Friday, January 28, 2005
"Nous appartenons à l'Europe, c'est là que ça se passe, en Europe, que nous somme enfermés ensemble face au reste du monde. Autour de nous les mêmes océans, les mêmes invasions, les mêmes guerres. Nous sommes de la race de ceux qui sont brûlés dans les crématoires et des gazés de Maïdanek, nous sommes aussi de la race des nazis."
Marguerite Duras, 27th April 1945. From La Douleur.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The ways that European countries are making (literally) concrete efforts to memorialise genocide, and the launch of a petition in New Zealand yesterday to change our flag, got me to thinking about how important symbolism and collective images of ourselves remain hot topics of debate, even in these ostensibly rational postmodern times we live in in the "secular" West.
Germany is currently putting the finishing touches on a large, sombre and spectacular Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, built on former waste ground in Berlin. The monument consists of more than 2000 concrete columns of varying heights, said by some to resemble a wheat field in the wind, others a graveyard. I'd like to believe that the monument, and particularly it's placement within sight of the Bundestag, and within a few metres of the remains of the Hitlerbunker, represents an honest attempt by the German government and people to remember what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. I look forward to visiting it one day.
Berlin is also home to another recent memorial to the Jewish people, the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Liebeskind. This site offers a great pictorial tour of the building, including commentary on its didactic and symbolic features.
The International Herald Tribune looks at Auschwitz as a common point of experience and memory for the whole of Europe in an excellent article. (Once again, it's Russell Brown's burgeoning media empire that pointed me to this particular story.)
It remains to be seen whether the high profile nzflag.com campaign can gain the 300,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum at the 2005 general election.
I am generally supportive of finding ways to reflect the uniqueness and contemporary identity of New Zealand, and particularly exploring methods to describe the dynamic (and difficult) relationship between Maori and Pakeha. Is a new flag the best way to do this? It is interesting to see what sort of images come out of the various designs that have been put together, and nzflag.com displays a few various ideas by some local artists, none of which particularly stand out to me. Do we try to portray our environment (the fern, the long white cloud, the ocean), our multiple cultural origins (Maori motifs, symbols of European colonisation), a combination of both, or something different entirely?
Design of a new national flag must be one of the most challenging tasks for any graphic or visual artist. Flags are more than logos, they are the ultimate uber-trademarks; they provide an image of what we think we remember of our past; they frame what we would like to think that our nation is all about. It could be fascinating to find out what us kiwis actually think about ourselves.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
I Been Linked!
This is a red letter moment indeed. What a pity Mr Incomer doesn't appear to post that often, although he has taken time to link to some other blogs that seem to have a lot of lovely pottery, angry British monkeys, blogs who like to use unreadable black backgrounds (please resit Web design 101!) and several featuring poetry. They even link to an Australian blog. Oh what a happy family to be included in!
I can also empathise with The Incomer's concern that many bloggers seem utterly unsatisfied with their lot in life, and don't seem to be taking any steps to change this. Am I just fortunate to have a pretty alright life, all things considered, or maybe I'm missing something? I suppose that one could view blogging as an outlet for all this unfocused frustration, but I think blogging can be so much more creative and enlightening. More ouverture, more enthousiasme, less ras le bol!
I hope at least some of my posts reflect my joy and surprise at being allowed to live in these islands, with my friends, on this planet at this time, making discoveries that are both frightening and inspiring.
Monday, January 24, 2005
Jacques Tati - Playtime
Playtime is an extension of the riff that Tati took up in his earlier film, 1958's Mon Oncle: it's a gentle and often affectionate lampooning of postwar French life, and in particular of the impersonality and sterility of modern technology. In the earlier film, we at least glimpse Tati's Monsieur Hulot at home in his crumbling and convivial world of vieille France, with its facteurs on bicycles, gossiping café regulars and spinsterish concierges. By contrast in Playtime, Hulot seems completely cast adrift in a bewildering, noisy modern Paris "en beton" of high-rise office blocks, glass facades and cavernous interior spaces. Hulot is thrust hither and thither by chance encounters, engulfing crowds and capricious elevators.
Great fun, whimsical, and very, very different to any sort of cinema being made today, and a film that will likely bear multiple viewings.
Kid Koala and RJD2 at Galatos, Friday 21st January 2005
Local DJ Cian warmed the crowd up nicely, and I'm happy to report that it didn't seem to take long for the diminutive and happy form of Kid Koala took the stage, just after midnight. As far as I was concerned, his set was the highlight of the evening. 4 Turntables and 1 microphone...he burned it up for a good 60 minutes. Mixing Bjork into a snatch of Cypress Hill? Sweet. The Muppets' chickens singing "In the Mood" on a 1976 45rpm vinyl single? Just the fun side of indulgent. Juggling two versions of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and scratching over the top? (at least I think that's what he was doing) Genius, and the crowd loved it.
RJD2 then took over and if anything, his set seemed to be more conventionally danceable. I have to confess I spent a good period of his set outside talking to people, but this wasn't because he wasn't any good. He certainly was moving the crowd inside the venue. The evening was rounded off with KK and RJD2 together on the four decks, trading beats and scratches - it was very clear that by this stage the pair were just goofing off, having some fun before they caught their 6am flight to Australia. If these two were tired after their earlier efforts playing for the 40,000 people at Big Day Out, they didn't show it. The crowd had been treated to a couple of hours from two of the world's best turntablists, and for the most part these punters didn't leave the venue disappointed.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Building a Music Ghetto
Unless Mediaworks is looking at a business case I don't know about, the Kiwi FM venture seems flawed in a commercial sense... by aiming to cover all genres, I imagine that the station will find it difficult to attract a stable, defined listenership that will in turn attract advertisers. "Appointment listening" for specialist shows has served public and student radio well, but the variety of people and age groups who want to listen variously to the Decepticonz, Brooke Fraser, Ardijah and Th'Dudes do not seem to constitute a marketable demographic.
Regardless of the commercial prospects for Kiwi FM, our music needs to be presented in a contemporary, international context, and not ghettoised. We need to hear Scribe alongside 50 Cent, and Pluto alongside Coldplay. The way to get NZ music out to the market, out to the music buyers is to put it on the aural shopfloor where people are actually listening.
Kids who like hip-hop/R+B listen to Mai FM, kids who like rock listen to...whatever stations they listen to. NZ music must (and largely has been over the past few years) accepted as a regular part of our music diet, alongside some of the great music being made in other parts of the world. Happily, the voluntary quota system adhered to by most commercial stations in the country appears to be working, with NZ content rates up around a reasonable 20%. This is a very good thing: if NZ radio stations won't play our music, nobody else will.
For the same reasons, I would also advocate the end of "New Zealand" sections in music shops. (The assumptions behind the "Foreign" section in video shops also annoys me, but that's the subject of another blog entry).
But this is not to say that NZ music doesn't require special assistance. Targeted financial incentives for NZ artists are needed, simply because our market is so tiny. Nobody outside New Zealand is going to assist NZ music. We have to put our best foot forward by ourselves, but a "New Zealand Music Radio Station" does not help the cause.
Marketing a record to 4 million potential consumers in Aotearoa is like selling records to just people in West London, or just Sydney, but not Melbourne or Queensland. The reality of the local industry is that the major labels here are often backwater branch offices (often reporting to Sydney), with limited resources to sign NZ artists. As for the independent labels, I know from experience that these guys run on shoestring budgets. Recording grants such as the Phase Four scheme, or a little hand-up to make a video, simply helps get NZ product to the point at which it can be consumed by local listeners and judged alongside overseas product.
I would love to be proved wrong, but I can't really see how Kiwi FM will assist the cause of the New Zealand music industry. Such a narrow focus could lead to a celebration of mediocrity, marginalisation of local artists and could prove damaging in the long term.
Oh, and speaking of overseas product - tonight, RJD2 and Kid Koala at Galatos - report/review later!
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
The double-decker jumbo is of course, more than a plane, and some European leaders are already framing it as a powerful symbol of Europe. Well, I suppose that the romantic but ill-conceived Concorde operated not only in the stratosphere, but in the popular imagination as a sleek silver token of entente cordiale across the English Channel. Let us hope that the A380 is founded on more sound economics and design principals than its supersonic predecessor.
(By the way, if you own an airport, it's probably a good idea to check out the Airbus Airport Manual to work out how many millions you're going to have to spend to actually handle 550+ passengers arriving in one hit...)
It's probably worth remembering that the A380 has been launched against the background of continuing lukewarm economic performance in Europe: the day after French industry revels in this triumph of cooperative engineering, workers from SNCF, EDF and La Poste go on strike at protest at job cuts proposed in state-owned agencies... good luck getting home from the party in Toulouse on the 30% of TGVs that are still running!
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Tear the Roof Off!
BlackByrd McKnight, Starchild himself and a 63 year-old George Clinton. Man, how good would that gig have been? Probably just about as memorable as James Brown's show in Auckland last year.
And on PublicAddress.net, guest blogger Michael Wallmansberger has another take on why a referendum on Civil Unions would have been a bad idea...
Monday, January 17, 2005
The documentary is largely based on 20 hours of interviews that Errol Morris conducted with Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1967 under Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, interspersed with relevant archive footage, tapes of White House conversations and stylish visuals. We observe Robert S. McNamara looking back on his career, and at the age of 85, he is still at the height of his powers as a speaker and analyst of the events he was involved in. He is obviously trying to come to terms with some of his actions, which directly or indirectly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
As Secretary of Defense, McNamara was personally involved in several of the most violent and destructive acts of the 20th Century. Just as Donald Rumsfeld today has overseen the setting up of detention camps in Guantanamo Bay, the first uses of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam occurred on McNamara's watch. (Perhaps rather conveniently, McNamara says that he can 'no longer recall' whether he personally authorised Agent Orange spraying operations).
Possibly the scariest thing that stands out from the film is how misunderstandings and human fallibility at the highest levels of command can lead to the destruction of millions of lives. The most striking example of this is McNamara's admission that the US government and military completely misapprehended the situation in Vietnam. They saw Vietnam as the frontline of a global (Soviet or Maoist China-backed) communist strategy to dominate South-East Asia. The Vietnamese saw it as a civil war, and interpreted American intervention as an attempt to reimplement a colonial regime.
The film reinforces how much mutual confusion there was during some of the major crises of McNamara's Cabinet tenure - the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Six Day War. This titular 'Fog of War', the lack of factual information and accurate intelligence, the fleurescence of rumours and suppositions and simple communication breakdowns could have very easily led to much more serious and tragic outcomes.
The similarities between McNamara's Cold War and today's "War on Terror"
are striking, and decades later we are still grappling with the same issues of legality, morality and proportionality in human conflict.
McNamara comes out strongly in favour of non-proliferation of WMDs, (particularly nuclear weapons), the establishment of an International Court of Justice, and, significantly, he argues against unilateral overseas actions by the United States.
While not expressing guilt for his actions, McNamara admits that he and his colleagues did make mistakes. It is disturbing that today's leaders in the United States and elsewhere continue to make many of the same mistakes. Fog of War comes highly recommended.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Reseau Voltaire has an interesting site, and you only need to the the current front page image of Hugo Chavez embracing Fidel Castro to gain some idea of its politics... it's extensive and credulous coverage of the September 11th Pentagon attack conspiracy theory also lends one to doubt the veracity of anything else it might say. Their "Bush Regime Card Game" is also a moderately amusing summation of this website's worldview. In some ways it's refreshing to see extreme views like this presented in such an attractive and comprehensive web design, but the actual contents need to be consumed with a large pinch of salt.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Si vous me poursuivez,
Prevenez vos gendarmes
Que je n'aurai pas d'armes
Et qu'ils pourront tirer.
Monsieur le président,
If you come after me
Tell your policemen
That I wont have a gun
And they'll be able to shoot.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
In too Deep
Man Digs Himself to Near Disaster
The headlines was a reference to this story, (and my mind boggles as to why someone might want to dig into a sand dune to find water for fun. However I suppose I enjoy playing free improv, which might be the musical equivalent of risking being buried alive. But I digress, and these parentheses must stop. Right now), but I couldn't help reading a more global message into this, particularly in the light of some very strongly worded columns in the New York Times regarding the state of America's war in Iraq.
Bob Herbert notes that even the Pentagon and White House have stopped talking about an exit strategy. Thomas Friedman places Iraq in a wider historical and geopolitical context, noting that there are "militant messianists" not only wreaking destruction in Iraq, but jeopardising any chance of a peace in Israel & Palestine from both sides of the roadblocks and security walls. And Maureen Dowd is yet another commentator to note that Bush apparently only wants to hear good news on Iraq from his political advisors.
The US military need more money, more adequate armour, and most critically, more manpower- Pentagon planners realise that America simply doesn't have enough soldiers to do the job. There are plans to abolish the 24 month limit on active service for National Guard and reservists.
Maureen Dowd sums it up..."The administration that had no plan for what to do with Iraq when it got it, now has no plan for getting out." As my Mum always says:
"The First Rule of Holes - when you're in one, stop digging."
It sounds like lucky Paul Porter learned his lesson yesterday on Bethell's Beach. Unfortunately, George W. Bush and his mates are still trying to reach China.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Here Come the Rhinos
And further to my noting of anti-Frenchie cheese-eater blogs a few days ago, it's a comfort to know that there are people like LeMondewatch to protect us from ever being swayed by insidious anti-American sentiments boiling away among the intellectual elites of Europe. How dare those wine-chugging frog journos suggest a rapprochement with the Arab-Muslim world? This is dangerous talk indeed! I'm going to have to cancel my subscription! Ooh, and I better stop watching/listening to the BBC, too. Yup, I think a solid, extended course of self-censorship is in order.
All this right-wing invective is making me relate strongly to this article by Joe Bageant. Here come the rhinos, indeed.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
So yeah, pretty much as expected, OdESSA once again proved that they are one of the absolute best live acts in this country, and Pender is up there with some of the best frontmen I've ever seen - and that includes Beck! They deserve a much bigger audience and far more exposure, and they're such a lovely bunch of chaps too.
Also, while I'm in reviewing mode, I saw The Motorcycle Diaries last week. Unlike OdESSA, I'm not sure that the film quite lived up to its hype. The scenery, spanning Patagonia to Amazonia via Valparaiso and the Andes certainly confirmed a personal desire to travel in South America one day, and as a document of a journey and an awakening conciousness, the film was fairly effective. I just get the impression that the shadow of Che Guevara still looms too large today for this film to be taken for what it is.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
I hope I am wrong, but it appears that the rift appears to run a lot deeper than the "French Fries/Freedom Fries" non-issue that received so much media attention in the lead-up to the Second Gulf War.
Everyone should go and live in another country for a while where they speak a different language. This would be good for the whole world.
Meanwhile, the BBC has this report on the decline of Catholicism in an increasingly secular France.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
I Plead Unconciousness, Your Honour!
But why does it take the drame of a ten metre high oceanic wave to provoke this sort of willingness to help those less fortunate in the world? A Considerable Speck links to a great article by Rabbi Michael Lerner, who contrasts the current worldwide aid-fever with the non-existent reaction to a recent UN report stating that 29,000 children die every day due to preventable diseases and malnutrition.
"the Tsunami's story line is safe and predictable and unlikely to challenge the current global distribution of wealth or power. Most reporters and news editors have internalized their sense of what the top-management in their industry considers "news- worthy" and thus they didn't give much attention to the U.N. story and its dramatic and tragic dimensions."
How unconscious can we be? Very, it appears.
Unconciousness revealed also, in this interview in Le Monde with Rochus Misch, the last surviving member of Hitler's bodyguard and the last person to emerge alive from the Fuehrerbunker in Berlin on May 2nd, 1945. Misch worked on Hitler's personal staff for 5 years, and although one could not accuse him of conspiring in the brutal acts of the Nazi regime, he claims he was never made aware during his work as telephonist and mail courier of the atrocities being carried out in the name of his boss. There is no question, according to Misch, of admitting that Hitler was a murderer...
"Misch, lui aussi, se trouvait au cœur de toutes les informations qui parvenaient à la tête de l'Etat nazi. Mais il n'a rien vu ou voulu voir. Pas question, même aujourd'hui, d'admettre Hitler comme un meurtrier ; impossible d'accepter une quelconque culpabilité. "C'était mon chef, répète-t-il. Avec moi, il était attentionné et gentil. J'ai fait mon travail sans blesser quelqu'un. Je ne regrette rien, cela ne serait pas honnête. J'ai suivi et estime avoir payé avec mes neuf années d'emprisonnement."
Washingtonpost.com links to a PDF version of the 2002 memo co-authored by Attorney General nominee Alberto R. Gonzales which provides legal arguments justifying US policy towards torture/interrogation of suspected terrorists following 9/11. Gonzales seems to be the perfect Ashcroft replacement, really.
Oh, and if you want to go bury your head in the sand again, how about joining this illustrious sporting organisation?
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Steel and Wood
The image is bizarre, but arresting - the great steel bird of the 21st century confronted by the weapons of a culture that reaches back into the paleaolithic. When speaking about cultures and places far from our own, words like "unspoilt" or phrases like "the world's last paradise" are to be avoided. However the Andamans and Nicobar Islands must surely be one of the few places in the world where we, with a postcolonial conciousness, can actually try to prevent the worst excesses of encroachment on indigenous peoples....
But amidst the human tragedy and our apparent insignificance against the forces of the universe, let's remember that just occasionally, us humans can make and do some pretty amazing things (one of them is tabbed web browsing in Firefox) NASA's two Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been crawling around the planet for a year, drilling, taking pictures and generally doing some interplanetary science. Both robots have lasted three times longer than their designed longevity of 90 days. Roll on the launch of Huygens into Titan's atmosphere !