Saturday, 23 January 2016


Last week I attended a session of the Natural Born Storytellers. This is a night run by a friend of mine, where people get up and tell stories from their lives, based around the theme for that meeting. It’s funny, poignant, and sometimes crude, in equal measure. The theme for the evening this time was Failed Attempts. I didn’t tell a story that evening, but one did spring to mind and, as I feel my stories are better told (or at least I am better at telling them) through the written word, I had the idea to tell mine here.
This story is about a girl. Her name was Sarah, as you’ve probably already guessed, and she was beautiful. That was all I really knew about her, but, with the surely of youth, I was certain I was in love. Let me set the scene.
The year was 1997, and I was obsessed with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which I had seen recently. My head was full of ideas of love and romance, and I was desperate to be in love, if not actually kill myself in some kind of modern-day tragedy. I was in the early-to-mid stages of college in New Zealand, which, if you don’t know, runs from roughly age thirteen to age eighteen. I also had the joy of going to an all-boys Catholic school, which, on top of natural shyness, tells you all you need to know about my (in)ability to negotiate relationships with the fairer sex, a fact I lament to this day.
The scene was set relatively easily. With three girls’ schools and one mixed school in the area, my school mates and I weren’t lacking in choice of girls to idolise. My friends and I would usually walk down to the mall after school, to hang out for an hour or so before heading home. This is where I first saw her.
She was beautiful, of course. Long blonde hair, pretty eyes. All the usual ingredients. Sarah lived in the same suburb as me, a cosy little hamlet known as Naenae, which in Maori means mosquito, owing to the previously-swampy nature of the place. So, I’d see her when I rode the bus home. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t some kind of teenage stalker; I didn’t follow her home or anything like that, but maybe I did once or twice deliberately catch the same bus as she did.
Then, for a long time, nothing happened. I’d see her on the bus, my heart would race, and that was it. For the longest time I couldn’t even approach the thought of speaking to her. A friend of mine knew a friend of hers, and I did send her a fairly cringe worthy note from a secret admirer, full of poetry and admiration, but that was as far as it went.
Months passed. I sweated, I imagined, I thought of what the hell I could say, running it over in my head a hundred times. Then, the day came. Now, Sarah lived further on the bus route then I did, so when I boarded the bus that day, I had to ask for the extra section on my ticket. I recall the driver joking that I couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra distance home, and as he spoke, suddenly in my head everyone on the bus knew my plan. This did not help with my nervousness.
I took a seat near the back, and I waited. The bus journey took about twenty minutes, I suppose, but that day it felt much longer. Ok, so it was longer, what with the extra section and all, but it felt like hours longer. The bus pulled over at a stop, and she got off. So did I.
The next part is strange, like some kind of waking dream, and to this day I still have trouble believing that nervous boy had the courage to do what he did. Sarah crossed the road, and so did I. I walked up to her, and I asked her out. I can’t recall the exact words; I’m sure they started with ‘I was wondering’, and ended with ‘go out sometime,’ and perhaps that’s all there was to it.
Sarah, bless her, let me down easy. She told me she’d just got back together with her boyfriend. I thanked her, and walked away. Whether there was a boyfriend or not, I don’t know, but I’ll always be grateful for the way she handled her reply.
I walked home. I felt an odd sense of lightness, of freedom. On the way home, I met my friend in the park behind his house. When he saw me, I told him I’d finally done it. He thought she’d said yes, I seemed so elated, but really, I think it was just the exhilaration from actually having made myself do something which I found so phenomenally scary. I was high and low at the same time. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever had again; at least, not with the same intensity.
And that was that. Well, except for a few years later, when I was working in a supermarket bakery, looking particularly unglamorous in my apron and hat. I must have been home from University for the holidays, working my summer job. I was packing bread, when I saw someone approach the counter. Sarah. I could tell from the look on her face, she knew who I was. She ordered something, cream buns maybe, and I ducked behind the counter and bagged them up, heart beating a little faster. I stood up again and gave the package to her. She smiled, and thanked me, and I smiled back.

That’s it, that’s the end of the story. Whatever happened to Sarah after that, I don’t know. Perhaps I don’t want to know. I like to keep her in my mind as the sweet girl that she was, and also as a reminder to myself that, although things didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I can be the type of man who talks to beautiful girls, the kind of man who takes risks. After all, the riskier the road, the greater the profit. And finally, wherever she is, I hope Sarah is happy.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Snap shots of New York City - Part I

Union Square

Across from me, a youth in dark blue glasses and a woolly hat, his hands in his pockets. He lazes back against the bench as only the young do. By his feet rests a backpack.

The street sweeper pulls along a gray bucket. She wears dark blue gloves, against the cold and the dirt this time of year. Using an old-fashioned broom she sweeps the leaves from behind the benches, with what one might call practiced skill, with a patience born of knowing that no matter how many times she does so, there will always be more leaves tomorrow.

‘It’s cold,’ the boy exclaims.
‘It’s cold?’ his father replies. ‘It is cold, yeah.’
He mumbles something else as they are gone.

A squirrel darts across the way.
A sparrow hops, cautious, lest it be crushed.
I glance at my watch. The foot traffic increases.

A child in a blue jacket, painted like the night sky, a bright orange ‘waist coat’ over it (did she pick her own outfit?) is reprimanded by her mother, and lets out a wail. It lasts for a few seconds. Her mother turns to face her; seeing the mood her mother is in, the child is quiet instantly.

A man walks by with seven dogs on leashes – assorted sizes, breeds, and colours. The only other thing you need to know about this man is that he wears a ‘fanny pack’.

In the distance there are sirens, but that is always the case.

The bushes behind me rustle. A squirrel waits, then hops away, disappointed, already targeting another occupied bench. I glance at my watch.

The only thing more colourful than the kid’s headphones are his trainers, is his backpack.

I am happy it is not colder, or I would have stayed in the ihop longer. Not that it’s a horrible place, but after a while they begin to look at you.

Washington Square

I’m walking into the square, looking for a place to sit, to kill time.
‘Chess player? Chess game?’ the old man asks. gesturing to the board. One of those inset in a stone table, like you see in films.
‘No thank you,’ I reply, even though I play and have plenty of time. It’s the big city question in my brain, what’s the catch?, combined with natural shyness.
Perhaps the man just wants someone to talk to. Perhaps I will be him, one day. Even as I sit and write this, I still have time, to go back, to play a while. Talk a while. But I won’t.

The sun is out. To my right a woman sits in front of a pram. Staring, fixated. She can’t take her eyes off it. Her phone, that is. I put on my sunglasses.

To my left, a couple speaks quietly. They’re a good-looking couple. There are sirens in the distance, but what else is new? She is blonde, long hair, dark sunglasses; his hair is dark, thick now but not so much as it was. They both wear dark colours, except for white shoes. From where I am, they seem to speak in grunts.

I look at my phone, to hell with the roaming costs. When I look back, she is lying across his chest, his arm around her, face closed against the sun. Like an oil painting, pretty but uncomfortable. A nugget of green sparkles on a finger. When I look back once more the sunglasses are back, the stance of quiet coldness has resumed. Her fingernails are painted black, or dark blue.

I think again, about going to play chess. My stomach heaves. Still a while to go before lunch. The couple beside me get up and walk away. I hear them talking in a language I don’t understand.

The thing I like about New York is you can wear sunglasses all year round.

As I leave the park men talk loudly, curse, wave their arms. Discuss beatings as if they were currency, but in this case the giver profits. A man offers smoke in a low voice. I shake my head and keep walking. Not in NYC, I think. People lean towards me as I walk. People say bless you without breaking stride.

Cities should be a little bit grimy. There are a lot more crazy people here, and here, if you fall, you’re on your own.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Star Wars 7

I’ve never talked about a movie on my blog before, and I don’t really know why I chose to start now, but fuck it, I write about what I want.
I guess by now every man and his dog has seen The Force Awakens, and every man and his dog has written, told, or otherwise foisted his and his dog’s opinions upon you. So, if you’re sick of hearing about it, maybe click away now. If you never clicked on the link to this in the first place, I don’t need to tell you that this sentence is useless.
First things first, I enjoyed the movie. I like the riot squad trooper, and the anti-lightsabre weapon was a great idea. The new characters are good, and BB-8 was done very well. The pacing was good, it’s good(ish) to see a strong female lead (more on that later), the action was solid, and there are some great nostalgia moments, even for someone like me, who’s not a full on Wars Head. (Full disclosure, I like Wars, but I’m a Trekkie at heart.) I don’t regret seeing the movie, at all, and I was excited to see that opening text roll. But, I guess what I do feel is disappointment. This movie could have been so much more than it was, and in the end it just ended up being A New Hope 2.0.

Here are key gripes (in no particular order):
  1. Kylo Ren isn’t scary. He’s an emo douchebag. And it’s not just because I’m much older now than I was when I first encountered Vader. That dude was scary. Ren is just some guy who ceased being scary once his (unnecessary) helmet comes off. He possessed none of the cool and calm Vader did, and it doesn’t help either that he gets his ass kicked quite easily. And even his officers cuss him out. Vader would have force choked that dude in the first five minutes. I feel like an opportunity was missed. It would have been fun to see a bad guy who was almost unstoppable. Who they good guys encounter and get their asses kicked by, and they only manage to escape because of luck, or the planet breaking up, or Han nobly sacrificing himself. So the movie ends with this threat hanging over everything, the characters not only reeling from a loss, but wondering how the hell they’ll stop this guy. The way it ended leaves me without any real anticipation for part eight. I guess that’s another gripe, but it can stay within this entry.
  2. Rey is too good at everything. I tend to agree with Max Landis on this, and I think that to fail to hold female characters to the same standards as male ones would be more sexist than otherwise. She’s an interesting character, but the vague idea of her waiting for someone to return is never really fleshed out, and she is inexplicably good at staff fighting, fixing ships, piloting, and somehow defeating a Sith-in-training. The last one especially made things feel contrived, and cheap.
  3. Finn's change of heart comes out of nowhere. It would have been nice to have some backstory to this. This is out of left field, but I would have loved to have seen a story line where the resistance have somehow been exploiting a weakness in the way Stormtroopers are made; they tamper with the mix, as it were, and the troopers start rebelling, in greater and greater numbers. Anyway, Finn’s moments of conscience are well acted, and I like his story arc, but his change of heart comes from nowhere, because we don’t see him before that moment.
  4. Captain Phasma isn’t scary. Similarly to Ren, this character seems to be building towards a fearsome moment, and then really fails to deliver. All she does is, what, get thrown down a trash compacter?
  5. Luke just leaving. Ok, this one is minor, and can be explained but his character, but if you fuck up majorly, why not stay around and try to fix it, Luke? How is running off to the other side of the galaxy going to help?
  6. The Order's lack of proper security protocols. Finn is able to escape from a star destroyer fairly easily (well, easy-ish), by just saying he wants to move the prisoner. Wouldn’t there be checks in place for that kind of thing? I suppose you could say the Empire (sorry, the First Order) believed its soldiers to be completely loyal, but it’s not as if no-one has ever put on a Stormtrooper suit before to fool others. Oh, and they take out the destroyer’s guns fairly easily, no? Also, why would a tie fighter have a parachute? Aren’t they designed for use in space? I guess it conceivable for it to have one, but wouldn’t the crashed fighter have been really easy to track down?
  7. Point number seven is really a bunch of points around the repeated themes and actions which occur during the movie. Deep breath, here we go. (a) The Death Star 3.0. Really? Hasn’t this been done to death. Oh, this time it’s a planet? Great, so different. It even has one weak spot, just for convenience. (b) Next is the First Order, which is really just the Empire reset. The same toys, for the most part, the same boring agenda. (c) The mysterious evil leader, too, some old, pale, decrepit guy. I get that the dark side burns up your body and so on, but couldn’t they have mixed it up a little? Supreme Leader Smoke is boring, and he, too, isn’t very scary. Ok, I keep saying that. I guess my assumption is that the bad guys should be scary. I’m sticking to it. Also, I'm tempted to say that movies are escapism, and we have enough of old white dudes being the bad guy in real life. Hey, I can say that, because I'm white. (d)  Keeping it in the family. Again, I know this is a key thing in Wars, and sensitivity to the Force (I won’t use the m-word) is passed down from parents, but couldn’t we get away from the family dynamic for a while? Surprise, this time it’s the son who’s evil. Great. (e) Important intelligence secreted in a droid. Where have I seen this before?
Ok, so I just wrote a lot (bitched a lot) about the film, despite the fact that I said I enjoyed it. As I say, I just feel like the opportunity for change was there, and the same paths have been trodden, which doesn’t lend itself to exciting storytelling. I know that, no matter what happened, no matter what the movie as like, the weight of expectation and of legacy means it would be hard pressed to be fresh, innovative, and new while staying true to its predecessors and keeping hard core fans happy. I also know the difficulty of making movies, creating stories, creating any art that people will see. And so to that end I understand that it might not be fair for me to be so harsh in my judgements. But a Death Star again? Really?
p.s. when writing this I discovered MS Word has lightsabre in its dictionary. Just thought I’d let ya’ll know that.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Coffee and Donuts, a short story

Coffee and Donuts, or, the Love Song of Julius Artemis

At nine I get restless and go out into the city to walk and brood. Mine is an energetic kind of brooding. I take my earphones but I don’t put them in.

In the stairwell of my building is a stroller which has been abandoned there for months. I can never avoid noticing it. I think it’s a metaphor for something, but if so, it’s something I don’t want to know. I let the door close behind me, and move along.

At the station I pass a group of children. Adults, really, but children nonetheless. I don’t want to dislike them, but I have no choice.

I board a train as six thousand loud people get off. They seem confused about the way transport works, or perhaps just too happy to care. I have never been that happy, but I have been that drunk. Or is it the other way around? I hate them because they are loud. No. I hate them because I am not drunk.

As I get off the train a man stands, talking to a woman. Or rather, she talks at him. He is writing on his phone. Over his shoulder I can make out the title: New Year’s Resolutions.

I leave the train and walk through the heart of the city, the boring part without any pubs. There are policemen on horses. Do the horses aspire to this work? Or would they rather be eating hay in the countryside. I envy a horse’s sense of simplicity, its easy happiness. Maybe one day I will buy a dog, and get high off its happiness.

I miss clubbing, being out, getting drunk, getting loud. I don’t miss the cold waits for buses, the sore feet, the sore head the next day, the empty bank account. But I miss the high, the sense of euphoria, the girls I sometimes talked to, the energy of dancing.

I walk up past the Duke of York Monument, into Piccadilly Circus. It’s pretty on the way, but so what? A set of buskers are drowned out by people singing Hare Krishna. I could never be like them. It seems the key to happiness really is ignorance. But don’t tell the Buddhists.

I go in and get donuts and coffee, and take the last seat left, a stool by the window. I watch a drunk man holding two cans of Carling try and talk to people. I consider talking with him, in the part of my mind which permits such things. I mark it down as curiosity, ignoring the truth. Someone has grafittied the window, and the paint drips down in bars, and I look through them out into the world. Girls walk by in short dresses.

Coffee and donuts£7.32. Worth every penny.

The dark lights of Soho. The strip clubs and dirty bars. I consider going in one, but I am saving money. Hell, I’d do it just for the human touch, but I am saving money. I am always saving money. But one day… When did I become that man? I turn away from the door, pull my hat down and walk away. Outside, girls stand around talking to the bouncers. Are they the dancers, or are they clubbing? It’s hard to tell the difference.

I like the girls except when they talk. Some of them are beautiful, but just so inane. A horrifying combination. Do I tell myself I could have picked up more, if the conversation were better? I doubt it, that’s not the art. And I was never an artist anyway. Do I sound like a prick? I guess I am one.

I walk on through the racketing streets, stop and pretend to be lost, move on; in and out of lights and shadows. I head into the tube, where’s it’s warm and bright. A couple on the platform embrace. Her dress is bright blue, her legs long, her hair blonde. I try not to stare, and then the train arrives.

The trains are dirty, but you get used to it. I could say the same thing about myself. I follow the train home, and enter the stairwell. You know what. It occurs to me that life is a series of trade offs. Opportunity cost of living. If it’s the best we can do, it’s the best we can do. Maybe there’s value in decision, but tonight it’s hard to see.

I hate this city. Or is it just the people? All the good people have left or are leaving, and I am still here, walking the streets. Heading for donuts and coffee. It’s an event. What a joke. I am the man I used to pity.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Karma police

Karma, as it stands, has two main definitions, the first being some kind of autonomous cosmic principle which rewards or punishes people in their life according to good or bad deeds in a previous life (one already begins to wonder what the fairly neutral first life would be like), and the second being roughly the same, but without the bother of previous lives. I had an interesting discussion around this recently, which stemmed from my observation that those who profess to believe in karma, and who comment on the misfortunes of others with reference to it frequently, both with a sadistic glee when things are going badly for others, or a similarly gloating promise of misfortunes to follow; well, these said commentators aren’t so quick to admit that they deserve whichever misfortunes befall them or their loved ones, and instead will often blame the vicissitudes of fate for their problems.

So, there is an inconsistency here. My personal belief is that karma lies along the lines of wishful thinking, without any real evidence to support it, like the idea of Gaia, or heaven. The nature of past lives makes any actions therein unknowable, at least by any reliable methods that we currently possess, and so blaming someone for things they may have done to explain what may amount to bad luck seems like an overly moralistic high ground which cannot be defended.

The basic problem with the idea of karma (in regards to the past lives definition especially) is that it is unverifiable. There is no way of telling if it's true because the notion of balance is vague and hard to quantify. One man’s justice is another man’s cruel and unusual punishment. People are often very quick to judge, to dole out punishments such as bodily mutilation for rapists and beatings for those who beat. Do we imagine that some disembodied principle without an understanding of what it means to be human has a better idea of what is right for us than our own justice systems? The idea of a disembodied force being responsible for the workings of human justice doesn’t sit well with me.

Add to this the element, in many cases, of karma carrying over from supposed past lives, and the idea loses all coherence in terms of being a claim that can be tested. I don't think this bothers a lot of the people who believe in it, but that's just my way of thinking.

Even if you believe that we have only the one life, problems remain. We can all think of examples of people who have lived relatively blameless lives, and then suffered terrible catastrophes. Unless the karmic principle acts disproportionately in regards to small sins, and in that case it doesn’t seem that its influence could be considered to be in any way fair, as in generally supposed. Similarly, there are bad people who have committed horrible acts without ever paying for them in any meaningful way. Jimmy Saville springs to mind, as does history’s most infamous example, a Mr. A Hitler. These men used the escape hatch of death to escape from their retribution.

Further, karma as a motivator for morality doesn't really fit with human behaviour, in the sense that, if one finds out a friend has been in a car accident, or is seriously ill, or was robbed, one doesn't immediately think 'well, they probably deserved it'. Rather, one feels sympathy for the person who has been affected. And one sees a millionaire making even more money from a business venture, one does not think, ‘good for him, he must have been really good to deserve all that wealth.’ Well, I know I don’t, anyway.

According to karma, all those people who are poor or starving or sick or in horrible accidents, deserve no sympathy. They deserve it. Isn’t such an attitude a little sickening? A little judgemental?
 There’s also the idea that those who do good are rewarded, similar to the idea of being good and earning your way into heaven. Both these ideas have as the motivation for good acts, the promise of a reward. This seems a little childish to me. Surely the motivation for an act is the right-or-wrongness of the act itself. Blessed are those who help others without expectation of karmic reward in this life or the next.

If karma is real, then logically, nothing that ever happens can be 'bad' in absolute moral terms, because it's all compensation for previous acts. (This then creates an odd cycle of bad behaviour causing bad effects, which often causes more bad behaviour, and so on.) If this is the case, then karma effectively negates the need for its own existence.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who believes in karma thinks this way, but it is the logical conclusion of the belief system they hold. Nor am I saying that many of the people who spout these sayings have not considered the ramifications of such a system of reward and punishment. Humans are wired in such a way that we often assign meaning to things that just isn’t there, or we assume that things revolve around us in a way that they really do not. Karma is another manifestation of the way our brains work, a desire for (what we see as) justice, and a way of bringing order to a chaotic world which doesn’t care about us one way or the other. ‘Bad’ things happen, and ‘good’ things happen, and life goes on. It is all too easy to interpret an action or event in the way that we want to, and as any action or event can be fitted into the framework of karma, the whole system becomes meaningless.

I suppose I could be wrong. I guess if I am I might have some misfortune coming my way. But then again, maybe I was an excellent person in my past life. In which case, pay up, karma. Papa needs a trip to Brazil.

Friday, 27 November 2015

London vs. NYC

I’m currently in my third trip to New York City, and the attraction of the place hasn’t diminished with time or familiarity. In fact, it has increased. It’s one of the few cities I’d consider moving to, if such an option were available; I’m sure that if I did live here, certain things would start to grate, the same as in any other place, but it’s a risk I’d be willing to take.

So, I have concocted a list comparing my adopted city with my the one I’m visiting, to see if it is indeed all that, or if I don’t take some of the good things about London for granted some of the time. Having only been to NYC as a tourist, elements of the below will necessarily be extrapolated or based on things I’ve been told or read, but it’s still a fun exercise. Here goes (in no particular order):

Public transport: London has the tube. The original, the o.g. (or should that be the u.g.?). NYC has the subway, as do many other cities following that idea. The tube is a victim of its own success - many of the problems it faces in expanding and increasing capacity come from the fact that it was built so long ago, with smaller tunnels than are now generally used, as well as narrow platforms. This, coupled with the sheer amount of cabling, sewers, and miscellanea under the city, making increasing capacity difficult and expensive. The subway is more spacious, the carriages bigger, and there is more track. They also have express trains, which is fantastic. Still, I feel like the underground, and buses, are better, for the following reasons.
  1. It’s cleaner. NYC subway stations are dirty, and homeless people abound (more on this later).
  2. There is more information. The schedules are easier to understand, and there are live boards telling you how long your train will be at every station. The information at bus stops is really good. The subway is ok, but elements are really confusing.
  3. Oyster cards are easier to use and more durable than Metrocards. And, they work on other forms of transport.
  4.  Etiquette. Though people on the tube are rude, people on the subways here are downright aggressive.
  5. In London, we have tube lines that actually run from east to west. NYC needs to up its game in that regard.

London: 1 New York: 0

Crime: though it’s a lot better than it was, parts of New York are still very unsafe. Add to that the existence of guns, and the safety factor decreased a little. I feel more uneasy in Manhattan than I do in London, and not because I am a tourist. The police in London are amazing, nice to deal with, and more willing to engage with the public. I guess that’s easier when you’re not in a city which needs to have stickers on police cars advertising rewards for information leading to prosecution of those who kill cops.

London: 2 New York: 0

History: how much do I really need to say about this? NYC is a fascinating place, with a lot of interesting historical sights, but London is over a thousand years old.

London: 3 New York: 0

Art/culture: Both cities have great museums, both contribute a lot to the world in terms of their artists, musicians, cultural festivals and institutions. I’m going to call this one a tie.

London: 3.5 New York: 0.5

Green space: One of the things I love about London is the amount of greenery. It’s hard to walk around the town without coming across a park or square, most of which are open to the public. London has nothing on NY in terms of the sheer size of Central Park, but the total green space must be higher. NY has great squares and open spaces, but the grass areas are often fenced off. Oh, and in London you can see deer.

London: 4.5 New York: 0.5

Travel: From NYC you have easy access to the East Coast of the US, as well as across the continent, up to Canada, down to Mexico and the Caribbean. You can also reach South America. From London you can get to Europe easily, with all that that entails, while Africa is within easy reach. London has five airports, New York three. This one all depends on what you like, so I’m calling it even.

London: 5 New York: 1

Food: Ok, so, London does Indian food well, Asian food well, Caribbean food well. New York has amazing delis, pancakes, soul food, bagels. This is another very subjective one. Both cities are chock full of international cuisine, with plenty of variety. However, NYC has all night diners, which I really love, and they also have way better candy. Let’s face it, Haribo sucks. Peanut butter M&Ms rule.

London: 5 New York: 2

Heathcare: The NHS versus an insurance-based system where you can be sued for any reason at all? As much as people critique it, the NHS is beautiful. Long may it last. Nuff said.

London: 6 New York: 2

Sports: Having not been raised with it, I don’t really like the American system of moving teams around. How can you cheer for a franchise, only to see it bought or sold, and shifted to another town? Or, be happy about a new one coming in? Maybe that’s just my mindset, not being used to such a thing. In terms of fanaticism, of the sheer loyalty and energy, which comes from football, London wins hands down. But then, you have all the anger and violence which is the flip side of that coin, so it’s not cut-and-dried.

In terms of the actual sports available, again, it’s what you’re brought up with, mostly. I’ll always love rugby, cricket, and football more than NFL, baseball, and hockey. However, as I can see it from the other side, too, I’m calling this one even.

London: 6.5 New York: 2.5

Employment: Let’s not pull any punches: employment law in the US is shit. You get two days annual leave, as compared with at least 20 in the UK, and you can be fired without notice for no reason at all. Parental leave is barely any better. There’s no job security, and workers are often treated badly.

London: 7.5 New York: 2.5

Weather: New York gets colder, no doubt, but it also stays clearer. You get sunshine even on freezing days. The cloud cover might make it warmer in London, but it also makes it more sombre. And in summer, NYC has long, hot weeks. In London, if you see the sun you dart outside and take your shirt off, because tomorrow it might be raining again.

London: 7.5 New York 3.5

Layout: Again, in this category, London suffers from its success. It is weighed down by its history. London in often held up as an example of how not to plan a city. The strange nature of the streets might be called charming, but it also might be called confusing and inefficient. NYC is well-designed, easy to navigate, and even the street names make sense.

London: 7.5 New York 4.5

Welfare: The social welfare system in the UK, while not without its problems, is far superior to that in the US, which is not really a system to speak of. Homelessness here seems, to me at least, to be rife, and there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of support for those who are down and out, or to prevent them from becoming down and out. I admit that I don’t have a lot of back up on this one in the form of facts and figures, just what I have seen with my own eyes. I also know that London is worse now than before the Tories got in, but still, the support systems in the UK, some of which I have used, make me award the points in this one to London.

London: 8.5 New York 4.5

Nightlife: this one is harder for me to gauge, having hardly scratched the surface in NYC. I can bet it has a lot going on. I love the pub culture of London, too, and the nightlife there is exceptional. The sheer variety of music available, as well as live venues for music and comedy, is amazing. Both cities have excellent stage shows and theatre, too. A share of the points.

London: 9.0 New York 5.0

Atmosphere: This last one I added in, to try and convey the feeling of the place. London has atmosphere, but not in the same way as New York does, or maybe I’m just so used to it I don’t notice anymore. New York feels, well, like you’re in a movie. It feels alive, even at three in the morning. This category is an odd one, but New York takes the points for me.

London 9.0 New York 6.0

So, there you have it. London wins by three. Fairly comfortable in the end, even if some of the categories are boring, or I have left out others you might consider important. Or even if you disagree with my assessment. I think there’s a lot about life in London to love. Would I still take a shot at living in New York, though? You bet your ass I would.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Capital punishment

A tricky issue, even after you realise I am not talking about being forced to live in Auckland rather than beautiful Wellington. No, what I am talking about is the death penalty. Widely decried by advocates of human rights, and others who believe the justice is simply too flawed to allow such extreme measures to operate without error, my own thoughts on this issue are relatively unequivocal. I consider myself to be of a modern sensibility in many things, and liberal in many ways, but when it comes to the death penalty, I am decidedly pro. Let me tell you why, while also thinking about some of the arguments around the issue.

First is the idea the capital punishment should never be used, from a moral standpoint. This seems to me to be based on either one of two premises. First, that killing is morally wrong and that we, as reasonable, evolved beings, should eschew it. The second is the idea that there is no action which anyone can commit which deserves death. To take the second of these first, I believe that this is simply untrue. There are many actions which, if committed, warrant the forfeiture of a person’s life. Each crime will need to be judged by its merits, but acts like those committed by Josef Fritzl, Anders Breivik, or David Berkowitz, to name but a tiny few, would fall into this category. I am sure you can think of your own examples.

The first issue, that killing is morally wrong, seems fair enough on the face of it, but fails when put to the test. Let me propose a scenario wherein a police officer is facing off against a terrorist who had planted a bomb under a school bus full of children. The terrorist has his thumb over the switch, and the cop must decide whether to shoot, knowing that the only shot he has is a head shot. Does he pull the trigger?

Of course, even if your answer to the above hypothetical is yes, you might still argue that shooting a man in the heat of a battle is much different to holding a man for years and then executing him in cold blood. I would not disagree on this point, but rather point out that the argument shows that killing is not always wrong, from a moral standpoint.

Next, suppose we have a situation where the policeman missed his shot, the children got cooked, and the terrorist got arrested. Does this man deserve to live? More to the point, is it worth society’s time and expense keeping him alive? That money could be better spent elsewhere. Rehabilitation, you say? Let me tell you this, rehabilitation is not always possible and, with regards to the protection of those in society, should not always be attempted. Now, I am not fit to judge individual cases, but it seems to me that it would be downright irresponsible, in terms of the risk to future buses full of children, to try and ‘rehabilitate such a man. Nor has he earned such an opportunity by his behaviour.

So, again the question: why keep such a man alive? He is now nothing more than a drain on the resources of society. I don’t mean to suggest that human life be measured solely in terms of productivity, but the ninety-year-old who has been a peaceful member of society all her life has earned the right to care until the days she dies. Our fictional terrorist has forfeited such rights.

Now, there is another issue: not all cases are as black and white as the one I have described. What about human error, or corruption? Certainly mistakes happen, or are made to happen. Shouldn’t we hold back on using capital punishment just in case?

This argument is a good one, and the relative strength of it will depend upon the country to which it is being applied, there being different levels of trust in the justice system and its officials, in various places in the world. That said, I don’t believe this is a reason not to implement the death penalty. One reason for this might be that fifty years spent on death row could be considered a worse fate than a quick death, but this is of course a subjective view. Another point though, is simply that the penalty should be applied is some cases. Some people deserve to die; the world is better without them in it. As long as the correct checks and balances are in place, I believe that capital punishment is not only an option, it is the only option in some cases. Granted, we must be very careful about how and when the penalty is used, but this should not stop the pursuit of justice, merely direct it.

Revenge is not justice, I also hear shouted at me. This is true. However, sentencing, when applied by a trained and appointed judge, is not revenge. It is merely the system at work. A careful, unemotional, and reasoned examination of the facts of any crime may lead others to the same conclusion.

Perhaps you’d think differently if it were you wrongly accused, you say to me. Perhaps. But if I were able to rearrange the justice system from my own selfish perspective, it would not necessarily be that pleasant for anyone who wasn’t me. These issues must be decided without personal prejudice, as far as possible.

And that’s all I have to say about that. I think there may be other problems I have not anticipated. Feel free to let me know. After all, it’s not like I’m going to kill you.