25 December 2009

Celebrity justice, broken clocks & hidden Tigers

I'm a bit late in writing a substantial comment on the celebrity name suppression issue regarding a musician's sexual antics in Wellington earlier this year. I just have a couple of thoughts I want to get down, and will not be breaking the court order. However, as most people probably realise, it seems anyone who really wants to know can find out the suppressed name anyway.

This brings up the first issue. I wonder of this incident has been the death knell for that kind of name suppression. It seems to me that, rightly or not, people just do not respect this use of name suppression. I'm referring to when the suppression is for the benefit of the perpetrator, as opposed to the victim, and when the intent is to protect a reputation, as opposed to allowing for the completion of a fair trail. Given the way modern communication technology operates, I just can't see any other similar decision holding any more authority than this one.

Secondly, it's very rare that I have any sympathy or find much agreement with right-wing blogger Whaleoil (Cameron Slater), but I do broadly support his stance on this issue. Slater is in some trouble with the authorities after allegedly giving out enough clues to identify the entertainer and another celebrity who also has name suppression. I do not know so much about the latter case and the circumstances are different, so for the purposes of this post I'll be addressing the first case only.

I see this matter as basically being a question of whether the courts should concern themselves with protecting the reputation of an offender. The reason given for the discharge without conviction and permanent name suppression is that otherwise the consequences for the offender would supposedly have been out of proportion to the offence committed. Finlay Macdonald touched on this in a Sunday Star Times article (quoted from this Hard News column):

Yet the media are the very ones who create such a special class in the first place, and there's something a little disingenuous about stoking society's celebrity obsession on the one hand while demanding celebrities receive no special treatment on the other. One might even call it hypocritical.

You can call it the price of fame, but surely the price should be relative to the alleged crime.

Well, I don't like the way the media encourages the public's inane celebrity obsession either, but that is a separate issue. It is not hypocritical for some, including some in the mainstream media, to maintain that celebrities should be treated the same as "regular" citizens when it comes to conviction and sentencing for their criminal behaviour. As for the price being relative to the crime, it seems to me that the court's role is to ensure the sentence it applies is fair for the crime committed, taking reasonable account of the circumstances in which the criminal act took place. It is not its role to protect the accused from the wider repercussions of their own behaviour. That is what is happing here that Macdonald and Russell Brown et al don't seem to appreciate: the perpetrator of a crime is being given special protection from the consequences of his asinine actions simply because those actions brought him to the attention of the courts.

Consider another recent example of a misbehaving celebrity: the Tiger Woods affair (well, affairs). I've found much of the reaction to his transgressions somewhat sanctimonious. I don't condone what he did, but is it really that bad in the scheme of things? Should we even be so precious when we find out that many of these sports superstars are not (shock horror) the ideal role models we seem to want them to be? Macdonald again, on the NZ celebrity case:

The offence wasn't trivial, but in the context of the horrors the courts routinely deal with, it's hard to argue it merited more coverage than a far more serious assault by a nonentity.

Wouldn't this sentiment apply to Woods? Does he deserve more scrutiny and media coverage than any number of other people who have engaged in similarly dodgy conduct? The NZ celebrity, by comparison, has benefited from his conduct being regarded as actually criminal - putting it before the court and thus providing the option of name suppression at the conclusion of the process. As I suggested on Public Address [see comments for my original typo], the way for a celebrity to protect his reputation from the damage that can come from behaving like a fuckwit is to avoid behaving like a fuckwit. His reputation is his to look after, not the courts. Had the judge decided not to suppress the identification of the offender, any price this celebrity paid in terms of his reputation should be seen as the result of his own actions, not as a punishment of the court.

Back to Russell Brown from his blog:

Ironically, had he actually been named, the man would have been guaranteed a sympathetic run from the same media organisations who have been pursuing him -- in exchange for an interview. The Sunday Star Times was, for example, only too happy to softball Clint Rickards in exchange for pictures with his daughter. Such is the trade of celebrity value. The moral line can easily be moved to suit.

Yes yes, the media can be pretty shit. A capricious, shallow, hypocritical lot - well, much of the time. But the 'pro-suppression' arguments seem to be more about a distrust and (understandable) dislike of the way some aspects of the media work in regards to this sort of thing, rather than actual philosophical objections in terms of the broader justice issue. A more legitimate concern would be with why is the media and society in general so ridiculously celebrity obsessed, and relatedly, why does society naively persist in treating celebrities as role models or paragons of human conduct?

18 December 2009

Shoot from the hip

First, a quick note from the Admin part of my brain. I have been especially slack lately in blogging, exacerbated by now being back in full time employment. Nevertheless, I hope to get in at least one, maybe two more blog posts on Booksmart before going away on Boxing Day for two weeks for my first trip to the South Island of the country I have lived in for virtually my whole life.

Second, another brief plug for Photospace (no, I don't get paid for this!). It's been done before, but I quite like the look of the upcoming "from the hip"-style photography show from Gabrielle McKone. (I thought August 09 was a particularly good month.)

Three Stories Up opens Monday, 21 December outside Jimmy Cafe on Courtenay Place. The show is curated by Photospace's James Gilberd, and will be the next light box exhibition at Courtenay Place Park.

07 October 2009

Some links to optimism

I was cleaning up round the place and found this here blog. Better give it some exercise, I guess.

I had reason to link to a presentation from a TED conference during a debate I had on on morality over at Public Address. It's a good talk by Steven Pinker about the the perception many seem to have that the world is a more violent and brutal place than ever. Pinker mentions the "non-zero sum" theory by Robert Wright, and I have since noticed that this is expanded on by Wright in an earlier TED talk in 2006.

I don't entirely agree with everything Wright proposes, but no doubt there's something to it, and it makes for useful viewing before the Pinker talk from 2007. Pinker argues that (contrary to common views) we have in fact become a lot less violent over the centuries, and we are living in the most peaceful time in our history. He suggests reasons why things have improved and makes some very interesting points about the way we often perceive violence, the media's role in this, and how we should be a lot more positive, in some ways, about what humanity has achieved.

Robert Wright on optimism

Steven Pinker on the myth of violence

TED talks are covered by Creative Commons license.

21 July 2009

Follatio bread

It was the big news of last week: Bread.

Not the shitty band, the food product. In what was probably one of the biggest news stories in the nation during the latter part of Wednesday afteroon, the debate raged as to whether folate should be added to bread (a process known by the technical name "folation").

It looks like the Government may eventually arrange for the addition of folate to bread. However, it won't be compulsory, according to the Timaru Herald: "While the Government says it will seek feedback on the moratorium and other options before a final decision is made, by signaling that a moratorium is its preferred option, Mr Key has effectively called a halt to the compulsory regime."

I think this is a good thing - I don't think bread should be folated against its will.

I don't usually do polls, mostly because I don't have any readers to answer them, but this is important. Should we be folating bread?

The polls are now open.

UPDATE: Polls closed. The overwhelming majority (75%) agree: It's hard to believe people voted for that dick Tony Ryall.
A quarter believe we should not add folate, and no one is in favour of folating bread.

03 July 2009

Bat for Bowie

Aging and death - fun topics, right? Well, they seem especially prominent to me at the moment. Publicly, there was Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson et al. Privately, my dad is not in good health. And I don't know about you, but I keep getting older. So I've decided to make two brief recommendations for your music collection that deal, to some degree, with such matters.

Firstly, the sublime Two Suns by Bat for Lashes.

Now don't be fooled, Bat for Lashes is a band only in the sense that Nine Inch Nails is a band. Bat for Lashes is really Natasha Khan, an England-based artist. This is from her website bio:

Born in 1979, yet combining influences that span decades, Natasha’s work dwells in the elemental, emerging in timeless forms.

But just ignore that Earth-child shit, her music is actually really good. The latest album is apparently largely inspired by "a coming together and journeying apart of two suns, two half hearts... a King and a Queen...". Thank God for relationships. If it wasn't for them not only may we not have been born, but no one would have anything to sing about.

Anyway, the last track on the album, 'The Big Sleep', addresses death pretty bluntly... but hey, you can make it your ringtone if you like!

Enough with the cynicism - Two Suns is a fantastic, dreamy and yet soaring collection of songs. Its gorgeous, delicate soundscape has a lullaby-like quality at times, and yet also features surprisingly funky beats. (The beat programming and bass was partly courtesy of Brooklyn psychedelic experimental band Yeasayer). As the music reviewer cliche goes, it's an album that rewards repeat listening.

Here's the first single off the album, "Daniel", mashed up on You Tube to go with the Karate Kid. [Edit: Sometimes that link works and sometimes not, but you can probably google the You Tube vid.]

(Update: I have just read this interesting article from The Telegraph (which coincidantly used the same photo as I did). It points out Natasha is the cousin of the famous squash player Jahangir Khan, whom her father, Rehmat Khan, coached for several years. This period included his exceptional five year unbeaten run that lasted more than 500 games, and was ended by New Zealand's Ross Norman.)

Along with Two Suns, I happen to be listening to a lot to the excellent David Bowie album Reality. In many ways Bowie is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Khan. He ain't young, he's not new on the music scene, and he's not a cute chick. But he is British and he is talented. Reality is generally accepted to be arguably Bowie's best album since Scary Monsters. (I've heard it argued that Let's Dance or Heathen are better.)

I think Reality is massive fun, and one of the great albums of this century. It does somewhat dwell on those issues of old age, death, isolation and so forth. At least half the tracks are overtly orientated to issues of old age, loneliness and approaching death. But it's sincere, thoughtful and good pop music all at the same time.

Not every song is ostensibly about such morbid matters. For example, there's the enigmatic lead single 'New Killer Star', with what seems to me to be quite humourous lyrics:

See my life in a comic
Like the way they did the Bible
With the bubbles and action
The little details in colour
First a horseback bomber
Just a small thin chance
Like seeing Jesus on Dateline
Let's face the music and dance.

Nevertheless, even on such tracks, death seems always on his mind. After all, the album's first line is a 9/11 reference: "See the great white scar over Battery Park". In light of this, the ambiguous but catchy chorus of 'New Killer Star' seems somehow poignant:

All the corners of the buildings,
Who but we remember these,
The sidewalks and trees...

Now, there's your earth child.

29 June 2009

Product placement

I haven't forgotten my commitment to review the latest Star Trek feature. I said I would, and I will; later this week will be the least topical review of Abrams' film likely to be published.

In the meantime, here are a couple of things to look at (and listen to, in the latter case).

First, the image below from unaesthetic, which was brought to my attention on Giovanni Tiso's blog. As noted on unaesthetic's flickr comments, and happily accepted by unaesthetic, it is very reminiscent of work by Andreas Gursky. It's a great image.

That photo in turn reminded me of this Radiohead video.

So take a moment, ... look, watch, listen, and enjoy.

[EDIT: Okay, the Star Trek review wasn't "later this week", as I said. Still, I WILL post it eventually.]

08 June 2009

My political spectrum results

I am apparently a left social libertarian
Left: 4.43, Libertarian: 5.95

Not nearly social libertarian enough for my liking. I'll have to work on that.

Further results:

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -1.74

My 'Culture War' Stance
Score: -7.23

To try it out for yourself, visit the Political Spectrum quiz. Let me know how you do. (Hat tip: brought to my attention on Dave Crampton's blog, Big News.)

Oh, and finally, here's me (red) compared to the rest of New Zealand respondents (appropriately, blue).

06 May 2009


I try to avoid the straight out nerd-boy gush. (No, not as in this sort of gush... sigh, your filthy mind.) I am, however, highly anticipating the new Star Trek film, directed by JJ Abrams.

I'm not particularly a Star Trek nerd - certainly not enough of one to care which dinky epithet I was given. (I think I'll just call them Trekkites.) I did enjoy the original Star Trek tv series, and have seen a few okay episodes of The Next Generation. I don't really think much of the feature films so far, but I suspect this one will be of a different order.

In regards to Abrams' previous work, I'm not familiar with Felicity and never got into Alias. On the other hand, Lost is one of the best shows on tv, and I really liked Cloverfield, a film he produced and that was largely his idea. (I'm not reviewing Cloverfield, but you can read this one instead.) Mission: Impossible 3 was only okay, but it was still easily the best of an otherwise lame movie series.

Abrams has again joined with M:I3 screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who came up with the idea for the Star Trek reboot. Kurtzman and Orci are interviewed by Mr Beaks at Ain't It Cool News about the process here.

The reviews so far for Star Trek (2009) have been surprisingly positive for a "pop-corn" blockbuster. According to Rotten Tomatoes, at the time of writing there have been 33 reviews based on preview screenings, and 100% have had an overall positive tenor.

A couple of sample comments: Dark Horizons' Garth Franklin wrote that the film "Reintroduces critical elements the franchise has not seen in years - cultural relevance, suspense, and a fresh sense of wonder", and The Australian's Ian Cuthbertson observed "The result is a triumph, certain to be regarded as not just one Trek's better moments, but one of the finest films made in the sci-fi genre".

As a non-Trekkite, I'm mostly just looking forward to an imaginative, well crafted science fiction action-adventure. That's what I'm hoping Abrams and co will deliver. I'll check out the movie this weekend, and review here.


UPDATE: One day after my post, Rotten Tomatoes had recorded 67 reviews, with 63 positive (96% fresh rating).

19 April 2009

Song lyrics du jour


My art is called egocentric-soft-porno
Or maybe it's just narcissism...
My one and only subject
Goes from something like anything but

Wouldn't it be easier for beardsley?
He could drop the paintings,
And photograph his penis.
Or take pixxx of the chicks...
Yeah, you know what I mean...
Wouldn't it be better for Escher?
He could drop the math
And make it happen on his mattress
2 girls and a cam!
3 girls and a cam!
You put a dog there and you got polaroid scat

I ain't no artist
I am an artbitch
I sell my paintings to the men I eat
I have no portfolio
and I only show
Where there's free alcohol

I am so hardcore
I sell my crap and people ask for more...
Call me revolutionary
I poo on a plate and get it published on visionaire
What I do, is called art-shit
And don't you dare make fun of me
Cuz everything I do was featured on the pages of i-d!

I ain't no artist
I am an art-bitch
I sell my paintings to the men I eat
I have no portfolio
and I only show
Where there's free alcohol

I ain't no artist
I am an artbitch
I sell my paintings to the men I eat
I have no portfolio
and I only show
Where there's free alcohol

Lick lick lick my art-tit
Suck suck suck my art-hole


Lyrics from the song "Art Bitch", by CSS.

05 January 2009

Relatively wrong

I was sparked by a discussion I’ve been having over at The Philosophers' Magazine website to explain why I don't accept moral relativism. I speak of “relativism” in the sense of the notion of morality being relative to each society or culture. I'm not addressing my criticisms here to the notion of morality being relative in other senses, such as between all individuals.

There is a lot of commentary on the subject, but here is a good book review from George Crowder that covers some of the issues.

In that review, Crowder mentions the ‘Liberal dilemma’. You can read about it in the article, but in a day-to-day sense it can be seen in a common liberal quandary: the average liberal deplores sexism (tsk tsk, men and their chauvinism), and they deplore being culturally judgmental (tsk tsk, the west and its cultural imperialism). So what do they say about the culture that’s sexist?

However, other positions also have their dilemmas. In the case of absolutism, it’s easiest explained with reference to Bible literalists. How do they know the Bible contains absolute moral truths? Because God says so, they will respond. Okay, but how do they know that’s what God says? Oh easy, they say: Because the Bible tells me so!

The thing is, there are at least two problems for the cultural relativists.

1) All culture’s values are equally valid; but what if one of the values of another culture is precisely the opposite of that notion? In other words, what if a society holds as a value that other society’s values are inferior? Does the relativist (intellectually, if not in practice) tell that culture that they are naughty for trying to impose their values on other societies? But if so, are they not doing exactly what moral relativists say we should not do: namely, judge another society by our standards?

Take the Taliban as an example. They hold morally absolutist views. They will impose their very strict, conservative moral views on anyone, including Muslims who hold different interpretations of the Koran. On the one hand, the relativist says the Taliban are right by their own standards, and there is no outside/objective position to judge them by otherwise. On the other hand, surely the very point of being a relativist is to say that moral absolutism is categorically wrong - and the Taliban are about as absolutist as a culture can be. How is it really possible to hold that there is nothing objectively wrong with the Taliban’s views, while being committed to a moral relativist position?

2) How does the relativist decide where the lines are between one society or culture, and another, without referring to non-societal based, objective norms? I knew an animal rights supporter who was against Spanish bullfighting. I was surprised to learn he was also against people criticizing Japanese whale hunting. Why? Because the Japanese are another culture, whereas (apparently) the Spanish are not.

The reasoning being that Spain was part of “western society”. It was valid to criticise their practices, because they could be seen within "our" moral worldview. Not so the Japanese, according to his assessment. So, was it up to this person (a New Zealander) to make the judgment that Spain was part of “our” culture? Or is it up to the Spanish to say whether they are the same culture, or a different one, for these purposes?

It’s impossible to make the judgment, or even say who should make the judgment, without referring to some non culture-based standard. Where is the line drawn; when does a person count as part of this or that culture or society; can there even be a line? If morality is reduced to a society’s view, you have to be able to judge what qualifies as a ‘society' without recourse to standards that are derived from your own society or culture. If you do use standards derived from your own society to define what counts as the other, you are effectively imposing your worldview, which is what you want to avoid. If you use standards or norms derived from a neutral standpoint you're not really a relativist.

This type of cultural relativism is nonsensical. However, that doesn’t mean I am a moral absolutist, in the sense that is usually implied by the term. As I said over on TPM, I actually fall somewhere between the moral relativist stance and the objectivists. Morality is objective in that moral truths can come from objective reality: our physical, biological, sociological and psychological interactions. It’s relative in that moral principles are contingent on changeable factors (including, but not limited to, social situations and cultural context). Morals are real, but not absolute; relative, but not arbitrary.