Current Events: Student Loans and the Drinking Age Debate.

Two political issues have popped up in the last couple of weeks. Steven Joyce dropped some student loan-related bombs last week, while the long-in-the-making drinking age debate is in front of Parliament for the first time since last year’s election.

The Herald’s 2nd best asset (after Sideswipe).

If you’re a student then you’ve probably already heard the gist of the student loan changes; student allowance capped to four years and mandatory repayments upped from 10% to 12% of income over $19,084 p/a. The reasons behind the changes appear to be in response to the ballooning cost of maintaining interest-free student loans ($11 billion and climbing). The Ministry of Education has forecasted savings of $70 million p/a thanks to these adjustments.

The changes naturally affect those doing degrees that require more than four years of study; medicine, law/engineering conjoints and post-grad spring to mind. The Ministry response to this is that those students will be earning more post-study, balancing it out. This argument seems flawed when confronted with the thought that those on student allowances, more often than not, actually need the allowance to subsist during their study. The promise of future income does not pay for bus fares or mi goreng now, unfortunately.

It is understandable that the Ministry (and Government) is concerned with the debt burden that the current student loan scheme is creating. However, further burdening those graduating in what seems to be the toughest economic climate in modern times looks like a plan doomed to fail. Those charged with dragging New Zealand out of this economic slump have a substantial financial handicap from the get-go. In a way, the Government could be addressing more important issues in the battle to re-start the country’s economy.

“Puzzle time.”

Which brings us to the seemingly eternal debate over the drinking age in New Zealand. Never mind that under-age drinking is endemic to the New Zealand youth culture today; the Government appears fixated on the notion that an arbitrarily-determined age at which one can purchase and consume alcohol will change the country’s drinking culture. I don’t know what Parliament hopes to achieve by raising the purchase and consumption age to twenty; the point that societal change must happen in response to the drinking culture is made often enough but still rings true.

Good for Parliament that it’s doing something, but I get the nagging feeling sometimes that our taxes are going towards a 121-person, live-broadcasted debating club.

Also: Carter at first-five, second-five or bench (or squad) for the All Blacks? Thoughts?

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Ideas worth spreading.

The internet is a powerful tool indeed. It is capable of wasting the precious few hours that you had set aside to do that assignment that is due tomorrow. Alternatively, it is capable of mobilising opinions and effecting change.

A preview of the top talks for the day on and the British Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA) most definitely do their bit to enlighten the internet populace. They share captivating and interesting videos of industry leaders sharing their two-cents. Definitely worth devoting some of that hour(s) of procrastination to. Below, for your viewing pleasure and critical analysis, is a RSA talk by Evgeny Morozov, discussing the internet’s power to empower and censor.

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The 27 Club.

Upon her death, Amy Winehouse joined an exclusive and slightly ominous group of musicians, the 27 Club. The club comprises of famous artists who have died at age 27; society has lost much musical potential. I was surprised at just who formed the core of this ‘prestigious’ collection of talented musicians, lost while in their prime.

The '27 Club'. From left: Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.

Jones, Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison and Cobain all died in less-than-ordinary circumstances. Winehouse, who was definitely not shy of the tabloid’s spotlight during the course of her life, joins these legends in the 27 Club. While there has been no official report of cause of death, one can only imagine the tragic influence that drugs and alcohol had on her life had a part to play.

I watched a Youtube video of Winehouse on her final tour back in June, performing at a decidedly sub-par level in Belgrade. It was unnerving to see her in such a state. I would prefer to remember her by the true triumphs of her life, the classic songs that she wrote.

Also some extra light reading, a comprehensive tribute to Winehouse by The Guardian.

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Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, which I’ve mentioned before. I had been looking forward to reading Never Let Me Go for some time; the film adaptation was released in NZ this year, and my initial attempts to borrow my friend Libby’s copy had been thwarted by the few people that were ahead of me in line to read it. It was with some anticipation, especially after enjoying The Remains of the Day, that I delved into it.

I loved it. The book comes across as very emotionally reserved, as if you are expected to be able to read the thoughts of the characters as they deal with their lives and what is to come. For me, this wasn’t a bad thing. Just because it’s a novel doesn’t mean that the reader has to be granted omniscient access into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. The lives of Kathy H, Tommy D and Ruth are inextricably and tragically intertwined. Ishiguro doesn’t deal with the huge ethical issues that are raised in this novel, which was a wise move in my opinion. I certainly was challenged by the ethical side to the story – I think Ishiguro presents an unnervingly accurate take on the moral pulse of modern society.

If you like to read, then read this book.

If anything, I was afraid that the film would ruin the book for me. Such fears were misplaced as the film did a good job of filling in the mental pictures of the world of Never Let Me Go that I had developed whilst reading it. Viewers that haven’t read the book may struggle to fully understand or appreciate the plot as it develops; the small, intimate moments that Ishiguro crafts in the novel are unfortunately lost in transition to the screen. What of the cast’s performances? Carey Mulligan did, in my opinion, a fantastic job of playing the tragic protagonist Kathy H. I wasn’t impressed with Keira Knightley as Ruth but I put that down to the restrictions that come from losing so much character development that occurs in the book. Andrew Garfield, soon to be seen as the new Spiderman, did a passable job as Tommy D. I think that I would watch Never Let Me Go again, but I’d give it a few years.

One of the best books that I’ve read in a long time and a decent film adaptation to accompany it.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

It all ended last week when I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It was a fitting end to a rather impressive film series. It was almost a relief, a final realisation of how we all imagined the final half of the 7th book would be. It had its flaws, but don’t all (most) films?

It starts right where Part 1 left off; Dobby’s dead (my friend noted the folly of burying someone in a sand-dune), Voldemort’s got the Elder Wand and Harry, Hermione and Ron have to seek the help of a goblin with SHARP AS teeth. The venture into Gringotts is swiftly dealt with and the trio recover the cup of Helga Hufflepuff. The rest of the film then is left to attend to the siege of Hogwarts. Director David Yates and scriptwriter Steve Kloves did an impressive job of converting the battle from the novel into a coherent and viewable version in the film. Part 2 doesn’t shy away from the reality that a whole bunch of people die in this one; bodies are scattered all around the ruined grounds of the school. It’s indicative of where this series has come and how much it has grown up. There are a smattering of funny one-liners which weren’t quite as hilarious as the awkward moments that were served up, Voldemort hugging Draco Malfoy (see the Youtube video below), the final ’19 years later’ sequence and Harry and Ginny’s ‘got to run, see you later’ kiss come to mind. Personal highlight of the film was probably Snape’s memories, which were moving enough to overcome the awkwardness of seeing younger versions of him.

It’s definitely the end of an era. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have spent half their lives playing one character; it’s going to be hard to see Radcliffe loping around on screen in the future without a scar, glasses and a wand. Part 2 was the first time I’ve attended a midnight screening and it was well worth it. It’s goodbye to Harry Potter and company. For now.

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Mad Men.

There’s something about Mad Men that has me captivated. The show delivers an accurate depiction and insight into life in 1960’s America, driven by narratives that follow intriguing and complex characters. Matthew Weiner, creator and writer, has meticulously crafted a story that you actually care about.

Cast of Mad Men.

The narrative centres around Don Draper, creative director at Sterling Cooper, an advertising agency on Madison Avenue, Manhattan. He’s a leader in his field; his punchy sells that he delivers to clients are one of the highlights of the show for me. He’s also a man of mystery in many ways; he expertly separates his work, home and philandering lives, yet there is much about Don that those close to him have no idea about. At times he is very much an antihero, not that Mad Men needs a hero figure for the show to work. Cast your eye to the picture above and you’ll see some of the other cast members of Mad Men; each of whom has been carefully developed into a believable character, with their own insecurities, flaws and broken pasts.

Don Draper.

Delve beneath the excessive smoking, drinking and philandering and you get an honest and real picture of 1960’s America. People die, get married, get divorced, have their toes cut off, lie, cheat and steal. Mad Men does all of this but without the typical TV drama kitschy feel. The way that the show deals with important moments in history (JFK assassination, the Civil Rights Movement amongst others) adds to the feeling that you’re watching something bigger than a TV show but that you’re catching a glimpse of the origins behind the driving forces of change that shook America in the second-half of the 20th century.

Mad Men has been a refreshing change to the comedy shows that I usually watch; sorry Ted, I care about how you met your kids’ mother a whole lot less now.

For a humorous take on how Don Draper reaches decisions, click here. Thanks Oatmeal.

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Ah, cats. Cats do seem to polarise the world, dividing opinion between those that think that they are the spawn of the devil, leaving hair and dead rodents/birds everywhere, and those that think that the Egyptians were onto something when they worshipped these lovable fur-balls.

This is Maru, a cat who lives in Japan with an owner that is adept at photography and has an eye for feline-related business opportunities, it seems. Maru has a reputation for sprinting across a room and throwing himself into boxes that are too small to fit him. As can be seen above though, this doesn’t usually stop him from trying.

I guess I’m a cat person.

If I ever got a cat, I hope it’d be as happy, bouncy, jump-in-boxy and cute as Maru.

Conclusions? That I like cats. That people can blog about anything these days, be it their own cat or someone else’s cat. And that people are willing to spend money on books and DVDs about someone else’s cat.

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