intelligence through their network of spies that we were going to sneak through and protest inside. That was quite a good idea, not that we'd actually thought of it.

For the most part, we got our way.

Just last year, I saw Roger Moses speak at an event outside Parliament, saying how great it was to see students getting involved in democracy, etc. I couldn't help but think what a hypocrite he was, when he thought it was okay to coerce or manipulate students' from political activity because it would ruin the school's image.

Looking back, I think I was driven by the excitement of discovering the possibilities that existed outside of the conformity factory. It's like discovering a secret portal to the real world. I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun if I went to a liberal school where they *let* you do this sort of thing. No sir, the real lesson could only be learned when they didn't want you to know.

The one thing that stuck with me was how flimsy the authority behind that conformity was. It was a coming-of-age moment, realising that their authority was an illusion to keep me in line and that it would just dissolve if I simply refused to acknowledge it. It brought it back, full circle, to the inspiration for my awakening - the guy who stared down a column of tanks at Tiananmen Square.

I didn't get a Unit Standard for it.

They don't need no thought control (update)

Just one thing that I should have made clear - Unite organisers and the Greens have repeatedly claimed that the strike was an action by Radical Youth, a group run by the students themselves. The Unite connection I made in this morning's post was to point out that Unite probably offered a bit more than "practical support".

This from PA reader Ben:

I'm not sure it's a secret that Unite and the Greens funded the Radical Youth "strike". Radical Youth have all of about 20 members and couldn't organise their way to passing NCEA level 1. If it is a secret, it's a badly kept one, not least by Unite. RY certainly don't have the cash to pay for buses to ferry striking students to the city."

Tze Ming notes that, quite apart from the school strike, Unite has done a lot of as part of their Supersizeme campaign:

Unite have been the ones organising the entire Supersizemypay campaign from the start and haven't exactly tried to 'hide' this fact. And they have organised 'proper' industrial action by actual youth workers in actual workplaces, repeatedly and successfully over the summer. They are a real union after all. Just because Oosterman et al are wide-ranging activists as well, doesn't mean they aren't real unionists. So if you're a real activist, you can't be a real unionist? Their work on the youth rates issue over summer is probably the most successful campaign I've ever seen carried out by an independent union."

And this from Stephen Day, who is a real unionist over at FinSec:

...the point of a strike, or any other component of a campaign, is to improve the negotiating position of the union membership. In this instance Unite is clearly [aiming to put] pressure on Parliament to address low wages across a range of sectors. A traditional strike would have lacked the strong political focus that Unite was seeking, as well as the media coverage. [The school strike] delivers a high profile event that allows them to make youth rates a political debate.

Like you, I have misgivings about using children in political debates. However, the crux of Unite's argument is that 16-17 year olds should be treated the same as adults, so it is reasonable for them to then treat those students the same as they would their adult members by organising them to take action to advance their interests. I certainly remember being a 16 year old with very strong political and social justice beliefs that I would willingly have gone on strike for without being manipulated. I guess for me the issue is whether you empower children (teenagers/young adults/students) to be able to think politically and independently, or if you protect them from a political world until they are 18 and then bemoan the low voter turnout of young people?"

Heheh... I'll post my own schoolyard rebellion story next week.

They don't need no education

I'm all for a bit of schoolyard rebellion, but I think the Greens have been letting their high-minded ideas get to their heads in their support for the youth rates "strike".

First, the simplest point: Shouldn't a strike aimed at raising youth rates be aimed at employers of youth? You know, demonstrate the power of labour by withholding it from the capitalists?

Unless these kids normally work during school hours, none of them actually missed work during the strike. This would, by any assessment, make it a pretty goddamn lousy strike.

And if the point was simply to yell (literally) at Mackers and KFCs, couldn't it have been done after school? Well, no, because then you couldn't have wagged school to go protest, and then it would have been, like, just totally lame.

It's a pretty straightforward and obvious point, and I think Sue Bradford must be taking her own "democratic participation" rhetoric a little too seriously for her not to see it.

TV3 did a pretty leading piece on it, asking the kids whether they were being "manipulated" by the union organisers, and all but saying that that was the case.

It was weird reporting, but I can appreciate why they would have felt that "something was going on". Of the union organisers that they filmed, I knew every single one.

I photographed them all last time I went up to Auckland while they were protesting against Destiny Church during their "Defend Our Legacy" march. The guy they interviewed as the organiser from Unite! (a union for miscellaneous low-paid workers - including student media types) I knew from anti-US protests and from a "GE raid" on a New World in Wellington back in 2004, among other anti-GE activities.

The relevance is that the organisers from Unite! also happen to be the organisers of a wide and varied array of other political protests, and they are proponents of direct action tactics of the type that was seen (as opposed to real *industrial* action). "Manipulated" would suggest an unwillingness on the kids' part, but it would be fair to speculate that the "strike" was a direct result of Unite's involvement.

And it's difficult to shake the feeling that the kids are being exploited to further Unite's agenda here - just as you would if, say, National got kids to strike from school until NCEA was reformed. Perhaps it's unfair, but political mobilisation of kids always seems suspect, as it does in this case.

Apocalypse Again

My flatmates think I'm nuts. I justify every purchasing decision with "this will/will not be useful in the Apocalypse". I tried to get out Mad Max, Night of the Living Dead, The Omega Man and Shaun of the Dead at the same time. (I already own 12 Monkeys.) I even wrote my own Apocalyptic fiction, entitled "Where to Loot in Post-Apocalyptic Thorndon". Much to my surprise, it's going in the DomPost's weekend supplement on Saturday.

I don't really think the Apocalypse is coming. The article is satire, and "I can't use this in the Apocalypse" is really shorthand for:

"A manrobe is a what now?"
"You think I'll pay that for plates?"

Having spent a few days last week exclusively reading about the Apocalypse, it was interesting to read Russell's links on Monday about the Rapturists.

In general usage, Apocalypse has been taken to mean the end of the world. But very few Apocalypticists actually go that far - in most religious apocalypses, existence continues after "The End". The Definitive End is generally the domain of theoretical physicists and sci-fi writers.

Apocalypse actually means revelation, an act through which the truth is revealed by God. As a literary device, it's an act that takes away everything that keeps the world in its status quo and to reveal the truth of the world. At its heart, it's an expression of frustration at the way the world is now, and that it is fake or temporary somehow. Once the world gets flash-fried, the core that remains - The Truth - will flourish again, after a period of adjustment.

It's the same structure from Book of Revelations to Left Behind to The Day After Tomorrow. Destruction - massive, spectacular, Jerry-Brockheimer-esque kaplowie - is the key to the story, because without the destruction, the adherents of the Truth would remain marginalised as they are in the real world.

Their survival is not about luck, or even simple pluckiness. It's an idea of real, objective virtue in a world that is doomed because it lacks it.

And it's this that gives these stories a mythical power.

The evil could be greed and arrogance, dependence on technology, disregard for the environment, or, more in-line with dogma, having too much sex outside wedlock.

The marginalised in each of these worlds have the opposite of these qualities, and when that evil comes home to nest, their difference will save them.

For a world where environmental degradation is obvious but everyone refuses to see it because of greed and complacency, the environment will be restored through a purge of humanity.

For a world where god doesn't get a capital "G", where South Park gets aired, Mohammed cartoons get printed and where sex, drugs and rock & roll is the norm, God will come down and sort them out.

No value judgements here - just an observation that these are powerful, ancient myths that have been rewritten for every generation for every ill that ever threatened society. Perhaps it speaks to a part of us that would like the world to be reformed for the better. Perhaps it just speaks to a part of us that likes to see things burn. I know I certainly have a bit of both.

And then there's the survivalism, which was cool, surely, before Lost.

Here are instructions for building a fallout shelter with a shovel, a door, carpet and dirt. (I kid you not.) Here is the US Army Survival Manual, with a chapter on how to kick some Stone Age ass.

The Guardian asks ten experts for their picks for the End of the World. They are pretty good, but I liked the more exotic ones on Wikipedia: Ice-9 (fictional: a kind of ice that freezes at normal temperature and changes normal water to more ice-9, thus destroying world), strange matter (some quantum whatchamijig that will pop our quarks or somesuch and turn the earth into a giant nucleon - this is bad), grey goo (a bit more conventional - nanobots eat the world), and quantum vacuum collapse (not even going to try...).

And if none of those suit you, you should do it yourself. The International Earth-Destruction Advisory Board advises that the current Earth-Destruction alert level is Green: Not Destroyed.