Saturday, August 27, 2011

The river under the Amazon and other stories

That was the week that was and what a strange one it has been at the New Zealand Herald. There, a decision seems to have been made - after years of favouring photos of jumping sharks over news stories - to abandon news almost entirely, in favour of human interest stories and dumb commentary. So, while Tripoli burned, Herald readers were told, as front page leading stories about the dangers of sunbeds, about a family killed in a house fire and about a sports commentator who was killed in a surfing accident. Some might call me a heartless brute for saying what follows, but these things do not really matter; they may be interesting, they may be moving, but they are not important. They do not deserve to fill the front page of New Zealand's biggest daily paper. House fires are terrible things but this one happened in a far away country of which we no nothing - Australia. Surfing accidents are terrible things and no doubt the sports commentator was much-loved by his legions of fans; but again, it doesn't matter. And of course sunbeds should be banned, if only because there are people who are sufficiently vain and stupid to use them.

But what of the columnists? Well, it is like this: Brian takes the bus; Eric parks in the bus lane. There is variety at least in the columns of the New Zealand Herald. Brian Rudman knows everything worth knowing about Auckland and takes the bus, which is a good way of learning a lot more. Eric Thompson, on the other hand is a prick. To expand upon this argument, here's Eric:
I don't often venture south across the bridge and, as such, am quite unaware of bus lanes, clearways and tow-away areas and other such revenue-gathering streams.

I parked in the city. When I went back to my car I found it had disappeared. I thought it had been stolen.

Then I noticed a couple of guys in official-looking jackets. I wandered over and asked had they seen a silver Toyota parked at the front of the bay.

Without so much as a blink, one of them turned to me and said he'd just had it towed away. My jaw dropped. "Why on earth did you do that?" I said. "I paid the money to park there and put a ticket on the dash."

He agreed I had done just that but the clearway towing time was 4pm and it was after 4pm. He pointed to a sign I had not bothered to read.
I think we can all see what happened here. Eric was too vain and stupid to read a sign. But it is all somebody else's fault. Bus lanes and clearways are revenue-gathering streams; towies are brutes. But then, so is everybody who gets in the way of Eric, especially pedestrians and cyclists; and binmen; and children. Next week: Eric goes to the supermarket and takes on the shopping trolleys.

Meanwhile, what is happening to Shelley? She read something about bad bosses; so she tells us about how awful it was for her being a manager:
My previous career entailed working in the marketing and advertising departments for retail companies such as L.V. Martin & Son, The Warehouse and Progressive Enterprises. For twelve years I held such job titles as advertising manager, brand manager and communications planning manager.

The maximum number of people I had reporting to me, from memory, was about eight.

Once the novelty of being able to say "Get your people to call my people" wore off, I discovered that being responsible for staff is overrated.
The combination bragging and whining is what we have come to expect from Shel, but this time I think we should hear from HR. What was it like working with Shel? Come on, 'fess up: secret Santa prize for anyone with a story to tell. And perhaps the Herald can explain what it is like to employ a columnist who condescends to her readers thus:
My first boss, the late Alan Martin - best known for the television slogan: "It's the putting right that counts" - used to talk about the Peter Principle which, as defined by Wikipedia, states that: "[I]n a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

Basically, it means that people continue to get promoted until they're elevated to a position that's essentially beyond them.

They're no longer doing a good job so they aren't promoted further and ironically remain in the very position in which they perform poorly.
I think we understood the first time, Shel. It is not that difficult.

But now Shel has competition from the Herald's newest columnist: the little old lady on the bus.
My son's so close to it that he'll have his road blocked off. He lives on Planet Rugby,but can't afford the tickets to step across the road.

And my daughter's flat is a bit further the other way. She's not that fussed about it all, but a couple of Saturdays back, while just mooning around home, she was taken by a sound coming through the window in waves - the rise and fall of a distant roar ... Eden Park ... the All Blacks and the Wallabies ... So she turned on her radio to hear how it was going.

I had my radio on too, wondering about the score. I've got Sky but not Sky Sports (checked with the remote). Got a good screen to hunker down for the big matches, free on Maori TV, I know that much. Love the haka.

No doubt about it, there's that rivalry with the Aussies - because we know them only too well. They pinch our players and coaches and anything else going loose.
Yes, very interesting; I think this is my stop.

But one more thing: in all this excitement the Herald forgot to mention the river under the Amazon.

In case you were wondering.

Subject: C5c) Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them ?
Contributed by Chris Landsea

During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea.
That this question is frequently asked of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory is quite worrying. With public service cuts coming there soon might not be anyone around to answer it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Except for viewers in Scotland

"The big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. And here's where I simply don't agree with much of the commentary. In my experience they are an absolutely specific problem that requires a deeply specific solution."
After successfully prosecuting an overwhelmingly popular war in the Middle East against an enemy - or maybe several enemies - that threatened the peace and stability of too many places to name and which, since its or their vanquishing, has been unable to extend its or their octopus-like tentacles of terror, thus making the world a much safer place than it was back in the days of Fine Fare and Goblin Teasmades, Tony Blair has now turned his attention to the enemy lurking within the fabric of British society as bed-bugs lurk within the high thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets of successful men. Guarded and coded though his words may be, Tony Blair - a man who never will use one adjective when two are available, a man who always has a binary pair to hand and in the bush, a man who is tough on language and tough on the causes of language - speaks of a deeply specific solution to an absolutely specific problem: the Chavs.

Except for viewers in Scotland, of course; Scotland has its own problem: Neds. Perhaps this is the deeply specific solution: set the Chavs and the Neds at odds with each other. Have another war, this time between the Burberry-wearing Chavs and the Bucky-drinking Neds.

But the Neds did not riot, perhaps because they were too full of deep-fried Mars Bars to move, perhaps because already they had stolen all the home theatre they needed; or perhaps there was something on the telly. How do we explain this phenomenon of inactivity?

Do the Marxist theorists have anything to say? Well, a lot, an awful lot as always; but then again, nothing. Particularly noteworthy in this respect is the contribution of Socialism and/or Barbarism, an open letter addressed to anyone who did not much like people stealing stuff (a broad readership, I am sure you will agree), an open letter which not only presumed to know what its intended readers think but also was of such insufferable length that it had to be delivered in two parts: one and two; then came the coda. No, me neither. Perhaps the author has something to say about Scottish Exceptionalism, but I cannot be bothered wading through all that wank to find it.

Nina Power, on the other hand, had this to say. Oh well, at least she didn't waste too much of her time or ours. China Miéville, on the other other hand, posted somebody's really bad poem and has said nothing since. Presumably, his Theory is so powerful that it predicted the riots and History so inevitable that he need say nothing more on the topic. Or perhaps he is busy trying to sell Socialist Worker to the proletariat (question: does the Socialist Workers Party have any working class members, or any socialists for that matter?).

Meanwhile, closer to home, one D H Curtis of Glenfield had this to say in the New Zealand Herald of 16th August:
I am surprised that people are so surprised about the riots in Britain. Friends there bemoan the drastic and detrimental effect of the hordes of refugees who have been allowed to pass into the country.

Most are a burden on the welfare system. The economy is straining to contain and provide for these, mostly Muslim, refugees.
Oh dear. Why does the Herald print this sort of thing? But then, Curtis has much in common with all the above. They all know. They can all see the causes, the conditions, the meaning and purpose of the riots. Yet none dare mention that it was not a British phenomenon but an English one, and mostly one of the South. Look, here is a map. In the light of this, can we blame loft conversions, as does Mr Hatherley? Could gentrification and regeneration be the cause of unrest? I hope so, for two reasons: 1) it could put an end to some really bad architecture; 2) it might put an end to patronising the proles, to assuming that the only solutions are those that benefit middle-class incomers and reflect middle-class values.

On another hand, a more drastic solution is available:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A fist full of dollars

This waste of money is criminal said Mr. McVicar.

“With the recent media scrum over the Telecom campaign it seems there is more coverage and public outcry over this than say when someone gets murdered or a repeat offender gets paroled before his sentence is served.

We know that 60% of criminals will reoffend and cause incalculable long lasting damage to innocent people, while rape and unspeakable mayhem runs riot all-round us the best Telecom can do is fund a disastrous ‘abstain’ campaign.
Oh Garth, you must be feeling so neglected, so ignored. The media are not talking about your Trust and your Trust's survey, the one that the MPs declined to answer. The media are avoiding you. Instead, they have got all excited about a rather tacky ad campaign, one with a tangential relationship to the rugby world cup, a campaign which many Kiwi mums and dads find more interesting than the rugby world cup or the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

So, what's an ordinary cow-cocky from the Hawke's Bay and dedicated family man to do? A quintessential Kiwi battler can do but one thing: he's going to sit right down and write himself a media release, one which tries to shame Telecom into giving money to his Trust (and don't forget the survey).

Meanwhile, back in commentary land, Mr Paul Holmes - a man with an uncanny ability to imitate his speech patterns in his writing - wants to tell us how bad the Telecom ad is:
Let me tell you how bad it was. It was vile. It was disgusting. It was dumb. It was filthy. It was seedy. It was grossly offensive. It was ghastly and rude.
Worse still, it brought back memories:
And what was Sean driving? A fist? That was unfortunate too. We learned about fisting from anti-gay nutters during the homosexual law reform debate 30 years ago. The ad wasn't a nice reminder.
Up to a point, Lord Copper. Given that almost every television advertisement for the rugby world cup has featured men in tight shirts and tighter shorts, shorts barely concealing their buns of steel, buns in slow motion, somehow the big pink fist with the black rubber ring seems all too natural a progression. The next advertisement in the series was to have featured a Trojan horse, so perhaps we narrowly avoided further exploration of the connexions between Rugby Union and Greek Love.

Meanwhile, in Geyserland, overweight, raucous, hyperactive, pie-munching Hori meets a visitor from Hawkes Bay:
She said Hori attacked her without warning, treating it as if it were a joke.

"Hori grabbed hold of my beak," she said.

He told her: "I don't care, the cameras are on us, carry on."

Stafford said Hori was cutting off her air supply and a stern response was needed to bring him back to his senses.

"I just lifted my knee and went into his balls." Hori then grabbed his testicles in pain, stood vacantly for a second, then "wobbled off."

"For the rest of the game he just stood underneath the goalposts."

Here's Placebo. Garth, you won't like this.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Mac kills fascists

We are a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.
So says the mission statement of Adbusters, the magazine most likely to be casually left on the Philippe Starck Vicieuse coffee-tables of ABC1 professionals who self-identify as members of the creative class. Members of other demographic groups are more likely to say that Adbusters and its readers are a bunch of tossers (ACNielsen data).

Evidence to support the latter viewpoint is emerging in the embers of the Chavs' Revolt. The considered response by Adbusters was to find a photograph of an oick in the edgelands and paste it above an opinion piece written by one Maria Hampton of Cambridge, "currently trying to hatch an escape plan to opt out of a frenetic modern life, but still eat." At least, she was so trying when she wrote the piece, back in 2007.

Look, it's just copy; it doesn't matter when it was written. You just drop it into InDesign, find a photo from a stock agency, make a copy for the website and you're done. You can get back to billables now. The readers' won't mind. They just need enough for the daily Two Minutes Outrage. They are busy people; they have clients too.

If they want more, they can have some Theory:
What Foucault and the Maoists were debating goes to the heart of how we imagine revolutionary change will take place. Will the revolution be an uncontrolled insurrection – whose symptoms include looting in the streets of London, for example – where the people's rage against consumerism is fully released and their judgements implicitly trusted? Or, will we fear the mob and act, more or less explicitly on the side of power and the status quo, to quell and control the released flows – grabbing a broom to keep the streets clean for the next day's ecocidal shopping?
Foucault, d'accord; as interpreted by someone called Micah, someone for whom even the act of grabbing a broom is one of collaboration. I think we can safely assume that Micah has never had to push a broom in his life. Micah is also a Guardian contributor and an award-winning activist. Micah's contribution to the revolution is to coin its catchphrases: clictivism, Infoparasite, Eco-fascism, Altermodern. Micah has attended seminars with internationally renowned philosophers Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt, Jacques Rancière, Avital Ronell, and Slavoj Žižek. Micah is critical of their Theory: they are hiding behind words. Micah is a bit of a prat.

He is in good company. After several years of promising the revolution in every glossy issue, Adbusters reached climax in January of this year with issue #93. Under the misleading title of Capitalism's Terminal Crisis (nothing to do with airports or railways, sadly) this issue developed a theme of revolutionary self-help and self-criticism. One Lawrence Morely asked "what would it take for you to take the plunge and get out into the streets?" Possibly less than Lawrence, who has achieved a state of inactivism:
I, as a Progressive Anarchist, want the complete overthrow of present societies, but not now, not immediately, not violently, but gradually and peacefully as ideas gradually seep through one’s mind. The intention of this revolutionary is to assault your mind and destroy your beliefs.
Stick it up yer bum, Lawrence. It's not about you; it's about the Weariness of the Self: melancholia illustrated with some creepy models from Versace. Or it's about Lauren Alnwick-Pfund's dirty weekend:
Earlier today while he was showering I had similar thoughts and quickly got off through my clothes, taking cover behind a duffel bag and not bothering to close the curtains or stop when a maid walked past and glanced in the window. I finished as he did, just in time before the door opened.
Note that, if you are too post-literate to read Lauren's adventure, you can listen to George Atherton reading it; the experience is quite unsettling. But what about the intellectuals?
The first two steps on that path are clearly laid out and are within the reach of every conscientious person. These are that people ruthlessly criticize the capitalist system “from top to bottom,” and that they include in this a consistent attack on the widespread belief that there can be no alternative to it. If one believes that capital is not only basically unjust but radically unsustainable as well, the prime obligation is to spread the news.
Yes; tell the maid.

So, let us radically critique Adbusters. Is it a load of wank? Yes, of course, but it is very successful wank. Lauren Alnwick-Pfund is perfect for Adbusters. She doesn't care if the maid sees her getting off. The maid is not a person. The maid and her proletarian peers are not real; they exist only as part of the analysis. They are not creative; therefore they do not mattter.

What matters is producing a magazine, one which provokes in every issue the feeling that something is about to happen. Nothing does happen, of course, but in the next issue that simmer feeling will be back again. And again. It is exquisite marketing: there is always a promise - revolution - which always is about to be fulfilled. There is always an enemy - Capitalism - which always is about to fall. So the readers keep coming back for more, for more secrets, more signs of the coming anarchy.

If you are a permatemp Mac Operator in an agency, the promise of revolution is bliss. But that it could be achieved with the Adobe Creative Suite is very heaven. You might become one of the revolutionary vanguard, using your skill set to bring down Capitalism and replace it with something else, something that never is specified but probably involves Pantone swatches and a knowledge of type. And thus you might be a leader at last. And you will have your revenge on all those account executives and art directors who made you do all that degrading Illustrator work, when all along you knew that, deep down, you are an artist.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The duty to consume

If the World Cup works as intended we might never spend another week carping about the prices of national products such as milk and our prime sporting emblem.

We might no longer hear it suggested that it is somehow wrong for farmers to charge more than the makers of flavoured fizz-water, or that a premium should not be paid for something that is priceless here.

We could look back in embarrassment that everyone from the Prime Minister down took cheap shots at a global sportswear brand for perfectly normal marketing practice.

If the World Cup works as well as it might, we'll not worry about the price of an icon, we'll sing.
Works as intended by whom, Mr Roughan? By that nice Mr Key, perchance? I only ask because the price of milk does not seem to me to be a matter of carping, but of people struggling to keep heads above water - Kiwi battlers, if you will. Yet somehow their concerns are to be wished away by the magical power of Rugby World Cup. Those ordinary Kiwi mums and dads will understand they must pay a premium for the privilege of wearing their own country's rugby shirt, a premium paid to a German sportswear company. They will realise they must buy overpriced milk and overpriced clothing. Meanwhile other nations' rugby shirts are made by Canterbury, the New Zealand company that used to clothe the All Blacks before the NZRFU got greedy. Its a funny old world, innit?

Mr Roughan, you are wrong. We shall keep carping on, about the price-gouging of farmers and multinationals, about the selling of our national icons to the highest bidders, about the perfectly normal marketing practices of companies that exploit sweated labour to make shirts and exploit the loyalties of the fans to sell them at obscene prices. Perhaps one day you will look back in embarrassment, Mr Roughan, at your contempt for the ordinary people of New Zealand and your support for those who abuse them.

But then again, perhaps you won't.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

This sporting life

News comes from the capital that the Rugby World Cup Special Edition Sculpture, commissioned by Wellington City Council from model-makers Weta Workshop, has now been unveiled in its temporary location.

This is it and these are the people responsible:

This sculpture is, I think you will agree, the most extraordinarily unpleasant three dimensional thing created in New Zealand since the last work of populist statuary to be inflicted on a neighbourhood with low-self-esteem, the Canterbury Heroes. I think you will also agree that this sort of thing is not seen much these days, at least outside the 'stans. Perhaps it is a retro thing.

The value placed on this thing by its owners is shown by the fact of it having a temporary home for the duration of the RWC (am I allowed to say RWC? Probably not. Oh well) and then an uncertain future. Besides, nobody in the photograph above looks overjoyed at the collective achievement. We can only hope that this monstrosity is made in a sustainable medium, so that it can be made into traffic cones or bouncy castles.

On the other hand, the sculptural group could be re-purposed to serve some other symbolic function. Perhaps it might later serve to commemorate the Lower Hutt Easter Egg Hunt of 1926 or to symbolise Man's Discovery of the Clitoris. On a third hand, it might be left in some obscure public park to remind future generations that every aesthetic effort made during the Rugby World Cup turned out to be utterly tacky. Truly, this was a game in which tawdry rubbish was the winner on the day.