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  1. Lefter 88 ~ What anarchism means to me

    August 31, 2017 by emweb

     

    Some people feel they need to be told what do do. They relish the ‘strong leader’ regulating them and everything else. I really feel sorry for you – but I haven’t given up hope for you.

    I have to admit what drew me to anarchism in the first place was Johnny Rotten singing “I am an anarchist” in the song Anarchy in the UK (1977). I was just getting into punk when I heard it. Curious, I went to the library and started reading all I could about anarchism, which led to my decades-long convictions.
    First of all, I differentiate clearly between ‘anarchy’ and ‘anarchism’. To me, anarchy is what happens when a system collapses. It’s usually messy and destructive. Anarchism, though, is people getting along and doing mutually beneficial things without a system, by which I mean without an imposed system of ‘you must to this or that will happen to you’.

    Anarchism as a political philosophy is really a product of the last 200 years, along with the rise of the left and the organisation of labour, but anarchism has more ancient antecedents – there are anarchist strands in what Confucius taught and, in the west, most notably early on, perhaps, in passages attributed to Jesus.
    Famous anarchists like Kropotkin and Proudhon hobnobbed with Marx and his followers, but quickly began to raise concerns about the authoritarian strands in Marxism. This debate became acrimonious enough that once the communist factions gained a majority in the International, anarchists were banned – from this point on, the opposite factions of the left fought for precedence over the more moderate socialists between them; the socialists could be swayed ether way. While anarchists had some notable numbers and regional successes in the late 1800s and again between the two world wars of the 20th century, there were also many incidents of communists suppressing, banning and persecuting anarchists. (It’s hard to find anything like that even remotely going the other way, by the way, when anarchists held sway).

    Every ‘communist’ system that lasted beyond a few years had dictatorships and a privileged class – even Cuba. Adherents of communism who refute this fact are 1/ historically demonstrably wrong and 2/ deluding themselves. If they believe communism is a fine principle, just abused by dictatorial types, that’s like saying ‘Christianity is a great idea, shame about what it’s been like for 2000 years in practice.’ Because the large-scale crimes perpetrated by organised Christian religious denominations are manifest. The facts point out a structural flaw that is too elemental to lead to any wholly successful, non-oppressive system.
    In other words, when it came to the danger posed by the authoritarian strands identified in Marxism, Kropotkin and Proudhon were right.

    Anarchism contains various strands of its own: Kropotkin (a Russian prince) was an anarcho-communist: he formulated a communism that didn’t require a dictator to run it.
    Frenchman Proudhon, informed by the earlier (and British) Godwin, advocated anarcho-syndicalism, in which revolutionary industrial unionis formed cooperative interactions with other industry groups to look after themselves and their dependents. They would run their own production houses. In other words, Proudhon’s methods sat wholly outside capitalism. This is actually even more possible in the internet age than it ever was in the 1800s.

    Enough of history. For a society to function without enforcement, it needs people who genuinely want to do well by each other. Most of us fit into this category at least several times a day. We almost all help people; assist people for nothing; offer support; work together for mutual benefit. Want a hand with that load? Shall I hold the door open? Want to talk about it? You don’t need to be told to be good.
    The whole thing about rules is interesting to me. I’ve had people maintain that without rules, people would ‘all’ be murdering and stealing. Really, would you? Because I wouldn’t.

    I’ve had people say ‘You must obey the laws’. Bullshit. We all choose every day which laws we break and which we don’t. We don’t kill people and steal because we don’t want to. Believe me, it doesn’t take long for circumstances to worsen enough that people will do either, no matter what the law says – otherwise we wouldn’t have a prison population. It’s not just bad genes and stupidity, as the entitled middle-aged white men Mike Hoskings of the world would have us believe. Besides, he’s a perfect example of what bad genes and stupidity and a high income can lead to. What leads to crime is usually all, or varying combinations of, poverty, desperation, drug dependency and ill-informed decisions/lack of information.

    Practical anarchism is expediency. There are sets of systems in the world. We’re all aware of them. Don’t drive on the other side of the road? Of course not, you’ll crash. You’ll either hurt someone, or yourself, of both. But we will in a heartbeat to skirt a slip, or flooding. We choose to at that point, otherwise we’d still be sitting there waiting for instructions from an authority figure. We are not automatons.
    I try to apply this kind of logic to every situation in every way. I have done for decades. I like to think I choose every rule I follow or don’t follow. You may think it’s fear of and/or respect for the police/judiciary/government/whatever, but in my case, it’s me, choosing.
    This is a remarkably empowering philosophy (why not try it?). In my case it was inspired, strangely enough, by Nazi Germany: I decided at 15 to never be one of those people who could claim that pushing 100,000 people into gas chambers was OK because it was ‘just following orders’.

    Like it or not, we currently live in systems we can do very little about. Sometimes every few years we get to add our tiny, almost inconsequential tick to a ballot. Many anarchists can’t bring themselves to do this – that’s their choice. I respect choice.
    But as Winston Churchill quoted in the British House of Commons in 1947, “… It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I agree with him on this. It’s very wise. Churchill was pointing out that all forms of government (institutions that have authority over people, however those institutions were arrived at) are bad, so yes, I agree. Democracy has usually been the least destructive to human life within those governance systems, true (it’s a different story when democracies go to war against each other, of course). And as I said, a single vote every few years (we get two in New Zealand: party and representative) is almost inconsequential.

    Almost.

    So I vote.


  2. Lefter 86 ~ Fuck the centre!

    August 2, 2017 by emweb

    Well, f-i-n-a-l-l-y Labour did something transformative, or so it appears.

    Now, all the commentators saying Labour should fight for the centre … no!

    NOOOOO!

    Fuck the centre. National has it, and it’s been shrinking anyway. Steadily killing the middle class has been killing education, the arts and, for those economically-focussed, tax revenues. The poor can’t pay tax, and the rich avoid it, so the middle class carries the tax burden. Squeezing the middle to foster the inequality that makes life still more lucrative for the rich has resulted in a bewildered group in the ‘centre’ and loads of non-voters.

    Labour, if you’ve been wondering where all those Labour votes have been going, it’s the left-wing voters you have been losing. Bring us back! Offer us policies that will solve inequality that this courting of the centre for the last two decades has brought us.

    Little looked like a little shadow of Bill English. Puke. That’s why he was so unpopular. He was inoffensive, waffling and dull – like Bill English. We need different, not the same.
    For goodness sake, Labour, give us something we can believe in: a future, caring for all New Zealanders, that doesn’t promote rich white men to the exclusion of all others, with social awareness, with the equality New Zealand used to be famous for. Something that protects and nourishes what used to be the best natural environment in the world.

    You know. If you try really hard, some of you may even be able to remember it.
    It’s called The Left.


  3. Lefter 85 ~ Thanks, Labour! (Confounded by the profound stupidity of it all)

    July 31, 2017 by emweb

    So disappointed right now. Mostly at Labour’s stupidity. I just want to vote for a left wing party, all right? But do I want to vote for a stupid one? No I bloody well don’t. And Labour is so stupid these days, I can’t. And there’s no clear alternative.
    Why do I want a left wing government? Easy. The left cares about people and doesn’t wage the politics of fear-mongering and by the extension of punishments.
    The left has historically made things better for most people. The right – and National here totally fits this mould – has always made things better for the rich. With the dramatic rise of inequality in New Zealand after three terms of National, most New Zealanders desperately need a change of government.
    I’ve been refraining from writing any Lefter columns over the last few months, as we head towards a September election, because I know people in Labour are very sensitive about any criticism. The attitude seems to be ‘Just for God’s sake let us get into power and then everything will be all right’.
    But I simply can’t believe that. And believe me, I’ve tried to believe that.
    Apart from Labour being too scared to admit it’s actually left wing, to the point where it’s actually not, Labour is being led by a bloke who honestly thinks people like him despite the clear and growing evidence that almost all people don’t. Little still thinks he’s a viable leader despite the polls telling him the exact opposite. For God’s sake, Andrew, your potential voters prefer your deputy to you, and she has never even expressed any interest in being the damn Prime Minister! People in the street tell you they are happy with you? Duh. I can hardly contain myself. They’re probably National voters, you fool.
    If you can delude yourself so profoundly, what are you going to do to us? Oh, the stupidity! For example, Labour’s tax stance.
    OK, here’s how it’s played: National will win, and I don’t want that, but at least lots of people might get a little tax cut which gives them more discretionary spending … then Labour announces it will not do a tax cut and put more money into Working For Families.
    Right, so you may have got some more money, say $80 a month, from tax cuts, but under Labour, you’d get maybe $100, if you do the paperwork properly, or if someone else does it for you … yeah, right, which one do you prefer? Which one do you trust? Money you just get, or maybe some money that someone else has to organise for you or that you have to jump through hoops for? There are already thousands and thousands of New Zealanders missing out on various benefits because they don’t know what they’re entitled to, how to apply for it and because staff, after years of neoliberalism, don’t help and don’t care about the right people getting what they’re due. This amounts to a tacit method by which this government saves money.

    So:
    Thanks, Labour, for not having the vision to define your political stance, despite the very clear evidence that people are crying out for the left to define its stance, with the pretty compelling examples being the popular rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in the US and UK respectively. (And how many goddamn years have I been writing and saying this??)
    Thanks, Labour, for making an ‘alliance’ with the Greens that expires on election day. How cynical is that?
    Thanks, Labour, for not even having enough vision to realise that you and your ‘leader’ don’t have any vision.
    Thanks, Labour, for still imagining Labour’s more successful past has any bearing whatsoever on the position you now find yourselves in.
    Thanks, Labour, for putting Jacinda Adern in a position where she no longer has her own voice while, worse, tarring her with your loser-brush. Because when Labour crashes and burns in this forthcoming election, this will blight her career, and Grant Robertson’s career, and a few others, because thanks to Labour’s lack of process and management, they had to pretend they supported you.
    Thanks, Labour, for letting a stinking rich liberal like Gareth Morgan actually start looking like a viable option to some who would otherwise have been easy Labour votes.
    Thanks, Labour, for letting the Greens take the left ground, because Meteria Turei actually made a leftist stand while you waffle on with tiny tweaks to this and that.
    Thanks, Labour, for letting perhaps the dullest politician in New Zealand history, a conservative, Catholic, anti-abortion farmer who has never been a popular choice as a Prime Minister still get enough oxygen to easily coast in. It’s National’s election to lose, but Labour’s dicking around means National will win despite years of bad government.
    And finally, worst of all, thanks, Labour, for foisting another National government on this poor, suffering, badly-managed country.
    What you have effectively done is you have made decent people pay the price of three more years of rising inequality and extortionate house prices as the only possible way to get rid of this uber-deluded Andrew Little which might finally – finally! – force Labour put its house in order. Because Labour has been increasingly too damned moribund and stupid to do this since it lost Helen Clark.
    Thanks so much.


  4. Lefter 84 ~ The Rich Could Eat Us

    January 19, 2017 by emweb

    So robots are going to be smarter, cheaper and do more and more work. Already, some New Zealand farmers have laid off staff. They get up at 10am instead of 5am, the cows having been robo-shepherded into their milking stalls, the milking cups auto-attached, the milk hygienically withdrawn from the animals, processed and sent off to market.

    “They’re happier, too!” The farmers proclaim. Well, the farmers sure as hell are – the ones who can afford this level of automation, anyway.
    Soon your car will drive itself. Big deal, people won’t need to learn to drive any more … but think about it. It’s easier to develop and test driverless features on a car than it is on a large vehicle. I predict the real aim is driverless buses and trucks: no sleepy long-haul drivers, no wages and best of all, no pesky unions for owners of haulage companies to deal with any more.
    Have you heard of the post-work future? Your job is probably already meaningless, if not mindless. An uncomplaining robot with machine learning could do this while you lay on the beach.

    Except you won’t be. Think about that, too. Robots can make (and already do make) many of the things we want to buy. Not just equipment, tech and clothes, but even food.
    And how will you buy it? You won’t be working. Universal wage? Right … that would come from the government, and robots won’t be paying taxes. Nor will you, as you won’t be earning. The rich don’t pay taxes already. Their Artificial Intelligence accountancy software will be even better at micromanaging their money so they don’t.
    So governments will have no revenue as they will get no taxes. What are they going to pay you with?
    Nothing.

    Which makes you worthless. Dispensable. And seriously, what do you reckon the rich will do with you? Put you in a fun park? You create problems: sewage, for one thing. You breathe the air, drink the water, demand feeding, and you can’t buy anything and you can’t do anything useful. You’ll be completely irrelevant. The rich could wipe 90% of the population and live like lords with no more crowded cities, no more pollution, loads of space, and they could only use sustainable energy, so that fixes global warming, as oil would be irrelevant too. They’d keep a class of technocrats to keep things going, and to design and innovate a bit, and that’s it. No hoi polloi messing up the beaches, filling up the streets and airport terminals, peskily existing.

    Rosy, huh?


  5. Lefter 83 ~ Equality

    August 15, 2016 by emweb

    So, the Neo-Liberal experiment has resulted in a new New Zealand that doesn’t care about its population unless it’s making money, and that demonises rather than supports the poor. It has taken the New Zealand dream away, dangled it like a trophy in the media and then stomped it into the mud under the heels of realtors and The Block. It has fobbed us off with reality television and Max Key’s gleaming, salon-waxed abs. The housewives of Auckland take our attention while the government takes our state houses, handing the properties to developers to make even more money from; it’s supporting landlords to raid the tenants’ livelihoods, and this is the real, unspoken reason behind the property price blow-out.

    It’s got so smug, John Key doesn’t even bother learning the answers to half the questions he’s asked any more. He just says he doesn’t know or can’t remember, and his supporters would rather continue to fondly imagine this shows his honesty instead of what it actually shows: he doesn’t actually even care to pretend he cares any more. People love him anyway. People still think he’s the bloke to have at your barbecue. ‘He’s just like us! He’s given up …’

    Meanwhile, the left in New Zealand is too frightened to call itself left, too wrapped into its own internal dramas to formulate real policy and so far up it’s own inner, defeatist darkness now, it continues to either let its leader and top MPs talk without any preparation, or worse, advises them with really shit advice which makes them look stupid for all to see.

    It’s a spurious argument, in my opinion, to keep insisting Labour just can’t afford good advice, compared to National. This is the thing, Labour: stupid is just stupid, no matter how much or little that’s funded.

    So, with the left successfully demonised that it’s even frightened of itself, and too scared to talk about what it has done for New Zealand (the good things, I mean), what’s left for rational human beings who believe in civil society?

    I reckon it’s time to formulate a new set of precepts to live by, to be proud of and to propagate. It needs a simple, strong message, easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to spread.

    Equality.


  6. Praise the Lord and pass the luke warm dishwater

    May 5, 2016 by emweb

    Out there in the big wide world – or at least the big white western world – traditional politics has polarised. When anxieties rise, people think more left or more right. The Great Depression of the early 1930s led to the massive increase  of Fascism and Communism, bloodshed and trauma.

    When things are going well, economically at least, the extreme ends of the spectrum shrink and the middle expands. Look at the 1950s.

    The middle of New Zealand has definitely expanded – and it’s stuck in spread mode. Trump is so right-wing in his pronouncements, even dyed-in-the-wool Republicans tremble. While the United States tussles with the mawkishly Hitlerian antics of Trump, Sanders almost daily surprises with increases of a constituency that self-admits to being left – quite incredible in itself, in present day America. The only figurehead left upholding the middle, currently, is Hilary Clinton, the darling of her own establishment, and the pillar of its own smug ennui. If she wins (and we have to hope she does, over Trump, as unattractive as that prospect is), she will have a vocally and avowedly disenfranchised left wing to deal with on her own side of the fence – something that hasn’t properly existed in the US since the 1960s.

    In England, Jeremy Corbyn is hated by his own party establishment but loved by its members. Those members put him there, whereas here in New Zealand, the practically useless unions still managed to get their own man in, instead of change and vision. In Europe and elsewhere, right-wing anti-immigrant and refugee parties are surging as people fear the future; fear the mini holocausts that flame across the Middle East; fear the consequences of their actions and inactions while struggling to stay out of it no matter the cost.

    Here, the Left let a middle manager of a union rule the Labour Party again, eschewing the chance to break out of the white hetero middle class male mould even a little.

    Here, the political fight is for the middle.

    Here, it comes down to who you’d rather have at your barbecue, or currency trading at your bank, or who you think is a good bureaucrat. Someone who looks the same, doesn’t stand out, but can still make the ‘hard decisions’ to let a few rich people make even more money.

    It’s boring. They’re boring. Rather than a titanic struggle, we have a disagreement over that bowl of boiled potatoes on the table. Who gets the biggest piece of white bread. Incremental shifts in slight tweaks of policy.

    Labour won in New Zealand a few decades ago by embracing the middle. National won that middle back and now enacts Labour-type policies (what National used to refer to as ‘nanny-statism’) while pretending to still represent conservatism: laissez faire economics and farmyard interests under the smokescreen of increasingly telling people what to eat, drink, smoke and what medicinal drugs it will or won’t allow.

    Is the middle a fight we can win? Not any more. It’s irrelevant, it doesn’t engage youth (and who can blame them), and it’s just bloody boring.

    The world is under increasing stress.

    And the middle’s not going to solve anything.


  7. Lefter 80 ~ Things fall apart …

    February 18, 2016 by emweb

    The centre cannot hold … this country (and, OK, many others to be sure) has developed into a fight for the centre over the last few decades in a race to who can be the most mediocre. Awesome, right? Fighting for the centre? I mean, once it was a battle to drag the country, then the rest of the world, into a future in which women were allowed to take an equal role in society, workers had rights as well as their exploiters, in which all people were cared for … we had the 40 hour week, the first real Welfare State, New Zealand mandated and ensured minority representation in parliament, at least for Māori… I do dare say it: all that made New Zealand a great nation was firmly on the left.

    And now the hardest fought battle is for the centre.

    And yes, John Key has won that battle. Repeatedly.

    But the world is changing and the centre is no longer holding. The battle for power in the United States may devolve to Trump on the far, crazy right and Sanders very distinctly on the left. In Britain, avowedly left-wing Corbyn took the top job in the Labour Party, much to the chagrin of the Labour Party’s ‘leadership’. What is the appeal? Both are not scared to say they’re left, for a start. Something both Labour Parties have found difficult for decades.

    Neither are centrist.

    That’s what you get after years of battling for the centre. Over here, Labour ‘likes’ Sanders but is worried by Corbyn, who has created a groundswell of voter support and who has already been responsible for a massive rise in grass roots Labour Party membership. NZ Labour’s attitude here reflects connections to Labour UK’s leadership more than anything else. We bought Tony Blair’s popularity contest off the back of our own terrible neo-liberal dalliance and we’ve been stuck there since, despite John Key doing it so much better.

    Of course, Labour here could actually grow some convictions and come from a similar stance to Sanders and Corbyn. Actually, you don’t even need to grow some – just resuscitate the ones the party was founded on.

    Remember those?

    Too scary? Then you really don’t deserve votes.

    Because National is currently staggering, Labour – what are you going to do? Never before has ennui so dogged this party of the moneyed and the glib. Key catastrophically mishandled Waitangi Day, then got booed at the League. That would have been unthinkable even a few months ago. Meanwhile, up north where the running-scared Key should have been, Stephen Joyce went from looking like an imperturbable manager to just another suited dickhead thanks to a very deftly-pitched toy penis.

    The ‘new flag’ looks awful – want proof? Even many National MPs think that. John Key’s personal vanity project to foist his corporate conservative logo onto the nation’s masthead is faltering badly, meaning they have to turn up the heat to bring even their own people in line. Once again, this would have been unthinkable a short time ago, when National’s caucus was as tight as Judith Collins’ pursed lips. Meanwhile people like me, who have long hated the Union Jack being part of ‘our’ flag long after England turned its back on New Zealand (a process which has accelerated recently, with punitive measures against Kiwis who want to work and live there) finds myself about to vote to keep the damn thing, both to spite John Key and because, frankly, the alternative sucks and the process to come to this design sucks more.

    Two million dollars was promised to ameliorate emergency housing months ago and … surprise! Not a cent has been spent. Meanwhile, 27 million has been squandered on the ‘new’ flag. How much of that has been spent? How many people made tidy profits from that process while other kids go hungry and while people have to live in cars, garages and on the street?

    State house evictions have accelerated. And concurrently, National has cut funding for mental health in Canterbury coz – who cares? Clearly not the National Government, which has failed to rebuild the city, failed the traumatised citizens of quake-ridden Christchurch and clearly couldn’t actually give a shit apart from keeping its insurance cronies sweet and crowing about a little building work – much of which has been mishandled.

    As for dairy, are we crying foul yet? We should be – how have all the eggs in that basket actually worked out for this short sighted ‘governance’?

    Gareth Hughes absolutely skewered Key in a speech in Parliament in an excoriating and painfully-accurate dissection of our Prime Minister’s current state of affairs … oh for someone like Lange in Labour who could do this so well! Now it’s the Greens we have to turn to for in-depth socio-cultural commentary.

    Meanwhile, National has its Trump in waiting, in the form of Judith Collins champing at the bit to muscle in and erect her police state. Her alternative is ‘bite the hand that feeds’ Bennett.

    Who has Labour got?

    This is your chance. Like never before.


  8. Lefter 79 ~ The Left, Green, Right and fright

    January 9, 2016 by emweb

    Or should that be ‘fight’? I’d certainly prefer that.

    The Green Party of New Zealand has a singular advantage over the Labour Party: one unified aim. You might be a left Greeny, a right one or ‘Aqua’, an eco warrior or hell, just a hippy, but no matter where you came from and how you exercise your Green ambitions, you all have the same aim as the other Greenies: you want a more ecologically sustainable New Zealand that protects its current stock of natural attributes.
    Of course, lots of left wing voters and even some right wing voters want that too. (Most right-wing voters can’t see beyond pure exploitation of anything in reach). For the left, it’s more a matter of what comes first: a better environment in which to live, or a better way to live within that environment.
    National Party and Act supporters also have one aim – self enrichment.

    But Labour does not have one aim.
    Once upon a time, in the Labour heyday, the aim was more rights and better pay for workers. This is no longer tenable. For one thing, there aren’t many workers left. The wealthy, thanks to neo-liberal might and wiles, crush jobs, robotise, off-shore … anything to avoid giving any kind of quality of life to what workers there are left. If you think your job will never be done by a robot and/or computer, you’re wrong. The wealthy have the money to invest in these things. You may have seen the New Zealand dairy farm that was on TV a few months ago: while the couple who owned it slept-in, their cows were herded automatically into pens, suction cups attached themselves, the milk was taken and the cows robotically compelled back out into the fields. The couple insisted the cows were happier – perhaps they could only think this as they were themselves, with no more early rises to mess with their days, and no more staff to look after.

    Meanwhile, there’s the working poor who can’t afford rent, food and childcare anymore, being worked into early graves, and the ever shrinking middle tier of ‘workers’ who are tax-paying paper-shufflers (this category includes academics and teachers these days). They only ever seem to get more paper to shuffle in their increasingly mindless jobs.

    I’ve said it before and, wearyingly, I imagine I’m going to be saying it again: the New Zealand Labour Party doesn’t know what it believes in any more. There’s no vision for the future. The people who have stopped voting Labour either vote for National because they think ‘at least I might get some more money’ (ha ha, more fool you); vote Green coz hell, none of us want to die of pollution or tainted food; or they just don’t vote out of disgust.

    Which leaves the 24% or whatever it was that voted Labour last time. These are, increasingly, people who vote for nostalgia reasons, or so I cynically surmise. And this category appears to include Andrew Little. Labour was great once … well, so was Rome.

    We need a new vision, Labour. We need you to come up with a vision that’s worth voting for. You need to be able to articulate it, sound-bite it and back it. We need something to believe in – and then all the different factions in the left won’t matter.


  9. Lefter 78 ~ New Zealand at heart is bitter. And dark

    November 22, 2015 by emweb

    You may have heard that most right-wingers consider left-wingers to be stupid. Left wingers, on the other hand, consider right-wingers to be evil.
    Presumably they think we’re stupid because we don’t channel all our energies into making money. Into ourselves. We – I certainly – think they’re evil because they are so selfish.
    I had two experiences lately that made me reconsider the usual established, fluffy view of New Zealand as being an upstanding nation of citizens who share a fairly general belief in equality. Egalitarianism. Fairness.
    The first: I went to a hospital pick up a relative who had just had a knee operation. I had to wait with them until the surgeon signed them off. Forty minutes or so. Waiting with them – note this was a public hospital, not private – was a middle-aged bloke who was very chatty. Let’s call him Geoff. He insisted, first, on showing me a picture of one of his cars. He’d hot-rodded a Rolls Royce. I’m not kidding. Now to me, hot-rodding any old car is already an indicator of bad taste, with a few notable exceptions. Notable in their paucity. You’re basically wrecking a classic to fit some kind of petrol-head fantasy.

    But to do it to a Roller is entering a whole new level of new-money gauche. Even so, what he’d done to it was bloody ugly in anyone’s book. Well, anyone’s except his.

    The nurse came in and he immediately started regaling her with financial advice. She’d just bought a house in Grey Lynn. ‘Sell it!’ he said. ‘Buy another one. Wait two months. Sell it! When the market crashes, live in that last one. I bought some land last year on the outskirts of Auckland for half-a-million, waited two months, sold it for 1.5 million.’ Now at this point, I was thinking he might have been a blow-hard, but even if he was, this was his belief. He said we have to capitalise on the Chinese driving up our house prices. His words.
    The nurse replied ‘But I like Grey Lynn. I want to live there.’
    ‘Have you got a mortgage? Well, sell it then. Within three or four sales, you’ll have paid it off. Soon after that, you’ll be rich.’
    Then he told us, unbidden (although we were being polite, considering he’d just had surgery), that he’d found a good woman, although the last one, with whom he’d fallen out, had set fire to his house while he’d been in America. ‘So I moved the two boats off the tennis court immediately so she couldn’t torch those as well.’
    Then he said he was rebuilding a Spitfire aeroplane to carry four people. It was a Supermarine, so it could land on water. This was so he could get to his exclusive Nelson property when the apocalypse came. ‘It’s only accessible by water.’
    I raised my eyebrows. ‘Apocalypse?’
    ‘The anarchists,’ he said. ‘I’ve talked to them. They want to get rid of people like me.’

    Which was funny, considering who he was talking to and his lack of recognition of the import of the exclusively black and red clothing I was wearing. I considered his words, whether they constituted contributory negligence, weighed up my pacifism … but all I had on me was a pocket knife and besides, we were in a hospital … anyway, he then went on to tell us he’d hot-rodded the Roller so he could ship it to Hong Kong and drive it to Europe, all the while looking for a new place to live because ‘New Zealand was going to the dogs.’
    Driving home, we reflected how he’d just had his knee fixed at tax payers’ expense.
    Dogs.

    Then, a few weeks later, I visited an elderly man. He was someone I knew, got on with, had decided was a nice guy. He’d worked at a school for years – one which benefited from public money, but was a fairly exclusive boys’ school. Before that he’d been an accountant. He showed me his computer and how he liked to have his stocks and his spreadsheets visible at the same time.
    He lived in a large, well-appointed Remuera old people’s home. Blocks of apartments. He went on two big trips a year. He bade me sit at his computer – his web browser was open to Whale Oil Beef Hooked. His emails, also visible, showed he was on the Act Party mailing list. I could not help but see – indeed, had the impression he wanted me to see – his investments. There was a long column, but I only noticed the first two before I looked away: $1.1 million, $760,000 …
    ‘I like to have them both open at the same time so I can move things around,’ he explained, ‘Because I hate to pay tax.’
    Noticing my startled expression, he added ‘Legally not pay tax.’

    Both these guys had a strangely aggrieved air about them!

    I honestly wish I was making this up.

    I’m not.