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Issue 7, 2015

War

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News

  • Headline disappoints after Salient runs out of housing-related puns

  • Eye On Exec

  • DebSocking it to them

  • “Fucked cunts” apprehended

  • David Seymour still relevant as ever

  • The Week In Feminism

  • Features

  • full circle

    Full Circle

    – SPONSORED – I first visited Egypt in 2009, two years before the Revolution. Hosni Mubarak’s steely-eyed strong man portrait was everywhere. He looked down on the Egyptian people from billboards, public spaces, government buildings, shop fronts, café walls and hotel lobbies. His age varied in these portraits—a testament to his 30 years in power—but […]

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  • be not afriad

    Be Not Afraid

    – SPONSORED – It was early morning on 25 April, 1915. A convoy of Australian and New Zealand soldiers had just sighted Gallipoli, a beach in the Dardanelles where the lucky would reside for years. Ellis Silas noted in his diary “the weather this morning is beautiful; what will it be tonight?” But I’m getting […]

    by

  • lest we remember

    Lest We Remember

    – SPONSORED – Kim and Khloe Kardashian’s visit to Armenia this month is important. On the 24th of April this year the country will remember the 100th anniversary of the 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottomans during World War One, a genocide which Turkey continues to deny. Images of the sisters laying red tulips […]

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  • two birds

    Two Birds Flipped at the West

    – SPONSORED – Last June, New York court sources let slip that a 64-year-old West African man, José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto, had pleaded guilty in a secret hearing in Manhattan. The exact charges were unknown and the court transcript was immediately sealed—sure signs of a politically sensitive plea deal. Na Tchuto’s current whereabouts are […]

    by

  • full circle

    Full Circle

    – SPONSORED – I first visited Egypt in 2009, two years before the Revolution. Hosni Mubarak’s steely-eyed strong man portrait was everywhere. He looked down on the Egyptian people from billboards, public spaces, government buildings, shop fronts, café walls and hotel lobbies. His age varied in these portraits—a testament to his 30 years in power—but […]

    by

  • be not afriad

    Be Not Afraid

    – SPONSORED – It was early morning on 25 April, 1915. A convoy of Australian and New Zealand soldiers had just sighted Gallipoli, a beach in the Dardanelles where the lucky would reside for years. Ellis Silas noted in his diary “the weather this morning is beautiful; what will it be tonight?” But I’m getting […]

    by

  • lest we remember

    Lest We Remember

    – SPONSORED – Kim and Khloe Kardashian’s visit to Armenia this month is important. On the 24th of April this year the country will remember the 100th anniversary of the 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottomans during World War One, a genocide which Turkey continues to deny. Images of the sisters laying red tulips […]

    by

  • two birds

    Two Birds Flipped at the West

    – SPONSORED – Last June, New York court sources let slip that a 64-year-old West African man, José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto, had pleaded guilty in a secret hearing in Manhattan. The exact charges were unknown and the court transcript was immediately sealed—sure signs of a politically sensitive plea deal. Na Tchuto’s current whereabouts are […]

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

    The majority of us have some kind of online presence, whether on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Tinder, or a cocktail of them all. Social media is everywhere, and being present online is a weird passport confirming our existence. But what happens when social media turns against us? Jon Ronson’s latest pop-psychology offering, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, explores the sinister phenomenon of public shaming on the internet, and how transgressions online can become all too real.

    Some of you will remember the saga of Justine Sacco, the woman who tweeted an (admittedly terrible) AIDS-related joke before getting on a flight from London to South Africa. While Justine was in transit, her misguided but seemingly harmless tweet exploded beyond the sphere of her small number of Twitter followers to the wider online world. She became the number-one worldwide trending topic, a clickbait headline, the face of privileged white racism. Her flight path was hungrily followed by people all over the world, anxious for her to touch down and the show to begin. All this in the space of mere hours; all the while she remained completely unaware. She lost her job, her dignity, her relationship with her family suffered. As Ronson puts it, Justine had been “labouring under the misapprehension […] that Twitter was a safe-place to tell the truth about yourself to strangers.” Twitter was not a safe place for Justine anymore, and following death and rape threats from strangers online, the real world didn’t seem that safe either.

    This is just one of the scandalously compelling stories featured in the book. Ronson has explored the fallout from internet catastrophes such as Justine’s, and he does so by talking to the people who have experienced first-hand the descent of the online horde, those who have been vilified and demonised and suffered the very real impact on their lives. He also explores the other side—people who have come out the victors after a public shaming, such as Max Mosley, the Formula One boss whose kinky sex antics were plastered over News of the World. Ronson tries to answer the question of what separates these people from those who have fallen so shamefully from grace.

    So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed may not sound like an uplifting read, and perhaps it isn’t, but it is compulsively readable, and might make you a little bit cautious of the internet and its omnipotent powers of destruction—and the part that you might be playing in it.

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  • Modest Mouse—Strangers To Ourselves

    ★★★½

    Modest Mouse have released their first album in eight years and the alternative music scene has lost its mind. Whether for the right reasons or not, this really is the kind of album you need to listen to for yourself and decide.

    If you’re already a fan of the band, chances are you’ll find the album a little underwhelming. Despite this overarching anti-climatic feel, diehards will still be happy because the album at its core carries with it the classic Modest Mouse sound that we’ve had to live the past eight years without.

    If this is the first you’re hearing of the band, then the title track “Lampshades On Fire” will definitely be the most palatable. It’s a catchy tune that epitomises the band’s alt-rock style and has proven pretty popular in the mainstream markets. “Coyotes” is another standout worth listening to, bearing similarities to one of the band’s biggest hits, “The World At Large”. It has a cool melancholy about it that just ebbs and flows in all the right places. “Pistol” also deserves a special mention, if only to draw your attention to just how great such a manic, disjointed piece of music can be. It’s exactly what you would expect from frontman Isaac Brock, and is an arrangement that will perplex you, while simultaneously blowing your mind.

    On a not-so-positive note, the struggles the band faced creating the album are at times apparent. Every now and then, the “effortless cool” of it all feels a little stunted and forced. The labour that went into it was confirmed in a recent interview where Brock told media that the eight-year ordeal just about drove him to bankruptcy, a hefty price to pay for that just right sound.

    Modest Mouse may never release anything better than The Moon and Antarctica or The Lonesome Crowded West, but Strangers to Ourselves is certainly a step in the right direction. If you’ve been with the band for years, you’ll be happy to hear something fresh. On the contrary, if you’re a first-time listener, I recommend having a flick through their back catalogue to help give the new release a little more context. At the end of the day, it rings true to their sound and will definitely keep fans happy until their next album comes along, which Brock has confirmed will be churned out “as soon as legally possible”.

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  • Courtney Barnett—Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

    ★★★½

    In 2013, Courtney Barnett released an EP Collection titled The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. The release featured tracks like “Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser” and was met with critical acclaim. Fast-forward a few years and her debut album is finally here, recorded in the autumn of 2014 in a 10-day session at Head Gap studios in Melbourne. Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is now well on its way to being one of the best Australian albums of 2015.

    Barnett says “My songs follow me as a normal human with normal emotions. So there are great highs and great lows. They span everything in my life.” This is no understatement; it’s clear that Barnett takes inspiration from everything. She’s an exceptional storyteller. Her lyrics are both witty and relatable. She somehow makes the seemingly mundane interesting and does it brilliantly. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune wrote that “She sounds like she’s day-dreaming out loud instead of singing, but she’s deceptively incisive as a lyricist.”

    Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is simple, fun and really easy to listen to. The album is packed with nineties riffs and the sound is pretty grunge, but it is by no means limited to simply this. “Pedestrian At Best” is a definite highlight, featuring a frenzied sound paired with rather monotone vocals. The sound works exceptionally well and matches the lyrics nicely, with lines like “Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey”, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you” and “I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny”.

    “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” is another highlight from the album, with the all-too-relatable chorus “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home”. “Dead Fox” is another song that really exemplifies Barnett’s prowess as a lyricist. She makes roadkill into a discussion of some pretty important issues and she does so in the most seamless way, with lyrics like “More people die on the road than they do in the ocean / Maybe we should mull over culling cars instead of sharks / Or just lock them up in parks where we can go and view them”.

    Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is an incredible debut album. Barnett is an impressive lyricist and musician to say the least, and definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

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  • Helldivers

    ★★★★½

    Helldivers is PS4’s latest, a brutal top-down twin-stick shooter that places you in the role of a space marine serving the mighty Super Earth! Super Earth, obnoxiously bigger in grandeur and populace than, say, “Earth”, finds itself fighting three different wars. On different galactic fronts you will fight bugs, cyborgs and illuminates (which are like robot thing-ys). And there is a reason the game is called Helldivers… Rapture awaits.

    The game looks like Destiny and Dead Nation had a lovechild (hopefully it doesn’t inherit Peter Dinklage’s voice). Environments look passable to pretty at best. The character and creature animations are generally better, but the illuminate fall into the category of half-arsed generic robots. The soldier you guide, however, has a really sexy sci fi aesthetic. You really do “look the part”. In addition to this, all helldivers wear capes. Capes are dope.

    But thankfully “looking the part” isn’t Helldivers’ sole focus. Gameplay is king. And the gameplay is a sophisticated mess of coordinated co-op and fast paced twitch action. You can play Helldivers alone, but it is really meant to be played with a team. I say team because not just any rabble is going to be sufficient to fight the oncoming space swarm. Working together to play specific roles and avoid friendly fire is integral. A shotgunner with a large spread should target hosts of smaller enemies, leaving the heavily armoured to friends with focussed rifle bursts, and at the same time anticipate his fire and avoid taking the head off his brothers in arms.

    In any given scenario you are tasked with a bevy of different objectives: escort civilians from point A to point B, capture a flag, blow up an alien nest. These campaigns work in perfect unison with what makes Helldivers stand out: the innovative progression/inventory system “stratagems”. A stratagem is basically a tool you call down from orbit to assist you. These are unlocked by completing all missions on a given planet. Everything from turrets to jetpacks are available. You will need to punch in a button prompted code with your radio (which is harder than it sounds on a bullet-hell battlefield). If you need to make something explode, call in an airstrike. If your task is to protect a hangar, drop in some automated turrets (which can also kill you) to complement your already overzealously equipped foursome. The possibilities for dynamic gameplay solutions are endless. My favorite stratagems ended up being the mech suit and the four seating, turreted, four wheel drive vehicle.

    Besides a short Starship Troopers-esque animation that plays at the game’s introduction screen, and a tutorial that sees you trained in a recruitment camp, Helldivers doesn’t try to offer an in-depth storyline. The narrative it does tell highlights community participation. When a planet is cleared, “community influence” is awarded. Community influence simultaneously brings Super Earth closer to invading alien homeworlds and slows alien expansion upon our own homeworld. You can see the members of the community who have contributed the most to saving Super Earth. In this sense, leaderboards are cooperative with a competitive element.

    Though the true goal in Helldivers is to reach level 25 and to unlock and fully upgrade everything, there is a sort of communal endgame. When your marines or the enemy aliens finally invade a homeworld, you are tasked with attacking or protecting that world. This mixes up gameplay, which might otherwise be too repetitive. The less alien environments of Super Earth are fun to navigate, and a sense of urgency will always drive you in these more desperate campaigns. If the community fails to win enough scenarios in the invasion, the war is over. The process then repeats itself as a new war begins—a circle of life.

    Helldivers, in my mind, is the definitive installment in the twin-stick genre for the rising category of gamers who love to be punished. Without coordination, you will often die. With coordination, you will often die (albeit less). Stratagems make the battlefield feel alive as your Helldivers must adapt to the conditions and hopefully live on. The lack of narrative or AAA graphics, though a slight factor, does little to detract from the overall experience. Much like the PacMans and Galagas of old, Helldivers has exceptional core gameplay and style to spare.

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  • Citizenfour

    ★★★★

    “For now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell-phone tower you pass, friend you keep, site you visit and subject line you type is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.” These words were part of the first cryptic message from CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, using the handle Citizenfour, that filmmaker Laura Poitras received. Such a message could be used to kick off a great spy thriller, and that is exactly what they do in Citizenfour.

    Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary, the film has the stated aim of exploring surveillance in post 9/11 America. However, this is really the backdrop to a much more localised and character-driven film. Poitras starts off with a brief overview of what was known about surveillance before the Snowden leaks, then it’s off to Hong Kong with fellow investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald. Here, we enter into a world of spy movie tropes like meetings in a hotel lobby, carrying certain objects to recognise each other and exchanging passphrases. However, once we are in Snowden’s hotel room and Poitras turns on her camera, we are given one of the most unique and intense spy thrillers in the history of cinema.

    Much of the film takes place over eight days in this one room, but these scenes are by far the most engrossing. Anybody who managed to sit through the debacle of Kim Dotcom’s “Moment of Truth” will know that despite awkward surroundings, Edward Snowden is a very engaging speaker. When he talks about why he is doing this, he come across as thoughtful, sincere and passionate. His descriptions of what he did for the CIA and the power and scope of the surveillance assemblage are both frightening and convincing.

    In terms of the narrative this sets up the protagonist as a noble little guy standing up to a seemly omnipotent governmental force. So when Snowden, Greenwald and later another journalist Ewen MacAskill begin talking about strategies around how the leaks will be released and when and if Snowden should personally goes public, the stakes feel incredible high.

    Unexplained phone calls and the fire alarm being set off all feel like parts of a conspiracy theory closing in on our heroes. When the anxious Snowden has a break from typing on the laptop to take in the view from the window of tenth floor room, it is easy to imagine him being suddenly hit by a sniper bullet from a CIA rifle. However, despite some similarities this is not a Bourne film. Instead of gunfights the plot becomes a media conflict as Poitras, Greenwald and MacAskill start publishing and the American Government goes into damage control. Once Snowden himself enters the limelight we witness what it is like to suddenly become the most wanted person, by government and media, in the world. As human rights lawyers whisk Snowden off to a safe house, we see someone who clearly knew where his path was taking him and is both happy and terrified to have finally gotten there.

    The final act of the film, which deals with the immediate aftermath of the revelations, is much less engaging. We hear from a bunch of people who are simply not as likeable or interesting as those from the Hong Kong hotel room. Not surprisingly, while journalists all over the world start using this information to expose America’s surveillance in their countries, the Obama administration remains unrepentant. Also deflating is a scene in which the UK government compels The Guardian to physically destroy the flash drive that Snowden gave them. The film does try to end of the positive note that Snowden has inspired new whistleblowers, but this positivity is somewhat undercut by the fact that the information they are passing on paints and even more dystopian picture.

    Citizenfour is a good film if you want to get angry at powerful governments, which is not much of a accomplishment in today’s world, but its real achievement is telling the personal story of someone who went beyond anger and tried to change things.

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  • Insurgent

    ★★

    The Millennial Rat Pack are at it again. Shailene Woodley (and Theo James), with Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller in tow, are back to bring the second Divergent tale to life. “Life”, however, is a bit of a generous word for this instalment.

    The film has the right formula to create a solid second chapter: the universe has expanded with the “Factionless” (led by Four’s led-to-believe-dead-mother); a new device that places the “Divergents” in greater peril than ever before; friends and family members turning their back on our heroes; a load of visually enhanced battle sequences; and a revelation that perfectly sets up the final chapter.

    However, Insurgent falls flat. The motivation for the characters feels both conventional and weak. And the cardinal rule of action films has been neglected: I never felt like our heroes would fail to survive the film. As Tris went through every impossible challenge quite comfortably, I sat back and enjoyed the backdrop (the visual effects are mighty impressive).

    I can’t pinpoint what was so off in the film. Was it the thin rehashing of the the same “futuristic dystopian world punishing people because they want don’t follow the rules” formula? I don’t think that is it; the first film actually had my complete interest, and it followed the same tropes as this one. It just feels like no action from any character ever makes perfect sense.

    There isn’t enough depth in the story or the characters for me to really grab onto. I don’t think I know Tris. Her actions don’t make sense to me because I don’t know why she does what she does. There is never a moment where I feel like the movie invites me to understand her motives and I think that is Insurgent’s greatest downfall: entertainment.

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  • The Salt of the Earth

    ★★★

    The Salt of the Earth is a documentary on the life and work of Brazilian-born photographer Sebãstio Salgado. Salgado, originally an economist, made the professional transition to photographer in his early 30s.  The film is dominated by his photographic series—gold mines and the indigenous people of the Awá tribe in Brazil, the natural wonders of the world, the victims of various famine ridden conflict zones in Africa such as the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan and Rwanda.

    On the one hand I was genuinely overwhelmed by the beauty of the photography and inspired by Salgado’s art and his environmental activism. For example, he and his wife started the Instituto Terra, a project revitalising barren land in Brazil which has become a model for environmental revitalization throughout the world, as well as a National Park. However, in the lead up to seeing the film I honestly couldn’t be fucked seeing yet another movie of the white-male-genius variety. Seeing it in full substantiated this feeling; the film takes an overwhelmingly celebratory approach to its protagonist, its idolatry probably due in part to the fact that it was co-directed by Salgado’s son.

    For instance, The Salt of the Earth is heavy on images of indigenous people, as well as the dead and dying, and crucial questions remain unanswered—did Salgado establish genuine communication with these people? Was he not using them to his own ends, or did his photography help them in some genuine way? Did they/could they even have understood that some white Wellingtonian would see them on a movie screen across the world where something as normal to them as nudity has a completely different connotation? The way that Salgado makes suffering aesthetic is also problematic, reminiscent of a statement once related to South African photographer Santu Mofokeng: “There is nothing as beautiful as black skin and blood! It makes beautiful contrast.” In this way suffering is captured and commodified.

    Similarly, I would have liked to hear way more about Lélia’s involvement and contribution to Salgado’s photography, given that they collaborated on much of his work and that she supported the family throughout his career transition from economist to artist, as well as taking care of their children during his long and frequent periods of absence. Still, the imagery is stunning, alternately beautiful, curious and utterly tragic, and worth seeing on a big screen. Maybe just take it with a grain of salt.

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  • Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay’s voice has been steadily growing louder over the last year. As a regular contributor for The Guardian and various other websites, with two books out in 2014, she is also a professor, writer, editor, and commentator; her opinions are worth listening to, and make a refreshing change to the dominant strand of criticism. This lady knows what she is talking about.

    Bad Feminist is a collection of Gay’s essays, some having been previously published online, but collected under her coined phrase “bad feminist”. In adopting such a label, she honestly admits the flawed nature of feminism and those who occupy that term; feminist figures are unfairly placed on a pedestal and subsequently torn down when their imperfections are revealed. It’s a safe move on her part—admitting flaws from the outset allows Gay to explore the flaws rather than be limited by them. She embraces the term Bad Feminist; like all of us, she enjoys dancing to certain songs, even when they know they’re bad for women (I’m looking at you, Beyonce and Jay Z).

    The subjects of her essays range from The Hunger Games, to sexual assault, to politics, to Chris Brown, to competitive Scrabble, and back again. While some of the references feel dated, stretching back to the “legitimate rape” debacle, Gay’s sound criticisms illustrate her insight into the cultural climate. I read somewhere it’s like she’s always looking around the corner, and I couldn’t agree more; Gay presents each new topic with an honest and candid insight. For her it can be as simple as wanting to watch a TV show where she sees herself—a dark-skinned intelligent lady—at the centre of a TV show or movie, who isn’t playing the role of the sassy best friend, whose identity as an African American isn’t tokenistic.

    While I devoured the book whole, I think reading the collection in intervals of essays could have benefits, as the essays can come to feel repetitive and formulaic. Yet within seemingly disconnected essays lies the heart, Roxane, who gives the book its emotional underpinning by weaving in her own traumatic personal narrative.

    Gay writes in the introduction that “Feminism has certainly helped me find my voice. Feminism has helped me believe my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard.” We hear you Roxane, and I know my voice felt stronger at the end.

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  • Your guide to the Renaissance superstars: Leonardo da Vinci

    Key works you need to know by the hand of Leonardo: the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, The Vitruvian Man, prototype helicopters, and drawings of cut up dead people.

    Leonardo is remembered for more than the visual arts column has scope for and is pretty much held to be the ideal Renaissance boss man. Born out of wedlock to a peasant woman and a gentleman in the small town Vinci in Florence, Leo had a pretty chilled out childhood. When he was 14 he went to work and learn to paint from Verrocchio who was one of the best artists in Florence at the time. Collaborating was all cool in the 1470s, till the day when Leo was working on a painting with Verrocchio and his teacher saw how much more awesome Leo’s work was than his. In a dramatic move, Verrocchio broke his paint brushes and swore to never paint again, which was actually for the best as Verrocchio’s stuff is comparable to Bebo.

    So Leonardo was a genius that can hardly be denied. However, he had a bad case of signing up for too many clubs in clubs week, and barely ever finished what he started. But as art historians we have to work with what we’ve got, and in Leo’s case that is one small unfinished painting of a woman, a terribly damaged painting of Jesus’ last meal and a handful of other unfinished works.

    The Mona Lisa

    If you’re feeling culturally confused because your hungover contiki experience at the Louvre left you disappointed that the universe didn’t explain itself when you set your eyes on the Mona Lisa, then let me clear some things up for you.

    Firstly, size isn’t everything. Yeah the Mona Lisa is pretty small by painting standards (77 x 53cm)—but that really isn’t what we are judging the merits of the painting on here. There are a few things that Leo is doing here that had never been done, at least to this standard before. Things like using a landscape background to a portrait with colours that actually recede like they do in real life. Also in the Renaissance, geometry and particularly circles were considered the bee’s knees and the Mona Lisa is loaded with these (and other secret messages to Dan Brown).

    Unconventionally, Leo didn’t paint outlines when dealing with the Mona Lisa’s eyes and mouth, which means she looks more lifelike. However, this has caused a lot of concern by viewers about her happiness and well-being. (“Go on love, you’d be much prettier if you smiled.”) It is obviously an atrocity for a woman this famous not to smile and be grateful. I reckon she’s holding herself pretty well considering the shit she has to put up with on the daily. Apparently Leo played music to the model while he painted so she probably was enjoying a cheeky wee smile to herself.

    The Mona Lisa wasn’t even that famous outside of the art world until it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The guy just walked out with it under his coat. That painting was 400 years old and he just stuffed it into his coat! Obviously now it’s covered in bulletproof glass and you would probably be shot before getting a finger to it.

    Since being stolen the painting has shot to fame and has become the most parodied and well known piece of artwork in the world. I don’t know what Leo would make of all this, but I hope that he would see cheap imitation as the most sincere form of flattery.

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  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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    Let’s See How Far We’ve Come

    : - SPONSORED - As Dani and I thought about what we’d like to see in this queer edition of Salient, we reflected on the state of UniQ as it stands right now, both at Victoria University and throughout the country. As we come to the end of our time as co-presidents for 2017 we con