Trump vs Sanders 2016: The Battle for America’s Soul

Even having dropped out of deep politics chasing, the US election looms large and wild eyed this year. Something about the truly preposterous nature of the Republican candidature, a rogue’s gallery of lunacy. And the almost unbelievable emergence of what seems an honest decent man from within the US political system, who talks sense, and, on paper as of now, has a shot at becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, and hence President.

As of now, we face an extraordinary potential Presidential election in 2016: Donald Trump against Bernie Sanders.

Let’s take a moment to grok this in all its poetic beauty as it encapsulates the world and its tensions.

On the one hand, Trump. An exemplar of the 1%: a billionaire, full of confidence, bluster and delusion, but doubtless some real ruthlessness and business cunning. An exemplar of the hype and emptiness of American culture: a candidate essentially making it on his celebrity status from The Apprentice. An exemplar of the very particular type of ignorance insularity and success bring: he’s lived in a world where he can have anything he wants, and doesn’t need to engage with reality the way lesser mortals do. A guy who has announced he is willing to nuke Iran. (Hell, nuke anywhere and you are frankly not the same moral species as me.)

On the other hand, Sanders. This clip was my introduction to Sanders. Five minutes of off-the-cuff comments, nailing lucidity and informed sanity. Seriously, it’s like a litany. Long standing independent, tried to get campaign finance reform, voted against Patriot Act, against Iraq War, is against TPPA. Preaches a necessary political revolution to bring politics back into being a democracy rather than an oligarchy and seems to mean it. Is old enough he doesn’t seem to mind if they shoot him for standing up for working people.

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So there we have it. A perfect choice. The fate of a nation’s soul. And, unfortunately, quite a lot of the world.
I love the symbolism. Seven years ago I called that
Barack Obama will, and needs to, win the election to demonstrate to America that they can still be great. Electing a black president just forty years after segregation ended will help wash away the sour taste of Bush.
Today, the choice is even simpler. Does America want a future? Does it want the world to have a future?
Peak oil, climate change, the multi-polar world of emergent China, the festering hotspots of the Middle East. Who does America choose to guide them through this?
Choose death and ignorance, a dream long since turned sick and nightmarish. Or choose life, integrity and sanity.
(Also: if we end up with Bush vs Clinton, again, this in itself is a defacto vote for disaster and the replacement of the West as world leader. Both represent the system, and the system will fail to respond in time. Trump just represents a will to death. Sanders seems legitimately the only hope for the US to have continued relevance (as anything other than a feared maniacal warmonger in the global ‘hood) and reform itself, and it is frankly a miracle he has emerged.
The terror, of course, is that in the US system, the guy with the most money usually wins. And guess who that is.)

The TPPA, New Zealand, and Sovereignty

The TPPA is a “trade deal” negotiated in secret that the leaked chapters reveal goes far beyond trade. Once signed, the TPPA will be extremely difficult to exit.

The key issue is sovereignty. Leaks reveal the TPPA will override the ability of nations who sign to determine their own laws, and open them up to massive lawsuits from foreign corporations if they do.

New Zealand has a very particular history with sovereignty, which allows a simple one sentence objection to the TPPA to be phrased:

The TPPA does for New Zealand sovereignty what the Treaty of Waitangi did for Maori sovereignty.

ie it cheats us out of it by stealth without our intending to give it away.

This I think communicates the situation in a way that all New Zealanders should grasp somewhat viscerally.

“Free trade” at the cost of sovereignty – our right to make decisions for ourselves – is far too expensive.

NZ should refuse to sign the TPPA.

At the least the government should make the TPPA’s text available to citizens so they can decide for themselves. (Appropriate, as it may be the last chance we get to decide something for ourselves.)

Since our leaders will not do that, New Zealanders should, frankly, actively engage their right to civil disobedience to communicate with our leaders that we do not want a deal on these terms. Because sovereignty and freedom are too important to give up without a fight.


the NZ flag debate


So far I have avoided comment on this because I think it is a giant waste of time. But now I think I can express why in a single sentence.

The only good time, and the only good reason, for New Zealand to change our flag is when we become a republic.

It is that simple.

Presently there is no good reason, no compelling reason, no necessity to change our flag.

The consultation process has been a bad joke, and the four “options” are uninspiring to say the least. It is not worth changing the flag to one of those designs for no particular reason, or “branding”. The resurgent Red Peak design at least looks like a flag, but why bother changing to that, even if we were allowed to?

However, when we someday become a republic, it will be entirely appropriate to select a new flag as befits a mature country celebrating its identity and independence. That flag will have meaning.

NZIFF 2015 in review

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

Fascinating and disturbing re-enactment of the accidental murder of a Wainuiomata woman by her Maori family as they tried to lift a curse from her. Even handed doco leaves the reality of things open – the crux really is belief, what we believe to be true, and how that allows us to act – there is no doubt the family genuinely believed what they were doing was for the best. The film is really about putting you in the room with the extended family for five days as they stamp and chant and try to drive the spirit out. Intense, probably essential viewing for New Zealanders, and anyone interested in the clash between traditional/spiritual beliefs and the modern world. (From the director Q&A there is definitely more to the story, but this holds up.) Also works as a straight up horror movie about people going insane.


Shot in one take, starting at about four in the morning, as a young women meets some guys at a club and things end up going in a very unexpected direction. Really solid and enjoyable. Big recommendation; try to avoid spoilers.

Inherent Vice

Stoned surfer private investigator in the 1970s takes a shaggy dog trip through the conspiracy haze of the day. Adapted from a Pynchon novel, lots of fun and very well done but not really having a discernable point.

The Colour of Pomegranates

Famous 1969 Russian/Armenian film. A sort of impressionistic/symbolic biography of an artist that unfortunately pretty much plays like the most excessive and pretentious student art film of all time. Punishingly bad with a few striking images.

The Assassin

Chinese period piece about a female assassin in 7th Century or so China. Looked pretty great, didn’t really seem that interested in telling its story, extremely stylish and very enjoyable however.

Alice Cares

Doco about trialling Alice, a robot with AI in it, to hang out with elderly people with dementia both as companionship and to help keep track of their lives for them. As proof of concept, it works. Alice has a realistic face and expressions, and talks well enough and naturally enough and follows up enough that a relatively normal conversation is possible. She can look things up online and remember information and help people do exercises. This is like an early cellphone, in terms of AI, so we are heading in this direction. Still somehow uncanny and discomforting conceptually. You are left wanting there to be more going on in Alice herself, and it is somehow off that there isn’t, once you have bonded with her a little. A necessary glimpse of our changing world and what is coming. Big big recommendation.

10000 Years Later

CGI animation, set 10000 years after present day. More of a kids movie than I expected. The story is trite and the characterisation lacking, but its environmental etc themes are apt. overall, pretty cheeseball with some excellent design. Would recommend watching it with the sound off and your own soundtrack and improvise your own story.

Embrace of the Serpent

Awesome. Mostly black and white film about two explorers, one following the journals of the other, travelling in the jungle in search of ayahuasca, and their encounters with the same shaman across time. The film is based on real accounts, including that of Richard Evans Schultes, who, among other things, introduced magic mushrooms to the West. Gets very surreal. But yeah wonderful and huge recommendation if this sounds remotely your kind of thing.

The Look of Silence

Companion piece to The Act of Killing (which was my film of the year of 2013, and remains the most striking and necessary film I have seen in years), returning to Indonesia and the aftermath of the mass killings of the 1960s. This film follows Adi as he seeks to engage with the men who murdered his brother, among a million others, and offer them forgiveness.

This screening had a Q&A with Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, which was fabulous.

I don’t really know what to say other than these two films are totally necessary and about the highest example of the documentary art, especially in terms of their real world impact; they have opened a dialogue for change within Indonesia that continues to gain momentum.

Tale of Tales

Inconsistent, opulent, byzantine melange of fairy tales with dark and unexpected twists. Totally worth a look, though somehow unsatisfying as a whole.

Cemetery of Splendor

Woo. The way Apichatpong Weerasethakul (director of Uncle Boonme Who Can Remember His Past Lives) blends the mundane and the supermundane is an achievement of the greatest artistry. His films are gentle, meandering and bizarre. So strange and lovely, and quietly unsettling. This one is set in a makeshift hospital with soldiers struck down with a sleeping sickness, and follows a woman volunteering there. Somehow from there we drift into a world with looser boundaries. Goddesses stop by for tea. The openness of Thai culture to the spirit world grounds the weirdness. Glorious and not remotely like anything else in film, I will keep going to this guy’s films. Challenging in unexpected ways.

on the dangers of sympathetic magic when choosing one’s national animal

“With no colourful plumage or a beautiful song to attract his mate, the male kiwi has developed the strategy of persistence. He follows her about, grunting. If uninterested, she may run away, or use her greater weight and size to see him off. However, if she is interested, mating takes place, three or more times a night during the peak of activity.”


“The kiwi female calls the shots during mating. If she loses interest she may wander away, leaving the male in an undignified heap on the ground.”


Jupiter Ascending (2015): Review

The Wachowski’s films are not subtle or particularly coherent. They layer on symbolism which gets generally missed. They use too much CGI and write awful dialogue. They have a tendency towards a detrimentally pseudo-scientific mysticism. This doesn’t stop them being great fun and actually trying to communicate something important through the medium of mass-appeal films.

I won’t comment on the plot or story, more the underlying structure.

Jupiter Ascending, essentially, is a gnostic parable about the archon Abraxas – a demonic entity here taking the form of a multi-headed galactic corporate dynasty dedicated to eternal life for itself (a greed paradoxically life-denying by denying death), lies, and profit (selfishness) – which seeded life on Earth for the purpose of profiting by farming its humans and turning them into the elixir that gives eternal life (ie) to feed itself. This, from a certain point of view, is a literal representation of reality, rendered in over the top symbolism. (The Matrix holds a similar pattern, with humans as energy cells feeding a power at a higher remove.) Our task of course is to wake up and free ourselves from this situation and redirect our life energies along fresh channels – or at least grooves not carved out by enslavement to our baser elements.

The world gets redeemed by the reincarnation of an element of Abraxas itself reborn as a human (Abraxas is genetically human – in a nice touch, we are our own demiurgic enslaver) who rejects the Abraxas hive-mind / business as usual, choosing instead to honor its humanity in all its toilet cleaning glory.

Along the way they throw in everything they can think of.  (Anime hair? Check. Ganesha? Check. Genetic werewolves with gravity surfing boots having lots of laser battles? Check. Cute nods to crop circles and alien interference on earth? Check. Princess fantasies? Check. Psychic bees? Check. Reality melting CGI everything? Check. Continual madly overdone design? Check. Villains talking like that? Check. Giant lizards? Check.)

Needless to say, the resulting film is completely bugfuck, and not entirely successful, but none of that matters. It is the imagination of a 12 year old from the 80s gone mad. It is an extremely fun ride ineptly pointing out the possibility of human spiritual transcendence. Approach it with the expectation of great silliness, and the possibility of something deeper for the unconscious to ponder.

Review: The Ground We Won (NZ, 2015)

The first essential New Zealand documentary of the decade.

The Ground We Won is a gorgeous black and white cinema verite film which follows a rural rugby club, Reporoa, over the course of a year. The focus is purely on the men, their culture and relationships. It is an intimate window into the nation of a sort which has been lacking and needed for a long time.

The short version is you need to see this. It will spur many and complex responses.

(I am actually going to assume you will see this when it goes on general release in a week or so, so I’m not going to give much in the way of plot or narrative description, more comment on a cultural level.)

I grew up with rugby. I played for 12 seasons starting as a kid. My father coached club rugby, so I spent a bit of time around clubrooms and changing sheds as a kid, too. Though I drifted away from rugby and its culture as an adult, so much of the world of this film is deeply familiar.

Here’s the thing. Masculine camaraderie, working in a team, being part of a pack, is kind of awesome. (It is the reason the army appeals and would be great if it wasn’t about dehumanising and breaking you down so that you will follow orders without question and kill.) And watching this, I realise I miss it. There is something raw and honest about the physicality and putting your body on the line, and I haven’t encountered that in any other sport or physical endeavour in quite the same way.

What I don’t miss is the retarded drunken in your face side of things. (One in a while, maybe 😉 ). And the film goes there, stark, uncomfortable and without judgement. Part of its magic is the access, warts and all, as the team goes on the road and gets hammered. They seem totally unabashed and unashamed of their behaviour. There is something beautiful in seeing our culture so clearly. And done right, it is all good fun. But there is a slippery slope with drinking. I guess it comes down to the culture of the specific group – the quality of the “elders” and those who dominate the group.

One thing the film highlights is the difference between grassroots rugby and mainstream (townie) rugby culture. At grassroots level it brings the community together, and links rural communities. The aftermatch clubrooms culture is classic NZ. The haka never made more sense than as the guys from over the hill coming to play you at rugby and doing their haka in the clubroom afterwards.

For those unfamiliar with this sort of culture, it will be a shock and a revelation. The beauty of the film is in presenting something so familiar artistically, thereby rendering it through new eyes. Seeing NZ in a timeless black and white, grounding the men in their work as farmers, the mists in the valley… it brings home the extent to which this has been the backbone of our culture for most of our existence as a rural agricultural nation, and captures it as it may be fading out. (A club like Reporoa previously would have fielded maybe six rugby teams; now it has one.)

One conclusion is we are probably better off with rugby than without it – perhaps a surprise to the liberal minded folks who disdain the game. But without rugby as a focus at the grassroots level, with its culture of play hard but fair, where would all that energy otherwise end up being channelled?

I think I will have more to add at some point. Meanwhile, here is the trailer.


podcast recommendation: Tim Ferriss Show


I listen to a lot of podcasts while I walk. Over the past year, easily the best podcast has been the Tim Ferriss Show.

I’ve been tracking Ferriss for a while. I think he is the reason I have been swinging a kettlebell for the past few years. His Four Hour Workweek has some brilliant stuff in it for rearranging your life and starting a business that gives great freedom  – and while the overall model has produced surprisingly few copycat success stories, the individual components (particularly the chapters on Definition and Elimination) are worth the price. Similarly, the Four Hour Body is a fascinating compendium of extreme hacks to achieve specific bodily outcomes, with some great practical material, particularly the slow-carb diet, and various of the lifting regimes. The Four Hour Chef is a weird one – a book about accelerated learning disguised as a cookbook – and I don’t rate it anywhere near as much as the first two.

And here is the thing. No matter how awesome you are, there is a limit to what you can master. I read the 4HWW as being everything he knew up until then. The 4HB is everything he learned in the next few years of radical physical experimentation.

The genius in the podcast is he has access to really remarkable figures, and can explore what they have mastered. For this reason I think the podcast is so far the most valuable resource he has created. Through it we get access to some really diverse and remarkable high achieving mentalities. He’s not the greatest interviewer, but he has a point of view, and knows how to mine for information and deconstruct in the areas that interest him. But what makes it is the range and quality of the interview subjects, ranging from household names and uber influencers (eg: Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Peter Thiel, Peter Diamandis, etc) to people you won’t have heard of but are amazing (Josh Waitzkin, Marc Goodman, etc) I haven’t listened to all of the episodes, but a fair bunch, and they have all been worthwhile.

So yeah. Definitely worth checking out.

john key’s hair pulling fetish

Wait, so it turns out the Prime Minister of NZ has just been outed as having a serial obsession with pulling young girl’s hair?

And that despite constant abuses of power during his tenure, a total lack of giving a damn about regular people, and eagerly selling us out via the TPPA etc, this is the thing that has struck a nerve with people?

on web pop-ups

Dear every website ever

If when I visit your site via an inbound link you make a popup appear that asks me to sign up to your site on social media or email or anything before I have been able to read more than a paragraph of the article I have linked in to read, I will a) not do it, and b) never come to your site again unless some other random link brings me there.


The internet

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