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Institutional Knowledge Today in the Umpteenth Year of “The Knowledge Economy”: Do you want fries with that?

In civics, ideology, politics, sociology on April 12, 2015 at 11:49 pm

This item is produced (from a draft six weeks old) from the point of view of New Zealand with local circumstances in mind. Somehow, I’m sure, people in a couple of hundred other countries will be able to relate to it… The wonders of technological and economic progress.

KnowledgeWhere?6854662772_55f43de9c0_oYesterday I and an elderly friend enquired about how to get a Total Mobility Card, available to over-65s and the infirm allowing them to access taxi transport for half price. We started at his g.p. — Neither he or his receptionist knew of this arcane service that is supposed to be universal across the nation and severely affects the wellbeing of old people, but she took the trouble to phone a cab company and was told the cards were issued by the Auckland Council, and sent us there to pick up an application form. On calling at the council offices — John, aged 85, stayed in the car by necessity — while I, venturing inside, was told whom we should contact was called Auckland Transport… no luck there, so back to square one. That’s really what the difference is in these situations — whether you stumble on someone, eventually, who is willing and able to help. It used to be that, whether he gave a damn or not, a public servant would be helpful through the sheer amount of knowledge he held in his brain after years of experience in the same job or making his way (slowly) up the ladder based on long experience. This is what we call the “infrastructure” that made a society socially beneficial for its members. It was Margaret Thatcher — that despot who deformed her own country by reinforcing the class system with a vengeance — — and now celebrated as someone worth remembering via Meryl Streep — who proudly proclaimed that “There is no such thing as society.”

I couldn’t help reflecting on a time up to thirty years ago (now, as I count them) when I worked in a government department and there was more than a smattering, a large core, of staff who knew every rule and every skerrick of policy that could help a client; only they weren’t clients then, they were fellow members of the public with not even a counter separating us from them, and entitled to every resource at hand coming to them as of right as a citizen or permanent resident. The local post office — long gone everywhere around the country to the point of dismantling villages and hamlets now barely a memory — would have someone who knew where to get anything, how to help anyone or put you in direct touch with someone who could. This was called “institutional knowledge” and was held in a place of regard and some considerable importance at the time. It was the thing that would keep essential infrastructure in a society going after the nuclear holocaust had blown over and the cockroaches and Law of the Jungle were about to take over.

Now, in an era when every public asset has been privatized or corporatized, boards of governors play musical chairs from one corporation to the next — their feet never getting wet, never mind muddied by mixing with us ordinary folks — managers are “head hunted” for their ruthlessness with staff in treating them like dispensible cogs more of nuisance value than any importance. And the institutional knowledge held by societies across the globe seems to amount to automated self-service (Whatever happened to exalted “customer service”?), a one-size-fits-all approach to products, and a nice smile interchangeable across MacDonald’s, Burger King, the local pharmacy to the doctor’s surgery to our universities — and amounts to “Do you want fries with that?” In other words, not How can we help you in a meaningful way, but how can we upsize your order to collect more money for our shareholders?: and this coming from servants who are employed at the sufferance of owners and managers who can strip their weekly hours and routinely reduce them to try to eke out an existence for them and their family on less-than-living wages.

New Zealand has been headed this way since the mid 1970s under a big-business-minded conservative National Party government through its nine-year term, and was accelerated by stealth on the election of the trumpeted Third Labour Government — actually a lot like a Fifth Column of neoliberals. While the Nats invented institutionalized, permanent unemployment in this country that had previously had none — into the tens of thousands within a year and then upwards of a hundred thousand still in its first term (equivalent to seven million in the United States) — this new Labour Parliament was anything but labor, made up of lawyers, accountants and other businessmen eager to impress their cronies of the so-called Business Round Table, a coterie of laissez-faire capitalists and big investors dead set on a silent coup. First to go was the power of the unions, membership made noncompulsory and close to impotent.

And now the prospective next government, led by a hopeful Labour Party, refuses to even threaten that public assets still being sold into the hands of politicians’ cronies — privatised for the privileged and subsidised to the tune of $hundreds of millions by us taxpayers — will be taken back into public hands as soon as they are elected. I can see a time when, around the world, our only alternative future will resemble more Bastille Day 1789 than the futuristic Utopia every thinking person once hoped for. What a pity for the world, but just a fact of life, that the greedy and most powerful among us always seem to be the last to learn from history.

New Zealand General Election: A Victory for… What?

In civics, ideology, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on September 23, 2014 at 1:07 am

There are some measurable reversals in the state of this nation. So, instead it is simpler to talk about —

A LIST OF DEFEATS:

* Democracy defeated: The winning party received 48.1% of the votes cast and has 100% of the power in what purports to be a proportional representation system. Under NZ’s one-house parliamentary system there are no checks and balances on the ruling party’s ideology, freed to pass legislation at will.

* Open and fair government defeated: The ruling party has over the past three elections bedded in two sleeping partners — single candidates in electorate seats — giving them strategic “accommodations”, which works to cement its place in untrammelled power though together the allies receive less than 1% of the vote nationally. One ally is regularly rewarded with a seat in Cabinet, his “mandate” from a total of 4,500 party votes nationwide (approximately one out of every 600 votes cast by electors).

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ's next election (by Spauldron)

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ’s next election (by Spauldron)

* Parliamentary government defeated: The election every three years has more and more become NZ’s presidential race, with media coverage of actual policies shrunk to almost zero this time. The question of who is the more photogenic candidate is at a premium. This might be fine if NZ had a president, which it now has in all but name — exercising power by casual consensus of his cronies. The issue of the challenger’s “double chin” is right up there in public debate with Joan Rivers’ enlightened comments on Obama’s ears. Though slightly the worst off in tv debates to his challenger, the encumbent undoubtedly won in the charm/smarm stakes.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren't.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren’t.

* People Power defeated: The Silent Majority rules in New Zealand. It is a truism that many Kiwis only under duress will admit to voting for the National Party — as in “I have a confession to make”, obviously realising they have something to feel ashamed about. It is a question how many individuals do vote for National openly and for motives other than perceived (though usually mistaken) naked self-interest. The vote of the Left Wing — usually held to be the conscience of a country — collapsed, the Labour Party receiving 24.7% of the vote, half that of their Right Wing rivals. Its mistake was apparently to put forward a cogent, well argued, academically rigorous platform of policies to address a number of increasingly urgent problems and inequities that are overripening, just begging for a backlash by the aggrieved. The “Trickle Down” theory — itself a cynical lie — continues unabated after thirty years in place so far. The Internet-Mana Party coalition, supposedly the vanguard of a legitimate left wing, was left to languish on 1.3%, irredeemably tainted by teaming up with an opportunistic internet criminal who bought it off to the tune of $3.5 million in campaign funding (only equalled by the personally wealthy Conservative Party leader), effectively ejecting a strong voice for young, poverty-stricken Maoridom out of Parliament. Ultimately symptomatic of an old British colony, it is extremely bad form to set yourself up as a judge in any field at all no matter how well informed (“experts” are absolutely taboo). So, high-profile activists such as tv actresses Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm protesting against dodgy environmental practices are likely to have contributed to a reaction against what was expected to be a record Green Party vote this election, resulting in an actual decline to 10%. (This is in marked contrast to the public fawning directed at fat-cat movie producer Peter Jackson, instrumental in capping pay and conditions for local performers and accruing massive tax concessions for himself — banking another couple hundred million for him and his screenwriter-wife after every new movie.)

* Idealism defeated: This is a debatable one, since the word idealism has been a dirty one in the ruling Kiwi mythology for generations now. The Kiwi worldview comes from a combination of white Anglo Saxon pioneering stock and hunter-warrior Maori ideology. Both founding cultures are pragmatic to the ultimate, with grand gestures to selflessness today seemingly reserved for sports heroes on the rugby field and netball court. The thought that if you don’t aim for an ideal in government then you’re not likely to come anywhere near it doesn’t even occur. Politicians are known to be untrustworthy, so it is best to pick the one that is most successful at pure politics; i.e. manoeuvring, manipulatiing, spinning, twisting, evading… the whole skill set for running a country. A few years ago a 50,000-strong Maori march on Wellington (equivalent to a million in New York City) was greeted with the rejoinder from the prime minister that the other four and a half million people in the country must be on his side: a cynical rationalisation trotted out regularly now, accepted by a bulk of the population — to the point of discouraging any initiative to protest at all.

* Resistance to unbridled capitalism defeated: Public opinion surveys have for many years rejected more sales of public assets, to the degree of a 90%-plus “No”. While the wider public knows very well it is being sold down the river to those cronies of a right-wing government who can afford to invest in shares, they will not vote accordingly — resulting in inevitable crowing from the government that opponents of wholesale private enterprise would have if they really cared, and encouraging them further in their hubris to sell more. The prime minister, probably the most popular man, woman or beast in the country, has become a role model across classes and age groups — especially for the effortless way he accumulated his fortune estimated at between $50 and $80 million (it’s just vulgar to count the zeroes once you get past a certain point): by using his position as a stock broker to trade internationally in currencies and share manipulations. He’s looking forward to hosting Obama and other world leaders in a nice round of golf here in NZ, and his supporters are thrilling to the status this will bring the country — confirming his people as slobbering, salivating lickspittle pawns in the globalism game waiting for crumbs from the table.

* Environmentalism and Public Transport defeated: While billions of dollars continue to be spent annually on expanding the motorway networks of Auckland and Wellington — two very minor cities by world standards — a relatively cheaper plan for public transport languishes at barely embryonic stage, underfunded and years behind schedule. (No sooner are these “improvements” completed than the roads are filled up and gridlocked again.) The majority of NZ rivers being polluted beyond public use by agricultural runoff, farmers have been left to regulate themselves in the time-honoured fashion of laissez faire private enterprise — an approach two or so centuries out of date.

* Objections to government corruption defeated: Undisguised and unrepentant favoritism for her own husband’s export business in China resulted in just a stand-down period for a senior Cabinet Minister until after the election. Transparent obfuscation on her behalf by her government colleagues was a cause celebre in the media for a while, but have been effectively silenced for the duration. Token scalps of government members of Parliament using public funds for personal purposes have been just that — underwhelming.

* Sane judgment defeated: Reelected with a record majority is a stand-alone government that has taken six years (two terms) to balance the budget, taking the books, just, into the black — and so temporarily as an election trick of the light; that in the face of this, a week before the election, proposed tax cuts after; rejected a capital gains tax on the wealthy, which virtually every other country has; has an ongoing 20% child poverty rate with permanently hungry children in a primary-produce exporting country (the government having pointedly refused to enter a coalition against child poverty); has produced no plan to diversify exports in an era of rapidly dropping produce prices overseas; that presides over an unemployment rate as high as the United States. The proposed budget of spending put forward for the Labour Party, independently costed and steadfast under queries from the incumbent government and media commentators, was a nonissue and seemingly disregarded by the public at large — who went with no costings and baseless assurances from the government. Indeed, the prime minister received a tangible sympathy vote, one supporter saying that he’d had a “tough run” with the Pike River coal mine disaster (four years later the government still has punished none of the negligent management, let alone investigated the miners’ remains) and the Christchurch earthquake(s) — four years later still with tens of thousands of insurance disputes over destroyed homes unresolved.

Intestinal Fortitude failed: It’s difficult to imagine a situation where Kiwis get worked up about anything at all these days, apart from international rugby, netball, the America’s Cup and other bread-and-circuses distractions with a quick payoff in adrenaline and pheromones. The younger generation — and I’m talking about teens here, who used to be full of youthful support for their peers — are far more likely to fantasise about and cheer on the legend of Kiwi “heroes” of Gallipoli a century ago than spare a thought for their fellow kids who go to school hungry every day. Once upon a time, Kiwis set out on great crusades supporting each other through the Great Depression, through World War II when world civilisation itself was threatened; in the Seventies when the anti-nuclear cause burned hot and NZ took the lead. I would relate the public outlook today as much closer to the era of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, when poor people — at least demonstrating solidarity in unions — were vilified to the point of not finding the guts to stand up for themselves, and anyone who supported or even sympathised with them (through newspapers or providing food) was penalised. Or the late Eighties and Nineties, when politicians in this country across the board — Labour and National — strove to create a chasm between rich and poor, and have succeeded to this day.

FILM ART PEAKS: Seventy years ago today

In art, film, history, Humor, sociology on July 8, 2013 at 5:19 am

King_Kong_1933There’s a long-time popular theory that film as an art form peaked in the silent days — when the greatest artists coming to film were painters, sculptors, writers, philosophers and other creative spirits — and the possibilities of sound had been virtually fully exploited by the end of the 1930s; certainly by the end of the Forties, for the sake of including the psychological profundity and visual stylishness of Film Noir. I happen to agree.

But by 1940 the possibilities of virtually every recognised film genre seemed to have been explored and fulfilled. There can hardly have been a better horror flick than Frankenstein, The Mummy or Bride of Frankenstein; a better fantasy adventure than King Kong; a better sc-fi than Shapes of Things to Come; a better swashbuckler than Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood or Tyrone Power’s Mark of Zorro; a better family musical than the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz; a better kids adventure than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with unsung Tommy Kelly; a better social conscience film than the John Ford-Henry Fonda Grapes of Wrath; a better social/sophisticated comedy than My Man Godfrey with William Powell and Carole Lombard; a better screwball comedy than Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn); a better crime film than William Wyler’s Dead End; a better soap than Gone With the Wind; a better western than Stagecoach or Jesse James; a better women’s picture than The Women or Bette Davis’s The Letter; a better animated film than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Fantasia; a better noir than Marcel Carne-Jean Gabin’s Le Jour Se Leve; come to that, better foreign films than those of Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Renoir or Rene Clair; or, filmed that last year, a better definitive masterpiece than Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. After that, well, filmmakers were reduced to fiddling on a theme.

You know people have too much time to kill when they put out a movie called Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and are serious about it; it’s not a Mel Brooks comedy or Tim Burton send-up, or even those brothers who did the Airplane and Naked Gun flicks. I stumbled on this gem leafing through the TV Guide and came to be thankful I’m not rich and idle enough to afford the Sky Movies channel, just the MGM and TCM channels in a cut-rate deal, showing oldies. This film is not a cheapo, but stars James Bond superstar Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, who I once caught acting in a 1984 thriller involving the Amish and before that in a cameo in American Graffiti (1973). Since then he’s spent most of his time trying to figure out wookies and who-knows-what else.

Researching, it’s a DreamWorks adaptation of a comic book, the third in a series, believe it or not. And you know people have too much money when you find out it cost the gargantuan amount of $163 million — admittedly a fraction of what that woman won in the lottery but maybe enough to raise a few South Sea islands out of the drink to save a few hundred thousand people from global warming for the duration if others in the know put their heads to something worthwhile. That was just to film and edit it to get it in the can (no, the other one, worse luck), plus who-knows-how-much to promote it — probably Wizard_of_oz_movie_posterat least doubling the outlay. It took in a lousy $100 million at the box-office its first three months in the USA (plus the DVD crowd) and out of 120,000 responders at the IMDb site it’s scored barely six out of ten, very low for your average special effects blockbuster. So maybe there’s hope for the human race yet — apart from filmmakers.

Probably the best thing about the movie is the title — no, don’t expect me to actually watch it — almost clever the way it almost duplicates the old kids game of Cowboys & Indians. Almost, but nowhere good enough to be called witty. Leaving out the initial Star Wars cycle (1978), when the whole special effects genre was still novel enough to be interesting, the first movie I noticed like this, combining a reference to history as a veneer on top of thick, gooey fairytale fantasy, was Beethoven, which turned out to be a comedy about a dog. Of course, when a pretend-historical cycle came into fashion, they did movies on the actual Beethoven’s girlfriend and then Shakespeare’s girlfriend — betraying their anti-feminist belief that the only women worth taking notice of are women who’d succeeded with famous men, not in their own right: snob versions of Bunnies of the Playboy Mansion or Kardashians on tv. These were mixed in indiscriminantly with a lot of romantic novels from the Age of Romance: i.e. Jane Austen, ad nauseam, a.k.a. How to Misunderstand (and Catch) a Man 101.

Let’s not be too hard because this is probably what passes for creativity today, along with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, designer labels, junk sculpture, more comic book mentality and anything else that attracts heaps of bucks from gullible people with chronically fugged minds. Fans of this drek often justify themselves by saying it’s film art in the mold of The Beach Girls & the Monster or the finest works of Ed Wood — which were only ever intended as cheap knockoffs made for the lowest common denominator for a few thousand dollars each, and which only inconvenienced very few film craftsmen at a time and hardly more souls at the box-office. But we must brace ourselves. Every art form (maybe involving a handful of unrecognized films each year these days) goes through historical highs and lows. English-language poetry as a worthwhile art form (I don’t know enough about French, almost nothing about Russian) after the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras was fairly barren from the silencing of Milton around 1660, finding himself banned on Charles II’s restoration of the monarchy, and the advent of Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth c.1797; 137 years give or take. (In the intervening generations only Dryden, Swift and Pope made any mark in English-language poetry.) So, subtracting the 35 years we are in to the Star Wars age already, we can allow up to a century or so for film as an art form to get back on track.

Casablanca

WOMEN ARE MORE EQUAL — AND STILL COMPLAIN

In anthropology, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on May 16, 2013 at 7:13 am

Some of us are more equal than others, as various animal characters found out in George Orwell’s classic satire on Stalinism, Animal Farm. In coming musings I will discuss how this applies to different sectors of society. Tonight: women.

* Women are equal to men in numbers around the world — in fact outnumber them in virtually every country, PLUS retain the privilege of calling themselves a minority

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to form statutory groups exclusive to their own gender

* Women are equal to men in intelligence — PLUS have educational privileges and attainment to the point where there are now more female than male graduates in law, medicine and education to cite a few; but retain the claim to be downtrodden careerwise and economically and don’t hold more than 50% of political careers.

* Women are equal to men in talent — and command financial returns from talk shows, starring in movies and on music recordings often superior to that of males; PLUS demand equal pay for those activities in which they can never be as good as the best males or cope with the same physical demands, like police enforcement, special military services and sports.

* Women are equal to men in drive and motivation — but are notoriously fickle, even when favored, recruited, cosseted to commit to an occupation that doesn’t suit. The national intake of women police in New Zealand, a country that goes out of its way to please women, is 33% of the total of rookie recruits. Within a very short time, two to three years on the force, the female component of the police force reduces to 10%.

HateThatcher* Women are equal to men in political ruthlessness — PLUS bathe in the haloed glow of self-anointment as forces for world peace: after Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Catherine the Great, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Mrs Mao Zedong, Boudicca, Jeanne d’Arc, all of them sainted in one way or another and all fit to dwell in Madame Tussaud’s chamber of horrors. This is not counting the Mata Haris, Eva Perons, Imelda Marcoses and Winnie Mandelas made to seem helpless victims of men by hagiographic movies and other rewritings of history.

* Women are equal to men in personal violence — but aren’t acknowledged for it because don’t generally have the temperament or physical force to apply it without lethal weapons, and haven’t built up such a record as serial killers, PLUS have been among the most destructive provocateurs in inciting genocides and individual homicides.

* Women are equal to men in physical force (sometimes) — PLUS have the cunning to paint themselves as victims to the authorities.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the prerogative of changing their minds for no given reason

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand they be wooed and won (or not won), before they change their mind again

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to ask a man to pick up the tab without opprobrium (i.e. being called a gigolo)

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand their life partner take on the same activities, even the same beliefs, as them; women rightly call the reverse case in male-dominated cultures “oppression”.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS claim superior intuition, morality, caring…

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have far greater susceptibility when flattered for irrational beliefs, believing male clerics and other civic leaders are just as superstitious as they are when preaching orthodoxies such as the existence of a higher being and acquiescing in the delusion that many of these men don’t have ulterior motives.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

In film, generational/fashion, ideology, sociology, television on May 5, 2013 at 10:22 pm

This is one of those articles you write when you’ve got nothing better to do on a stormy Auckland morning. The subject isn’t of much significance. Or is it? It has nothing to do with the Sc-Fi classic of the same name, c.1957, but maybe everything to do with the age we live in. I’m thinking that the sheer preponderance of shrunken men placed in the limelight these days has something to do with what women want today — females being the biggest force in spending power and determining who is box-office on screen, online, in social networking, in magazines: someone to tower over in image, in achievement, moral superiority as they do already, but finally too in actual physical dominance. Why else would tall women continue queuing up to marry Tom Cruise, perhaps the ‘biggest’ movie star of the past thirty years and by reputation at least, the shortest? Not to mention rather elfin-looking Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio who have been no shirkers in earning power by the lights of woman power.

Once upon a time in the movies — let’s limit it to talkies, so from c.1930 on — a man had to be six feet tall or faking it to be taken seriously as a ‘romantic’ star. It hadn’t been so in the 1920s, when silents were perfected as an art form. The art was in what the filmmaker chose to depict, for example a towering domineering character portrayed by a short actor like Douglas Fairbanks; or a backbiting comedic foil in 5ft-11 Flora Finch. A “tall” leading woman of early talkies, playing straight, was Katharine Hepburn, 5ft seven and a half. Then a decade later came Ingrid Bergman and a generation after, Sophia Loren, both a whole half inch taller. In late silents the dominant male was the Latin lover type, more stocky and lean-muscular, of whom Rudolf Valentino, 5ft-10 or -11, was probably tallest; John Gilbert, Ramon Novarro, Antonio Moreno, Ricardo Cortez, Gilbert Roland and lesser stars of the genre were average to short.

In 1931, soon to be the most popular romantic male star of all, was Clark Gable, 6ft-1, his publicity said. Those who knew him whispered that The King was “a short 6ft-1” meaning he slouched an inch or so. There were Gary Cooper, nearing 6ft-3, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott the same; Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller in rather specialised roles, namely one — the reigning Tarzan and nothing else for 15 years. In the mid Thirties arrived smoothies Ray Milland and Fred MacMurray, in the same range; with Henry Fonda, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant all 6ft-2, James Stewart 6ft-4. John “Duke” Wayne was 6ft-4 and a half but not a major star until the mid Forties. Sterling Hayden (6ft-5) was supposed to be a major star from the start but the war and left-wing stances derailed his career somewhat; and Rod Cameron at least that tall in westerns, but not much of a star, maybe C-grade, or an actor come to that. Fess Parker was that tall too, enough to play Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone without a stretch. Of course there were big stars supposed to be six foot by publicity but fell just short: Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, William Holden.

Of shrimpish early cowboys I have noticed only G. M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson going back to The Great Train Robbery (1903), and Thirties B-star Bob Steele, not seen for just how challenged he was until up against Forrest Tucker in F Troop on Sixties tv. The big exception to the rule was the studio of the Warner Brothers, who persisted for the first few years of talkies with short (and black-faced) song-and-dance star Al Jolson, squat hero Richard Barthelmess, and overreaching thespian John Barrymore, all ridiculously popular but whose combined salaries — nearly two million simoleons a year — were enough to almost bankrupt the company. Their new stars of the Thirties and Forties specialised in contemporary urban crime movies and still ranged from short to average height — average for a normal man of the time that is, six inches shorter than your average screen hero: Edward G Robinson, John Garfield, James Cagney, Paul Muni, George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, in ascending order but all 5ft-5 to 5ft-8. It was a studio that boasted even shorter character actors to make the pint-sized heroes look heroic: Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Edward Brophy; and perversely consigned all but Errol Flynn of its 6ft-2/3 squad to sub-star level: Basil Rathbone (a constant villain until he became the classic Sherlock Holmes), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett), James Stephenson, John Ridgely (the commander in Air Force), Paul Henreid (suave continental — type 1), Conrad Veidt (continental villain — type 2), utilitarian heavies Ward Bond and Barton MacLane (The Maltese Falcon), Wayne Morris (promising all-American type cut off by the war), Alan Hale (Little John), Guinn Williams (Flynn’s sidekick in westerns), Bruce Bennett (Treasure of the Sierra Madre)– adding up to an awful lot of very tall men theoretically wasted for their potential physical presence on screen at one studio in one decade.

By the Fifties the crunch was on. Far fewer movies were being made by the big Hollywood studios, suffering competition from television, and new stars magnetic, talented and versatile enough to cover varied roles — and tall too — could be counted on one hand: Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston at 6ft-3 and Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster at 6ft-1. Victor Mature and Cornel Wilde were action men in this height range and popular for 15 years postwar, but gave the impression of filling in for the very top names; at the much lower level of the Saturday matinee, the Lex Barkers and Jock Mahoneys providing bulk product. A-list stars Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark, in typically big-man roles, had to stretch considerably to fill the screen. At a time when even 5ft-10 and a half or so was considered tallish for “the man in the street” (so called to distinguish him from real men on screen), Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis and Steve McQueen played men in the street at an inch or so under this height. But the most popular Western heroes on tv in the late Fifties and early Sixties strove to be six and a half feet tall and look effortless doing it. James Arness of Gunsmoke was said to be 6ft-7. Gunsmoke< His real-life brother, Peter Graves in Fury, was the runt of the family at 6ft-3. Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie, was 6ft-6; Chuck Connors in The Rifleman, and Gardner McKay (Adventures in Paradise) 6ft-5; Eric Fleming as trail boss Gil Favor and Clint Eastwood as ramrod Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, both 6ft-4 at peak; ditto John Russell as Lawman and Tom Tryon (Texas John Slaughter). And James Garner, that little old man in the sitcoms, used to be 6ft-3 when he played Maverick. It was 55 years ago after all. And I too can testify to some shrinkage with age.

Strangely, of all tv stars, only Eastwood, Garner and Steve McQueen, arguably Tryon in a very brief stint, and later Burt Reynolds, went on to be movie stars — all coming from western series. Guy Williams (Zorro), 6ft-2, had to go to Italy to be fully appreciated in swashbucklers on the big screen, where the even taller Steve Reeves (Hercules) and Gordon Scott (Tarzan) were already superstar beefcake. The biggest star on the big screen through the late Fifties and early Sixties, Rock Hudson, was 6ft-5. But 5ft-9ers began to predominate: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen; and by late in the decade young up-and-comers (Michael Anderson, James Stacy, Mark Slade) were compact to the point where two 6ft-4 supporting actors were brought in as father figures to tower over everyone else in High Chaparral (Leif Ericson) and Lancer (Andrew Duggan).

In an atmosphere like this no wonder Alan Ladd, a western hero (Shane, 1953) but 5ft-6 and a half, felt such a misfit, so isolated and insecure as to be suicidal — pilloried in the States in contrast to Brit heroes John Mills and Richard Todd were visibly shorter but held aloft rising above their female co-stars on stilts. Ladd complained of Boy on a Dolphin (1957) that playing love scenes with Sophia was like being pummelled with melons. (Poor him!) And poor Richard Widmark, erect and lean — but 5ft-9 will only go so far — was acutely embarrassed and tried to withdraw from John Wayne’s production of The Alamo (1960) when he found out he was playing pioneersman and cutlery craftsman Jim Bowie — built like a brick teahouse and standing 6ft-6 in actuality. Wayne, producing and directing at the same time, was committed to playing the somewhat smaller role of Davy Crockett a lot taller: a sawed-off Crockett, of all icons, was not an option.

In an age of feminism thriving in the early Seventies, Dustin Hoffman (5ft-5) and Al Pacino (5ft-6) started the trend to conspicuously pixie-sized leading men — and let it all hang out up against taller leading women like Marthe Keller and Diane Keaton, though wisely never paired with amazons Sigourney Weaver or Geena Davis: a bridge too far of logistical illusion. Of Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, none can be called above the average range, never mind tallish. My impression of Arnie’s height is more mind over matter. Black men, by contrast, were always expected to be of some physical menace, at least of strong implied authority, on the screen (but for comedians — Bert Williams, Flip Wilson, Eddie Murphy). So for Canada Lee, Noble Johnson, Juano Hernandez, James Edwards, Harry Belafonte, Brock Peters, Woody Strode, Ossie Davis, Sidney Poitier, Jim Brown, Yaphet Kotto the bar of just standing there 6ft was the lowest of hurdles they had to meet.

Today, of very tall actors I can think of Liam Neeson… and then there’s… Did I mention Liam Neeson? Maybe Daniel Day Lewis — playing Abe Lincoln, after all. Oh, and there’s that other guy who looks taller than average — can never remember his name, good actor — in that remake of Driving Miss Daisy with Shirley MacLaine playing a former president’s widow: Nicholas Cage. On tv, 6ft-3 and a half and 6ft-4, Vincent d’Onofrio and Jeff Goldblum on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, great actors but not all that stellar.

Hard to believe that men’s (perceived) height is still an imperative with many people, one way or the other. There are authoritative, convincing lists of heights of US presidents “proving” that the tallest ones — Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt — 6ft-4 down to 6ft-2 — were the greatest ones. And on dating sites, tall women of 5ft-11 short on brains insist on the inalienable right to wear their seven-inch heels and to still have a man that towers over them — the top 0.00001 percentile of men, that is. I’ve just discovered another secret of life — No wonder butt-ugly basketball players with just enough brains to get by on sports scholarships are so popular as breeding stock!

NEWTOWN MASS MURDER INVESTIGATION: An Exercise in Futility

In civics, ideology, morality, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on December 17, 2012 at 6:04 am

second_amendment_by_roscoso-d5ofa7xThe chief of police stands there looking and speaking authoritatively — a cowboy hat in Connecticut? What is he trying to prove? He reassures us that the force will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this, forensics, good solid police work, the perpetrator’s motive, and the rest… You expect him to call for a posse, head him off at the pass, and hang this varmint from the highest limb, or maybe deal out Colt .45 justice. Oh, that’s right, consarn it…

We already know who dunnit. It’s the varmint holding the gun, leading to him a trail of blood from 20 kids and six teachers. And we know as sure as shootin’, just as we know from all the other massacres (was Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas the model?) THERE IS NO VALID MOTIVE… Aside from, the guns were there, my mommy/daddy taught me how to use them, they’re designed for killing humans, so I did, when I was in a bad mood, because I could.

Yes, there were warning signs — the guy was “strange” from a young age, and lately his mommy, a gun nut (but a nice lady — aren’t they always?) who taught him how to fire guns, found him increasingly difficult to handle. Left to her own devices with a strange, picked-on kid, did she unconsciously hope that he could ‘defend’ himself with her own personal arsenal? These are anti-PERSONNEL weapons, not hunting equipment (psycho as that is in itself).

The president says he’s going to do all he can to prevent this ever happening again. I don’t suppose he meant these as futile words, but we all know one man can’t stand against an entire nation bent on abusing firepower and defying their own Constitution when they do so outside of an official “militia” context. But the perp had studied American history and philosophy, so found his justification for such a ‘solution’ quite easily.

So I guess we’ll all go on wanking with fine words until the next one happens. Then the same Christian right will come forward mouthing sorrowful platitudes and with the next breath insisting on their right to have the power to kill people on a whim.

MEDICAL REVIEW — Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation is most readily accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled or health-disadvantaged who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. It was said to be ‘caustic’ — and this is a disqualifier for censorship? — but more to the point contains some home truths about Crossroads’ funder, the Auckland District Health Board. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

 

 

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>    

Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (an employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p> And applicants deemed subject to mental defect will find few employers rushing to shoulder-tap them for their lack of experience over recent years. The job market for us has become a constant grind of proving yourself again and again, like touting for a mega appearance fee in showbiz: “Yeah, but what have you done lately?” And we have virtually no prospect of gaining experience that means anything in the demanding job market.

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter from Gainesville, Florida settled here for the past two years after a period living in Ireland. Me? — I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

MEDICAL REVIEW: KNOWING CALVIN

In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 14, 2012 at 12:53 am

There follows an article I wrote last spring (October 2011) on the sudden death of my friend Calvin Enting, aged 82, who lived in a second-floor unit in Kingsway just up from the St Luke’s mall, Auckland. Not only the timing of Calvin’s death, but the manner of it, was shocking — simply keeling over at the dining table after a few mouthfuls of food at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, having been invited back for his favorite Thursday roast one lunchtime. The seeming laxness and slow-motion movement of the ambulance attendants absolutely baffled and concerned me — making me realize how helpless we are at the mercy of the qualities of the individual ‘professionals’ who tend to us.

KNOWING CALVIN

     I got to know Calvin well only after he was ejected from Crossroads Clubhouse (for falling outside the Auckland District Health Board target age group). You had to admire how he stood up for himself, rallying lawyers, MPs and Age Concern to his cause of clinging on to his rights. Who, as a still fit and aware man, wants to be discarded and consigned to the company of sedentary and mentally failing people?

He was normally garrulous but on down days was querelous. So I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into when he started inviting me round with Paul G, Chris R and Alan M to watch the rugby with him on Friday or Saturday nights. I’m not a great fan and I told him I would only come if Auckland was playing. So Auckland vs Bay of Plenty and some others turned out to be convivial occasions over pizza, potato chips, soft drink and his cups of tea. When he went off on me one day I wasn’t around to hear it. He’d phoned the Clubhouse five times on Monday morning complaining that I’d stolen his pizza on the Saturday night — which was literally true. I’d stolen it back, lifting it on the way out the door because he hadn’t used it in the two weeks since I’d brought it. Only he thought I’d snuck back into his place and raided his freezer — Nope, not that desperate for pizza. We were soon friends again.

One day I took a book off his shelf that featured every rugby name internationally up to 1976, which suited me down to the ground as that’s about the time I began to lose interest in our national sport: the year the All Blacks collaborating with Apartheid by touring South Africa. Every name I mentioned he knew something extra about them — where they worked (it was the good old days before professionalism), family circumstances. He was proud his dad had been chairman of the South Canterbury Rugby Union. Calvin’s living room was festooned with memorabilia from his Boys Brigade days in Timaru to his service medals. He showed me his discharge papers from the Air Force once, and knew I was interested in 20th Century music so offered me loan of a book on jazz greats of the 1930s and ’40s.

There are two that will stay my most vivid memories of Calvin. One was when he phoned on what turned out to be the last Saturday of his life asking me to take him to Psych Survivors. I warned him it was down steep stone steps at Pt Chev Beach — but age didn’t stand in his way. Yet by this stage, feeling more and more isolated in the community, he was grateful even to get out of the house. I know he appreciated Piri Ratana especially, who would go around some weekends to cook him a really good meal. I think Piri must have shelled out for these meals, as Calvin looked after his money.

The second memory is of Calvin approaching me at the Clubhouse dining table his last day — he attended religiously for the Thursday roast lunch under special invites back to the premises. This was less than an hour before he collapsed. Out of the blue, he announced to me that if he “made it through to December” he would receive a “$2,000 bonus”. I had no idea what this referred to but as he walked away I shouted — there was no question in my mind — “You’ll make it! We’re all cheering for you!” Very strange how things turn out.

Last and foremost, thanks Alan McMaster, Clubhouse’s own St John’s Ambulance veteran — who could show the young incumbents a thing or two about urgent response. No spring chicken but always highly motivated and a ball of fire on cue, Alan sprang into action for Calvin — relaying his vital signs through Stephen to 111 over the phone: “Tell them he’s Status 2, and I want them here, like, yesterday!”

Calvin could’ve had no better surroundings to go out on, knowing he was among friends with a caring professional at his side. He was a great character of the kind you don’t see among recent generations, with a great many touches of colorful eccentricity, and I can’t help but feel the world is less interesting without him.     — Gaz

Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation can only be accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>     Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (a employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p>

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter. Me?— I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

How the Rich Get Richer

In civics, economics, ideology, sociology on May 23, 2008 at 11:30 pm

anna_nicole_weight300Just a short note — a few observations — because I notice my philosophical meanderings attract a lot fewer readers than postings that might mention Anna Nicole Smith’s boob size (it’s three handfuls, each, by the way — if you’re tuning in to this posting on that basis).

My observations will be based on my New Zealand experience but I have no doubt the same principles apply in the USA and most other countries — just on a much grander scale of larceny. The government’s budget here, just announced — and by a so-called “Labour” government — has just handed out its first TAX CUT, which seem to be all the rage. The average salary will be boosted by $16 a week — just enough for a 1kg block of cheese — for which this government has put the country into hock for $10.6 billion over the next three years (this country only has a population around about Arkansas’s). This is a criminal burden on this country’s services, which will have to be cut back everywhere in every sphere, when they are barely coping now. I know Bush’s tax cuts were deliberately aimed at the rich, but even using the conventional PERCENTAGE cut (or pay raise) the rich benefit far more, obviously. For example, the prime minister here is on $320,000 a year. If she gets a 5 percent increase she’s boosted by a cool $16,000. If someone on $20,000 gets a 5 percent increase they get a not so cool $1,000 a year. This is nothing more than keeping the rich in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed — dressed up as “fairness”. What is wrong with giving everyone the same dollar increase, so the rich don’t hog the gravy for themselves every time?

And this tax cut is being given in the face of galloping inflation — gasoline here is around $9 a gallon, cheese in a dairying country $15 a kilo (about $7 a pound) and milk almost $2 a quart. The health system and hospitals are government run and barely getting by — already slipped to at least 2nd World quality — and obviously any money taken from these in the form of tax cuts affects the poor hugely, unlike the rich who can afford private health care.

dollarloveCorporate salaries here are not what they are in the US — the top CEO (at Telecom) gets about $3 million a year in salary and bonuses. The thing is they get their bonuses, and huge severance bonus even if they’ve done a shitty job — like the CEO who departed last year with about a $2 million golden handshake.

But you listen to any economic commentators and they’re all saying “This is an extremely important position” — It has to be, by definition: they’re paid so much. Well this extremely important position was occupied by precisely NOBODY for eight months until the new CEO was “headhunted” — Is this amputation why they do such a rotten job running things? Any reasonable person would conclude that a company that runs ordinarily well for eight months without someone could do without that position being filled forever. But not the corporate world. They need an obscenely-highly paid figurehead position to aspire to — where they can name their own price, rubber-stamped by the board of directors, who are also invariably wealthy people maintaining their own fiefdoms.

In this country all these CEO and board positions are interchangeable — no experience necessary in the field, so that a person can be shoulder-tapped to sit on umpteen boards and a CEO go from heading a Telecom business to an airline business: It’s all the same to them.

This has been G. A. De Forest.

TV REVIEW: REALITY TV? — GET REAL!

In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology, television on December 29, 2007 at 7:43 pm

So-called ‘reality tv’ in the Survivor format must be the sickest, most degenerate form of entertainment created in the 20th Century for a mainstream audience — that is, short of such obvious moral atrocities as snuff films, and excluding bear baiting, dog fights, bull fights and other wantonly abusive ‘entertainments’ invented in previous centuries but still enjoyed by the morally calloused.

Yesterday I watched the final episode of one of the milder series, produced in Britain, in which eight morbidly obese youths trek 500 miles (800km) in eight weeks, from Land’s End at the southwesternmost tip of England, through some of the mountainous country of Wales and Cumbria to Edinburgh in Scotland. The strict diets they were on doubled the ‘challenge’ and heightened tempers as the natural camaraderie among the young people descended to ruthless rivalry and the stronger picked off the ‘weak’ one by one.

Two fell out relatively early on but another two who walked about 400 miles were still deemed to be losers. One of them, a young man of over 400lb, had lost 65lb (30kg) by his own efforts but, defeated by the ever-increasing daily pace, was still nagged to carry on by the producers and relentlessly berated even by his mother — though he was obviously close to physical and mental breakdown. In my (admittedly limited) experience of watching these shows it struck a new low in exploiting emotionally fragile young people. The narrator concluded at the end that four of the eight had taken control of their lives — obviously the ones who had stuck to the program’s format and succeeded as tv stars, in fact the ones most controlled by the producers.

The vast number of last-man-standing type series are too numerous and too loathesome to go into here, and deserve a condemnatory book of their own — if anyone with common decency could stand wallowing in the filth long enough to do the job justice. It beggars belief (like the inexplicable quarter-century existence of Hip Hop) that such ‘reality’ series — where teams of weak characters are exhorted to sink to the lowest of the low, gnawing at the other and then turning on their own to prove themselves ‘worthy’ to survive and win a million bucks — could themselves survive the endless train of personal destruction taken from one Pacific paradise to the next.

Possibly, being as popular as they are, it is a perverse ‘tribute’ to these Survivor-type programs that they have helped materially to lower the morality of wider society — to the point where the programs themselves seem so mild by now that Internet entrepreneurs and webcam stylists have taken the destruction through the next ‘logical’ steps, to such ‘entertainment’ as “Kick the Wino to Death”, or “Sexually Attack an Innocent for Fun and Humiliation”.

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