Excuse Me, Gerry Brownlee

In the glorious battle over a National backbbencher’s bill to sort out the sorting out of lost property by airport authorities you can follow Professor Andrew Geddis’ contribution on Pundit and his posts on the inanity of the bill.  Once over lightly will suffice if you are not a dedicated student of the law.  In response the Minister of This and That Gerald Brownlie deposed that Geddis was out of order in his comments,  potentially an attack on democracy — whatever that means — treason?   Geddis responded by reminding Brownlee that universities are required by law to be the conscience and critic of society, here’s the link: Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Máxima Culpa

Whoopee for that particular clause in the Education Amendment Act 1990.   I don’t think means that academics are to come up with a collective conscience, an oxymoron if ever there was.  I think that occurs in theocracies.   And, alas, in democratically elected parliaments confronted by sticky issues when MPs comfort themselves with a conscience vote.  Thus they happily impose a state conscience on the good people of New Zealand and vigorously pat themselves on the back for their keen (?and superior) consciences.   Think abortion, cannabis oil and the nasty consequences that can follow if we take matters into our own hands.   Of course they were never once inflenced by the fear such issues could split their parties and undermine their lifestyle. 

If ever there is a time when academics must step up it is now.  The mainstream media is in collapse and was always short of time, space and, in too many instances, the political objectivity to comment accurately and intelligently.  This is not to say academics are perfect, but we need more people prepared to speak truth to power and not fear losing their jobs.           

APOLOGISE MR BROWNLEE.   Better still in the language of the great unwashed GO GROVEL.   And please, please don’t punish my impudence by taking my pension away.

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Men and Bicycles

“The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community.”

–Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895

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Women at the Top

Every so often I receive a newsletter from the Ministry of for Women‘s Affairs which showcases a handful of women high achievers.  I don’t know how many lesser mortals read the newsletter.  No chance we’ll all fit at the top of course.  What’s the Ministry doing to advance the lot of women at the bottom?  Or has it become a public relations service for incumbent governments?  Onetime minister ‘I’m not a feminist’ Louise Upston has (?been) moved on.  She timed her boast very badly indeed.  ‘I’m a feminist’ was to become the crie du jour worldwide.   

Upston didn’t physically drape herself over the high rollers the way her boss does.  Richie McCaw must shudder every time he sees John Key.   Showcasing Key’s up close, touchy feely approach  risks reminding us of his pony tail pratfall.  Flanking himself with power-dressed, striding women ministers is the new look.  Reminds me National’s Ruth Richardson flanked by very young men in black suits, fresh out of Canterbury University (the hotbed of neoliberal fantasies) I guessed, and keen to roll the welfare state.   

Equally bad timing accompanied Labour’s NO MORE IDENTITY POLITICS (NMIP) fiat  a year or so ago and the scurrying of backbench women MPs to a lockup/back rooms. Transgender people are now getting their time in the sun!   So much for male management, public relations skill.   Shane Jones, their faux ordinary bloke and standard-bearer for NMIP scurried himself off to the Pacific Islands courtesy of National’s job creation scheme.  He seems set to replace Winston Peters,  schadenfreude for both major parties and death knell for NZ First? 

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The Cost and Company of Men

Over the last three plus months I have mainly been in the company of men, in the real world and on TV, due to the exigencies of age.  It is wearing.  Things  have improved since my mother’s day thanks only in part to women’s liberation.   I fell deliriously in love with automatic washing machines in 1971.   My father took one brief look at mine after inquiring about when and where I washed the nappies, and promptly bought my mother one.  Hooray for the engineers who designed them, mainly men?  

A heap of gratitude is also owed to the mainly male researchers who developed the contraceptive pill a decade earlier.  And also to women (me, too) who were and still are guinea pigs trialling newer forms of contraception.   The male impregnator remains almost completely off the hook, and sexually transmitted disease is still a serious problem.  I can’t help recalling a 1950s hit  ‘It was an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini that she wore for the first time today‘ and then ‘she was afraid to come out of the water‘.  Modern man fears a little loss of sensation from itsy bitsy prettified condoms and still manages to climax!   It is highly unlikely that he will face a cheering, jeering crowd of women. 

Here’s the biggest gripe I have with men.  I’m convinced most still have a superiority complex.   Fundamental narcissists, they fail to develop self knowledge even in regard to activities traditionally regarded as their fiefdom.   Lots can’t look after tools, lose them, fail to return borrowed ones, fail to read instructions, rarely listen to instructions proffered by a woman.  I couldn’t count on two hands the number of my irons they broke.  I can count on two fingers the expensive saws they broke.  Way back my parked car nearly went off the Rimutaka hill road, the male driver left it in gear but failed to put the handbrake on.  (I opened passenger door, reached brake).  A parked, brand new scooter was comprehensively crushed by an inebriated male driver who drove off.   A later scooter, motorbike demised while in the care of men.  I had no accidents of even minor significance.  Certainly there were far fewer cars on the road.  

Male measuring skills are often woeful.  We all come to hate painting, men scorn paying a professional, you just know they will knock over the tin.  Family pretties, artefacts, heirlooms suffer in their proximity.  Even the kids got more damaged on expeditions with Dad.  “Keep your eye on them ALL the time especially when playing with older children” wasn’t clear enough advice?  

I’m seriously slow at learning how to use tools, constantly recheck, file instructions, the latter a skill many men can’t master.  I’m a whiz at diagnosing car problems, religiously check water, heat, can’t recall ever leaving too little petrol in a car to get to a service station or insisting on driving down some less than car-friendly road.   Oh how I’ve pushed and pushed, blinded by a stinging mud shower, from behind the back wheel.  

To be fair my sons, set an imperfect example by their self-employed, time-constrained but kitchen-skilled father (unusual for the times) proudly report on their domestic contribution and lav cleaning skills.  Ageing lad admitted to furiously grabbing towels to clean loo floors at posh London parties!   ‘Men are such pigs!’  I take that as homage to my belligerent training skills. 

Later, I’ll look at the look the cost of men and their incompetence in the wider world which they still dominate.  They may prove humanity’s undoing if climate change rolls on, male dictated opposition to contraception and abortion is not challenged by more enlightened world leaders, population numbers reduced, dwindling resources shared more evenly.  Propping up ailing western economies by selling arms to potential enemies is an astonishing feat of dimwittedness.  Men claim they built the big civilisations, overlook women’s rejoinder that they also bought them  down.  The remarkable contribution of women who laboured, raised children, ran farms, businesses didn’t rate serious (?any) mention in the history texts I read fifty years ago.

I don’t like to think one future disses with age.  I do know women can be destructive.  I also know my parents and their contemporaries who had the experience of two world wars and a long depression felt they contributed to building a better, fairer world.   I liked to think I was following in their footsteps, challenging their mistakes, advancing a more inclusive agenda.  I wish I could say I helped build a better world.  It grieves me that I can’t. 

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Rereading de Beauvoir 9: History, Ch. 5

Part Two, History. Chapter 5 (128-159):

It’s been nearly a year since the last chapter, partly because I’ve been extra busy, partly because I keep getting side-tracked down other Beauvoirian rabbit holes — and I mean ‘rabbit holes’ in a good way. I’ve just finished reading the three-volume autobiography, which my hoa tane bought me for my birthday. And why has that taken so long? More rabbit holes, of course. For example, I could hardly read SdB writing about the writing of each of her novels without reading them, could I — OK, some of them; and then she ended the second volume (“Force of Circumstance”) of the autobiography with an overwhelmingly sad and/or depressing section on getting old. So that, of course, sent me off to read her book on aging (which I haven’t finished yet, but will definitely write

Alice Duer Miller published this sarcastic column "Why We Oppose Votes for Men, in the National American Woman Suffrage Association around 1915.

Alice Duer Miller published this sarcastic column “Why We Oppose Votes for Men, in the National American Woman Suffrage Association around 1915.

about). Then, at the start of the final volume (“All Said and Done 1962-1972”), she explains that that overwhelmingly sad and/or depressing section was misunderstood by pretty much everyone. Well, I thought, that must include me, and I felt a bit chastened, like I’d been rapped over the knuckles by SdB and told I was stupid. Then I thought, bullshit. We didn’t misunderstand it! Nah, SdB is trying to re-frame it after the fact. Ahem! Yet I remain fascinated by SdB’s ongoing obsession with aging. I want to understand it, and particularly, to understand how and why a woman so smart about so much — especially when it comes to what is ‘essential’ about a person and what isn’t — couldn’t do a better job of transcending (is that the right word? Overcoming? Ignoring? Co-opting?) at least some of the societal mandates around aging. True, aging is an inescapable facticity (fact), but wouldn’t an Existentialist be the best equipped of anybody to respond to it in ways that challenge the status quo. I know, I know, you can’t just overcome facticity…

I digress. Back to Le Deuxieme Sexe!

This is the last of the chapters in the History section of the book, and it traverses how (and to some extent why) women have fared so badly from the time of the French Revolution (1789) until “now” , i.e. the 1950s (with some excursions into other centuries). Obviously, there’s a fair amount of French history, which is a bit of a relief, since lately I’ve had more than enough of miserable Anglophone history and politics.

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I Love a Lager

It is that time of the year again by which I mean craft beer time.  Suddenly pretentious lads of a certain age and plus, one of which is helpful  son, wax lyrical about the delights of craft beers.  Intelligent conversation is discarded as was the case when wineries The-New-Yorker-Beer-mushroomed around the country.   Remember all those damn fruits you had to identify to prove buff status.   I love scoffing a plate of fresh fruit with wine, but competing to identify which ones are in it without looking at the bottle is not a substitute for camaraderie and conversation.  Worse still craft beers brings back a distressing memory of lads pre-Germaine Greer along with their home brew.  At least the latter  frequently distressed them, too.    

Offsider assured me I have been a natural for good plonk, quaff his glass and most of the bottle without fuss or fruit fixation.  Well done me, the perfect guest.  Maybe the craft beer bible study of late is more appropriate to our diminishing income status now that interest rates have nosedived. I like cider, there wasn’t much wayback, it sadly vanished from the shelves.  Now it’s a treat given me by a neighbour for looking after her cat.  I don’t have to recall the type as I’ve liked them all.

I like the mainstream lagers.   And drinking from a bottle.   A minor penchant for reckless hand gestures and dodgy grip doesn’t fully account for this.  I do insist on a cheap wine glass but fatalities are frequent.   A cheap sauvignon blanc on regular special is neighbour’s and my pick for the evening sip provided it is of very recent vintage.  

Christmas goodwill means I will down a craft beer without great angst.   But I think I’ll take along a copy or two of this delightfully derisory Guardian piece on craft beers:  Modern Tribes: The Craft Beer Enthusiast.   The author is a woman.  

In the interest of balance if you are thinking of giving someone a posh bath oil or the like read this:  Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour by Dita Von Teese – digested read.  The author is a man.

Have a happy festive season. 

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Keeping the World Safe for Liberals

“First they came for the Jews…” It’s become a cliché by now, but as I watch the ‘liberal establishment’ (for want of a better slur) twist and squirm at the rise of the fascistic nativism of Donald Trump I can’t help but think of that Niemöller quote, though not in terms of the Jews.

Instead, how about blacks, Iraqis or women?

Imagine if the crimes inflicted on the people of Iraq by that unprovoked war inspired half as much widespread outrage as the rhetoric of Donald Trump? Or the incarceration rates of black Americans? Or the stripping away of women’s rights to control their own bodies?

Feminists and reproductive rights advocates have watched and warned as, year after year, both in rhetoric and reality, a woman’s right to control her own body has become mainstreamed as a political target. Has the liberal establishment given much of a crap? There were a few muted dissenting voices, but, hey it’s about nasty old abortion and that doesn’t really count because it’s – you know – abortion. From the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act” of 2003 (and you know what else happened that year), to endless new mandatory requirements on women seeking abortions, to TRAP laws that close clinics, right up to the more recent political mainstreaming of opposition to contraception – all proving that it was never really about abortion in the first place. Which is what feminists and reproductive rights advocates were saying right at the start.

You can surely make this case about every progressive cause – that they’re largely ignored by the mainstream until someone as unpalatable as Donald Trump comes along and weaves them all into a successful populist platform that threatens the liberal establishment’s fantasy that it lives in a liberal country. It’s a special kind of American Exceptionalism, or perhaps blindness is a better word: We might do a lot of things that aren’t ‘liberal’, like invade other countries and cause the deaths and displacement of millions of people; like incarcerate more citizens than any other country in the world while giving police a license to kill black and brown people; like stand by while the social safety net gets reduced to tatters; like not really bother much about the fact that abortion doctors are terrorised on a daily basis… But, hey, we’re still “the greatest nation on earth”, to quote President Obama.

What is so surprising to me about the liberal freak-out in the U.S. over The Donald is how surprised they seem. This kind of thing is part of America’s DNA, it’s always there – it’s just that it doesn’t usually break out of its “individual cause” ghetto and reach the consciences of the liberal establishment. Writing in The New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan notes that the table for Trump “was set by years of dog whistles and codes”. True! But he continues: “The very ‘un-American’ sentiment that Republican elders now claim to despise has been a mainstay of conservative media for at least a decade”. Um, “Un-American”. Nuh uh! It’s American. That’s the problem. Paul Krugman does something similar in insisting it’s the Republicans (not America-the-exceptional) who are to blame. I agree with him that “this ugliness has been empowered by the very establishments that now act so horrified at the seemingly sudden turn of events”. Except that the establishments he’s talking about are Republican, whereas mine would be much broader and would embrace not just the Republicans, but the republic.

So what happens next? Under this scenario, The Donald will likely end up reinforcing the liberal American fantasy of itself. When he eventually does disappear, they’ll be able to put down their pens in satisfaction – satisfaction that not only is America still exceptional (in that good way), but that they the good liberals of the establishment, did their bit to keep it so.

Meanwhile, back at the abortion clinic, there’ll be another doctor wearing a bullet-proof vest sneaking in the back entrance and another woman ordering abortion meds over the Internet; at the prison, there’ll be another 20 black men in the intake line; for police in cities and towns across the nation, it will still be open season on non-whites; in the Middle East, the dead will keep piling up and the refugees will keep coming up as ever more failed states are created; and everywhere corporates will continue acting in ways that ensure the planet becomes uninhabitable. All because America is the greatest nation on earth, it’s liberals safe, finally, from Donald Trump.




Posted in Abortion, Environment, Feminism, Sexual liberation, Social policy, Wars | 1 Comment