Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Oil-pulling

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 20

Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic technique for oral hygiene which is doing the rounds on social media.  It involves putting a tablespoon of oil in your mouth and pulling it around and between your teeth for 20 minutes before spitting it out and rinsing with hot salt water.  The practice has been touted on as the cure to everything from bad breath to eczema to cancer and adherents also claim it whitens teeth.  
I first heard about oil pulling when I was in Las Vegas, as the guide on my tour of the Grand Canyon was a big fan.  He didn't mention anything to do with cancer, just oral health benefits, and I thought I'd try it once to see if it cleared out more than the average amount of gunk.  It didn't - at least not on the first try.  I was still able to floss out all kinds of things.
So - having had the experience I did a bit more reading and - surprise - oil-pulling has been debunked by pundits who prefer science to inform their choices.  The downside includes slightly increased risk of lipoid pneumonia (which can result from aspirated oil), with unproven development of plaque that's harder to clean.  A slight reduction in oral bacteria is apparently true, but is slightly less effective than chlorhexidine mouthwash.
In my personal experience of oral health, the best thing you can do for your teeth is to cut out sugar and complex carbohydrates.  When I did this I had so little plaque that my dentist commented on it.  But this information is purely anecdotal and I'm telling you by way of the internet, so I urge you to draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Casual Sex Project


This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 18

An NYU professor, Zhana Vrangalova, has started a website that allows people to detail their experiences of casual sex.  This has grown out of her work in developmental psychology and a PhD about casual sexual encounters.  
The stories shared on thecasualsexproject.com are an interesting read - slightly titilating for sure but also oddly profound, especially if you read a good handful of them together. The writers range in age from 19 -70 and have multifarious sexual orientations, and the majority of reported hook-ups are postitive experiences.  Unsurprisingly, it appears that desire is experienced in a very similar way by most humans, and that genuine physical desire is the single most important thing in determining if a one-night stand is going to be perceived positively by the people involved in it. 
I think there's something in that for everyone...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Inequality of access and representation in tech

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 18
So - it comes as no surprise to me to see that, particularly in the developing world, there is significant gendered inequality of access to the internet, or the expertise to locate information when it is available:
Twitter has recently published statistics on its own diversity in the interests of transparency and because it believes the make-up of its staff should reflect the users the company serves.  It some as no surprise there either that women make up only 10% of the tech workers in the company, while having much higher representation elsewhere.
The question on my mind right now is - how did these two situations come to be?  I recognise that the answer is a) complex and b) that despite the common issue of gender, inequality of access is not the same as inequality of representation.  Poverty and historical inequalities in rural environments have a lot to do with the former, for example.
While I passionately believe that vulnerable non-Western communities must address inequality of access in order to thrive, the fact that women in the West are often outside of tech continues to intrigue me. We've had good employment and educational opportunities since before the tech boom, but somehow tech has still become a 'gendered' career path.  Which leaves woman as non-participants in decisions which affect us deeply, while missing out on some truly astounding salaries, work flexibility and lots of other perks.  Is it identity politics?  Gendered educational expectations?  Or something else?    

Diabetes!

Bus stop, Great North Road, Auckland

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 17

I saw this poster on a bus stop while walking to my sister's.  Look closely for the word 'Diabetes'. Who is the marker-pen-carrying wit roaming Grey Lynn, protesting advertising, the industrial food complex and unfortunate health statistics?  Whoever it is made me laugh out loud on the street like a hyena.  I prefer funny with my subversion.  Ole!

At Berkeley

The Clocktower at University of California Berkeley,  June 2014

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 16
Veteran observational filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley is a four-hour meditation on the value of publicly-funded tertiary education, as seen through the lens of life at the University of California Berkeley.  I saw this at Rialto Cinema as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland.
This film is a very interesting piece of work for so many reasons.  It's the first film I've seen by Wiseman which eschews 16 mm in favour of high definition video, it's ridiculously long and it clearly takes the side of those in charge which previous films about institituons (for example High School and Titticut Follies) clearly do not.  This is of course because the film's beautifully articulated position that public education in America is vital and in danger aligns it closely with the beliefs of Berkeley's administration.  
It's an amazing film - the length is justified as it allows the audience to experience life at Berkeley - classes, debates, impassioned youth, cooler older heads, the campus, the workers, the administration, all adding another dimension to our understanding - but its gruelling to watch too.  Weak bladders are surely put to the test.
For a detailed and thoughtful review which largely echoes my own thoughts, Roger Ebert's website is the business.  And if you get a chance to see At Berkeley at the cinema take it.  I can't imagine any universe in which it would get a general release.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pulp: a film about life, death and supermarkets




Filmmaker Florian Habicht before a screening of his documentary 
Pulp: A Film about life, death and supermarkets, Civic Theatre, Auckland, July 25
This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 15
Florian Habicht's Pulp: a film about life, death and supermarkets is pretty much a work of genius.  I don't always respond this way to Habicht's films so either I'm growing more sophisticated (unlikely) or something else is at work.  
A meditation on fame, aging, music, sex and, yes, death, the documentary is driven as much by the 'common people' of Pulp's home town Sheffield as it is by so-real-it-hurts footage of the band's last ever show - in Sheffield.  The film winds its narrative between songs Common People and Hardcore allowing the thematic concerns of both to surface in a way which is both sophisticated and satisfying.  
Female singing groups, a female dance troup, a musician, three random little old ladies, a newspaper seller, two kids and a couple of butchers all share their thoughts on Pulp, their home town and life, in the candid and charming way audiences have come to expect of characters in Habicht's films.  
The fans are something else - the woman from Georgia, USA, the guy from Germany (interviewed in German because Habicht is that rare breed - a truly bilingual New Zealander), two Australian twins and an English girl who leads a round of Underwear while waiting with other hardcore fans to get entrance to the concert hall.  Their zealous love of the band serves as a perfect, understated reminder that Pulp are FAMOUS, even now, and this leads to a contemplation of what that means for the band members, most of whom (frontman Jarvis Cocker excepted perhaps) seem to aspire to be as ordinary as possible.  Indeed, an early sequence has drummer, Nick Banks, explaining that Pulp sponsored his daughter's soccer team, so now his daughter gets to be embarrassed that her dad's 'crap band' is all over their tops.  Oh the self-deprecation!   Later on guitarist Mark Webbey recounts a grim time in the 90s when he hated what he was doing passionately, his desire for a regular life thwarted by having to play in a band to thousands of screaming, happy fans.  
Cocker opens the film and later shares his thoughts about fame, performance and aging - all of which are things he is, of course, intimately connected with.  He says he doesn't get a buzz off aging but can live with it.  His young female fans couldn't care less about the fact that he's old enough to be their dad.  One of them waxes lyrical about his on-stage thrusting (of which there is plenty).  The film uses an interview with an academic to address the way Cocker writes about sex, which is to render the embarrassing awkward bits into song. Cocker says he got into a band so girls would make the first move.  Which leads the narrative, inevitably, to the song Hardcore.
For Cocker the Sheffield show is a chance to do their final concert properly.  In the film it's certainly rendered as a good gig - the venue sequences are the most powerful, interesting record of a concert I've ever seen in cinema, with multiple cameras in the thick of the experience, capturing the fans and the band from each other's perspective, up close and personal. The way the band, Cocker in particular, interacts with the audience is stunningly open.  A Canadian reviewer suggested that for Pulp "sing along with the common people" isn't just a lyric - it's a mission statement.'  All of which sets us up to feel the band's 'death' more profoundly.  The final frames before the credits roll are given to the fans standing outside the concert venue, contemplating a return to every day life.  For them, and for the band, the journey is over.  
If at times I wanted more of the band's history I'm willing to forgive the omission.  The film's concept was so humble and such a gentle and interesting mediation on the process of living. This is the last thing you would expect of a band documentary, except that this is a Florian Habicht film.  The collaboration with Pulp was obviously a meeting of minds.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pigeon antics?

Pigeon wandering down Karangahape Road, Auckland City

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 14

Ok - this is a small piece of sheer speculation, but has anyone else noticed that city pigeons in New Zealand are a) huge, and b) often possessed of a subtle patch of iridescent blue/green feathers around their heads and necks?  I wouldn't have even noticed except that I've recently been in the US and the pigeons are smaller and darker there.  This observation or hallucination has caused me to wonder if the city birds are interbreeding with the odd kereru.  The internet has been no help so I may remain doomed to wonder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

M*A*S*H


This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 13

For a reason known only to himself, my partner has begun watching the TV series M*A*S*H from the beginning.  Although I'm trying to avoid TV (I'm a binge-watching freak who must be stopped) I've been in the same room as at few episodes recently and I'm impressed at how well it's aged.
Each episode manages to mix comedy and drama in a way that M*A*S*H made its own - the ludicrous nature of war, the psychological toll, the odd juxtaposition of educated, liberal doctors and the bureaucracy of the army.  The dialogue is pin sharp still, the stories fresh if no longer original, and if the cutting is a little clunky, the acting is as committed as the day it first hit celluloid.  The interaction of the main ensemble rings, if not true, then certainly familiar for anyone who's ever worked in a team.
There are things to criticise of course.  In its sexual politics it's completely of the 70s - all the woman are nurses and all the doctors are men, there's a revolving set of sexually available ladies, widespread infidelity and sexual harassment as a narrative staple.  The six-character ensemble, features a single woman (for there can, of course, be only one), her moniker is 'Hot-lips' and she's the main object of sexual attention for the rest of the cast.  
But - all of that said, there's a degree of complexity in Margaret Houlihan's characterisation which belies the very liberal positioning of the show.  She's a Major, out-ranked by only one other character, she's a careerist (with occasional regrets) and she's shown time and again to be extremely competent at her job.  This is the reason she garners more respect from the rest of the characters than her partner, Major Frank Burns, aka Ferret-face, who is known to be a bad surgeon.  
Margaret's value as constructed in the narrative comes from the approval rating she gets from the 'star' Captain Hawkeye Pierce.  I would read this as a Lacanian configuration in that her 'meaning' is determined by a man and we as the audience read with his assessment of her.  However I confess myself to be charmed by the way she is valued both for her professional competence and for her sexual attractiveness - she even gets to have a sexual relationship with a married man and still be seen as a goodygoody.  This comfortable duality would no doubt collapse completely under a more rigorous reading, but its accommodation inside one character is an interesting take on the whole Madonna/whore construction.  
On consideration, there are many worse narrative representations of woman I could have grown up with.  Although she unhelpfully emphasises the idea that there's only one spot for women at the top and she doesn't often lead the narrative, 40 years down the line Margaret Houlihan is looking pretty darn good, especially compared to a lot of the two-dimensional roles available to woman in contemporary media.  M*A*S*H is alright...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sleeeep!

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 12
The Wall Street Journal today published an article citing several studies which have found seven hours sleep per night is probably optimal for health and wellbeing.  This is one hour less than the previous recommendation of eight hours but still more than most Americans probably get most nights.  Can we assume the same statistic applies to New Zealanders? - probably, if I'm anything to go by.  Yawn.
Happily, when indulging, scientists have reassured us that we can rest easy in the knowledge that it's impossible to overdose.  We just wake up when we're done.  Amazingly physical truisms like this, taken for granted by my mother and all those who came before her, now require scientific verification. But since we have it, I'm going off for a seven hour nap.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Conservative Manifesto flaw

Conservative Party hoarding, Western Park, Ponsonby, July 2014.

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 11
I was at my sister's house the other day when, with a horrifed expression rising, she asked if I'd been targeted to receive Conservative Party messaging.   Her air of disgust had more reasonance after I read the leaflet she was referring to.  It wasn't so much that I disagreed with almost every piece of policy - it was more the way it revealed a profound ignorance of New Zealand's system of government and its constitution.
Case in point:
"The fact that in this day and age Maori are treated as 2nd class citizens and victims drives us nuts.  Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same old thing over and over, but expecting a different result.  Try something new.  We stand for equal rights and representation for all New Zealanders, plain and simple.  Nothing loony about that."
1) Maori occupy a specific place in New Zealand society but as their position as 'second-class citizens' and 'victims' derives directly from colonisation which obviously began well before the 1867 Native Schools Act and establishment of the Maori electorates which are being obliquely referred to above.  If Maori lost proportional representation and opened the door to language loss that year, they lost far more in the subsequent illegal annexation of land by the New Zealand government.  The government which couldn't constitutionally exist without the Treaty, signed in 1840 - well before 1867. 
3) Via the Waitangi Tribunal, the New Zealand government has repatriated and will repatriate about 1% of the resources taken from each hapu.  The process is indeed flawed, but stopping it before it reaches a natural conclusion is unfair to hapu who are still waiting for their compensation.  It will also make no material difference to the resources available to the rest of New Zealand.  And, given that the rest of the country is about 90% composed of land stolen from its original owners, frankly the suggestion to quit the process is just a bit morally repugnant.
5) Maori have been very under-represented in parliament since the establishment of the Maori electorates.  Indeed these were originally intended to limit Maori representation.  However every non-male, non-white group in society is under-represented in the parliamentry system and this is generally considered to be a problem.  Abolishing the Maori electorates is not going to suddenly produce true proportional representation - for any group.  And since Maori can't vote on both rolls, and since tau iwi and Maori can stand in any electorate, general or Maori, there's no procedural problem with the Maori electorates currently.
The policy referred to in this post is what political pundits call a 'dog-whistle'.  In other words it is supposed to mean little to 'ordinary New Zealanders', whoever they are, but act as a rallying call to hard right voters.
I'm not sure if it's craven cynicism or if Colin Craig actually believes what he's saying.  But either way, New Zealand's government is based on the Treaty, without which it could not constitutionally exist, and the Treaty enshrines the duality of governance in this country.  If you don't understand that then you shouldn't be in parliament.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In the Park

Spying on the world

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 10


Climate Voter

Image: Left to right - Satty Puaria, his son and another drummer, Takuu Atoll School Concert 2008 
This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 9
Today Greenpeace did a Facebook post containing the following comments on climate change from Bill English:
"It's a non-issue because there are more pressing concerns"
"There is still debate about the evidence of islands sinking in the Pacific"
"Climate change mitigation policy is a luxury we can't afford."
In 2010 I was part of a team who released a documentary, There Once was an Island, about the impact of climate on a unique Pacific community.  Thinking back on that experience, I made the following response on Facebook before signing on as a Climate Voter:
If you're living on an atoll that's one metre above sea level and climate change is going to cause that atoll to flood catastrophically with increasing frequency, I don't think you're worried about whether the island is 'sinking' per se.
If we don't mitigate climate change, the Pacific (amongst other places) will lose cultures and languages and the people directly involved will lose everything. And that's alongside what's going to happen for the rest of the world's weather, food production and usable land.
Climate change and what we do about it matters.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Histology Lab

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 8
Today I had a chance to see the inside of a histology lab for the first time since under-grad study. It was a whistle-stop tour.
Histology is the study of tissue and cells.  In this particular lab (and no doubt in lots of others) samples are prepared by embedding tissue in liquid paraffin wax which cools to a solid.  The resulting wax block with the sample in it is sliced super-thinly, and the slices (5 micrometres or one cell thick - I think) are mounted on glass slides and stained.  The stains give colour and contrast to samples that would otherwise be largely colourless and translucent, allowing greater detail to be observed.
While we were in the lab we looked at various slides, including a human lung sample at 4x, 10x and 40x magnification.  At 40x I was able to see the distinctive donut shape of blood cells, still very tiny, inside a blood vessel, as well as the nuclei of other cells in the sample which stained a dark purple.
The human body is a fascinating place and so is a histology lab, with samples of dead people literally everywhere.  I have to say that part of my fascination was the visceral (hah) reaction I still have to this treatment of the human body, even as I comforted myself with the knowledge that everyone whose mortal remains had been rendered into a sample had given full and informed consent.
But it's interesting to reflect that taboos surrounding the body after death have remained with us, even after the Renaissance opened the door to systemacised study using cadavers.  Could someone haunt a sample of themselves, for example?  Is there a spiritual dimension to this?  Or are we as corporeal as every other mammal on the planet?  We certainly look very similar under the hood.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When the World Comes to You

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 7
Today I was fortunate enough to attend some more training at work which allowed the world to come to me.


The other training participants were from all the corners of the globe - Ghana, Sri Lanka, Korea, the Pacific, China and India as well as New Zealand.  Facilitators and support were from Britain, China, New Zealand and the United States.  Which, in many ways is a regular day at the office for me, but the session was a good chance to reflect on that. 


And what I decided is this; when the world comes to to us we need to be good hosts - attentive to our guests' feelings, aware of what they might not yet know.  Things we take for granted - marmite, the Treaty, a passing grade - are unknown or interpreted quite differently by recent arrivals.  And that's ok. 


New Zealand is an infinitely richer and better place for its growing plurality.  And maybe the price is that we stop assuming a certain level of local knowledge in some situations.  We need, instead, to make room for explanation and contextualisation, and the startling reflection of ourselves in someone else's mirror.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Treaty

This post is part of the 100 Days project
Day 6
Today I was given the opportunity to understand more about colonisation, racism and New Zealand's founding document.  A work colleague was unable to attend a workshop on the Treaty of Waitangi so I decided at the last minute to attend, if only because I think the Treaty is important and there's always more to learn.  I expected something pretty dry on Articles 1 and 2 but what happened was a glorious exploration of attitudes and perception, the pre-Treaty context, the reasons why the Treaty was created, what it actually says (just one small part of the workshop), what the colonising implications have been and what this means today.  
A quick summary of some things I didn't know (in no particular order):
The Maori seats were created to limit Maori representation in parliament, not ensure it.
The British government recognised the sovereignty of Maori prior to the Treaty, by formally acknowledging the Declaration of Independence in 1836.
A treaty is a contract between sovereign powers.  In this case between the British crown and hapu in Aotearoa, NOT iwi.
Not all hapu signed the Treaty.  One of them consequently has its own passport.  This allows members out of New Zealand but not back in.
Because Maori were granted British citizenship under the Treaty, some Maori today are petitioning for British passports.
Hobson had syphilis and was taking mercury as a treatment during the drafting and signing of the Treaty.  
Settlements under the Waitangi tribunal have addressed about 1% of what was taken from each hapu.
Most of the land confiscated from Maori was in contravention of Article 2, part 2 and not something which was enabled by the Treaty.
I did know this but it's worth including - the government we have today would not be in existence except for the Treaty, which allowed for a British government to be set up.
Europeans in New Zealand prior to the signing of the Treaty were from many different countries, not just Britain.
None of the colonial powers were particularly interested in colonising New Zealand because it was small and not really of interest, but Britiain eventually stepped in because the New Zealand Company was selling land it didn't own and had brought over two boatloads of settlers.
Despite its flaws and the serious and ongoing impact of colonialism on Maori that is a direct result of the Treaty, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it was entered into with the best of intentions on both sides.  Which maybe gives us a reason to keep working with it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Janet Klein and her Parlour Boys

Janet Klein performs at the Annenberg Community Beach House, June 2014

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 5
This morning on the walk to work I was listening to a recent download - a 2010 album by Janet Klein and her Parlour Boys.  I first heard them only a few weeks ago in LA when a friend of a friend took me to the Annenburg Community Beach House to hear them play for free.  It was quite a trip because they play only 1930s music and Janet stays in character the entire time.  Her dress at the performance is done no justice in the photo - it was tailored and exquisite and just as period as her hair and everything else about her.

There were several things I didn't expect about America.  But actually, quirky live culture in LA was NOT one of them.  I just didn't expect to get up close to it in the time I had available.  And for that I am quite full of gratitude
.