Saturday, May 29, 2010

"The Freddies"

Fat Freddy's Drop is a NZ band with its roots in South Pacific reggae which is evolving its style into its own jazz and techno. We had promised ourselves a night out if ever they had left the comforts of the Wellington hovels of Manners St and Cuba Street Mall.

As soon as the ads appeared for a national tour we booked. Stalls only available on the 'net so we were more or less compulsorily consigned to spending the night in the moshpit. Not that I would have minded in the least but I would not be up and about at 7 this morning if we had.

We were standing around in the foyer to the Bruce Mason Theatre waiting for the doors to open at 7:45 when these three young ladies sidled up and asked if we were going to the Freddies and if we were, did we have stalls tickets. We ended up exchanging our two stalls tickets for two circle seats (which they had won in a radio promo competition); ahhh bliss!

The Freddies played a total of eleven pieces, from their first album recorded at the Matterhorn to their latest and as yet unreleased cd. For that they were on stage for about 2 1/2 hours. "Cays Crays", "Shiverman" and the new "Blackbird" were perhaps the highlights. There was a brief lesson in Techno assembly that kicked off "Shiverman" - brilliant piece of work by Joe Dukie at the microphone. Man of the night for me was the scientist behind the electronics board. Brilliant mixes, brilliant clipping... made the music.

Energy, humour, and bloody good music abounded. The last piece before the interval I was wondering just how much more the trombone player was going to shed. After starting in a light (linen?) suit he was down to longjohns and singlet (leaving little to the imagination on the way). He returned after the interval fully clothed but a good part of that was lost before full time.

The very best I can do is to return Tamaira's "chur fullas" with real feeling.

ps I meant to add - how many popular music groups would use a Double EFlat Bass (or Concert tuba) in their lineup?


"The probligo's Progress"

Al the Bourgeois Philistine has written a very good and most readable start to a "spiritual autobiography". That led me to thinking what the ol'probligo's version of the same journey might look like.

I guess that the landscape has to begin with the family; my father of Anglican stock, my mother Methodist at best. Other than the usual family events was always "home work", chores and preparing for the following school week.

The school at Te Whaiti is right next door to the local Presbyterian kirk; well, there was a shortcut through a swamp, or it was a brisk walk a hundred yards up the road. So we were "required" to attend Sunday School where we were "baby-sat" for about two hours every Sunday morning. The significance of this move escaped a naive nine year-old and in fact it was another 15 years before I worked out what may have been behind the idea.

It was an "interesting" experience. Interesting because I almost immediately began running to difficulties. I have the memory of trying to understand the meaning of the Catechism; if I have to say this, what does it mean?. Colouring pictures of the major festivals, while learning the story of the man and the pictures; artistic ability zero, concentration about the same.

I think I lasted there about 6 months, I remember the Christmas and Easter services because the Sunday School took part (after suitable teachings) and all of the hymns were sung (very beautifully I think) in Maori. There was then a brief sotto voce but fairly heated discussion between the Minister and the old man following which I was told that I had been expelled from Sunday School for being "too disruptive" and asking too many hard questions.

My parents made another attempt after we moved north. The Baptist Church had a "camp" just down the road from us and used to turn on a Sunday School programme on the beach during the summer holidays. There was an associated three week "boarding camp holiday". I was sent there as a twelfth birthday present. My chief memory of that experience was being woken - or kept awake - in the wee smalls by two of the senior boarders. Their intent was to "convert" me to religion. Sorry guys, but the myth of "original sin" still escapes me; there is no honest belief in me; anything that I might do or say will be nothing more than pretence; without honest belief my participation would be a lie. After that exerience, "Sunday worship" for the warmer half of the year became the religion of "messing around in boats" as Ratty put it. The Sundays of the colder half were spent recovering from the previous day's rugby game and schoolwork.

It was about that time that I discovered two of my father's books. First was "The Importance of Living" by Lin Yutang, which I still have. Second was "Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley.

Yutang gave me a very small peep-hole into Chinese traditions and beliefs, Confucionism and Tao. Huxley put me on the road to Hindu and Bhuddist thought.

And so began a long period of digestion. It continues.

To misquote a sf writer "Either there are gods out there, or there are not. Both prospects are equally frightening."

In the meantime I am quite comfortable with how I have lived my life, and the fact of my mortality.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Facebook and matters of privacy...

About a month ago, a tennis-friend of the Mrs probligo joined up with Facebook. There was no need for her to publicise this, nor did she do anything more than follow the process of form-filling to get her page set up.

The first that we knew of it was an email - through Facebook - saying the the Mrs probligo should join up and become a "friend".

That would also explain how Facebook got a hold of our email address.

What is inexplicable is that the email includes the names and Facebook addresses of four other people.

Those four people are -

the probligo's daughter, whom we know has a Facepage.

a lady the Mrs probligo worked with about 5 years back and with whom we have occasional direct contact.

Tommy Miesel whom I suspect might be the same gent I conversed with some years back on matters modelling.

Alan Erkkila, whom I presume might have a very direct relationship to an old whig.

And therein lies the mystery.

How was Facebook able to make the connection between the latter two and the Mrs probligo (or perhaps the probligo's private email address)?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On calling Truth to Power -

Eavesdropped over at TF's place.

The glimmer of hope, that he might see through the falsehoods of the "Clinton has signed a treaty with the UN to stop arms sales in the US", has gone. He found "confirmation of the fact" in some obscure little on-line European rag. Der Spiegel it is not.

Now the topic du jour is a speech by Mexican President Calderon to the US Senate. Apparently (I have not yet found the full transcript) he had the temerity to comment on Arizona's new "anti-alien" law. Without greater knowledge of what was said by Calderon, that goes no further here.

The reaction - not just from TF but from Congressmen down to Joe Inthestreet - has been far more interesting.

"How DARE he try and tell the US how to conduct its affairs".

Well, friends and gentlemen, that reaction brought back to mind a situation which arose between the US and an ally, and which resulted in the ally being turfed out of the ANZUS Treaty.

Why? Well, the ally passed a law that said no-one was allowed to send nuclear-powered ships into their waters. That really got up the collective noses of the US Defence Department and US political machine. If a squitty little country like NZ was going to ban nuclear powered ships, who would be the next? An example would be made unless the law was dropped and nuclear-powered (and armed) US naval ships allowed free and unfettered access to NZ ports.

That demand has been repeated to the NZ government by every US chief diplomat to present his warrant to the government in the past 25 years.

Now let me just pause there for a moment and regain my breath.

On the one hand, we have Americans mightily upset because an outsider and guest commented on their laws in the Senate.

On the other hand, (and I do not believe for a moment that the instance is unique) we have the US telling another country, an ally no less, how and what laws to put in place "or else..."

See a parallel there?

Perhaps David Lange (then Prime Minister) said it best at the Oxford Union -

We have never been part of strategic defence. The only nuclear weapons which presumably were brought by our allies to New Zealand in the past have been tactical weapons. We decided we didn't want to be part of someone's tactical nuclear battle. It's just about as bad as being part of somebody else's strategic nuclear battle. But that has not in any way diminished the deterrent power of the Western alliance. We have not given comfort to the Soviet bloc. We have not undermined the West.
But the result has been that we have been told by some officials in the United States administration that our decision is not, as they put it, to be cost-free; that we are in fact to be made to pay for our action. Not by our enemies, but by our friends. We are in fact to be made an example of; we are to be ostracised, we are to be convicted of some form of heresy and put on probation. We are going to be kept there until we are compelled to resume our seat in the dress circle of the nuclear theatre.

We have been told that because others in the West - and their advocates are here tonight - carry the fearful burden of a defence which terrorises as much as the threat it counters, we too must carry that burden. We are actually told that New Zealanders cannot decide for themselves how to defend New Zealand, but are obliged to adopt the methods which others use to defend themselves.

Lord Carrington [the Secretary-General of NATO] made a case in Copenhagen recently against the creation of nuclear weapon free zones. He argued that if the people of the United States - as advocated by my friend over there - found themselves bearing the burden alone, they would tire of bearing it. Now that is exactly the point. Genuine agreement[s] about the control of nuclear weapons do not cede the advantage to one side or the other: they enhance security, they do not diminish it. And if such arrangements can be made, and such agreements reached, then those who remain outside those arrangements might well and truly tire of their insecurity. They will reject the logic of the weapon and they will assert their essential humanity. They will look for arms control agreements which are real and verifiable.

And there's no humanity at all in the logic which holds that my country, New Zealand, must be obliged to play host to nuclear weapons because others in the West are playing host to nuclear weapons. That is the logic which refuses to admit that there is any alternative to nuclear weapons, when plainly there is.

It is self-defeating logic, just as the weapons themselves are self-defeating: to compel an ally to accept nuclear weapons against the wishes of that ally is to take the moral position of totalitarianism, which allows for no self-determination, and which is exactly the evil that we are supposed to be fighting against.

So, I say that the US has the right to reject anyone "telling them what to do".

But in so doing the US must also remember that other nations have the right of self-determination too.

That realisation must include that the right of self-determination must be acceded without any attempts on the part of other powers - including the US - to influence their decision-making process.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

On taking quotations out of context -

How many times have these words of Adam Smith been quoted in support of the neo-capitilist ideals of disaffected Americans -
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love."

Me old mates at ALD tagged a commentary at New Statesman that picks up this point and correctly places it in the context of his earlier "The Theory of Moral Sentiments".

Read the article for the detail. I recommend it.

What does deserve quotation is another (equally out of context) relating to the "political economy" from Adam Smith -
..."first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and second, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services".

Next thing will be members of the American right quoting the likes of Karl Marx's economic theories in support of their neo-neo-capitalism. The driver behind such a move might well come from this thoughtful article from Der Spiegel -
Greece is only the beginning. The world's leading economies have long lived beyond their means, and the financial crisis caused government debt to swell dramatically. Now the bill is coming due, but not all countries will be able to pay it.
A Huge Bubble

The world was saved, temporarily at least, but since then it has accumulated more debt than ever before in peacetime. The national deficits of the 30 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have grown almost sevenfold since 2007, to about $3.4 trillion today. Their total debt burden has also grown dramatically, to a record-setting $43 trillion. In the euro zone, national deficits have even grown 12-fold in the same time period, with the euro-zone countries accumulating $7.7 trillion in debt.

The current government debt bubble is the last of all possible bubbles. Either governments manage to slowly let out the air, or the bubble will burst. If that happens, the world will truly be on the brink of disaster.

When Greece faces a possible bankruptcy, the euro-zone countries and the IMF come to its aid. But what happens if the entire euro group bites off more than it can chew? What if the United States can no longer service its debt because, say, China is no longer willing to buy American treasury bonds? And what if Japan, which is running into more and more problems, falters in its attempts to pay for its now-chronic deficits?

The conditions that prevail in Greece exist in many countries, which is why governments around the world are paying such close attention to how -- and if -- the Europeans gain control over the crisis.

Now that is frighteningly close to some of the ol' probligo's worst fears. Galahs like MK should, but won't, listen.

Time to go play Gorillaz...

The book on my bedside table...

... at the moment is "Affluenza" by one Oliver James.

Having read the Prologue and Part One it seems to me that there is little point in reading much further. I do not suffer from Affluenza. It is not likely that I ever will - given that various members of the family have described my as "stingy" and "old" and "expletive" at different times. Therefore there seems no real future in reading how James proposes his cure for the ailment.

His opinion on the causes and who might be the most susceptible plucks the strings of my confirmation bias. His commentary in what I have read thusfar would curdle TF's coffee and give his Beemer an apoplexic fit.

I guess that just about says it all.

It also fits into the context of my last comment at TF's place regarding government deficits and the difference between "need" and "want".

Out of the commentary in Der Spiegel - regarding the Greek economic crisis comes this following which also rings a strong 12-string chord from the ol' probligo -
In fact, the Portuguese economy has been stagnating for the last 10 years. It grew substantially before that, after the country had joined the EU. In the years since the introduction of the euro, the Portuguese have gotten used to low interest rates and have "lived completely beyond their means," as President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, an economics professor himself who was also prime minister during the boom years, warned last year. "We spend 10 percent of GDP more than we take in, year after year," says Portuguese economist António Perez Metelo.

Private households owe more than 100 percent of their annual income. Because the Portuguese save so little, banks are forced to borrow money abroad. Each of the 10.6 million Portuguese citizens owes foreign banks an average of €18,300 and paid €590 in interest in 2009.

This situation cannot continue -- not in Greece, not in Portugal and not in most other countries. But the euro zone isn't the only place with a debt problem.

The US budget deficit has now reached $1.6 trillion, or 10 percent of GDP. The national debt is now over $12 trillion and is forecast to expand to more than $20 trillion by the end of the decade. At that point, Americans will be paying $900 billion a year in interest alone.

Der Spiegel continues -
Today, only four areas consume almost all government revenues: defense, social programs, health care and interest on debt. Americans must pay for everything else with new debt.

Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute, one of the leading economic think tanks in the United States, warns: "If we don't correct the situation in the next five years, our worldwide position will be in jeopardy."

The disastrous financial situation is in large part due, not to the economic stimulus packages and programs to fight the global economic crisis, but to behavior during the years under former President George W. Bush. At the time, Americans became accustomed to consuming far more than they produced.

They consume inexpensive goods from Southeast Asia, and the Chinese and the Japanese are only too willing to accept US Treasury bonds in return. In other words, Asia is giving the United States an almost unlimited credit line. This is the only reason the Americans were able to keep interest rates low for so many years -- the cost of borrowing was being kept artificially low. Many people believed that they could afford to buy real estate. And in the belief that the value of their houses was constantly increasing, Americans consumed even more and got into more and more debt. This illusionary system fell apart when the real estate markets collapsed.

But current President Barack Obama has also contributed substantially to the biggest American budget deficit since World War II. His healthcare reforms alone will cost the government about $900 billion in the coming years. And the military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will swallow up $160 billion in the coming budget year.