Sunday, January 29, 2006

Prof Green, in the wharenui, with an axe

The most interesting place to be in June this year will be the Greens' Leadership Hui. It's going to be a doozy. I'm thinking of joining the party just so I can be there. For the first time since its inception, the Greens have no choice but to make the right decision. Making the wrong decision will finish them off in 2008. Bye bye Greens.

It's a good time to be hanging on to every word Jeanette Fitzsimons said in her speech up in Whangarei. She was telling everyone who it will be. Russel Norman. Thing is, as Chris Trotter pointed out last night on the telly, a co-leader outside parliament has bugger all mana. This is where it gets interesting because by the end of the year, Russel Norman will be an MP. Someone's for the chop.

Although her brand is irrevocably tarnished by doing something so mindnumbingly stupid as a burn-off during a fire ban, Jean will stay on til 2008 to train her successors. Sue Bradford's not going anywhere, seeing as she will also be co-leader by the end of the year. Word from the wise, Sue. It's not charity when you make a press release about giving money. That's called advertising. Shut up and split the increase with Jean, to supplement her reduced income when she stands down as co-leader. Call it your apprenticeship fee.

Neither Sue Kedgeley nor Metiria Turei will be packing their boxes. The former, with a little more guidance and a rational policy platform to defend, has life in the old bird yet. The latter is the nurtured heart of the Green MPs, the long temer. Her legal skills are integral if the Greens are to have any sane Private Members' Bills. Let's face it, it's one of the boys for the axe.

As Chris Trotter pointed out, Keith Locke is getting on and Nandor's typecast. There's still hope for Nandor, especially given his interest in Justice, Electoral Reform and Constitutional Issues. He will have to hit big to overcome his stereotypification, but it's do-able.

Keith Locke, in the wharenui, with an axe. It has to be. He had both the lowest candidate and party votes of any Green MPs in last year's election, living or dead. A candidate vote of 4 percent of turnout, compared with a 9 - 15% range for everyone else, sort of stands out. Wearing body paint through Newmarket after making a reckless gamble is hardly going to increase his charisma. He's spokesperson for fuck all, and just as well because no-one pays him any attention. He is the weakest link.

Reasons to Be Cheerful 2; Year of the Underdog

We're out of the Sino-Julian timeslip and into the true 2006. It's time to look at what's on offer for the cinematic fanatic this time round.

Unfortunately, some of the movies from last year still haven't made it here. Brothers Grimm didn't live up to expectations and was out on DVD in the States back in August, but won't reach our cinemas here til March. Aeon Flux sucked on US release last month. It'll be in NZ theatres a month before Brothers Grimm. A History of Violence looks to be an excellent story, judging from the DVD reviews from its release in September. That'll be here in March too. Brokeback Mountain, currently romping through the US box office, will be here in Feb. Capote is released here a month before the DVD release in the States. We're stuck in the movie distributor mandated timeslip still. Aieyah!
  1. The excellent don't-trust-government genre, currently going mental with The Constant Gardener, Munich and Good Night and Good Luck, will continue. Clooney follows GN&GL with Syriana, co-starring oil, the CIA and the Middle East (US release Dec, expect it in Feb).
  2. While Alan Moore's Watchmen has returned to Development Hell for the foreseeable future, V for Vendetta is burping and hiccuping its way to a March release (It was originally slated to be released worldwide Nov 5 last year). The trailer looks a bit more Matrixy than I was expecting, but at least the fascists don't look like Agent Smith. No need for sunglasses in this dystopia. Fingers crossed.
  3. Colons, like sequels, are here to stay. Ice Age 2: Meltdown and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest lead the way. Good to see Bill "Slartibartfast" Nighy playing Davy Jones.
  4. Bond 21: Casino Royale will be the acid test whether Daniel Craig makes a better Bond than the once-mooted Tarantino/Brosnan Royale with Cheese.
  5. Brosnan plays not spy but jaded contract killer in a Grosse Pointe Blankish buddy movie, The Matador. This is not to be mistaken for Matador, which is a very twisted movie indeed.
  6. Lars Von Trier concludes his American trilogy (Dancer in the Dark, Dogville) with Manderlay. Critics are panning it, but I'm wondering whether they have mistaken their own Yankee perspective for LVT flaws. Interesting...
  7. Normally I wouldn't name some of the really shitty movies that are also getting released. Each to their own. However, two deserve special consideration because they are remakes of cherished movies. Omen 666 is strictly for people too young to believe in horror movies without cellphones. Steve Martin tries to replicate the unique Peter Sellers in a dire Pink Panther rehash. Avoid both at all costs! Don't look at them. Don't even link to them! There, I said it. Normal service will resume in 5,6,7-
  8. Not sure whether this counts as a remake, revival or whatever, but Michael Mann's Miami Vice is hitting the big screen this year. Am quietly betting that it will be worthy.
  9. Pixar justifies its $10 billion pricetag with Cars, a story showing that life is about friends not fame and fortune.
  10. Stephen Frears provides some encouragement for Mermaids and Showgirls with Mrs Henderson Presents. Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins head a musical defending the need for naked women in the face, and possibly the lap, of adversity. Think Moulin Rouge with nipples.
  11. The penultimate pick is Alfonso Cuarón's latest, The Children of Men. In a world that has lost the ability to procreate, a woman goes on the run from the government after she gets pregnant. Featuring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman.
  12. For the second year in a row, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain tops the list. Yes, it is definitely on, as this trailer goes to show. IMDb says: Spanning over one thousand years, and three parallel stories, The Fountain is a story of love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of our existence in this world. The official site features a trippy flash animation.

Alien vs Predator

If you enjoyed Alien vs Predator, you'll love Deborah Coddington interviewing Winston Peters "in his first major interview of the year."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Quote of the Day

"The situation in the Middle East was desperate, as usual."

-Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All, 1990.

24 Hour Passion People

The Beeb are taking a new approach to the story of Jesus this Easter, filming a one-hour Passion Play with the members of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays playing Mary and the Jesus chain. Among the Madchester hits, Jesus will sing Love Will Tear Us Apart at the Last Supper and Judas wails the old Smiths song Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. The streets of Manchester will double for Jerusalem.

It will be a refreshing change of scenery to the usual Easter fare, featuring Philipino Catholics nailing themselves to wood or flagellating their backs raw.

Oratory sex

A psychologist in the UK has some advice for people preparing for public speaking: get fucked.

UPDATE: A Far North doctor is setting up a brothel. Let's hear it for hookers and strippers!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rogers v TVNZ

I’ve had a few days to digest Dean Knight’s piece on the High Court decision to block TVNZ showing Noel Rogers’ alleged video confession and re-enactment of the murder of Katherine Sheffield. I’ve read the logic but my mind hasn’t changed. The decision was just. My reasons for agreeing with the judges are not entirely rational.

It’s 1981. Dad’s at the pub and a bored 11 year-old boy, left to his own devices, comes across a photo album of the interior of a house. Some black & white, some colour photos. Although he’s never seen this house before, it has that familiarity about it that all state houses share. The kitchen, the hallway, the bedroom. Lots of photos of the bedroom. And the old woman lying lifeless on the bedroom floor. Looks a bit like Nana, thinner maybe. Difficult to tell, there’s so much blood.

Dad was defending the young man accused of stabbing an old lady to death. The defendant had confessed to police and signed a statement admitting to the murder. The accused’s girlfriend was at the police station waiting to see him and police said that he could see her as soon as he signed the statement. The statement was taken under duress, my father argued. It was inadmissable. Not guilty.

Details of the case are covered more fully in The Foxton Murder by Anne Hunt. Dad wrote the book’s introduction, which is highly recommended for anyone seeking to understand the ethical perspective criminal law requires. It takes a certain breed to endure the fog of law and there's a certain price. It was one of the last murder trials my father took. Later, he was to say that the quality of criminal had declined greatly since he first entered the profession.

By now, I hope you're wondering how on earth I can possibly agree that the confession video should not be screened. Everything seems to lead to me saying let him dangle.

It's 1995, a quiet lunch in Bellamy's with the old man. In an extraordinary moment of honesty, we forgo the usual pleasantries, abstractions, and vacuous coversation. The Foxton murder has been bugging me for a while. I ask him why he became a lawyer. He tells me a story.

"Back when I was fresh out of Law School, I had a woman come to me asking for help. Her boyfriend was a drug dealer recently busted by the cops. She was there when he was raided. A detective pulled her aside and said, 'Your boyfriend's busted. I'll bust you too unless you fuck me.'

"Not knowing what to do, she had sought help from me. 'There's nothing else to do,' I said. 'Ring him up and say yes.' The detective came round and we caught him in the trap. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without people like me, who would keep the police honest?"

Certainly not TVNZ. Last week, Ms Tigger was visiting so the TV was left on much longer than normal. TV One had some Oz program on about some unsolved child abduction and murder in Melbourne. And psychics. It took what seemed like two hours to recreate the brutal background. Interviews with family members as they bled their hearts for the camera, reliving the pain and anguish of the cruel events. The next pseudo-hour featured two psychics, finalists culled from a larger gaggle, interspersed with flashbacks of the re-enactment shown in the first two hours. The soundtrack was suitably ominous. The only slip in editing was when the camera crew helpfully pointed one of the psychics in the right direction.

By the end of it all, the police were no closer to finding their suspect. There was no way to tell if the psychics were right about any of their guesses. The abductions took place in 1981 and were widely publicised. Both women would be old enough to recall the case if they were living in somewhere in Oz.

It was the most shocking example of exploitation and sensationalism I have seen for a while. The sheer crassness of getting those relatives to relive it all again, doing whatever was in their power to find an answer to their tragedy. The twisted synergy of tabloid presentation and esoteric assertions usually confined to the women's rags. This was infotainment of the basest kind. I haven't felt that dirty in a long time. About 1981.

It was bad enough when reality TV shows breached an ethical dam built up in psychological research since Milgram's experiments on authority figures back in the '60s, and Zimbardo's prison experiment in '71. It got worse when CSI and company detailed forensics that has got criminals contaminating crime scenes and practising safe sex rape. Television has adopted the US format news bulletin, existing to indulge our prurient curiosity and morbid fascination. What a juicy ratings-winner that video confession would be. Hey, it's in the public interest.

The police cocked-up the confession. They should know better. Inspector Jim Taare should not have given the tape to the Sunday program before the trial. Doing so was obviously prejudicial to the case, especially when it was such important evidence and would certainly have been challenged. Neither do I believe that TVNZ's motives were entirely pure in its claiming public interest. Ratings, for example, would be a clearer motivation.

Good call,
Justices Venning and Winkelmann.


RB goes PC

Inspired perhaps by the NZ Herald's Premium Content section, RB's column for The Listener has gone offline:

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fire man

Open source is all good

I'm really glad that the trademark and patent laws of today were not in force any sooner. Thank Dagg no corporation patented Fire or The Wheel. Maxwell's Equations were available for anyone and the only hurdles for anyone accessing Newton's Principia Mathethematica were buying the book and then understanding it. Today, things are a lot more complicated. For example, Human DNA is patentable. Yep, those proteins that make you you can become someone else's proprietary goods.

That's not all. Companies are pushing the envelope on what is patentable. The pharmaceutical industry is particularly good at this. Then there's software. Should the software behind search engines be protected as an invention? Each region chooses its own path. Many US companies think so and pursue it rigorously. The EU voted 648 - 14 against allowing companies to patent computer-implemented inventions.

Ironically, the US approach may very well have patched itself into a corner. According to the NZ Herald, the open source OS Linux is used by 56 percent of US companies, compared with 16 percent of Australasian companies. It seems that NZ and Oz management equate free with unreliable, a sure sign that X and Y have not got enough clout in the boardroom.

Perhaps it's the connotations of open source that puts off the business leaders. If open source is socialist, I'm OK with that. It is voluntary socialism, not compulsion. And look at the results: Firefox vs Internet Explorer, Wikipedia vs Encarta. Linux vs NT. Knowledge vs secrets. Don't accuse me of Microsoft bashing either. Over in Oz, Microsoft are squeezing schools for annual licences in a way that would make Naomi Klein wince:
Kingscliff High School on the North Coast used government grants, private sponsorship and a $50 per student voluntary annual contribution to establish a high-tech environment usually associated with affluent private schools. It has associations with Microsoft, the whiteboard manufacturer Commander, Intouch Consulting and internet service provider "children need Microsoft Office, which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, at home rather than the programs included with Microsoft Works, which is often sold with budget-priced PCs. "We've had some difficulties transferring files if they don't have Word."

Abbotsleigh in Sydney: "The school charges a $330 annual fee per student to provide home licences for the Microsoft software used at school."
Remember, this is education money spent on the equivalent of pens and paper. The kids haven't learnt anything yet.

Microsoft has had a good innings. Face it, Firefox is better than IE. Wikipedia is better than Encarta. Linux is better than XP. Maybe it's all a coincidence but I doubt it. "Nothing to do with whether open source is good or not." Yes it is.

Ski in the Sahara

Well, not the Sahara. Dubai in UAE. Just goes to show what trade surpluses can achieve:

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Classical Education

Imagine a world without the Ministry of Education. A thought experiment:

NCEA is dumped and the International Baccalaureate (NZ version) becomes the gold standard. NZ's very best teachers are brought forward to teach the curriculum, their lessons recorded onto DVD and sent to school-age children around the country. Tutors, mainly former teachers, supplement these lessons with small communal classes at community halls, libraries and private homes.

In theory, this is possible right now. In practice, it will probably never happen. Although public education as we know it has only existed for around a hundred years, the institution has become set in its ways like concrete. Turf wars, vested interests and labyrinthine bureaucracy has stared down governments since before Fraser and Savage.

The last National Education Minister to make any impression was Merv Wellington. Not that it was a good impression. Merv wanted schoolchildren to salute the raising of the flag at school every morning. This, naturally enough, went down with the kids like a cup of cold sick. It was just as well my high school didn't have welding classes as the metal flagpole in the courtyard would have probably been cut down, Another Brick in the Wall Part Two playing on the vandal's Walkman.

Labour, its government benches heaving with former teachers, does little to antagonise its support base. Perhaps a pay-parity thing here, a non-contact hour thing there, gerrymander a school zone or two. Strictly nothing more than fiddling around the edges. Novel thinking and trial education programs are by-the-by, Te Reo excluded. In its own way, Labour is just as conservative as National.

So, why present a thought experiment if there's no chance of it ever happening? Well, that's where the consumer-citizens come in.

Not so long ago, DPF posted about a fun way to learn calculus. Unfortunately, such things just don't work. The blood flows to all the wrong places. However, the principle is sound. A worthwhile teacher can spellbind an audience like any other performer. These teachers exist in NZ. For many of them, their skills are monopolised by the elite schools in the nice suburbs.

I wonder how much it would cost to get a film crew to record a year's worth of lessons from these excellent teachers? Sure, you'd pay the teachers a good salary, especially if you didn't want them to prostitute themselves to advertisers like sportspeople and former comedians do. Now, once you've taped the periods, you'll need to burn, print and distribute them to all eligible students. I can't be arsed checking for statistics so I'll make a bold generalisation. Let's say half of NZ's population gets sent lessons. At about $3 from burn to letterbox, that's $6 million to passively educate half of NZ. A percursor to this is already available in Oz, the Interactive Maths Series for Year 7-10 students. Even at $50 a year, it's cheaper than those voluntary annual school fees some of you will be coughing up for shortly.

Of course, DVDs, CD-ROMs and interactive lessons can only go so far, especially while video compression is too large for true learning interactivity to fit through our piddly, overpriced broadband. Which is where the tutors come in. Harking back to Platonic teaching methods (or should that be Socratic?), there's a way to keep the teachers while disposing of all the burdensome crap like principals, the PPTA and most importantly, the Ministry of Education. Contrasted with the existing one-size-fits-none education by assembly-line, a fragmented teaching market would allow greater flexibility for all learning levels, speeds and cultural anomalies.

And, as long as the families remain reasonably immobile, there should be nothing stopping children from continuing with the same tutor over their education. Forging a stronger relationship than the current vacuum not only builds trust but provides an opportunity for mentoring, guidance and encouragement. This would be a bonus for the increasing numbers of people growing up without father figures, stable relationships and genuine role models.

Anyway, it's just an idea. Run it past your bullshit detectors. Mull it over. Because if you want things to change, you'll have to do it yourself.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Don/Key Kong

You can tell Waitangi Day is almost upon us. Like groundhogs, pundits are blinking in the springtime of NZ's political voodoo, awakening to all the possibilities that 2006 portends. And there's a lot of possibilities to consider. Labour have to get their heads around third term existential musings. The Greens and NZ First have to find new messiahs or face extinction in 2008. Act has to find a new president, preferably one experienced in coralling chickens. And what the hell are the Nats going to do for a leader?

Not that this bothers me from an ideological position. It'll be a snowy day in Orkland the day I vote for the National Party. However, a strong opposition is a significant check on stupid government and there will be a lot to be stupid about in the next 12 months.

Something's got to change. Perhaps a leadership challenge would be good for the Nats, get those alpha males beating their chests and proclaiming why they should be pack leader. Don Brash would gain mana for having some scars on his face, distilling his aversion of PC-ness into testosterone. Good way to pull the chicks too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Who wants to be GG?

Today's Herald column by Colin James features a thought experiment for choosing the next Governor General. Here's another alternative:

This week on GG Idol, our contestants contend with conflict at an anything-goes Waitangi Day celebration, a live performance of Kawana Chameleon proves a tongue-twister for some, and which hopeful gets an earful from the judges for driving under the speed limit? Tune in tonight as another promising head of state drops out of the running on Governor-General Idol!

Friday, January 13, 2006

How Kiwi Are You?

The second most popular question I get asked is "Are you (insert random nationality)?" Complete strangers have accused me of being, in no particular order, American, French, Italian, Maori, Australian, Irish, Brit, Portuegese, Inuit, "South American", Hispanic and sometimes, not often, Chinese. It's true. I could come from anywhere, but I was born a Kiwi.

The truth of my ethnicity beyond being Kiwi is a bit of a mystery. Geneology was never a strong point in my family. In fact it was quite the opposite. I gather my great-great-grandfather on Dad's side was Leon Baptiste de Cleene. Leon's birth name was something Dutch and unprounceable and he changed it on emigrating to NZ. A clean start. Dad's Mum seemed very Scottish. The only thing I know of my mother's side of the family is that Colin Meads is my great uncle. So as far as filling in ethnicity forms goes, thank Dagg for the Kiwi column because I truthfully couldn't answer anything else.

Perhaps a DNA test could clear it up. Extract the three or four protein segments that proves beyond a doubt that I am 1/64th Mongoloid or 7/256th Navajo. If I'm really lucky I might find some ancestor was once raped by Rangi so I can claim my share of the tobacco, umbrellas, pencils and sealing wax that Wakefield bought Wellington with.

The early travels of colonial settlers refer to the Maori as New Zealanders. For taxonomic purposes, a New Zealander was brown. The term pakeha was used by the Maori to describe a settler who went native. A pakeha typically married the chief's daughter, fought alongside them and settled into the tribe vibe. Common usage has since turned these definitions on their heads. Tze Ming Mok has an interesting take on this, mooting that the term Kiwi is used interchangeably with pakeha and white, in much the same way as "news" is used interchangeably with "press release" and "advertorial."

Can't blame him really. The Nats' twisted use of my Kiwi/Iwi pun into a segregational tool didn't help (What was the Hikoi about? Fucking laughs?). For me, a Kiwi is someone who is born here, not just some honky. A loose interpretation could even apply to people who have spent over half their life here (the halflife rule). But that's just my opinion. If others perceive the Kiwi label as a white ass cracker facade, then bully for them.

Perhaps we should apply a Kiwi citizenship test:

  1. Are you Australian? Y/N (If Y selected, please stop here)
  2. Are you sure? Y/N
  3. The All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world T/F
  4. What is a JAFA?
  5. Please explain the following terms: kai, tangi, whanau
  6. How many times has Rachel Hunter been married?
  7. What is a tinnie house?
  8. Who was Bruno Lawrence?
  9. Perform a haka
  10. What is L&P?
  11. Which country invented the pavlova?
  12. Te Rauparaha is the Maori Queen T/F
  13. Perform the Time Warp dance
  14. Complete the following phrases: Mongrel ___, Black ____, Satan's _____.
  15. How many times a day do you say "sorry"?
  16. The Bone People is a porn movie T/F
  17. What colours are featured on the Canterbury Rugby Union jersey?
  18. Recite a song from one of the following: Exponents, Che Fu, Dave Dobbyn, Shihad, Scribe
  19. What is the Te Ware Whare?
  20. What was the name of the dog from Footrot Flats?
There's a couple of tricky ones in there, but I think a score of 75 percent is a reasonable score. Any suggestions on a Kiwi test?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fractal flag

The flag debate continues, courtesy of Steve Godfrey of Halswell. He has planted a maize maze with an alternative flag design featuring a 150m silver fern. This is not just some gimmick. Every person who visits the maze will be polled on what, if any, the new flag should look like. Nice one Godfrey!

The old man and the LSD

Does the name Albert Hofman mean anything to you? If not, have a read of this interview marking his 100th birthday. Tim Leary was only the marketing guy for acid, the Ray Kroc of enlightenment. Mr Hofman was the one who asked the right question in the first place and found a spiritual experience more powerful than a hundred masses, Flanagan.

I hope that when I'm dying of lung cancer, someone will do me the same favour Aldous Huxley got from his wife.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Newscorp flamed

The UK Independent tells how the vanguard of consumercitizens, ie bloggers, tore six shades of shit out of Newscorp. Rupert Murdoch's bastard progeny, which recently purchased the file-sharing site MySpace, was responsible for censoring posts and blocking access to rival sites of MySpace users. Companies and corporations be warned; the free market swings both ways.