Gordon Campbell on the Mt Albert aftermath

Personality politics – Jacinda is great! Jacinda is not so great! – have dominated the coverage of the Labour Party’s fortunes this week, just as a different form of personality politics – Picking Willie Jackson/Greg O’Connor is a masterstroke! Picking Willie Jackson/Greg O’Connor is a suicidal move! –formed last week’s narrative. Early days yet in this election year, but the coverage of the Mt Albert by election hasn’t been long on the policy implications.

Still, this is a relatively new and welcome problem for the centre-left. Labour has seemed so bereft of crossover talent for so long that it seems almost embarrassed by this latest development. Now that it has got a Jacinda Arden – young, smart, compassionate, politically and media adept – what on earth does it do with her? Maybe, make her the deputy leader ? Incredibly its current deputy (Annette King) has chosen to publicly treat that possibility as “ageist”. In a less than sisterly fashion, King all but said that Ardern had nothing extra to offer beyond the attractions of youth.

She claimed the talk around Ardern was ageist. She even went a little bit Trump, accusing media of having a vendetta against her. Speaking to the Herald she questioned what Ardern could offer that she did not, other than relative youth. When it was suggested Ardern’s Auckland base was one, King replied “does it really matter these days?” and said she could travel the country as a list-only candidate.

The notion that Ardern is only a younger prettier model is insulting to all concerned. Who needs Matthew Hooton or Barry Soper calling Ardern a lightweight when you’ve got Annette King virtually doing the same? Ardern has fought her own battles with sexism over the years (remember 2011’s notorious Battle of the Babes?) without her own colleagues adding to that burden.

Equally absurd is the notion that by promoting Ardern, Andrew Little would be turning King (who will celebrate her 70th birthday ten days before election day this year ) prematurely out to pasture. Unfortunately, it seems that King is willing to hold her party hostage to her obvious reluctance to put the party’s interests ahead of her own vanity. Who knew King wanted the deputy job quite so badly? When elected deputy, King had been widely seen as a compromise candidate between the caucus factions, and only a holding action until some-one else came along.

No doubt, King is popular within Labour’s parliamentary caucus. Given that Little was not the caucus’ first choice as leader, King’s popularity with her colleagues must be politically useful to Little internally, within the House. Yet King adds very little externally to Labour’s crossover appeal. Year in and year out, she barely figures in the national debate. (Admittedly, this invisibility could be painted as deference to the over-riding need to not upstage the leader.) Yet in Auckland in particular, Ardern brings far more to the table.

There are other policy-based reasons for moving King aside. Since 2008, King has been unable to get any political traction on successive Ministers (Tony Ryall, Jonathan Coleman) in the Health portfolio. This could be because King’s prior track record as Health Minister has left her with a serious credibility problem in advocating major change to the kind of policies she had previously defended, and/or had a hand in implementing. In different hands, the Health portfolio could and should be delivering more electorate gains to Labour, given the parlous state of the public health system. What do you do with a problem like Annette?

King aside, it should be noted that Ardern is not pushing for promotion. The extreme positions being taken about her – both pro and con – have not been of her making. Ultimately, whether she is promoted or simply deployed more effectively in Auckland, Ardern alone cannot solve Labour’s core problem. Namely, Labour is widely seen as an umbrella group under which a range of centre–left causes take shelter, yet without having a coherent message to offer working people and their families. Especially on the economy, where Labour routinely decries the excesses of current economic policy, while accepting its premises.

Lost, in Translation

Pity the poor person with the task of translating the utterances of US President Donald Trump to a foreign audience. As this recent article in the Japan Times says, do you translate him literally – in which case it is you, the translator who looks like an idiot? Or do you impose on Trump’s speeches and statements a coherence that the original patently lacks?

“ He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid,” [Chikako] Tsuruta, who is also a professor of interpreting and translation studies at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, said in a recent interview. Like Tsuruta, English-Japanese interpreters recall being dumbstruck by Trump’s disregard for logic and facts as well as his unabashed use of a litany of sexist and racist remarks during the election campaign.

Translate him literally, or sanitise him?

Opinions are divided, with some saying Trump’s colorful language should be neutralized, while others are adamant interpreters should not hesitate to translate him exactly as he sounds in English. The difficulty translating Trump, they say, has little to do with his use of language. In fact, it is no secret that “Trumpese” — as his phraseology is called — is by and large simple, characterized by repetition, easy grammar and elementary-level vocabulary.

A “readability analysis” of presidential campaign speeches by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute (LTI) revealed last March that Trump’s lexical richness was the lowest — at seventh-grade level — of his rival candidates and past U.S. presidents. The study also described his grammatical level as grade 5.7, the second-worst after George W. Bush, who barely topped the fifth-grade level.

When Trump is on a teleprompter, the task of translation is relatively straight forward:

But it’s when he speaks off-the-cuff, Tsuruta said, that interpreters are most likely to find themselves scratching their heads, with Trump frequently jumping from one topic to another and gravitating toward insults and vulgarities. Miwako Hibi, a broadcast interpreter of more than 20 years, said it was “very hard” to follow Trump’s logic — or lack thereof — particularly his tendency to mention proper nouns out of context.

The real problems of course, begin when you do figure out what he’s saying and doing.

Lana Del Rey, and Lynch

As others have pointed out, Lana Del Rey’s use of 50s and 60s tropes can seem very David Lynchian. In both cases, the pop icons and the haze of nostalgia are not sources of consolation: instead, their very familiarity is dislocating. Del Rey and Lynch tweak the past in order to release anxieties and a sense of dread that all but overwhelm the normal sensory responses, as they play around with normal, linear notions of time.

On her new single “Love” for instance, Del Rey is compassionate. She’s wise old Aunt Lana watching the young things being inexorably drawn up onto love’s treadmill. Yet this is still a typically chilly and distanced form of compassion, relayed from another room in the Black Lodge:

Look at you kids with your vintage music
Comin’ through satellites while cruisin’
You’re part of the past, but now you’re the future
Signals crossing can get confusing

It’s enough just to make you feel crazy, crazy, crazy
Sometimes, it’s enough just to make you feel crazy

You get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
Doesn’t matter cause it’s enough
To be young and in love (Ah, Ah)
To be young and in love (Ah, Ah)