What ho, Marxism!

Lots of people in the New Zild social media vortex got very excited about Marxism this week.

I suppose it keeps them off the streets.

Over at Dimpost, Danyl has had a go at the limits of 21st Century Marxists, still proclaiming the destruction of capitalism will solve everything.

His main point is that it won’t, I think. And, all things considered, it’s probably  not a view I’d disagree with.

He’s had a response from Gio, who backs Marxism, as  anyone familiar with Gio’s work might expect,  although it isn’t all that clear what he is exactly backing Marxism to do except make things, and people, nicer.

Which has to be the ultimate triumph of hope over experience, I suppose.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve read enough Marx to conclude I’m not a big fan.The verbosity, the moral superiority, the perpetual anger, the body count in the millions, etc etc etc…it’s just not me, really.

To be fair, Gio is a charming chap in real life, and as unlikely to cart anyone off to any gulag as I am to lecture you on dialectical materialism.

I’ve written before about the style of thought, of which Marxism is but a subset,  before, here – again, in response to something Danyl had written.

The only thing I’d add, perhaps, is to put a bit more emphaisis on the danger of all encompassing systems of political thought – and the way in which they have come to replace religion, or at least the least attractive aspects of organised religion.

English poet T E Hulme, writing in the first decade of the 2oth century, called Romanticism ‘spilt religion’ and it seems to me this style of thought has often spilled over into politics, mostly with unfortunate results.

Still, as a conservative interested in political ideas, I find all this stuff diverting. It is fruitless at best and dangerous at worst, though, to take it all too seriously.


So, finally…Monty Python, in a kind of of Unspeakable Secrets of Aro Valley Goes to the Gulag (and if you haven’t read Danyl’s latest novel, Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley, then do so: it’s hilariously brilliant):






Books and words

It was National Poetry Day today. I don’t have anything to contribute, sadly, not this year anyway.

‘Output Gaps’, my epic, Beowulf-influenced verse covering New Zealand’s post-World War Two economic travails and search for meaning,  is still at a very adumbral phase of development.


Queuing in the drizzle, Wellington Second hand book fair, 2014.
Stephen Stratford’s always wry, witty and thinky Quote/Unquote reprinted a 1996 piece on Jenny Bornholdt. I don’t think I’ve read any of her stuff but people whose taste I respect rekkin she’s good.

Elsewhere…the New Zild poet going over a storm right now, Hera Lindsay Bird, was asked to summarise the history of poetry and tweeted about it.

It made me laugh, genuinely, out loud. Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.39.27 PM

Lindsay Bird is welcome for many reasons, one is she uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot and the other being she refuses to be po-faced about poetry.

Given New Zild’s literary scene has been dominated by people bemoaning the country’s dour, puritan culture and being even more dour and puritan about culture, her approach is a gust of fresh irreverence. I hope she maintains it.

I’m probably missing a whole lot of points here. I usually do, about poetry.

Over at Dim-Post, Danyl McLauchlan is marking poetry day by discussing Scottish bard William McGonagall, generally regarded as the worst poet of all time.

There’s a lot of competition for that title: it’s a bit like the Australian Worst Loser Championship.

Spike Milligan did a failed film about him, The Great McGonagall, back in the 1970s. Milligan played McGonagall and Max Miller, as seen here:

The entire film was made in an old Victorian-era theatre Milligan was trying to refurbish and the idea was to raise money for that project. The film spluttered to an end because he had another of his breakdowns, according to one history I’ve read.

It is a shambles, but it’s a weird, compelling shambles. It’s the closest I think Milligan ever got to capturing his bizarre worldview on film:  a mix of tatty music hall, Victoriana (Peter Sellers plays Queen Victoria), bad jokes, and a mocking nostalgia, or a nostalgic mocking, of the British Empire.

The bit with Valentine Dyall as Alfred Lord Tennyson is wonderfully bizarre.

Finally, swearing.

Emma Hart, at Public Address, has a post on the joys of swearing, and like Hera Lindsay Bird, I think it’s fair to say she’s broadly in favour of the activity.

The only thing I’d add is a profound and heartfelt defence of the word ‘arse’  which I feel we are at risk of losing to the awful, anaemic ‘ass’.

In all the talk – most of it pernicious nonsense – about the generational divide in recent times (aside: I wrote about it in NBR recently, if you have a sub,  its here) there is one very large generational gapopening  up and that is the use of  the rather wet ‘ass’ vs. the magnificent ‘ARSE’.

New Zealanders under the age of roughly 35 are using ‘ass’ much more where in the past the word ‘arse’ would have been used.

Honestly, what is wrong with you young people?! 

‘Ass’ is a prissy Americanism. It’s not a swear word, its what a swear word wants to be when it grows up, and only then if mummy and daddy say it is ok.

‘Arse’ is a word you can roar in exasperation, fury, or exuberance.  It needs to be preserved.

A Society for the Preservation of Arse is called for, I think.

And finally, on the subject of words and books: tomorrow is the Downtown Community Ministry Second Hand Book Fair in Wellington.

I expect that, as in previous years, it will involve queuing in the rain. And this is what makes me a Wellingtonian, I think.

A city where people queue in the rain for second-hand books is my kind of city.


Blog catch up…Polls and media myths

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 7.43.08 PM

The latest Roy Morgan burst upon a breathless nation at the end of the week, showing National jumped 10% in support compared to the last poll, taking the party’s rating to 53%.

I’ll be writing more about this in my paid writing on Monday morning – suffice it to say, the Roy Morgan poll is notorious for its volatility in much the same way the Pacific Ocean is notorious for reasonably high degree of dampness.

The Young Nats are circulating a poster on social media triumphantly proclaiming the 53% rating.

I suppose youth must have its fling, and all that, but over at Home Paddock, Ele Ludemann, whose loyalty to the National Party is long and unquestionable, has some wise words in her post ‘A Snap In Time’. Don’t get too carried away here, is the essence of the message.

Ele’s blog to me epitomises some of the best aspects of New Zealand conservatism – low key, based on instinct rather than abstract ideology, essentially liberal in an open-minded rather than prescriptive way, and with a basic decency.

And as with many of the wiser people I’ve known, what is significant is often what is not said, or left out rather than what is made explicit.

Oh, and politics is not treated as the be all and end all of life.

Elsewhere on the blog front….Danyl at Dimpost asks the source of the tale, recounted occasionally in columns by babyboomers perusing the New Zealand culture, of a small provincial newspaper editorial booming ‘once again, we warn the Kaiser…’.

Or, in some versions,  the Tsar.

The tale is usually, locally, associated with the Grey River Argus, a West Coast paper which was at one time a Labour Party organ. I first heard this tale on the Wellington Polytechnic journalism course in 1982, from one of the tutors.

At the time I took it as one of the legends of The Profession: as I grew older and more sceptical I wondered a bit more about its accuracy. I’ve heard it applied to both the pre-World War One build up, and aimed at Germany, as well as the Russian Scare of the 1880s.

It seems it is a regular legend about the pretensions of provincial, Victorian/Edwardian newspapers, around the English-speaking world.

A lot of the informal tales of The Profession are like that.

One involved when explorer Vivian Fuchs was in New Zealand, for Sir Edmund Hilary’s expedition to Antartica.

According to the legend, a  sub-editor at the Christchurch Star was being let go, and his final front page, which featured a story about Fuchs, was headlined, ‘Fuchs Off To Antartica’  – only with a strategic and obvious misspelling of the explorer’s surname.

The error was spotted, according to the story, as the presses rolled, leading to a ‘STOP THE PRESSES’ moment and all papers hurriedly burned and a new edition quickly put together.

Great story – and one which has been told in other English speaking countries, about other newspapers.  Apocryphal tales told by journalists over a drinks or five are without borders.

Besides, what I do know about my fellow scribes, and survivors of the era when there were real print rooms, is that if any such edition had been printed, someone would have illicitly saved a copy.

Yes, even with the threat of being fired if you did so.

Come on. Why wouldn’t you?  It’d be a great story.

My favourite legend of journalism…well, one of them… is from the era British Fleet Street.

The story goes one of the dailies – probably the Telegraph, although the Times is possible – realised, as print time approached, the regular editorial writer was away and the job had not been assigned to anyone else.

A senior journalist was given the task and bundled into one of the small side offices with a bottle of whisky,  a topic and a deadline.

Right on the dot someone realised he hadn’t filed: a quick check found him, slumped over his typewriter, the tide having gone down considerably in the bottle and a magisterial “Notwithstanding….” the only word produced.

And while I usually raise a dubious eyebrow at many tales from The Profession, I choose to believe this one.




A riposte to Danyl Mclauchlan

Novelist, blogger and Twitter recusant Danyl McLauchlan has been reading about Trotsky. More fool him, I say, although I will confess to having read the book he cites, the Isaac Deutscher biography, back when I did a Russian history paper and I picked up that and Deutscher’s companion book on Stalin, in battered second-hand editions, at Dominion Books.

He ponders the power of Marxism in the first half of the 20th Century and how it has run into the political sand in recent years:


There are various critiques of contemporary capitalism out there. … But there’s no modern central unifying theory or writer or thinker or even group of thinkers or philosophy (that I can think of) that really articulates what the left is trying to do, and why. Alternatively:

  • There is and I’m oblivious to it
  • The failure of Marxism demonstrates the danger of totalising systems, so such a unifying theory would be undesirable.
  • There is no workable alternative to capitalism and all the left can do is try and mitigate its flaws through the political process according to our values (This is probably closest to my current viewpoint)
  • To paraphrase Keynes, the failures of capitalism are not moral (or philosophical) but rather a series of separate technical challenges to be solved=


My own views here are probably closest to his second option. There is a great exchange in letters between David Hume and Adam Smith, which is somewhere in one of my books but I can’t find the damn thing right now, where they talk about opposing ‘systems’  and the idea anyone can come up with an all-encompassing theory for society. They may have been discussing Edmund Burke’s writings. 

(And in my own, personal, pantheon of philosophers, a nexus of Hume, Smith and Burke, the three sceptical Celts, is as close to philosophical heaven as is possible in an imperfect and ultimately unknowable universe).

The notion human beings to come up with a ‘central unifying theory’ which explains everything strikes me as being foolish at best and totalitarian at worst. I don’t think it is possible to do this for society or humanity as a whole.

The other false premise is that capitalism is a theory which manages to actually do this.

Capitalism isn’t an ‘ism’. It isn’t a unified theory, arguably it isn’t a theory at all. And calling it a ‘system’ as both defenders and attackers sometimes do, seems to me to be stretching things a bit.

Remember that capitalism, as a concept, was defined not by people who would be considered capitalists, but by people who were opposing what was going on  – in that case, the industrial revolution – and were seeking to find a unified theory to encompass what they saw and did not like.

What we have come to call capitalism wasn’t devised in advance as a theory to make society better. Therefore it wasn’t a theory which people had to be made – say, at the point of a gun – to fit. 

And nor should ‘capitalism’ be turned into something like this (cf Chile under Pinochet).

What we’ve come to call capitalism evolved out of people doing what comes naturally. As such, it represents all the ingenuity and orneriness, all that is admirable and all that is reprehensible, in the human spirit.

It wasn’t, like Marxism and its Leninist and Trotskyist and Stalinist and Maoist descendants, worked out by some weird social misfits with a grudge against society, as a way of making people better. 

There are two notable characterises of unified theories of everything: one is they all too often end up butchering people to make systems and societies fit those theories.

Perhaps the best, most accessible novelist on this is Terry Pratchett in some of the later, darker, Discworld novels. Pratchett’s satire on theocracies, ‘Small Gods’ has torturers, along with the philosopher Didactylos who is a magnificnet enscapulation of the glories of doubt and uncertainty, scepticism and humanity. 

Amongst other shafts of wisdom from Didactylos is the pithy ‘We are here and this is now. After that, everything tends towards guesswork.’ This is *real* humility and humanity, I think. 

The second characteristic is the religious nature of such unified theories of everything. It is no coincidence, I think, that the rise of these ideologies came at a time the sea of Christian faith was receding rather rapidly, and the desperate hammering to cobble together new, unified theories to explain life and society rose to a crescendo to drown out the long, melancholy, withdrawing roar of retreating certainties.

Oh, and since the starting point of this was a blog post by Danyl McL, let me recommend his latest novel.

I have just started reading it. It looks good.



Marvellous-ish years, seething energies, and the trick of blogging upright

There is an elephant in the room – this computer,
an evolutionary change happening in our lifetime,
reducing our customs to fossils and converting
our children to new formats. As the Digital Age
powers on, I look wistfully at my books,
pen and notepad, and see that language is mutating.
Now the Web is a field of seething energies,
ready to extend and pool consciousness, is this
the transformation of the world to a unified virtual mind
or merely another noisy playground and marketplace?…

That is Roger Horrocks on the effect of the digital world on books, writing, literature, culture – and, ultimately, identity. The full piece is here and it’s well worth a read.

He doesn’t come to any conclusions – sensibly, I think. We’re in the middle of a revolution right now – and for once the word ‘revolution’ is not hyperbole – and it isn’t at all clear what the outcome will be.

Horrocks isn’t sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Personally, I’m tentatively optimistic.

New Zealand has always had a very “thin” cultural scene – it is a function of our small size and distance from everywhere else. The internet has broken that down and will no doubt break it down further.

My optimism lies in Horrocks comments about the ‘field of seething energies, ready to extend and pool consciousness.’

It is in the process of wrenching our notoriously parochial cultural scene out of its small-town-ness: it is also breaking down hierarchies and – dare one say it? – the ivory towers of universities.

Technology is breaking down both distance and walls and this has only just begun, I believe. It makes our small size less telling, provides easy access to a more global perspective and ideas and, obviously, helps ideas get around.

History is also deepening. The passage of time itself is helping, of course. But there is, I’ve noticed, a real hunger to talk, argue and occasionally throw things about New Zealand’s history, amongst the generation coming through.

As for the choice Horrocks outlines in the last line quoted above: I don’t think its a choice. It’s both.

The trick is going to be making sure the extension and pooling of consciousness happens along with the noise.

Link hilarity.


“Your detectives are a fine body of men, working hard to keep the public safe from satanists, diamond thieves and nutters armed with hammers. I salute them. 
But what hideous neckties they all wear! …Is it any wonder that the streets of London are full of glue sniffers, if this is the example the police set?” 
The genial lunatic atChase Me Ladies, I’m in the Cavalry  appears to be back.

Round the traps….

A series of choice lines from blogs I checked out this evening.

Ally rises up to the challenge of her rivals:
I wrote an awesome song based on my experiences in the campground showers, it is called “Pubes of a Stranger” and it has the same tune as Eye of the Tiger.

Stephen Stratford visits the ‘great literary lines that might get you laid’ and votes for  “Stuff me in a tutu and let’s screen experimental videos all day.”

Doesn’t do it for me. I’d go for the Amisian 

“You know how it is when two souls meet in a burst of ecstatic volubility, with hearts tickling to hear and to tell, to know everything, to reveal everything, the shared reverence for the other’s otherness, a feeling of solitude radiantly snapped by full contact — all that?”   

because I love the way the last two words deflate the whole thing. 

Afterthought: Amis junior’s prose here borrows from a passage in Evelyn Waugh’s great novel about journalism, ‘Scoop’ which also uses two words at the end of a long, apparently emotive sentence, to undercut what has gone before:

Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn’t know any different, got out, went straight to a hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spread-eagled in the deserted roadway below his window — you know. 

In more serious mien, Cactus Kate in one sentence puts her finger on the great thing about court coverage and in the next sentence the problem with it:

“Publishers must love court reporting because it is generally excluded from possible Press Council complaint and other proceedings because the court is public. If you study court reporting in any depth to a case you are familiar with because you have sat in court everyday with them during it...”

Every day.  All Day, or most of it.  When you could be chasing other stuff.  And the court staff hate journalists and usually will do anything they can to obstruct you.  

Oh, that’s not the bad bit…in fact, that’s the fun bit, because unless you do something really objectionable they can’t throw you out, so you can entertain yourself coming up with ways to subtly annoy them.  

No, its the all day thing.  Opportunity cost and all that.  

Property tax matters

Your favourite tax lawyer and mine, Cactus Kate, has a take (ha!) on the recently announced IRD crackdown on property investors.

I covered this in last week’s NBR (and I’ve been covering the issue for several years now) but on reflection I think the IRD’s announcement last week is actually aimed at giving NZers a more pleasant holiday season.

Life is full of bores (this may sound like a digression but bear with me). There are various types of bore – and I’ll do a Rob Hosking Guide to Bores another day – but one of the most pernicious is the Property Bore.

This is the person who will bend your ear for hours and hours about how much they’re making out of their investments, and how they’re not paying any tax on it.

There seem to be a lot of these in Auckland.

Now, by law, if you are making regular property investments, the IRD can come along and treat the capital gain from those investments as part of your income.

There are some issues around burden of proof on this, but if they find you have been skiting to all and sundry about what you are doing then the game’s pretty much up.

So the timing of this little announcement is, I think, the IRD’s Christmas gift to the nation.

It means any Property Bore, if they are sensible, will simply Shut The **** Up.

Blog Off

I started this blog back last year for a number of vague reasons…partly as a bit of light relief from what was going on elsewhere at the time.

I’m putting it into hibernation now. The main reasons are there is too much going on elsewhere I have to deal with. Blogs, if they are to work, need regular updates, and I’m just not able to do that at present.

So rather than do this in a half-pie fashion, I’ve decided to blog off – for a bit, anyway. It is possible I’ll do a relaunch at a later date, but we’ll have to wait and see.