Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Great Arts Debate

Unlike a certain SAR-based blogger, I do appreciate the arts. This is understandable, since I'm a very cultured chap. I believe strongly that there is much to learn from the musical, operatic, literary, and visual greats.

What I object to, however, is the Government forcing me to pay for a bunch of lazy no-hopers to claim creativity without any hope of practising it. The Arts for the Dole Scheme is one of the most garbled failures, and most insidious symbols of government largesse. When the Government pays actors and painters to sit at home doing nothing, then they sit at home and do nothing.

Creativity, as I was telling an old-time professional actor friend of mine, stems from desire and personal necessity. As I was buying him lunch a few months ago, he was praising Aunty Helen for everything she has done for Aotearoa/New Zealand’s cultural movement. He then claimed that he was not interested in making money. He argued that he was not good at making money. He proposed that making money is just not good for society.

To wit, I responded: “Which of the great civilisations of history have ever contributed to world culture, except through economic dominance?”

“What?” he asked.

“Simple. Every great civilisation has created great cultural artefacts, by virtue of the fact that individuals have supported and patronised a great artist and encouraged that artist to be creative and productive, or else an artist has doggedly chosen to pursue a career by having that inner hunger—supported by nobody except their own determination to succeed. There is no other way to cultural success.”

“What about talent?” he countered.

”Yes, they’ve all had talent. But the successful artists have all worked their arses off to get there. They’ve had to understand their market. They battle on no matter what.”

Government-funded actor suggests that so much art would be lost if it wasn’t state-sponsored. I answer with: “Like what? That theatrical bullshit you come up with that nobody watches?”

Actor is hurt. I say to him: “Look, don’t take this personally. But the reason why your work is such utter shite is that you’re not hungry enough. You’re content with mediocrity. You don’t have to listen to your audience, or respond to what they want. You just do it anyway, because the State gives you a big whallop of cash for you to sit on your arse, so that it can feel good and pretentious about contributing my money to your idleness.”

Case in point is the TVNZ charter. For the last several years, the Government has paid TVNZ a special subsidy to promote New Zealand content on television. The result: outgoing CEO Ian Fraser says that New Zealand content is under threat, that there has been no noticeable increase in content capacity, that there has been no increased audience demand for local television, television revenue is falling, and, in a nutshell, TVNZ has simply absorbed the subsidy into its baselines. Money is thrown at New Zealand culture with no long-term positive effect. It is spent, simply because it is there, on mediocre television that nobody wants to watch.

This morning, I was walking past the Civic Centre. A cohort of skateboarders were doing funky things with their skateboards, outside one of Auckland’s premier cultural attractions. I stopped and chatted with them. “So what do you guys do?” I ask.

“We’re artists,” they answer.


Meanwhile, the Herald reports this morning that a family of buskers—extremely talented, albeit not particularly attractive young musicians—have been given a different treatment from local and government authorities. The story goes like this: two pianist ingĂ©nues, aged 14 and 20, have been slaving their guts out for the last six months, providing musical entertainment on Queen Street, playing some of the most difficult Rachmaninov and Chopin pieces, among many others in their repertoire, in order to raise money to send their gifted sister to ballet school in England.

The Sheffield family are not on the dole. They do not ride skateboards. They simply sit and ply their trade. And they do it exceptionally well. Their audience appreciates them. They show their appreciation by contributing directly to them.

I suspect that the Sheffield brothers do very well from their busking. A few months ago, I offered one of them a couple of hundred dollars to play at a client function we were holding in our boardroom for a couple of hours. He declined, on the basis that he would make more money playing the piano in rush hour.

Yet both the Council and the Police have tried several times to move these kids on. Why? Because they’re not state-sponsored. Aunty Helen—the great arts champion—does not support those who actually have a connection with their audience, and who tirelessly strive to make the most of their talent.

Instead, she’d much rather pay a group of skateboarders to claim creative merit outside the Civic Centre.

Stalin tried to silence Shostakovich, because he wouldn't follow the state-sanctioned cultural regime. The Sheffield brothers have Shostakovich--and very credibly so--in their repertoire. The Minister for Arts and Culture, and the Associate Minister for Auckland, who merrily swan their way through any media opportunity at chardonnay-swilling cultural gatherings, could do much to encourage the Sheffield brothers to continue to play for Auckland city-dwellers.

And then they might actually achieve something for Auckland's arts scene. And it won't cost a single taxpayer dollar.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On Blogging Bitchfights...

Can there be anything quite as inane in the blogosphere, than two individuals from separate multi-contributor blogs, who engage in a war, and actually mean it?

Normally I side with the good folk at The Whig. After all, they're good people... Blair is an erudite figure of insolence, who deserves to live the good life. All he needs is for one of us to sit him down and teach him how to make money, and he can deserve all the fruits of success that his attitude affords him.

The Aboutowners have few redeeming features. They are, in total, a group of smarmy, snarky, limp-wristed pinkos with some particularly dire views on the world. Which is why they will have lives of failure, lest they smarten up sometime soon.

And as much as I dislike admitting it, most of the Aboutowners play fair. Xavier had a go at me recently, in what was a light-hearted and spirited dig. Didn't think it was his best work, but it was not vindictive and nasty.

Tristan is a whole different species. Again, admittedly, his standard of behaviour is not confined to the Left. There are some equally psychotic types throughout the spectrum. One particular female blogger has been recently subjected to behaviour that is no less than that of a deeply disturbed and pathetic mind.

The Aboutowners have distanced themselves from Tristan's behaviour, effectively by saying that they are not going to buy into Tristan's silly little games with Graham over at The Whig. Graham, that behaviour is beneath you. Make the most of having a hot new chick writing for you--that alone is sufficient to drive traffic to The Whig. And forget about Tristan. The little shit isn't worth the waste of ammunition.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

War Stories From The Education Front

My standard-three teacher was one of the most peculiar adults I ever knew. He was a great raconteur: comical, passionate, eccentric, and had a great love for physical activity. Like many men in the teaching profession at that stage, he was also senile, and had an explosive temper.

This teacher had several party-tricks. One was to launch into a tangential stream of war stories. He had been at war in the Pacific: I suspect his battle-scars were more psychological than physical. He didn’t quite understand the appropriateness of telling grisly tales of shooting Japs, or Japs accidentally shooting themselves while chasing him through the jungle on Guadalcanal, or throwing hand grenades at passing Japs, or knifing Japs… or any story, for that matter, which resulted in an Imperial Soldier being ferried home in a casket. Three or four times a day—from a maths lesson, to reading an approved school story—he would provide yet another Japanese war story.

In the second week of classes, his young pupils became aware of just how crazy he was: we had already heard his stories recycled, and were just becoming more preposterous each time. On this occasion, as he was reading some innocuous approved story to us, he went off on a tangent again. At this moment, he portrayed himself as a Jap-grenading Charles Upham. He then turned to the class, and said: “And do you know what happened next?”

One of the other kids, Jason—not particularly bright, as it turned out—called out: “What, Mr Snufflupigus turned up?”

It was a great burn. Sufficient for all the kids to erupt into the kind of shrill laughter that nine-year-olds can manage. The teacher exploded. He walked straight through several rows of desks, knocking over the kids who were seated, and grabbed this troublesome child by the neck. He picked Jason up by his throat, with one arm, and lifted him out of his seat. The teacher then carried him, by the gullet, across the classroom, and outside the door. A few of us followed, just to see what would happen next. The teacher then physically threw Jason several metres, over the path, and into a convenient gorse bush.

It was an astonishing act of random violence against a child. It happened several other times during that year—I got “gorsed”, although the teacher had the good grace to carry me by my shirt and trousers.

As children, we did not consider these to be horrific incidents. Getting “gorsed” was not extremely painful. It was certainly pretty humiliating, but I also recall thinking that it was preferable to getting caned.

Casting a modern eye against historical events is dangerous. My standard three teacher was not an outlandish exception. Physical violence against children was as normal at school as it was in many homes. It was certainly not a universal trait among male teachers, but it was not an uncommon one.

Which is why I don’t consider David Benson-Pope’s alleged tennis ball incident to be particularly surprising. Nor, for the standards of the time, in the early 1980s, was that behaviour from some male teachers, extremely outlandish. Such incidents occurred frequently, by well-meaning, but psychologically disturbed people who were unable to function in society. The classroom was the ideal workplace for them: other adults didn't have to deal with their eccentricities, and they had a secure, reasonably well-paid job with little accountability, for life. We can thank the education unions for that, but that is another story.

The long-term effects of my standard three teacher’s actions are non-existent. At a recent school reunion, we looked back fondly on the crazy old guy, who is long since dead. He didn't actually cause any physical injuries, other than a couple of bruises, a few scratches, and some wounded pride. He did teach us that in the world there are some quite fucked-up people. I wouldn't go so far as to call that teacher character-building, but it would be a massive misrepresentation to suggest that he harmed people considerably.

Likewise, David Benson-Pope’s alleged victims will not carry any psychological scars for his alleged sadistic treatment of them in 1982. Physical intimidation and violence by some teachers was not extraordinary.

I don’t blame Benson-Pope for his alleged bullying of defenceless children over twenty years ago. What is disturbing, however, is that a guy with his downright merciless and inhumane tendencies, is in a position of high moral and political authority today. Benson-Pope ascribes to a certain social agenda: he is a bully, and does not have any regard for using callous tactics to get what he wants done.

Nor does Benson-Pope take responsibility for his alleged brutality. His disregard for the sincerity of the complainants, and his constantly changing story, suggest that he has only ever seen the issue as a political fight. He sees it as perfectly legitimate to use his considerable resources, and media machine, to attack his alleged victims. After having selectively leaked parts of the Police Report, he is now attempting to shift the blame for that onto his press secretary. Classic symptoms of a man of supreme desperation, in denial.

Benson-Pope’s alleged actions in 1982 were hardly defensible, if true. But they are understandable in the context of the time.

Benson-Pope could have dealt with the whole issue by meeting his alleged victims in person, and in private, and sitting through with them, and listening to what they believed occurred in 1982. He could have apologised to them for his intimidating behaviour. And they would have forgiven him.

Instead, through his initial denials—and a ferocity of denial that convinced many that he certainly had the combative personality to inflict physical harm, his constant attacks on his accusers, his refusal to face questions with ridiculous excuses for not showing up, and his recent about-turn with protests that he simply no longer remembers what happened—he has destroyed his own political career. He has chosen to avoid a court of law, and in the process, has been convicted by a court of public opinion.

But at least in his senility, the PPTA will welcome him back to the classroom, where he can regale his pupils with political war stories.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Solution to Cricket Hooliganism: Number 1939

I am New Zealand cricket's number one fan. I will never allow an ill word to be said about any of the players, coaches, support staff, or administration, past, present, and future. Cricket is the game of the Gods, and all those who play and spectate are worthy of a place in Heaven. Even the non-Catholics.

Which is why I am surprised at recent reports of ill-mannered behaviour at Eden Park on Saturday.

There is a simple solution to New Zealand Cricket's crowd control problems. It is not in enforcing tighter security. It is not in serving all the booze in plastic cups, or reducing alcohol consumption at the ground.

Cricket crowds do not behave badly. There are no cricket hooligans. There are merely supportive supporters, who are doing their best to even the playing field. The answer to New Zealand cricket's crowd control problems lies among the players themselves:


Friday, December 02, 2005

Peter Beats Winston To The Punch

In one of the big surprises of the peculiar coalition arrangements this term, Peter Dunne is rattling his sabre.

It's unusual only in the sense that all the commentators expected Winston to lose his rag at Aunty Helen first. Apart from throwing a hissy-fit at international and domestic media and calling for a warming of relations with the United States, which Helen Clark would rather be kept on ice, Winston has been relatively well-behaved. He hasn't engaged in any alcohol-fuelled late-night brawling with taxi drivers since becoming a Minister Outside Cabinet. He hasn't been filmed staggering out of a Chogm meeting, haranguing foreigners. He hasn't even made defamatory remarks about a political opponent. All in all, Winston has kept his head down, and has deserved Helen's feint praise by performing "pretty well".

One of the features of the coalition agreement that Peter Dunne has signed with the Labour Party is that the doctrine of collective responsibility applies only to the ministerial portfolio that Dunne holds. Dunne is the Minister of Revenue. He is bound by the will of the whole Cabinet on revenue matters. He cannot speak out against, or seek to undermine, any policy area relating to the revenue portfolio. Otherwise, he faces instant dismissal.

So what, then, of Dunne's recent encouragement to National's campaign to ditch the Carbon Tax proposal? The Carbon Tax is government policy. It was agreed to, collectively, by the last Labour Government. Helen Clark has signalled a review of it, but it still remains a key policy feature of this Labour-led Government, until such time as the Government acts on any recommendations to ditch it.

The Carbon Tax is a revenue proposal, which will add a further $360 million to Government coffers. Dunne is actively seeking to undermine a revenue proposal. He is breaching the collective responsibility he holds with respect to the revenue portfolio. If any other minister in her Government had acted in a similar fashion, Helen would have sacked that Minister.

Dunne is supposed to be the straight guy. He's the one who is supposed to engage with officials on arcane aspects of revenue policy, and get his jiffy out of their equally arcane responses. Dunne is the geek. He's not the troublemaker. But strange times call for strange actions, and even the most boring of men can rise to the occasion and start a shit-fight.

How much longer will this ridiculous farce continue?

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Another Commie Activist Hates America!

In yet another piece of selective evidence-gathering, Russell Brown is trumpeting former US Attorney-General and "peace activist" Ramsey Clark's attempt to join Saddam Hussein's defence team as a sign that the US-led war in Iraq is immoral and wrong.

It is true that Ramsey Clark is making a bid to defend Saddam. But that isn't a surprise.

Ramsey Clark was briefly Attorney-General under Lyndon Johnson, for a year in 1967. His appointment, and tenure, was hardly distinguished by any measure. It is widely considered that Clark's initial appointment was intended to unseat Clark's father from the Supreme Court, which duly occurred.

Since his fleeting post, Ramsey Clark has distinguished himself only among the sordid company that he keeps. Clark defended David Koresh, who went on to murder 85 of his fellow Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, in 1993. Clark defended Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord who led his country into civil war. Clark defended Elizaphan Ntakirutimana,a Rwandan warlord, and one of the key architects of genocide in that country. In the mid-80s, Clark acted for the PLO, defending their claim against the family of Leon Klinghoffer, whom the PLO murdered during their takeover of the Achille Lauro. In the former Yugoslavia, Ramsey Clark was particularly active: he was a key member of the defense team for both Slobodan Milosevic, and Radovan Karadzic.

Russell Brown would like to assert that Clark's move is another coup against the War. No, it's not, Russell. It shows precisely what the anti-American motives of the anti-War activists are. With Ramsey Clark on Saddam's team, if I were George W, I'd be delighted. If Hitler had escaped from the bunker, Ramsey Clark would have been the first to line up to act for him at the Nuremberg Trials. If Stalin had faced the music over the atrocities he inflicted on his own people, then Ramsey Clark would have been his Senior Counsel.

Ramsey Clark's client list is a who's who of the most notorious war criminals and bludgeoneers of the twentieth century. The only thing they have in common, apart from the crimes against humanity that they have perpetrated, is their hatred at the United States for holding them to account.

Peace activist my arse!