Monday, December 3, 2012

A reaction to Leveson's report

I am in shock as I find myself agreeing with David Cameron. It's an odd feeling and not one I recommend but I feel I have to. Lord Leveson's report has been published and people are looking for a solid outcome from the whole nasty episode. Leveson makes a not unreasonable suggestion about a voluntary self regulatory body with a carrot and stick system to encourage editors and publishers to sign up. All very good, but why? The press have a system of self regulation and the country has laws to protect people against the lowest behaviour of the press. Those laws are being demonstrated in the current court case against some of the hacking scandals biggest culprits.

So where did the system break down? Was it the laws not existing? Did news editors find some loophole in the system and exploit it? No, they broke the law (allegedly) and have been charged accordingly. Surely this is the result, the blood the public are baying for? The system failed to stop this practice soon enough, that bit is true, but it didn't fail because the system to stop it wasn't in place, it failed because individuals who were meant to safe guard that system had been corrupted. Adding regulations to the press will not stop this happening again as these regulations could be as easily ignored as the current ones were, as could any law until the legal system catches up with you. A system to safeguard whistle-blowers and monitor the relationship between the press, government and the police is needed but not more regulation.

When someone breaks the law and gets away with it you don't change the law, you change the investigative system, review safeguards and systems of protection. The law remains, adding more laws does nothing to prevent others from breaking the original law. Enforce the current laws properly, don't introduce new ones.

All that said the report is very careful not to suggest much beyond a voluntary self regulatory system. So where's the issue? As far as the nuts and bolts there is not much of one but in the wonderful world of spin and a knee jerk tabloid press there is a big one as the reality won't be reported. Instead it will be, and already has been, all about the government regulating of the press. An issue that any fan of press freedoms should be wary of but not one that the suggestions in this report really affect. There is no government regulation or legal obligation to follow the self regulation suggested, it's all very nicey nice.. And here's where I do not agree with Cameron, his comments on the report do nothing to dispel the notion that there is more to it then this but instead reinforce them. It's a dangerous suggestion that has implications all over the world. The bastion of press freedom introduces press regulations. For propaganda purposes it adds weight to leaders who look less favourably on civil liberties and press freedoms.

Ironically, the recommended regulations will go no way towards stopping the sort of reporting that allows the press to hide the facts behind scaremongering.

So when all is said and done the current law is protection enough, it just needs to be enforced properly, but if the suggestions made by Leveson are brought in nothing much will change with the UK press. However its image across the globe will be permanently affected and for that reason the lesser of two evils in this case is not to implement Leveson's suggestions on regulation but to punish those responsible for breaking the current laws.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Portishead live at Vector Arena, 10/11/11

What the fuck has happened to my ears? I feel like my head is inside a fish bowl, people are talking to me but their words sound like aural cushions, nothing is totally clear but I'm smiling, smiling a lot. I have never had such a musical assault as I did last night from Bristol band Portishead at Vector Arena. Pin-drop clarity was combined with awe inspiring volume and spleen rattling bass. From the opening bars of Silence the whole audience was sucked into the bands musical womb and there we all stayed, enraptured until the final bars of We Carry On an hour and half later.

Mostly jumping between Dummy and Third, with only two songs from their eponymous second album, this was no trip down memory lane. Instead it was a lesson in musical polygamy and effortless cool. The main players, Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley, were occasionally picked out in the lighting design or by onstage cameras but spent a majority of the night bathed in shadows, allowing the music and the impressive visuals to take centre stage. The only exception being when the three key players took centre stage for a stripped down, beat free version of Wandering Star, even then Barrow almost had his back to the audience whilst Gibbon's head was bowed so low her microphone disappeared into a curtain of hair. This lack of ego onstage takes the individual personalities out of the music and makes the band the entity, we are watching Portishead, not Barrow, Gibbons and Utley.

The rest of the band are technically hired hands, but it's hard to imagine a Portishead without Clive Deamer safe guarding the rhythm with his slick, super fast and highly technical drumming. He frees up Barrow to throw in beats, scratches, samples and all the other complex musical wizardry he does. John Baggot's keys added layers to the soundscapes and depth to the rhythm, the best example being the John Carpenter meets Kraftwerk back bone to Chase the Tear (released in 2009 as a charity single for Amnesty International). On bass Jim Barr seemed to effortlessly glide through whatever complex time signature was thrown at him. At the same time he continued the eternal search for the “brown note”, the note so deep and heavy that it makes you lose control of your bowels. And last night he came closer than any other that I have heard and for that he should be applauded.

It's hard to see Portishead as the trip-hop pioneers they were labelled as back in 1994, their doom, post-rock and hip hop inspired sound has outgrown the genre they invented. Musically, they have never been apologist or conformists, they have always followed their own path and it is with that in mind that their audiences are willing to put themselves in the bands hands and let them take them where ever they want to go. It is the sort of trust you don't find at your average “play the fucking single!” rock show. It reminded me of a quote from David Simmon (creator of the Wire) when asked about how the complexity of his shows story might scare off the casual viewer “Fuck the casual viewer.” was his succinct response. And here I say fuck the casual listener, you must allow them to take control of a couple of hours of your life, if you do this you will be greatly rewarded, the show, like their albums and like the band themselves are a complete package and should be digested, understood and enjoyed as such to get the full benefit.

The sound cushion around my ears has faded and I'm back to normal now, the physical memory of the bass is still bouncing around my insides and I intend to hang on to it for as long as possible.

Steve Wheadon

For the purists amongst you the shows set list is below, I stole it from someone else as I am terrible at track titles, it's always “The fourth one of Dummy” or “The opening track from Third”. Thankfully Marty Duda over at 13th Floor is far more organised and put this together along with a proper review of the show rather than a hungover waffle, check it out:

  1. Silence
  2. Hunter
  3. Nylon Smile
  4. Mysterons
  5. The Rip
  6. Sour Times
  7. Magic Doors
  8. Wandering Star
  9. Machine Gun
  10. Over
  11. Glory Box
  12. Chase The Tear
  13. Cowboys
  14. Threads
  15. Roads
  16. We Carry On

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Did someone mention an election?

Hooray for the rugby world cup! The atmosphere in Auckland is fantastic, supporters from all sides are partying no matter the results and the ubiquitous car top flags fill the streets with colour. There's no doubt that it's a fun time to be in New Zealand, but what happens when it's over?

The other night over dinner an interesting point regarding the timing of the upcoming general election and the RWC was raised by our host. Yes, there is an election coming up. You may recall a few adverts and mail drops about it back in July, equally you may not. All mention of the election has been replaced by footage and articles about rugby matches, rugby players, rugby players wives, rugby fans and anyone in a rugby shirt or holding a rugby ball. The tsunami of RWC coverage has washed away any hope of proper political debate in the lead up to the general election and as the tournament progresses it will only get worse.

Flicking through Sundays newspaper a quick count puts RWC articles at 10 and election articles at 4, one about a poll awkwardly mixing rugby support and politics qualified as both. This count does not include stories from the 18 page renamed sports section, now called 'Rugby Heaven' that came with the paper. That is, no doubt reserved for repeats of the front page stories of the All Black's latest victory and pictures of Zara Phillips.

The press are understandably excited about rugby, there is no doubt it sells, and I would expect that National are pretty enthusiastic about it too (as Labour would be in the same position). A happy, distracted population gives a government little to worry about in an election year. A lesson learnt and well executed 2000 years ago by the Romans with their own, bloodier form of pre-election games.

Whilst an event that distracts an entire population is a good way of encouraging a smooth ride for the incumbent party there are some risks involved. What if something goes awry? With the Beehive taking control after Auckland Council's fumble on the opening night they have put themselves firmly in the firing line. To avoid getting shot they appear to be willing to spend their way out of any potential risk, a plan which looks likely to see them through the rest of the tournament relatively unscathed. At least until someone looks at the accounts. A worse scenario is, like an Emperor's prize Gladiator being defeated in the arena by a lesser opponent, the All Blacks don't win. With the nations hopes pinned on victory any goodwill will quickly fade and the predicted $39 million deficit will suddenly become a popular topic of conversation right before the election.

Even with this seemingly unlikely occurrence National will probably be safe this time around. A recent Gallup Poll puts them in a commanding lead with 61% of support and Labour don't look like much of a threat with Goff at the helm. It looks likely that we will have to wait another three years to assess the political repercussions of RWC 2011. What we can be sure of is that as long as there are silver ferns on the chests of the men raising the cup on October 23rd no one will care what happens on November 26th until it's far too late. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tiny Ruins & Artisan Guns – 18th June 2011, The Wine Cellar, Auckland

Having failed to get tickets for the Tiny Ruin’s album launch the night before it was a relief to find a second night had been arranged due to popular demand. As was expected the dilapidated sofas of the Wine Cellar’s back room were overflowing and it was standing room only by the time Artisan Guns set got going. Despite having sacrificed their headline show to accommodate the demand for Tiny Ruins it was clear that crowd were here as much for them as for the next band.

 Artisan Guns

A mismatched looking bunch of grungy, hipster, skater chic with a Jason Schwartzman look-a-like, channelling the wobbly headed joy of Mickey Dolenz on drums. The look, or lack of it offered a relaxed stage presence which was complimented by the sometimes uncomfortable inter-song banter, private jokes and throw away lines mumbled into or often off the microphone which set off small ripples of laughter from the front rows, but were often lost by the time they reached us at the back. Beach Boy harmonies with a Steve Malkamus drone and loose but confident musicianship combined the slacker attitudes of the 60’s and 90’s together with genuine warmth and charm. Clearly worthy of the headline show they were originally scheduled for Artisan Guns are way above the indie pop label they are bound to be stuck with, cerebral, witty and warm, they are what all those “generation x” garage bands of the 90’s could have been if only they had possessed some self awareness and a sense of humour. 

In true Wine Cellar style, Tiny Ruins (Hollie Fullbrook) had to wait for one of the members of Artisan Guns to replace her on door duties before she could start setting up for her performance. This extended change over gave me an opportunity to queue for the one men’s toilet available and check out the newly re-furbished bar. Whilst it looks more open and cleaner it has reduced the beer options to two choices or bottles. For a pint drinker this is most distressing, but with a name like The Wine Cellar I'm not sure what I I was expecting beer in the first place.

 Tiny Ruins photo by Georgiebird

Before the show began I had no expectations, I had been persuaded to attended by a friend and when I asked “What are they like? “ the only answer offered was “Mellow”. It was Saturday night and I hadn’t been out for a while, a couple of glasses of red at home and a few quick beers during Artisan Guns set had not geared me up (or down) for “mellow”. Mentally I was prepared to listen to three songs, give them a chance, then make my excuses and go to the bar, I was fidgety and impatient. Then Hollie started singing and for the next 45 minutes I only moved when requested to by someone trying to squeeze their way to the toilet. A singing voice that is a warm soulful blanket of lazy vowels and a Joanna Newsome meets Emily Smith accent silenced the crowd for the entire set. Her unique vocal charms are enough to add depth to what could be a twee fest of singer-songwriter self indulgence. But the dark accompaniment from the band and clever lyrical journeys push this even further away from anything remotely saccharine. Alex Freer (the same Schwartzman look-a-like from Artisan Guns) dispensed with his Monkees impression, and sat still and controlled occasionally keeping time on tambourine and bass drum or, with the help of the bands beautiful and subtle bassist, built atmosphere and added darker, deeper shades with the marching bass drum by his side.

References to Southland and road trips conjured up images of some the stunning scenery New Zealand has in abundance whilst references to the true stories of a South American priest’s ballooning exploits and ballet dancing traffic cops in Eastern Europe reveal a taste for the absurd and an eye for the inspiring and comic moments often missed in a world filled with news of tragedy and disaster.

Beautiful, distracting and charming, from the first note to the last my initial fears of being bored by mellowness were banished and replaced by the involuntary, and possibly gormless grin of a person completely transfixed. I was so distracted that my beer remained almost untouched until the end, a rare achievement indeed!   

Check out Tiny Ruins here:

Check out Artisan Guns here:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Burqas, niqabs et la Terreur.

The French government are at risk of scoring a terrible own goal with this week’s ban on the wearing of the niqab and burqa in public. Their notion of laïcité, seems to have developed into an altogether greater beast over the last few decades. The original belief in the separation of church and state ran both ways. Religion could not influence governmental practice and government could not influence religious practice (as long as it operated within the law). In 1989 the focus moved from the influence of religion itself to the influence of individual’s religious beliefs as restrictions on overt religious symbols being worn in public schools were brought in. This week’s ban is a result of that ideological shift and shows a growing tendency for the government to focus on one side of the secularist argument whilst ignoring the religious freedoms the same argument is designed to defend. France is a secular country and so those within its borders should abide by secular laws, and whilst secularism is worthy of defence these sort of reactionary laws have more in common with religious doctrine then true secularism.

The question asked by all of this is can you force someone to be free? The French should have a clearer understanding of the answer than most thanks to the “enlightened” behaviour of Robespierre and his unsuccessful attempts to guillotine everyone to freedom during his reign of terror. So, will forcing people to disregard their religious dress make them freer? Will it make them more accepting of secular notions of religious and irreligious tolerance? Will it make them more French? The short answer is no, if anything it risks breeding resentment amongst the minority who feel that they are having other peoples beliefs imposed on them without just cause.

The other end of argument is that the burqa is used to oppress women and this is by no means an invalid point. The use of clothing and rituals to restrict women under the guise of religion is a hateful act and one that should not be tolerated, but can the French government claim to know the inner thoughts and desires of every woman who puts on a full face veil in their country? The choice to wear this type of religious clothing comes from one of two places, the individual or their immediate community/family and this ban does nothing to confront the underlying reasons women have for wearing it. The paradox is that far from freeing women from their textile bondage the law restricts the personal freedoms of those who chose to wear the veil and risks making house bound prisoners out of those who are forced to do so.  Not a desirable outcome for either party.

The only way to influence people’s personal freedoms is by offering choices, the variety of choices only a free, secular society can really offer. To force beliefs on people is counterproductive and often has the affect of making martyrs out of behaviour which would otherwise have faded naturally over the course of time. With an estimated 2000 women wearing the burqa or niqab in a country with a Muslim population of 7 million and an overall population of almost 70 million this is not a mainstream trend or one on the rise. The low numbers also mean a more pragmatic approach may have been to encourage the wider Islamic community to confront the issue of female oppression from within and so influence the minority without the need for ineffectual and inflammatory legislation.  

By passing this law the French government have not only gone against the secularist notion of neutrality towards religious practice but have opted for the altogether more dangerous notion that the government knows best. At the same time they have made a public martyr out of an already unpopular and declining cultural phenomenon which risks transforming this symbol of female imprisonment into a totem for the religious and personal freedoms of a far wider community. Beliefs cannot be legislated out of existence; they must die a natural death or we risk injecting them with new life and prolonging the suffering for future generations.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Terry Jonestown Massacre

The impressively moustachioed, yet seemingly intellectually challenged pastor Terry Jones has been threatening to burn a Qur’an since last year. Finally another pastor friend of his, Wayne Sapp, has carried out the threat with Jones standing by no doubt grinning and playing with himself as the kerosene soaked pages were reduced to ashes. Jones had a fair idea of what the result of this action would be, he had already backed down from burning a Qur’an himself after being advised that it could put American lives at risk in Afghanistan and other nations with large Islamic populations. So why he thought another pastor carrying out the same act in his presence wouldn’t have the same affect is astonishingly naive or disgustingly negligent and certainly incredibly cowardly. Either way the man was complicit in an event which he knew could, and did result in the deaths of innocent people half way across the world.

As hateful a figure as Pastor Jones and Sapp cut, are they the real villains of this piece? Their knowledge of the possible outcome of their actions makes them incredibly reckless and surely lays some responsibility at their feet, however we in the West live in a world of free speech and even freedom of actions, to a point.  These freedoms have been won over centuries of struggle, both physical and verbal so should we be restricting our words and deeds to appease individuals in countries which don’t share our view of freedom?

Arguably the greatest intellectual and political leap forward occurred in Great Britain at the time of The Enlightenment. As a nation we shunned the shackles of religion and acquired a new found freedom to question, mock, ridicule and insult beliefs that previously had been deemed, well, sacred. This freedom resulted in a change of attitude, a freedom of expression and a freedom for the individual to choose their own beliefs and so their own path. No longer were people persecuted for their beliefs or their lack of. The result was a great advances for the political, philosophical and scientific landscape and so for society as a whole. Without these freedoms we would not have progressed as a nation at the speed we did. This process has been stilted by some of the more recent laws affecting freedom of speech in the UK but that is a discussion for another time, essentially the Great British public and those in many other Western nations are blessed with more freedom in speech and deed than others in the world. So, when the people of a newly formed or semi-formed democracy believe that an insult or action in a far off land which neither physically hurt nor inconvenienced anyone is an excuse to start killing innocent people it should set off alarm bells both for us in the West but also within the host country. Democracy and freedom of speech cannot exist without each other and neither can exist if insulting someone’s beliefs is a crime.

There have been two very similar, yet equally different cases to this in recent years. Firstly the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book the Satanic Verses caused such a furore amongst staunch Islamists that the Ayatollah Khomeini saw fit to issue a fatwa against the author and those involved in publishing the book. Whilst Rushdie himself went into hiding and seems to have come out of the whole affair with no lasting damage to his health or career, others weren’t so lucky. A Japanese scholar and Muslim convert Hitoshi Igarashi who translated the book into Japanese was stabbed to death in 1991 for his minor role in the books life. The Italian translator survived a similar attack the same year and the Norwegian publisher of the book barely escaped an assassination attempt a couple of years later. Not content with individuals the fatwa has also been blamed for the Sivas massacre in Turkey in 1993 where a group of radical Islamists, angered by the presence of the Turkish translator of the book, Aziz Nesin, attacked a gathering at a cultural festival in Sivas. The result was 37 people dead due to a book published five years previous.  A book which was seen to offend a god that, if you believed in him was surely far stronger and more important than the idle mockery of mere mortals.  You’d be hard pushed to find a liberally minded Westerner who would question the motives of Rushdie when writing the book. Was he deliberately taunting the Muslim world or was he merely an artist who was being subjected to threats of death for a legitimate work of literature? Either way it was clear to most that the treatment he and those around him endured was outrageous and disproportionate to the words he had written.

The next example would be the one that bridges the Rushdie/Jones controversy gap in many people’s minds. The cartoons of Mohammed printed in a Danish newspaper in 2005 caused a worldwide outcry as well as protests and death threats issued to those who had published, or who might dare to reprint them. The reason this straddles the two issues is because the cartoons were printed with a clear idea of the controversy they would provoke. The Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, which printed them, did so deliberately to invoke a debate on the subject of self censorship in supposedly free countries due to the fear of offending people with religious beliefs. The newspaper may have been naive or trying too hard to be provocative but they certainly weren’t being racist or Islamophobic as some claimed. That said there are clearly more intelligent and less inflammatory ways to provoke such a debate.

Now we come to the current issue of Pastors Jones and Sapp. Unlike Rushdie they knew they would be stirring up controversy and possible violence when they burnt a Qur’an and unlike Jyllands-Posten they weren’t trying to start any debate on the subject of Islam. Instead they held a very one-sided mock trial and then condemned the religious amalgam of tree pulp and ink to death for “crimes”, which are as yet unspecified by the media. Apparently, less than 30 people witnessed the event yet thanks to media reports which condemned Jones and Sapp for their actions and the potential backlash, at the same time as they helped spread news of the event to parts of the world where the backlashers would be readying their weapons. So, there are clear differences between the actions of a couple of bigoted and ignorant pastors, a controversy stirring newspaper and a much celebrated writer but each of their actions has resulted in violent repercussions from the less moderate quarters of the Islamic world. Words and deeds which caused no physical harm to an individual or group have been responded to with protests, death threats and in two of the cases the murder of innocent and unconnected individuals. 

If Pastors Jones and Sapp are to be held accountable for their actions then we also need to hold the media responsible for reporting their behaviour as they clearly understood the potential offense such reports would cause. In fact they stated as much in their reports of the events that had previously only been witnessed by less than 30 people.  These questions can only be answered by the US judicial system which I strongly suspect will have nothing much to say on the matter. The bigger question is should we in the West be willing to adapt our laws on freedom of speech and action  (as we already have) or to self censor to accommodate the disproportionate reaction of a minority of religious fanatics in countries with radically different social values to us?

We have formed a legal and political system over many generations that awards us greater personal freedoms than most and we should be willing to defend it from threats within and without. Jones' and Sapp's actions are indefensible in the sense that they were deliberately inflammatory and derive from an equally bigoted and close-minded standpoint as those who murdered the UN Staff. They are however defensible in the sense that they are not illegal in the country they occurred and they didn’t directly cause harm to any of the individuals who claim offense. They are also not in any way on a par with the actions of those people who murdered the UN staff in Afghanistan.  What we should not lose sight of is the fact that we live in a society where it is not illegal to burn a religious book or to write words that might offend someone’s religious beliefs and this is not only a good thing but it has helped shape the legal and political landscape we all take advantage of. If we wish to keep these freedoms then we should be very wary of compromising them even if it means defending actions we might find distasteful in order to protect the greater liberty we all enjoy.     

Monday, March 21, 2011

365 project

It's nothing new but it's new to me. To reinvigorate my interest in photography I've decided to attempt a 365 project, taking and posting a new picture everyday for a year. The pictures will be posted on my flickr page here: and I'll occasionally post my favourites up here.

Update: Citing work commitments and laziness I failed to keep up with. These are sample of some of the pics that came out of the attempt though. 

Somethings are best left unseen

Toured out

Chicken & Mushroom

New tour, new boots


ANZAC Hall, Featherston