Monday, December 31, 2007

A house fit for horrors

This is a time of year when bloggers should put aside the petty concerns of politics and consider instead matters of the Arts. So, following the example set by Mr Peter Cresswell, I shall indulge myself in a little architectural criticism.

The house pictured is the holiday home of one John Key, who is shown in the photograph. The house is one of several featured in an item from yesterday's Herald on Sunday, entitled, "Revealed: the holiday hideout of rich and famous." Mr Key, a retired foreign exchange dealer, is described by the paper as a "Prime-Minister-in-waiting."

Whilst he is waiting, Mr Key really should think about doing some gardening. I may be mistaken; perhaps the appearance of abandonment is newly fashionable among people of money; possibly Mr Key wishes to give the impression that he is too busy to spend time on personal concerns. Maybe he holds to Green principles and wishes to let his plot of land grow naturally, without human intervention. Or perhaps he has simple tastes and prefers weeds to flowers. But I think not. He should find a landscape gardener immediately, before people think he is the sort of man who would leave a car on his front lawn.

His gardener, if she has taste, will suggest tactfully that the garden be adorned with fast-growing trees, perhaps Leylandii or even Pinus Radiata. It is imperative that the house be concealed from public gaze as soon as possible. For there is only one word that can adequately describe this immodest abode and that is "vulgar."

It is difficult to know where to begin. Here is a house (described somewhat disingenuously by the Herald as a "bach") which has the appearance of a miniature office building. Rather than its present location at Omaha Beach, its design suits it to a business park on the outskirts of the city, conveniently near major transport hubs. The reader should note the extravagant and charmless cornice, apparently supported by massive piers, as well as the floor-to-ceiling windows in tinted glass. The reader should note these and resolve never to have a home with these features; unless, that is, he should wish to have regular visits from photocopier salesmen, for surely they will flock to his door.

Should one be visiting Mr Key in his holiday home, whether to attempt to sell office products or for social reasons, it would be very bad form to tap one of those seemingly weighty piers. It would chime like a bell. The piers must be hollow, since the wooden deck which apparently supports and surrounds them could not bear the weight of so much masonry. Wits might observe that this is a hollow house for a hollow man.

Fortunately, one can see little of the interior through the tinted glass. One suspects that it would contain a white leather lounge suite, on which Mr Key would relax with half a glass of Chablis while listening to Air Supply's Greatest Hits on the Bang and Olufson. One imagines the bookshelves, if there are any, would contain works by John Grisham and Dean Koontz. Doubtless, the walls are adorned with paintings of sailing boats, done in a pseudo-impressionist style.

If only, for the sake of this nation's reputation abroad, one could say that Mr Key had inherited this unfortunate state of affairs. But, as he never ceases to tell us, Mr Key was brought up in a State house, one which probably was a much better work of architecture than this. All this, apparently, is Mr Key's work. He bought the empty plot seventeen years past for a mere $147,000; with the house, it is worth $2.95 Million. The choice of design was his own, as is the location: Success Court.

I would continue, but readers of this blog are men and women of delicate aesthetic sensibilities. Instead, I shall wish you all a happy New Year.

Not in Kansas, anymore

Church sexual abuse with a twist: the perp is a woman, the church is Baptist.

Creflo Dollar, a man not unknown to these shores, is under investigation.

In Britain, the money is in charity.

Career opportunities: the Vatican wants more exorcists.

Also coming to you from the Middle Ages: martyrs.

Meanwhile, in Poland, the Church has authorised an exorcism centre.

Meanwhile, in England, Poles

Meanwhile, in Canada, empty pews

Meanwhile, in Italia, il terrorismo islamista.

Back in England, there are too many Bishops

The War Against Christmas continues in Oklahoma.

Even Kansas is not in Kansas.

Finally, an atheist movie

with thanks to Craig for the links

Saturday, December 29, 2007


It's that time of year again. Yesterday's lead story in both the Herald and the Dom was that a New Zealander had been bitten by a snake, in Australia. Woop de woop, as the young folks say. In an effort to provide readers with something to read, here are some links to some items of interest.

In the New York Review of Books, Malise Ruthven reviews some books concerning the religion of peace. In the TLS, John Habgood grumbles about the New Atheism, "which has a sharper tongue, is gleefully aggressive rather than solemnly regretful, and makes much use of ridicule." Oh yes, indeed. In the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash talks about faith, reason and Mitt Romney. Robert Bellah longs for a global civil religion.

Turning towards a more important matter, n+1 discusses dating. John Lanchester tells us all about derivatives. Frederick C Crews talks about drugs.

Lincoln Caplan makes an exhortation about executive supremacy. Jonathan Jones gets the creeps from the Isenheim Altarpiece. Paul Hockenos considers the romanticising of the Red Army Faction. Christopher Hitchens measures his words.

Finally, Caleb Crain contemplates the twilight of the books.

There, I bet that cheered you up. Today's illustration was provided by the excellent Mr Samuel Finnemore, who has spent most of this year commenting for great justice on Mr Wishart's blog.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Have yourself a very Fascist Christmas

One of my favourite traditions at this time of year is the War Against Christmas. Like many traditions, it is not that old: the religious right in the USofA discovered that Christmas was under attack from secularists only a couple of yuletides ago. However, hostilities have broken out all over the place, including the Old Country. A Member of Parliament called Pritchard, who represents the Conservative interest in the Wrekin, has taken up the call to arms. Apparently, "many shoppers find it increasingly difficult to buy greeting cards with references to Christ." It is obvious why: the fascists have bought them all. Mr Pritchard says the British National Party in Staffordshire has sent out cards showing the holy family and bearing the words 'heritage, tradition and culture.' I am so glad I am not on their list, or any of their lists.

Things are so different in the Levant. Mr Pritchard told his audience, "yesterday I received an e-mail from a Jewish gentleman in Beirut, who told me of nativity plays performed in schools there. If it is good enough for Lebanon, it is good enough for London." I should think so, too. London should have an endless war between Christians and Muslims, with help from Syria and Israel. That would give the youth of today some moral fibre. Instead, they have Amy Winehouse, who is Jewish but no gentleman (incidentally, on Waiheke Island recently, I saw a teenage girl who looked like Ms Winehouse and who had styled her hair accordingly; I bet she is a worry to her parents).

The full text of Mr Pritchard's speech can be found here. It is a masterpiece of imagery. He exalts his fellow members to "slay the dragon of political correctness" and provides what must be the simile of the year: "taking Christ out of Christmas is like serving the Christmas turkey without the stuffing."

Mr Pritchard also has stern words for us heathens: "turning to secularists, it is wrong of the anti-Christian lobby, whether atheistic, humanist or secularist, not to afford the level of tolerance to the Christian faith that they rightly demand for their own world view and beliefs or lack of belief." I must say, it is very nice of him to be so politically correct as to distinguish between the different kinds of non-believer. But I don't think atheists can be blamed for the rarity of advent calendars.

Whilst we are at it, and thinking of war, why did none of these crusaders ever complain about the war films shown on television at Christmas? When I was growing up in England, on Christmas Day the BBC would always show Von Ryan's Express or The Guns of Navarone. It is no wonder that the only people left who care about the reason for the season are the Staffordshire fascists: the holy family keeps folks' minds off killing Nazis.

Dispatches from the war against Christmas in the USofA can be found here, while Flumadiddle brings us the true tat of Christmas. And, in case you didn't know already, it was all invented by Charles Dickens.

Finally, and thinking of the Wrekin, here is a unrelated song from Wreckless Eric

One more thing: here is my Christmas card to you. I hope you will find it tolerant and secular.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Kings for a day

It is, as all those 80s pop stars remind us, Christmas-time, and so the Baptists of the Tabernacle on Auckland's Queen Street have done what they always do at this time of year: they have brought out their alarmingly life-size Christmas Crib. It gives me the shudders everytime I see it. Nativity scenes, traditionally, are on a miniaturised scale and so they should be. But the Baptists proclaim that a child is born with huge and scary figures.

Among the Corinthian columns Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and two kings of orient are. The whereabouts of the third king are unknown. They are an odd looking bunch. Mary must be the oldest virgin in town, while Joseph seems quite shocked at the prospect of surrogate fatherhood, as well he might. The two kings appear to be advancing on the less than happy family as zombies do on teenagers. There are no certain shepherds, no sheep and no asses; which is fortunate, because there would be no room at the Tabernacle otherwise.

But what of that third king? Perhaps he was taken in the night by drunken revellers. That may be the reason why the holy mannequins are returned to the recesses of the Tabernacle every evening and regrouped the next day. Or perhaps the king's disappearance is a sign of something more sinister.

Perhaps the royal absence is "part of a larger war that the secular Left is waging on all things Christian," In the USofA, manger attacks are breaking out all over. In one such incident, a public school coach and some of his students "damaged a number of Christmas displays, let the air out of inflatable figures and rearranged plastic reindeer into X-rated sexual positions." Flumadiddle is monitoring the lordnappings and, at the last count, reports thirty-two baby Jesuses taken.

Whether this disturbing trend has come to New Zealand remains unreported. Family First really ought to be monitoring this sort of thing.

Elsewhere, Going Jesus has assembled a Cavalcade of Bad Nativities.

99 problems and the blog ain't one

Blimey. Just when it looked as if nothing much was going on around here, the Fundy Post has had greatness thrust upon it. A company called Socialrank, which makes clever little algorithms to assess blogs, has compiled a list of the top one hundred Atheist sites in the blogworld. There, among such luminaries as The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Pharyngula and Flumadiddle, is the Fundy Post. And what's more, the selection process was done by twenty key bloggers in the Atheist niche; I have been peer-reviewed. They have even given me a virtual plaque, which I have hung at the at the top right.

Quite how this all came about is beyond my ken. I have never thought of this as an atheist blog; rather as an autobiographical narrative written by an author who does not much care to talk about himself and who, for that matter, does not much care for stories. The fact of my atheism and of my fascination with religious politics is just something that is part of the mix, along with art, literature and Sophie Ellis Bextor. However, my peers apparently think otherwise, so I shall not turn down this accolade. Besides, it will really piss off Bill Cooke, which is reason enough.

You never know, it might also prompt somebody to offer me a writing job. Perhaps I might also be the subject of one of those profiles in North and South which feature New Zealanders playing on the world stage and show how New Zealand punches above its weight. Metro, as well, might like to think about a feature, or at least lunch.

Anyway, enough about me. This blog's ranking is now in the hands of the algorithm, which weighs the Fundy Post in the balance daily. The score, which has risen a healthy four points this week, is determined in large part by the amount of activity and linkage the blog receives. So I have you, gentle readers, to thank. It is the lurking and linking and commenting which makes the points. And points mean prizes, or at least kudos.

I was going to entitle this post "don't cha wish your boyfriend was hot like me" but I thought that would be a little immodest.

Of paper bags and carpet bags

To Smith and Caughey, for seasonal lulz; there is nothing like a department store to bring out the camp in Christmas. I am sure Fundy Post readers will want to know how the rich (or, to the use the politically correct term, people of money) will be spending their riches this Christmas. So I patrolled the decked aisles of Smith and Caughey's Christmas department and I can reveal, exclusively to you, that this year's hot item is...

...a paper bag. You read me right. A paper bag. Not just any old paper bag, of course; that would be silly. This paper bag in fact is an "old-fashioned paper bag lantern." For a mere fourteen dollars you can purchase a plastic bag filled with "six reusable, flame retardant, grocery-style bags." You will also have to make an additional investment of some night lights to put in the bags, so as to transform them into lanterns. A serving suggestion on the plastic bag which contains the paper bags shows the completed bag and night light combinations deployed to line a driveway. Given the length of driveways in Rem, the purchaser will need quite a few bags. But a bag is not just for Christmas: the instructions on the plastic bag also suggest using the paper bags to light your dinner party table.

It is a different world, that of the people of money. I am ignorant of the history of the old-fashioned paper bag lantern, if it has one. I would imagine that at some time and place in the quaint past, people without money put candles in paper bags to make lanterns, because they could not afford anything more elaborate. Now people of money can imitate the simple pleasures of the poor, without even having to go to the trouble of hoarding their grocery bags, and safe in the knowledge that these bags are flame retardant.

Perhaps I should not mock the people of money any further. This Christmas will not be easy for them. On the very day that I visited Smith and Caughey, the Herald used the last of its red ink to announce the passing of the Electoral Finance Bill into law, solemnly noting that Parliament's decision has "changed the way New Zealanders can participate in elections." I expect this is true for the New Zealanders who buy paper bag lanterns. It probably will make little difference for those who use bags solely for shopping purposes. If you are in Pak'n'Save filling your own bags with groceries, you probably are not grieving that the Government no longer allows you to spend a million dollars running a covert election campaign. You are probably more concerned with packing and saving.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blogs and how to knit them

Following yesterday's post about the state of blogging, I have done some research. By clicking the "next blog" button at the top of any Blogger blog, I have seen many blogs and learned that most are written in Spanish. Those in English are mostly about penis enlargement and include such helpful advice as:
Your chick does not want to jazz it with you by reason of your male aggregate size.
Dont panic you can solve this problem right now.
All you have to do is just use our aggregate enlargement.
Your sexual life will change promptly.
Apart from babies and cats, most other blogs are about either porn or knitting. One blog is about both.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Living as a nanny in Manhattan

If you have been wondering why I have not been blogging so much of late, the reason is that I have been stifled by Public Address System; stifled, I tell you!

See, I cannot even start a post without mentioning PA System and, worse still, borrowing its links; only today I was reading a post by Emma Hart and felt an overwhelming need to write about this one, or at least this passage:
There are about 1.1 billion Internet users, yet only 55 million users (5%) have weblogs according to Technorati. Worse, there are only 1.6 million postings per day; because some people post multiple times per day, only 0.1% of users post daily.
Of course, this sort of thing is not a new problem. Participation in the High Renaissance was a constant worry for contemporary advocates of an inclusive and diverse society: research found that, in all Italian city states surveyed, less than one per cent of the population had completed a fresco in the previous twelve months; rates for the playing of the viola da gamba and the invention of flying machines also were disappointingly low; only such activities as kicking a pig's bladder around the streets, jew-baiting and fornication proved to have widespread popular appeal.

But still, only 55 million users have weblogs. Somewhere out there are a lot of cats which never have had a photograph posted on a blog. More worrying still, there might be a liberal arts graduate in New York doing a dead-end job while she tries to complete her first novel who has yet to tell us about how difficult it all is.

I am all for participation but I have no delusions about the richness and variety of the contributions made to public discourse by bloggers. I have spent too much time looking at the pretty pictures pass by on Blogger Play.

Of course the 95 per cent of Internet users who do not blog might have something interesting to say; but do we want to know about the porn they have downloaded or the recipes they have found? Most folk just consume Internet; they don't want to contribute. Most people probably prefer reading to writing and commenting to creating.

Anyway, enough about them; what about this blog? I cannot but help notice that readers are more engaged when I write stuff than when I post links. Fundy Post readers are a clever bunch who make interesting comments; so more words, fewer links from now on.

That said, here is a link to a song about doing a dead-end job in New York.

When fundies attack

Craig sent me this story about a killing over Creation in the outback.

Also from Craig and from Australia is the news that Catch The Fire Ministries is blaming the drought on sin.

Also mentioned in that story is the League of Rights. As it happens, the New Zealand branch of this august organisation has slipped away; Poneke tells the story of the League, as Russell has noted.

Also noteworthy is that my evil plan to have caverage chosen as Public Address Word of the Year has failed.

Meanwhile, in Germany, moves are afoot to ban Scientology.

Friday, December 07, 2007

After browsing at Borders

In which the author reviews everything he found interesting in Borders

Alan Coren once wrote, in the forward to a collection of his essays, that he asked his publisher to identify the most popular genres of books. His publisher told him that the best-sellers were books about golf, books about cats and books about the Second World War. So Coren named his book Golfing for Cats and put a large swastika on the front cover.

I was reminded of this when I found a book called Dog Heroes of September 11th, a tribute to America's search and rescue dogs. With this publication, a new age for the dog book has dawned: from humble beginnings in guides to the care and maintenance of canines, through books which treat dogs as objects of fluffy sentiment and now onward and upward to the most noble and perhaps most profitable subject: the patriotic dog.

Dogsploitation ought to be the name for this genre of book; if it is not, I claim my place in the Oxford English Dictionary here and now. For years, it lagged behind the far more lucrative catsploitation trade, whose practitioners knew that a picture of a cat on a cool Greek roof was worth a thousand bucks. But cats do nothing but look cute and adorable. Dogs are cute, adorable and America's allies in the war against Terror.

I would continue with this review but I could not bring myself to look inside the book. Instead, I wandered to the magazines section, where the cover of this week's Listener asks the important question "do bananas give you too much potassium?" The answer, provided in the Nutrition section, is "no." Quite why the Listener poses alarming questions about fruit, to which it knows the answer is a reassuring negative, is a matter between the magazines publishers and its accountants.

The really alarming stuff is to be found in New Scientist. Somebody clever thinks we have hastened the end of the universe by looking at it. And if that is not bad enough, the universe has a huge hole in it, 900 million light years across. The string theorists think it is evidence that ours is one of many universes.

Oh well, at least there is a new Sigur Ros album out, for people who think Radiohead are too commercial. There is probably a new Nick Hornby novel as well; there usually is.

Mind the gap

One of the bohemian types with whom I keep company was quite astonished after I told her that John Key made his millions as an employee of a company. I admit it does seem quite peculiar. One always thinks of millionaires as entrepreneurs who invent and market some useful product or who build a successful business by providing a service like no other. Self-made millionaires traditionally were people who risk their own capital, while employees worked for their pay cheques. But Mr Key worked in the world of currency trading, risking the capital of his employers and being paid very handsomely for not losing it but delivering a substantial return on their investment. I suppose everybody was happy. Quite what good the buying and selling of currency does for the world is another matter, one which escapes my understanding.

I thought of the bohemian girl yesterday when I was listening to a conversation between three men who were sitting next to me in a food court. Two of them asked the third, who they obviously regarded as an expert on such matters, what he thought of the stoush between Mr Key and Dr Michael Cullen in the House on the previous day. The expert, who was also a crashing bore, delivered an oratory of some length, that of an average lunchtime. To summarise, in his opinion Mr Key was obviously a much more intelligent man than Dr Cullen, because Mr Key had made millions while Dr Cullen had not. Moreover, Mr Key had achieved the lofty heights of head of currency trading at Merrill Lynch, while Dr Cullen held the lowly post of Minister of Finance.

Looking at my rather modest meal, I feared the expert would think of me as a cretin. His method of estimating intelligence by wealth is an unusual one, although at least it does not require the subject to fit shapes together and say what is the next number in a sequence; a simple bank statement will do. But at least it made me think. Leaving aside the fact that many obviously intelligent people have no desire for wealth, I ask myself an important question: are forex dealers necessarily intelligent? The requirements for the job would seem to be a faculty with numbers and an insatiable desire to be rich. Thereafter it is, I suspect, all about cunning and that essential of modern business, Drive. I will admit that one former currency trader, M. Paul Gauguin, was at least smart enough to invent Post-Impressionism and find himself an island paradise filled with dusky and bare-breasted beauties. Other than him, however, I know of no other dealer who has excelled elsewhere; please do not mention Jeff Koons to me.

Now, you know me as a Labour Party chap and so some of you will read what I am going to say next and say "he would say that, wouldn't he?" But I will say it anyway, since you have read so far: what Dr Cullen has in abundance and Mr Key seems to lack is wit. It has long been my ambition to be Dr Cullen's gag-writer, but it seems he writes all his own material. On the other hand, I have never heard Mr Key say anything that was remotely funny. He seems quite affable but humour apparently is not his gift. Now, again you are going to think I would say this anyway, but I think humour is a sign of intelligence. Another sign might be an ability to recognise a tune, or at least to notice when one has been copied from another.

Speaking, as we were, of crashing bores, I have recently abandoned the New Zealand Herald in favour of the Dominion Post. The Herald has assumed the stance of one of those regular callers to talkback radio, who phone every day to say "Leighton, it's about this Electoral Finance Bill," before lunging into a tirade. Each morning the Herald spills much red ink on the subject of the Bill. It shouts at its readers, whom it appears to regard as ammunition. The actions that prompted the Bill are ignored, although fortunately we have Mr Key to remind us: only a few days ago he once again condemned Mr Hager's book, which published the emails that Mr Key wrote to the Exclusive Brethren. Evidently, prudence is not part of his skill set.

In contrast to the Herald's relentless assault, the Dom Post is an oasis of calm, as well as a revelation. There is so much else going on. While the Herald fills up the spaces between its Electoral Finance rants with stories about medical procedures, the Dom Post has a real health story: the appalling mess which is the Kapiti and Coast District Health Board.

However, the Dom Post is not without its faults. In one story, about a man who fell to his death through a gap in a handrail on a steep and slippery pathway, it makes much of the source of the slipperiness (something called a toby; don't ask me what it is) while failing to ask why there was a gap in the handrail. Interestingly enough, though, the deceased worked in foreign exchange.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Guns and poesy

What a busy day for Auckland Saturday turned out to be. I missed the morning protest but caught the matinée. Due to unforeseens, I failed to attend the march for Civil Rights. However, I did catch the new and improved march against the Electoral Finance Bill, the second Auckland has seen. This one differed from its predecessor in that it appeared to be more Tory than Fundy. Rarely can have so many panama hats been gathered together in one place, except perhaps the Members Pavilion at Lords for the Eton and Harrow match. The streets of Remuera must have been empty.

That said, Family First made a showing, spreading their banner out across the front of the parade. The irony of Family First campaigning for freedom of speech was lost on the organisers, who obviously had forgotten Family First's campaigns against the exercise of freedom of speech by the makers of Hell's Pizza, The Simpsons, South Park and (shudder) Californication.

Others carried standard issue banners, proclaiming such messages as "Labour - you've gone too far." Various misplaced accusations of Fascism were made in home-made messages. On this theme, one man carried a banner adorned with a swastika, which perhaps did not give the impression he intended. The chanting wasn't up to much and some marchers sang the National Anthem as they went down Queen Street.

Interestingly, among this unhappy band were some from the morning protest, who obviously felt that one march was not enough exercise for the day. In their dour black fatigues they stood out from the mass of blue and white stripes. Younger and, in some cases, browner than the tories and fundies, they obviously caused some discomfort. I am told there were ructions during the speech-making when objections were made to the Maori flag being displayed. I also hear that one of their number tried to make an impassioned speech but had the microphone removed from him. Free speech has its limits, even at a protest claiming to be in its favour.

Also out on the street that day were the Scientologists, who were offering free stress tests; I was reminded of an old Goon Show joke about offering to take the weight off your wallet. The Hare Krishnas had gathered with some real Indians to pull a huge cart, a juggernaut I suppose, up the street. As I said, it was a busy day.

That evening, I made up for my absence at the Civil Rights march by attending the poetry and music event in favour of these same Rights, although purely as an observer and a drinker. The poetry did not move me but the music, provided by Otis Mace and Bill Direen and The Bilders, was splendid. It was held at the PR Bar, which is a curious mixture of Indie and Poly: the main bar is full of Island folk, swaying to the rhythms of commercial R'n'B, while the side room is full of pasty-faced white boys, gazing at their shoes and the extraordinary (and very comfortable) wall-to-wall carpet.

The guests included two of the accused, one of whom gave a very long and detailed account of the various charges against which he has defended himself (without a lawyer, of course) over the years, as well as the counter-attacks he has made on the oppressive police state that is New Zealand; the phrase 'vexatious litigant' sprang to mind. It was like listening to paint drying. The other accused was Omar Hamed who is, despite his name, a pasty-faced white boy. Just as OJ Simpson defended himself on the grounds that the glove would not fit, Hamed may be able to convince a jury that he would not have the physical strength to pick up the semiautomatic gun which was found on his premises.

Speaking of guns, there was one other guest, uninvited but impossible to turn away: the elephant in the middle of the room. Everyone pretended it was not there, but it could not be avoided.

The guns, the guns; of course, nobody spoke about them. Everyone talked about justice, rights, freedom. Everyone talked about the oppressive Terrorism Suppression Act, how it stifled protest; how it copied the terrorism laws of the USA, Canada and Australia which had been used against indigenous people; how its use by the Police was like the emergency powers they used against the Wharfies and the Springbok protesters. But nobody talked about the guns; nobody except the lovely woman to whom I was talking, who said there were only four of them. Only four, as if such a small number didn't matter. Perhaps I should have asked her how many guns it took to kill JFK; or perhaps I should have chosen a better example; but you get my point.

I expect most of the people there had never seen a gun in real life. I think most people who have no experience of guns fail to appreciate their essential nature, what guns are for. Guns are for killing. This seems bleeding obvious when you state it but it is a truth that is usually ignored. Hold a loaded gun in your hands and you can appreciate the ingenuity of its design and the skill of its maker, just as you could any other device; but you cannot escape the fact that you could point that particular device at someone and make him dead. Some of the people at that event should try holding guns sometime.

The people they support had four guns between them, four guns which could kill many more than four people. I am still baffled as to what cause in New Zealand is so just and so urgent that it could justify killing other New Zealanders. Of course the people that night talked of a secret police and of a police state; meanwhile the Police, practically the last unarmed police force in the world, rushed past in their cars to deal with aspects of the Saturday night drinking problem. Members of the Tuhoe tribe who had come up to town for the demo jeered; dickheads.

Of course, some are saying that these Tuhoe people have been treated dreadfully by the Police. The Police searched cars, searched a school bus, even searched a woman's underwear drawer. What infamy. If scenes like that had been included in Schindler's List, what would the Chief Censor have done? Some residents were so disturbed by the Police actions that they were moved to demand financial compensation. I bet that never happened in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Rarely have I heard so much twaddle spoken about so few. A bunch of people who planned to kill other people have been caught. Many people of the left, faced with the enormity of the fact that some of their mates wanted to be murderers, have reacted with knee-jerk radicalism: its all about civil rights, oppression, institutional racism, fascist police state... waa, waa waa. No it fucken isn't. Its about killers. Omar Hamed might be a wanker; and he is. Tame Iti might be a really creative visual artist; and he isn't. What unites them is that they are people who are prepared to kill or assist others in killing to achieve their ill-considered political aims.

The people who are huffing and puffing about civil rights might like to think about what might happen if some of those on that other demo, the tory protest, got the means and got the motion to do some terrorism. Perhaps they might like to think what it was like in Italy during the Seventies. Italy had the so, so, glamorous Brigate Rosse, who strove to increase the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat by killing bank clerks. And then, to match the Red, Italy had the Black: the Fascists (yes, real ones, not the imaginary villains of the suburban leftie imagination) who blew up Bologna railway station, killing proles and bourgeois together. I wonder if, should some of those tories decide to defend freedom of speech by doing some killing, anyone will be holding a benefit night of interpretative dance for their civil rights.

About town

1. On Queen Street there is a café called Alfresco's, the owner obviously thinking al fresco is a name. In the window is a sign saying "Hey kids, free candy canes inside", with pictures of candy canes. The purpose of this message might be misinterpreted.

2. At the ferry terminal, a sign attached to the outside wall of the men's lavatory says "harbour cruise meeting point." Again, this could be subject to misinterpretation.

3. At Borders, a display promotes a book called 1080 Recipes. It is a translation of a popular Spanish cook book, which perhaps should have been re-titled for sale in New Zealand. In this time of festive fare and domestic strife, purchasers might be misled.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Lets march again (like we did last Summer)

In Northern Ireland every year they have a Marching Season, when the Prods put on their suits and their bowler hats and go marching behind a big bass drum to celebrate battles won by a Dutch prince three hundred years ago, while the Papists (in whose neighbourhoods the Prods insist upon do their marching) hang about looking sullen. The Papists also have their marches but they have nothing to celebrate, except Mass.

It seems that Auckland is imitating this fine tradition. We had the march against the Electoral Finance Bill a couple of weekends back and we will be getting a sequel soon. Tomorrow we have the march for Civil Rights, in which folk will demonstrate for the Civil Right to form private armies and plot to kill innocent people. Your correspondent will be there, in search of lulz and radical chicks.

In between these two very serious events we had the Santa Parade, which was a lot more cheerful. Your correspondent attended, despite severe misgivings about the effect the event might have on his highly-developed aesthetic sensibilities, involving as it did Christmas and children. Santa, you will be relieved to know, was jolly. Numerous others came along to demonstrate in favour of festivity.

Santa and his helpers were joined by a lot of pipers. It seemed that if you missed one pipe band, there would be another along in a minute. I am not complaining: I love the skirl of the pipes; its part of my Scottish cultural heritage, along with an enjoyment of bad weather and odd food. A Salvation Army band played as well; they are not a marching band - they sat on the back of a truck.

There was also a very peculiar drum band. They all wore black and berets. They were very stern and probably frightened quite a few children. They had black flags; I think they might have been Anarchists. Quite what they had to do with Christmas I do not know. Perhaps they turned up for the Civil Rights march a week early.

Ronald McDonald was there with his purple friend and some children they had kidnapped; so were TV3 and Sky TV and other traditional commercialisers of Christmas. Even Barfoot and Thompson, real estate agents, were there. So was a Hare Krishna woman who, with characteristic lack of tact or sense of occasion, pounced on mums and dads to tell them all about nothing.

Between the commercialisers there were some real people. Remarkably, without the impetus of financial gain or the desire for marketing success, they had constructed their own floats, made their own costumes and choreographed their own routines. And that, in the end, is what the Santa Parade is all about: looking at girls. There were teenage girls of all sorts in the parade, many of them wearing very little, to the delight of young and old alike.

My friend Conor was doing the PR for the parade, so I would like to offer him some evaluative feedback: vet the floats more carefully next year. One merry group of paraders had tied children, dressed as angels, to stakes on the top of their float (I am not making this up) so that the children hung out over the street; they also had a baby on a crane. It could all have gone terribly wrong. Fortunately for them, the social workers did not have a float in this year's parade.

Everybody seemed to have a good time, which is more than could be said for all the other marchers. The parade was all well and good but it should be more representative of the diversity of Auckland. Next year, I would like to see the emo kids in Myers Park rounded up and herded down Queen Street, slouching towards Bethlehem and complaining "you're not the boss of me." I would like to see the mothers of Remuera holding up the parade with their SUVs, as they drop off their little treasures at kindergarten and park badly outside Smith and Caughey. I would like to see the street-corner evangelisers mocked by fashion-conscious children for wearing polyester slacks and cable-knit sweaters. I would like to see even more girls, wearing even less.

Christmas: it's a time for perving.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This sporting life

It's a funny old game, Democracy, innit? You see, on the one hand you have the New Zealand Herald huffing and puffing about the threat to Democracy posed by the Electoral Finance Bill. On the other, you have a rather inconspicuous report, tucked away in the Metro section of Wednesday's edition, about local government.

It seems that Auckland City Council has told its community boards not to appoint spokespeople for planning, trees and signs until the completion of a review of their powers, some time next year. The Council's Democracy Services Group Manager says, "it's an internal review of how Auckland City runs its regulatory processes. It's not a governance issue. It's a management issue and no, you wouldn't consult community boards on management issues."

Planning, trees and signs may not seem very exciting management issues, but the spokespeople appointed by the Community Boards advocate for their electors when developers want to cut down trees and do other entrepreneurial things that affect communities. With summer cummin in, these sorts of issues will be many and various. This edict, which the Maungakiekie and Eastern Bays boards say they will ignore, comes on top of Deputy Mayor David Hay's decision to cut the pay of community board members by twenty percent.

Over to Eden Park for live coverage of the upgrade: the Herald reports that Mayor John Banks has said "there is a commitment towards a legacy project at a cost of $270 million." He said this after a meeting with the Eden Park Redevelopment Board and the Eden Park Trust Board. He also said, within minutes of being elected Mayor not very long ago, that ratepayers' money would not be spent on sprucing up Eden Park for the Rugby World Cup.

Now, the phrase "there is a commitment" is not the same as "we have a commitment" but there is something very suspicious about that other phrase, "legacy project." It looks a lot like ratepayers' money will go into the project because it is not really being done for the Cup but is just a bit of unfinished business. However, this sum of $270 million is a lot more than the $197 million project that has been put out for tender, which suggests that the word "legacy," has a particular meaning for Mayor Banks that escapes the rest of us.

The Herald's correspondent, Bernard Orsman, says "rugby interests are pushing hard for the public purse to pay most of the costs of the upgrade, while minimising their own financial contribution." The Rugby Union has committed to a modest $10 million, while the Eden Park Trust Board is "pulling back" on an earlier commitment to contribute $60 million to upgrading the stadium it owns. Obviously, a legacy commitment of this kind does not have obligations attached.

So, a sum less than $70 million will be contributed by the major beneficiaries of the upgrade, leaving more than $200 million wanting. Mayor Banks says this could come from his Council, the Auckland Regional Council and the Government.

As for Democracy, the CEO of the Redevelopment Board, Adam Feeley told the Herald that the public could see what was planned, how much it would cost and who was paying once funding had been committed.

And there we have it. Rugby is the winner on the day and Democracy loses. I am not a sporting man but it seems that huge amounts of public money are being committed away. However, I am an architecture man and I note that a very nice stadium (designed by Warren and Mahoney, who made the design proposals for the abandoned Auckland waterfront stadium) is ready in Christchurch.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sound of the suburbs

Is Democracy under threat or not? Last week the NZ Herald told us we were doomed, yes doomed, if the Electoral Finance Bill were passed. The Herald felt compelled to warn us what would happen if the bill passes, with a front-page editorial and pages of polemic, each headed "threat to free speech."

This week they seem to have lost interest. Tuesday's front page and back page were filled with photographs of a bloody big shark trying to eat a rubber seal (not the sort of rubber seal you use in offices to mark mail as Received, but a rubber representation of the sea mammal, just in case you were visualising a Great White Shark attacking office supplies). It wasn't even a local shark; it was all happening in South African waters. Since then, they have kept banging on about the Bill but without the crusading zeal of last week's editions.

So, why does the Herald now care more about marine life than Democracy? Perhaps it was because of the rather lacklustre response to the demonstration in Auckland on Saturday, which the Herald was promoting. Perhaps the Herald had envisaged a more stirring response to its call to save Democracy. The Herald had advised that the organisers were requesting that protesters from immigrant communities should carry the flags of their home countries. As it turned out, there were none, although a Dutchman did wear an orange shirt decorated with various incoherent slogans, somewhat in the manner of the Letterist International or The Clash. He carried on his shoulder not a flag but a full-size effigy of Winston Peters, which itself was adorned with a helpful sign identifying the subject and describing him as a traitor.

The Herald had also advised that the organisers wished lawyers to come wearing their gowns. This was a rather naive request: most lawyers do not possess gowns, since we are not living in an Ealing Comedy set in 1950s England. As it turned out, one man turned out wearing a gown over his jeans. He looked somewhat uncomfortable.

Of jeans there was no shortage. Reader, I can tell you that never before have I seen so much grey hair and blue denim in combination. Obviously this is what they are wearing in the suburbs. Not, of course, 501s or stovepipes but those generously cut jeans which make allowance for advancing waists and descending behinds. Later, I checked at the official outfitters of middle management, the charmingly miss-spelt Rodd and Gunn, and found that their designs have names like "spike," "rover," "tex" and "digger." Not that any digging has ever been done in these trousers, some of which looked as if they had been pressed for the occasion. They were worn with polo shirts or long-sleeved, striped shirts of the kind suitable for working hard and playing hard. It was all very smart-casual.

It was a little bit fundy, as well. The organiser was someone called Boscawen, who had never done this sort of thing before, but he was helped by others who had: the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Family First. Although some Democrats for Social Credit and some Libertarianz had come along, the majority of protesters seemed to be God-fearing rightish folk. Those who want the repeal of the repeal of Section 59 had brought along a trestle table and a couple of petitions for badly-drafted referenda to reclaim their right to beat their children. Despite temptation, I refrained from asking the rather delectable girl behind the table whether she had been spanked recently. Instead, I signed another petition, promoted by some other people, for a railway to the airport; the political equivalent of a cold shower.

When the march got going, it became obvious that these were not people accustomed to protesting. They started off at rather too brisk a pace, leaving some of their elder comrades behind. Some began singing a hymn, which was quickly stifled by the organisers. Instead a chant was offered by an organiser with a megaphone. Here too, the crowd showed their inexperience; obviously they had been busy during Vietnam and, equally obviously, they do not go to churches where the liturgy includes responses.

They were keen, however. Some had brought along home-made banners, on one of which the word "communist" was misspelt. Several representations of the Prime Minister in various Nazi uniforms were noticed by your correspondent. Other protesters used the banners provided by the organisers, which claimed that the legislation is fascist (if you have not been receiving your mail recently, it is probably because your postino has been sent to a concentration camp) and that our boys fought the Second World War to stop this sort of thing.

The speeches were scarcely better. References were made to Pakistan, Fiji and other countries with electoral reform issues, as well as to The War. Mr Boscawen had promised to speak for five to six minutes when the marching was done. He spoke for at least twenty-five, referring to everything which had happened in the previous week, regardless of its relevance to his cause. Mr Garth McVicar of Sensible Sentencing claimed that New Zealand was one of the most violent countries in the West. Mr Bob McCroskie of Family First said something, I'm not sure what; it was probably about sex. Finally, that man from the talkback radio was asked to make an impromptu speech; such was Leighton Smith's mana that the crowd parted to let him through. And there was an old soldier with lots of medals, which just goes to show.

Then everyone went home. The organisers asked that the banners be returned, since they had another demo on Wednesday. As everyone packed up, they played Blind Faith's "Presence of the Lord" on the PA, which rather let cat out of bag; it is on the new Clapton compilation, which doubtless is a big hit in Glenfield.

Still, nothing much there to give the Herald cold feet; it's not as if Bishop Brian had come to the party. Perhaps the Herald realised how ridiculous it had become, squealing about the threat to freedom and democracy made by rules based on those of Canada. Perhaps even the Herald is a bit uncomfortable about its growing reputation as a mouthpiece for the National Party. Or perhaps bloody big sharks sell more papers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The war against intelligence

The following was written for Street Life, the Princes Street Labour magazine, which is really jolly good.

When the Editor of this esteemed journal asked me to contribute an item about the recent arrests of alleged terrorists, I should have listened to my conscience, which was telling me "don't touch this; pretend you have lost the ability to type; tell him you are on holiday; do anything but accept this brief."

Unfortunately, I did not listen and the inevitable has happened: I have spent a week trying to write half a page. Agreeing to write on a story of this kind is like contracting writer's block by email. The trouble is, there is no story: all we know is that some people have been arrested on firearms charges. We won't know anything more until the arrested people are tried in court. A lot has been said in the media but most of that is speculation.

So, to fill the rest of this column, here are the facts in a little more detail: several people have been arrested, on firearms charges, in three locations: Auckland, Wellington and beyond the Black Stump. The Aucklanders were based at an anarchist den in Symonds Street; the Wellingtonians were hanging out at the headquarters of the Save Happy Valley campaign, a group previously known only for its concern for the welfare of ginormous snails. The last group, supposedly the centre of the operation, were in Tuhoe country; this is somewhere inland of the Bay of Plenty, in a part of the country which is very pretty but otherwise of no interest.

Here is the speculation, or at least some of it: these people were said to be plotting together to commit acts of terrorism, including the assassinations of Helen Clerk, John Key and George Bush (for the President of the United States to be killed by people from a country he probably could not locate on a map would be an ironic, if fitting, end to his career). At the centre of it is all, we are told, is Tame Iti, who has been training an army of his Tuhoe people deep in the bush. Some say that he intended to carry out a campaign of murders to drive outsiders from the region and make it his own; this would seem superfluous, since nobody ever goes there. Supporters claim he was doing nothing of the kind; he was merely training young men in defensive techniques so they could take jobs as bodyguards.

The question we should be asking is "can we take any of this seriously?" After all, the leader of this alleged conspiracy allegedly is Tame Iti, allegedly New Zealand's most ridiculous man. Mr Iti is known to us all for his calculated acts of bombast and self-regard. He blows his nose at the feet of Government Ministers; he rides horses bareback and bare-chested, perhaps trying to imitate the Burger King girls; he struts about in a kilt and a pill-box hat, again bare-chested, obviously unaware of passing of the 19th Century. He is no stranger to controversy but obviously a stranger to Jenny Craig. He fires a gun into the air as an act of defiance, just like all those blowhards in Palestine and points east. He demands, he struts, he proclaims, he makes Brian Tamaki look modest and self-effacing. And he fancies himself as an artist, having exhibited his paintings in a Parnell gallery. Trust me on this, I'm an Art Historian: these pompous, self-important gits always think they are artists.

And what of his army? As the old saying goes, I have seen the enemy and they are idiots. Apparently they bought weapons: on TradeMe. Now, don't get me wrong; TradeMe is an excellent market for the things you need at low, low prices. But is a very public market. After you have bought a few semi-automatic rifles with your trading account, people start to notice a pattern. It's much the same with the balaclavas; apparently they made a bulk order for balaclava helmets, the kind with just holes for mouth and eyes, the kind favoured for comfort and anonymity by international terrorists in the movies. It is this kind of purchasing decision that makes people suspicious.

No doubt we will hear a lot more when the case comes to trial. No doubt what we will hear will be as much farce as tragedy. Until then, members of the protesting class will while away the time by marching, holding vigils, making demands and being outraged. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with rumours and speculation.

Situations vacant

My spies in the house of Rat tell me that Bill Cooke, Faking Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Brigadoon and Vice-President of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc) is going to Europe next year. Apparently he may wish to relinquish his position as Editor-in-Chief of the Open Society, the NZARH journal.

Following precedents set by the current incumbent, the next Editor-in-Chief should adopt a tone of fawning obsequiousness towards anyone who holds a real professorial position, while treating the Association's membership with condescension. The position is an opportunity for the Editor-in-Chief to represent his own prejudices as the opinions of all humanists and to sneer at those who do not share his views. Critics of the Editor's opinions should be subjected to abuse. The Editor-in-Chief is entitled to lie to the Association's Council and to use the journal for personal gain. A sense of humour is not required.

The position officially is unpaid although the current Editor-in-Chief has received, for the last ten years, what he calls a "stipend" of $500 per annum. This payment is supposed to cover the Editor-in-Chief's expenses, although no member of the NZARH Council has ever dared ask what these might be and all costs for producing the journal are borne from other parts of the NZARH budget. The stipend is paid tax-free. The NZARH avoids paying either GST or income tax on this payment and those it has made to some other members in return for services. For accounting purposes, these fees are called "special duty payments," to conceal them from the revenue men.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Silence kit

Is it just me, or is the television getting less capable of dealing with facts?

I only ask because I saw an item on the early evening news a few days ago about carbon sinks. Now this is an interesting topic, particularly as the British Antarctic Survey has just discovered record-breaking levels of carbon in the atmosphere, which is a Bad Thing. The news item, which was made by the BBC, acknowledged this discovery, before going on to explain how the forests and oceans absorb much of the carbon we produce; well, not so much explaining the process as stating that it happens. The rather earnest and somewhat condescending reporter then said that Scientists are concerned that the oceans may soon be saturated with carbon, which again would be a Bad Thing.

And that was it. The report drifted away, leaving all the important questions unanswered. What I would like to have been told is what happens when the oceans become saturated with carbon. Would they become thicker, more like treacle? Does carbon poison fish? Would it wash up on our beaches? These and other questions remained unasked and unsolved by the news item, I think because the producers had decided that the viewers had been told enough Science for one evening. Any more Science might confuse the viewers and make it difficult for them to take in the messages of the advertising.

Then there was the 60 Minutes report about young women and their binge drinking. Apparently, young women are drinking more than they once did. It was difficult to tell from the report whether this is a Bad Thing. On the one hand, excessive drinking can have some serious consequences, which the report did not have time to discuss; on the other hand, the drinking gave the producers an opportunity to show footage of lots of girls wearing next to nothing and behaving badly. I may be mistaken but I do not recall the report containing a single fact, but it had an awful lot of fluff.

Then there was the other 60 Minutes report from last week about the farmer who had discovered a miracle way to grow grass. Apparently, he found something that the Scientists never knew: grass has an electric current growing through it. What's more, he found you can reverse the current by spreading silica over the grass. This causes the grass to grow better than it ever did before.

Yes, really. The farmer markets a product based on his amazing discovery. This product was not described in detail, but presumably is a bag of silica (which is sort of another name for glass). The proof of this pudding is that lots of satisfied customers swear by it.

However, the Commerce Commission does not think the farmer has a miracle product. They think he is a crook. They took him to court, for deceiving the satisfied customers and for damaging the economy. The court agreed that the farmer is a crook and fined him a quarter of a million dollars.

Now, you might have thought that 60 Minutes would be interested in a story about a man who deceived his customers with a bogus product and a junk theory about electricity running through grass. How wrong you would be. You see, running such a story would involve Science, which is difficult. It is a much easier matter to run a story about an ordinary kiwi battler who made an amazing discovery which has led to him being silenced by faceless bureaucrats.

Here are the key arguments made by 60 Minutes: the Commerce Commission had only one scientific expert on this case (obviously, there are many other scientists who know that electric currents run through grass, but they were not called as witnesses); the scientific expert consulted colleagues who work for fertiliser companies (obviously, and this was stated quite explicitly, the scientific expert is in the pay of Big Business, which wants to stop the farmer marketing his miracle product); the man from the Commerce Commission refused to answer really stupid and nasty questions from the 60 Minutes reporter (obviously, a cover-up); the farmer's wife was really upset when the bailiffs came to take away the farmer's vehicles because he had refused to pay the fine (obviously, these are good people).

There is one other argument and this one is the clincher: one of the satisfied customers is an All Black legend. Readers from New Zealand, particularly those versed in the arts of rhetoric and logic, will realise the import of this fact. For the benefit of overseas readers I shall explain: an All Black trumps any argument. It does not matter that electric currents do not run through our grasslands and that pouring glass on the grass would probably be harmful to the environment; an All Black legend supports the farmer and that is enough. Truth is Black and Black truth.

So the farmer is not a crook; he is a kiwi battler. The commerce commission is a bully. Its scientific expert is corrupt. Electricity runs through grass. Changing the direction of the electricity by pouring glass on the grass makes the grass grow better.

And then there is the programme where psychics solve old murders; or rather, they don't solve them but they have some really strong feelings about them. Recently, there was one about a prostitute who had been murdered. The psychics received lots of messages from her, none of which were clear enough to reveal the identity of her murderer or the whereabouts of her body. One of the psychics was led by her to the Auckland Domain; she led the other psychic to the Jewish Cemetery. These are some distance apart. Although the psychics had strong feelings in different places, the programme concluded that they were both right. Of course they were; they had feelings.

It is, after all, feelings that count. Science is a loser's game: all those complicated facts and theories. Feelings are what television is about: sobbing farmers' wives, drunken totty, psychic investigators. Why think when you can feel?

Friday, October 12, 2007

In Blogland again

And we're back. Apologies for lengthy break in transmission, but your bloggist has been working on a PhD proposal. I vowed that I would do nothing else until I had finished it and now I have done so. It is about Architectural History; I might post it if the Art History Department at the University of Auckland accepts it.

So, what has been happening? Not a lot. Immediately after I posted a thing about the exciting new alliance of Brian Tamaki and Gordon Copeland, the latter departed. So much for the Christian party. That other Christian Gentleman, Taito Philip Field, is still innocent until proven guilty; he was telling us as much in Parliament only the other day. And we lost Le Rugby.

This is not a sporting blog, as you know. But I was taken with the near-identical headlines on the front pages of the Dom Post and the Herald. "DEJA VU," shouted the Dom Post, while the Herald, never given to brevity, had "DEJA VU AGAIN AND AGAIN." Of course, it was nothing of the kind; deja vu is the delusion that one has previously experienced an event; the inability of the All Blacks to win the World Cup is painfully real.

We are now in a period of national mourning and blaming the ref, although one All Black, like the Engergizer Bunny, keeps on going: Doug Howlett has converted a room at the Heathrow Hilton and tackled two cars. This will give Campbell Live something to talk about, now that its schedules are unexpectedly bare.

At least we will not have to endure those advertisements any longer. I think I am now fully aware that Air New Zealand and many other corporate sponsors are Proud (yes, Proud) to support the All Blacks, that Weet-Bix is the breakfast cereal of choice among Our Boys and that Mastercard does something or other for them. Now we can return to normal scheduling, where only about half the advertisements on television feature the Squad. I am not a sporting type, but I suggest the reason for the All Blacks' failure at the football may have something to do with the amount of time they spend on sets, under-acting.

That's enough sport. I shall now return to the emails and comments that have accumulated during my absence. I will report back soon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The beautiful room is empty

This week's coolest thing on Internet is Blogger Play, which makes a slide-show thingy of pictures uploaded to Blogger pages. Sit back and watch the pretty pictures pass by. It is quite mesmerising.

This is what you learn about bloggers from their pictures: (a) they are not very interesting; (b) they have ugly babies.

On an unrelated but more interesting note, Edmund White has written a novel about Stephen Crane.

Photo from the blog of the Steffen family.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One door closes, another one shuts

Bugger. Destiny NZ has departed.

I suppose I should be rubbing my hands in the tub of glee I keep by my desk, but the disbandment (or de-registering, as its spiritual leader calls the procedure) of the Destiny party gives me no pleasure. For a start, the departure from the political scene of His Grace the Bishop of Mt Wellington could lead to a severe deficit of LULZ. More immediately, however, I shall have to do some serious political analysis.

Politics is a funny game (although not quite as funny as Bishop Brian's press release, which obeys no rules of grammar or punctuation Known To Man). It seems only yesterday that Brian Tamaki, then but a lowly Pastor, was promising that his party would be ruling New Zealand within a few years.

1. And it came to pass that he was utterly wrong. 2. And there was much (a) wailing and (b) gnashing of teeth.

3. So Brian went forth and spoke with men of many flavours of Christianity, even with Anglicans. They spoke of forming a new party. And, although the Christians were followers of a man who, it is written, was born out of wedlock (and just out of Bethlehem) and whose earthly father was cuckolded by his real father, who was also Himself and some other guy called the Holy Ghost, and whose mother was conceived in Heaven, the party would be based on Family Values.

4. And Brian launched his party and saw that it was good.

5. And he anointed his servant, Richard Lewis, as Co-Leader of the Party. 6. Yet he did not telleth the other Co-Leader, Gordon Copeland, who learned it from the Media.

7. And there was more wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Here endeth the first lesson.

So we have a new Party, its Co-Leaders being one, Gordon Copeland, who clearly thinks the other, Richard Lewis, is an idiot. He is, of course, right. It is equally clear that Bishop Brian is running the show, although Copeland is the one with the seat in Parliament and the presumed support of the fundies from United Future.

Here endeth the clarity. Quite who are the other Christians is a mystery. Quite how Taito Philip Field will fit in, particularly if he is doing Time, is another. Whether anyone will vote for a party that includes Copeland, the Bishop and Field is a third.

It all makes about as much sense as the Trinity.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chronicles of higher education

Let's say a mother finds an application to Duke University's Ph.D. program in English under her daughter's mattress. Obviously the mother is devastated. If she does nothing, in a year her daughter will be dressed in black and sneering in obscure jargon at the Thanksgiving turkey and Aunt Sally's cranberry Jell-O mold. Where can a concerned parent turn for help?
In the Chronicle of Higher Education,Thomas H Benton asks Is Graduate School a Cult? , an article to which Tom Coates refers in an essay on what you should know before starting a doctorate. I know of this because I followed a link on Hard News, in which Russell also links to my post about Art below. There will be more about Art on this blog soonish.

After all this linkage, I shall not link to my own post. Internet theorists at CERN believe that complex linking, borrowing and hat-tipping could lead to the creation of so-called strange blogs, which current theory suggests might be formed by links colliding in the tubes that make up Internet. Strange blogs, if they exist, could turn all links into anti-links (and vice-versa) which would make Internet collapse on itself.

Scientists at CERN invented the www, despite having no obvious interest in porn or cats. They used it to create the coolest thing on the planet.

Painting by Jackson Pollock, pupil of Thomas Hart Benton

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Teaching mamas and papas how to be a little cool

I am clearing out my bookmarks. Here, you can have these, free.

Three Lectures by Hans Bethe; in which a theoretical physicist talks to old folks about quantum physics.

The Web 2.0 Bubble "A semiliterate, dissociative, generationally correct vagueness permeates everything."

Green Food Meat is murdering the planet.

The joy of drinking: "She tells us that even the National Institutes of Health admits that what it calls 'alcohol readministration' alleviates the symptoms of both alcohol withdrawal and hangovers..."

Percy Grainger and Sadomasochism Barking mad

h2g2 The legacy of Douglas Adams

The Omnivore's dilemma "Wealth, abundance and the lack of a steadying, centuries-old food culture have conspired to make us Americans dysfunctional eaters, obsessed with getting thin while becoming ever more fat, lurching from one specious bit of dietary wisdom (margarine is better for you than butter) to another (carbs kill)."

Freethinking Ruins All Things The views contained in this essay are not necessarily those of the Fundy Post.

Rock's backpages Come on, read the noise.

Global warming, genies and torture Ponzi schemes as well.

Here's Belle and Sebastian:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Education news

From the Globe and Mail comes this opinion about the funding of "faith-based" schools. The author, a graduate student at Columbia University's School of Journalism, has a compelling argument: I went to an Islamic school; it was crap; therefore Islamic schools should have public money. One might argue that the authorities should have closed down the school, which was clearly inadequate. The school didn't have hockey nets, so how could the students learn Canadian values? But the author doubtless would say such an argument would be "fanning the flames of hatred, division and religious intolerance," in a way which no faith-based school ever would.

The funding of religious schools is the hot issue in the Ontario provincial elections. Tory leader John Tory (yes, really) has promised $400 million to extend funding from the Catholic schools (who always seem to get the money) to those of other religions. The Liberals are arguing that the public system will suffer. Meanwhile the Quebeckers will have none of this tolerance nonsense.

Back in the Old Country, HM Government continues its policy of handing over the education system to the faithful. Here in New Zealand, merely discussing
the subject of religion in schools provokes "dissention, marginalising and possibly forced solutions," if Challenge Christian Weekly is to be believed.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday News

Scientology, recognised in New Zealand as a religion, recognised in Belgium as a criminal organisation.

Educational charity which gave secret help to National during the last General Election whines about the Electoral Finance Bill.

British Columbia seeks second opinion on prosecuting the polygamists of Bountiful.

Another evangelical politician dies.

Perth man says "we should be like New Zealand."

Fundies leave United Future; leader relieved.

Canadian Anglicans investigate Greville Collegepriest.

Keith don't go to Toronto: Mennonite takes his children to Ontario for schooling.

Ontario Tory leader John Tory (yes, really) gets in tangle over teaching creationism.

Fundy Post auteur described as hipster postmodern atheist flaneur.

With thanks to Craig and Patrick

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Oh hai. I just thought you should know that the art debate which began here and on TBR, before transferring to NZ Conservative (where it faded out), now lives on at Not PC.

Pic unrelated but included so as not to offend readers who dislike cats, furries or motivators.

Friday, September 07, 2007

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next

Reader Eric Olthwaite objects to my posting lolcats on this blog, despite having posted pictures of his own cat on his blog.

I want readers to have a pleasing aesthetic experience when they visit this blog. So, if a cat won't do it for Eric, how about a furry?

Admit it, she's cute.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Anglicans go wild

Here's something you don't see often, an Anglican cult. The Community of Jesus, a bunch of mediaevalist Anglicans from Orleans, MA, had control of Grenville College, a private boarding school in Ontario. From the look of the Community's information-sparse website you would think they were no more than a bunch of hippies who like dressing up as monks and painting icons. But Ruth Buddington had a different experience, having been dragged there by her parents and subjected to somewhat challenging schooldays.

The rigorous environment of the school has been confirmed by a former administrator. Further allegations about the Community are made here, by an author who describes it as "a Toxic Community of Faith that was founded and funded by a Rockefeller and run by hard-drinking lesbians," which sounds rather endearing. However, everything has changed, according to this blog.

Grenville College, meanwhile, has closed, due in part to "falling enrolment." The college's Chair wistfully says,
The College will be remembered for its Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Sears Drama Festival participation, as well as Balloon Rodeo and a host of other family oriented events.
No it won't.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Things you need to know

The Great Blend was rad, as was Bill Direen.

Civil Unions may be older than we thought.

The world's largest cross has been proposed for Nazareth.

Flumaddidle has discovered the Diet Fork.

You can become invisible, as well as learning the art of seduction and how to keep a squirrel in your pocket.

The Republicans want rid of Senator Larry Craig.

A philosopher went into a bar; the barman said "why the long face?"

Catholics are going wild in Sydney

The New Zealand Diversity Forum interfaith discussion on religion in schools ended in confusion.

Lucyna has discovered that Marx was a Satanist, whilst her blogmate IM Fletcher has discovered This Godless Communism.

China is not for lovers but businesses love swingers.

Some Dutch royals edited their own Wikipedia entry.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Art and the Man

Image unrelated; included for Caturday

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but some conservative politicians and religious leaders are getting all outraged about some works of art. This time, the works of art are two unsuccessful contenders for an art prize in Australia; those outraged include the Prime Minister of Australia and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.

Yes, of course you have heard this before. You will remember Piss Christ and Virgin in a Condom, amongst others. Every so often, an artist will make a work which comments on some aspect of Christianity and various conservatives will get in a fluster. It is a familiar pattern of stimulus-response. Sadly, it is only on these occasions that Art is noticed by the media.

What is surprising in this case is that the exhibition which is showing the offending works is not of the usual elitist, secular-humanist, liberal kind. The show is an exhibit of works submitted for the Blake Prize for Religious Art, which was set up by a Jesuit priest, a Jewish businessman and a Catholic lawyer; I wonder if they ever went to a pub together and caused an hilarious joke to happen. The prize was established to "encourage artists of disparate styles and religious allegiances to create significant works of art with religious content."

Well, now look what they have done. Prime Minister John Howard has described the two offending works as "gratuitously offensive," while Cardinal Pell thinks the prize has "probably outlived its usefulness." In all the excitement, the works which were awarded prizes, none of them offensive (or avant garde for that matter) have been overlooked.

Now, if I were an Australian Christian, I would be more offended by the insult to my religion made by the fundamentalist pastor who defended having sex with his two daughters on the grounds that he was teaching them "how to behave for their husbands when they eventually married, as dictated in scripture." I might also be angered by the self-proclaimed prophet who showed a girl letters from the Virgin Mary telling her to have sex with him. I might also feel more than a little uneasy that my Prime Minister spends so much time hanging out with Hillsong, the corporate church founded by a man who had unorthodox methods of curing homosexuality and which now is run as a successful business operation by the son who usurped him.

But then, I am neither Australian nor a Christian. I do know more than a little about Art, though, and I can recognise a pre-fabricated art scandal when I see one. Art is always a ready target for conservative outrage. Mostly, the indignation is of the "tax-payer's money" kind: the makers and curators of Art are portrayed as a pampered elite who live on the taxes paid by ordinary people who don't know much about Art but know what they don't like. The Art elite are depicted either as knaves, who try to trick the public with works that a five year-old could make, or as fools who themselves are tricked by their vanity. Every so often, however a work of art offends somebody's deeply-held beliefs, usually religious ones.

So it was with Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine. It won a prize in a competition that was sponsored, in part, by the National Endowment of the Arts, the US federal body which funds artistic projects. Enter Senator Jesse Helms, who mounted a sustained campaign against the NEA. So it was too with Tania Kovat's Virgin in a Condom, which provoked that Christian gentleman Graham Capill, among others, to righteous wrath when it was exhibited at Te Papa.

As always, there are protests and demands. The politicians and religious leaders milk the issue for all the airtime they can get out of it. Their constituents are led to believe their lives are controlled by a decadent elite which scorns their values. The artists are accused of mocking religious beliefs and of opportunism, although it is the conservatives who made the works a political issue.

So it is with this affair, although with some peculiar local differences. As I noted above, these works were entered in a prize for religious art, so the charge of mocking religion hardly has any weight. Another fact which hardly can be avoided as that both works mix Christianity with Islam. Yes folks, it is the culture wars again. Not surprisingly, TBR has picked up the issue; so has columnist Andrew Bolt, who manages to throw homosexualism into the mix, before concluding that what is at stake is our Civilisation.