Book Review: Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

Reviewed by Byron Clark

Book cover
Cory Doctorow is a blogger and activist for civil liberties in the age of the advanced information and communication technologies and the war on terrorism. His near future speculative fiction novels such as Little Brother set in an America obsessed with anti-terrorism, have examined these issues, his next young adult book For The Win explored the economics of multiplayer online games, and the bizarre world of “gold farming” where workers toil in sweatshops to create virtual wealth, traded for real currency. Now with Pirate Cinema he’s taken on the issue of copyright and the power big content (film studios and record labels) has over government.
The story begins with Trent, a working-class teenager from a council flat in Bradford in the north of Britain having his family’s Internet connection terminated for illegally downloading movies. This scenario might seem familiar to local readers, as New Zealand not so long ago attempted to pass an amendment to the Copyright Act that would include disconnection from the Internet as a penalty for copyright infringement. This part of the bill was removed after public protest and concern from Internet Services Providers (ISPs)- businesses with interests different from big content.
Without access to the Internet Trent’s father loses his job as a work-from-home telephone operator, his disabled mother can’t sign on for welfare, and his sister struggles at school without access to the vast amount of information on the World Wide Web. Doctorow wants to show access to the internet has become as essential as electricity in the modern world. Ashamed of himself, Trent runs away from home to London, where he begins a comfortable life of squatting and dumpster diving. This scenario is a little unrealistic, but it makes a fun fantasy.

[Read more…]

Review: Occupy This Album (2012)

Byron Clark

Wired magazine journalist Quinn Norton wrote about the music of the Occupy movement way back in December 2011, stating that “A movement goes nowhere without creating culture as it grows.” ‘Occupy This Album’ seemed almost inevitable. This is the closest thing possible to an official sound track that could come out of this loosely organised and non-hierarchical movement. All proceeds from the album go back to Occupy Wall Street activists.

Ambitiously the album was going to contain 99 tracks, playing on the slogan of “the 99%” that the movement has popularised. The CD version consists of 78 tracks, though the download version contains 99. Big names from previous generations of protest-musicians feature here: Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco (singing the union song Which side are you on?), Yoko Ono, and Joan Baez all leant their talents to this project. Even folk legend Pete Seeger- now in his mid-90s appears here, speaking on the track Industrial Park by his grandson’s band ‘The Mammals.’

Alongside those artists are tracks from more contemporary artists. Thievery Corporation and Third Eye Blind are probably the most recognisable names. Leftist punk rockers Anti-Flag, and rapper Immortal Technique are both here, and while the politics is good the heavy punk and hip-hop don’t slot in so well with an album that is mostly folk and progressive rock. Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, now performs ‘World Wide Rebel Songs’ which makes for a better fit. Another great track is English singer-song writer Lloyd Coles The Young Idealists which exemplifies the album’s mood and musical style. Listening to this album you’ll also be exposed to some songs by lesser known artists such as Build the Sun and Jennie Arnau, as well as the novelty of a cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A’Changin’ performed by documentary film maker Michael Moore. [Read more…]

Album review: Born Villain

Byron Clark

Born Villain is the 8th studio album from shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, and the first released on his own label after his departure from Interscope records (who censored part of his previous album). Its been described as a come back album and this has led some critics to praise Manson’s return to form, and others to lament the sameness of this album- one described it as “Manson by numbers”. It certainly does sound familiar, though with a somewhat heavier bassline than previous albums- the track The Gardener could even be described as funky.
Lyrically though the album is something of a disappointment. There is some stuff that will shock and offend, but its shock for shocks sake. While its a stretch to describe Marilyn Manson as a political artist, part of his appeal was always his ability to hold a mirror up to society and cast a critical reflection. Manson was known for exploring the American obsession with the ‘three G’s’ Guns, God and Government- the title of his world tour a decade ago. His previous album, The High End of Low was his most explicitly political with songs like Black and White and We’re From America but there is little in the way of social commentary on Born Villain.

As a musician, Marilyn Manson is a good as ever. But the world now is a very different place than at the height of his popularity. Shock rock was a great way to draw attention to things that perhaps we’d rather not think about, but in the years since Manson’s 2003 album Golden Age of Grotesque one hasn’t needed to look to art to show us just how grotesque the modern world is. Since then we’ve been exposed to the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the Wikileaks video ‘Collateral Murder’  showing journalists being gunned down by American soldiers, and most recently photos published in the LA Times showing other American soldiers taking body parts as trophies. [Read more…]

Movie review: The Hunger Games

Ian Anderson

While far-right US commentators target venom at “Marxist” childrens’ films including The Muppets and The Lorax, number one blockbuster The Hunger Games should cause them more concern.

Adapted from a young-adult series by Suzanne Collins, the film portrays a dystopian future in which kids are sent to fight each-other to the death, as a reminder of the Capitol’s power. Collins says the original book series was inspired by channel-surfing between coverage of the Iraq war and reality television: “I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way.” This narrative, of young adults co-opted into a showcase that destroys many of its ‘heroes,’ could be extended into many areas; the sports industry, the record industry, or the Hollywood studio system which produced this adaptation. [Read more…]

Review: ‘Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hills Ashes in New Zealand’ Jared Davidson, Rebel Press

When Swedish born union organiser and radical song writer Joe Hill was executed in the United States in 1916, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) sent packets of his ashes all over the world- to every state in the US (except Utah where he died), Asia, Europe, every country in South America, Australia and supposedly, New Zealand. But were his ashes actually sent here? And if they were, what happened to them? Why is there so little historical record of their fate?

These are the questions that Jared Davidson sets out to answer in Remains to be Seen. After extensive research drawing on archival material, much of it previously unpublished, he concluded that while there is no “concrete evidence” of Joe Hill’s ashes arriving in New Zealand – or even being sent here in the first place – it is highly likely they were. While the IWW in New Zealand was on the decline in the later half on the 1910s (a result of state repression) there were many members who were still agitating and maintaining contact with the US IWW.

Ashes did arrive in Australia (though they were destroyed by police soon afterward in a raid on the Sydney IWW offices). At the time Australia and New Zealand shared the same postal shipping route which went to Sydney via Auckland so if the ashes were indeed sent here, chances are they arrived. The mostly likely scenario is that they were intercepted and destroyed by state censors.
[Read more…]

Review – No ordinary deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement

No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement
Jane Kelsey (ed.)
Bridget Williams Books, 2010
Reviewed by Mike Kay, Auckland member of Workers Party and member of The Spark editorial board

This collection of essays brings together a number of different perspectives on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated behind closed doors between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and the United States. The policy framework is still largely neo-liberal, despite that economic model’s credibility taking a knock since the Global Financial Crisis.

Recent US-brokered trade deals, such as its December 2005 agreement with Peru, contain clauses to prohibit “expropriation and measures ‘tantamount to expropriation’, with the exception of a ‘public purpose’ (which carries a right to full compensation), and provides investors with due process protection and the right to receive a fair market value for property in the event of expropriation.” (p.74) This could have far-reaching consequences for any future socialist or progressive government.

But will the TPPA lead to a more liberal immigration policy with respect to the US’s TPP partners?  Lori Wallach and Todd Tucker comment: “on a bipartisan basis, leaders of the congressional committee that sets immigration policy… have repeatedly insisted that no future trade pacts provisions may contain visa or other immigration policies. A TPPA with immigration provision would be dead on arrival in Congress.” (p.67) [Read more…]

Book review: Privatising Parts

Privatising parts

Richard Meros

Lawrence and Gibson 2011

Reviewed by Joel Cosgrove, Workers Party Wellington Branch

“Who better than students to teach teachers what students ought to be taught?”, so asks Richard Meros in his new fiction Privatising Parts. Quite simply this is a beautifully crafted piece of satire. On the surface this is a stinging critique of the far-right dwellers floating far out in the political stratosphere, think Muriel Newman, Roger Kerr etc. But this is not just a lampooning of the free-market logic taken to its extreme, it’s a satire of the underlying free-market logic itself.

For those unfamiliar with the work of Meros, he is the author of a number of independently produced books (so independent, that he takes part in the printing and binding himself). On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover, and Beggars and Choosers: The Complete Written Correspondence between Creative New Zealand and Richard Meros volume one are amongst a slew of self-published titles. [Read more…]

Book Review: For the Win

Cory Doctorow, Tor and craphound.com, 2010

The Spark December 2010 – January 2011
Byron Clark

‘For The Win’ is possibly one of 2010’s best works of fiction, at least for those readers who enjoy books that deal with big issues. Paraphrasing other writers in the genre, author Cory Doctorow has said that “good science fiction predicts the present” and part of what makes the novel so enjoyable is that this story could be taking place next year. While his last novel, Little Brother, explored issues around civil liberties and state power in the post-9/11 USA, For The Win shows that Doctorow’s unashamedly left-wing worldview extends to many other issues; globalisation, inequality, labour rights and the farcical nature of finance capitalism are all explored in the space of 375 pages.

The story revolves around “gold farming” the practice of amassing virtual wealth in an online multi-player video game, and then selling it for real-world currency. Typically, that virtual wealth is collected by people in the developing world, and sold to players in the developed world who want to avoid the work required to advance in the game. For the gold farmers, the income is comparable to what they could earn working in other available jobs. Of course, most of these gold farmers don’t own the computers and internet connections required to be a gold farmer (the means of production-albeit production of virtual commodities) and work for bosses who expropriate most of the wealth they create. Looking to remedy this situation is Big Sister Nor, a former garment factory worker in Malaysia who became a gold farmer after a strike caused the owners to move the factory to Indonesia. Nor has founded the “Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web” or “Webblies” (a homage to the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as Wobblies), the syndicalist union that had its heyday a century ago) and is organising gold farmers across borders in the virtual worlds they work in. [Read more…]

Book review “The Laughing Policeman – my brilliant career in the New Zealand Police”

by Glenn Wood ( Shoal Bay Press)
reviewed by Don Franks
I noticed this book in an op shop. Its back cover blurbed: ” the hilarious account of Glenn’s adventures as a police cadet…a warm and funny book that will appeal to all New Zealanders”.
Harrumph I thought, but  the first sentence – “I always wanted to be a marine biologist” – hooked me in, and the price was just a dollar. Any cop literature has got to be a risk, this time I  got my dollar’s worth. [Read more…]

DVD Review: Looking For Eric (Dir: Ken Loach, 2009)

Mike Kay

“It all began with a beautiful pass from Eric Cantona.” So begins the latest film from socialist film maker Ken Loach.

From the movie’s outset, it is clear that Eric the postie is languishing in life’s relegation zone: estranged from his wife, unable to handle his teenage tearaway stepsons and contemplating suicide. In desperation, he raids his stepson’s marijuana stash, and after a couple of crafty tokes, he is astonished to discover that footballing legend Eric Cantona has appeared in his Manchester United-adorned bedroom. Cantona then proceeds to dispense considerate advice along with soupçons of his Gallic philosophy. [Read more…]