Monday 31 December 2012

2012: the year in review

2012 has come to a close, and we're still waiting for the doomsday predictions in the Mayan calendar. With all that aside, here's to 2013.

The Mega Conspiracy & Pacific Fibre

Kim Dotcom appears to have started turning the tables on the MAFIAA and its hangers-on. He's won the right to sue the authorities involved, And his latest venture, simply named Mega, is not too far off.

More interestingly still, he's thought out loud of resurrecting the Pacific Fibre proposal, which was abandoned by its original backers due to insufficient capital. One of my customers has theorised, with some justification, that Pacific Fibre was just an elaborate warning shot to Telecom's Southern Cross Cable. Given that NZ's internet traffic is largely global, a second undersea cable is probably a more pressing priority than a domestic fibre network. Dotcom's proposal to enact it in practice remains to be seem.

Journalism vs churnalism

The Leveson Inquiry reported back its findings on the Hackgate affair, and it's recommended a new independent regulatory agency. Needless to say, it's caused some polarisation. Hacked Off, the NGO representing those whose privacy has been invaded by the News of the World and other tabloid outlets, are in support. More interestingly still, support for Hacked Off came from the most unlikely quarter - Salman Rushdie. Reporters Without Borders favours a proceed with caution approach. Closer to home, the Law Commission has explored similar territory but for different reasons.

Critics of the Leveson Inquiry suspect it's a slippery slope to state control of the British media, and therefore, censorship. Such negative reactions have tended to come from those profiting handsomely from sensationalism, who argue they're just meeting public demand. Additionally, they tend to gloss over the incestuous relationship between politicians, law enforcement and tabloid reporters that characterised Hackgate. Kenan Malik has a far more nuanced argument against the Leveson Inquiry - that it attacks the symptom rather than the toxic culture underpinning publications like News of the World. Sir Joh's Queensland is a case in point of what could happen when media regulations are misused for outright censorship.

A free Fourth Estate is vital to holding public figures to account, but Hackgate has exposed the ethical bankruptcy of many media proprietors. In fact, Hackgate was exposed in the first place by Nick Davies of The Guardian, through good old-fashioned investigative journalism. A Press Council/BSA structure with much sharper teeth would be ideal, particularly where rulings tend to be buried on a sidebar in page 9. The closest match would probably be Denmark and Finland, which have been ranked at the top of Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index but still have official statute underpinning it. The rise of the blogosphere adds another dimension into the mix, but chances are it won't displace traditional media just yet.

Gun politics

The spree killing of primary school kids in Sandy Hook, Connecticut by a mentally unhinged young man re-ignited the gun politics debate in America - still raw from the Aurora shootings and the Trayvon Martin incident - with conflicting reports on whether the National Rifle Association was gaining or losing members. It was too much for even Rupert Murdoch. And the Sandy Hook shooter's mother - herself one of the victims - was a 'prepper' survivalist who died in the most ironic manner - her own cache of guns ended up being used against her. And preppers are the very people that NRA president Wayne La Pierre appeal to.

Things came to a head when CNN anchor and former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan went ballistic on Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt. Morgan isn't renowned for his subtlety or good character, but he wasn't afraid to call a spade a fucking shovel on the Sandy Hook tragedy. Despite a petition to have him deported from the States, Morgan has refused to get cold feet. And if it's anything to go by, Pratt makes the NRA look like Mahatma Gandhi. He's hobnobbed with white supremacists and religious fundamentalists in the recent past, despite denials to the contrary.

Video games and movies have long been scapegoated by gun lobbyists for spree shootings. Yet other industrialised nations play the very same games and watch the very same movies that the Americans do, and still have much lower gun homicide rates - and general homicide rates for that matter. Michael Moore had a point in Bowling for Columbine when he observed that Columbine shooters Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold were ten-pin bowling enthusiasts, so should bowling be banned because it makes people go on spree shootings? The classic Hitler Ate Sugar fallacy never seems to go away.

It's also far easier to kill with an automatic rifle than with a knife. A deranged man in China attempted to stab a couple of dozen school kids earlier this year, yet there was not a single fatality.

So why are automatic firearms legally allowed to be purchased domestically in America, but not other industrialised nations? Certainly not for hunting - even a powerful enough 12-gauge can bring the angriest grizzly bear to heel. And not one of these rifles has known to be used in self-defence - pistols usually have that covered, and even then that's been the exception rather than the rule.
Outside of the battlefields of Afghanistan and Normandy, there's a school of thought that the real purpose of possessing assault rifles is survivalist paranoia. Specifically two reasons: overthrowing a "tyrannical government", which was a real threat when the 2nd Amendment was drafted in 1776, but comes across as conspiracy theory fantasy today; and race war, one of the primary fears of a chauvinist born-to-rule order facing the weakening of its monopoly on power.

2 + 2 = 5

The Novopay debacle continues to leave teachers in the lurch, and for good reason. Already, the Education Secretary Lesley Longstone has resigned, not long after she was parachuted into the role from Britain. Education Minister Hekia Parata effectively continues to deny responsibility, blaming everyone but herself.

In true Orwellian fashion, the ruling Government's promises to reverse the "brain-drain" in 2008 with tax cuts has been double-spoken into a "brain exchange". NZ has always had restless youth visiting and working overseas, and often returning and bringing back valuable know-how. But to imply that taxation alone drives talented NZers overseas is a cynical exercise in saying black is white, given we're at the lower end of the OECD taxation scale. Even if NZ reduced its taxation levels to that of, say, Monaco, NZers would still go overseas. For the simple fact that there are only 2 degrees of separation among us, and we've long been a couple of small islands in the middle of a large natural moat. We'll never be London or Los Angeles or Sydney, and nor should we delude ourselves that we can pray to the cargo cult and become them.

We can, however, carve our own niche in the wider world. The Internet has reduced our distance to the world and fostered innovation somewhat, but it's still at the whim of a cartellised communications sector. And the prevailing economic orthodoxy in NZ goes a long way to explaining NZ's relatively high living costs - it's not really pro-business, but pro-cartel. Those who conspire to keep it in place would do well to read Book I, Chapter X, Part II of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations:
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty or justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Anti-PC gone mad

I've previously posted about my satirical efforts ruffling feathers. Recent complaints about Powershop's latest "same power, different attitude" advert have prompted me to go into further detail on the phenomenon known as 'anti-PC gone mad'. The Powershop advert in question depicts the Pope marrying a same-sex couple, in keeping with the company's irreverent themes of free consumer choice. It's gotten up the nose of the local Catholic Church, Family First, and anti-abortionists, among others. Which is a bit rich, given Family First especially has made its raison d'être to complain about PC gone mad destroying society.

Not too long ago, there were whines about 'political correctness gone mad', in which a reasoned debate couldn't be engaged without accusations of redneckery or wowserism. If anything, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme - it's difficult to engage in a debate without being labelled 'politically correct' or a 'bleeding heart', or words to that effect. It's like an echo of Senator McCarthy's Red Scare witch-hunts, if not a direct descendant.
The anti-PC gone mad brigade have been egged on by reactionary sympathisers in talkback media like Rush Limbaugh - who reputedly made the term 'political correctness' infamous - although the phone-hacking scandal that derailed the News of the World, and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry, could prove a turning point.

To name just a few examples of anti-PC gone mad:

  • Massey university scientist Mike Joy has copped flak simply for being a bit too honest about the state of New Zealand's rivers. PR hack Mark Unsworth has compared him to the 'foot-and-mouth disease of the tourism industry', and blogger turned Truth NZ editor WhaleOil has called for him to be taken to the firing squad for 'economic sabotage'. Talk about attacking the symptom.
  • Actors' Equity official Todd Rippon has been sacked as a tour guide on the basis of rumours alone, in the wake of the Hobbit industrial controversy.
  • Paul Henry's departure from TVNZ's Breakfast in 2011 over his dissing of Sheila Dikshit and Anand Satyanand split the nation down the middle. People either thought Henry was a victim of PC gone mad, or they thought he made the nation look like backwater hicks.
  • A safe sex advert in Brisbane - and a perfectly SFW one too - was removed after a complaint by the Australian Christian Lobby, much to the disgust of almost everyone else.
  • A 7-year-old girl put in the naughty corner because her parents opted out of a fundamentalist religious studies class.
  • A more laughable example of anti-PC gone mad is the American Family Association's Web site filter, which notoriously invoked the Scunthorpe problem by replacing every occurrence of 'gay' with 'homosexual'. As a result, an article on athlete Tyson Gay was instead about 'Tyson Homosexual'.
  • Another laughable example: the reaction of fundies to any billboard by St Matthews in the City in Auckland. They seem to dismiss it as not being a real church, when their own churches are often of the nouveau riche mega-church variety.

Taken to its logical conclusion, anti-PC gone mad has, in very rare cases, gone as far as mass political murder. And when it happens, the usual suspects, in typical No True Scotsman fashion, simplistically dismiss it as the kind of thing only Reds and Koran-thumpers do. Anders Breivik and Timothy McVeigh come to mind.

Video blogger Moviebob has deconstructed anti-PC gone mad in his Big Picture video, "Correctitude". Closer to home, Steve Kilgallon described urban myths being taken as fact - such as Baa Baa Black Sheep being renamed Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep - to the point where "they're all rubbish, but 1984 has finally come to pass: we're all stupid enough to believe them". Libertarian writer Jim Peron, who lived in NZ for a few years and is no fan of political correctness himself, has previously written of a "new anti-PC problem".

So, what do haters of 'political correctness' hold sacred? The most obvious answer is a 1950s utopia which never really existed to begin with. A utopia where petrol grows on trees, everything was stable and whitebread, mum stayed home in the car-dependent suburbs to raise the kids, dad brought home the bacon, everyone saluted the national flag and put their trust in the police and military, society's misfits were out of sight and out of mind, and the 'civilised and savage' were clearly identifiable. More likely, it was some kind of Stepford paradise that couldn't last, as the upheavals of Vietnam, Watergate and economic globalisation in the subsequent decades illustrated. Black-and-white solutions no longer worked in a world increasingly shaded in gray.

If there's one common thread tying the anti-PC gone mad brigade together, it's a sense of preserving the old born-to-rule order at any cost. Anti-PC gone mad, it seems, is the new PC-gone-mad - it has effectively become what it hates.

Saturday 10 November 2012

A Titanic discussion

Last Sunday's Voyage of a Lifetime seminar, hosted by the local Fabian Society, went down well at Wellington's Downstage Theatre. I had hoped to video the whole thing, until my camera displayed a heat warning and powered off - the first time it's ever done so. But with about 250 people crowded into a theatre on a sunny day, it probably wasn't surprising. Russell Brown was MC for the event, and Keith Ng - fresh from his exposé of unsecured WINZ kiosks - was also in attendance, as were Zippy Gonzales and my workplace's landlord. Michele A'Court kicked off the event as a stand-up comic would and should.

(Note: the video is from the Auckland event from several months earlier, but the themes were similar for Wellington.)

Voyage of a Lifetime (10.06.12) from Voyage of a Lifetime on Vimeo.

The seminar drew on analogies between the ill-fated Titanic voyage and New Zealand's struggle to achieve its full economic potential. There were various topics discussed that have barely been debated in mainstream media:
  • Rick Boven (formerly of the NZ Institute) explored ecological limits and resource depletion, and the seeming inability or refusal of major organisations - governments and businesses alike - to adapt.
  • NZMEA's John Walley explained the Dutch disease, in context of NZ's dairy industry and the property bubble.
  • Bernard Hickey raised the issue of household debt in the midst of an obsession with public debt, as well as quantitative easing, and the world's billions of hoarded wealth not being put to productive use
  • Rod Oram recounted NZ's over-reliance on agri-business, and the 'good' and 'bad' types of foreign direct investment
  • Selwyn Pellett related to the disconnect between innovation and commercialisation, from his own experiences as a tech startup founder
  • Arena Williams (Auckland University) and Rory McCourt (VUWSA) touched on intergenerational and wealth disparities.
Afterwards, I got to ask the panellists some interesting questions. I had the opportunity to suggest The Pine Tree Paradox to Selwyn Pellett, and the author's suggestion of Stanford University setting up shop in NZ.

I also caught up with Russell Brown again, this time to discuss the finer points of demographic vagaries. Some of us had come to the observation that Fabian attendees tend towards the (shrinking) comfortable middle classes, but there are still people like myself who don't quite fit the income bracket and yet still identify with Fabian ideals. He concurred with my view that there's no point in keeping up with the Joneses because they've been declared bankrupt, their McMansion foreclosed, and their Range Rover repossessed.

I told Rod Oram about a David Smick column in the Washington Post in which the prevailing globalisation model was breaking down with nothing obvious to replace it, and asked him what he believed the replacement would be. He didn't pretend to have all the answers, but we both agreed that 3D printing was one potential avenue for re-localisation, and hence a reduced dependence on the globalist model.

We also discussed where the line should be drawn between New Deal-esque regional development and pork-barrel politics - both of us agreed that the Puhoi-Wellsford Holiday Highway and the Gravina Island Bridge are pork-barrel projects with poor returns on investment. I theorised that the big difference is whether the benefits of such projects are shared by the many or the few, with Oram saying the Clifford Bay ferry terminal proposal was a complex case.

Bernard Hickey reliably informed me that his new project isn't too far off, with an expected launch early in the new year. He's a particularly relevant player in the economic debate, given that up until a couple of years ago, he was an unabashed apologist for the Wall Street globalist orthodoxy.

Seminars like these have been done before, but they've never been more relevant in light of the Great Recession, and the turning of the global financial system on its head.

Monday 22 October 2012

The Neo-Crusade Strikes Back

I've been to Pandaria for the past few weeks, and there's no shortage of stuff to do. Still, certain current events have been too big to ignore.

In wake of the Innocence of Muslims political forgery that was posted on YouTube, a hate speech poster campaign by the American Freedom Defense Initiative -- led by none other than neo-crusader lieutenant Pamela Geller -- goes to show that the neo-crusader movement has learned little or nothing from Anders Breivik, instead reinforcing its state of denial. Jewish American organisations have been among the strongest critics of the posters. Even Fox News saw fit to blur out the word 'savage' when it broadcast the story. (Warning: you may have to resist the temptation to do physical damage to your monitor, just from looking at the poster.)

A court injunction from the NYMTA initially halted its posting in the subways of New York and San Francisco, but a subsequent appeal by Geller and her cohorts allowed it to proceed on the grounds of free speech. Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy was nabbed by Transit police for spray-painting over one of the posters, in defiance of a Geller loyalist attempting to obstruct her. However, anti-hate activists -- Christians no less -- then came up with the idea of directly counteracting Geller's posters with their own ones.

That is probably the best possible antidote to hate speech - elevating equal and opposite free speech to the same level, instead of outrightly censoring the hate speech. The pedlars of hate speech have traditionally had the backing of big money, governmental authority, or both. But with the advent of crowd-sourcing, that monopoly on power can be challenged.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

In case you're wondering where I've been lately...

Mists of Pandaria, the 4th expansion to World of Warcraft, is officially to be released on 25 September 2012 - just a couple of weeks from now. After a 4-month break from the game, I've finally re-activated my account in time for the new expansion. So don't be too surprised if things will be a bit quiet here for a short while - especially when power-levelling a goblin rogue to level 85 before the big day.

Sunday 12 August 2012

The battle of Tottenham - 1 year on

A year ago, the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan triggered the biggest riots in Britain since Brixton in 1981. Much heated debate ensued as to why it came about - various fingers were pointed at unchecked immigration, welfare dependency, gangsta rap, police brutality, institutionalised racism, the Great Recession, youth unemployment, a culture of materialism, the widening wealth gap, austerity, overcrowding, and many other factors. Most likely what happened was a perfect storm of a bit of everything. And there had been fears of repeat civil unrest in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics, which so far have not come to pass.

Paul Lewis of the Guardian, with assistance from the London School of Economics, interviewed various police officers of the London Met, who generally felt the initial police response was poorly organised and executed.

Some of society's more reactionary elements have called for even tougher measures to attack the symptom, such as packing the Bobbies with assault rifles. Well, that would be the easy part, and it's already been done before with limited success.

Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell succinctly described how riots erupt:
"Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people's ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people's ability to pay for them. Light blue touch paper."
Examining other major riots in recent history, Maxwell's descriptions seem to fit perfectly. It was definitely the case with Tottenham and other parts of Britain in 2011. It was also largely the case with Los Angeles in 1992, in wake of the fallout from the Savings & Loans Crisis and the acquittal of the officers who set upon Rodney King.

So, what chances of it happening in New Zealand? No one knows yet, but hopefully it won't happen here. Nonetheless, the conditions for Tottenham-style civil unrest seem fertile in these parts, despite NZ escaping much of the global finance sector malaise. NZ First leader Winston Peters seemed to think so, as did Canterbury University researcher Bronwyn Hayward and Sunday Star Times columnist had a bet each way. In any case, attacking the symptom gets good public relations but is ultimately futile in the long run.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Rise of the neo-crusaders

It's been exactly a year since Anders Behring Breivik shattered Norway's peace and carried out 77 political murders of mostly youths, for which he remains unrepentant. His actions were intended to send Norway's leaders into a state of panic, but the one good thing to come from the killings was that Norway instead kept calm and carried on.

With the trial nearing its end and deciding whether he's insane or not, attention has been turned to the company he kept, and most agree that he has a streak of narcissism not unlike that of convicted murderer Clayton Weatherston. Yet although Breivik is clearly an apostle of the extreme Right, he doesn't completely fit the familiar stereotypes.

Not too long ago, it was easy to identify the extreme Right - white hooded robes, burning crosses, shaven heads, Nazi swastikas and SS uniforms. In recent times however, the extreme Right has splintered and evolved, and there are now 3 distinct camps.

The first camp are the purists, who are made up of the traditional "Sieg Heil" extremists we're familiar with. It seems that when history repeats, the first time it's as tragedy, the second time as farce. In our grandparents' generation, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo threatened democracy within an inch of its life. Nowadays, the likes of the National Front in NZ are commonly regarded as clowns or sad sacks. However, holdout KKK activity can still be found in parts of America's backwaters. And there's nothing to joke about David Copeland's nail bombing spree in London or Timothy McVeigh's bombing of Oklahoma City. Many mass killings carried out by this camp in recent history, including those by Copeland and McVeigh, were directly inspired by the infamous hate-speech novel The Turner Diaries.

The second camp is made up of anti-Semitic pragmatists. Although not a large group, they've still made the news for all the wrong reasons. They are typically made up of neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists who collaborate out of a shared anti-Semitism. The most obvious example that comes to mind is the chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who, despite having a Jewish mother, openly disowned that side of his heritage. He was also an avid reader of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and openly praised the actions of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers. Other examples include Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammed and American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, who both met in the early 1960s on good terms. Later on, Muhammed's successor Louis Farrakhan and KKK wizard Tom Metzger had a similar meeting in the 1980s.

The third camp are also pragmatists, but with a counter-jihad focus, and easily have the most powerful public influence. This camp, which made its presence felt after the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror, includes militarist neo-conservatives, religious fundamentalists and disaster capitalists. They employ the use of spin doctors and think tanks instead of raw violence and intimidatory fashion sense. The overriding theme with this group is that the West is an endangered species at the mercy of Muslim hordes and other anti-Western fifth-columnists, and must resort to lethal force for its very survival - even verging on a 'Protocols of the Elders of Mecca', just as the Elders of Zion was used to justify the Holocaust. There is also a strong sense of 'honorary Aryanism' - I refuse to use the euphemism 'model minority' - as the likes of Michelle Malkin go to show. Even the British National Party and the French National Front appear to have evolved from the first camp to the third in recent years, reputedly accepting into their ranks Jews and other minorities who share their anti-Communist and counter-jihad views.

Which brings us back to Anders Breivik. He has been known to hobnob with Christian fundamentalists, neo-Nazis and hyper-nationalists on Web forums and in person, yet he's never been a doctrinaire adherent of any of these groups. Breivik has also claimed to gather like-minded followers across Europe into a new Knights Templar movement. If anything, he represents a new strain of extremism that appears to be inspired by Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations - an extremism which could be best thought of as neo-crusaderism. Norwegian defence analyst Thomas Hegghammer has referred to it as macro-nationalism:
On closer inspection, however, Mr. Breivik’s worldview does not fit squarely into any of the established categories of right-wing ideology, like white supremacism, ultranationalism or Christian fundamentalism. Rather, it reveals a new doctrine of civilizational war that represents the closest thing yet to a Christian version of Al Qaeda.
For example, although Mr. Breivik says he fears “the extinction of the Nordic genotypes,” racial hygiene is not high on his agenda. He wants to expel, not kill, Muslims in Europe, and he does not mind Jews and non-Muslim Asians. Similarly, while Mr. Breivik says he is “extremely proud” of his “Odinistic/Norse heritage,” he is not a Norwegian nationalisthis “declaration of independence” applies to all of Europe. And while he is Christian, he admits that “I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person.”
Instead, Mr. Breivik’s goal is to reverse what he views as the Islamization of Western Europe; indeed, he sees himself as a soldier in a defensive war against “Islamic imperialism.” In his view, Muslims are colonizing Europe, helped by high birth rates and a doctrine of multiculturalism advocated by the European elite. Islam, for him, represents an existential threat to European civilization, a threat that must be countered at all costs. The best way to do so, he argues, is to wage war against “cultural Marxists” — his label for the European political and intellectual elite — because they are the traitors who allow the colonization to take place.
To be fair, France and the Netherlands have recently grappled with the issue of Muslim integration, or lack of it. The burqa (headscarf) ban has proven controversial in France, and the Netherlands was rattled by the assassinations of outspoken anti-Muslim figures Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, and the death threats against Muslim apostate and libertarian writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The moment you cite not just Breivik, but also McVeigh, Copeland, Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski and other terrorists who look like us, a common response goes something like, "Stalin and Pol Pot killed millions more people!" While numerically and historically true, such responses fail on two counts.

The first count is Godwin's Law and its corollaries, whereby a debate starts devolving into comparisons with Hitler or Stalin, and often the associated use of 'fascist' and 'communist' as cheap-and-nasty epithets.
The second count is the No True Scotsman fallacy, which in this case gives the impression that the neo-crusaders are downplaying extreme-Right atrocities while at the same time overplaying Communist atrocities, in order to shoehorn their arguments into their world views.

The No True Scotsman fallacy also applies to the typical neo-crusader response to Breivik's trigger-happiness, where they basically went from saying "Westerners don't do terrorism", to "real Westerners don't do terrorism." When it emerged that Breivik was responsible for the Oslo bombing and Utoya Island shootings - and not a Muslim jihadist as columnists like Jennifer Rubin prematurely concluded - many of the neo-crusaders, including those who were favourably cited in his 1500-page manifesto, either kept silent, denied all knowledge, or attempted to justify his actions. At the extreme end of the scale, FOX News commentators Glenn Beck and Debbie Schlussel went as far as tacitly defending Breivik and comparing his victims to Hitler Youth, and Pamela Geller tellingly deleted a 2007 post on her blog from a "Norwegian admirer" who planned to stockpile weapons. Frank Gaffney thought out loud that Breivik's attacks were a false flag operation intended to discredit the counter-jihadists. More recently, Kevin Forts, a New England undergrad and penpal of Breivik, openly endorsed the attacks in a live TV interview.

Among the more measured responses were from neo-con stalwarts Daniel Pipes, Geert Wilders, and Robert Spencer, who openly condemned Breivik's actions and conceded it would set back the cause of the neo-conservative movement. Australian academic Keith Windschuttle - who spoke at a neo-conservative symposium in NZ in 2010 - was "still at a complete loss to find any connection between them and the disgusting and cowardly actions of Breivik." Windschuttle went on to say that "it would be a 'disturbing accusation' if people thought that he had ever used deliberately provocative language that might have caused Breivik to take up a rifle and shoot unarmed teenagers in cold blood."

Given the strong representation of hardline Zionists among the neo-crusaders, it's ironic that they would invoke the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that was used to drum up support for the Final Solution. It brings to mind Nietzsche's famous warning, "he who fights monsters should be careful not to become a monster himself." Jewish commentator Irving Greenberg wrote in 2003 of his close friendship with Jewish hyper-nationalist Meir Kahane, and their later falling-out when Kahane jumped off the slippery slope. In many ways, Kahane was the godfather of modern neo-crusaderism. Greenberg stated (my emphasis):
The alienation between us began to grow, however, as his policies became more extreme. In 1972, when I was teaching at City College of New York, one of my students was arrested by the FBI for placing a bomb in mega-entertainment agent Sol Hurok’s office, to punish Hurok for sponsoring a Soviet artist’s concert tour in America. The bomb killed a secretary. In my conversations with the student he made clear that he believed he had acted under the inspiration of Meir Kahane and even hinted that my old friend had encouraged the bombing, though the FBI never proved anything. When, during an encounter with Kahane, I accused him of possible responsibility for the secretary’s death, he argued that “never again” meant “never again at all costs” — including the use of force and violence
We met again years later, for yet another debate. Kahane had made inroads, particularly in the Yeshiva University student community, by cloaking his proposals for elimination of the Arabs with rabbinic sources. Rabbi Avi Weiss, who was a friend of both of ours, came to me and asked if I would debate Kahane. I felt that his ideology and incorrect use of rabbinic sources needed to be challenged — he was a bad influence on Y.U. students. So I agreed to debate him at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the synagogue headed by Weiss.
The week before the debate, an interview with Kahane appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times. The report was horrific. He called for the transfer of the Arab population of the West Bank. As I recall it, he spoke of bringing trucks and rounding up the population — men, women and children — and depositing them in Jordan. When asked by the reporter what would happen if they refused to go, Kahane replied: We will shoot them if they resist
In effect, neo-crusaders have an outlook that's not much different from the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads and Osama bin Ladens they purportedly despise. With the economic turbulence of the period following the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 - the biggest since the Great Depression - there has unfortunately never been a more fertile patch for political extremism of all stripes since the 1930s. Yet I'm hopeful that it's not too late to stop the hate.

The last word goes to Norway's Foreign Minister, who calls for more free speech as the best antidote to hate speech, and describes al-Qaeda and the extreme Right as both sides of the same coin.

The Batman Shootings

News of the so-called Batman Shooting at a cinema in Denver has shocked the world over. Spree shootings, especially in America, are nothing new, but somehow this one feels a lot less detached than what came before it. Partisan politics has thankfully been kept out of the issue, but a select few conspiracy nuts, like Alex Jones, have seen fit to invoke the theory that the shootings were a false flag operation by President Obama, in order to weaken the Second Amendment.

I first heard of the shootings on Twitter, before major news outlets had coverage. One of the confirmed victims was cadet sports reporter Jessica Ghawi, aka Jessica Redfield, whose last ever tweet was about waiting for The Dark Knight Rises to open. Just a month earlier, she had blogged about surviving the Toronto Eaton Centre mall shooting.

The alleged shooter has been identified as James Eagan Holmes, a post-grad neuroscience student at the University of Colorado-Denver. Far from being a gang member from a broken home in the 'projects' - the stereotypical image of a gun criminal in America - Holmes' background was the opposite. He hails from a stable upper-middle class church-going family, with academic achievement and sporting prowess to his name, no criminal record, no history of mental illness, no ties to extremist groups, nor any inklings on popular Internet sites. Yet his motives remain a mystery. He was described as 'shy and intelligent' by those who know him, but unlike Jared Loughner and the Columbine High shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, it remains unclear as to whether Holmes had a history of bullying or being bullied. In any case, Holmes' shooting spree is made all the more scarier by the fact that no one saw it coming because he doesn't overtly look like an 'other'.

Holmes purchased and stockpiled large amounts of semi-automatic firearms, ammunition and tear gas in the lead-up to the shootings, and supposedly rigged his apartment with explosives. In the state of Colorado, with one of the most lax firearms regulations of any American state, no permits are required to purchase firearms, but Federal background checks are still required - which he passed. Holmes also made his purchases from different outlets each time, as well as over the Internet, which circumvented laws on repeat purchases. Still, we license and register cars and drivers, so surely it wouldn't be much to ask for the same with firearms - were it not for the power of the National Rifle Association. Holmes also dyed his hair red and claimed he was the Joker during the shootings, which at best implies some kind of Walter Mitty fantasy gone horribly wrong.

It brings to mind Brenda Ann Spencer, who, as a teenager in San Diego in 1979, fired a semi-auto rifle - given to her by her father on Christmas the previous year - killing two people and injuring 9 others. When asked why she pulled the trigger, Spencer said, "I don't like Mondays; this livens up the day." Spencer later claimed she was under the influence of drugs during the incident and endured sexual abuse at home, but that was not backed up by official evidence or members of the judiciary.

It also raises the question of the Second Amendment's relevance in the 21st century. It's nothing to do with the legit pastimes of hunting in the wilds or hobbyist gun collectors, as the National Rifle Association and its loyalists would have you believe. The Second Amendment was written in mind with a repeat of the British invading again, when rifles and cannons were the most powerful weapons available. Since then, jet fighters and aircraft carriers have made America the world's most powerful military nation - and the world's last remaining superpower - which effectively makes the Second Amendment a museum piece. And there's a disconnect between "deterring tyrannical government", and the plummeting voter turnout in US presidential elections.

After the Dunblane massacre, Prince Philip asked if cricket bats would be banned because they could be swung hard enough to kill people. The keywords here are, "when used as directed". You can indeed kill someone with a cricket bat if you swing it hard enough, but cricket bats weren't designed for that purpose. They were designed to help gentlemen in the British Commonwealth to socially bond and represent the pride of a nation. Whereas firearms, to state the obvious, are explicitly designed to kill people.

The NRA argues that guns don't kill, only people do. They're right to a large degree, but it's a lot easier to kill someone with a gun than with fists or knives. They also argue that criminals will hold fire if they know the citizenry carry pistols in their pockets. But what if the crims, instead of waving the white flag, swap their pistols for assault rifles? It would be little more than mutually assured destruction, downscaled to a domestic context.

"Arms race" by Mike Moreu

And they argue that Columbine High and Anders Breivik would never have happened in gun-friendly states like Texas. Oh yes, it has happened - it's called the Wackos from Waco. And the controversy over George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin - armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a cup of iced tea - has tested the "Stand Your Ground" laws to the limit.

As with cars and sex, fascination with them is perfectly normal, but obsession with them is not.

Monday 16 July 2012

Formula of the day: Power and corruption

Lord Acton once said that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Chairman Mao believed that "power comes from the barrel of a gun."

Put those two together, and "power and corruption come from the barrel of a gun." That speaks true of many a repressive dictatorship in recent history - Stalin's Russia, the Third Reich, Kim Il Sung, the Cultural Revolution, Idi Amin's Uganda, Pinochet's Chile, the Argentine Dirty War, Saddam's Iraq, Milosevic's Serbia, the Burmese military junta, Assad's Syria... you name it.

If power does indeed come from the barrel of a gun, then in this day and age, absolute power also comes from a barrel - the barrel of a financier's pen. A financier can, at the stroke of a pen, be more powerful than even the strongest military force.

Combine that with Lord Acton's most famous quote, and "absolute power and absolute corruption come from the barrel of a financier's pen." Given the recent Global Financial Crisis, and even more recent revelations of JP Morgan managing to "misplace" USD$2 bn, and Barclays' role in the LIBOR scandal, it's not far from the truth.

Monday 25 June 2012

Square pegs in round holes

Yet again, education in NZ has become a major political football, with the backdown on ill-advised Treasury-driven policy on bigger class sizes, and the latest proposal to attack the symptom with league tables. Ministry of Education data has found a pattern of white and middle-class flight from low-decile schools over a 10-year period. To pour petrol on the fire, a visiting Fulbright scholar has exposed nakedly classist practices at high-decile schools - namely changing school zone boundaries to block out low-decile students.

Which brings me to my own education experiences.

My school years were not particularly memorable, which is nothing unusual. What's unusual is that I never completely fit into the system, no matter what steps were taken to shoehorn me into it.

I was lucky enough to hail from an upper-middle class household, which in this day and age of hyper-materialism, is possibly the biggest reason why I'm not begging in the streets. We had enough money to buy a computer when I was 5, which got me an early start in my computing interests and, later on, career. I even drew a reasonably accurate picture of our computer, which I showed to my teacher with pride.

And yet, I was a square peg in a round hole from the very start. In my first ever year of school in 1984, I had serious speech impediments, and was first sent to a school for its intellectually handicapped unit, only to find that I was perfectly able-minded and able-bodied. The following year, I was mainstreamed at the local high-decile primary school, which didn't work out much better. The local bully just happened to be the son of a Range Rover-driving stockbroker, and the last I heard of him was seeing his name on a list of serial fines defaulters in the community newspaper.

The year after that - 1986 - I was sent to a school with a 'language unit', which by today's standards, was probably a medium-decile school, in an area which has since gentrified. This school had students of all races and social backgrounds, yet the atmosphere was highly Americanised to the point of crassness, and a sizeable minority of the students identified with 'ghetto' culture. One older girl - identified only as Lydia - was, to put it mildly, the school's prime alpha bitch. She would torment me at any opportunity for the flimsiest of reasons, in defiance of all teacher authority. It was later revealed in a PTA meeting that she was having problems at home, and took out all those problems on me. Who knows what became of her, but I wouldn't be surprised if she wound up doing time - research has found that the younger a kid starts becoming a bully, the more likely they'll end up behind bars or in an early grave. During this time, I found solace in tinkering with the school's Apple IIe computers - and I still thought the Commodore 64 had superior graphics.

When I reached Form 1, I experienced my first year of private schooling, where I would remain for the rest of my school life. My crass attempts to be funny, which somewhat worked at public school, typically backfired in a private setting. I was taken to an audiologist at the age of 12, as I had a tendency not to listen during class. I passed the tests with flying colours, which led to the conclusion that my "mind wanders". So it was inattentiveness rather than deafness.

I did pretty well in maths class, but after coming near the back of the class in 3rd Form English, I was sent to remedial English tutoring for the next 2 years. I was also sent to taekwondo lessons in an attempt to boost my self-esteem. In both cases, I felt utterly disengaged from the whole process and that my life was being crowded out, and loudly berated at whenever I complained about it. Ironically, I now get a buzz out of reading, as well as writing, in-depth social commentary, and I have the Internet to thank for that.

When we moved to Christchurch in 1994, I was sent to one of the most prestigious and exclusive private schools in the country, which I shall only refer to as The College - basically NZ's equivalent of Eton in England - which my father described as being "very impressed" by. Yet things still didn't work out as planned.

Throughout my private school years, my classmates commonly told me, "you shouldn't take it so seriously" whenever I took offence at my classmates' practical jokes or nicknaming. In hindsight, this led me to suspect I might have been an undiagnosed Aspergian. I also earned ridicule for being fascinated with seemingly minor details - another apparent sign of Aspergers. In one case which I vividly remember, a teacher was trying to work out what a certain computer program written in BASIC was supposed to do, and coming to her assistance, I immediately worked out that it generated a multiplication times table. While the teacher thanked me for a job well done, half my classmates gave me stares of derision, as if I was some kind of freak show exhibit. Only later did I realise that wealth and intellect don't always have a proportional relationship.

There were even times when I attempted to join the lemming herd and gang up on 'acceptable targets', in a bid to divert attention away from my status as an involuntary class clown. For all the verbal harassment I encountered at schools in Wellington, they were nowhere near as racial as at The College, unfortunately reinforcing a negative stereotype about the region we had just moved to. To make matters worse, much of the racism was from classmates hailing from upper-middle class and rural bourgeoisie backgrounds. I was effectively made to feel like a fresher-off-the-boat, despite my long family history in the country.

I was basically squeezed between hostile peer pressure on one front, and parental pressure to succeed on the other. I was put on tutors for just about every subject in my final year of secondary school, under the mistaken belief that I wasn't pulling my academic weight, and yet all the tutoring did was attack the symptom. What my parents didn't realise was that The College was totally the wrong fit. Various in-depth studies on education have come to the same conclusion - that threatening or otherwise hostile school environments are a major factor in loss of learning motivation and driving down achievement.

In addition, I took up accounting as a school subject solely on the advice of my father. He had probably wanted me to follow him into a finance career, but to be charitable I found accounting to be as interesting as watching paint dry. He later accepted that accounting didn't run in the family - instead us kids pursued careers in computing, medicine and media.

It seems pressure to succeed often has one of two outcomes - rebellion or angst. In East Asia, there's long been a tradition of no tolerance for failure, unlike in the West, where mistakes are regarded as a key part of the university of life. Especially in Japan, there have been cases where pressure to succeed has been so insane, that the students involved become 'hikikomori' - those who basically pull both middle fingers at a society that pressures them to avoid failure at all costs, and withdraw completely and utterly from it to the point where a Western recluse seems mild in comparison. Suicide attempts by students who bend under the strain are also common.

My experiences taught me one very stark lesson: private schooling pushes down the 'other' from above, and public schools - at least the ones I went to - pull the 'other' down from below. Private schooling seems to be roughly 10% excellence, and 90% connections and keeping up appearances. When you're part of the One Percent or otherwise in an exclusive social circle, you can boast that your kid goes to one of the 'ivy league' schools in the country. On the other hand, very large classes at public schools leave little scope for fine-tuned learning - especially if many of the students involved already have 'issues' before coming to school, like Lydia mentioned above.

In 2003, ICT entrepreneur Paul Graham published a social commentary, "Why Nerds Are Unpopular", which explored the reasons why nerds, geeks and the 'other' have traditionally been among the unhappiest students in America. He was writing mainly in the context of the American public school system, yet I was sent to private for the entirety of my Form 1 to Form 7 years and still had the same kind of experiences.

It wasn't until I started university - and coincidentally the emergence of Netscape and the World Wide Web - that I really started to feel valued and emerge out of my shell. I also picked up photography as a hobby. And now I'm much surer of my place in the wider world - as a avowed member of the 'reality-based community'. I'm even trying to rediscover the inner artist that never got nurtured in my youth - which played second fiddle to getting into university at all costs - when I once had dreams of working for Peter Jackson or Animation Research after reading about their artistic efforts in the newspapers. In another ironic twist, I was the family shrinking violet and my elder brother the more outgoing of the family sons. Now, I seem to be the more socially outward of us two, while he keeps a low profile. Maybe I'm even just a simple late bloomer - Albert Einstein was both that and an Aspergian.

During a long post-education period of under-employment, I once asked my parents as to why I was such a square peg in a round hole, and they didn't pretend to have the answers. To this day, they've always denied any possibility that I had Asperger's or ADHD, but I might possibly have been social phobic. And they did admit that public schooling with special needs provision might have been far more suitable for me - maybe the Correspondence School? Most importantly, they've come to accept that I'm just... different. Public Address founder Russell Brown has had to shell out big money for his Asperger-ised son Leo, as the public education system didn't have the financial resources to meet Leo's needs.

I will conclude with a trailer for the documentary Race to Nowherewhich chronicles the industrialised world's obsession with educating its youth by any means necessary. Encouraging one's kids to make the grade is one thing. Pressuring them to succeed at any cost is quite another.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Digital wrongs mismanagement

Earlier this weekend, a customer came back with his new PC, saying that he couldn't get the Blu-ray drive to play Blu-ray movies. On closer inspection, it wasn't an open-and-shut case.

We spent the best part of a few hours un-installing and re-installing the Blu-ray software, with limited success - we kept getting the same error messages over and over: "You must update Cyberlink PowerDVD to continue playback of this content." We even tried some work-arounds - including open-source video players - and they didn't work either, this time getting errors related to 'unrecognised AACS keys'.

Here was a customer who purchased a legit Blu-ray drive that came with legit Blu-ray software, in the hope of playing back a legit Blu-ray movie disc. And what happens? The Blu-ray software kicks up a stink and effectively tells us otherwise. The Blu-ray movie provided by the customer indicated on the back cover that it was copy protected. Protection from what, exactly? Honest consumers?

If content providers are going to insult our collective intelligence, and make it harder for us to enjoy genuinely purchased media, then is it any wonder that file-sharing remains popular? I'd wager that people who file-share don't do it because they like to, but rather because they're left with little other choice. It's like purchasing a brand new car, only to find that the anti-theft mechanism has locked out its owner and won't respond to the keys. The Playstation 3 and dedicated Blu-ray players have no issues with all this, so those who want to enjoy home theatre on their personal computers should have the same right not to have to jump through annoying hoops.

Monday 4 June 2012

God Save the Queen...

... by the Sex Pistols. All the more so with yet a few more high-profile names on the 2012 Queen's Birthday Honours List being there by way of patronage, rather than actual service to NZ.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Treasury re-branding

Right now we're being lectured to tighten our belts because the cupboard is bare. Yet those doing the lecturing and supposed to be watching the country's tax dollars have somehow managed, at best, to gloss over a $14 billion white elephant in the room, among other pork-barrel pet projects. It could turn out to be the son of Think Big, or worse still, something like Japan's Roads to Nowhere.

As a result, a doubleplusgood re-branding is in order. Once again, prints are available from CafePress.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Upping the ante: Holiday highways to nowhere

The Holiday Highways to Nowhere are now $14 billion and counting. What makes it all the more audacious is that it single-handedly managed to avoid any Treasury scrutiny whatsoever, while austerity applies to just about everything else. Which raises another question: when is austerity not austerity? The answer's quite simple: when it's socialism for the One Percenters and the so-called market for everyone else.

And it's heartening to see those aware of lopsided transport priorities taking a stand in a light-hearted way. Even in the middle of winter.

So, here it is - the ante has been upped. Image is ©Kumara Republic Media but free to download and circulate. Also available as prints from CafePress.

Holiday Highways to Nowhere

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Save TVNZ7 in Wellington

The Save TVNZ7 crowd was in town on Monday, and certainly not a small crowd it was, barely a month and a half out from the channel's final closedown. The panel was hosted by Wallace Chapman of TVNZ7's Back Benchers, local MP Grant Robertson, Dr Peter Thompson of Victoria University of Wellington's media studies department, Opposition broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran, former MP and local public broadcasting advocate Sue Kedgley, and veteran media commentator Tom Frewen. Government MPs were believed to have been invited but all chose to turn it down.

Here's a podcast of Dr Thompson, giving his suggestions for the future of public broadcasting and how to finance it:

And my question to the panel about the Law Commission's inquiry into media convergence, answered by Clare Curran:
"No doubt you'll probably be aware of the Leveson Inquiry in Britain looking into the News of the World scandal, and the Finkelstein Inquiry in Australia that's looking into Rupert Murdoch's anti-competitive practices. There's been a similar kind of report here by the Law Commission looking into media convergence and possibly the concentration of media ownership... what sort of hopes do you hold for any positive finds from that, and if not, what chance of a Royal Commission into public broadcasting as a whole?"

Curran's response was that the Commerce Commission is probing SKY TV's anti-competitive practices involving sweetheart deals with Internet providers, and for a need for a wider public debate on media concentration and ownership in NZ, which has one of the most law-of-the-jungle media sectors in the world. Meeting Ms Curran afterwards, she believed that a Royal Commission wouldn't be necessary unless there was a catastrophic scandal on the level of Hackgate or Arthur Allan Thomas. (John Drinnan and Liam Dann have more on the Commerce Commission's probe.)

Instead of yet another hot air vent, this actually seems to be getting some traction. Grant Robertson has pledged support for a proposed Campaign for Public Broadcasting, which would combine both the Save TVNZ7 group and the earlier Save Radio NZ meetings, and seek to create a new public broadcaster at arms length from politics.

After the meeting finished, I met Frank of Frankly Speaking for the first time in person, who has a fuller account of the night's discussion.

I'm of the view that the real reason for weakening public broadcasting isn't penny-pinching, but bare-faced anti-intellectualism disguised as penny-pinching, which is a subset of what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism". I overheard a comment in the discussion, probably from Sue Kedgley, that an ignorant populace is a compliant populace - a dogma straight out of Ancient Rome's bread and circuses, and Orwell's 1984. When John Howard was Australia's Prime Minister, he hated the ABC because he thought it was full of socialists, and unsuccessfully threatened it with funding cuts. It's now stronger than ever. Even the BBC has largely held its own despite being targeted by hostile politicians.

TVNZ7's demise on 30 June, 2012 is a given, and its fatal weakness was the first four letters in its name. I'm personally of the view that TVNZ in its present form - being dominated by overpaid managerialists over actual broadcasting people - has passed the point of no return, given that former CEO Ian Fraser - very much in favour of public broadcasting - couldn't effect the change he wanted. And if or when TVNZ7 does rise from the ashes, it'll likely be without the TVNZ baggage.

That's enough venting on the topic for now. In the meantime, get some satirical therapy with my SKYNET gear.

Sunday 20 May 2012

SKY's net has landed

Now available from CafePress, just in time for the Save TVNZ7 meetings:

If anyone knows a more local (read: NZ-based) alternative to CafePress, please do let me know.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Plots thicken, #2

The Dotcom bombshell

It's emerged Kim Dotcom donated $50,000 to John Banks' mayoral bid in 2010, and what does Dotcom get in return? No help from Banksie after he gets raided by the police and the FBI. Now Dotcom seems to have spilled a few beans - a tad too many beans for Banks to be comfortable with.

Namely the allegation that Banks asked for the donations to be split in 2 payments so that they could be declared anonymous, only for Banks to deny all knowledge when Dotcom went public. Additionally, Sky City Casino made $15,000 donations each to Banks and Len Brown - every man has his price, but at least Brown was honest about it.

Under electoral law, anonymous donations where the recipient knows the donor's identity are potentially illegal, and the Opposition has for once made hay from it. If found in breach of the law, Banksie will be required to resign from Parliament, forcing a by-election which the Government would find rather inconvenient. The whole thing's like a McPhail & Gadsby episode, only completely improvised.

It seems what goes around, comes around - Helen Clark was accused of propping up Winston Peters in the final term of her government while Peters was investigated for undeclared donations from transport tycoon Owen Glenn. But now John Key finds himself under fire for doing the exact same thing with Banksie. Because he needs the numbers to sell off what we still own to faceless Wall Street suits.

Freakonomics and wedge politics

The Government's proposed contraception measures for DPB recipients is a nice one in theory, and I'm all for measures that make contraception more accessible to those difficult to reach. But it'll all be for nothing if it turns out to be little more than state control of the gene pool by stealth, which I suspect a certain section of the public wants.

In chapter 4 of Freakonomics, Stephen Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner made a connection between falling crime rates in America towards the end of the 20th Century, and legalised abortion following the Roe vs Wade ruling in 1973. They suggested that legalised abortion led to fewer unwanted babies, and fewer unwanted babies meant fewer career criminals. What Levitt and Dubner also found was that it all happened by accident, with little if any imposition from the state.

Levitt & Dubner's observations suggest that for contraception to be effective, it needs to be not just widely accessible, but also free of state coercion and free of stigma, something that Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett needs to take heed. But from what's been announced so far, she seems to be putting the 'promiscuity' stigma back into contraception, and Conservatives leader Colin Craig is effectively playing the 'uncovered meat' card. Paul Little notes in the NZ Herald that it's also applying to the daughters of welfare mothers, which gives the implication of what Little calls the 'slut gene'. Minister Bennett might as well encourage the poor to take up a few modest proposals.

The welfare contraceptives issue is just one subset of divide-and-rule politics being mercilessly exploited in times of economic turbulence, if comments on Talkbackistan and the news web are anything to go by. It worked for John Howard with the infamous Big Lie known as the Children Overboard Affair. Economics professor Robert Reich noted in his video, The Truth About The Economy, that the middle and working classes are too busy fighting amongst themselves to focus their attention on the One Percenters responsible for their predicament.
 also written of the "last place aversion paradox", where those near the bottom oppose measures to reduce the wealth gap because it would mean the very bottom would surpass them.

The 'prosperity gospel' relentlessly preached in the last generation has fomented unrealistic expectations that we can all have a sprawling McMansion and a Hummer in the driveway, and a latent inferiority complex in those who would otherwise challenge the One Percenters. When peoples' attempts to climb the social ladder are thwarted, they start taking out their anger on those below them. In 1930s Europe, exploitation of latent inferiority complexes - brought on by the Great Depression and the Treaty of Versailles - got cranked up to eleven, and the rest is history.

In the words of a commenter on a recent Guardian article about civil unrest from the Great Recession:
Sweet Jesus. No one is going to fix this mess, are they? No politician seems up to the job. 
This week I heard a pefectly sensible guest on Radio 4's Moneybox, use the phrase "when the balloon goes up" without any sense of irony whatsoever. I've recently read three level-headed articles predicting the end of the "marriage of convenience" between capitalism and democracy. 
I'm scared. Proper Weimar Republic scared.