The Lone Luminary

Eleanor Catton speaks honestly about the challenges for New Zealand writers — and get vociferous bile hurled at her from John Key and Sean Plunket. No wonder she is frustrated at being treated as the ‘creative writing ambassador’ for this country. Given her literary success it strikes me as safe to assume that she has a wealth of professional wisdom to impart as she sees fit.

Is this not the point of having ‘leaders’ in the first place? It seems not if you tell New Zealanders what they do not wish to hear. Sean Plunket called her an ‘ungrateful hua’ this morning, and had to hastily make clear that he said ‘hua’ and not ‘whore’. Apparently ‘hua’ is an inconsistent shortening of ‘upoko kohua’, meaning ‘may your head be boiled and eaten’. A deep insult in anyones lingo.

I am interested in the character of the offense taken by the likes of Key and Plunket because of the irony revealed in their hostility to criticism. Eleanor Catton said at the Jaipur Literary Festival that New Zealand is ‘dominated by these neo-liberal, profit obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture’. The underlying cause for the outrage on behalf of some (the very people she refers to and their assorted media cadres) could perhaps be beause an unpleasant opinion is all the more cutting when it is verifiably true. Secondly, there is a feeling that Catton is being ungrateful in expressing herself in such terms. I shall examine both notions.

The first proposition is straightforward. Does the government value the creative arts? Judging by the miniscule funding levels for stalwart institutions like Radio New Zealand, which many in the creative arts rely on for getting the word of their endeavors to the public, no. The government does not value the creative arts. And it is not disrespectful to say so.

They (the government) cannot see the money in literature and for good reason, because there isn’t any. The value of the arts is in the heart, not the wallet. There is a connection between development in the arts and development of society. The time of Socrates and Plato was also the time of Phidias and the building of the Parthenon. The time of Queen Elizabeth I was also the time of Marlowe and Shakespeare. The highpoint of the industrial revolution was accompanied by the impressionist painters, the expressionists reflected the turmoil of the early 20th century. Our art explores our identity. Why change the flag Mr Key? — if not for the reason that our developing national identity is not reflected by the current design. That is part of the case made in favour of the change, and it accidentaly highlights the importance of art to society, which the Prime Minister both supports and disavows. How acrobatic the minds of these politicians are.

If no further support for the arts is forthcoming, perhaps an honest reflection on Catton’s remarks could be entertained. Truth is a defense to libel, and the charge against ‘neo-liberal, profit obsessed, very shallow, very money hungry politicians’ is justifiable because it is very close to the mark.

The second proposition is that Eleanor Catton is being ungrateful. Sean Plunket said the following (as reported by ‘Here’s the woman who’s a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and works at a publically-funded institution, and has recieved a lot of financial help during her career to write things… Then she turns around and says, ‘I don’t get a fair crack’…’

Eleanor Catton wasn’t complaining that she didn’t get a fair crack. She was saying that we don’t. We, the anonymous young who have nothing but our own self belief and a desperate compulsion to write. Eleanor Catton is not the only talented writer in New Zealand. But she is on a high and lonely summit as an internationally successful one. She’s looking for company at the top, and shouldn’t we celebrate her desire? Become worthy of it by learning from her example? Or is it better to shake off her wisdom and cut the ties that bind her to these shores? How we have been impoverished by the latter tactic in the past.

If it is traitorous to point out the barriers to success then Sir Peter Jackson is a traitor. He certainly faced public derision for daring to say that the tax incentives for big budget films weren’t competative enough. Arguably he was right in his criticisms, but the difference in his case was that the government could see the dollars behind him and backed him on that basis. Why aren’t there more Peter Jacksons? A big factor has to be the fact that the barriers still exist for everyone else. I digress.

Eleanor Catton teaches creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology, and in the warped reasoning of Mr Plunket this should make her wary of saying anything against the government. How I hope that the Sean Plunket principle is not shared by the leading tertiary institutions of this country, which would poison the research they do, and kill the ability of the wise to tell truth to power. Not a state of affairs I find attractive.

I shall leave you with one final thought. If we keep chopping the tall poppies they will simply (to paraphrase Shakespeare) ‘bid us adieu, and shape their old course in a country new.’ How happy those lucky countries will be.

Are we amused?

British media had carried on a quiet discontent over the last few days over Prince Charles apparently adopting a monocle because he dislikes being seen in public with reading glasses. Yes, he is switching the frumpy in favour of the ridiculous, but isn’t the point of the Royal family to exert old fashioned Britishness?

Harry Wallop writes a good piece on why Charles should not wear the bygone accessory in the Telegraph. That being said I cannot resist coming to the aid of the lugubrious heir to the throne.

Prince Charles has never been the handsome, charming prince of airbrushed fairy tales. Awkward, large nosed, well dressed but never with a sense of being suave. The first thing people say to me if we ever talk about the Royals is “Don’t you think they’ll skip him?” As if democracy had broken out in the house of Windsor.

Mr Wallop believes that Prince Charles risks undoing the good work he’s done with charities and education initiatives to realign the public’s perspective of him as someone more serious and knowable. I actually think Charles did that work for its own sake, and beyond respecting Royal protocol I don’t think he gives a toss whether or not the people think he is eccentric.

Is it not possible that the reason he dislikes wearing his glasses is because his mother is so firmly dependent on hers? The Owl of Buckingham Queen Elizabeth the Great, long may she live. Her glasses are one of her trademarks. Perhaps he is simply averse to looking like his mother, which I don’t think is a mark of disrespect, but rather shows a genuine understanding that he will never properly replace her.

Will I be happy to have a king with a monocle? I’m actually not bothered by the eye-glass, I am bothered by having a monarch in the first place. I am a republican at heart (not in the GOP context) and I hope the institution fades away. Taking away the titles leaves us with Charles, who is a human being with the right to select whatever ocular aid he wishes. We may tut about it, but I am sure we can find more important things to concern ourselves with.

Into The Woods (REVIEW PODCAST!)

Instead of writing a review I thought it would be so much better to record an audio review with my sister! She is much more knowledgeable than me on this and other films that a paltry write up by me could not compare to what you can hear by clicking play below!

The poster is owned by Disney and I have used it unaltered and unedited under fair use guidelines.

Elastic Heart — People have sex and paedophilia on the brain.

Regular viewers may recall a post I published last year about the music video for Sia’s song Chandelier, which is here. I tested the proposition that it was sexually exploiting eleven year old Maddie Ziegler, who dances through a dilapidated apartment wearing a light grey leotard and a platinum blonde wig.

I concluded that any sexual dimensions evoked by the video take place entirely in the mind. In other words I could watch the video through a sexual lens, and again without sex being present at all. I thought Maddie Ziegler is a fantastic dancer, and even at the age of eleven she is a professional with experience in television. I can’t see her being exploited by a Sia music video if she isn’t facing the same exploitation in her other work. Some may say she is, that an eleven year old should not be dancing on television at all, but it follows that their contention is children in general should not be in show business. So at the arbitrary age of eighteen (or 21) they can then go straight into bearing their buttocks in rap videos, or worse? Is that better? I am quite happy that Maddie Ziegler, a professional dancer, is not being exploited and can take care of herself in the industry she has grown up in.

On to the issue of today. Sia’s new music video for Elastic Heart. Maddie Ziegler is back as the same character inside a massive cage reminiscent of the kind from a 19th century circus. She is not alone in the cage. Dirty, muscled, and naked except for a pair of light grey shorts is the bearded Shia LaBeouf. The two dance as semi adversaries until Maddie reveals she can leave the cage by slipping through the bars. Shia cannot, and the relationship changes. Neither wants to be left alone. The final image is of Maddie trying to pull a despairing Shia through the bars.

Again sex does not come into it unless it is supplied by your own mind. That some people have compared it to pedophilia reveals more about them then it does about the video. I expect such people see something wrong with male teachers a priori (from the first), regardless of who they are or whether there is any evidence of impropriety. I thought that the Elastic Heart video was fantastic, and the casting of Shia LaBeouf was genius. When he wants he can be utterly asexual, even with rippling muscles and a pair of shorts.

Critics on Stuff have said:

“Some of the dance moves in the arthouse-style clip, made by Chandelier director Daniel Askill, involve close contact and suggest ambiguous intimacy – although it is not overtly sexual – and rejection. Some viewers have interpreted that as sexual intimacy and aggression, and there’s a reasonable argument Furler and Askill could have been a lot more careful – and less provocative.”

Yes it could have been less provocative, but what would have been the point? Art has to be provocative on some level, and the extent to which it is depends entirely on the artist(s). It must never depend on the fragile plane of acceptable things that the public like to hold things to. If it is that then it isn’t art, it is commercialism. And I’ll take art over that any-day. On the point of ambiguous intimacy, the setting needs to be taken into account. The two performers are in a cage, they are imprisoned within and without because outside the cage is even more lonely and drab than inside. The cage is in a large, dusty warehouse room. Of course the two inmates are going to share an intimacy, it is unfortunate that people are so stunted that they can’t fathom an intimacy being non-sexual.

Sadly, we cannot rely on even the basic textual analysis that I have done from the media, who are so quick to label things it is a wonder that they possess any un-spun knowledge. They have called the video bizarre, and will only consider it as something bizarre. The link below is to the video, and I ask you to consciously open your mind before clicking it.


Solidarity with France

It is with deep sadness and considerable anger that I write today in response to the latest and most deadly attack against freedom of speech and expression. The office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris — which was fire bombed in 2011 — was stormed by gunmen. The phrase ‘Allahu akbar’ (god is great) was heard among gunshots. The magazine editor, and nine of his staff were killed, as well as two police officers. The attackers escaped and remain at large.

This is not the time to roll out the patriotic/fraternal slogans that promise so much and deliver so little, and to restate the commitment of western nations against terrorism. That has been done well enough before. Today we should stand with France and mourn the deaths of journalists and cartoonists who dared to seek out the ridiculous. The killers are simply criminals, murderers with no defence. The murdered people who were unlike them. Who did not share their frigid reference to a bygone mythology. They should be brought to justice and face the indignity of being treated fairly and humanly under the law.

What rejection of their cause this would mean. Attacks on the freedom of speech and expression particularly of published material goes back to the fatwa on Salman Rushdie from the 1980s. Like the 2005 Danish cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad the widespread condemnation at the time was targeted at the author, and the cartoonist. Western democracy abandoned principle and tried to appease the offended. Yet freedom of speech means nothing if not the freedom to offend.

So it is not lost on me the significance of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and US President Barack Obama wasting no time to unequivocally support France and condemn the terrorists. The freedom of the mind to hold opinions and peaceably make them known should not be shackled by the legislation that marked the ‘war on terror’, not should it face the self-censorship of the fearful individual. Rather, I hope the words of Thomas Paine strike a deep and lasting chord. “But everything we see or hear offensive to our feelings, and derogatory to the human character, should lead to other reflections than those of reproach.”  It is not a crime to harbour thoughts of violence and repression, but to act on them in a way that causes harm to others.

I don’t like the term terrorist, because of its malleability, and tendency to change meanings depending on the speaker. There’s a stupid liberal motto: one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This implies that morality is relative, and how well that suits those who genuinely believe that blasphemy should be punished by death. I prefer to call them criminals, and to continue the tradition of the journalists who died. To keep seeking the ridiculous — that which makes life worth living.

Stéphane Charbonnier aka Charb, the editor of Charlie Hebdo who was murdered with eleven others in Paris
Stéphane Charbonnier aka Charb, the editor of Charlie Hebdo who was murdered with eleven others in Paris

The House is starting the year going backwards

The United States House of Representatives — where little got done last year besides mind-numbingly acrimonious hot air being blown back and forth — will start the year with three jobs bills.

The first, which is the most wearisome with its revoltingly patriotic title, is called the Hire More Heroes Act. It is an attack on the Affordable Care Act (dubbed Obamacare) and proposes to remedy the situation which has apparently seen many small businesses “to hold off hiring and even to shed jobs in some cases.” The quotation is reportedly from a CNBC report. The Hire More Heroes Act is supposed to make it easier to hire war veterans by allowing them to be exempted from the employee limit if they have healthcare plans through the Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs.

While accepting that it will be a good thing regardless if more veterans get into work, it is troubling that the case for this law change seems to be on the basis of a Gallup Poll. The poll suggests that there may be fear on the part of some small businesses when it comes to the affects of the ACA, and the CNBC article (which is here) makes the point that the small business growth could slow if the fears are reasonable.

What we have then is a law proposed on the basis of sheer conjecture. Such enthusiasm on behalf of the House to legislate from suggestion tells me that Obama’s veto stamp will need much ink if he’s to stop the reams of preposterous paper being added to the statute books.

The second piece of hogwash is the Save American Workers Act which proposes to repeal the provisions of Obamacare that require hours to be kept at a maximum of thirty per week. Oh the pain such socialism has caused to the 2.6 million workers, 63% of them women, who earn less than $30k and could see their hours and wages cut. Such is the case behind the bill that would restore the old 40-hour working week. Sound good? Well it is actually complete manure.

The 30 hour restriction under Obamacare is for part-time workers. I believe it is intended to make it harder for employers to pay workers less for doing what is effectively full-time work. So it is actually a very good thing, and requires that small businesses — the backbone of the economy the republicans are always honking on about — to pass on the rewards of growth to the hard-working folk at the bottom of the employment ladder. When I see titles like Save American Workers Act, I automatically probe it for how it may inflict the reverse effect on society. In this case the proposed aim and the real effect are the antithesis of each other. Another veto is almost certain.

The last measure announced by Speaker Boehner is Approving the Keystone Pipeline, a project that has drawn significant controversy for its environmental impact, and modest job creation. The GOP accuse the President of putting his own political interests ahead of the jobs and increased energy security for the American people. They are obviously implying that he is bending to the environmental lobby and groups like the Sierra Club. But the GOP doing more than bending to the oil and gas lobby by acting as a pimp for, and a prostitute of the leviathans of old energy.

Moreover, the GOP has managed to expedite the pipeline at all three of its earlier stages. Construction started in 2008, and the pipeline runs from Canada to Louisiana via the Mid-West. It is therefore already running, and Obama is resisting the final stage, which puts a loop through California. The republicans to like to claim that the President won’t let anything get done, but how fatuous is this claim when it comes to the Keystone Pipeline! Ultimately, Obama has said he will likely veto the approval, so the exercise of drawing it up- is a little silly.

So this is how the year begins for John Boehner, with three bills that will be vetoed if they pass, and a difficult task of getting the vetoes overturned. He’s like an orange Don Quixote, tilting at ridiculous windmills. Except he draws a salary funded by all Americans. How expensive silliness can sometimes be.

Working out

I am not one naturally accustomed to the taking of exercise. For many years I have avoided it, a large part of my character being built on utter scorn for sports and physical pursuits. It will seem like a major u-turn, evidence of embarrassing hypocrisy, and possibly mental derangement to see that I — as evidenced by the photo above —  that I engage in regular bouts of exercise.

After I was diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia in 2008, and the ability to walk and mobilise was clearly diminishing, and would only further diminish, I responded with the impulse to throw it all away. Over the succeeding years I kept avoiding exercise and ignored its proven benefits to physical and mental health. Both suffered the consequence. I don’t quite know what convinced me to change my mind and tune, but I think I was finally bored with being an unfit, unmotivated boozer.

Coming home after university allowed me to engage in a regular exercise program, and before Christmas I was ‘working out’ six days a week. The cosmetic improvements have been objectively verified, and add to the positive impression I get in the post shower flex in front of the mirror. We all do it folks. For the first time my shoulders have ‘broadened’, and I am very optimistic about the slight abdominal definition that seems real.

There are of course more important benefits; for example, sleeping and waking at reasonable times, a sturdy, reliable appetite, and a general improvement in the mind. I am grateful of these developments, and am enough of an empiricist to bow to the facts. But what of my character? Such a stoic un-sportsman must be reeling from the dissonance of hating exertion yet doing it regardless.

Well, I can say that I have no more interest in exercise than I ever did, so it is not up to me what I do in the course of a workout. Half are conducted at my brothers house where he draws up the program and decides how many reps of each dead-lift or squat I do, and if he asks me I generally agree to do more rather than less. I am a man after all, and my pseudo-masculinity exposes itself in this way.

The other half of my workouts are done at ukinetics in town, a physiotherapy place run by UCOL and publicly funded for those people with cardiac problems — a category I regrettably fall in. The workouts are a little more gentle, but a good counterpoint to the heavy stuff I do on the alternate days. And overall the combination of both has certainly made me feel healthier, and if I could use that rather annoying word; active.

I am just as turned off by sports as I ever was, but I’m better for being less puritanical about it. That is really the best you can do in life, and it is comforting to know that a little hypocrisy doesn’t scuttle the boat, it makes the sailing all the smoother.