Friday, 25 November 2011

#NZ #Elections - Vote Labour, Green, MMP

Yes, this is a blogpost where I - a foreigner who can't vote - tell you, NZ citizens and residents, who to vote for in tomorrow's general election and referendum.
  • Party vote Green
  • Candidate vote Labour
  • ...and of course, keep MMP
To be fair, I've lived here for 3 years, work and pay tax, and I'm not a million miles from being a resident, so I feel it's okay to have and share an opinion. That's what I do on this blog anyway.

To be brief:
  • National are almost certain to win this election, i.e. be the biggest party (but probably not a majority, for you foreigners - NZ hasn't had since a majority govt since introducing MMP. More on that below.) Labour are extremely unlikely to win, also I'm not even sure they're ready to govern again yet, and I'm not convinced Phil Goff is Labour leader material, never mind prime minister material.
  • However, having a strong opposition in Labour and the Green Party is not only healthy for democracy, it is the best hope for a check on National's "drill it, mine it, sell it" approach to New Zealand's future.
  • The Green Party will not win any electoral seats but they already have a significant presence in parliament. A party vote will help give them a strong presence in parliament, whether in opposition to the government or (less likely, but possible) working as coalition partners with National.
  • MMP is a great voting system, by which I mean, it's much less rubbish than the other ones. It represents the wishes of the country fairly, and gives smaller parties a place in parliament, and both of these things give voters a much greater choice. It also means parties have to agree and make decisions consensually, in agreement, rather than through argument and confrontation which the public don't need. MMP is a huge improvement on the shoddy outdated first-past-the-post system my country uses, and I urge everyone to vote to keep it.
Some issues:
  • State-owned assets - economic times are very tough, but they look set to be tough for years to come. National's policy of selling state-owned assets which provide income for the NZ state is worringly short-sighted, because you can only sell assets once - yet National's policy, like all right-wing parties, will always be to sell, even in 15 years when they've already sold everything.
  • Environment, drilling, mining - National have a similar short-sighted attitude to the environment - they've already tried selling off conservation land for mining, despite the fact that you can only mine land once. Not only that, but you cannot turn mined land back into pristine native bush, and it seems beyond belief that after BP & the Deepwater Horizon last year and the Rena wreck and oil spill this year, National want to drill for oil in the sea. For a country that relies and trades on its clean green reputation and its environment, these are short-term decisions with unnecessary risks which dump New Zealand with a poorer future.
  • Rivers - New Zealand's rivers and lakes are in a shocking state. It seems obvious that the Green Party has made it one of their policies, and maybe it's not a pressing issue for the country. But again, it seems insane that a country which trades and relies heavily on its clean green image has 1/3 of rivers too polluted to swim in. 1/3! It's not anti-business to get farms and industry to act faster in reducing pollution into natural waterways, it's responsibility.
There's way more than that to the election and New Zealand's next 3 years, but that's a brief summary of my verdict.

After being a fairly poor opposition party the last 3 years without Helen Clarke, Labour have run a surprisingly good campaign, and the issue of state-owned assets by itself gives a stark choice between the 2 main parties. Having seen a huge amount of privatisation in my lifetime, even under the British Labour party, I can happily say the only time to sell national assets is if it is right in principle and right in practice. Selling off New Zealand's assets at a time when it needs all the income it can get to provide for New Zealanders is a stupid decision - among other cheesy metaphors I could use, when you are in a hole, you don't sell your ladder - and something I sincerely hope National are not able to achieve.

Good luck progressives, and good luck New Zealand.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

So long England, and thanks for all the Belgian trance

Once again, I am waiting for another mega-long haul flight to New Zealand in a faceless international airport.

This time however, I have a job waiting for me when I get there. And, as is the way with the fair people of New Zealand, I am pretty stoked about it.

See you in the Spring.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Poppy madness is now out of control

The UK has officially lost the plot. It seems as though no-one is allowed to do anything or go anywhere without wearing a poppy. The BBC physically stitches one on to anyone who appears on television, and has been for over 2 weeks before today, Armistice Day.

Similarly the madness over footballers wearing poppies during matches and the furious bile directed at FIFA seems insane, considering it's never been a problem before now. It's not just about wearing them - players are having poppies stitched in to the shirts and even their boots. The worst thing about this issue is how it is driven by the British public - oh the Great British Public.

I have already described my feelings about poppies, white poppies, and never-ending silences, and that's not really changed. But I feel it is worth commenting on the sinister atmosphere and fears of being "unpatriotic", and the accusers who drive this fear. Not Sinister with a capital S like a government conspiracy or a secret plan to invade another country, but sinister in the low, ugly, uncomfortable sense.

I was glad to see a collection tin on a cafe counter the other day, rather than around someone's neck - I put in a pound, because the poppy appeal is a worthy cause regardless of what our soliders do and are sent to do. But I did not take a poppy, because I do not wish to wear one. That is a choice and a freedom - that we are so often reminded about - that our military men and women died to protect.*

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
[Samuel Johnson]

*This is a nonsense in regard to wars like Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, The Falklands etc. - these soldiers fought and died because of politics and because their political leaders demanded it. But I will accept it is the case in World War II and possibly World War I.

"Time and Light" Free EP Download - Background, info, personal stuff

So, after some badgering, I finally got some of you blaggards to download this here new free 6-track acoustic EP called "Time and Light". It's still free, so if you don't have it, please do download and share!

But actually this EP is not new at all - it's the result of my acoustic recording sessions with Matthew Langley, AKA Captain What (@thecaptainwhat), AKA the beard-wielding tabourine-wearing bassist in amazing band The Library Suits (@thelibrarysuits).

My very first session was towards the end of 2007, while F451 was still coming to a close. I went over and decided my first song was going to be "Lighten Up, No Thanks", possibly the worst song choice because it had (and still has in the Without Fear recording) no less than 6,000 time signature changes. After getting not very far, we tried some other stuff. It was all very low key, and I was still getting used to playing by myself with an acoustic guitar, both for recording and live performances. These experimental sessions went on occasionally through 2008, and while they didn't yield any fruit, they were definitely useful.

Wind forward a year: September 2009, my first visit back to the UK from New Zealand. I was already gearing up to record "Without Fear" and while I had my own experimental agenda for those tracks, I wanted to do something proper - quality recordings with good equipment and a good producer. In exchange for quality real ales and the odd Chinese takeaway, Matt had me round and we recorded "Animals", "Sunshine", "The Future" and "Lighthouses" - almost entirely acoustic, with a couple of electric parts, and the same energy I put into live sets.

I think it was early 2010 when Matt sent me a package online with a surprise present - not only had he mixed all 4 tracks, he'd salvaged 2 from our original sessions: "The Tsunami, The Tank And The Barcode" and an original version of "One Last Parting Shot" which has an extra chorus and a middle bit and comes out about 6mins (unlike the Without Fear version, which I cut down). You can tell these 2 aren't exactly polished, but it is nice to have them, and I've included them as bonus tracks.

However, for some reason I'd forgotten to record all the vocal bits for Sunshine. Fail. Wind forward to later that year, August 2010, my second visit back. I popped over again, we finished those last vocal bits, but for some reason didn't render the track - Matt would do it later. What ensued was a very long period of me badgering Matt to finish it and Matt being very busy doing other things. I say this genuinely: the last couple of years Matt has been part of The Library Suits going from strength to strength, he's started his own solo project Captain What and now turned it into a band, he's worked a demanding full time, and faced all the tribulations we all have in our lives. He's a productive lad.

Wind forward to now. Over very pleasant ciders from the Essex Cider Shop, we got "Sunshine" finished and I am very pleased to present the EP as a glimpse into a past time in my own solo music project, as well as a recording in its own right.

My highlight, in a peculiar way, is "One Last Parting Shot". I'm reminded that it's possibly the last track on "Without Fear" that I haven't blogged with a description/explanation, and that it possibly deserves one the most - maybe if I get round to it I'll do a proper one, but here's some burble about the song, this recording, and me:

"One Last Parting Shot" functioned as partly me signing off from Essex in 2008, before going to New Zealand and wherever after that, but also as a personal lament about life in general. I don't think I've told anyone that when I came back in August 2003 from travelling, just before starting university, I turned 20 and imposed a deadline on myself of 5 years to "get somewhere" (whatever the hell that meant, or still means), and if I didn't, then I'd run away or do something else grand and/or stupid. I remember it was an abstract thought at the time, and I virtually forgot about it after that. Making the decision in April 2008 to go to New Zealand for a year was far more accidental than anything, but the song was written after the slow and sad collapse of F451, and came out as an account of self-perceived failure ("This is a song, about personal failure, I don't meant to deceive you...") and frustration, mixed up with my existing less-than-glowing feelings about my home town and county.

Listening to it now, it does have some fairly clunking and ridiculous lines: "I never belonged on all those drunken nights" is self-evidently stupid, because I enjoy drinking and sometimes getting drunk and always have done. Also, the "lost" middle section where I yelp "I meant everything I said" is bizarre, because I've said a lot of things in my time - publicly, privately, sincerely, sarcastically, loudly, softly - and like everyone in the world, I certainly didn't mean every single one of them. These lines are the victims of trying to get across meanings while constrained by the tune, rhythm and time limit of song. They also represent one of only 2 songs that I would call "personal", the other one being "Lighthouses", because even doing a solo project I still believe there are too many songs in the world with people singing about themselves.

But what it does have is heart, and amongst all the self-absorbed emo lamenting there is hope, and the sound and spirit of this recording certainly carry these through - even more than my own recording on "Without Fear" I would say. So anyway, while the other tracks are most excellent (thank you once again Mr. Captain) and certainly more enjoyable, this is an oddity that stands out and a personal marker, and I thought I'd mention.

Anyway, please download and enjoy the EP, and if you do enjoy please share the link and tell other people.
Muchos thanks
Jezmond Tutu

Friday, 4 November 2011

And then I just released a free acoustic EP, because I'm like that

First things first: here's a new 6-track EP that's absolutely free to download (or pay what you like). Go!

More info to follow, but for now, please click download and share. Thanks :)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

To Monetise Or Not To Monetise? Advertising, Youtube & Dinosaurs

"The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."
[George Orwell, Keep The Aspidistra Flying]

I received a lovely little email from Youtube this morning. It asked me if I wanted to "monetize" my videos, by adding adverts to them and sharing in the profits from the fees that Youtube charges advertisers. I assume this is largely due to that there Dinosaurs video, which after reaching a peak of 500 views in a day earlier this year has now settled down to about 150 per day, which is better than a kick in the teeth.

I am glad for the invitation but I am not sure I want to.

I detest advertising. The sole purpose of advertising is to make money, and my generation has seen advertising at its ugliest, its worst, and most invasive. We are now more surrounded by advertising than we ever were, and it plays a particularly gross part in the lives of teenagers and children in trying to control their desires, their social lives, and their status. It's easy to say "just don't play the game" if you're not a teenager ostracised for not buying the right brands, and corporations spend billions of dollars every year around the world with exactly this damaging aim in mind.

Advertising is not creative. Ad agencies spend time and money believing they are creating "art", but at its core, advertising wants to sell the product no matter what the cost - the only limits on it are legal and moral. And the reason we only see ambiguous lies in advertising ("This man is wearing Deodorant Brand X and he has thousands of women crawling over him. Buy this and you will too!") instead of bare-faced ones is more down to legal reasons than the morality of companies involved.

Finally, what I also dislike about advertising is its management. Corporations and, in turn, billboard companies like ClearChannel pay vast sums of money to ensure their advertising in communities regardless of how meaningless or irrelevant the product is. No-one has a choice walking down a street what they have to look at and which massive ugly signs are placed where they live. But the same can hardly be said if a local band wants to advertise their gig, or an independent shop wants to promote itself. There is very often no space set aside for communities to advertise relevant products and services in their local area, by businesses which keep money in their local area.

However. Having said all that, I have come to accept some functional purposes of advertising, and we have seen changes in the way advertising is managed - primarily online, sadly, but still. Advertising now funds many of the free services on the internet that we take for granted, such as maps and search engines and social networking sites.

Also, while the topic of private information is a dicey one, we now have the ability to target advertising so that it is relevant to the viewer - for example, if you're a vegan you probably might appreciate not being shown adverts for Ye Greasy Dead Animal Fast Foode Chain. We're not quite at the optimal place with advertising as simply the honest notification of the right product to the right person that they might find enriches their lives, but it's a start.

The thing about Youtube is that this is entirely my call. Some sites have advertising regardless - many people have called their bluff, on the grounds it is user content which gives the advertisers a platform, meaning users deserve a cut or even majority of the advertising revenue - and in which case I would ask to be signed up immediately. But no, currently you can watch the Dinosaurs video on Youtube without any adverts on the side of the screen, and without any of those pop-up ads that we're now used to, and thankfully without any video clips, which run before your chosen video, which are becoming increasingly and uncomfortably more common. So it's definitely my choice if I have adverts on the video or not.

For now, I am going to leave it. I'm not sure of the going rate per impressions or clicks, but I have a feeling that for 150 views a day, I wouldn't be retiring to the Bahamas any time soon. If things were to pick up dramatically, I might come back and give it a go - thankfully it does appear you can turn it on and off, and I'd be happy to turn it off if I wasn't happy or couldn't control the way ads appeared. (While the pop-up transparent ads are not that intrusive, I definitely would not have the video clip ads.)

Having accepted a place and function for advertising in our economy and society, it's still up to us to decide how we control advertising and what its limits are. Personally I think the with proliferation and flexibility of online advertising, we should now be able to reduce or even remove altogether advertising from our streets and squares and public spaces. It's a dream, right?

Incidentally, I highly recommend reading or watching "99 Francs" (also known under different currencies e.g. "£6.99"). It offers scathing and hilarious insights into the global advertising industry by someone who saw it all. Of course, it's entirely fictional, but considering it revolves around an international yoghurt company called "Damione" who have a new yoghurt product called "Yoplite", it's only fictional if you've never heard of the real life references. I haven't seen the film but judging by the trailer, it expresses the story very well.
The final irony is that I had to watch an advert to see it.