Monday, July 18, 2005

Rave: "Jamie's School Dinners" music programmer

For the first time tonight I watched a show called Jamie's School Dinners. It's about Jamie Oliver moving into schools in the UK and trying to serve children one nutritious meal per day through school cafeterias. Disturbingly, many of the "dinner ladies" he works with have no training, cannot even cook pasta, and appear not to like to eat vegies themselves. Under the circumstances is it any wonder that an increasing number school-age children are seeing dietitians? Scary stuff.

Anyways, good on Jamie for trying to change things, though had he asked me I could have given him a few pointers on how to make his changes more palatable (in more ways than one) to his wee charges -- for example, the healthy burger -- vegie pattie with wholemeal bun and lots of salad. I know this must have lots of fibre in it (one of the major problems the dietitian interviewed was seeing was kids with malfunctioning colons due to lack of fibre) because it would absolutely slay me. The kids, however, would still see it as a burger. New foods could be introduced slowly.

The real purpose of this post though, is to praise to the sky the music programmers for the show, who have bypassed dross like Britney, Eminem, and Coldplay and picked up in this episode alone Mr. Brightside by The Killers and Twenty Years by Placebo (though it would take a diehard fan like myself to notice that last one -- it was instrumental snippets only. But then I guess the show was for a general audience, and Placebo, generally speaking, are not).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rave: The web as the mother of random creativity

The web really is the source and birthplace of some weird acts of creation. And the more bizarre the acts, the funnier I usually find them. Without the web aid its easy-publish technologies, it is likely these things that have become popular culture may never have happened; for me at least, that would have meant a little less laughter.

The first example of funny meets bizarre that was born on the web that I would like to share is All Your Base Are Belong To Us. Someone created this little video out of some weird text and speech in a Japanese video game, and a whole lot of hard work in Phtotoshop, and it spread around the web like wildfire. Why did they create it? Who knows. I guess the obvious answer is too much time on their hands. But even for something where a person has too much time on their hands that is a lot of work. Whatever the reason behind it, it captured the imagination of a whole lot of people. And as far as I can tell, apart from the t-shirt sales, which may or may not be making enough money to cover web-serving costs, the people who created this have not made any money from it. Nonetheless, this is a little piece of flash that had the whole world going, even if just for a few days. And it is tremendously funny.

The next thing that is funny, creative, and more than just a little random is the specifically web-designed flash technology End of the World. I don't know who sees the world this way (and in the current political climate, it would most likely be somewhere in the Middle East that the US started a war with), but it is damn funny. Somehow, having a web to put it on inspired this random act of creativity that has gone on to make any number of people smile. Not only that, it shows an inherent understanding of something researchers took a long time to come to terms with -- users hate to wait. Even the load screen is designed to both warn and entertain "Sorry, long load time.... STFU already!". Whoever created this deserves a medal.

The most recent (and perhaps the most attention grabbing) act of random creativity, though is the Crazy Frog. Love the crazy frog or hate him (and we definitely know it is a him just by seeing the video, unlike real frogs) on first viewing, it is hilarious. The frog and his moped noises were created by a pair of crazy Swedes and put on the net for fun. Jamster picked up on it, and created the ringtone that is the first ever ringtone to go to number one. And if you don't think the Crazy Frog is funny, think about how funny it is that someone is making a fortune out of it -- people will pay for this stuff. It's just a shame that the Crazy Frog's parents are not the ones making the money.

So, here are just three examples of web-based culture that have swept the world as crazes (All Your Base made it into the Google Zeitgeist for February 2001, the Crazy Frog for May 2005), made people laugh, made people angry, made money for people, and sent a ringtone to number one on the UK charts (even beating out Coldplay, much to my surprise and pleasure). The web is offering the creative among us (well, and even the plain broring like me) the opportunity for instant, near-free publication. Is it a good thing? Who knows. But these things are funny, and my life is better for them. It should be the slogan for the web "try and find something funny that makes your life better today"., or better yet "create something for someone to enjoy today". Now if only Google can solve the indexing problem...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Rant: New Zealanders really are disappointing sometimes

In the past five days there have been numerous war-related historic occasions:
  • The 60th anniversary of the end of WWII
  • The 20th anniversary of the bombing of the rainbow warrior (arguably the only act of war -- or terrorism -- perpetrated on New Zealand since colonisation)
  • The 10th anniversary of a massacre of Bosnian Muslims in former Yugoslavia
  • The London terror attacks
I mention all these to give context to the rant to come. My rant is to express disappointment in some of my fellow New Zealanders. I am disappointed in those New Zealanders who. at an individual and institutional level, have made the decision to show little respect in light of these historic occasions.

At an individual level, some new Zealanders have chosen to attack mosques in Auckland, our largest city. Six mosques were desecrated, one of them ending up with the text "RIP London" spraypainted on the wall.

This pointless act of destruction and disrespect, particularly so near the anniversary of a time where the world's Muslim community was itself the internationally recognised victim of terrorism, makes me very sad. I hope these people are not people who are old enough to reme4mber when we New Zealanders experienced terrorism on our shores; I hope that experience would dissuade anyone fr0mrandom political violence. Still, I had hoped that we, in New Zealand, might be more tolerant and avoid a backlash reaction. Sadly, that has not been the case.

What is worse, however, is the opinion cartoon in today's Waikato Times, a provincial newspaper that nevertheless reaches a significant chunk of the nation's population. I have never found this newspaper to be a particularly intellectually inspired publication, and I never buy it myself. However, today it arrived in the letterbox as part of a promotion, where we are to receive it free for a week. I am sad to say that my opinion of it has not been even slightly improved; in fact I think less of it today than I ever have before in my life.

The cartoon in question shows two views of a generic entrance to the London Underground, one labelled 1941, and the other labelled 2005. In the 1941 picture, a man looking at the sky is running into the underground. In the 2005 view this same 'everyman' is running back out.

My partner and I both have friends and loved ones in London, or who happened to be in London at the time of the attacks. We were travelling at the time of the attacks, and we each spent several tense hours waiting to hear whether those we cared about were safe. One New Zealand family is still waiting to hear about their daughter. So many New Zealanders have been through the same thing this week (New Zealand has much closer ties to the UK than the US, and so this tragedy has seemed much closer to home than 9/11). Nevertheless, our experience, shock, and sadness must be tiny compared to that of Britain, and London in particular. It is disgusting for a cartoonist to make light of this, and even worse for a newspaper to print such a thing.

However, the cartoon does not stop there. It also denigrates the fear felt by Londoners, and the sacrifices made by servicepeople, families, and civilians during WWII on 60th anniversary of the end of the war. I don't doubt that the newspaper has some readers who are among those, who made these sacrifices, either.

Needless to say I have sent a letter to the editor of the paper telling them that free week or no free week I will not be subscribing to their paper now or in the future.

So, so far we have had people attacking the places of worship, a religious leader using the attacks for political capital for his party, and a newspaper making light of the whole thing. I really hope that we will see a vast improvement in the attitude of certain New Zealanders at all levels in the next few days.

P.S. I didn't start this as a political blog. If you're reading I apologise. I will try to write about something less inflammatory next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Rant: Fundamentalism at it's most offensive

So, one of my intellectual pursuits is following the antics of the so-named Destiny Church and associated political party in New Zealand. Yes, you heard me right, this is an outfit that has completely missed that whole separation of Church and state that was decided hundreds of years ago with the blood of political and religious martyrs. I have to bless the folks at google news for setting up the news alert thing; it makes my life so much easier to just get the stuff in my email.

Anyways, after watching the horror unfold in London, wondering if my chief PhD supervisor and close friend was okay, wondering if Mike's sister was okay, and generally feeling alternately weepy and ill, I got this link in my inbox.

The background to the story is that the Destiny political party has just announced its candidates for the upcoming general election in New Zealand, and are touring the country having "rallies" where they spew doctrine. The star attraction at these rallies is Brian Tamaki, the charismatic-but-creepy leader of the church side of things, who is not standing as a political candidate at all because he is "called by god to do higher things".

While Tamaki described the London attacks as "despicable" and "tragic" (yeah, he's a real genius, that man) he also had this to say:
"What people in New Zealand don't realise is we have been enduring a type of terrorism of another kind - acts of terrorism against the family."
He claimed that the civil unions bill, teen pregnancies, legalisation of prostitution, and abortions and the lowering of the drinking age to be terrorist acts by the state against the "family".

Now, while I am far from being a young drinker, teen mother, prostitute or veteran of the abortion clinic (and most of that I cannot claim credit for, I had a good upbringing and great opportunities), I nonetheless see a lot of problems with many of those laws. The prostitution law in particular seems to me to have been counterproductive, though I don't have a better solution to the situation. Having said that, though, Tamaki calling this terrorism makes me very angry. These laws were deigned to allow people civil liberties in most cases, and can hardly be said to have killed or maimed innocent people. To compare this kind of lawmaking to the tragedy suffered in London is an insult to the families of the victims, the emergency services, and to any thinking person who was saddened by what they saw on the news. And Tamaki is the leader of a church, with his followers blindly accepting and agreeing with what he says (I say this from experience -- I have friends who were normal, reasonable people until they got involved).

Preaching of this kind is not only rude and disrespectful, it is dangerous. If a person feels persecuted by their government, particularly in a religious way, what is the accepted response these days? Al Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers, SPUC, and the IRA are all example of just how dangerous a group of people can get when they believe (rightly or wrongly, and I am not going to get into what I think of each of those individual cases) that they are religiously wronged. I wonder, if someone who agrees with Tamaki plants a bomb in some public building and kills a number of people in protest against "terrorism against the family", whether Tamaki will consider that "tragic and despicable", or whether he will declare it a victory of God, and I wonder whether he will feel any responsibility for the lives lost. I hope I never have to find out.

Why I'm here

I always wanted somewhere to put my random rants and raves, and this is a mcuh better place to leave them than the ears of my friends. I mean, I can only tell them how awesome the new Placebo CD is so many times, and my political views tend to be too random for anyone else to follow.... (an example of an earlier rant copied from another blog can be found here).

The real reason I have this blog, though, is so that I could have a private account on the blog I created for the colleagues of mine to communicate with our former supervisor (who has just left for Wales). To have a private account I needed a blogger account, and to have a blogger account I needed my own blog. The rest, as they say, is history. I have joined the noisy masses who have reserved themselves space to publish every random thought that crosses their mind.