Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Report from my travels in the UK

 My days have been occupied by nostalgia tripping, (here is a link to my travel blog) and I have yet to be gripped with enthusiasm for anything progressive, although there are tell-tale signs of full allotment gardens, people growing a bit of food in their home gardens. I feel like I need to go cold-calling on likely looking people to get any kind of a sense of awareness, let alone urgency or resolve. The Steyning Downland Scheme (I went out with a gang of their rangers to do some work up by the Court Hill Barn on Saturday 9th after I arrived) are working hard to achieve positive ecological benefits, but if the rural environment was actually functioning as it should- producing food and fuel etc. for local use- the desired environmental outcomes would come forth as inevitably as night follows day. I suppose we must see it as a necessary stopgap measure until the real deal- if it ever comes...
 Yesterday (Sunday 17th) I visited my father Bill and his wife Davina in the afternoon, we had tea, quite a few bits were from their garden, and eggs from their neighbour that they did exchanged for salad things. I was heartened.
The price of food was a shock- per Kilo prices are cheap compared to NZ regardless of what basis you compare it, relative to exchange rate or proportion of earnings. Trouble is it's all crap!  The first meal I ate  I couldn't taste anything! Yesterday I went to Sainsburys supermarket on the way to Dads and shopped- a horrible, time consuming and surreal experience, by the way. On the basis of what I had experienced earlier with the "standard" stuff I bought organic, including organic vine-ripened tomatoes. Still crap- almost indistinguishable on flavour from the "standard issue" stuff. I would take this to equate to a similiar defecit of nutritional value. Now I really see the relevence of Kay Baxters prioritizing of Nutrient Density over merely being organic- in fact, certified organic is absolutely no warranty of fitness or quality, and in most cases has merely become a corporate marketing tool.  I am also reassured that the stuff we produce at the farm, although sometimes a bit scruffy-looking, is utterly superior.
 The political life of the country is non-existent. There is this (what should be a) huge scandal going on at the moment following the discovery that journalists at the Murdoch press had been hacking the mobile phone of a missing girl called Millie Dowler, deleting texts to make more space for new ones, giving her family hope she was still alive when in fact she was murdered, presumably to "enhance" the newsworthiness of the story. Turns out the Met.Police knew about this all along but "worked around it" and didn't tell the family or act against the journalist involved. Since this came out there has been a landslide of "me-too" cases indicating massive circumstantial evidence of collusion between the Murdoch press, politicians at the highest level, including Cameron the present PM who hired a News International exec. as a PR consultant just five months ago, and the Met at a very senior level.
 The government announced a Judicial Inquiry into the affair, the very next day the Met "arrested" the CEO of News International, one Rebekah Davies, which totally undermines the Inquiry because now the principal players at N.I. and the Met. have had all the time they could possibly need to collude on their story at the Inquiry in the privacy of a police interview room. Likewise, Davies (and I presume also the police) can now withhold evidence from the Inquiry on the grounds of "sub-judice" or self-incrimination. Murdoch, who has sworn to back Rebekah Davies to the last ditch, is presently in the UK but can't be sub-poenaed to appear at the Inquiry because he's not a British subject. In my view he probably could be arrested but this would undoubtably provoke a diplomatic crisis with the U.S. so not much hope there.

 Of course, to the Great British public, this- which should be a public outrage- is merely another soap-opera played out on TV. I am quite convinced that even viewing the "good stuff" (which, of course, 99% of people don't even go there) is toxic to the ability to reason. Stuffing the senses with endless (or perhaps even relatively small amounts of) sounds and images dissociated with the physical presence destroys the ability to distinguish between truth and fiction, relevent and irrelevent. Perhaps it is the effect of having a one-way relationship with a machine that cannot engage in rational discussion that reduces the recipients to banal idiocy.

Transition Towners and Lifeboaters; Part 2

 Before the events of 2008 demonstrated that the fragility of the global economy (debt bubble) will be the leading factor in impending events rather than environmental and resource depletion issues, Richard Heinberg, Hopkins, Kunstler et.al. were predicting a bumpy descent of economic activity as a result of resource depletion. However, to consider their writing to be permanent works like the Ten Commandments is to do a disservice to the authors themselves. Even the Transition Towns movement itself is not some church with an established Creed and Litany. Transition from what? The start point is now, and where we are now depends on our personal circumstances and changes on an almost daily basis in a manner that is almost completely outside our control. To what? Some want socialist utopia, others prefer libertarian freedoms, some might see a clan or tribal system as a desired outcome.
Do you even realise that today the US is only two weeks away from sovereign debt default without a Plan B? You have no idea of the global shockwave that will produce. If they manage to cobble together a rescue plan how long do you think it will work until they need a Plan C? QE1 cost the US taxpayer 70 billion dollars and has staved off collapse for two years. Yes- I said collapse, not crisis. Crisis is what they (which means "we" effectively in a globalised world) have already.
The reason Kunstler turned into a "ranting shock jock" is the realisation of the above facts. Are you one of those who still believe that peak oil and subsequent decline will cause the global economy to shrink 7% year-on-year? That's so old-school,-it was a best-case scenario. That's what would have happened if the global economy was fundamentally sound in all other respects. It turns out that since bank deregulation in the Reagan-Thatcher-Douglas era the jokers have created a house of cards(derivatives bubble)to inflate their own wealth with no underlying real asset value. The politicians could tear it down (mark banks "assets" to market value = almost worthless) if they wished, but they don't wish, because the politicians belong to the bankers (in NZ, it seems, they often are bankers!), bought and paid-for. Then we would be back to the managable 7% year-on-year decline that is the basis upon which a broad-based Transition programme might just enable us to avert civil chaos.
As it is, a disruptive global economic event will result in the investment required to extract the remaining resources even at the rate required for "only" a 7% year-on-year decline not being made. The situation will not be recoverable becaused the resultant decline in economic activity will result in fewer current resources being able to be bought to bear to extract the required future resources. Thus instead of the lovely peak, descending ramp and soft landing we see in conventional peak oil curves, we will see a nosedive. This is collapse. Go and find Joseph Tainter on Wikipedia. this guy is a heavyweight (but eminently readable) academic, not some "raving shock-jock doomer". He was writing well before peak oil awareness became mainstream and certainly well before the financial events of 2008 so this is not "cleverness with the benefit of hindsight". There is a book called "The Collapse of Complex Societies" but there are links to free papers at Wiki- check out his CV too whilst you are there.
 Have you ever heard the saying "hope for the best but prepare for the worst" this is such a truism it exists in every culture. Transition Towners and Lifeboaters may not be exactly the same thing, but neither are they mutually exclusive or in conflict. I really don't see why some TTers consider that lifeboaters are gleefully awaiting Armageddon or are doing anything that actually conflicts with the interests of Transition Towns. We actually are creating the world that we should have. Creating. Not "helping", actually flogging our guts sixteen hours a day doing. I'm sorry if we got bored waiting for the rest of you to get your finger out and actually take personal responsibility for your future well-being, but we are not going to let ourselves and our families suffer just so we can say "oh, we may be completely completely shafted but at least we didn't break with the concensus of the lowest common denominator".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Transition Towners and Lifeboaters

TT, as a non-membership non-organisation is inevitably going to have a make-up (can't really call it structure, can we?) where the greatest number are the least committed and the most committed will be the smallest handful. That is the nature of any movement that comes into being on such a broad base. TT can only really act as a consciousness raising endeavour. Any attempt to actually push forward a practical agenda for survival at a pace that gives even the remotest possibility of success requires that all parties agree to obey a central command whether or not they agree with every decision made by the command. The  command can be democratic or autocratic, actually it makes not much difference practically. For an example of democratic centralism I would give the Bolsheviks, for autocratic centralism I would give the Nazis. This is not the modern way, not the liberal way, not the Kiwi way, but it is the only way to effect rapid transformation.
 I would hazard a guess that most of the most prepared have a small or zero public profile- these are the lifeboat builders. some will be gun-toting survivalists, others will be established farmers in remote areas planning to bring their extended families home when the crisis hits hard. A few will be "people just like us" only better organised. The Koanga lot over at Hawkes Bay would be in that category. They have had a presence on the TT website, but by their own admission they are not TTers. They believe its too little too late. I tend to agree.
 A common thread is that they are more or less secretive. Their greatest fear is of their lifeboats being sunk by the burden of too many fellow travellers. Koanga actively sought out a site far away from a major city, ostensibly to discourage members from taking paid jobs rather than commit wholeheartedly to the project. I am sure they realised that it would also put them far away from a major source of would-be fellow travellers when the crisis comes.
 Ironically, those who have tried to build lifeboats have struggled. I know of three groups personally, one started thirty years ago, one fifteen and the other five years ago. They all failed to find a crew for their lifeboat. People came and looked, told them what a great idea it was, but they decided they would rather be captain of their own lifeboat than first officer training for joint command of someone elses. Of course the vast majority of these didn't actually get to build a lifeboat of their own at all. The lot that started thirty years ago just sold their lifeboat because they were too old to sail it. To the very end they failed to find a crew.
 Me? I think that if things get that bad it won't be the would-be fellow travellers that swamp the boats, it will be the government, or what's left of it, will torpedo the lifeboats to punish the lifeboaters for daring to think up such an audacious scheme, and to enable the common herd to each have a tiny piece of driftwood to clutch for comfort as they drown anyway. To that end, I refuse to keep my lifeboat a secret.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Electoral Reform

In reply to steve Baron's post at "Better Democracy"

2011 Electoral System Referendum

Hi Steve, great to see you back blogging again!

I absolutely agree with everything you say here, Steve, particularly with regard to the perceived win-win situation for the government, and indeed that could be extended to the political class as a whole.

Perhaps the two votes (constituency and list) should be made fully transferable, ie one could elect to use both votes on the list or for the constituency or one on each. As this would imply that both votes are of equal value, the number of seats chosen from the list should be same as the number of constituencies. However, if the number of constituency votes in any constituency fell below a certain threshold (25% of total votes cast would seem to be a legitimate level) then no member would be elected for that constituency and the number of seats for list members would be increased by one to keep the number of seats in the house at a constant level. Of course, parties would be free to put forward an "associate MP" for those constituencies in the same way that losing parties do now.

This would eliminate the issue of "back-door MPs" and would eliminate the need for the thresholds ( as rubbish a PC contrivance as ever existed anyway- the situation that arose after the last election with ACT and NZF was truly ridiculous) as the list members would have their own legitimacy through equal status. Of course the option of making a preference selection from party lists would be a great fine-tuning if it were at-all possible.

What do you think? I reckon it's a work of genius myself. Can you think of any reason why it would not work? Can you think of a name for it?

Regards, Kev.
Hi Steve,
 I've been thinking further about this overnight, and have a couple more thoughts to add.
 Firstly, the present variant of MMP is postulated as being fairer to the electorate as it gives those who support a candidate who is a "no-hoper" at a constituency level a "second chance" to have an influence via the list candidates. Having given this some further thought, and applying the "Machiavellian test" (as I am wont to do) I realise that the above view of MMP as it exists today is merely a sales-pitch by the political class. The true purpose of present variant MMP is to make sure that, should a key (ha-ha!) member of a parties caucus fail to be elected on the constituency basis- because the lists are assembled in priority order as determined by the caucus itself, and as members elected in the constituencies are removed from the list before seats are allocated- The unfortunate loser will always reappear in parliament by virtue of their high position on the list.
 This is a reinforcement of the long established process whereby "new entrants" to political parties are groomed and weeded out as they pass through the party machinery until those that actually appear as candidates in electable seats or list positions are nothing more than clones of their selectors.
 We exist in a political climate where the political elite of all persuasions are persuing agendas that are based upon loyalty to special interest groups. National/ACT court global corporate business, Labour court the bureaucracy, both at a national level and transnationally (Helen Clark's U.N position would be payback for her loyalty). These party aparachiks are not going to allow a more just system of representation to damage their chances of persuing their respective agendas.
 The party list system institutionalises the position of the parties in the political arena. There is no constitutional basis for this. It just grew from small beginnings until it came to dominate the organs of democracy and statecraft with no mandate other than that from those who clawed their way to the top of the political pile and then sought to entrench their position. As with all things that grow in an intergenerational way, the public just accept that "it is that way because that's the way it is".
 The answer? Certainly to disestablish the party lists as unconstitutional and anti-democratic. MP's are meant to represent their constituents personally, not as themselves representatives of an organisation to which they owe an overarching (and enforced by the whip) loyalty. The electoral list should be a single schedule of personal names (of course they can declare their position of support for a given party in their manifesto) and a list vote should consist of a chosen number of individual candidates prioritised 1,2,3,4,5 etc. What do you think?
 Regards, Kev.