Darnton in Craccum (Not)Freedom Crucified
Suburban garden centres donít usually give the impression of being rampant hotbeds of anarchy. At this time of year, however, they are the ones leading the charge against government power with complete disregard for the rule of law. Right now, the Department of Labour is preparing cases against those who dared to defy our rulers and opened their delicately decorated gates over the holiday weekend.
Why? Surely itís obvious to everyone that itís utterly immoral to sell flowers on the Friday before the first Sunday after the first full moon since the Northern Hemisphereís spring equinox. What could be clearer than that?
It all falls into place once you realise that this day is, approximately, on a different calendar, around the anniversary of the execution of a political prisoner from a long gone freedom movement by a long dead empire.
However, Iíll take any excuse for a Friday off work and I suspect that the rumours of God being dead are much more plausible than the accounts from a few days later.
Easter is, of course, just the Christian damping down of an old pagan celebration of fertility, although quite how weíre supposed to perform our usual fertility rituals when all the pubs are shut is beyond me.
It seems that all kinds of fertilisation are off limits. Itís only those wide-eyed, edge-dwelling plant shop owners selling compost who save the day.
Rather than consorting with these enemies of society, I decided to go to the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow.
As well as the aerial displays, there was plenty on the ground too. I always find the military surplus shop a scary window into other peopleís lives. While the goon squad can fine you several thousand dollars for selling tulip bulbs at Easter, apparently itís perfectly OK to be selling camouflage nets for your Harrier jump jet, twenty metre rolls of razor wire and those all-time best sellers, the Swedish army hospital bedpans. I canít help but have this odd feeling that there must be a lot of massage parlours with y2k survivalist theme rooms out there somewhere.
While the people in the army-navy tent had a worryingly good attitude to their work, the pilots were obviously having a ball too. And why not? Thereís the roar of the engines, the smell of aviation fuel, and when itís your turn to fly the Messerschmitt you get to dress up like a Nazi and no one thinks youíre a freak.
Somewhere else that you can dress up and act like a Nazi without anyone thinking itís out of the ordinary is apparently Miami. The Immigration Gestapo finally put an end to that old myth of America as the "Land of the Free." Elian Gonzalezí fate was finally decided by a man who has already shown once this presidency that he has no idea where a decent Cuban belongs.
In a pre-dawn raid, about sixty highly trained and heavily armed paramilitary police managed to kidnap six-year-old Elian so that this piece of Cuban state property could be sent back to the prison camp that his mother died to get him out of.
No doubt the Statue of Liberty will now be renamed the Statue of Equality and its inscription rewritten:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
We donít care any more,
So fuck off back to your own country."
Thatís what I like about Easter; itís a celebration of life. Itís good to know that governments are out there sending little kids back into slave labour while at the same time protecting us from renegade rose bush peddlers.
Radical: adjective, not conservative
Jenny Shipley addressed a local National Party conference recently and told them that sheíd just realised how screwed up their years in government were. Perhaps I should have had a word to her a little while back. Even comparing the previous government to my own university career, itís difficult to believe that they could achieve so little for so long.
Early on I got my undergraduate degree, albeit with some fairly shonky grades. Similarly the Nats started out with the Employment Contacts Act, a good idea but again not worth much more than a pass mark. At least my qualifications havenít been repealed, although with the physical sciences being a bit patriarchal and eurocentric it wouldnít surprise me.
At this conference over the weekend, Jenny Shipley exhorted the troops to become Ďradical conservatives.í On closer inspection, Radical Conservatism appears to be about going round to each otherís houses for cucumber sandwiches and bears a striking resemblance to Dull Conservatism, with which we are all familiar.
New Zealandís first unelected woman prime minister told her audience that being Ďradicalí didnít mean becoming extremists. Websterís and the Oxford English beg to differ. The reality is, of course, that weíre never going to see the true blue attempting to further their political goals by vandalising hamburger joints.
The assorted misanthropes and losers that weíve seen throwing tantrums on May Day and outside free trade meetings do have one thing in common with our blue-rinsed friends though. Their desire for a more regulated economy coupled with their self-styling as Ďanarchistsí suggests that they too are in desperate need of a dictionary.
Along with many others, I picked Jenny Shipley as future prime minister material several years ago. I couldnít wait for her to put the stiletto into Bolger and then turn her attention to disposing of Winston. It was a terrible shame to discover that she was only marginally less lame than her remarkably unvigorous predecessor. Still, wouldnít want to be Ďextremistí would we?
Personally, I canít see why extreme had become synonymous with bad. Obviously, a lot of ideas taken to extremes are bad ideas, like communism, Christian revivalism, and real-life TV. This misses the point that all of these things are bad in small doses as well. Itís not the extremism thatís the problem, itís the content of the basic idea.
A night of television made up of Real Flatmates, followed by Animal Rescue Heroes, followed by When Dull Conservatives Attack is a nightmare, but then remember that half an hour of Americaís Most Voyeuristic Home Videos wasnít that great either.
The best counter to bad extremism is good extremism, something that the National party will never ever do properly. They are entrenched in compromise and therefore mediocrity because they spend too much effort being conservative and not enough time being radical.
Take the previously mentioned Employment Contracts Act. That employers and employees, being grown-ups, can sort out their own arrangements is a Good Thing. Ruth Richardson, just about the National governmentís only decent minister in almost a decade, wrote an Employment Contracts Bill that came close to embodying this idea.
But the Nats couldnít help themselves. In her book, Making a Difference (of which I have a personally autographed copy that I picked up from the Paper Plus remainders bin), she relates how, led by Bill Birch, the legislation was progressively watered down and our labour market remained saddled with the Employment Court and the minimum wage.
And this was one of the highlights of the administration Ė one of its greatest achievements. It didnít even occur to them to deal with the Holidays Act. In my opinion, legally forcing a Muslim to fit in with Christian holidays is the height of bad manners, but thatís just me being extreme again.
The rest of Nationalís tenure was just a catalogue of nothingness punctuated by backsliding away from the principles (get that dictionary out again) that they supposedly believe in.
They passed the Resource Management Act which, while retaining the superficial impression of private ownership, effectively transfers custody of the land to district planners. To quote the National Partyís own infamous ĎCossackí advert from many years ago, "And we all know what thatís called."
De facto national ID cards and a police force more interested in raising money and hindering law abiding motorists than catching thieves, along with vastly more powers for the state sponsored thieves at IRD, are further elements of their legacy.
Our current government is pushing us down the road to slavery quicker than the previous government did, however I think itís important to point out the errors of not just the Labour socialists but the National socialists as well.
If Jenny and crew are serious in their soul searching they might dig out that old party constitution, read up on some of the things it talks about, like personal freedom, and start standing up for something good. Conservative? No. Radical? Yes.
The other night at the pub they had a promotion on. Buy two bottles of a particular brand of beer and get some free gifts. These Ďgiftsí turned out to be a floppy towelling hat and a vodka-and-lemon-drink branded condom. I suspected that the hat would act as a more effective contraceptive. This was confirmed by a warning on the condom packet that it could not guarantee 100% protection from pregnancy or other sexually transmitted diseases whereas the hat clearly had a preventative effect that should have mothers and Christians everywhere smiling.
The sober warning on the alcopop condom was written in discrete little writing at the bottom of the box, leaving plenty of room for the alcohol advertising. This probably wouldnít have been the case in many other countries. In England, for example, they have an absolute mania for labelling and the thing would no doubt have been covered with little messages. "Suitable for vegetarians!" "Keep away from small children," (always good advice), or perhaps, "Caution: Contains small parts."
No doubt this labelmania is provoked by a fear of litigation if you donít inform every moron of everything that could go wrong. However, not only are morons very resourceful people, but they often turn up on juries too. One American doctor, who failed to tell his patient that certain surgical procedures could damage her psychic abilities, found this out to his insurance companyís cost.
This is all despite the fact that the world is a much safer place than it used to be. Evidence from the preserved bodies of prehistoric Europeans suggests that 70% of people died from falling into peat bogs and the rest got trapped in glaciers. A rare occurrence today. Five hundred years ago, plague swept through London every summer. Today itís just people trying to sell you a copy of "The Big Issue".
Weíve conquered smallpox, beaten polio, and have mostly effective antibiotics. Most people have so little concept of what risk used to mean that they think theyíre living on the edge by not wearing sunscreen.
Even warfare appears to have got nicer, all in the space of one lifetime. Thanks to modern technology, pilots today can go to work, drop a smart bomb through a window in Belgrade, and be back playing baseball with the kids in North Carolina before dinner. The day I was born, American bombers were pounding North Vietnam back into the Stone Age. Back then, they didnít care which building was the Chinese Embassy; they were going to find it even if they had to flatten every other building in Hanoi in the process.
All this success in making the world, or at least the Western bit of it, safer has made us think weíre clever. Actually, if "we" means scientists, technologists, doctors, and the like, "we" are bloody clever. If "we" means the politicians who are so good at claiming credit for other peopleís achievements, then this is a dangerous delusion.
These people canít make new vaccines, they can only make new laws. And so they do - passing laws for seatbelts, against helicopter bungy jumping, for swimming pool fences, against smoking. Not to protect us from raging hordes of enemies, or invisible pathogens, but from ourselves.
Thankfully, there are still a few adventures left. For the truly rich and foolish, youíll soon be able to take a holiday on the Mir space station. A private company has paid to be able to take tourists up for a visit. There are a couple of cosmonauts up there now. The BBC reports that the first part of their mission is to fix an air leak in the station. The second part is to wait there for the Russians to come up with more cash before they decide what to do next.
I quite like the idea of a holiday in space. Sadly, I suspect that the fantasy of the zero gravity honeymoon suite is somewhat different to the reality of vomiting up reconstituted meals while confined to the inside of a flying hot water cylinder.
Even with anti-nausea medicine and a redo of the Soviet industrial dťcor, it may not be exactly what youíd imagine. Last year the space shuttleís first married couple flew. It seems that going down is not so easy without gravity. Reports suggest that the mission specialist may have had trouble with the rendezvous and docking procedures required to deliver his payload. Eventually the hundred-mile-high club got its first members with the aid of an inflatable love tunnel that the couple could crawl inside.
This and many other technologies will be improved upon but we need people who havenít had all of their initiative and creativity crushed by mindlessly following petty rules. People need to be allowed to risk their lives and their dollars to make the future a glowing reality. Richard Branson plans to have commercial space flights available this decade. As long as Virgin Galactic Airways doesnít serve me peanuts labelled "Caution: May contain nuts," Iíll be a happy man.
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