Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting lost with GPS

I ought to apologise publicly to Paul Janman, who is in the East Coast village of Nuhaka this weekend for the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. Paul is helping make a documentary film about the festival, which attracts auteurs and activists from around Aotearoa and the South Pacific, and I had agreed to head down with him and live blog some of the action in the improvised movie theatre that is Nuhaka's Kahungungu marae. Last week's diving temperatures, though, spread a variety of maladies, from nerve pain to the common cold to croup, through our family, and have made the prospect of a journey across the cold central plateau of Te Ika a Maui unappealing. 
I hope to appease Paul by spending some of the weekend visiting the geocaches that he, Ian Powell, and I have hidden up and down the Great South Road as part of our contribution to the A Sense of Place exhibition at the Papakura Art Gallery. A week or so ago Paul placed the GPS coordinates for the caches, as well as some justifications for their peculiar contents, on the website where New Zealand devotees of geocaching congregate. Cache-hunters haven't taken long to find, plunder, and replenish our treasure boxes.
Digital technologies in general, and digital mapping devices in particular, have been criticised for alienating twenty-first century humans from their surroundings. Technosceptics like Nicholas Carr allege that innovations like Google Maps and GPS tracking are removing the complexity and mystery from both natural landscapes and cityscapes, and replacing the circuitous, adventurous journeys we used to make through the world with swift, efficient passages from one point to another. Instead of wandering around unfamiliar environments gazing this way and that, and asking bemused strangers for directions, we now walk confidently forward staring down at our smartphones, which lead us infallibly to the location of our next appointment.
I was for some time sympathetic to the arguments of Carr and his co-thinkers, and I still don't own a cellphone. But the geocaching community which has emerged recently in New Zealand and several other nations suggests to me that digital mapping and tracking can be a means for us to become better acquainted with, rather than more alienated from, our surroundings. Geocachers seem to enjoy the way their hobby sends them hurrying off to fragments of the world - scruffy parks, half-reclaimed garbage dumps, half-demolished buildings, the sunless undersides of bridges, abandoned military bases, and so on - that they would never otherwise visit. 
When they spotted the GPS locations and site descriptions that Paul placed on their website, the geocachers raced each other to reach our stashes, recorded their visits in the logbooks we had left, and replaced our treasures with their own objects and texts. They have also recounted their adventures online, in the sort of truncated, jargon-riddled sentences that the adepts of other esoteric disciplines, like mountaineering, chess, and tai chi, also favour. Here is a geocacher's account of a visit to Conifer Grove, the almost sublimely banal South Auckland community where Paul and I had found a niche underneath a bridge at the edge of a bleak park: 
Got woken up by the notifications coming through this morning...figured id go and find these new caches. Headed to the first and spotted MrRUSH742 already at GZ. A quick look around and we had the cache in hand. A joint FTF for our early morning efforts...Mitsimadman and Stik-a-crane arrived. A brief chat with them before we headed off to the next one. TFTC!
Borrowing the rather unsympathetic word that Harry Potter and his mates use for humans not initiated into magic, another geocacher spoke of having to hide from some 'Muggles' during a search for one of the boxes Paul and I had stashed. 
The cache that Paul and Ian left in the deindustrialised zone known as Southdown, close to the burnt-out Affco freezing works, has been visited less often that the other boxes we stashed beside the Great South Road. One of the geocachers who did make it to Southdown explained why
was very hesitant I must admit. I'm very glad the cache is located close to the entrance...This reserve has something of a reputation. It is a known gay cruising/pickup/casual sex area...Thankfully my happy ending was just an FTF and I didn't see anyone else in the park, but there were plenty of cars parked outside include a few guys sitting in their cars 'waiting' {FTF} #1513 TFTC!
Another cache-hunter made hard work of finding a box hidden close to the Bombay Obelisk, that sacred monument of New Zealand's white supremacists:
pretty much knew how to get to this spot. how wrong I was. I got some strange looks from the motorway cars as I walked inside the barrier to GZ. I had thoughts that a police car would stop and take me away. I tried going through the bush but could not find a way. co ords were fairly accurate for me and it was a quick FTF #52 for this old fella. I must admit I took the short cut back through the long grass. TFTC I took nothing. signed the log a little after 9.00 a.m.
I think that, after all his trouble, the old fella could at least have helped himself to one of the Nazi toy soldiers we'd left in the Bombay cache.
Perhaps Nicholas Carr should take up geocaching. The hobby might show him, as it has shown me, that digital mapping and tracking devices have the potential, if they are used mischievously enough, to complicate and re-enchant the landscapes around us. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, May 29, 2014

From Olaf Nelson to Kim Dotcom

A tall, heavy man, who spoke English with a thick, northern European accent, he had built a fortune and a fine home by the time he reached thirty. When he became a New Zealand subject, he believed that the government in Wellington would be happy for him to continue wheeling and dealing under its auspices.

Partly because of its obligations to a distant superpower, the New Zealand state began to persecute the successful young entrepeneur. His businesses were shut down, spies followed his movements, police made unfriendly visits to his home, and plans were made to deport him.

Infuriated by his treatment, the young businessman began to condemn the New Zealand state as an enemy of liberty. Looking about for allies, he discovered that many of the indigenous people of the islands where he lived were also estranged from the government in Wellington. Using his money, his connections, and his flair for publicity, he helped them build a political movement that changed New Zealand history.

Those sentences might seem to describe Kim Dotcom, the supersized German businessman threatened with deportation to the United States who has hitched his Internet Party to Hone Harawira and Annette Sykes' Mana Movement, but they also tell the story of Olaf Nelson, who was born on Savai'i, Samoa's largest island, in 1883 to a Scandinavian trader and his local wife. In the first years of the twentieth century Savai'i and most of the rest of Samoa was controlled by Germany, and the young Olaf Nelson was able to get rich by exporting copra to the imperial homeland.

In 1914, though, New Zealand troops invaded German Samoa, tore down the Kaiser's flag, and raised a Union Jack. British diplomats hailed this victory over the Pacific Hun, and Kiwi newspapers demanded that traders with links to Germany be treated as enemies. Nelson found it much harder to do business.

New Zealand administrators quickly began to alienate indigenous Samoans, as well as 'afakasi like Nelson. Their incompetence and indifference allowed the global influenza epidemic of 1918 to take the lives of a fifth of Samoans, and their attempts to privatise communally-held land and racist snubs to important chiefs aggravated discontent. In the 1920s Nelson helped a number of powerful chiefs lead the Mau movement, whose slogan was Samoa Mo Samoa, or Samoa for the Samoans. Protesters paraded, taxes went unpaid, roads were blockaded, and an anti-colonial parliament was set up. New Zealand police and marines reacted by shooting nationalists in the street and burning Mau villages.

Like Kim Dotcom, Olaf Nelson was a clever and incessant propagandist, who used the media to rile his enemies in Wellington. Today Dotcom uses twitter and youtube to lambast John Key's government as corrupt and autocratic; Nelson funded and ran a newspaper, The Samoa Guardian, that poked pins in the sides of conservative governments of the 1920s and early '30s.

John Key and his colleagues are keen to have Kim Dotcom deported to a United States prison, and the governments of the '20s and early '30s were equally desperate to remove Olaf Nelson from Samoa. After being expelled from the colony for five years in 1928, Nelson toured the world promoting the Mau cause, and persuaded the League of Nations to investigate New Zealand's behaviour in Samoa. Shortly after he returned to Samoa in 1933, Nelson was deported again. This time his destination was a New Zealand prison cell.

New Zealand politicians and editorialists endlessly accused Olaf Nelson of 'stirring up' indigenous Samoans, by filling the natives' previously happy minds with exotic and absurd ideas like democracy and self-determination. Patronising colonial officials accused the chiefs who led the Mau of abandoning Samoan culture by embracing protest marches and the print media.

Similarly patronising charges are being made today against Kim Dotcom and his Maori nationalist allies. Key and his colleagues have faulted Dotcom for 'interfering' with New Zealand politics, instead of quietly submitting to his deportation to an American prison. The New Zealand Herald, that long-time authority on radical politics, has accused Hone Harawira of betraying 'Maori radicalism' by using Dotcom's cash and connections.

By the time he died in 1944 Olaf Nelson had become a hero throughout Samoa. Today the country's national library and a clocktower at the centre of its capital city bear his name.

Olaf Nelson and Kim Dotcom were both avaricious, essentially apolitical businessmen who were radicalised after being persecuted by a New Zealand state acting on behalf of a distant superpower. A cashed-up, radicalised capitalist is a dangerous enemy, especially when he has a talent for building alliances and making propaganda. Kim Dotcom may prove as difficult for the New Zealand state to defeat as his predecessor.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, May 26, 2014

Duchamp on the Great South Road

The notoriously grumpy blogger Russell Fletcher, aka Redbaiter, has demanded that I be prosecuted for an offence against public decency. Redbaiter is upset that I made a toilet stop against the pile of stones known to neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists as the Bombay Obelisk last Friday. Here is the message that Red has splattered over the internet:

Scott Hamilton should be charged with urinating in public. Any police reading this please take action. Or are sycophantic supporters of govt racist propaganda outlets immune from the laws that apply to most NZ citizens?

If Redbaiter manages to put me in the dock, then I intend to defend my action as a piece of performance art. I shall urge the judge and jury to consider the fact that one of the most famous artworks of the twentieth century, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, celebrates micturition. I might also discuss Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, and James Joyce's stream of consciousness technique.

I'm not sure whether Redbaiter is responsible or not, but the geocaches Paul Janman and I placed close to Great South Road landmarks like the Obelisk have been visited repeatedly over the past forty-eight hours. I'm looking forward to discovering what visitors have left, in exchange for the maps, photos, old texts, toy soldiers and other stuff we stashed, and what messages they have written in our cache logbooks. Directions to the caches are available here (scroll down the page to the map, and click on the red triangles).

Our geocaches are a contribution to the A Sense of Place exhibition, which is being held at the Papakura Art Gallery until June the 10th. Radio New Zealand has done excellent interviews with two of the other participants in A Sense of Place

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, May 23, 2014

Honouring the Obelisk

Paul Janman and I spent today floating down that river known as the Great South Road, turning occasionally up certain tributaries and beaching ourselves often on traffic islands and litter-strewn reserves, as we inspected, and - where necessary - replenished the geocaches we have hidden between central Auckland and the old border settlement of Te Paina/Port Russell/Mercer. The Great South Road Geocache Experiment is our contribution to A Sense of Place, an exhibition being held in Papakura Art Gallery until June the 10th.

Near the end of the day Paul and I made a visit to the so-called Bombay Obelisk, a handful of sad-looking volcanic rocks that were pushed out of the route of the southern motorway in the 1990s and now stand on a bank overlooking indifferent traffic. For the neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists, Maori-bashers, and anti-semites who promote the notion that New Zealand was settled thousands of years ago by an advanced white civilisation, the Obelisk is the remains of an observatory erected by ancient Aryan scientists. In the website we've set up for our geocaching experiment we've described the Obelisk as Stonehenge for Racists.

During a section of Native Affairs' recent expose of the believers in an ancient white civilisation, Martin Doutre, the Holocaust Denier, 9/11 Truther and author of that classic of pseudo-history, Ancient Celtic New Zealand, showed off the Obelisk to reporter Iulia Leilua. As Leilua nodded with an understandable lack of enthusiasm, Doutre denounced the 'apartheid' system that Maori have supposedly imposed on the indigenous white people of New Zealand, and explained that the marks bulldozers had apparently left on the side of one of the obelisk's rocks were actually made thousands of years ago by Celts.

Doutre and his fellow pseudo-historians accuse a vast and intricate conspiracy of troublemaking Maori, politically correct academics, cowed National Party politicians, and United Nations bureaucrats of systematically obscuring this country's glorious white history. Doutre has even spoken to teams of demolitions experts wandering the hinterland of Te Ika a Maui, searching for ancient stone structures to disintegrate.

I would never stoop to such measures, despite my unsympathetic discussion of the pseudo-historians on Native Affairs last week. I did, however, feel the need to leave a small and temporary mark on the Bombay Obelisk today. Paul decided that I was paying tribute to The Who's greatest album, which includes that epic, synth-assisted denunciation of uncritical thinking, 'Won't Get Fooled Again'...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

David Farrar discovers communism

David Farrar is one of New Zealand’s better-known political commentators, as well as a pollster for the National Party and an advisor to John Key, but his grasp of political history seems rather uncertain.
In a recent post to his blog, Farrar reproduced several passages from the ‘original 1872’ text of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto, and drew parallels between them and statements by New Zealand’s Labour Party. Farrar said that the passages from the Manifesto were sent to him by a reader of his blog.
It is hard to believe that either Farrar or his anonymous helper has ever looked at the Communist Manifesto with any care, because the text was written not in 1872 but nearly two and a half decades earlier, during the revolutionary year of 1848.
As a young journalist in Germany, Marx both reported on and encouraged the uprisings against absolute monarchs and dogmatic churches that began in February 1848 and spread across Europe and into Latin America. By the end of 1849 the so-called ‘springtime of the peoples’ had given way to a winter of reaction, and Marx had been forced into an exile that became permanent.
Although it did not achieve a mass readership for many years, the Communist Manifesto had been aimed at the revolutionary movement of 1848, and includes a list of demands for ten reforms, like the creation of a heavy and progressive income tax and the establishment of a system of free education, that Marx and Engels wanted the revolutionary movement to echo. These demands were intended to create a bridge between the Europe of 1848 and a socialist future.
David Farrar’s interpretation of the Communist Manifesto is not much more reliable than his dating of the text. He apparently sees the Manifesto as a blueprint for Stalin’s Soviet Union, and assumes that any parallels between Marx’s text and Labour’s statements must be a terrible embarrassment to David Cunliffe. 
But the Communist Manifesto is not a simple blueprint for any latter-day political movement or state. It is a fascinating and in many ways very contradictory text, which is capable of making both the left and the right uncomfortable.
To read the Manifesto itself, as opposed to some summary or parody of it, is to be confronted with the tremendous complexity, creativity, and instability of Marx’s thought.
Conservatives who venture into the Manifesto are often surprised to find that much of its opening section is given over to a paean to capitalism. Marx celebrates the dynamism of capitalist industry and the spread of capitalist markets, and alludes favourably to the penetration of societies like India and China by the capitalist West. His remarks about the 'idiocy and backwardness' of rural life and his celebration of industrial technology, which causes 'everything that is solid' to melt 'into air', make the Manifesto a classic document of modernist thought.  
But Marx’s praise for capitalism is mixed with a vision of the system’s contradictions and limits. Marx modelled the Communist Manifesto on his favourite play, Goethe’s Faust, and he makes capitalism, like Faust, into a heroic character who ends up doomed by a mixture of hubris and fate. In the story that Marx tells, capitalism’s dynamism leads it into crisis, as the products of its factories struggle to find buyers, and as the working class it has created begins to organise across borders.
It is easy enough to find mistaken predictions and misplaced optimism in the Communist Manifesto. Marx’s vision of an international working class revolution, for instance, has gone unrealised, partly because the national and religious differences which he thought capitalist expansion would destroy have persisted. 
But Marx was prescient, as well as over-optimistic. In the middle of the nineteenth century capitalism had only recently begun to spread out of its stronghold in northern Europe, and only the tiniest fraction of the world’s population was employed by capitalists. The global trade networks and trade unions that we take for granted today were almost unthinkable. It is no wonder that, in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, a new generation of intellectuals is exploring Marx's vast and tangled oeuvre. 
Scholars like Teodor Shanin and James D White have argued convincingly that the mature Marx moved away from the heroic vision of capitalism and contempt for pre-capitalist societies that are a feature of the Communist Manifesto. In 1871 Marx watched the world’s first working class revolution, the Paris Commune, fail to spread through Europe, and felt acutely disappointed with the continent. In the remaining twelve years of his life he spent thousands of hours studying peoples like the Russians, Javanese, Iroquois, Arabs, and Polynesians, who lived on the fringes of capitalism, and made a series of statements expressing solidarity with the efforts of these peoples to resist colonisation and the break-up of their communally owned lands.
In a preface to the Communist Manifesto written in 1882, the year before his death, Marx argued, rather tendentiously, that the text had not been intended as a prediction of the path that capitalism would take everywhere in the world, but was instead a record of the way the system had developed in Western Europe. He also stated that Russia, which was at the time still a largely pre-capitalist society, could avoid passing through a stage of capitalist development and build socialism directly on agrarian, communal foundations, if it got help from a socialist Western Europe. The elderly Marx’s positive view of peasant Russia differs astonishingly from his earlier celebration of the destruction of pre-capitalist societies by colonialism.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, when Keynesianism ruled supreme in the West and advocates of market liberalism like Hayek grumped from the fringes of political life, it was common for social democratic politicians to dig up the list of short-term demands Marx included in the Communist Manifesto and claim that most, if not all, of them had been achieved as a result of Labour governments. In the twenty-first century, though, the Labour Parties of countries like New Zealand and Britain are less ready to align themselves with Marx’s most famous text.   
A number of David Farrar’s readers used his post as an opportunity to brand the Green Party as a ‘commie’ organisation, but it is surely hard to connect the likes of Metiria Turei and Russel Norman to the Communist Manifesto. Where Marx’s text celebrated economic expansion in almost febrile language, the Greens have talked about a ‘limit to growth’. The young Marx’s support for the colonisation of non-capitalist societies sits uneasily beside the Greens’ support for Maori land claims and the Treaty process.
The Communist Manifesto has a complexity that defeats attempts at cheap political propaganda. David Farrar might want to consider reading the text before he blogs about it again.

 [Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, May 19, 2014

Talking nonsense tonight on Native Affairs

I'll be appearing on Maori TV's Native Affairs programme tonight to talk yet again about the moronic but unkillable theory that an ancient white civilisation existed in New Zealand, and about the neo-Nazis and Act MPs who have helped popularise the theory. 

Native Affairs interviewed Paul Moon and me for a clip that it will use to introduce a live studio debate between Annette Sykes and John Ansell, the former advisor to Don Brash who insists that New Zealand has become an apartheid state run by Maori where evidence of the Stonehenge-like structures built by an ancient white civilisation is being systematically destroyed. 

Sykes and Ansell will also clash over Allan Titford, a long-time advocate of the view that whites are the tangata whenua of New Zealand who was recently sent to prison for twenty-four years after being convicted of rape, arson, and various other crimes. Ansell claims that Titford is the blameless victim of an intricate conspiracy, and characterises him as the Nelson Mandela of New Zealand. Sykes disagrees, which presumably makes her part of the conspiracy. 

Native Affairs interviewed me in the Papakura Art Gallery, near some of my contributions to the A Sense of Place exhibition. There is a sad contrast between the thoughtful studies of history and landscape which fill the rooms at Papakura gallery and the hallucinations and rants of angry white men like Ansell and Titford. I'm probably excessively optimistic, but I'd like to think that, in some marvellous year, Pakeha will become as comfortable with their history and their geographical location as, say, the Tongatapuans I got to know last year, and will dispense with their fantasies about lost civilisations and superior races.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bashing Jackson

It was good to open the Herald this morning and find Geoff Murphy, who made a trio of great New Zealand movies in the late '70s and early '80s before heading to Hollywood and trying fruitlessly to teach Mick Jagger to act, taking aim at the multinational corporation known as Peter Jackson. Speaking to a group of graduands at Massey University, Murphy charged Jackson with making movies 'for Warner Brothers, rather than for New Zealand', and complained that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were completely irrelevant to local culture.

I share Murphy's lack of enthusiasm for Jackson's films, but I can't agree with the notion that the man's grotesquely drawn-out depictions of Middle Earth have failed to influence Kiwi culture. Over the years I've argued, cantankerously but intermittently, that Jackson's films have prompted a redefinition of New Zealand culture and identity, as propagandists for the tourism industry and lazy foreign journalists have begun to characterise this country as a ruritarian paradise populated by happy hobbits, rather than as a complex and contradictory modern society.

I don't know if my arguments against the hobbitisation of New Zealand have won over all of the readers of this blog, but I have gotten some sympathy from the University of Wollongong's Michael Organ, who cited one of my Jackson-bashing posts in his recent, splendidly titled essay 'Please Mr Frodo, is this New Zealand? Or Australia? No, Sam, it's Middle Earth?'.

Do the words of Murphy and Organ suggest that Jackson's attempts to reinvent New Zealand are beginning to lose credibility? Are Kiwis about to reject citizenship in Middle Earth, and migrate mentally to the troubled, exciting New Zealand of films like Utu or Goodbye Pork Pie? Here's hoping...

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A message from the future

Near the end of the 1950s the elderly Carl Jung published a small book called Flying Saucers: a modern myth of things seen in the skies. For Jung, what was interesting about flying saucers and other UFOs was not the question of whether or not they really contained extraterrestrials making visits to earth, but the need that they seemed to meet amongst earth-bound humans.

In the post-war era traditional religion had begun to decline in the West, but tensions between nuclear-armed superpowers had suddenly made the future of humanity precarious. Jung suggested that the strange saucer and cigar-shaped objects that appeared in the skies over America and Europe in the 1950s were a response to the human need to believe in some much more advanced and powerful being or force. They were the icons of a new religion.
Jung's explanation for the UFO phenomenon has been influential, and I think it could be extended, without too much trouble, to the contemporary fascination with time travel. In recent decades a stream of alleged time travellers have outed themselves in the Western media, time travel movies and novels have won mass audiences, and reporters from respectable newspapers have pestered astrophysicists like Stephen Hawking about the possibility of constructing elaborate machines which might travel in time.
It is notable how many of the time travellers we have met in recent decades have chosen to admonish us for our backwardness, and remark on the ethical and technological superiority of their native eras. When the crew of the USS Enterprise time travelled from the twenty-third century to contemporary America in Star Trek IV: the Journey Home, one of the first time travel movies to enjoy mainstream success, they were full of scorn for twentieth century doctors, who used surgery where a pill and a pat on the head would suffice, for zoologists who failed to recognise that whales were superior creatures to humans, and for many other benighted inhabitants of our age. The time travel story can be a way of critiquing the present, by presenting it with a representative of a better future world.

In some time travel stories, like Robert Silverberg's novel Up the Line, specially trained 'time agents' are despatched from the future to monitor and occasionally alter the present. These powerful beings move amongst us in disguise, just as Dionysus and other mischievous gods moved in disguise through the marketplaces and taverns of ancient Greece.
The following document, which Paul Janman and I created as part of our contribution to the A Sense of Place exhibition that opened last Saturday in Papakura's art gallery, purports to be an order misplaced by a time agent from the year 3066 AD, where an almost supernaturally powerful government has decided to systematically rectify all of the sins of humanity's history.

The document is aimed at Mercer, a small town built close to the Mangatawhiri Stream, a tributary of the Waikato that at the beginning of the 1860s formed the border between Pakeha-controlled New Zealand and the realm of King Tawhiao. The Waikato War began when British troops crossed the Mangatawhiri by whaleboat on the morning of July the 12th, 1863. After the war, Mercer's Railway Hotel hosted many travellers between Auckland and the newly subjugated lands of the Waikato.

In 1889, the elderly Te Kooti spent a night in Mercer's hotel, on his way home from Auckland, where he had been imprisoned after being illegally deported from his homeland on the east coast of Te Ika a Maui. Crowds of rudely curious Pakeha followed the train that carried the legendary prophet and warrior south.
We have hidden this document in a geocache close to Mercer's hotel (look at the map on this page for directions), and also left it amongst other artefacts on a table set up inside the Papakura Art Gallery.



The perfect and permanent government of the nation formerly known as New Zealand, which was elected in 3066 A.D. by psychic conference and affiliates voluntarily with the United States of Mind, hereby apologises, on behalf of its imperfect and temporary antecedents, for the arrest of Te Kooti Te Turuki Arikirangi on the outskirts of Turanga/Gisborne one evening in 1889.
Te Kooti and his followers attempted to enter Turanga/Gisborne, the prophet’s old home, and preach their religion’s gospel of peace. The prophet and his lieutenants were armed only with Ringatu chants, and their horses needed a rest.
Our government, which is sited on an eminence high above the rubble of history, and can therefore speak with the cool sureness of an angel, deplores the decision of the colonists of Gisborne to greet Te Kooti and his followers with an armed militia, rather than with refreshments and beds for the night. We further deplore the deportation of Te Kooti to Auckland, his imprisonment in Mount Eden Prison, and the lack of generosity shown to him during his stay at the Railway Hotel on his way home from Auckland.
We hereby absolve Te Kooti of blame for his arrest and detainment, apologise for his treatment, and decree that the Last Post Tavern, which claims, through its name, an affinity with the era when Mercer was the frontier between New Zealand and the Waikato Kingdom that gave Te Kooti shelter, create an unlimited bar tab for the prophet the next time he enters their establishment.
If this apology is to be more than a solemn and sententious proclamation from a smugly remote future era, then the physical reality common to Te Kooti and his persecutors will have to be restored. The prophet must rise, like Barbarossa and Arthur before him, from his obscure and meticulously guarded resting place; his followers must gather again, don their chaotic uniforms, relearn their chants of peace, and climb onto long-dead horses; and huia must resume their broadcasts from the razed forests outside Turanga.
The Last Post Tavern’s walls must be made from peat and raupo, rather than steel and treated pine, and the tavern’s liquors must be brewed on an abandoned still in the Whangamarino swamp, and seasoned with manuka bark, rather than with sodium and various other anachronistic chemicals.
There can be no redemption without repetition. The geo-engineering cadre of the perfect and permanent government of the country once known as New Zealand are addressing this matter.


[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From Titford to Taua

Allan Titford, a long-time activist for the One New Zealand Foundation and an enthusiastic advocate of the notion that a white civilisation existed in these islands thousands of years ago before being extirpated by evil Polynesians, was sentenced to twenty-four years in prison last year after a court decided that he was guilty of a series of rapes and of burning his own house down.

Titford has been abandoned by some of his more canny co-thinkers, like sometime Act MP Muriel Newman and the 1 Law 4 All Party, but he retains the supports of a few paranoiacs, including the folks who run a giveaway rag in Pukekohe, that small South Auckland town with a glorious history of racism. Titford's defenders blame his incarceration of a vast and sinister conspiracy involving National MP John Carter, Maori radicals, the United Nations, and a gang of 'PC academics' which apparently includes yours truly.

I'm not responsible for framing Titford, but I did talk with Iulia Leilua, who works for Maori Television's Native Affairs programme, early this year, when she was researching a documentary about the man and his defenders. The documentary, which is screening in two parts this week, features an interview with my old mate Justin Taua, whose article denouncing Titford's mates in Pukekohe appeared on this blog back in 2009.

Justin's article is a part of the contribution that Paul Janman, Ian Powell and I have made to the A Sense of Place exhibition, which opened at the Papakura Art Gallery on Saturday. Paul, Ian, and I have left Justin's text on a table in the gallery, and also packed it into a 'conceptual bomb' that we've left beside the so-called 'Bombay Obelisk', a pile of stones between the Great South Road and the Southern Motorway which Titford and co believe is part of the remains of an ancient white civilisation.

The 'bomb' at Bombay is one a of a series of caches we've left up and down the Great South Road. You can read about the caches and their meanings on the website Paul has made.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, May 09, 2014

Stashing cash

After cranking up the money-printing machine, Paul Janman collects a set of crisp clean one pound notes designed by King Tawhiao's Te Peeke o Aotearoa in the 1880s, packs them into a geocache, and leaves the stash beside the Great South Road.

We call on the shopkeepers and publicans of Auckland to reject the delusions of the regime in Wellington, which has long been a servant of the kelptocrats of Britian and America and is becoming a servant of the new kleptocracy of China, and honour Tawhiao's currency.

More money will be available at the launch of the A Sense of Place exhibition at Papakura Art Gallery tomorrow, as part of our contribution to that show.

I blogged about Tawhiao's bank and the landscape in which it grew here.

Bombing Conifer Grove

Ian Powell and I jumped into Paul Janman's car on Wednesday and headed off down the Great South Road, looking for hillsides, bridges, caryards, churchyards, and gardens of scrub where we could stash our 'conceptual bombs': small but densely packed plastic geocaching boxes that we have been preparing as part of our contribution to the A Sense of Place exhibition, which opens at Papakura Art Gallery tomorrow morning.
Visitors to Judith Collins' local gallery will find a long table covered in maps, texts, photos, toy soldiers, and other helpful artefacts of the history of the Great South Road, as well as a computer on which clues about the locations of our caches will be given (the information on the computer will also be available online after tomorrow, at a website Paul has constructed).
One of the targets that we hit successfully on Wednesday was the mini-suburb of Conifer Grove. Here's some information we've prepared about the Grove, and a description of some of the material we left there:

Conifer Grove: Utopia, with Security Cameras

Utopian communities have been a recurrent feature of New Zealand society since the nineteenth century, when prophets of colonialism like Edward Gibbon Wakefield portrayed the country as a ‘better Britain’ where settlers could enjoy peace and prosperity. Nonconformist Christians founded utopian settlements in the late nineteenth century, and during the World Wars some pacifists withdrew into a set of utopian communities in the countryside. In the early 1970s Norman Kirk’s Labour government set up a scheme that gave free or cheap land to idealistic young hippies who wanted to live communally.

One person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia, and many members of nineteenth century colonial settlements or the counterculture of the ‘70s eventually sought refuge from their alternative communities in the outside world. 
 Just beyond the low income South Auckland suburb of Manurewa, a sort of utopia was established in the late 1970s. Conifer Grove was New Zealand's first 'gated' community, and its video surveillance cameras, grid-like streets, rows of faux-Tudor townhouses, and weirdly dour streetnames - 'Syntax Place' is typical - can still bemuse visitors from the outside world. For many of its residents, though, Conifer Grove was an escape from a city they found increasingly chaotic and incomprehensible. 

Is Conifer Grove a utopia, a dystopia, or both? 

The contents of the Conifer Grove cache include:

A mask, of the sort that might be worn by a burglar
Reproductions of one pound notes issued by King Tawhiao's Te Peeke of Aotearoa in the 1880s 
A copy of Jack London's Call of the Wild 
A copy of nineteenth century Russian futurologist Constantin Tsiolkovsky’s pioneering design for a DIY spaceship 
A printout of Giovanni Tiso’s essay ‘The Spectacle of Surveillance’, which asks whether photography is becoming a panoptic artform 
One of Ian Powell's photographs of the remnants of the high scoria wall built around the army barracks in central Auckland in the 1840s, when the fledgling colonial government feared invasion from Nga Puhi-controlled Northland

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The trial of Roger Douglas, and other pieces of an alternate past

Last week Paul Janman and I visited Dave Bedggood, retired University of Auckland sociologist and tireless activist for the Marxist left, at his house in the kauri forests of Titirangi. After leading us to a basement decorated by a large red flag, Dave opened box after cardboard box, unloading newspapers, relics of the 1980s and ‘90s, with names like Redletter and Workers Power
In a poem about a journey through a part of England devastated by Thatcher’s closures of mines and factories, Michael Hoffmann sees posters for old socialist meetings and demonstrations peeling from half-demolished walls, and feels glumly nostalgic. It would be easy to feel the same way, reading the reports from picket lines outside long-demolished factories and the polemics against extinct left-wing parties in Dave’s newspaper archive.
In New Zealand and almost everywhere else, the late eighties and nineties were a period of disappointment and defeat for the left, and especially the radical left. As Thatcher and her avatars like New Zealand’s Roger Douglas globalised and deindustrialised the economies of the West, trade union memberships collapsed, support fell for left-wing parties, and Marxists had to cope with the jibes about the triumph of capitalism, the end of history, and the idiocy of the very notion of socialism.
But Dave’s archive might offer us a few glimpses of the future, as well as a view of the past. In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, commentators in the mainstream media have begun to talk, in perplexed or alarmed voices, about a revival of interest in Marx’s vision of capitalism as a contradictory and unstable system. Thomas Piketty’s long and technical book Capital in the Twenty-first Century, which piggybacks on some of Marx’s critique of capitalism, recently made the top of bestseller lists in the United States, shouldering aside romance novels and cookbooks. In the People's Republic of Donetsk crowds are allegedly raising hammer and sickle flags and singing the 'Internationale’. 
Paul and I have taken images and texts from Dave’s archives and used them in our contribution to A Sense of Place, the group exhibition that will open in a few days at the Papakura Art Gallery.
 The curators of A Sense of Place, Ioana Gordon-Smith and Talia Smith, had asked us to show some material related to the film and book we have intermittently been making about the Great South Road, which flows through Auckland’s traditional industrial suburbs towards battle sites from the Pakeha-Maori wars of the nineteenth century. We’d come up with the idea of piling up historical material – old newspaper articles, counterfeit banknotes issued by King Tawhiao, blurred photographs of battles, chunks of scoria used on the road south - in the gallery, and of stashing more of the stuff in airtight caches hidden at important sites along the road. With their curious mixture of passionate celebration and Marxian analysis, the articles about obscure strikes at long-extinct auto plants and workshops along the Great South Road that stud Dave’s newspapers are important artefacts. 
Paul and I had worried that Dave might not approve of our visit to his home and his archive. He might consider us antiquarians, who were interested in the past rather than the future of the radical left. Worse, perhaps, he might consider the alternate history we have created for our film, in which Maori resist British imperialism successfully in the nineteenth century and revolution spreads through Europe at about the same time, as a whimsical diversion from the serious business of analysing the real patterns of the past.
Marxists have had a sometimes difficult relationship with alternative history, or counterfactual history, as it is nowadays often called by academics. In 1872, just after the defeat of the Paris Commune, the non-Marxist revolutionary Louis Blanqui wrote a treatise called Eternity by the Stars from his prison cell. Blanqui’s book insisted that the universe was made up of an almost infinite number of worlds, in which humans have made history in an almost infinite number of ways. In some worlds revolution had triumphed; in others monarchs, or capitalists, or both, reigned happily.
Blanqui’s arguments both fascinated and exasperated Walter Benjamin, who decided that the notion of alternate worlds smacked of the bourgeois arcade, where any number of luxury goods can be bought or sold, and no purchase is more imperative than another. Blanqui had, it seemed, reduced history to whimsy. EP Thompson was as hostile to alternative history as Benjamin, describing it as a “waste of time”. In a piece for the London Review of Books, Slavoj Zizek lamented the domination of anthologies of counterfactual writing by right-wingers, and suggested that Marxists ought to contribute more to the genre.
But Dave Bedggood wasn’t displeased by talk of alternate histories. When Paul broached the topic he reached into one of his boxes, and produced a copy of Roger Comic, a graphic novel he helped produce at the end of the ‘80s. Roger Comic was published by the Socialist Alliance, which united most of New Zealand’s far left groups at the end of the ‘80s, but it was composed by Dave and a couple of comrades at the University of Auckland. Dave credited George Baxter, a university technician and trade union delegate, with creating many of the book’s cartoons.
Roger Comic was a response to the austerity programme that the Lange-Douglas government adopted shortly after taking power in 1984. Bedggood and his comrades address Kiwis disoriented by the spectacle of a Labour government privatising industries, closing post offices and railway workshops, and knighting aggressively anti-union businessmen like Bob Jones. 
As they explain the historical background to Rogernomics, the authors offer a series of lessons on subjects like the creation and crisis of New Zealand’s welfare state, the failed attempts to diversify the country’s economy in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the global breakdown of capitalism in the ‘70s, and the attempt by politicians like Thatcher and Douglas to restore profitability by privatising state assets and cutting wages in the ‘80s.
In its final pages, though, Roger Comic moves beyond pedagogy to speculative fiction, by imagining a workers’ uprising against Rogernomics. After a series of attacks on their picket lines and demonstrations by armed cops, workers occupy factories and offices, set up councils to run their workplaces, and create a militia. Roger Douglas, who was complicit in some of violence against workers, is put on trial. 
Like much of the material in Dave Bedggood's archive, Roger Comic makes both poignant and exciting reading in 2014. Examining this obscure artefact, leftists will remember sadly that the various strikes, demonstrations, and electoral adventures by the opponents of neo-liberalism never quite coalesced into something unstoppable, and that Roger Douglas’ renovation of New Zealand has never been reversed. But Roger Comic also reminds us of the energy and intellectual muscle of the radical opponents of Rogernomics. The audacity of its vision might just resonate with members of the generation that has come to maturity in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.
Paul and I will be showing pages from this extraordinary work at the Papakura Art Gallery, and stashing a few of them beside the Great South Road. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Building bombs

Paul Janman and I have been building bombs. 

Sitting in a small room at the back of his Onehunga cottage with the blinds drawn, we've been carefully placing a series of artefacts - old newspaper clippings, DVDs with flickery footage from pirate television stations, coins stamped with the visages of overthrown monarchs, toy soldiers with hands hacked off, statements from the Committee for the Reconstruction of Space and Time on Pig Island - inside magnetised airtight containers which will be hidden - under paving stones, or in the branches of trees, or on the undersides of foot bridges, or behind the counters of pliant retailers - up and down the Great South Road.

Rejecting the term geocaching, which has been used to describe the practice of placing mysterious packages in public places, Paul calls our products 'conceptual bombs'. Our bombs are designed to provoke different ways of thinking about the places in which they are stashed. 

Visitors to the Papakura Art Gallery's A Sense of Place exhibition, which opens on Saturday the 10th of May, will find, alongside works by the likes of Laurence Aberhart and Robin Morrison, a table covered in maps, photographs, and descriptions of the Great South Road and a computer adorned with GPS readings that will guide them to our bombs. We want the finders of our caches to follow geocaching etiquette, and replace our items with treasures that others can discover. 

Here's a description of one of the ten sites we will be targeting next week, and a list of the materials we are stashing there. 

Southdown and the Ruins of the Future

In the twentieth century Great South Road communities like Papatoetoe and Otahuhu became centres of a thriving, self-consciously proletarian culture, as workers at railway workshops, factories, and slaughterhouses formed trade unions, joined left-wing political parties, and created a range of sporting clubs and arts associations. The area was sometimes called 'the working class university of New Zealand’, because of the ferment of worker education and political debate. 

In the 1940s the Workers Education Association's left-wing theatre club sold tickets to its shows at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. At about the same time, Hone Tuwhare was writing his first poems on the sides of the workshop's railcars. In the 1960s and '70s radical political organisations like the Communist Party and the Socialist Action League would sell hundreds of copies of their newspapers outside the factories of Otahuhu, and hold large street meetings in Papatoetoe on Friday evenings.

In the late eighties and the nineties, though, successive governments pursued free market policies that globalised the New Zealand economy and deindustrialised South Auckland. The railways were privatised, tariffs were cut on imported goods, and many factories closed their doors. 
 The leaders of colonial and early twentieth century New Zealand had dreamed of creating a hypermodern 'better Britain' in the South Seas, by using industrial technology to reorder landscapes and add value to exports like milk and timber. Distinguished visitors to these shores, like British royals and American generals, were offered tours of the steel-bright interiors of new milking sheds and freezing works. 

As New Zealand was deindustrialised, the needs of the finance and tourism sectors of the economy were prioritised, and a new national image was created. Today industrial heritage has become an oxymoron, and tour buses steer resolutely for profitable wildernesses like Fiordland and the Ureweras. New Zealand is promoted as a clean, green paradise, rather than an industrial paradise, and New Zealanders are presented as a gentle race of hobbits, rather than as muscular shearers and steel workers. 

Many of the factories and freezing works and railway workshops that grew up around the Great South Road in the decades after World War Two have become ruins, and memorials to an alternative vision of New Zealand society. The AFFCO freezing works in Southdown was first closed down and then targeted by arsonists. 

In 2011 a team came from Hollywood to New Zealand to scout locations for a movie set in Japan just after World War Two. The director of The Emperor decided that the burnt-out freezing works in Southdown perfectly simulated the bomb-ruined Tokyo of 1945, and shot a number of scenes there. In the space of a few decades, Southdown has turned from a vision of a utopian future into a post-apocalyptic cityscape.

Contents of the Southdown cache, hidden in the ruins of AFFCO freezing works: 

A copy of Singing in the Slaughterhouse, a chapbook of poetry that Richard Taylor produced while working at Hellaby's Freezing Works, which is located close to AFFCO in Southdown. Richard was inspired by the working class autodidacts at Hellaby's and at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops, where he also worked for a time. He remembers being given literature against the Vietnam War and copies of the People's Voice, the paper of the Communist Party of New Zealand, while working in Southdown, and of being introduced to the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre by one of his co-workers.  

Clippings from various socialist newspapers sold in Southdown, including the People's Voice, the Worker's Voice, and Redletter, describing industrial disputes at sites beside or close to the Great South Road, like the strikes at the Nissan auto factory in the 1980s and the occupation of the AFFCO freezing works in 1937 by employees demanding a shorter week. 

A child's plastic hammer.

A still from Ian Powell's footage of the old site of the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. 

A DVD with the much-banned video for 'AFFCO', an anti-meat industry anthem by the vegetarian post-punk band The Skeptics, along with footage shot by Paul Janman of the 2012 march in solidarity with Auckland's striking waterside workers. 

A CD with various number codes transmitted from super-powerful radio stations deep in Russia during the Cold War.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]