Referendum 2011, The Double Down and 127 Hours.

2011 is election year in NZ. This year, we have the added privilege of not only voting for either a Labour or National-led government (does it matter anymore?), but we also get to voice our opinion on how good the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system of elections has been. I study Politics at university, yet even I was not fully aware of the details of how MMP or any of its potential replacements works. Let’s take a trip down knowledge lane, shall we?

Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, John Key. Isn't he a looker.

The incumbent – MMP

A voter has two votes, an electorate vote and a party vote. The candidate with the highest number of votes in each electorate receives a seat in Parliament. There are 70 electorates. The party vote dictates how many seats a party will get, aside from those gained through electorate wins. Essentially, a party gets into Parliament if they get over 5% of the party vote or win an electorate.

e.g. ‘The Bill and Ben Party’ gets 30% of the nation-wide party vote and also 20 electorate seats. 30% is equivalent to 36 seats, thus they receive a further 16 seats on top of their 20 electorate seats. These seats are filled by prospective MPs on a party’s ‘party list’.

e.g. ‘The Bill and Ben Party’ gets 4% of the nation-wide party vote, not above the 5% threshold. But they win an electorate. Not only do they get that electorate seat, they receive 4% of the seats in Parliament, roughly 5.

Confused? So is most of NZ, I guess.

Leader of the Labour Party, Phil Goff. First-rate grin.

The contenders – FPP, PV, STV and SM

First Past the Post: What NZ had before we switched to MMP in 1996. 120 MPs, 120 electorates. You win an electorate, you get a seat. Whoever gets the most seats wins. Small parties are usually under-represented as while they may receive a decent number of votes nation-wide, without electorate wins, they get no seats in Parliament.

Preferential Voting: 120 MPs, 120 electorates. You win an electorate, you get a seat. Voters list electorate candidates from 1-6 in order of preference, candidate with highest vote (over 50%) wins. If no candidate gets over 50%, the process gets complicated and boring.

Single Transferable Vote: Literally incomprehensible. Pick this option if you use Linux, or study Logic at university.

Supplementary Member: 120 MPs. 90 MPs are voted in through their electorate. The remaining 30 ‘supplementary seats’ are voted in through the party vote. A party receives a portion of the 30 seats equivalent to the number of party votes that they received nation-wide. e.g. If ‘The Bill and Ben Party’ receives 10% of the party vote, it receives 3 supplementary seats.

Conclusion

It’s not my prerogative to tell you which one to vote for. My guess is that the majority of NZ will decide once they’ve got their referendum form in front of them come November 26th. It will be interesting to see which way the country swings. For further reading pleasure, the NZ Herald posed this question to two current MPs.

I’m impressed if you’re still reading this. It’s not often that people are actually interested in real information. As a reward, here’s a link to a recipe for a home-made Double Down and Oatmeal.com’s opinion on how 127 Hours should’ve ended. NB: The 127 Hours link contains spoilers, a bit of blood and an Arrested Development reference.

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The Remains of the Day.

The Remains of the Day is a fascinating novel; slow to start but eventually it had me hooked. The author Kazuo Ishiguro, who also penned Never Let Me Go, is a British author of Japanese nationality. Belying your initial reaction to his name, the story is authentically English and casts the reader’s imagination back to the fractious atmosphere of the post-World War Two world.

The book follows Stevens, an old butler who devoted much of his professional career in the service of Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall. Lord Darlington, a member of the traditional English gentry, has passed away and Darlington Hall now houses an American, Mr Farraday. Stevens has out-lived his old master and the glory days of his profession; delivered in first-person narrative, Stevens spends much of the novel lost in nostalgic recollections of past events.

As he embarks on a long-overdue holiday, Stevens considers the various crucial characteristics of a truly great butler. Behind his in-depth contemplation of his profession lies thoughts on ‘British’ character, dignity and unfailing loyalty. The reader gets a glimpse at what the cost has been of Stevens’ uncompromising dedication to his craft.

Certainly not a fast-paced book, it took me some effort to get into it. However, once the dynamics of Stevens’ world were established, the story became far more read-able. For those interested in the social structure in Britain in the early 20th century of European politics in between the World Wars, this novel may be of particular interest to you. I’m now greatly looking forward to reading Never Let Me Go and A Pale View of Hills.

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Thor.

I have never read a Marvel comic before, yet I find myself closely following the release of the series of films based on the Avengers. The impression that the films all exist within the same world is a fascinating concept, one that particularly appeals to me. I’ve seen and loved Iron Man and Iron Man 2, how was Thor going to fare compared to Robert Downey Jr. and company?

I’m going to be honest and say that I wasn’t impressed with it. The friends I saw it with seemed quite impressed, but I felt that a few things let it down.

Firstly, it was missing the classy humour (or witty sarcasm, if you will) that Iron Man (2) has, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr. Granted that this is less of a valid criticism and more of a personal quibble, but for me, the humour in the film was average at best. Some moments, such as when Thor’s friends “Xena, Jackie Chan…” are walking through the town, are surely not supposed to be funny but are so because of what seems like some serious low production value. The cast often looked like they took a wrong turn on the way to a Comic Con.

Second gripe, the film spent WAY too long in the CGI-laden worlds of Asgard and Jotenheim. What I liked about Iron Man was how the film is grounded in Stark’s interaction with the world. It makes it feel more like it’s part of the Avenger’s meta-narrative. Thor and friends duking it out in what looks like a dark freeze-works or a druggie’s dream didn’t inspire me; granted that this may be because I had no prior knowledge of Thor the comic. Thor spends little screen-time being bewildered and confused as to where he is, why people aren’t bowing to him and instead are looking at him funny. Add to that the inexplicably rapid advancement of his romance with Natalie Portman (they really did nothing but eat together and gaze at the night sky together) and you’ve got me perplexed. Also, how did Thor go from pig-headed idiot to self-sacrificing role model in one/two days? (Note: Chris Hemsworth looks A LOT like my friend Bjorn; I regret not dressing him up with a cape and a big hammer)

It wasn’t that bad. It just wasn’t very good. Iron Man beats it by a country mile, especially if you enjoy a bit of Downey Jr. narcissism and sarcasm. I’m hoping that Captain America is a better effort, especially seeing as the Avengers is slowly creeping into view.

In other filmic news, Peter Jackson and Steven Speilberg’s Tintin is coming along rather nicely, it seems. I’m excited.

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Richard Swarbrick.

Football is often dubbed the beautiful game, but it’s a lot easier to appreciate the beauty of the game when it’s presented like this. The first video is an animation of Barcelona’s 5-nil thrashing of Real Madrid earlier this season. The second follows Bale as he tears Inter Milan to pieces over two games in the Champions League. Amazing talent to create such animation. HD it.

Also, a trailer for the final Harry Potter film has been released. Get excited, even if you’re of the school of thought that the film series has been mud.

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A productive day.

Boredom is a funny thing. Speaking of funny things, here are some humorous things that make me chuckle today.

Almost as funny as Japanese game shows is this video, courtesy of Wimp.com. Click the photo to see it. It's well worth it.

This made me realise that I've never actually closely looked at 'The Last Supper'.

Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich (departing from his preferred ‘end of the world’-style movies e.g. The Day after Tomorrow and 2012), questions whether William Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays that torture English students worldwide. Rather intriguing.

Given how indecisive I can be, I'll definitely be trying this out sometime.

P.S. I actually did do some work today, despite what this post would lead you to believe.

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Choices.

How have we come to be who we are now? Are our lives a product of a series of choices, mostly made by ourselves but also by others? We are inevitably and overwhelmingly shaped by our experiences. What if I hadn’t spent this afternoon watching Glee and had instead gone out for a two-hour walk? What if I’d gone to uni in Japan? What if I had been keen for Chocolate Boutique last night? What if my family had stayed in Christchurch? Do little and big choices eventually shape who we are?

The choices that led to this situation unfolding would be fun to unpack.

It’s a fascinating concept, to imagine the ‘what ifs’ of your life. What if I hadn’t watched Next, a terrible Nicholas Cage film which has scarred me for life, not in the least because it shows him wasting his ability to see into the future. Are the little left/right choices actually of consequence to our big-picture life plans? Or are they just different routes to the same destination? I’m sure that this concept has been done to death by philosophers; but whatever (I don’t do philosophy at uni so I’m allowed to deliver unsubstantiated opinions on the subject). I’m of the belief that we are autonomous, that the choices that we make on a day-to-day basis affect us – because of this, each choice is important. (But combine this with my belief that God cannot be circumnavigated by one or more choices and you’ve got a paradox, I guess. I never guaranteed that any cohesive train of thought is followed in these posts). So each one of our choices has consequences? Guess so. Anyway, I digress.

What got me onto this whole business was this whole Next concept – what if, when faced with a choice, you could assess the future result of that choice. I look back at my short (so far) life and I think of all the crossroads where I have chosen my way – how interesting would it be to go back and see where the ‘other way’ would’ve taken you? Maybe you will be in a different country, be studying something else, associate with other social groups. The possibilities are endless. Or maybe you’ll just be the same. The cumulative effect of various ‘little’ choices can be huge. What if you were in a TV show and this week’s episode is one of those flash-back ones, where someone asks a reflective question and the next 21(ish) minutes are spent looking at what could’ve been if X had done Y instead of Z. What if Chandler had never interviewed Joey as a potential flatmate? What if Ted had never met their mother? Does this hypothetical self-reflection fill you with regret or with satisfaction..

Considering all the choices that I’ve made, good or bad, I’m glad that I’ve ended up to be who I am now. Cheers, past me.

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Tumblr and Wimp.com.

It’s not StumbleUpon this time, but Tumblr and Wimp.com that I am grateful to for helping me procrastinate the hours away. Why slave over the musings of a long-dead Genevan political philosopher (Rousseau) when I could be doing good by sharing the good bits of the internet? Good question.

Firstly, check this video out. My mate Bjorn got me onto Wimp.com and I’ve never looked back. In this video, what looks like a group of Japanese middle-class businessmen/a common-as-mud boy-band is performing a rather cool dance. It’s impressive, to say the least.

Fun fact: My granddad is a camera enthusiast. He makes clocks out of old cameras. I think he should branch out and make these too. Is it a camera lens or a coffee mug? The answer is not both, but just a coffee mug. Pretty neat, huh.

Warning: Do not get one of these with coffee in it mixed up with your actual lens. Click through to see other stuff.

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