Racist stain?

What is the big problem with admitting systemic racism?

Another black teenager has been gunned down by white police in Chicago, and authorities are trying to head of a colossus of unrest by rapidly charging the police officer with murder. Remember the killings in New York and New Jersey? Barely a year ago but even then the police officers were spared by grand juries. Therefore this is progress. Right?

I don’t think fear is progress, or that the threat of a mass mob should influence the justice system. There is a political problem here that goes unexamined. Is it politically incorrect to admit racism? That needs to be dealt with.

First of all, racism is not a stain impervious to washing by experience and education. Racism can be cured, it can certainly be treated, but it has an unfortunate stigma associated with it.

Who then is a rehabilitated racist? I would point to Winston Churchill, who carried a Victorian sense of Anglo-superiority over Indians. He was certainly racist for much of his life, but I argue that it wasn’t extreme at the peak of his career. He is on record saying that a fundamental disagreement he had with Hitler was on the latter’s belief on being born pure, with good Aryan blood in the veins. Churchill said he could understand hating someone on account of what they did or said, but that no man can help where he was born.

Therefore I would call Churchill a passive racist, a manageable racist. One can pluck out many historical figures and see that they have been forgiven by people today. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, one of whom was the half-sister of his late wife. He fathered many children with her.

In a historical sense the stain of racism can be washed out, so why not for people today. Police in the United States are racist to a degree. They should admit it, and take steps to manage it. And the hyperactive media should strive to make this happen by not simply inflaming the situation through it’s reporting.

There, rant over.

Killing us with non-argument

This is part of a general comment on commerce, and where the priorities are now in relation to where they should be.

Books are overpriced. Domestically this is undoubtedly true, all you have to do is look at the suggested price the publishers put on the back cover and compare it to what the shop expects you to cough up.

Clothing is overpriced too, and at times (it fluctuates) electronics. The New Zealand market is simply too small for commerce on-shore to be competitive with overseas markets. They are awash with people, and stuff is cheaper.

Muddying this already opaque water is the government. It gets involved with tax and duty and the effect is disproportionately cruel. Alcohol is more expensive here than overseas despite there being no shortage of drinkers, as the tax levied against it gets fiddled with every year.

I say this is disproportionately cruel, because it rifles through the wallets of the poorest New Zealanders. They spend a greater amount of their income on consumables because they have less income overall. One might say uncaringly that the poor shouldn’t be wasting their money on such non-essentials as alcohol, and such utterances used to be followed by the satisfying thud of the guillotine hitting the block.

Yes the heads of the rich are due for blocks and pikes, metaphorically speaking, but that hardly solves the problem at hand. The poor deserve a drink as long as anyone else does, and they shouldn’t have to subsist in a swamp of debt they may never escape from.

What I propose is simple. Prioritise the taxation of things of value to the rich, like capital gains, income, and overseas goods worth more than $10k, over the taxation of things of value to the poor. Goods and services, Christmas presents bought off Amazon, and books. Denigrate that if you will, but taking money from the poor so you don’t have to take it from the rich is an evil thing to do.

Retail NZ want the GST threshold on overseas goods lowered from $400 to $20. They think that will improve the domestic market, busting up online stores like the mafia. That is not an overstatement, the Retail NZ lobby group is a mafia, and the concern of the sector over encouraging customers to buy their products is not reflected in the salaries they award their bosses.

The CEOs of The Warehouse and Kathmandu both earn well over a million a year, while most of the other big businesses are owned and run offshore. It is who is in the middle that is of real concern. The small to medium sized businesses that concentrate on a section of the domestic market and are dependent on them. They aren’t earning the big bucks, and they don’t have the capacity to insulate themselves from the varying tide of the market by having multiple sources of income.

Does lowering the GST threshold help them or harm them? Books, electronics, and cheap clothing are standard goods. They are sold by the monolithic chain stores as well as online. Smaller businesses are increasingly focussing on items for niche markets. Hipster stationary. Vinyl records. Luxury clothing and goods (organic beauty products etc). Such things are increasingly being bought online, but that does not mean shutting off overseas goods improves conditions for domestic businesses. More pressure is put on them to respond to the changeable demands of a fickle market.

When it comes down to it, NZ businesses directly competing with overseas online stores hold a trump card. They can get their products to consumers more quickly. That is everything in retail today. At the moment I am waiting for five products to be delivered from overseas – four books and a piece of camera gear. They have been purchased, and have been shipped, so they are somewhere in the pipeline.

I usually have to wait weeks for the things I buy online. But not if the store is in NZ. I have got several items from Wellington based online electronics store Rubbermonkey, and the items get delivered the next day. Hallenstiens and Glassons have stepped up to the online plate and can get things to you overnight as well.

Circumstances are changing. Retail has to adapt, the environment shouldn’t have to bend to accommodate it. Wake up parochial New Zealand, there’s a world out there and you are part of it. It was wrong of Robert Muldoon to personally authorise what goods could be sold in New Zealand, and it is wrong to strangle the options of New Zealanders through tax and duty.

See the hypocrisy in money grubbing lobby groups pushing for more red tape, which according to NZ Post would add $20 to every parcel. The prelates of the business world try to coach their beliefs in an overall advocacy for the customer. They are afraid of rivals, and as such do not show confidence in their own businesses. The retail world is ruthless and cutthroat. That doesn’t mean we should shroud Retail NZ in protection. Buy better, and deliver on time.

Mockingjay Part 2

That is it for The Hunger Games series, and let me begin this review with a spoiler warning. Although to be perfectly frank I don’t think I am at risk of fan-rage if I give away plot points, since real fans will have absorbed the book a dozen times. Nothing major in the film deviates from the book, so here we go.

This series is remarkable in that its target audience is teenagers, and it’s an accurate portrayal of the violence of war, and the science of propaganda. Katniss Everdeen — Jennifer Lawrence — the Mockingjay is the trump propaganda card. And she is played by both sides throughout the series. A constant theme is the importance of using propaganda to affect the duration of physical battles, saving lives by affecting surrender etc.

I was impressed by the authenticity of the film in stressing the aimlessness of tyrannous violence. You have punished and killed people, taken their weapons and supplies, and invaded their city. You have already made your point. But the tyrant goes too far. Children are orphaned, and then themselves killed. The only thing that matters is the lie told by the screen. The selection of images to present a construct to the people in order to bribe them of their consent. Mockingjay Part 2 is really a Shakespearean power drama, or a reinterpretation of an ancient Greek legend. The hydra of political power cannot be cut off without more sprouting to take its place.

Only the hero can slay the monster, and only the Mockingjay can put and end to the Hunger Games. Yes, this is about the building of democracy to succeed oligarchy, and the American elements of elected Presidential power at the end are hinted at a little too clumsily. But I have got thoroughly ahead of myself. Back to the core of the movie.

President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) is a Ceaușescu-like figure (Nicolae Ceaușescu was the Romanian communist president overthrown and executed in 1989) but unlike Ceaușescu he fights to the bitter end of his regime. He is mirrored by President Coin of District 13 (Julianne Moore) who claims power among the ruins of Snow’s  temple. Will she complete the removal? Or will she rebuild the temple and continue the tyranny?

The film is merciless with the killing of characters, and many of them bite the dust having built up quite a bit of emotional connection with the audience. However, the action is propelled forward by the necessity of completing the revolution, which keeps things humming along. The last movie had a few too many moments of nothing, and the narrative suffered as a consequence.

The last installment is brilliant until its climax. Then it commits the Lord of the Rings sin of having too many endings. You could turn off the movie at any point in the last twenty minutes and feel like the plot is concluded. That is bad story telling because it is indulging something other than the narrative. It is indulging fans, who don’t want it to end. I say this is bad from a story telling perspective, but not from the perspective of a viewer wanting to see all the ends neatly tied off.

Really the plot of the film ends twenty-five minutes before the credits roll, and the rest is an anti-climax. But it doesn’t matter. It is the last film in the series and can afford to be a little sloppy and indulgent. I remain very impressed that the violence could be shown so forcefully, and the authenticity of war could be ensured. What is missing is blood, and I assume that is what got it past the censors, so that can be forgiven.

Lastly it was probably the last time I’ll see Philip Seymour Hoffman on the big screen, and that is a melancholy thought. Most of his part was unaffected by his death, save one very obvious scene where Woody Harrelson delivers a message on his behalf. I am glad they didn’t try to digitise a performance out of the late Hoffman. He is not a puppet.

To the final recommendation. See the film or not? See it of course, what a crazy question!

 

 

 

 

 

Flagging the flagged flagship flag

When the table is set, the meal laid out, the wine paid for and the candles lit; it is irredeemably rude to walk out before taking a mouthful.

The flag referendum is here. If you want to be part of it or not it is here, and the proverbial table is set. Instead of muddling through a list of reasons why you should take part and take an interest in democracy – even if it is limited to selecting textiles (paisley flag please) – let’s examine why not.

It’s not important. That is a given. Apart from giving a bit of certainty as to which flag belongs to New Zealand or Australia, this flag debate isn’t quite pregnant with importance. That being said the current flag is a symbol of colonial ownership. Britain literally possessing New Zealand, which is actually stated in the rules around colonial flags, but is utterly wrong and doesn’t keep pleasant company with New Zealand identity.

It’s expensive. No it isn’t. It costs $26 million, grow up. And the money has already been spent so it’s a non-argument in the first place.

We have more important things to focus on. Like what? Richie McCaw’s retirement? Jonah Lomu’s death? Neither of these things puts food in the mouths of hungry children, yet attention is lavished on them like they are the pivot points of civilisation. The flag is at least as important as those things.

I don’t like the designs. Good! Say so. That is the bloody point of this thing. Rank them in order of which ones you hate least and send in the ballot. Then you can vote it down at the next referendum and the people will have spoken.

This is direct democracy. A referendum that binds the government to a specific course of action. The table is set ladies and gentlemen, sit down and dine.

Spectre

It isn’t Skyfall. How frustrating it is to hear that, as if audiences would react kindly to a rerun of the last Bond film. I thought it was excellent.

I am not going to pull rank. I could wave my film degree (if I could find the bloody thing) and pontificate on the reasons Bond 24, Spectre, is worth more than the paltry 60 it received from metacritic. A site that crunches the crap of critics into one concentrated super turd.

A quick glance at the user reviews paints a mixed portrait. Some witless morons say that it is tired, and the lightest Craig Bond so far. Others warn innocent moviegoers to avoid it and spend their money elsewhere. How irresponsible these ostensible Bond fans are.

Still, there are some people out there who contrast the hollow joylessness of the people I have just described. They say it is a brilliant film. One of the best ever, and I agree. For one, I don’t want to see progressively dark Craig movies. The ruthless side of his Bond has been well explored, and has more depth than any of the other Bonds, but is a well we have come to the bottom of. Why does exploring the human element so alienate some viewers? It might be aimless to try and understand the sociopaths, but there you go, I have gone and made my point about those particular fans.

Spectre is the super-villain organisation at the heart of the 007 franchise. It first featured in the Connery movies as the group backing original super-villain Dr No. The head of Spectre then and now (his face was obscured in the Connery movies until You Only Live Twice) was Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the proper arch-nemesis of James Bond. He was always portrayed stroking a Persian cat, and the most famous characterisation of him was when Donald Pleasance was cast as Blofeld and had a bald head with a distinctive facial scar.

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This is the origin of Dr Evil in Austin Powers, and Blofeld always had outlandish plans and lairs. So it should not be a surprise (and certainly not a disappointment) that Spectre features lairs and plans verging on the outlandish. Like a butler in tails taking Bond’s gun from him on a silver platter when 007 and his attractive companion arrive at a gleaming base build in a meteor crater in the deserts of Africa. The lawns are watered and well maintained. This is silly, but it is James Bond silly. So it works.

Blofeld is played by Christoph Waltz, who does a fine job portraying one of the more cliche characters in cinema. The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job too, and I couldn’t find a weak link anywhere. Of course, I wasn’t looking for one, and that is the point. If you are watching a film and breaking it apart before the credits roll then you are a snob and your opinions aren’t worth thinking, much less listening to.

Lea Sedoux is fantastic, and like many I have had a crush on her since the first thing I saw her in. Monica Belushi is great too (and who doesn’t have a perpetual crush on her?) although I would have loved to see her screen time extended. Her part was too fleeting.

Ralph Fiennes was superb but when is he ever not? He portrays an M who has seen violence, and can do violence, but acts with cold principle and puts country ahead of all else. A better successor to the inimitable Judy Dench could not be asked for. Ben Wishaw and Naomi Harris as Q and Moneypenny respectively are excellent. Wishaw beats John Cleese’s Q any day and in the modern world a technical wizard with a laptop seems much more appropriate than a dithery bank manager, as Cleese seemed to be. Naomi Harris is sublime.

I am pandering now so it is best to stop. But for heavens sake see the latest Bond film. It cost $275 million to make (one of the most expensive films ever) and needs a high box office take to break even.

Library of Souls

This is tragic. Not the actual story of Library of Soulsbut that it is the last in the Peculiar Children trilogy by author Ransom Riggs. Hopefully not the last of series as a whole, but more on that later.

In 2013 a dear friend lent me her copy of the first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it caught and held me in the odd embrace only to be found in fantasy. I will stick with calling it fantasy by the way, rather than getting completely muddled by the ridiculous number of terms that make up the catalogue of literary genres.

This is not really a review of the book, but rather a collection of my back and forth thoughts about it. I would say it is an extended musing, but that would be self-aggrandising in a time when everything coughed up on the internet is a ‘musing’; most not very amusing. Alright, that’s enough for puns.

So then, lets talk literature I suppose the Peculiar books are ‘Speculative Fiction’, which is a term I found this morning and seems an unnecessary umbrella for a whole bunch of other genres, but is unhelpfully tautological. Like describing a piece of fruit as both firm and squishy. What is fiction if not speculative? Or I might put it another way; what is speculative fiction if not the fiction that is worth reading? Insofar as that rule stands — since I learned the term this morning we mustn’t get too attached to my theory — Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series is worth cracking open if you come across it.

To start with he–Ransom Rigs–collected old photos from flea markets and pawnshops and upon the suggestion of his publisher used the most eerie ones to create a story. They are scattered throughout all three Peculiar Children books and help visualise a scene, or a character, or some other part of the plot. Most do not carry any digital enhancement, and although they complement the story and formed the narrative building blocks that the author used, the result is not a picture book.

Embarrassingly I have not written about the other two books, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Hollow City (see below).


I refer you a short and worthy keyboard smattering from Lara’s book club which gives a brief review of the first book.

In profiles, articles, and promotional kipple; Ransom Riggs–and his work–tends to be described as quirky, and creepy. These words are becoming clichés (quirky being a particular favourite these days) as general descriptions people go to desperate lengths to have ascribed to themselves, but maybe because of that they are important. Perhaps that is what twists the knife in the guts of linguists. A word can be both subversive and honest. Over-used and yet describing what tries to be unique, to stand apart. What is in fact peculiar.

Now that segways back rather well to the book in question. Like its predecessors it targets a part of you that stands apart, that doesn’t fit, that is frightened and bored of the world. Isolation, alienation, and a yearning for vindication (ignore that last one if you like, I was searching for another ‘ion’ word) these are common notions in adolescence (I won’t trust anyone who disagrees), which don’t necessarily fade away with time.

So this is number three in a trilogy, and so far Ransom Riggs has not said whether he will add to the series. I would hazard a guess at Library of Souls being the last outing of Jacob Portman, at least as the point-of-view character. The series opens and closes with a pleasing symmetry, I would not fancy it being spoiled by the lined being picked up again.

The last book of the Peculiar universe? Unlikely. Oh, what a happy thought! Assuming there are good vernacular photographs left to guide the story. Human’s have such a penchant for pictures that makes me feel secure that Ransom Riggs still has plenty in his (or his friends) collections.

For those that for some horrible reason are affected by a dislike of reading (I speak to whoever knows someone thus afflicted, since those actually concerned would gnaw on asphalt before getting near a blog) Tim Burton is directing the film adaptation to the first book. It comes out next year, and I am cautious about it as one might expect. I’ll save those thoughts for another post.