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Gordon Campbell on the Surplus, And Bob Dylan

Gordon Campbell on the Surplus, And Bob Dylan

First published on Werewolf

To quote the distinguished Nobel laureate, ‘Something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?” True, Bob Dylan didn’t have Finance Minister Bill English or Labour leader Andrew Little exactly in mind when he wrote those lines, but they definitely fit. It's been a weird old morning when the country wakes up to a $1.8 billion surplus and yet the strongest advocate for social justice is the guy from the Salvation Army.

No surprise that English should continue his Mr Magoo act in the face of – to take a few examples - a crumbling health system, the plight of the homeless and the underfunding of special needs education and mental health services. But hooray! The surplus this deliberate starvation has made possible means there could still be tax cuts in election year. Such a safe pair of hands we have in the good Mr English. If only he wouldn’t keep them so tightly wrapped around the nation’s throat.

The real disappointment is Labour who apparently (a) would spend the surplus on more police, and are (b) reportedly intent on portraying Election Year 2017 as a choice between Tax Cuts or Safer Streets. Really?? So the top social priority for Labour is to chase the fearful pensioner vote? Their polling must be showing that Labour truly is in danger of having Winston Peters eat its lunch. It explains why Labour was banging on last week about the threat posed by rampant immigration, and now wants to make the streets safe from the crims, by pouring the surplus into cops on the beat. The party that began in the Waihi mines appears at risk of washing up in the timeshare condos at the Mount.

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Pretty sad stuff. Aside from a few tentative concessions to tradition – a corporate gains tax, if that’s OK - the major party of the centre left has been Tory Lite on the economy and trade. It now seems to be cloning New Zealand First on social issues. That’s enough to make one weep, even before hearing the news of the death of Helen Kelly.

Dylan is Dynamite, Officially

So Bob Dylan has just won the Nobel Prize for… Literature? Wow. I’d be just as happy if he’d won for his work on particle physics (“One Grain of Sand”, “Simple Twist of Fate”) or got the Economics prize for his work on the theory of contracting (“Don’t Think Twice Its Alright”) and incentives operant in corporate governance (“You’re Going To Miss Me When I Go”) and related liquidity problems in the event of financial crises (“Buckets of Rain” “Not Dark Yet”)….

On the downside… by giving the big prize to Dylan, the Nobel panel have revived all those deadly arguments (a) about whether Dylan is or isn’t a Poet and/or (b) is just a poetic sort of guy who sings and (c) is or isn’t a great singer, despite not being (formally) a good singer etc. One can see why some bookish people might feel annoyed that someone is getting their big literature prize as a reward for expanding the boundaries of the popular song. The singer or the song? Discuss. Or write a book about it. And American book nerds will be especially annoyed that in crowning this particular American “writer” the Nobel team have continued to steadfastly ignore the merits of Philip Roth.

No one else will begrudge giving Bob Dylan a big fat prize. He’s earned it. He’s 75, and this is as good a time as any. Off hand, he’s written about 500 songs that have changed and enriched peoples’ lives, and almost none of them are available on Youtube in their best incarnations, or at all. Thanks to Dylan’s platoons of copyright lawyers, not even David Bowie or Prince were as difficult to access online ( while alive) as Dylan still is now. So in picking what, IMO, is one of Dylan’s finest songs…I’m going with this version, as mimed by several of the sort of pimply college kids we all were once, while the attitude of being Bob Dylan played out in our heads.

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