20 August 2017

A man for every season

Shayne P Carter 
Meow, Wellington
19 August 2017

Having seen Shayne Carter in a double-act with Don McGlashan at the Paramount a while back, it was good to follow up with this louder band gig at Meow last night, with Carter chiefly on guitar as usual, with bass and drums backing. Booming, jagged waves of tortured, coruscating anti-pop and all that. Ears buzzing into the night. He played a couple of numbers from his uncharacteristic piano pieces too, off the 2016 album Offsider (which for reasons of keyboard proximity I'm inclined to type as Oddsider), including this track below, in a 2016 RNZ clip. It's interesting to see a guitar supremo contort his music through an unfamiliar instrument (he taught himself to play for Offsider). In support the Magic Numbers-lineup of local band Draghound (two girls, two guys) impressed.

I'm still taken aback by New Zealand pub gig audiences though - the ones who pay money to hear an artist perform and then talk all the way through the performances. Oftentimes in the quieter numbers they're louder than the band. Such rude behaviour is beyond my ken!


17 August 2017

Die kleinen Gesichter

Live on German TV programme 'Beat-Club', a pacey 10-minute set by the Small Faces at the height of their powers, with four numbers including All Or Nothing and Whatcha Gonna Do About It, and plenty of would-be German mods in the audience attempting to keep up. That might be British DJ Dave Lee Travis of later BBC fame doing the intros there - he hosted the programme from 1966 to 1969.

14 August 2017

Film festival roundup 2017

Here's my top five films from the 2017 NZ International Film Festival here in Wellington, where I saw 20 films in 17 days. An excellent year for the festival!

Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017) :: Embassy 108 mins

Image result for patti cake$ poster

I knew I had to see Patti Cake$ the moment I read the festival blurb recording the moment the Cannes crowd heard the film's lead actor Danielle Macdonald speak at a Q&A they 'gave an audible gasp when she answered her first question because no one had a clue she was Australian let alone not American'.

There's no question that this quest-for-stardom music flick traverses the most hackneyed of cinematic cliches - the embattled outsider with a heart of gold striving to overcome adversity with the help of their plucky, wacky friends and a huge helping of sheer talent. In lesser hands this would be trivial, forgettable material. But with Macdonald director and writer Geremy Jasper has a legitimate, stone-cold star. There's never a moment in Patti Cake$ that leads the viewer to disbelieve her tremendous ability with a mic and a rhyme. Her rapping performances are quite authentically superb, and that's from someone who has little time for the musical genre. And whereas a film like Steven Soderbergh's Haywire can coast on a serviceable lead performance by Gina Carano thanks to her eye-watering martial arts talents, Macdonald is the complete package here because in addition to rapping like a boss she also acts with commendable talent.

I won't spoil the audacious climax of the film, but this is that most treasurable of offerings, a true crowd-pleaser in every respect. Don't be surprised if you see Macdonald at the Oscars, or at the very least performing at the Grammys - assuming they can devise something PG-13 for her to rap, that is.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (dir. Annie Goldson, NZ, 2017) :: Paramount 112 mins

Image result for Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web

You don't have to like Kim Dotcom in the slightest to be impressed by the scope of Annie Goldson's stellar documentary. While the biographical aspects of the sorry Dotcom tale are strong, the broader implications for the entire way society consumes intellectual property are particularly intriguing. Particularly telling is the example given of the early rise of Dotcom's Megaupload, when a recent University of Kansas graduate tells a reporter friend that her campus was abuzz with sharing free movies on the site, and that it was her lecturer who first turned her onto it - a clear sign that the social impact of this type of sharing was mammoth and permeating every corner of the world.

Goldson has assembled a formidable collection of international interviewees to augment the expert insights of the Herald's David Fisher, including Jimmy Wales, Moby and Glenn Greenwald. And whether or not you think Dotcom is guilty of the crimes he's been charged with, his case has been handled diabolically by the New Zealand authorities at seemingly every stage. The questionable granting of New Zealand residency (potentially with the ultimate intention of handing him over to the Americans), the ludicrous overkill of the January 2012 raid on the Dotcom mansion (which was conducted using faulty warrants), the police's illegal cloning and sharing of his entire evidence file with the FBI, the illegal surveillance by the New Zealand security services (which was later patched up by highly contentious legislation) and the eventual court ruling that he was eligible for extradition to the US but not for the charges originally laid against him, the five years it's taken to even get this far ('justice delayed is justice denied', after all): these all add up to a picture of a New Zealand justice system seemingly taking its orders from overseas and bending its rules to suit.

Throughout, Dotcom appears as a charismatic chancer punching way above his paygrade - a low-level crook who made millions while Hollywood refused to adapt its business model to reflect changing technology.

Ethel & Ernest (dir. Roger Mainwood, UK, 2016) :: Paramount 94 mins

Image result for ethel & ernest

The highlight of the last day of the film festival was Brenda Blethyn & Jim Broadbent voicing the animation Ethel & Ernest - the story of artist Raymond Briggs' parents and their 40 happy years of marriage. If the idea of following the mundane, everyday goings-on of ordinary South Londoners strikes you as boring or dull, then you'll be missing out on a precious social document replete with wry humour, affecting pathos and small tragedies bravely borne. Personally, I loved every minute of this loving tribute to the heroism of ordinary working-class people making their way through life. Even if it did feature plenty of exposition in the form of Ernest listening to the wireless and exclaiming, 'Blimey, that Mr Hitler's only gorn an' invaded Poland' - because that's just what Ernest would have said. If only we had something like this lovely little film for New Zealanders' lives of the same generation, for a way of life now lost and almost forgotten.

Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993, dir. Carla Simon, Spain, 2017) :: Embassy 97 mins

Image result for estiu 1993

An expertly realised evocation of a momentous summer from the director's own past, as orphaned six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) is taken to the Catalan countryside for a new life with her aunt and uncle and her tiny cousin Anna. Wiry, inquisitive and puzzled, Frida struggles to adjust to her new environs and the family struggles to adapt to this newcomer, half insider, half outsider. As a simple depiction of childhood, familial kindness and learning to get along, this is hugely effective, finding particular joy in the small and utterly genuine interactions between Frida and the cherubic, playful little Anna that pepper the film. So many of the episodes depicted have the ring of true memories to them, and as Frida's story and that of her family emerges one can't help but be impressed with the performances of all concerned.

A Date for Mad Mary (dir. Darren Thornton, Ireland, 2016) :: Paramount 82 mins

Image result for date for mad mary

An object lesson in how to make a small film with a big heart, A Date For Mad Mary works in every respect - dramatically, comedically, narratively and visually. The tremendous cast led by Seana Kerslake as loose cannon Mary offer believable and memorable performances and the film provides a glimpse into the motivations and challenges of a determined young woman seeking a 'plus one' for her best friend's wedding, with the slight impediment that she's got anger management issues and has only just emerged from a six-month jail term. The blind date scenes are particularly rich with humour, particularly given Mary's first stab in the dark is to ask out her middle-aged former drug dealer.

Other films seen and enjoyed at this year's festival:

The Party (dir. Sally Potter, UK, 2017)
The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017)
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (dir. Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2016)
Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no junin, dir. Miike Takashi, Japan, 2017)
The Farthest (dir. Emer Reynolds, Ireland, 2017)
My Year with Helen (dir. Gaylene Preston, New Zealand, 2017)
I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, USA, 2016)
The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray, USA, 2016)
Manifesto (dir. Julian Rosenfeldt, Germany, 2017)
Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979)
Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun, Turkey, 2016)
6 Days (dir. Toa Fraser, New Zealand/UK, 2017)
Human Traces (dir. Nic Gorman, New Zealand, 2017)
The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola, USA, 2017)
The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen, dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017)

See also:
Movies: Film festival roundup 2016 part 1, part 2
Movies: Film festival roundup 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009

04 August 2017

Keith Moon's brandy breakfasts

[In 1978], four years after the death of Cass Elliot at Harry Nilsson's flat, Keith Moon, after fitting enough partying and convivial nights in his short life for a small town, died of an overdose of Heminevrin tablets in the very same bed.

Keith and his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, had been to a party held by Paul McCartney at the trendy chrome and neon-lit cocktail-bar restaurant called Peppermint Park on St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden. By many accounts Keith was unusually quiet and sober and shared a booth with the McCartneys, David Frost, John Hurt and Kenny Jones - Moon's eventual replacement, ironically. At midnight, everyone went to the Odeon, Leicester Square, for the late-night premiere of the Buddy Holly Story that starred Gary Busey. Before the end of the film Keith and Annette caught a taxi back to Curzon Place. Keith started watching the film The Abominable Dr Phibes but fell asleep after taking several Heminevrin sedatives that had been prescribed to aid alcohol withdrawal. At about 7.30am he ordered Annette to cook him steak for breakfast. She complained but Keith retorted with, 'If you don't like it, you can fuck off'. Unfortunately they were his last words.

Annette, who had been sleeping on the living room couch because of Moon's incessant snoring, discovered him in the afternoon, face down on the bed, and he was found to be dead on arrival at Middlesex Hospital in Westminster [...]

Moon the Loon was only thirty-two when he died, but dying young didn't come to anyone's great surprise - he was one of the greatest partiers ever. He once outlined his typical daily diet to a doctor: 'I always get up about six in the morning. I have my bangers and eggs. And I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy. Then I take a couple of downers. Then it's about 10 and I'll have a nice nap until five. I get up, have a couple of black beauties [also known as Black Birds or Black Bombers and are a combination of amphetamine, or speed, and dextroamphetamine], some brandy, a little champagne and go out on the town. Then we boogie. We'll wrap it up around four'.

- Rob Baker, Beautiful Idiots & Brilliant Lunatics, Stroud, Gloucs, 2015, p.91-2.

27 July 2017

You sold me illusions for a sack full of cheques

This week I've relished listening to Cracked Actor, a rediscovered snapshot of David Bowie's legendary 1974 US tour that started out all apocalyptic and Diamond Dogs-y and took a sharp left turn to become the Soul / Philly Dogs Tour. Whereas the contemporary live album David Live was from the first part of the tour and due to lousy recording process sounded dreadful, the newly released 2016 remaster of a single September 1974 LA gig from the second part of the tour is simply fantastic, capturing the emaciated, hyperactive Bowie at a creative peak. And the new band, hastily cobbled together from New York session experts, is a stunning unit: Earl Slick & Carlos Alomar, Mike Garson, David Sanborn, and the great black backing singers including the just-starting-out Luther Vandross. Highlights of the set include a mad, bossanova Suffragette City and the extended funk-soul workout of John, I'm Only Dancing (Again) that is radically different to the taut glam strut of the 1972 and '73 originals.

The rare footage below doesn't have the touched-up audio of the new release but illustrates Bowie's stagecraft theatrics perfectly.

25 July 2017

The skyline is becoming a ragged row

Old William Reave [sic.], an old whaler who died here last year, made Port Nicholson early in 1839, and carried a clear view of the scene to his deathbed. In an interview he said: 'Wellington or, I should say, what is now Wellington, was the first port made; and a pretty spot it was, with the native bush extending like a soft cloak of green from the hill-tops to the water, with only a few insignificant clearings round the Maori settlements of Pipitea and Te Aro'. So gracefully described in a few words, the picture is a perfect one. The aesthetic will sigh 'Heigh-ho!' at the change. The soft green cloak has disappeared entirely from the foreground, the shelving hills have, in the transforming process, been disguised as 'cuttings', the waving raupo flat of Te Aro is a stewpan of houses reeking with humanity, and where the rata and the tree fern waved and curtsied in the breeze, house-seed, flung from below, has taken root and thrived marvellously, until the skyline is becoming a ragged row of house-tops instead of the graceful line of the mountain ridge. Wellington has grown! The exclamation is a general one from those who have been away from the place any time, and nothing is more prosaically true. It has.

- Dominion, 26 September 1907, quoted in Pat Lawlor, More Wellington Days, 1962, p.134.

[The Dominion being quoted is the very first edition of that newspaper, which since its merger with the Evening Post in 2002 has been published as the Dominion Post]

11 July 2017

A limited tolerance for sacred flames

The stances [Prince Charles] takes do not follow predictable political lines but seem perfectly calibrated to annoy everyone. Conservatives tend to be upset by his enthusiasm for Islam and his environmentalism; liberals object to his vehement defense of foxhunting and his protectiveness of Britain’s ancient social hierarchies. What unites his disparate positions is a general hostility to secularism, science, and the industrialized world.

“I have come to realize,” he told an audience in 2002, “that my entire life has been so far motivated by a desire to heal—to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soul; the cruelly shattered townscape, where harmony has been replaced by cacophony; to heal the divisions between intuitive and rational thought, between mind and body, and soul, so that the temple of our humanity can once again be lit by a sacred flame.”

The British tend to have a limited tolerance for sacred flames. They are also ill-disposed to do-gooders poking about in their poisoned souls. (“The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker,” George Orwell once observed.)

- Zoe Heller, Where Prince Charles Went Wrong, New Yorker, 10 April 2017

See also:

TheatreThe Audience, 14 July 2013
History: A new duke for an old title, 30 April 2011
Blog: A royal garden party, 9 July 2008

America's Cup parade

05 July 2017

Film Festival 2017 lineup

It's that time again! As with last year's festival, I've decided to limit myself to 20 films, and no more than two per day. That still leaves plenty of scope for world-straddling and genre-spanning films of all varieties, including Swedish black comedies, gonzo samurai tales, stirring documentaries from New Zealand and around the world, a Soviet-era classic, a top-flight feminist remake, powerfully affecting British animation, not to mention six wonderful female-directed films.

I'm particularly looking forward to a swathe of unmissable documentaries, led by Gaylene Preston's fascinating glimpse into Helen Clark's bid for the United Nations' top job, My Year with Helen, and the powerful vision of American race relations in I Am Not Your Negro. In Julian Rosenfeldt's Manifesto there's the opportunity to savour Cate Blanchett's tour-de-force performance as 13 different characters, which I first witnessed in an impressive video art installation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in November. Bring on the festival's opening night on 28 July - I can hardly wait!

The Party (dir. Sally Potter, UK, 2017)
A political dinner party extravaganza from hell :: Embassy Theatre 71 mins

The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017)
A brutal, biting satire of the Swedish ruling classes :: Embassy Theatre 147 mins

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (dir. Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2016)
One woman's lifelong quest for human-centred urban design :: Embassy Theatre 92 mins

Blade of the Immortal (dir. Miike Takashi, Japan, 2017)
Mugen no junin
Mental limb-regrowing samurai nonsense :: Embassy Theatre 141 mins

The Farthest (dir. Emer Reynolds, Ireland, 2017)
The Voyager probes get their own doco! :: Embassy Theatre 121 mins

My Year with Helen (dir. Gaylene Preston, New Zealand, 2017)
Veteran director shadows doyen NZ stateswoman :: Embassy Theatre 93 mins + director Q&A to follow

I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, USA, 2016)
American identity, American racial politics :: Penthouse Cinema 93 mins

The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray, USA, 2016)
Part of the twin-pronged Pattinson NZIFF assault :: Embassy Theatre 141 mins

Manifesto (dir. Julian Rosenfeldt, Germany, 2017)
Blanchett x13 is just fine with me :: Paramount 94 mins

Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979)
Paranoid Soviet-era sci-fi weirdness :: Embassy Theatre 161 mins

Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun, Turkey, 2016)
Turkish street cats! :: Penthouse Cinema 79 mins + short

A Date for Mad Mary (dir. Darren Thornton, Ireland, 2016)
Rambunctious young Irish comedy :: Paramount 82 mins + short

6 Days (dir. Toa Fraser, New Zealand/UK, 2017)
NZ-directed actioner, on the 1980 Iranian embassy siege :: Embassy Theatre 95 mins + journalist Kate Adie Q&A to follow

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (dir. Annie Goldson, New Zealand, 2017)
Quite possibly conjuring both loving and loathing :: Paramount 112 mins + director Q&A to follow

Human Traces (dir. Nic Gorman, New Zealand, 2017)
NZ ends-of-the-Earth drama :: Embassy Theatre 87 mins + director Q&A to follow

Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017)
The year's stand-out performance? :: Embassy Theatre 108 mins

Summer 1993 (dir. Carla Simon, Spain, 2017)
Estiu 1993
An intensely personal Spanish childhood tale :: Embassy Theatre 97 mins

The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola, USA, 2017)
Coppola re-imagines a sexist 70s romp :: Embassy Theatre 94 mins

Ethel & Ernest (dir. Roger Mainwood, UK, 2016)
No heartstrings unplucked in this timeless animated tale of British family life :: Paramount 94 mins + short

The Other Side of Hope (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017)
Toivon tuolla puolen
Another examination of the immigrant's life from the Finnish master :: Penthouse Cinema 98 mins

03 July 2017

Funny meeting you here

The Cobra Mk3-class ISV 'Dragonfall 5', pictured on a data retrieval mission on the frigid ice moon of Heilelang 4A on behalf of the Social Bastanien Unionist Party, to aid them in their civil war against their corporate rivals, Bastanien Silver Transport Inc.


'Geroff me middle notes, Puss!'

02 July 2017

Boston's habituation to illicit trade

[T]he repeal of the Stamp Act and the loss of income to the Exchequer only intensified the problem of funding the colonies, containing the French and supporting both a military infrastructure and legal system (of customs officials, judges and governors) needed to underpin parliamentary sovereignty. The young Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, supported by Prime Minister Grenville, came up with an alternative solution in the form of the 1767 Revenue Act. The so-called 'Townshend duties' imposed an import tax (rather than the Stamp Act's direct tax on indigenous produce) on all glass, paper, lead, paint and tea shipped into the American colonies. And these new taxes came with a Board of Customs Commissioners designed to end Boston's dockside grey economy and finally put the imperial finances on a stable footing. Needless to say, the duties were met with an indignant response. Because for all of Samuel Adams' protestations of constitutional propriety and lawfulness, the Boston economy was in fact heavily dependent upon illegal smuggling and the avoidance of duties. 'We have been so long habituated to illicit trade that people in general see no evil in it,' Thomas Hutchinson censoriously commented. He estimated that some three-quarters of the consumer goods brought into America were done so illegally. And the high-yielding crates of Chinese tea were amongst the most regularly smuggled goods.

In Boston, the imposition of new taxes on established imports instantly politicised the waterfront, and, with it, Boston's relationship with the mother country. Within a matter of weeks, the customs officials, the Royal Navy and the tax collectors who patrolled the wharves and jetties metamorphosed from an irksome but necessary bureaucracy to the aggressive arm of a foreign government. The British Empire imperceptibly shifted from an enterprise of which Boston was a part to something approaching an oppressive, occupying force.

- Tristram Hunt, Ten Cities That Made an Empire, London, 2014, p.55-56.  

See also:
History: The peculation of Benjamin Franklin, 8 February 2016
History: Benjamin Franklin's plan to colonise New Zealand,  7 December 2015
History: When John Peel met JFK, 8 May 2017

29 June 2017

'Your uniforms don't fit we'

In honour of today being the 50th anniversary of Keith Richards being found guilty of allowing his house to be used for the illegal smoking of marijuana and being sentenced to one year in jail and a £500 fine, here's 'We Love You', the Rolling Stones' satirical up-yours response to the authorities, recorded the following month in July 1967. Features Lennon & McCartney on uncredited backing vocals, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Brian Jones looking tip-top as usual. (Richards' harsh sentence, and the lesser one also imposed on Mick Jagger, were dismissed on appeal).

25 June 2017

1000 hours of Elite Dangerous

Outbound Faulcon DeLacy Cobra Mk3 'Dragonfall 5'
It used to be the release of a new version of Sid Meier's Civilisation was the catalyst for me to upgrade my PC. But my most recent rig, which saw me swapping from a 17-inch laptop to a desktop with my first SSD, was designed with Elite Dangerous in mind. Before I could even play the game I spent hours watching videos of other people playing it - in particular the seemingly effortless pilot wizardry of Isinona's Flight-Assist Off series. Jousting with pirate Vipers, locking horns with Commanders in gunned-up Vultures, ducking in and out of asteroid fields to throw pursuers off their targets - it all looked so exciting. Then in April 2015 my new rig arrived and finally I could play the game myself. With Logitech 3D Extreme Pro joystick and a new monitor, I headed out into the void, navigating my tiny starter Sidewinder into the black.

Like many people I had played the original 1984 Elite, but only on friends' computers and never to any degree of proficiency. If I have any memories of it, it was of a game that was fiendishly difficult, and which generally resulted in a brutal death at the hands of the remorselessly rotating space stations that proved so difficult to dock with. On my Commodore 64 I preferred games with an easier learning curve, like the mounting stress of PSI-5 Trading Company, coaxing a stricken freighter to its destination amidst a storm of pirate attacks. (The spirit of that game is best captured in the recent indie game FTL).

The modern Elite Dangerous quickly proved addictive and became my main gaming hobby, and this weekend I finally clocked up 1000 hours of ED gameplay on Steam, the first time I've reached that total for any game. (My next highest total, by way of comparison, is currently 300-odd hours for Civ 5). The prospect of flying the kinds of spacecraft I had always daydreamed about as a child proved every bit as engrossing as I suspected it would. I'd describe my style of ED gameplay as schizophrenic - I seldom stick at one career path (bounty hunting, mining, trading, exploring) for more than a few days. This makes exploration in particular more of a psychological challenge, because venturing far from the human-inhabited bubble becomes a grind of endless repetition, with the thrill of discovering new worlds balanced by an admittedly thin and repetitive exploration gameplay.

Saud Kruger Dolphin passenger liner 'Cicero' on a tourist excursion
This complaint of thin gameplay, which is often levelled at ED on the game's busy subReddit, is generally fair but many players are prepared to overlook the game's limitations and take enjoyment from what it's capable of doing well. Sure, the endless development of Star Citizen does show considerable potential, merging starship action, FPS combat and gameplay, plus a richly tailored and scripted environments. But the big difference about the lavish $100m Star Citizen extravaganza is that you can play ED now, and while it's not perfect yet, it's got plenty to do and it's continually improving.

There's been a bit of disquiet on the forums recently because of a lack of information about where the game was going, with some suspecting that development was winding down. This was dispelled by the announcement that the final expansion of ED's second 'season' - a suite of DLC that was originally intended to last a year but has taken quite a bit longer - will finally see the return of the Thargoids, the implacable alien foes from the original game. This news has been a long time coming, and will hopefully address the community's fears about the game stagnating. From my perspective, by under-promising and over-delivering, Elite Dangerous remains a stalwart of sci-fi gaming, and I plan to spend plenty more hours flying the Milky Way in my assortment of starships, fighting, trading, mining and exploring as the whimsy takes me.

CMDR Totinges piloting a Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV)

22 June 2017

Strike out boys, for the hills

Trying to find a video vault kitsch classic to match the one a pal sent me earlier in the week, and while this one can't quite match the 1975 version of Una Paloma Blanca by French performer Georgie Dann, it's worth a stab if only for the surrealism of dance troupe Legs & Co (who were traditionally deployed on Top of the Pops when an overseas artist couldn't appear) performing a punishingly literal interpretation of The Clash's Bank Robber (because The Clash refused to appear on TOTP due to its miming requirement) for an August 1980 broadcast. Not 100% sure if Legs & Co really grasped the intrinsic zeitgeist of punk.

05 June 2017

On the 1636 from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly

In the station it's all grey, 1960s functionality, with the only colour provided by the cheery orange of the departure boards, flickering with trains for King's Cross, York and Hull. The London train is running late as usual, but a dozen or two are more hopeful of a more timely Trans-Pennine journey. A three-car train shows up on time, and we emerge from the station into a brick valley of Victorian industry and portakabin lots, which soon give way to terraces and suburban council tower blocks, and within five minutes the train is speeding through the Lancashire countryside. The woman sitting next to me holds a long mobile conversation in Italian, or more a one-sided monologue, insistent but musical. After Dewsbury we cross a broad canal and graffitied railway underpasses decorated with regional bragging. The air temperature rises with no air-conditioning and no windows to open; teenage girls loiter in the aisle, waiting to leap into the fresh air at Huddersfield with their fresh shopping spoils. One final stop at Stalybridge is soundtracked by the gossip and singing of excitable girls, speculating about the setlist of the Manchester benefit concert for the Ariana Grande victims. In the outskirts of Manchester the train passes industrial sites and two-up, two-down terraces, converted warehouses and grey suburban churches, as we roll towards Manchester Piccadilly. The station and the city trams outside are jammed with happy concert-goers, and Manchester is humming with activity.

31 May 2017


The Sea Gate at Kotor, Montenegro (1555)

17 May 2017

Thomas Frederick Duck

Aircraft fuselage fabric design from a 156 Squadron Pathfinder Force Lancaster bomber with a predominantly New Zealand crew. They flew over 60 missions over Europe, and brought Mr Duck with them when they returned home safely. Exhibit on display at the Air Force Museum at Wigram, Christchurch, photographed 14 April 2017.

08 May 2017

When John Peel met JFK

The following day [in 1961], the Kennedy/Johnson parade followed the same route [in Dallas], with the same cadets and the same majorettes. There seemed to be more people on the pavements and it seemed they were in a sombre mood. Although Lyndon Johnson was obviously one of them, Kennedy definitely was not. He was a Yankee, a Catholic and, it was universally agreed, a smartarse, and folks had, to a degree, turned out to hate him. At one stage, low on the hill that ran up Main Street from the area where Kennedy was, a couple of years later, to die, the motorcade came to a standstill opposite me. Seizing the moment, I ran forward to shake JFK's hand. 'Good luck, Mr Kennedy,' I said. 'Hey, you're from England,' he replied. When I told him that this was so, he asked me where from exactly, why I was in Texas, whether I liked it and whether I planned to stay. I was amazed, as we talked, that a man running for President of the USA could be interested in what I had to tell him. Hell, I couldn't even vote for him. Then he noticed the camera in my hand. 'Are you going to take a photo?' the future President asked, and when I said I'd like to, he suggested I should go back a few steps then, when I was ready, shout and he'd grin at me. So I stepped back three or four feet, raised the camera and yelled, 'Hey, Mr Kennedy.' He smiled and I pressed the button before going back to the side of the still stationary car to thank him. 'What are you going to do if that doesn't come out?' he asked. 'Why don't you take another one over the windscreen of the car? Then you can get Mr Johnson in as well.' So I moved to the front of the car, leaned on the bonnet and took another photograph. When I ran back to speak to John Kennedy again, someone else was talking to him, but he still found time to nod and suggest that I went to the other side of the car to meet LBJ. This I did before hurrying back to work. 

This is a story I've told, I'm afraid, hundreds of times, and each time have watched as my audiences have grown more incredulous. I have often imagined them wanting to ask whether there were Martians present at the events I described or whether I heard choirs of angels singing 'Hosanna!' as we spoke, and have wished that I finish by saying, reaching into my back pocket as I do, 'and here are the photographs'

- John Peel, Margrave of the Marshes, London, 2005, p.148-9.

[As luck would have it, the Peel JFK photos did in fact survive the destructive urges of Peel's first wife, and appear in Peel's autobiography.]

30 April 2017

Iago, unrepentant

Haakon Smestad in last night's Pop-up Globe production of Othello, a most pluvial affair on an Auckland autumn evening.

21 April 2017

In vino juventute

The narrator of Nutshell, an as-yet-unborn baby, discusses his precocious fondness for a tasty tipple:

"I like to share a glass with my mother. You may never have experienced, or you will have forgotten, a good burgundy (her favourite) or a good Sancerre (also her favourite) decanted through a healthy placenta. Even before the wine arrives - tonight, a Jean-Max Roger Sancerre - at the sound of a drawn cork, I feel it on my face like the caress of a summer breeze. I know that alcohol will lower my intelligence. But oh, a joyous, blushful Pinot Noir, or a gooseberried Sauvignon, sets me turning and tumbling across my secret sea, reeling off the walls of my castle, the bouncy castle that is my home. Or so it did when I had more space. Now I take my pleasures sedately, and by the second glass my speculations bloom with that licence whose name is poetry. My thoughts unspool in well-sprung pentameters, end-stopped and run-on lines in pleasing variation. But she never takes a third, and it wounds me.

'I have to think of baby,' I hear her say as she covers her glass with a priggish hand. That's when I have it in mind to reach for my oily cord, as one might a velvet rope in a well-staffed country house, and pull sharply for service. What ho! Another round here for us friends!"

- Ian McEwan, Nutshell, London, 2016, p.6-7.

19 April 2017

Even birds of a feather find it hard to fly

It's a little bizarre to think that I've been following Aimee Mann now for 24 whole years, ever since I read Elvis Costello's heartfelt praise of her lyrical solo debut album Whatever ('Today's the 4th of July / Another June has gone by / And when they light up our town I just think / What a waste of gunpowder and sky'). She released her latest album, Mental Illness, a couple of weeks ago and it's her strongest work in years. Here she is on the Late Show with a beautiful arrangement of the single Goose Snow Cone. Love her distinctive voice, and was so lucky to see her perform in London in 2007.

See also:
Music: Waiting for the gift of sound & vision, 16 January 2016
Music: Lawrence Arabia, 24 October 2015
Music: Pajama Club, 4 December 2011
MusicThe Girls Guitar Club, 2 September 2009
MusicHere & Now 80s Tour, 19 May 2008
MusicGrant-Lee Phillips, 29 April 2008

16 April 2017

Blondie & Cyndi Lauper

Blondie & Cyndi Lauper
Horncastle Arena, Christchurch
15 April 2017

It's always been my ambition to see Blondie live - after all, Debbie Harry was, for quite a few years, simply one of the coolest people on the planet, and collectively the band produced singles and albums that were amongst the best of the vibrant late-'70s and early '80s music scene. So when an Easter break in Lyttelton coincided with a tour announcement for the Horncastle Arena, and with no Wellington gig on the horizon, there was only one possible outcome: a gig ticket simply had to be acquired. As it turned out, the gig was a double billing with '80s pop veteran Cyndi Lauper, whose 1983 album She's So Unusual remains a favourite.

The Canterbury crowd was a mix of a few boisterous women in their 30s and 40s dressed as Lauper-alikes, plus a great majority of dourly-attired middle-aged gig-goers. Confounding my expectations, the first act in the double-billing was Blondie. This came as a surprise because I had presumed Blondie were far and away more popular in New Zealand than Lauper. But it turns out I know nothing, with Blondie enjoying eight top 40 charting singles in New Zealand to Lauper's 12. Perhaps the answer came in the relative ages and energy levels of the performers: Debbie Harry is a stately 71 while Lauper is a more sprightly and nimble 63. In any case, Blondie's vintage didn't hinder the band's performance. The three original members, Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke have a combined age of 199 and have been delivering these era-defining pop gems for decades, so their performance skills are mature like a refined wine. 

There’s no setlist posted online for this half of the gig, but there is for the Auckland Vector Arena performance two days later, and this seems consistent with other recent Blondie gigs. Interspersed with electrifying new wave pop hits of yore like One Way Or Another and Hanging on the Telephone, Blondie introduced new material written with collaborators Johnny Marr and Charli XCX, and in a perfect alignment of musical rebellion they mated the groundbreaking cadences of Rapture with the fuck-you outburst of the fellow New Yorkers the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right To Party.

Debbie Harry’s performance was solid, if not touching the highest vocal ranges - but in any case vocal gymnastics was never her style. New material including tracks from the imminent album Pollinator - it’s about the plight of the honey bee, apparently - were perfectly agreeable, but it was the legendary singles performed by the original bandmembers that the audience had come to see. It was an absolute thrill to hear Chris Stein’s guitar on a raucous Atomic, Clem Burke drumming up a storm on a booming Heart of Glass, and Debbie Harry’s iconic rapping on Rapture. Harry reminded the audience that their last gig in the city was the day before the 2011 earthquake, and congratulated Cantabrians on their spirited recovery since then.

After the 75-minute Blondie set and a lengthy stage turnover it was time for Cyndi Lauper’s first New Zealand gig (I think). Her career has been bolstered in the US by the success of her Broadway musical adaptation of the 2005 film Kinky Boots, but in New Zealand Lauper’s fame rests securely on the success of her 1983 album She’s So Unusual, which for a time saw Lauper rivalling Madonna for zesty female solo artist world domination. Concerns were initially raised by the western-themed stage backdrop and opening with a Wanda Jackson cover, Funnel of Love - and indeed Lauper did reveal that like many US artists, she had gone a bit country. Nevertheless, this and the Patsy Cline and Skeeter Davis covers didn’t undermine the pop focus of the evening, because ‘80s hit singles were prudently strewn through the setlist, commencing with the killer combo of She Bop and I Drove All Night directly after the opener. Throughout, Lauper entertained the crowd with her marvelous New York accent and a series of rambling anecdotes that didn't amount to much, but which added to the whimsical atmosphere. 

On She Bop, Debbie Harry emerged from stage left to sing guest vocals, with Lauper having done the same on an earlier non-canonical Blondie number. Entertainingly, Harry relied on a bright white sheet of A4 with printed lyrics to bluff her way through a song she clearly didn’t know well - but admittedly the chorus (‘She bop, he bop and we bop, I bop, you bop and they bop’) is rather like a Latin grammar lesson.

After the first encore of the peerless Time After Time and a nicely disguised intro to a mammoth version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Lauper returned for a solo second encore of True Colours. The Canterbury crowd emerged into the clear autumn evening, having been treated to an excellent night of veteran pop professionals.

13 April 2017

Danny Morrison's potato-eyed joy

[T]he IPL TV commentary is, if not the worst TV commentary ever conceived by any industrialised society, then certainly up there, the worst yet. Danny Morrison in particular seems to be astonished by pretty much everything from dot balls to thrashed sixes. Listening to his T20 commentary is like listening to a child’s toy that has mysteriously come to life – a friendly rocking horse, a bouncy space hopper – and which just wants to share its potato-eyed joy in every single object that swims into its line of sight.

- Barney Ronay, 'The IPL is back: cue bedlam, squeals, thunder and pure cricketing energy', Guardian, 7 April 2017

02 April 2017

The rotten boroughs

Antonia Fraser, in her book on the Great Reform Bill of 1832, outlines the marked unfairness of the British electoral system of the time, in which new industrial towns were largely unrepresented, representatives in the Commons could be elected by next to no-one, and seats could and did change hands for large sums of money:

[T]here were the infamous 'rotten boroughs' such as Old Sarum, where two MPs represented - quite literally - a lump of stone and a green field. No wonder visitors flocked to see this miraculous site! John Constable was sufficiently fascinated by this wild landscape which had once been a medieval city to commemorate it - Sir Thomas Lawrence admired the result and told him he should dedicate it to the House of Commons. Gatton in Surrey was only slightly less miraculous: here there were six houses in the borough, and 135 inhabitants in the parish - 'those celebrated and opulent and populous Towns', as the painter Haydon sarcastically called them. This particular borough of Gatton was sold several times, the price in the summer of 1830 said to be £180,000 (approximately £18 million in today's money). There was no miracle where Dunwich in Suffolk was concerned: it had in effect fallen into the sea, but it still returned two Members of Parliament. Places with long and ancient history frequently had a disproportionate amount of seats to their inhabitants, witness Cornwall, where there were a total of forty-four Members for a thinly scattered population. In general, there was a pronounced bias towards the south over the north of England.

- Antonia Fraser, Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832, London, 2013, p.19.

East of Brooklyn

25 March 2017

23 March 2017

The consolations of electrocution

Hospitals are excellent at responding to physical suffering, but what about suffering from boredom? For many there are long waits which can get boring. It may sound trivial or luxurious doing nothing, but could boredom be a problem that impacts on health outcomes and performance of hospitals? Is this a hidden malaise of hospital life?

Many struggle with doing nothing. A study found over two thirds of men, and a quarter of women, preferred electrocuting themselves rather than sitting in a blank room thinking for fifteen minutes...

- Elizabeth Burns, 'Pass me an anti-boredom pill doctor', BMJ Opinion, 2 March 2017

18 March 2017

2nd test v South Africa, day 3

Day 3 of the second test turned out to also be the last, as South Africa shot out New Zealand to take an eight wicket victory in double-quick time. Adding 10 runs to their overnight score, the tourists ended up with a first innings score of 359, a lead of 91 on New Zealand's score. Then New Zealand only managed to bat for 63.2 overs, accruing a mere 171, with only opener Jeet Raval impressing with 80 off 174 balls. A dismal seven New Zealand batsmen were dismissed for single digit scores, with James Neesham's dismissal particularly galling. Durban-born Keshav Maharaj achieved his best bowling figures by taking 40 for 6, and South Africa had little difficulty in knocking off a short chase to take the match with two days to spare. From a spectator's perspective the main feature of the day at the Basin was the bone-chilling southerly, which forced me out of the ground after two sessions to the much-needed refuge of a hot shower! 

Vance Stand view

Inspecting the wicket

Vernon Philander bowls

Jeet Raval's half-century

11 March 2017

Book whisperer

Absolutely legendary second-hand book find today at Arty Bees - I've been looking for the first edition of Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will for around seven years. Every so often I check in bookshops just in case. So today I went into Arty Bees for the first time in about six months and asked for it, and the lady at the desk was justifiably incredulous because it had literally just been purchased and was sitting 20cm away atop a stack set aside to put in the shop window!

The perils of carpetbagging

It's unclear what former Porirua mayor Nick Leggett has done to deserve such uncritical coverage as Jo Moir's catchily-titled 'Nick Leggett putting family before politics - calls quits on running for National in the Mana seat' in today's Dominion Post. Granted, he still retains some of the high profile and goodwill he generated during his two successful terms as Porirua's fourth mayor from 2010 to 2016. But since he stood down from that role and gambled big in a series of decisions that overestimated his political capital, Leggett has failed to convince anyone else to buy into his personal agenda. These high-stakes gambles have seemingly combined to greatly diminish his political standing, a point that seems to be missed in Moir's article.

To recap: Leggett felt he had a good shot at the Labour nomination for the Wellington mayoralty, but this went to poster-boy and all-round safe pair of hands Justin Lester. In his first gamble, Leggett decided to stand against Lester on a well-funded independent ticket, trusting that his personal profile and successful track record in Porirua would translate to a big tick in the capital. However, his performance in mayoral debates (at least the ones I attended and read about) seemed to be more about sour grapes at Lester's nomination than about a compelling vision for the city. On election day voters elected Lester with a healthy majority, with Leggett achieving a commendable second placing but still 7200 votes behind Lester's 31,900 tally.

Newly out of work, Leggett then concocted the brilliant wheeze of switching his political allegiance from Labour to National. (One Twitter wag suggested John Key's resignation shortly afterwards was a direct result). This illustrated that Labour leader Andrew Little's public comments about Leggett being a right-winger, which media commentators attacked at the time, as being wholly accurate. 

In one sense Leggett swapping sides made sense because the Labour brand had outlasted its usefulness and relevance to Leggett, but the flip side of this decision is that voters can choose to punish candidates who appear disloyal to the parties who have nurtured their political careers. Tariana Turia leaving Labour to establish the Maori Party over fundamental political differences is one thing, but Leggett jumping ship to National had a strong whiff of careerism and opportunism to it. Certainly, some right-of-centre voters will now look on Leggett more favourably, but I'm guessing the net result is that his brand is considerably weaker.

Witness the development that spurred Moir's article. On joining National, Leggett would have hoped that his high profile would translate into a nomination to replace Hekia Parata as National's candidate for the Mana electorate, which covers his old Porirua mayoral turf. But no. National, quite sensibly it must be said, would rather put up a loyal party worker to lose against Kris Faafoi in September (majority in 2014: almost 8000). Perhaps it will be a candidate from a minority community, to further National's long-term strategy to diversify its overwhelming image as a party of Pakeha males.

Perhaps Leggett has other irons in the fire and will surprise everyone with an announcement of a candidacy or a list spot for the 2017 election. But until then, he will have to resort to the hoary old refuge of generations of US male politicians caught philandering*, that cliche of spending more time with his family. And possibly pondering the wisdom of his high-risk gamble to ditch the Porirua mayoralty.

(* To be absolutely clear, I'm not accusing Leggett of any such infidelity!)

10 March 2017

Elite Dangerous & the 22kb galaxy

David Braben, creator of the games Elite and Elite Dangerous talking to Kathryn Ryan on procedural generation in 1984 & 2017, the recent discovery of star system Trappist-1 and how it's reflected in Elite Dangerous, system and planet formation in the game, keeping up in game design terms with rapid scientific developments, the rarity of sentient life in the galaxy, and a brief discussion of Raspberry Pi. Ideal general interest interview for new players or perhaps explaining to your mum exactly how this funny game is made.

09 March 2017

Sounds familiar

'[L]eaders who are highly successful in chaotic contexts can develop an overinflated self-image, becoming legends in their own minds. When they generate cultlike adoration, leading actually becomes harder for them because a circle of admiring supporters cuts them off from accurate information'.

- D.J.Snowden & M.E.Bourne, 'A leader's framework for decision making', Harvard Business Review, November 2007.

01 March 2017

An enemy whose hostility was to be unabated

Historian Paul Moon describes the sour relationship in the 1830s between the Colonial Office and the New Zealand Association, the fly-by-night settler company that would later change its name to the New Zealand Company and establish a range of colonies in New Zealand including Wellington:

'Although [Edward Gibbon] Wakefield and his disciples had succeeded in lodging their claws into the thinking of some officials and members of the House of Commons, it was [Undersecretary] James Stephen himself who remained Wakefield's most vigorous and highly-ranked opponent. Moreover, he did not conceal his feelings about Wakefield's organisation, as he confessed in an 1840 memorandum in which he announced that 'The Company had discovered from the first that I had been an opponent of their scheme'. Stephen's opposition to the New Zealand Association can be traced back to June 1837, when he wrote a note in the margin of a piece of correspondence from Lord Melbourne to Glenelg regarding a proposed Bill to give Government sanction for the Association's expansion into New Zealand. Stephen wrote that any assumption of sovereignty over the colony '...would infallibly issue in the conquest and extermination of the present inhabitants'. 

Stephen rejected Wakefield's rabid urge to colonise and his implicit disregard for native races, but above all, the animosity Stephen felt for Wakefield grew from his personal dislike of this private coloniser, as he later stated to Lord Howick: 'I saw plainly that the choice before me was that of having Mr Wakefield for an official acquaintance whose want of truth and honour would render him most formidable in that capacity or for an enemy whose hostility was to be unabated. I deliberately preferred his enmity to his acquaintanceship; and I rejoice that I did so'. 

Howick, though, was more sanguine in his opinion of Wakefield's efforts, and spoke in the House of Commons in June 1839 in a moderately positive tone about the principles on which the New Zealand Association's operations were based: 'As far as I am aware, the benefits to be derived from an undue dispersion of settlers in a new territory, with the means by which this object can be best accomplished and the necessity of combined labour, which in a new country can only be secured by artificially maintaining a proper proportion between the members of the population and the extent of land which they occupy, had entirely escaped the notice of all writers upon political economy, until they were stated in the works of Mr Wakefield'. This was far from an unqualified endorsement, but nevertheless reflected the type of rift that existed in the British Government between hawkish interventionists on the one hand, and those who urged a more cautious and guarded approach on the other'.

- Paul Moon, The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi, Auckland, 2002, p.79-80.

See also:
History: Colenso's grave, 12 January 2015 
History: The lifeblood of a young colony, 12 June 2009
History: Forest lords & mission houses, 16 January 2009

25 February 2017

Wellington's British cars

1975 Leyland Clubman 1100

1968 MG 1100

1964 Morris Mini

A pretty decent catch

Good boundary work by James Neesham to catch AB de Villiers in tonight's 3rd ODI versus South Africa at the Stadium in Wellington.

20 February 2017

A flying round-trip from London to Amsterdam, 1922

A typical Daimler Airway flight to Holland and return [in 1922] began with a drive down from London to Croydon of some forty-five minutes. There the eight passengers would file aboard and settle themselves in the comfortable, upholstered seats with the aid of a steward, a Daimler innovation. The engine was then started, the chocks withdrawn and the plane taxied to the downwind end of the field. Taking off at about 12.50[pm] the pilot might climb to between 2,000 and 6,000 feet depending on the weather over the Channel. If the sun was shining and it was late spring or summer, the cabin was often hot enough that shirtsleeves were comfortable. About an hour after take-off the Dover-Calais crossing would be made. Upon reaching the French shore, the pilot turned north-east up the coast for Rotterdam, landing there at 15.30. Ten minutes sufficed to drop off four passengers and take the air again for Amsterdam which was reached at 16.00 hours. Take-off from Amsterdam was at 17.20 and Croydon was reached again at 20.30. Daimler handled passengers' baggage, except for Customs, so the flight was usually uneventful. On the two occasions of forced landings, Dutch beaches were used with indifferent results.

- Robin Higham, Britain's Imperial Air Routes 1918 to 1939, London, 1960, p.59.

07 February 2017

A much less dangerous imagination

[A]fter the 80s, the new American right saw things differently. Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the House, now close supporter of Trump, took time out from impeaching Bill Clinton to co-author three excruciatingly dire alt-history novels about the civil war. In Never Call Retreat, the final in the trilogy, written by Gingrich with William Forstchen and Albert Hanser, the Union side wins the war but, by implication, the south wins the peace. With Sherman’s Union army poised to destroy Atlanta, the Confederate commander, Robert E Lee, persuades the south to surrender. “The patience of our opponents is at an end,” this fictional Lee tells the Confederate government. “We shall reap a terrible whirlwind that will scar our nation for generations to come.” Lincoln then delivers the Gettysburg address to a nation that has, by implication, made peace with the slaveowners and the ideology of white supremacy they lived by.

While you ponder the parallels with today, consider this statement from [Steve] Bannon, made on his radio show in December 2015 to explain the worldview of his Breitbart website: “It’s war. It’s war. Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war.

For Bannon, the No 1 enemy in this “war” is Islam, with China No 2. But there is also a fifth column in America to be dealt with as part of a “global existential war”. For Bannon, this fits into a generational theory of American power whereby the nation fulfils its destiny through a cycle of catastrophic crises: first, the revolution of 1776, then the civil war, then the intervention into the second world war and finally the crisis Bannon intends to provoke through Trump.

In Bannon and Gingrich, then, you have two men influencing the most powerful office in the world whose beliefs about the dynamics of US history could be best described as dangerous bullshit. Bannon fantasises about turning the culture war into a real one; Gingrich about the survival of an undestroyed south. Compared with them, Trump, whose fantasies appear to revolve around women, gold and tall buildings, has a much less dangerous imagination.

- Paul Mason, 'Trump’s advisers want a new civil war – we must not let them have it', Guardian, 6 February 2017

05 February 2017

Intrigue in Bastanien

Potential plague? Don't worry, I'm on it!

This week I've been experimenting with the background simulation in Elite Dangerous. The intricate underlying machinations map the effects of the myriad interactions of both the major factions (Federation, Imperial and Alliance) and the countless minor factions that contest for control in every inhabited system in human space. While systems with large populations are hard to influence, in the smaller systems - ones with around a million population or less - a single player can influence the balance of power between minor factions by completing missions for them. Seeing as I was already intending to get back to ranking up in the Imperial Navy so I can one day purchase an Imperial Cutter, I selected Imperial space for my experiment.

It wasn't hard to find a system led by a dictatorship, because that's common across the Empire. In the end I selected the backwater mining system of Bastanien, located 104 light years from the Imperial capital on Achenar and 191 light years from the Federal capital on Mars. Orbiting a G-class star a little smaller than Sol, Bastanien boasts a string of eight high metal content worlds, an ammonia-wreathed water world, two unassuming gas giants and a far-flung ice world. Only two of Bastanien's worlds have attracted Imperial attention. The first is the tidally locked and airless world of Bastanien 4, with its surface mining activities centred on the southern territories near the domed city of Bering Settlement, and ships docking above in orbit at the industrial outpost of Sweet Port. The second is Bastanien 8, a high metal content world being terraformed from orbit and served by the outpost known as Shaw Colony. With Bastanien 8 currently far from habitable, it looks like the terraforming initiative is at its early stages: a long-term proposition, then.

With a population of 243,000, Bastanien is a comparatively small system. Most of its people will likely be living in or around Bering Settlement. The minor faction controlling the system when I arrived, a dictatorship known as the Imperial Inquisition, had a firm grip when I arrived, with 73 percent of the total influence in the system. While I targeted this dictatorship largely due to its name, I also discovered that it's actually a player minor faction (i.e. rather than one run by AI) with interests in eight systems, headquartered at the nearby Brestla system:

The Imperial Inquisition is a group of Imperial fanatics based in this [Brestla] system. They are dedicated to defending the Empire from threats, both internal and external. Led by their inspiring leader, Mavia Kain, they are determined to become a major player on the galactic stage. 

Fortunately I enjoy a challenge!

I selected an opposition faction to support in Bastanien, to usurp the control of the invading Inquisition. Ruling out the second-most-powerful faction, the Bureau of Yeng Front, because it too was a dictatorship faction, I settled on the third-biggest faction, the Social Bastanien Unionists. A communist faction, the SBU only had 7 percent support when I began running missions for them. The ship I'm using is Cmdr Totinges' Asp Explorer, Hirokazu 824, rigged out for speedy cargo transport with a capacity of either 80 tonnes, or 112 tonnes without a fuel scoop.

The key is to run as many missions as possible for the SBU, to increase its influence in the system sufficiently to challenge the Inquisition for control. Most of the missions on offer are commodity or data delivery runs to nearby systems within about 15 light years such as Sawait, Brestla, Vasukili and Heilelang. A few others request hard-to-find resources, such as agricultural produce, the nearest producer of which is Dumnites 3, a water world 31 light years away with a population of over a billion. Once the mission board at Sweet Port is exhausted of jobs, Totinges flies over to Shaw Colony for a brief stop to see if there are a few extra SBU missions to pick up there. Then the key is to run the missions as quickly as possible to get back to Sweet Port for another round. If the surrounding systems offer decent missions, either to stations the Hirokazu is already scheduled to visit or back to Bastanien's outposts, they are accepted, but not those to any other destinations. There might be lucrative jobs on offer that are ignored, because they're a distraction from the main objective, and because the Inquisition is strong in most of the nearby systems, it's important to avoid boosting its fortunes.

In the first five days of running SBU missions, Totinges has made a sizeable dent in the Inquisition's hold on Bastanien. Its influence has declined from 73 to 51 percent, while the Social Bastanien Union has ballooned in influence from 7 to 24 percent. If the campaign continues successfully, at some point  both factions will draw level in influence and a fully-fledged local war will kick off in the system. Then it will be time to fetch my hot-modded Fer-de-Lance Accipitral and take its Class 4 multicannon into the Conflict Zones that will spring up around the system. Destroying Inquisition ships and running SBU combat missions will help their cause, and if it goes particularly well, the SBU might even seize control of one of the system's outposts. This would be ideal, because then even simple trading will boost its control of the system.

Onwards for communism!
See also:
Games: Fine-tuning the Robigo run, 2 March 2016
Games: Pathfinder 60, 12 July 2015
Games: Realising childhood dreams, 27 April 2015