Monday, 14 December 2009

acute film

Okay, this post is nothing but a blatant plug for my mate's website. acute film is a film company owned by Graeme Tuckett who specialises in making documentaries about New Zealand people and issues. His latest project, Shihad: Loud as F**K, promises to be a goody.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Factory Farming in New Zealand

Oops, looks like I created a small monster here. I was unhappy to hear that three companies have applied for consent to start "freestall" dairy farming in the South Island. So I started a Facebook group opposing it (as you do in these situations). It obviously touched a nerve because the group got 3,000 members in the first 24 hours, which is pretty big for New Zealand. Now I'm dealing with the consequences - messages flooding my inbox, dilemmas over childish twats posting garbage on the wall (guilty parties on both sides of the argument), and all the stress that goes with a sudden unexpected job to take care of. An interesting few days ahead it seems.

Maybe next time I'll just post a comment somewhere suggesting that someone else forms a group.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Yet again we ask: Is it art?

When I was a young musician I moved to Palmerston North, attracted by the strong community of original and alternative music. However I soon realised that "alternative" was a euphemism for "talentless". Seriously, the whole scene was dominated by wannabes who couldn't be bothered actually learning an instrument. They simply found an easier way - buy a nasty cheap amp, get wasted and see what strange noises can be produced. Fun, but not music.

I see much the same in contemporary art. The latest example comes courtesy of nearby Waikato Museum which recently awarded top prize in an art competition to a pile of rubbish. Artist Dane Mitchell couldn't be at the competition to enter himself so he left instructions to museum staff: Pilfer rubbish from other contestants and lay it on the floor. That effort netted him $15,000 first prize.

My first surprise was that anyone could think of a pile of rubbish as worthy art. Not because it's rubbish, but because the concept is so hackneyed. Google "rubbish as art" and wade through the ten million results. There's a whole sub-genre of artistic rubbish which may or may not have merit but one thing's for sure - Mitchell's work isn't in any way original. It's a totally weak imitation of far more interesting works dating back years.

While we're discussing tired old cliches, how long are we supposed to wear the argument "It generates discussion and that's the point of art, so we're happy". Really? Even if the discussion is all about what a joke art has become? Art curators must be the only people in the world able to interpret widespread derision as a good result. Face it - this argument is nothing more than a last defense when you've been caught out.

Competition judge Charlotte Huddleston said she was impressed at how Mitchell "responded to his situation" (i.e. being absent and making someone else create the entry). Hmmm. Let's say I want to enter a running race but I can't be there in person to do the actual running part. Should I be allowed to nominate another person to do it for me? I could leave specific instructions: "Go really fast and see if you can get to the end first". Perhaps this isn't a completely fair analogy but it illustrates a fair point - shouldn't the artist who enters a piece actually have made it?

In my opinion Mitchell "responded to his situation" by cheating. He couldn't be there so he found a loophole. Not only is this cheating, it makes it quite clear that there's no real artistic merit in the work. He didn't invent this work to make a statement, he invented it because he needed a convenient way to make a proxy entry. He quite literally asked someone else to scrounge up the leftovers, dump it in a pile and call it art.

I'm suspicious that the title is often the most important feature of an artwork. In this case it's called "Collateral". Ooh, how incisive. Yawn.

The art world is widely believed to consist of self-serving tossers rorting the public purse. This kind of debacle is exactly why. I say it's time people in the art world started laughing at the naked emperor. This crap isn't art. Spare me the snooty BS, just deal with it. Start teaching people how to paint and sculpt instead of selling snake oil.

Friday, 28 August 2009

What happens to your pet after the Rapture?

"The Rapture" is the time when Christian believers will all be raised to Heaven and everyone else gets left behind. The Rapture doesn't get a lot of discussion time in New Zealand but it's quite big in the US where fundamentalist Christian beliefs are more popular.

Yesterday I came across a fascinating business idea called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets which may (or may not) appeal to you if you believe in the Rapture. Business partners Brad and Bart are atheists so they won't be joining you for the ascent to Heaven. Neither will your pets since animals aren't invited. It does seem a bit unfair that your faithful companions will have to fend for themselves in a chaotic post-rapture world but now you don't have to worry — for a modest fee you can arrange to have animal-loving atheists rescue and care for your pets within 24 hours of the Rapture.

I was intrigued so I wrote to Brad and asked a few questions. Here's the situation:
Yes, the business is completely serious and legitimate.
Reactions from the public have been mixed - some think it's a joke while others take it seriously.
Some Christians appreciate the service and have subscribed. Some Christians are openly hostile and can be quite nasty. Says Brad: "We often ask if they kiss Jesus with their filthy mouths."

We don't have a lot of conflict between faiths in NZ and atheism is pretty much the default philosophy. It can be hard to imagine what it's like to live in an area where atheists are seen as evil and anti-Christian. Judging by what I've seen in many "fundy" forums, I'm sure there are plenty of people who see Eternal Earth-Bound Pets as wicked. I just think it's wickedly funny.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Delayed Gratification

In this short video Joachim de Posada explains a famous experiment on delayed gratification and how it can predict future success. In fact the ability to delay gratification is arguably the best available method to predict whether or not your kids will do well at school and later life. If you don't care about such things, just watch the video to laugh at kids fighting the urge to eat their marshmallows.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Smacking Referendum

My contribution to this debate will be brief. I'd like to outline the position of a group of parents that has been largely overlooked or assumed not to exist. Parents in this group:
- Don't smack their kids.
- Don't really care if you smack your kids or not.
- Do understand the importance of discipline.
- Don't appreciate being categorised as radical liberals just because they choose a particular form of discipline.
- Are frustrated by a $9M referendum which, for them, is unanswerable in any meaningful way.

I'm only going to cover one aspect of this debacle so let's get to it. Here's a statement that has been noticeably absent from the current debate:

Non-smacking works!

Forget all the ballyhoo about child psychology, legality and morals. Who cares what the hard-core lefties or righties think? There's a simple but powerful reason to take non-smacking seriously: It works.
Here's the thing...

Not smacking ≠ Not disciplining

In other words, choosing against smacking does not mean choosing against discipline. It means choosing a different type of discipline - the most popular being "time-out" or some variant. There are people who don't like the word punishment but I have no problem with it. Time-out is an effective punishment and deterrent. According to one source I read (wish I could cite it), time-out was rated by children as a worse punishment than smacking. My kids hate it. It's not soft.

I find that non-smackers usually understand discipline very well because they need to put a lot of thought and effort into it. If you don't smack your kids you must have a well-planned, consistent approach to punishment. I'm sure it actually helps me keep track of how consistent my discipline is.

As for the practical objections ("That would never work with my kids", "What about when you're at the supermarket?"), I won't try to predict and answer them all in one go. It's more efficient to say that non-smacking works well for many families and there are plenty of people willing to help you if you're keen to give it a try. Your local CAB is a good place to start.

I think my children are very well behaved. I have three (2, 4 & 18) and none of them have ever been smacked. Not because I'm so morally righteous but because it's working.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Space Blog

Quick note for subscribers of the "Space News" blog: I've moved the blog to my space museum domain and the new RSS feed is here. Sorry about the change - you'll need to update the feed in your RSS reader.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


Oops, another six-month gap in my blog. Don't ask - there's no point me trying to explain. Let's just pretend it didn't happen.