Sunday, 18 December 2011

Letters to the editor

These are letters submitted to the Christchurch Press and not published. Because I am arrogant enough to think they deserved to be published I've decided to post them here - for posterity, or something.

October 2007 Lisa Leary trying to justify the killing of anyone who isn't like her
Some people choose to ignore the fact that most people break some laws at some time. They prefer to draw a sharp distinction between law-abiding citizens and criminals. The former deserve police protection; the latter are rubbish who deserve 'to be taken out'.
It makes it easier to justify 'taking out' deviants if they are dehumanised by locating them in a 'feral underclass', or labelling them as 'drug-crazed maniacs'.
The shooting of Stephen Bellingham has formed a boundary between a NZ in which people are deeply concerned by the moral and legal ramifications of an agent of the state shooting dead a disturbed man who was armed with a hammer; and a NZ in which a self-proclaimed law-abiding citizen says she would shoot someone who was damaging her car.
What a dark and baleful place Lisa Leary's NZ is; I'm glad I live in the other one.

Aug 2008 Lorne Keuhn on useful idiots

Lorne Keuhn is like the soldier who hasn't realised the war's over.
He denounces Christopher Moore as having hagiographical tendencies because of Moore 's favourable review of Robert Fisk's latest book.
Kuehn calls Fisk a 'useful idiot'. This term, allegedly first used by Lenin, was actually a piece of right-wing agitprop and, like the people who use it, a relic of the cold war.
My father, inspired by the Birch Society, used to tell me I'd be among the first of the 'useful idiots' to be shot if the Reds ever invaded NZ.
If the term has a modern application, it is to those who blindly defend the ugly outcomes of the USA 's 'oil addiction'. Evidence of how powerful and dangerous that addiction is can be found in the fact that the American military uses as much oil in a day as the whole of Sweden.

Nov 2008 The frequently obnoxious and always ugly cartoons by Al Nisbett annoy me ....

Today's Underzone cartoon in the Press features a 'downsizing' plan for 'psycho killers' - in the form of a 'lead diet'. Perhaps cartoonist Nisbet could enlighten us as to what marks out the 'psycho killers' from the person who is about to machine gun them? 

I don't like Nisbet's cartoons in either style or content as I don't find aggression and hostility funny and it seldom results in anything insightful.
Aggression and hostility have been on display on internet message boards in the run-up to the election. The most consistently hostile and abusive people, especially on issues of race and sexuality, are those who say they vote National or ACT. They also tend to favour Nisbet's lead diet for 'violent' criminals.
It is truly disturbing. Almost as disturbing as Sarah Palin thinking that Nicholas Sarkozy would ring her for a chat.

Nov 2008 They really can't take it when it's aimed at them ....but oh how they love to dish it out

In the Nov 11th report on Jill Singer's acerbic piece in the Herald Sun, the sentence 'not even his family were spared her bile-soaked pen', indicated the writer didn't find it amusing.
The famous Kiwi inability to take a joke (especially from an Ozzie) appeared again today in the letters page.
Singer's comments weren't especially unkind but I do agree that, in general, families and private lives should be off limits.
It's a pity that people on internet chatrooms and blogs didn't apply that principle to Helen Clark and her family.
I read hundreds of venomous, obscene and abusive attacks on Clark 's appearance and her relationships – posted by people who claimed to be National and ACT supporters.
It was shameful and I hope John Key is as embarrassed by such 'support' as I am embarrassed to share a nationality with people who are capable of such hateful conduct.

Jan 2009 Serial whinger moans about PCness

According to A Creed, criticism of Prince Harry's 2006 video is 'PC'. To establish himself as anti-PC, Creed describes the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission as a 'bunch of old women' and argues that the term 'Paki' isn't offensive nor is using the term 'raghead' to describe an enemy who is 'trying sincerely to kill you'.
Lieutenant Wales isn't on the front line and is unlikely to be killed by keffiyeh-wearing enemies - however sincerely they may try.
The term 'Paki' is not analogous to the terms Kiwi and Aussie as it's used to label people who originate from many different countries, not just Pakistan , and is only used by ignoramuses and racists.
The term 'raghead' is an ethnic slur and belongs in the same racist lexicon as those other 'jewels of the language' - 'dune coon' and 'sand nigger'.
The interesting question to my mind is whether foot-in-mouth disease is hereditary.

Jan 2009 More on that subject

Yesterday A. Creed argued that the words 'raghead' and 'Paki' aren't offensive. My letter rebutting that assertion was rejected on grounds of space.
Today John Waldron, presumably imagining he is striking a blow for free speech, tells us that he calls his dog 'Nigger' and likes to eat sweets called 'nigger-boys'.
Why stop there? Why not argue for the right to use even more names from that long list of pejoratives coined by white folk for those they consider to be inferior.
How about – alligator bait, boong, chink, coolie, dago, darky, dink, dune coon, gook, jigaboo, jungle bunny, kaffir, kyke, nignog, porch monkey, sambo, sooty, spic, tarbaby, timber nigger, wog, wop or yid?
If J Waldron and A Creed want to know why these sort of words are so offensive and so destructive they should google 'niggermania' and similar hate-sites.

July 2009 David Round rewrites history

David Round (Press July 2nd ) tells a tale of doctrinaire extremists dedicated to turning our cities into a primeval wilderness of boring native plants, and to the exiling of beautiful exotics.
I don't know how one would 'exile' a plant but full marks to him for piling on the political allusions.
David is standing up to this Goliath-sized group of 'grim ascetics' by exposing their ideology of 'botanical correctness'.
Very droll I'm sure, but he's right – there are political agendas.
The one that I find most interesting invariably denies it exists but betrays itself with such contrapositions as: the cultivated exotic versus the wild native, and the civilized garden versus the uncivilized wilderness.
If the suggestion that plantings of natives on traffic islands could provide a habitat for endangered lizards is 'stupid', how do we rate Round's argument that there's a politically-inspired move to return our cities to 'primeval wilderness'? Puerile?

Oct 2010 The Great Paul Henry Show

I was offended by many of Paul Henry’s remarks but I didn’t expect anything better from him. And I don't expect anything better from those Kiwis who think he is talented, quickwitted and funny. Afterall he reflects and says what they think so they’re hardly likely to think he is crass and boring.
But it's the remark I read in the Press (Oct 1th) which I hadn’t heard before that has shocked me most. It didn’t result in an avalanche of complaints nor attract widespread media comment at the time, yet it is deeply offensive on many levels.
In relation to infant mortality rates in the developing world Henry is quoted as having said: " “Oh they’ve got enough babies to take care of that. Don’t worry about that. We’ve got 6 others out the back.'
Perhaps the anti-PC brigade can explain how the deaths annually of millions of babies is a joking matter? Oh, but of course, silly me, they're brown and black babies. Enough said.

Oct 2010 Michael Laws on 'freedom of speech' - aka the right to insult and denigrate people

Michael Laws (Oct 17th) says that ‘many New Zealanders’ have been ‘bewildered by our rapid transition from monocultural to bicultural to multicultural’ and ‘should be allowed to express that bewilderment’.
Who’s stopping them? Legal constraints on the public expression of views are post hoc and lenient and broadcasting standards are just the exercise of common sense and common decency.
Of more interest to me is who’s included in that collective pronoun. The only time New Zealand was monocultural was prior to European colonisation, so is he including Maori in the ranks of the bewildered? Or is he harking back to the time when white NZ thought of itself as monocultural?
Post-colonial New Zealand has always been multicultural. British colonists came from the distinct cultures that make up the UK; others came from all over the world. What Laws is talking about is that mostly they were white.
Laws also claims that the ‘Henry affair’ is evidence of an all-pervading metropolitan based political correctness that presages a ‘descent into a new fascism’.
This is as histrionic as it is opportunist and cynical. Henry resigned because, having lost sight of whether he was a news presenter or an entertainer, he embarrassed himself.

Nov 2010 The not-so-great Gadsby puts his foot in it

It was obvious that the Pike River tragedy would reopen the issue of open cast mining of the West Coast’s gassy coal reserves.
With indecent haste to score political points, Jon Gadsby (Press 26th) uses the tragedy to reopen the schism between ‘Coasters’ and ‘Greenies’ by suggesting that environmentalists caused the deaths by opposing open cast mining. This is deeply unpleasant both in intent and timing.
I was in Britain during the Miner’s Strike and remember the strike and the destruction of jobs and communities that followed it. I remember also how the government and most of the media vilified and demonised, not just the NUM leadership, but also the miners and their communities – labelling them ‘the enemy within’.
I wonder how many of the people who are crying over this tragic loss of life would have supported Kiwi miners in their historic struggles for decent pay and conditions?

Jan 2011 Did the Deans give us Hagley Park?

Islay McLeod (Jan 11th) needs to take care - if she tugs her forelock any harder her head might fall off.
Rather than counter a previous correspondent’s claim that Jamie Gough’s and Tim Carter’s election to CCC owed much to privilege, McLeod confirms it with her acknowledgement that Christchurch is indeed about WHO you know, not WHAT you know.
In fact, she argues, ordinary folk should thank the ‘great families’ of Canterbury for their ‘noblesse oblige’ and asks the rhetorical question, ‘didn’t the Deans give us Hagley Park?’
No, they did not. The Canterbury Association drew up plans for the park before the city was established and it could be argued that the land for it was acquired by swindling Ngai Tahu.
But hey, that’s history. 21st century Christchurchians can rest easy in the knowledge that the philanthropically minded Sons and Daughters of those original philanthropically minded City Father and Mothers are looking after their interests.


July 11 The 'Feminist Cabal" strikes again

Terry Pierson should note that, if you want to pontificate about the ‘obtuse and shallow nature’ of other people’s discourse, you’re best to make sure your own is astute and learned.
Some people use the intellectual equivalent of a scalpel to dissect an issue. Pierson wielded the equivalent of a meat cleaver when he claimed that a ‘potpourri’ of socialists, feminists, academics - and the mysterious ‘other wheelbarrow pushers’ - had whipped the Periodgate furore into a frenzy.
His letter did a bit of frenzy-whipping of its own.
It was assisted by a headline starring that figment of fevered rightwing imagination - ‘The Feminist Cabal’ – which has the effrontery to agitate about the fact that the first country in the world to grant universal suffrage still hasn't fully achieved equal pay for equal work.
They'd better not mention equal pay for work of equal value -Terry might lose a finger.


Oct 11 Apologists for the free market unite, you have nothing to lose but your shirts

Philip Hayward says respondents to the draft central-city plan are an undemocratic minority of know-all ‘barrow-pushers’ - whatever they are.
He also claims the 'free market is the ultimate form of grass roots democracy.'
When I read that, and after I'd wiped my coffee off my husband, I set about writing an indignant rejoinder.
But then I wondered - was Hayward being ironic? After all, no-one in their right mind could see the 'free market' as anything other than an ideological construct.
I know some people fervently pray that one day the Free Market will appear and - abracadabra! – will solve the world's problems, but sensible folk know the world economy is controlled by BIG business - with the help of its servant States and institutions. The market is well and truly locked up.
So, was Hayward's depiction of the residents of Canterbury who expressed views about the way their city is to be rebuilt, tongue-in-cheek?
Let's hope so. Otherwise he'd be a mean-spirited and ideologically motivated bombast who needs to mind his own business and let Canterbury folk get on with theirs.

A Tale of One City

This is a tale of a city that outlived its usefulness.

The problem for the city was it sat at the centre of a region with vast natural resources that the central government wanted to exploit. There was considerable and varied local opposition to this largely because of the effects on the environment.

This was a wealthy city that had developed as a light industrial hub for the traditional rural economy of a wealthy region. Clever manipulation of national laws aimed at privatising the public sector had enabled the local government to maintain effective control of much of its assets. But the concentration of population and wealth was seen an obstacle to the Government’s plans to exploit the region’s natural resources, and to sell off the city’s assets.

The Government’s first move was to declare the elected Regional Authority to be incompetent and to install commissioners selected by, and answerable to, it. The region’s elected Mayors, organised by the City’s Mayor, all actively collaborated with this.

The government’s next move was to support the re-election of those city and district mayors who would work with them in the exploitation of the region’s natural resources.

Plans were well under way when nature stepped in and gave the Government a helping hand in the form of natural disaster. The shock of this disaster, and an effective PR machine, ensured the election of government friendly mayors right across the region. More importantly, it gave the Government the justification for creating even more swingeing legal powers.

A second, even more catastrophic disaster, resulted in the Government creating an overarching authority run by people selected by them – which had complete power to do whatever the government deemed necessary. The powers given to the central government and bureaucrats were unprecedented in peacetime.

The city’s re-elected Mayor proved to be a very popular figure in the aftermath of the disaster and was very useful to the Government in managing the public response to it - but he too was to outlive his usefulness. He continued to work in the way he always had, doing deals behind closed doors and colluding with the CEO to reduce the effectiveness of the council.

The Mayor’s power base in the city council began to be challenged by a group of councillors who attacked the way the council was being run. The dissidents presented themselves as champions of the people whilst, probably unknowingly, actually doing the work of the Government. The Council split into two opposing camps.

The local press started a campaign which seemed to be about demanding greater accountability and democracy but which had the effect of further undermining local confidence, not just in the Mayor and CEO, but the whole council.

Even with a mayor and councillors who were prepared to stand up to the government, the Council would have struggled to represent the people of the city and stop the plundering of the city’s and the region’s assets. In the political and managerial void left by the increasingly dysfunctional council and CEO, the Government’s new Authority rapidly expanded its role.

And then came the proverbial straw – an action by the Mayor and his supporters that outraged his opponents and, when it became public, also outraged the population of the city. People had had enough and many disparate interests coalesced around the understanding that, while this Mayor and CEO were in charge, their city was never going to be rebuilt into a vibrant modern version of what had been destroyed.

The calls for the sacking of the CEO and Mayor began. Normally compliant and conservative city dwellers flooded the local media with their angry views and began to stage protests. Councillors who had approved the action that had sparked the outrage called for the dissolution of the Council and blamed the dissident Councillors for the mess.

The Mayor, despite having colluded with the sacking of the democratically elected regional authority, put his grave, pro-democracy face on and warned the population to be careful what they wished for.

The CEO, who had always stayed out of the media limelight for the very good reason that he was PR-challenged, tried to make amends and made matters worse.

The government appointed a single observer and claimed not to be interested in the dissolution of the Council - unless it had no alternative.

Central to the Government’s long-term plan was the depopulation of large areas of the city and key satellite towns. These happened to be the areas occupied by people likely to be troublesome to the government’s plans for the region. the effects of this diaspora had already been felt in the national elections. Many people had been left to camp out in their ruined homes and neighbourhoods for months before the government declared swathes of the city as uninhabitable. The months of anxiety, inactivity and uncertainty were followed by offers for resettlement that appeared to be fair and generous but which actually made it impossible for many people to stay.

This was a forced resettlement. On the surface people were given a choice – the government appeared to be generous by offering to buy people’s homes and land from them but, leaving the development of new land to the market resulted in a free for all – and land, rents and building prices sky rocketed.
Many people found that they had to increase their mortgages to afford to replace like with like. Others, unable to afford larger mortgages or refused loans, had to downsize – or ended up renting or were forced to leave town.

The Government’s writing off the land also gave the insurers an out. They not only saved money on some payouts but they avoided future liability by the Government forcing large numbers of people away from a region that was deemed no longer worth the risk of insuring. And behind these actions lurked the spectre of bigger commercial interests, the exploitation of the region’s water and oil resources.

A government of the people, for the people, by the people would have stood up to the insurers and forced the insurers to meet their legal and ethical obligations.

 It would have purchased land and created new subdivisions and sold them at prices that enabled people to replace what they had lost.

It would have leased land on 999 year leases and given the freehold titles to the Council or community housing associations.

 It would have assisted in relocating whole communities that wanted to stay together.

It would have invested in land remediation leaving only those areas which should never have been built on to be turned into nature reserves and parks.

It would have given people security and choice by buying the mutual insurance company it had already underwritten, merged it with its own earthquake insurance bureaucracy and created a state insurance option for domestic dwellings and local and central government infrastructure.

And it would have more wisely and circumspectly managed the vast reserves of taxpayers’ money that had been built up over decades in the national disaster fund.

But, this was a government of big business, by big business, for big business. It not so much got into bed with the insurance industry, as bought the best bed on the market, made it up with fine linen and a goose down duvet, tucked the industry in, made it a mug of milo and read it a bedtime story.

What happened to the city? Well, it ended up less than two-thirds of its original size. Its political structure had changed forever and much opposition to the government was wiped out as formerly cohesive and well-organised communities were fragmented and dispersed.

Go there today and it’s a pretty sad place. The city centre still has great gaping holes where buildings once stood because there’s no incentive to build. Vast swathes of its suburbs are weed-ridden wastelands.

The region’s once glorious rivers and waterways are polluted and depleted by the intensive agriculture that exists solely to feed an increasingly unsustainable international neutraceuticals industry.

Its oil resources are being exported and the promised wealth has not trickled down to the populace although some have become even richer and retreated further into the safe confines of their gated communities or moved north.


No doubt I’ll be labelled a conspiracy nut or accused of being unhelpfully negative and pessimistic by painting this picture of Canterbury but I think that the people of this region need to wake up and smell the fertilizer because this is what has been and is being done to our region.

We do not have a vote in local regional democracy until 2013; in all likelihood the people of Christchurch soon will not have a say in the running of their city as it may be a matter of time before the CCC is dismantled. Every action and inaction of the council combined with the low public profile and high pay of its CEO are more nails in the coffin of local democracy.

Local councillors were powerless enough before – they are seen as a waste of public money now. The wealth of ChCh and Canterbury as a whole is about to be sold off to the private sector, not to rebuild the city and region, but to be milked for as much short-term profit as can be extracted from it.

I do not believe that this government has any loyalty to Canterbury. It doesn’t want a big, bold, wealthy city guarding and drawing on the natural resources of the Canterbury plains and seabed.

It wants to sell the best stuff to its mates -the people in whose interests it governs, which – let’s face it – isn’t ordinary folk. Some will profit – the vast majority will not. In fact, an awful lot of us will be impoverished, left further in thrall to the banks and/or forced to relocate from the city and region we call home.

I have a big emotional investment in Canterbury – I never knew how much until I saw it threatened. And I’m not talking about the threat of the 9000 or so earthquakes since September 2010– I’m talking about the political and economic quakes. They’re what will destroy NZ’s second city and take most of the Canterbury we knew with it.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Racism

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable… like all Pakehas would be happy with their daughter coming home with a Maori boy? The answer is they wouldn’t.”

What struck me about this statement when it was first made was the patriarchal prejudice that who might impregnate your daughter is more important than who your son might impregnate. Who your son marries may be a different matter of course.

But I was more interested in the fact that Hone Harawira’s statement and the ‘white M-F’ers’ quote, (written in a private email and published without his knowledge or consent) were widely cited on public fora as a counterbalance to racial remarks made by several white commentators.

Harawira may have meant what he said or he may have been winding people up by recycling a common Pakeha prejudice. Whatever his intention, it resulted in him being accused of being racist and, to the simplistically, and to the ideologically minded, ‘Maori racism’ cancels out ‘white racism’.

We humans are intensely social animals with very distinctive faces and an extraordinary ability to recognise subtle difference in facial and body gestures. We devote a large amount of our brain to deciphering and storing visual information about other humans.

In the course of our social evolution we have developed such widely differing cultures that the members of those cultures can find it hard to understand each other and not just in terms of speech.

But, you only have to look at the babies and very small children of all cultures and classes – to see the indicators of a common heritage. Tiny tots are never racist or snobs. That’s acquired; learned for the most part from their parents.

Recognition and wariness of difference or a preference for those who are the same as you, does not necessarily mean you are racist.

Racism is commonly defined as prejudice or unfair discrimination based on race. For that definition to mean anything there has to be an underlying acceptance of the idea that there are distinct ‘human races’, the members of which possess definable attributes and characteristics.

This is the basis of the broad, quasi-scientific categories of Australoid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. There is a complex debate about the extent to which there may be definable ‘racial’ differences but racism is not about any actual differences, it is about relative superiority and inferiority.

The origins of racism lie in the misappropriation of Darwin’s ideas about evolution to create a ‘scientific’ basis for the superiority of the ‘white skinned’ peoples of the world – and the English speaking white peoples in particular.

If humans evolved from ape-like ancestors any humans who, because of the shape of their skull or colour of their skin were closer to the ape, were not as highly evolved.

These ideas, which reached their peak at the height of Britain’s imperial expansion, proved to be useful in legitimating colonialism and assuaging guilt over slavery.

The horrors of the early African slave trade had not required an ideological mask largely because the lives of the ordinary European sailors, labourers and paupers were not so far removed from those of the slaves, ie they experienced a lesser degree of exploitation and brutality and had only nominal freedom.

But science and the rise of an educated middle class demanded a more sophisticated justification for such a brutal economic exploitation and for the processes involved in annexing other people’s countries.

The answer lay in the twin hierarchies of race and social class helped along by notions of male supremacy.

Colonisation brought the benefits of white (superior) civilization to the dark (inferior) races; industrial capitalism brought benefits to the labouring classes.

Thus a natural curiosity about or wariness of those who don’t look or act the same as us, morphed into beliefs about ‘racial’ superiority and inferiority that were used to justify brutal economic exploitation, enslavement and genocide – and still are.

That brutality in turn was justified as being the result of ‘human nature’.

But this didn’t and doesn’t happen simply because of human nature. It’s as much human nature to be inclusive, cooperative and compassionate, as it is to be exclusive, uncaring and harshly competitive.

Racism as an ideology serves a definite function; it divides – and to divide is to conquer and rule.

I get very concerned about the overuse of the term ‘racism’ – because the application of it to any and all prejudiced views or conduct risks emptying it of all political meaning.

The fact is, we all discriminate; every waking moment we make choices about how to act that are based on perceptions of difference. We also all prejudge, ie we arrive at conclusions based on incomplete or biased evidence – very often what someone in a position of authority has told us is true.

Sometimes those processes of discrimination and prejudgement result in outcomes that are good ones for us and not harmful to others; but sometimes they result in unjust attitudes and conduct towards others.

There are those for whom it is advantageous that people take decisions based on biased or incomplete information. A most potent element of this ideological strategy is the creation and promulgation of negative stereotypes based on exaggerated difference and the counterposing of those against equally exaggerated positive stereotypes.

If those stereotypes gain added legitimacy through an appeal to religion or science or by tapping into real concerns and fears, their ability to increase prejudice and to foment division is enhanced.

The fact that many societies place a social premium on lighter toned skin is often cited as evidence that colour prejudice is both universal and ‘natural’. But the origin of this isn‘t ‘racism’ but social class.

The labouring classes or castes had weathered skin. Only those who had others to labour for them could keep the soft paler clean skins they were born with. Thus a paler, soft skin on the face and hands was the most potent symbol of privilege, marking out the owner of it as a person who does not have to labour.

The Chinese fetish of tiny bound feet had a parallel in the Victorian fetish of tiny corseted waists. Exaggerated fashions such as sleeves that hang down over the hands, extremely high heels, very long fingernails were (and are) social markers sending out the message that this is a person who does not labour – either at all, or at least, not by hand.

The seeds of social Darwinism’s racial hierarchy fell on very fertile soil.

Martin Van Beynen (Press, Oct 16) argued that Paul Henry was not being racist because he did not overtly promote the superiority of one race over another.

But, as a current affairs presenter, Henry’s personal prejudices are combined with a considerable power to influence public opinion. That combination of race-based prejudice and the power to influence others took his statements into the realms of racism.

The same applies to Tony Veitch’s statement about Serena Williams, to Paul Holmes’ labelling of the UN General Secretary as a ‘cheeky darky’, and to Michael Laws’ steady stream of prejudice. We all know that the ‘feral underclass’ is code for brown people.

Racism needs to be viewed as the combination of negative prejudices based on skin colour or social or cultural attributes, and unfairly discriminatory acts that gain legitimacy through the exercise of social, political, economic or military power.

That was, and largely remains, a European phenomenon but it is not inherent to Europeans. I have no doubt that the ruling class in China, in its pursuit of the wealth of Africa, has no greater regard for the African people than the Englishmen who grew rich on the slave trade.

This is where Hone Harawira needs to be careful. He may have very good reasons, historical and contemporary, personal and cultural, for feeling antipathy to white New Zealanders. But the moment he generalises the conduct and characteristics of some white New Zealanders to all white New Zealanders and uses his political power to add weight to his words, he enters that arena where personal prejudice becomes racism.

However his power to influence is arguably way less than that of the white majority.

To understand why the words ‘nigger’ or ‘black Mfer’ in the mouth of a white person has more ‘power’ than the words ‘ honky’ or ‘white MFers” in the mouth of a black or brown person, you only need to look at which continent is still being pillaged, what peoples are still at the bottom the world’s hierarchy of power and privilege.

In the vicious, divisive and cruel hierarchy of colour, white still trumps everything, yellow trumps brown – and yes, brown trumps black.

Africa – the cradle of human kind, whose peoples’ forced labour laid the foundations of industrial capitalism and the Europeans’ world dominance, is the richest continent with the poorest people.

And that’s the context in which remarks like Henry’s and co have to be put.

Bin Laden

Katherine Gillard (Press Friday May 6th) called Osama bin Laden a murderous coward and cited the initial reports of him having hidden behind a woman. As any good spin doctor knows, even if proven to be incorrect subsequently, this is the image most people will retain – the man who sent young men to die for his cause, using one his wives as a human shield.

I don’t really care that bin Laden was assassinated by an American hit squad. I don’t care about any men of violence - especially those who stay safe in their places of worship or their corporate HQs or seats of government and send young men and women out to die.

The differences between the men who control the biggest military force in the world and men like bin Laden are a matter of ideology and degree. Each would have us believe they are defending all that is good and true and each are at great pains to hide the essential truth - their own calculating self-interest.

Contrary to spin doctrine, fanatics don't all pray in mosques nor are all those who pray in mosques, fanatics. Most who pray in mosques are decent people who want nothing more than to bring their children up in peace and prosperity - and there are many who pray in churches who ignore the important elements of Jesus' teaching.

When it suits, they take up the intellectually and morally undemanding ‘eye for an eye’ credo, replacing gentle Jesus meek and mild with the Old Testament God – fear-inducing, misogynistic, capricious, blood thirsty and above all, vengeful.

And, when people choose to believe they are made in that image, there are no limits to their hatred of difference and capacity for cruelty, violence and vindictiveness.

The poll on Telecom’s Xtra website on May 7th asked if bin Laden should have been caught and brought to trial. The responses - written in the typical schlock Xtra style were : ‘Yes – everyone’s entitled to a fair trial; ‘No – killers shouldn’t have rights’; and ‘Not sure”.

At the time of writing this, 70% of respondents had replied ‘No – killers shouldn’t have rights’.

Now, it has to be said that the Yahoo!Xtra website poll can be depended upon for producing a hefty majority on the politically Right side of most issues - which, from my perspective, is usually the wrong side.

Often the poll outcome is influenced by the way both questions and responses are phrased as well as the way the site presents its stories, which it gives prominence to, how it headlines them and which it allows comment on. But it must also be, in part, a reflection of the people who subscribe to Xtra. And a disturbing number seem to be full of rage and hatred. This is confirmed by the calibre and content of the comments on some stories.

A suggestion that Hone Harawira be gagged by ‘shoving a grenade down his throat’ is not atypical. Xtra fuels this nonsense with headlines such as ‘Hone opens his big mouth again.’ This headline was a link to a blog – usually full of trite nonsense or the voices of unreason.

“So-called justice system, lunatics running the asylum, low-life, mockery, mamby-pamby (sic) criminal lovers, bunch of academics and bureaucrats, spineless politicians, liberal ideology, politically correct nonsense, do-gooders, politically correct sham.

No prizes for guessing which sensible guardian of law and order wrote a rant containing all the above. It was of course that flag bearer of the Right, Garth McVicar, self-annointed champion of law and order and disciple of Sheriff Jo Arpaio.

The belief that killers – or even all criminals - shouldn’t have rights is worrying; the point of a trial is to establish guilt or innocence beyond reasonable doubt and to determine an appropriate punishment. Dispense with that and we are no better than those our governments gun down in the name of freedom. Even Nazi mass murderers were brought to trial.

But let’s face it – the belief isn’t really that killers per se shouldn’t have rights – it’s just certain killers. The questions of which people deserve summary execution, and who decides and who carries out the executions are ignored because the way through such difficult questions simply cannot be found with a zealot’s moral compass.

His execution may have saved the Obama presidency but that has been at the cost of making bin Laden a martyr and fuelling fanaticism. It paves the way to war.

The USA storms around the world launching military actions in other sovereign states and kidnapping the citizens of other countries – all in defence of democracy. It is of course acting in the defence of the US industrial-military complex and international finance capital. Any spin-off benefits to some of the world’s peoples are incidental and could be withdrawn at any time. Try voting in the wrong sort of government and a lot of us could easily slip from being the privileged recipients of fringe benefits to being hapless victims of collateral damage.

However much it protests after the fact that it was done in the name of freedom and democracy, every illegal action by a state undermines its credibility. It corrupts and erodes the very things it is supposed to protect.

Because we may never know what bin Laden’s crimes actually were, the spin doctors on both sides can now have a field day whipping up different forms of jingoism with those old tried and true fervour-raising agents – mindless patriotism and its boon companions, fear and hatred of others. I repeat that I don’t care bin Laden died a violent death and I feel the same about all men who unleash destruction on innocents from a distance and call it collateral damage - but the current hypocrisy and triumphalism are sickening.

Those who are busy whooping should be aware that a moral high ground constructed by spin doctors is about as stable as the ground beneath Christchurch and no place to build a future.