Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Slapping Smugness, In Two Parts: Part B - Response To PC

In response to the quote at the end of the Steyn article referenced in the post below, Part A of the Slapping Smugness Special, PC invites comment on the 'local implication of Steyn's point: how Apirana Ngata, for example, might have regarded the 'warrior culture' so prized by the Maoridom of today.'

PC is asking us to consider a number of things:
  • What is Steyn's point?
  • What is the 'warrior culture' prized by Maori to which PC refers?
  • What would Sir Apirana Ngata actually have thought?

To address these in turn - Steyn's point was exhaustively covered in the post below. As I see it, Steyn seeks to conceptualise 'black culture' as destructive and centred around the negative influence of gangster rap, to the exclusion of any number of positive things contained within it. It seems that his overarching goal is to make an argument for the assimilation of black culture into the dominant white paradigm in America. He makes an argument for the 'golden days of yore' which have now been sullied by modern black music.

The 'warrior culture' prized by Maori certainly is a central part of Maori culture. It is clear that PC wishes us to see 'warrior culture' as something negative, something like 'black culture' has become in Steyn's eyes. Perhaps he sees 'warrior culture' as 'behaviour like the characters in "Once Were Warriors"' or maybe 'behaviour like the Kahui family,' or even 'behaviour like South Auckland gangs'.

Is this a fair characterisation of the 'warrior culture' that is truly prized by Maori? I think not - I think that the 'warrior culture' prized by Maori has more to do with pride, honour, and courage. The traditions associated with the 'warrior culture' - haka, creation and use of taiaha and mere, down to marae protocol where manuhiri are challenged before being allowed on are all integral strands in a rich cultural tapestry. It is these positive, beneficial attributes that constitute the 'warrior culture' which Maori are rightly proud of.

The question has to be asked what PC originally meant by 'warrior culture'.

Finally, who knows what Sir Apirana Ngata would have thought upon seeing today's modern world, but no doubt he would be heartened to see Maori culture to have regained so many of the traditions which the colonial process tried so ruthlessly to drum out of existence. He would be thrilled to see the resurgence of carving, weaving, of the Maori language, the gathering of oral histories to ensure that what remains now is not lost to the future. He would be very happy, I imagine, to see the way that Maori culture has come back from the brink and asserted itself in the very opposite of what Steyn would clearly like to see happen to black culture in America.

Slapping Smugness, In Two Parts: Part A - Response To Mark Steyn

As picked up on PC's blog, via Samizdata, unrepentant ultra-conservative commentator Mark Steyn has recently squeezed out another diatribe against multiculturalism.

This time it is an assault on 'black culture' in America. With a fond, rosy-tinted view of the 'beauty and grace' inherent in 'black culture' of old, Steyn rails against the perceived degradation of black culture, with reference primarily to hip-hop culture in America. If one is to read between the lines, in concert with the rest of Steyn's bitter oeuvre, this article is simply an argument for the assimilation of 'black culture' into the mainstream white America.

But to look more closely into this article, one finds Steyn's approach trite, sickeningly smug, and ultimately flawed.

The article opens in fine rabble-rousing style, with a long tirade against Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee's ill-advised and bizarre moan that hurricanes in America had mainly white names given to them. Very few would argue for the legitimacy of this as an example of discrimination, and indeed in 2003, when the comment was made, very few did. By opening the article with this piece of largely irrelevant ancient history, Steyn sets the tone for the rest of his diatribe. An attempt to trivialise and marginalise what continues to be one of the most important issues in the US today.

At the end of the first paragraph, he smarms:
In fairness to black leaders, they did not reprise this line of attack when
Katrina swept in a year ago, preferring to argue instead that not merely the
name but the very hurricane was racist, deliberately deployed by Karl Rove's
offshore Republican wind machine to total only black neighbourhoods.

Nice cheap dig, but more sinister is the fact that the ill-considered argument of one person (in 2003, remember) is now attributed to 'black leaders'. Apparently the paucity of black names for hurricanes is a widely held gripe for more than just Jackson-Lee. Nice act of misdirection to begin his attack on 'black culture'. Steyn refuses to engage with the real tragedy of the hurricane, that aid was far too slow in reaching underprivileged citizens of New Orleans, ostensibly due to their position on the social scale and political spectrum.

Steyn goes on to pour some disdain on New Orleans, which according to him is:
[...] a great place to enjoy a margarita with a topless transsexual Mardi Gras queen,
but you wouldn't want to live there: a deeply dysfunctional city exclusively
controlled by Democrats for generations, it's a welfare swamp with a lucrative
tourist quarter.

So, what? The President was right not to accord it more notice? Steyn uses this as an argument as to why the Republicans will not reap any backlash for Bush's reprehensible slowness to action: ironically making the same argument that the citizens themselves made - as a whole, they are seen to be poor and marginalised, and thus fly under the Republican radar.

Steyn then brings in his centrepiece - a book he read decrying the perceived lack of responsibility in black society, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It, written by Juan Williams, a (gasp!) black man. Williams has apparently drawn the conclusion that:
[...] the post-civil rights black leadership and its policies are a total bust.

Steyn goes on to discuss the concept of 'authenticity' and how this has lead to a defence of gangster rap as an integral part of 'black culture'.
But the peculiar touchiness of the black community on this question recurs again
and again in Williams's book. "The defence of gangster rap, with its pride in
guns and murder, was that it was all about 'keepin' it real,' " he writes. "In
that stunning perversion of black culture, anyone who spoke against the
self-destructive core of gangster rap was put down as acting white."

[...] "Violence, murder, and self-hatred were marketed as true blackness -- authentic black identity," says Williams. "Keepin' it real" means the rapper Nelly making
a video in which he swipes a credit card through his ho's butt. "Keepin' it
real" means men are violent and nihilistic, women are "sluts, bobbing chicken
heads, and of course bitches." "Keepin' it real," noted the writer Nick Crowe,
equates, in effect, to "disempowerment." Because if being black means being a
self-destructive self-gratifying criminal rutting machine, and building a
career, settling down, getting a nice house in the suburbs, raising a family is
acting white, that would seem to hand whitey an awful lot of advantages.

First of all, the straw-man that Steyn creates - that 'black culture' might possibly be predicated on the influence of gangster rap, is inherently flawed. Secondly, while the importance of hip-hop to modern urban black populations can't be underestimated, the idea that gangster rap is the be-all and end-all of hip-hop is entirely wrong and belies a total lack of understanding, in all probability gleaned from sensationalist media, which of course loves juicy West-coast gangster rap stories, and all of their attendant salacious trappings.

Steyn goes on to slip in another confusing ploy - black Americans have not sufficiently contributed to the English language - certainly not to the extent that Indians have, with a number of practical and useful words, where it seems that all that Blacks have managed to chip in is a handful of slangy adjectives and pejoratives!
A few years back, arguing for the teaching of "Ebonics" as a distinct language,
professor Ron Emmons of Los Angeles City College produced a list of black
America's contributions to the English language: hip, cool, gig, jiving around,
get high, gimme five, hot, baby, mojo, fine, mess with, thang (as in "doin' my,"
he helpfully explained), take it easy, slick, rip-off, bad . . . Hmm. Does that
list really testify to the vitality of "Black English"? By comparison, India via
the Raj gave English (to pluck at random) pajamas, bungalow, jodhpurs, cheroot,
cummerbund, veranda, khakis, karma. Despite the best efforts of the late Tupac
and the Rodney King rioters to copyright them, even "thug" and "looter" come
from the subcontinent. Doesn't that list make "jiving around" and "get high"
look a bit weedy?

The air must be pretty thin where Steyn writes from, given the lofty heights his arrogance appears to reach.

Then, to wind up, comes the paragraph which so many right-wing pundits have clearly become enamoured with. The section of Steyn's article which ties up the previous straw-men, half-baked cultural understandings, and prejudice into a tight little ball of irritatingly smug, simplistic foolishness.
Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dogg. Scott Joplin would have regarded today's "black culture" as an oxymoron. To
eliminate a century and a half's tradition of beauty and grace from your
identity isn't "keepin' it real"; it's keepin' millions of young black men and
women unreal in ways the most malevolent bull-necked racist could never have

Who is Steyn to surmise what Scott Joplin would have thought of today's black culture? Who is Steyn to suggest that a great amount of today's hip-hop culture tears down the black musical icons of yester-year, rather than building on their shoulders?

Monday, September 25, 2006


From PC:


Song(s) That I Loathe to the Core of My Being
  • You're Beautiful - James Blunt
  • Porcelain - Moby
  • Get Your Freak On - Missy Elliott
Musical artist(s) That I Loathe to the Core of My Being
  • Michael BublĂ©
  • Celine Dion
  • Eminem
Rolling Stones Song(s) I Like
  • Midnight Rambler
  • Sympathy For The Devil
  • Angie
Beatles Song(s) I Love
  • Helter Skelter
  • Back In The USSR
  • Across The Universe
Who Song(s) I Love
  • The Punk And The Godfather
  • The Kids Are Alright
  • Who Are You (Damn you, CSI thieves...)
Dylan Song(s) I Love
  • Tangled Up In Blue
  • Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat
  • Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Lou Reed/Velvet Underground Song(s) I Love
  • White Light/White Heat
  • The Murder Mystery
  • Walk On The Wild Side
Reggae Songs I Love
  • Problems - Horace Andy
  • DubAddisAbaba - Dub Syndicate
  • Fire Down Below - Burning Spear

Country Song(s) I Love
  • I Walk The Line - Johnny Cash
  • T.N.T. - Hayseed Dixie
Movie Soundtrack(s) I Love
  • The Proposition
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Pi
Cover Song(s) I Love
  • Electricity - NOFX
  • Hot In Herre - Tiga
  • Stagger Lee - Nick Cave (Not exactly a cover, but oh well...)
Contemporary Top-40 Artist(s) I Secretly Love
  • The Black-Eyed Peas
Song(s) That Bring Me To Tears
  • Heartbeat - The Knife
Rap/Hip Hop Song(s) I Love
  • Cold As Ice - M.O.P.
  • Lady Don't Tek No - Latyrx
  • Sound Of Tha Police - KRS-1
Novelty Song(s) I Love
  • Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenocerous - Flight Of The Conchords
  • Business-Time - Flight Of The Conchords ('Business hours are over baby!' ...aaah, the laughs...)
Soul/R&B Songs I Love
  • Super Bad - Idris Muhammad
  • Hot Barbecue - Jack McDuff
  • I've Got Dreams To Remember - Otis Redding
Power Ballad(s) I Love
  • Go Your Own Way - (NOFX covering Fleetwood Mac)
  • More Than A Feeling - Boston
  • Wind Of Change - Scorpions
Pre 1950s Song(s) I Dig
  • My Bucket's Got A Hole In It - Louis Armstrong
  • I Should Care - Julie London
  • Life Is So Peculiar - Louis Armstrong
Singer/Songwriter Songs I Love
  • Pearls On A Train - Paul Ubana Jones
  • Jersey Thursday - Donovan
  • The Weaker Soldier - Will Oldham
Song(s) I Still Love From When I Was Fourteen
  • Aces High - Iron Maiden
  • TV Party - Black Flag
  • Bodies - Sex Pistols
Song(s) to Have Sex To
  • When I Fell - UBQ Project
  • Honey Molasses - Jill Scott
  • In fact, any Jill Scott or Erykah Badu...
Drinking Song(s) I Love
  • Victoria - The Exponents
  • Ace Of Spades - Mötorhead
  • Stop, Drop And Roll - The Deceptikonz

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Matters Of Opinion

- "Should Labour pay back the money it spent on pledge cards before the election?"

Unequivocally, yes. There exists no mandate to continue stonewalling, but even if there was, the electorate has spoken. If Labour continues to attempt to brazen this out, they risk playing to the right-wing caricature of blind power-hunger.

-"Should Don Brash step down as National Leader following allegations of impropriety?"

On principle, no. His private life is his own, and he is free to gad about as much as his wife lets him get away with as far as I care. I don't see that he has realistically compromised anything that he said during the election campaign in terms of fidelity, however his assault on Helen Clark's conception of marriage now seems dreadfully unfortunate. Even given the massive upswing in the latest (right-leaning) poll, it strikes me that the near future has more misery in store for Don...

-"Are National justified in using the term 'corrupt' in relation to the Labour government?"

No. Corruption. Misuse of governmental powers for illegitemate purposes, in a nutshell. I take a fairly nuanced view, given that Labour set out to do the same thing it had done in previous elections with the pledge card - and in previous elections this had been perfectly acceptable. Labour argues that they were unaware of the changes, which is negligent to say the least, but to prove a case for corruption - that Labour deliberately misused money it knew it wasn't entitled to, for the purposes of 'personal hain' (in this case perpetuating their incumbency) is almost impossible. Added to this Brash's ridiculous assertion that this government is the 'most corrupt NZ government in history,' and one begins to understand how parliamentary conduct slipped so low.

-"Should National sever ties with the Exclusive Brethren?"

Yes. The Brethren's veil of secrecy has been lifted and it is now patently clear that they will attempt to discredit the government in whatever way they deem necessary. On the one hand Brash loudly decries 'mudslinging' and personal attacks; on the other, he refuses to dissociate himself from a group that is engaging in the assemblage of a comprehensive 'dirt-file'.

-"Do Labour have the right to rescind labour law exemptions currently extended to the Exclusive Brethren?"

In my understanding, yes. It seems the exemptions are predicated around the fact that the EB do not participate in mainstream politics. It is now clear that not only is this not the case, but they have a nebulous and far-reaching plan to discredit the government. Dodgy as all hell.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brash Fracas

Well - what a crazy couple of days for the Brash family, huh.

It appears that Don has been unfaithful again, but the question to pose is: of what import really is it? The general public's prurient interest comes out to play again...

First of all, I think it is entirely reprehensible that Labour brought it up in chambers, but then the shit-slinging free-for-all by both Labour and National over the past few weeks has been a joke and a disgrace. Using marital infidelity as a red rag for the media to distract from the overspending issue is low. This is not, of course, to say that National's own rhetoric has been particularly laudable.

What right do we have to pry into the Brash marriage at this point? I would say on personal principle 'none' - but this is unfortunately qualified by the fact that Brash has gone out of his way to make 'mainstream New Zealand' nuclear-family values a cornerstone of the National Party ethos, and as the figurehead of National, he has to be judged by his own standards.

To restate: I think it is reprehensible and shames our parliamentary system that this bit of news has made it out into the public arena. Having said that, now that it is unfortunately out there, Brash will have to suffer the consequences - he made this particular rod for his own back. He himself is the author of his own misfortune - not Labour, or Brian Connell, or anyone else.

He chose to cheat on his wife, and it is with her that the public sympathy should rest, until the facts are known. It is unfortunate that Brash should have his private life trawled out for the public to pick at like vultures, but it would have been easily avoided by not actually cheating on his wife in the first place - a bloody risky venture for such a public figure.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Can art be judged by 'objective' standards?

In a number of opinion pieces over at ‘Not PC,’ Peter Cresswell has articulated a fairly outrageous position on what constitutes art, to the extent that I felt moved to respond at length.

In essence, he began by ridiculing Alan Gibbs for buying art that he claimed was a ‘con’ and entirely devoid of merit. As argument with several commenters on his arrogant position wore on, he appealed to his own intellectual authority in stating that he could discern real art as he was ‘someone with a mind’ who ‘knows what art looks like’.

The argument took a further twist when I challenged him on the subjectivity of art, and he announced that ‘subjective [taste] could be judged objectively’.

So, here follows an attempt at distilling the actual argument from the deluge of words that PC has poured out on the subject.

- Not all that is claimed to be art, is in fact art
- What is art can be determined by appeal to certain objective principles
- These objective principles can be known and defined
- The manner in which they relate to the ‘art object’ in positively defining it can be known and quantified

In order to make an objective value judgement of the kind PC claims to be able to make (ie “This is art” – “This is not art”) all of these predicates must hold true. My position is that this is ridiculous.

The ramifications of such a position are huge! We could quickly isolate what was art and what was not, biff a whole lot of newly-discovered non-art on to giant bonfires all around the world, and start retraining our aesthetic palates. It is, of course, a crock.

But what is my position? Quite simply that art is art because we ourselves make a personal judgement that it is – it speaks to us in some way. This will vary from person to person, culture to culture, and individually shift and migrate over time as our personal history and knowledge base changes and shifts. There is nothing within this schema that confers authority to state objectively that something definitely is or definitely isn’t ‘real’ art. This is a judgement we have to make for ourselves.
You can relax and let PC tell you what has artistic worth and what has none and for what particular reason, or you can undertake your own journey, form your own opinions, and enrich yourself with art that fulfils your own personal wants and needs.

The challenge to PC is to respond to my formulation of his argument, and defend it if he agrees, or explain which predicates I have miscontrued, and what he actually means, in as succinct a way as possible.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Nazi Nutter Buggered Off

After some tough words from the pinnacle of the Aryan nation's cognoscenti, Nic Miller:

Will Red Watch NZ Be Intimidated?

...it appears that he will indeed be intimidated. To the extent of crawling back under his little rock, and hopefully staying there. Sustained pressure from the usual sources (FDB, Punkas, etc) and even the super-heavyweight of NZ blogs, Kiwiblog have seen Miller taste some of his own hateful medicine.

Good bloody thing too.

Architecture - Art

I'm going to be posting up five buildings over the next few days at PC's blog.

The whole thing has come about over his conception of 'art' as something which can be objectively assessed, and categorised absolutely by an outside arbiter as 'good' or 'bad'. This is something with which I disagree heartily, as I imagine would most people involved in creative disciplines.

Even though it's years since I did Philosophy at university, I am (hold your breath) going to attempt a break down of PC's argument by predicates, by way of some sort of 'disproof'. Should be good for a laugh anyways...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nazi Kooks

And from another edge of the wackosphere, here is Nic Miller. Just read this wee corker.

I fundamentally oppose the Israeli approach to the ongoing attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon. Most of the world does. It is totally irresponsible and heavy-handed.

But anti-Semitism has no place in the world. I encourage anyone that is sufficiently astonished by the incredible ignorance and hatred displayed by this nutbar to contact Blogger and complain about the content on his site.

(Wouldn't you just love to have a tug on his tufty wee beard though?)

The Land of Drooled-On Keyboards...

Crazed and war-mad right-wing loonies don't usually pique my curiosity to any great extent, but the Israel-Hezbollah conflict has really brought out the worst in some people.

Famed hangout for the irredeemably hate-filled, LittleGreenFootballs has been pumping out some scary, scary opinion recently. Commenters have let gems like these go (and this is just from five minutes of cursory glancing)...

Israel is risking its soldiers' lives in order to spare those of Hezbollah
sympathizers. We give a 24 hour warning that anyone south of the Litani
River, any vehicle or building is a target, any human being or camel or goat
is a target, and then we finally, really go to war.

I want to see the Star of David flying over every fucking building in
Lebanon. ALL of it.

Well, fyi, my wife started ranting on and on today that GWB is a war
and Cheney's making millions off this war in Iraq and blah blah
blah. I burned holes in her skull when I looked at her and I simply said in a
monotone voice, "One word against Israel and I will walk out that front door and
I will never, never speak to you again."

I guess it's not really fair to pick such easy, neanderthal targets, but really...this is the ugly mug of hawkish international policy, staring right at you. I wonder if one day these fat blokes will be forced to haul their gargantuan buttocks out from behind their keyboard and actually do any of the things they so fervently wish others to do on their behalf?