Nipples bad!?

A story on on Miley Cyrus’s bare breasted photo which was posted and removed from instagram ended with the question: Do you think female nipples should be banned from Instagram?”

Instead of barking a dismissal at what is a very stupid question and moving on with my life of nipple appreciation and respect, I thought I’d take this question up. After all I do enjoy battling the ridiculous.

First we must deal with instagram. I have never used it and never visited the site. Like many, I prefer tumblr, and I don’t load it up with pointless snaps of my messy life. I follow interesting people. I understand that instagram is all about images, and I understand that children use it. Anything rated ‘adults only’ may not be suitable for the very young, so the point of controversy must be that one.

Is a female nipple inappropriate for children? The question is fatuous on its face since infants naturally get their sustenance via a woman’s nipple. It is accepted now that breastfeeding mothers should be able to nurse their child in public, so what is wrong with a naked nip anywhere?

The point of instagram as I understand it is to post pictures you like and see if others like them too. That is really the point of all social media! So to ban something completely on the ground that it may not be appropriate for some viewers, is to take the point of the enterprise and add so many contradictory caveats that the whole thing becomes self-defeating. If people don’t like a picture then they don’t share it, and after a while they only see what they want to see.

On tumblr there are massive amounts of pornography if you seek it. There are also picture blogs of striking houses deserted and crumbling. There’s manga, there’s American comics, there’s picture rolls of women with armpit hair. There is whatever you want to see, and nothing you don’t want because you decide whom you want to follow. Social Media can be very anti-social. It is a feedback loop and instead of exposing one to new notions and ideas it tends to reinforce whatever prejudice you already carry. It is a foe of the internet, a demon spawn of a greater sire.

So really we have more serious foes to fight rather than getting bogged down in non-issues like the appropriateness of a female nipple. Those that don’t like the female body — or even fear it — can continue their wretched exercise, but I can say with complete certainty that I do not share their view. I hope you noticed the pun.


The Interview (review)

This film has been threatened, cancelled, re-scheduled for release, and subjected to more free advertising than any other movie this year and has been the talk of entertainment for weeks. Just last week it looked like we’d have to wait for The Interview to be released on DVD before we could see it, but thanks to Seth Rogan’s enthusiasm it is available to any teenager with a smartphone. The cries of North Korea really were the icing on this cake of triumph.

Seth plays second fiddle on screen to James Franco who is an entertainment TV show-host in the USA. And what a worthy parody of that wretched business, at the beginning (SPOILER ALERT) is an interview with Eminem in which the latter dead-pans a personal revelation to hilarious effect. Okay so not much of a spoiler, but I didn’t wan’t to risk anything. Franco succinctly embodies Americas shameful obsession with celebrity culture, in the face of the proudly hard-news people who work on Sixty Minutes. In an attempt to show everyone what he’s worth, Franco — I forget the name of his character — decides to interview Kim Jong Un, and his resourceful producer (Rogan) manages to make it happen.

The CIA get involved and it is decided that the two will travel to Pyongyang to interview the tubby dictator, and assassinate him by slow-acting poison. The first point of objection I have is that they refer to Kim Jong Un as President of North Korea. Undoubtedly this is for an expedient plot (It makes very little difference) but it may interest readers to know that Kim Jong Un is not the head of state. He is the head of the armed forces and head of the communist party, but the head of state is in fact his deceased grandfather, Kim Il-Sung. Upon his death in 1994 he was declared the eternal president, and North Korea is as Christopher Hitchens used to say; a necocracy, or a thanatocracy.

Gouty Jong Un is only de facto president, but as I said this makes very little difference. I’ll go no further in expounding the narrative, except to say that the totalitarian regime was illustrated well by a few choice scenes. In particular, there is a bit where Jong Un is howling with grief over something you will have to see the film yourself to know, everyone else in the room starts to howl and cry, including Franco. It references the masses of people tearing out their hair in sadness before a picture of Kim Jong Il after his death. Everyone knows they must cry, and knows that they will face punishment if they do not do so convincingly, but no-one knows for sure whether the person next to them is genuine or not.

This is living within the lie, as Vaclav Havel wrote in his fantastic essay on totalitarianism; The Power of the Powerless. What happened in 1989 to the Warsaw Pact nations was that the fragile bubble burst. People knew the government was awful, and crucially they knew that their feeling was universal. Why do people in North Korea believe that Kim Jong Un can talk to dolphins and does not defecate? They don’t, they just can’t be sure that other people don’t believe it too. That is the fragility of totalitarianism, every person is a threat, and any disobedience could mean the death of the regime. The movie makes that case, albeit in a typically crude Seth Rogan way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I hope others like it too. Dictators who claim godlike dominion over 24 million people, or even just the inhabitants of their house, deserve to be ridiculed and repudiated. North Korea has seen its internet and cellular networks disrupted, possibly by America through China. This means the only place on earth on which we can be sure The Interview will never be shown is North Korea. It may seem utterly ridiculous that this film is any threat to Kim Jong Un’s regime, given how far-fetched it is. But the irony is that it’s much more plausible than that. If that fragile bubble were to pop, and a few North Koreans were to refuse to live in the lie, the regime that teeters on Kim Jong Un’s gouty legs would not be able to resist the tug of gravity.

Mr. Turner (review)

Timothy Spall has been given wide acclaim for his portrayal of the 19th century British master in the eponymous Mr. Turner. Currently, the film itself scores 95 percent on Metacritic, and bafflingly 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I think this may be a film that is reviewed by reputation rather than its own merits.

Revoltingly grunty, the piggish Mr Turner goes about the final 25 years of his life painting maritime masterpieces, enjoying critical praise, and commercial stagnation. He is however successful enough to have a handsome house and employ a housekeeper who obligingly lets him screw her to syphilitic ruin. Her ruin not his. I have no case to make against history, and can only accept that many elements in this film are faithful adaptations from it.

There are many moments of philosophic triumph, for instance the scene whereby Turner exposes an aristocratic little shit of snobbery and hiding beneath a façade of fancy phrases nothing more than an ignorant twat. He does this by asking the git a simple question (which type of meat pie he prefers) and the little cad dodges the question. He therefore cannot judge his preference among painters since he cannot make the simplest of choices. That was a good scene, and a good lesson. Thank goodness there are a few other scenes like it, but they don’t harmonise to form a cohesive film.

I personally felt like the movie was two hours of beginnings. It never really got under way and there was no dramatic centre. It was not as if Turner was working on a particular masterpiece that could act as the cinematic confluence of his influential body of work. The famous piece called The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, was shown as it was conceived and painted, but served no purpose to the story besides being just another element. A waste.

At times the dialogue felt like it was being delivered in a school play, full of hammy affectation as when an amatuer performs Shakespeare. Spall was the most revolting he’s ever been, but played the part of painter authentically. On the whole I am tempted to think that his J. M. W. Turner was merely an extension of his terribly flat attempt at Winston Churchill in The King’s Speech, but that would be overreaching. His performance is far more nuanced, and he is hardly the weak part of this film.

Overall, it is simply grim, and somewhat confused. There are plenty of themes at work which could have been further developed but never were. The scene in the gallery with fellow master John Constable was well played and a true highlight. Perhaps we could have seen more of their rivalry — then the piece would have had some direction.

So an interesting film, and certainly worth seeing at some point (particularly if you have an interest in art). The parts are lovely, but as a whole it is a damn squib.

The Fighting Temeraire
The Fighting Temeraire


Today is Christmas eve and a sturdy reminder of the hastening end to the year. I hope my readers have enjoyed my scribbling, the arguments I have made, and the public figures I have criticised. I hope to do even more next year and expand this site further as a hub for my videos and podcasts.

2015 has some very important challenges that we face in New Zealand and the United States (my two main markets) and some things to look for include the spying law review in NZ, the resolution of the Kim Dotcom case (which will inevitably include the US), and the last major Presidential actions of Barack Obama. He becomes a lame duck as soon as the 2016 election campaign kicks off, and will have to focus on reinforcing his past actions rather than undertaking new ones.

If we don’t see boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria against IS in 2015, then the chances of it happening before Obama leaves office are slim indeed. To just take a swipe at the pacifists who might be hoping to give peace a chance, there can be no peace in Iraq and Syria while girls are bought and sold and raped with impunity. I am quite immovable on this point and will debate anyone who wishes to oppose me.

The gloss will surely wear even further of John Key, and we can expect his government to be embroiled in more scandals and problems. While he is around I think the ship of state will remain intact, because cooperation with support parties is what he is good at. Further, I doubt we’ll see an open ideological conflict within the National Party while he is leader. If he makes some resignation noises, we can expect a party spat over who replaces him.

To shift again to Obama, he will have to tread carefully over the race relations problems that need to be addressed. He cannot aggressively pursue reform without emboldening the hard right perilously close to the next election. It is the reverse of the Nixon/China logic where a solidly anti-communist Republican was in a better position to alter the US position with China than a Democrat with less of a record. In short, Obama is black, and therefore may not be able to bring about the reforms necessary in ‘white’ America.

I don’t want to simplify things more than strictly necessary, but I do think these are challenges that will have to be faces in the next year. In some ways you can understand Obama’s failure to achieve substantive gun control laws through the same lens. He is a liberal, one that would be comfortable spending time in Europe where gun control is firm and unquestioned, and he believes in the empowering nature of the state. He is not suspicious of the government in the same way that Rush Limbaugh is. They are scared of state power, and owning guns is a way of hedging their bets. So it follows that if a Republican with unmatched gun toting credentials, they would have the credibility to push through gun control.

I am getting quite ahead of myself, it is Christmas and a time for stomach stuffing, stocking emptying, and if you are really fortunate then a case of a lose stocking under the mistletoe… The holidays are a time to dream, to make goals, to believe in the promise of tomorrow. Good tidings!

Farewell to Colbert

The last Report has been delivered and Stephen Colbert is on his way to CBS — with his entire writing staff. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert premier’s in August/September 2015 so we have a long wait to see the champion of truthiness ply his trade in a new paddock.

He departed without a tear, but with a triumphant chorus of “We’ll meet again” from every famous person who happened to be in New York (literally, from George Lucas to Henry Kissinger). His ratings would have animated the corpse of Johnny Carson with envy. To end on a high is remarkable, and unusual in the entertainment industry. What comes next is a great mystery, and it is perhaps just as well that we have a nine month pregnancy before the birth of the new Late Show. The memories of a show as great as The Colbert Report have to fade before the next project even has a chance at success.

I first came across Stephen Colbert when my brother showed me video of his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006. It was a time of high anti-Bush fever, and Colbert’s satirical sweep seemed to be a cut above any of the other comics of the time. He seemed to me to be channelling Mark Twain with his style of parody, which unlike most comedians is intrinsically positive.

His character as a fierce right wing pundit may not translate to CBS, and perhaps that’s a good thing. The shows are different, not just in tone and content, but in audience. Comedy Central has a very young viewer-ship, CBS is something more cranky. I do hope however that he does not do what other commentators have predicted and be ‘mellower’, a loathsome word. If he becomes just another white guy on American television, which hitherto he has parodied to great effect, we will really have lost something very dear.

I am hoping to see Colbert in full froth again, and continue to enjoy the sight of politicians and pundits being caught like deer in the head lights of his justice. Long live Stephen Colbert!

Change took ten Presidents, enter Marco Rubio’s Cuban Fury

Finally we can see the end to the bizarre Cuban trade embargo that began by Eisenhower in 1960, but was extended into what it remains by Kennedy 1962. An embargo which deprived many hard working Americans of the freedom to buy Cuban cigars legally, but not Kennedy, he was careful to stock up before signing a ban that remains in place. Does this mean he’s guilty of mild insider trading? Perhaps, but he did believe the embargo would be a short term thing.

I mean, come on, the US had better relations with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, at least until shortly before his people rebelled and shot him to bits. And he harboured terrorists and early nuclear ambitions, but in 2003 volunteered his nuclear arsenal to be confiscated by the US, and locked away in Tennessee.

Something about the Castro brothers really bothers a certain group of Americans, in a much more visceral way than the starchy white guys waging war with the developing world in the 1960s were bothered by Fidel’s refusal to be assassinated. If one thing need remind us that the CIA can be a prickly bunch of incompetent bureaucrats it is surely the former Cuban President’s continued existence.

The Americans really bothered about him are the Cuban ex-pats, of whom many live in Florida. Enter painful memories of the role of that swing state in Presidential elections. They have managed to have the ears and votes of a critical number of legislators, and prevent all actively pro-normalisation-with-Cuba would-be Presidents from taking their vital votes in the electoral college.

But who can tell me which way Florida went in 2008? And again in 2012? I will spare you the need to thumb through Wikipedia and tell you that it was Obama both times. Now the state is hardly considered a ‘swinger’ at all, and once you have won California, New York, and the north East, it hardly matters. Florida cannot hold an election hostage any more, and that is good news for a President who wants to, you know, govern without prejudice.

However, Obama has moved Glacially on this issue. I could understand putting it off until the second term when you no longer have to worry about being booted out by the people and instead face the boot from the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution (it set term limits). That makes political sense, but now Obama faces the trouble of a hostile congress, and Senator Marco Rubio, who is a Cuban-American, and wants to be president so is incapable of acting outside his own self interest, who will chair the Foreign Relations Committee.

Now if I remember my American politics lessons, the Senate must confirm ambassadors and ratify treaties. So they will be able to derail Obama’s plans of re-establishing a formal embassy. If it is blocked then presumably communication will continue on the current back channel, one the senate is not part of, and Obama can run foreign policy regarding Cuba from the White House. So if Rubio wishes to pull the trigger he is threatening, he will only blow off his own toes. I’m not entirely opposed to that, but am more sympathetic to seeing diplomatic relations restored.

On the matter of the embargo, since it is not a treaty (in fact it is the reverse of one) Rubio cannot affect it. Kennedy extended it in 1962 by executive order, so there it is up to Obama when he wants to sign another bit of paper to end it. Even with the embargo the US is Cuba’s largest food supplier, and its fifth largest trading partner.

If the oxymoronical relations I have so far described are news to you consider the following. The prima facie case for the embargo as expounded by successive US administrations has been that the measures are in place until Cuba makes political changes (liberalisation, gets rid of the one party state) and it makes improvements in its record on human rights. Stop, and try to fathom that. The United States, which to this day maintains a prison in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, infamous for the torture of inmates who have never been charged, is going to use the human rights card as a reason to continue a trade ban that keeps thousands of people in poverty.

Marco Rubio is a self serving dweeb stuck in a political arrangement long past its use by date, and he will use his office only for the advancement of himself. President Obama has moved with such a torpor that I thought he must have slowly petrified, but he’s acting now, even if he’s in a bad position for this fight. At least he’s not yet a lame duck. Change we can eventually believe in, a truer slogan.

He's got the power
He’s got the power

Hobbit review part 2

I intended for this review to focus on the films wizards, but alas Sarah Watt’s caustic review on Stuff has necessitated something of a reply. So the wizards will have to be patient.

The link to Sarah’s piece is at the bottom and in it you will find a distillation of the worst traits of a film reviewer. Reviews must be separated from a piece of criticism, which is an intellectual and academic exercise. Sarah demonstrated neither in her written squawk. And she ruined her own case in her second paragraph.

“…as the third film unfurled before my eyes and I couldn’t remember who was who, what they’d done or where they were headed, there was a dragon breathing fire over a city and suddenly everyone looked an awful lot like Actors Dressed up in Costumes on a Film Set and things went downhill from there.”

My point I hope is obvious. If you can’t summon the mental energy to recall the story of a trilogy which has been adapted from one of the best loved books of the 20th century, nor its characters, then I am afraid the problem is with you. It is annoying but everyone looking like ‘Actors Dressed up in Costumes on a Film Set’ is what you get whenever you watch a live action film. To be disappointed is to be absurd.

To say that the bottom falls out of the story as soon as Smaug is dispatched is to take issue with J. R. R. Tolkien himself, since that is how he wrote it. There is something very realistic and logical about the sudden destruction of a dragon leading to a violent struggle over its treasure trove.

Sadly I think that Sarah Watt didn’t have anything to write about Battle of the Five Armies except that it wasn’t her cup of tea. She then had to cobble together a truly bizarre array of complaints to fill out the column. Given the higher hit rate generated by negative articles her review no doubt will be read by thousands. What a tragedy to squander such an opportunity. Sarah should give up her column inches to a writer worthy of the job.