Sunday, 18 March 2012

PC or not PC - that is the question

On March 17th, in the Christchurch Press, the resident cartoonist Al Nisbet's cartoon shows a shipping container being waved off shore by a group of Kiwis. The premise is that another use for containers (post-earthquake Christchurch is held together by them) is to use them to deport 'refugees who commit violent crimes'.

The cartoon relates to the front page story about a Somali-born man's knife attack on 2 people.  The man was found sleeping in a school yard. When challenged, he hijacked a car and eventually stabbed the female driver in the shoulder. She escaped and he hijacked a second car driven by a Christchurch City Council employee and stabbed him also.  Such was the Somalian's state of mind he was hit on the neck by a young man wielding a steel bar, pepper sprayed, tasered and then shot twice by the Police before he could be stopped.

Clearly he was either on some sort of craze-inducing drug - which is unlikely given the circumstances - or he was in the grip of a psychosis. He may have been demonstrating great rage but equally he may have been demonstrating great terror.  We simply do not know what his state of mind was. We know he committed the acts but, before he can be safely labelled as a violent criminal, his mental health has to be assessed and, if he is fit to plead, he needs to be charged and convicted in a court of law.

What we DO NOT NEED is to excite the Amygdala Brigade. Its members are all too ready to dispense vigilante justice and don't need encouragement. We saw that in the Lipine Sila case - more of that one in another post.

Right on cue, zombie members of the White Power chapter of the Amygdala Brigade slither out from under their rocks and start ranting on about  'black devils' and '2 legged maggots'.  According to the slightly less stupid talkback, Somalis are the worst of all refugees because they are black AND Muslim.

No doubt I will be labelled - and reviled - as a namby-pamby, bleeding-heart, do-gooding, tree-hugging, feral-feminist, nigger-loving, PC-imposing loony-leftie.

Oh, how the Right loves its hyphenated insults. It mainly reserves its calumnies for its political opponents but it does a good line in insults for the poor and dispossessed as well.  Feral underclass is the label du jour in NZ.  It's Angry Right speak for 'poor brown people'.

Every time some poor brown person commits a crime, the Angry Right starts pontificating about the feckless poor and the social welfare system that keeps them in ciggies, beer and betting money. Invariably they believe that ALL social ills can be laid at the door of the nanny state. Society was law abiding and sensible before there was a social welfare system for the feckless poor to bludge off.

One of the main cheerleaders for the Angry Right is Michael Laws. Unlike those of his political ilk who are so slow they think that ‘feral underclass’ means a wild cat under a schoolroom,  Laws lays claim to an intellect. In fact, his belief that he’s smart is his professional and political bouyancy aid. Deflate it and he’d sink like a stone.

I think he looks a bit bonkers. Put a wig on him, remove his goatee, hang a handbag off his arm and add some pearl earrings and he’d pass for Margaret Thatcher.

He has suggested that the State should pay the ‘underclass’ to be sterilised and he defined the socially inferior as those whose children ‘won’t become doctors and brain surgeons’. Duh.

Clearly this is not about logic or reason. It's all about anger and resentment and fear. I don't for a moment think Michael Laws and his ilk are in the grip of those emotions, but they certainly want to whip them up in others. Nothing like a bit of horizontally directed rage to divert attention away from the REAL issues.

I've no doubt that a lot of the yelping classes agree with Laws. If Yahoo! Xtra were to run one of their infamous polls, the 10,000 people who habitually respond would come down overwhelmingly in favour of neutering the feckless poor - or possibly starving them to death.

A lot of the people who lurk around on the Yahoo! (how very apt) Xtra website, and who are very likely the ones who participate in the polls, are Laws’ natural constituency. So stupid they think Laws is clever; so Right wing they think he’s a moderate, and so racist they are blinded to the implications of these sort of fascistic proposals.

 Or maybe not - maybe they know full well where they lead and can’t wait to get there.

Laws of course is just one in a long and dismal line of Rightwing ideologues who attack the ‘feral underclass’ and use it as a scapegoat to pin all society’s other ills on.

Perish the thought that this 'underclass' may be not just a product of the society but a necessary part of it.  Let’s face it, along with the promise of rewards if you are hard working and / or clever, capitalism needs the threat of slipping into the nether regions of society where you are no longer even a member of a lower class - you are a non-person.

Once down there it is pretty hard to clamber back out but their failure to do so is always laid at their own door - if they had the will, the brains, the talent etc etc, they could succeed. And isn't that a Tui moment?

Read about these people in the media and you’ll see that they don’t have children, they ‘breed’ or ‘spawn’; they don’t have relationships, they have ‘sexual unions’. They are portrayed as being subhuman, and we have plenty of examples in history of where that sort of stereotyping ends up.

Anyone who seeks to put the actions of the very poor and marginalised into context – is written off as a do-gooder, a bleeding heart liberal. What sort of mindset turns the phrase 'do good' into an insult? And isn't 'bleeding heart' something to do with Christian forgiveness?

The Rightwing solution to the existence of brutal people is to be even more brutal. It's a local version of the view that the solution to terrorism is to nuke all countries whose name ends in ‘an’ – except Japan because where would you get your car parts and besides, they did that already and it didn’t work.

Such are the times we live in. Laws of course feels on safe ground since it’s now ok to be politically incorrect – de rigeur for some folk on the Right.  Influential commentators are easing Rightwing rhetoric into the mainstream media where it gains respectability and legitimacy - and (the truly demented fringes aside), the leaders of the extreme Rightwing are toning down their rhetoric to broaden its appeal to the increasingly impoverished and angry white working class.

Kyle Chapman and his little band of merry men are reinventing themselves as guardians of the Kiwi white working class, protecting them from the invading hordes of lawless brown people.  Nick Griffin has coopted indigenous claims by arguing that white people in England are aboriginal and have indigenous rights, and Pat Buchanan in the US, son of Irish immigrants, is appealing to the sons and daughters of other (white working class) immigrants about the threat to them of more recent (brown working class) immigrants.

And of course they all whitter on about the mass media being dominated by the Left. YES - that media which is controlled by corporations and dynasties hardly renowned for their progressiveness. The voices of reason and moderation in the media, when posed against  Rightwing ideologues like Laws do seem to be Left leaning but this is not so much a measure of their political Leftness as a measure of Laws' and co's political Rightness.

Another one who annoys me is Nigel Latta - that psychologist  with the really annoying voice and mannerisms who has become a household name by making TV shows and writing books about being politically incorrect.  The discombobulated middle classes line up to buy into his post-PC common sense approach to parenting.

He is tapping into the belief that all our social ills have been created by the 'social engineering' of Left / Liberal Elites who want to undermine the excellent society that we once had. This of course is another one of those really useful multi-purpose scapegoats - blame the whole sorry mess on the people who want to fix it or at least ameliorate its worst effects.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Divide and Rule

We had a situation here a while back when a Maori MP Hone Harawira made a couple of statements about white NZers which created a firestorm of outrage  from the white Right - and from some brown people as well.

The response was that Maori 'racism' is the same as white racism, they cancel each other out, it's  proof that the attitudes which lead to racism are natural to all human beings etc etc .

Apply the term 'racism' to all prejudiced conduct and you empty it of political meaning - which might of course be the agenda.

The old mantra - racism is prejudice plus power -  is often taken to mean that no 'powerless' people can be racist because, whilst they might have all manner of prejudiced views,  they lack the power to adversely affect the lives of the powerful.

But, who - objectively speaking - possesses power and who doesn't?  

Does an unemployed, under-educated young white man from a sink hole estate have more power by virtue of being white and male than a rich, educated black woman - for example? Does his membership of that problematic category of 'whiteness' give him a sort of power by proxy because the country is still governed by and in the interests of a group made up mainly of obscenely rich white men? 

It would be wrong to deny the fact that the advantages of being white trickle right down the social hierarchy - but it's pretty obvious that  they are well and truly diluted by the time they reach the bottom. 

it would be equally wrong to deny the fact that these days, the disadvantages of being black become diluted the further up the social and financial hierarchy a person is located. 

These days - especially for young people - many of the dominant images of style and privilege (access to which has been granted via sport and entertainment for the most part) - are of black people. Take all the black out of youth culture and what's left?  

In the US it's socially acceptable to refer to and make jokes about  'white trash' or 'trailer trash'  - there's an entire sub culture devoted to 'redneck jokes' but  how often do we hear the black equivalent in the mainstream media these days? White racial prejudice does of course rear its ugly head but often commentators who allow their racial prejudices off the leash are censured or lose their jobs. (It has to be said that here in NZ they often escape censure or they bounce back once the story has fallen out of the headlines.)

The counterpoint to the images of black success in the US -  that echelon of stylish, glossily perfect people  epitomized by the Obamas - is not just the poorly nourished, badly housed, drug-dependent, desperate masses of the black poor - but the millions of  poorly nourished, unemployed, badly housed and dentally challenged poor whites who are also shut out of Richistan.  Most of the peoples of the 'feral underclass' don't even get to go in to clean the toilets of the well-off.  Most of them  are, quite literally, surplus to requirements - not even necessary any longer as cannon fodder or servants  or as reminders of what happens if you don't play the game hard enough or well enough. 

There is a far higher proportion of blacks and hispanics in poverty in the USA than whites (25% and 22% respectively), but poor whites outnumber them. An estimated 22 million whites in the USA live in poverty - that's a large and potent source of disaffection and anger.

As more of white America slides into poverty, how much more effective could it be than for the power elite to ramp up that old trusty division by  telling them that the foot inside the boot that's pressing their faces in the mud belongs to a person of colour?  And, cold-hearted cynics that they are, they then point the finger of blame for racism and religious intolerance at  those poor whites who typically produce the most unsophisticated and visibly extreme expressions of it.  

Keep them all at each others' throats.  Divide and rule.

Poor, dispossessed, uneducated whites living shit lives, shut out of the dream that they've been told was their's by birth right, gobbling up all the unhealthy products (physical and metaphysical) that the corporate state sells them, trying desperately to fill the empty holes where community, pride and sense of purpose used to be - and who do they blame? Not the cynical corporate power elite that has staged a coup detat and taken over the world - no, of course not, they blame those other poor people with skin tones and/or belief systems different from their own.

The ideology of racial difference is,  like petroleum jelly, volatile and deadly in itself, but  mix in the white phosphorous of  religious intolerance  - and you have social napalm.

Divide and rule. 

A sense of 'racial' superiority is an illusory compensation for the objective lack of power of the white under class - just as the sense of sexual superiority is an illusory compensation for economically powerless men. 

Divide and rule. 

So -  who really benefits from the twin ideologies of religious and racial difference  - those essential components in the foundations and walls of Richistan? 

The international power elite is still largely white and male, but - just as they don't have any loyalty to country or nation in their pursuit of power and profit -  they will happily ignore skin tone, gender and religion when it suits.

BUT, we only have to look at which continent is still being raped and pillaged, what peoples remain at the bottom the world’s hierarchy of power and privilege to know that, in the cruel and divisive hierarchy of colour, white still trumps everything. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Of Monsters and Men

Are the makers of the Kony video naïve or is there a more sinister motive behind what they are doing? I am torn between thinking this is a great movement and knowing that it actually serves the interests of the corporate elites and their servant politicians, technocrats and bureaucrats. I’ve no doubt that most of the supporters are as well meaning as they are naïve but I reserve judgment on the movers behind the movement.

Vile, sociopathic, religious nut job that Kony is - he is NOT the world's worst criminal.

Kony is currently hiding out in The Congo and hasn’t been active in Uganda for years.  And the fact is that if the Uganda army wasn't so busy doing Washington's dirty work it could probably have captured or killed Kony years ago.

Look at the way propaganda works and we can see that the demonisation of individuals has the useful by-product of obscuring the role of political, industrial and financial institutions and diverting attention away from their activities.

This Facebook movement - great though it may be in awakening the consciences of the children of the world's privileged elite - is, ironically, doing USA Inc’s dirty work by justifying Africom's role and expansion in the region. Are these people really so naive that they think the reason Obama sent in US advisers (remember Vietnam) is to help the Ugandan army capture Kony? Are they unaware of the role that Africom plays in the neo-imperialist scramble for Africa's mineral and oil resources - and in combating China's growing influence on the continent?  Do they expect the Ugandan army to invade the Congo in pursuit of Kony?

In that very clever, tear jerking video there was not a word about the IMF and World Bank; not a word about the reasons WHY '99% of the world doesn't know who Kony is' - and not a word about the 4 million who have died in The Congo - for example - and how much blood is on the hands of the new imperialists who may not have wielded the pangas or fired the bullets but who created the conditions in which that has happened and will continue to happen.

Who sells Kony his weapons? Who manufactures them?  Who funds their purchase?  Most importantly - who benefits from the creation and perpetuation of a bloated, self-serving domestic elite in Africa? 

Look at Nigeria - behind Libya, it has the greatest proven oil reserves on the continent.  Lagos has the greatest concentration of billionaires in Africa but most Nigerians live on less than $2US a day; half of young Nigerians are unemployed and 80% of people do not have access to safe drinking water.

And take a look at the role of the IMF and its Structural Adjustment Policies which require ‘austerity measures’ such as currency devaluation, lifting of trade tariffs, the removal of subsidies and budget cuts to critical public sector services as a condition of loans.

Mugabe was OK while he played the game according to the rules but the moment he said no to the IMF and got into bed with the Chinese he became a dictator. We can see the same spin at work in the way the media portrays other ‘dictators’ - the Saudis may be dictators but they are good ones. Saddam and Gadaffi were clad in monster costumes the moment it suited the elites.

I despise all men of mindless violence - especially those who stay safe in their corporate HQs or seats of government or places of worship and send young men and women out to die.  I reserve my greatest odium for the mega-monsters who directly create the conditions in which mini-monsters like Kony can exist. The mega-monsters would have us believe they are defending all that is good and true and are at great pains to hide the essential truth - their own cold, calculating, antisocial self-interest.

It’s so transparent it’s hard to believe that so many people fall for it – but they have been carefully groomed to do so.

Most first world people are addicted to immediate gratification. They have a belief in their own entitlement. They have a reduced attention span - so much so that even the dumbest reality TV show or doco requires a reprise of what happened before the incessant ad breaks. They struggle to deal with an unprecedented information and sensory overload. They live in conditions of social isolation and dislocation characterised by a breakdown of community and – critically - of belief and trust in communal action.

This is not accidental.

That this movement encourages a belief in the ability to make a difference and promotes the power of  the communal voice, is a good thing. BUT the Kony video and the movement behind it does very little to shed light on what is actually happening in Africa – and more importantly, it does nothing tor challenge the international power elites which are profiting from it.

When they call for a similar movement to really challenge the corporate giants in order to further the legitimate demand that the peoples of Africa benefit from their own natural resources – I’ll be impressed. 

In the meantime  - the hope is that some of those who have been awakened by this video will start to utilise the internet to find out the real whys and wherefores of the rape of Africa.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The older you are the harder you fall ....

I want to register my disgust with a system which requires a hospital social worker to inform an elderly woman who is struggling against the effects of a stroke and severe neuropathic pain, that her last vestige of independence, ie the State pension she paid for all her life through her taxes, is to be reduced to pocket money because she has been in hospital for more than 13 weeks.

Without a family to speak for them, this rule leaves older sick people – especially stroke victims - in a dreadfully vulnerable position.

The possibility of regaining some vestige of their lost independence and dignity is often all that keeps them going. To have the financial means of achieving that independence ripped away from them, to add to the already enormous burden of stress and anxiety they are experiencing, is nothing short of cruel – not to mention, counterproductive.

The cost of keeping a stroke victim in hospital is far greater than the amount the state claws back from the meagre State pension – as indeed the costs of long-term nursing care will be if they are unable to regain their independence.

It is in everyone's interests to get them back to being fully or partly independent as quickly as possible and the people involved in geriatric stroke rehabilitation work hard to see patients regain sufficient mobility etc to be able to return home.

Having a home waiting them is therefore a vital part of rehabilitation and obviously there are essential ongoing expenses involved in that. Yet, the system reaches a cut off point and requires fragile, disabled people to make the case to have part of their pension reinstated to keep up those essential payments – rates, insurance, gardening, care of pets etc.

But they have to know they can do this, have the will to do it and be able to do it.

Many may have lost the ability to write, they may have lost language function and, most critically, they may be confused and easily stressed by anything complicated or unusual.

The system doesn't establish if there are essential expenses before clawing back what's left – it grabs it all except $33.50 a week and places the onus on the individual to make the case to get some reinstated to meet those expenses.

But – what I have an issue with is the workhouse-style mentality behind the rule.

Like many rules thought up by well paid bureaucrats looking forward to a fat occupational pension, and rubber stamped by politicians of similar mindset and circumstances, it affects poor people worst.

A person with an occupational pension or income from other sources cannot have that touched by the State when hospitalised for more than 13 weeks. It is only any element of income administered by the State that is clawed back – primarily - because it can be. 

And that's the nub of it.

NZ superannuation may be based on investments; the administrators of the scheme may have fancy job titles and be paid a lot of money; it may call its scheme members clients; the state may treat them as tax payers (even to the point of still taxing their pocket money!)– but the mindset of those who framed the legislation was firmly locked in 19th century notions of State administered charity.

The 13 week rule undermines the principle that the old age pension is an inalienable right, ie society acknowledging the financial contribution older people have made through their work and taxes.  

It also highlights the fact that NZ Superannuation is not a normal superannuation scheme that happens to be administered by the State. It is still a benefit which the State retains the right to claw back to offset long term health care costs.

After 13 weeks of hospitalisation, the State superannuant has to pay, in part, for the free hospital care everyone else enjoys.

I can see the logic when a person goes into permanent elder care of some sort although even then, the reduction of State pensioners to recipients of pocket money ie $35 a week  and a $250 a year clothing grant -  has a Dickensian feel to it.

All beneficiaries, including unemployed people, are affected by this rule and there are arguments to be made about that, but my concern here is with pensioners.

It may be convenient to have a 'one rule fits all' approach but this cold, bureaucratic calculation sends a potent negative message to already vulnerable people.

That message is they are unlikely to ever return to home and their home will be sold to defray their long-term care expenses.

This may galvanise some into greater efforts to recover and get their full pension reinstated but the reality is that for others it will knock out what little stuffing they have left.

It has the very real potential to add huge stress to already anxious and frightened people and is likely to undermine the mental and emotional strength they need to fight against the combined odds of age and serious disability.

The fact that families will often find the means to pay those domestic expenses is not the point.

The point is that this treatment of State pensioners constitutes a breach of their human rights - if not in terms of the current law – then certainly in terms of natural justice.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

We are all bros here

Cast your minds back to the Hobbit Affair when the NZ government allowed a certain film company and a certain film maker to hold the country to ransom by demanding tax breaks and changes to labour laws. 

In reading this, it helps to be good at deciphering anagrams but,  for those who are not or cannot be bothered, here are some clues: Tansies Ash could be The Assassin and Termini Simper of course could be Prime Minister; Bracken Jetposserot might be Peter Robert Jackson - or not; the Warsaw Brethren might - just might - be Warner Brothers, and Greybrew Loner could possibly be Gerry Brownlee.  Noturnaides might be Trade Unions and I will leave it to you to work out who Arburlo the dragon is. 

Termini Simper (known to some as Tansies Sash) a youngish and some say, charismatic, Wizard with an eye to the main chance, and Bracken Jetposerrot, a middle aged, well-to-do Hobbit with a love of food, have dreams of raiding the great treasure of Aburlo the Dragon some of which is hidden in the mountains above the town of Smelly Wood.

To help fund the expedition they have enlisted the help of the Warsor Brethren – a clan of very acquisitive Dwarves from the fabled Holly Woods far in the North.

They refer to themselves as Treasure Inc.

Although Arburlo guards her treasure well, constant raids have left her tired and a bit fed up and she has developed a few chinks in her once powerful armour.

The path to her den is guarded by her legions, the Noturnaides. Once united and powerful, their ranks are now divided and depleted as a result of constant battles with clans like the Brethren.

In keeping with their legendary acquisitiveness, the Warsor Brethren have already demanded a huge share of the treasure as the price for their involvement but they are worried that there are still legions of the Nortunaides wandering around which might interfere with their current and future plans.

One day, while Bracken Jetposerrot is out scouting around for the best location to assemble the expedition, he encounters a small and rather poorly armed but very stylish band of Noturnaides. Their leader, knowing the Warsor Brethren and Bracken are very, very rich, cheekily demands payment to allow him to proceed.

Bracken has to use the Ring of Celebrity (which, among other things, ensures that only his good side is ever visible) to make his escape.

By the time he gets home he is furious. Not only has he invested a lot of his own money and reputation in the expedition but the Warsor Brethren are beginning to be a bit unreasonable and expecting him to do rather more than he had hoped to do so this is the last straw.

He tells all the townsfolk that the naughty Noturnaides have put the whole expedition in jeopardy. As he anticipated, the townsfolk are angered by this. They have been promised a share of the treasure (albeit a very small one) and a lot of them have no time for the Noturnaides.

When Bracken reports back to the Warsor Brethren they are furious as they are not used to being blackmailed (as they see it) by a tiny gang of upstarts.

Bracken calls on Termini Simper who appears in his trademark puff of blue smoke followed by his bodyguard, Greybrew Loner who arrives some later on a very tired donkey. Simper suggests they all head to his place to regroup and retrench and have a rethink.

One of the Brethren, a very sneaky fellow known as Slywares, demands an increase in their share of the treasure as a gesture of good faith. Somewhat to their surprise, Simper immediately agrees. His plan is simply not to give the townsfolk as much which they can blame on the Noturnaides. He reasons that this will leave the legions with no allies and allow him to crush them once and for all which will leave all of Arburlo’s treasure unguarded.

He strides around uttering phrases like –‘taking the long view’, ‘win-win situation’ and ‘leverage’. The Warsor Brethren smile in their beards; they like the cut of this Wizard’s jib.

Together Simper, Bracken and Slywares hatch a plan to bamboozle the good folk of Smelly Wood. They stage great rallies and send out messengers far and wide to tell all the citizens that the Noturnaides are 'the enemy within' and must be defeated for the good of the whole land.

The Noturnaides and their allies try to rally support but Treasure Inc is well served by the bedazzling and discombobulating powers of the Ring of Celebrity– and the fact that some of the Noturnaides’ allies decide to go home to mow the lawn.

Now, Aburlo had never trusted the Brethren or the Wizard but she had trusted Bracken Jetposerrot. When she realises she has been betrayed she comes down from the mountain to confront them. But while the Hobbit and the Brethen distract her, the Wizard attacks her from behind and strikes a powerful blow that forces her and her legions to flee.

Despite the fact that the fight has caused damage to the town and created divisions between the citizens, brave little Bracken Jetposerrot is lauded by placard-waving townsfolk, some of whom are calling on Treasure Inc to fulfill the old prophecies of Aburlo’s complete demise.

And so it comes to pass that the Warsor Brethren are free to take possession of the greatest part of the treasure and Bracken is a happy little fellow as he gets to keep a good portion for himself. However, because he likes to be seen as a good-hearted little fellow, he plans to throw a big party for the townsfolk.

Termini Simper, with a broad smile, does his usual disappearing act knowing he now has even more effective ways of increasing his share of the rest of Arburlo’s treasure- with interest.

But, nothing is ever straightforward in a fairy tale and once the power of the Ring has waned, some of the townsfolk ungratefully demand payment for helping the Brethren and some want reparations for damage to their property. Some even demand settlement of ancient claims on the treasure.

The Brethren get stroppy again and it looks like another battle is brewing. Bracken realises too late that he has helped to create a monster and tries to intercede but the Brethren are now firmly in charge and threaten to banish him.

The Wizard reappears to warn them about a new army of Noturnaides being raised across the sea and demands that Bracken use his Ring to help them. He agrees because he knows which side his bread is buttered on and he does like buttered bread.

There’s another big battle, which, sadly for Arburlo, Treasure Inc wins by convincing the populace yet again that she is their true enemy.

The Brethren offer Termini Simper a job as a consultant on future treasure raids and go off shaking their heads in amazement at easily conned the good folk of Smelly Wood were.

Although Bracken Jetposerrot gives a portion of his share of the treasure to a select few of the folk of Smelly Wood, he returns home an even wealthier Hobbit.

The End.

Real estate agents are at it again

The housing market balloon that deflated so rapidly after the bankquakes and earthquakes is reinflating, despite the dodgy repairs to the many holes in its fabric.

If it takes off into the stratosphere, trailing desperate red-zoners from its mooring lines, thanks will be due to the politicians who have failed to control the process. In exerting full bureaucratic control of some aspects and none at all on others, responsibility for what happens in Canterbury will rest with them but we mustn’t ignore the sterling efforts of those estate agents who are generating the vast quantities of hot air without which the housing balloon would remain grounded.

The old hyperbole is flowing like the wine at a CCC senior management team-building weekend, and adjectives are flying like Lake Ellesmere’s geese would have if they’d been able to.

The city is teeming with discerning buyers and determined sellers and the market is bursting at the seams with bargains of the century.

I suppose it should reassure me that Christchurch still has restful sanctuaries, secluded and private havens - and other such tautologous examples of sales jargon.

But, what really grips my imagination is the anthropomorphism - which seems to know no bounds. Buildings tempt, exude, entice, allure and promise; they are sophisticated, chic and generous. One wonders how mere mortals have the confidence to set foot in one let alone use the toilets. One ad promised rooms that will ’enfold you’. I’m not at all sure I’d want to live in rooms that wanted to enfold me, however elegantly proportioned they were.

Mostly I read the ads for the typos – the computer’s revenge on the orthographically challenged. My week’s favourite was the house that is ‘defiantly for sale’.

Getting into the anthropomorphism groove I imagine a grim visaged little eastern Christchurch villa :

“All I can promise you in the exuding and brimming department is the silt that oozes up through my floorboards every so often. I’m definitely private and secluded now that I’m pretty much the only house left in the street. I’m not very alluring although the feral cats seem to quite like me. I never was chic and sophisticated, I’m more your down to earth sort of house – especially now my foundations have crumbled and sunk. And my owners – well, they’re not so much determined as desperate. So I suggest you take all that estate agent puffery and stick it down my portaloo.”

I do apologise to those agents whose common sense and professionalism prevents them from engaging in overly silly embellishments. For what is the point? We all know the code.

I am a tad tetchy because anything that exudes the merest whiff of profiteering makes me angry and - I went over to my mother’s house in Wainoni last week to find burglars and vandals have targeted it again. The last time they visited, one of the charmers drew a picture of his genitalia on a cupboard door – no doubt making his mark for posterity. Sadly, posterity won’t be able to express its delight and wonderment at the discernment, intelligence and artistic skill of this product of our times because my Mum’s house is going to die.

It is still essentially solid. Its piles are knackered and its 9 load bearing brick pillars sheared in February so they were replaced with steel props that have been holding it up for a year. Its big fireplaces were demolished by the insurers and some doors don’t close but in the main body of the house there are no cracks in the thick lathe and plaster walls and ceilings, and its rimu cladding, flooring, skirtings, windows, panelling, doors and beams are all in good order.

But, it was cheaper to rebuild than repair it and now that is all academic as it is in the red zone. One year after being red stickered and, on the same day that my Mum finally got a cheque from the EQC, CERA red-zoned the land. So, in all likelihood this big family home will be bulldozed and end up in a tip.

In the light of this and what so many others are facing, the inanity of some housing ads rings way too hollow.

Bring Back Romance ...

Chris Trotter in a Valentine's Day column referred to romance, chivalry and courtly love as ‘revolutionary ideals’.

I know what he means – I guess. I too shudder at the sight of ‘laddish’ behaviour in girls and young women but even a cursory glance at the history of patriarchy reveals that the concepts of chivalry and courtly love were products of the same social forces that have deformed, and continue to deform, relations between the sexes.

The idea that the codes of romance, chivalry and courtly love were developed or even encouraged by aristocratic patronesses as a means of controlling their brutal husbands is about as historically accurate as the Victorian idealisation of the Arthurian legend.

The code of the gentle, perfect knight with his concepts of honour and protection of the weak - like the code of the Samurai in Japan - was an ideology that served the purposes of the knight’s lords. Those who create highly trained fighting forces always face the problem of controlling them and how better to make them fight and die for you than to make it a sacred duty?

The primary duty of the European mediaeval knight was to God and his earthly representatives – the church and the feudal lord or king - to protect their land and property.

Foremost among the feudal lord’s property was his wife who was tied to him by a combination of laws and customs which granted him an authority that extended to all in his household and to his vassals.
Whilst the concept of droit de seigneur may be an historical fiction, it is historical fact that in English law up to the late 20th century, the courts could not accept the possibility of rape in marriage because a wife’s conjugal duty and a husband’s corresponding conjugal right to demand sex clouded the concept of ‘consent’ on which rape law hinged.  This was a potent remnant of old patriarchal controls which varied in form and scale across time and cultures, but remained constant in their essence – the assurance of male domination.

Marriage for all classes was for convenience – romantic love rarely entered the scenario. For the labouring classes the desirable bride possessed skills, health and ideally, a dowry, all factors intimately connected with the survival of the family unit. For the nobility and the rich it was simply for the transmission of title, family name and wealth. Romance wasn’t an issue, but sex certainly was.

It has always been the case that if sex is possible, sex is probable. Until the advent of blood and DNA testing this posed a problem for the central pillars of patriarchal rule – patrilineality and primogeniture. These legally codified concepts within monogamous marriage were the primary means by which paternity was assured and property and name were kept in the male line.

The male blood line could only be guaranteed by marrying a virgin and keeping her sequestred until she had produced at least the requisite male heir and ideally, given the uncertainty of life, several spares.
The arrangements for the sequestering of women could involve locking them up, restricting where they could go, never allowing them to be alone, the use of chastity belts etc. They also involved the creation of horrible punishments for unchaste or adulterous behaviour both in the present and in the afterlife. As most women also forfeited their property to their husband on marriage, they were deprived of any means of independent life.

But these arrangements also had to be practical to be of any long-term use. For the labouring classes, women always were (and remain) essential players in the family economy - they had to work as hard and often harder than their men. There was not a lot of sense in locking up working women or tying them into crippling corsets or binding their feet. And aristocratic women had to be educated and free enough to run a household when their husbands were away.

So, supporting the formal and the coercive structures were powerful religiously based ideologies such as a division of labour that was ordained by God and in which woman’s place was in the domestic sphere. And, most important in any consideration of chivalry, was the ideology of the duality in the nature of woman – the madonna/whore dichotomy. On the one hand there was the purity and sacredness of the madonna, and on the other, the profane, physical nature of real women.

The mediaeval attitude to women was powerfully influenced by the ancient Greeks’ belief that woman was the inferior, lesser sex, incapable of higher thought, secretive and untrustworthy, and therefore in need of protection, control and correction. But for mediaeval Christians, a woman was also the mother of God – which created a perplexity of the first order. The code of chivalry and the rituals of courtly love were products of the cult of the Virgin Mary.

The chivalric code emphasized a spiritual, pure, chaste love –unsullied by the messy business of sex. This was not so different from the Greek idealisation of male love being on a higher spiritual and intellectual plane than that which could exist between man and woman. But for Christians, sodomy was a mortal sin so the object of this chivalric love had to be a woman of unsuliied reputation.

And for the messy business of sex there were plenty of peasant girls. One of the Victorians’ mediaeval sources – De Amore - tells the would-be chivalrous knight that if he feels compelled to ‘love’ peasant girls then first flatter them but if they resist, to feel free to take them by force, ie mediaeval date rape. By raping peasant girls the knight could free himself of his profane lusts so he could more easily engage in rarified, ritualized flirtations with the women of his own class.

The code simply divided women and children into those who could be used and abused with impunity, and those who any knight worth his salt had a sacred duty to protect ie women of his own or a higher class.

What changes?

The answer to our modern problems doesn’t lie in the reinvention of chivalry – it lies in challenging our society’s hypocrisy and double standards, its crass commercialism, self-absorption, consumerism and hedonism.

Yes Chris - men AND women should be honourable, kind, caring and compassionate. But they also have to find a means of making the world’s predators respect those qualities.

Whenever I reread Jane Austin, I enjoy her wit and her intelligence but I can never ignore the wraiths that inhabit the spaces between her well crafted lines – the masses of poor people whose lives and labour were sacrificed in order that the delicate manners and mores of the aristocratic and the affluent could exist.  Romance, like leisure, is something only some people can afford. And it can be a powerful ideology designed to both mask and protect the interests of the powerful.