Monthly Archives: September 2011

Thus Spake the Millennials

We are having a National election on November 26.  But you wouldn’t know it because the politicians have declared a temporary truce during the Rugby World Cup and there has been no campaigning.

The official reason is because we have a lot of overseas guests and we should be focusing on showing New Zealand at its best rather than airing dirty laundry.  But the real reason is probably that the politicians don’t want to take time away
from rugby watching by having to campaign.

In any event, no one is complaining.

It will be a fairly important election for three reasons.  First, in my opinion, all
elections are important.  Second, with everything going on in the world from a political and economic perspective, political leadership is more important than ever.  Lastly, the incumbent prime minister is up for re-election.  He is tremendously popular and polls indicate that he may get enough votes to form a government without a coalition.  With that in mind he has been very forthright in saying exactly what he will do if elected.  So voters are theoretically better informed than ever and should either support the guy if they agree with him or go out and vote for an opponent so their voice can be heard.

Call me old fashioned, but it’s kind of refreshing to see a reasonably vibrant democracy in action and especially one that is civil enough to suspend politics while the country is partying.

But that didn’t stop the media from springing a nasty surprise on us.  In New Zealand voting isn’t mandatory, but registering to vote is.  You can be fined $100 if you don’t register.  The news report was that even after a blitz registration campaign by Elections New Zealand,  about 25% of young adults between the ages of 18-29 have yet to enrol to vote.

When a sample of non-registering Millennials were asked why, they didn’t say, “I forgot.”  Or, “I’m going to do it, I just haven’t gotten around to it.”  No.  They said things like, “It’s uncool.” And, “Voting is something adults do.”

Some used the “my vote doesn’t count anyway,” excuse.  But most terrifying was the fairly widespread claim of “I’m politically aware but choose to express my
views using other avenues such as social networking.”

If I understand that utterance correctly, there has been a failure on someone’s part in explaining the concept of voting to these people.  News flash:  Expressing your opinion on MySpace is not the same thing as voting.

What worries me about this phenomenon, aside from the fact that there are 18-29 year olds who do not consider themselves adults, is that it is probably is not limited to New Zealand.  It shows a shocking lack of engagement with the real world and a generation gap that is just the opposite of the one in the 1960s.

Back then, young people were making noise and listening to good music while adults were telling them not to rock the boat and listening to bad music.  Today adults are listening to good music and asking why the world is in the condition is and young people are saying don’t bother us while listening to bad music.

As 18th century French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu said, “The tyranny of a prince in a monarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”  Too bad de Montesquieu is not on Facebook.

Lighter Moments From The Rugby World Cup (So Far)

Life as we know it is sort of on hold down here.

On Friday, the 2011 Rugby World Cup got underway.  That may not sound like much if you don’t live in New Zealand, but just to put things in perspective, when NZ was awarded the hosting rights for this year’s cup they created a government ministry and named a Minister of the Rugby World Cup.  Then they changed the dates of the school year around so the school kids would be on break during the finals and semi finals.  The official reason is to minimize traffic congestion.

A UK sports writer is persona non grata down here for complaining that New Zealand is “a nation in which parameters begin and end with its national rugby team” and that such a nation “invites ridicule for such a blinkered existence.”

Actually, some places have been designated “rugby free zones” so that people whose parameters extend beyond rugby don’t feel as if they have been stuck in a space/time warp.

But I can’t complain.  I lived most of my life in a city whose baseball and football teams rarely even made it to the playoffs so I’m finding the enthusiasm and exuberance all rather refreshing.  Every other car is flying the flag of the country whose team the occupants are rooting for.  And the opening ceremony on Friday before the All Blacks annihilated Tonga made me proud to be a Kiwi.

Even if you aren’t a rugby fan there is a lot to keep you entertained.

For example, there was the moment of national angst when it was revealed that PlayStation had released a video game called Rugby World Cup 2011 and someone ran a simulated tournament and the NZ All Blacks didn’t win.

Then there was the story about the Auckland City council safety person who was asked about whether panhandlers would be turfed out of town a la New Delhi and Beijing.  The answer was no, but we were informed that three security guards had been hired to patrol downtown streets to make sure that visitors were not “beseeched” by people asking for money.  I suppose that it’s possible to be “beseeched” for money and if too many people ask, you could feel “besieged.”

Some of the nicest stories have been about the welcomes that visiting teams have received.  Because no one place can accommodate all of the teams, the entire
country has been turned into an Olympic village of sorts, with teams being
billeted in large and small towns.  In fact, the matches are going to be played all over the country, some in venues with capacity as small as 14,000.  When
the All Blacks aren’t playing, the New Zealanders come out to support their new
‘home’ teams.  For example, the crowd supporting the Japanese team decked themselves out in kimonos and samauri and ninja outfits.

But not everyone is getting into the party atmosphere.  The American team is staying in a North Island town called Wanganui.  The local Maori wanted to treat them to a traditional Maori canoe ride on the Wanganui River.  Those are the
canoes that they came from Hawaii to New Zealand in, so they are fairly heavy
duty.  The American team declined for “safety” reasons.

Yes, there’s been so much going on down here that it’s been hard to concentrate.  But yesterday, everyone’s attention was focused on an amazing and unique event.  News about the All Blacks temporarily took a back seat because the Nude Blacks made their World Cup debut!

I’ve mentioned before how sports teams get their names down here.  So you can probably figure out what the story behind the Nude Blacks is.  They bill themselves as “New Zealand’s Premier Nude Rugby Team.”

They are also New Zealand’s only nude rugby team and last night they were defeated by an all female team from Spain, known as “Los Conquistadors.”  The Spanish started the game fully clothed.  According to the rules, which
are established by, and subject to change at any time by the Nude Blacks, the
ladies would be expected to remove an article of clothing each time the Nude
Blacks scored.

Some of Los Conquistadores got down to their underwear but that was as far as it went and the Nude Blacks were handed their first defeat in history!

According to eye witness reports, the Nude Blacks performed a haka to open the game and the Los Conquistadors were forced to cool off using Spanish fans which they had brought along for just such an eventuality.

The Nude Blacks are planning three more matches before RWC games in Dunedin.

Discretion prevents me from posting pictures of the event, but those with a strong constitution and sense of humor can see some  here.

And we are only two days into a six week extravaganza.

Sanity Takes A Vacation

The other day I got this spam message advertising a newsletter containing lots of sage career advice.  It’s a little too late to have any benefit for me but a lot of people ask me to look at their resumes and that sort of thing so I decided to take a look at some of the articles so I’m up with the play on the state of the art.

Bottom line? There’s a recession on.

Resume cover letters are back to basics.  No pictures of your dog, no more saying how crappy the potential employer’s web site looks and how you can’t wait to
re-engineer it.

But the article that captured my attention was the one that talks about vacations.

To make a long story short, the message was if you are entitled to a vacation, you probably shouldn’t take it, and if you have to, plan to work while you are vacationing.

The idea is that times are so tough that if you show that you are expendable, by being gone for a week or two, you might end up being turfed out in favour of employees whose personal values are better aligned with those of the company.

Some statistics from the article:  Fifty-two per cent of people surveyed said
they were cancelling their vacations.  And in this case, cancel means
not taking time off.  Eighteen per cent said that they needed to be “available” in the event of an emergency and thirteen per cent said that even if they were out of town on vacation they would still be expected to do work.

One of the experts quoted in the article said “Checking out completely is an old-school mentality.”

Let’s deconstruct that statement.  “Old school” means out of fashion and therefore no longer accepted.  “Checking out completely” means having a life.

And that is now unacceptable.

I’m not one of those people who see conspiracies everywhere, but this makes me wonder if there isn’t some nefarious capitalist plot afoot to get as much work as possible out of the masses in order to maximize profits and shareholder returns.  Do they care if people get burned out and quit?  No!  There’s a recession on and for every poor schlub who can’t take it there are ten applicants waiting in line.  Why not squeeze as much blood as we can out of the turnip?

But you don’t need conspiracy theories to understand that what is happening is inevitable. It’s the way the world works.

All of this was explained in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen in his landmark book The Theory of the Leisure Class.  It should be required reading for everyone because it explains everything from Lady Gaga to the Tea Party to Creationism and reality TV.  And remember it was written in 1899.

I’d first heard of the book when I was in high school and my father made us read Chapter 9 “The Conservation of Archaic Tastes” in an attempt to get us to stop listening to heavy metal music.  It didn’t work but I ended up reading the whole book and that enabled me to see Veblen’s every idea validated as I’ve
lived through the end of the 20th century, and the 21st century so far.

Briefly, Veblen states that humans are fairly primitive and tribal people (just watch Jersey Shore if you disagree).  Back in the hunter gatherer days, for reasons having a lot to do with testosterone, the hunters emerged as socially superior to the gatherers.   Because hunting was only occasionally necessary but gathering was a full time job, the socially superior hunters had leisure time on their hands.  This gave them time to get up to mischief like starting wars with other tribes (I’m oversimplifying here).  Wars and military honors created additional opportunities to create measures of status in society and to create distinctive classes.  That’s how kings and nobles emerged.

What is crucial to the theory is that the lower class is dependent on the upper class.  Initially the gatherers were dependent on the hunters.  If the crops failed the hunters could always go out and kill a woolly mammoth.  Later, the lower class became dependent on the warriors to protect them.  In Veblen’s day the factory workers were dependent on the white collar workers to sell the goods they produced, give them paychecks and to keep the business running.  And today we look to politicians to protect us physically, politically and economically.  And to Hollywood stars to give us reasons to buy magazines at the grocery checkout.

Because the upper class doesn’t have to work as hard as the lower class, they have the luxury of leisure and Veblen argues that our innate desire to achieve higher status and demonstrate our achievements have led to conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure.  In fact, he coined both of those terms.

We all know what conspicuous consumption is.  Conspicuous leisure is the same thing.  When you don’t have to work as hard as the poor gatherers you have time on your hands.  So you can play polo or golf or spend your evenings on Facebook.

Of course, human nature being what it is, higher status people are generally not all that happy to share their wealth, leisure or status with the rest of us.  That is why it’s hard to get into a country club.  Veblen stated that just as the leisure class evolved rituals for demonstrating status, they expected the rest of us to be suitably impressed, and more importantly to do our part to support them and their leisure pursuits.

Which brings us back to vacations and one of my all-time favourite Veblen quotes:

Servants should not only show a servile disposition, but it is quite as imperative that they should show a trained conformity to the canons of conspicuous subservience.”

And what better example of conspicuous subservience is there than to forego your vacation so that the CEO can take a private jet to his vacation home?