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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Inspector of Public Nuisances

I oftentimes end up scrolling through archives trying to patch together stories about people, places or events. It's easy to get sidetracked by what I see on the way but I think it's important to take time to smell the microfiche. In looking at film of Sydney street directories from 1858 on I found that an Inspector of Public Nuisances lived along the road from our home in the 1870s. (This is remarkable as the house we live in was built about 1914.)

I like the job title, would like the job, and could write my own job description. My wife suspects I'm already doing it unofficially and in the passive-aggressive style that reveals my New Zealand origins. Car journeys provide many opportunities to practice. "Oi, you can't park there! You're blocking the intersection"; "Hey, you're old enough to ride your bike on the road not the footpath"; "They're speed limits - in kph"; "You should be wearing a belt with those, young fellermelad" - not loud enough to be heard by the offender, of course. Possibilities are endless although I was reminded of the golden rule of traffic misdemeanours "You get fined it's a damn good thing - I get fined it's revenue raising".

I was wired to believe that there are rules and maps for everything. You can't always find the maps and the rules can be hidden, incomprehensible and enforced inconsistently. But they're there and must be obeyed. at all times, by everyone - except for the people who don't care, the people who don't know there's a difference between right and wrong, the people with power enough to make their own rules and apply them to others.

I remember when one of those barely coherent US of A presidents sought to explain American policy in, can't remember - somewhere US multinationals had major interests - by saying "they're not terrorists they're freedom fighters". Or was it the other way round?

And now we have the phrase “not intended to be a factual statement.” It was used in a press statement after US Senator Jon Kyl quoted statistics that were so wrong as to be absurd in a speech trying to cut government funding to Planned Parenthood. He was shown to have miss-spoken and rather than admit to it and apologise came up with a convoluted way of avoiding responsibility for his actions.

There's talk that politics, elections etc are the sideshow the rich and powerful use to distract us while they get on with the real business of making themselves richer and more powerful. The deus ex machina appears when one of the rich and powerful takes a holiday and dabbles in politics. New Zealand is a classic example at present - slumming it on a Prime Minister's stipend the current leader and his round table have bought backroom deals out into the spotlight, the secret handshakes and "you scratch my back and I'll suck yours" arrangements that have been going on there since the start of the nineteenth century are now policies in the best interests of "the people". Like something George Orwell would have had getting past his editor US conglomerates now write Kiwi industrial legislation, giving $36,000,000 to a few old mates for a racing yacht is somehow part of a cost-cutting regime, draconian internet laws are marketed as helping earthquake-proof Christchurch and the IRB's latest cash cow will be subsidised by tax and ratepayers.

I'm wondering if over the last ten or so years a number of methamphetamine factories have exploded in Noisyland polluting water catchments? How else to explain how bizarre behaviour has become the norm? The emperor's new clothes are made of pounamu, a treasured green stone, used for objects of prestige and value and souvenirs.

It's as if the Prime Mover has looked over the Tasman, seen NSW politics as it was practised in the Askin Error, or under the Carr/Iemma/Anyone-else-brave-or-naive-enough-to-take-on-the-rightwing-unions-and-the-shonks Error and said gimme summathat. Nicky Hager who wrote The Hollow Men is a different kind of kiwi, a very articulate intelligent and concerned individual who has consistently been saying "Wait up, this isn't right". His 2006 book outlines dodgy deals, backroom tactics, marketing as policy, the insidious actions of the merchants of spin Crosby/Textor, everything that makes politics a soul-less cynical activity. Paradoxically it seems to have been adopted as a training manual. Rather than a dreadful warning.

Of the two men most shown to be hollow in the book one was sent to the wilderness and the other elected PM. That's comedy gold right there.

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