Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The “Majestic Equality” Of The Law – And Its Challengers.

The Challenger Challenged: What has been so astonishing about the reaction to Metiria Turei's admission that she lied to Social Welfare is just how few New Zealanders identify with Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, and how many subscribe to the punitive instincts of his relentless pursuer, Inspector Javert. Over the past 30 years, for a significant number of Kiwis, the definition of "a fair go" has changed dramatically - and not for the better!
 
IN JUST SIXTY DAYS New Zealanders will choose a government. All elections are, to a greater or lesser extent, an exercise in collective self-definition. Revealed in each ballot box is the number of electors who use their votes as a tool, a shield, and a weapon. If the outpouring of outrage against Metiria Turei this past week is any guide, then the percentage of electors willing to wield their votes as weapons will not be insignificant.
 
In survey after survey, the value identified by New Zealanders as most reflective of their core identity is the affirmation that every Kiwi is entitled to “a fair go”. But, if the public reaction to Ms Turei’s confession that she lied to the social welfare authorities, rather than see her child go hungry, is any indication, then “a fair go” means different things to different people.
 
Clearly, a large number of Kiwis believe that “fairness” means accepting that the obligation to respect and obey the laws of the land is both universal and inescapable. In the eyes of these citizens, it is grossly unfair for an individual to derive a benefit from breaking The Law when her fellow citizens, by upholding it, place themselves (and their loved ones’) at a disadvantage. To these people, the Greens’ co-leader is guilty of “stealing” from them, and deserves to be punished. Come 23 September, many of them will use their votes as a lash.
 
The problem with this idea of fairness is that it separates The Law from its economic, social and political context. Like the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses on Mt Sinai, this approach to The Law has nothing to do with the need – or the greed – of humankind. Those who subscribe to this notion of legal obligation are simply incapable of accepting that a nation’s ever-changing laws are much more likely to reflect the needs of its dominant classes than the immutable insights of a mountain-dwelling God.
 
The French writer, Anatole France (1844-1924) summed up the absurdity of this “The Law is The Law” position in his famous quip: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” And, he might have added: to fail to acquaint the welfare authorities of any material change in their domestic circumstances vis-à-vis the rent!
 
Absent from the vicious condemnation heaped upon Ms Turei by these partisans of the Law’s “majestic equality”, is any attempt to locate her law-breaking in its historical context. That the right-wing government of the day had made it a matter of official policy to “incentivise” the poor out of welfare and into work by reducing their income by 25 percent, or, in Ms Turei’s own words, to “use poverty as a weapon against its own people”, is simply ignored.
 
That the law could be used by the wealthy against the poor was certainly not ignored by the people who fled from Great Britain to New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century. Sir John McKenzie, who as Lands Minister in the first Liberal Government, broke up the estates of the great run-holders of the South Island, had seen the way the law had driven thousands of Scottish crofters from their homes to make way for the lairds’ sheep. His determination to turn the tables, by using the law on behalf of the many against the few, caused him not a moment’s embarrassment.
 
Neither was the first Labour Government the least bit embarrassed to require the then Governor-General, George Vere Arundel Monckton-Arundell, 8th Viscount Galway GCMG, DSO, OBE, to swear-in a Cabinet fairly bristling with law-breakers (including the future Prime Minister, Peter Fraser). Nor did the Labour Leader, Mickey Savage, think it in any “inappropriate” to put a former guest of His Majesty – the erstwhile “young offender” John A. Lee – in charge of a programme to correct the two great afflictions of which he had the most direct personal experience: rack-renting landlords and homelessness.
 
Until relatively recently, this was the historical context out of which most New Zealanders drew their notion of what it meant to give people “a fair go”. It did not signal a deification of The Law, but an understanding that the statutes written by politicians reflect the needs and interests of those who put them into office. (As well as of those who could, if necessary, remove them!)
 
Middle Class people harbour few illusions about the class nature of legislation. It’s why so many of them regularly and happily attempt to thwart the IRD in its redistributive mission. It also explains why so many of them are expressing outrage: not only at Ms Turei’s challenging confession; but also at her declared determination to lift the legal consequences of weaponised ballots from beneficiaries’ shoulders.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 25 July 2017.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Voter Motivators 2017: Immigration.

A Big Wide World Out There: Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
IMMIGRATION has set the world on fire. The debt owed by both Brexit and Trump to the issue’s inflammatory power is huge. With record volumes of migrants pouring into New Zealand, immigration policy is widely expected to be among the biggest voter motivators of 2017.
 
But will New Zealanders react to these new arrivals in the same way as British and American voters? Or will the circumstances underpinning this country’s record migration flows smother the flames of racism and xenophobia before they take hold?
 
If New Zealand history is any guide, probably not. Net inward flows of migration have always been the signal of economic prosperity and growth. Just as net outward flows have been the surest sign that all is not well in God’s Own Country. There’s an ancestral voice in the racial memory of Pakeha New Zealanders which commands their attention during periods of rapid population growth. A voice which reminds them that, in these stolen islands, more non-indigenous people are always a good thing.
 
For Maori New Zealanders, the opposite is true. The more immigrants that arrive on these shores, the more the indigenous essence of Aotearoa-New Zealand is diluted. The Treaty the Maori chiefs signed with the British in 1840 seemed a wise and timely concession when barely 2,000 Pakeha were sprinkled lightly across their lands. Twenty years later, when the number of British settlers overtook the population of tangata whenua, the promises given at Waitangi proved to be as cynical as they were unenforceable.
 
What is it, then, which stops the latest population projections from Statistics New Zealand from setting the fern leaves of Kiwi nationalism alight? Released on 18 May 2017, these projections indicate that over the next 20 years the number of immigrants from East and South Asia will double. By 2038 the number of New Zealanders of “Asian” ethnicity will represent nearly a quarter of the country’s population. Maori, by contrast, will see their share of the population rise by just 2 percentage points – from 16 to 18 percent. “European” New Zealanders’ share of the overall population is projected to fall from roughly three-quarters to two-thirds.
 
In times past, projections such as these would have generated a massive public backlash against the political party, or parties, responsible for such a dramatic reconfiguration of the nation’s ethnic profile. Twenty years ago, media headlines decrying an “Asian Invasion” were exploited by Winston Peters’ to secure 13 percent of the Party Vote for his NZ First Party. Why, then, twenty years later, is NZ First not polling twice or three times that number?
 
The explanation is, almost entirely, economic.
 
Chinese immigration has encouraged Auckland property prices to soar – producing a “wealth effect” (courtesy of tax-free capital gains!) for which, justifiably or unjustifiably, Chinese investors are held responsible. Bolstering this shift in perception across the entire country has been the steady rise in China’s consumption of New Zealand’s exports. Rather than bite the hand which is, increasingly, feeding them, many Kiwis have considered it more prudent to retire the worst of their old prejudices.
 
In regional New Zealand, likewise, the sterling contribution of Filipino dairy farm workers is encouraging a hitherto undetected enthusiasm for multiculturalism.
 
Even in the working-class heartlands, the money to be made hiring-out the spare room to overseas students is often enough to defang traditional blue-collar hostility towards “low-wage workers” flooding “their” labour market.
 
The other factor which explains New Zealanders reluctance (so far!) to respond to nationalistic dog-whistles is the sheer number of Kiwis who have travelled overseas. Familiarity with “foreign” cultures has rendered “foreigners” a lot less frightening to young New Zealanders than old ones. New Zealanders raised entirely in the globalisation era know there’s a big wide world out there – a world which values highly the Kiwi’s celebrated ability to get along with just about anybody. Racism no longer pays.
 
None of which should be advanced as evidence that racism and xenophobia will find no purchase in the forthcoming general election. There are many thousands of New Zealanders who feel like strangers in their own land. Who miss the comforting homogeneity of the sleepy, white, British dominion in which they were raised. Such voters are, however, a dwindling asset for all but the NZ First Party. Only Winston can afford to make “A Whiter Shade of Pale” his theme song.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 June 2017.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Sins Of Admission: A Response To John Armstrong's Attack On Metiria Turei.

The Guilty Party: Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against in his latest column. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
JOHN ARMSTRONG rails against Metiria Turei’s admission that she lied to the welfare authorities. Like so many of the outbursts emanating from the Right on this subject, however, his words speak more eloquently of his own failings than Metiria’s.

Lacking the imagination for empathy, Armstrong and his ilk cling for comfort to the rules, all the rules, and nothing but the rules.
 
“She endeavoured to turn her breach of the law into a launching pad for her party’s welfare policy. That is audacious. It is also the height of arrogance. It is also to enter very dangerous territory. It implies you are above the law. It says it is okay to break the law in order to try and change it.”
 
Yes, John, that’s exactly what it implies. But, tell me, do you think that Mahatma Ghandi, Dr Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela would have any ethical difficulty dealing with those implications?
 
Metiria was required to raise her daughter in the years immediately following the Mother of All Budgets. You must remember that extraordinary act of social violence, John? When Ruth Richardson, with enthusiastic support from Jenny Shipley, slashed the already meagre incomes of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens by 25 percent? When the National Government of Jim Bolger did exactly what Metiria told her party a Green government would never do: Use poverty as a weapon against its own people?
 
Do you really expect us to believe, John, that you would have accepted the National Government’s vicious policies without protest or subterfuge – and watched your child go hungry? If that really is your position, then why did you write: “There is sympathy for her past plight and respect for her efforts in pulling herself out of it.”
 
Clearly, you understand that falling into the clutches of Work & Income was, and is, a predicament – a “plight” – and that getting out of it isn’t easy. It requires a working knowledge of every trick in the book. Some of those tricks are legal. Others are not. But, for their children, people do what they have to do. If you would rather they didn’t “steal” from the Government, John, then why not insist that the Government gives them enough to live on?
 
But you don’t want to do that, do you, John? No, you would rather use the poor against the poor. Like when you write: “Turei’s flouting of the law will further alienate low-income families in which both parents work long hours and who consequently cannot abide welfare cheats. Those voters are already deserting the centre-left. Turei’s holier-than-thou disposition is hardly going to attract them back.”
 
And how would you know what low-income families are thinking, John? Has it never occurred to you that those “welfare cheats” (what an odious gob of verbal spittle that is!) are the sons and daughters of the working poor? How many of them, do you suppose, have attempted to support their children at the local Work & Income office and experienced first-hand the icy condescension and bureaucratic cruelty of MSD employees?
 
No, John, you don’t anything about that world of hurt and anger. What you do know, however, is what they should be thinking - and you will not hesitate to tell them at every given opportunity. Because the Right is terrified – yes, terrified – that Metiria’s admission that she was willing to lie to keep food on her little family’s table might persuade a dangerously large number of those low-income families that at least some Green MPs know what their own children are going through. And that the prospect of MSD’s hated “sanctions” being abolished might even convince those families that, this time, it’s worth casting a vote.
 
Metiria is guilty of a crime – but not the one John Armstrong rails against. Her transgression was to break ranks with the socio-political formation that has kept Richardson’s and Shipley’s welfare cuts bleeding and raw for more than quarter-of-a-century.
 
When Metiria Turei told the Green AGM that: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people”,  she must have known that she was breaking the biggest rule of all.
 
And that the John Armstrongs of this world would never forgive her.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 22 July 2017.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

China's Got Talent!

 
 
A truly splendid rendition of
The Internationale. Enjoy.
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Nothing Fresh About Labour’s Approach.

Not-So-Subliminal Messages: Labour's first campaign video is a shocker. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. Yes, Andrew Little does promise us "A Fresh Approach", but there should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
LEFT-LEANING VOTERS looking for a good reason to vote Green should take a look at Labour’s latest campaign ad. When the video arrived in my Inbox, I was almost too scared to open it. I wasn’t expecting much but, depressingly, Labour managed to deliver less. If this is the best the party’s highfalutin Aussie ad agency can do, then the sooner they’re sent packing back across the Tasman the better!
 

 
A while back, someone let slip that Andrew Little had been taking acting lessons. Three words: Waste. Of. Money. To call Little’s performance wooden would be an insult to the vibrant living entities we call trees. Do Labour’s Aussie ad-men not know that the best way to make any human-being look awkward is to ask them to act natural?
 
Have they never seen the celebrated paid political broadcast produced for the British Conservative Party? The agency was asked to introduce John Major to the electorate. So, they put the Prime Minister in the back of a car, set the cameras rolling, and drove him past his childhood home. The look on Major’s face; his priceless emotional response; humanised Maggie Thatcher’s grey successor in one, perfect, cinematic moment. What made the sequence so compelling was its unscripted authenticity.
 
Unfortunately, authenticity is the quality Labour’s video most conspicuously lacks. It’s as though Labour’s Campaign Committee brainstormed for hours on Little’s positive qualities and then turned everything they’d scribbled on the whiteboard into his script. Whoever told Little to deliver the line, “as a former cancer patient”, should be told to seek alternative employment!
 
The most jarring aspect of the video, however, is the way it exploits poor Jacinda Ardern. Every few seconds she appears, without any discernible narrative purpose, smiling brightly at Little’s side. It’s as if, at some point during the final edit, the production team suddenly remembered that the video was supposed to promote the Little-Ardern partnership. “Quick! someone track down those Andrew and Jacinda smileathons we recorded!” If that’s not the explanation, then I shudder to think what is.
 
And then there’s the tag-line: “A Fresh Approach for New Zealand”.
 
Labour’s former Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, was fond of regaling audiences with what he liked to call Kiwis’ “beach cricket approach to politics”. As in: “Aw, come on Helen, you’ve had the bat for ages. Don’t you think it’s time to give someone else a go?” Labour’s 2017 slogan comes perilously close to validating Cullen’s insight. There should be a better reason for voting Labour than the fact that National’s getting a bit stale.
 
What a pity the New Zealand Labour Party hasn’t been able to snare an Aussie creative director like Paul Jones. His 1972 campaign ad for the Australian Labor Party, “It’s time!”, featured Alison McCallum belting out the party’s campaign song with what appeared to be the whole of Australia joining in. It was a classic of its kind – and well worth checking out on YouTube!
 
 
The problem, of course, is that to make an ad like that work, you have to have something – and someone – to sell. Jones had Gough Whitlam. And, if I may paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 US Vice-Presidential Debate: “I remember Gough Whitlam. And, Mr Little, you’re no Gough Whitlam!” Or Norman Kirk, for that matter.
 
Someone should remind Little and his team of what happened to their Canadian equivalent, the New Democratic Party, in 2015. Its leader, Thomas Mulcair, was so determined to be a “strong and stable” alternative Prime Minister that he persuaded the NDP to jettison everything even remotely radical or inspiring from its manifesto. Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals had been counted out of the race, saw the opening and seized his chance.
 
Following the inspirational performance of Metiria Turei, at last weekend’s Green Party AGM, there is now a real risk that Labour’s putative junior coalition partner could steal a march very similar to Trudeau’s. Never has the New Zealand Left been in such a state of flux. Turei’s passionate declaration: “We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people” is the sort of statement that changes minds.
 
If Andrew Little’s Labour Party refuses to stand with the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden, then what, exactly, is its “fresh approach” supposed to deliver?
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 July 2017.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Cautionary Tale From Canada.

"Something In The Air": Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
THOMAS MULCAIR wanted to be Prime Minister – and he thought he knew how to make it happen. His New Democratic Party (NDP) was the leading Opposition contender in a Canada grown weary of Stephen Harper’s brutal Conservative Government. More importantly, the formerly dominant Liberal Party had been reduced to a risible rump of just 36 MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, may have been blessed with a famous political name, but was widely dismissed as a pretty playboy who knew a lot more about snowboarding that he did about grown-up politics. Thomas Mulcair was far from being the only Canadian convinced that the 2015 General Election was the NDP’s for the taking.
 
But that’s not how the story ended. Determined to present both himself and the NDP as sensible and responsible, Mulcair prevailed upon his party colleagues to jettison any and all policies likely to scare the Canadian establishment’s horses. Canada’s equivalent of the NZ Labour Party promised “budget responsibility” – with bells on. Public spending would be kept in check and surpluses fattened. “Nothing to be frightened of here”, was Mulcair’s message to the people he thought he had to please to win. That was the point at which Justin Trudeau demonstrated that he was a great deal more than just a pretty face.
 
Mulcair’s decision to steer the NDP sharply to the right of its traditional position on the centre-left had opened up a dangerous amount of unoccupied ideological space. If Mulcair was willing to make his peace with neoliberalism, then Trudeau was prepared to lead his party into a passionate Keynesian embrace. With interest rates at record lows, Government borrowing would never be cheaper. The Liberals would give Canada’s economy the much-needed shot in the arm that Harper’s austerity programme had forsworn. Health, education and infrastructure would be the big winners. The Liberals, said Trudeau, were the only political party who understood that more of the same was unacceptable. Oh yeah – and they were ready to legalise marijuana!
 
Outflanked, out-argued and out-bid, Mulcair watched helplessly as the NDP’s poll-numbers dwindled and the Liberal Party’s popularity surged. Policy audacity was made palatable by Trudeau’s relentlessly sunny disposition. The clouds of gloom parted, and by the time the last ballot paper was counted the “pretty playboy” had rewritten Canada’s political rulebook. Not only had the Liberal’s driven the NDP into third place, they had won an absolute parliamentary majority. It was a comeback without precedent in Canadian history.
 
Trudeau’s historic 2015 election victory is a cautionary tale which New Zealand’s Labour leader would do well to study closely. There is still time for Andrew Little to halt his party’s relentless march towards the political centre. Still time to understand that the “something in the air” which Shane Jones talks about is the factor that will determine the outcome of this year’s election. Still time to realise that whatever it is in the political air, it is not a desperate public hunger for more of the same.
 
There is anger in the air – and that is the harvest which Winston Peters and NZ First are determined to gather in. But the air is also stirring with hope. That’s what the Greens have – at almost the last possible moment – understood. And, just like Justin Trudeau, they are preparing to ride the forgotten New Zealander’s hope for something better all the way to the biggest share of the Party Vote they have ever received.
 
Thomas Mulcair’s bid to become Canada’s Prime Minister foundered on his strategy of offering his opponents the smallest possible target to shoot at. All he succeeded in doing was reducing the NDP to something so dull and uninspiring that a crucial number of Canadians lost sight of it altogether.
 
Whatever it was in his country’s political atmosphere in 2015, Justin Trudeau blew out enough of it to inflate the Liberals’ appeal to winning proportions. With Winston exhaling anger, and Metiria Turei breathing hope, Andrew Little and Labour need to offer the New Zealand electorate something more than a deflated ideological balloon.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 19 July 2017.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Noticing Neoliberalism's Nakedness.

"But he hasn't got anything on!" - For 30 years New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. Painting by Thorarinn Liefsson.
 
IF THE 2017 GENERAL ELECTION turns into a messy boil-over, it will be the fault of New Zealand’s most successful people. For the best part of 30 years, the high achievers of New Zealand society have aligned themselves with an ideology that has produced consistently negative outcomes. Not for themselves. In fact, they have done extremely well out of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. For the majority of their fellow citizens, however, the Neoliberal Revolution has been a disaster.
 
The real puzzle of the past 30 years is, therefore, why a political system intended to empower the majority has not consigned neoliberalism to the dustbin of history. Why have those on the receiving end of economic and social policies designed to benefit only a minority of the population not simply elected a party, or parties, committed to eliminating them?
 
A large part of the answer is supplied in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Those who know the story will recall that the crucial element of the swindlers’ con was their insistence that the Emperor’s magnificent attire could only be seen by the wise. To “anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid”, the Emperor would appear to be wearing nothing at all.
 
The interesting thing about Andersen’s fable is that it’s actually supported by a critical element of scientific fact. If people whose judgement we have no reason to doubt inform us that black is white, most of us will, in an astonishingly short period of time, start disregarding the evidence of our own eyes. Even worse, if an authority figure instructs us to administer punishments to people “for their own good” most of us will do so. Even when the punishment appears to be causing the recipients intense, even fatal, pain, we will be continue flicking the switch for as long as the authority figure insists that the pain is necessary and that we have no alternative except to proceed. (If you doubt this, just google “Stanley Milgram”.)
 
For 30 years, then, New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. In language ominously reminiscent of Professor Milgram’s terrible experiment, we have been told by those in authority that there can be “no long-term gain without short-term pain”, and, God forgive us, we have believed them – and continued flicking the switch.
 
Nowhere has this readiness to discount the evidence before one’s own eyes been more pronounced than in our politicians. How many of them, when confronted with the social and environmental wreckage of neoliberalism, have responded like the “honest old minister” in Andersen’s fable, who, upon being ushered into the swindlers’ workshop, and seeing nothing, thought: “Heaven have mercy! Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”
 
How else are we to explain the unwillingness of the Labour Party and the Greens to break decisively with the neoliberal swindle? Or, the repeated declarations from National and Act praising the beauty and enchantment of its effects: “Such a pattern, what colours!”
 
Even as the evidence of its malignity mounted before them. Even as the numbers harmed by its poisonous remedies increased. The notion that the best and the brightest might perceive them as being unusually stupid and unfit for office led the opposition parties to concentrate all their criticism on the symptoms of neoliberalism. Or, in the spirit of Andersen’s tale, critiquing the cut of the Emperor’s new clothes instead of their non-existence.
 
Eventually, of course, the consequences of neoliberalism are felt by too many people to be ignored. Children who cannot afford to buy their own home. Grandchildren who cannot access mental health care. The spectacle of people living in their cars. Of homeless men freezing to death in the streets. Eventually someone – a politician unafraid of being thought unusually stupid, or unfit for office – breaks the swindlers’ spell.
 
“‘But he hasn’t got anything on,’ a little child said.
 
‘Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?’ said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, ‘He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.’
 
‘But he hasn’t got anything on!’ the whole town cried out at last.”
 
Now, the whole New Zealand electorate may not be calling “Time!” on neoliberalism – and certainly not its best and its brightest – but Winston Peters is.
 
And the town is whispering.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 July 2017.