Shut Up & Sing

Dixie Chicks - Shut Up And Sing

I re-watched this last night. Kind of relevant right now.

This Chicks flick by Barbara Kopple (Academy Award winner for Harlan County, U.S.A.) and Cecilia Peck is powerful testament to the inconvenient truth that free speech can come at a very high cost. The Dixie Chicks, Texas-based and one of country music’s most successful acts, found out just how costly it was in the weeks following a March 10, 2003, concert in London. Indulging in some between-song patter, singer Natalie Maines expressed shame that “the president of the United States is from Texas.”

In politics, as in comedy, timing is everything; and at the time, President George W. Bush’s popularity among the Chicks’ traditional country fans was sky-high, and the invasion of Iraq was imminent. Reaction was fast and furious. Country radio stations boycotted the Dixie Chicks’ music. Conservative talk show hosts lambasted them.

Country superstar Toby Keith got into the act by denigrating Maines in his concerts. People destroyed Dixie Chicks CDs in public protests that echoed the furor sparked by John Lennon’s 1966 “We’re more popular than Jesus now” comment. The trio’s tour had to be scaled back and rerouted to include friendlier climes (Canada). (via)

“So how do you feel about your light bulbs being stolen?”

Arie Smith-Voorkamp was the face of Christchurch earthquake looting because of the media attention he received. He made it onto at least one of the <insert bad thing here> the [email protected]@#%^## Facebook groups. Shame on the looters! There is no excuse. Who are they to pick on the poor people of Christchurch?

The loot

The story gets interesting when you find out what he is alleged to have stolen. Two light bulbs from an untenanted and vacant building. Police describe the nature of the offending as serious and say that there is a strong public interest in the case. Arie was in jail for 11 days.

Asperger’sEarthquake Damaged Building

Arie has Asperger’s syndrome which fuels his obsession for all things electrical, including old light fittings. “Sometimes I get that excited about it sometimes I can’t sleep.” He had walked past the building many times, and became fixated on a switch in the shop. Once inside he found that the switch was too modern, but found two light bulbs that he thought he could clean up and display in his house. He says he was not thinking about theft, or the danger he was placing himself in.

Sunday programme

The Sunday programme ran a story about Arie last week, which seemed to excite the Police. Canterbury Central Police Area Commander Inspector Derek Erasmus suggested to the building owners they call TVNZ to try to stop the story going to air.

“On Friday the Sunday programme received an email from Inspector Erasmus advising us that we were under criminal investigation in relation to our story. So we’ll keep you updated on that.”

The victims

Building owners Andrew and Irene Matsis didn’t even know about the “theft” until Sunday contacted them for the story. This seems to contradict the Police calling the offending serious. Surely in serious offending the victims would actually be notified.

“Well since Sunday interviewed the Matsis’ a fortnight ago, senior Police have visited the couple twice. The first time Thursday and again Friday. On Thursday in a press release Inspector Derek Erasmus, said the Matsis’ were now happy for the case to proceed to court, where the matter should be resolved. Sunday spoke to Andrew Matsis just hours ago, he’s happy for the case to go to court but hopes Arie’s name will be cleared.”

On the programme, Andrew says if he knew about the alleged looting he would’ve been angry at Arie for putting himself in danger, not for pinching anything.

Andrew and Irene say they would not have pressed charges if they were contacted by the Police. The interview resulted in the hilarious question: “So… how do you feel about your lightbulbs being stolen?” to which Irene replied: “We do not care about our lightbulbs, he’s welcome to them. And you can tell the Police, I mean we have more important things [to deal with, our] house is falling down and we’re going to worry about light bulbs? No.”

I know stealing is stealing (though is it in this case if the building owners say he is welcome to the light bulbs, abeit after the fact?), but common sense dictates there is a better use of court time and money than to make an example out of someone who offended as a result of a documented disability, who has an unblemished criminal record, and who has already served jail time just because he took a couple of lighting fixtures.

Andrew Matsis: You said you never had any other history of doing anything like that before?
Arie Smith-Voorkamp: No.
AM: First time with the Police?
ASV: Yes.
AM: And they make a court case. What a waste of money.

What do you think? Is there no excuse for looting, no matter the situation?

Image credit: Me

Judging a Book By Its Cover

A book on the deaths of the Kahui Twins, written by Ian Wishart in conjunction with Macsyna King, is going to be released soon. A bookshop advisory on new titles was leaked to TVNZ and publicity around the book started earlier than intended, unfortunately directly coinciding with the inquest into the death of the twins.

A Facebook group is calling for the boycott of the book, and apparently the boycott of shops who choose to sell the book, and a couple of bookstores listened. From reading some of the comments on the page, it is clear that some commenters are misinformed. Paper Plus and The Warehouse have both said that their stores won’t be stocking the book. Whitcoulls is still considering whether it will or not. Paper Plus chief executive Rob Smith said: “The health and wellbeing of children is always front of our mind when we are faced with decisions which might impact the stores and the communities in which they operate”. It’s not clear to me how stocking a book not intended for children, and which doesn’t encourage child abuse would impact the health and wellbeing of children. There actually isn’t a clear reason why the book is harmful at all, nor is there a clear reason why it shouldn’t be stocked, apart from “we don’t like it/Macsyna”. Like Steven Price says, no one has actually read the book, how can they make an informed decision that they don’t like it?

Censorship causes blindnessMacsyna King cooperated with the police and was a prosecution witness, she hasn’t just decided to speak now. She isn’t profiting from the book either, Ian says: “Apart from sharing a Domino’s pizza during lunch, Macsyna has never received anything nor will she.” Ian will earn money for the book, but points out that researching and publishing a book takes time and money and that media organizations get paid for their reporting too (apologies if there’s a country block on the video): “When I worked for TVNZ, I earned a six figure salary to do investigations into cases like this one. I had the luxury of expenses being covered, helicopters at my beck and call, and lots of lovely advertising to pay for all this.”

Books like Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (Amazon, Book Depository) are stocked not because the sellers agree with the content, or approve of the author, but because as a society we value all viewpoints, although don’t necessarily agree with them.

Booksellers New Zealand, which represents Paper Plus and many others, says such a move is rare, and dangerous.

“It would be an attack on democracy if we started banning books that some people didn’t like,” said Booksellers. “It’s a matter of personal choice and it’s something we cherish in our democracy”.

Perhaps ironically, criticism was directed towards family members who didn’t want to speak out at the time of the death of the twins. Now someone is speaking out and people don’t want to listen to her. It’s great that companies are taking feedback into consideration, but maybe this a case of the loud minority being listened to. Boycotting a book by deciding not to buy it yourself is fine, but those people shouldn’t make a decision on behalf of everyone else. Macsyna King wants to shed some light on how her lifestyle was molded, maybe we should be listening.

Do you think the book should be stocked? Will you read it?

Image credit: Tracey R

The Best or Worst Flowchart Ever

Depending on whether you want MMP to stay or go.
2011 Referendum Election Flowchart2011 Referendum Election Flowchart
(Click for larger versions)

Alongside the general election this year on November 26th, voters will also be voting on whether they support the MMP voting system or would prefer to change to another system. There will be two parts to the referendum (both are optional, so someone could vote for neither parts, both parts, just the first part or just the second part):

  • Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system?
    • I vote to keep the MMP voting system
    • I vote to change to another voting system
  • If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?
    • I would choose the First Past the Post system (FPP)
    • I would choose the Preferential Voting system (PV)
    • I would choose the Single Transferable Vote system (STV)
    • I would choose the Supplementary Member system (SM)

If at least half of the voters vote to keep MMP, there will still be an Electoral Commission review of it in 2012. If at least half of the voters vote to change the voting system, Parliament will decide if there’s another referendum in 2014 (Stuff has reported it as 2016, but it’s 2014 on the Elections 2011 website) to choose between the most popular alternative (according to the second part of this referendum) or MMP.

STV is probably the only other roughly proportional voting system, with the number of MPs elected reflecting the total share of the party’s votes across the country. However some people might feel their STV vote is useless because if they are in an electorate that predominantly supports, say, National, their vote for a, say, Green MP won’t “count” towards the Green party at all unless the Green MP wins that electorate. MMP is still the best system and results in a proportional and representative Parliament.

It’s arguable that few people actually know how our current or past election systems work(ed), even after having them in place for years. No information explaining the different systems was included in the flowchart’s mail out, except saying that more information will be, I assume mailed out (what about the [email protected]@), closer to election day and that information is also available on the Elections website. However, most people are inherently lazy and are unlikely to seek out additional information themselves. This will probably benefit the status quo.

Tweeting on election day

The Electoral Act prohibits “electioneering” on election day (midnight-7pm), meaning it’s illegal to distribute statements likely to influence voting decisions. The fine for electioneering on election day is up to $20,000. Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden says that social networks (Twitter, Facebook…) are covered by the ban and will be checked on election day for influencing material. He says “For a long time, the law has allowed for campaign-free election days, and my sense is that New Zealanders like it that way and so it’s not really in people’s interest to do things like tweet and breach the rules.”

This is stupid.

Amanda Palmer quite accurately compares Twitter to a bar. It can be great and you can find some really interesting people using it, or sometimes you can have inane conversations about nothing. The bar analogy also works for how tweets are shared. Tweets are only “sent” to users that “opt in” to receiving them, just like someone opts in to a conversation in a bar. Maybe they overhear part of a conversation, or are aware of it because their friends are involved, but they can choose to ignore it or join in themselves. This is just like Twitter: you could be aware of a conversation or tweet because of search, through someone you’re following on Twitter, or looking at profiles, but you’re able to ignore the tweet, unfollow or block the users involved if you don’t like it.

Social networks are clearly different to someone erecting an election sign in their front yard and tweeting to a relatively small number of users who have opted in to receiving your tweets shouldn’t be considered ‘seeking to influence the public’ even if it is about who you’re supporting in the election.

In Canada, Twitter users are unhappy about a law that bans the premature transmission of election results—mentioning election results in Montreal in the east before the booths have closed in Vancouver in the west, with a fine of up to $25,000. Users of social networks realized that this applied to them and for their May 2nd election protested against the rule by tweeting the results of the election using the hashtag #tweettheresults.

It would be awesome if something like that happened here (but I obviously wouldn’t condone it).

What About The Children?

TVNZ won a High Court appeal against the Broadcasting Standards Authority who had ruled a sex scene (the horror!!) in Hung, a show about a male prostitute, airing after 10pm violated the standards of good taste and decency.

TV One Billboard Ad for Hung - Underwear

TV One Billboard Ad for Hung “He's got a big one”

Hung airs late at night, in this case at 9.50pm, is rated AO and as the title and advertising suggests an average episode would contain sexual content. Anyone who chooses to watch realizes this and shouldn’t be outraged at sex scenes being included.

The BSA Chair, Peter Radich was the sensible minority and “…consider[ed] that the scene complained about was acceptable in the context in which it appeared: in an AO-classified programme targeted at an informed adult audience”.

The High Court said it was “plainly wrong” to rule against it and Justice Asher said that sex “plays an inevitable part of the narrative”.

We’re all capable of choosing not to watch something and that needs to be reflected in BSA decisions.

Update 26/05/2011:

Here’s the judge’s perceptive analysis:

Hung’s protagonist is a down and out former teacher who turns to providing sexual companionship to women for pay. Sex plays an inevitable part of the narrative. No viewer could be surprised at a scene with some strong sexual content. The scene formed a natural part of the storyline both of the episode and the series. In its immediate context the scene shows a reversal of the traditional role where sexual exploitation is by men of women, and in a mildly humorous way. In terms of the initiation of sexual contact and payment traditional gender expectations are turned on their head. The themes of role reversal and the exploitation of a male for sexual purposes are reflected in the scene. It is the only sex scene in the particular episode. It demonstrates a modest victory for Lenore in her battle with Tanya for control of Ray. For Ray, it is another dollar. He performs a sexual service for a woman he does not like. It fits naturally into the episode’s storyline. It was not the case, as the majority decided, that the scene was designed “solely to titillate”.