Lorde: In Concert

I begin writing this review barely twenty minutes into Lorde’s performance, and no, that’s not a good thing.

She seems perfectly on form, from what I can tell in my drowned position. The TSB Arena has neglected to include a dedicated disability area in their floor plan, so I am at the back of the general area, more accurately called a mosh pit. In a wheelchair this is not ideal.

Also the volume of the music and crowd is actually making my ears hurt. I think this is due to my own hearing issues, and is not therefore the fault of the sound technicians, or even Lorde herself. But it does mean that I can’t enjoy myself even a little. I had so been looking forward to this.

For deeper reasons than those mentioned I think this will be the first and last Lorde concert I ever attend. It is not just my physical differences that separates me from the rest of this throng. I look at my fellow concert goers and I feel a trench-like divide between us.

The division seems strongly generational. Their sensibilities, hopes, dreams, and thoughts seem foreign to me. A bit like how the WWII generation were so starkly unlike their children. It is why I feel somewhat removed from the themes Lorde spoke about during a pause when she thanked the sell out audience. The feeling of youth. The rapid passing of one’s early years.

The crowd is young, obviously restless, and responds with clichéd alacrity to all the prompts from stage. Scream hysterically here, wave cellphones like their cigarette lighters at Woodstock at this point. There is a something very herd like about human behavior in crowds. I do think this is part of their appeal, for you to temporarily shed personal identity and assume the combined super-ego of the crowd. I’ve never found myself able to do this, and for that reason find this concert a thoroughly hellish experience.

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A view worth $92.50?

The Madness of Steffan Browning…

The special votes that brought back Steffan Browning on the Green Party list now look incredibly foolish as the MP signed an online petition promoting the use of homeopathy to treat Ebola. He even said that some would think its a ‘wacko idea’, and in signing and promoting the petition he, Steffan, probably fell below the standards expected of an MP.

What a load of incomprehensible trash. This may be why the greens did not grow as a party last election, they trust people who behave as if they don’t care for the voters to carry their banner. That is what this is, trumpeting homeopathy on one hand while demonstrating a clear understanding of how crazy you seem. You can read the stuff article here.

It is also wasting time on the very serious Ebola epidemic. Thousands of people now have it, and according to the Time magazine, the problem is not treatment; it is diagnosis. In poverty stricken countries like Sierra Leone, where infrastructure is either substandard or non existent, it takes a long time to get a test conducted in a clinic to be sent to a lab for analysis, then sent back. In the meantime the possible Ebola suffers spend days or even weeks stuck together in a ward to literally ferment. Those that didn’t have Ebola when they got to the clinic (early symptoms are very similar to malaria), have contracted the disease from fellow patients by the time their test results are returned, and by that time they are so riddled with the illness that treatment is ineffective.

Browning’s hope that homeopathy will have some positive effect deny the logic of this proposition. For the sake of argument I shall accept the premise that homeopathy may have some observable benefit. If it is made widely available to the African states affected by ebola, the problem will be exactly the same. It will not make diagnosis quicker, which is the main factor behind the rapid spread of the malady.

It frightens me that an MP from a party that I have come to respect can take such a bizarre position on an issue like this. If this was what National and Act voters had been warning of for so long I can see their point. This is not the stuff to be found in a party worthy of being in government. What we need to investigate is whether the brain-rot of this kind is confined to one small branch, or whether it has infected the whole tree.

Musings on Ayn Rand’s Anthem

I read the slender 68-page Anthem in preparation for eventually moving to the more well known (and by far longer) novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

As an introduction to Rand’s objectivist philosophy, Anthem reads like an extended parable. A lesson on the natural outcome of collective thinking, and a reminder of the strength of the human mind to overcome its limitations.

I do think that Rand goes into overreach when writing on the self, and crosses into solipsism — that is only thinking of oneself. Rand is ultra materialist, to the point where she trips on her own logic. The difficulty with embracing total empiricism, granting existence to only what one can observe, does frustrate innovation and development. The rejection of any kind of concept of we rejects the basis of collective endeavor, which limits the degree to which people can improve their lot.

Indeed, if politics can loosely be defined as the endeavor by humans to work together and apply values within a grouping of people, then politics would be anathema to Randism. The last word in the book, which the author describes as being the most important; is ego. But even Freud theorised that the ego is measured against the super-ego, or ‘big other’, and identity and behavior is subject to this contest.

Perhaps it is simply the world we currently live in verses the world Rand wrote in which makes her seem so extreme. In her time there was a very real totalitarian system based on socialist collectivist ideals. She was very much writing in opposition to this, but viewed in this anti-totalitarian light it is hard for me to give her much credit. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four is a much better indictment in that way, and has weathered the intervening years much better.

On the objectivist philosophy I don’t think people need any further reason to think and act selfishly. I also reject the basis Rand has for saying an action taken that benefits others is undertaken selfishly. That when she did something for her husband it was because she took selfish pleasure in it. She has a good point, but I think objectivists apply it too stringently.

Some things are simply worth it for their own sake, and for people who do things on this basis I think they are truly not acting selfishly. I can see why Ayn Rand continues to be influential some thirty years after her death, she gives some people the intellectual excuse to be utterly self-interested, and since that mentality has a fertile ground in consumerist times, I expect her shadow will be a long time hanging around.

Scribblings from a Conversation with Judith Collins

Last week I emailed the office of Judith Collins seeking an interview for my radio show. I wasn’t  confident there would even be a reply, but the next day I received a response saying that Judith was interested. A flurry of emails went back and forth and a date and time was set, so today I donned a suit (dress for the job you want) and drove to Wellington to meet and talk to one of the most fascinating political figures of our time.

As a word of warning I said in my email that I was not interested in dredging up the Oravida issue, or the connections between Collins and Cameron Slater. If that is what you want to read about you can stop here. If you possess real political curiosity and the desire to delve into the multi-dimensions of a political heavyweight, read on.

Wellington is a tough city to wheel about, and Parliament is bizarrely unsuited to the physically disabled. Collins Executive Assistant met me in the Beehive foyer, apologising for the labyrinthine interior of our government buildings. It took some time to get to Judith Collins office, no longer having ministerial status she has been banished from the Beehive to a distant corner of the main Parliament building, her previous permanent staff of six having been culled to one.

The rooms are handsome though, as it is an open secret that the offices in the main Parliament building (the grey one) are much nicer than those in the Beehive, or nearby Bowen House. Nervous though I am, I chat with Ashleigh the EA until Collins herself, disturbed by my curiously resonant voice, opens her door. In person she is exactly as she appears on TV, but as the interview progresses and she warms up, more personable qualities, particularly humour, emerge. At this late stage of a very hard year, Judith Collins is able to take a step back and relish her achievements while looking forward to what’s next.

She is not one to wallow in misfortune. After her resignation as a minister during the election campaign, she took two days to feel sorry for herself and then went straight back to doorknocking in Papakura. Getting on with the job obviously helped since she was re-elected for the fifth time with a majority of nearly five thousand votes. The former minister is objective about the lows she has encountered this year, but is very definitely looking forward to her next challenge.

Coy on precisely what is next, Collins tells me that she has a couple of projects she is working on, ones that she will refine over the summer. She’s not going to wait for John Key to hand her a portfolio (he’s very coy on when that might happen), but will instead work on reducing crime in her electorate of Papakura, and furthering the reforms she made as Minister of Justice to the family court concerning children. The latter is something that has been of great concern to Judith Collins since well before she became an MP, and was a lawyer in Auckland. In her words, it is about changing the family court process so it is not simply ‘formalising relationship management.’

The media has become extremely intrusive. Collins did try up until this year to have a good relationship with the media, but found that inviting journalists into her home did not make them any nicer, and they abused her hospitality by turning up on her doorstep uninvited and hounding her. So her courtesy has been rescinded (thank goodness I am not technically a journalist). Collins says that she has continually infuriated parts of the media by never leaking against colleagues, and never leaking against the government. As the media is more about the daily ‘kill’, rather than pursuing larger stories, they pine for inside information from government members.

The nickname ‘Crusher’ was applied by the opposition back when Judith Collins was Minister of Police and she passed legislation empowering the cops to confiscate and crush boyracer’s cars. It hurt a little at first, but Collins press secretary assured her that it was actually a positive title. Collins does believe that the title does allow her critics to misrepresent her as being a machine, something not human. It also allows lazy journalists to deploy clichés, but at the same time intimidates some critics and enemies.

On the subject of friends in politics, it has been helpful to know who Judith’s real friends are, and who are simply fair-weather friends. This adds further weight to the case that Judith Collins is concentrating on the positives of her position, and spotting the silver linings in what have been very dark clouds. While another spell in cabinet is definitely a goal, Collins knows it is all up to the Prime Minister and she won’t be trying to win his favour through anything other than her proven work record.

‘I’m not going to start making cookies for him or something like that.’

The fact that Collins resigned on the basis of an email by someone else alleging that she was trying to undermine the CEO of the Serious Fraud Office, means that there is no case for ministerial incompetence. She was always on top of her work, a relentless reader of cabinet papers and briefing notes, and had been very high up in government seniority for what is quite a long time. To a degree i get the feeling that Judith may never be broadly liked, in the sense that John Key is, but most people will think of her as someone they can trust in a crisis. That kind of respect is worth a lot, it is what made Helen Clark so successful, and it means that Judith Collins should not be discounted as a relevant politician.

The picture I am getting of Judith is profoundly different from the one I’ve got through the media. This perhaps explains the fact that by far the most hurtful and vile things said of her have been by people she has never met. It is regrettably easy to dehumanise and dissect someone removed from your every day experience, especially so when the medium for transacting such abuse is the internet.

Twitter trolls and bullies are swiftly blocked, and though Judith had a bad episode on twitter earlier in the year, she rebounded by tweeting selfies of her and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Such a cyber comeback could well be mirrored on the political stage in the near future. Clearly Judith Collins still has the energy and drive to re-climb the ladder, now too she has the experience of learning hard lessons. I ask her about the political hard ball she is known for playing, which she says is not limited to just her. I counter by saying ‘ah, but you play it better than most.’ She smiles and replies; ‘I am better than most.’

Many thanks to Judith Collins and her assistant Ashleigh for allowing me to come in and conduct the interview, especially at a time when Collins is not doing many media interviews, and did not inflict any caveats on me. I hope to do another interview in some time and see the progress on her projects. You can listen to the full interview after it is broadcast on Access Manawatu at 1pm on Wednesday 29 October, on this website.

Swiping is free, but what about honest hookers?

It seems the sex industry is becoming surplus to requirements by the rise of the online sex app.

Tinder, Grindr, and all their derivatives are making casual sex more common, and thereby depriving prostitutes of work. The irony is not lost that the factor hurting brothels is a more promiscuous population. However, casual sex found by way of smartphone apps is apparently unreliable, and the case of a kiwi girl who hooked up with a Brisbane man before falling 14 stories to her death underlines the very real risks.

Also, in the eleven years since prostitution was legalised, the profession has become much safer with condom use and std checks. I am sure too (but cannot prove it) that an hour with a call girl woth $230 would be much more fun than an hour with a stranger. For starters both you and the prostitute are on the same page and there need be no awkward and stuttering conversation at the beginning.

The article in today’s Dominion Post (which you can read here) reports that the government collects no statistics on the number of sex workers, and the IRD classifies them as part of the hospitality industry. Figures range from 2000-15000 prostitutes active in New Zealand, and according to the 2008 parliamentary review the number was estimated at 5000. The aforementioned article also guesses that the sex industry is worth $800 million to the economy per year.

There is salvation for the oldest profession however as social media is used to make arranging for professional sexual services easier. The result of all this is that sex is more available than ever, making positive sex education a vital consideration. Not that everyone is doing it, just everyone can if they want.

It would widen the scope of this bullet essay if I had interviewed a prostitute, but alas I don’t know any, so you have to live with my limitations, as I have to. I suppose one could always buy out of limitations, and lets face facts, that would do the sex industry some good, but I am rather old fashioned, and would rather have a meal with a pretty girl and try to make her laugh. The simple pleasures are best. Perhaps the sex industry is too focussed on bondage, domination, and kink, it may do better catering to the old staple. Telling a woman a joke, and reveling in the fact that you made her arch her back in open mouthed mirth.

Happy Labour day everyone.

A Question of Hats

In answer to a question from Russell Norman, John Key said that he had not met or spoken to Cameron Slater on the phone in his ‘capacity as Prime Minister’.

It seems in order for a Prime Minister then to tell a direct lie in the house, and interpret the constitution according to his own needs. The question of ‘hats’ comes up every now and then, particularly for people doing multi-faceted jobs. It has also come up in the redrafting of the cabinet manual which allows for a minister from a support party to publicly criticise government policy. Tariana Turia was able to attack the government while wearing her Maori Party co-leader hat.

While a lessening of the potency of collective responsibility is practical for modern government, the hat game can become ludicrous. What if Judith Collins decided she did not visit the Oravida office in China, or have dinner with its executives in her capacity as a minister? It may appear a long bow to draw, but if John Key can use a cellphone paid for by ministerial services to call Cameron Slater and not be Prime Minister for the duration of the call, the bow is drawn easily.

Another matter to consider is what information is exchanged in these calls. If John Key gives Cameron Slater information only the PM can access, surely he is in his capacity as PM when he does this. In reverse we can assume that if Slater gave Key some information as Leader of the National Party, MP for Helensville, or even just a private citizen, would that information find its way to John Key the Prime Minister? In Yes, Minister Jim Hacker muses on the paradox of being given information as a former journalist rather than a Minister. He says that if the information needs to be given to the Minister then he, Jim Hacker, would not hesitate to keep himself fully informed.

When you play the game of thrones you win or you die. When you play the game of hats you constantly lie. Welcome to a third term Key-government.

Drivers without Grace

As I drove into Wellington on Thursday afternoon I was pulled over by the police for the first time in my life.

Apparently I had been driving erratically enough for a fellow motorist to ring the fuzz, while they were driving no less. I was not detained, and the breath test was clear, so I was soon on my way. But I do think the driver of the grey van behind me is partially to blame for my wayward steering.

Like most people, I get nervous when a car behind me gets close, and stays on my tail. Are they following me? If I need to stop suddenly they will surely crash into me. Frayed nerves make bad driving. Perhaps what that noxious do-gooder should have done was simply overtaken me back in Paremata, and we could have got on with our day in peace.

At this time when Police resources are being stretched too thinly to allow officers to attend to burglaries, do we really want them to chase down weary drivers who are a very low risk of actually causing an accident on the road. Maybe it fills some existential need in people to call the fuzz and point out the wrong in other people.

The cop who came to my window was a bright young guy, not cocky, or possessing a ‘big-dicked’ manner. What good he could do going after real crime, if some motorists were just a little bit restrained from calling the hotline.

Calvary (Review)

As far as Brendan Gleeson’s body of work goes, his portrayal of Father James in a small seaside Irish town must stand among his finest. The gruff, introspective, and deeply human characteristics of the good priest among a bad flock dramatically make this film both hard-hitting, and emotional.

To briefly set the narrative, Father James is hearing confessions when one man says he was brutally raped by a priest as a young boy, and in revenge he intends to kill the good father James in one week. We don’t see the identity of this man until the end, but father James knows exactly who he is.

Calvary analyses the private transgressions, contradictions, and shortcomings of everyday people. Father James goes through the next week tending to the community, and finding more and more hatred. Yet he cannot compel himself to leave, and is committed to his vocation. In a sense the point is made that the clergy is so dumped on today, and seen as so perverse and abusive, but it does not outdo the immorality of the wayward flock.

At the heart of the film is the theme of forgiveness. Embracing of forgiveness at the cost of something so dear to oneself. At one point Father Leary says of the historic sex crimes in the church, that it is ‘time to forgive and forget’. But as Gleeson’s Father James says to his mentally ill daughter (he was widowed before taking holy orders) memories don’t fade. Thus there can be no such thing as forgive and forget. Real forgiveness is looking the person in the eye, holding the crime forever in memory, and stepping forward to forgive.

Forgiveness is not absolution. It is not relieving the transgressor of their responsibility. It is the moving forth through life with the memory of past injustices in the mind, and the refusal to be suffocated by them. That is the one thing the sufferer of childhood sexual abuse cannot do, and through the denial of forgiveness, he goes from victim to transgressor.

So we look him in the eye, hold his gaze through our tears, and forgive him.

Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly
Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly