31 October 2017

The death of American compromise

[Former US Speaker of the House of Representatives John] Boehner worries about the deepening fissures in American society. But he sees Trump as more of a symptom than the cause of what is a longer arc of social and ideological alienation, fueled by talk radio and Fox News on the right and MSNBC and social media on the left. “People thought in ’09, ’10, ’11, that the country couldn’t be divided more. And you go back to Obama’s campaign in 2008, you know, he was talking about the divide and healing the country and all of that. And some would argue on the right that he did more to divide the country than to unite it. I kind of reject that notion.” Why is that? “Because it wasn’t him!” Boehner replies. “It was modern-day media, and social media, that kept pushing people further right and further left. People started to figure out … they could choose where to get their news. And so what do people do? They choose places they agree with, reinforcing the divide.” [...]

Boehner believes Americans are ill-informed because of their retreat into media echo chambers, one of two incurable causes of the country’s polarization. Another is inextricably related: the unwillingness of lawmakers to collaborate across the aisle, for fear of recriminations from the base. Boehner says the fact he and Obama golfed together only once—and agreed that it was usually better for him to sneak into the White House—speaks to how the two parties punish compromise. He doesn’t foresee this toxic political climate improving, ticking off potential fixes—term limits, redistricting reform—that he says won’t make a bit of difference. “It’s going to take an intervening event for Americans to realize that first, we are Americans,” he says. An intervening event? “Something cataclysmic,” he responds, gazing upward.

- Tim Alberta, 'John Boehner Unchained', Politico, Nov/Dec 2017

29 October 2017

New resident in old timbers

A sparrow guards its nest amidst the teak timbers of the museum ship barque Edwin Fox (1853), in Picton this morning.

15 October 2017

Homeward bound

Wellington tugs Tiaki & Tapuhi return to port, 15 October 2017

12 October 2017

Four gentlemen of Amman

I was wandering through the middle of Amman, the Jordanian capital, on my last day in town some nine years ago (6 November 2008) when these four chaps noticed my camera and asked me to take their picture. I can't remember how extensive their English was, but they liked the picture. Didn't spot the naughty cigarette no.2 is rocking! Wonder what they're up to now? (That was a great trip, by the way).

09 October 2017

Coalition formation & potential Executives

One feature of the continuing coalition negotiations has been speculation about the likely shape of any resulting Cabinet. Now the election result is final there's no such thing as a 'moral right to govern' in the rulebook: the fate of the next Parliament is determined by Parliament alone.

While New Zealand First may choose to sit on the cross-benches outside of Government, it’s more interesting to guess what a full coalition arrangement with shared responsibilities might look like. In these negotiations Ministerial positions are the subject of negotiations along with policy concessions and other appointments, but parties generally receive a number of positions proportionate to their vote. In practice this means that if it goes into a formal coalition New Zealand First could expect to have four of its caucus of nine ending up holding Ministerial warrants, whichever major party Winston Peters ends up deciding to support.

The estimates below are based on a hypothetical Ministerial list of 25 Ministers. While this is smaller than the 27 Ministers under the last English administration (or 28 if you count the non-Ministerial Parliamentary Under-Secretary role created for ACT’s David Seymour), there are fewer minor parties in the new Parliament and an Executive of 28 was arguably too many in a House of 120 members. For the purposes of this discussion I’ve opted to keep things simple with 25, with 20 in Cabinet and five Ministers outside Cabinet. Given the number of tiny portfolios used to flesh out the numbers, a new administration wanting to economise could do worse than opting for an even smaller Executive, but the need to reward ambitious caucus members probably makes this unlikely.

If Peters supports a National-led Government the combined parties would have 65 votes. This would suggest 21 Ministerial positions for National and four for New Zealand First. If there was no major National reshuffle, that would allow all the present Cabinet to keep their warrants, plus Hon Nicky Wagner. Four National Ministers at the bottom of the current Ministerial list would lose their warrants: Jacqui Dean, David Bennett, Tim Macindoe and Scott Simpson. The four New Zealand First members to receive Ministerial warrants would likely be Winston Peters, Tracy Martin, Ron Mark and Shane Jones.

If Peters supports Labour plus the Greens (63 votes), this would suggest a line-up of 18 Ministerial positions for Labour, four for New Zealand First and three for the Greens. While the Green vote (6.3 percent) is only slightly smaller than New Zealand First’s (7.2 percent), it would probably be smart politics to reward New Zealand First with an extra spot. Examining the Labour caucus and list rankings, a line-up of 18 ministers could consist of: Jacinda Ardern, Kelvin Davis, Andrew Little, Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Carmel Sepuloni, David Clark, David Parker, Stuart Nash, Raymond Huo, Iain Lees-Galloway, Su’a William Sio, Damien O’Connor, Ruth Dyson, Nanaia Mahuta and Rino Tirikatene. Four of the 18 have previous Ministerial experience: Parker, O’Connor, Dyson and Mahuta. Trevor Mallard would be given the role of Speaker. The New Zealand First Ministers would be the same as under the National-led administration. The Green Party would receive three warrants, perhaps for their top three list candidates James Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie Anne Genter.

While the prospect of a National coalition with the Greens excited some comment among National-aligned commentators last week, it’s a toxic option as far as the Greens are concerned. In any case, a hypothetical National-Green administration (64 votes) would look similar to a National-New Zealand First one: 22 National Ministers plus three Green Ministers. Jacqui Dean could retain her warrant and the same three Green members as above would become Ministers.

Of course this all becomes moot if Peters decides to stay on the cross-benches!

02 October 2017

'Not one of them would have dampened my ambition'

Working on Michael Cacoyannis' 1971 film The Trojan Women, English actor and raconteur Brian Blessed became friends with the film's lead actor, the legendary Katharine Hepburn. In his autobiography Absolute Pandemonium Blessed recounts in his own words Hepburn's reasoning for never having had children.

One of the more interesting yet difficult conversations I had with Katharine was about her decision never to have children. This, I believe, revealed the mark of Katharine Hepburn. She spoke with honesty, candour, empathy and consideration; four words I believe sum her up perfectly. They were her bywords. 
I remember what she said and will attempt to convey this to you now. I think you'll find it illuminating. 
'I could not bear the thought of being a mother, Brian. I've been attacked for this over the years, attacked and pilloried by all kinds of people: journalists, politicians, fellow actors; even fans. And, do you know, I'm sick of it. I've had it up to here. Being a mother is the most important job in the world and it is probably the hardest job in the world, and I'm afraid that I just wasn't up to it. But at least I was honest enough to admit that. Do you know how many people have children because they believe they should, or because other people tell them they should? Millions. But the consequence of bringing a child into the world under those kind of circumstances and in that kind of environment wasn't lost on me, Brian. It made me think and it made me act. 
A child needs to be loved unconditionally, but especially by its mother. When I was of child-bearing age, I was obsessed with my career. Nothing else mattered to me and I did a lot of things to further my career that I'm not proud of. Things I should never have done. Can you imagine what kind of life a child of mine would have had? Because, believe me, I could have given birth to a thousand children and not one of them would have dampened my ambition. There would have been precious little love for a child of mine. I'm ashamed to say; and no attention or affection. Just a room full of au pairs and a lifetime of resentment. Hollywood has been having these kinds of babies for years, Brian. It's abuse. It's child abuse. So that's why I decided never to have children and I stand by my decision. It doesn't matter to me any more because I'm over sixty now, but it still does to some'.
- Brian Blessed, Absolute Pandemonium: My louder than life story, 2015