Friday, August 31, 2007

Point Chev

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

PR for Bill (and dodgy friends)

After wowing old fans and winning new converts on his northern tour a couple of months back, Bill Direen is making a flying visit to Auckland to play a short notice gig next Saturday night in the intimate surroundings of the PR Bar on the corner of Ponsonby and K Rds.

Rumour has it that a new version of Direen's legendary band The Bilders (or The Builders, or Die Bilders: he could never make his mind up how to spell it) will accompany him on several tracks.

Besides knocking out a few tunes, Bill will be launching the second issue of Percutio, the stylish journal he co-founded last year (the first issue is online here) in a heroic bid to bridge the gap between the literary worlds of New Zealand and his adopted Europe. (According to the blurb on Bill's website, Percutio #2 will include 'fearless work by fearless writers': I guess that's comrade Taylor and the rest of the anti-boxing crowd out of the picture, then?)

In case all that wasn't enough, Bill will be preceded on stage by the latest incarnation of Dead Men Rising, the 'last-minute-put-together boogie band' which stormed to obscurity with an unlistenable EP last year and a short appearance at the Kings Arms a couple of months ago. The latest line-up includes Brett Cross and Brian 'Wild Dog' King on guitars, the recently repatriated Michael Arnold on keyboard-guitar, Powertool Records head honcho Andrew 'git in your soul' Maitai (see intimate photograph below) on drums, and yours truly on shout. Our set will include the first ever free noise version of Auden's 'Spain 1937'. See you about eight o'clock, after I've sobered the others up.

Alistair Reith on East Timor

During a debate on recent events in East Timor at indymedia, Dunedin socialist Alistair Reith has put forward an interpretation of Timorese history which will not, I think it's safe to say, meet with the approval of this blog's new friend-cum-corrections service in Dili. Contrary to what that fat old sod (it's his pseudonym, not my insult) might say, though, there are a few Timorese who would agree with the southern man. Here's Reith:

If you live in Dunedin, you should have come along to the film screening Solidarity did the other day, a John Pilger doco on East Timor [called Death of a Nation?]. The Australian, NZ, US, British, and just about every other govt in the world gave Suharto financial, diplomatic and even military support during his reign, at the very same time as he was oppressing ET and in the full knowledge that any weapons they sold him would be used to murder the Timorese people.

FRETILIN guerrillas, without any outside help or support, fought against the Indonesian occupation for the entire time, using captured weapons and ammunition, and propped up only by the support of the Timorese people and the knowledge that they were fighting for a just cause.

Eventually, in the late 90s, Suharto was overthrown, and in the ensuing disorder FRETILIN forces turned the tide and began to push back the occupying forces.

Australia was alarmed by this. It had done well from Suharto's occupation of East Timor, for example the signing of a treaty with Suharto's government that gave it the right to exploit the massive oil and natural gas reserves off the coast of East Timor. Needless to say, the Timorese people were not consulted over the theft of their natural resources.

It obviously didn't like the idea of a leftist, militant national liberation group which had condemned it for supporting the occupation and stealing the Timorese people's resources taking power.

So, by this time it's obvious that independence is coming, whether Australia and it's fellow imperialist buddies like it or not. So now they have the choice between independence on the Timorese people's terms, with a transitional revolutionary FRETILIN government in charge, and in all likelihood nationalisation of the Timorese people's resources, or they have the choice of independence on THEIR terms. Take a guess which option they chose...

An Australian led and UN backed military force then invaded East Timor. It was obvious that FRETILIN had the Indonesian army and the pro-Indonesia paramilitaries on the back foot by now, but hey, obviously the rich white man knows what's best. Their first actions were to DISARM FRETILIN FORCES, and intern them unarmed in concentration camps. They did NOT disarm the pro-Indonesia paramilitaries, they didn't even TRY to do so, and the paras were left free to go on a murderous rampage throughout East Timor for the next wee while.

It's very similar, actually, to what the US did to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, where the Cuban people had been fighting Spain for about 20 years and had almost won, when the US suddenly invaded and made sure that Cuban independence was on THEIR terms.

This was no "liberation". The Timorese people could have and would have won that for themselves, and if we really wanted to help them do so we would have supported them in it. Instead, imperialism invaded and made sure that the newly independent state would not get too uppity, and that all their business investments would be kept secure. Who cares about the needs of the Timorese people so long as Australian and New ZEaland capitalists are kept happy? Today East Timor is one of the poorest nations in the world, despite it's huge natural wealth, which is instead ruthlessly exploited by foreign capitalists.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Evolution of Beauty - Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

Praise for Dave

Another glowing review for a Titus Books baby, this time in Gay NZ, which alsohas an article on the rise of Fa'afine boxing - avert thy eyes, Richard!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Te Atatu

Friday, August 24, 2007

The masses be damned

They're a funny old bunch, the commenters at this blog. I offer them lengthy lectures about weighty subjects like rioting in East Timor, EP Thompson's 1976 visit to India, and the problems of contemporary Kiwi poetry (alright, maybe that last subject is flabby, rather than weighty), and they snub me, preferring to discourse about short, throwaway posts on vege pies and kickboxing. Anyone would think I was a boring intellectual out of touch with the masses...

Since you're all so interested in scrapping about scrapping, though, here's an interesting article about Mike Tyson, race, class and boxing which appeared a few years ago in my favourite left-wing rag, Britain's Weekly Worker. Its author, professional sports writer Mark Marqusee, argues that boxing needs to be reclaimed from big business. Money quote:

It is important to realise that over the past decade there has been a conspiracy among boxing authorities, broadcasters, municipal officials, doctors, medical experts, promoters, advertisers and of course bookmakers to keep Tyson fighting in the ring, when he should have been excluded years ago. Again, not because of his criminal record, not because of his bizarre pronouncements and image, but very specifically because he consistently breaks the rules of the game inside the ring. The rules of the ring do not represent a higher morality, but they are the basic requirement of sport. Sport simply does not work, either as a spectacle or a pastime, if you compromise them.

Sport works because it sets up parameters within which various human attributes - speed, stamina, strength, agility, tactical/strategic thinking, inventiveness, discipline and many others - are showcased and tested and explored, and can form a deeply engaging and compelling spectacle. So, very simply, what we need to regulate is not the free movement of individuals across borders, but the global industry of sport and the way it has been distorted by capitalism.

My most recent piece on East Timor has stopped in at a few places around the web, including the popular British blog Lenin's Tomb, where there has been some discussion about the situation in Timor and the rest of the so-called 'arc of instability' to Australasia's north. On indymedia, a couple of commenters have mentioned the strange position of the Socialist Party of Timor, which has joined Gusmao's unconstitutional and fervently pro-Australian government. Thanks to Urihao and the anarchists at infoshop for plugs, and to the industrious folks at the bilingual Timor Online for a translation.

Since you asked, the latest news from East Timor is bad. I don't see how the Anzac approach to door knocking is helping things, either.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Time travel

There have been lots of arguments, most of them pitting the left against the right, about whether Hugo Chavez's government is moving Venezuela forward or backwards. Now nobody can argue. I hope Hugo's seen Primer.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Aussies 'had better go home': Alkatiri ups the stakes in East Timor

The leader of East Timor's largest political party has denounced the Australian troops occupying his country, saying 'they had better go home because they are not neutral'.

Mari Alkatiri, the Secretary-General of the Fretilin party, made his call after Australian troops waded into an anti-government protest held in a village near the East Timorese capital Dili yesterday. The Aussies provoked fury by ripping down two Fretilin flags and wiping their backsides with them. Fretilin led the fight against both the Portugese and the Indonesian occupations of East Timor, and its flag is seen by many Timorese as a symbol of national independence. Fretilin vice-President Arsenio Bano backed up Alatiri's statement, saying that the actions of the troops reflected the 'cultural insensitivity and arrogance [that] typifies Australian military operations in the Pacific region'.

Yesterday's incident came amidst continuing protests against an Australian-backed government that is widely seen as illegitimate. Although it won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections held last month, Fretilin was snubbed by East Timor's pro-Australian President Jose Ramos-Horta, who invited his close political ally Xanana Gusmao to form a government. Gusmao and Horta's National Congress for Timorese Reconciliation party won only 22% of the vote in the elections, and Gusmao's inauguration as Prime Minister on August the 8th sparked big protests in Dili and in the eastern towns of Baucau and Viqueque.

When the Australian and New Zealand troops and police who comprise the majority of the UN-sponsored 'International Stabilisation Force' tried to shut the protests down rioting broke out. Vehicles carrying Anzacs were stoned, and buildings associated with the UN, the Australian government, and the CNRT were burnt. Ambushers fired shots at a convoy of UN vehicles on a road south of Baucau.

In some places criminal gangs joined in the riots, attacking civilians and churches and looting shops. In Baucau, a gang broke into a convent and raped several girls. The government and its Anzac allies have used the criminals as an excuse to launch a campaign of repression against their political opponents. In the four days after Gusmao's inauguration as Prime Minister, the International Stabilisation Force fired more than two hundred rounds of tear gas at protesters. Dozens of peaceful protesters were arrested for offences like 'blocking the road'.

Comparing protesters to the pro-Indonesian militia that killed hundreds of East Timorese in 1999, Horta and Gusmao have warned that civil servants who take to the streets could lose their jobs. Such a threat carries great weight, in a country where 50% of the population is unemployed and the public sector offers the best hope of well-paid work. The new government has also tried to discourage protesters by insisting that they must apply for a permit to march through public streets a full twenty-one days in advance.

Anzac troops and police have often been accused of using their muscle to interfere in the politics of East Timor. Fretilin complained about Australian harassment of its election workers and candidates during the elections earlier this year, and in February big protests broke out in Dili after Australian soldiers killed two youths who had been demonstrating against the destruction of a refugee camp near the city's airport.

Alkatiri was Prime Minister of East Timor until the middle of last year, when he was forced to resign by the Anzac force that had arrived in his country in the aftermath of rioting that killed thirty-seven people. Alkatiri and other Fretilin leaders have argued that the Australian government stirred up the riots, and then used Anzac troops to force him to relinquish power in favour of Horta.

The left-wing journalist and long-time observer of East Timor John Pilger has backed Alkatiri's claims. Pilger believes that the Howard government wanted a government in Dili which would agree to greater Australian control over the rich oil and gas reserves under the seas off Timor. Alkatiri had angered Canberra and its ally in Washington by playing hardball over the oil reserves, refusing to support Bush's 'War of Terror', and bringing Cuban medics to East Timor. Horta, by contrast, is an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq who calls John Howard a personal friend and has taken a conciliatory attitude in negotiations over oil.

Alkatiri has also found support for his complaints amongst the leaders of some of East Timor's neighbours. Last week, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare accused Australia of interfering in East Timor's politics, and warned that it was trying similar tricks in his country. The Solomon Islands is saddled with its own Anzac occupation, and its new, independent-minded Prime Minister Manasseh Sogovare has expressed his solidarity with Alkatiri.

Despite his hatred of the Howard government, Alkatiri has never before called so directly for the withdrawal of Australian forces from East Timor. An astute and often cynical political player, he has feared angering those parts of Fretilin who had hoped the occupation could be made to work in the party's interests. Alkatiri's new boldness and the ongoing protests suggest that the mood in Fretilin has turned decisively against accommodation with the occupiers of East Timor. Together, the illegitimate government in Dili and the Anzac troops that support it have alienated large numbers of Timorese. Arsenio Bano summed up the feelings of many when he said yesterday that the Australian government 'has had one overriding aim — the removal of the democratically elected Fretilin government and its replacement with the illegitimate government of Gusmao'.

The ongoing protests in East Timor should be a wake-up call to New Zealanders. Most Kiwis oppose the Howard government and the neo-colonial occupation it is helping George Bush maintain in Iraq, but few realise that their army and police force is helping prop up a similar occupation in East Timor. Kiwi troops and cops operate under Australian control in East Timor, and are supporting a government which is deeply unpopular. It is not surprising, then, that they are being targeted alongside the Australians. They should be withdrawn before they get sucked further into the escalating conflict between Australian imperialism and the East Timorese people.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

After Cravan

The modernist agent provocateur Arthur Cravan once argued that his art was superior to Picasso's, because he possessed a boxer's muscled torso and fierce countenance, in contrast to Picasso's caved-in chest, slouched shoulders, and hangdog expression. As far as Cravan was concerned, an artist was defined by his physique and his ability to duke it out with rivals. Such a view wasn't unusual, in the first part of the twentieth century. The Italian Futurist Marinetti celebrated combat as the highest form of aesthetics, and in 1920s Paris Ernest Hemingway sparred with Ezra Pound, in the belief that the art of self-defence was a natural complement to the art of writing.

Now Ellen Portch, the painter and Elam Art School pointyhead who put on a memorable exhibition at Old Government House last year and also found time to design the cover of my first book, is turning Muay Thai kickboxing into an artform. After an intensive training programme at an undisclosed gym, Ellen recently entered the ring for the first time: you can see the results below.
Ellen tells me that:
It was a draw because it was our first fight... had it been contested though it probably would of been a draw anyway, it was very close. It was a VERY good contest & had the punters very entertained. I was very happy to have faced her.

Personally, I favour the Jackson Pollock approach to combat, which boils down to a couple of precepts:

1. Never fight until you are fairly drunk, and your opponent is extremely drunk.

2. Only fight in a bar which is so busy that full-blooded punches, let alone kicks, are practically impossible, and rescue, at the hands of worried friends or disapproving bar staff, is only a few seconds away.

If you want to know more about the aesthetics of combat, keep your eyes peeled for the next issue of brief, which will feature an essay on Ellen's work penned by Deidre Brown.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ready for a stonking

Returned Services Association members are often stereotyped as cantankerous old devils who tend to keep well to the right politically. Stereotypes are terrible things, of course. The RSA Review gets distributed in large quantities around my worksite, and I thought I'd start to share some of the gems from the letters page, in an effort to dispel those unfortunate cliches. The following piece comes from the June 2007 issue, which I've just finished reading from cover to cover (the pages of adverts for hearing aids were heavy going, but I wanted to see if I could score a cheap model for Bill Direen).

Deeply Concerned

As a finanical and active member of the RSA since 1946, I am deeply concerned that our country is run by a self-confessed atheist who has close associations with the Communist Party.

I went away with 41 men, and I am the only one left. It is those blokes I am concerned for. I don't believe RSA members fought for a government that insults them and I don't believe RSA members should have to face the kind of attack MP Judith Tizard made on Jim Newman in Auckland on ANZAC Day.

Any comment that follows publication of my letter will be healthy. Be assured I am used to being 'stonked'.

H Earl Jensen
Wilton, Wellington

Helen Clark a commie? She must be a very deep entrist indeed. Seriously, though, there are a couple of genuinely interesting longer epistles to the Review which I'll post when I have the time. Bet you can't wait.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Apologies for not answering e mails, let alone posting anything interesting*, over the past couple of days - I've been recovering from a disastrous confrontation with a dentist. I have at least gotten round to setting up a new poll here and rejigging the links (well, to be honest, I got sick of the latter task after three minutes, so don't be offended if you haven't been added to the canon).

I hadn't checked the old poll for some time, and was rather disconcerted to see that Benny Hill had taken a comfortable lead over the likes of Marx (Karl, not Groucho) and Lennon (John, not Vladimir) as the person visitors to this blog would most like to resurrect. Here are the final results for the top contenders:

Benny Hill 171
Karl Marx 149
Jesus 112
Rosa Luxembourg 59
Leonard da Vinci 57
John Lennon 42

And only nine votes for Syd Barrett! Ah well. At least that dull old hippy Jesus was beaten out of gold or silver. Vote in our new and rather more interesting poll (scroll down and you'll find it tucked away underneath the monthly archives links on the right of the screen).

*Unless, of course, you share my weird interest in spam-poetry, as Mike Beggs seems to do.

Footnote: this is the sort of little thing that restores one's faith in the internet. (It's not healthy to have too much faith in anything, of course. I had too much faith in my dentist...)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Look familiar?

Click to enlarge...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Spam poetry

From: "Courtney Engel"
Add to Address Book
Subject: The Ways have been dark for long generations, yet we grew them.
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2007 11:00:17 -0400

R*e*a,d t*h.e n+ews, thi nk abou t t h,e imp,act, and
j_u+m_p on t_h+i's fi.rst th_ing T_'omorrow morni--ng! $ 0.4 2 is a g*i_f t at t,h.i s pri,ce...

Do y*o+u r homewor'-k a n,d wat*ch t-h_i's Monda_y mo rning.
G+e*t,s t.h*e m_arkup rep'resent,ing t-h*e chi +ldren of t.h i s n'o+d,e_.
It w_a,s a'n*d crackl+in*g l,i+k+e a m_achine g+u_n*, b u-t I th ought I_'*d b+e-s-t to dri+nk it befor e it tu rned i n.t,o a wat_ersp'out or a d'u+s+t sto_rm.

It r_u.n s in t*h*e fami'ly.

O_n*l y o_n*e re mains up n,o w-.
Wi+ne, d+o_g,s a-n+d drea ms h+a d s+e*e.n .

Monday, August 13, 2007

Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomons, East Timor, Aboriginal Australia...

...and next, perhaps, Papua New Guinea:

National Alliance President Simon Kaiwi has also alleged Australian interference during PNG's elections, saying the Australian government and media were not happy with National Alliance's success.

He accused Canberra of using political pawns within PNG to try to determine the political leadership.

Canberra had heavily influenced elections in East Timor and the demise of former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, he said.

"Australia wants a leader in Papua New Guinea that can say 'how high' when they order him to jump," Kaiwi said.

Don't dismiss the possibility of an intervention under manufactured pretences, if the locals make a habit of refusing to play ball with the bully to the south.

My take on the recent rioting in East Timor is up on indymedia and has been translated by not one, not two, but three Lusophone websites. If only monolingual Kiwis like myself could reciprocate, we'd have a better picture of happenings in places like East Timor. The World Socialist Website, which seems to have an inside line to Dili, has posted an expansive report on the riots and their aftermath. Money quote:

While the Australian government disingenuously claims to have had no influence in the appointment of Gusmao’s CNRT government, late last month, and in the midst of the post-election arm-twisting, Howard suddenly visited East Timor and met with Ramos-Horta. The Australian prime minister told journalists that he also planned to meet with Gusmao, describing him as the “likely next prime minister”...

Australian Army Brigadier John Hutcheson replaced Brigadier Mal Rerden as head of the so-called International Stabilisation Force in East Timor. Hutcheson has close relations with the East Timorese military and served in the country as “defence advisor” in 2001. More significantly, he led the military component of Australia’s Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which took control of that country’s major institutions—the police, courts, prisons, media outlets and the finance department—in 2003.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Instead of Andy

If you want to see the best and worst aspects of that funny old artform they call painting, then tootle over to the Auckland War Memorial Museum this month. Up on floor three a series of fantastically expensive BMWs painted by Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and other scions of the pop and minimalist art movements are on display. Now, I have nothing against the display of expensive vehicles at our beloved museum, but to me - and, I suspect, to many of you, dear readers - the BMW has always had about as much aesthetic appeal as one of Michael Fay's ties.

Some years ago I had an acquaintance who announced her intention of buying a BMW; I told her that she must be determined to shrink her world drastically, because even though the BMW is an honoured status symbol in a few enclaves of privilege in Auckland and Wellington, it tends to attract stones, keying, and the odd well-placed kick everywhere else. Try parking one outside the Papakura Tavern or the Opononi Hotel on a Friday night - on any night, for that matter. My interlocutor protested that she was far from wealthy, and the car was an old model available third hand for a modest sum. It didn't matter, though: it's the symbolism, not the price tag, that brings BMW owners to grief. If you park a Ford Mustang outside the Opononi Hotel you'll get people competing to buy you a drink and yarn about the inner workings of its engine.

It's appropriate that Warhol and Stella painted BMWs, and not Ford Mustangs or Ford Escorts or white Valiants, because both artists recoiled from an early promise into the sort of sterile, stylish coolness that the art markets love all too well. (It's lucky that Frank O'Hara died before he saw the boldness and humanity of his beloved Abstract Expressionism completely usurped by Warhol's advertisements and Stella's ripoffs of Mondrian and Malevich.)

And no, in case you're wondering, I haven't actually been up and seen the BMW paintings for myself. Who needs empirical evidence for or against their prejudices? I have, however, fed my eyes on the exhibition of paintings by intellectually handicapped artists on the ground floor of the museum. What is remarkable about these paintings, which range from naive to sophisticated figurative studies to wild exercises in abstraction, is the almost impetuous boldness of their colours and brushstrokes. The observer has the feeling that they were created quickly, that they include just about as much as is necessary and, most importantly, that they needed to be painted. How many Warhol canvases can you say that about?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Onya Hone!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Leaning Tower of Penchant-by BackLit Productions

BackLit Productions are at the cutting edge of performing arts in New Zealand, the Titus Books of dance (they also happen to be my friends)- check them out and see for yourself - Skyler

dancer in photo: Lucy Miles
photographer: Camille Sanson

'Penchants' Exposed in a Vibrant Performance by Nine Auckland Choreographers and Dancers.'

Contemporary Dance Company BackLit Productions will present an unusual and stirring performance as part of the TEMPO Festival of Dance 2007. The show is an experimental collaboration between the nine members of the company, combining their varied skills as choreographers, dancers and artists to create an explosive Contemporary Dance/Performance Art show that takes in-depth look at human 'penchants' and desires.

'The Leaning Tower of Penchant' was originally crafted for an outdoor venue at Wellington Fringe earlier this year, winning runner up for 'Best Newcomer' Award. BackLit Productions now brings this performance to Auckland audiences, re-vamped and re-structured to fit the TAPAC theatre.

Artistic Director of the project, Rosey Feltham, describes the show:

'Penchant' is a tower of indulgence and desire. The inhabitants of Penchant are entranced by their obsessions. As you are immersed in this illusory world, you realize that nothing is as it seems and even the most solid character is fragile when bound by their 'Penchant'. Will the tower continue to accumulate desires and hold fast, or will it topple under the strain?'

Exploring new grounds in dance performance by using unusual props and set and breaking away from the traditional use of proscenium theatre, BackLit Productions explore the possibilities created where Dance meets Performance Art in this collaborative event. Eclectic characters weave an illusory world of intrigue as they dance on teacups, suspend from ropes and are transformed by their obsessions.

2006 TEMPO Festival Awards winners, BackLit Productions are a dedicated group of nine choreographers and dancers who reside in Auckland. Since forming at the beginning of 2006, BackLit Productions have continued to impress with their highly professional, slick and original performances.

'Back-Lit Productions created a stir with their polished, confident
works that shifted between poignant, darkly Butoh and entertaining

Francesca Horsley, Listener Review of Fuzzy Reception 2006.

"There was an element of risk to the evening that left one feeling slightly tilted as the action and a series of very striking images ......swirled around us in 'The Leaning Tower of Penchant'."
Lyne Pringle, 2007

The leaning Tower of Penchant
Penchant is a Tower of Indulgence and Desire. The inhabitants of penchant are lost in a world of obsession, acquiring everything they wish to own. Will the tower continue to hold fast or will it topple under the strain?
Witness the weaving of illusion and intrigue in this extraordinary evening of dance.
When: 4th Oct 10pm, 5th Oct 8pm, 6th Oct 10pm
Where: At Tapac, 100 Motions Road, Western Springs.
Cost: $23, $18 concession.

For interviews and full colour images contact:
Janine Parkes - Publicist

021 0605113

Reviewed in Critic

Here's a two thumbs up review of Scott's To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps. The book was launched earlier this year by Titus Books and you can order it from their website and bookshops like Parsons in Auckland, Unity in Wellington and UBS in Dunedin. Read Michael Steven's review here and read about the launch here. Click on the image to enlarge and read the review.

Anti-Anzac riots rock East Timor

Riots have broken out in East Timor's two largest cities, as opponents of new Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao confront Anzac police and soldiers. Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party won only 22% of the vote in last month's parliamentary elections, trailing behind its rival Fretilin. Gusmao has been able to take power this week because of the intervention of his close ally, President Jose Ramos-Horta, who invoked a clause in East Timor's constitution that gave him the power to decree a government.

Fretilin activists have been outraged by Horta's act, insisting that their party has the right to form an administration because it won the largest share of the vote and the largest number of seats in parliament. Fretilin leader and former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told the Sydney Morning Herald that 'People are really frustrated...they voted for Fretilin, expecting Fretilin to govern the country and suddenly with some kind of interpretation of the constitution, the second party was invited in'.

The riots began after protesters in the capital Dili and the eastern town of Bacau were confronted by Australian and New Zealand soldiers and police. Refusing orders to disperse, the protesters, who had chanted 'Down with John Howard!' and held banners denouncing Horta as an Australian puppet, built barricades of burning tyres and threw rocks at police and soldiers. Australian troops opened fire after youths smashed the windows of their vehicle near the pro-Fretilin Comoro refugee camp on the outskirts of Dili. The camp has been a centre of anti-occupation protest since Australian troops shot and killed two of its residents on February the 22nd. The Australian embassy was targeted by rock throwers, and in Bacau a building associated with the UN was burnt down. Protesters attacked New Zealand army vehicles in both cities.

It is not surprising that protesters have chosen to express their anger at Gusmao's illegitimate government by attacking Anzac forces and property. For more than a year now, John Howard's administration has been flagrantly interfering in Timorese affairs on behalf of its close allies Gusmao and Horta. In the first half of 2006 Howard's government waged a campaign to destabilise the Fretilin-dominated government of Alkatiri by splitting the army and police forces, funding anti-secular demonstrations by the country's powerful Catholic church, and spreading anti-Muslim and anti-communist smears against Alkatiri. The result was a wave of violence which was used to pressure Fretilin into agreeing to the deployment of an Anzac 'peacekeeping force' of soldiers and police.

Howard used the occupying force to secure Alkatiri's resignation, and to make Horta temporary Prime Minister in his place. In response, Horta lavishly praised Australian and American foreign policy and took a much more conciliatory attitude to plans to expand Australian exploitation of oil fields in the Timor Gap. But political and social stability proved hard to restore, and last February and March riots shook Dili in response to the killings of Timorese civilians by Anzac troops who had been deployed against Horta's enemies. During this year's Presidential and parliamentary elections, Anzac troops were often used to bully Fretilin opponents of Horta and Gusmao. When John Howard visited Dili at the end of July to give his support to a Gusmao government he was met by protesters demanding an end to the Anzac presence in their country. The new uprising in Dili and Bacau only proves how widespread opposition to the occupation has become.

Free Tibet banner on Great Wall

Free Tibet banner on Great Wall fuels official fears of more rights protests
Mary-Anne Toy Herald Correspondent in Beijing
August 8, 2007

BEIJING'S security forces are bracing for possible protests at Tiananmen Square tonight - where the city is due to celebrate the one-year countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games - after a giant banner calling for a free Tibet was unfurled at the Great Wall.

Police arrested six protesters - all foreign nationals - after two of them abseiled down the Mutianyu stretch of the wall, 90 minutes from Beijing, early yesterday to unveil a 42-metre banner. It read: "One world, one dream, free Tibet 2008", a play on the 2008 Game's official slogan "One world, one dream".

Read more here

Monday, August 06, 2007

Eric at 90

Today's Scotsman has a 'happy birthday' interview with the British left's greatest living historian and worst ever political strategist. You have to admire a man who can look that geeky and still write a best-selling history of banditry...

Along with Dorothy Thompson and John Saville - two of the people I had the pleasure of meeting during my research trip to Britain in 2005 - Eric Hobsbawm is one of the last surviving former members of the Communist Party Historians Group, an outfit that flourished in the years between the end of the Second World War and the invasion of Hungary in 1956. Working together in the tense atmosphere of the early Cold War years, these brilliant young men and women created a new and very much improved account of Britain's past - 'a history from below' - that eventually entered the mainstream of academic and public discourse. Even today, in the aftermath of the postmodernist counter-revolutions of the '80s and '90s, it's hard to study the English revolution without contending with Christopher Hill, and the spectre of EP Thompson* still haunts historians of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century England, not to mention scholars of subaltern history in India.

Here's a melancholy thought: how much has Eric Hobsbawm written since he reached seventy, an age that Edward Thompson never made? How much have we lost to Legionnaires' disease and the several other strange maladies that combined to kill off the most remarkable member of a remarkable group of historians?

*Alright, technically Edward was never actually a member of the group - in the late '40s and early '50s he still fancied himself as a poet, and hung out with the Party's organisation of writers, along with the likes of David Holbrook, Jack Lindsay, and Randall Swingler - but he earned his stripes retrospectively, by forging close associations with the likes of Saville and Hill, and taking up some of the main thematic threads in their work. Certainly, the common belief that he was a member of the group doesn't seem too unjust.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

From chickens to monkeys

Muzzlehatch asked me to post this (why he didn't just post it himself is one the mysteries of the multiverse). If you remember, Chris Matthews is the clever fellow who co-founded Flying Nun bands Children's Hour and Headless Chickens. The chooks' first album Stunt Clown is an essential piece of Kiwi cultural history - the angry sound of four acid punks trapped in yuppie-infested 1980s Auckland. Go here to listen to the whole of standout track 'Do the Headless Chicken':

Gonna put a hook through the fish that spawned me,
Watch it drowning in the twentieth century...

The summer of love is over, so get a job
Buy a car, eat shit...
Yeah life's a party
That I can leave...

The Japanese want to capture the world
On film, you see them in the afternoon
Down at the Rising Sun,
Bowing to the lord of the smoking mirror

And those boys who go to so much trouble
To be Rasputin's doubles,
They look so grand behind their big car doors
With their girls who remind you of weeping sores...

You won and now you're gone,
You left one word of advice:
Don't make fun of people with guns,
Don't tell lies to people with knives, and
Mmmm, do the Headless Chicken,
All together now fingers clicking...

It sounded incredible when I was thirteen, and it still sounds incredible. Check out Matthews' new project, if you're lucky enough to find yourself in Te Wai Pounamu this month. Bill Direen's playing support too!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Arguing about Marked Men

Olivia Macassey has written some eloquent criticisms of my review of David Lyndon Brown's new novel Marked Men; I've quoted and replied to her in this post. Buy Marked Men and decide for yourself whether I'm just a prissy socialist realist: even if you agree with me that the book has some shortcomings, you'll be thrilled and gratified by David's beautiful prose.

Olivia writes:

I can't say I agree with this review at all.

The example you give to support your contention that it is "a novel of surfaces" is a case in point.

I'm guessing you don't simply want the character to say "I sat on the bed and investigated my feelings and thoughts"; you want him to talk you through it - to deliver some kind of angst-ridden interior monologue. For me, the passage illustrates his inner state quite adequately - it shows us rather than telling us.

This non-didactic approach also enables a layer of uncertainty, ambivalence, fluidity - we infer, rather than know - even as readers we don't get to sit there like gods. For instance, again in this example, your interprettation of this scene as a crisis brought on by Sykes "infidelity" is worlds away from what I think it was about!

It's also significant that the passage continues:

Then I unplugged the telephone, climbed into the shower and turning on the water as hot as I could stand it, scoured my skin raw.

For you, the passage describes "the behaviour of a man who mistakes the objects around him for the feelings inside him". But I think that this way of seeing the book is only really possible if you maintain a fairly rigid Cartesian mind/body duality. And you seem to signal an allegience to this a little later in the review, by creating an opposition between balls and bowels on one hand and hearts and brains on the other - placing emotion on the side of the intellect rather than the corporeal.

David Lyndon Brown's work on the other hand refuses this distinction. I think Richard is right to bring up Merleau-Ponty in this context. Why try to enforce a separation between mind and body, between body and body, body and "objects" and world, when Marked Men so clearly establishes the correspondences (metaphors, figures, senses) between them? He does not suppress "the intellectual and emotional life of his characters"; on the contrary he expresses it in all its obliqueness and unknowability in everything his protagonist sees, touches, feels. Paradoxically, your review seems to be complaining of an absence because of what amounts to a saturation of presence.

I'm reminded of the end of Journal d'un curé de campagne: all is grace.

In reply:

The point isn't that the author shows rather than telling; it's that he doesn't show enough.

On the one hand we have inarticulate characters who have a profound lack of interest in the world and quite nihilistic patterns of behaviour, and on the other hand we have the desire of the novelist to write about love and imbue Sykes with a certain innocence and goodness.

It's not clear to me that either Sykes or the narrator is capable of love. At the very least, we need to know more about them, so that we can understand why they behave in the way they do. Why is Sykes rebelling against the world to the point of death? Why is the narrator so utterly uninterested in everything else, and yet so obsessively drawn to Sykes? The only answers we are left with are essentially biological ones - hence my reference to balls and bowels. I don't accept that love is the same as physical desire, though of course it'd be silly to go to an extreme and think that our brains weren't at some level sexual organs.

Here's a question for readers of the novel: were you shocked when the loveable, innocent Sykes committed murder, and the narrator didn't bat an eyelid? No? Me neither. I think the novel really presents what should be a cataclysmic event as a minor detail. It's certainly much less affecting, in the context of the novel, than Sykes' sexual betrayal of the narrator. This is what I mean when I say there is a moral vacuum at the heart of Marked Men. Such a vacuum wouldn't be a problem if the author wanted to write The Outsider, or a hardboiled Chandler novel, but it is a problem if he wants to tell a story about love, and ask his readers to feel sympathy for Sykes and the narrator.

Of course I'm probably utterly wrong and Olivia is probably utterly right: fight it out in the comments box. David Lyndon Brown is certainly a writer worth arguing about.