The Rock Against War - update  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Okay, things are progressing. A date is set: Friday, March 23rd. A venue is set: The Bluestone Room, which is sponsoring the event, thank you kindly. There will be animations from playing on the projector and TV screens along the sides. Still confirming the last of the bands, but they're good, and I have an erection. Posters will appear on Monday, leaflets will be distributed at events like the march on the US consulate and the Carnival Against Carmageddon. Speakers confirmed are... me. Nandor and Bomber to confirm. Or get back to me. Good music, though. And Monteith's!

Anyone with astoundingly good ideas on how I can raise the $1000 bond for the venue, email me on

Party Time. Excellent. Be Excellent to Each Other. Party On, Dude.  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Coverage of party pills is interesting. The police currently talking about illegal drugs, like MDMA, being found in small amounts in BZP pills will be interpreted by the average citizen (by which I mean, the average consumer of The Herald, who is by no means the average Kiwi) in predictable ways. Predictable, vague ways. Party pills have made a progression from being a "herbal high" - which they never were - to being a "legal high" to now being a vaguely illegal high. The vague illegality is not a matter of illegal additives in some pills (which, if it is a concern, is a matter for quality assurance), but rather the association in the minds of the public. It would not be insane to suggest that "party" and "pill" beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet contributes in some way to a sporadically whipped up public imagination. Nor is their association with raves and dance parties - ironic, considering their creator was looking for an alternative to illegal drugs he considered dangerous.

It's also interesting to note that BZP is often referred to as a cattle-worming agent, in the same way that tasers are referred to as delivering 50,000 volts. It appeals to the public imagination, being able to say, "You know what they put in those things? Cattle-worming agents!" As if alcoholic drinks don't include a topical antiseptic and cigarettes don't contain rat poison.

But what's most interesting of all is the fact that the matter has received any attention at all. To whom is it a matter of concern? A small fragment of generally middle-class kids use party pills - they mostly want to keep them legal. Their parents, I suppose, are the other concerned parties. The public is not put at risk by the drugs, and the number of people who died from alcohol-related causes in the last week is many times more than the number of people who allegedly died from taking party pills... ever.

But those middle-class parents make up a sizeable portion of the "average citizen" mentioned above - the demographic that provides numbers to the news sources of TVOne, TV3, the Herald, the Post, etc.

The vicious cycle of commodified news is frustrating. People are increasingly shown what they want to see, and they increasingly see what they have seen in the past. So it is that Anna Nicole Smith's death belongs not in the human-interest slot after the weather, but rather as international news - not just a mention, but an actual whole story from CNN or the BBC. So it is that the classification of BZP is headline news.

What is importance in news? If it was measured in the potential for human suffering found in a particular issue, every night of 6pm news would begin with a piece about alcohol, or about working conditions and pay rates. That's for national news. For international news, Iraq would still feature strongly, but Palestine would drop down the ranks, replaced by African countries we've never heard of.

Instead, we are given Anna Nicole Smith and the placement of a stadium. Speaking of the stadium, 6pm news shows happily provide us with 20 minutes of sports "news" each night. This goes unquestioned.

And of course it does. It would be suicidal for either TVOne or TV3 to replace their sports news with real news, because half the viewers would switch to the competition. Because they want to see sports news. If they see one "tonight on 3 News/One News" segment promising a story about killer party pills and the other about No Child Left Behind legislation in the States, they're going with the party pills.

Where does the responsibility lie? Tricky for me, being an anarchist. People should choose for themselves, I might say, but then, they already have, and here I am complaining about it. So should the government legislate requirements for news sources to provide actual news? Sure, Ryan, no problem there - just the government deciding what is and is not news. So we need more critically thinking viewers to come out of a situation where they're being systematically (though not intentionally) dumbed down and numbed down by news shows that compete with their rivals in a manner identical to competition between Sticky TV and Studio 2.

And once again, who am I to say that these things are or are not news? Do I profess access to some Platonic standard of importance against which I can measure Anna Nicole Smith's death or the stadium placement or the All Blacks' latest training schedule?

No, God is dead and value is relative. The consequence is that the only value is consistency with one's own values, whatever they are: the only sin is hypocrisy. The only ground for argument is values held in common. So all that's left to say is: come on, New Zealand, you don't really care about this bullshit.

Iranian Artists Organisation  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Goodness, the oppressive Islamofascist regime of Iran is producing some pretty sweet artists.

Here are some of my favourites from the Iranian Artists Organisation. Click on pictures at the site to see whole sets by the same artists.


Posted by Ryan Sproull

Happy Lupercalia, everyone. Yes, it's that ancient Athenian holiday that celebrates the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. In the Year of Our Lord 496, Pope Gelasius I petulantly abolished Lupercalia and replaced it with the feast of St Valentine. Valentine was martyred for his faith, after a long life of... doing... something good... that God knows about, Gelasius assured everyone.

Chaucer's Parliament of Foules is the first recorded instance of Probably Saint Valentine's feast being associated with boning romance. He mysteriously wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Presumably Geoff was writing in code to avoid detection by King Richard II, for whom he wrote the poem. There is contention among scholarly circles as to what "chesing" your "make" is, though most agree that in the Olden Days, men were brides ("bryds", in the Auld Lang Syne ("old tongue signifier")), and they stalked women. With cheese. And the stalked women were their makes. WITH CHEESE.

Anyway, Valentine's Day is a massive load of bullshit, perfectly suited to a society of people who like to be told when to be romantic and have their spontaneity made nice and obligatory. Here's a sample conversation for your edification:

JOE: Hey. How's it going?
RYAN: Good. How is it going with you?
JOE: Not bad. How's things?
RYAN: Good. How are your things?
JOE: Good. What's happening?
RYAN: Not much. What's happening with you?
JOE: Not a lot. What's new?
RYAN: This and that. What's new with you?
JOE: Nothing interesting. Hey, what you doing for Valentine's Day?

I'll tell you another thing.

I'll tell you another goddam thing.

Hearts don't even look like that. They don't look like that shape that "love hearts" are shaped like. If you, like, open someone's chest up with a fucken knife, THEIR HEART DOESN'T LOOK LIKE THAT, MAN. THEIR HEART LOOKS LIKE A DARK RED SODDEN HEAP OF MEAT AND IT KEEPS ON BEATING FOR A FUCKEN WHILE AFTER YOU RIP IT OUT.

Happy Lupercalia, everyone! Smiley face!

Americans Don't Do Irony  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Simon Pegg, comedic genius from Big Train, Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz has written a wonderful little essay on the similarities and differences between British and American senses of humour. Especially interesting as Kiwis, with our long-term exposure to both British and American television.

Mai is Arabic for "water"  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

$10,000 to Deny Climate Change  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

The Guardian reports that the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research has sent out letters to scientists and economists offering them $10,000 to "emphasise the shortcomings" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report last Friday.
Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: "The AEI is more than just a thinktank, it functions as the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra. They are White House surrogates in the last throes of their campaign of climate change denial. They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash."
Nicely said, Ben. Meanwhile, the imaginary debate continues to rage, as average citizens are under the sincere impression that there's something like a 50-50 split in academic opinion on climate change. In fact, that's all that's necessary for private interests like AEI to succeed in their goals. They want to shape policy, policy is shaped by public opinion, and regardless of what the academic concensus is, it doesn't translate into votes unless people understand and believe it.

What's interesting, and has been for some time, is the way that essentially lay followers take up the cause of those private interests. Because there is a pre-existing framework of "left" versus "right", especially in social environments like the US, all someone has to do in order to prevent there being concensus on an issue is encourage voters to frame it in left-right terms. People on the left worry about climate change, people on the right think it's bullshit.

Certainly, that's becoming less and less true as time goes on. Plenty of people who identify with "the right" are very concerned about climate change, but in doing so they're going against an entrenched trend - a trend that was initially established by linking climate change with the general air of polarisation in Western (and especially American) politics.

When encountering a new contentious issue, birds of a feather seek each other out. When climate change came more into the popular consciousness, those who wanted to have an opinion looked first to those they had agreed with in the past - those in favour of invading Vietnam or Iraq, those in favour of tax cuts, those in favour of "family values". Once they learned the appropriate position, they could then get the pleasure buzz of reading articles and blogs that agreed with them, lending the support of actual arguments (dodgy or not) to their now pre-existing position on the matter.

With the Internet, and especially the Blogosphere, there is a much accelerated mimetic evolution of arguments and ideas. One person strikes across what sounds rhetorically like a convincing argument against climate change - perhaps because of its wit - and passes it on to anyone who reads his blog or his message-board posts. It spreads quickly, evolving as it encounters obstacles.

Global cooling is one example. It's very rhetorically appealing to say, "Global warming? Hah! Hell, 30 years ago we were worried about global cooling! Those climate scientists never know what's what." If I remember correctly, PJ O'Rourke mentioned that in one of his books. It spreads. Being debunked by academic concensus doesn't matter, if it can spread and back up pre-existing opinions drawn down the traditional left-right divide.

What this existing framework does is make it very easy for an issue with near-consensus in the academic community to become a contentious issue of great debate in the public sphere. With the flick of a subtle association, you can cause an identification in a previously unexposed listener's mind, where a stance on an issue is linked with socialism or with capitalism, with bleeding-heart liberals or money-hungry conservatives.

And, sadly, there's almost no getting around it. You can't present major issues in a way that won't settle down into that 50/50 divide. Because whoever leaps on the topic first defines who's going to reflexively disagree with them.

Things To See  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Studio 60. Not on TV in New Zealand yet.
But don't worry. Celebrity Treasure Island is.

Okay. Watch Children of Men. Watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Children of Men is Wyndhamesque, and if you don't know who John Wyndham is, you're probably not reading this blog for the pop-culture stuff. Simple idea, apocalyptic, strong independent love interest and protagonist who's only peripherally involved with world-changing events. That's the Wyndham formula. So good.

Studio 60 is what Aaron Sorkin does after he throws his hands up in the air and leaves The West Wing. It is Sorkinesque. If you don't know who Aaron Sorkin is, see above. It involves people talking quickly, acting as if their job is the most monumentally important thing in the world, having just about the cutest little love affairs ever, and being quirkily hilarious. Plus, half the cast of The West Wing are in it, just for the hell of it. That's the Sorkin formula. Also good.

Mary Cheney is having a baby, and I don't particularly care, but no doubt plenty of Americans do, and that's why Aaron Sorkin has a job. If the world was nice and sane, he wouldn't have anyone to hassle make poignant points about.

John Pilger reckons the US is gearing up to attack Iran. He's going to say so in The New Stateman tomorrow. He points out that investigations by The New York Times, The LA Times and others, including British military officials, have concluded that Iran is not giving weapons to Iraqi insurgents. The world is getting more terrifying by the second, everyone. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that for the last three years, its inspectors have been able to "go anywhere and see anything". The head of the IAEA says an attack on Iran would have "catastrophic consequences" and will inspire the regime to actually go nuclear-armed. Quoting Pilger:

The "threat" from Iran is entirely manufactured, aided and abetted by familiar, compliant media language that refers to Iran's "nuclear ambitions", just as the vocabulary of Saddam's non-existent WMD arsenal became common usage. Accompanying this is a demonising that has become standard practice. As Edward Herman has pointed out, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "has done yeoman service in facilitating [this]"; yet a close examination of his notorious remark about Israel in October 2005 reveals how it has been distorted. According to Juan Cole, American professor of modern Middle East and south Asian history at the University of Michigan, and other Farsi language analysts, Ahmadinejad did not call for Israel to be "wiped off the map". He said: "The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." This, says Cole, "does not imply military action or killing anyone at all". Ahmadinejad compared the demise of the Israeli regime to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Iranian regime is repressive, but its power is diffuse and exercised by the mullahs, with whom Ahmadinejad is often at odds. An attack would surely unite them.

Climate change! Also terrifying. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have issued their fourth assessment report. Acrobat document here. That's for the mitigation of climate change. Our civilisation needs to be overhauled, and the world is dragging its heels on something that it simply cannot waste time about. This is an evolutionary test of the human species, and we're quickly on our way to failing.

But that doesn't stoop Rebecca Loos from being a "celebrity" on "Celebrity" Treasure Island. She is not a celebrity, Matthew Ridge is a prime munter, Touchdown is the devil, and TVNZ pimps this stuff out to Kiwi viewers who don't know any better and are knowing less by the second.

To New Zealanders, this unique and special responsibility means quality television that educates, informs and entertains through local home-grown programming and the best of international programming.

It just felt appropriate to quote the TVNZ website there. Why is this on my mind? Because Studio 60 is to American television what The West Wing is to American politics. It says, "Imagine a world where people shaping that world had slightly more integrity than they do in the real world."

Something of actual depth tomorrow, I assure you.


Posted by Ryan Sproull

Till the weekend.