Shades with Michael J. Gray

The one where I go through a redesign

Monday 24th June – Issue #10

Kia ora whānau,

How do you like the new banner? I hope this new lively yellow reflects my lively personality. At least it’s something to aim for!

You might have also noticed this newsletter is now coming from a different email address. There’s only so many personas I can manage, so to better reflect the newsletter title I have dropped my twitter handle email address (mriceguy) for a domain with my own name. I have also moved from TinyLetter to its mummy company, MailChimp. You might’ve heard of it.

I’m back from a little break. I was hoping to get out the first instalment of my thrilling new sci-fi instalment into your hot little hands but… I soon realised I was back to procrastinating and that this newsletter might never go out. It’s in the works, it’s coming, and you, my dear reader, will be the first to read it.

On that note, the complete back catalogue of all ten newsletters now appears on my website But to reward my loyal subscribers you will get it three days early, before anybody else! Yes, you may see me employing a few marketing techniques to get this little guy in front of more eyeballs.

I’ve also been toying with a unifying theme for this newsletter. I pack a wide variety of stuff into each and every issue, from fiction to movie reviews to popular culture, to social issues in New Zealand and around the world. But even the social issues fall all across the board. I don’t have a particular focus. It can be a lot to take in and I’m sure not everyone wants to read the constant zip zapping thoughts of my brain in real-time. For now, I’ll stick with the current format and come back to you once I settle in with something more coherent.

The Teacher Strike

The teachers held their “mega-strike” on May 29th. My mother is a primary teacher. My sister is a primary teacher. My partner is an early childhood teacher (and sadly not included in these negotiations). So it’s not surprising to say I back the teachers all the way. My sister left the country a couple of years ago to teach in Abu Dhabi. She was only a few years out from graduating with her teaching degree. I’m sure some of the decision was the opportunity to travel around neighbouring countries. But they pay well and even cover her accommodation. Next, she’s going to teach in Shanghai.

If we don’t value our young teachers that’s where they’re gonna go, where the money is, where the opportunity is. We already have enough of a teacher shortage as it is. Since writing this, union members have negotiated a much better deal. It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction.

Teaching younger children is still a field mostly dominated by women. Because such work is still seen as “women’s work” is why we have equal pay disputes. It’s not just big business that discriminates. Unfortunately, in New Zealand, the majority of early childhood centres are privatised which makes it difficult to partake in collective bargaining. You’re at the mercy of the employer. Australia is making moves in this space. We should do the same.

Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

As memorable as the first John Wick was I can barely remember John Wick 2. Wick 3, unfortunately, falls into the same category. The story is ultimately forgettable and that’s largely due to lack of explanation and character motivation. I honestly couldn’t figure out what the hell John was trying to achieve. We join Halle Berry in Casablanca only to abandon her for the remainder of the film, even after dangling a possible emotive thread.

Yes, the world building of an underground society of assassins is still an intriguing concept but we meet figures from John’s past who seem to shed little light on matters. It’s all obfuscated to appear mysterious. Keanu barely says anything in this movie. Most of his lines are “yeah” or even ripped directly out of The Matrix. Yes, I know it’s a nod to the films many of the crew worked on but c’mon, at least flesh out his backstory. 

That all being said, the action is, of course, frenetic, brutal and comedic in all the right ways. There’s a literal ballet here but what they’ve orchestrated throughout is a ballet of executions. Often creative fight scenes, from a knife fight in a museum of knives to Halle Berry sicking crotch-targeting attack dogs on unsuspecting goons.

But one scene did hit me in a troubling way, point blank head shot after head shot of Arab men in head scarfs. After the events in Christchurch, I’m especially more aware of how we treat Muslims in our media. There’s also no escaping the gun fetishization and a White guy on a rampage. Fun fact: Keanu Reeves’ is also of Hawaiian and Chinese descent.

If you’ve come this far on the John Wick ride, why hop off now?


  • Youtuber Lindsay Ellis has a new video essay on how Disney’s Aladdin screwed over Robin Williams. I hadn’t heard about his fallout with Disney and it’s fascinating how his one performance changed the face, or rather, the voice of American animation, and not always for the better. Money hungry studios took the wrong lessons from attaching big names to a film. Thanks, Shrek. And although Pixar and Walt Disney Animation now tend to use voice talents according to character, the rules are thrown out the window for their live-action remakes.

    I also learned my favourite VHS from 1992, Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, featured Robin Williams, the rapping electrode-implanted bat. Deforestation and pollution weren’t quite on my list of priorities as a wee tot but I found Tim Curry’s villain absolutely captivating.
  • Re: News dives into compostable packaging. Long story short, if it doesn’t say home compostable, no one is composting it. Better yet, bring your own coffee cup and container when you can.


  • Unity Books held a book launch for The New Zealand Wars Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa by Vincent O’Malley. O’Malley is a New Zealand historian who along with James Belich has gone back to revisit our nation’s colonisation and the effects it had on Māori. It’s what you call a revisionist text as I’ve recently learned. Much of our written history was overly one-sided and in favour of Pākehā.

    I’ve been meaning to brush up on my knowledge of The New Zealand Wars, notably not called the land wars, as it’s commonly referred. I attempted to read O’Malley’s The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000 but was intimidated by its sheer volume. This is a much more accessible tome and designed to be used in schools.
  • I missed the book launch but Toby Morris, Ross Calman and Mark Derby have made a comic book history of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi. It’s a short but engaging resource and I picked up a copy for when our child is older. Flip it over and there’s also a complete version in te reo Māori. Ka pai!
  • I have previously commented on Facebook’s live streaming of the event that murdered 51 people in two Christchurch mosques. And I still believe Facebook can and should do better. But there’s also the other side of that equation; the contracted workers who have to physically screen this stuff. As a union guy I strongly identify with their plight, these folks are without a shadow of a doubt, exploited. Precarious employment for little pay with lack of health & safety (one worker had a heart attack and died at his desk) not to mention the psychologically damaging work they have to do.
  • Continuing with the union theme, as much as I love a Double Down, Emily Writes makes a good point about giving up the chicken and standing with the workers instead. As a union delegate, I should support teachers and restaurant employees alike. You have no power over me, stomach.
  • With all our focus on America’s immigration laws, this one was quite a shock to learn about. New Zealand has effectively blocked all refugees from African and Middle Eastern countries. This is blatant discrimination. Sunday talks to two refugees about this.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, pin it to your blazer.

*interpretative dance*