Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Seeing the light(s)

To partisans of that curious faith known as Mormonism, Temple View is the Rome of the Pacific. The little town that sits in the shadow of that big temple is populated by stern-faced young men in dark suits, who spend most of the year irritating the residents of nearby Hamilton by knocking on their doors and giving away pamphlets that are too poorly written to read and too glossy to use as bog paper. In the weeks of either side of Christmas, though, the Latter Day pests attempt to atone for their sins by rigging up a spectacular light show around their temple, for the benefits of carloads of heathen Hamiltonians. You can guess where I was tonight. 

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Citing to the converted

I'm grateful to Snowball, the proprietor of the Adventures in Historical Materialism blog, for crowning me 'Histomat Socialist History Blogger of the Year' at his end of year awards ceremony.

Snowball has a vested interest in wading through my PhD drafts, because he's writing his own thesis on CLR James, the Jamaican Marxist historian and cricket nut who crossed paths and ideas with EP Thompson in the 1960s and '70s. (I was about to call CLR James 'the black EP Thompson', but perhaps I ought to call Thompson 'the white CLR James'? James was older, after all, wasn't he? I remember James' fellow West Indian Tony Cozier complaining that George Headley was always called 'the black Bradman', when Bradman could as easily be dubbed 'the white Headley'...)

There's also been a bit of action on the Titus Books website, where Skyler and Bill Direen have been tinkering. Bill has put the second issue of his journal Percutio online in Pdf format, which means you can read me discoursing on Te Kooti, Che Guevara, and the art of poetry after a few beers last July (I was supposed to be interviewing Bill, not the other way round, but he kept asking me questions, and later that night he sneaked into my study and stole the tape out of my dictaphone). I also came across this beauty on the updated Titus site:
Thanks folks...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Matrix Moment

New Zealand Herald arts editor and chai latte quaffing middlebrow dilletante Linda Herrick wanted a blue pill for Christmas, but Jack Ross and his mates gave her a red one called Landfall 214. Ouch. Who do these writers think they are?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It’s not a Merry Christmas for prospective Auckland University students

Posted by Skyler:
On Monday The University of Auckland Council adopted a proposal to limit access to all its undergraduate courses. The university already severely limits entry to courses like medicine and law, using secondary school exam results as its criteria.

About 40 students, university staff members and supporters staged a short-notice protest before the University Council meeting. The protest was called by Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) and supported by Nga Tauira Maori and Auckland University Pacific Islands Students Association (AUPISA). These groups have voiced concern over a lack of consultation regarding the new plan, which was only announced after the end of the academic year, when the university is emptied of students and staff.
Student representatives Anna Crowe and David Do were the only members of the University Council to vote against the new restrictions. Do, who is currently education vice president of AUSA and will be their president next year, noted that secondary school exam results were not a good indicator of success at university. Do said that the new restrictions on access would make it harder for working class, Maori, and Pacifika students to get into Auckland University, because those groups tend to do worse at secondary school. ‘If we go down this path we will be shutting out many potential achievers and leaders of the future’, Do warned.
Associate professor of sociology Dr Dave Bedggood agreed with Do. In a speech to the protest, Bedggood predicted that the new restrictions ‘will stack the deck with those with money and those from good schools. We will get a pecking order that will replace egalitarianism with elitism’.

Other protesters worried that the new policy will put increased pressure on children, by forcing them to sit more examinations from a younger age. ‘Do we want to go down the route of the English system where students start exams at 11 and the results determine their future?’ one protester asked.

Auckland University vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon defended the new policy by claiming it had been foreshadowed in the strategic plan he announced in 2005. McCutcheon is trying to make Auckland into an elite ‘research university’ by limiting increases in undergraduate students, encouraging more wealthy foreign students, and funnelling funds to postgraduates and ‘star’ staff members.

A Senate task force is being set up to examine the equity implications of the university's admission policies. The university wants to ensure that 'students from all backgrounds have equal opportunity to achieve their potential’. McCutcheon claims that the taskforce will ‘consult widely’ and listen carefully to students and staff, yet it is due to report its findings in March, at the very beginning of the next academic year.

Below is a media release from AUSA demanding a fair say on the equity taskforce:

Media Release - 13 December 2007 - For Immediate Use

Auckland students are outraged that the University’s taskforce to look at the equity implications of eliminating open entry may have only one student representative.

University Council student representatives yesterday proposed that a student representative each from AUSA, Nga Tauira Maori(NTM, the Maori students association), and AUPISA(Auckland University Pacific Islands Students Association) be on the Taskforce.

The idea of having student representatives was raised at the University Senate, and it was agreed then that this was a good idea. However, the University Council rejected the notion of having more than one student representative on the taskforce.

“Students who have gone through the system know how it works. They provide a useful perspective on how limitations might affect different students, and how this might be accommodated for. To shut out the input of Maori and Pasifika students, who would be most disadvantaged by these schemes, is outrageous,” says David Do, AUSA Education Vice President.

“Many of our Maori students are encouraged by the University to go out to North Island high schools every year to encourage Maori students to aspire to university and study at Auckland. To deny us a say in how these entry schemes might affect Maori students is appalling. It is certainly not in the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi,” says Reina Harris, AUSA co-Maori Students Officer and NTM executive member.

“We call on the University to give students a fair say on this issue by allowing more than one student representative on this taskforce.”


Monday, December 10, 2007

Finlay live

I blogged about Grant Finlay's mysterious 'music' last February, and now the man himself has e mailed to announce he has a new website, which naturally includes a cache of new recordings. Eat your heart out, Nigel Bunn...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Something to do next Wednesday night

I haven't posted for a couple of days because I've been tied up with the Australasian sociology conference which has just been held in the brand new and rather hideous Business School at Auckland University. A lot of the Marxoid ratbags at the conference were ghettoised into a 'Political Economy' stream yesterday, and at a hurried lunch plans were made to establish a long-overdue national network of lefty scholars. It was nice to catch up with the work of veteran Marxist researchers like Bryan Roper, and to meet other lefty pointyheads for the first time. I particularly enjoyed chatting with Evan Poata-Smith, whose studies of contemporary Maori history I've long admired.

I gave a paper yesterday which began in Venezuela before plunging back into the nineteenth century and Marx's smoky Hampstead study (you can see the template in this blog post). Afterwards, an Aussie academic told me about the adventures of a couple of her students who travelled through Venezuela last year. They had wanted to see what all this Bolivarian business was like for themselves, and they ended up getting involved with a group of Kiwis making a documentary film which focused on the role of indigenous peoples in the revolution. By coincidence, I got an email yesterday advertising a new doco on Venezuela:

Now the People Have Awoken

New Zealand Film makers tell the story of the changes in Venezuelan politics

Except for beauty queens and oil, Venezuela has never been on the international stage. Now Venezuela is at the centre of international controversey: to some it has been stolen by a populist dictator, while for others Venezuela represents the centre of a continent wide democratic revolution. There is much at stake.

Venezuela sits atop the biggest oil reserves in the world which are used to foment a new order. President Hugo Chavez, who survived a military coup in 2002, has supported a number of contreversial social programmes which have pushed Venezuela onto the US Government, and media, enemy radar.

This is a film by Kiwis about what makes this country we know little about tick.

One chance only - Wednesday December 12 - 8.15pm at the Academy Cinema - film screening (rated E Exempt) and a Q&A session with film maker Julia Capon.

There's a little preview here. Sounds like there'll be some pretty good music, too...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Monday, December 03, 2007


Bill Direen and his merry men blew into Auckland on Friday full of stories about life on the road. They remembered the penguins which hopped about amongst the large crowd at the, you guessed it, Penguin Bar in Oamaru; the eighty year-old pogoing in front of the stage in Christchurch; an eight and a half hour detour along the narrow backroads of the Southern Alps to get to the hippy haven of Takaka, where Bill and Otis Mace delighted the crowd by taking turns singing songs at each other, in a sort of folk rock version of a hip hop challenge; the banshee howl of support act Will Christie in Wellington; the unspeakable odours in the van the band travelled in; Otis' uncanny ability to pick up women before, during, and after gigs; and the five hardcore fans who passed for the 'crowd' at a Hamilton bar.

The boys played to a packed upper bar at the Masonic Tavern on Friday night, and then wrapped up the Party for Your Right to Fight on Saturday night at the PR Bar. The party brought together politicos, poets, and musos, and was enjoyably chaotic. We had well over a hundred people at the PR bar, which is really a labyrinthine succession of bars, and an average of thirty or forty in the room on the end where where a succession of ranters, writers, and rockers banged out their stuff.

Richard Taylor astonished everybody by staying admirably sober, while Brett Cross kept disappearing to the bar for shots of Scottish whiskey. The schedule of performers kept changing, as faces appeared out of the depths of shadowy passageways. The promised donations tin never turned up, and yours truly had to dash across the road to the garage, buy a container of baking soda, empty the contents into a rubbish bin in front of baffled staff, and then convince partygoers that he really was taking money for the Civil Rights Defence Committee, and not my drinking fund.

Dave Bedggood read a message of solidarity that Bolivian workers had sent the Urewera 17; Jen Crawford read a poem called 'Tentacular Porn', and warned us not to google the phrase; Justin Taua took listeners on a boozy but eloquent tour through Maori history; Ted Jenner chanted a difficult but beautiful poem about his second home of Malawi; the much-maligned Jamie Lockett gave a last-minute guest lecture in a beguilingly gentle, reasonable voice; Michael Steven read three short, stark poems then disappeared into the night; Tourettes wowed the audience by bridging the gaps between freestyle hip-hop, poetry, and political rant; Bill Direen popped up with an acoustic guitar to sing Dylan's 'The Ballad of Hollis Brown' and a couple of other taut folk songs; Nathan MacGregor came down from hospital to read a short but moving poem in Maori; Richard Taylor proved he could read effectively without booze; Otis jumped on stage when we were supposed to be taking a break and belted out a short set which included his very disingenuous ditty 'You Can't Get Involved with Your Public'; and The Bilders played a set of classics that showed off the skills of their recently-recruited keyboardist Andrew McCully (they were even better, if that's possible, at the Masonic, where the PA was crystal clear).

One of the highlights of my night was bumping into that notorious terrorist Omar Hamed, whom I'd last seen in the gloomy confines of the Auckland District Court. Back in 2006 I lived in a house where Omar was a frequent guest, and I have fond memories of discoursing late into the night with him about such burning subjects as the crisis in international Trotskyism and the difference between platformist and syndicalist anarchism. Last Saturday we both seemed too sozzled to rise to such intellectual heights, but it was still very nice to say hello and burp.

I suppose I'm also obliged to mention that, after drinking even more booze, yours truly joined The Bilders on stage at the end of the night to sing the falsetto parts of Bill's '80s pop gem 'The Aligator Song'. Apparently there's a recording out there - whoever has it should know that I'm willing to pay good money to take it out of circulation...

Despite all the chaos, we did manage to raise a bit of dosh for the Civil Rights Defence Committee, which organised another good demo on Saturday. If you want to attend a rather more professional fundraising gig for victims of the October the 15th terror raids, then I recommend the event being held next Friday at the Kings Arms Tavern. Some of the folks organising the gig work with me, and they have some seriously good contacts in the music industry.