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Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I posted this story before on my blog, then under the title THE ENGLISH DISEASE (you'll see why when you read it). I took it off my blog as I submitted it as an 'unpublished' story in a competition. It never got anywhere even though Noam Chomsky liked it. Now when reading George Monbiot in the Guardian on his take of the recent UK floods and the incomprehensible stupidity of the UK government not to deal with even basic remedial action like planting a few trees, I thought I would re-publish my little story in terms of 'climate change', just with minor changes in the dates/names used.


The following text fragment is on display at the Museum of Humans. It dates from approximately ten planetary years before the final demise of the human species. In the interest of authenticity the text was reconstructed in the dominant language of the time, namely English. The text, in digital format, was found in an area then known as New Zealand.

“New paragraph … as mentioned before when in 2015 a psycholinguist from the University of Auckland published a paper called The Consequences of Language Obsolescence in an obscure academic journal, there were only a few fellow travelers who nodded wisely. Yes, they had read it many times before, the dire warning of language species extinction, analogous to biological species extinction. Yes, they knew the simple analogy: while it might have been very economical to have just one species of tree for economical exploitation, there is the danger of some unknown disease wiping out the global plantations of Pinus radiata. Ipso facto, no more trees. Apso ficto, no more languages. Full stop.”

Now wait a minute, the uninitiated said. Scaremongering, the anti-climate and anti-language change proponents screamed. Not possible. How could a language like English disappear? Languages do not get affected by viruses (well, computer languages might!). Next you crazy lefty greenies telling us that degenerative TRUMP English ISIS the cause of all this non-existent climate change. In any case, in Orwellian 2015 it was considered a laughable proposition by new-speak, even by those who thought it quite possible that climate change might affect the earth adversely. Sure, the Maori language had been nearly wiped out, but weren’t there signs of a renaissance? Plus there were all these community languages in New Zealand. And English! English everywhere. The language of globalization. New Zealand was blessed to have native speakers of English, hence providing a sizable pool of teachers of English for those billions of people unlucky enough to have been brought up with a lesser tongue. Teaching English was a major industry. Worth millions if not billions. English as an ass-et.

When in 2019 there was a sudden and dramatic increase in the incidence of a variant of Alzheimer’s Disease in the English speaking world with ageing populations, a noted Chomskyan neuro-linguist from MIT (not the one in Auckland) came up with the thesis that the disease was caused in part by a degeneration of the language capacity (an organ in the brain) which in turn was caused by English mental stresses which in turn were caused by modern life styles, etc, which in turn, etc, etc. Case studies seemed to provide evidence for the proposition. Most worrying of all was the high incidence of variant Alzheimer’s in English speakers in their thirties. For a while the mass media picked up the story and there was a popular debate on whether or not medical science had shot itself in the foot. Do we live longer only to lose our English minds faster? Even the old joke reappeared whereby English-speaking men, young and old, maintain erections with vast supplies of Viagra but cannot remember what for. Soon, of course, the debate was overtaken by other weather news. A gigantic tornado had wiped out large parts of Kansas City. Hundreds of thousands died. The drought in Australia had become so severe that a state of emergency had been declared and vast tracts of land were placed under the command of the military forces that regulated the remaining water supplies on behalf of water corporations. In the UK a 200-year flood event arrived first with a 10-year frequency and lately as an annual event. In New Zealand a 1,000-year flood covered most of Northland for weeks on end (the commonality of hundred year floods had necessitated upping the ante exponentially). 2019 was a bad year alright. Most people blamed it on the accelerating climate changes. Governments around the world scrambled to halt the decline. The New Zealand Parliament formed a grand government coalition and banned the use of private cars below 1,000 cc, private boats and private jets below 1,000 cc for private use. It became a national past time to define, refine and redefine ‘private use’. The working classes were forced to use scarce public transport, having to get up two hours earlier to go to work, waiting in long queues at bus and train stops. Public air traffic quadrupled. Air taxis became the favoured mode of transport for those with disposable incomes. Drunk flying and carnage in the skies became a bit of a problem. In 2020, however, there were hardly any new natural catastrophes of note, and the world and the transport and knowledge industries sighed a collective sigh of relief. Only the ongoing drought in Australia led to large-scale riots in the major cities which were forced to drastically reduce their water consumption. Civil unrest and civil wars continued at their usual level of intensity. The United States government and its armed forces, as usual, were fighting evil insurgencies in various vassal states and the mimicry of the Roman Empire extended to a Nero-type president incinerating a large part of Washington DC. The president blamed a barbarian group of evil extremists with headquarters in Barbados. All and sundry were nuked out of existence. It was later claimed that the president and his women had confused Barbados with Bavaria (both beginning bith b). The whole spectacle was a fantastic opportunity for a start-up interactive Internet service called Inferno.

As we all now know now, the first signs of the oxygen fluctuations were reported from Christchurch in the same year. A bizarre confluence of cosmic and local events indeed: a spot of extreme ozone depletion coupled with the Christchurch Föhn and an electric storm served as a catalyst for oxygen in the air to form allotropic ozone. This went on long enough for people and animals to suffer respiratory difficulties leading to some 50,000 items of collateral damage in humans. Scientists assured us that this was a one in a billion year event. Ha, in 2027 we knew new now better semi-colon.

It’s hard when you cannot breathe. Like an asthma attack of asthma. You suck air into the lungs but you cannot expel it. You feel like exploding. Sure, just about everyone was running around with inhalers and a bottle of oxygen and stuff. Like, like way back when people, like, ran, like, around with bottles of water. In the beginning it was status symbol. Oxygen bottles in many fashion colours. Like, a cool accessory. Clean green oxygen from New Zealand sold well all over the world. Cynics like you and me pointed out that oxygen is oxygen all around the world makes the world go around. A severe oxygen fluctuation in 2029 around and around Shanghai killed 10 million people. There was not enough oxygen to go around go around. Even mild oxygen depletion affects the brain. Or is it the mind, English or otherwise? It affects your language exclamation mark. You become incoherent. You tend to babble like Bertrand Russell who became my English mantra:

After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Neros, Genghis Khans and Hitlers. This, however, I believe is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will again become incapable of supporting human life, and peace will return.

                                                                                    [1950, Unpopular Essays]

In moments of doubt and sufficient oxygen I caught snippets of Wittgenstein. What did he say? Quardle ardle wardle doodle? No, know, now not that one! It’s on the tongue of my tip. It’s all a game. I never felt so happy as never before. It’s a game. It’s really funny. Shame on the trilobites. What a word. In the beginning was the word. You see. English words like word. Crazy Germans have a funny word for that: sich totlachen. I can hardly breathe.

Today looks like a good oxygen day. Our Coromandel commune is waking up to the latest news that Auckland now looks like a scene from Quiet Earth. One of our scouts had tramped there and returned to tell the tall tale. I remember this from my English lessons. No, no, nothing to do with Smith’s Dream or Bruno. There’s a name for it. A row of words all beginning with the same consonant. I know it but I cannot remember it. I know a lot of things. Lucky I don’t remember. But Auckland, how could I forget. I lived there all these years ago. Taught English. Brought up a family. Had a mortgage. I can still recite the poem ‘the farm’s still there, mortgage corporations couldn’t give it away, and quardle ardle wardle doodle the magpies say’. See ‘say’ I say to my students, bloody brilliant, present tense, you see. They don’t, never learnt no English grammar. They think I’m mad. So does the management and I lose my job, never to get another one. Yes, how could I forget when the bubble burst, as foretold by my father-in-law. We had signed an unconditional agreement to buy this lovely 10 acre persimmon and olive lifestyle block in Katikati to get away from it all. We borrowed and paid the ten percent $74,900.00 deposit. It all depended on us selling our she-sells-sea-shells-on-the-sea-side home in Gulf Harbour and the flat in the city. It was just a matter of weeks, said our nice real estate man, especially if we meet the market, he said with a twinkle in his eye. It would sell, but it didn’t because it was a leaky home and then the bubble burst and it was too late to meet the market. Deposit gone. Noah’s Ark flooded. Timber not treated. No job, no income. Market collapsed. Yes, I remember. Bloody disaster alright. Great depression followed. I shall – future is not a tense – now not now remember now what happened now next. I cannot remember. Member. Me.

Today smells like a bad oxygen day. There is a fly around in my brain. I try. Breathe, baby breathe. Tihei mauriora. Kia kaha. Excuse my relapse, te reo pakeha, the language of darkness.

Pen-ultimate paragraph (sic, sick). The sun did not rise today. I rage against the darkness. The journey north. Soulless souls. Unable to even speak in tongues. Ethereal English. Devoid of all alliteration, allusion, antonym and anality. Blank. Blank. Spacebar. Battery very low. Close down. Computer speaks English for the last time.

We have reached Cape Reinga. Hip-i-ti-hop hop-it-i-hip, oh what fun, we all jump.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A review of THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov

I was alerted to Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita by a Russian-speaking student of mine. I did a bit of on-line research and found that I should have heard about the novel, if not have read it. Various bits of pop trivia whetted my literary appetite: Marianne Faithful (whom I like as a singer – and having been associated with Mick Jagger, whom I also sometimes like as a singer, and having been associated with Heathcote Williams, whom I like as a poet) was supposed to have read the novel and then concocted, with Mick, the Rolling Stones lyrics of Sympathy for the Devil (a song I like). There is also a long list of other popular culture influences the novel is supposed to have had. And then there are claims that the novel is one of the best of its century, or even of all time: how come I had never heard of it (not that I am the great arbiter)? A cursory review of reviews suggested that the novel is a critique of Soviet life in the 1930s, in particular of Soviet-style atheism, as the novel’s theme seems to be of the Christian sort, what with Pontius Pilate, the Devil with his bizarre retinue and various Russian literati (not to mention the Master and beautiful Margarita) as protagonists. That the novel was published in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s was therefore somewhat surprising to me, given that the author is commonly portrayed, in the cursory reviews I reviewed, as a dissident not unlike Solzhenitsyn. And apparently the novel was a great success in the Soviet Union at the time. Something does not compute here, so I bought the book (the Penguin Classics version) and read it.

Now I understand several things and some I don’t.

  • ·      It is indeed not surprising to me now that the novel has reached some sort of cult status, as well as being hailed as major novel of our time; it is very well crafted and has that Russian literary charm and wit displayed by many of the great Russian writers
  • ·      I don’t think the main purpose of the novel is a critique of Soviet life at the time; in fact in some ways it is an affirmation of sorts; that the Soviet literary censors passed it for publication is thus much less surprising; if anything the novel is a clever satire of Soviet life at the time and can be compared to any other time in human history, like that of Pontius Pilate’s (his secret police is as efficient as that of the Soviets), and note that Pontius Pilate (and his dog) is given a divine pardon for having wanted to save Jesus from execution (thus somewhat unfortunately perpetuating the miserable myth that the Jews killed him and deserve all the punishment for it); the story is about the eternal Muscovites and not about the Soviets
  • ·      In fact, Bulgakov should have considered the involvement of the Woland and his retinue in Jerusalem to balance it with what happened in Moscow (that he didn’t makes the Pontius Pilate interludes somewhat less satirical and could thus be misunderstood as some sort of religious endorsement by Bulgakov)
  • ·      The novel is not anti-atheist either, at least in the sense that religion is not a topic in the novel; the author’s masterful treatment of magic realism simply makes use of some major Christian/Judaic/Roman figures that may or may not be mythical; Bulgakov pokes fun at the suggestion that all phenomena must have scientific explanations, including the idea that supernatural delusions can be caused by mass hypnosis; anyone driven ‘insane’ is treated humanely with injections at the modern psychiatric clinic (not much different from today); I suppose what Bulgakov is trying to convey is to say that if you see the devil and a black cat flying through the air, why not? There is no point in locking people up who are deluded (when in fact the vast majority of people generally are); when in the 1960s psychedelic drugs set a few minds wandering (and wondering) the reaction was the same: lock them up.
  • ·      It is not a novel of ‘good versus evil’ as well understood by Faithful/Jagger in the song Sympathy for the Devil, i.e. it is exactly that: the devil is quite a nice guy who shows up cowardice and greed while in the end providing the Master and Margarita with a peaceful afterlife; Margarita in particular has lots of fun with the Devil and his retinue; her maid even selects to be a naked witch for eternity rather than returning to a humdrum existence
  • ·      The retinue: Bulgakov cleverly transforms the Biblical behemoth into a big black cat and has lots of fun with it – another sign that he has a quite subversive attitude towards the whole Christian-Judaic (or any religion that paints the world back and white) idea of the ‘unclean powers’; in some reviews the Germanic sounding Woland (the devil/Satan) is strongly connected to Goethe’s Faust but I cannot detect any such connection: there is no Gretchen, there is no Faust; the Master is not a Faustian character as on the contrary he accepts his salvation to ‘rest in peace’ from Woland; Bulgakov’s Woland is an outlandish, all-powerful magician with a philosophical bent, just what Moscow and any other metropolis needs (the character of the Joker in the Batman movie industry is a pale imitation)
  • ·      The literary goings-on in Moscow in the 1930s are as bizarre as in any era in any place on earth: all the literary wanna-bees (excuse the pun) are on top of their game making sure that only very occasionally a good writer/playwright/poet passes through the cracks of the literary fortress: the idea that a writer has to have an ID to be admitted is ridiculed by the black cat and Koroviev when they say that Dostoyevsky would never have gotten an ID, and anyhow how does anyone know who is a writer and who is not; that the Soviet literary machine was as corrupt as any Western one can hardly be disputed unless one is a propagandist on either side; that Bulgakov survived as a writer under the Soviet regime is testament to the fact that it wasn’t all doom and gloom
  • ·      How a ‘writer’ is recognized as a true master, is however a main theme in the novel: it takes a beautiful woman who reads the novel backwards and forwards
  • ·      Margarita saves the Master only by becoming a lusty witch (I understand that earlier versions of the novel contained quite a bit of ribald sex while the current version is very tame even though any amount of beautiful naked young women scurry across the pages); Woland and his male retinue are strangely sexless in the presence of their naked ‘maid-witch’ Hella
  • ·      The scenes of greedy women getting pretty dresses at the Variety show only to be magically and justly disrobed afterwards in the street and thus are made the butt of jokes, is of course in tandem with getting ‘free’ rubles only to be turned into ‘foreign currency’ – which at the time was a major crime to have (and why not?); showing up greed and deception (and receiving appropriate punishments when exposed by the all-knowing evil retinue) has lots of comic effect but is a bit overdone in my opinion
  • ·      All the scenarios involving magic realism, i.e. all the scenes with Woland and his retinue, can become a bit tiresome after a while as the reader is left hanging in the air, as it were, not having the slightest idea as to what would happen next – as anything can happen (flying through the air seems a favourite activity and is often described in great detail, including the shocking disbelief it evokes from those left on the ground); magic realism as a literary device should be toned down so as to allow the reader some leeway; when in the end the Soviet investigative authorities put it all down to mass hypnosis, the joke is not very well carried
  • ·      The ending is a bit sad as the message seems to be that really good ‘citizens’ like the Master and Margarita can only live in peace after death, even if death is described in rather romantic phrases.

In the end I am not quite sure what the proverbial moral of the story is. Given the clever novel structure of a Russian doll, the interpretations can be equally manifold. It is not at the level of a phantasmagoria with Faustian themes, a la Goethe, lacking the leaden Teutonic weight of a Wagnerian opera. It is not straight-out comedy or even tragicomedy a la Shakespeare. Neither is it a Satyricon a la Fellini. The novel is much lighter than those of his much quoted Russian heroes: Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. Bulgakov never mentions any of the political figures of the day. Apparently he once wrote a letter to Stalin complaining about being sidelined as a playwright – and Stalin arranged for him to get a job (apparently Stalin quite liked his work). There are many ambiguities. Some reviewers suggest that Bulgakov’s attendance at the notorious Bullit (the US ambassador) party gave him the ideas for his Walpurgisnacht scene. Well, the only unnamed ‘foreigner’ in the novel is a fat customer in a ‘currency shop’ who is made fun of by the black cat and his companion. This is not a political novel. This is a literary novel dealing with the age-old dilemma of the true writer/philosopher (masterful and Christ-like) being in the way of the corporate establishment which will go to any length to extinguish dissenting voices, knowing well enough that the dissidents are right and they are wrong, like the Pontius Pilate character. Life seems dedicated to the all-powerful Caesars of this world, exercising their wretched power on the backs of the mostly deluded citizens. What would real power look like? Consider an all-knowing black cat that talks and walks like a common man. That would be truly amazing as the black cat would transform the world in a minute or two. Bulgakov gives it a go, knowing full well that it’s just a nice delusion, a nice fantasy, like dreaming of beauty and wine, drifting off into another world when this old one is done. One wonders what Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger think of all this as they approach their twilight years. Did they really understand the whole idea by interpolating “allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste … what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game”. Certainly the second part of the refrain sounds true for Woland but not the first one. Bulgakov quite correctly paints Woland and his retinue as somewhat slovenly characters who have not the slightest interest in wealth (and taste). Wealth after all is a human folly now enacted again in a neo-capitalist and neo-feudalist Moscow that Bulgakov would also view with great literary disdain.

Friday, August 21, 2015


A review of Life on the Edge: the Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden (2014)


This review is dedicated to my late father-in-law, Brian McCabe who bought the book just prior to his heart-attack which lead to his death some three months later in July 2015, aged 86. He had taken the book as reading material with him to hospital. I instead started reading the book when visiting him in hospital. He never got to read a single page. There is an obvious and somewhat tragic if not ironic correlation between the book’s title and his own falling off the edge of life, as it were. My father-in-law was not a scientist but worked for many years as a lab technician in the chemistry department of the University of Auckland. He had an interest in popular science but I never really asked him about him about his motivation to buy this particular book. I wonder how he would have responded - on his deathbed - to the quote on p.316:

Perhaps death represents the severing of the living organism’s connection with the orderly quantum realm, leaving it powerless to resist the randomizing forces of thermodynamics.

Given his sense of humour, he might have responded with something like ‘so that’s what it is’.

I am not a quantum scientist either but a linguist with an interest in biolinguistics, hence always interested in discoveries that might explain language and thought – and life in general – and after finishing reading the book I have a similar response. While the depth of explanation of biological organisms is truly amazing, the authors concede, as they must, that we are nowhere near a scientific explanation of how life started, based on Feynstein’s quoted adage that ‘if I cannot make it, I cannot understand it’. Another limiting factor, also acknowledged, is Gödel’s dictum that no logical system can explain itself. This is particularly pertinent when the authors tackle the question of the human mind and its attendant qualities of ‘ideas’ and thought and language. Even if we can now explain olfaction, navigation and vision as quantum based phenomena and therefore assume that all sensory input is thus transported to the brain, the next step to the formation of an ‘idea’ in the human brain is highly speculative and indeed very nebulous when the authors propose a ‘binding’ force in terms of electromagnetic fields. How this electromagnetic ‘idea’ is then further manipulated into an action is equally unclear. Of course the action of painting a cave picture – as used by analogy by the authors – can then be reversed as quantum-mechanical output. If I add the qualification that ‘ideas’ equal thought and thought equals language, then we have a lot of explaining to do, as to how electromagnetic fields generated by quantum-based electric inputs can in turn generate language. How did the cave woman, how did the authors, how do I generate the ideas that in turn generate the picture or the words used in these instances? Is it just a matter of further research needed to get to the crux of this matter or is it a matter – excuse the pun – of Gödel’s dictum that by extension would claim that life cannot explain itself, and neither can language explain language. These very ideas of self-reference and self-replication are explainable to a certain degree at the level of the (quantum-)mechanics involved but they cannot be explained (or ‘made’ to use Feynstein’s word) from scratch, i.e. their evolution remains a mystery and must remain so until an alien meta-intelligence will figure it out (and which will be unintelligible to us anyway). There are of course many human alternatives to the scientific explanation, however religiously incoherent they may be. This is something lacking in the book: speculation on how bad ideas are generated. The example of the cute cave woman painting a bison needs to be counterbalanced by the mad cave man, maybe someone like Donald Trump or Adolf Hitler, who seem to make up the majority population in terms of generating the worst possible outputs. What kind of electromagnetic de-coherence and thermonuclear white noise generate such minds? If our minds operate on the level of quantum computers, there is of course so much that can go wrong and will go wrong. As pointed out by the authors, man-made quantum computers are very difficult to maintain their coherence, hence natural mind-quantum-computers (i.e. the human brain) are subject to malfunction although without any detrimental effect on the brain itself. In other words, brilliant scientific minds can be subservient to the most horrible genius. One of the more speculative ideas generated by the authors is of course of great interest to biolinguists: quantum computation as opposed to classical computation allows for linguistic theory to make a great leap from binary ‘merge’ models (à la Chomsky) to ‘superpositional’ states, quantum entanglement and other ‘spooky’ phenomena. If we accept that human language must be the most complex biological system in the whole of the universe (or at least on earth) then language must also be at the level of quantum mechanics or even at a level as yet not discovered. Eventually we might be able to pin down the metaphorical language incoherence with quantum states that have reverted to classical decoherence. We may also be able to explain the phenomenon of having different languages that are all based on a universal system of logical coherence but differ according to multitudinous quantum states. For example ergative languages (which are rare) could be ‘tautomers’ in relation to accusative languages (which are common). Another quantum concept that might be useful for linguistics is ‘entanglement’ phenomenon in terms of explaining anaphoric interpretation. Reflexives in particular seem to be able to jump local binding (as stipulated by minimalist syntax) but remain ‘entangled’ as distant binding anaphors.
Al-Khalili and McFadden, as modern-day scientist, certainly spin a good yarn that is fascinating in many aspects but equally lacks explanatory power (and elegance) when it comes to human life on the edge. I am enamoured by the tales of the robins that navigate by the earth’s magnetic field and I am sort of enamoured by the scientists that figured out how the robins do it. Suppose these cute little flying quantum machines go through various stages of adaptive mutation and develop sufficient brain power to generate something akin to human language, would they turn into little monsters? Would they turn their musical sing-song into intellectual property rights? Would they dream, as Al-Khalili and McFadden do, of robin life to be supplemented by artificial life forms so that they could avoid strenuous travel from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean? Al-Khalili and McFadden suffer from a serious dose of decoherence when they propose at the end of their book that ‘the fantastic features of quantum biology … could all be harvested to potentially build a brave new world of quantum synthetic living organisms that could free their natural-born relatives from the drudgery of providing humanity with most of its needs’. What kind of a crazy idea is this? Will the current gap between the 99% of human drudges and the 1% of human elites be solved by little robots doing all our washing up and building nice houses with swimming pools for all? Will the little robots fight proxy wars in Syria? Will they print enough money to go round? Will the little robots induce love and happiness amongst all the people who hitherto live on greed and hate? No Sir, what we really need is a reliable device that maintains quantum coherence in the natural-born brains! It amounts to what Engels called the leap from quantity to quality. Since Al-Khalili and McFadden enjoy quite a few literary references from Shakespeare to McCarthy, one should point to the literary allusion of a ‘brave new world’ as also envisaged by Aldous Huxley, albeit in a rightfully dystopic frame of mind, and BTW much better done than The Road by McCarthy.




Thursday, July 9, 2015



That an artist, author or poet might be something other than a banal conformist falls on deaf ears in the hallowed corridors at the Auckland Art Gallery. With the Billy Apple retrospective we are reminded that our world is nothing more than the humdrum of consumption, logo and capital.

The title of the exhibition ‘The artist has to live like everybody else” is playing on an ambiguity; as Wystan Curnow says ‘there is an implication of conformity…that the artist is obliged to live like everyone else.’ The artist cannot and should not question the status quo.

With the carefully ordered receipts, public relation displays of self aggrandisement and appeasement to rich elites with works titled From the Jenny & Alan Gibbs Collection; the retrospective is a demonstration of an artist that has spent the last quarter century re-branding and packaging himself into the conformity of far right neoliberal policy.

In 1962 Barrie Bates changed his name to Billy Apple. Re-branding himself he mixed with the who’s who of the 60’s and 70’s international pop art scene. By the 80’s he focused on the economics of the art world with exhibitions titled Art for Sale or transaction. Apple displayed a series of art works that were actual receipts for the payment given to the artist. In 1983 he sold a gold apple at that time the most expensive work for a NZ living artist.

His works in the 1980’s were viewed as ‘avant-garde’ and ‘revolutionary’ connecting with a technocratic elite of bankers and wealthy patrons. At the same time these art patrons led by Allan Gibbs were heavily involved with their own revolution - reshaping the socioeconomic direction of the country. In 1984 Rogernomics set the stage for the rise and growth of far right neoliberal policy that has devastated the New Zealand landscape of the past thirty years. If there were a court artist for neoliberalism Apple would make a fitting candidate.

The Apple Brand reinforces far right ideology in the flagrant use of marketing and advertising symbolism. His art is a pastiche of the advertising industries obsequious servitude to capitalism. His years working within the advertising industry gave him a mandate to ‘bring the supermarket into the gallery’

If Marketing and advertising’s aim is to make informed consumers make rational choices then the Apple brand is a success. He has connected with an industry of corporate elites that have traded and speculated in his work like hedge fund managers. The elites are informed by the same logic of deregulation seen in neoliberalism. Aesthetic critique is seen as regulation on ‘artistic freedom’. Where any regulation on aesthetics is nullified by a postmodern subservience to ‘anything goes’. It is laissez- faire art and a trade in high kitsch where elites by purchasing an Apple work with its unabashed display of wealth reinforces values of commodity and capital; essentially their own world.

We live in a world of empty logos where the idea is paramount. The idea of the brand being paramount was first expressed by the CEO Phil Night when he declared “there is no value in making things any more” Night cemented the idea that the brand is a purely speculative notion; never mind that there is no substance. The social activist and author of No Logo Naomi Klein called the new capitalist phenomenon ‘hollow corporatism.’ Think of a pair of Nike shoes failing to give anyone the hope of becoming an Olympic athlete through to the Obama, Blair brand and empty promises.

Barrie Bates and his British contemporary Damien Hirst make statements like 'Art is just a brand'. The art world - with the likes of the Billy Apple Brand at its helm - is the crowning achievement of the hollowing out of art and culture.

When you pierce the bubble of Apple’s brand what is revealed is the insecurity and vulnerability of both the man and his art. ‘I am an executive..’ he declared rather mutely on national radio. His present goal is to bring ‘art into the super market’ but sadly I think he’s been beaten to it by another brand design guru turned artist and now Vogel bread corporate cash-cow, Dick Frizzel.

Executives are our elites. The mover’s and shaker’s of corporatisation. With his reliance on militaristic order the executive is revered as the crowning achievement of reason. Decisions are to be made in an orderly, neat and authoritative manner. Emotion is seen as a weakness. So what decisions will the great executive make?

When executive decisions are made countries go to war.  Executives order drone attacks along the border of Pakistan to incinerate families. Halt urgent relief aid to refugees. Impose heavy austerity while looting the public treasury.

What all of these executives share is a colonial hubris and determination to use technocratic and obtuse language to hide behind the façade of prestige, money, power and ultimately greed.

The Apple brand speaks the same language as the corporate philanthropists, oligarchs, bankers and art entrepreneur’s that have invested in the brand of Barrie Bates and others like him. Their world to them is a crowning achievement of conforming to the stock market, trade and free market ideology. The Apple Brand is the invisible clothing used to adorn the emperors obese and fetid body.

By Art Anarcho

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


DIRTY POLITICS (in New Zealand): comments on Nicky Hager’s (2014) book

Assuming that all the quoted e-mail traffic and social media texts are fairly attributed to the respective writers, one must also assume that the main protagonists in the book, from Slater all the way to Key, manifest symptoms of mental disorders. They should seek professional help to address their use of extreme verbal violence and displays of deviant male sexuality that is implied in Lusk’s “… the biggest buzz I get is when I wreck someone …” or the constant, primitive sledging of women they hate. Not that woman are beyond the pale, compared to the male Slaters, as some of Slater’s  best mates seem to be extreme right-wing women and ex-prostitutes, what with “crusher” Judith Collins being a prime example of the former. The language quoted throughout is a crude form of verbal zealotry common to pathalogical fundamentalists of all colours and creeds.

Ever since Machiavelli gave politics a bad name, we seem to have accepted that we should not expect anything less. Nicky Hager’s contention that there is a ‘better way’ has however fallen on very deaf ears if we consider the 2014 election outcome in NZ. If anything, the sorry outcome confirmed the winning strategy of “attack politics” that is practised by the National Party and their associates. Hager quite rightly cites US role models where democracy is bought and sold as any other toxic commodity, noting naively perhaps, that NZ hitherto was less affected by such practices until in recent times, when eager NZ adherents of the US Tea Party began to play their ‘dirty politics’ as outlined in Hager’s book. One may question such a premise in that democracy by election has always been hijacked by those who have the means to buy the votes. Conflicts amongst the buyers may result in aberrant results, as demonstrated by the election process for mayor of Auckland where Len Brown won despite being despised by the right-wingers such as Slater and Co. In-fighting in the National Party (and associated parties) selections led to a pathetic candidate (e.g. Palino) emerging from the field. Not even a manufactured sex scandal could unseat Len Brown.

In fact this may be the only hope for our continued well-being, in that the far-right characters in NZ lack the mental resources needed for not shooting themselves in the foot. On the other hand it seems that enough foot soldiers can be marshalled this way to ‘wreck, destroy, eliminate and fuck all the cunts’ that stand in the way of such mentally disturbed movers and shakers (as they imagine themselves to be). In a fascist state such characters would be the first to volunteer for concentration guard duty. It is also a great worry that Slater and Graham are the sons of National Party grandees and as such have access to the senior ranks of the party.

Nicky Hager’s overall analysis seems to be that dirty politics victimises those dedicated to presumably clean politics, e.g. the likes of Phil Geoff and Len Brown (both members of the Labour Party). This needs to be relativized inasmuch all major political parties in New Zealand espouse an ideology commonly practiced in the so-called Western democracies, i.e. vacillating between the extremes of market capitalism and generally supporting military solutions when under ideological counter-attack. The Labour, Green, Maori and NZ First parliamentary parties in New Zealand have only 5 degrees of separation from the National Party and their associates. The semi-progressive Mana Party shot itself in the foot in a grand way by associating themselves with the Internet Party financed by Kim Dotcom. The latter is also mentioned in Dirty Politics as being a victim of Slater’s grubby politicking, digging up dirt in the shape of Dotcom’s purchase of an early edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. PM John Key, quite rightly in this instance, denounced Dotcom as a questionable character, exploiting at the same time the notion that Key himself is of Jewish extraction. Hager’s contention that Dotcom also has valuable book editions by Churchill and Stalin seems to miss the mark. Dotcom (alias Schmitz) is a German citizen formerly convicted in Germany for fraud. If Dotcom was wanting to improve his public image as an well-to-do Internet entrepreneur who aligns himself with a left-wing party to get at a right-wing party that seeks him deported to the USA for allegedly breaking copy-right laws – he ought to have divested himself of such a bad investment as Hitler’s Mein Kampf, or, of course never bought it in the first place. To buy valuable rubbish (such as Mein Kampf) as an investment just goes to show that the buyer has mental problems very similar to those ascribed to the protagonists mentioned before. Hager in his eagerness to discredit the right-wing bloggers and the associated National Party sheds a very postive light on the so-called victims who more often than not are of the same ilk as their torturers. Political infighting across the spectrum of established political parties, be it in the US, UK, Australia or New Zealand is legend, and it seems wrong to portray this as some sort of ‘clean’ versus ‘dirty’ gamesmanship. Of course one can relativize the degrees of ‘dirtiness’ and Nicky Hager’s revelations do a very good job at that. Sadly perhaps, it comes down to having to vote for the lesser evil, forgetting that a voting majority is in itself a concept that needs urgent revision if not total abolition. Participatory democracy is not what is being practiced in New Zealand. The sort of democracy we have is good only for its occasional airing of its dirty laundry – as is currently the case in the US what with official revelations that the CIA has indeed used torture to interrogate terror suspects.

Dirty Politics as such is another timely reminder that Machiavelli is alive and well in New Zealand, and very successful indeed as the outcome of the 2014 parliamentary elections proves. As always the ‘winning’ party receives a minority share of all the registered voters (low voter participation always favours the right-wing parties as pointed out by Slater and his associates) but the media machine celebrates it as true democracy and thereby everybody should be relatively happy. It is however wrong to suggest that Nicky Hager did the right-wing factions a favour by disillusioning even more registered voters from voting. Readers of the book who see the point in it will refuse to register and vote in the first place.

Since Slater and Co. also put a lot of effort into tinkering with the current voting system wanting to revert to ‘first past the post’ rather than having MMP that seems to slightly favour minor parties – but not so during the 2014 elections apart from ACT and United Future getting rigged in – allow me to cite an example from Germany where for some municipal elections the first-past-the post system is tempered with having a run-off if no candidate wins an outright majority of actual voters (never mind the overall registered voter participation which in municipal elections is notoriously low, not uncommonly below 50%). There, a disaffected right-wing politician runs against the official candidate of the same right-wing party, a situation the mainstream media portrays as a battle between left and right. Of course the right right-wing candidate wins the run-off. Certainly a winning strategy as far as Slater is concerned. The idea that everyone to the left of Slater is a red under the bed (and better dead) is equally promoted by the mainstream media in NZ, and it is no surprise that Slater and Co. have a cosy relationship with various editors that run the print, TV and digital media. That the major (toxic) corporations employ such characters to write up pathetic opinion pieces disguised as ‘news’ is also no surprise. There is sometimes the impression that Slater and Co. are self-driven when in fact they are the paid stooges of corporate interests – as indeed politicians are in general. Hager’s investigations into such cash transactions seem to reveal only minor sums – although the working class writer wouldn’t mind $6,000 for a quick piece on how good alcohol and cigarettes are for you. The likes of Graham and Textor, who own and run PR companies, are surely in a much higher league, dealing in millions.  When advising politicians and political parties – paid via large corporate donations – the tactics are of course less transparent, as nicely demonstrated by the machinations that the government PR man Jason Eade engages in. Here PR2PR like B2B. One of the more devious outcomes of such relationships is that the government PR has access to various secret agencies that can be called upon to dig dirt on the opposition, as well as the timely release of saucy materials under the Public Information Act. Poor olds Cunliffe and Geoff were caught in the act this way. Ever since Nixon’s Watergate scandal there seemed to be a gentlemen’s agreement in the US that one ought to desist from breaking into the opposition’s HQ to steal compromising materials – in the full knowledge that the opposition does have dirty secrets – mainly because the exercise will in the end hurt both parties. In modern times we have the equivalent of hacking into Labour’s web-sites to procure donors’ lists and what have you. That a disgruntled client of Slater and Co. leaked all we now can read in Hager’s book is another sign that we are regressing to neo-feudalist, no-holds barred attacks on each other, and all in the name of a pathological struggle to exert power politically and ultimately economically.