Free Parking for improvisation in multiple environments.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Blog Blong Vanuatu

I don't think that anyone in the cyber-realm will have fretted much about my lack of posts over the last week. I was out of the country for four days undergoing a dose of altered reality in Vanuatu, and since I've been back, the duty to blog has seemed completely unnecessary.

One probably needs to be kind of angry and uptight to blog, and since I've been back, the shock of new perspectives has left etnobofin temporarily wordless. The experience of living, if ever so briefly, in a village where there are no telephones, no computers, no cell coverage and everyone grows their own food, has been a bracing reminder of what is in fact important in life. I'm missing the happy, generous kids, the wild chickens, the wild pigs, the fly-blown dogs, the smell of the offal pit next to the village cookhouse, the people.

Standing in the shadow of the mind-explosion that comes with exposure to a new culture, writing a blog entry seems insignificant.

I was planning to post some photos, but they will have to wait until I can get some time on the office scanner...I also got some great minidisc recordings from around the village - the crickets and night birds, the village kids singing church songs in their local dialect, a preacher calling down the wrath of God on adulterers and practioners of witchcraft in pidgin....


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Caught in the Crossfire

You can watch John Stewart's rather hilarious demolition job on CNN's Crossfire here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Pop Culture and the Future of the Church

Untitled Document
from SMACA, the e-zine of St Matthews in the City (
by Brendan Boughen (Reproduced with permission)

It was supposed to be the “evangelistic event of the decade”. Strangely, Christians were, for once, actually encouraging people to go see an R-rated movie.
Today we might only vaguely remember the pre-launch controversy around Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. The charges of anti-semitism were quickly overshadowed by the millions of dollars that rolled in at the box office as (mostly) Christians flocked to cinemas to see this feast of religious violence. Millions of tracts were printed and distributed to the (few) non-Christian punters leaving the cinemas afterwards, while the churches prepared for an influx of conversions.
As George Barna’s research group has now shown, there has been a distinct “fizzle” around The Passion in terms of evangelism success. On the whole, viewers who weren’t members of a church already, likely treated The Passion like any other film; they judged it on its own merits – and it came out wanting. Mel Gibson’s publicist, Alan Nierob, had a more basic view. "The only aftereffects I know of are financial," he said, dismissing any ideas that the film had any wider socio-cultural impact. 

A straw poll drawn from the dozens of reviews I have read and the many people I spoke to about this film, determined that fundamentalist Christians loved it; the rest of us didn’t so much. Why is this? Maybe they liked it for the same reason other people like seeing R-rated movies - for the tiny thrill of doing something a little bit ‘naughty’.
A second wave of Christian Passion mania – and subsequent coffer filling for Mel – has hit with over 2.5 million DVD copies of this movie selling in the US in its first week of release. Yet while The Passion might be a nice little earner, it has flubbed as a seriously engaging piece of pop culture for anyone outside the Church. A New Zealand magazine even ran a list of the top ten movies about Jesus that were better than Passion. I’d take the bet that, like the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez flop Gigli, history won’t be kind to this movie.
Let’s face it. When it comes to offering timeless spiritual food-for-thought to the world, the Church has largely rendered itself redundant.
Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor have brought this charge into sharp focus in their book A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture
 They identify eight arenas of pop culture that surround us and affect the way we live; advertising, celebrities, music, movies, television, fashion, sports and art. They describe pop culture as the “amniotic fluid” of our lives. In doing so, they manage to pull some dazzling, serious theology out of everything from reality TV, to the music of Madonna, to “international theologian of mystery”, Austin Powers.
“Unlike those who decry the decline of Western civilization, we believe a profound, profane, honest discussion of God, the devil, death and the afterlife is sweeping pop culture,” they say. “The stones are screaming loud and proud, giving God all kinds of unorthodox and creative ‘props’. We can curse culture, ignore it and hope it goes away, or we can wake up and raise the questions to which people want answers.”
Yeah baby, yeah! I couldn’t agree more. That’s the reason why St Matthew’s dedicates a whole section of its web site to pop culture, and why churches like Grace Cathedral in San Francisco ( keep winning annual Webby Awards.
However, I would also contend that unless those of us who call ourselves progressive Christians don’t start engaging with pop culture to a greater degree, our message will be ignored as thoroughly as that of the tracts handed out by the fundamentalists after Passion screenings. It is more likely to be those on the fringes of evangelical Christianity who are pushing the boundaries of engagement with pop culture. (See web links below.)
Besides that, we are beaten to the punch by advertising agencies that produce billboards across New Zealand promoting Tui beer. The distinctive black on white statements with the by-line “Yeah, right” (the only double positive that makes a negative) have become a prophetic voice for truth on the cityscape and in the Kiwi psyche. Cultural stereotypes, political pretension and those little white lies men and women tell each other in the battle of the sexes are held aloft to naked public scrutiny. Now, even New Zealand’s infamous Destiny Church has felt the sting of truth from a beer company: “ ‘It’s a church, not a cult.’ Yeah, right!
Detweiler and Taylor make an observation that is blindingly obvious to those of us whose spiritual journeys have taken us beyond literal understandings of the Bible and the Christian faith: “While theology must be faithful to tradition and rooted in Scripture, it also must speak to the times, not just vernacularly but in emphasis and focus. Theology must move with the era and shift with the Spirit.” (p.295) And yet, with some brave exceptions to the rule, we progressives have a tendency to keep our focus on our own little religious world, just tweaking familiar liturgies and hymn words, and arguing endlessly with the conservatives about homosexuality, while the general populace watches Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and wonders when we’ll get over ourselves. 
Any movie, CD, advertisement or TV show that you see and hear works a spiritual significance in your life, whether you are a Christian or not. So, what do we do with that? Keep our TV’s and radios switched off? Stay holed up in a church on Sunday, singing our inclusive language hymns thinking this will really interest anyone but ourselves?
We could start taking our musical cues from artists like Nick Cave, Neil Finn, U2, Peter Gabriel, Moby and Ben Harper who have earned the right to sing about God in the marketplace. Similarly, why not hoist up a screen and turn our churches into cinemas for a night, telling stories that help us feel fear, sadness and joy, thereby exploring the deepest meanings of our lives?

We could show movies like The Butterfly Effect – a mind-bending, time-traveling, psychotic Generation-X thriller that testifies to the power of sacrifice, repentance, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and how there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.
We could watch The Station Agent for a simple, perfectly-paced movie about finding true community. If for no other reason, we should see it to emulate the brutally honest grace uttered by Joe as he takes the hands of his new acquaintances and prays: “God, thanks for this food and please help my dad get better, because he’s driving me f***ing crazy!”

As Detweiler and Taylor reiterate time and again, "If you look close enough, beyond the surface provocations, you will see that pop culture reflects a longing for authentic truth, beauty, freedom and love." It is our task to respond to that longing and reflect it in our churches. If a progressive church, Anglican or otherwise, wants to be around in any relevant form in 30 years, it will start engaging with pop culture in the same way that the young adult on the street does. 

Tyler Durden, the cracked revolutionary in David Fincher’s movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s book, Fight Club, gives his club members an assignment following one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes: Go out and pick a fight with someone, and then lose that fight. The intimation is that the club members are going to discover something important.
I offer you a similar challenge for the next fortnight. Go out and see a movie, listen to a CD, or watch a TV show that you would otherwise avoid. Note your reactions. Search for God in the experience. Write back to SMACA and share what you discovered with the rest of us.
Before we Christians living in a postmodern world collectively die in utero, let’s breathe in the amniotic fluid of the pop culture that surrounds us and see if we really can be born again.
Brendan Boughen
SMACA Editor

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Clark County Talks Back

The Guardian decides to get its readers to email registered voters in Clark County, Ohio, telling them how to vote and how the result of the US presidential election will have enormous ramifications for the rest of the world. Oh dear, I have heard of few concepts that were more ill-conceived and ever so slightly meddling.

Anyway, if the whole project was just an exercise in provocation, the entertainment value of the replies from Americans was well worth the effort!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Port Vila Ready to Rock

Port Vila Presse
Saturday, October 2, 2004

Port Vila is about to be given another shake down during the coming 4 days [Fest'Napuan]festival and the committee is also gearing to make sure it is worth all the dimes spent. It will be the biggest, most diverse music festival ever with bands from Australia, New Zealand, PNG, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Fiji. Local bands from Tanna, Malekula, Pentecost and Santo will also feature at Saralana. And the music is just as diverse with Reggae, Kaneka, Zouk, Rock, Contemporary, Jazz and Blues also on the menu.

Most of the band has already flown out, and the last of us fly on Thursday. YEAH!

Subsidy Schmubsidy

George W. Bush's reintroduction of steel tariffs forms a key plank of his appeal to working class Americans. The European Union seems reluctant to undo the complex web of subsidies that some believe is required to keep their agricultural sector afloat.

And here in little o'l NZ it's been 20 years since the abolition of agricultural subsidies and we seem to be doing OK.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Great New Zealand Argument has started a new fortnightly series entitled "Great New Zealand Argument". First item off the blocks is the text of David Lange's 1985 Oxford Union debate speech on nuclear armament.

GNZA sounds like a great idea, and it'll be interesting to watch the project develop. You can link to it here:

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Actis Dato Quartet - Odeon: Wednesday 13th October 2004

I feel heartily sorry for all those who missed the Actis Dato Quartet at the Odeon last night. A great time was had by all, and those enjoying themselves the most seemed to be the charismatic members of the Quartet themselves, who filled the room with an enormous, rich sound that belied their 'sparse' lineup of two reeds, bass and drums. Several times the band launched themselves physically into the audience to coax dancing, mock fear and tears of mirth from all corners of the Odeon. Not even the bar staff were spared. The mouthpiece conversations (arguments?) between Dato and Chris Mason-Battley were a particular highlight...

This clowning could have easily been seen as pure gimickry if it wasn't immediately apparent that these four Italians are masters of their chosen art - Carlo Actis Dato himself has twice been named the best Baritone Saxophone player in the world by the Downbeat Magazine Readers' Poll (in 2001 and 2002). In addition, there a few names to conjure with in the list of Dato et al's previous collaborators - Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, Tony Oxley... Given the gravitas sometimes associated with the European Free Jazz scene, the overt humour throughout their two sets seemed almost subversive.

Carlo Actis Dato (Paul Toogood Photograpy)

One thing that is often sadly lacking in the New Zealand scene is Dato's brand of unselfconcious joy in the process making of music. As Dato tried in vain to "restart" his saxophone, kicking the accelator motorbike style, before miming an "oil change", you realised that here was a band for whom music is not just the production of sound - it is also theatre, surrealism, comedy, dance, yelling and simply, fun.

Able early evening support was provided by local combustible ensemble Thierry, who proved once again that space, texture and intelligence is possible within the framework of group improvisation.

Rarely is virtuosity allied with such overt enthusiasm for the communal ritual of making music. Dato and his bands have appeared at festivals all around the world - Japan, Finland, Italy, Argentina, England, Lithuania, France, the United States. Here they were prancing around our little Odeon in Mount Eden like they owned the place. And for one memorable Wednesday night they did. Wow.

Posted by Hello

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz

Interviewer: "What do expect is in store for the future of jazz guitar?"

Yogi: "I'm thinkin' there'll be a group of guys who've never met talkin' about it all the time."

Interviewer: Can you explain jazz?

Yogi: I can't, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it's right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it's wrong.

Interviewer: I don't understand.

Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated. That's what¹s so simple about it.

Interviewer: Do you understand it?

Yogi: No. That's why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn't know anything about it.

Interviewer: Are there any great jazz player alive today?

Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it.

Interviewer: What is syncopation?

Yogi: That's when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don't hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they're the same as something different from those other kinds.

Interviewer: Now I really don't understand.

Yogi: I haven't taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.

(Source Unkown - thanks to Bruce for sending this via email)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Woah, what's going on here? Parts of Iraq's nuclear programme are vanishing into the desert. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said in a letter to the UN Security Council that high-precision "dual-use" items including milling machines and electron beam welders appear to have disappeared, as has material such as high-strength aluminium. I thought that there were currently 100,000 foreign troops in that country. At least some of them must be trying to prevent potential WMD material from falling into terrorist hands.

What's more, the is not being allowed free access to Iraqi nuclear sites by US forces and the US-backed Iraqi government. As Hans Blix points out, inspectors need the right to be on the ground to monitor the situation. But as it currently stands, the IAEA is tying to monitor the remnants of Iraq's nuclear technology from satellite images. It's a bit like babysitting through a telescope from the other side of town.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Adieu, Derrida

Jacques Derrida, 15.07.1930 (El Biar, Algeria) - 08.07.2004 (Paris, France)

"Apprendre à vivre, cela devrait signifier apprendre à mourir, à prendre en compte, pour l'accepter, la mortalité absolue, sans salut, ni résurrection ni rédemption. Depuis Platon, c'est la vieille injonction philosophique : philosopher, c'est apprendre à mourir."
-Jacques Derrida, interviewed in Le Monde August 2004

You could never say that in English and make it sound serious.

Murphy's Law is Proved Correct

Oh Joy. A panel of experts has provided the statistical rule for predicting the law of "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" - or ((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10)).

After tests of the experiences of 1000 people, they have discovered "things don't just go wrong, they do so at the most annoying moment".

Retour de la Voyoucratie...

A momentous weekend of political movement in the South Pacific, perhaps the least momentous of which was the election of Auckland's first centre-left city council since Colin Meads was in short pants. New mayor Dick Hubbard's surname, and his profile as a local breakfast cereal mogul will no doubt lead to some painful punning headlines over the next four years. It also remains to be seen whether City Vision-Hubbard can do any better than the Citizens & Ratepayers who have pretty much dominated Auckland politics since the Second World War.

Across the Tasman, Australia swings convincingly to the right, and George W. Bush rests easy knowing that his diminutive sidekick will still loyally guard the kennel in his part of the world. Speak softly and carry a big heap of stealth cruise missiles. Way to build trust across Southeast Asia, John!

And in contrast to the the mild mannered Anglo-Saxon power plays of this week, French Senator Gaston Flosse has successfully inveigled a toppling of the pro-independence government of Oscar Temaru in Tahiti after only 15 weeks. As Le Monde points out, Temaru and his fragile coalition were probably not properly prepared to take charge of the territory, (and would have trouble fulfilling an election platform that included the introduction of a 6 hour working day and a 50% increase in the unemployment benefit). Nevertheless, the methods used by Flosse to obtain the vote of no confidence probably deserve closer scrutiny : allegations that Paris threatened to reduce the subsidies that keep the colonial economy afloat, and even accusations from the French Socialists that Flosse's machinations had support from the heart of the central government...

Tension is "palpable" in Papeete these past few days, and an attempted knife attack during the parliamentary debate on Friday night suggests that this situation has the potential to rapidly turn ugly...

Friday, October 08, 2004

How "Religious" doesn't Always mean "Conservative"

A nice column in the Guardian by Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds on the complex interplay between the conservative/liberal dichotomy in US politics and the role of religion on both sides of the divide:

Europa Europa

It's been fascinating to watch the lead-up to yesterdays decision by the EU to commence accession talks with Turkey. Deutsche Welle TV has been running a series of profiles on Turkey on various programs over the past few weeks, and Le Monde ran a profile of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan last week. It is clear that any eventual decision to bring Turkey into the EU fold will impact deeply the sort of community that the EU is destined to become.

Why is France so jumpy? Apparently, there is too much influence from market-driven Anglo-Saxon policies in Ankara. There is certainly concern in Paris that the French model of an intergrated Europe is losing influence as the EU expands. But in addition, there is the unvoiced concern and self-interest around religion, cultural difference and the potential threat to the French workforce...

As Euro-MP (and former Polish foreign minister) Bronislaw Geremek said this week in an online dialogue: "Une partie de l'opinion publique polonaise partage tout a fait la crainte des Francais. Il me semble que dans les deux cas, les raisons de la mefiance sont similaires. Il s'agit d'abord de l'etendue geographique et du potentiel demographique de la Turquie. Deuxiemement, c'est le probleme culturel et religieux. On craint que l'entree d'un grand pays musulman dans l'Union europeenne change la situation à l'interieur de l'Union et brise l'unite religieuse de celle-ci."

Indeed, despite the 'liberal' image that is often painted of EU nations, xenophobia and mistrust is never far from the agenda. . Will we ever see an EU that stretches from the west coast of Ireland to the border with Iran? Etnobofin watches with interest ...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Caution: Secretary of Defense Turning

Here's Rummy two years ago. (Thanks to Russell Brown's blog once again for the link)

Admit that you've done a little bit of a flip-flop on this one Donald ? Nah, that'd be too easy.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Deep Throat

Vitamin S tonight features the Chirgilchin, the current champions of the Tuvan national throat singing competitions! They're dropping in to Odeon on their way to Dunedin. This sounds unmissable.

(Update) Wow, what a joyful musical occasion. The trio was greeted by a PACKED Odeon Lounge, and performed a 30 minute set of some of the most extraordinary and perfectly conceived music I've ever heard. Anyone who hasn't heard throat singing should google it and find some mp3 samples, or look up Chirgilchin on Amazon. The documentary Genghis Blues is of course at the root of popular awareness of this musical style in the West, and is well worth catching, and is a good introduction to the sound and landscape of Tuva.

More Jazznoir Madness for those Progressive Tanzkellers!

A new album Streamer from trumpet player Nils Petter Molvaer this time recorded live in Tampere and London. From an initial listen to the demo mp3s, it all sounds appropriately Nordic, ice-cold crystal production, simmering pads and chunky beats that were manufactured by viking dwarves on a North Sea oil rig. And that guitar work - Northern Europe must be the last refuge of shaggy haired axemen. (Indeed, Northern Europe gave birth to great hordes of shaggy haired axe-men, but that was about 1500 years ago...)

*sigh* NPM is an artist I've always wanted to like, but haven't ever quite crossed his bridge when I come to him. But if you've ever wanted to hear Miles Davis meeting Kruder&Dorfmeister in an Oslo basement club, this is probably as close as you'll get.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Il est temps de partir, John !

This weekend's Le Monde has this story covering the Michael Moore-esque "Time to go John", a series of shorts pulled together by Australian film makers exposing some of the questionable actions of the Howard government.

Interesting to see that a European paper should take notice of political and articistic manouevrings so far from the metropole - if only there was a more active critique in the metropolitan French media of the continuing colonial regime in the Pacific....

The Observer also has a horrifying article giving a glimpse into the extent of the criminal networks abducting and trafficking women and children across eastern Europe. Where is this all heading?

It is ultimately abhorrent that there are people growing rich off the prostitution and abuse of children anywhere in the world. But this is happening on a large scale inside (or at least within spitting distance of) the European Union. Do we actually care? Are we powerless to stop this?

Saturday, October 02, 2004


US forces are mounting an attack to retake Samara in northern Iraq. Perhaps I'm naive in military matters, but this is beginning to sound more like a territorial war, rather than a battle against hit-and-run insurgents.

Down the rabbit-hole we go.